He exhaled. “Sorry. Old habit. When my grandfather decided it was his duty to make me a proper gentleman, he constantly lectured me on my speech, my clothes, my walk… my posture. You name it. I ran wild as a child, so conforming to his standards wasn’t easy.”
Her heart went out to him. “I’m sorry, Liam.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Not your fault.”
“I won’t tease you again.”
“But I like it when you tease me.”
She smiled. “We should cut ourselves some slack. It’s only been two weeks since we were married. We don’t have the benefit of years, much less months of dating.”
He leaned back and lifted her chin. “Shall I court you properly, lass?”
“Isn’t that what you’ve been doing?”
His brows rose. “Perhaps.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Liam said.
A porter stuck his head in. “Your Graces need to disembark. The train leaves on the hour, and your bags have already been delivered to the hotel.”
“Certainly. Thank you,” Liam replied before the porter left.
Bella wriggled her brows. “Good thing he didn’t come in earlier, or he would have gotten a show,” she said as she gathered her things.
“I guess I should warn you,” he said, suddenly serious as they walked down the hall and down the steps onto the platform.
Her stomach tightened. “About what?”
“There are events that the men participate in.”
“And my bare arse won’t be the only one you’ll be seeing today.”
She burst out laughing. “I’ll try to behave myself.”
“You do that,” he said, still serious.
“Are catcalls allowed?”
“No.” He practically grunted the word.
“What about whistling?”
Oh, he was totally making stuff up. “Can I throw money while yelling ‘make it rain’?”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he muttered.
“I think Mary would have liked to have seen Joseph in a kilt.”
He gave her a wide-eyed stare. “You’re certainly blasphemous for a preacher’s daughter.”
“Mary had more kids, with Joseph, so I’m pretty sure she saw his bare behind.”
“Going. To. Hell.”
“Read the Song of Solomon, and then get back to me,” she said cheerfully.
“Hellion,” he murmured, but the look of horror was gone, replaced with an affectionate smile.
“I do have a reputation to uphold. Preacher’s kids, at least in America, have the worst reputations. We’re the wild ones, the ones who flaunt the rules and… do all sorts of sinful things—just like everyone else. Except for my brother, Gabriel,” she said as Liam hailed a cab.
“You resent him, then?”
“No. I love him.” She did. There was nothing about Gabriel she resented. Sure, when she was younger, and he would lecture her about doing the right thing, even when it sucked, she wanted to throat-punch him. But as far as big brothers went, he was amazing. “He loves me. He didn’t judge me when I told him about the,” she lowered her voice, “the baby.”
Liam opened the door of the black cab. “I’m not sure I would have been so agreeable. I’d have crossed the ocean and beaten the man who’d done that to my sister to a pulp.”
“Either you want to be right and have vengeance on those who wrong you, or you choose to forgive and love them,” she said, trying to explain why Gabriel was the way he was. What her entire family had been taught by their dad. “Forgiveness is divine, and it’s the least I can do to emulate that as an error-filled human.”
He said nothing to that, and their ride to the fair grounds were silent, but for the radio.
Bella wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing.
Liam strutted onto the soccer pitch, gave the opposing team a two-finger salute that made the crowd roar, since the men were English, and then bowed to the queen and her prince.
They bowed their head to him.
He turned to the crowd and pumped his hand in the air, thriving on the energy that seemed to flow from them to him, and back again.
He could feel Bella’s eyes on him the entire time. Without looking, he knew she would be proud. His duchess had loved everything about the festival so far. The food, the sack races, the pomp and ceremony. The plaid skirt he’d bought her.
While he had loved introducing her to everyone, and explaining how it all worked—the history of the festival and why it was important to Scotland.
“We will be voting soon, to decide if we want to be free of the Monarchy or stay with her,” he shared as they drank lemonade.
“Freedom,” she sang out.
He cocked his head to one side and stared at her. “Sorry?”
She gave him a pained look. “Mel Gibson. Braveheart. William Wallace.”
“Ah. Welshman, the entire Wallace clan,” Liam said, keeping a straight face as he told a boldfaced lie. “But he did help us out a wee bit and we rewarded him for it, by allowing Wallace to become a Scottish hero.”
Bella rolled her eyes. “Men.”
“Which side, Your Grace?” the director of games asked, pulling him out of his thoughts.
He didn’t have a preference.
“His best side, so he can preen for his duchess,” someone from the opposing team called out.
“Every side is my best side, but perhaps we should find a bag for you, lest the women and children be scarred for life,” Liam returned, taking up the heavy rope. Both teams laughed.
He searched the crowd for Bella, found her, and winked.
The woman yelled his name and then shouted, “Freedom!”
“Already regretting her decision to be married to you, Stewart?” one of his teammates said from behind.
“No, she’s giving her opinion on the upcoming vote,” another said.
“Actually, she’s quoting Braveheart.
“Movie. Mel Gibson.”
The man in front of him scratched his head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
Liam exhaled. “William Wallace.”
“God rest his soul.”
“Aye, and God keep him.” Liam grinned, and then the rope grew taut. It strained, and his teammates worked as one to make sure that damned flag didn’t stray too far to the opposite side.