He had more to tell, but she was already moving on to the next question.
“Our resident smith.”
“And there, do you have someone who makes glass here?”
“Aye, we do.”
“I remember reading once that people in this time often were sick from lead poisoning. I noticed most of the dishes and cooking surfaces are some type of iron. Do you know if they contain lead?”
“Some I suppose.”
“You might consider having him make more of the cooking and eating surfaces.”
Duncan nodded at her. “Aye, I will.”
The scent of baked apples filled the air. “Mmm…
what smells so good?”
“Mrs. Claunch. She makes the best sweet pies.
Would you like one?” He signaled for a nearby lad to fetch the leads of his horse after he dismounted.
Duncan took her by the waist, and helped her from the horse.
“Thank you, my Lord,” she teased.
“The pleasure is mine, my Lady.” He swept her fingers in his hand, and brushed the back of them with his lips.
They stared at each other.
You sure have the moves.
Are they working then, Tara love?
Instead of answering, she kept his hand from dropping hers and placed it above her rapidly beating heart. You tell me?
The clearing of someone’s throat stopped him from capturing her lips. He turned to see Mrs.
Claunch dusting flour from her hands.
“Lord Duncan, give the girl some room, lad. She looks a bit flushed to me.”
Holding Tara possessively around the waist, he led her to Mrs. Claunch. “She smells the aroma of your lovely cakes, lass. Might you have some to spare for a pair of hungry travelers?”
Mrs. Claunch, long past her lass days, blushed at his words.
Tara sent Duncan a hidden ‘you big flirt’
message. His hand squeezed hers signaling he heard her. “Mrs. Claunch, I want you to meet Lady Tara.”
“I had heard of a new Lady at the Keep. ’Tis nice to match a face to the name.” Mrs. Claunch looked Tara up and down with a smile. “Come, come. No need to stand in the street.”
They entered a large room with a cook’s fire. It held a table with four wooden chairs. A larger chair laden down with blankets was obviously where Mrs.
Claunch spent her days. A much smaller room appeared to hold a bed was toward the back.
“Sit please. Have ye eaten?”
“We ate before we left the Keep,” Duncan told her. “No wonder your Lady looks like she does.
Starving her, are ye?” Mrs. Claunch moved to the fire and pulled out the skillet holding the object of the mouth-watering aroma.
It was some type of apple bread or cake, Tara thought. “Can I help you?”
“No, my lady. I have it.”
“Call me Tara.”
Pleased at the request, Mrs. Claunch moved to place her hot skillet on the table.
Tara noticed an iron trivet and quickly placed it down for their hostess.
Mrs. Claunch patted Tara’s cheek and smiled. “I like your Lady, my Lord. Ye must bring her back to see me.”
“Once she tastes your treats, I’ll have a hard time keeping her away.”
Mrs. Claunch set a kettle on for tea and then took a seat with her guests. “Tell me news of the Keep.”
Duncan filled her in on the comings and goings of those in the main house. He talked of Amber’s kittens and how she would be looking for homes for them when they were old enough.
Mrs. Claunch’s movements were slow and well thought out. Tara thought she suffered from arthritis, and did her best to assist the woman while they enjoyed her apple cakes.
When the water boiled in the kettle, Tara moved quickly to pour the tea.
Duncan gave her a nod of approval.
When it was time for them to go, Tara helped Mrs. Claunch to her feet. “Thank you for the delicious cake. Perhaps you would show me how to make them sometime? I’ve never tasted anything quite like them.”
“I would love to.” Mrs. Claunch said her goodbyes and sent them off with a bag of cakes to take back.
“She was very nice.” Tara said to Duncan when they walked away.
“Aye, she is. By day’s end she’ll have spoken to every woman in the village singing your praises.”
“I doubt that.”
“There is little to entertain our people. Your kindness will be talked about for weeks.”
“My kindness? She was the one who cooked. All I did was eat. She wouldn’t even let me help with the dishes.”
“I believe you are the first Lady to volunteer to do her dishes.”
“We both know I’m no more a ‘Lady’ than she is,” Tara said.
“Nay, Tara. You are in every way a Lady.”
The widow’s cottage was like Mrs. Claunch’s home. Straight across was Haggart’s. His offensive dog slept peacefully by the door.
“We’ll talk with the widow first.” Duncan took stock of the darkening sky. The clouds forming overhead worried him. The time it would take to bring closure to the neighboring feud would mean they would return to the Keep in the rain.
“We could save a little time if we talk to each of them separately.” Tara tapped her head. “We can use our special communication skills to work out a solution.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. You’ve been working hard to keep me out of your beautiful head.
It’s all the MacCoinnich charm you’ve been oozing today. It makes me want to try something new. “You’ll need to introduce me first.” Tara mimicked Duncan’s actions when he tied his horse to a pole.
The widow was much younger than Tara was led to believe. She was incredibly beautiful and looked like she was less than forty-five years old.
Even her name sounded young, Celeste.
Tara suspected, just as Myra thought, Celeste was lonely after marrying her daughter off only two years before. Widowed when her daughter was only ten, she had spent many of her best years without male companionship, and her loneliness showed.
After Duncan introduced Tara, he made his way to Haggart’s, where the horribly vicious dog licked him enthusiastically when he reached down to pet him in greeting.
“Ahh, Lord Duncan. To what honor do I owe your presence?”
“I’ve come to speak with ye on behalf of my father.”
A small frown passed Haggart’s face. “Come in, come in. I have an excellent ale I was about to pour.”
Haggart, shy of his fiftieth birthday, welcomed the future Laird of Coinnich into his home like he had many times in the past.