I feel compelled to address your last point…

He spotted his friends as soon as he stepped into the main room; he headed for their table. He felt every patron watching him, remembering the scene with him and Lady Beatryce. In this very room. At that table. Right. There.

He shook his head and looked at his friends. As expected, Ciarán Kelly, an Irish rake of the highest order, watched him with laughing eyes and a grin. Lord Alaistair MacLeod, the Scot, on the other hand, sported a look of concern and confusion. Definitely a change from his usual scowl.

“Stuff it. Do you hear? Don’t say a word.” He flung back his chair and sat with his legs sprawled out under table. He crossed his arms and dared them to say a word.

Kelly laughed. “Oh, but ye should see the look on yer face, my friend. Priceless. Got under your skin, has she?”

MacLeod, as usual, said nothing.

“That woman will be the death of me if I do not kill her first.”

“Aye, if lusty sex can cause death, sure. It looked like she was about to kill ye with it. Nearly strangled ye with her tongue, did she?” Kelly retorted.

“It was all for show, and you know it. So shut. It. I despise that woman and you know it.”

“Aye, ye’ve said as such before. Many times. Too many times. You know, this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen her. She is…”

“Don’t. Say. It.”

“All I’m saying, is that I wouldn’t blame you, if you…”

Dansbury slammed his fist on the table, making their mugs of ale, and some of the nearby patrons, jump. He and MacLeod reached for their respective drinks; his friends had ordered him one in his absence.

Kelly just smirked, completely unruffled. “I don’t understand why ye despise her so much. She nearly married Stonebridge, so she can’t be all bad. And I hear tell yer uncommonly rude to her. She is…”

MacLeod dropped his mug to the table, just hard enough to gain their attention. “Och, he’s rude because he wants to tup her, ye ken?”

Dansbury spewed his drink…all over his friends…the scarred table top…himself. He caught a bit of dribble with his hand, using it as his handkerchief. Quite gentlemanly.

MacLeod wiped his face on his sleeve—his only acknowledgement to the mess.

“Now, cannae we just get doun to business?”

Dansbury fisted his hands. “But I feel compelled to address your last point…”

“Deny it all ye want, my friend,” Kelly interjected, “we all know the truth. The Scot is right. I’m telling you, the rest of the room fairly burned in the wake of yer lust, yer chemistry. Even I gave Bertha an extra look.” Kelly shivered in disgust.

Dansbury barked out a laugh. They both did, him and Kelly. And just like that, his tension ebbed, and he was his usual easy self. How could one survive at life if you couldn’t laugh at your own foibles?