Beth glanced at Mac, meeting his questioning gaze with a grave look. The child had quieted somewhat, but she sniffled into Beth's shoulder.
Isabella held the woman's hand. "The poor thing is exhausted," she said to Beth in English.
"It's more than that." Mac looked at Beth. "Isn't it?"
Beth nodded. "I've seen this before, in the workhouse. A doctor can lessen the pain, but I don't think he can help for long."
"That is why she came." Isabella rubbed the woman's hand and switched to French. "You came here because you are ill."
She nodded. "When the lord did not return, I did not know where else to go."
"We need to get her to bed," Isabella said.
Hart remained in the middle of the hall like a rigid god. "Wait for Bellamy to carry her."
"Good God, I'll do it." Mac scooped the woman into his arms. She was so light he almost overbalanced; it was like carrying a skeleton in clothing. Mac agreed with Beth's assessment. The young woman was dying.
The woman studied Mac's face as he carried her up the stairs, a puzzled pucker between her brows. Beth and Isabella came behind them, Beth still holding the little girl.
"Do you think the child frightened Ian?" Mac heard Beth ask.
"I don't know," Isabella answered. "Don't worry, darling, I'm certain Ian will be fine with your own babies."
Mac could feel Beth's worry, but he didn't know how to comfort her. Ian was by no means a predictable man, and who knew how he'd behave when their child arrived?
Mac carried the woman into a spare bedroom that was kept made up for guests and laid her on the bed. The woman looked around in awe at the elegance, fingering the damask quilt Isabella pulled over her.
Isabella rang for Evans, then took the child from Beth's arms and shoved her at Mac.
"Do look after her, darling. Out you go."
The mite took one look at Mac and started howling again. Isabella ruthlessly led Mac to the door and pushed him into the hall just as Evans hurried in with an armful of clothing. Another maid followed with a basin of water, another with towels.
Little Aimee kept shrieking, and the door slammed in Mac's face.
Ian came toward them down the hall, carrying a stack of boxes. "What are you doing to her?" he asked over Aimee's wails.
"Nothing. I'm holding her. The womenfolk took over and threw me out. I always thought Scottish women were strong-minded, but they are nothing compared to Sassenachs."
Ian looked at Mac as though he had no idea what he was talking about. "I found building bricks. In the attic."
Ian entered the small sitting room across the hall. Mac followed as Ian crouched on the floor and emptied the boxes of building bricks onto the carpet
. Aimee looked down at them with interest, and her noise abruptly ceased.
"Set her down," Ian said.
Mac lowered the girl, who stood unsteadily a moment before sitting down on her little rump and reaching for the bricks. Ian stretched out on the floor next to her and showed her how to stack the bricks one on top of the other.
Mac sank into the nearest chair, letting his hands dangle between his kilted knees. "How did you know to find these in the attic?"
"We played with them as children," Ian said.
"I know we did, but that was twenty-five years ago. You remembered they were there, and where, after all this time?" Mac held up his hand. "No, wait, of course you remembered."
Ian wasn't listening. He taught Aimee how to build a low wall, which Aimee gleefully knocked over. Ian waited until she finished then patiently helped her build the wall again.
Mac rubbed his hands through his hair. What an insane morning. One moment he'd had Isabella in his arms, was a happy man. He'd tasted reconciliation in the air, and he could still feel the heat of her body on his. The next, a crazed Frenchwoman had waltzed in to deposit a child in front of them and declare it was Mac's. And Isabella, instead of snatching a pistol from the gunroom and shooting Mac dead, had rushed to help the poor woman.
This had to be a nightmare.
Mac rose. He needed to put something besides his kilt and shirt over his nakedness, and he needed to find out who the devil this woman was.
As soon as he reached the door, Aimee started to keen, a high-pitched sound that dug straight into Mac's skull. She kept up the noise until Mac came back and sat down beside her. Aimee immediately quieted and played with the bricks again.
"What is the matter with her?" Mac asked.
Ian shrugged. "She wants you."
"Why should she?"
Ian didn't answer as he went on building with the bricks. As he'd done when he'd been a boy, Ian tried to stand each block exactly on top of the other, moving it in tiny increments until he was satisfied.
Aimee laughed and knocked them down.
"Ian," Mac said, as Ian began to line up the bricks again. "Why are you the only one who believes me? About the child not being mine, I mean?"
Ian didn't look up from his fascinating task. "You have not been with a woman since Isabella left you, three and a half years ago. This girl is not much more than a baby. Even given the time it takes for a woman to carry a child to term, she is too young to be yours."
Flawlessly logical. That was Ian.
"You know, my brother, I could be lying about the celibacy."