"Do you know that you cal me Kincaid whenever you're angry?"
She pinched him. "I never get angry," she announced. "Even when you won't give me duties," she added with a nod. "Would it be all right if I rearrange the kitchens while you're away? It will give me something to do, Alec, and I'l ask others to do the actual work. I'l just direct them."
He didn't have the heart to deny her. "You won't lift a finger?"
He nodded. Before she could waylay him again, he told her to let go of his leg, else he'd drag her with him.
She didn't look as if she believed that threat.
He had to sigh over her attitude. Then he put her out of his mind and turned his attention to more important considerations. It was only later in the day, when Gavin caught up with him, that he recal ed Jamie's remark about helping her sister get comfortable.
He'd thought she meant for a long day's visit.
She'd obviously meant forever.
Aye, he understood well enough when Gavin announced that Lady Kincaid had given her sister sanctuary.
The Fergusons had declared war.
Alec knew Daniel had to be fighting angry. He sent Gavin back home to keep an eye on his wife, placed another trusted soldier in charge of continuing the hunt, and then headed for Ferguson land.
He was able to intercept Daniel near the border separating their lands. Alec rode alone—a deliberate choice, that—but Daniel had a smal army with him. all were armed for battle.
Alec forced his stal ion to a halt and waited for Daniel to make the first move.
It wasn't long in coming. Daniel drew his sword, threw it into the air so the tip of the blade would imbed itself in the ground directly in front of Alec's stal ion.
The action was a symbol that war had been declared. Now Daniel waited for Alec to repeat the ritual.
Daniel's expression was impassive, yet quickly changed to a look of real astonishment when Alec shook his head, refusing to throw his weapon.
"You dare refuse to do battle?" Daniel bel owed. He was so angry the veins stood out on the sides of his neck.
"Damn right I do," Alec bel owed back.
"I just did."
Now it was Daniel's turn to shake his head. "What game are you playing, Alec?" he demanded to know, though he no longer sounded as if he were spitting hot embers out of his mouth.
"I'l not fight a war I don't want to win," Alec stated.
"You don't want to win?"
"Why the hel not?"
"Daniel, do you honestly believe I want two Englishwomen in my household?"
That question took some of Daniel's anger away. "But—"
"If I won, I'd have Mary living with Jamie for the rest of my days. You ask too much of me, friend."
"You didn't agree to give my wife sanctuary?" Daniel asked. A hint of a smile mel owed his expression.
"I did not," Alec returned in exasperation.
"Your wife dared to protect Mary from me, Alec. From me . And my wife let her. Hid behind her back like a child."
"They're English, Daniel. Your error was in forgetting that fact."
"'Tis the truth," Daniel admitted with a sigh. "I did forget. I don't wish my wife to act the coward, though.
It's shameful the way she makes her little sister—"
"She isn't a coward, Daniel," Alec interjected. "She's been trained to act that way. Jamie had all her sisters believing she would protect them."
Daniel grinned. "They're both daft."
"Aye, they are," Alec agreed. "We've been friends too long to let women force a breach between us. I've come to you in good faith, Daniel, to ask…
nay, to demand you return to my holding and col ect your wife."
"Have I just been given a command?" Daniel asked, grinning.
"And if I stil ache for a fight?"
"Then I will accommodate you," Alec drawled. "But the rules will have to be changed."
Daniel was intrigued by the laughter in Alec's voice. "How?"
"Winner takes both brides."
Daniel threw back his head and shouted with laughter. Alec had helped him save face in front of his men.
He'd all owed him to back down without looking like a loser. "You wouldn't give up your prize, Alec, but it warms my heart to know you aren't having such an easy time with your wife, either."
"She'll settle in."
"I have my doubts about Mary."
"A firm hand is all that's needed, Daniel."
Daniel dismissed his soldiers before answering Alec's comment. "A firm hand and a gag, Alec. The woman hasn't quit complaining since we reached my home. Do you know, she actually took exception to the fact I have a mistress?"
Alec smiled. "They're funny that way," he said.
"Perhaps I'l let her stay with Jamie…"
"There would be war then, Daniel. Mary belongs to you."
"You should have seen the pair of them, Alec." He withdrew his sword from the ground, replaced it in his sheath before adding, "Your wife was protecting Mary, all the while hurling insults at me. She called me a pig."
"You've been called worse."
"Aye, but only by men, and they didn't live long enough to boast of it."
"My wife has a temper," Alec admitted, smiling.
"I wish some of it would rub off on Mary. The woman acts like a frightened rabbit."
"I was in the midst of tracking down Angus's attackers when I was informed of this problem," Alec said, turning the topic.
"We heard what happened," Daniel answered. "What say I ride with you on this hunt? I understand the mountain barons were responsible?" Daniel asked, referring to the band of men who'd been cast out of their clans and had formed a unit of their own. They were called barons because it was a title the English valued, and therefore the most offensive name the Highlanders could come up with. It was fitting as well , for like the English, these mountain men were also blackguards who fought without honor or conscience.
"You're welcome to come along, Daniel, but first you must take Mary home. You can catch up with us near the Peak."
Neither Alec nor Daniel spoke again until they'd reached Alec's home. Jamie was standing next to her sister in the center of the courtyard. She smiled when she saw her husband until she got a good look at his face. Her smile faded away then.
"Oh, God, Daniel looks as if he wants to kil me," Mary whispered, moving closer to her sister's side.
"Smile, Mary, it will confuse him," Jamie instructed.
Alec dismounted and slowly advanced toward his wife. He certainly wasn't smiling. God's truth, his expression could have curdled milk. Jamie took a deep breath. "Have you finished your hunt, Alec?"
He ignored her question. "Did you give Lady Ferguson sanctuary?"
"Sanctuary?" Jamie repeated. "I hadn't quite thought of it in that light, husband."
The anger in his tone burned her like a hot iron. Jamie's temper ignited. How dare he criticize her in front of their guests? "Mary asked me if she could stay here, and I gave her permission," she said. "If you want to cal it sanctuary, then by all means do so. I would protect Mary."
"Protect her from her own husband?" Alec asked, looking incredulous.
"When the husband happens to be an unfeeling clout, aye," Jamie answered. She paused to frown up at Daniel, then turned back to her husband.
"He has abused her tender feelings, Alec. What would you have had me do?"
"I'd have you mind your own affairs," Alec snapped.
"He was cruel to her."
"Aye, he was," Mary shouted, catching her sister's fever. "If it isn't convenient for me to stay here, then I'l find my way back to England."
"I just might lead the way," Jamie muttered. She folded her hands together and waited for Alec to respond to that threat.
"You'd end up in Normandy," Alec predicted.
Before Jamie could answer, Alec turned to Mary. He glared at her until she left his wife's side; then he hauled Jamie into his arms. His grip was like steel. Jamie didn't resist, knowing how futile that would be.
Besides, she'd just spotted Father Murdock standing on the steps, watching them.
She certainly didn't want a man of the cloth to think she was unladylike.
"I'm not going home with you, Daniel," Mary shouted.
That chal enge didn't go unanswered. Daniel moved with astonishing speed for such a big man. Before Mary could let out a full scream, she found herself face down over her husband's lap in the saddle.
Jamie desperately tried to maintain her dignity through this monstrous situation. Poor Mary was draped over the saddle like a sack of barley. It was a humiliation, aye, but Jamie stil wished Mary wouldn't carry on so. Her bel ows of outrage were drawing even more attention to her sorry plight.
"I can't stand idle while he shames her this way," Jamie whispered.
"Oh, yes you can," Alec stated.
"Alec, do something."
"I'm not going to interfere and neither are you," he answered. "Mary's getting off lightly, Jamie. Daniel's temper is almost as fierce as my own. Your sister has disgraced her husband."
Jamie watched Daniel and Mary until they'd disappeared across the planks.
"He won't really hurt her, will he, Alec?"
Her fear was very evident. Alec thought it unreasonable. "He won't beat her, if that's what you're worrying about," he answered. "Mary's his problem now."
"She forgot her horse."
"She won't be needing it."
Jamie was staring up at Alec's mouth, remembering what it felt like to be kissed by him. It was such a foolish thought, especial y now, what with Mary's problem stil to be solved, but she couldn't seem to help herself.
"Perhaps I shal take her horse over to her tomorrow," Jamie said, wondering how she could get him to kiss her again.
He let go of her and started to walk away. She didn't want him to leave just yet. "Alec? You said Daniel's temper was almost as quick as your own, yet you told me you didn't have a temper. 'Tis an odd contradiction, don't you think?"
"You misunderstood," Alec answered. "I told you I wouldn't lose my temper with you."
He started down the hil . Jamie picked up her skirts and chased after him. "When do you lose your temper, then?"
He couldn't resist the temptation. His wife was so incredibly easy to bait. He didn't turn around because he didn't want her to see his smile. "When it's something that matters to me. Something important."
Her gasp made his smile widen.
"What is it?" She sounded as if she wanted to throttle him.
"Don't inconvenience me again."
It was the last insult she was going to take from him. "Look, Kincaid, it isn't necessary to harp on the fact that you find me so vastly inferior. I understand your meaning clearly," she announced. "If I were to run away, you wouldn't even come after me, would you?"
He didn't answer her.
"Well, of course you wouldn't come after me. I'm too insignificant to bother with?"
"No, I wouldn't come after you."
Jamie had to lower her gaze to the ground lest he turn around and see how much his words had hurt her.
Why did she care if he came after her or not? The man was a Scottish barbarian, she reminded herself.
"I'd send someone after you." He finally turned around and caught her in his arms. "But since you aren't going anywhere, the question isn't important, is it?"
"I'm beginning to dislike you immensely, Alec Kincaid."
"You really should do something about your temper, English." He brushed his hand across her cheek.
"Try to stay out of trouble while I'm gone."
It was as much of a good-bye as she was going to get, she supposed, when he mounted his steed and left her staring after him.
Her hand touched her cheek where Alec had stroked her.
Then she straightened her shoulders and jerked her hand away.
She almost hated him. Almost.
She remembered he'd given her permission to rearrange his kitchens. It was only a little chore, she realized, but it was stil a beginning. He would come to depend on her eventual y, when he saw how much nicer his home was going to be.
Jamie straightened her shoulders and started up the hil . She'd best get started right away.
She smiled with new enthusiasm. Alec had given her a duty.
Word of Lady Kincaid's remarkable healing ability swept through the Highlands as swiftly as a storm.
The tale of Angus's recovery wasn't exaggerated, however, for the truth was thought to be impressive enough not to need flowering around the borders. The recounting always began the same way, too, with the announcement that the Kincaid warrior had just been given the last rites, he had, and was only a breath away from death. That beginning always gained just the amount of astonishment each storytel er wanted.
The members of the clans attending the annual spring festival at Gil ebrid's holding heard the news a short half-day after they'd been told Angus was dead. Lydia Louise, Angus's younger sister and only relative, save for his wife, Elizabeth, was in quite a state. She wept first with true anguish over her brother's untimely death, then wept with acute relief over his miraculous recovery. By long day's end, the confused woman had to be given a sizable dose of heavy wine and forceful y put to bed.
None of the McPherson clan attended the festival. The old chieftain's only child, a son of just three wee months, was doing so poorly the clan was convinced he was dying. The bairn, given a stubborn streak he'd inherited from his father, had suddenly taken an extreme dislike to his mama's milk. The violent vomiting after each feeding had soon made him too weak to suckle at all .
Laird McPherson had gone off to find solace in his peaceful woods. His grief was nearly uncontrol able.
He wept like a child, for he full y expected to bury his namesake when he returned to his home.
It was a fact the Fergusons were united with the McPhersons against the hated fishermen, the McCoys.