That feud had existed for so many years no one could recol ect the beginning. The Kincaids, on the other hand, were all ies with the McCoys, ever since a McCoy warrior fished a drowning Kincaid lass out of the river, and the Kincaids were therefore forced, for honor's sake, to stand beside the McCoys against the McPhersons.
Yet when word reached Lady Cecily McPherson of Lady Kincaid's healing skil s, she ignored all the laws of the Highlands.
Cecily McPherson would have bargained with the devil to save her child. Without tel ing anyone her plan, she took the infant to the Ferguson holding and begged Lady Ferguson's assistance. Mary was most sympathetic to the poor woman's plight. Since Daniel was stil away on the hunt for Angus's attackers, she didn't have to bother gaining his permission. She immediately took the little one to Jamie.
Al the Kincaid soldiers knew whom the child belonged to, of course, as everyone in the mountains knew everyone else's business. None mentioned to their mistress the fact that she was taking care of their enemy's son, though. They guessed it wouldn't matter to her. Lady Kincaid was English, after all , and therefore ignorant of the feuds existing in their land. She was a woman, too, and the mothering instinct would probably mean more to her than war. Just as important, she was too gentle to understand a feud, and from the way she'd demanded to take over Angus's care in the face of Alec's resistance, she'd proven to be a mite too stubborn to understand.
Gavin knew what would happen if the bairn died on Kincaid land, however. After giving the pitiful infant one quick glance, he was convinced war was inevitable. He commanded his troops to prepare for battle, sent two messengers to track Alec down, and then patiently waited for the McPhersons to attack.
The babe was fat and sassy four days later when the entire McPherson army came to demand the body for burial.
Gavin only all owed entrance to the laird and two others. With Marcus at his side, he waited on the steps of the castle.
Jamie had just put the baby to sleep on Alec's bed when she heard the shouts coming from the courtyard.
She rushed outside to see what all the commotion was about, but came to a quick stop on the top step when she saw the three fierce-looking soldiers on horseback. She immediately knew they weren't Kincaid soldiers, as their dark plaid wasn't at all the same.
"I'l not leave without my dead," the burly man in the middle bel owed. "And when I come back, there'l be blood spattering your wails. Kincaid blood."
"Has someone died, Gavin?" Jamie asked.
The second-in-command answered her without turning around. Jamie thought he didn't want to take his gaze off the strangers. She certainly couldn't fault Gavin, for the strangers did look the type to strike a man down when his back was turned. "Laird McPherson has come to reclaim his son."
The anger in Gavin's voice startled Jamie. She caught the tension in the air, then realized the three strangers were all glaring at her. She straightened her shoulders in reaction to their rudeness.
"Is she the Kincaid's woman?" the man in the middle bel owed.
"She is," Gavin answered.
"Then she's the one who stole my son away."
Did the laird have to shout every word? Jamie couldn't believe this was the father of such a sweet-tempered babe. The chieftain was an old man, with bushy brows that hid most of his dark eyes.
She guessed he smel ed as rank as he looked, too.
Marcus turned around to look at Jamie. His face didn't show a hint of what he was thinking. "Go and get the bairn," he ordered.
"Be quick about it, woman."
Jamie had just started back into the castle when the laird shouted that order. She stopped, then slowly turned around to face him again.
"I'l take my time," she said.
"I want my dead."
Her hearing was never going to be the same. The bel igerent man was roaring like a wounded bear. Jamie tried to contain her temper. She told herself the man thought his son was dead, after all , and grief was robbing him of his manners.
Not a word was exchanged until Jamie came back outside. She carried the sleeping infant in her arms.
The laird's son was completely covered by a thick woolen blanket to protect him from the biting wind.
The old laird's face showed no outward reaction. Jamie walked over to his side and pul ed the cover away from the baby's face.
"Give him to me."
"You will quit your shouting this minute," she ordered in a low voice. "If you wake this child after all the trouble I had hil ing him to sleep, there'l be hel to pay and you'l be the one paying it. Do I make myself clear?"
"Wake him up?"
"I just told you not to shout," Jamie reminded him in a near shout of her own. She immediately regretted her outburst, for the infant opened his eyes and began to fidget in her arms. She paused to smile down at the child, then glared up at his father.
She missed the look of astonishment that crossed the laird's face when his little one moved.
"Now see what you've done? Your shouts have upset the baby," Jamie muttered. She moved the infant up against her shoulder and began to pat his back. The baby immediately let out a loud belch. "That's a good boy," she crooned after placing a quick kiss on the top of his bald head.
Her expression hardened when she turned back to the laird. "Why God blessed you with such a dear child I'l never understand. This little one has just had his noon feeding and if you get him riled, he's bound to throw up."
The chieftain didn't respond to her comments. Jamie reluctantly handed the infant to his father. She noticed the man's hands shook when he took hold of his baby. "I have instructions to give you before you leave," she told him.
The old warrior didn't say a word for a long while. He squinted down at his son while he tried to regain his control. He couldn't show any joy now, for to do so would certainly soften his position in front of the Kincaids, yet it was a nearly impossible feat that made his eyes bulge. The bairn let out another lusty belch in the sudden stil ness, then smiled sweetly over his feat, as if he knew of his father's struggles and was deliberately testing his endurance.
"He ain't dead."
"You'l scream him to death if you keep up your shouts," Jamie announced. "Now pray give me your attention, sir. You will tel your wife to feed your son only goat's milk."
"I will not."
Jamie reacted as though she'd just been hit by lightning. Before the laird could react, she snatched the baby out of his arms, settled him back against her bosom, and began to pace alongside the laird's horse.
"Then you can just go home without your son, McPherson. I won't let you kil him with your ignorance.
Come back when he's old enough to fend for himself."
The laird's beady eyes widened in astonishment. He glanced over to Gavin, then back to Lady Kincaid.
"Give him to me."
"You'l give me your promise to feed him only goat's milk first."
"He'll be getting his mama's milk, woman."
"He doesn't like his mama's milk."
"Have you just insulted my wife?"
Jamie wished she had the strength to beat some sense into the old man. "I'm tel ing you what you have to do to keep this baby alive," she shouted.
"He cannot stand another bout of sickness." She moved closer to the laird, until she was just an inch or so away from his knee, then said, "Promise me."
His abrupt nod pleased her. She handed the baby back to his father, then started toward Gavin and Marcus. "You're the most ungrateful man I've ever met," she muttered.
He was back to bel owing. Jamie whirled around, her hands on her hips, and gave the warrior a look meant to burn. "Aye, ungrateful," she shouted back. "You should be expressing your appreciation, McPherson, not shouting at me."
The laird's eyes turned to slits again. Jamie knew his pride was somehow injured, but she didn't have the faintest idea why. "I'l have your apology for taking my son out of my home," the man bel owed. "It's war we're speaking of if I don't get what I want."
"What you need is a good kick in your backside, you old goat," Jamie shouted back. "And that's what you're going to get if you don't show some respect around me."
"You took my bairn."
She couldn't believe the man's stupidity. His horse was just as obnoxious as his master was, too. As soon as the old man let up on the reins, the animal tried to take a bite out of Jamie's shoulder. McPherson didn't seem to want to control his mount any more than he did his temper.
"You'l apologize," he roared.
Jamie slapped his horse away before answering that chal enge. "How dare you ask for my apology? I didn't take your son away and you know it.
You can sit there until you rot, but you aren't getting an apology from me."
The baby started to wail, disrupting Jamie's concentration. "Oh, take your son home to his mama," she ordered. "And don't you dare come back on Kincaid land until you've learned some manners."
The chieftain looked as if he was itching to strike her. He deliberately let up on his reins, just to be contrary. The horse immediately tried to get a taste of Jamie's shoulder again. She hit the horse, harder.
McPherson let out a roar in reaction. "She hit me horse," he shouted. "You seen it, men. The Kincaid woman hit me horse. 'Tis one thing to insult a man's wife, but to strike his horse—"
"Oh, for God's sake," Jamie interrupted. "Leave now or I'l hit you ."
When the soldier on the left of the laird reached for his sword, Jamie pul ed her dagger from the sheath in her belt. She turned to the soldier, took aim, and said, "You'l take your hand away from your weapon or you'l find my dagger in your throat before you draw your next breath. And when I cause an injury," she chal enged, "I don't repair it."
The soldier hesitated for the briefest of seconds, then did as she commanded. Jamie nodded. "Now get off my land," she ordered as she replaced her dagger.
She was suddenly exhausted. She hadn't lost her temper this thoroughly in a good long while. She was a little ashamed of her behavior, too, and was immensely thankful only Gavin and Marcus were there to witness her unleashed temper.
It was all McPherson's fault, of course. The man probably lived in a cave. He certainly had the manners of a wild animal. He could provoke a saint into screaming.
Retreat seemed the logical choice now. Jamie turned around, her intent to walk back inside the castle without sparing a single glance over her shoulder. She was going to dismiss the McPhersons as rudely as possible.
She came to a staggering halt when she saw the line of Kincaid soldiers behind her. all were armed and ready for battle. While Jamie noticed this fact quickly enough, that wasn't what really started her head to pounding. No, it was Alec Kincaid standing in the center of his soldiers who captured her full attention and gave her such a headache.
Well , hel , he'd probably seen the whole thing.
Jamie was mortified. She suddenly wished she could just turn around and walk back to England.
She really wasn't certain who was the bigger threat now. The look on Alec's face could scare the wool off sheep. Laird McPherson looked like a saint in comparison.
Alec's arms were folded across his chest. His legs were braced apart—a bad sign, that—and his expression was as rigid as the rest of him. It was the same position she'd seen the day the outcasts attacked. She'd thought he looked bored then.
She knew better now.
He was stil the safer bet, she decided. If he was going to kil her, he'd probably do it in privacy, she supposed with a sinking flutter in her stomach.
She wasn't important enough in his mind to make a scene over. Nay, he probably wouldn't get around to it until next week.
He didn't say a word to her when she walked over to his side. He simply pushed her behind his back and then took a step forward. The wall of men immediately surrounded her.
The shield of warriors blocked her view, even when she stood on tiptoe and tried to see over Marcus's shoulder.
Angry words flew like arrows between the two mighty chieftains. Jamie was stunned when she realized Alec was actually defending her. He'd taken deep offense over the fact that one of the McPhersons had dared to touch his sword in Lady Kincaid's presence. Oh, Alec was furious, all right.
He had a blazing temper, and Jamie was racing through a prayer of thanksgiving to her Maker that it wasn't directed at her.
Then she heard the hateful word "war" bel owed again. McPherson called for a battle and Alec couldn't have been more emphatic in his agreement.
Good God, what had she done?
Alec was never going to believe this wasn't all her fault. If she'd held on to her temper, perhaps she could have averted this war.
The soldiers didn't move away from her until the McPhersons were well on their way down the path.
Jamie decided it would be best for her to leave before her husband turned his attention to her. She certainly wasn't running away, she told herself.
No, she just needed a little time to sort this confusing matter out. With any luck, it might only take her a day or two.
She turned her back on Marcus and started up the stairs. Just when she thought she'd escaped Alec's notice, he grabbed hold of her arm. He wasn't at all gentle when he forced her around to face him. Since Marcus and Gavin were watching, she decided to smile. Alec's scowl, however, changed her inclination.
"Would you care to explain?" he asked. His voice was as mild as a lion's yawn.
"Nay," Jamie answered. "I would rather not."
He didn't like her answer. The muscle in his jaw was at it again, flexing like an insistent tic. The grip on her arm intensified until the freckles turned pink.
She was determined to meet his glare so he would know she wasn't afraid of the mean look in his eyes, but she didn't even last through the first real blink.
"The babe was sick," she told him.
"I took care of him."
"How did a McPherson bairn get here?"
"I was wondering that very thing," she said.
He hadn't raised his voice, yet Jamie knew he was furious. She decided to appease him without actually giving him a direct answer. "Alec, I was simply trying to do the right thing. Even if I'd known that dear child belonged to such a sour old man, I stil would have taken care of him. The babe was suffering so.