Brenna lunged forward, caught her in her arms, and had enough wits about her to wrap herself tight around the little one and hold her close. The force of the impact made Brenna lose her footing, and as she fell backward, she tried to turn so that her shoulder, and not her head, would hit the stone wall. She didn't accomplish her goal.
Later, Jamie told her she hit her forehead twice more before she landed in a heap at the bottom, with the child still wrapped protectively in her arms.
Brenna recovered from the mishap before Jamie did, but she throbbed from her head to her toes. The top of her forehead felt as though it were on fire, but once she'd made certain the little one was all right, she was actually able to smile over her pitiful condition. Blood was streaming down her forehead; the hem of her gown was torn, and the pleats she worked so hard to straighten were gone.
Jamie was so distraught from the fright, she could barely think what to do. She sat down on the steps above Brenna, pulled her baby into her lap, and hugged her tight. "Dear God, I thought you were both going to die. Are you all right, Brenna? Don't move until I… What were you thinking, Grace? You know you mustn't come down the steps without… How many times has your father told you to call to one of us? Are you all right, Brenna? Answer me."
Jamie was sobbing, and Brenna was certain she wouldn't hear any reply she gave. She felt foolish sprawled out on the floor like a broken vase, so she forced herself to get to her feet, and once again tried to make herself presentable.
"Brenna, don't move until I make certain you haven't broken anything."
"All right, Jamie."
"Good Lord, you're standing up."
"Mama, do we got to tell Papa?"
"No, we don't have to tell him. You do."
Grace squirmed off her mother's lap. "When I'm ready, Mama?" she pleaded. "Not before?"
Jamie nodded. "When you're ready," she conceded. "As long as you tell him before you go to bed tonight."
"Why don't we forget it happened, Jamie. It was just an accident."
Grace must have understood a little of what Brenna suggested because she moved closer to her and nodded her agreement.
"I was so terrified, I couldn't move. I saw my baby flying through the air and my heart felt as though it had stopped. I couldn't get to her before…" Too upset to continue, Jamie covered her face with her hands and broke into sobs again.
Brenna patted her arm to try to calm her. "There, there. It's over now. Your daughter is as fit as ever, Jamie. She doesn't even have a scratch."
She helped Jamie stand up, put her arm around her shoulders, and led her into the hall.
Jamie had already taken her seat at the table before she came to her senses and realized what she was doing. She jumped back up, and shoved Brenna down on an adjacent stool. Landing with a thud, pain shot up from the back of Brenna's right thigh, and it took a good deal of discipline not to cry out.
Jamie finally noticed the injury on her forehead. "Good God, you're bleeding."
"It's just a little cut, nothing more. Please sit down and catch your breath. You've been through a fright, Jamie."
"No, I should be comforting you. I swear to God it's going to take me a month to recover. You're taking it all in stride, though, aren't you? Turn your head so I can get a better look. Are you bleeding anywhere else? Lord, my hands are shaking so, I can barely get your hair out of my way. Grace?"
"Yes, Mama?" The little girl came running across the hall, dragging her plaid behind her. She seemed eager to be included in the conversation until her mother told her what she wanted her to do.
"Go and get your father."
Grace dropped her blanket, climbed up on Brenna's lap, and leaned back against her. "Mama? Can I go and get Papa when I'm ready?"
Brenna burst into laughter. The sound warmed Jamie's heart and brought fresh tears into her eyes. She took Brenna's hand and squeezed. "Thank God for you. Were it not for your quickness, my daughter might have broken her neck. My husband and I are in your debt until the day we die."
Brenna colored with embarrassment. "You don't owe me anything. You are my relatives now, and I will always be willing to help you in any way I can. Besides, all of us must watch out for the little ones. Isn't that so?"
"It is so," Jamie agreed. "You and I are more than relatives, though. We're sisters. Isn't that so?"
"It is so," she whispered. "And there is always room for one more sister in my heart."
The bond between the two women was formed in that instant, and all of Brenna's worries and insecurities disappeared. Sisters, after all, didn't need to impress each other.
"Mama, don't cry anymore. I don't like it," Grace demanded in a quivering voice.
"I shall stop at once," Jamie promised. She let go of Brenna's hand, drew a deep breath, and wiped the tears away from her cheeks with the back of her hands. "I should send someone to fetch Connor. He'll want to see this."
Brenna didn't want Connor to join them any more than she wanted Alec. She simply wasn't up to a long explanation now, and if he even looked as though he blamed her for this mishap, she knew her temper would start simmering. There was also a remote chance he might show her a little sympathy, and she would be so appreciative, she might break down and cry. She couldn't think of anything more humiliating.
"You're being unreasonable about this. Your husband's going to demand answers as soon as he looks at you."
"I'll be happy to explain it all to him on our way home."
"Are you afraid of him?" Jamie asked, sounding stunned by the possibility.
Brenna shook her head. "Of course not. It's just that I know he'll say something I'm sure to take exception to, and I won't be able to stop myself from letting him know what I think about that, and before you know it, we'll be arguing in front of Alec. It wouldn't be at all appropriate. I want to impress the man, not infuriate him. Besides, I have vowed not to draw attention to myself. Will you please stop poking at me?"
"You saved my daughter's life. Think Alec won't be impressed with that fact? Why are you so uncomfortable with compliments, Brenna?"
"Because they're misplaced. I only did what I should have done."
"I see this embarrasses you, and so I shall let it go for now. Grace, love, go and ask one of the servants to bring fresh water and towels."
The little girl was in such a hurry to help, she forgot to take her plaid with her.
The cut was on Brenna's forehead above her left eye. After the injury had been properly cleaned, Brenna assumed Jamie was finished, and so she suggested Jamie tell her how she'd ended up married to Alec Kincaid. Jamie suggested she fetch her needle and thread first.
Brenna didn't like the sound of that. "Please don't think I'm not grateful, but I would rather you didn't go to any more trouble. I'm feeling fine, really. I barely felt it. Is Grace your only child?"
"No, I have four in all. Mary Kathleen's the oldest. She's married now and lives too far away to suit me, for I only see her twice a year. Gideon was born ten years ago, and five years later, Dillon came along.
Grace is our baby."
"She's adorable. She has the face of a cherub."
"Yes, she does," Jamie agreed. "Your questions haven't changed my mind, if that was your hope. The cut is too deep to be left alone. You need to be stitched together so you may as well stop trying to be noble.
We both know you're in pain."
"I wasn't being noble. I was being diplomatic."
"It's a wasted effort."
"Perhaps I wasn't specific enough for you. If you think I'm going to let you near me with a needle in your hand after you've only just told me you can't stop shaking, you're out of your mind."
"I'm determined to get my way, Brenna."
"You're demented, Jamie."
Grace's eyes had grown wide during the debate. She climbed back up on Brenna's lap and watched in fascination while the two women shouted at each other.
Jamie eventually won the battle. She was older, stronger, and had two servants on her side. Grace was Brenna's only ally. She wasn't much help, though. She giggled whenever her mama raised her voice and covered her ears whenever Brenna raised hers.
"Will you get it done before Connor and Alec come inside?"
Fortunately, Jamie was as good as her promise. Brenna never made a sound while Jamie cleaned the injury and sewed it together.
"You'll have a scar trailing down your forehead, but half of it can be concealed by your hair. Does that upset you?"
"No," Brenna answered. "What upsets me is the way you stop every time you want to say something to me. Please hurry up and finish."
Jamie let out a sigh. "I had no idea you were so difficult."
After making her observation, she wet a fresh towel and washed the blood off Brenna's hair. She still believed Connor would demand an explanation as soon as he looked at Brenna.
"I agree with you that he'll notice my injury, but I'm certain he won't say a word about it until we're well on our way home. He might even wait until tomorrow to bring it up. If I were to push my hair back and point to the stitches, I might get him to say something before."
The cook had joined them a few minutes before and now asked her mistress's permission to make a suggestion.
"Yes, Elyne?" Jamie asked.
"Why not make a wager?"
Brenna embraced Elyne's idea. If Connor ignored her injury, then she wanted Jamie to plant flowers in front of Connor's home to make it look as inviting as Jamie's. If Connor commented on the injury, then Jamie wanted Brenna to promise to come and see her at least once a week, no matter what the weather or schedule.
Rules were firmly set down so that neither lady would be able to sway the outcome in her favor. Elyne was given the important duty of hiding in the hallway to make certain trickery, such as hints, wasn't used.
The brothers could hear their wives' laughter from outside the entrance and smiled in reaction. Alec was pleased his wife was enjoying her visitor, and Connor was relieved Brenna wasn't as nervous with Jamie as she'd been with Alec.
Brenna heard the doors open and immediately helped Grace get off her lap. She stood up, keeping her back to her husband, and pretended concentration as she folded the plaid the little girl had discarded.
As soon as Grace spotted her father striding toward the table, she went running to the opposite end.
Alec took his place at the head of the table. Jamie sat on his left. Brenna let Connor have the stool across from Jamie and took her seat next to him. Grace was the last to sit down. She and her father faced each other at least sixteen stools apart. Once the little girl had scooted the stool up close to the table, she sat down, stacked her arms on the table, dropped her chin down on top, and stared at her father.
Connor barely glanced at Brenna. He did ask her if everything was all right, but she assumed he only wanted to know if she had stayed out of trouble as he had suggested before he left, and she gave him a quick nod in answer.
"Where are your other children?" Brenna asked Jamie.
"Alec gave them permission to stay outside with Gavin and his wife for another hour," Jamie explained before turning to her husband. "Have you told Connor the news yet?"
"No, I haven't," Alec replied with a smile.
"Is it good news?" Brenna asked.
"Oh, yes, Brenna," Jamie answered. "It's very good news."
"I've just received word, Connor, your stepmother and her son are on their way to your holding. They should reach your land late today or early tomorrow."
Brenna reacted before her husband did. She was so startled by the announcement, she jumped to her feet, almost upsetting the stool in her haste. "Now? Your mother's coming for a visit now?"
Connor gently pulled her back down by his side. "My stepmother," he corrected.
"Yes, of course, your stepmother. She's coming for a visit now?"
"Yes, now , according to what Alec has just told us. I see no reason to panic. Does this news upset you?"
"No, of course not. I was just taken by surprise to hear that your stepmother could now be waiting."
"She might not arrive until tomorrow," Alec suggested.
Connor turned to his wife. "What's come over you? This is good news, not bad."
"Yes, it's good news," she agreed. "And I will do everything I can to make her feel welcome."
"How long has Euphemia been away?" Jamie asked.
"Seventeen years," Connor answered. "She had only just returned to her relatives to help with an ailing uncle when my father was killed. She couldn't bear to come back once word reached her."
"You haven't seen her in all that while?" Brenna asked.
"I've seen her several times since then. Three years ago, when Alec and I were settling a dispute near the peaks, we stopped to pay our respects."
"She was still in mourning," Alec said.
"She must have loved your father a great deal," Brenna whispered.
"Of course she did," he answered.
"She should have moved on," Alec said. "Grieving for the dead won't bring them back."
"You would grieve for me, wouldn't you, Alec?" Jamie asked.
Alec wasn't about to get into a discussion about the length of time he would mourn his wife. He couldn't even think about losing her without feeling sick.
"You will not die on me. Do you understand?" he ordered in a hard, unbending voice.
Only his wife saw the panic in his eyes and hurried to put his mind to rest. "No, I won't die on you.
Haven't you forgotten to tell Connor your other interesting news?"
Her husband was happy to accommodate her. He turned back to Connor and explained he had also received news from an emissary sent by a laird living on the border. Connor seemed interested and asked several questions. One topic led to another and another, and it wasn't long before Brenna and Jamie were all but forgotten.
Brenna put her concerns about pleasing Connor's stepmother aside for the moment, though she did say a quick prayer the woman wouldn't arrive before she did. Brenna wanted to get her bearings.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard Jamie trying to coax her little daughter to join them.