The Chieftain’s Feud


The Chieftain's FeudPrologue

Years later, Jamie would swear that he had felt the pale summer dawn spread its awakening out behind them through the pores of his skin, felt its touch stretch up over the brae where the Lynn tumbled in a mist of white spray into the Ferm burn, the very place they had spent the night, he and Evangeline.

The self-same approaching sun’s rays cast grey ghosts of their shadows afore them throwing their flat images straight through the opening to Malcolm’s Tower to land at the feet of Evangeline’s father, as if in tribute.

Accompanied by Hadron, his pockmarked brother, the clan Buchan Chieftain stood four square in the lower doorway of the tower the King had built just below Dunfermline Palace and, instinctively, Jamie Ruthven wrapped one strong arm around Evangeline. Twirling her around in a flowing curve of pale green skirts and long red hair, he made certain her slight body was sheltered behind his bulk.

Tall, broad in the chest and wide in the shoulder, every bit a Ruthven, Jamie’s dark brows drew together in a frown as he made good use of his size to protect his lover from her father’s wrath. All too aware he had been hoist by his own prodigious confidence, he scoffed now at his certainty that not one living soul had seen them slip out into the night— a presumption that had unfortunately proved to be false. It was not the first time he had whisked Evangeline away, under everyone’s noses, so to speak, into the parklands lying below Dunfermline Palace—a notion that had brought a grin to his face last night as he and Eve disappeared into the soft pools of gloaming that floated amongst the trees.

A swift glance o’er his shoulder disclosed the route they had travelled from the glen, clear evidence of their journey from the Lynn writ in the darker footprints they had left behind in the pale beads of dew.

He sucked in a breath in preparation for the inevitable moment of fury facing him, and in that long breath, Eve’s scent reached out and entwined him the way it always did. It made nae difference that he had spent the whole night wrapped in her arms; every instant felt new, fresh—like being born again. Who could tell what makes one heart cleave to another? Jamie had nae inkling.

In truth, his first involvement with that life-changing event hadn’t persuaded him to try it again, to dive once more into that heady whirlpool of emotions that dragged him down and left him unable to breathe. Aye, afore he met Eve, experience had convinced him that love—to love, to be loved—wasnae for him.

Yet here he was, likely again to soon feel that swift loss of breath—although not this time because he had been deceived. Aye, the sword in Buchan’s hand looked more than capable of robbing him of breath without any help from his own blatant stupidity.

“Evangeline, come here to me,” Buchan bellowed, bull-like, as if steam would pour frae his nostrils, proof of the red anger rising through him.

Jamie felt Evangeline tremble against his back, but she didn’t move away; instead he felt her nails mark him, piercing both shirt and jerkin as she attempted to clamp herself onto his spine. Raising his free arm a wee bit higher, Jamie grasped the hilt of his sword, but didnae yet draw it from the scabbard.

The first signs he had of Eve moving was her hair tickling the crook of his elbow, her warm breath on his skin, then its absence as he heard her draw in a shocked gasp. For an instant he considered cautioning her against doing aught rash—for his lass was inclined to leap into life—aught that meant breaking her recent promise to him. He needn’t have worried.

“Nae! Nae I won’t let you spoil things for me,” she roared at her father.

“Spoil, ye say … spoil? This frae a lass who’s been spoiled rotten her entire life. I told yer mother it as a mistake to give ye sich a fancy French name, and now look at ye. Sneaking off in the night with a man who, to put it civilly, is nae better than he should be. Nae, why should I be polite? Blind me, Jamie Ruthven is naught more than a reprobate, a skirt-lifter. If he were a woman I’d be naming him a whore.”

The hair rose on the back of Jamie’s neck and a growl burred low in his throat, but he didn’t try to deny it. He was what life—aye, and love—had made him. “If any man other than Eve’s father had said that to me I’d have run him through.”

“Ach that will ne’er happen. For sure it’s me who’ll slice ye first. Ruthven men … yer all the bluidy same, believing ye only have to reach out and help yerself to aught ye fancy, with nary a care o’er who it belongs to.”

Jamie hadnae the least notion to what Buchan referred, but nae doubt whatever the reason, it lay at the root of the feud betwixt Buchan and his father. Their dispute had been in existence long before Jamie was born, but he hadnae the slightest notion why. On the odd occasion, he had sought answers frae his father—unfortunately, to no avail. Each time, he had faced a father who simply stiffened, his demeanour unyielding, refusing to say aught.

And, aye, in the past he had been guilty of Buchan’s accusations. He felt no shame. Those he’d taken and given pleasure with weren’t the innocents at court—until Eve.

Words, excuses jammed up in his throat, but if anybody deserved them, it was the lass by his side, not Buchan, who glared at him, sword hissing like a viper as it slid from its scabbard. A sound that whispered of death and worse when Hadron’s blade echoed the sound, matching Buchan inch for inch of cold steel.

As he had already discovered, Eve wasnae a lass to place caution first. Suddenly she flung herself against his chest. “If you want Jamie, ye will have to kill me first.”

Up on the tips of her toes, she reached for and grabbed the neck of his shirt—did she but know it, effectively blocking his sword arm while she yelled, “I love Jamie Ruthven. I won’t let ye pull us apart.”

Only at that instant did it occurred to him just how truly young she was and, though he loved her with all that he was, for the first time he wondered…

Freeing his sword arm, he pulled her tight against his ribs on his opposite side and, contrary to the small shiver of doubt that had earlier forced him to hesitate, went on, saying, “I want to marry, Evangeline.” He uttered the words boldly and with more confidence than was due to a man facing two others holding swords, one of them an angry father who had hated his family frae long afore Jamie’s arrival in the world.

“Let me kill him,” snapped Hadron, shifting surprisingly lightly on his large feet, as if ready to spring.

Buchan waved him back with a large, meaty hand. “Nae, however much I’d like to, I have nae the time to be bothered with him,” he said, the words of regret falling wetly from his mouth. “Evie, lass, ye have to come home with me. I’ve had word frae the north and it’s bad. Yer brother John is near death’s door and Callum little better. A tree came down atop them both as they rode back home in a storm. I can bide here nae longer.”

Eve’s folded hand went to her mouth. Jamie heard her gulp, try to hold back a sob with little success. She looked up at him, green eyes awash with tears as moist as the dew they had walked through. “I do love ye, Jamie, but they’re my brothers. I have to go with my father. Much as ye mean to me, I cannae abandon him at this time.”

Her fingers slowly trailed down his chest, reluctant.

Yet the lass slid away then threw herself into her father’s arms, leaving Jamie standing alone, watching the rising sun turn her hair to flames, reminding him of a long-ago occasion—the last time he heard his mother promise to return in a few days. The only difference was that his mother had laughed, a tinkling sound that always reminded his young self of the tales of fairies and elves she loved to fill his ears with. Despite her promise, he ne’er saw her again.

His sword slid back to its place by his side without a sound. Unwrapping his fingers frae its hilt, Jamie’s arm dropped to his side as he watched—aching, silent. The only loud noise came from inside him, the thud of his heart against his breastbone, beating inside his ears. He glanced down, almost surprised as his hands formed fists, bunched tightly the way one did against pain … or to compress into a hard kernel the frightening notion that it might be better this way.

Mayhap her father had the right of it. Jamie Ruthven wasnae good enough for such a bonnie bright lass, didnae deserve such a gift.

Hadron hurried Eve away, hand on her elbow urging haste, their backs to him. Only Buchan spared him another glance, leaving him with the taunting memory of the expression in her father’s eyes that said, ‘I’m no’ finished with ye, Jamie Ruthven.’

Copyright © Frances Housden