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Bound by revenge, a woman turned outlaw and a knight sworn to reclaim his birthright unite to vanquish an enemy of Scotland . . .
After her family is slain and her home seized, Elspet McReynolds flees into the forests surrounding Tiran Castle where she resorts to thievery to survive and save her sole remaining kin. There she finds an unexpected protector and ally in Sir Cailin MacHugh, rightful heir to the earldom of Dalkirk—a noble rumored to have perished at sea . . .
Sir Cailin MacHugh owes his life to the Brotherhood for saving him from a murderous plot. But what is the Knight Templar to do about the fearless, sword-wielding beauty who has enlisted his aid--and awakened his desire? In the face of devastating betrayals and traitorous enemies closing in, can Cailin and Elspet dare claim a love that makes no promises—for a future they may not live to see
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Beneath half-lowered lashes Elspet studied Cailin. At least once she departed, she’d never see this handsome warrior again. Given the stakes, neither could she afford to care what he would think of her.
Elspet rubbed her arms. “’Tis cold.”
Eyes dark with concern swept over her. “Exhausted and injured, you might be coming down with a chill.” He crossed to the hearth.
With his back to her, on a trembling breath, she withdrew the valerian root. After a quick glance to ensure he hadn’t turned, she sifted a liberal amount into his ale, stirred.
Logs clunked in the hearth, and her fingers jerked. A swath of powder spilled on the table. Nay! She swept away the residue, secured the sack, and then stowed the herb.
Sparks swirled within the churn of smoke as he laid several more pieces of wood into the flames. Brushing the dirt from his hands, he stood. “That should keep us warm for the night.” He walked over, settled in the chair, and lifted his mug. Cailin’s brow furrowed.
Her heart pounded. God in heaven, had she missed some of the powder? “Do you have a large family?” she blurted out, desperate to distract him.
Weary blue eyes shifted to her. “If I reply, will you be answering my questions about your personal life as well?”
Tension eased within her. He suspected naught. “Nay.”
With a grunt, he lifted his cup in a mock toast, downed the brew, then hissed, shoved aside the mug. “’Tis God awful, but it wets the throat.”
She forced a smile. “As you said, we were fortunate that any food or drink remained.”
“Nay doubt until the storm arrived, they had planned on dumping this foul brew.” He shoved aside the goblet then stood. “Go to sleep.
“I thank you.” Mindful of her throbbing ankle, Elspet limped to the bed, then slipped beneath the covers. Feigning sleep, she watched for signs of the herb taking effect.
At the hearth he made a pallet. Instead of lying down he knelt, and then made the sign of the cross.
Soft whispers of the Lord’s Prayer reached her, each word thick with grief, each verse as if dredged from his soul. Once Cailin finished, he began again.
Mesmerized by the intensity, riveted by the passion, she couldn’t look away. What had happened to cause him such angst? A part of her tried to ignore the anguish in his voice, but another longed to offer him succor.
Elspet’s heart ached. His faith was a potent reminder of how days before her belief in Him had been as strong. Except, after what she’d witnessed yesterday, she could no longer fathom believing in a god who put people through such horror.
After whispering several more Paternoster’s, he again made the sign of the cross, and then sat back.
On a yawn, the warrior glanced toward her.
Through her lashes, she watched him.
For a long moment, he studied her.
And why wouldn’t he be curious? She’d revealed naught about her past, and during their brief discussion of her travel, she’d remained vague. Neither had she pressed him for information.
However ill-timed and destined to be short lived, she found herself drawn to this handsome warrior. Foolish indeed when soon she would leave.
He started to turn away, and half-tipped over. Muttering a curse, he righted himself.
His lids raised, and she caught the slight dazed look. She gave a relieved exhale. The valerian root was beginning to take effect.
“Aye?” he replied.
“I want to thank you for rescuing me this day.”
“I disagree. Many would have ridden past without a care.”
“That, I f-find,” he slurred, “hard to believe.”
“I would have agreed,” Elspet said, “but since Gaufrid MacHugh, Earl of Dalkirk, took control of Tiran Castle years ago, he rules with a brutal hand.”
He sat, braced himself against the wall, giving his head a quick shake as if to clear the confusion. “Explain.”
What could it hurt? He was unlikely to remember this conversation. “He is a cruel man. All within Dalkirk fear him.”
“As you do?”
Horrific memories of yesterday rolled through her. “Nay. I despise him.”
Far from pleased by the shift in the conversation, she looked away.
Tears burned her eyes and Elspet damned that he’d ask or care. The crackle of flames echoed within the chamber, melded with a faint yell and laughter from below as if the night was normal.
A soft thud had her turning.
Eyes closed, Cailin lay on the floor, his red hair lay flopped against his cheek. On his next breath, he gave a soft snore.
Anxious as she’d been for this moment to arrive, now regret weighed heavy in her mind.
Though she’d known the knight for mere hours, he seemed good, decent, and kind.
Refusing to let her conscience outweigh what she must do, Elspet pushed from the bed and hobbled over to him as quietly as she could. She allowed herself the luxury of skimming her finger along the hard line of his jaw, then sliding the pad of her thumb along his firm mouth.
In sleep his expression had softened as if a gentle man, except she saw the faint scar on his cheek, and another across the side of his neck that disappeared beneath his garb.
He was a man of war, one who would not tolerate being crossed. When he awoke he’d be furious.
A fact that couldn’t be helped.
Pulse racing, Elspet pulled a blanket up to his chest, then moved across the chamber and withdrew his broadsword from the scabbard. The weight of the weapon surprised her, but her gaze shifted to the gold crest etched within the pommel, then to the intricate carvings on the guard. However wrong, this valuable weapon would save Blar’s life.
After securing the sword beneath her cape, she opened the door. Throat tight she glanced back. “I am sorry, Cailin.” Favoring her ankle, Elspet stepped into the hallway, and quietly closed the door in her wake.
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