Excerpts from Susan's Books

An Excerpt from Laird of Twilight

When his grandmother's will forces a reclusive and scholarly viscount to search for a fairy bride, he finds a beautiful Highland girl more magical than he ever thought possible . . . .

Scotland, The Highlands, September 1822

            Best hurry, Elspeth told herself. Two carriages had departed since she had first entered the garden, but someone might remain in the house. Coming here, she had hoped the place would be empty and had thought the storm might hold off—she had been wrong on both counts. She could only hope Lord Struan himself, the new viscount, was not still at home.
            The household staff would be leaving for a few days, as was traditional this time of year when the fairies were said to ride the Struan estate—so this had seemed a good time to explore the garden to look for her grandfather’s lost stone, said to be magical, and which was supposedly lost in the gardens at Struan House. But the day’s poor weather was making that task difficult—and in broad daylight, despite the downpour, she might be spotted trespassing.
            Well, she was here, and may as well search quickly. According to legend—and to Grandfather Donal MacArthur too—a fairy entrance, a portal into another realm, existed somewhere on the hill at the back of the vast gardens. Curious to know if Donal’s tales of meeting the fairies had any truth to them, as he claimed, she had come to the garden by the back gate. But now, wary of rain and mud, not to mention being seen, she knew she should leave.
            Her grandfather would have said that the Daoine Síth had brought on the bad weather. Tradition said the Fey had such power, and if so, they would want to prevent anyone finding a portal to their realm. Caught between belief and logic, Elspeth stood motionless by the rock wall high on the hill, and glanced around in the rain.
            She tried to remember where her grandfather had stood the day the two of them had visited this place years ago, when he had disappeared into the rock itself—or so she had thought as a child; she had run home when he had vanished, and when he had returned much later, he said he had gone into the fairy world. Being so young, she had believed him.
            Where had he hidden the pretty blue stone? He had used it that day as if it were a key, and had set it aside. 
            Pulling up her plaid shawl against the slanting rain gave her some protection, but her gown, short jacket, and leather boots were becoming soaked. She needed to look around quickly and depart. If discovered up here, she could hardly explain that she was searching for a lost fairy stone that belonged to the MacArthur family, not to the Struan estate. It would sound pure madness. The elderly Lady Struan would have enjoyed it immensely, but that lady was gone—a good friend to the MacArthurs and a kind woman, she had been fascinated by legends of fairies, and even wrote books about them. But her heir, the new viscount lately arrived from Edinburgh, would not be so accommodating.
            Even the fairies would have sense enough to stay out of such rain, Elspeth told herself, wiping a muddy hand across her brow. She made her way along the hilltop carefully, the earth mucky beneath her feet. Thunder boomed, and she jumped a little. Hurry, she told herself.
            A dog barked, and a man called out in the distance. Startled, Elspeth whirled to peer through sheeting rain, taking a step. Her heel hit a sluice of rainwater and her feet went out from under her—and before she could stop herself, she was sliding downward on a cascade of mud. Bumping along, she landed with a lurch at the bottom of the slope, skirts tangled and mucky, feet sprawled. Sitting up, she pushed her shawl away from her face and shoved back her dripping hair.
            Black boots stood an inch deep in rain and mud just in front of her. Looking up the length of him, she saw brown trousers, a walking stick, a brown jacket, a damp neck cloth—and a handsome face, blue eyes, the quirk of a bemused smile. Lord Struan was staring down at her.
            “Why, Miss MacArthur,” he said. “How pleasant to see you again.”

* * *
            No fairy nor eldritch hag, as the housemaid had feared, sprawling at his feet. Just a wet, bedraggled girl in a muddy dress and plaid shawl. Slim and well-shaped from her neat ankles and small boots to her slender shoulders, she looked young, rather pretty despite all, quite miserable—and familiar. James MacCarran, Viscount Struan, suppressed his surprise to see her here, of all places, and in such disarray.
            “Miss MacArthur,” he repeated, leaning down to extend a hand. “Let me help you up.”
            Gasping, she hastily shoved her skirts down over her legs and adjusted the sopping plaid. James saw a heart-shaped face haloed by a soggy bonnet and curling tendrils of black hair, and the eyes that looked up at him were gray-green, silver as the rain.
            “May I ask,” he murmured, “what the devil you are doing in my garden?”
            “Lord Struan, good day,” she said. “You need not swear.”
            “Apologies. I plead the shock of the moment.” He offered his hand again. “Are you hurt?”
            She waved his hand away and managed to clamber to her feet, wincing suddenly. “I’m fine, sir.”
            He doubted that, seeing how she favored one foot and hopped about. “Are you sure? Well then. What can I do for you?” Water ran from the brim of his hat. He was drenched and so was she as the rain continued to pound. He waited politely.
            “Welcome to Struan and the glen, my lord,” she said. Thunder rumbled. “Are you just arrived from Edinburgh? I hope you are enjoying the Highlands.” Wiping the back of her gloved hand across her muddy face, she sniffed.
            He inclined his head. “I am quite enjoying them now.”
            “Truly, I must go. Please excuse my intrusion.” Turning, she stepped to the side, and gasped as her footing faltered. James took her elbow.
            “Come along, Miss MacArthur,” he said firmly. “I am not about to let you walk out in a thunderstorm. Into the house we go.” He turned with her.
            He led her down another incline and along the stone pathway through the wet, raggedy garden, and soon realized that the girl was having difficulty walking. The rain lashed nearly sideways now, and he set an arm about her shoulders to protect her as she hunched forward, drawing up the soggy plaid against the downpour.
            Lightning cracked brightly overhead, and the wind whirled about them. James felt an eerie sense, as if there were real danger in the air even beyond the storm.
            “Hurry,” he said, pausing to snatch her up in his arms, taking the garden path in quick strides. He had dropped his cane somewhere, but for some reason his weaker leg did not hinder him as much as usual. Moving along a slate pathway lined with leggy marigolds and late pansies, he headed for the nearest door, the one that led to the kitchen, while Elspeth MacArthur rode lightly in his arms, arms about his neck.
            Thunder pounded again, and for an instant James resisted the nightmare at the edge of his thinking, a dark glimpse of the moments when he and his Highland regiment had defended ground against an onrush of French cuirassiers—booming thunder too often brought back Quatre Bras. But the girl and her need was a fine distraction this time. He hurried, reaching the door, managing the handle as he balanced Miss MacArthur in his arms, and nearly hurtled inside.
            In the dim corridor, the wolfhound and two terriers waited, shuffling out of the way as James kicked the door shut and turned to carry the girl down the hall, past the kitchen, up a few steps to the main hallway and along to the parlor. The dogs trotted close and curious on his heels.
            The MacArthur girl was a sopping wet bundle, but no burden. She fit in his arms like sin itself. Her curves eased against him, warming them both. Her face was close to his, breath soft upon his cheek, one arm circling his shoulders, a hand on his chest.
            His breath came quickly, his heart slammed not from the physical effort, but from the need to ignore how sweetly she fitted so warm and wet against him. She was no doubt ruining a very good shirt, he told himself. Think of the need to get her to the heat of the fire and—no, he thought. Not that. Think of the ache in his left leg from a wound incurred several years ago. Think of the good cane he had dropped somewhere in the garden. Blast it, his hat was lost, too, and the rain had likely ruined a decent coat as well.
            Mundane thoughts, but helpful for keeping his mind off the delicious creature in his arms, gazing up at him as if he was some sort of hero. He nearly laughed. Dull was what he preferred to be, what he had worked hard to establish for himself these past years. No hero any longer, he hoped. This mad rain-soaked adventure was out of character for him now.
            But adventure was nothing new whenever he encountered Elspeth MacArthur. He had met the young lady only weeks before in Edinburgh, at the ladies’ assembly during the king’s visit—not only had he met her, he had ended up kissing her on an impulse he still could not explain, a tender kiss and an incandescent feeling that had filled his heart and soul in one spontaneous moment, one he had not yet forgotten.
            Set it aside, he admonished himself. Once she was dry and warm, he would find out why the lovely Miss MacArthur of Kilcrennan—the local weaver’s granddaughter—had been in his garden. Surely she had been mistaken for the so-called fairy that had scared off the last of the housemaids, turning his household—with its new laird in residence less than a week—upside down. . . .

An excerpt from Susan King's "A Scottish Carol" 

a novella in The Last Chance Christmas Ball . . . . 


On the way to Lady Holly's Christmas Ball, Dr. Henry Seton, Laird of Cranshaw, and Clarinda Douglas, Lady Hay, the widowed daughter of Henry's old mentor - are stranded in a blizzard at Cranshaw's home in Scotland. While Clary yearns to go to the grand ball, Henry is secretly relieved to miss it -- and as the snow flies and the hearth flames crackle, both must face their shared past of first love, heartbreak, and the fear of starting over . . . . 

December 1815


                    Firelight glowed and snow fell, and Dr. Henry Seton, Lord Cranshaw, dozed in the chair. The remnant of a dream stirred yearning, loneliness. He frowned.

                  “Sir.” A whisper.

                  Henry opened his eyes. A vision stood in the dim light of the doorway, an angel or a ghost clothed in frost and mist. A tall guardian hound stood by her side. The exquisite spirit watched him gently. Henry went still, wrapped in her spell.

                 “Lord Cranshaw. Pardon me. It is Yule Eve, and I am expected.” Slowly the figure came toward him. She limped, the dog buttressing her carefully.

                  His dog. And—Clary? Could it be? He had not seen her for years—well, not like this. He had seen her quite recently, though disguised as one of his medical students.

    Henry sat up, cleared his throat. “Pardon me,” he said gruffly.

                    “My fault,” Clarinda Douglas protested. “I did not mean to startle you.”

                    He got hastily to his feet. “I was just…reading.”

                    “I do apologize. You looked quite as if you saw a ghost.”

                    He tipped his head. “In a way I have,” he murmured, “Miss Douglas. Greetings. I believe it is Lady Hay now?”

                    “Yes. Though I am widowed.” She moved, a tap of the cane, a slow step.

                    “I had heard. My condolences.” He took her hand, cool and slim in its soft little glove.
                    “Thank you.” She watched him. With those gray-blue eyes and flaxen hair, that pale coat and bonnet, she looked a fragile ice princess. No wonder he had thought her a ghost.
                    How strange to stand so close to her in the intimate warmth of his study, with neither of them knowing what to say. He released her hand. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
                    “I expected to meet your sister here.” She smiled—tremulously, he saw. He knew the spectrum of her smiles, anxious, sweet, mischievous…seductive. “Mrs. Seton-Graham and I are going to Lady Holbourne’s ball down in England.”
                    “You are my sister’s traveling companion?” He blinked, surprised. “She never said.”
                    “We are good friends,” she explained. Henry nodded, aware, though Fiona rarely mentioned Clary. “I was also invited to the Christmas ball at Holbourne Abbey, and Mrs. Seton-Graham kindly offered to share her coach. She said you…”
                    “Would not be here?” he supplied.
                    Her fingers flexed on the cane’s ivory handle. A gift from her father when she turned sixteen, he remembered. “When your sister arrives we will leave, and be no bother to you.”
                    “You have not heard? Have a seat, Lady Hay. Here, Maximilian, out of there.” He moved the dog away from a low, scroll-end settee beside the fire.
                    She sat tentatively, primly, gloved hands clasped. “Heard what, Lord Cranshaw?”
                    So formal, despite all. He scowled slightly. “Fiona is unable to attend the ball, as it happens. She sent a note today by messenger, and sent word to Holbourne Abbey and to you as well. Her children are ill.”
                    She gasped. “The little girls, are they very ill?”
                    “Only chickenpox. They will soon be hale again. I take it you did not receive word?”
                    “No.” She pulled at her gloved fingers. “Oh, dear.”
                    “Indeed,” he murmured, watching her.
                    “But my coachman just left,” she said faintly. She straightened her shoulders. “Perhaps your coachman could bring me to him? Kendrick has gone to see family who live nearby. And Fiona lives west of here, I think. I could go there perhaps. I would not trouble you, but...I have no other transportation.” She looked distressed.
                    “My own coachman has left for the holiday, but I can take you to meet your man,” Henry offered. Hastening Clary away seemed a very good idea. Memories were crowding him already. “Fiona’s home is fourteen miles west, quite far in bad conditions. And if you have not had the chickenpox, I would not advise visiting. I can easily run you to meet your coachman.”
                    “I could not impose.”
                    “You must, if you wish to leave here,” he said, “and go to your ball.”
                    “Your sister said you were attending too. I thought you might be gone already.”
                    “I agreed to escort Fiona, but with her message and the worsening weather, I sent my own regrets by courier this morning.” He stopped. “Do you—require an escort to the ball?” He craved his solitude, but time was, he would have done anything for Clary Douglas. That was still true, he realized in dismay.
                    “My driver can take me to my cousins’ home near Holbourne.” She bit at her lower lip. “I am not sure what to do. The weather is turning rather poorly.” She glanced at the windows.
                    “Nothing to worry over. I will take you to meet your coachman.” What the devil was in that brose, to make him so biddable? But it was Clary, he knew. She always had a damnable effect on him. He felt so willing around her. Those feelings came back now, here, with her.
                    “Thank you, Lord Cranshaw.”
                    “Where is your coachman’s family home?”
                    “I do not know. The name is Kendrick.”
                    “Tenants of mine. They live a few miles from here. I can run you there. First, take some refreshment. You must be cold after your journey.”
                    “Should we not go now, before the roads are slick?”
                    Henry glanced out to see trees already whitening. “Perhaps your driver should return you to Edinburgh instead, Lady Hay.”  
                    “He is a sensible driver, and we are expected in England.” Clary shivered. “Oh. A hot drink first would be nice, if the cook or the housekeeper has something ready.” She glanced toward the door. Max now lay flopped over the threshold, a guardian decidedly off duty.  
                    “My servants,” Henry said, “are gone.”
                    She blinked. “All of them?” She sat ramrod straight on the settee.
                    “Most. The forester—my groundskeeper—and his wife have a house on the property. He is also the parish minister, but the living is small enough that he keeps the Cranshaw grounds too. Their son is one of the grooms. I’ll have him harness the chaise. With luck, he is in the stables looking after the horses. The other servants have left for the holiday. I expected to be away the week, until plans changed. We are alone here,” he finished, “but for Max.”
                    “Then we must leave soon. It is so—improper.”
                    “A bit awkward,” he admitted. “But we will keep it our secret, and be off soon enough. As to refreshment, my housekeeper left a good brose, and there is claret. We could manage tea.”
                    “I do not want to be any trouble.” She did not look at him.
                    Trouble? He nearly laughed. She had always been the sweetest form of trouble. But those days and those feelings were gone.
                    “Tea, then,” he said, sensing she wanted it. He rose. “I’ll go down to the kitchen.”
                    “Let me prepare it,” she offered, standing.
                    “I am quite self-sufficient. It comes of having been in a regiment.”
                    “Yes—I heard that you had gone to Ireland, then Belgium, and made a good showing.”
                    “Quite,” he said curtly. He stepped over Max, who leaped up to pace between his master and his new friend. Then the deerhound trotted over to sit beside Clary.
            Henry paused. She was having the same damnable effect on the dog.

Read more in The Last Chance Christmas Ball! 

An excerpt from The Angel Knight . . . 

Scotland, 1307 

Gavin felt struck to his very soul.
Lady Christian lifted her head, hair in straggling tendrils framing her gaunt face, and looked directly at him. That flash of deep green was a startling burst of life in her shadowed face. Her steady gaze showed strength and pride and asked no pity. The spark in her lustrous eyes had wrenched his heart. Somehow her fragile soul had touched his own, guarded as it was. He exhaled, glanced at his uncle.
"Fainted away," John said. "God save us, she looked at you as if you were some saint, standing there. As if you—" he stopped suddenly. "What did Queen Eleanor call you, years ago? Aye, the Angel Knight. This one looked at you as if she believed you were her savior."
Gavin cringed at the embarrassing memory of that youthful name. Thank God, he thought, age had creased and hardened the good looks he had inherited from his Scottish mother. He had changed much since Queen Eleanor had called him her Angel Knight. He had triumphed on the tourney fields through skill, and he had charmed the ladies of the court with his looks and his manners. He had enjoyed splendor and favor. But those days had been long ago, before the queen's death, before Berwick. And before he had wed—and lost—Jehanne.
He had changed, arrogant no longer, glad to be cleansed of that. But humility had come at a high price.
He had not been able to save his wife. And he could not help this girl. His soul had grown hard, lost in shadow. No one would call him angel now. Least of all this young, dying woman.
She could not be saved. He knew the signs—the rapid, shallow breaths; pale skin, bluish lips; cough and weakness. The lung illness had a fierce hold on her.
Suddenly he wanted to tear open her cage and carry her away to safety. But that was foolish, a notion fit for a roman de chevalerie.
"King Edward has little mercy where the Scots are concerned. He will not listen to me in this matter," he told John, turning away.
"We cannot leave here without freeing her."
"What should we do? Steal her away? It cannot be done."
"The sentry said Oliver Hastings brought her here last September," John said then.
Gavin frowned. "So the king's demon still rides for England?"
"Still acts as Edward's sword arm in Scotland."
"No doubt he relishes every stroke."
"I hear he visits this girl whenever he is in Carlisle. Orders food withheld, blankets removed. The guards say he questions her mercilessly."
Gavin's fingernails bit into his palm. "He has a taste for cruelty to women. What does he want from her?"
"The sentry did not know, but says the girl refuses to talk to Hastings, although he beats her."
"Jesu," Gavin growled. "Must you tell me this?"
"Aye," John said quietly.
Gavin glanced back at the girl. Though his heart seemed to twist in his chest, he turned away abruptly and began to stride along the wall walk. "She will likely die before the king even grants me an interview."
"You'll help her. Angel knight—it is still in you, lad," his uncle said as he walked with him.
"Eight years in the French court, and a man emerges either a cynic or a sinner. Never a saint. She is dying, and worse, a Scot. The king will not listen."
"You will convince him."
"You credit me too well. I spoke my mind before and earned charges of treason and exile. The king could have ordered me hanged. I am scant hope as that girl's savior. Do not forget—Edward despises the Scots with a poisonous fury." He stalked ahead, seeing a sentry nearby. "Bring a coal brazier and blankets to the prisoner," he snapped.
The guard blinked. "My lord—"
"Now!" Gavin roared. The man ran along the wall walk.
"Ah," John remarked as they walked on.
"Little enough to do for the girl."
"That, and asking permission to remove her to a convent, is little enough well done," John said. 
"Perhaps," Gavin murmured. . . .


from The Raven's Moon . . . 
Desperate to help her wrongly imprisoned brother, Mairi Macrae takes to the Scottish highways to steal the execution warrant and prove his innocence—but she waylays the wrong man when she takes down Border officer Rowan Scott. 
A notorious deputy with a secret mission, Rowan wants nothing to do with the beautiful Highland thief—yet both are caught in an intrigue over lost treasure and a mysterious portent. While passion steals both their hearts, Rowan and Mairi must take any risk—lay down their lives—to save each other . . .

            In the darkness, despite the pain in his head, Rowan Scott lashed out to grab the hand of his captor. "Who are you?" he asked. “Where am I?”
The young woman did not answer, though her hand tensed and she pulled against his grip. He lifted his head and tried to move, and though the pain decided him against it, he kept a taut grip on the girl’s slender wrist.
He peered up at her face, blurred and shadowed, above his. A candle flame sliced like a golden blade through the darkness. The brightness hurt his eyes. He was aware of his aching skull—and the warm, comfortable cushion beneath his head. The girl’s lap.
"Rowan Scott." Her whisper lured him back from the fog that sucked at him. Now there were two of her—now one—a pale face and a sweep of dark hair like braided silk. "Rowan Scott," she repeated. "How do you feel?"
He lifted a hand to his head. "Who are you?" he asked again.
"Mairi." She said it with a long, nasal "ah": Mah-re. The sound was breathy, velvety. Gaelic. Intrigued, he frowned up at her. A Highland woman, here in the Borders? He was dreaming, for an ethereal beauty gazed down at him, serene, with dark hair, her eyes tranquil gray. A restful sight.
Yet this was the same lass who had slammed the ball of a pistol butt against his head with the force of a cannon shot earlier this evening.
He grimaced and touched his head. Cool fingers pushed his away. "You'll make the wound bleed," she said.
He accepted that, glancing around the room. Dark. Stone walls, window slit, single torch on the wall. No furniture. Prison again?
"What is this place?" he asked.
"You’re safe here until you're strong enough to leave," she replied.
Safe? He wanted to laugh. Slowly he sat, then leaned against the cold stone wall. He felt swamped in dizziness. Blood pounded in his head and his stomach lurched and he wanted to puke. The lass waited—divided into two hazy images, blended again.
"Stay still," she said.
"You stay still," he said, touching his aching, bandaged brow. “I should never have taken off my helmet with you around,” he muttered.
“Leave it be, Rowan Scott." Her voice was calm, magical and warm.
"How do you know my name?"
"The paper in your—"
"You took the papers?" His leather jack was gone, his doublet as well, he now realized. The shirt he wore was too small and not his. He still had his damp breeches, but his boots were gone too. "What the devil! Where did you find the paper?"
"In your boot."
"Ah." Good, he thought. The thieving wench had not found the other, more important, document that he carried. “Where is my gear?"
"Wet, but drying now."
"My horse?" Valentine was a valuable animal and a worthy prize for any Border reiver. He might never see his horse again. The thought infuriated him.
"Stabled and fed," she replied. "You will have him back."
He did not trust that. "My weapons?"
She smiled a little. "Would I leave weapons in your reach? Your dirk and sword, pistol and lance are safely put away."
"Pouch? And coin?"
"Safe as well."
And in your pocket, he thought. He tried to absorb what had happened.
The girl and a companion—he remembered two riders in the rain—had attacked him and must have taken him for ransom, a common money-making tactic along the Border. He was no stranger to capture and imprisonment, ransom either. He and his Scott kin had taken their share of prisoners, collecting coin or cattle in return for a bit of Blackdrummond hospitality.
“Which riding family are you?” he asked her. He was still puzzled by the Gaelic accent.
"My cousins are Kerrs." Her tone had a chill in it now.
"Godamercy," he muttered. The Kerrs had feuded with his kin for years. "So I am a hostage," he said. "I assume you mean to ransom me."
"Ransom?" She frowned. "No."
Scowling, Rowan tried to think. "What dungeon is this?"
"An old tower ruin," she said.
"Ah," he said. “Lincraig Castle.” He knew the place now, glancing around. Lincraig belonged to his grandfather. Rowan had not been inside the place for years. Why would Kerrs capture and confine him on Scott property? If the girl had found the letter in his boot—if she could read it—she knew he was Blackdrummond himself.
He considered what it would take to subdue her and walk out. But the very thought exhausted him. He tilted his head against the stone wall.
"Be careful. Your head is sore hurt," she said.
He tilted one brow and looked at her. "Aye, thanks to a wee lass with a great heavy pistol. Why did you hit me?"
"You were attacking my friend."
"Was I?" He pressed the bandage and winced.
"Leave it be."
She stood. She was not tall, but long-legged and slender in male clothing too large for her. The long, thick braid fell over her shoulder, sheened dark in the candlelight.
Her face was sweet, her eyes wide and honest. She befuddled him. He could not reconcile that delicate face with her vicious attack and the theft of his gear and horse.
"What riding family would send a wee lass to do their work?" he asked.
"No one sent me."
"You pounced on me, clobbered my head and took everything but my breeks. Why?"
"I will be back later with food and drink," she said, and moved toward the door.
Rowan shot out a hand to grab at her ankle, yanking, despite the pain when he moved. She fell hard to her hands and knees, and he pulled her toward him.
"Let go," she gasped. He did not.
"Tell me why you rode me down," he growled, keeping hold of her ankle in its leather boot. He would not let on that holding her leg took all his strength.
She smacked at him, twisted, but he held firm.
"Who are you? Answer me!"
"My Border kinsmen will hang you if you harm me!"
"Border lass! Hardly. Why would a Highland lass ride a Lowland road in the night, attacking a traveler for his coin and his horse?"
She stopped and stared. A strand of hair slipped across her eyes. She blew at it irritably. "Highlander?" she asked innocently.
"You, my lass, are a Highlander," he said, pulling her toward him. "And a highway thief. Tell me what you are about here."
She twisted, but he tightened his grip. She kicked, he blocked.
"Tell me!" he roared. He thought his skull would split.
She glared at him, breathing hard. "I am no thief."
"You broke my head, but I could break your ankle like a twig unless I have the truth from you now. Who are you?"
"My cousins are Kerrs," she gasped. "My friends are Armstrongs. And you are a dead man for this deed."
"I ought to be dead for the head crack you gave me." He tugged on her leg. "Kerrs or Armstrongs, your first word was a Gaelic one. What is your game here the Kerrs?"
She grunted and turned away, but he dragged her toward him.
“Let go," she said. "It hurts."
"Tell me the truth," he demanded.
When she nodded, he released her, and she scrambled away from him to sit against the wall, rubbing her ankle, sending him little acid glances.
"I should have tied your hands and feet," she muttered.
"No doubt. Talk." He leaned against the wall. His head spun and he thought again he might vomit or black out. He sucked in cool air until the feeling passed.
"Well?" he asked again. “Why did you ride out after me in the dark as I took the highway tonight?"
"I wanted something from you," she said.
"And now you have twenty pounds Scots silver, a sword with an Irish hilt, two wheel-lock pistols, a lance, a latchbow, and a good steel bonnet. And a Galloway horse finer than any I will ever see again."
"You will have them all back."
"I had better," he grunted.
"I do not want your silver or your gear. I wanted—to know who you were." She looked away. The dark braid whipped over her shoulder. "I just needed to know."
"You have the writ, so now you know. Rowan Scott of Blackdrummond, the Border warden’s new deputy. Now tell me. Who ransoms me?" He narrowed his eyes. “Are you kin to Simon Kerr?" he asked then. "His daughter? His leman?"
She lifted her chin in icy silence. He waited.
“Who is your family, Mairi o' the Highlands?"
"Why did the king's council send you here?" she countered.
"That is not yours to know."
"What orders did the council give you?"
"You have some quarrel with me," he said. "And now I have one with you."
"We two have more quarrel than you can guess," she said tightly.
He wondered how long he could continue this polite conversation before he had to lean over and be sick.
She stood and went to the door, yanking it open and slamming it behind her. Rowan heard the door bar dropping into place.
He sighed and rested his head against the wall.
Next the door wrenched open, and a blanket and a wrapped bundle were tossed in. A few oatcakes rolled out. A leather flask hit the floor too. Rowan stopped it deftly with his foot.
"My thanks," he drawled as the door slammed again.
Looking about, he suddenly smiled to himself.
Lincraig Castle was no confinement for a Blackdrummond Scott. He knew the crannies and passages within the old ruin. As soon as his head ached less, he would find a quick way out and be far from this place by morning.
Then a new thought occurred. The girl had asked about his orders from the crown.
What would a Highland lass know about the lost Spanish gold he had been sent here to recover?

Half-Scots and half gypsy, beautiful Tamsin Armstrong boldly raids across the Border with her kinsmen—until she is captured and held hostage by William Scott, a laird with royal ties. Amid plots and counterplots, Tamsin and William discover a powerful attraction—yet fate thrusts them into a diabolical scheme to abduct the infant queen of Scots—and a grave danger that could destroy everything . . .  

Her eyes were a cool, delicate green even in torchlight—but her gaze was hot and furious. If her gloved hands and booted ankles had not been bound, William Scott thought, she might have thrown herself at him in a rage.
Of the men gathered in the dungeon cell watching the girl, William stood closest. He advanced toward her while his English host—her captor—stayed cautiously near the door and his guardsmen.
She watched William warily, her nostrils flared, eyes narrowed, breath heaving beneath her leather doublet. Despite male clothing and the agile strength of her resistance, none of them would have mistaken her for a lad. She was clearly female, with well-shaped curves beneath doublet, breeches, and high boots.
Besides, William thought wryly as he took a step forward, only a woman could cast a glare that would make armed men hesitate.
She reminded him of a cornered wildcat: lithe, tawny, eyes blazing. Yet he saw a flicker of fear in her gaze. He remembered all too well what it was like to be confined, bound, and watched like a mummer's animal. Though he had been a lad at the time, the day of his own capture—the day of his father’s hanging—burned clear in his memory.
He edged a bit closer. "Be calm, lass," he murmured.
Her glance darted from him to the others, sparking like green fire. She looked down at the man who lay collapsed at her feet. Large, blond, bearded, and considerably older than the girl, he seemed barely conscious. Blood seeped from a wound on his brow. The girl stood over him like a fierce guardian.
William advanced steadily, palm out. "Calm, lass, we only want to talk to you."
She shuffled back, keeping her balance despite her bound ankles. Tendrils of long, dark hair spilled over her eyes. She shook back the silken veil and glared at him.
"Take care, man. She will attack," Jasper Musgrave warned behind him. "I know her. A savage—half Border Scot, half gypsy. A wild girl, that one. They say no man will wed her, though her Scottish father bribes and begs men to be her suitors."
William saw understanding and a flash of hurt in the girl’s eyes at the words. "She's no savage," he said over his shoulder. "Look how she defends herself and her companion. She thinks we mean them harm."
“And so we do!” Musgrave laughed harshly, shifting his great bulk a step or two closer. "She and her father and the rest of their comrades took my horses."
"That’s her father?" William had seen the prisoners only moments ago, when Jasper Musgrave had led him down here the dungeon in this English castle. Though it was past midnight, he and Musgrave had sat late by the fire drinking Spanish sherry and negotiating a complex matter of couched bribery and cautious acceptance. The good, mellow sherry had not made up for the sour discussion.
Musgrave's men had then informed their lord that they had captured two Scottish reivers who had stolen some horses. The rest of the thieves had fled, but two were now imprisoned in Musgrave’s dungeon. William had been asked to witness their interrogation, as Musgrave’s guest and a member of a reiving surname himself.
“Aye, father and daughter," Musgrave was saying. "Border scum from the Scottish side. They and their kin have plagued me for years. My land lies south of his land, with six miles between our towers. Now I’ll see them hanged for their mischief at last." He gestured toward the man collapsed on the floor. "Fortunate for us he took a sore hurt. Otherwise Archie Armstrong would have got away again."
"Armstrong!" William glanced at him. "Of what place?"
"Merton Rigg," Musgrave said. "Half Merton, some call it, because the tower sits directly on the—"
"Directly on the Border line, in the area called the Debatable Land," William said quickly. "Merton sits half in Scotland and half in England, since the house was built before the current border was shifted. I know of it."
"Well, the English part of that land is mine,” Musgrave muttered. “The case has been in the Session courts for years. No judge will settle the boundaries, since it would entail a change in the national borders." He peered at William. "You know Armstrong of Merton Rigg?"
"My father rode with him, long ago."
"Your father! A notorious scoundrel. You had the favor of your King James once, but he's dead and gone, leaving his kingdom to an infant heiress. You have no king’s favor now, William Scott, and you’re a rogue yourself." Musgrave folded his hands over his belly. "But you are just the rogue we need—a canny Scot with ties to the crown, yet sense enough to join our cause."
"Aye, sense enough," William muttered bitterly. He noticed that the girl was listening, eyes keen, breath heaving. He glanced at her father, a brawny heap on the earthen floor, blood smeared over the man's face and head.
Despite the wound, and the pale whiskers, William recognized Archie’s once-reddish head and strong features. Archie Armstrong had been his father’s close comrade, a huge, blond, jovial man. William had been a boy when Armstrong’s two sons had been hanged, but he remembered his own father’s distress over the incident. Archie's daughter was younger than her brothers, William realized, and years younger than his own thirty years.
As Musgrave murmured to the guards behind him, William suddenly recalled something further about Archie Armstrong. An image sprang to mind with a near-physical shock.
He remembered seeing Archie Armstrong on the day of his father's death. William had ridden through a glen, his horse led by the men who took him prisoner that day, a captive of the Scottish crown. He had looked up to see Archie on horseback on the crest of a hill, watching the party ride past. Archie had lifted a hand in salute to William.
A dark-haired child sat in Archie's lap that day. She had waved to William. He remembered waving back. And he recalled, too, how desperately he had wanted to break free and ride to the refuge and care of his father's friend.
Now he stared at Archie's daughter. This wild half-gypsy girl must have been the little girl he had seen that day. Her solemn salute, and her father's, had meant everything to him once, a shining memory of honor and safety that he had treasured as a boy, a captive of the crown for years.
"Archie is a scoundrel," Musgrave was saying. "He’ll lend his hand to our scheme—or he’ll get the noose. The girl—I am not decided," he drawled.
His tone made William’s skin crawl. "Archie? He's a minor laird and a small midnight raider," he said casually. "He’s no use and no harm. If I were you, I’d just let him go."
Inside, he felt a powerful urge to protect these two Armstrongs and keep them away from the dark scheme in which William was already involved. If he could help it, this proud, reckless Borderman and his daughter would not be brought into it.
Fists clenched, he resolved then to do whatever it took—anything—to set them free. He owed Archie and his daughter that much.

1 comment:

  1. Well, that was a real tease. It's already November 19 in Australia so here's to the book downloading soon!