About the Book:
From across a field of battle, English knight, Alexander, Lord Hardwyck, spots the object of his desire—and his conquest, Scottish traitor Lady Chloe.
Her lies could be her undoing…
Abandoned across the border and disguised for her safety, Chloe realizes the man who besieged her home in Scotland has now become her savior in England. Her life in danger, she vows to keep her identity secret, lest she suffer his wrath, for he wants her dead.
Or love could claim them both and unravel two countries in the process…
Alexander suspects Chloe is not who she says she is and has declared war on the angelic vixen who's laid claim to his heart. A fierce battle of the minds it will be, for once the truth is revealed they will both have to choose between love and duty.
South Hearth Castle
Border of Scotland and England
“Allure! My lady! Ralentir!”
Chloe laughed when she turned around on her speeding horse to spy her French maid. Poor Nicola clutched the hood of her headdress with one hand, her hands scrambling to maintain the reins of her horse, and her bottom bounced up and down at a rather humorous pace. She conceded her old nurse and slowed her horse to a trot until Nicola could catch up.
“My lady, shame on you. You know better than to ride with such… such… imprudence!”
“Oui.” Chloe chose to concede once more.
There was no point in arguing with the woman. Especially when she was sure Nicola would only have the last word. But she just couldn’t help riding hell bent for leather! They’d been waiting on the coast of France for nearly a fortnight before the ship could safely take them across. Then an entire week had been spent cramped inside a small ship’s cabin, with the swaying and rocking of the vessel. She felt like the nearly three weeks past had been consumed by sitting still, and now that they’d reached Scotland she only wanted to be free. To feel the fresh, clean, crisp air wash over her skin as she rode at break neck speed toward home. Nicola gave her a disapproving look, but nodded anyway, silvery blonde curls falling out of her headdress. Whether or not she believed Chloe’s apology was sincere, she was accepting of it, it seemed.
They were not alone of course. A dozen of her father’s guard surrounded her, none of them willing to contradict anything Chloe said. Why? She wasn’t sure. Mayhap because she’d been on the continent for so long, they knew not what to expect of her, or perhaps it was simply that they too wanted to reach home. And yet again, it could be that her father had told them not to argue with her.
Whatever the reason, she was glad they’d let her have a bit of fun for however fleeting it was. Chloe turned to the guardsmen who appeared to be in charge.
“How much further?”
He looked about himself for a moment before turning back to her. “South Hearth is not much further, mayhap another day. Shall we make camp now, my lady?”
Chloe narrowed her eyes. “South Hearth?”
“Aye, my lady.”
“We are not going to Fergusson lands?”
“That we are, my lady.”
“But you said South Hearth. My family has not held South Hearth for…” She trailed off remembering the last time she’d been at the border holding. Jon had been alive then.
“Nigh on five years now, my lady, but his lordship, your father, has once again proven we Scots shall prevail.”
So, her father had taken siege of the castle again? A lot had happened since she’d been sent to serve the French queen five years ago, at the age of thirteen. She couldn’t say she was surprised, or really upset about it. In fact, she was a little elated. South Hearth was home. She’d grown up there. Hadrian’s Wall was her playground. But the fact remained, if her father had retaken the castle—someone would want it back.
“Let us make camp then.” Chloe tried not to giggle at the look of pure relief that crossed her nursemaid’s face. The woman’s rump must be burning.
The following morning they set out at a slower pace, just after sunrise. They broke their fast with pears and cheese as they rode, all of them eager to reach South Hearth walls. As the sun rose high in the sky, the turrets of the keep were visible over the crest of a hill.
Chloe broke out into a wide smile, and ignoring the protests of Nicola and her retainers, she prodded her horse into a canter down the road toward the gate. When she arrived, the guards not far behind her, and Nicola bouncing her way painfully down the hill, her smile faded. Guards circled the top of the battlements. The drawbridge was up, the portcullis down, and gate door closed tightly. They expected trouble. Just as she’d thought. Someone would most definitely be coming to take back the castle. But when was the question.
Before she could open her mouth to order the men to open the way for her, they did so. Calls to her escort were tossed over the walls, and the men she traveled with answered back. As the gates opened, the sounds and smells of the city assaulted her senses. Loud clanking, banging, shouting. Smells of cooking, rubbish, and animals. It all mixed together, and she longed for the French chateau of Queen Isabeau with its pretty smells, and enchanting music.
They rode into town, up the rode past merchants, peasants, clergy and guild workers toward the keep stairs. South Hearth had seemed such a grand place when she was young. Now it only seemed a fort of sorts, not a home.
“My child!” A tall woman atop the steps to the keep came rushing forth.
Chloe recognized her mother immediately. “Maman!” She sped up her horse until she reached the bottom of the keep stairs and then ignoring the hands offered by the guards, leapt to the ground and into her mother’s arms.
It’d been two years since she’d last seen her mother. The Lady Fergusson, had stayed with her for her first few years in service to the French queen, her mother’s cousin, before returning to her husband in Scotland.
Chloe breathed in her mother’s scent, and tried to blink away the sting of tears in her eyes. Come, inside. You must be in need of a bath and something to eat.”
Chloe nodded. As they reached the tops of the steps, Nicola finally drew up to the courtyard, a harried looking knight beside her.
The maid had probably given the man a good tongue lashing, only because Chloe herself wasn’t there to receive the punishment.
“It is so good to be home.”
“Oui, I am glad you finally arrived. We were beginning to worry. Your father and I expected you over a week ago.”
She threaded her arm through her mother’s as they made their way up the spiral staircase to the upper chambers. “There was a storm, and the sea was not safe. We had to wait nearly two weeks before boarding the ship.”
“Ah, I see. At least you have arrived safely. If you hadn’t come by tomorrow a search party was going to be sent out.”
Chloe gasped. “Did you not get my missive?”
“Missive?” They stopped walking and her mother turned toward her, her brows drawn together in concern.
“Oui, Maman. I sent a message to warn of our delay.”
“I received no such warning.”
A chill ran up Chloe’s spine. Had her missive been intercepted? Chloe shook her head. As bad as it was, she dearly prayed the messenger had simply pocketed her coin and spent his time leisurely perusing some bawdy French coastal tavern. She’d seen plenty of the wanton women lining the docks, lifting their skirts to show not so pretty calves.
“I shall ask your father about the missive. No matter, let us not dwell on it.”
Her mother led her to her old chamber, the furnishings surprisingly the same. Those who’d occupied South Hearth after them had not bothered to change it. Her dark polished oak wardrobe was still against the wall. She walked in and ran her hand up the post of the large bed, then sat on the chest of carved oak with roses at the end. The tapestries were even the same. She gazed with nostalgic wonder at the bright blues, golds, reds and greens woven into a picturesque scene of a knight saving a damsel outside a fairy tale castle. She’d spent hours staring at the scene, picturing what her own husband would be like.
“After you’ve had a chance to rest, please come to the great hall. Your father would like a word with you about your future.”
Chloe turned a quizzical look on her mother, who had the foresight to look guilty. “My future?”
Her mother’s countenance could only mean their plans would not be seen well in her own eyes. “Oui.”
“Please, maman, can you not explain?” she pleaded with her mother. She’d only just returned home. Could her mother not just tell her?
“The great hall, ma cherie.”
Chloe hurried through her ablutions, feeling refreshed from her journey and donned the rich blue and gold brocade gown Nicola picked out for her. She rolled her eyes to heaven with frustration at how slow the maid took to plait her hair before donning the matching blue and gold headdress. Her gold braided girdle fitted over her hips, the ends of the tied cord coming halfway down her thigh. She tucked her dirk in place, put on her slippers, and batted Nicola’s hands away.
Although her mother had advised her to rest, this Chloe could not adhere to. Her life was at stake. She rushed to the great hall, where the servants were busy setting out goblets, wine jugs and platters of delicious meats, vegetables in delectable sauces, almonds, figs, and large loafs of bread with steam still rising from their crusty shells.
Her mother stood beside her father who sat in his great chair at the center of the trestle table, her hand on his shoulder.
“Papa,” Chloe said, dipping into a low curtsey.
“How is it that you were only in France for five years, yet you came back with a French accent?” Despite his rebuke, her father smiled, although it was rough around the edges.
“If it pleases, I will try to refrain.”
“You are a dutiful daughter, are you not?”
“Oui—I mean, yes, Papa.”
The baron had changed little in the five years since she’d been gone. He was still strong, fit, and the way he looked at her, still wished she’d fallen instead of her brother Jon. For all his anger at the turn of events though, beneath his hard exterior, she thought she saw a spark in his eyes. Pride perhaps. Pride for her. At least, she
could hope that’s what it was.
“Sit down,” he ordered, his hand sweeping out to indicate the chair beside him. Her mother took her cue, and sat on his other side.
“I am pleased you have returned safely.” He awkwardly patted her hand.
“As am I. It is good to be home.” Chloe kept her gaze in her lap.
“Glad, I am, that you feel that way. South Hearth belongs to the Fergussons. It always has, and we will never let some Sassenachs take it from us again!” At this, he pounded his fist on the table.
Chloe jumped at the sudden movement, but quickly recovered herself.
“As for you, daughter, you will be married.”
“Married?” Chloe couldn’t keep herself from responding, or from the horror that invaded her voice. She didn’t want to marry. Not yet anyway. She hadn’t been home more than a few hours. There’d been no time to meet any of the eligible bachelors, make her choice. But from the determined set of her father’s jaw, she could easily surmise, there wouldn’t be a choice. The picture of her own knight sweeping her off her feet reared up and then started to fade away.
“Aye. You will do your duty.” His statement left no room for argument.
“My duty.” Chloe let the words roll off her tongue. How bitter and rancid they tasted.
“My second in command, Angus is in need of a wife. Since Jon, my son and heir has passed on from this earth, I naturally want to make sure the Fergusson clan is in capable hands. Your duty as my daughter, and only child, is to marry whom I choose for that purpose.”
“Angus.” Chloe tried to remember the man, and then there he was, melting from the woodwork it seemed as he suddenly appeared at the table.
He was old, nearly her father’s age. Still built like a warrior, but old none the less. His face was cruel. Lines etched into the corners of his eyes and brow. But no lines around his mouth. He didn’t smile much.
When she met his eyes—cold watery brown eyes—he nodded.
“Angus, you remember my daughter, Lady Chloe?” her father asked, without even so much as looking at Angus or herself.
Angus didn’t say a word, just nodded again. The man sat down, and the meal began. She watched as he stabbed at a piece of meat, the movement almost like he was stabbing at her heart. There was no talk of wedding plans or even a date, and for that, Chloe was relieved. Mayhap she could push it far enough off, that the man might perish.
What a perfectly horrid thing to think! She berated herself and immediately said a prayer for the man’s health.
After that, Chloe tuned out the conversation, and no one made any comments to her either. When the meal was complete, she snuck out the buttery door and headed for the family chapel. No one deigned to stop her, and even if they did, she would have pushed
past them. Her father was going to force her to marry the cruel, old, Angus. From the look of him, he would be rough with her, unkind. Not a match she would have chosen for herself if they were the two last people on earth, and humankind’s survival depended on it.
About the Author:
Eliza Knight is the multi-published, award-winning author of sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain, and enjoys cold winter nights when she can curl up in front of a roaring fire with her own knight in shining armor. Visit Eliza at www.elizaknight.com or her historical blog, History Undressed, which was recently mentioned in a feature article in The Wall Street Journal. www.historyundressed.blogspot.com