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Released Oct 27th, 2015
There is little hope for sanctuary in the midst of the tumultuous Scottish border wars, yet one woman may find safe refuge . . . in the arms of her sworn enemy . . .
Jennet Graeme has witnessed terrible tragedy during the many years of strife between the Scots and the English. As Scottish invaders plunder her convent sanctuary, she defiantly resists the blond warrior who claims her as his prize. But his brute strength is overpowering and Jennet is forced to ride with him through the lawless lands, tending to the wounded, protected and desired by a man she wants to hate . . . but cannot . . .
Sir Hacon Gillard is moved by Jennet’s compassion and mercy. As a loyal knight, he’s pledged fealty to his king’s command, even as he loses his heart to this remarkable woman. Merciless in combat . . . yet there burns within him a spark for something far beyond the heat of battle…
“And what do ye mean to do with that wee needle, lass?” he drawled in a soft, deep voice.
“Cut ye a new smile, ye godless heathen,” she cried, and lunged at him.
He caught her with ease, one large gauntleted hand curled tightly around her thin wrist, the mail cutting into her skin. “So fierce for a nun.” As they struggled, he turned slightly so that her back faced the hallway.
There was no way she could break his grip, but the amusement in his voice kept her struggling to push her dagger down until it might pierce his flesh. “I am no nun,” she cried, “but a seeker of refuge, and I mean to send ye straight into hell’s fires for defiling this holy place!”
“’Tis a petty threat to hurl at a mon who is already excommunicated.”
“So the abbess spoke true. The Bruce’s men are naught but the devil’s minions, cast off by the Pope.” She saw a look of cool amusement on what was visible of his hard face, then, without warning, a blinding pain filled the back of her head.
Hacon caught the too-slim girl as she collapsed, rendered unconscious by his comrade’s blow to her head. “I wondered if ye meant to act, Dugald, or stand by and watch me being slaughtered.”
Dugald grunted. He frowned down at the heavy silver chalice with which he had struck the girl, then dropped it back into the sack he held. “She had no chance. ’Twill be a woeful shame to kill her. The wee lass has spirit.”
“Kill her? Now, why should I kill her?”
“We were told to show as little mercy as the English king did when he took this place in Baliol’s Rebellion. Kill all we can and plunder the place.”
“And this”—Hacon neatly tossed the unconscious girl over his shoulder—“is plunder.”
“Aye? Looks like a wee lass to me. And what need have we of a nun, forsaken by the Pope as we are?”
“She isnae a nun. Are ye so eager to spill her blood?”
“Nay. I have no stomach for killing a lass, and weel ye ken it. I have no stomach for angering the Black Douglas either. The Bruce chose a fierce, hard mon as his lieutenant, and ’tis unwise to cross him. Douglas doesnae mean to halt here but to go on. What will ye do with your plunder then? Ye cannae hide her from him.”
“I willnae hide her. She is mine, and there is an end to it. Now, grab hold of her blanket and help me tie her onto my back.” He nodded toward her cot.
Even as he did as he was told, Dugald grumbled, “And how do ye expect to fight with such a burden?”
“This slight lass is no burden, and I doubt much fighting will be done. The townsfolk flee if they are able. We but need to fill our coffers with plunder.”
“If we dinnae get to the doing of it, the plunder will be all gone.”
Hacon winked at his scowling cousin. “Dinnae wear yourself thin worrying. I ken weel where to look. Have I not given us a good beginning?” He nodded at the sack Dugald carried.
Dugald nodded grimly as he strode down the hall of the nunnery toward the main entrance. Hacon adjusted the weight of his captive more comfortably against his back and followed. He winced and increased his pace as a woman’s high-pitched scream echoed through the dim hallways. He preferred the chaotic battle out in the streets between the victory-drunk Scots and the panicked, fleeing English to the rape and slaughter of the defenseless nuns going on in here.
For ten years he had been with Robert the Bruce, ever since the beard on his face had been but the light fluff of a boy. When the Bruce returned from exile in Arran, Scotland had been demoralized, the devastation widespread. Bruce’s victory against the English at Loudon Hill had renewed the people’s hope, and Hacon had joined many others in racing to aid the claimant to the Scottish throne.
But now he ached to go home to Dubheilrig. Instead, he found himself on yet another raid into England, another bloody foray over land that had been deeply scarred by war.
“Ye cannae stop fighting for the Bruce now,” Dugald said as he started through the gates leading to the narrow, winding streets of Berwick.
“How do ye ken I was thinking about that?” Hacon asked as he strode beside his kinsman into the heart of the walled town.
“That black look upon your face. I have seen it before. Ye cannae walk away from it yet. Aye, ye got your knighthood at Bannockburn, but ye havenae won a square foot of land yet.”
“Did my father send ye to be my conscience?”
“Nay. He trusts ye to do as ye ought. Aye, as ye must. ’Tis just that I feel I must speak the truth. The Bruce holds our lands. Only he can return them to us. ’Twas our weakness which lost them to the de Umfravilles. Weel, after being honed in this war we willnae be weak. ’Tis some comfort, kenning the de Umfravilles lost those lands to the Bruce, but even that comfort will wane if the Bruce gifts our lands elsewhere.”
“That will ne’er happen,” Hacon muttered as he stepped ahead of his cousin. “Come along. If I cannae win back our lands through faithful service and the strength of my sword, then I mean to have enough plunder to buy them back.” He strode off into town, confident Dugald would watch his back, just as he had done for ten long, bloody years.
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Hannah D. Howell is a highly regarded and prolific romance writer. Since Amber Flame, her first historical romance, was released in February 1988, she has published 25 novels and short stories, with more on the way. Her writing has been repeatedly recognized for its excellence and has "made Waldenbooks Romance Bestseller list a time or two" as well as was nominated twice by Romantic Times for Best Medieval Romance (Promised Passion and Elfking's Lady). She has also won Romantic Times' Best British Isles Historical Romance for Beauty and the Beast; and, in 1991-92 she received Romantic Times' Career Achievement Award for Historical Storyteller of the Year.
Hannah was born and raised in Massachusetts (the maternal side of her family has been there since the 1630's). She has been married to her husband Stephen for 28 years, who she met in England while visiting relatives, and decided to import him. They have two sons Samuel, 27, and Keir, 24. She is addicted to crocheting, reads and plays piano, attempts to garden, and collects things like dolls, faerie and cat figurines, and music boxes. She also seems to collect cats, as she now has four of them, Clousseau, Banshee, Spooky, and Oliver Cromwell.