The Lady and the Knight (Highland Brides)

The Lady and The Knight

A Rita Award Finalist

 

By Lois Greiman

 

Copyright © 2012 Lois Greiman

 

Praise for Lois Greiman

 

Well known for her deliciously "Un" series of romantic mystery/thrillers -- "Unzipped," "Unplugged,"

and "Unscrewed" -- award-winning author Lois Grieman also creates terrific medieval romance novels. Michelle Buonfiglio--Romance (B)uy the Book

 

Fast and fun with twists and turns that will keep you guessing. Enjoy the ride!” Suzanne Enoch, USA Today bestselling author of Flirting with Danger

 

Magical and sensual! A delicious love story from the gifted pen of Lois Greiman! Just the thing to keep you warm this winter! The Lady and the Knight is a delight! Lois Greiman is a charming storyteller! The Literary Times

 

Ms. Greiman’s first book in her new trilogy is pure magic. Readers will be delighted with her sensual prose, non-stop action, impossible odds and delicious fantasies. Romantic Times

An absolute delight. Heartland Critiques

 

Excitement, colored with sensitivity and humor, makes this an unusual story that will have readers anxiously awaiting the next books in the series. Rendezvous

 

Just what the doctor ordered. Publishers Weekly

 

To Gail Swenson, my idol.

Prologue
Burn Creag Castle

Year of our Lord 1509

 

Lightning forked across the inky sky, illuminating the curved walls of the tower room. Shadows flickered and undulated like the ghosts of people long dead. Silence echoed for a moment then lightning crackled again, and suddenly a tiny spot of red fire winked from the center of Rachel's small palm.

"Dragonheart!" Shona gasped, recognizing the amulet even in the fickle light. "You stole it from —"

Thunder crashed like a giant's wicked fist against the tower, shaking the very stones around them and startling the three girls who crouched on the floor in the wavering candlelight. The noise rolled slowly away, leaving the air taut in its aftermath.

"You stole it from Liam?" Shona finished breathlessly. She was the youngest of the three, barely nine years old and trembling in her voluminous white nightgown.

"Aye." Rachel pursed her lips. Her face looked pale against the wild frame of her dark hair. "I took it whilst he slept."

"Tis magic," Shona whispered, transfixed by the silver dragon that looked docile but indomitable against her cousin's palm.

"It canna be magic," Sara corrected, still holding Shona's small trembling hand in her own. "Tis but stone and metal."

"But Liam said twas," Shona whispered.

"Tis the very reason I doubted," Rachel said, her voice barely audible in the high storage room.

“But even Liam must tell the truth sometimes, I suppose. And twas the truth he said when he told me of our great-grandmother."

"Our
great-grandmother?" Sara asked. "But how does
he
know about our ancestry?"

"I canna say for certain," Rachel admitted, glancing from one girl to the next. "But this is the story he spewed.

"Long ago there lived a lass in this very castle. Her name was Ula. Small she was like me, with Shona's fiery hair and Sara's kindness. Her mother died when she was but a bairn, and she was scared to be left alone at night. Sometimes she would cry out."

"And her father would come and tell her outlandish stories to make her laugh?" Shona suggested.

"Aye." Rachel smiled. Shona's father, Roderic, had told them all more than a few wild tales in the wee hours of the morning. "Aye, he would tell her stories. But still she was afraid. So he called on the best mason in the land to craft a magical stone dragon near her room to protect her."

"He must have loved her so," Sara whispered, more to herself than to the others.

' 'They built the dragon out on the roof to overlook the land about," Rachel said. "Now the lass felt safe in the comfort of her quarters. But her father worried that something might happen to him and Glen Creag would fall into the hands of the Dark Wizard. Then wee Ula would be left alone. He knew if such was the case she would be forced to leave her home, and he wished for her to be bold enough to make the journey. So he beseeched a good sorcerer to craft a silver amulet for her. A magical pendant it was, graced with gems taken from the enchanted water of Loch Ness."

"Where Nessie lives?"

"Aye. That amulet would protect Ula wherever she went."

"And this is that very amulet?"

"Aye."

"But Rachel," Sara said, "though I dunna understand it, ye never believe a thing Liam says. Why do ye trust him in this?"

Rachel closed her fingers over the dragon. It felt warm and heavy in her hand, almost as if it had a life of its own. "Come here," she whispered, and stepped toward the window. The three clustered together like mischievous fairies, tilting their heads close. Auburn hair sparked against flaxen and black. "Look out there."

"Where?"

"Tis dark," Shona said, but suddenly a fork of lightning slashed across the sky.

"There!"

"A dragon!" Sara gasped, seeing the stone statue illumined in sharp relief upon the ancient roof.

"How did it get there?"

Rachel drew the amulet closer to her chest. "It must have been there for many long years, but ye canna see it from most points, only from here and from that room beside it."

"Ula's room," Shona whispered.

"Tis truly magic, then," murmured Sara.

"Aye," said Rachel, "and tonight we will bend its magic to our will."

"We will?" asked Shona, eyes as wide as eggs.

"Aye. We will. For tomorrow Sara will return to her home. And shortly after ye will go back ta Dun Ard. Tis impossible to know when we shall be together again."

The tower room fell silent.

"I will miss ye," Sara whispered.

"And I ye," Rachel said, reaching out to take her cousin's hand in her own. "Ye are the sisters of my heart."

"We will see ye soon, surely," Shona said. She tightened her grip on Sara's hand. Brothers she had aplenty. But sisters were a rare and precious thing. "When the weather warms..."

"One of us will surely be betrothed soon. In fact, the MacMurt has asked for my hand in marriage and—" Rachel stopped abruptly, glancing quickly at the barrels stacked along the curved wall. "What was that noise?"

Each girl held her breath and listened.

Behind the barrels, Liam did the same, careful to make no sound as frustration screamed through his soul. Betrothed! Surely the girls could not be promised at such tender ages—bartered off like so many sheep. Not his wee little lassies. Of course, they could take Rachel. He cared little if she married someone as old as sin and ugly as a troll. After all, Rachel was vain and aloof and when she laughed her eyes danced like...

She was nothing but a silly girl, he reminded himself. She'd believed his ridiculous stories about magic. She'd actually thought him asleep when she'd snatched his amulet! God's balls, she was a terrible thief! Still, he shouldn't have duped the other two bonny lasses.

"It must have been a mouse," Sara said, then turned her gaze back to Rachel. "Promise ye'll not move far from us."

"I'm not going to move away," said Shona fiercely. "I will marry Liam and live forever at Dun Ard."

"Liam!" Rachel scoffed. "Not that wild rogue. Ye will marry a great laird as will we all."

A sliver of noise issued from behind the barrels again.

"The mice are certainly restless," Shona murmured, glancing nervously behind her.

"Please dunna leave us," Sara whispered again.

"That's why I asked ye to come to the tower," Rachel said. "If the dragon is truly magical it can grant us our fondest desires and bind us together. We will each touch the amulet and make a vow to take care of the others."

"But if we're far apart how will we know when we're needed?" Sara asked.

Rachel scowled, drawing her dark brows together over eyes as bright as amethyst. "The dragon will know," she improvised. "He will make certain we are safe or he will send help."

Sara thought,a moment, then nodded. Her expression was somber, but she shivered with excitement as they formed a circle. "We shall all touch it together."

They did so now. Piling their small hands atop the amulet, they closed their eyes in unison.

"My fondest desire is to be a great healer like my mother,'' Rachel began.

Thunder boomed again, making Shona jump.

"I wish to be bold!" she chirped. "Like Father and the Flame."

Rachel squeezed Sara's hand. The room fell silent.

"Your turn," Shona whispered.

"I but wish for my own family to care for," Sara said softly. "My own bairns by my own hearth.

Nothing more."

Silence fell upon the room.

"Now we must make a solemn vow," Rachel said. "Forever and always we shall be friends.

Neither time nor distance shall separate us. When one is in need another shall come and assist her, for we that are gathered in this room are bound together for eternity."

All the world seemed suddenly to be utterly still.

"Now we must swear to it," whispered Sara.

"I swear," they said.

Thunder crashed like a cannon in their ears. The candle was snuffed out, pitching them into blackness. Wild energy crackled through the room, shooting up the girls' fingers.

They shrieked in unison, dropped the amulet, and raced as one toward the door.

The portal slammed open. Bare feet pattered down the stairs. The room fell silent. Behind the barrels, Liam lay sprawled against the wall, limp as a skewered hare.

Mother of God, what had just happened? It must have been the storm, of course. An errant stroke of lightning let loose in the tower. It must have been, and those silly girls had surely dropped his amulet in their fright.

He should go find it—shift through the rushes and retrieve it—but his limbs felt weak and his mind strangely boggled.

He'd best leave this place. Now! he decided, and launching himself from the floor, fled down the stairs after the girls.

Silence ruled the world. A crescent moon crept from behind a tattered cloud to smile on the earth below. And deep in the rushes, Dragonheart waited.

Chapter 1
Year of our Lord 1516

"I will leave tonight," said Boden.

Lord Haldane nodded from his sickbed. He looked drawn and thin, a pale remnant of the robust man Boden had served for many years. Above the mantel hung a portrait of him in his younger days.

His thick, golden hair was uncovered. In one strong fist he held a shield that bore his crest—the black adder and the olive branch. It might seem a strange combination to some perhaps, but not to the duke of Rosenhurst. ' 'I cannot allow Caroline to stay at Holly House if she feels unsafe. She fears for the child's life there." The duke stared out his night-blackened window. "Or so she says," he murmured.

"Brigands broke into the house, her missive said. But I think, rather, it was a quarrel with her current lover. I am not as blind as she thinks me. But she was pure when she first laid with me, of that I am sure. And so I owe her a good deal. Another of an old man's follies—seeking my youth in a young maid's arms." There was silence for a moment, except for the sound of the wind outside the solid brownstone walls. "How fresh and lovely she looked when she abided here—such innocence. But mayhap she was not so naive even then. Certainly she knew the advantages of producing a duke's heir.

I think now that was all she wanted. God knows she was happy enough to leave my company once she knew she carried my child in her belly. A comely face can hide a host of secrets. That, at least, I should have learned long ago."

Silence again, followed by his quiet words. "Tis said, the flattery of maidens is sweeter than wine, and some temptations I shall never outgrow, no matter how long I live. She knew just what to say, just how to watch me through her lashes." He sighed, deep in his own thoughts. "Another sin to add to my lot, I suppose. But that sin granted me a son at least. So was it sin or was it wisdom?'' His voice was low, as if he spoke to himself. "I would bring the babe to Knolltop to be with me, but it would be too cruel to put him under the same roof with my wife. Tis surely not Elizabeth's fault that she cannot bear a live child. Perhaps it would be no sin but a kindness to release her from this marriage. Perhaps another man could give her a child, and I would be free. Free to follow my heart."

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