From USA Today bestselling author Glynnis Campbell...A bold English knight sent to secure a Scots castle discovers the warrior defending it is a beautiful lass, and her weapon is a double-edged sword aimed at his heart.
Fierce and fearless Sir Holden de Ware has been sent to Scotland to ally with the Gavin clan and secure the border—an easy conquest, he assumes, until he discovers that the impassioned warrior defending the castle is a woman. Fiery Cambria Gavin is not about to surrender her land. She blames Holden for her father's death and—as proud and capable as any knight—she vows vengeance. But her sworn enemy proves gallant, courageous, and irresistible, and revenge becomes a double-edged sword as Cambria finds her blade...and her heart...hopelessly entangled with his.
Book 2 of The Knights of de Ware
From a long line of legendary warriors come three brothers to carry on the rich and powerful de Ware legacy: Duncan the Champion...Holden the Warrior...Garth the Hero...
Length: 100,000 words = 358 pages
Rating: R-rated for passionate passages
In This Series
The Knights of de Ware
1199 – THE HANDFASTING (a novella)
1333 – MY CHAMPION
1333 – MY WARRIOR
1338 – MY HERO
Key Themes: Scottish historical romance, adventure stories, strong women, knight in shining armor, medieval castles, brothers, sword fighting, women warriors, battle of wills, tournament, war between Scotland and England, woman disguised as man, Scottish border dispute, stories with humor
More Historical Romances by Glynnis Campbell
The Warrior Maids of Rivenloch
THE SHIPWRECK (a novella)
A YULETIDE KISS (a short story)
The Knights of de Ware
THE HANDFASTING (a novella)
THE REIVER (a novella)
THE OUTCAST (a novella)
Release date: February 3, 2012
Publisher: Glynnis Campbell
Print pages: 358
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Cambria was dreaming. Her father was smiling, walking toward her across a sunny meadow with his arms outstretched in welcome. But as he drew near, from out of nowhere a great gray wolf appeared between them, its paws massive, its eyes penetrating. The beast opened its jaws in a mournful howl as a great black shadow fell across the laird.
She woke with a scream stuck in her throat. Her heart raced as she tried to break the threads of the nightmare. She rested her damp head in trembling hands. They came more frequently now, the dreams that haunted her sleep, dreams that seemed to portend the future. This one was a warning, she was certain. The Wolf boded ill for her father.
Shaken, she rose on wobbly legs, dragging the fur coverlet with her, and peered out the window. Damn! The sun was in the sky already. Katie had let her oversleep, probably out of kindness—Cambria had been up past midnight polishing armor—but she couldn’t afford to be late, not today. She let out a string of curses and tossed the fur back onto the pallet.
A loud crash echoed through the stone corridors and shook the oak floor, bringing her instantly alert.
The shouting of unfamiliar voices rumbled up from downstairs, and she heard the frenzied barking of the hounds. Her heart began to pound like an armorer’s mallet. She scrambled over the bed, snatching her broadsword from the wall. With frantic haste, she struggled into her linen shift, cursing as her tangled hair caught in the sleeve. The crash of hurled crockery and women’s terrified shrieks pierced the air as Cambria finally pulled open her chamber door and rushed out.
She was fairly flying down the long hallway when she heard the unmistakable clang of blades colliding. She hurtled forward, descending the spiraling steps that opened onto the gallery above the great hall.
At the top of the landing, she froze.
The scene before her took shape as a series of gruesome paintings, none of which she could connect to make any sense: brightly colored tabards flecked with gore; servants huddled in the corners, sobbing and holding each other in terror; hounds yapping and scrambling on the rush-covered stone floor; lifeless, twisted bodies of Gavin knights sprawled in puddles of their own blood; Malcolm and the rest of the men chained together like animals. Numbing cold enclosed her heart like armor.
But as her eyes moved from the overturned trestle tables to the slaughtered knights and cowering servants, trying to make reason out of the confusion before her, that armor shattered into a million fragments.
The laird. Where was the laird?
Panic began to clutch at her with desperate claws. She shifted her death grip on the pommel of her sword, frantically seeking out her father. If she could find him, everything would be all right. The laird would explain everything. He always took care of the clan.
She ran trembling fingers over her lips. Bloody hell, where was the laird?
As if in answer, two lads came forth from the side chamber, struggling with the weight of the grisly burden they carried between them.
Nay! Cambria silently screamed as she recognized the tabard of her father. Not the laird!
Even as her heart seized, she dared to hope he was still alive. But his body was limp, drenched with blood, far too much blood, and when his head flopped back, the glazed eyes stared sightlessly toward the heavens, where his spirit already resided.
The shrill keening in her soul pierced through her heart and escaped her lips. “Nay!” she screamed, hurtling down the steps. “Nay!”
No one made a move to stop her, neither friend nor foe, and the young boys bearing her father set him gently upon the stones and stepped aside.
Cambria dropped her sword and shook the pale body, unwilling to accept the laird’s impossible stillness. He had to wake up. The clan needed him.
She stroked his forehead, but there was no response. She took his big hand in hers, but it was as heavy and slack as a slain rabbit. Blood soaked her linen gown, smearing across her breast as she embraced his silent form.
“Nay,” she whispered, “nay.”
He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t. She’d already lost her mother. He couldn’t leave her alone.
And yet there he lay, as silent as stone.
A wretched sob tore from her throat, choking her. Dagger-sharp pain lanced through the empty place in her chest.
The laird was lost to her forever.
Hot tears spilled down her cheeks onto her father, mingling with the blood of the Gavin who was no more. She wept while, all around her, the nameless invaders murmured on, calmly wiping the blood from their blades, blood of the brave Gavin men they’d killed. She peered at them through the wild strands of her hair, the obscene enemy who’d massacred her people.
Who were they? Who were these bastards who in one bloody moment had destroyed the Gavin?
The ache in her heart twisted into a bitter knot of hatred. Nay. She refused to believe it. These strangers hadn’t destroyed the Gavin. No one could destroy the Gavin. Gavins had lived here for hundreds of years. They would never die. They lived in her. She was the life’s blood of the clan now.
Wiping away her tears with the back of her hand, she reached down to clasp the pommel of her fallen sword. She kicked her gown out of her ankles’ way and tossed her hair over her shoulder. Whirling, she came up with the blade and faced her foe. Several of the servants crossed themselves as she turned toward the knights with the fury of a madwoman.
“You bastards!” she shouted. “Face the wrath of the Gavin!”
Malcolm the Steward’s eyes widened. Cambria was going to get herself killed. “Nay, lass!” he bellowed from the corner of the room.
His shout earned him a cuff from one of the knights that held him, but that didn’t stop him from wrenching at the chains binding his wrists. He watched helplessly as his dearest friend’s daughter began a battle she was sure to lose. The muscles of his throat worked painfully. He’d already lost his laird. He couldn’t watch Cambria die as well.
But she was beyond hearing. He could see that. The lust for vengeance was in her eyes. Like an avenging angel, she raised her sword high in both hands. With a battle cry, she charged at the enemy, swinging the blade in a wide arc like a crofter harvesting grain.
Her steel flashed wildly as she attempted to take on the entire company, and the knights scattered, dodging her slashing broadsword. To Malcolm’s satisfaction, the Englishmen were dumbfounded for a moment by the mere slip of a girl who faced them boldly, watching for advances and striking with a deliberate arm. His chin quivered with pride. He and her father had trained her well, the little lioness.
She slashed forward and back, using both hands on the pommel to strengthen her blows. Two men who underestimated her sincerity received serious wounds, wounds he feared she’d pay for later.
But the element of surprise couldn’t remain long on her side. Though Cambria kept them at bay briefly, using what skills he’d taught her, the enemy far outnumbered her. Two of the knights finally caught her from behind, squeezing her wrists till she dropped the sword, which clattered heavily to the floor.
At least, Malcolm thought with relief, the English didn’t slay women in cold blood.
Half-crazed with fury, she struggled to get free, swearing, straining from the men’s grasp on her arms and tossing her head violently.
Malcolm bit out a curse. Why hadn’t the lass stayed in her bedchamber?
A dark-bearded knight yanked her head back by the hair. She bared her teeth at him and narrowed her eyes like a cornered animal.
Suddenly the unguarded doors of the great hall burst open. An enormous black steed galloped like thunder across the hard floor, bearing a helmed knight. He was flanked by several other riders, who hauled their horses to a skidding stop on the stones. Rushes scattered everywhere, and the knights fought to control their mounts in the close quarters.
Cambria was forced to her knees by the hulking dark captor beside her, and she squinted against the rising dust.
The golden knight stammered in surprise, inclining his head toward the newcomer. “M-my lord.”
Tension hung in the air as he awaited a reply, but the silence was only broached by the snorting of the horses, the squeak of leather tack, and the sniffling of maidservants.
Cambria sucked in great gulps of air through her open mouth and tried to center her mind. She could feel her body drifting toward unconsciousness, toward a place where nothing could harm her. But she resisted its lure, clinging desperately to reality by reminding herself over and over that she was the Gavin. She clenched her nails into the palms of her hands to keep from fainting and focused intently on the rider at the fore, who was nudging his mount closer.
The knight set his huge warhorse into motion using only the slightest pressure of one of his armor-plated knees. The steed tossed its head proudly and ambled forward. Man and beast no doubt made a formidable foe in battle, their carriage that of champions.
With bullying arrogance, the rider let the steed come to within a foot of the golden knight till it huffed its breath into the man’s eyes.
Cambria scowled up at the helmed rider. This must be the monster who’d ordered the laird’s murder. She swayed momentarily with nausea, recalling too clearly her father’s bloody surcoat and his dead, glassy eyes. She swallowed to control her rising gorge.
She prayed for the strength to hold out until help came. De Ware’s knights were due to arrive today, and the English lord was bound by his word to protect Blackhaugh from all enemies. He’d be obliged to capture and punish these murderers. She hoped the Wolf would tear them limb from limb.
The knight removed his helm, tossing it to his squire. He eased the mail coif from his head and ran a hand through his dark curls.
Her heart stilled. She watched him, unable to move, unable to speak. A heavy weight seemed to press on her chest, making it impossible to breathe as she looked at his face.
He wasn’t at all the villain she’d expected. In fact, he was the most striking man she’d ever seen. His face was evenly chiseled, so perfect it might have been pretty were it not for his furrowed brow and the scars that told of many seasons of battle. His hair, damp with sweat, reminded her of the rich shade of roasted walnuts, and it fell recklessly about his corded neck. His jaw was firm, resolute, but something about the generous curve of his lips marked him as far from heartless.
Most startling, however, were his eyes. They were the color of the pines in a Highland forest, deep and slightly sad, eyes that had seen violence and suffering, and had endured. Those eyes caused her heart to beat unsteadily, and she wasn’t entirely certain why.
He angled his mount with another nudge of his knee and cocked a brow at the golden knight. “Have you finished here, Roger?” His voice was low, powerful, and laced with irony.
The golden knight regarded him with ill-concealed hostility. “Aye, my lord. They resisted, as you see, but...” He shrugged.
The knight shifted in his saddle and blew out a long breath. The carnage before him was inexcusable. As he’d suspected when he set out this morning to intercept Roger’s advance, something here was amiss. He should never have trusted Roger Fitzroi. The man obviously didn’t understand the proper use of violence. Judging by the faded shields of the conquered lining the great hall and the frayed edges of the Gavin knights’ garments, this poor clan could hardly have posed a threat. Hell, there weren’t even that many of them, he thought as his gaze roamed over the broken bodies.
And then he saw her, kneeling at his knights’ feet in the midst of all the slaughter, and his breath caught.
She was an angel. Nay, he corrected as he continued to stare at the eyes that were too fierce, the jaw too square, the hair too dark. Not an angel. Something more fey—a sprite. Accustomed to the fleshy, languorous women at court, he found this lass’s exotic looks as refreshing as a dip in a cool loch.
He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She looked the way he’d made women look many a time in his bed—hair spilled carelessly, lips a-quiver, cheeks flushed—and he longed to caress that fine-boned cheek, run his fingers through those too dark, tangled tresses, kiss that spot on her neck where her pulse visibly raced.
The wench was glaring at him with those cut-crystal eyes, and he was amazed to see her defiance falter only infinitesimally beneath his regard, a thorough scrutiny that usually made his foes tremble.
She reminded him of a wildcat he’d seen once on his travels through the moors, one caught in an abandoned snare. Before he’d cut the animal free, it had looked at him just this way—frightened, hateful, suspicious. He suddenly had an absurd longing to remove the pain from the liquid pools of her eyes as he’d done for the wildcat.
Ariel nickered softly beneath him and stamped an impatient hoof, jarring him back to reality. Damn, he thought, shaking off his insipid dreaming with a toss of his head. This new life of lordly leisure was making him soft.
He frowned into the girl’s face. Then his gaze dropped lower. Her body strained against the thin linen of her gown, and he could clearly see a perverse crimson streak across her fair breast.
Desire fled, replaced by outrage. He snarled at Roger, “Have you taken to attacking innocents?”
Roger answered belligerently. “It’s not her blood, my lord. It’s that of her traitor father, Laird Angus. But this ‘innocent’ wounded two of my men!”
Holden snorted in disbelief. A wee Border lass was hardly capable of intimidating the formidable de Ware knights. He looked dubiously down at her again to see if he’d overlooked something. He was sorry it was the sprite’s father who had died, but if the laird was a traitor, it would only have been a matter of time before he was executed for his treachery. Perhaps it was better he’d died nobly, with a sword in his hand.
“Who is your father’s successor, lass?” he asked her quietly.
The girl lifted her chin bravely and replied, “I am.”
He should have guessed. “And your husband?”
“I have no husband.”
“I have no betrothed. I am...the Gavin.” Her voice broke as she said it. He could see she was fighting back tears.
Several of his men smirked at the notion of a young woman claiming a castle. But he knew there was nothing odd about that for the Scots. He stared at the girl with a mixture of pity and disgust at the laird’s foolishness in leaving his daughter unmarried and, therefore, unprotected. He swore he’d never understand the Scots’ ways.
“I’ll spare your life,” he told her, “if you swear fealty to me.”
To his amazement, the girl fixed him with a jewel-hard stare and shook her head firmly once. “Even now the castle is being surrounded by the king’s army,” she proclaimed. “You won’t escape alive.”
“Lass,” a burly old Gavin man called from the corner, but his captor jerked his chain, ordering him to silence.
He scowled down at the girl and held up a hand to quiet his men’s snickering. “The king...Edward’s army?”
“Aye!” she hissed, her eyes sparking like sapphires. “Lord Holden de Ware will slay you for the murder you’ve committed! He is a powerful warrior, known to all as the Wolf for his savagery, and he has sworn to protect this keep!”
He stared at her, stunned. Her eyes gleamed with victory, and the thrust of her chin was confident and proud. He almost hated to dash her hopes.
But he had to.
He held her gaze with his own and explained softly, “I am the Wolf. I am Lord Holden de Ware.”
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