A stolen kiss. A forced marriage. Can a Scottish chief and English lady learn to love each other?
After two rejected proposals, Graeme de Sowlis has no interest in marriage. The Scottish clan chief would much rather preserve his heart and focus on promoting peace along the increasingly contentious border. His best-laid plans change when he accepts an invitation to a May Day celebration at Kenshire Castle in England. When he’s caught in a stolen kiss with the May Day Queen, his integrity requires that he marry her.
Gillian Bowman is so eager to please her father, she’s agreed to marry the ancient Earl of Covington to save the family manor. Though she has every intention of doing just that, curiosity drives her into the arms of a handsome Scottish chief. When they’re caught and forced to marry, she’s horrified. The Earl of Covington has the ability to ruin her family, and her new husband seems reluctant to open up to her outside of the bedroom. Can love bloom from such humble beginnings?
The Warrior's Queen The Earl's Entanglement is a force marriage medieval romance for fans of alpha male heros and strong female heroines. It is the sixth book in the Border Series but can be read as a standalone novel.
Release date: May 15, 2018
Publisher: Altiora Press
Print pages: 284
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The Warrior's Queen
West of Highgate End, Scotland, 1273
Graeme de Sowlis and his brother, Aidan, heard the scream at the same time. They exchanged a look, and he took off running.
“Graeme, no!” his brother shouted.
He skirted the wounded and hurtled toward the burning cottage. Unlike the other buildings, its thatched roof had not been unattached before the raid. Bright orange flames rose high into the night sky. Not realizing they were now secure from their enemy, the villagers ran in every direction, including away from the very structure Graeme now entered.
Smoke gushed out toward him when he opened the door, but he charged inside, ignoring the loud pop announcing the roof was near collapse. Smoke confronted him at every turn, rendering everyday objects—a bed, a stool—into invisible obstacles.
“Goddamn it, Graeme, get out of there,” Aidan roared from the doorway.
He didn’t need the warning to know he wouldn’t last long in here. Graeme knelt and tried to ignore the smoke around him and the flames above him. He saw her boot first. Reaching for it, Graeme pulled the child toward him. She didn’t appear to be breathing.
Scooping her up, he stood and staggered toward the door. The acrid air would kill them both if he didn’t hurry, but his brother’s cries led them both to salvation. Once outside, he gasped for clean air, sucking greedily as the girl in his arms lay motionless. A crowd had gathered, and as he began to breathe normally again, unease welled inside him. Would the girl live?
No sooner had he laid her on the ground than an elderly woman shoved him aside and lifted the girl’s head into her lap. His mind felt like it was stuffed with straw, but the murmured word “healer” finally penetrated. It seemed God had not forsaken them completely. When the peasant girl, no more than ten and two, began to cough, another woman fell on top of her sobbing. Graeme was about to tell the woman to back away to let her breathe when the healer did it for him. Pushed to the side, the woman then ran to him, threw her arms around him, and began to sob.
“Thank you,” she murmured over and over again. “My daughter . . . thank you.”
“Mistress, I must speak with this man.”
At the sound of her chief’s voice, the woman disengaged herself, bowed to them both, and ran to her daughter’s side.
Graeme followed Ferguson MacDuff away from the crowd. As they walked, Aidan fell in beside them.
“By all that’s holy, Graeme, you could have been killed,” Aidan said. Though he was Graeme’s junior by three years, his protective impulses were more akin to an older brother’s. A situation, Aidan often said, born from his brother’s predilection for danger.
They came to a stop a small distance from the gathering, somewhere they would not be overheard. “Chastise your brother all you’d like later, Aidan.” MacDuff extended his arm. “I’m too grateful to him to join in.”
Graeme wrapped his hand around it, a gesture of solidarity.
“All is secure?”
“Thanks to you and your brother, aye.”
Graeme released the man’s arm. “Bloody reivers,” he said.
Earlier that evening, just as the three men had sat down in MacDuff’s solar to discuss the problem of increased raids along the border, one of MacDuff’s men had come running into his hall to report the attack. The laird had ordered Graeme and Aidan to remain behind, as if either would have done so.
“This is not your fight,” he had said.
Perhaps not, but MacDuff was an ally to Clan Scott.
Brought back from his thoughts, Graeme turned to MacDuff. “The men were English?” he asked.
The three men watched as MacDuff’s people began the task of regrouping after the second attack in a week.
“There’s something different about this latest rash of raids,” Graeme said, reiterating the words he’d spoken just before they’d received news of the attack. These raids were intended to rile the clans. “Will your men catch them?”
MacDuff shrugged, but he didn’t look hopeful.
Graeme looked from his host’s soot-streaked face to his brother’s frown before turning back toward the still-burning remains of the destroyed home. The raiders had stolen enough livestock to devastate more than one family and nearly taken the life of a girl too young to understand the dangers of the border along which she lived.
“If we are to stop this escalation, we’ll need their help.”
Aidan spat. “The English. You mean the same ones who—”
“Our own countrymen are not above reproach in this dispute,” Graeme reminded him. Reivers from both sides wreaked havoc on the borderlands, taking advantage of the growing instability at the expense of all.
The girl he’d rescued stood, and nearly fell. He rushed forward to grab her, loosing another round of gratitude from her mother.
“Where will you rest your head tonight?” he asked.
“My cousin lives just there,” her mother said, pointing to a home not far from them.
“I’m sorry,” Graeme murmured, knowing now why no one had detached the roof when the raiders were spotted.
He turned back to his brother and MacDuff.
“We’ll help put this back in order,” he said. “And then I leave directly for Kenshire Castle in the morn.”
“And I with you,” Aidan said.
“The attack was against my clan. I’ll be coming as—”
“Nay, remain with your new babe,” he said, aware he had no right to give MacDuff orders. “And you”—he turned to Aidan—“will ensure there’s no repeat of this night at Highgate.” He spoke not as a brother, but as the chief of Clan Scott. As such, Aidan had no recourse but to agree with him.
Graeme waited. His brother was only passably adept at following orders.
“You’ll take the men with you?” Aidan said finally.
“I will,” he agreed, picking the girl back up.
Though he had no desire to attend a celebration of any sort, let alone the May Day celebration he’d been invited to across the border, this attack could just as easily have been on Clan Scott land. A meeting with their southern neighbors was more imperative now than ever.
He would do what he must to keep his people and his allies safe.
Even if it meant seeing Emma, the woman who had rejected his proposal of marriage in favor of another.
“Emma, give the poor woman a moment to recover,” Lady Sara said.
Gillian smiled at her old friend, the Countess of Kenshire, and reached behind her back. “Don’t be silly. I’m happy to answer her questions. But first . . .” She extended her hand to Lady Emma and opened it. “Though it’s already five months past, I wanted to offer congratulations on your wedding.” This had been the longest she’d been away from Kenshire, but their dwindling funds made it difficult to travel.
Emma stared at the silver-plated comb for a moment and then clasped it between her fingers.
“’Tis lovely,” she murmured.
Not quite as lovely as the woman who would wear it, but Gillian kept that thought to herself. Emma, the only sister of Sara’s husband Geoffrey, was indeed a vision. More importantly, Sara loved her, which was the only recommendation she needed.
“Sara told me your hair was as black as your brother’s, so I thought the amber stones would be perfect.”
Emma threw her arms around her, and Gillian hugged her back, pleased by the artless show of affection.
“Thank you,” Emma said, releasing her.
“So tell me,” Sara interrupted, obviously forgetting her admonishment to Emma. “What is this about the Earl of Covington? It cannot be true.”
Gillian reached down to lift the sides of her gown as she sat in a cushioned chair in the corner of the solar, where they’d retired after dinner to speak privately. The room had always been one of her favorites at Kenshire.
She looked at Sara and Emma’s expectant faces. They had been in good spirits all day, preparing for the May Day celebration that had brought her family here. Gillian did not want to sour the mood and tried her best to appear pleased.
“It is indeed true, though the betrothal has not been formalized yet. You will have to tell me all you know about being a good countess.”
Sara and Emma exchanged a glance.
Sara would pursue this. It wasn’t in her nature to do otherwise. So be it. “And you—”
“Have no choice in the matter,” she said with finality in her voice.
While her childhood friend’s expression gave nothing away, Emma’s scrunched-up nose conveyed her thoughts clearly. “Isn’t he the one who gave support to—”
“Aye, he is the one.” Gillian had expected their disdain. The Earl of Covington lent his support to a man that tried to steal Sara’s claim to Kenshire. When that did not work, the man had tried to kill her. “He lacks honor and is loyal only to his title and coin.”
“And he’s old,” Sara finished. “With poor judgment. The same man who supported Fitzwarren.”
Gillian pushed aside the unease, as Sara was right. Unfortunately, an unwanted vision of the wrinkled earl was more difficult to get rid of. “There is nothing to recommend him,” she said bluntly.
“Your father facilitated this match?” Sara asked, reaching out to squeeze her hand.
“Aye.” She squeezed back and pulled away. “Just as he and Mother were married to forge an alliance between two powerful Northumbrian barons,” she said, more for Emma’s benefit than Sara’s. Neighbors and friends since before they had memories, she and Sara knew everything about each other. In fact, this was the first time she’d ever held something back from her. But the matter was simply too embarrassing to discuss. And this was a celebration to welcome spring and Sara’s baby son. She’d not seen her friend in some time, and she’d not dampen it with her troubles.
“It is a daughter’s duty to marry according to her father’s will. Unfortunately, my father wills this match.”
Sara gave her a pointed look. “You’ve always done what was right. Acquiesced to your parents, your father, in all things. But this? Gillian, listen to me . . . you can say no. Your father is much like my own in many ways.”
All three women crossed themselves in honor of Sara’s father, the late Richard Caiser.
“He will listen. How could he even think to marry you to such a man? Covington is—”
“’Tis done,” she said, her voice firm.
Even though she’d agreed just the day before and the earl had not yet been notified, it mattered not. This wedding would take place. It had to take place.
Otherwise, her father—her family—would be ruined, something she couldn’t bear to contemplate.
“We can talk about the old earl another time. I’d much prefer to hear about you and how you came to be with Garrick,” she said to Emma. Turning to Sara, she added, “And the babe. Tell me everything. What is it like? Was childbirth awfully painful? Did you—”
“You’re as impatient as Emma,” Sara said. “I will tell you everything. As long as you promise to discuss Covington tomorrow. Do not think the matter is settled.”
Gillian knew that tone, which had become even more inflexible since Sara’s ascension to countess. She would not let the matter go, which ensured she would face another discussion about her unwanted future husband the next day.
“Very well,” she relented. “Tomorrow. But only happy thoughts today.”
Which meant no more talk of her upcoming nuptials.
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