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The Laird's Lady [Secure]
by Joanne Rock

Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: A Forbidden Attraction.... When Malcolm McNair sees the ethereal beauty on the battlements, wielding her crossbow, he swears he's been bewitched by a powerful fairy queen. But Rosalind of Beaumont is definitely all woman, a lady of fierce determination, ready to do all it takes to safeguard her home from invasion. Never has Rosalind seen a warrior to equal Malcolm MacNair, and her resolve to hide her attraction to this burly Scot proves impossible. But she is English born--a guarded truce is all she can hope for. Why, then, does Malcolm's merest touch promise so much?
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Historical, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: January 2008

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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [402 KB]

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Chapter One

August 1307

Married women never had these problems.

Barbarians swarmed at Beaumont's gate, and the unwed daughter of the house was the only person who could lift a finger to stop them. Rosalind of Beaumont pounded her fist in frustration, causing all the miniature flower-filled urns on her worktable to jump.

Where was Gregory Evandale and his promise of marriage when she needed a man to lead her people to battle?

Rosalind's steward burst into the solar, scattering her thoughts. John's sprint across the rushes belied his fifty years as he skidded to a halt a scant step from her. "The brutes demand to speak with the lord of Beaumont, my lady."

"Too bad Beaumont Keep has no lord." Rosalind massaged her throbbing temple, willing an idea to manifest. It was a well-kept secret that the ruler of Beaumont was not a son, but a daughter. After the fire that had devastated their lands three short years ago, Rosalind's loyal people had helped her perpetuate the notion that her brother had not perished in the blaze along with their parents. The guise had been a matter of safety until she could one day petition the king to wed her father's former squire, and all would be well again.

Now this.

To compound her troubles, she had awoken this morning plague-ridden with a fever and headache.

"We have nigh twenty knights within the walls," John reminded her. He leaned over her table to right an urn that had fallen over when she'd banged the table.

"Knights?" Rosalind scoffed. "Most of those untried men you call knights have never seen battle. And what good are twenty knights, when the heathens at my door have—how many men would you say?"

"Over one hundred, my lady." He mopped up a small puddle of water from the spilled flowers with his tunic.

"—when the Scots have over one hundred men?" She turned to her audience, which had grown from John to half her household in a matter of moments. The people of Beaumont had been attacked by Scots before, and all were terrified of another massacre. Saints protect her, she could not allow them to suffer again.

John cleared his throat. "Who will speak with the invaders?"

A single answer came to Rosalind's mind. Only one person could talk to the Scots savages in lieu of the lord.

She sighed to think of Gregory, far away when she needed him desperately. The son of a neighboring lord, Gregory had been like a brother to her during the years he'd served her father. In the weeks following the fire that had claimed her family, Gregory had vowed to wed her as soon as he could procure the king's blessing so they might one day restore Beaumont. Until then, he had joined King Edward's wars, and they had agreed to allow the world to believe her brother still lived, a fiction that protected Beaumont from a harsh lord of the king's choosing. The story hadn't been all that difficult to perpetuate, given the king's preoccupation with battles throughout Scotland, followed by his recent death.

Still, Rosalind longed for the security of marriage to Gregory after three years of sorrow and fear. Why wasn't her champion here now to defend her people from this threat? She grew so weary of fighting all her battles alone. Until she could get word to him, she needed to protect the keep herself. She had not safeguarded her father's beloved holding this long only to lose it to the scourge of the north that had nearly burned the whole keep around her ears a few scant summers ago.

"Gerta, attend me in my father's bedchamber." She called to the maid warming her hands by a dwindling blaze in the hearth. "John, accompany us and wait outside the door for consultation."

"But—" John and Gerta began.

"I shall speak with the Scots savages as the lord of Beaumont." Rosalind silenced their mutual protest with a meaningful glare. Her raised chin defied any to argue with her.

Her confidence failed several minutes later when she climbed to the windy battlements of the outer bailey, dressed in her father's aged garb. Assailed by doubts, Rosalind wondered how she could disguise her voice when she shouted down to the enemy. Perhaps her hoarse and scratchy throat would prove useful on this one occasion at least.

What if the leader demanded they meet face-to-face? Her ruse might work from afar, but she could never pass for a man at close range. Her father's garments hung from her pitifully, and even when she concealed her long hair under the collar of the tunic, her smooth complexion made her look like a young boy.

It did not help that Rosalind shivered with alternating chills and fever.

"My lady, it is not too late to get someone else to play this role," John hissed in her ear, for the third time since she'd donned her father's raiments.

Rosalind shook her head, having already dismissed that idea. She couldn't risk this confrontation going awry. She must be the one to speak for her people.

Grudgingly, John extended his hand to lift her up to the outer ward wall atop the gatehouse. Their positions were far enough above the Scotsmen to keep them safe, but close enough to be heard.

"Is there any way I can look down first, without showing myself?" Rosalind whispered, her voice betraying her trepidation.

John nodded. "Chances are they won't have their eyes trained up here anyway. Just stay low."

Gingerly, she raised herself up and peeked over the smooth, lime-washed stones of the parapet.

"Oh." She gasped at the spectacle below. Cold fear swept through her, chilling her far more than her illness's icy grip. John had said there were over one hundred men, but Rosalind would have guessed there to be twice that many.

Copyright © 2005 by Joanna Rock.


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