Knave's Honor [Secure]
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by Margaret Moore
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: His arrow strikes true ... bringing Lady Elizabeth d'Averette face-to-face with the decidedly intriguing Finn--an outlaw with more honor than most knights. When he saves her from unspeakable violence, she agrees to reward his valorous actions. But would sharing his bed--however chastely--prove too high a price to pay? Finn values courage, a quality Lizette displays in abundance. She joins him in a dangerous subterfuge to rescue his brother and expose the long-held secrets of the royal court, her adventurous spirit seeming to be a true match to his own. But could a noble beauty really care for a common son of the hills of Eire?
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/HQN, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: January 2008
10 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [465 KB]
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The Midlands, 1204
"I FEARED I'D GO MAD if I had to sit in that wagon another moment," Lady Elizabeth of Averette declared as she lifted the skirts of her blue woolen traveling gown and delicately picked her way toward the mossy bank of the swift-moving stream.
"Don't you think we ought to stay with the men?" her maidservant asked, anxiously glancing back toward the escort of mail-clad soldiers who had dismounted nearby.
As such men were wont to do, they joked and cursed among themselves while they led their horses to drink or let them eat the plentiful grass by the side of the road. Some of them took out heels of bread from their packs or downed a sip of ale. The leader of the cortege, Iain MacKendren, did neither. He stood with feet planted and arms akimbo as if he were a statue, only his turning head giving any hint that he was alive and keeping watch.
"Last night I heard the innkeeper talking about a thief who sets upon travelers hereabouts," Keldra said, breathless with a fearful excitement. "A huge fellow, fierce and terrible!"
Lizette, as she was known to her sisters and the people of Averette, gave Keldra a sympathetic smile. Keldra was only fifteen, and not used to travel. It was no wonder every tale of every thief, no matter how bizarre or exaggerated, frightened her. "According to a serving wench, he's a very handsome thief. She also says he won't rob a woman if she'll give him a kiss, which sounds like something out of a minstrel's song to me. Whatever this thief may be like, though, we have fifty men to guard us, and Iain Mac Kendren, too, so I'm sure we'll be quite safe."
"I hope so!" Keldra whispered, as if she feared the thief might be listening.
Smiling and very glad to be out of the stuffy confines of the wagon, Lizette removed her silver coronet and silken veil, then crouched down on the bank of the stream. "As long as he takes a kiss instead of my clothes or jewelry, I might even enjoy meeting this thief."
"Oh, my lady, you wouldn't!" Keldra exclaimed, scandalized—which showed how little she really knew her mistress.
Lizette cupped some clear, cold water in her hands and lifted it to her lips before she answered. "Wouldn't you be willing to kiss a handsome rogue?"
"Not if he's an outlaw!"
"I'd rather kiss a handsome outlaw than some courtier who may then assume I want to marry him," Lizette said as she rose.
Men she might—and did—appreciate. She enjoyed their company and the teasing banter of flirtation. She envied them their easy camaraderie, although not as much as she envied them their freedom.
Marriage, however, was something else entirely. Most women might find those bonds a form of security, but after witnessing what passed for marriage between her parents, Elizabeth of Averette did not.
"I don't have any jewels, my lady," Keldra pointed out as she, too, bent down to drink. "He might make me kiss him!"
"Being kissed against one's will is rather unpleasant," Lizette conceded, as she had cause to know. More than one eager suitor who'd come to Averette seeking a wealthy bride had been swift to try seduction of the lord's youngest, and presumably most innocent, daughter as a means to that end.
"I wouldn't really want to meet a thief, of course," she admitted, listening to the birds sing as if they hadn't a care in the world. "It would be frightening."
Like the time that drunken nobleman had cornered her in the chapel and no amount of gentle admonition would persuade him to let her go, until she'd finally promised to meet him later in a more secluded place. Her older sister had gone in her stead, and while Adelaide never revealed precisely what had transpired, Lord Smurton and his entourage had departed the next day at first light without even a farewell to his host.
"Oh, my lady!"
Lizette raised her eyes at the sound of Keldra's cry and found her maid pointing at the middle of the stream—where her new silk veil was floating away on the water.
With a curse, Lizette hiked up her skirts and immediately gave chase along the slippery bank. She didn't dare run because the rocks were too slick, but she had to get her veil. Iain would no doubt say she deserved to lose it if she was so careless and he'd probably never let her out of his sight for the rest of the journey home.
While she tried to keep her eyes on the veil as well as look for a stick with which to retrieve it, a man suddenly appeared on the opposite side of the stream as if he'd materialized out of thin air.
"Have no fear, my lady!" the stranger called out as she came to a startled halt. He unbuckled his sword belt and put it down on a nearby rock. "I mean you no harm."
If he was taking off his sword and was alone, he likely didn't mean any harm. More importantly, he sounded educated and of high rank—a knight, at least, if not a lord or baron.
Whoever he was, he wore a simple leather tunic with no shirt beneath, dark breeches and plain boots. Standing by the stream with the woods behind him, he was like some sort of god of the forest—or maybe that thought only came to her because of his simple clothing and dark, waving hair.
He began to wade across the deep stream and when he reached her veil, he plucked it from the water as easily as another man might pluck a daisy from its stem, then raised the dripping rectangle of cloth like a victor with his spoils.
Copyright © 2008 by Margaret Wilkins.