Bits 'n Bobs Author Blog
Thanks for joining me today for excerpt #5 in our Villain-themed blog hop.
Rue Allyn is with me to share from her book, Knight Errant.
The heroine has avoided one trap. Is the danger past?
Juliana waited longer and longer still. She heard the city bells strike midday. Then more footsteps retreated from her door. She had avoided a trap. Robert would be proud of her.
Feeling a bit silly now that the danger was past, she took the dagger in one hand the key in the other hand and walked to the door.
She turned the key and stepped back.
The door flew open, banging against the wall. A priest strode inside. Another man, a giant, followed him. Angry at their invasion, she drew herself up ready to send them away.
Then the priest lowered his hood.
“Basti!” Juliana gasped and hid the dagger in the sleeve of her shirt. Fear threatened to swamp her anger. She must not let him see her fright. She firmed her stance, determined to resist him at all costs.
* * *
Add a comment and let me know what you think. Follow along next week by checking out Laurel O’Donnell’s blog for excerpt # 6 http://www.laurel-odonnell.com/blog.html
Blurb from Knight Errant:
If Sir Robert Clarwyn can't find a way to compel Lady Juliana Verault to return to England, he'll lose any chance of regaining his family lands and redeeming his heritage. Yet Juliana must complete her mission to improve her gender's future in the church. With danger and intrigue mounting, Robert and Juliana must rely on each other and risk everything … including their hearts.
BUY LINKS: Amazon B & N iTunes Crimson Romance
Celebrate Rue Allyn's book, Knight Defender.
The days before an arranged marriage are often fraught with anxiety and distrust. Raeb knows his betrothed's temper, but everyone else believes she is an angel.
EXCERPT: Deep in thought, Raeb wasn’t certain what Dougal had been saying, but the man didn’t normally stop speaking in mid-sentence.
Evidently Raeb’s failure to reply went unnoticed, for Dougal stood, took a step back from the table, and stared—openmouthed—at something on the other side of the room. Then the silence filling the now crowded main hall struck Raeb. Even the deepest night was never this quiet.
“What is it?” He shifted to peer around Dougal. Raeb’s jaw dropped.
How had she escaped his room?
Dressed in pale green samite, Jessamyn Du Grace glided into the hall. Her carriage was proud and tall, and every stride bespoke confidence in her own worth. On both right and left, she graced his clansmen and women with a sweet expression and a few words, which he couldn’t hear. Though none he could see spoke in response, men and women alike instinctively made way for her. She had no need to pick her way between the crowded benches.
Raeb understood. He’d seen her disembark and treat a horse with unusual concern and kindness for an English noblewoman. He had witnessed her thoughtful consideration for a servant. He’d seen the lady soaking wet and shivering, and somehow no less attractive. He’d witnessed her screeching invectives and sworn retribution. Now the irate passion of the early afternoon was gone and in its place was a kindly interest so alluring it tempted him to drop his cold reception.
She was either a great actress or less than sane to be able to show two such different sides. Clearly she was not to be trusted. Despite their obedience to his edict to shun Lady Du Grace, he could see his clansmen’s fascination with her. They had yet to learn how false the woman was.
All eyes on her, she approached the high table. As she neared the dais, he stood, and the entire hall of folk followed his example. He offered his hand and seated her in the empty chair at his side. He couldn’t tear his gaze away. Silence and a sense of wonder ruled the room where he should have led.
She looked out at the tables below the salt then turned her head in a slow survey of the hall until her gaze met his.
He fell, drowning in green pools.
Her lips moved.
The shape fascinated him. Their deep rose color and plump texture made his fingers itch to stroke them, to hold her downy cheeks, and plunder the sweetness he knew could be his.
Her lips moved again. “When will the meal be served?”
He stared on.
“Uh, now. I believe,” Dougal said from Raeb’s other side.
Jessamyn bent a look of genuine pleasure on Dougal.
Raeb wanted to push his captain from the dais. No man should answer her questions and thus usurp my authority in front of the clan.
He raised his arm, signaling to bring the trenchers. His gesture broke whatever enchantment held his clan silent, and noise once more filled the room. Servants were scarce in Dungarob keep and limited mostly to kitchen and stable hands. Thus, all the men and women of the clan pitched in to get the meal served. His betrothed’s face was serene, but her fingers tapped a rapid dance against the tabletop. Relief spread through him like a slow breath. Those fingers put the lie to her sweet serenity. There was the passionate woman he knew her to be, not the smiling calm she showed to his people. What could he do to expose that eager energy, and mayhap get his people to see her as a harpy instead of an angel?
“Tell me who released you from your prison, so I may punish them.”
“Since you intend punishment, I’ll not betray a kindness.”
Who would have expected her to show loyalty to any MacKai or recognize the kindness of a Scot? He clenched his teeth. “Would you tell me if I swore no to do more than scold?”
She shook her head. “Scolding is not warranted. The wo ... person sought only to be helpful.”
He narrowed his gaze. “If ’twas a woman then ’twas one of my sisters. I’ll put them all on bread and water until the guilty one confesses.” He’d never do so—he knew his sisters would find a way around such a ridiculous threat.
To emphasize his words and help Jessamyn believe he meant them, however, he placed his hand heavily over hers. Beneath his touch her wrist jerked, and her fingers stilled. As his rough palm rested atop her silken skin, sensation jolted up his arm. If he didn’t do something quickly, he’d sink under her spell again.
She glared at him and slipped her hand from beneath his. “You would never do that to your sisters. You love them too much.”
She could only know that if she’d spent time with his siblings. “Hah. So it was one of my interfering sisters. Let’s see if I can deduce which one. Maeve was busy tending to Rhuad MacFearann.”
“I saw the fight from the chamber window,” Jessamyn remarked.
Was she trying to distract him?
“Your sister Neilina fares well,” the lady continued. “How is the poor man she defended?”
“He’s well enough.” Raeb studied her. “How did you know his defender was my sister Neilina?”
“I ... I must have heard her name as I entered the hall just now. Though most of your people were silent and stared. Really, I do not understand the manners here. Are all Scots so rude or just the MacKai clan?”
“You make a good attempt to divert my attention, but I know better. ’Twas Artis who released you.”
“You cannot possibly know that.”
“Aye, I can. When I came to the table, Dougal related that Artis wanted him to tell me Neilina was resting and well. Since Maeve, who is our healer, had no time to see to Neilina, ’twould be like Artis to seek help from another quarter. Especially if she thought she could get away with releasing you for that reason.”
Jessamyn straightened and her gaze hardened. “Why would your sister need a reason other than common courtesy to release me from an unwarranted imprisonment?”
He returned her gaze in equal measure. “Because I locked you in there and gave no permission for your release.”
“’Tis a blessing then that your sister considers her other sibling’s care more important than the need for permission.”
“Not when Artis could have tended Neilina herself. She cares for all the injured creatures at Dungarob and is near as good a healer as Maeve.”
“Aye, that gives you pause, does it no? My youngest sister is up to something. When she gets a notion into her head, she doesna give it up and rarely shares her thoughts until ’tis too late to stop her.”
“So you will not punish her?”
“’Twould be no point. She’d think naught of any punishment I would be willing to impose. You, however, will return to my chamber immediately after supper.”
Jessamyn stiffened. “I’ll not surrender my virtue without marriage.”
He captured her gaze. “None would object; we are betrothed. What matter if we anticipate the vows by a month or two?” He’d no intention of taking her virtue now or at any other time. Oh, the idea was appealing, but the consequences were not desirable. However, he wanted to see her reaction.
“It matters a great deal to me, and I object most strongly.”
She was blushing. Was it anger, embarrassment, or desire that caused the delicate pink in her cheeks?
He shrugged. “’Tis of no import to me. I’ll send that screeching maid of yours to you tonight, and you may bar the door from inside, if you fear for your honor.”
“I would defend my virtue to the death.”
“’Tis sure I am you would, but ’twill no be necessary. If we are to wed, I want you to know me well enough to come willing to my bed.”
She opened her mouth then closed it, clearly nonplused.
“To that end,” he continued. “I’ve been thinking we should put off our vows until midsummer.” If his intent was to cause her to break the betrothal, he’d best start as he meant to go on. Life with seven sisters had taught him that nothing upset a woman as much as having her plans rearranged.
Jessamyn’s head jerked round, her mouth open on a silent “o.”
So I’ve surprised her. Good, but why is she no angry?
Then the blush fading from her cheeks and a beatific smile were all that remained of the emotions she’d revealed. Even that disappeared as he watched.
She shrugged and faced forward. “If it pleases you.”
“’Twill give us time to get to know each other better, and for you to become familiar with the customs of Clan MacKai.”
“I am happy to know the MacKai clan and learn its customs better. However, since ours is an arranged match, I doubt that knowing you better at this point will be important.” She spoke with an indifferent monotone then bit her lip in an unconscious gesture of nerves.
Raeb frowned inwardly. This was not proceeding as he wished. He wanted her irate and storming for all to see. He must keep the upper hand and not forget the true purpose of this sham betrothal.
“Surely you wish to get along with your husband? Knowing and honoring me can only increase my clan’s respect and affection for you.”
The trenchers finally arrived.
As if his words meant nothing deserving response, she bent her head and opened the velvet pouch tied to her belt.
Idly, Raeb pulled off a piece of bread, chewing slowly as he watched her.
She withdrew a palm-length decorated box and set it on the table beside her plate. Releasing the delicately wrought latch, she revealed a silver stick with one end split into two long, sharp points.
“What is that?”
She lifted her head and stared at him, her mouth curving into a deeper smile. “’Tis a fork.” She lifted the shining metal into her hand and offered it to him.
His brows drew together, and he gently pushed her hand away. “A fork. I heard of such from crusaders I met while fostering. Most said it was a Saracen device meant for weaklings and ladies.”
“Hmm, you imply that ladies are weak, Baron.” She gripped the fork, turning the points downward, then speared a piece of meat.
He bent to his meal, speaking in between bites. “Verily, no all women are weak. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Boudicca, and Queen Scathach come to mind, but they were exceptional.”
“I’ve never heard of Queen Scathach. However, I’ll concede that she, like the others, was exceptional in many ways. Because they are, they also show what every woman is capable of given need or opportunity.”
“Yet none of those legendary women was especially interested in her husband. I gather you intend to emulate their disinterest?” His voice went soft.
Around them his men and sisters stilled in anticipation of an explosion. Would she notice?
Lady Du Grace shrugged and sipped her mead.
“Answer my question, please.”
“I’ve not yet decided.”
When she moved to spear another bite, he took her hand, halting her movement and forcing her to look at him. “Decide now.”
Surely that demand would fire her temper, burn her calm to ash, and break the spell she’d cast over his clan.
She turned to face him and raised an imperious brow, reminding him forcibly of her royal godparent.
“In my experience, excessive familiarity with one’s spouse is not necessary to command respect from others. I will be your wife. I have no special need to understand you in order to support your leadership of your clan or your position as baron.” She retrieved her hand, giving a dismissive wave then addressing her meal.
Raeb ground his teeth. Her casual indifference bordered on rudeness—though he admitted he had given her reason. But she behaved so only to him. Thus far none in his clan had spoken to her, but their obvious interest did not argue well for their continued cooperation. She was trying to win them over, and doing a fair job. He kenned not what game she played, but he would find out. Meanwhile he would bedevil her with good manners—he could do that and still be cold. ’Twould keep her off balance, mayhap enough to lose her temper. He wanted his people to see her serene demeanor for the lie it was.
Like a good host he held forth with a stream of information about Dungarob, its surroundings, and its people. She listened in silence until the meal ended. When she pushed back from the table to rise, he once more placed a hand over hers. This time her outward reaction was more placid, but her fingers trembled beneath his.
“’Tis time you met my family. You must forgive me for not introducing my sisters earlier.”
She cast her gaze upward and heaved a great sigh as if mightily put upon. “If it pleases you.”
He smiled. Let her think she has me fooled. However, to please myself, I’ll strip her bare of all pretense before I’m done with her. No Englishwoman will get the better of Raeb MacKai.
He gestured for the several females seated farther down the table to attend him. One by one they came forward to assemble before him in a line from tallest to smallest.
“My lady, you’ve already met Lady Neilina, who is still resting, so allow me to introduce my other sisters, ladies Maeve, Bridghe, Keeva, and Seona. Lady Artis should be here but has chosen no to join us, probably because she knows I am no pleased with her. I also regret I canna introduce you to Sorcha, who is nearest to me in age. She recently married and now lives as countess at Strathnaver Stronghold many leagues inland.”
He smiled. Knowing how his sisters bedeviled him, he doubted anyone could match them, and certainly not an English lady, even if Jessamyn Du Grace was not quite what he expected.
BLURB: Sent alone to Scotland to wed a wild Scot and serve the needs of her father and her king, Lady Jessamyn intends to escape the marriage and train horses for the good sisters at a nearby nunnery. But her intended is not the wild, boorish monster she imagined - just Baron Raeb MacKai, a man struggling to provide the best for his clan. It could be surprisingly easy to surrender her heart to him, until she learns his plans involve deceiving her family and attacking the king's ship that bears her brother.
Raeb is done watching everyone he loves live in poverty and despair. His betrothal to a wealthy English heiress will solve a decade of problems, and the Scots' secret plot to keep King Edward I from getting a foothold on their rugged coastline will secure his family's future. If he must deny himself the spirited woman who would warm his bed and his heart, so be it.
Neither is willing to give an inch in this clash of loyalties, but can either defend their hearts?
BUY LINKS: Amazon B & N
Today I'm featuring Rue Allyn's lovely book, The Herald's Heart.
What will Sir Talon Quereste find at Hawksedge Keep?
Excerpt from The Herald’s Heart:
Sir Talon Quereste refused to allow a little thing like being lost in a fog prevent him from completing his task as a royal herald. After getting garbled directions from an anchoress who screeched at the sight of him, swore evil lived at Hawksedge Keep, and then warned him that no good would come of traveling there, he finally located the town of Hawking Sedge. With the mist thickening, he stopped at the alehouse and asked for better directions or a guide. The alewife refused to give more information than “follow the road.” The patrons of the house, when questioned, refused to a man to guide Talon. Even proclaiming himself King Edward’s royal herald failed to gain their cooperation.
“T’ earl’s disappeared and ’tis haunted, sir,” they claimed.
They exchanged taunts with him, and Talon left the alehouse swearing to spend the night in the keep and catch any ghost that wandered its halls. If he could ever find the cursed place.
He very much doubted the earl had vanished. More like he was hiding because he knew he’d incurred Edward I’s wrath. When the king of England summoned a man to renew vows of fealty and that man failed to comply, the king might justifiably be angry. So Longshanks had sent one of his heralds—fondly known by courtiers as the king’s hounds. The fact that the chosen hound was the last person the Earl of Hawksedge would want to see was sugar on the plum for both king and herald. Talon would ferret the man out no matter where he hid. Would his father recognize him? Not likely, despite the fact that, according to rumor, Talon’s guinea gold hair and dark purple eyes could have only come from the Earl of Hawksedge.
St. Swithun’s nose! Recognition by the earl was as likely as finding Hawksedge Keep in this fog. Talon couldn’t even see his mount’s ears in the chill gray mass that swirled around him. According to one of the village cowards, the keep “loomed on a hill near the sea, its great black stones a blot from hell upon heaven’s beautiful sky.” Ghosts! Stones from hell! Nonsense is what it was.
His mount came to an abrupt halt. What now? Try as he might, he could not make the beast move forward. Talon twisted to look behind him. The fog had swallowed all sign of human habitation. The villagers’ absurd fears kept them warm and dry within the alehouse, while his sensible disbelief that Hades somehow escaped its bounds left him cold, wet, and stranded in an impenetrable mist, unable to determine either the way forward or the road back—on a horse gone mad with stubbornness.
Of a sudden, the silence hit. ’Tis the fog. It deadens all sound. He wished for the comforting clop of iron-shod hooves on dirt. He shivered in the enveloping chill and took a deep breath of mist-laden air. The salt tang reassured him. At least he hadn’t ridden off a cliff into the sea. Talon smiled at his own foolishness. If his steed would not go forward on its own, he would dismount and lead the animal.
He had swung his leg across the horse’s rump when a hideous wail arose, bleeding through the fog to ooze fear down his spine. He hung there, suspended above the earth on the strength of a single stirrup. That the horse didn’t bolt was a miracle of good training.
The fog, so thick and impenetrable a moment ago, formed a gap in the wake of the noise. Talon looked in the direction of the sound and met the wide-eyed gaze of a disembodied head.
His breath froze, and he swayed, dizzy with surprise. She ... it ... possessed the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. A delicate nose flared in a perfect oval framed with fiery red tresses. Long, dark lashes fluttered over bright, exotically tilted blue eyes. A berry-red mouth formed an O. Ivory satin skin pinked over high cheekbones as he watched. Every feature vanished the instant the fog closed between him and the vision. Talon choked on the nauseating aroma of death and lavender mixed with the sea-scented fog. The smell dissipated as quickly as the last glimmer of light. However, that hideous, grinding wail lingered, the aural guardian of a soul doomed for eternity to search out a body no doubt long dead.
What was he thinking? The bright blue eyes had blinked. The berry lips had gasped. She’d even blushed. Whoever she was, that head belonged to a very live woman. He settled back into the saddle and hauled his mount’s head around. With as much speed as he thought safe, given the lack of visibility, Talon hurried after the dying wail, heartened when he heard it rise again, for that meant he was nearing his quarry.
He moved along, pursuing the noise and the woman until his horse once again refused to move. What was wrong with the beast? Talon growled. He could either stay with the horse and lose the maid, or follow the maid and ... And what? Stumble blind over a cliff into the sea and lose not only his horse but his life? Nay, only a madman would go wandering around unknown ground in a fog this thick, which made the dunces back in the alehouse look very wise indeed.
Cold chattered Talon’s teeth, and damp soaked his clothing. He needed shelter. No doubt that’s what his mount had been trying to tell him. He could hear his good friend and fellow herald Amis Du Grace laughing in agreement that Talon’s horse was smarter than its rider. He shook his head—once again single-minded determination had led him into trouble. Still, the trouble would be worth it, if he could serve the Earl of Hawksedge even a small amount of the anguish the man had served a six-year-old boy tossed from his home and labeled a bastard.
Talon dismounted and moved to his steed’s head. The animal needed a stern lecture on obeying its rider. The fog became darker just ahead of him. “I’ve had enough nonsense for one day,” he said, whether to the horse or the fog was hard to tell. “There are no such things as ghosts or disembodied heads that blink and blush.” He lengthened his stride, hoping to pull his mount forward, and ran smack into black stone.
He’d found Hawksedge Keep.
* * *
Blurb for The Herald’s Heart by Rue Allyn
Royal herald, Sir Talon Quereste imagined that one day he would settle on a quiet little estate, marry a gently bred damsel, and raise a flock of children. The wife of his daydreams is a woman who could enhance his standing with his peers. She is certainly not an overly adventurous, impulsive, argumentative woman of dubious background who threatens everything he values then endangers his heart.
When her family is murdered, Lady Larkin Rosham lost more than everyone she loved—she lost her name, her identity and her voice. She’s finally recovered her ability to speak, but no one believes her claim to be Lady Larkin. She is determined to regain her name and her heritage. However, but Sir Talon Quereste guards the way to the proof she needs. She must discover how to get past him without risking her heart.
Purchase The Herald’s Heart at Amazon.com.
By moonlight, Robert and Juliana flee a trap. The environment plays a huge part in the success or failure of their escape.
Under cloudy skies, they made their way in silence to the stables and were lucky enough to encounter no one. Juliana kept watch while Robert saddled the horses and muffled their hooves with rags. He handed her the mare’s reins, then pointed toward an exit at the back of the stables.
“But the gate is over there,” she whispered.
“Aye, and ’twill be watched. We must find a postern and leave that way,” he whispered back.
“And if that, too, is watched?”
“’Tis likely to have only one guard, if that, and I can deal silently with one man.”
Taking care to be quiet and watch for guards, they made their way along the wall until they found the unguarded postern. The gate opened with very little noise. Leading the horses, they picked their way carefully over the rocky ground that separated the country home from the hills a league distant.
They had covered half the distance when a shout went up from the house.
“Our departure is discovered. We must hurry.” Robert grasped Juliana about the waist and lifted her into her saddle, then bent to remove the cloth from the horses’ hooves and tossed the rags behind a nearby bush.
“At least we still have the cover of the clouds. They do not yet know where we are.”
“But not for long.” Robert leapt to his saddle and pointed toward the sky.
Juliana followed his gesture to see the moon edging out from behind its cloudy curtain.
“The moment that moonlight strikes your white horse we will be as visible as if we had a beacon to light the way.”
Juliana wasted no time in reply but set her mare to a ground-eating lope.
Robert sent his destrier thundering after her, praying they would reach the hills in time to lose their pursuers. He held to the pace of her smaller mount, using himself and his larger horse to shelter Juliana. So swift a ride over unfamiliar terrain in the dark held as many dangers as a hoard of pursuers. One misstep could break a neck, but given the consequences of being caught, a broken neck was worth the risk.
They raced onward. Still, the sounds of pursuit grew closer with each stride. He could see the mare was tiring. Arrows flew past his head. As Juliana’s steed continued to fail, he shifted the reins to one hand and with the other plucked her from her saddle to place her facing him on the broad pommel of his saddle.
“Hold on,” he yelled.
He waited only to feel her arms tighten around his waist, then urged the destrier to even greater speed. Fury washed through him. He wanted to kill the men who placed Juliana in such danger. But first he had to get her to safety.
Mother of God, help us find cover quickly. He headed away from the trail to Palermo, hoping to create false confidence in their pursuers. He knew quite well where he was, but they would believe him to be lost. To make the deception work, he must first elude them.
The howls from the pack of men sounded entirely too close. Robert spied a dip in the hillside and rode hard for it. He splashed over a small stream and turned to follow a rocky cleft that time had carved in the hill. Sharp cliffs rose on both sides, blocking the moonlight.
The pursuers’ shouts echoed off the walls of the passage. He dodged between a pair of rocks, away from the stream and out of sight of the pack. He had to find shelter soon. His gelding could not keep this pace for much longer.
“On your left. I think I see a space.” Juliana’s words flew at him. “It’s behind us now.”
Robert hauled on the reins, guiding the horse at her direction. A bush blocked the way. He shifted his weight and tightened his thighs until the destrier leapt and cleared the bush. They hit the ground with a jarring thud and nearly ran headlong into the cliff face. He reined in hard, and the gelding turned, missing the wall by a hair. The awkward movement threw Robert off balance, and he crashed against the stone. Juliana grunted at the impact.
Robert complied, spying the narrow gorge in that moment. He ordered the steed into the space. Instantly, the sounds of pursuit became muffled. With moonlight blocked, the gorge was darker than pitch. The horse had to step with slow care.
Dotted with boulders and brush, eventually the way broadened. The moon cast huge shadows and distorted perception. Sounds of pursuit had ceased some time ago. But rage still flooded Robert. Half of him wished the pack would catch them so he could gut each and every one of the men. The saner half knew he would be lucky to get Juliana back to the beguinage in one piece. Robert moved from rock to bush to rock, winding and shifting his path in an attempt to confuse any followers. Sometime later, he stumbled upon a shallow cave.
Keeping to the shadows, he reined to a halt and observed the lay of the land. The cliff face would guard their backs. Approach from the front was restricted by the slim crevasse through which they had just traveled. The place was defensible against a small number. If a large group attacked, he would just have to slit Juliana’s throat to save her a more painful fate and then kill as many of the attackers as possible before he died, too. His breath stopped for a moment at the thought of Juliana dead. The rage that sustained him since her capture faltered in the face of fear that she might die by his hand.
He could not let her die, and if that meant he never took revenge on those who sought to capture her, so be it. Her safety came first. This place was as safe as any other the night would provide.
The horse huffed, drawing in great gulps of air. The destrier needed rest and water. Robert ached in every bone. Juliana must feel ten times his pain. She could scarce be used to such hard riding. She was strangely silent, he thought, as he shifted to help her to the ground.
Blood trickled from a cut on her forehead, where a lump formed. More blood oozed from a band of scrapes across one cheek and dripped down her neck. Below that, from shoulder to wrist of one arm, her sleeve lay in shreds, dotted with flecks of dirt and a darker red.
She slipped sideways, and he caught her before she fell. ’Twas a wonder she had not fallen off during their escape. He struggled to lower them both to the ground. That the horse was too exhausted to object to the awkward process was a dubious blessing.
He carried Juliana into the cave, checked for sign of animal inhabitants, then searched her for more injuries. Try though he might, he could find nothing but scrapes and bruises. What had happened to her? Could he have done anything to prevent it? He knew he could not, and fury rippled through him once more that the monk and his men had dared threaten her well-being. He clenched his fists against the urge to strike out.
He forced gentleness into his hands and made her as comfortable as possible. Then he went back to the horse for his small store of water and a cloth to clean her cuts as best he could. Close inspection of her face showed him parched lips.
Robert soaked a clean corner of the cloth and squeezed a trickle of water between her lips, then passed the dampened rag over her mouth. Her tongue licked out, and a groan issued as she turned her head to follow the moisture.
“Juliana? Can you hear me?”
Her eyelids fluttered open. “Robert,” she croaked and lifted the hand of her uninjured arm to her face. “My head hurts. My whole body hurts, and my arm feels like it is on fire.”
He nearly laughed with relief at her small complaints when he had been so very worried about her. “The skin is scraped, but your arm is whole. Do you know where you are?”
She cast a sideways glance and quirked a brow at him. “Lying in the dirt, more than a day’s ride from Palermo?”
“Good. You have not lost your senses. Do you know what happened? How you scraped your face and tore the skin of your arm to shreds?”
He gave her more water.
“The cliff. When you jumped the bush and turned so quickly, I hit the cliff face with that side of my body and head.”
He nodded. “I should kill that monk and his men for forcing you to this.”
“One against so many?” She gave a dry laugh. “You are a mighty warrior, Robert, but even you could not take out more than one at a time.”
“True.” He had to laugh with her. She was right. “Still, I regret that I cannot wreak vengeance on them. ’Twould ease the pain of failing to save other women from death and destruction.”
Juliana yawned, stretched, and reclined on the ground, cushioning her cheek on her hand. “I am so tired, I thought you spoke of rescuing other women. That’s foolish. There are no other women here.”
He stared at her before turning away. “Sleep. I will keep watch from atop that rock.” He pointed at a man-sized boulder beside the cave. “If you need aught, come to me there. Do not call out. That could alert any searchers to our position.”
“Mmm-hmm.” She nodded but was asleep before he left.
After Robert checked the horse, he tethered him loosely near some sparse grass within sight of both cave and rock. He climbed the rock, finding a sheltered perch from which he could survey the surrounding countryside.
While moonlight faded to dawn, he spent the time plotting what he would do should he ever meet Fra Giovanni again. When he could no longer fight sleep and the day was too hot for their pursuers to continue the search, Robert climbed down and joined Juliana in the cave.
* * *
Blurb: Beguine follower Juliana Verault holds the key to upending the power structure throughout Europe - a letter from the pope that could radically change the church's stance on women - but only if she can dodge the bounty hunter her cousin, King Edward I of England, has sent for her. Sir Robert Clarwyn has never failed to bring home his target before . . . but he has also never encountered a quarry like Lady Juliana.
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