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Authors: Margo Maguire

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Dryden's Bride

BOOK: Dryden's Bride
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“Get out of those clothes!”

“My lord!” Siân cried, trying to pull away from Hugh’s touch—the very touch that sent strange and wild tendrils of heat through her chilled body. “This is unseemly! You cannot—”

“I most certainly can,” Hugh said. “I’ve already saved your foolish life once today. I’ll not see you take ill and die of fever and let my efforts of this morn go to waste. Now be still. These wet laces are the devil to open and I have little time.”

“I object, my lord!” she cried, his strong hands on her back making her tingle in agony. What kind of magic did the man possess to cause such feelings? Why had she never felt these sensations…this odd yearning before?

“Your objection has been duly noted, my lady,” Hugh said, as he released the final loop of the lace….

Dear Reader,

For all our Medieval readers,
Dryden’s Bride
by Margo Maguire features a lively noblewoman en route to a convent who defies her family and takes a detour when she falls in love with a noble knight. This stirring tale is Maguire’s second book, a follow-up story to
The Bride of Windermere
, which was one of our featured titles in the March Madness promotion for 1999.

If you’re a Western reader, Liz Ireland’s
Trouble in Paradise
, with a pregnant heroine and a bachelor hero, is a heartwarming story you won’t want to miss. In keeping with the season, look for
Halloween Knight
, complete with a bewitching heroine, a haunted castle and an inspired cat, by Maggie Award-winning author Tori Phillips. It’s a delightful tale of rescue that culminates with a Halloween banquet full of surprises! And
USA Today
bestselling author Margaret Moore returns with her new Regency,
The Duke’s Desire
—a story of reunited lovers who must suppress the flames of passion that threaten to destroy both their reputations.

Whatever your taste in historicals, look for all four Harlequin Historicals at your nearby book outlet.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Dryden’s Bride
Margo Maguire
Available from Harlequin Historicals and MARGO MAGUIRE

The Bride of Windermere
#453

Dryden’s Bride
#529

As always, this book is for Mike and our gang.

It is also fondly dedicated to the women in my life—
for Julia, Justine and Fran; for my mother-in-law,
sisters-in-law and nieces; and for my remarkable friends,
in cyberspace and in person.
Heroines, every one!

Chapter One

Northern England

Autumn 1423

C
asting a grudging glance up at Castle Clairmont with his one good eye, Hugh Dryden stalked toward the huge stone fortress and again cursed the day he was born. He reviled the fates that intervened in his life, still refusing to let him be.

His depth perception had never improved after losing the eye, so he had difficulty judging how far away the castle was, though his companion, Nicholas Becker, said they were a mere mile from Clairmont’s portcullis. They’d stayed one last night in the woods, planning to broach the castle at a civilized time of day—in the morning, after they’d had the opportunity to bathe and ready themselves.

For Hugh’s bride.

A pox on her, Hugh thought, muttering other more serious oaths under his breath. He had no interest in marrying. He cared not a whit about adding land to his estates, nor a woman to his life. He would never understand
why his friend, Wolf Colston, the Duke of Carlisle, believed Hugh was the man to carry out the council’s wishes. Wolf and his wife could not be unaware of Hugh’s preference for solitude. It had taken many long months for him to recover from the injuries sustained during his imprisonment at Windermere, and in those months, Hugh had done nothing, said nothing, to indicate a need or an interest in a woman. If anything, he’d shown a decided
lack
of interest.

He was a solitary man now. The agony he’d suffered alone and in the dark caverns under Windermere Castle, helpless to defend himself, powerless against the pain of mutilation, of near death…He shuddered with the unwelcome memory. Nightmare images plagued his daylight hours and tortured him as he lay tossing and turning every night.

It was better to keep to himself now. He had nothing to offer the world of light. No strength or determination for his country. Certainly nothing left for a woman.

Besides, Lady Marguerite Bradley would likely turn tail and run for cover when she saw his shattered visage, as all others did, save his closest friends.

Hugh adjusted the patch that covered what was once his left eye, and walked on. It was a fool’s errand, he thought again. To Hugh’s recollection, widows were not usually overanxious to remarry…unless there was some good reason. He doubted
he
could provide reason enough for the widow of the Earl of Clairmont to remarry. In fact, if truth be told, the only one who benefited—

A woman’s scream pierced the early morning silence. Acting on sheer reflex—reflex he hadn’t known he still possessed—Hugh turned toward the sound and ran through the thick wood toward the
source of the panicked voice. Covering territory quickly, he moved determinedly, with the agility of a trained knight, a formidable knight, in possession of all his considerable skills. Heart pounding, nerves on edge, Hugh’s well-muscled legs ran swiftly but stealthily.

Simply dressed in hose and hauberk, he was without armor, but carried his longbow and a quiver of arrows, in earlier hopes of shooting a brace of hares to present to the Clairmont kitchens. Now, it seemed, his one-eyed skill might truly be tested in a matter of life and death. It was not something he cared to think about, having only practiced with the bow at Windermere, and
not once
shooting to his satisfaction.

Siân Tudor clutched the tree branch desperately, swinging her legs up in an attempt to gain purchase on the branch—away from the charging pig. The huge boar had surprised her only moments before as she’d ambled carelessly through Clairmont’s forest. Unskilled in the wielding of weaponry, Siân was forced to flee the fearsome boar, and flee she did, though the great beast’s tusks had nearly been upon her as she’d jumped for her life onto the low oaken branch.

Terror made Siân’s hands strong as she held on for dear life, but her cumbersome woolen kirtle prevented her from throwing a leg over the saving branch. She glanced down at the enraged boar snorting fiercely under her, his sharp and gleaming tusks in the air, his snout flaring. She knew it would be certain death to let go, but her hands were weakening, her nails tearing! She began to slip.

By the Holy Cross, the lass was falling!

Hugh notched his arrow and let one fly, then another
one followed in rapid succession, all the while, his stomach churned with the agony of self-doubt. How could he be certain his arrow would meet its mark and not kill the woman? How could he know the arrow would reach anywhere
near
its mark?

The sudden screech of the huge creature was testament to the wound.

Hugh didn’t stop to relish his victory. He scrambled down the ridge as the beast squealed in fury and pain. Dry leaves and dust flew, and Hugh could feel the heaving of the boar against the earth itself. Bright yellow wool fluttered and fell. Blood, dark and red, flowed. Then all at once, all movement ceased.

Hugh approached cautiously through the hazy rays of morning sunlight, with silent steps, an arrow at the ready.

Then he thought he heard something. A groan. A slight, feminine groan. A rustle in the leaves. The bright yellow wool moved.

Siân looked up at the man who’d rescued her, and squinted against the bright morning sunlight. Though she’d banged her head and was more than a little dazed, she could see that he was tall, and well made. His physique was strong and wiry, ’twas that of a knight-at-arms, well-honed and able. As Siân pushed herself awkwardly away from the monstrous boar, the knight shot another arrow directly between the eyes of his prey.

Apparently satisfied now that it was dead, the soldier turned to Siân, showing his entire face for the first time.

She was surprised by the black patch over his eye, but not by the strength of his other features. Strong bones, jutting jaw and high cheekbones suited him. Full
lips and straight nose; forehead scarred, but high and bright; brows thick and dark. His uncovered eye was an uncommon, light blue color, strangely remote and guarded. His dark hair was overlong and untamed, with a few silver strands shining in the morning sunlight like the steel of a lethal blade.

A dangerous-looking man, Siân thought hazily. Different from anyone she’d ever encountered before. His powerful presence sent a chill of awareness through her and she was unable to call forth the caution required of her situation. She should not be alone with any man, especially a lone knight who might be a rogue. But her head ached and her vision was oddly blurred. Under the circumstances, the ability to muster the necessary wariness was beyond her.

Hugh knelt beside the young woman in the deep pile of leaves. She was moving again now, and he wanted to be sure she was uninjured before she attempted to stand.

“Hold, woman,” he commanded.

She ignored him and sat up. He could see the pulse pounding in her throat, above the tear in her gown where the boar’s tusk had gone through. An ugly bruise had already begun to darken near the joining of her shoulder and arm, and the flesh was torn by an ugly diagonal rent in her perfect ivory skin.

She should have been killed.

Hugh could not tear his one-eyed gaze away from her as she swept her red-gold hair back from her face. Saucy eyes, the deep blue of the evening sky, were thickly framed by gold-tipped lashes. Delicate bones, cleft chin, impish mouth…Even now, she had the look of a mischievous child about her, although it was clear that she was no child. She was lovely. Hugh forced his
gaze away from her beguiling face and looked back at her injury.

The wound was not a deep one, would not even leave a scar above her perfectly formed breasts, he thought. He looked away from her barely concealed attributes, then silently took one of her injured hands in his own and raised it, palm up, examining it. The act was a strangely sensuous one, with her pulsating heat flowing through to his own hand from hers.

The woman drew her hand back quickly, as if burned. Hugh furrowed his brow, unsettled by the strange effect this slight physical contact had on him. Not since before his captivity had he been so stirred by a woman’s touch.

It was not a welcome sensation.

“Diolch,”
she said in her native Welsh. “I th-thank you, sir knight,” she stammered, returning to English, “for your assistance this morn. Without your intervention—”

“You could have been killed,” the knight said gravely, his rich voice somehow wending its way into a secret place deep within her being. She couldn’t be sure whether her sudden tremor was due to her misadventure or the knight’s proximity. “Why do you wander these woods alone?” he asked. “Where is your escort?”

Siân swallowed and glanced away from his penetrating gaze. She knew she’d been foolish to go so far beyond Clairmont’s walls alone, but could not resist the lure of freedom. In one short week she would be banished to the convent of St. Ann, and all such small freedoms would end. In truth, she would become little more than a slave to the abbess when she arrived at St.
Ann’s, for the dowry her brother Owen had been able to raise was a poor one, indeed.

“I walked here from Clairmont, sir,” Siân said. “It is not far, nor—”

“What lunacy…” he muttered harshly. Contrary to his tone, with his scarred brow furrowed with concern rather than anger, he ran his hands with the utmost gentility across her ankles and feet, assessing, she supposed, for an injury that would prevent her from walking.

Ignoring the unsettling feelings caused by those competent, Saxon hands, Siân pulled away and raised a hand to her breast, only to wince with discomfort when she touched the long scrape. “I am no lunatic, sir,” she said with indignation, “merely unfamiliar with the terrain and the—”

“Spare me such lame explanations,” the knight said curtly. “Can you stand?”

“No. Yes! I think so…” she said, confused by his sudden hostility, though she should never have expected less of one of these Saxons.

Before she could protest, the knight gave an exasperated look, scooped her up as if she weighed nothing, then turned to glance quickly at the dead hog. Without another word, he began to make his way through the forest whence he came.

“Put me down, sir!” she cried, confused by this contradictory man. His tone was gruff, yet he handled her as if she were precious goods. “You cannot intend to carry me all the way to Clairmont!”

“True enough,” he answered sourly as he continued on.

Siân was caught between her gratitude and her prejudice. For several weeks she had been in the company
of her brother’s Saxon friends and found most of them to be arrogant, heartless snobs. They were rude, and perhaps a bit cruel to the little Welsh bumpkin in their midst.

Yet this Saxon man had come to her rescue without question. It was puzzling. “What is your name, sir knight?” she asked in spite of herself, “that I might thank you properly for helping me.”

“Hugh Dryden…” he said, and after a pause he added, “Earl of Alldale.”

He’d received the title and lands from Henry V, for his long and faithful service in France. But Henry had been dead over a year, his son now less than two years of age. Queen Catherine currently resided in London with little King Henry, by the grace of the council, while Bishop Henry Beaufort and the dukes of Gloucester and Bedford waged a silent but deadly war against one another. It was a battle Hugh Dryden had every intention of avoiding. Perhaps that was why Wolf Colston had managed to convince him to come to distant Clairmont and woo the widow. Clairmont was far in the north country, safely removed from London.

“Then I thank you again, Lord Alldale,” Siân said. She leaned toward him and lightly kissed his cheek. Hugh nearly dropped her. Her lips were soft and cool on his skin. The scent of wildflowers invaded his senses. Though her kiss was innocent and guileless, Hugh found himself responding in a manner that was not altogether respectable. He could not determine whether the sudden pounding of his heart was due to the exertion of carrying her, or her kiss.

“I am Siân
verch
Marudedd,” she said, slowing Hugh’s runaway reaction.

“Far from Wales, are you not?” he forced himself
to ask as they went on through the thick woods. He recognized her softly accented “Shahn” as a Welsh name, as well as the reference to her father, Marudedd. Well dressed in her finely woven, brightly colored kirtle, Siân
verch
Marudedd was clearly a Welsh noble-woman.

She was as dignified as the situation would allow, yet there was a fascinating vulnerability about her. Lady Siân raised his interest as no one else had in many a month, though Hugh did not particularly welcome it.

“London is where I’ve been of late, My Lord…” Siân said quietly, careful not to offend the nobleman, whose manner was unfathomable. “I’ve just recently come to Clairmont with my brother.”

Hugh let her statement drop in silence while he tramped back in the direction where his horse was hobbled and Nicholas was likely still sleeping. The sooner he returned her to Clairmont and got her out of his hands, the better.

“You may put me down, my lord,” Siân said. “I’m certain I can walk.”

By now more than willing to put distance between them, Hugh let her down.

Apparently still slightly dizzy from her fall, Lady Siân took one step, then staggered a little. Hugh quickly wound an arm around her waist and, with an impatient sigh, guided her carefully along the rugged terrain.

Siân was unaccustomed to this kind of gallant, masculine attention, and her reaction startled her. She’d never thought herself capable of the emotions churning through her now. To think that one strong, male—
Saxon
—arm around her could cause such an upheaval! It was ridiculous.

She may as well have spent the last few years in St. Ann’s cloister for all she knew of men and their habits; how hard and powerful a male body could feel against her own. After all, no man had ever shown the least interest in her before, and Siân had had little use for them in all her nineteen years.

At least until now.

“Satan’s heels, Hugh,” a voice called out as they moved through the woods, “where have you been?”

“On a fool’s errand,” he muttered.

BOOK: Dryden's Bride
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