Authors: Olivia Stocum
Tags: #Romance, #Love Story
Copyright © 2014 by Olivia Stocum TangledMoon Books
All rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidences are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is coincidental.
Cover Design by Stephanie White
Model: James D. Magnussen
Photo by Rae Huro Photography
Praise for Olivia Stocum’s novels:
“The research was impeccable and the story is lovely and compelling. I found the relationships well thought out and believable. This type of writing deserves to go on for longer than a single book. I’m looking forward to her next novel.”
~Ionia Martin, book reviewer for Readful Things
"Olivia has crafted an adventurous love story with two unforgettable characters. Her vivid descriptions paint an epic journey of boundless love between two souls who must become one. Her tend
er and poetic prose reminded me of the book, “Cold Mountain.”
~Stan Bednarz, award winning author of
Miracle on Snowbird Lake.
“What do you get when you add the beautiful 1600s Scottish countryside, men in kilts, and the women who love them to a story that features a virile, cloaked defender known only as Blackhawk? An exciting, captivating page-turner by Olivia Stocum, that's what! DAWNING has a home on my 'keepers' shelf!”
~ Loree Lough, bestselling author of 100 award-winning books
Novels by Olivia Stocum:
Historic Scotland ~
Starlight (release date TBA)
Crusader England ~
Enduringly Yours (coming October 2014)
my amazing, supportive children, for sharing me with fictional people.
The Scottish Lowlands, 1607
The earthy scent of peat smoke and ale permeated
the air. Gregarious male laughter echoed off cold stone walls. Laird William MacAlastair swirled the spiced wine in his mug as he sat alone before the hearth in Laird Geoffrey Buchanan’s dining hall. He calculated how many days he should waste on meaningless council meetings with fickle Lowlanders.
was three years into his chieftainship, and had come south in the hopes of renewing the alliances first created by his uncle, Douglas MacAlastair. Now he doubted it was going to happen. William rolled his right shoulder. The dull ache from an old injury helped keep his head clear.
glanced at Laird Geoffrey sitting at a long table on a dais. Geoffrey shook back his blond curls, then hauled a wench onto his knee.
“A refill, my laird?” questioned a feminine trill
from next to William. The wench smiled. Her golden hair cascaded in ringlets around her bare shoulders. She wore a too-tight bodice that would be better left to a woman with more modest endowments, and a rough wool skirt with no petticoat beneath. The curve of her hip and thigh were outlined against the fire.
“Nay.” His tone held an undercurrent of dismissal.
She set aside her flagon of spiced wine, steam rolling off it, and leaned toward him. Her hair brushed William’s forearm and the scent of roses took precedence over ale and peat smoke.
“Geoffrey is otherwise engaged this eve.” She glanced at the raven-haired woman perched on Geoffrey’s lap, and then her eyes scanned William, sparkling as they took in his belted plaid and his warrior’s build. “I am at your disposal, my laird.” She bit her full lower lip as she waited for his response.
William gestured with one finger for her to come closer. She giggled when his mouth edged against her ear. “I dinna share my women with Geoffrey. In fact, I dinna share my women at all.”
Her laughter faded and she backed off, blue eyes dejected. Picking up
the flagon, she lifted her chin to him and walked away.
The heavy oak doors at the far end of Laird Geoffrey’s hall clanged open. A draft flickered the fire. The golden wench startled, wine slopping out of the flagon. She gasped and shook hot liquid off her skin. Silence fell over the room as Geoffrey urged the brunette off his
knee and banged down the steps of the dais.
A middle-aged man with a hawk nose stepped in
. He was wearing puffy, red and green breeches and a matching quilted doublet embroidered with—William had to take a second look—roses. The hawknosed man flipped the edge of his fur-lined cloak over his arm.
Geoffrey smiled and clasped his hands together. “She has arrived safe and sound, then?”
“As sound as to be expected,” Hawknose said with an English accent. He flicked dust off his doublet, then turned and gestured toward the open doors.
An armed guard in a brown leather jerkin and functional wool breeches carried a young woman into the hall, slung over his shoulder like a sack of barley.
Her hair, the color of rich red wine, glowed as they passed under a torch.
The guard swung her off his shoulder and dropped her. Her knees gave way on impact, sending her down in a rumple of pale green linen, hair flung over her face and shoulders. Her hands were bound with rope. She blew just enough hair out of her face to expose one eye.
Wondering what stupidity Geoffrey had gotten himself into,
William took up his sword where he’d left it propped against his chair, and sheathed it in the harness at his back. His fingers flexed as he crossed the hall.
It occurred to him that the burgundy lass could be a criminal.
But where he was from, you didn’t treat a woman like an animal, no matter what she was.
“How can I look at her like this?” Geoffrey said to the guard. His eyes roved possessively over
her. He licked his lips. “Untie her.”
William couldn’t explain why, but a
s he watched her sitting on the floor, looking all soft and vulnerable, he had the irresistible need to help her. No matter the cost.
As Geoffrey drooled over the glittering jewel like a thief over an unlocked treasure chest, William
forced himself to take a moment to assess the situation. He was standing in the middle of another man’s hall. A Lowlander’s hall. They didn’t even dress like him. William was the only one in a plaid. All of his men were in the garrison, so he had no one to back him up should he challenge Geoffrey’s authority.
The guard pulled out a knife the length of a man’s forearm and bent toward the lass. Her eyes widened, the serrated blade hovering over her, glinting in torchlight.
She pushed backward with her feet, gathering a pile of rushes behind her.
William caught the guard by the wrist and twisted until he dropped the knife with a clatter on the stone floor. William let go of him, hands lifted. He didn’t want any trouble. He just couldn’t let the man
near her with a knife. The guard shifted his weight and cocked back a fist.
“Do you really want to do that?” William kept his voice calm.
The man’s hand wavered, and then he swung at William anyway. William dodged and elbowed him in the gut. The guard collapsed to the floor, wheezing.
“I did warn you.” William picked up the knife and tucked it into his belt.
The woman peered through her hair at him. Her gaze started on his brown leather boots and worked upward. It slid past his plaid, then paused on the pistol at his side, and again on the pommel of his claymore jutting over his shoulder. She shifted her focus onto his face. Her green eyes looked into his.
And at tha
t moment, it was as if the sky had split open and the heavenly host appeared.
William was pretty sure he’d just seen the light.
He came down on his knees,
and slowly, not wanting to scare her, brushed her hair behind her shoulders. It felt soft and smooth, as if it had been recently brushed. Impossible with her hands bound.
e stopped short when he got a good look at her face. Aye, she was uncommonly beautiful, with wide expressive eyes, high cheekbones, and full lips. But she was also marred by bruises ranging in color from purple to yellow, mottling her face and neck, disappearing under the embroidered trim of her bodice. Not wanting to alarm her by overreacting, William kept his expression neutral.
He pulled a short knife out of his boot. “I’m just going to cut you free.” He splayed his hands, letting her see the knife. He suspected they’d tied her ankles too, although he couldn’t see them. “Did they bind your feet?”
He almost moved her skirts aside,
then decided to free her hands first. That way, she would know she could clout him over the head if she wanted to. William gestured and she lifted her hands. Her skin was raw, the scratchy ropes sticky with blood. He cut them free and tossed the rope aside.
William winced as she pulled her hands back, hissing and clutching them close to her body.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Her gaze lifted to his face, then searched as if determining his motives.
He wasn’t sure what his motives were either. All he knew was that she needed his help. He wasn’t sure why she needed
help, precisely, but that didn’t change anything.
reached for the hem of her gown. She shifted backward. He held up his hands. “You do it.”
Her gaze on him, she lifted her skirt up to her ankle. He cut her feet free, his fingers wet with her blood. God help him, but he wanted to throttle both Geoffrey and
Hawknose. One in each hand.
Geoffrey folded his arms over his chest, his lips quirked
, looking satisfied with the turn of events. It wouldn’t be the first time William was made the butt of one of Geoffrey’s jokes. He had the feeling he was being set up. Looking at the lass again, her brow furrowed as she watched him with an innocently confused expression, William decided he didn’t care about Geoffrey’s intentions.
He tucked the knife in his boot and offered her a hand
. She ignored it and scrambled to her feet on her own power. Staggering, she reached for the wall and leaned against it.
Her gown didn’t fit. She wasn’t wearing t
he usual hoops under her skirts, and they fell in limp folds around her hips and thighs. Either the gown wasn’t made for her, or she’d lost weight. William resisted the temptation to rest his hand on his pistol in warning to the other men not to touch her.
Geoffrey clapped his hands in slow, methodical beats, the sound echoing through the hall. “Well done
, Highlander. Do be sure that heart of yours doesna bleed all over my floor.”
closed in on her. She stiffened and drew back against the wall.
, William came between them.
Geoffrey lifted his palm. “Back off.”
William hated being at a disadvantage, but he couldn’t deny that he was. At least for the moment. He stepped aside, but not away.
eoffrey looked her over. “You are thin,” he said. He turned to the hawk-nosed man. “Reginald, have you not fed her?”
“She refuses to eat,” Reginald said. Heat flushed from under the man’s ruffed collar
, and William knew he was lying.
Had he actually tried starving her? What
Geoffrey turned back to
Rhiannon. Her eyes widened in fear and she held her hand out to ward him off.
“Meet my betrothed.” Geoffrey smiled
. “The Lady Rhiannon of Hanover.”
She was Geoffrey’s.
William felt as if he were seeing her again for the first time—and she had Geoffrey’s grimy fingerprints all over her.
ove.” Geoffrey took her by the chin and forced her to face William. “Look at the man. You already let him touch you. You might as well greet him politely.”
here were several reasons why a woman might be forced into marriage against her will. One, she’d been compromised. Gauging by the bruises peeking from under her gown, that was very much a possibility. Two, she was worth a good deal of money. Entirely possible, judging by the once fine linen of her gown. Three, she made a good political pawn. Well, she was English, and an English bride would work to Geoffrey’s advantage.
The voice of reason
reminded him to stand down, but he decided he’d had enough of reason. “That’s enough, Geoffrey.”
Geoffrey lifted his blon
d brows. “Does this bother you?”
“What are you doing?”
“The woman belongs to me.”
The lass shifted so that she was standing behind William. She smelled like ginger, and for some reason it clouded his judgment.
imagined her hair beneath his calloused palms . . .
Focus, you idiot.
“She is injured,” William said. “Leave her be. Unless you wish for her to become ill. What good will she be to you when she is overcome with a fever?”
toward Reginald. “’Tis your fault. You are her cousin, couldna you at least feed the chit? She is but a shadow of her former glory.” Geoffrey looked her over. “Pathetic.”
He made to push William out of his way to get to her, but William wouldn’t budge.
“Out of my way.”
lamped a hand over Geoffrey’s shoulder, barring him from her. William meant to think his words through before he said them, but they shot out of his mouth anyway. “I’m challenging you.”
“Duel me for the woman.”
“But she is
William lowered his voice.
“Resorting to forcing yourself on women now, are we?”
Geoffrey’s eyes flashed.
“Meet me in the lists,” William said, loud enough for the entire room to hear. “If you draw first blood, then I will walk away. If I draw first blood, then I take the woman and leave.”
There was no way
Geoffrey could turn William down and not lose face in the sight of his people.
Reginald watched them with curiosity. Men whispered to each other. The golden-haired wench who’d solicited William earlier looked Rhiannon up and down, then plopped herself on another man’s knee.
“Two days hence, I shall meet your challenge,” Geoffrey said.
What skill with the sword could Geoffrey acquire in two days? Unless he had aught else in mind. Two days might give Geoffrey the opportunity to defeat
him in a less dignified manner. Anything was possible.