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Authors: Marie Laval

Sword Dance

BOOK: Sword Dance
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Dancing for the Devil

Part Three:

Part Three:

Sword Dance

Marie Laval

Bruce McGunn, laird of Wrath in the far North of Scotland, is as brutal and unforgiving as his land. Discharged from the army, haunted by the spectres of his fallen comrades and convinced he is going mad, he is running out of time to save his estate from the machinations of Cameron McRae, heir to the McGunn's ancestral enemies.

When the clipper carrying McRae's new bride docks at Wrath harbour, McGunn decides to hold the woman to ransom and use her to get more time to repay his debts. However, far from the spoilt heiress he expected, Rose is genuine and funny - a ray of sunshine in the long winter that has become his life. She is also determined to escape.

As Rose runs away to be reunited with her husband, she discovers there is a sinister side to the dazzlingly handsome aristocrat she married after a whirlwind romance. Why was Cameron so desperate to get her father's military journal? Why did he insist on keeping their wedding a secret? She is even more confused when Bruce catches up with her and she starts to feel irresistibly attracted to him. Soon she risks her marriage to help Bruce find the truth about his past and solve the mystery of the brutal murders committed on his land. Will her love be enough to heal his haunted heart?

Rose Saintclair's tale begins in
The Dream Catcher
, and continues in
Blue Bonnets
, the first two parts of the
Dancing for the Devil

The story so far…

Cape Wrath, Scotland, November 1847

When her ship is caught in a terrifying storm off the far north of Scotland and she catches her first glimpse of Wrath Lodge, Rose believes she has reached the gateway to hell. Her encounter with Wrath's laird Bruce McGunn does nothing to reassure her. A reckless officer discharged from the army, McGunn holds a bitter grudge against her husband's family, the wealthy McRaes, and Rose is horrified to find out that McGunn means to hold her to ransom in order to save his estate from financial ruin.

Bruce's health is failing, and he fears he is descending into madness as terrifying hallucinations torment him every night. Soon something else is keeping him awake – a growing attraction for his captive, and the gruesome discovery of two women's bodies near the castle. One of them, Malika, is the childhood friend Rose last saw in Algiers the day before her marriage to Cameron McRae. How the women died, who killed them and disposed of their bodies is a mystery Bruce now has to solve.

Rose manages to escape Wrath, taking with her a posy of pine sprigs she believes was given to her by the Dark Lady, Wrath's resident ghost, and her confused feelings for Wrath's tormented master – the man she calls McGlum, whose mother committed suicide when he was a baby and who doesn't know who his father was.

She is abducted on the way to the McRae estate and taken to an abandoned cottage where Bruce finds her. A blizzard forces them to stay in the cottage where Bruce suffers another bout of his debilitating illness. As Rose tends to him, she realises she has fallen in love with him, and she is relieved rather than distraught when she learns that Cameron McRae tricked her into a fake wedding and she isn't his wife after all.

Bruce takes Rose with him to confront Cameron. On the way, they read the military journal kept by Rose's father in which he mentions meeting Niall McRae – Cameron's father – on the battlefield and writing his last will and testament. Could the journal hold vital clues as to Cameron's deception and the identity of Bruce's father? And will Bruce find out at last who is responsible for the murders on his land?


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Marie Laval

Other Accent Press Titles

Chapter One

‘C'me on ye bunch of ragamuffins and dolly-mops, hurry up! What do ye think Lord McRae brought ye here for? Lazing around, playing yer godawful music or chattering all day? Come on, I said. I dunno 'ave time to sit around waiting for ye lot.'

Only Rose understood what he was saying, but the guard's angry voice, the sheer brutality twisting his thick-set face and the impatient way he tapped the palm of his hand with a cropped whip were enough for dancers and musicians to hurry out of the cottage without protest.

Rose kept her head down as she walked past him to climb into the carriage. She had persuaded one of the dancing girls to swap places with her and wore the girl's red and golden dress. Her thick blonde hair was safely tucked under a headdress which was secured with pins and decorated with chains and necklaces – some of them her own – which chimed and tinkled with her every move. Her eyes were lined with black kohl pencil like the other girls, but she would have to keep them down because, of course, they were blue. Although
Ouled Nail
dancers didn't usually veil their faces, she had asked the other girls to make an exception for tonight. She couldn't take the risk of Cameron recognising her – not until she had done what she wanted to do.

Once in the coach, one of the musicians leaned towards her and whispered in Arabic.

‘Are you sure you want to do this,
? It's not too late to change your mind, you know. We could pretend you're ill or something.'

‘No, I need to do this,' she replied from under the veil as the brutish man slammed the door shut.

‘What if he recognises you before you speak to the young lady?'

She shook her head, her throat tight with dread despite her apparent self-confidence.

‘He won't even see me. I'll slip away as soon as we get to the castle and hide until I find Lady Sophia. And if ever I have to dance, then I'll just be one of the girls, and as you well know nobody will even glance up at my face – which is veiled anyway.'

The men still looked worried, and she now understood why. She linked her fingers in her lap and swallowed hard. The things they had told her about Cameron and Morven were shocking enough to make anyone scared, but they made her even more determined to warn Lady Sophia against the man she was about to marry.

It wasn't long before the carriage stopped in the courtyard of the castle and they were ushered inside through the service entrance.

‘The ladies are all either tucked away in the drawing room or have retired upstairs, and the gentlemen are waiting in the music room,' the manservant said. ‘By now I gather they'll be more than ready for ye. I know I am.'

He clicked his tongue, let out a booming laugh and slapped one of the girls on the bottom.

Rose looked around in astonishment as they walked through the opulent reception rooms, slowing down deliberately until she fell to the back of the line. She had to find a good hiding place here before they reached the music room.

She had never seen such splendour, except perhaps in the palace of Dar Hasan Pasha or the Dey's
Palais d'Eté
in Algiers. Every ceiling was stuccoed, every mantelpiece adorned with gilded griffins, every piece of furniture, chandelier, and mirror sparkled. Her optimism soon vanished however when she realised that although the rooms were filled with elegant furniture, there was nowhere for her to hide. The silk brocade curtains weren't long or bulky enough to conceal her. The white and eau-de-nil sofas and chairs with their high backs and fancy carved legs weren't close enough to the wall for her to hide behind.

‘Almost there,' the manservant called as he turned back.

Immediately, her gaze fell to the floor.

‘Hey, ye at the back,' he growled. ‘I know what ye're trying to do, snooping around for something to steal. Hurry up or I'll carry ye on my shoulder.'

Bedbugs! She had missed her chance, and now he'd be watching her like a hawk.

He opened a door and gestured for them to enter a large, wood-panelled room, plunged in semi-darkness and filled with a thick, acrid smoke that brought tears to her eyes and made her throat sore. Glancing up for a second, Rose saw smartly dressed men of all ages chatting in groups or reclining in deep, leather sofas and armchairs. Some drank liquor, others lifted cups of tea or coffee to their lips, but they all stopped talking when the dancers walked in and turned to stare at them.

‘Here they are at last, our little doves,' a familiar voice called from the other end of the room, making Rose's heart beat hard and fast against her ribs.

Cameron stood near the fireplace, a crystal tumbler filled to the brim with liquor in his hand, his cravat undone and his shirt open, and the light from the fire casting an evil, sinister glow on his face. He might look the same as he had a few weeks before, distinguished and heartbreakingly handsome, but all she felt for him right now was fear and loathing.

Her eyes darted around the room. As she had expected, Bruce wasn't there.

Cameron grabbed hold of a silver spoon and tapped it against his glass.

‘Gentlemen, I promised you a delicious surprise from a distant and exotic land, and here it is. You will not be disappointed, but be careful… You must say not a word to our charming wives and fiancées. They wouldn't understand.'

There were a few chuckles, but mostly hot, expectant stares. Rose could feel the men's eyes linger on her body –the way men everywhere gaped at dancing girls, whether they were wealthy aristocrats in a palace or sailors in a dockside tavern.

Cameron signalled for the girls to come closer and stand in the centre of the room, and to the musicians to sit in a corner. So she would have to perform after all. Gripped by panic, all her former confidence now deserted her. She slid behind the other girls and kicked off her babouches, shivering at the feel of the smooth, cool wooden floor under the soles of her feet.

‘Go on, my lovelies, dance… dance for us lucky devils,' Cameron said, lifting his glass in a toast.

Music rose in the silent room. The beat of the drum was followed by the melodic, insistent, slightly hypnotic tune of the flute.

‘Don't worry, stay at the back and dance, we'll think of something to distract them,' one of the girls whispered.

Rose's chest felt too tight, and her limbs heavy and clumsy. The heavy bangles on her wrists jingled as she raised her arms, flipped her hands above her head and rolled her hips. She had done it many times, but always in secret and with Malika as her sole audience. Her friend used to say she was as good as any native
Ouled Nail
, that she felt the moves, the rhythm, the flow, the heart of the music the same way as they did. She could almost hear Malika's voice when she'd said, ‘You could be one of us,


She could do this. She
do this, for her friend – her sister. She would forget about the audience, follow the music and let her body remember and fly away.

Little by little the music surrounded her, seeped inside her, and she eased into the dance. Soon the only sounds in the room were the fast beat of the
drum and the long, winding notes of the

He had stayed a long time on the terrace after his visit to the library, so long he missed the start of the performance. Yet the freezing cold night had done little to appease his feverish brain, rationalise the crazy thoughts that swirled inside his head, and help him figure out plausible explanations for Niall McRae wearing the
half of the Alexandria medal. The implications were staggering, life-changing and not just for himself.

He stared at the parterres scattered with fountains and lights. Beyond, the grounds stretched all the way to the sea several miles away. He turned to look at the castle, gripping the stone balustrade for support. If McRae had indeed fathered him, then Cameron was his half-brother – his
half-brother. He really didn't know what he felt about that. Damn it, he didn't know what he felt about any of it!

The sound of cheers and applause drifted into the night from the ballroom as McRae announced his betrothal to Lady Sophia. The happy couple was fêted and congratulated. The orchestra resumed its series of waltzes, quadrilles and polkas, but he couldn't make himself go back inside. Without thinking, he once again lifted his hand to his chest to reach out for his medallion, only to let it drop by his side with a curse. The medallion. He should not have thrown it on the fire in Rose's bedroom. Now it was lost, probably melted to an unidentifiable mess.

Together with Colonel Saintclair's diary and the portrait, the medallion could have helped prove his case. Of course, what he really needed were the elder McRae's letters, especially the one addressed to the woman he loved –
his own mother

BOOK: Sword Dance
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