Surrender to the Scot

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Chapter One

Late April, 1320
Northern England

There was no denying it. Elaine Beaumore’s friends—her only friends—were boring.

She propped her elbow on the wooden counter dividing the cloth shop’s front display from the reams of colorful material in the back, resting her chin in her hand as Judith droned on about a new shipment of brocade.

“…first glance you’d call it ruby, but of course it’s truly more of a burgundy.” Judith dragged her shears across a length of brown-dyed wool that was decidedly less interesting than the silks she and Julia had been eagerly anticipating for months.

“And wait until you see the threadwork on it, Lainey,” Julia, Judith’s twin sister, added, deftly scooping up the bolt of wool and carrying it to the back of their father’s shop.

“Aye, it’s enough gold to make my—”

“—head spin.”

The twins had a habit of doing that—cutting each other off and finishing each other’s thoughts. It happened more whenever they spoke about some new silk or velvet their father had ordered. Naught made Judith and Julia more excited than cloth.

Elaine made an interested noise, but she was saved from having to comment because Julia had already reemerged from the back. She and Judith suddenly fixed her with an assessing look, their identical brown eyes sharp and their brown heads tilting at the same angle.

“You would like it, Lainey,” Judith said. “The needlework is very fine. Mayhap for a—”

“—wedding dress,” Julia continued. “You’ll need something nicer than what you normally wear. But then again, the color—”

“—is all wrong for you.” Judith waved vaguely at Elaine’s head. “What with that copper hair, burgundy would be—”

“—a disaster.”

Elaine realized she’d been grinding her teeth. Judith and Julia were the only girls in the village her age, and despite the fact that she was a lord’s daughter and they merely the daughters of a cloth merchant, Elaine had sought their friendship.

She didn’t begrudge the twins’ overfamiliarity with her, or even their criticisms of her appearance and her penchant to dress plainly. There was a time when Elaine had even looked up to Judith and Julia, for they’d taught her how to weave scraps of silk ribbon into her hair and had always told tales of the latest fashions from the French court.

Nay, she was used to overlooking their informality and their cutting remarks. What she found she could no longer swallow was the triviality of their endless chatter.

She straightened from the counter abruptly. “I just remembered—I have to go…help my father with…something.”

The excuse was laughably thin, but neither twin seemed to notice. They merely blinked at her, then turned their attention back to folding the length of wool they’d just cut.

“That brocade is supposed to arrive within the sennight,” Judith commented as Elaine turned to leave. “We can take your measurements and then you’ll be sure to have—”

“—a gown fine enough to be wed in!”

Elaine shut the shop door on Julia’s words. There was another topic of conversation the twins had fixated on—Elaine’s imaginary wedding. A month past, she’d told them that her father had broached the subject of finding a suitable husband for her. The twins had been oblivious to the tightness of Elaine’s voice as she’d spoken and had jumped straight into planning a grand event in their minds. Never mind the fact that Elaine’s eyes burned with the threat of tears every time she thought of it.

Marriage. That meant the rest of her days spent tucked behind stone walls, the lady of some manor or other. It would be a quiet life, no doubt. A safe life. A boring life.

Though the spring day was mild, Elaine’s cheeks felt cool as she strode away from the shop. She realized belatedly that a few tears had slipped out. Annoyed, she dashed them away with her palms.

She’d long disliked the fact that she was quick to tears, for it seemed to confirm what everyone already thought of her—that she was an overly sensitive girl who had to be handled with care. And because of that, only the most inane topics—ribbons and gowns and how to dress most becomingly for the exact shade of her hair—should fill her life.

Letting a frustrated breath go, she pointed herself toward the stables at the edge of the village, just below the rise atop which Trellham Keep sat.

“Milady,” Jacob, one of the stable lads, said as she stepped inside. He set aside a piece of leather he’d been oiling. “A saddle on Gertie for you?”

“Aye, thank you.” Her rides were becoming a frequent enough occurrence that Jacob hardly needed to ask anymore.

Elaine cast her gaze about the stables, a thrill going through her to find that none of Trellham’s guards were inside. With the village only a long stone’s throw down the hill from the keep, she was allowed to walk there by herself, though Finn Sutherland, her stubborn mule of a brother-in-law, had instructed the guards not to let her ride without an escort.

It had been four quiet, peaceful years since Elaine’s sister Rosamond had been kidnapped by those working against the alliance between their father, Lord Henry Beaumore, and the Scottish King Robert the Bruce. Finn had saved Rosamond—and stolen her heart, leading to their joyful union here at Trellham.

In truth, Elaine loved Finn, for he made Rosamond unfailingly happy, but her Highland brother-in-law could be just as bad as her sister when it came to being overprotective.

Northern England—including Trellham Keep—was securely in Robert the Bruce’s hands now, and none dared to challenge him. Elaine would be forever grateful to the Bruce for bringing peace to the Borderlands. She’d grown up in a time of war and uncertainty, and these last few years had been blessedly calm. Still, it meant that her rides through the countryside were her only excitement—and that Finn needn’t have ordered guards to accompany her.

Even as Jacob slipped the bridle over Gertie’s head, Elaine swung up into the saddle, uncaring that riding astride meant her blue woolen skirts hitched up to reveal her tall boots.

“In a hurry, are you, milady?” Jacob asked, lifting the reins around Gertie’s alert ears and handing them to Elaine with a knowing smile.

She’d done this before—slipped out of the stables without an escort—but never had she made it more than a few breathless moments before they caught up to her. She accepted the reins and clicked her tongue, guiding Gertie toward the open stable doors. “How far do you think I’ll get this time?”

“Oh, at least to the copse of trees in the western valley, milady,” Jacob replied.

With a flashing grin over her shoulder, Elaine squeezed her knees into Gertie’s flanks and snapped the reins lightly.

The dappled gray mare needed no further encouragement. Elaine had selected her for her lean strength and eagerness to run. The animal longed to tear across the rolling landscape just as badly as Elaine.

As they darted around Trellham’s base, she heard a shout go up from one of the keep’s towers. The guards had spotted her, then.

Though they were good, honest men, Elaine couldn’t help resenting them, for they were a constant reminder that Finn, Rosamond, and her father still thought of her as a child that needed constant watching. Elaine was a woman grown at nearly nineteen—old enough for her father to raise the topic of marriage—yet her freedoms were as narrow as a reed.

But at least she had this moment. She urged Gertie on, and the ground beneath them turned to a blur of spring-green grasses. As the copse at the bottom of the valley came into view, Elaine dared a look over her shoulder. Four guards barreled after her on big, powerful steeds, but to her surprise, they were only just descending from Trellham’s hilltop.

Elaine leaned back over Gertie’s neck, letting the wind rip at her hair and sting her cheeks. Her eyes burned with exhilaration as she shot past the copse and up the other side of the valley. When she crested the next rise, a thrilled laugh rose in her throat.

But as Gertie careened down the back side of the slope so fast that her hooves barely touched the ground, the mirth died inside Elaine like a doused fire.

She wasn’t alone.

A rider had just dipped through the valley floor and was headed up the slope toward her. A man Elaine didn’t recognize.

Her elation shattered as a sharp lance of fear stabbed her. She reined in hard, but Gertie’s momentum and the slanting ground beneath them meant the horse couldn’t stop her descent into the valley—right toward the strange rider.

Gertie’s hooves showered clumps of grass and dirt as she at last scrambled to a halt only a few paces from the man.

“Easy there,” he said, lifting a palm as if he could halt her horse with just his hand.

Elaine’s panicked gaze landed on that big, callused hand. Then again, mayhap he could. He was a fearsome sight. Seated atop an enormous roan stallion, he towered over Elaine, but as her eyes swept over him, she knew it wasn’t just the horse that made him seem overpowering.

His dark brown hair was held back from his face, revealing features chiseled from granite. Thick stubble the same color as his hair dusted his angular jaw. The severe line of his lowered brows matched his flat, hard-set mouth, yet his lips were surprisingly full. Beneath those dropped brows lay sharp chestnut eyes that seemed to bore straight into her.

“Are ye all right, lass?” he asked, his dark gaze searching.

Elaine’s fright must’ve been written clearly on her face. She’d never had any skill at hiding the emotions that so easily bubbled to the surface.

Distantly, she registered that the man had spoken in a Scottish accent—and not just Scottish, but the same curling burr as Finn’s. He was a Highlander, then. Aye, he wore a plaid belted around his hips in the Highland style, though she did not recognize the red and yellow-slashed pattern.

We are allies, she told herself, desperately trying to check her terror. He is a Scot, and my family is loyal to the Bruce. Still, kilted Highlanders did not normally ride alone into Northern England—unless they were lawless men, beholden to no one and out to take whatever they could.

Elaine’s hands tightened on the reins as she attempted to urge Gertie backward away from the man. “I…you are…”

The man’s gaze shifted to something over her shoulder. Before she knew what had happened, he’d closed the distance between them and clamped a hand around her waist. Suddenly she was being lifted off her horse and onto his. She connected with the hard, warm wall of his body. The air rushed from her lungs at the coiled strength there.

Even as he settled her across his lap, one arm still gripping her waist, he drew the long, deadly-sharp sword from its sheath at his hip.

Too shocked to scream, Elaine’s eyes widened on the glinting blade the man held before them both. Her gaze snagged on a motion at the top of the ridge. All at once, she knew why the man had dragged her so abruptly from her horse.

The four guards from Trellham had crested the ridge and were barreling toward them, swords drawn at the sight of their lady in the arms of a rogue Scotsman.

Oh God, nay.

Elaine had wanted adventure. She’d wanted excitement. And now her foolishness would end in catastrophe.

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