Two demands for the promised payment of marriage.
Murder, deceit, and fraud pull Lady Arin Keith between these men.
Which one will bed her, claim her...own her?
Lady Airin Keith won't rest until Lord Jason Bothwell is
tried and convicted for the murder of her sister. An unexpected marriage
proposal brings an opportunity to prove the earl's guilt, but the knight who
appears with her great grandmother's lost brooch threatens to interfere with
Airin's brand of justice when he demands the agreed payment of marriage.
Scottish Highlands, 1388
Lady Airin Keith slid free the bolt, then inched open the hidden door to the Scarlet Knight’s bedchamber. Light sliced across the floor in a single, thin strand, and music, along with male laughter, seeped into the room from the great hall below. She hesitated. The hallway door had been left ajar. Had the knight already taken to his bed? The hour was not yet nine. Surely, he wouldn't leave the merry making so early? Mayhap he was unable to hold his liquor. That would serve her well, but no man such as the Scarlet Knight could be anything less than a skilled drunkard. Curse him and her father. She had ridden hard in order to arrive before it was too late.
Airin cocked an ear, straining to hear any sounds of light snoring or breathing. Nothing. She pushed open the door several inches and peered into the dark until the bed took shape. Thank the saints, empty. She whirled, her long braid snapping around to her belly, and hurried to retrieve the lit candle she'd left around the bend.
Back at the door, she stepped into the room as a man staggered down the hallway. She jerked her head right as his backside disappeared from view. A moment later, his roar of laughter echoed up the stairs he descended.
Fool. ‘Twould serve him right if he landed skull first on the great hall’s stone floor. Airin hurried to the hall door. With a quick glance through the slitted opening, she clicked the door shut, then turned and blew out a long breath. When this was finished, she would teach her father a lesson for such underhanded dealing.
Her gaze fell on a table sitting beneath the lavishly curtained window to the right of the bed opposite her. On the table sat a small, unadorned, wooden box. Airin stared. The box looked like that which Perry had described in his missive. By the saints, could the burglary be accomplished so easily? At least a hundred men milled about the castle. Yet, no guard stood watch outside the room. Mayhap the Scarlet Knight was not as canny as was said. The thought should have soothed; instead, dread coiled like an adder around her insides.
She hurried around the bed to the table, set the candle beside the box, then hesitated, afraid of what she might find. Ridiculous. Her great grandmother’s brooch had disappeared seventy years ago without a trace. The Scarlet Knight’s claim that he had found it was false. Airin lifted the box. Music abruptly lifted in a hard crescendo. She stood, heart pounding, as the music dropped again into a low hum. The merry making would continue through the night.
Anger simmered just below the level of control. Aye, Scarlet Knight, make merry while you can. Tomorrow you return home—without the bride you thought to claim.
She opened the box. There, on purple velvet, lay an ornate silver brooch. Just as her great-grandmother Brianna described, knot work ran the full circle of the ring brooch. A dagger embossed with gold, and concealing the stickpin, sliced through the middle of the brooch. Airin ran a finger over the lower right edge where the links widened and joined with a coat-of-arms. She paused. Centered over the coat-of-arms, two curls butted, one a fraction smaller than the other.
Brianna loved to tell how her husband had been pulled aside by a blue-eyed woman during a fair in Edinborough, and given the brooch. The picture was burned into Airin’s memory as if she’d been there. Except for a scratch on the back of the brooch, her grandmother spoke of no other defect. Satisfaction surged through her. The Scarlet Knight should have commissioned a better silversmith. She turned it over and held the brooch toward the light. Airin snorted. Just as she thought: no scratch.
Something rustled behind her. She spun, yanking free the dagger strapped to her waist. A blur of gray flitted in her vision. A sharp pain to her head preceded a flash of white light. Thrusting the dagger blindly, she rocked sideways and struck the table. Metal scraped wood as the candle holder slid across the table, and dropped off the edge. It hit the stone floor with a clink and the room went dark. She swung to the right and squinted at the open path around the bed.
Shadow shifted against darkness and a wisp of air brushed her arms. A chill raced up her spine. Madeline. Airin’s breath caught. Was her younger sister no longer satisfied with haunting Beaton Hall? Had she returned here, to Huntley Castle, her childhood home? Another shift of shadow. Airin kicked, connecting with the flesh and blood muscle of a man. A low grunt sounded. Satisfaction shot through her. So the phantom was human, after all. Her head spun, but she kicked again, hitting air.
Nausea rolled through her. She stumbled, dropping the box, and grabbed for the bed. She missed and crashed to her knees. A flash of light blazed behind her. She glanced over her shoulder. Her vision blurred, but she made out a candle lying beside flaming gold brocade curtains. Her heart pounded. Airin groped for the bedpost, felt wood, then held on tight as spots raced across her vision.
Shouts went up in the courtyard. She forced her head up in time to see a cloaked figure disappear into the passageway. She tightened her grip on the bedpost and heaved to her feet. Her knees buckled, but she held fast, swinging around to face the fire. The hallway door struck the wall with a crack. Airin twisted around and her heart leapt into her throat. A giant stood in the doorway! He charged. She reared back before registering the men who rushed past him carrying buckets.
“Airin,” a deep voice shouted as she fell sprawling just short of the wall—and the fire.
She glimpsed the fallen box lying halfway under the bed before a voice near her shouted, “Water!”
Airin yanked her gaze up and nearly jumped out of her skin at sight of the giant towering over her. Then she blinked. Deryll? She jammed her eyes shut and shook her head in an effort to dislodge the specter. Pain rattled the gray within her mind and she grimaced. She was having that dream again, only this time, it had taken a bad turn. She wanted to laugh. Dreaming while awake was surely a bad sign. Cold water doused her head.
“What—” She sputtered, spitting water, and shook her head again. By the saints, her head throbbed.
"More water, ye fools!" someone shouted.
Fingers closed around her arm hard enough to hurt, and a yank brought her to her feet. Someone rushed past as strong arms slipped around her, brushing the curve of her breast when he scooped her close. Warmth seeped through the drenched fabric of her dress to her chilled skin. Her nipples, pressed against the muscled chest of her rescuer, hardened. An unfamiliar heat spread through Airin. She snuggled closer, pressing her face to the warm flesh of his neck above the collar of his gambeson. His arms tightened and she startled when the apex between her legs gave an answering pulse that floated just beyond the pounding in her head.
His mouth, a bare inch from hers, captured her attention. He had Deryll’s full mouth and square jaw. Were Deryll’s hands as warm as his? She tilted her head back and squinted. This man’s face was fuller, more angled and—he stepped into the well-lit hallway and Airin went cold at sight of the scar running down the right side of his cheek. A man raced from the room, bumping into them.
Despite the pain that ricocheted off her brain, she narrowed her eyes on her rescuer. “Sir Scar-let.” She slurred the insult.
Amusement glinted in his green eyes.
Airin tore her gaze from the Scarlet Knight and stared at the older man running toward them. He halted at the door, grasped the doorjamb on each side and leaned into the room.
He pivoted to face her, and demanded, “What have you done?”
She flashed a lopsided smile. “Hello, Father.”
The pain wasn’t so bad now, she thought, and swooned.