Surrender to the Scot – Emma Prince

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. Chapter Two Jerome Munro’s arm tightened around the wide-eyed English lass in his lap. If he’d spotted the brigands chasing her a few moments earlier, he would have shifted her behind him in the saddle to free up both hands, but as it was, he would have to face the four bastards one-handed. It was better than the alternative—simply continuing on his way to Trellham Keep and letting the lass fend for herself. Damn if he didn’t like the diversion from his mission, but he was a Highlander, which meant he couldn’t stand aside and ignore injustice. Or a terror-filled pair of bonny blue eyes. The way the lass had come tearing into the valley a moment before had nearly made him reach for his sword right then, but it had been the look of fright on the lass’s delicate features that had sent the warning bells ringing in his head.

When her four pursuers had topped the hill above them, he’d acted on instinct to protect her. Jerome squeezed his knees into Duff’s flanks, urging the animal to turn so that his side was exposed to the oncoming warriors. The stallion’s ears drew back and he nickered in protest at the position, for he was a trained warhorse and was used to facing battles head-on. But the angle would allow Jerome to shield the lass more with his own body and give him greater freedom with his sword arm. “Steady,” he murmured as the four riders thundered closer, but he wasn’t sure if he was speaking to Duff, the lass, or himself. “Nay, don’t—” the lass began, but one of the charging brigands shouted over her. “Unhand her, you bloody bastard!” The riders reined in, and as with the lass’s arrival, their horses kicked up clumps of mud and grass as they fought for footing. “And turn her over to the likes of ye scoundrels? Nay, I dinnae think so,” Jerome replied lowly. The apparent leader snarled in anger and lifted his drawn sword. Jerome braced his own sword for the blade’s impact, but before the other man’s weapon descended, a high, clear voice sliced through the valley.

“Stop!” Her attacker froze for half a heartbeat. “Fear not, Lady Elaine—” “Brett, stand down.” Lady Elaine? From the brief glimpse he’d gotten, Jerome had seen a simple-clad lass with muddy boots and wind-snarled copper hair, not an English noblewoman. Before he could untangle that knot, another realization hit him. The outlaws knew the lass— and she knew them. “Milady, this Scot is trying to—” “Protect the lass from brigands,” Jerome cut it, comprehension beginning to dawn. He dared to lower his sword an inch, eyeing the four men. “And I take it ye are trying to do the same.” The lass in his lap shifted, and Jerome was suddenly acutely aware of her slight, soft body in his hold. “These are my guards,” she said, looking up at him.

Thick russet lashes framed eyes as bright blue as the Highland sky on a summer day. “And the fear I saw written so clearly on yer face a moment ago…” She held his stare. “…Was for you. But seeing as how you tried to protect me, I gather I was wrong.” Jerome lowered his sword fully now, as did the lass’s guards. “Nay, ye were right to be wary of a stranger.” He couldn’t help himself as he gazed down at her bonny face—he let one side of his mouth lift in a smile. “Especially a Highlander.” A fetching pink blush broke over her creamy cheeks, and Jerome nearly cursed himself for a fool. He wasn’t here to dally with a wee bonny English lady.

He had a mission to complete. He cleared his throat, willing himself to tear his gaze from the lass’s face. “I should have announced myself. I am Jerome Munro, and I travel with King Robert the Bruce’s express permission to Trellham Keep.” She cocked her copper head at him. “Trellham? On what business?” His assignment was no secret—in fact, quite the opposite. Like ripples over a loch’s surface, word of Jerome’s task had spread rapidly throughout Scotland. But this wasn’t Scotland. Though the Bruce had controlled this region for several years, it was still technically England, so he shouldn’t be surprised that he hadn’t been anticipated. “I’ve come to collect Lord Henry Beaumore’s seal for the King’s declaration of freedom from the English.

” The lass stiffened in his hold. Jerome should have set her on her own horse by now, but instead he found himself loath to let her go. Damn it all, she was a noblewoman, despite what he’d first thought—an English noblewoman. He dropped his gaze to her once more, expecting to find confusion at best or downright disgust at worst upon hearing his business. Despite the peace in the Borderlands of late, Scottish freedom was no doubt a sore subject for the English—even a noble lass who most likely knew not a single wisp about politics and war. But to his shock, the lady’s rosy lips pulled wide in a radiant smile. Involuntarily, Jerome’s knees clenched around his horse in an attempt to keep from falling from the saddle at her blindingly becoming grin. The stallion sidestepped in annoyance at Jerome’s movement. She didn’t seem to notice. “Henry Beaumore is my father.

” Bloody hell. Jerome had already acted the rogue for dragging the lass onto his lap when he thought her in danger. Worse, he’d kept her there despite the fact that the threat had evaporated—and her, a noblewoman. But she was the daughter of the man with whom the Bruce had allied to secure this section of the Borderlands? That meant she was the sister-in-law of Finn Sutherland, one of the members of the King’s Bodyguard Corps—an elite group of warriors into which Jerome had just been admitted. He hastily sheathed his sword and wrapped his hands around the lass’s waist, lifting her out of his lap. Thankfully, her gray mare had remained next to Duff despite all the turmoil a moment before. As he set her in the saddle, she continued, staring at him wide-eyed. “You’re the one, then. The one the King sent for the Declaration of Arbroath.” So word of his mission had reached this corner of Northern England.

More surprising, though, was that the lass knew the declaration’s name. So much for his assumption that she knew naught of political affairs. “Aye,” he replied. “Yer father’s seal is the last to be collected before the Bruce will send the declaration to the Pope.” Lady Elaine’s face took on an awed expression that made an unwarranted knot of pride tighten in Jerome’s chest. Clearing his suddenly thick throat, Jerome attempted to lighten the mood. “I’m sure the Bruce will be honored to hear of Lord Beaumore’s welcoming party.” Lady Elaine flushed and she opened her mouth to speak, but Brett cut in. “Aye, and Lord Beaumore will no doubt hear of this too, milady,” he said reprovingly. He cast a frown at Jerome, but then fixed a stern look on the lass.

Her blush deepened. “I-I apologize for giving everyone such a fright.” Brett’s scowl remained as he and the others re-sheathed their swords. “Come, Munro. Lord Beaumore and Finn Sutherland will be eager to greet you.” As Jerome nudged his horse into motion, the guards fell into a loose circle around Lady Elaine, leaving him to ride by her side. As they crested the nearest hill, he let himself glance surreptitiously at this most unusual English lady. She rode the dappled mare well, sitting straight in the saddle with the reins held in a relaxed grip. Her russet hair flowed in loose waves down her slim back, and her lithe, lissome form rocked with the horse’s steps. A jolt went through him as he remembered the feel of her, soft and light in his lap.

Her blue gown was plain but well-cut enough to reveal the high, round swells of her breasts, the narrow swoop of her waist, and the flair of slim hips. The hem was muddy where it rose around her knee-high boots. Not at all what he would have expected from a lord’s daughter. After nearly a month spent traveling to every corner of Scotland—and a few points in Northern England as well—Jerome had thought himself immune to surprises, yet Lady Elaine was the rarest gem he’d seen in quite a while. As they topped a second rise, he tore his gaze away from her to take in the sight of Trellham Keep. It was more of a glorified manor house than a stronghold. No curtain wall protected it, nor a moat or turrets. It was comprised simply of a central keep with two towers rising on either side, one on the east and one on the west. A small village of three dozen or so thatched cottages sat below the keep on the south side. No wonder Lord Beaumore had struck up an alliance with the Bruce four years past.

The keep would have fallen quickly to the kinds of sieges the Scots had laid against far more fortified castles. Jerome felt an unexpected stirring of relief at the thought of Lady Elaine being safe under Scottish protection here. Brett lifted his hand in signal to the guards on the towers’ battlements as they mounted the hill atop which Trellham sat. By the time the small party reined their horses at the base of the west tower, the keep was aflutter with activity. Jerome swung down from Duff’s back and moved instantly to Lady Elaine’s mare. Without thinking, he wrapped his hands around her waist—damn, but they fit well there—and lifted her from the saddle. “What goes on here?” Jerome turned to find a barrel-chested Englishman with the same bright blue eyes as Lady Elaine pushing his way through the keep’s double doors. His russet hair was faded with streaks of gray, but the family resemblance was undeniable. “Lord Beaumore,” Jerome began, but before he could continue, a second man joined the English lord. Despite never having met the man, Finn Sutherland was unmistakable.

He wore the blue-andgreen checked Sutherland plaid around his waist and over his shoulder, setting him apart from the breeches-clad Englishmen all around. Jerome found himself dipping his head in respect to Finn. He’d heard much of the man’s fierceness and loyalty to Scotland, two traits Jerome valued above all others. Finn fixed him with dark, hard eyes, but when his gaze landed on Jerome’s plaid, the tension in his shoulders relaxed slightly. “Munro. We heard we should be expecting ye.” Jerome nodded again but kept himself rigid. Though they were practically family now that Jerome had joined the Corps, the man was still a Sutherland, and no self-respecting Munro could so easily overlook that. “Apologies for keeping ye waiting. The Bruce would like me to have already returned to Scone by now, but it’s been a damned tall order.

” Lord Beaumore’s wrinkled face eased somewhat as well, but his gaze locked on Lady Elaine. “And what are you doing with this man, daughter?” Lady Elaine swallowed, but before she could speak, Finn cut in. “Inside,” he said brusquely. “Munro is no doubt weary from his travels, and tonight promises to be of great import.” Lord Beaumore tilted his graying head and motioned everyone into the keep

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