A Highlander Never Surrenders

Scotland
Autumn 1659


Chapter One

It has all gone terribly wrong. What I feared most has come to pass.



The stench of cheap wine and ale filled the tavern like a dense fog and settled onto the table where Graham Grant, first in command of the mighty clan MacGregor, sat watching his friend, the eleventh Earl of Argyll, drain his fourth cup of ale.

“This business with Connor Stuart weighs heavily on ye.”

Robert slapped his cup on the table and raised his heavy-lidded gaze to him. “Why do you say that?”

“Ye’re getting drunk, and ye brood more than I can stand of late.”

“I’ve only had four cups,” Robert countered with a scowl. “I’ve seen you drink more than twice that amount.”

The mocking curl of Graham’s half smile needed no explanation, but Graham gave one anyway. “I’m a Highlander,” he said and raised his cup to his mouth.

“I can drink as much as any of you.” Robert swung around on his chair, teetered, caught himself, and tried to catch the attention of a swarthy serving wench.

He succeeded, but the deep-cleavaged lass’s eyes swept past his and settled on Graham’s. Graham looked her over from foot to crown, thinking what a pity it was to have to send her away, but the last thing his friend needed was more ale. A subtle shake of his head was all it took for her to move on, pretending not to have seen Robert motioning for her.

“Damnation,” Robert swore, then waved to another wench.

“Rob.”

“What?”

“Look at me,” Graham said seriously, and Robert obeyed. “Not being able to find Stuart is naught to be ashamed of. The man’s as elusive as Callum. Find yerself a wench fer the night and ferget yer duty.”

Robert pushed his cup away, raked his hand through his dark hair, and gave Graham a look that said his friend could never understand what he was feeling. “Graham, General Monck commanded me to find him. Since I was a boy I’ve wanted to serve the realm. Now, when I’ve been granted the honor, I have failed.”

“Who have ye failed, Rob?” Graham asked him and winked at a bonny wench who caught his eye. He stretched his long, bare legs out in front of him, crossing his boots at the ankles, and downed the rest of his ale. “Oliver Cromwell is dead. His pacifist son Richard has been ousted from his seat by military tyrants who claim to hate despotism, yet fight fer power to rule the country.”

“But someone needs to lead us, Graham. General Monck was one of Cromwell’s most fearsome warriors of the New Model Army.”

“Aye,” Graham agreed caustically. “So great were his victories over the Royalists in Scotland, the old Lord Protector named him governor over the country he had so skillfully subdued. Yer country.” Graham added, giving his friend a pointed look.

“That was many years ago,” Robert pointed out. “He’s been fair to our people and has refused to support the dissolving of Parliament.”

Graham yawned.

“Besides, the most likely to gain the title is John Lambert. Remember, he commands all the military forces in England.”

A vision caught Graham’s eye, thankfully distracting him from his friend’s tedious passion for politics. The lovely Lianne. The lass had stolen into his thoughts several times since she left his bed the night before. He flicked his simmering gaze over her form as she approached his table, toting a pitcher of ale.

Now here was the kind of passion Rob needed. When Graham left his home on Skye two years ago with the newly confirmed Earl of Argyll, it was with a vow to teach the peach-faced lord how to balance his duties with pleasure. Robert had yet to experience the pleasures a lass could offer. Graham narrowed his eyes on him. What the hell was he waiting for? Love? Graham almost snorted out loud. There was no place for it in a warrior’s life. A man was either a husband or a great warrior. He could not truly be both. Graham had made his choice long ago. He was a great warrior because he did not fear death. He had naught to lose, no one’s life to destroy. Hell, he’d seen it so often throughout his life. Lasses made into widows, bairns left to go hungry, without a father to look after them. He did not want to carry that fear—that vulnerability, when he faced his enemy.

He motioned for Lianne and she practically flung herself into his lap.

“More brew, m’laird?”

“Nae, my lovely,” Graham coiled his arm around her waist and fitted his palm neatly over her buttocks. “My friend has had enough.” Hearing him, Robert shot him an irritated look. “He could use a wee bit of distraction from his troubles, though,” Graham continued, ignoring him. With a gentle nudge, he pushed Lianne off his lap and in Robert’s direction, then leaned back in his chair to watch.

“Is that so?” The golden-haired wench rested her tray on the table and swung her tattered apron over her shoulder, readying herself for what she did best. “I’ve been waitin’ all day to be of some aid to such a fine nobleman as yerself.”

Robert barely looked up. He rested his elbow on the table and sank his head into his hand. “I fear, dear lady, that you cannot help me.”

She slid down Robert’s chest until her rump reached his knee. “Dinna be so hasty, sir. Ye’ve no idea what talents I possess.”

Graham did. He smiled, accomplishing his mission and spread his gaze around the crowded tavern in search of another wench to help him pass the night while Robert became a man.

“I…ehm—”

The sound of Robert stumbling over his words reminded Graham just how much he still had to teach the young earl. But first, where had that swarthy wench gone off to?

“We can retire above stairs, ye and I.” Lianne’s voice dipped to a lusty whisper.

“But I thought you…” Robert paused and swallowed audibly when Lianne leaned forward and into him. “I thought you fancied my friend.”

“Aye, yer companion is a sinful creature, indeed.” Her pale blue eyes settled on Graham and deepened with pleasure as if the most decadent memory had just swept across her thoughts. “But tonight,” she returned her attention to Robert, “I want an angel in m’ bed.”

A shadow rising above him drew Graham’s dimpled grin off the seduction of his friend and upward. Very high upward.

“Ye’re supposed to be at my table tonight, Lianne. I paid in advance.” The Highlander was enormous. His soiled plaid stretched across his broad chest when he grazed his eyes over Robert and then to Graham. The challenge in them was unmistakable before he turned back to Lianne. “Now get yer arse where it belongs.”

Hell, Graham thought, mildly disappointed for Robert. He could get up and fight fer Lianne’s company tonight, but the brute had paid, and he was quite large. As long as Robert did not open his mouth there was still a chance they might find themselves spending their energy on something more thrilling than fighting tonight.

Unfazed, Lianne left her seat and slapped her apron along the man’s arm as she passed him. In response, the angry patron gave her a shove between the shoulders before he, too, turned to leave.

“You there, the ugly one.”

Graham’s shoulders crunched around his neck as Robert rose from his chair.

The giant pivoted slowly, his black expression, a prelude to murder. “Are ye talkin’ to me?”

“Aye,” Robert assured him coolly. “Though I’m astonished you posses the intelligence to have surmised it.”

The patron’s volatile gaze narrowed. Graham couldn’t help but smile, suspecting that the brute was either wondering if he’d just been insulted again, or deciding which of Robert’s limbs to sever first.

When the Highlander grinned, flashing what few teeth he had left, Robert met the baleful challenge with a slight hook of his mouth. Graham set his gaze heavenward and shook his head. This was as bad as traveling with the MacGregors.

“I pray for your sake that you also possess the wisdom to believe me when I tell you that if you lay your hands on that lady again, I shall take you out of doors and beat you senseless.”

The confidence in his promise might have convinced the other patrons who were watching that the smaller lad fully intended to keep his word. But Graham knew better. Having naught to do as a young lad but practice weaponry in the fields of Glen Orchy and study the words of bards and poets, Robert Campbell had grown into an excellent swordsman—and an overzealous knight who was constantly getting them into fights defending someone’s “honor.” But for all his training with a sword, the young fool had trouble connecting his fist to someone else’s face.

Sadly for Robert, the murderous Highlander only laughed, took a step forward, and swatted the table that stood between them out of the way.

Graham stepped aside to avoid getting struck in the head with the flying wood. He grimaced as a huge fist felled Robert to the floor. He wanted to help, but the earl needed to learn how to fight without his sword, and now was as good a time as any. Still, he pushed his cap back from his bronze mane of curls, readying himself for the fight. He would intervene if the ogre pounded his knuckles into Rob’s face one more time.

“Are ye goin’ to stand here and do nothin’ while Atard beats yer friend to death?” Lianne charged, rushing to Graham’s side.

Graham figured she meant to get him moving with her admonishment, but when she patted the creamy mounds of her bosom with her apron, he was sorely tempted to leave Robert to his own defense and carry her above stairs.

“My friend does well.” His dimples flashed, as frivolous as his concerns. “He is once again standing upright.”

Robert’s body countered that opinion as it hurled passed Graham’s shoulder.

Muttering a curse under his breath when the earl landed hard against the wall, Graham turned to the advancing giant. He bent to pick up a leg from the shattered table and swung, cracking the wood in half against Atard’s face.

Stepping over the Highlander’s body, Graham knelt beside his motionless friend. “Rob.” He slapped his cheek gently. “Wake up.”

Robert stirred, lifting his heavy lids. “Where is he?”

“Afar off,” Graham assured, then gave him a hard look. “How many times must I tell ye not to fight with drunken Highlanders?” He shoved his hands under his friend’s arms and lifted him to his wobbly feet.

“The ruffian mishandled the lady.”

Lianne offered the knight a grateful smile, but Robert’s already swelling lip prevented him from offering her one back.

“What can I do”— Lianne’s smile changed into something more obvious when she took a step toward them. –“to persuade ye both to stop in again on yer way back from where ye’re goin?”

Graham’s languid grin sent a flame straight to Lianne’s groin. Aye, she thought, melting before him, this one’s mouth was as deadly as his sword, a sword he knew what to do with. Ah, but he was a feast for the eyes. His lips were full and fashioned for heathen delights. His eyes sparkled in the light like emeralds set aflame from within. The threat of prettiness was vanquished from his features by an edge of rugged masculinity, and a nose that looked as if it might have been broken a time or two.

She let out a small gasp when he snatched her up by the waist, hauled her against his hard angles, and swept his mouth over hers. His kiss was like sin, tempting her to abandon any last shred of decency she possessed and beg him to take her with him.

“I’m persuaded,” he said, releasing her with a smack to her rump and a lecherous wink that promised he would return.

Feeling like a silly spring maiden, Lianne waved them farewell, then tossed her apron over her shoulder and headed for the patron calling for a drink.

#

“Ye look like hell.”

Robert slid his gaze to Graham, riding alongside him, as they left the town of Stirling. Everything else pained him too much to move. “I feel like I was tossed into it.”

“Ye needn’t fret about that, Rob,” Graham said, readjusting his cap forward over his brow. “Hell wouldn’t have ye. Which is fortunate fer me. I don’t want to spend eternity with ye.”

Robert didn’t believe his friend would spend an instant in that fiery place. If anyone could find a way to convince God that he belonged in His good graces, it was Graham. “Though you lack any kind of honor when it comes to women, bedding them is not a sin deserving of eternal damnation.”

The doubtful crook of Graham’s mouth convinced Robert otherwise.

Robert smiled, then cringed and lifted his hand to his jaw. “Then for your soul’s sake, find a lady to give your heart to and let her make a decent man of you.”

Graham cast him an askew glance and laughed. “I fear yer books about the courtly ways of love have led ye far from the truth. Ye ferget I have eleven sisters, most of whom are wed to miserable bastards who began as decent men.” He held up his palm when Robert would have spoken, cutting him off. “Lasses are fer caressing, bedding, and leaving. Else ye’ll find yer ears pricked by constant troubles, and yer manhood as useless as yer battle sword.”

“Mayhap the fault lies with your sisters,” Robert pointed out. “Callum is not miserable with Kate.”

“Aye,” Graham conceded, watching the bruise below the young earl’s eye turn purple. “Yer sister is a rare jewel. But even the Devil MacGregor has traded in his claymore fer a sprig of heather clutched in his fist.”

Robert sighed and shook his head. He had much to say on the matter, but his jaw felt like it had been hit with a mace. Besides, he’d had this argument with Graham a dozen times and each time his words had proved fruitless. Graham held fast to the belief that the only things lasting and tangible on this Earth were battle and death. And he was determined to enjoy his life in betwixt the two.

“We should have taken my army,” Robert said after a moment of silence. “If Connor Stuart were standing in front of us right now, I fear I couldn’t pull my sword from its sheath.”

“I told ye, Rob, yer army would only have alerted him to our search. Stuart is cunning. ‘Tis why he is the leader of the Royalist rebellion. Remember ‘twas he who set the ambush upon General Lambert’s army after they crushed the rebellion in Cheshire a pair of months ago. I am familiar with his brand of strategy. The tales of his prowess grow each day. According to some at the inn, Stuart fights even Monck’s men now. He attacked a legion of the governor’s garrison not far from here. He is well skilled and trained to sense danger days before ‘tis upon him. We’ll find him faster with just the both of us. Trust me in this.”

“I do. For I still recall your cunning in breaching the walls of Kildun when MacGregor came for my uncle two years past. But I am out of time, my friend.” Robert worried out loud, rolling his shoulder to loosen the cramp setting in. “In a few short days I will have to face General Monck empty-handed.”

At first, Robert had considered it an honor that General Monck had commanded him to find the Royalist rebel, Connor Stuart. Since there was no longer anyone formally “in command” of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the Royalists’ campaign to return Charles II to the throne was rampant. Stuart was cousin to the exiled king, and the leader of the resistance of the English army’s occupation in Scotland. Monck wanted him found, but the man was as elusive as the wind.

“I will not find him unless he comes to me. And he will not do that.”

“Nor would I if the Roundheads were hunting me.”

“Some would consider me a Roundhead,” Robert reminded him, realizing once again how precarious their friendship was.

Graham shrugged his shoulders, keeping his eyes on the path ahead. “Aye, ye support a Parliament that has recently been expelled by the military. ‘Twas better here in Scotland when we had a king.”

“You are a Royalist, Graham, I understand. But should I forget my allegiance to the commonwealth?”

“Yer commonwealth is ruled by generals who fight amongst themselves and who suppress our people. Even Parliament does not trust them.”

Robert ground his jaw with frustration over his own uncertainty. The Campbells had served the law for generations. Whether that law was handed down by one man or a house full of them made no difference. To turn his back on the realm was treason. Still, he knew Graham was right in his thinking. The return of a sovereign power would be better than the complete anarchy in England now. “Why do you aid me in finding Stuart if you believe in his crusade?”

Graham looked over his friend’s swollen face and sighed. “Because I’m afraid he’ll kill ye.”

“Your confidence in my skills is warming.” Robert attempted a sardonic smirk, which Graham answered by grimacing with him.

“I’d be more confident if ye’d thrown a punch in return.”

Robert shook his head, painful as it was to both his shoulders and his pride. “I think the bastard broke my jaw.”


Chapter Two

We have all been betrayed.

Satan’s balls, she wasn’t going to die this way! Claire Stuart glared at the man’s head buried between her breasts. With a final tug that confirmed how tightly her wrists were bound to the oak behind her, she gritted her teeth and then sank them into the mauler’s shoulder.

“Ahh! You bitch!” Her attacker reeled away gripping his bloodied wound. “I’ll kill you for that!” He lunged for her, mindless that her legs were free. None of the men had thought to secure her feet to the tree. After all, it was her arms that had wielded a sword so expertly against them, killing six of his comrades when they came upon her this morning. But her attacker realized his oversight an instant after, when she kicked him square in his nether regions and sent him straight to his knees.

“You’re a feisty wench.” Another man strode toward her with an arrogant swagger. Claire silently promised to rid him of it the moment she was free—if she could just get her damned hands loose! “Brave…” He stepped over his writhing companion and, with a smile of purely naked male intent, pointed the tip of his blade at her throat. “…and foolish enough to travel alone. Mayhap I shall bring you back to London with me. Surely General Lambert would grant me a wife for all my years of service.”

“Lambert?” Claire glowered at him while she struggled against her restraints. “What are Lambert’s men doing in Scotland?”

“We are paving the way for our leader, and killing a few Royalists along the way. Someone must fulfill the task, since Monck sits idly in his castle doing little to stop them.” He dipped his eyes to the creamy swell of her bosom half exposed by her torn shirt. Then lower, to her shapely hips and legs, encased in snug-fitting trews and boots. “Strange attire for a lady,” he said, meeting her fired gaze. “What is your name?”

Hell, he was as dense as a wall. Did he think she would give him her true name if she was a Royalist? Which, being the king’s cousin, she was. She gave him an exasperated sigh. How long were these two going to waste her time? Her sister could be being forced to marry some despicable Roundhead soldier at this very moment. “I am a Campbell, and if you release me now I will beg my father to spare your worthless life.”

“She’s lying, John. No Campbell would let his daughter ride alone.” The man she’d kicked staggered to his feet rubbing his injured groin. “Kill the bitch. Better yet, let me do it after I shove my cock up her arse.”

“Touch me again,” Claire’s voice was a low warning growl, “and I’ll cut out your innards and then strangle you with them, you filthy son of a whore.”

He came at her quickly, and pushing John’s sword out of his way, cracked her hard across the face.

“Geoffrey, stand down!” John commanded, stepping away from Claire’s treacherous boots. “If she is a Campbell we’ll be flogged for striking her.” He angled the edge of his sword against her throat to keep her still, then lifted his other hand and swept a strand of flaxen hair off her cheek. “We’ll take her back to camp and find out who she is.” John inched closer to her, so that when he spoke his breath touched her clenched jaw. “If she is lying, I will take her first and then give her to the rest.”

Claire closed her eyes, sickened when he spread his tongue over the seam of her mouth. She beseeched God and all His saints to give her the opportunity to kill these two Puritan Roundhead bastards quickly. She had to find her sister.

Dear God, Anne. Poor Anne. She’d been taken from their home by General Monck’s army, but how long ago, Claire did not know. She’d been at Ravenglade Castle, awaiting her brother’s return from England, when she received word that he had been killed. Immediately, she’d gone home to Anne to give her the terrible news, but her sister was gone. A message left for Claire, written in Monck’s own hand, told her that he had promised their guardian that he would keep them protected from the fanatical Independents in England. Claire did not believe it. Not after what had happened to Connor. The General had the audacity to add in his missive that he believed their lives were in danger, and he’d come to take them to Edinburgh.

He was going to be marry them off. With Connor now out of the way and the king exiled in France, the Stuart lands could be given to a man of Monck’s choosing. No. She would never obey the man behind her brother’s death. She was going to kill Monck first and then rescue her sister.

She cursed herself for meeting with the resistance at Ravenglade, and not being home to protect Anne. Her sister was delicate and mild-mannered. She didn’t have the blood for fighting the way Claire did. After Charles was banished from Scotland, she never showed the slightest bit of interest in the rebellion. Anne had refused to lift a blade, even after their parents were killed. Instead, she locked herself away with her books, never complaining to her elder siblings about their long absences from home.

They were supposed to protect her, and Claire had failed. She prayed it was not too late, else she’d have to make her sister a widow. All she had to do was get rid of these two dimwits and she’d be on her way.

“Geoffrey,” John turned to his companion after getting no reaction from her. “I’ll get the horses. Do not untie her until I return.”

Claire stood alone facing the grinning soldier. Geoffrey stepped closer, pulled her dagger from her belt, and traced the tip along her cheekbone. “Not so bloody fierce now, are you. Think you will still want to kill me after I fuck you bent over backward?”

Every muscle in Claire’s body ached with the need to end this pig’s life. “I’m certain I will kill you just for breathing on me.”

He raised his fist to strike her again, but a powerful command to halt stopped his hand in midair.

Claire looked over his shoulder to see two men mounted on great black warhorses approaching cautiously, one surveying the six dead men scattered along the ground, the other surveying her.

“Release that lady at once, and give me an account of what happened here.”

“Who are you to command me?” John gained his saddle and trotted toward the two men with his hand poised on the hilt of his sword. Claire saw the reason for his caution. One of the men was a Highlander. They were easy to spot, these warriors of the north, they were bigger than the English in their belted plaids and bare legs.

“I am Lord Robert Campbell, Earl of Argyll.” While he spoke, his rougher-looking companion slipped off his mount and began walking toward her and Geoffrey.

What was a Highlander doing traveling with a Presbyterian Campbell? Another traitor to the throne, Claire thought sourly, giving the earl a look of black contempt, and then turning it on the Highlander. She was only mildly aware of John’s sputtering voice asking if she belonged to the Campbell house, as she took in the full sight of the warrior fast approaching. He moved without pause, his shapely calves tight with muscle, his boots pounding a path straight for her. His hard gaze was made even more threatening beneath the shadow of a brimmed bonnet of deep indigo wool, much like her own. As he grew closer, he tilted the bonnet jauntily over his mop of honeyed curls.

Claire raised her chin in direct challenge as his potent green gaze swept over her from foot to crown, lingering momentarily on her barely concealed breasts.

She’d been correct to think Geoffrey a dimwit, for he brandished her meager dagger at the intruder, readying for a fight. His bluster ended with a swift, bone- crunching fist that shattered his nose and sent him reeling backward, unconscious.

Seeing the fate of his companion, John drew his blade and swung it at the Earl of Argyll. The Highlander produced a dagger from a fold in his plaid, sliced it across the rope binding Claire’s wrists, then hurled it end over flashing end into John’s chest.

Finally free, Claire stepped closer to the warrior who’d just rescued her.

“Graham Grant,” he introduced himself with a sensual grin as deadly as his reflexes. “Commander of…” While he was speaking, she snatched his great claymore from its sheath and turned the other way. When she reached Geoffrey, she raised the sword in both hands then brought it down with a resounding thump into his chest.

After retrieving her dagger from Geoffrey’s lifeless hand, she strode back to the Highlander, and offering him neither smile nor thanks for freeing her, shoved his bloody claymore from whence it came. Boldly, she tilted her gaze to meet his, expecting to see the disbelief and disapproval of men when they saw her fight. But this one’s eyes glittered with approval. Pity there was no time to spare him another moment, she thought, stepping away. She had to keep moving. Forgetting him, she began searching among the dead. When she found the one she was looking for, she snatched up the cap he had shoved into his pouch and tucked it under her belt.

“Were you harmed, lady?” Grant’s companion asked.

“That is no concern of yours, Campbell,” she said, checking for bloodstains on the shirt of one of her earlier victims. Finding the fabric unsoiled, she bent and yanked it over the dead man’s head. When she straightened, her gaze slid back to the Highlander. She glared at his blatant inspection of her backside. He smiled in return, muddling her senses with two recklessly sexy dimples.

“On the contrary. It is my duty to protect the defenseless.”

Claire cut Robert Campbell an inconsequential glance and pulled the shirt she’d retrieved over her head. When her head poked out of the neckline, she cast her eyes over the ground and then offered Robert a smile that suggested he was as dense as the dead men around him. “I can assure you I am not defenseless.” With a flick of her wrist, she released her long wheaten braid from under the shirt. It dangled like a thick rope to her hips. With little or no regard for the two men watching her, she slipped her hands beneath her new shirt, unlaced the torn one beneath, and wiggled out of it. She knew how to change her clothes in front of men. She’d done the like many times when she rode with Connor and his army.

“You expect me to believe you killed these men?” Campbell asked, dismounting while she began searching again.

“Would you like me to prove it to you?” She spotted what she was looking for a few feet from the tree and bent to pick it up. The sword was rapier thin, its hilt wrapped within worn leather. Blood from an earlier fight glistened along its steel edge. With a graceful sweep of her arm, she positioned the blade flat over her other elbow, pointing its tip at the earl. She arched her brow, waiting for his reply. Her hard gaze inspected him from the tips of his dusty boots to his sable hair. He didn’t look like a Roundhead. His hair was not closely cropped round the head in the fashion that gave Roundheads their name. But he was a Campbell, and Campbells were supporters of Parliament. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you now.”

“Lower yer sword, lass.”

Claire swung her gaze to the Highlander. His voice was gentle, but the warning in his striking green eyes was anything but. She had no time for another altercation, and the Highlander didn’t look as if he would go down easily.

Straightening, she backed away. “Your duty is done. Be on your way.” She wiped the bloody blade on her torn shirt before tossing the shirt away, then sheathed the sword in the scabbard dangling from her slim waist. It fit perfectly.

“What happened here?” Grant asked.

Claire found it almost impossible not to let her gaze linger on him. The soft honeyed curls peeking out from beneath his cap captured the sun’s rays, giving him an almost angelic look. His mouth…Hell, his mouth was hypnotic, with full sulky curves that beckoned her careful attention. Everything else about him was warrior hard. Beneath his tunic and belted plaid, his body was tight and built for speed and fighting. His shoulders were broad and his legs strong. The deep bronze shadow along his cheek and jaw—that did not do enough to conceal those blasted dimples—added to his rugged virility.

“These are Lambert’s men. I…”

“Why have Lambert’s men returned to Scotland?” Campbell took a step closer to her. She took a step back and rested her hand on the hilt of her sword.

“They are here to do the same thing you do, Roundhead. Kill Royalists.”

“I’ve killed no one,” the earl defended. “Why were they holding you prisoner? Who are you?”

Claire wasn’t about to tell him. “I am but a servant. They came upon me this morn and thought to ravish me.”

“Ye were alone?” the Highlander asked, looking around at the dead, then back at her.

“How does a servant, a woman servant at that, know how to wield a sword against half a dozen men?” Campbell asked, looking just as skeptical as his companion.

“My brother taught me how to fight,” she said, peering fearlessly into his gold-green eyes. “Do you not believe me?”

“I do,” the young earl replied. “I often practiced swordplay with my sister while we were growing up.”

“This isn’t swordplay, Campbell,” she said letting her gaze drift over the bruises on his face. “Mayhap you should have practiced more seriously. You look as if you’ve been tossed into the side of a mountain a few times.”

She was surprised by his reply, expecting him to bluster about and boast of his great skill, as any other man would do.

“My fight, though I lost it, was a noble one.”

She almost smiled. “So was my brother’s.”

 

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