Border lord, p.1

Border Lord, page 1

 

Border Lord
 



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Border Lord


  Border Lord

  By

  Arnette Lamb

  Contents

  Prologue

  1

  2

  3

  4

  5

  6

  7

  8

  9

  10

  11

  12

  13

  14

  15

  16

  17

  18

  19

  Epilogue

  True Heart

  Prologue

  1

  PRAISE FOR ARNETTE LAMB'S

  THE BETROTHAL

  "An irresistible love story… warm, witty, and wonderful. Arnette Lamb is a unique writer… A 4+ reading."

  —Romantic Times

  "Once again Arnette Lamb treats us to a delightful romp. She creates a strong-willed heroine who will win your admiration and a drop-dead gorgeous hero who will steal your heart. Live the adventure!"

  —Susan Wiggs, author of The Lily and the Leopard

  "Arnette Lamb creates a very passionate story… [and] strong vibrant characters you care about as a reader. This story has an unusual twist and moves at a fast pace. It's exciting to the surprising end."

  —Rendezvous

  "WHO ARE YOU?"

  "I'm a man with few choices and fewer joys. Be my joy tonight."

  Temptation dragged at Miriam. He was the embodiment of her fantasies. He was a silver-tongued devil. Like the tide raking the beach, his tender words dragged at her will to resist. "I don't trust you."

  "Trust doesna come so quickly to people like you and me."

  "What do you mean?"

  The Border Lord tugged gently on a lock of her hair, pulling her over him again. "You're a fighter, Miriam MacDonald. You wilna stand by and let others wage your battles. The only battle you fight is with yourself. Over your desire for me. You'll win, lassie. I trow you always do."

  She hadn't expected praise from this rogue. "You're bold."

  "Aye," he said, the warmth of his lips teasingly close. "I'm fair smitten. Kiss me. I need you…"

  PRAISE FOR ARNETTE LAMB'S

  HIGHLAND ROGUE

  Winner Best Scottish Historical Romance 1991

  —Romantic Times

  "Highland Rogue is a warmhearted, poignant, humorous and sexy story… Arnette Lamb is a unique new writer who should not be missed."

  —Affaire de Coeur

  "Arnette Lamb's delightful tale wraps itself around you, holds on, and never lets go. Highland Rogue is laced with spicy dialogue, sizzling sexual tension and often hilarious, but always heartwarming, escapades… A book not to be missed!"

  —Romantic Times

  "Arnette Lamb proves once again that what she writes are keepers of quality."

  —Ann Wassall, Ann's World

  "… A real winner. Arnette Lamb knows how to tell a tale…"

  —Joan Neubauer

  Copyright © 1993 by Arnette Lamb

  ISBN: 0-671-77932-X

  First Pocket Books printing February 1993

  Books by Arnette Lamb

  Highland Rogue

  The Betrothal

  Border Lord

  Border Bride

  Chieftain

  Maiden of Inverness

  A Holiday of Love

  Betrayed

  Beguiled

  Published by POCKET BOOKS

  To Sandra and David,

  the Pettystuffers of Petosky, Michigan

  Special thanks to my own pride of literary lions:

  Susan Wiggs, Joyce Bell, and Barbara Dawson Smith.

  Prologue

  Summer 1713

  The stallion burst into a gallop. Duncan threw back his head and inhaled the glorious fragrance of heather. His tartan cape snapped like a loose topsail in a raging wind. His blood coursed with the song of excitement.

  Behind him rode a dozen loyal clansmen and one fugitive. Before him lay a quest fit for the bards.

  Power seeped into Duncan's bones, and the pounding of hooves deafened him to all sound save the siren of impending danger.

  Hadrian's Wall loomed ahead.

  In the light of the full moon, the barrier cast a slashing black scar on the fair face of his homeland.

  He crouched over the lathered neck of his steed and whispered an ancient word. The mighty crimson bay lunged. Forelegs tucked, the animal sailed over the wall.

  And into England.

  A battle cry rose in Duncan's throat, but he set his teeth and stifled the motto that would announce his arrival and endanger his mission.

  The troop raced across the rolling hills. The land should look different now, he thought. English demons should crawl from beneath the rocks and peer with evil eyes at the Scottish intruders.

  The fanciful image brought Duncan to his senses. He tempered excitement with purpose, and turned southeast to a copse of stunted beech. Once there, he raised a gloved hand to halt his men. Between his tense thighs, the horse's sides fanned like a bellows.

  Alone, Duncan rode into the stand of trees. The night wind soughed softly. Crisp green leaves rustled and cast dancing shadows on the lush turf.

  To his right, a twig snapped. Ears twitching in alarm, the horse turned toward the noise. Duncan reached for the pistol in his belt.

  A small figure, caped from head to forest floor, stepped into the moonlight. The horse snorted. Duncan cocked his pistol. "Who's there?"

  The figure gasped and drew back. "'Tis Adrienne Birmingham," she whispered, her voice quivering with fear. "I came alone just as your message said."

  Duncan secured the weapon. She'd been his special little friend since the day eight years ago when she'd strewn rose petals in his path and giggled when he'd kissed his new bride.

  He leaped from the saddle. "I'm glad you've at last learned obedience."

  Putting one hand on her cheek and the other at her waist, Adrienne laughed. "Sir Border Lord. I should have known 'twas you, brother of my heart."

  Chuckling, he doffed his cavalier's hat and sketched an elaborate bow. "Your servant, mistress."

  "Servant?" She surveyed him, from the black scarf tied pirate fashion over his thick blond hair to his flowing tartan cape and bucket top boots. "Since when," she challenged, "is the infamous Border Lord lackey to any?"

  Pride forced him to say, "Since your gullible mother married that greedy, worthless bastard."

  "Oh, Duncan." Her hand slipped from her cheek, revealing an ugly bruise. "He beat me!"

  Simple loathing turned to fierce hatred. Aubrey Town-send, baron Sinclair, would pay dearly for all his crimes.

  Duncan Kerr, in the guise of the Border Lord, would mete out justice, but not tonight.

  With a familiarity born of friendship and honed by affection, he held out his arms. On a sob, she flew into his embrace. He hugged her close, and as she clung to him, years of treasured memories flashed in his mind. Sprigs of heather tucked into his scabbard. Hunting arrows dressed up with pink ribbons. A merry wedding. Her first dance. A sad funeral.

  Her sobs turned to hiccoughs. "When I refused to bed that fat magistrate, the baron had my Charles arrested for treason. Then he hit me and locked me in my room. He said if I didn't do my duty he'd have poor Charles hanged."

  Hearing the fear in her voice, Duncan said, "You're certain this Charles is the man you want?"

  "Oh, yes. I'd go to the ends of the earth with him."

  Duncan held her at arm's length. Had she matured enough to know what she truly wanted? He hoped so. " 'Tis no jest, Adrienne, for you'll have to do just that."

  She smiled a woman's smile, knowing and resolute. " 'Tis my heart's desire."

  "Very well. Your adventure awaits." Duncan whistled a signal.
<
br />   A lone rider guided his horse into the copse and dismounted. "Adrienne?" he called out.

  She peered around Duncan. "Charles?"

  Then the lovers were in each other's arms. Pledging troths and promising eternity.

  Longing pierced Duncan. Would he ever find a woman to pledge away her life and her home for his sake? If not, he prayed for God to cool the need that burned inside him.

  He jammed his hat on his head and pulled a bag of coins from his belt. Approaching the lovers, he held out the money to the young man. "I'd not have her come dowerless to you, nor would I have her suffer at your hands."

  The young man drew Adrienne to his side and smiled down at her. "My adoration for her has no price."

  "Ah, but it does, my young friend," Duncan said sadly, "for you can never return to England."

  "That matters not. We'll start a new life across the sea."

  "So you shall," said Duncan. "Take this for luck." He pressed an ancient Roman coin into Charles's hand. "Go quickly now, for the tide won't wait. Get you to Whitley Bay and then to Barbados."

  Charles clasped Duncan's arm. "Our first son will bear your name, my lord, and with God's blessing, your kind and good heart."

  Duncan smiled and gazed at Adrienne. He thought of his wife, dead these seven years. Would that Roxanne had been more like her sister, Adrienne.

  Melancholy stabbed at him. Adrienne stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, and whispered, "Please watch out for little Alpin. Don't let the baron break her spirit or… worse."

  Duncan swallowed hard. "I promise."

  He'd never see this spritely lass again. He'd never pluck another thorn from her finger or take a fish from her line. She'd never again call him the brother of her heart. But he would keep his word and protect another wee lassie.

  With bittersweet satisfaction he watched them ride away and out of his life.

  Angus MacDodd, his second-in-command joined him. At fifty, Angus could still wield his claymore and vanquish opponents two at a time. He could also carve the best toy sailboats in Kildalton. "'Tis Her Majesty's wrath you've gained tonight, my lord. Baron Sinclair will complain again. I'll bet my precious lady crackers on it."

  Duncan chuckled. "You can't afford to lose that wager, my friend."

  Angus scratched his bushy beard. "She'll send the dragoons this time."

  Thoughts of the aging and sickly Stewart monarch swam in Duncan's mind. "Nay, she'll do as she's always done."

  "What will you do, my lord?"

  "I'll either bribe him or trick him."

  As he mounted, Duncan Armstrong Kerr, earl of Kildalton by day, Border Lord by night, conjured a picture of the official emissary Queen Anne would send.

  "Sweet Saint Ninian," he swore, "he'll be another gouty minor lord with an empty purse and a mind to match."

  1

  Fall 1713

  "Sweet Saint Margaret," Miriam swore, "he'll be a gout-ridden Scotsman with braids in his hair and beer on his breath."

  Her companion, Alexis Southward, laughed. "Does that mean you're finally going to tell me what we're doing here?"

  Miriam quelled her anger. "We're going to see a bull-headed Scotsman who can't stay on his side of the wall."

  "Let's just pray he's sensible, Miriam. I do so hate it when these bickering men don't take you seriously. 'Tisn't a pretty sight, the way you can strip a stubborn man of his pride."

  "Nor do I relish the exercise." Miriam flicked the reins and guided her horse through a gap in Hadrian's Wall. Behind her, the wheels of the luggage wagon creaked under the load. Seated atop the trunks and wig boxes, her twin scribes, Saladin and Salvador chatted in their second language, Espaňol. The carriage, empty but for food and drink, brought up the rear. A dozen cavalrymen, more interested in filling their bellies than performing their duties, guarded the well-stocked conveyance. Where the men stationed themselves mattered little, for the only danger they'd encountered since leaving London had been in the forest near Nottingham.

  A pack of hungry wild dogs had crept into camp. Miriam's sleuthhound, a female named Verbatim, had charged the intruders. When faced with a snarling protector that weighed six stone and stood waist high to a man, the trespassers yelped like frightened puppies and scurried into the woods.

  Now Verbatim loped ahead, long ears flapping, black nose skimming the ground.

  Once clear of the ancient wall, Miriam gazed at the land.

  Scotland. Her home. Long buried memories, like the mirages she'd seen in the deserts of Araby, shimmered to life. She shivered. No longer a respected diplomat in the court of Queen Anne, Miriam saw herself as a frightened child of four. Instead of the rolling hills of the Border, gilded by the setting sun and kissed by the chill of fall, she saw a frozen glen, blanketed with snow and splattered with the blood of her clan.

  "Miriam?"

  She turned. A smile of understanding wreathed Alexis's face. Her pale blue eyes swam with sympathy. She maneuvered her mount close and extended a gloved hand. Miriam took it.

  Squeezing gently, Alexis said, "There are no demons here, my friend. Only memories, fond and bad. 'Tis all in the way you choose to see them."

  Miriam sighed. Melancholy dragged at her. For twenty years, Alexis had been mother, sister, and consoling aunt, as the situation dictated. She could give advice in nine languages, scold in fourteen. Miriam understood them all. Together they'd traveled from the lavish courts of the czars to the exotic palaces of Persia. Discreet to a fault and as loyal as a true mother, Alexis could be trusted with the most delicate of state secrets. On an hour's notice, she could pack up their household and move them cross country or continent with the skill and speed of the queen's own steward.

  "Thank you." Miriam gave the helping hand a last squeeze, then shifted to a more comfortable position in the sidesaddle.

  "So," said Alexis, "tell me why Her Majesty would be sending the star of her diplomatic corps to a gouty, drunken Scot?"

  "Her Majesty would have sent me to hell, I think, had Lord Shepton not intervened."

  In her most motherly voice, Alexis said, "You shouldn't have told her she didn't know what she was doing."

  Miriam ground her teeth. "That's not what I said."

  "Oh, no? Then the gossips must've been wrong. Let me guess the truth of it. Her Majesty said 'twas time you were wed. You did a merry sett of verbal dancing, but your brilliant effort went for naught, for the queen knows you too well. She commanded you. You grew angry. You must be slipping."

  Miriam tensed. Her mount sidestepped. Gathering the reins, she considered telling Alexis the truth about her quarrel with the queen. For years Miriam had asked Anne to bring to justice the Highlanders who'd murdered Miriam's family. For years Anne had refused. This time Miriam had demanded. Anne had become so furious Miriam had feared the sickly monarch might swoon. But Anne had rallied and threatened to betroth Miriam to the minister of Baltic affairs.

  Out of loyalty to Alexis, Miriam told a part of the truth. "I had every right to question her. The men in her service do. And if she tried to force one of them to marry a dottering lech, they'd trip over their own tongues in their haste to object."

  "True. But losing your temper and arguing with her, not to mention insulting her, no matter how delicately, was foolhardy."

  The queen's unfairness gnawed at Miriam. Everyone else on the negotiating team had been excused from court to pursue their private concerns. But not Miriam. "I didn't set out to insult Her Majesty. I only reminded her that negotiating contracts for marriages or peace was my expertise, not hers. She can't have it both ways, Lexie. One moment she orders me to Utrecht to end the War of the Spanish Succession. The next moment she expects me to grovel like a 'tween stairs maid who's grateful that a footman wants to be her beau."

  A rueful smile lent a timeless elegance to the older woman's face. "You don't have a beau."

  Girlhood dreams shone brightly, then faded. The horses started down another of the rolling hills. Miriam braced herself with a hand on the
pommel. "Nor will I ever, it seems."

  "There's no disputing that. Five and twenty is a bit long in the tooth for courting."

  "Ha! You're eight and forty, and you preened like a virgin when that French count fell off his horse to gain your attention and your favors."

  Alexis Southward, onetime duchess of Challenbroke, smoothed the folds of her velvet riding habit. In a throaty voice, she said, "Gervais was a delightful diversion. Need I remind you that his son was… shall we say eager to divert you as well."

  "I'll believe that when the queen conceives her eighteenth child."

  "Honte a toi. You should not say such a thing."

  "I know. But the cavalier didn't want me, you sly creature. He wanted advance information on the treaty."

  "Perhaps," said Alexis, her voice rife with disbelief. "But so long as you pine for a Sir Lancelot who divides his time between defending the poor and domineering his way into your bed, you'll never find a suitable husband."

  A gaggle of honking geese flew overhead in a wavering V formation. A lone pair of birds brought up the rear. Mates, thought Miriam. Her girlish dreams might never come true, but she had no intention of wedding a man she couldn't respect. He'd also have to best her at chess and outwit her, but not too often.

  "Dreaming of Sir Lancelot again?"

  "Oh, bother it, Lexie. It makes no difference anyway."

  Alexis chuckled. "Tell me about this gouty Scotsman. It's not like you to be so secretive."

 
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