Maggie hates the English for all that they have cost her. Then Nicholas, an English lord, arrives at her highland home and tells her even more that she has lost, and that he is her new guardian.
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Maggie's hatred for the English is fierce. Their king took her father, older brothers, and betrothed away to fight in a foolish battle in the Crusades. As if what the English king has done isn't already bad enough, a small English army attacks her home in the highlands. Grimly determined, she and the remaining members of her clan fight them off and save Urquhart. But she is weary of battling and longs for the return of her loved ones. Instead another group of English soldiers arrive and deliver a complicated message that turns her life forever upside down.
Nicholas Neville, Lord of Middleham, is leading his men home from Tunis. Battle weary and saddened at the loss of so many friends, he wishes he had never followed his king to the Crusades. He wants nothing more than to make their way home to England. Yet he must stop at Urquhart and deliver the news that the Durwood chieftain, his sons, and his daughter's betrothed died in the battle. As if that isn't difficult enough, he must also inform Maggie Durwood that she is now his ward and must come with him.
Before he can even deliver his messages, Maggie attempts to keep him and his men from her castle. She dares to shoot him in the leg with her arrow, foolishly risking the outraged retaliation of his soldiers. From that moment on, he knows the two of them will butt heads. She will not dissuade him from his duty of dragging her all the way to England and of finding her a new betrothed. His has not survived the Crusade to be brought down by a strong-willed Scottish lass.
She set the quiver and bow down to cover her startling blonde hair—fortunately still up in braids wrapped about her head—with a chainmail coif. Then she gathered her weapons to go and face the English invaders once more. She swore them all to Hell.
She’d no sooner joined Douglas on the battlement than he narrowed his eyes in clear disapproval. “Ye dunna belong here, lass.”
“I belong nowhere else.” She shot a warning look at the other half dozen men spaced out along the parapet.
No one said a word, all knowing the verbal battle not worth it. Even Douglas blew out a deep breath, gave up, and faced the north again.
“I dunna believe these are the same men as before. And they dunna appear to be comin’ hard at us this time.” Douglas looked intently at the unwelcome small army.
Maggie followed his gaze and studied the couple dozen men riding toward the castle. They did look different and there were no men on foot as there had been before. Nor did these soldiers seem to be in a hurry to get here, although they rode steadily. Two men rode in front, both in chainmail hauberks and shirts, one in chainmail chausses as well. The dark-haired man, taller in the saddle than the other, wore breeches.
She raised her crossbow and drew out an arrow. “That they’re English is enough fer me.”
The group had nearly reached the drawbridge leading to the main gate now. Everything in her chilled, and then heated. She would not allow more of her people to die today. If she took out their leader maybe….
She prepared her bow and pointed it downward. Her hands were sweaty; her fingers trembling. But she refused to back down.
“They arena raising their weapons, lass,” Douglas protested and reached to stop her.
Just then one of the men below called out, “There’s an archer aiming at us, m’lady!”
The obvious leader heard his men pulling weapons out and turned toward them.
Maggie watched as two of them prepared arrows and panicked. No one around her had bows raised. No one but her had seen this group as ready to attack her home, her people. She had to act. She had to take out the leader.
“Nay, lass!” Douglas reached for her but it was too late.
Her arrow sailed down and hit the leader’s right thigh and he immediately roared in anger, in pain. The men around him raised their weapons, but he bellowed, “No! Do not return fire!”
Douglas swore vividly, never taking his attention from the men furious and barely controlling their need to retaliate.
The warriors close by prepared to defend her action. Something was different this time. She felt sick. Had she endangered them all? Had these men really come for some other reason besides wanting to take her home? But they were English, not to be trusted. Still….
Douglas grabbed her and pulled her beside him. “Do no’ fire upon them,” he growled to the anxious warriors nearby.
Maggie tried to wriggle free but he held her fast to his side. “Let me go!” she bit out, struggling harder. Her coif slipped and fell at her feet. At the same time her long braids came unwrapped and dropped down her front and to her waist.
“It’s a woman, My Lord,” the man who had been riding with the leader said in amused amazement. Chuckling. His voice carried easily upward in the still morning air.
“The devil it was. No woman—” But the leader’s words faded as he lifted his head and faced her.
Even from this distance, Maggie felt the heat of his gaze. A shiver curled through her. Her reaction to him unnerved her.
“Why come ye here?” Douglas called down in his deep Scottish burr. He still refused to let her go, obviously afraid she would do something else to make the situation worse.
The wounded man clutched his thigh, no doubt in agony. His gaze still held hers. “To speak with Lady Maggie Durward.” He glanced at the soldier beside him in disapproval, and then back at her. “Tell me you’re not Lady Durward.” His statement had sounded like a plea.
Maggie tipped up her chin and managed to edge away from Douglas, although he grabbed her bow. “Then I’d be lyin’ to ye. ‘Tis Maggie, I am.”
She couldn’t make out what he said after her admission, but, from the fierce scowl on his face, she was sure he hadn’t been pleased. Odd, that.
The other man beside him called out to all could hear, “We come in peace. It is important that Lord Neville speaks with your Lady.”
All of this was unsettling. She had wanted to never set her eyes on another Englishman. They had attacked her home, killed many of her people. They couldn’t be trusted. This man with his dark gaze and powerful build in particular. She was sure of that.
“Peace. Ha!” she snapped. “Ye English never want peace. Ye want only—”
Maggie’s words faded off as she watched the man she now knew as Lord Neville sway in the saddle. No doubt he’d lost a fair amount of blood by now. She felt a twinge of regret. If they’d really come in peace…. Nay! It mattered no’. They were the hated English, at least hated by her. Her father had a number of English friends, which had included King Edward. But, in her biased opinion, the English were not to be trusted. They had taken away her father and brothers to fight a losing battle. They had attacked her castle only yesterday.
Still gripping his leg, the English lord found the strength to yell up at her. “I’ve come with word of your father and brothers.”
Her father and brothers? Word of them? Tightness squeezed her heart. Why weren’t her father and brothers riding here now instead of these men? Whatever the truth, she needed to know.
“Let them in,” she said quietly to Douglas. “But have our men watch them verra carefully.”
Nicholas knew he needed to get the arrow out of his thigh, knew he had lost a lot of blood. He was having trouble staying upright in the saddle. Yet he refused to show weakness in front of the harridan that had dared to shoot him with her arrow. It was a relief when her man in charge called out the order for the men guarding the front gate to allow them entrance. He hadn’t thought he could manage another shouting match with Lady Maggie Durward. Lady? Hardly.
Each bounce of his horse beneath him was sheer torture. His hand holding the reins had balled into a fist; the other pressed hard around the wound to help staunch the bleeding. He’d nearly ground his teeth into pulp by the time he and his first in command, Gerald, led his men over the drawbridge. The fair-haired Scot—strange that—would pay for wounding him later. Oh, yes, she’d pay dearly, protecting her home or not. He’d turn her over his knee and burn her butt until she could not sit comfortably for days. He winced again. Make that she would not sit well for weeks.
They had just reached the raised portcullis guarded by six brawny men, two in kilts of the Durward plaid and four in the saffron-colored tunics many of the Highlanders wore in battle, when Gerald turned to him. “This could be a trap.”