Friday, December 02, 2016

FRIDAY'S FEATURED TITLE: Von has been the keeper of the family secrets for half her lifetime. THE JAM SETTER BY SUSAN DOWNHAM



Title: The Jam Setter
Author: Susan Downham
ISBN: 978-1-62420-117-2

Genre: Women's Fiction
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3


Von has been the keeper of the family secrets for half her lifetime. She has kept them close to her heart but after a visit from her favourite niece she decides it is time to share them. As the secrets are shared, two distant families collide. Von leaves her picturesque haven of Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania for Scotland. Her niece Jennifer travels with her. It is in Scotland that she finds her own peace as she puts the family’s secrets to rest. As everyone reveals their own truth about the past, Jennifer, Von’s niece finds love in the most unlikely of places.


EXCERPT

Von Ellis loved playing bowls. She had taken it up after her husband passed away, and to her amazement, loved it. She wouldn't admit to anyone she wished she'd taken it up years earlier when her knees were in better shape and her joints didn't ache so much on winter mornings. Von had never been the sporty type, more the traditional homemaker type. A handful of close friends and Dougie by her side, she hadn't thought she needed anyone else.
When she first joined the local bowls club, she thought she would never fit in. It was her old friend Gwen who insisted she join. Gwen needed something to keep her mind busy, and besides Von knew she couldn't just stay at home moping about being shitty with the world because she lost her Dougie. Though some days were still a struggle she now had new reasons to get out of bed.
She had to admit she was shitty with the world. There seemed nothing fair about the whole thing. Dougie retired, they had plans, and they had a whole life to live together without the burden of a mortgage, children to raise or school fees to pay. The freedom of being children free often brought couples unstuck, and over the years Von had seen a few parents split once the kids left home. They had a name for it now, empty nest syndrome, but back then when she and Doug found themselves as empty nesters she didn't have a fancy name for it, but she knew it smelt like freedom. Not that she had ever felt burdened with the children, far from it, she'd loved being a fulltime mother and never regretted the choices she made. When they found themselves alone, she and Doug thrived. Not long after they had the house on their own her cycle slowed to almost a stop. This did wonders for their sex life. She knew for others it didn't always work that way, but for Von, who always suffered, she felt like she had been born again, a whole new woman.
They'd talked about Doug's retirement for the five years before the day finally arrived. They bought a campervan second hand, and Doug fixed it up so it looked brand new, and inside they revamped it so it had every mod con they could think of. Von, a list maker, made a list of the things they already had that they would need to pack into the campervan and another list of what they would need to buy. She had lists stuck inside the cupboards of what food would be going where so she knew what food would fit. It made Maureen laugh and tell her there were supermarkets on the mainland. Von knew this but she had concerns about being stuck out on the Nullarbor without enough food to eat. She hated to go hungry and didn't want to ever do that again.
They had been into the city to the map shop and spent an hour with the lovely lady who helped them choose a plethora of maps and travel guides. They had three maps pinned up around the lounge-room and made notes on them all, as they worked out the route they intended to take. Doug had friends he'd worked with who spent four months a year in a caravan park in Queensland, and they marked out a month to spend with them. Von also had a sister who moved to Alice Springs in the early nineties and they made plans to visit her.
When they had first told Maureen and Kathryn about their big adventure, the girls weren't very interested, but as the date edged closer, so did their nerves. Maureen didn't want them to go at all. She was worried who would look after the children if she and Eric wanted a night out. Kathryn just worried her parents were too old and too clueless to manage such a trip. They never had anything positive to say about their parent's plans. Steven simply shrugged his shoulders, and as long as he wasn't needed to do anything, he didn't care. He'd always been like that even as a toddler. He was only concerned with what was going on in his world and not with what was going on outside of it. Because he seemed different to the girls, Von asked her doctor about him several times but she told her Steven was just Steven and all children were different.
He didn't have any learning difficulties, in fact he was quite the opposite, he seemed to learn at an accelerated rate and adapted to the IT world like a fish to water. It had never been something either Von or Doug understood. He just understood how anything electronic worked, pulled things apart and fixed them and when he got into computing he learned how to write complex programs. He'd wanted to join the army straight out of high school, but Doug wouldn't hear a thing about it. He had older cousins who fought in the Second World War and neither of the two nephews who had been drafted into the Vietnam War came home. He was as patriotic as the next man, and if there was a war in his own backyard, he told Steven he would fight. He wasn't going to let his son go off and fight someone else's war in a foreign country. Steven waited until he was in second Year University, and then he enrolled. He came home with the paperwork all filled in; being over eighteen he didn't need his parents' permission or approval.
Doug told Steven he was a bloody fool and walked out of the house. Von cried and tried to talk Steven out of it. It didn't matter as his mind was made up. Now he was forty-six and still working for the army. He'd been deployed in all the hot spots and now he was in a consulting role, which Von didn't understand. His last mission had him travelling to the Middle East acting as a political advisor.
After Doug's funeral the girls decided, without consulting their mother, that the house in Stewart's Bay would be sold and she would go and live with one of them. Maureen wanted her more than Kathryn, but Kathryn was keen for her mother to visit for a month in the January school holidays. Neither of the girls thought to involve Von in their plans. They even talked to a real estate company to arrange an inspection before telling their mother of their plans.
Von had been livid, and she wondered how she managed to raise such self-obsessed insensitive girls. Prior to the real estate agent turning up unannounced on a Wednesday morning only weeks after the funeral, Von had been thinking of asking Maureen if she could spend two nights a week with her and Eric and the children, so she wasn't completely on her own.
The day the real estate agent turned up Von wasn't sure what he was doing there. Still she made him a cuppa then showed him through the house. He was impressed and told her so when they sat on the front porch with him talking about how the values of the houses in the area had gone up. It had once been a haven for holiday makers who built little shacks for the summer holidays. With an aging population, many people moved permanently into the area. This pushed the prices to new sky high levels. Von clicked what was going on half way through the house tour, and after a cuppa and pleasant chat, she'd given the real estate agent his marching orders. He apologized and explained how Maureen had contacted him and told him she wanted to sell. She denied her own need for company by vowing never to sleep under her daughter's roof again.
That was what Doug loved about her; she was pig headed, stubborn, honest and real. That's what he used to say about her. She always stuck to her guns. Staying at Stewart's Bay was the same thing. She stuck to her guns and wouldn't be moved by anyone. She wished she'd been able to just pack up the campervan and take off as she and Doug planned, but she couldn't. It wouldn't have been the same without him. They'd planned to go skinny dipping at Monkey Mia, make love in a tent at Uluru, make love in the ocean at Cable Beach and a lot of other things that included being naked and being in love. At fifty-six, when Doug's heart gave way, people were surprised because they thought him to be much younger than his years. His mother had been the same.
She missed the sex, Doug had been a very demanding husband, and she always enjoyed being naked with him. Of all the things about Doug she could miss, it was lying naked in bed with him, feeling his arms wrap around her from behind him hard against her, rubbing himself on her bottom or back. Sometimes it used to drive her spare that he wasn't more romantic in the bedroom, and now it was the one thing she missed the most.
It was also something she never talked to the girls about. She grinned as she thought of what their faces would look like if she said to them I miss your father's hard penis rubbing against the back of me. She smiled and tried to focus on what was being said.
She wished this day was a bowls day, but it wasn't. Instead seated at her kitchen table yabbering on was her youngest daughter who arrived unannounced the night before, seemingly to chastise her for her lack of a decent diet and her obsession with beach walking.
Von did wonder who's business it was if she went beach walking or not. It was her life and she was feeling determined to live it out any way she chose to. Not that her children were at all happy with her decision. They were still on to her to sell the house and move back up to the city with one of them, permanently. Someday she walked up and down Stewart's Bay Beach, which was a short four hundred meters long. Other days she walked along Half Moon Bay Beach or Eagle Hawk Neck Beach or she went around to Premaydena and walked out there in the shallows. Mostly she walked with Gwen and Harriett, her two best friends.
Von was a lot of things, she mused to herself as her daughter turned the pages of the newspaper and sipped her coffee, but stupid was not one of them. Von was still eighteen in her head, young and virile and full of life.
"I am serious, Mum, it worries us you are down here all alone and, well, what if you had a fall or something?"
"If I have a fall, Maureen, I will pick myself back up and ring the ambulance."
"What if you can't pick yourself up?"
"Then I will pull my mobile phone out of my pocket and ring the ambulance."
"I don't think that is the answer, you have all those stairs off the deck. What if you slipped down those?"
"How old do you think I am, Maureen? I am only sixty seven."
"Only sixty-seven" she said, not keeping any of her sarcasm out of her voice.
"God, Mum, you will be seventy in a couple of years, but you think you are a young woman, and you aren't."
Von turned her back on Maureen and stared outside at the strip of bright green grass that was being flood lit by the sun pushing through the trees at the side.
She remembered it was Thursday, which meant Harold had to be coming to get the gardening done. She liked Thursdays, as she liked talking to Harold. At least he was close to her age and remembered all the things she did.
"Are you listening to me, Mum?" Maureen's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Yes, dear, I am listening to you, and I get it, the three of you are worried about poor old me sitting down here, on the peninsula on my lonesome, about to drop off the perch at any day. It has just occurred to you that in three years I will be the ripe old age of seventy and you will need to measure me up for a wooden casket." She hadn't meant it to come out so sarcastic; she never used to be sarcastic. She found it was something that was coming with age, and it seemed it ran in the family.
"Mum, now you are being ridiculous. We are just worried about you all alone, and I have a big house. You could come and live with us up there," she spat. Von noticed what it was Maureen didn't say. She didn't say her husband's name. She thought back to the night before and she couldn't remember Maureen saying Eric's name once. She talked about the kids, about her charity work and about her friends, a subject Von neither cared nor wanted to know about, but apart from her asking Maureen how Eric was, his name hadn't come up.
"Oh, am I dear? Sorry, I do know how you hate me to be ridiculous," Von flicked the kettle on again and got two cups out.
"I don't want another cuppa, Mum," Maureen said, flicking the newspaper loudly.
"It's alright, Maureen, I wasn't getting a cup out for you," she said spooning the coffee in and turning the cups around so the handles were facing the outside of the bench.
"Oh, god no, Steven was right, you are losing it." Maureen said.
Von rolled her eyes, wondering to herself if stabbing her daughter was wrong. She knew it was but still the thought gave her some relief. She wondered what was going on with Maureen; she dared not ask her if it was change of life. The last time she mentioned the idea Maureen turned a horrible shade of white and nearly slapped her face.
She poured the boiling water in and gave the cup a stir, checking the clock up on the wall, the background around the numbers faded and the black plastic now grey in places. It had been a gift a long time ago from Dougie. Even though Maureen and Kathryn gave her new clocks over the years, she just couldn't bring herself to take this one down.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

A BEAUTY IN BUCKSKINS... A DEVIL IN DISGUISE MY ANGEL BY CHRISTINE YOUNG FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED



My Angel by Christine Young
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level:



BLURB:

A BEAUTY IN BUCKSKINS
When her father decided to send her to a finishing school back East, Angela Chamberlain refused to be confined to stuffy drawing rooms. Instead, the daring spitfire who could shoot like a man and ride like the wind longed for a life of adventure and romance—and she knew exactly who could give it to her. Devil Blackmoor was a hired gun with a dangerous reputation. But Angela was willing to go to the ends of the earth to capture the handsome devil's heart.

A DEVIL IN DISGUISE
He'd come to America looking for excitement, but Devil Blackmoor got more than he bargained for when he encountered a beautiful rebel who answered his kisses with a wild innocence that touched his very soul. Yet standing between them were more obstacles than either ever dreamed. For Devil had strapped on a gun for the wrong man. And that made Angela his enemy. Now he'll have to choose between his duty and the woman he loves more than life.

EXCERPT:

Denver, 1893

A polished azure sky looked down on a day that vacillated between winter and spring--a day unable to make up its mind. Cool breezes lifted Angela Chamberlain's brand-new canary yellow skirt off the moisture-laden sidewalk. A blazing hot sun dried the puddles in the street left over from last night's deluge.

Unlike the day, Angela had no trouble making up her mind. Angela knew what she wanted out of life. She touched one finger to the sapphire earrings adorning her newly pierced ears.

She wanted adventure.

She had a terrible craving to see the world--to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, to walk the Great Wall of China. She yearned to fly in a hot-air balloon high above the earth, or ride in a gondola in Venice. She wanted to fall in love with a man who was as brave and smart as her father and as dangerous as Devil Blackmoor.

Angela's wish list had no end.

Instead of adventure and romance, in three short weeks she'd be enrolled in Miss Somebody's finishing school for young ladies, where knowing which fork to use was more important than riding with the wind on her favorite horse, Kangee. A place where changing one's clothes three times or more each day was common practice.

Two days ago she'd told her father she didn't want to go.

And two days ago her father had told her she would learn to appreciate the schooling and that she was a very lucky young woman. He'd also promised her a trip to the continent for a graduation present.

A graduation present! She wanted to yell at him, but wisely kept her mouth shut. She wanted to travel now. Today. But more than anything, she didn't want to be confined to the stuffy drawing rooms in the East. Just like her father, she needed freedom. But her father meant to take the choice from her.

To gossip and chatter with rich society women was not her destiny. To know which wine was served with fish would not make her happy. This was his dream for her. Sam Chamberlain needed to look to his own heart and remember the choices he had made twenty-five years ago.

Her destiny was out there somewhere, waiting for her to snap it up and hold the moment close to her heart. She knew what she wanted, and to prove her point, she'd bought a camera and had the machine sent over to the hotel. She meant to photograph all her adventures, every nook and cranny, every monument, every intriguing person.

Across the street and down two blocks, Devil Blackmoor had just taken the saddle off his horse. He brushed the stallion's back, all the while petting the animal's sleek coat and crooning into the horse's ear. Mesmerized, she watched his hands and the gentle way he stroked the horse.

She wished she had her camera.

Devil Blackmoor commanded her attention. He symbolized everything a father cautioned his daughter to be wary of. Despite the warning, Devil's strong jaw, his powerful shoulders and the confident way he held himself beckoned to every feminine nerve in Angela's body.

Angela clutched her hands to her chest, willing her gaze to shift to something or someone who wouldn't shatter her senses and set her blood boiling. Helpless to control her wayward heart, she kept looking back at Devil. She noticed everything about him, the way he moved, the way his denim jeans clung to his legs and the way they molded to his backside. Devil laughed at something the bouncer from the saloon said, and when he smiled, one edge of his mouth tilted crookedly. Ange­la's heart swooned and fluttered, and she thought she might never breathe again.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

With her white-gold hair and azure eyes, Lainie MacPherson is as wild and untamed as the rugged Scottish Highlands where she was raised. HIGHLAND SONG FREE ON KU



Christine Young
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4

Buy at Amazon


BLURB:

With her white-gold hair and azure eyes, Lainie MacPherson is as wild and untamed as the rugged Scottish Highlands where she was raised. Lainie vowed to avenge her rape. Recklessly, she defies English laws and the man who raped her puts a bounty on her head. The man who is sent to bring her to Edinburgh sets a dangerous trap. With nothing left to live for the beautiful Scottish spy steals the sealed documents the English soldier has tempted her with.

When the exquisite temptress takes the bait and runs off with not only the forged documents but the purses of the men in the tavern, Aaron Slade vows to hunt her down and bring her to justice, never dreaming she will tame his jaded soul. When Aaron discovers the truth about the tempestuous woman who stirs his passion to the point of madness, he dares not love her, but desires her with all his soul.


Ayr, Scotland
1514

Lainie MacPherson let the crumpled wanted poster drop to the ground. Her stomach knotted and fear snaked down her spine. Beneath the shadows of the hooded cape she wore, Lainie searched the room for her enemies.

Every man here fit that description.

Forced into a trap of her own making, out of courage, friendless, and terrified Lainie did the only thing she could think of to bring the pig Bertram to his knees.

She would steal the temptingly displayed secret papers that were on the table in front of her. Papers she hoped showed troop movements--papers stamped with the King's seal--papers she could hand over to her brother, Hawke.

First Lainie made sure the shadows in the tavern hid her from view, shrinking into the dark interior, hiding her face with the hood of her cape. She tried not to stare at the dark-haired stranger who had absent-mindedly set his jacket and satchel on a table with the documents she sought poking out almost as if they challenged her with a secret invitation. The man’s dangerous, dark looks sent a strange sensation of heat coursing down her spine.

English soldiers like Jericho Manning and Rory Slater were more dangerous and more terrifying than any highland lass should have to deal with. To make the situation worse, she didn’t need a dark-haired stranger to make her fingers shake and her insides quake.

Lainie inhaled a deep steadying breath. Easy, she told herself. Go nice and slow. The stranger looks half-drunk and the tavern maid sitting on his lap has all his attention.

"What’s in it for me?" Rory asked Jericho, his haggard features lighting up with anticipation and snagging Lainie’s attention.

"Only what Bertram wants to give you himself." The dark stranger looked at the
English officer. The fingers on one hand tapping the oaken table top impatiently.

Rory’s toothless grin sent a shiver of fear down Lainie’s spine.

"Jericho always gives me his left-overs," Rory said. “You going to give me this one?”

Rory’s diabolical laughter sealed the darkness in her heart.

Jericho nodded then leaned forward. "I want the lass. And I’ll have her before I give her over to Bertram. She’s only a whore."

Lainie nearly gasped but stopped herself. Courage, Lainie, you’ve been in tighter spots than this. It was not her plan to give herself away to these men.

She inhaled a long, deep breath once more and reached for the satchel beneath the soldier's jacket. A few more seconds and all would be hers. A few more seconds and she would hand the papers over to a friend. Someone who would carry them to the Scottish King.

She committed no treason here.

She was Scottish to the core.

This was for the good of her country--not England. Besides she’d already been labeled a traitor by the crown of England. She had nothing to lose.

If Bertram suffered a set back, his lack of attention caused the problem.

Aaron Slade let his hands slide up and down the arms of the lass sitting on his lap while his steely gaze seemed to be riveted on Lainie MacPherson.

He knew what the young woman was up to before she’d committed herself to stealing. He had read the determination in the girl's posture when she backed into the shadow-filled corner of the tavern, pulling her dark cloak around her slender frame and letting her hood shadow her face. The combination of steady eyes and slightly trembling fingers had given her away.

He would make sure neither Jericho nor Bertram could get their sweaty hands on the girl. He’d heard stories. He believed them--every word.

Jericho didn’t even realize the girl he sought stood in the corner. Moreover, Slade didn't mean to tell Jericho. Slade had his orders. He was to find her and bring her to Edinburgh where she would be tried for high treason. The charges were lame. Now that he watched her stealing the phony papers he’d planted in the pocket of his jacket, he wasn’t quite so sure.
  
The rumors had it that a lot of men had wanted the lass, but none had gotten her. He’d thought all along Bertram had been one of those men. A cynical smile shifted the line of Aaron’s black mustache. There was nothing new in that particular game. Teasing and promising men something they wouldn’t give was a primal game played by every woman ever born.

But there was something very different about this woman.

An air of sadness and vulnerability emanated from her. Aaron methodically lowered his lids when he glanced from the girl who sat in his lap to the woman whose fingers were closing over the sealed documents. He couldn't help but stare at her. The woman's eyes were a clear, uncanny blue that matched the color of the sky on a bright summer day. The few strands of hair escaping her hood were so blond they were nearly white. The cloak she wore was plain, but did nothing to hide the lush fullness of her figure beneath the cloth. The vision he imagined set him to thinking about what it would be like to unfasten the cloak, strip away all the other fabric covering her and touch the luminous skin that lay beneath the tattered cloak.

Aaron was irritated at the direction his thoughts went. He was certainly experienced and old enough to keep sexual need away from his mission. He had been taught and teased by the most expert females on this earth. He’d learned more than one lesson at their hands.

Looking at Aaron, Jericho swirled the contents of his tankard.

"I don’t figure I can trust any man. Who’s to say that if you find the girl, you won’t want to keep her for yourself," he said to Aaron. "She might be worth a damn sight more than what old Bertie is paying you to bring her to him."

The devil you say," Rory retorted with a smug grin. "I have it on good authority and knowing old Bertie for years, he likes nothing better than to share soiled goods. We both know he’s the only one who can save the girl from a conviction of treason."

Jericho looked coldly at Aaron but didn’t refute Rory’s statement.

Aaron urged the tavern wench from his lap and kept his eye lids lowered slightly. He watched the girl, and if he was right, she was about to dip her hand into the pocket of another man. She had moved from her spot near his table, using the shadows in the tavern to hide herself. She brought up a fat purse and slipped it inside a different sack than the one she’d put the papers she’d stolen from his satchel.

The stories about her were intriguing enough, but it was the rumors of Lainie MacPherson’s spying that held his interest. To him any one who could spy on his country was a traitor. But Lainie MacPherson, if she was anything like her brothers, was Scottish bone deep. To Lainie, what she did here would not be treasonous because she would be loyal only to the Scottish King James. In addition, the rumor--the ones of Lainie prostituting herself for information--didn’t bother him. Women did what they had to do to survive. And if the rumors were true, he would find a way to enjoy her charms while he took her to Edinburgh for trial. To him women’s flesh was sweet and soft, but women were as fickle as newborn kittens. They were far too easily corrupted, and so many times they turned out to be less than they seemed. He never let any woman touch his heart.

Silently, Aaron measured the distance between the door and the MacPherson wench and wondered at the innocence, or was it guilt, he saw flash in her eyes for one brief moment when she met his glance. From what he’d heard, the Scottish cause was everything to the MacPhersons. This would not be the first time they pitted their clan against the English crown.

But this time it was the most foolhardy.

The smile he gave Lainie made her look away. He watched as her shoulders quivered, and she shrank back into the shadows. He felt a wave of nausea sweep through him when he thought of Lainie being at the mercy of a man like Bertie for even a single night, much less until Bertie grew bored with her and gave her to Jericho and Rory.

Silently, he told himself he would never let her fall into Bertie’s hands, because he meant to bring her straight to the authorities in charge. If she were guilty of treason, she would be prosecuted. If she were not guilty, he would see she was set free and he would personally escort her home.

For the first time, he felt justified in his mission and the exorbitant pay he would receive for handing the girl over. If anything, there was a certain justice in cheating Bertie out of his spoils. He acknowledged that once he caught Lainie, he would have not only Rory and Jericho after him, most likely the MacPherson brothers would be on his tail as well.

A man bumped into Lainie near the door. Aaron thought he would see her pick this man’s pocket too. The movement was quick. Except for the slight of hand and Aaron’s vigilance, he would have never seen the exchange of the satchel from Lainie’s hand to the man's. The document Lainie just handed over was worthless, but the stolen goods were not. They would find out soon enough he had baited her, set the trap, and she’d fallen for it. Would he have Lainie in his possession when that was accomplished? Or would Jericho?

Aaron shifted slightly, not wanting to give Jericho and Rory any indication that he meant to leave. His hand was on the hilt of his sword. Silently, he measured the catlike elegance of the girl with the determined posture and long back. It would not be much longer when Jericho and Rory discovered their own missing goods.

He rose and walked toward the door, barring her way if she meant to flee yet he was not sure he would stop her. "You sure you wouldn’t want to stay a while and keep me company, Miss…what was the name again?" Aaron asked, though he knew very well.

"’Tis naught your business," she said softly, lowering her dark sooty lashes as if she meant to flirt. "A gentleman would not ask a lady he didn’t know."

Lainie MacPherson’s voice sounded calm and controlled. Nevertheless, he knew she’d been in this position often enough, that she knew how to handle herself and no longer hesitated, knowing full well the consequences if she did. In any case, her compliance was not a part of his plan for her abduction.

Aaron’s instincts kept whispering that this woman was somehow different from women like Sarah and Anna, unfeeling women who cared nothing about anyone save themselves and the fortune and titles that could be gained from marrying into the right families. At the same time, he had no doubt Lainie MacPherson could kill a man.

"You should take heed," Aaron said softly, ignoring the other man who had now slipped quietly out the door.

"Remove your hand. sir," she told him indignantly.

Aaron shrugged, outwardly indifferent, his fingers settling once more on the hilt of his sword, ever wary of the girl and her next move.

The tavern’s hush changed into a humming of male voices as people left their drinks and focused on the pair standing so close to the door where unbeknownst to them an unspoken challenge had just been issued by both parties.

The stakes revolved around a woman named Lainie MacPherson and release from the commission he’d bought so many years ago he couldn’t remember. As for the bounty, Aaron Slade didn’t care a damn about it.

Aaron was certain he would end up the winner in this cat-and-mouse game. Besides the obvious, he wondered how the woman with trembling mouth and steady blue eyes had ended up on a wanted list issued by King Henry himself and standing in one of Scotland’s most infamous taverns. So intrigued by her he would move heaven and earth to learn her story.

"I know what you handed over to your companion," Aaron said with a bit of impatience, trying not to give away his purpose before it was necessary.

"I don’t know what you mean," she said softly with a sardonic smile gracing her intriguing mouth.

"You stole something that was mine. I mean to get it back. You need to remember that England rules this land--all of it." He inhaled deeply the soft scent of her that seemed to be hers alone. It seemed to possess all his senses.

Her shoulders stiffened as her gaze raked over him. "I’m Scottish, and loyal to James," she said, her voice wavering. "Henry doesn’t rule me or my kin."

"Slade," Jericho said, stepping forward, "what’s--"

The wolfish smile Aaron gave Jericho stopped him cold in his tracks.

"Who’s the girl?" Jericho asked pointedly. "You the sharin’ kind, Slade?"

"No one of interest," Aaron said smoothly lying to Jericho.

Aaron moved in front of Lainie, blocking the men from seeing her face and her hair. He didn’t know if they’d recognize her but something Rory had said earlier made him think Rory at least had met her. Given a choice, he would have taken her by the arm and escorted her away from these two cutthroats. Now he didn’t have a choice. He would have to let her go and hope he could catch up to her.

Lainie could melt into the forest if given a chance. She knew these lands better than most. And her companions were sure to be waiting for her a safe distance from the tavern. If her friend wasn’t waiting for her, where would she go? A sudden and unmistakable sickening feeling swept through him. Fear for this slip of a woman clouded his judgment.