Highland Guard by Hannah Howell
Published by Zebra Books on February 24th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Medieval, Romance, Scottish
New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell brings back the daring Murray family in a brand-new tale of dangerous love rekindled. . .
Lady Annys MacQueen has no other choice. The deception that enabled her to keep her lands safe is on the verge of being revealed by a cruel kinsman. To shield her young son from the sword and her people from devastation, she must turn to the one man she could never forget. . .
He lives for duty and honor. So the only way Sir Harcourt Murray could repay the laird who saved his life was to agree to father a child with Sir MacQueen's wife. . .Lady Annys. Now the passion he still feels for the lovely strong-willed widow is as all-consuming and perilous as securing her lands. But to convince her that his love is forever real means confronting her most wrenching fears--and putting everything they treasure most at stake. .
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Harcourt looked at Annys and his heart actually skipped a beat. He would have laughed if he was not so filled with conflicting emotions. Such happenings were the stuff of bad poetry, the sort of thing he had always made jest of. Yet, there he stood, rooted to the spot, frantically thinking of what to say and how to hide the tangled mass of emotion that was nearly choking him. He nodded a greeting to her and watched her beautiful moss-green eyes narrow in a look that did not bode well for an amiable talk later. Talking was not what he was thinking about, however. He was recalling how soft that long blood-red hair of hers was, how warm her pale skin felt beneath his hands, and how sweet those full lips tasted. That was a memory he needed to smother and fast.
“Are matters as bad as young Ian indicated?” he asked Nicolas, and inwardly winced when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Annys cross her arms under her breasts.
“Aye,” Nicolas replied. “We can have that talk with her ladyship in attendance as soon as we get all of you sorted.”
Harcourt nodded and turned his attention to seeing to the matter. Once the horses were taken care of, their supplies unloaded and carted away, he knew the time had come to actually face Annys. He took a deep breath and started toward her where she still stood on the steps only to come to a halt when a small child rushed by him and ran up to pull at her skirts.
“Maman! Ye got us more soldiers.”
“I did, Benet. I thought it might help stop all the trouble we have been having.”
The moment the child turned to look at him, Harcourt clenched his fists at his side. The boy’s eyes were a match for his own. Bright amber eyes watched him closely and Harcourt fought against the urge to shout out his claim to this child. He had given up all rights. It had been the debt owed for his life. He could feel the eyes of his companions fixed upon him though and knew he would be facing a lot of questions.
It took every ounce of strength he had to start walking again. He stepped up until he was standing just below Annys and the boy. It was easy to read the fear in her eyes. Young Benet’s eye color was not an exact match with his and could be attributed to the tiny gold specks in her eyes or just a different shade of the brown David’s eyes had been. The boy’s hair was black but so had David’s been. As long as he did not say or do something to give the secret away, all would be fine. Yet, Harcourt knew it was going to be a long hard battle not to reach out and claim his son.
“M’lady,” he said and took her hand in his to brush a kiss over her knuckles.
That tiny soft hand trembled slightly in his grasp and his body reacted to the sign that she was not as indifferent to his presence as she appeared to be. Harcourt knew it would be unwise to try to begin an affair with her but he was not sure he was strong enough to resist if she gave him even the smallest hint that she would welcome his attention.
“Sir Harcourt,” she said and nodded as she almost yanked her hand out of his grasp. “Where is Ian?”
“He was injured in his travels. Nay badly, but I thought it best if he remained at Gormfeurach for a while. He is being given the best of care.”
“Thank you for that. I was most concerned when he did not return.” She turned slightly and took Benet by the hand. “Shall we go to the hall where you can quench your thirst and have some food while we talk?”
Annys fought to keep from racing into the keep, putting as much distance between her and Sir Harcourt as she could. The touch of his lips on her hand had nearly undone her hard-won composure. It had been five years since she had felt his touch yet the moment his flesh met hers, even in the innocence of a proper greeting, her mind had gone back to those nights by the burn.
Guilt left a sour taste in her mouth. David was barely cold in his grave and she was allowing herself to weaken at the touch of another man’s hand. What had happened between her and Harcourt had been wrong, even if it had been condoned by David. She nearly laughed. Condoned? It had been meticulously arranged. David had been the sweetest, kindest man she had ever known but he had also been a man who would not hesitate to do whatever was needed to get what he wanted. He had wanted a son.
She glanced down at Benet who kept looking back at the men following them into the keep. Until she had seen Harcourt again, she had not allowed herself to even think on how much Benet looked like the man. All she could do was pray no one else noticed, especially since there had been the faintest similarities in coloring between David and Harcourt. She would also have to be very watchful for even the smallest possibility that she or Harcourt were giving the secret away in how they treated the boy.
“M’lady,” Joan whispered in her ear as they entered the hall and pulled away from the men who went to wash their hands, “it is not as clear to see as ye think it is.”
“I pray ye are right, Joan.”
“I am. I only see it because of what I ken and I have ne’er heard a whisper that would tell me anyone else here kens the truth or that those who may would e’er say a word. So, ye just be careful in what ye say and do and all will be weel.”
Annys wished she had the confidence in that that Joan had. The looks on the faces of the men who had come with Harcourt, looks the men were doing a pitiful job of hiding, told her that they noticed something already. She prayed Harcourt would have a stern word with them all.
“Allow me to introduce my companions, m’lady,” Harcourt said once they were all seated. “This is Sir Callum MacMillan, Sir Tamhas Cameron, Sir Nathan MacFingal, Sir Ned MacFingal, and Sir Gybbon Murray.”
Annys nodded a greeting to each man as he was introduced. Two redheads, a brunet, and three raven-haired men. All handsome. All warriors. All tall and fit. It was not going to be easy to stop the maidens of the keep from seeking them out. They were, however, a treasure of skill and strength she could not turn away, no matter how much she worried over the chance that her secret might come out.
“I thank you all for coming,” she said. “Please, eat, drink, and we can talk once ye take the edge off your thirst and hunger.”
The only conversation that ensued as the men ate concerned the journey they had taken. Gormfeurach was not as far away as Annys had thought, although far enough when one half of the partners in a huge secret were concerned. She ate very little, her stomach tied in knots, as she struggled to push aside all worry about what might or might not be exposed by Sir Harcourt’s presence. The people of Glencullaich needed these men. They had to take precedence over all of her fears.
As she sipped her wine she glanced between Harcourt on her left and Nicolas on her right. Both were extraordinarily handsome men yet she experienced not one single twinge of womanly interest when she studied Nicolas. Hair the color of dark wood, gray eyes, and a strong body were all things that could please a woman but, although she did like the look of him, nothing else stirred inside her. Harcourt stirred everything inside of her and not all of it was good. The warmth was side by side with the chilling fear of secrets being uncovered. The need was side by side with the guilt for having given in to it even with the urging of her husband. The pleasure of seeing him again sat side by side with a lingering anger over the way he had left her. Somehow she had to clear her heart and mind of all the confusion.
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