Released from the captivity of the Fae, Murdoch Seton wants nothing more than to forget his lost years. Undertaking a quest to recover treasure stolen from his family seems the perfect solution – but Murdoch is not counting upon a curious maiden who holds both the secret to the theft and his sole redemption.
Isabella is outraged to find her brother’s keep besieged by a renegade knight – especially one who is too handsome for his own good or hers. After a single encounter, she becomes convinced that his cause is just and decides to unveil the true thief, never imagining that their single shared kiss has launched a battle for Murdoch’s very soul.
As the treacherous Fae move to claim Murdoch forever, Isabella seeks to heal the knight who has stolen her heart. But will Murdoch allow her to take a risk and endanger herself? Or will he sacrifice himself to ensure Isabella’s future?
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An excerpt from The Renegade’s Heart:
Kinfairlie, Scotland – January 1424
Isabella had not managed a reply to her sister when the sound of hoof beats carried through the window.
“Destriers!” Elizabeth said. She raced past Isabella and flung open the shutter, admitting the chill of the morning. “Knights!” she breathed in awe. She grinned at Isabella and lowered her voice, her eyes sparkling with new merriment. “Husbands!”
“You think of only one thing!” Isabella teased.
“Alexander must have summoned them. Or they come to beg his favor. I must be in the hall to greet them!” Elizabeth hastened out of the chamber, her footsteps pounding on the stairs as she descended to the great hall.
Isabella, always cursed by curiosity, went to the window to look.
Two horses galloped along the road to Kinfairlie’s gates, their manes and tails flying in the wind. They were magnificent steeds, so large and muscled that Isabella knew them to be destriers. Elizabeth had doubtless been right about knights, for the warhorses were richly caparisoned. Isabella saw the gleam of sunlight on armor.
The lead horse was so pale a silver as to be nearly white. Its mane and tale were as dark as pewter. Its trappings were deep blue, and the tabard of the knight riding it was of that same deep blue. He wore chain mail and a long full cape as dark as midnight flowed from his shoulders. As he drew nearer, Isabella saw that his tabard bore no insignia. His hair was black and long enough to curl over his ears.
The second horse was a chestnut with a white star on its brow and white socks. It was no less handsome than the first. The man riding it was older and garbed in the plaid favored by the highlanders. He wore a leather jerkin and a white shirt, and his hair was both short and grey. A seasoned warrior, Isabella sensed that he was aware of all that surrounded them, but kept his expression impassive.
Her gaze returned to the younger man.
They galloped directly to the gates, the horses stamping and snorting when they were compelled to halt before the gatekeeper. Their breath sent plumes of white into the air.
“I am Murdoch Seton,” cried the man with the dark hair. He was handsome enough to make Elizabeth’s heart flutter, Isabella was certain of it. His voice was so rich and deep, his confidence so beguiling that Isabella herself thought to shiver. His manner was audacious, which snared Isabella’s interest. “I am come to deliver a message to the Laird of Kinfairlie.”
The gatekeeper, a doughty man who seldom smiled, barred the entry with his spear. Isabella heard the rumble of his voice but could not discern his words.
The pale horse pranced in impatience. “My brother’s request will not be surrendered to the gatekeeper and forgotten,” Murdoch Seton said, a surprising hostility in his tone. “I will speak to the laird and tell him of it myself.” His gaze danced over the tower and Isabella withdrew slightly, fearing that he would spot her.
There was something about him that held her gaze, though, a vitality that was uncommon among men.
“I will send word to my laird and you will wait.”
“I will not be deterred from this mission,” the knight said with a determination that was surprising. “I have but a message to deliver, and no man of integrity would turn such a missive aside.”
“But…” It was clear to Isabella that the gatekeeper did not trust this Murdoch Seton.
Why? Did he know of him? Or did he simply dislike the man’s imperious manner? Isabella drew back the shutter a little more. It seemed almost that the knight expected to be refused or turned aside. Why?
“I see you do not send word and perhaps you do not mean to,” the knight said with impatience. “I will take word of my arrival to the laird myself.”
The gatekeeper obviously protested, but this Murdoch Seton dismounted, casting the reins of his steed to his partner. He made to push past the gatekeeper’s spear, and Isabella saw that he was both tall and muscular. There must have been purpose in his gaze, for the gatekeeper took a step back. He kept the spear lowered, though.
“You will not enter this hall armed!” he declared.
Murdoch cast a wry smile at his companion, then unbuckled his belt and scabbard. Instead of surrendering it to the gatekeeper, he handed it to his companion, then stepped close to the gatekeeper.
Isabella leaned out the window to hear his words.
“I leave both steed and sword in the custody of my companion. Should he be divested of them in my absence, or should he not be here when I return, I shall take word to the king of the treachery that has claimed Kinfairlie.” Then he pushed aside the spear with a gloved fingertip and marched toward the portal.
Isabella’s mouth dropped open. He threatened the gatekeeper? But he was the one who sought admission. Why was he so resolved?
The gatekeeper turned and looked after the knight, his astonishment clear. The older man, the companion of the knight, appeared to be amused.
Why did the knight assume his message would be refused?
Isabella had to know.
She spun and ran for the door, thinking she would listen in the great hall as the knight made his argument. She flung open the door, but there was no sign of Elizabeth. Isabella had no sooner concluded that her sister must have descended to the great hall when she heard boots on the stairs, approaching quickly. It sounded as if a man took the stairs two or even three at a time. She might have retreated but the dark–haired knight crested the top of the stairs.
He slowed his pace to consider her. His eyes, Isabella could now see, were a clear and deep blue and he was ruggedly handsome.
Even though she was tall, he was taller. He strode toward her with such care that she thought of a wolf hunting its prey. His gaze was unswerving and a crooked smile lifted one corner of his mouth.
Isabella felt hot, right to her toes.
“The maiden from the window,” he murmured and the appreciation in his low voice made Isabella flush. “Yet more curious than I imagined.”
“While you, sir, are more bold than might be expected.”
He smiled outright then, the expression softening his features in a most attractive way. Isabella could not avert her gaze. Indeed, it seemed she could not breathe.
Excerpt from The Renegade’s Heart ©2012 Claire Delacroix, Inc.