Injured, lost and alone, what more could a girl ask for than to be rescued by a roguish Scottish Laird and a proper English Duke?
Marcus Sunderland, reared in England, groomed from birth to be the Duke of Carlton, is everything a proper English gentleman should be. Unwaveringly loyal to his liege and childhood playmate Queen Elnor, devoted to his people and his country.
Laird Niall Lummisden of Clan Logan in Lomond, Scotland, is everything a roguish Scottish Laird should be. Dedicated to his clan. Friendly, easygoing, born with confident swagger, he is the complete antithesis to his English half-brother Marcus.
As the brothers travel to a royal engagement they discover a woman left for dead in the road, beaten beyond recognition. It is decreed by his Queen that Marcus must take the stranger back to his estate to recover from her injuries. The unidentified woman not only survives the vicious attack but, as she begins to heal and communicate, struggling to recall her life before they found her, both men are intrigued and attracted to her.
The Duke and the Laird have survived a lifetime of cultural and political differences, but can the brothers survive her?
While your reading enjoy Kelly Clarkson's You Found Me ...
The next week went by quickly for all except the battered victim. She became a little stronger, a little less swollen, and a little less blue. Yellow-and-green splotches bloomed over the fair skin, replacing the ugly deep purple as it faded. Her eyes opened to slits and the jaw was healed enough to allow the woman to be able to chew again.
Niall had a routine. He let the women tend to her during the daylight hours while he attended to his own chores and dealings. During the evening, he would help her eat, and later he talked about inconsequential things, sang whatever songs came to mind, and read to her. When she tired, the big Scot crawled into bed with her and cradled the broken body against his own until they slept. She was most calm when he was with her. It was highly improper, but Marcus could not persuade his brother to stay away.
Niall spoke to her incessantly. She was beginning to converse with him.
Every time Marcus attempted to question her, he grew more frustrated. She gave the same responses every day, claiming to remember nothing from before they found her in the road. Not a face, not a person, not a name or her home. She could not even remember her own name. Marcus grew more suspicious by the day. Perhaps her memory loss was just a ruse, all a part of the game she played against his sovereign. Perhaps he would be able to persuade her memory to return while Niall was away. His brother had received a message from Logan in Lomond. The Laird was needed at home and would be leaving the next day.
Marcus was in his room, seated at the desk working on his accounts, when Niall strode through the door. He walked past him and into the Lady’s Chamber.
“G’afternoon, Sweet,” Marcus heard him greet her. “You may go.” Niall dismissed the maid who’d been sitting with her. She scurried out of the room, pausing to bob a “Your Grace,” to Marcus, as she fled.
Marcus made his way to the door between the two rooms to observe the couple, lured by the curious bond they’d so quickly achieved.
“How long ’ave ya been sittin’ up?”
She was seated in a chair by the window. He could see the strain of trying to sit up in the set of her shoulders.
“I know naught,” she said through healing lips. “The warmth from the sun feels so nice.”
Marcus could not even detect from her accent what part of England she might be from, let alone what class. But she was definitely English. It was a start.
“Marcus, help me get her back in bed.” Niall called him from his place in the doorway.
“Why did you not get the maid to help you before you dismissed her?”
“Come on, I just doona want ta hurt her arm.”
The brothers awkwardly manoeuvred her into bed. Niall joined her there, to Marcus’ obvious dismay.
“Doona start.” Niall raised his hand warning Marcus not to lecture him again about how improper this was.
Marcus threw himself into a chair by the door, mumbling something about nursemaids and chaperones. Marcus lounged there trying to look bored and not at all interested in the couple.
Niall stroked her hair while she played with his plaid scarf that displayed his family colours. They looked very comfortable together.
“Sweet, I ’ave ta go away for a wee bit. I am needed at ’ome.”
“At home? Is this not your home?” She sounded confused.
“No, Sweet, this be Marcus’s ’ome. I live no’ far from here, over the border at Lomond in Scotland.”
“Are we in England, then?” she asked, her cracked lips making her speech garbled.
“Aye, lass, we are in England.” Niall looked sideways at his brother.
Marcus listened intently, hoping the woman would reveal something incriminating.
“How long will you be away?”
“I’m no’ sure how long ’twill be.” They lapsed into silence for a bit.
“I’ll miss you,” she whispered.
“I’ll miss ya too, Sweet.” He hugged her to him gently.
Not for the first time Marcus wondered at their strange attachment.
“Jus’ think, lass, next time I see ya, ye’ll be on yer feet, aye?” he encouraged, smiling.
“Yes,” she whispered. “And I will be able to see you clearly.” She struggled to reach his face with her broken arm but was only able to touch his chin with her fingertips. Marcus felt like he should look away.
Niall closed his eyes as if he were enjoying her touch. “Aye, Sweet, and I’ll be able ta see ya too.”
* * * *
Niall left the next morning. Marcus remained busy and out of the keep most of the day. By the time he made it to his bed that night he was exhausted. He supposed he should have at least inquired as to his guest’s condition that day. He would tomorrow, he thought, as he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke sometime later and lay listening into the darkness, trying to decipher what had woken him.
Thrashing. The girl was restless in her slumber without Niall. Was that a sob? Damn it! He should have had one of the maids sleep in there with her.
Pulling a pillow over his head, he attempted to shut out her cries. Even though the pillow stopped the noise, it did not quiet his conscience. Or Niall’s parting request for him to take care of her. Throwing off the covers in anger, he stomped to the door. He snatched a candle from his dresser top and lit it, then opened the door between the chambers.
On first sight, he thought she was awake. Her eyes were open — well, as open as she could make them. She did not look toward the light or him. The covers were askew. Her night rail was rucked up to mid-thigh.
“Are you in pain, lass?” He did not know what to call her. It was awkward.
She gasped, and then her eyes started to blink rapidly. Her good hand raked the long hair away from her face. Marcus moved closer with the candle. Perhaps she had not been awake after all. She made a pitiful attempt to scramble backward away from him. Hindered by her injuries, she ended up in a painful heap. He hurried to put the candle on the bedside table.
“It’s all right. You’re fine, love. It’s Marcus. You are safe here.” He tried to calm her.
She seemed on the edge of hysteria. Marcus racked his brain. What would Niall say to calm her?
She ceased her struggles when she felt his weight sag the mattress and his hands soothing her. Her eyes searched his, her head tilting to the side in confusion.
“Niall?” Her gaze searched the bed.
“It’s Marcus, love,” he tried to keep his voice soft and coaxing. “Niall had to leave. Remember?”
“Niall had to leave,” she repeated, nodding her head as if trying to comprehend. She was making soft hiccupping noises.
He tried to settle her back against the pillows and cover her. She regarded him intently, not taking her eyes off him. Was she afraid of him? Him? She was far safer with him than with Niall.
“Are you in pain?” he asked, perching again on the bed beside her.
“A little,” she whispered.
He poured a spoonful of laudanum from the flask Hester kept on the bedside table. She took it without even a wince at the bitter taste. She must be accustomed to it by now.
“Better?” he asked.
“It will be. Thank you.”
“Shall I call someone? One of the maids? Hester?” He did not feel right about leaving her alone.
“No, thank you. I just…” She swallowed audibly in the silent room. Again her gaze fell to the bed as if she wished Niall might magically appear there. “I’m just…I’m sorry I woke you.”
“No, it’s fine. I was not yet asleep.” Why did I lie to her?
They sat in awkward silence for a moment, their breathing the only sound in the room.
“I will leave you now to sleep.”
She nodded and he rose to leave, picking up the taper as he went. He could feel her eyes on his back all the way to the door. He turned to close the door and stood facing her for a moment.
“Good night…Marcus,” she hesitated, using his name for the first time.
Why would the sound of his name from her lips bring bumps to his flesh? Over-tiredness that’s what it was.
He closed the door and eased back into his own bed and tried to sleep. He could still hear her tossing. Strange how he had never heard a noise when Niall was with her. You would think with two people occupying the room he would have heard something. But tonight he was acutely conscious of her movements.
The laudanum should take effect soon and give her some peace, he thought. But an hour later she was still restless. Getting up he approached the door, not even bothering to knock before entering. It’s the only way I’m going to get any sleep this night.
He went to the bed, jerked back the covers, and lay down, pulling her to him. Marcus guided her head and injured arm over his chest as he had witnessed Niall do time and again.
Lying back, covering them both, he prayed for sleep. She did not object to his actions, but her body remained stiff against him. He did not stroke her or give her pretty words as Niall would have, he just waited.
Eventually her body slackened, little by little. Marcus could feel parts of her soften as she allowed herself to relax; he could name them as they went. Closing his eyes, Marcus allowed himself to unwind, and before he knew it, there was sunlight on their faces.
* * * *
In his groggy state, he did not think but pulled her closer. She was so warm. The weight of her head on his chest felt right. He came fully awake when he noticed her absently stroking his bare chest with the fingers of her broken arm that remained in a sling. He sighed contentedly, and when she stiffened in his arms he knew she was now fully awake as well.
Now, how to extricate himself from this situation without too much embarrassment. He had to leave before the maids or Hester came to check on her. His eyes came to rest on the sealed door across from the bed. He should really think about having the outer door to the Lady’s Chamber reopened. One of his ancestors had had it sealed off to curb his wife’s movements, making it necessary to go through the master’s chamber to get in or out. His parents had shared the Duke’s suite, his mother using the Lady’s Chamber as more of a dressing room than a bedchamber, the door never being an issue for them.
“Good morning,” he managed in a sleep-deepened voice.
She tilted her head so she could peer at him, her ear still flat to his bare chest.
Her eyes had opened quite a bit now that the swelling was receding, he noticed, but the whites of her eyes still looked blood-soaked and watery. He wondered what colour her eyes were. Inexplicably, he wished them to be green.
“Good morrow, Marcus,” she whispered shyly.
He was strangely pleased she remembered his name.
“I need to go before the maids…” He did not finish the thought but nodded toward the open door between their chambers.
He lifted the blanket and left her bed. She started to say something just as Marcus heard voices in the hallway outside his suite.
“Ssshhh, love,” he whispered putting a finger to his lips.
He shut the door quickly and dove into his own bed just as the door opened. He sat up yawning, exaggerating his awakening, as they came in.
“Good morn, Your Grace.” It was Hester, with a maid trailing behind her. She kept her head down, not looking his way. He thought again how strange it was to have people traipsing through his private chamber. But that had been the routine since the beleaguered woman had invaded his home. He should really think seriously about unsealing that door.
“Good morn, mistress. Did you sleep well?” Marcus heard Hester ask.
Marcus detected the smile in her voice when his bedmate replied, “Re-marcus-bly, well.”
She said it very slowly, enunciating every syllable. No one else would notice her quip, save him, with her speech still impeded by the swollen flesh of her tattered lips. Marcus laughed out loud at her unexpected attempt at humour, right before they closed the door on him.
* * * *
That evening started out the same as the last, each of them in their own beds, but as soon as she began to get restless he crawled into bed with her.
The next night, and for the remainder of the week, Marcus waited until the rest of the keep quieted for the night before he went to her, pulled her close, and slept.
It was at the end of the week that a messenger from the queen arrived summoning Marcus to her.
He left the next morning.
As I mentioned, I've asked for the rights back to this story and as of some time next week it will no longer be available for purchase. So if you'd like to own it before it goes away, here are the links. I hope someday this story will return new and improved and with several other stories to accompany it. Thank you to all the readers who have read and enjoyed this book.
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