Book Blitz: Under the Kissing Bell, by Susan Carlisle


Under the Kissing Bell
Modern Masters of Their Castles
by Susan Carlisle

Contemporary Romance

Published: October 2020

 

A Christmas kiss between friends is simple, until it isn’t…

Clarissa Chalmers Simmons’ world is in turmoil. After fleeing an abusive marriage and her divorce, all she wants is to heal and create a calm, safe environment for her children. She’s returned to her ancestral home and the comfort of family, which includes a trusted childhood friend, Roger. She finds him handsome and sweet, but too set in his ways for her taste. With Roger’s encouragement and help, Clarissa takes on a new position in the family business and gains personal satisfaction she’s never known. What she doesn’t plan on is her and Roger’s ‘under the mistletoe ball’ kiss rocking her world.

Roger Clarke, is the easy-going estate manager at Hartley Castle and a confirmed bachelor. He has always been there in Clarissa’s background but recently has become her rock-steady confidant. Despite his long-held secret feelings for the flighty, beautiful and willful Clarissa, he has never acted on them. He’s not a suitable match for her. After all he is an employee of his best friend and her brother, Lord Hartley. Even if given the chance, Roger has no desire to become the rebound guy.

Despite that, if he doesn’t act on Clarissa’s passionate reaction to his kiss, he might lose his chance of having the only woman who’s ever stirred his heart.

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About the Author

Susan Carlisle’s love affair with books began when she made a bad grade in math in the sixth grade. Not allowed to watch TV until she brought the grade up, Susan filled her time with books. She turned her love of reading into a love of writing. Susan has released through HarperCollins’s Harlequin medical imprint over twenty-five contemporary romances. Her Modern Masters of Their Castles trilogy is under her own imprint. Her heroes are strong, vibrant man and the women that challenge them.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: A Husband For Christmas, by Nancy Pirri

A Husband For Christmas
Romance, Holiday Romance
by Nancy Pirri

Date Published: October 2020

Publisher: Satin Romance

On Sale for Only $.99 Until 12/15/2020

Can a little girl’s wish for Santa to bring her mom a new husband come true?

In 1946, Sarah Delaney writes to Santa for a husband for her mom for Christmas. She’s never known her father, who went missing during WWII so five-year-old Sarah decides it’s the perfect gift for her mother—a husband, and a daddy for her. Her mother, Rose Delaney, has been working as a banking accountant—until Jack Campbell, the man who held the position first returns from the war and her boss gives him back his job. Rose, unhappy about losing her job begins looking for another position but can’t find one that pays well enough. Jack, feeling guilty since he’s a single guy with no child or wife responsibilities convinces his boss to hire Rose as his secretary. Rose takes up the offer as nothing else is available. Within weeks, Jack falls in love with Rose, even though she refuses to date men she works with. He has big plans in his life though and pursues her until she eventually accepts his offer of marriage. Rose can’t deny she’s in love with him also, until she learns the ‘real’ reason he’s looking for a wife.

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Excerpt

Chapter One

St. Paul Minnesota

September 1946

Captain Jack Campbell, a schooled architect and account, and a medic during the war, honorably discharged from the United States Army, sat on the doctor’s examination table, wondering if his leg would ever heal completely.

Dr. Richardson gave him an answer without Jack having to ask. “The leg’s better than I expected, Jack. But I’m afraid you’ll have a permanent limp for the rest of your life from the lodged shrapnel.”

Jack shrugged. “Guess dancing’s out for me.”

You’ll be able to manage the ones that count…the slow ones. “He gave Jack a sly look. “Bet you can’t wait to hold a pretty girl in your arms for a night of dancing. You were gone nearly three years, weren’t you?”

Jack nodded. “Yes, it’s good to be back in familiar territory.

Dr. Richardson’s smile slipped. “Have you been home yet? Seen your father?”

No. He doesn’t want to see me. I met my mother for lunch last week, though. She, at least, appreciates the fact I survived the war.”

He’ll get over you enlisting, sooner or later. Don’t think badly of him. You are, after all, his only child. And now that you’ve returned you can take up the reins of the family business.”

Father threatened to will the business to a distant cousin, if I enlisted. I’d never wanted to make a career out of the steel business anyway, so I gave him my blessing.”

Think that’s a wise move?”

It’s the smartest one I’ve ever made, Doc.”

So, what are your plans?”

I’m going to return to LaSalle National Bank as head accountant. Then I’m going to search for a woman willing to be my wife and bless me with children. I’ve seen friends die and know life can be too short.”

The doctor frowned. “I heard you’d made marriage plans before leaving for the war.”

Things never worked out between Veronica and me.”

He heard bitterness in his voice when he thought about his ex-fiancée. Thought how he’d received letters from friends about how she’d been seen around the city with an old friend of his, Sedrick Hawthrone. She’d never even had the decency to write him a ‘Dear John’ letter while he was in the Army but had simply stopped replying to his own.

Veronica Miller wasn’t your style, son. Bah! Society girls are nothing but spoiled debutantes with no brain inside their pretty little heads. You need a smart woman, one who’s independent and can think for herself; a woman who can be a helpmate, not a noose around your neck. Besides, there are plenty of ladies around who’d be proud to marry a war hero, who also happens to be a millionaire.”

Dryly, Jack said, “I won’t inherit that money until I marry. And if I don’t marry and get my millions, well, it’ll only mean I’ll have to work a while longer at the bank to save up enough money to launch my business. My grandmother and her will—it’s ridiculous.”

Your granny sure knew how to rile things up when she was alive, but now she’s doing it from the grave, too.” The doctor chuckled. “She was a hell of a gal.”

If it hadn’t been for my mother wanting me home in one piece, I probably would have stayed in the Army, and to hell with those millions. It’s tough being an only child.”

Yeah, real tough,” the doctor said with a laugh, slapping Jack’s back.

Jack left the doctor’s office and limped down the street to his new model Studebaker, noticing dames of all shapes and sizes sending appreciate glances his way. He had gained twenty pounds of muscle while serving his country, so none of his pre-service clothes fit him. Home for nearly a month, he still hadn’t had a chance to have new clothes made so he still wore his Army uniform.

He started thinking about his long-range business goals and smiled, knowing he was on the right track. Soldiers were getting married every day with the ending of the war, and there was a definite housing shortage. The home-building industry was set to explode, even though his father still felt steel was the clear ticket to success.

Perhaps he was right, but Jack had never had the interest his father had in the steel mining business. He also recalled how his father would be gone for weeks at a time, running his business, traveling and selling, leaving Jack and his mother alone. Jack had long ago decided he’d work no more than nine to five at his business and spend the rest of his time surrounded by his lovely, loving wife and children.

At twenty-nine, he was ready to find the right woman to marry and settle down to a normal work schedule, unlike his father. A sweet, compliant, pretty woman with a sensible head on her shoulders would be a good companion for him; one who cared more for him more than society events. A woman who wouldn’t mind keeping a home and caring for children and having him be the provider; fulfilling his needs would be enough for his wife.

~ * ~

Rose Delaney sat in her boss’s office, fingers twisting the corner of her handkerchief, wet with her tears.

Mrs. Delaney,” Mr. Jorgenson said carefully, “a woman’s place is in the home, unless there’s a war on. You were fully aware of the fact you’d lose your job once Jack Campbell returned from active duty.”

Disappointment settled deep inside Rose but somehow, she managed to keep her voice calm. “What am I supposed to do? I’ve a child at home to support, and no husband.”

I’m so sorry,” he murmured.

Rose didn’t think he sounded a bit sorry though she saw color flood his cheeks. He continued, “LaSalle National Bank promised our men they’d be given their jobs back upon their return from the service, and you were informed about this when you took the job. Jack Campbell’s a decorated war hero and is ready to return to work now that his injuries have healed. His position’s the one you currently occupy.”

Is he married?” she daringly asked.

The benign smile he’d given her he replaced with a scowl. “I don’t see why it’s any concern of yours,” he said, picking up a stack of papers from his desk and shuffling them.

I do,” Rose said, leaning toward him. “You see, I could understand him needing this job if he were married and had a family to support. If he’s only responsible for himself, then I can’t see why he can’t find a job elsewhere and leave this one to me.”

He rose from his chair and came around to the front of his desk. Taking her elbow in a light grasp he pulled her gently from her seat and walked her to the door. “I’m sorry. Your last day is the sixteenth of the month. I’ve a meeting in a few minutes. Perhaps we can find another position for you. Let me think on it.”

In her office, she sank into the chair behind her desk. Her hand shook as she tried smoothing out her frizzy hair. What would she do now? How would she support herself and Sarah, her four-year old daughter? Then hope filled her. Perhaps Mr. Jorgenson could find another position for her, one that hopefully paid as well as her current job. She could only hope.

Her husband, Timothy, had been listed as missing in action, assumed to have died at Pearl Harbor, leaving her pregnant and jobless. Other than her neighborhood soda fountain waitress job she’d held as a teenager she hadn’t worked upon graduating from high school. She’d attended business college for two years and studied accounting. But then she and Timothy had married. They’d spent just one night together—their wedding night, before he left for active duty. Six weeks later Rose discovered she was expecting a baby. Timothy never knew about the pregnancy, nor ever saw his daughter.

Rose’s business college certificate was the reason she’d managed to secure a well-paying job at LaSalle National once America became involved in the war. The bank had been desperately seeking a head accountant and had been delighted to hire her—even if she’d been four months pregnant at the time. Now, with the return of a local war hero, they apparently had no qualms about letting her go.

Rose received a small widow’s pension but that was all. Her home was a modest one-story with a quaint, enclosed front porch, which required many repairs she couldn’t afford. Now she was faced with the dilemma of keeping up the mortgage without a decent paying job.

The next morning, after a neighbor with a child Sarah’s age picked her up in the family car to take Sarah to school as they did each school day, she dressed for work in one of three suits she’d purchased upon her hiring at LaSalle Bank. She felt extremely blessed that Sarah had been deemed with advanced intelligence and had been able to start kindergarten school a year earlier.

She pulled a navy serge suit from her closet. The jacket was double-breasted with well-padded shoulders, the skirt pencil-thin, emphasizing her trim figure. Her starched white blouse contrasted dramatically with the suit. She pinned a sapphire and diamond broach to one lapel, a wedding gift from Timothy, and stared at her reflection in the mirror positioned on the wall behind her dressing table.

Depression settled over her. She didn’t feel like venturing outdoors where it had been raining for two days but knew she must. She still had her job and two weeks of pay coming. Quickly, she pulled on her raincoat, grabbed her umbrella from its stand then locked the front door.

It rained often in the fall in the Midwest, and on this cool morning torrents of rain fell from the sky, pounding the sidewalk and streets. As Rose stood on the corner a few blocks from her house, waiting for the streetcar to take her to work downtown St. Paul, a shiny, deep blue Studebaker screamed past her. Rose caught her breath as ice-cold water splashed up into her face, soaked her feet and plastered her seamed silk stockings to her legs.

The force of the wind made her struggle to keep the umbrella over her head. Once she was certain the umbrella was stable, she dug inside her pocket, found a damp handkerchief and swiped the water from her cheeks, trying not to disturb her makeup; trying not to bawl like a baby.

She heard the shriek of a car’s wheels braking and looked up in time to see the Studebaker barreling toward her, in reverse. She jumped back from the curb, ready to flee when a man’s solicitous deep voice called out to her.

Sorry about that, miss! I didn’t see you on the corner until the last minute. Can I give you a lift somewhere?”

Rose moved closer to the curb, bent down and peered at the man through the window he’d cranked open. His light brown hair was cut severely short on the sides, but long on top, his eyes deep blue and merry. His smile was wide, and flashing white teeth caught her attention. She was half-tempted to accept a ride but knew she couldn’t. He was a stranger—a stranger who’d drenched her from head to toe, her raincoat and umbrella having afforded her little protection.

She heard rumbling and looked up to see the streetcar arriving. Brakes screeched as the vehicle came to a grinding halt behind the Studebaker. The bus driver honked at the man to move but he didn’t budge.

Come on! You’re soaking wet,” he shouted.

Rose’s eyes widened on the passenger door he’d swung open. She shook her head as a nervous feeling sent prickles up her spine. It was broad daylight so she shouldn’t be frightened. But there was something about the man’s confidence and tone of voice that made her uneasy. Just the little he’d said led her to believe he was the type who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Yes, I’m wet, thanks to you!” she finally got the nerve to shout as she continued to back away. She ran for the streetcar, tore up the steps and found a seat right behind the driver.

You okay, miss?” the driver asked as he peered at her in his mirror. “Was that guy pestering you?”

I’m fine,” Rose replied, her cheeks heating up.

The man had bothered her. He’d just made her aware of the fact she was, indeed, still a woman. Nearly five years had passed since Timothy left, and she hadn’t had a single date since then. But then, other than young boys and elderly gentlemen, there hadn’t been many eligible men around during the war years, not that she’d gone looking. To her mind she was still married—until Timothy’s death could be proved.

She arrived at her destination, stepped off the streetcar and walked briskly up the street toward the bank building built of red brick and eight stories high. She took the stairs to the third floor, stopped in the ladies’ room to check her makeup and comb her hair, which was hopeless. Her honey-blonde colored hair, which she’d painstakingly pin-curled to make it smoother was now an unruly mass of frizz surrounding her face. Her makeup was streaky and some of it had bled onto the once pristine white collar of her blouse. She groaned when she turned, glanced down at one leg and saw the run in her stocking. Hopefully, she still had an extra pair in her desk drawer.

Rose did the best she could with her appearance, then headed for her office. “Hello, Marianne,” she said as she passed the receptionist.

The young woman’s eyes widened. “What happened to you, Mrs. Delaney?”

As Rose moved toward her office, she said, “Let’s just say I had an encounter with a Studebaker. Okay?”

Uh, sure. Say, Mr. Jorgenson said you should come straight to his office.”

Let him know I’ll be in shortly.”

Marianne protested, “Oh, but he doesn’t want you to go to your office until you’ve seen him first!”

Coming to an abrupt halt, Rose narrowed her eyes on Marianne. “Don’t tell me he’s cleared my things out already.”

Um, no, not yet, but…”

Good, then my extra stockings should still be in my desk. Ring him and tell him I’ll be there in five minutes.”

She ignored Marianne’s stammering, opened her door and came to an abrupt halt with a gasp. Her chair was turned to face the bank of windows overlooking the city. She saw a pair of chocolate brown pants legs crossed, oxford shoes on feet settled against the windowsill—shoes she guessed that likely cost more than a week’s salary; Then she heard a man’s deep, laughing voice as he talked with someone on the telephone.

He must have heard her enter as he pulled his legs down and swiveled around to face her. She stared in wide-eyed amazement into a pair of astonished, laughing blue eyes—familiar eyes.

 

About the Author

 

Nancy Schumacher is the owner-publisher of Melange Books, LLC, still writing under the pseudonyms, Nancy Pirri and Natasha Perry. She is a member of Romance Writers of America. She is also one of the founders of the RWA chapter, Northern Lights Writers (NLW) in Minnesota.

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Spotlight & Excerpt: Twelfth Knight’s Bride + Giveaway

Twelfth Knight’s Bride
by E. Elizabeth Watson

Series
n/a; standalone

Genre
Adult
Historical Romance

Publisher
Entangled Scandalous

Publication Date
November 16, 2020

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Lady Aileana Grant just wants to help her starving clan at Christmastide. So she pilfers some vegetables from the bastard Laird James MacDonald–the Devil, they call him. When the Devil shows up and demands marriage as recompense for the thievery, Aileana can’t believe it when her brother agrees. Even if she’s able to negotiate a severance on Twelfth Night, that’s still two weeks to put up with the laird in enemy territory. She’s counting down the days, even if James isn’t quite the disgusting cretin she’d imagined.

James needs to marry an enemy bride in order to inherit his fortune. Cursed restrictions. He’d been unable to look away from Aileana’s untamed beauty ever since she squared off with him. He might as well handfast with the infernal lass. He’d get his money and perhaps some peace among the clans. He has a fortnight to win the heart of the lady with the voice of an angel despite her sharp tongue.

Twelfth Night is merry and bright as Aileana and James realize a true connection between them. But when Aileana discovers the reason the Devil forced her into marriage, how can she ever believe he truly wants her?

Twelfth Knight's Bride

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Urquhart Castle; Scottish Highlands; 24th of December, 1545

“A little farther, man,” Aileana encouraged her brother’s horse as she rode hard through the snowy glen.

The beastly stallion panted, leaping over drifts with fringed hooves. She leaned over his neck, which lunged and retracted with each bound while his mane blew wildly in her face, her hands close to the bit. Her bundle, wedged between her belly and the saddle pommel, threatened to jostle loose. She pressed her stomach into it to keep the stolen goods in place and glanced over her shoulder, fearful of her pursuer.

“Mayhap we’ve lost the cretin.”

The snow was falling in thick gusts by the time she thundered across the bridge to Urquhart Castle’s gatehouse, blazing beneath the portcullis. Her brother’s head guardsman came out of the gatehouse to investigate.

“’Tis only me, Sir Donegal!” she called, sweating, and pulled the reins back to stop the horse short.

“Lady Aileana? Why arrive in such haste? And dressed in trews?” Sir Donegal asked as soldiers craned their necks through the merlons atop the curtain wall to see if danger lurked in the hills beyond.

Aye, she wore pants, a tunic, a cloak, and boots. With her hair pulled back tightly and hidden in the neckline of her cloak, she likely looked like a skinny lad.

“No reason,” she replied. “I thought to give the horse a good romp considering he’s been cooped up due to our fine weather.” A lie, but Aileana flashed a confident smile as she gestured to the falling snow as dusk darkened the already-gray sky looming over the fabled Loch Ness. Fine weather indeed.

She shrugged nonchalantly for good measure and draped a hand over her bundle of thieved vegetables, holding it steady while she flung her cloak over her shoulder and dismounted, though her heart pumped from the exertion. Fear at being caught trickled through her blood like spring snowmelt down a mountain and was just as icy. This food, pilfered from that bastard Laird James Moidartach MacDonald—the once-outlawed Earl of Ross—would feed Urquhart’s inhabitants for one night, and a thin broth it would make at that. But her people were desperate, thanks to the Devil MacDonald’s aggression toward them, and scant nourishment was better than none.

These vegetables are the least the ruthless MacDonald can do for us.

Life had been lean since the MacDonalds’ last raid two years ago, which had seen her people evicted. Laird MacDonald had occupied Urquhart, and it had been thanks to the Earl of Huntly himself for demanding the laird relinquish the stronghold back to her brother, Laird Grant. But not before he and his ruffians had depleted their buttery, packed away their livestock, and devastated their seed stock for planting, meaning the last two harvests had been paltry at best, in spite of the meager grains her brother had bartered from the Frasers. And to add insult to injury, this last growing season had been unseasonably wet. They’d reaped an even worse harvest than before. Their petition for a recompense from the MacDonalds still sat before the Crown, and if it wasn’t awarded soon, they would surely starve this winter.

“Are ye sure ye’re being honest, Lady Aileana?” Donegal persisted as she passed off the reins to their lone stable groom, the seneschal’s son.

Trepidation ate at her. She’d barely escaped MacDonald’s hunting camp, for his men had made chase as she stole away to the glen at the base of Carn Eige, where she’d stashed her horse for her flight home. She glanced over her shoulder again. The hills that loomed over Urquhart were shrouded in fog from the snowflakes falling down onto the frozen banks of the loch—

Her stomach dropped.

A shape emerged from the fog, like a death knell, the thudding of hooves growing louder. Bright, tightly woven red plaid, blond hair—in part flowing free, in part braided—and shoulders shielded in fur, rode out of the hills atop a leathery-black destrier. Damn the man! He’d followed her trail.

“Of course I’m being honest,” she croaked to Sir Donegal, who leveled a glare at her. She lifted her chin, having claimed the lie and knowing she must own it. “I, eh, must depart.”

She hurried away, clutching the vegetables.

“Look lively!” a sentry called while Grant soldiers clattered to positions.

“Drop the portcullis!” shouted another, and the chains ground on the winches, the forces of Earth pulling it down to land with a rattling pound.

“Ready at arms! It’s Devil MacDonald! Inform the laird! Archers! To the walls!”

Aileana jogged through the yard sodden by cart wheels and ducked through the kitchen door. Sakes! Anger at herself nipped at her heels. She’d been so sure she could outsmart the hunting party and get home unscathed! And now she’d brought trouble to their threshold. Her brother, Seamus, didn’t need to fend off the likes of their enemy after all that had passed between their clans.

The kitchens were hot with dinner’s meager preparations. Flatbreads baked in the ovens from what flour grains they had been able to grow and harvest this past autumn, and leftover venison boiled in a pot to make a broth.

“Good day, Lady Aileana.” The head cook curtsied, oblivious to the mounting commotion outside.

“A good day it is.” Aileana dumped the bundle onto the scullery table. Dried carrots, onions, leeks, and beans tumbled across the board. “We have a wee blessing for our supper, but ye must cook it with haste—”

“Goodness!” the cook exclaimed as the other kitchen maids gathered around the bounty in awe. Aileana smiled, but a pinch of sadness sparked in her chest that these basic foods should be so exciting.

“Does God favor us this Christmastide?” the cook continued. “Ye’ve obviously made some fruitful bartering.”

A lie she’d let them believe, for there had certainly been no bartering.

“Quick,” Aileana instructed, ignoring the cook’s remark. “Chop and boil it so we might eat it fast, and say no’ a word that I delivered anything.”

“Whatever for?” the cook replied. “Such a quantity can be divided in two and shared with tomorrow night’s bread—”

“Look no’ a gift horse in the mouth,” Aileana urged, adding a grin in hopes it would put them at ease, but they must eat the evidence. The commotion from outside now echoed within the castle. Seamus’s demands for reinforcements rang through the great hall. She swallowed, then urged, “We—eh—could use a filling meal and, for once, feel satisfied.”

The cook bobbed in another curtsy and began doling out orders, and Aileana shook the snow off her cloak onto the rushes, then dashed through the kitchen, out into the corridor, and up the winding stairs to where her bedchamber was located. She shoved through the door, barred it, and flung her cloak upon a chair, kicked off her boots, stripped the trousers so that she wore only her hose and tunic still damp from her ride, and hastened into a simple brown gown, just as plain as she was.

“Mi lady!” came a masculine call at the door, accompanied by a knock.

Donegal.

That was quick.

“Mi lady! Devil MacDonald storms our gates and demands to see ye for his own eyes! He swears a lad stole away with goods from his traveling party and rode to safety here. We’ve sworn the only person to pass our gates this eve is the youngest sister of Laird Grant, but he’ll nay be deterred until he sees ye. Yer brother tries to placate the nàmhaid, but he threatens to return with more men if we do nay comply…or worse, complain to Huntly!”

She sucked in hard, then exhaled. Her brother would know it was her who had committed this thievery, for it wasn’t as if she was innocent of such a crime.

“One moment, Donegal!”

She raced back to the door, having yet to catch her breath, and knew her cheeks were splotched with sunbursts from her exertion. Opening it, she twirled around to the man, giving him her back without greeting.

“Lace me up. Quickly,” she breathed.

“God have mercy, lass,” the guardsman muttered with exasperation, but thankfully he was used to her unorthodox mannerisms, for he’d been her dear friend since childhood, her first kiss, and her father’s finest squire. “’Twas ye, was it nay? That bundle on yer saddle? Ye’ve invited trouble of the worst kind—for MacDonald will bring another raiding party if he suspects he was abused.”

She snorted. “Oh, him—abused, the misunderstood violet.” Bitterness tainted her tone. “He stole everything from us, and yet we’re no’ entitled to a menial amount of food? We shall die without any, Donegal.”

“And yer brother made war on James MacDonald four years ago, aye.”

“Because he reaved on us six years ago,” she snapped.

“And yer faither the same to his faither before that.”

And so on. The feud between their people had existed since the Grants had established themselves in the Highlands at the request of Huntly. Before the Grants, it had been Huntly himself who had endured raids. Before that, the Crown had fended off renegade MacDonald parties, shoring up the rampart defenses to deflect the lairds of the isles. Urquhart was a strategic stronghold and would consolidate power over the entire region should the Devil acquire it.

“The history matters none,” Donegal said, jerking the laces tight, drawing her clammy tunic tightly against her body. “He’ll retaliate.”

“Ye’re nay to say another word to my brother until I’ve spoken with him,” she replied.

“That matters none, either. The laird kens ye must have done it but has demanded ye come to the gates so MacDonald can see for himself that ye cannae possibly be a lad.”

The guard braced his knee against her rear and cinched the strings, causing her to lurch.

“I’ll nay ask”—she gasped as the dress was put into place—“how ye became so deft with a lady’s garments, my friend,” she teased.

He leaned around her face as he now tied the laces, a grin softening his jaw and brow.

“Ah, well, I’ve been known to make the lasses swoon. Ye being the first, eh?”

She batted his face away, and he chuckled. “Indeed I was young and misguided, aye? My faither’s boot to yer rear and a sennight of hard labor taught ye never to take such liberties, I recall.”

The chuckle rumbling in his throat intensified. “Nay, lass, on the contrary. It taught me never to get caught.”

“Ye’re insufferable!” she jested, smirking and scurrying away to grab her shawl.

She fixed the tunic, which protruded from her dress sleeves, for she hadn’t had time to don a proper chemise. With her proud Grant tartan cast about her torso, she looked the picture of plain and proper.

“Ah, but now ye’ve done it, mi lady, aye?”

“I fear I have,” she mumbled under her breath, exhaling. “I’m sorry, Donegal. It’s just…we’re desperate.”

“I ken that,” he replied soberly. “Let down yer auburn hair, mi lady. It’s one of yer beauties and the most un-lad-like thing about ye.”

She blushed—of all the ridiculous reactions—at his compliment for he meant it purely in the spirit of friendship these days. But her hair, in truth, was her one vanity, for compared to her older sister, she’d always felt plain.

Her gown in place, she slipped her feet into a pair of ankle boots made of soft lambskin but, like all her things, were worn through. A hole had abraded the outside toe on one, and they needed resoling desperately. Still, all in the castle had made concessions, and she wouldn’t complain. It wasn’t her brother’s fault that this sorry poverty had been thrust upon them due to the MacDonald bastard’s relentless greed.

She let down her wavy curls from the utilitarian bun she’d concealed within her cloak and tried to run a comb through the ends. No use. The prongs snagged in the hopeless tangles, and there was no time to wet it and make it manageable. Instead, she fluffed it down her back, where it tumbled to her waist, and hastened to tie it back in a plain ribbon as she accompanied Donegal downstairs, through the hall, and out into the bailey.

Servants scrambled across the slush, pushing carts to safety in a shed, and took shelter in case the enemy laird had returned for a rematch, while guardsmen lined the curtain wall to assess the threat, arrows trained upon their guest.

“There’s my sister now,” she heard Seamus say.

She stalled in her tracks, her throat constricting, and a leaden anchor sank in her stomach. Although they’d never been introduced, she knew it was the Devil MacDonald himself perched in the saddle on the opposite side of the portcullis grate.

“Ye were just out riding, were ye no’, Aileana?” Seamus demanded as his wife, Elizabeth, and their sister, Peigi, flanked him demurely, watching her, ever the beautiful ladies that she had never been and would never be.

Her gaze flitted from her sister-in-law to Peigi, then to Seamus once more, so regal in his deep-blue plaid draped over his shoulder, his heavy belts, and—she noted—his claymore sheathed across his back. Dagger hilts protruded from his waist, and his sgian dubh was lodged strategically in his boot. He’d prepared himself to greet James MacDonald as a proud, stoic warrior and their parents’ only son to survive infancy.

But as her eyes returned to the laird atop his glossy stallion, she didn’t see the disgusting cretin she’d expected. She saw striking blue eyes, dark-blond hair waving wildly around his face and neck with those ever-present braids which she could see, now that she was close to him, were knotted with wooden beads—not bones, as he’d been rumored to don—and he was obviously disheveled from his chase. His jaw was scruffy in dark whiskers, those of a young man filling into his prime. His cheekbones were cut high; his nose, long, but firm and proud. Around his shoulders hung a heavy pelt of deerskin over his doublet coat, and a bright red tartan draped across his chest, held in place at the shoulder by a bejeweled badge denoting the clan’s symbol.

His thighs, partly visible due to his kilt splaying about him, were powerful and bulged with bands of long muscle, and his boots, deerskin insulated in fleece tufting out of the tops, were fine quality—and certainly not wearing through the toes or soles like hers were.

She nearly scoffed at the thought and instinctively wiggled her little toe rubbing through her lambskin as a chill shivered through her. She should have changed into a fresh chemise.

He was magnificent, not the beast she’d always conjured to mind when reliving the horrible day they had last been besieged, even if his face was filled with fury now. Her stomach twisted nervously as he managed the reins of his cavorting destrier puffing steam into the air. Blast it, but she hadn’t expected handsome. Nor had she expected his gaze to hold hers as if she’d surprised him, too.

Memories swirled to life of clenching sweet Peigi’s hand and ferrying her to safety as Urquhart was attacked by men whose faces were muddied and painted in blue woad. She lifted her chin to push away the unwanted thought. Rolled back her shoulders. This MacDonald bastard, no matter how handsome, was a nàmhaid—an enemy—if there ever was one. She wouldn’t allow him the pleasure of watching her shrink from his hard gaze. Instead, she walked up close to the portcullis as if to taunt him, folding her arms and examining his features for herself. His piercing blue stare followed her, evoking shivers across her skin.

She could feel her brother’s glare upon her, too, though she ignored it. She might feel guilty about bringing trouble, but she wouldn’t apologize for stealing a wee bit of food. She was a noble-born Grant. It was as much her duty as Seamus’s to look after the folk who supported this home with their labors, and they could no longer afford to await word from the Crown as to whether or not their recompense would be awarded.

Seamus leaned into her ear as she felt Laird McDonald’s gaze still scrutinizing her, perusing her figure with his devilish eyes. His moniker was proving to be true. Devil indeed.

snowy twelfth knight's bride

Tour Wide Giveaway

To celebrate the release of TWELFTH KNIGHT’S BRIDE by E. Elizabeth Watson, we’re giving away a paperback copy of An Earl for the Archeress!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of An Earl for an Archeress by E. Elizabeth Watson. This giveaway is administered by BookMojo on behalf of Entangled Scandalous. Giveaway ends 12/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author

E. ELIZABETH WATSON writes historical romance and lives in West Virginia with her sons, husband, and various pets. With degrees in Archaeology and Anthropology, Elizabeth instead began pursuing a career in fiction writing after earning an Honorable Mention in the 2013 Texas Observer short story completion, and making it to the quarter-finals in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Elizabeth is a member of RWA and Maryland Romance Writers.

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