Copyright © 2011 Sandy Blair
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Britt had never seen a lass turn so white in his life. Humph! Mayhap the lady wasn’t as enamored with Randy Sandy as His Majesty presumed. ’Twould serve him right.
The king’s paramour wavered in the doorway, and Britt grabbed her arm, fearing she might topple. “Lady Greer, are you all right?”
She swallowed in gulping fashion and jerked her arm away. “Fine. I’m quite fine, thank you.”
“Excellent.” She didn’t look the least fine to him. In fact, she looked totally distraught, not to mention dowdy in her plain tunic of gray homespun and with her pale, waist-length tresses caught in a simple braid, but then she hadn’t been expecting him. “May I come in?”
Her right hand flew to the long white column of her throat. “In?”
“Oh. Aye, please come in.”
“Thank you.” He stepped over the threshold as Lady Greer scurried backward, her cornflower-blue eyes growing as huge as tankard tops, her gaze raking him from boots to hair roots as if she’d never set eyes on him before. Knowing that not to be the case, he tensed and immediately scanned the whitewashed room and the open sleeping loft above for an intruder. Hand on the hilt of his sword, he murmured for her ears alone, “Is something amiss, my lady?”
“No!” She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. I’m simply surprised to be summoned…so soon.”
“Ah.” He relaxed his stance. “His Majesty trusts that whatever crisis took you from his side is now resolved?” The queen had not deemed it necessary to tell anyone why Lady Greer had gone home.
He scowled at her. “I beg your pardon? Who died?”
“Father and Mother. Both of them.”
“Oh. My deepest condolences, my lady. May I be so bold as to ask how?” The last thing he wanted to do—orders or no—was to escort a contagious Lady Armstrong back to Edinburgh.
She wrung her hands. “A carriage accident.”
He nodded. Good. Well, not good for her parents, of course.
He looked about the modestly furnished room, this time taking note of the basket filled with skeins of green and yellow wool, the odd chair, the bench and small bowl overflowing with dandelions sitting on the stone hearth, of the oil lamp, a handful of well-worn texts and a few candlesticks. There was little enough of a personal nature. One trunk at best, which his destrier could easily carry. “Your father was trackman in service to the earl, I believe.”
“So, with a new man coming and nothing left to hold you here, am I correct in assuming we can pack up and be on our way before gloaming?”
“Umm, umm…” Lady Greer looked about in panicked fashion. “But I’ve yet to say good-bye to the animals, sir!” She blushed to a pretty rose, something he couldn’t recall her ever doing in the past, then waved in dismissive fashion. “I meant to the tenants, of course.”
“Of course.” Grief could make idiots of us all, he supposed. And likely explained why her voice sounded deeper then he recalled it being. Aye, she was likely hoarse from weeping, although weeping didn’t explain why she spoke in such stilted fashion.
“Sir, I’ve yet given thought to what I should take or leave behind.” She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. “I need a full day to pack and set my affairs in order.”
Since he was in no hurry to return her to their king, he said, “Why not take two? You have many a woolly beast in yon pasture you doubtless wish to kiss good-bye.”
Her cornflower blue eyes narrowed. “Doubtless.”
“But please be mindful of my horse as you pack. He’ll also be carrying me.”
“Does that mean my taking the rocking chair is out of the question?”
“Absolutely!” He huffed, then realized she was only taunting him, that she was trying not to grin, then lost the battle, which brought light into the low-ceilinged room and an odd sensation to his belly. My God, he’d always found Lady Greer pretty but had never thought of her as truly beautiful… Until now. That smile. Absolutely captivating. Why hadn’t he noticed it or the dimple in her right cheek before? No wonder his liege had become so enamored.
His gaze drifted down the long column of her neck to the gentle swell of her breasts. Feeling heat rise in his loins, he gave himself a hard mental shake and cleared his throat.
Christ’s blood. Lusting after his king’s prime flesh could prove a fast route to the gallows. He blew through his teeth.
He’d need a place to bed down for two days. Randy as he felt and without her having a chaperone, his staying here—even in the barn—was definitely out of the question. “Whilst you settle your affairs, I shall be at the small lodging I passed in the village.”
Her lovely eyes went wide again. “Oh no! Not there. No, no. The place is crawling with fleas. Loads and loads of fleas. Bucketsful.”
“Oh, aye.” She made a delicate shudder, setting the golden wisps framing her face to fluttering. “You’ll be far more comfortable staying at the abbey in Morehead. Simple but clean. Much nicer, truly. And you’ll not be getting weevils with your porridge…as you could expect at Mr. Bailey’s.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Mr. Bailey has fleas and weevils?”
“Aye, ’tis a terrible place. Truly.”
He couldn’t help but grin. She looked so earnest, but he suspected her defaming poor Mr. Bailey was more likely due to a female aversion to anything crawly rather than to the actual number of crawlies Mr. Bailey might have. Britt had stopped at the establishment to quench his thirst, and the hostel hadn’t appeared any worse than most. But to be assured he wouldn’t be munching weevils when he broke his fast, he said, “As you lust, my lady. Please direct me to the abbey.”
The moment she closed the door on their unexpected visitor, Genny collapsed against it, tears springing to her eyes.
Why on earth had she blurted that her parents were dead? Now the earl would learn the truth; she’d be evicted, and with nowhere to go…
Saint Bride and Columba preserve us.
“Oh dear God, Gen!” Her sister rushed to her side. “I thought I’d faint when I heard his voice.”
“You? I nearly expired on the threshold. Who, pray tell, is that man?” She’d never seen anyone so tall, so broad of shoulder or so muscled of limb in all her days. And the way he studied her with those pitch-black eyes! A dozen times she’d readied to scream, certain he was about to snatch her up by the hair and declare her an imposter. Certain, that was, until he began teasing her. As if she’d kiss her sheep good-bye. Well, mayhap Ol’ Duffy. She did cherish her old ram, stiff-legged and grumpy as he’d grown.
Greer wrung her hands. “’Twas Sir Britt MacKinnon, Captain of the King’s Guard. I can’t believe he’s here. What are we going to do, Genny?”
“I’ve yet had time to think. Have yet to get over our good fortune that he did not think to question who I was.” Or over her shock that she’d actually taunted so obviously lethal a man.
Greer cocked her head in question. “Why would he? We look alike.”
“But knowing that we do, wouldn’t he have asked to whom he spoke?” In response, Greer twisted the wide silver band she wore on her right index finger to cover a scar—a sure sign she’d done something wrong or was about to lie—then turned away. As she began rearranging the dandelions in the bowl, a painful realization finally dawned. “You never told them about me.”