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Authors: Claire Robyns

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Betrayed

BOOK: Betrayed
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Betrayed
By Claire Robyns

Two Feuding Families

Amber Jardin has no taste for the bitter feud started before her father’s banishment. But now that he’s passed, she’s had to return to Scotland and his barbaric people. After her bloodthirsty uncle kidnaps one of the family’s rivals, Amber is in turn captured by Krayne Johnstone, the enemy laird. Despite their enmity, their attraction is immediate—and unfortunate, as Amber has sworn to escape.

One Lusty Temptation

Krayne is amazed at the wildcat’s repeated attempts to flee. He should steel himself against her beguiling ways—yet with time, he is driven more witless with lust. When the ransom exchange fails and Krayne is left with Amber, he finds he cannot tolerate the thought of her with another man—and she cannot tolerate the thought of returning to her uncle’s home.

Will passion and love win out over mistrust and betrayal in time to prevent an all-out war?

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Acknowledgments

A warm thank you to Judy, Leonie and Liesel; you started this journey with me many years ago and your encouragement and support throughout mean everything to me. To all the lovely and talented ladies of Romance Writers of South Africa, you are my writing safe shelter.

Thank you to my wonderful editor, Melissa Johnson, for seeing the potential and gently shaping the rough edges.

A big thank you to the Carina Press team, for pulling everything together so quickly and wonderfully, and for creating such a warm and open atmosphere to work within.

To my husband and boys, thank you for your endless patience and support, for you enthusiasm and for always believing.

Dedication

For David, my rock in the real world.

Chapter 1

Amber sensed the tension as soon as she stepped into the charter room. The air was stifled with the macabre gloom of weapons that lined the walls, some stained red where blood had seeped into the wood. Precious little light filtered through the window slits, making the chamber that much darker and colder than any other in Spedlin Castle.

Her uncle had his back to her. William Jardin was a beast of a man, standing at least two heads above her. His plaid hung on a wide girth and looped around the thick mat of ginger hair covering his otherwise naked back.

She frowned when she saw Mary huddled in a shadowed corner, bony fingers clasped over her heart.

“Go,” Amber mouthed urgently, but the older woman seemed to be struck immobile, her eyes glassy with the fear that was a constant presence since they’d come to the Scottish borderland.

Three months past, and it felt like a lifetime. Cornwall and her father, and their pretty manor house tucked into the neat English countryside, were a memory that grew more elusive with each passing day.

Amber turned a hard stare on her uncle’s formidable back, watching as he traced a finger almost lovingly along the edge of a wooden spear. William’s coarse threats and raving had withered Mary into a fragile, timid ghost.

Lord, what I’d do for a whisper of the evil William Jardin accuses me of. I’d strike him down with a fire bolt from hell and flick his ashes with my toe.

Inserting herself between Mary and her uncle, Amber said boldly, “You summoned me?”

“Spittin’ ’ell, woman!” William swung his beefy frame around, slicing his finger open on the spear’s sharp tip as he did so. “Christ,” he growled, licking at the line of swelling blood as he set a scowling gaze on her. “Have ye no more sense than ta creep up on a mon?”

“It would seem not.” She lifted her chin and met his eyes.

“I’ll no take yer git,” he fumed, his chest puffing out at the storm building within. “Christ, yer a snake in mae lair and that be the truth of it.”

Amber shrugged carelessly, well accustomed to the black accusations.

“Where have ye bin?” demanded William.

Mary’s terrified gasp sent Amber a sharp warning.

“Brewing my potions at the Druid’s Hollow,” she claimed. The clump of willows down by the river were said to be an ancient druid meeting place. If her uncle believed she conversed with lingering spirits and solicited their aid in mixing evil spells into her herbal potions, she was more than willing to accommodate him. His ridiculous fear was her only weapon in this strange, barbaric land.

But he did not launch a tirade at her trickery with devil weeds. Instead he strode around Amber and yanked Mary from the shadows by the arm, shouting down from his monstrous height, “Yer a liar. Ye seek ta defend yer charge and make a fool of yer laird.”

“No…No—Oh, Lord Father above, forgive me—”

“That willna protect ye from me.” He swatted her fingers from their attempt to cross her heart. “’Tis clear the air reeks vile of plotting, no fer my benefit but fer that of my enemy.”

“Leave her be,” snapped Amber, pushing the quailing woman behind her.

“Wheesht, I’ll deal with ye.” William’s eyes, a similar green to her own, burned with hate as he fell back a step. “Ye, and the Johnstone scum ye be thick with.”

Amber glanced over her shoulder.
By God,
whispered her heart to Mary’s bent head,
what have you done?
Only Mary knew of her secret visits with Stivin at the abandoned forester’s hut.

A twenty-year-old feud tore through the bitter hearts of the two clans as surely as the Black Burn split Jardin land from Johnstone. But Stivin was no “gentle Johnstone,” the ironic name acclaimed widely by many a bard’s ferocious tale of blood and battle and vengeance. Stivin was truly gentle, a scholar, a poet, naught but a lad in truth with a soft sparkle in his heart that fed into laughing blue eyes.

And I am no more Jardin than I am Scots, and a name and half a bloodline does not change the fact.

“What devilry do ye conspire with yon vermin that festers on my borders?” William bellowed, bringing her attention forward again.

Amber thought quickly. William was cruel, twisted and demented. He’d banished her father and charged her mother with his childless condition.

You’re a hard, stubborn man, and for that sin you’ll die lonely and bitter with no kin to ease you into old age.
Her mother’s famed words were more a sad warning than a dark curse, but this had all occurred before Amber was born and she’d given up trying to convince her uncle otherwise.

“No devilry,” she said carefully. “Give me to Stivin Johnstone in marriage.”

“Betroth ye ta the scholar?” The thunderous roar echoed through the chamber as William charged Amber, grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her entire body as easily as a rag doll. “Give ye ta a half mon that ye can befuddle with yer bewitching ways?”

William spat his disgust upon the flagstones and released her with a shove. Amber stumbled back, then she jerked her head up, her chin edged high as she looked him in the eye.

“You blame my father for this wretched feud,” she challenged. “If it began with Papa breaking his betrothal to a Johnstone, then this is one sin within my power to undo. Giving me to Stivin Johnstone will unite the clans and make an ally of your enemy.”

As Amber spoke, doubts assailed her conscience. Stivin had a fancy for her, but she knew it went no deeper than the first flush of manhood. His dream was to go study in Edinburgh. He was the only friend she had since coming to Scotland and she was about to repay that by annexing his freedom.

And yet, she remembered bitterly, his family intended to turn him into a reiving Johnstone this very night. Her regular meeting with Stivin by the burn earlier that day had been rushed and argumentative.

“We ride for Spedlin tonight,” he’d told her in that serious way of his. “Keep well within the castle walls after sundown.”

“Oh, Stivin, no,” she’d cried. “You’re no borderer at heart.”

“I am a Johnstone.”

“What in heaven does your cousin hope to achieve by bloodying your hands?”

“There’ll be no blood and Krayne does not—”

“Krayne! The mighty Laird of Wamphray! How does he sleep at night, knowing he sends a boy to do his filthy deeds?”

When Stivin’s face turned red, Amber hastily amended, “I did not mean—”

“Did you not?” he said quietly. “Never mind, this matter is not up for discussion. I came to warn you, for I know you gather your precious herbs by moonlight.”

Her uncle’s coarse tongue jerked Amber back to the present.

“Those thievin’ bastards think ta restock their fields with Jardin cattle an’ I have the devil’s spawn inside my keep ta help them do it.” He lunged forward and brought his hand up, but caught himself before landing the blow. “Whatever Johnstone blood be spilled tonight be on yer head.”

Amber staggered backward at the horror of his words.

Dear Lord, William could not know of the Johnstone raid. He could not…She turned her back on him, rubbing a hand over her eyes and the sudden throbbing above her brow. How could he possibly have found out?

Slowly Amber removed her hand to stare at the frail woman she’d known all her life. Mary had been with her and Stivin down by the burn. Mary, who refused to leave her alone with a savage Johnstone for even a moment. Shades of frustration, sadness and despair turned Amber hot, cold and numb.

“Dinna fash, fer ye’ll have yer wedding bliss,” swore William in a scathing tone. “Ye’ll be the first ta know, aft I’ve decided between Wee Willy of Roucan and Johnny of Wath.”

The two noxious reivers with their foul-tongued, heavy-handed ways and twisted fornicating preferences were no strangers to Spedlin’s hall. But they were the least of Amber’s worries. She looked at her uncle, slowly shaking her head and feeling sick to her stomach.

That her loyalty lay other side the Black Burn in Johnstone territory bothered Amber not at all. She cared neither for the Johnstones nor the Jardin uncle whom she’d never met until three months ago. Only Stivin mattered.

She came alive when William called out to a nearby guard, “Take my niece up ta her chamber and see that she stays put.”

“Unhand me,” she demanded as the guard locked down both her arms. Her struggling came to naught. As she was dragged out, Amber flung back at her uncle, “If you think you’re cursed now, wait until the morrow.”

“But no fer long,” boomed William. “By God, I’ll keep ye under lock and key until yer wedding day.”

Inside her chamber, Amber finally calmed down. The raid would have been bad enough, now it would be a blood bath. Stivin would be riding into an ambush and she felt directly responsible.

Damn the mighty Laird of Wamphray and his lust for reiving.

Damn her uncle.

Standing with her back to the narrow window, she glanced around the tiny room. She’d come to Spedlin with no expectations, her world shrouded in mourning for her father. And even once she’d seen what manner of man her uncle was, she’d let the days slip by unattended, assumed things could not possibly get worse.

How wrong she’d been.

Amber hurried across the chamber to move the loose stone behind her bed. Hidden there was her leather pouch of herbs and roots. There was no wine for strewing, so she heated a small amount of water over the kindling flames in the hearth and added some flavouring herbs to cover the taste of poppy and crushed mandrake root. She set the brew aside to cool while she stitched the leather pouch into the inner seam of her gown.

It was time to leave this place. Once she’d intercepted Stivin and warned his reiving party, she’d steal back inside only to collect Mary. Somehow they’d find their way to England. She no longer felt bound by the oath she’d made at her dying father’s bedside. He could not have known of his brother’s unreasonable paranoia. Whatever promises had been made were lies; William had not hauled her from England and her home so that she could reclaim her Scottish heritage. William was after revenge, after a cure that was not hers to give.

The only curse on this clan was its laird.

William was blinded to the possibility that maybe God, and not her mother, had predestined him to die without issue.

 

Krayne Johnstone set one foot inside the vaulted hall of Stirling Castle and came to an abrupt halt. “The air reeks foul in this place.”

“’Tis no wonder, with all the maggot-infested rats swarming aboot,” retorted his cousin Adam, referring to the Littils, Armstrongs and Maxwells amongst the barons summoned to Stirling.

“I’d sooner skewer the lot than share a pot of ale.” Krayne knew he was not alone in sentiment. All clans present were tried and sworn enemies.

Adam shoved an elbow in his side. “Keep yerself ta me and shut off that hot temper. I dinna like this anymore than ye, but I’ll nae ignore our King Jamie and have his wrath scatter the Johnstones ta the wind with nae name nor land nor goods ta call their own.”

Jamie’s fancy tables and polished silver flagons were more likely to be scattered, thought Krayne as a ruckus broke out between Johnnie Armstrong of Kilnockie and Sir Alexander Irvine.

Fists came out and clans bounded together. No one dared to draw their sword. Pristine stewards drew up tight against the wall, clutching ledger books to their chests and gaping in horror. Jamie’s court was overrun with English, relics from his days in captivity and tagalongs that had followed his queen, Joan of Beaumont. They were a dour lot and unappreciative of the jolly Scottish ways.

Krayne folded his arms and put his back to the wall, settling in to watch the brawl.

King James I chose that moment to grace them with his presence. His flowing robes of crimson and ermine put shame to the travel-worn plaids of his hastily summoned barons. Tawny eyes, glowing a tiger’s fierce gold, appraised the scene and came to rest on the blood trickling from the Littil chief’s mouth. The fighting men froze midaction.

“Go clean yourself, man,” he ordered, “afore I lose all patience.”

Stewards scuttled from their corners, bodies untangled, and heads bowed down in shame.

Jamie’s look scorched one baron to the next.

“Right now he’s wishing he were back in England,” said Krayne in a low undertone.

“Jamie might hanker aft the well-ordered court of King Henry,” muttered Adam from barely moving lips, “but ne’er forget he was a prisoner, a king denied his country.”

“Well, he’s made up fer eighteen lost years of royal arrogance in the few months he’s been back.”

The young king swept his gaze from one end of the receiving hall to the other, and then came to a rest on Adam Johnstone, chief of the Annandale Johnstones and his appointed warden of the West Marches.

Jamie was not surprised to find the level-headed baron standing apart from the chaos. He nodded his gratification, then moved on to Krayne, Adam’s cousin and chosen heir to the chieftainship. Krayne was a laird in his own right, and stared him right back in the eye. Jamie couldn’t pull back from that penetrating gaze, feeling magnetised and trapped like a puny hare in the fierce show of loyalty and ancient-bred honour that radiated from the silvery grey stare of Wamphray’s laird.

By St Andrew’s Holy Rood, now…now when I am the prey, I understand why they call him the Grey Wolf.

Would that I, he sorely thought, command the honour of such a man.

Knowing he could scarce claim one baron in his entire kingdom who would not openly plot and defy him, the king waved one arm across the room and recited his new parliamentary laws in a booming voice that echoed within the stone walls.

“…that firm and sure peace…if any man presume to make war against another, he shall suffer the full penalties of the law…if any man presume to rebel against the king, he shall suffer pain of forfeiture of life, lands and goods…I will make the key keep the castle and the bracken bush keep the cow through all of Scotland…”

“Christ’s truth,” muttered Krayne beneath his breath. “I’ve Johnstone ships full of wool decorating the Solway while Jamie herds us here for naught but another lecture.”

BOOK: Betrayed
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