Authors: Champion of Sherwood
Tags: #Romance, #Robin Hood, #sensual, #medieval, #Historical
Table of Contents
The Guardians of Sherwood Trilogy
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Champion of Sherwood
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Laura Strickland
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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First English Tea Rose Edition, 2014
Print ISBN 978-1-62830-179-3
Digital ISBN 978-1-62830-180-9
The Guardians of Sherwood Trilogy, Book Two
Published in the United States of America
For my husband, Paul,
who has always been my champion
DAUGHTER OF SHERWOOD
“Laura Strickland creates a world that not only draws you in, but she incorporates it so seamlessly that Sherwood is every bit as much a character in this story as Wren and Sparrow. Throw in a love triangle that has you flipping the pages, and you have the kind of book that keeps you awake well into the wee hours, and sighing with satisfaction when you've finished the very last page.”
~Nicole McCaffrey, author
The village of Oakham, Sherwood Forest
“Lark! Falcon! Will the two of you not give over with your nonsense and get out from under foot so I might get my work done?”
Half exasperated and half amused, Linnet directed the words, and a sharp glare, at the figures wrestling at her feet. “Grappling” might make a better description than “wrestling,” she acknowledged, for what the two of them were about.
The pair, so unevenly matched, contrasted almost ludicrously—one fair-haired and lithe, possessed of quick, easy strength, the other small, dark-headed, and a veritable fury of energetic intent. At the moment, the dark-headed combatant had rolled atop the other and looked to prove victorious. Even as Linnet scolded her sister, Lark dug her elbow into her opponent’s midsection, eliciting from him a gusty “Whoof!”
“That for you, Falcon Scarlet!” the victor crowed with satisfaction, sitting astride him the way a naughty lass might a recalcitrant pony. “I win.”
Linnet, arrested and distracted from her chores, narrowed her eyes. Did she detect something beyond mere rivalry in the scene? Did her sister, Lark, allow her triumphant body to cling a little too eagerly to that of the young man trapped beneath her?
Before Linnet could fairly make up her mind, Fal moved. With effortless strength he lifted Lark above him, swung her around, and slammed her against the earthen floor.
“No, mite, you have not won,” he cried with obvious enjoyment. “Nor will you, ever.”
Lark, furious, had no chance to reply as one of her flailing arms caught the wooden cupboard beside which she had been flung. Pots and crockery filled with the products of Linnet’s morning-long labors toppled and flew everywhere. Three cries of dismay arose, Linnet’s the loudest.
“Now look what you have done. How many times have I told the two of you to keep your wild antics out of doors?”
Her twin sister, Lark, sprang up from the mess apparently unharmed. She tossed Linnet a glare bright with defiance before she lit out and disappeared through the door of the cottage, which stood open to the summer air.
Lark’s foe, Falcon Scarlet, got up more slowly and shot Linnet an apologetic look.
“I am that sorry, Lin. The tiny hell-spawn pushed me to it. I was not thinking.”
“That tiny hell-spawn, as you call her, happens to be the person closest in the world to me. If she came from hell, so must I.” Standing amid the ruin of what had been an ordered room, Linnet fixed Falcon with a hard stare and raised an eyebrow. “Do you mean to say I am hell-spawned as well?”
“Never.” He leaned forward and planted a sweet kiss on her cheek. “You are heaven walking. Do not be angry with me.”
Linnet sighed. Despite the many and virtually continual reasons he gave her, she found it impossible to stay upset with Fal for long. Sizing him up frankly now, she doubted any woman with red blood in her veins could. Falcon Scarlet was far too charming for his own good, and far too attractive. Even she, who felt more like a sister to him than otherwise, had to admit it.
Take now, with his fair hair mussed from his tussle with Lark, his greenish-blue eyes dancing, and his white teeth gleaming in a mischievous smile. His long, lean body moved with strong grace, and she caught a glimpse of tanned skin where Lark had managed to rend the front of his tunic. Was he not any maid’s wild dream?
Well, perhaps not Linnet’s.
“It is just that your sister has a rare talent for aggravating me. You know what an even-tempered fellow I am, usually.”
Linnet had to admit that was so. And Lark did try the lad sorely.
“I hope you did not hurt her.”
Falcon snorted. “Injure that imp? Impossible. She is the toughest and most terrifying person I know.”
“Nay, Fal, your father is most terrifying.” Falcon’s father, Martin Scarlet—son of Will Scarlet, the legendary companion of Robin Hood—was a hard man, some might say devoid of mercy, and intimidating even to Linnet, who prided herself on her imperviousness to intimidation.
“Aye, well.” For an instant Fal’s sunny gaze clouded. “He has changed since Ma and Thrush died, and not for the better.”
Linnet nodded. Nearly a year had passed since the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men had come to Oakham looking for outlaws—or those harboring them—and burned half the dwellings to the ground with their inhabitants inside. Falcon’s mother, Sally, and his young sister, Thrush, had perished. And his father had become honed, sharper, fiercer, and more deadly.
Linnet supposed, given all the grief he carried, she should not deny Fal his moments of tomfoolery, yet she had just lost a full morning’s work. Among the three of them, all so close, she sometimes felt more a parent than a companion.
“Never mind,” Fal said now, stepping closer to her and unleashing his full charm. “As the hell-spawn has fled, I will stay and help you clean up. Am I not a good lad?”
“You are a wicked lad, as ever. What of the tinctures I boiled down and bottled? What am I to say to your friends and neighbors when they come to me for a cure?”
“Say it is all Falcon’s fault, and cure them with your beauty.” His eyes wooed her now. He had stepped far too close, so she could smell the sunshine on his hair. Give Falcon Scarlet a chance, Linnet admitted wryly, or even half a chance, and he would always take full advantage. Since time out of mind he had sued Linnet’s attention, and would not likely stop now.
“Run away with me, Lin,” he whispered seductively. “You know you want to, in your heart.” His gaze caressed her. “Or in some other place, still more interesting, about that lovely body.”
“I do not want to.” Linnet strove to sound stern.
“It is only a few days until midsummer,” he continued to persuade, “when lads and lasses get up to all sorts of wondrous wantonness.” He widened his eyes in mock innocence. “I know I am up to it. Whenever I am near you, I am up—”
Hastily, Linnet interrupted him. “As if I would be fool enough to go anywhere with you.”
He smiled persuasively. “Come, we will hare off to the depths of Sherwood and visit your parents.”
“Oh, aye?” Again, Linnet lifted a brow. Her mother and father, Wren and Sparrow, along with Martin Scarlet, were the guardians who held safe the magic of Sherwood. Her parents lived the life of mystics and virtual hermits in the depths of the forest. An ancient place, the heart of Sherwood felt like another world to Linnet, even though she and Lark had been born and had spent their early childhood there. Sherwood’s magic remained potent enough to touch them all. “Aye,” Falcon whispered now, his lips but a breath from hers. “And on the way we shall catch the Green Man’s ear and so pledge ourselves, and become man and wife.”
“I have no wish to wed with you,” Linnet said bluntly, striving to break the web of desire he wove so skillfully. Not that she had never thought about it. No woman could watch Falcon Scarlet draw a bow, move through the forest, or even ply a hoe without imagining what it would be like to be his. The lasses of Oakham followed him the way bees followed the scent of honeysuckle. Linnet had no idea how many of them had already tasted his sweetness.