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Authors: The Heiress Bride

Susan Spencer Paul

BOOK: Susan Spencer Paul
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Hugh contemplated the situation across the room with growing anticipation.

His nightly brawl was going to come about rather easily tonight, it seemed. As he made his way through the crowd, Hugh kept his eyes on the girl, who was struggling with the biggest of the men facing her.

“Your pardon,” Hugh said politely, making a slight bow. “Is aught amiss?”

The big man surveyed Hugh’s muscular frame from head to foot, then replied, “Leave us be.”

Hugh smiled. “Good sir, you mistake me.” He pushed past them. “I addressed the lady.” He looked into her frightened face inquiringly. “Mistress,” he began, then stopped and held his breath. She was more beautiful than he had expected, more beautiful than any woman he had seen in a long time. Without thinking, Hugh reached up to pull the hood of her cloak away from her head, causing her wheat blond hair to spill free and removing the shadows that hid her eyes.. .sky blue eyes that gazed at him, filled with pleading.

“Please, sir,” she whispered, “I pray you, help me.”

With only those few words, falling from her pretty lips, what had begun as a game for Hugh became something deadly serious.

Dear Reader,

Sparks fly when a rogue knight who is running from his past rescues a strong-willed noblewoman who is running from her future in Susan Paul’s
The Heiress Bride.
We hope you enjoy this lively medieval romance, which is the second book in the author’s Bride Trilogy.

Love and loyalty clash in
Devil’s Dare
by Laurie Grant, a fast-paced Western about a sweet-talking cowboy and a straitlaced preacher’s daughter whom he mistakes for a soiled dove.

The Gambler’s Heart
is the third book in Gayle Wilson’s Heart Trilogy. This passionate Regency features a warscarred French gambler who acquires a wife as payment for a debt, and must learn to accept her love for him.

And our fourth selection for the month, Elizabeth Lane’s
Lydia,
is the touching story of a former Union spy who moves to Colorado and falls in love with the brother of a man who died as a result of her actions.

Whatever your taste in reading, we hope that Harlequin Historicals will keep you coming back for more. Please keep a lookout for all four titles, available wherever Harlequin books are sold.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to:

Harlequin Reader Service

U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269

Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

The Heiress Bride
Susan Paul

Books by Susan Paul

Harlequin Historicals

The Bride’s Portion
#266

The Heiress Bride
#301

SUSAN PAUL

lives in Duarte, California, with her husband, two young daughters, two dogs and two cats. She started her first novel when she was in her early teens, but eventually put it aside, unfinished, in favor of more important interests…such as boys. Now happily married and—somewhat—settled down, she’s returned to her love of the written word, and finds it much easier to finish the books she starts.

Chapter One

England, 1416

P
lease, my lady, you must awaken.”

The voice sounded so very far away, as though someone were calling to Rosaleen from outside her chamber window.

“My lady,” it pleaded again, more urgently, and Rosaleen felt a light, gentle touch on her cheek. As weary and stiff as she felt, she struggled to awaken, only to be greeted by sharp pains shooting from her head to her toes. An unbidden moan escaped her lips.

“Rosaleen,” another voice came, a deep, masculine, much hated voice, “either rouse yourself right quick or I’ll do it for
you.”

The words brought Rosaleen to life as nothing else could. She opened her eyes a crack to see Sir Anselm’s dark face close to her own. She was lying on her stomach in deference to the bruises and welts he had placed on her back only a few hours earlier, and when he reached out to take a fistful of her hair and lift her face off the feather mattress, Rosaleen cried out from the pain.

“Good,” Sir Anselm said with a chuckle, shaking her head a bit before releasing her. “She’s awake and looks to be in a more obedient mood than she was this morn.” With his fingertips, he pushed her head to one side, so that she was facing him, and met her weary gaze with his own amused one. “Are you not, Rosaleen? You will be a very obedient lady from now on. As meek and mild as a lamb.”

Rosaleen stared at her uncle with as much hatred as she thought any being could ever feel. The memories of him stripping her clothes from her back, of the shocking feeling of that first strike on her bare flesh, all came back to her. “I’ll not mar your face, Rosaleen,” he’d murmured when she had finally given way and stumbled to her knees. “You shall be as lovely on your wedding day as you have ever been.” It hadn’t been too much longer before his blows had felled her completely, sending her into a blissful oblivion.

Until now.

She didn’t answer him quickly enough, and his fingers bit into her hair again.

“Yes!” She gasped against the pain. “Yes!”

“Good girl.” He released her once more.

Rosaleen didn’t dare to move. “I hate you!” she whispered fiercely. “If my father were alive…”

“I know, Rosaleen, I know,” he said wearily. “You needn’t tell me again what your life would be like were either of your parents still alive. Truly, dearling, it is most ungrateful of you to persist with such talk.” He crossed his massive arms over his chest. “I’ve spoiled you these past many years, ‘tis clear, else you’d be more ready to show me your gratitude. This morn was regrettable, I grant, but you’ve no one to blame but yourself. You must learn to command that fierce temper of yours, my dear, for Simon of Denning will not find such as that acceptable in a wife,
and you would like his taming much less than mine, I vow.”

Rosaleen’s hands curled into fists.

“Simon of Denning is an animal! I’ll not wed with him.”

“You will.”

“Never!” she vowed. “You put me up for sale like a prize mare and he was naught but the highest bidder!”

“‘Struth, dearling,” Sir Anselm admitted, reaching down to squeeze the fine bones of Rosaleen’s chin between two large fingers. “But as you were mine to sell, there was no wrong done. The king himself wouldn’t dispute it.” His eyes glowed with amusement. “And ‘tis not my fault that God made you so very lovely and so very, very—” he laughed “—sellable. Sir Simon wants you, my beautiful girl, so much that he has willingly parted with all that was most valuable in your dowry in order to possess you. He shall have you, and I shall have Siere and all that goes with it. The title, the lands. Everything.”

“Siere is
mine!”
she said furiously. “Sir Simon has no right…you have no right to take it from me!”

“I have every right, Rosaleen. Never, ever think otherwise again.” He squeezed her chin harder, until tears welled in her eyes. “Now, you will do as I say, else I’ll treat you to more of what I gave you this morn. Sir Simon will be here to claim his bride before the day is out, and you must needs eat and bathe and prepare yourself to receive him. When the priest arrives I’ll fetch you. Until then you will behave yourself and think on how to best please your future husband and your loving uncle. Will you not, Rosaleen?”

Rosaleen closed her eyes. “Yes.”

“Good.” He rose. “I’ll leave you with Jeanne so that you may prepare.” He went to the door and opened it,
pausing only long enough to look at the maid, who stood trembling in a corner. “Make certain she is in her best looks, Jeanne, else you will know your master’s displeasure.”

“Y-yes, my lord.”

He closed the door, leaving them alone, and Rosaleen let out the long breath she had been holding. She tried to move, to push herself into a sitting position.

“Jeanne…please…”

Her maid was beside her in a moment, the girl’s face pale as she put her hands beneath Rosaleen’s shoulders to help her rise.

“Oh, my lady!” she cried, and burst into noisy tears just as Rosaleen finally sat up.

“Yes,” Rosaleen replied absently. She felt dizzy, weak, and put one hand up to her damp forehead in an effort to still its spinning while using the other to hold up the remnants of her dress. The open places on her back burned like fire, and she could feel the skin there stiffening with dried blood. “Jeanne,” she whispered, wishing that her sensitive maid would cease the wailing that only made her head pound all that much more, “I will need some salve, and some cloth to bind the wounds. I must put on clean clothing…something very plain and simple. And after that I will need you to help me. Jeanne—” she met the girl’s frightened gaze “—I am going to escape before my uncle can come to get me.” Reaching out, she gripped the maid’s arm.
“I must
escape. Do you understand? Will you help me? I promise that you shall not be suspected or punished.”

Wide-eyed, Jeanne shook her head. “Escape? But, my lady, how can you do so? Your uncle has placed guards at every door. You could not even step out of your own
chamber without being caught.
And…your
back, my lady…you could not get very far with it so.”

Rosaleen could hardly disagree with that, her body ached so badly, but nothing could make her stay at Siere and play a part in her own ruin. “That,” she stated firmly, “is my worry. All I need from you is a little help, and I shall do the rest. I swear that my uncle will never be able to suspect that you aided me, and even more so do I swear that he shall never have Siere. I would rather die than give it over to him, and I would rather kill myself with my own hands than marry Simon of Denning. Will you help me, Jeanne?”

“But where will you go, my lady? And how will you keep from being caught? You know full well that your uncle and Sir Simon will be after you before you can get very far. Oh, please, my lady,” Jeanne pleaded, wringing her small hands, “do not do this! I could not bear to see you beaten again at the hands of Sir Anselm! The next time he might kill you!”

Determination steeled Rosaleen in spite of the fear that threatened to overtake her. “I have said that I would rather die than wed Simon of Denning,” she replied sharply, “and so do I mean it! Somehow I will manage to keep from being caught.” She struggled to her feet, holding together the bits of what was once one of her most beautiful surcots. Jeanne helped her, but still Rosaleen could not hold back a groan of pain. Her breath came quickly and seemed to catch in her side. “And as to where I shall go,” she went on, forcing the few steps toward her mirrored table, “why, I shall go to King Henry. He must help me, for my father was a great favorite of his father’s as well as being the Earl of Siere, and for that alone he must lend me aid.” She collapsed into the chair set before the mirror. “I shall tell him what my uncle has done, that he has sought
to wed me against my will and to steal my rightful inheritance, even my title, from me.” She met her maid’s doubtful gaze in the dim reflection of the polished steel mirror. “He’ll help me, Jeanne,” she insisted. “He will.”

Jeanne didn’t believe that this was so, for the world was a man’s world, and King Henry was only a man.

Rosaleen understood the expression on Jeanne’s face, but she refused to be swayed by it.

“He
will
help me, I know he will. But you must help me first, else my fate is sealed here and now.”

Jeanne’s voice trembled as badly as her slight body. “Yes, my lady,” she whispered. “I will help you.”

“Damn you, Hugh! Must you win at every game?” Peter Brenten scowled and picked up the dice before him. “It’s ungodly, that’s what it is. We should have you tried for sorcery. God only knows what a blessing it would be for all the honest gambling men in England.”

The dark-haired man sitting across from him laughed, settling back in his chair and draining off a good part of his ale.

“Now, Peter, don’t go saying things that aren’t true.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You forget that you won against me only three days ago, at Newcombe.”

“At Newcombe!” Peter repeated. “Bah! We wagered for a mere draft of ale. Why is it that I always win whenever the stakes are little, while you win whenever it pleases you?” He tossed the dice on the table, saw the outcome and swore loudly, drawing more laughter from his friends.

“You’ll never learn, Pete, lad,” Stewart of Byrne said with a laugh. “I was well taught back in Rouen not to wager with Hugh Caldwell. I’ll never forget how he fleeced
me till I was naked as a babe. He has the devil’s own luck, don’t you, Hugh?”

Hugh paused only long enough in counting the money Peter had passed him to flash his companions a charming smile. “Friends, friends,” he said soothingly, “I deny such a charge. I have it on the very best authority that I am
al
ways
innocent in such matters as these.”

Stewart of Byrne laughed outright. “And what poor, misguided soul ever told you such a lie, man? ‘Twas certainly no man who has ever met you across a table.”

Grinning, Hugh pocketed his winnings in a leather pouch. “Nay, ‘twas my mother,” he admitted, gazing heavenward. “God bless her sweet soul.”

“Mmm,” Sir Gerald Walson intoned. “That may be as it is, Hugh, but your mother probably never had the pleasure of gambling with you. It’s a damned good thing we’ll be quit of one another on the morrow, else none of us but you would have a mite to call his own. Oh, hell. Hand me the dice, Peter. I’m ten kinds of fool but I’ll try my luck once more on our last night together. What odds will you give me, Caldwell?”

“The same as always, Gerry,” Hugh replied. “But first I want more ale. Gaming with you fellows is thirsty business, I vow. Here, girl!” he called into the smoky depths of the Red Fox Inn, but the serving maid who had hovered dutifully about them all night didn’t appear. A commotion at the far end of the room kept her, and everyone else in the tavern, occupied.

“What’s going on there?” Peter Brenten wondered aloud, straining to see better.

“It’s…a woman, I think,” Stewart of Byrne said, standing half out of his chair. “Mmm, covered down to her feet and arguing with the innkeeper. I wonder what she’s about.”

“A whore, mostlike,” Sir Gerald put in, making an experimental toss with the dice. “Though she must be an ugly one if she’s covered up.”

Hugh contemplated the situation across the room with growing anticipation. His nightly brawl was going to come about easily, it seemed.

“I rather think she’s trying to cover her beauty,” he said thoughtfully. “Our portly innkeeper is drooling over the sight of her. I’m sure she’s having none of that, though.” He laughed. “That old man is the last thing I’d want to take to bed, and that’s as sure as the new day dawning.”

“I don’t think the old man’s going to get her,” Stewart of Byrne said, sitting down again. “Her first customers for the night have just arrived. Three knights of the realm it seems, though she looks no happier with them than with the innkeeper.”

“I’d welcome having a woman tonight,” Peter Brenten said, his eyes wandering over the girl’s slim, cloaked figure. “I wonder how quick she is. Mayhap I’ll have a visit with her when she’s finished with those fellows.”

“Not with her, you won’t,” Hugh said, standing and placing a light hand on his sword. “It’s the tavern wench for you, Pete, old lad. This one’s mine.”

All three of his friends looked at him and groaned as one.

Peter Brenten put his head in his hands. “God’s toes, Hugh, not tonight.”

“Tonight of all nights!” Stewart of Byrne said angrily. “Can we not have a little peace on our last eve together?”

“One would think you’d have had enough troublemaking at the inn we destroyed last night,” Sir Gerald added, putting the dice aside with a look of regret. “And I’ll have you know that I don’t appreciate setting up against my fellow knights.”
Hugh Caldwell’s green eyes glittered mischievously. “Don’t start feeling badly for what you are, Gerry. You’re the only dubbed man I can tolerate next to my own brothers. And we did not destroy the White Bull last night,” he insisted. “We only…rearranged it.”

“Damn you, Hugh Caldwell!” Sir Gerald returned angrily, checking the readiness of his own sword. “What’s gone wrong with you? We haven’t had a night’s peace since setting foot in Britain three weeks past. You were never so troublesome in France.”

Hugh made no reply but kept his eyes on the girl, who was struggling with the biggest of the men facing her. Stewart had spoken true…the girl didn’t want these particular customers, which only made the matter of taking her for himself that much simpler. What the big fighting men would think, well…Hugh’s mouth relaxed into a confident smile.

The knight who held the girl didn’t turn when Hugh tapped his shoulder. It took a strong hand on his arm to make him look around.

“Your pardon,” Hugh said politely, making a slight bow. “Is aught amiss?”

The big man surveyed Hugh’s muscular frame from head to foot, then replied in a surly tone, “None that I can’t take care of myself.” The two knights behind him laughed. “Leave us be.”

Hugh smiled. “Good sir, you mistake me.” He pushed past him. “I addressed the lady.” He looked into her frightened face inquiringly. “Mistress,” he began, then stopped and held his breath. She was more beautiful than he had expected, more beautiful than any woman he’d seen in a long time. Not since Lillis had he met with such perfection. Without thinking, Hugh reached up to pull the hood of her cloak away from her head, causing her wheat
blond hair to spill free and removing the shadows that hid her eyes… sky blue eyes that gazed at him, pleadingly.

BOOK: Susan Spencer Paul
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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