Authors: Kira Morgan
NEW YORK BOSTON
“Look, Highlander,” she bit out, punctuating her words with jabs of the tankard. “I’m runnin’ a beer-wagon. I didn’t come
for that. And I certainly didn’t come for ye. Just because we shared a kiss or two—”
“Three,” Drew corrected.
“Ye shared three kisses?” one of the crowd asked.
“In some parts o’ the Highlands,” another onlooker said, “a kiss is as good as a betrothal, and three kisses—”
“Can ye not mind your own affairs? This isn’t the Highlands, and I’m not his damned betrothed. Aye, I kissed him thrice. But
I’ll bloody well ne’er do it again.”
There was a long silence, and Josselin lifted her chin.
Then someone from the back of the crowd said, “Five shillin’s says he gets a fourth kiss…”
For all the Kathy’s
who’ve made a difference in romance:
Kathleen Woodiwiss, Mother of Historicals
Kathryn Falk, Queen of Readers
Kate Duffy, Fearless Editor
Kathy Baker, Bookseller Extraordinaire
Kathe Robin, Gifted Reviewer
Kathleen Givens, Irreverent Angel
Special thanks to:
Frances Jalet-Miller and Helen Breitwieser
for their support
Lori Royal-Gordon and Karen Nesbitt
for sharing the adventure in Scotland
for taking a third wife
Secretary of Musselburgh Links
for his generosity, patience, and vivid tales
for his depth of expertise and his enthusiasm
James McAvoy and Reese Witherspoon
for their inspiration
Fair Maiden Lilliard
Lies under this stane
Little was her stature
But muckle was her fame
Upon the English loons
She laid monie thumps
An’ when her legs were cuttid off
She fought upon her stumps
—Inscription on gravestone
near Ancrum Moor,
in the Borders, Scotland
February 27, 1545
he three battle-weary Scots slogged across Ancrum Moor. In spite of the devastation surrounding them, their spirits were at
ease, for most of the blood spilled upon the sod was that of their English foes.
Earlier, when they’d beheld the scores of enemy troops marching toward them across the moor, the three comrades-in-arms had
exchanged grim farewells, sure ’twas their last day alive.
But to their amazement, the traitorous Border Scots who’d chosen to ally themselves with the English had finally come to their
senses. In the middle of the fighting, they’d heeded the plaintive call of the pipes and turned coat on their English captains,
assuring a Scots victory.
Now there was nothing to do but bury the dead, return home, and brace for the next skirmish. The English never tired of war,
it seemed, and the Borders bore the scars and scorched earth to prove it.
The three men crossed the trampled grass, solemnly
picking their way through the fallen, giving more than one mortally wounded English wretch a final blow of mercy with a misericordia.
Then Will paused over one of the dead bodies and frowned, poking it with the tip of his sword. He crouched down to take a
“Sweet Mary, Mother o’…” he breathed.
“What is it?” Angus grunted.
Will rolled the body over, and all three took a shocked step backward. They recognized the bonnie Scots lass from their village
of Selkirk. Her name was Lilliard. But her once-soft honey curls were caked with blood, and her rosy lips were ashen. One
fist still clutched her sword with a death grip, but she’d been unable to block the last fatal blow—a blade thrust beneath
her ribs that had stopped her heart.
“English devils!” spat Angus. “She was but a maid.”
Will shook his head. “Poor lass didn’t have a chance against them.”
“Wait.” Alasdair narrowed his keen eyes. “Who’d let a lass on the battleground?”
The question gave them all pause. No Scotsman worth his dirk would allow a helpless woman near a field of war.
Will rubbed his grizzled jaw. “Wasn’t her husband killed by the English?”
“Aye, I think so,” Angus said, “two years back, at Solway Moss.”
Alasdair nodded at the bloody linen shirt and gray jerkin draping her poor lifeless body. “Those are his clothes.”
“And his blade, no doubt,” Angus added. “She was likely lookin’ to avenge his murder.”
“But the poor lass had no idea o’ the danger,” said Will.
They stared in thoughtful silence for a while. Then Alasdair cleared his throat. “We should carry her home.”
When they lifted her small body to place her on a plaid, they discovered her arm was broken and both of her legs had been
gashed to the bone. The lass hadn’t gone down without a fight.
With their tragic burden, they traversed Ancrum Moor and continued several miles to Selkirk, to the isolated stone house where
the lass had lived.
As far as they recalled, Lilliard had no family in the village. The men didn’t even know her surname. Still, Alasdair could
read, and there might be some missive in the woman’s house that would help them locate her kin. If nothing else, they could
at least give a proper burial to the brave lass.
The cottage appeared empty. No one answered their knocks. When they pushed the door open, no fire burned on the hearth.
’Twasn’t until they lowered the maid’s broken body gently to the floor that they spied a small lass in the corner of the room,
a flaxen-haired beauty with wide green eyes and her thumb in her mouth.
They froze, speechless, as the tot studied them with stern appraisal, one by one. After a moment, she popped her thumb out
of her mouth and toddled forward a step, then stuttered back, plopping onto her bottom with a startled blink.
The men winced, expecting a piercing wail. Instead the lass opened her mouth and uttered one loud, distinct, emphatic word.
* * *
Edward Armstrong was halfway home before the wrenching sobs stopped racking his body. He’d fled through the forest, tears
streaming down his cheeks, unable to face his fellow soldiers. He didn’t know whether they’d won or lost the battle at Ancrum
Moor, and he didn’t care. He wasn’t fit to defend the English crown. Jesu—after what he’d done, he wasn’t fit to muck out
King Henry’s stables.
He leaned against an oak trunk, fighting a dizzying wave of nausea. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her face—her fair
cheeks, her innocent eyes, her pleading lips—just before …
He stumbled to his knees and retched into the bushes, but nothing could purge him of the hideous memory.
He hadn’t meant to hurt the lass. He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone. Violence was against his nature. But his brothers had expected
him to fight alongside them, and he’d joined the battle at their prodding.
They’d never told him he’d be killing women.
He shivered, then rose on shaky legs, wiping his damp brow with the back of one trembling hand.
He had to get home. Everything would be fine if he could just get back home.
God’s wounds! What had the lovely maid been doing there? Her angelic face didn’t belong in the midst of such a massacre.
When he’d first glimpsed the Scots lass wielding a blade, Edward’s instinct had been to retreat. He’d had little enough desire
to engage the Scots soldiers, none at all to battle a Scots
But then she’d turned a dewy, stunned gaze up to him,
and her lips had moved in silent prayer. As he lowered his eyes, he saw that her left arm hung limp at her side, and blood
had begun to soak the bottom of her oversized shirt like a rapidly blossoming scarlet rose.
She was too weak to lift her sword, and ’twas a miracle she was still standing, for he could see both thighs had been deeply
slashed by a blade. She was going to die—she was losing too much blood to survive.
Death would come slowly and painfully, and she seemed to know it. What she begged of him with her glance was mercy.
Without hesitation, he did what he thought was right. While the battle raged ruthlessly around them, he granted her the mercy
Only after he pulled the blade out of her frail chest and watched her sink lifelessly to the ground did he realize what he’d
done. God forgive him, he’d slain a woman.
He pressed his palms hard against his eyes, then ran a shaking hand back through his hair. He had to get home. He had to go
somewhere familiar, where he could remember the gentle soul he’d been and not the monster he’d become.
’Twas nightfall when Edward at last staggered through the door of his cottage, a safe three miles across the border.
His six-year-old son Andrew knew at once that something was wrong. The lad was perceptive and bright, as curious and interested
in life as Edward had been in his youth … before his brothers had pressured him into taking up the sword.
Andrew would grow to be a better man than he was. The lad was blessed not only with his departed mother’s
piercing blue eyes and rich brown hair, but also her brilliant mind, her even temper, her strength of character. Andrew would
succeed where his father had failed.
Edward knew what he had to do. He stirred the fire to a cheery blaze and lit all the candles in the room, chasing away the
dark shades that haunted him. Then he asked the lad to pour him ale while he fetched a scrap of parchment, ink, and a quill
from the cupboard.
The ale did its work. His hands stopped trembling, his stomach settled, and his mind cleared. He dragged a candle close and,
with a steady hand, scrawled out all of it in plain terms—his sin, his shame, his atonement.
When he was finished, a strange peace settled over him. He rolled up the parchment and gave it to Andrew, kissing his son’s
head and bidding him take the missive to his uncles’ house.