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Authors: Lynsay Sands

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The Chase

BOOK: The Chase
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The Chase
The Chase

The Chase Sands, Lynsay

The Chase
Prologue

Seonaid laughed with exhilaration as she rode her mount through Dunbar's gates and across
the bailey. Bringing it to a halt at the steps to the keep, she leapt to the ground, then
turned to grin triumphantly at her two cousins as they rode up.

“Well, and doona ye look pleased with yerself?” Allistair commented as he dismounted. “I
was hoping that letting ye win would put a smile on yer face. Glad to see it worked.”

“Lettingme win?” Seonaid echoed with affront. “Ye ne'er did! I won fair and square and ye
ken it, Allistair Dunbar!”

“If you say so, love,” he quickly agreed.

Seonaid narrowed her eyes with irritation on his smug smile. He was trying to rile her up.
She knew he was. And it worked.

Growling, she launched herself on his back as he made to strut past her. Grateful for the
plaid braies she wore, she caught her legs around his waist and slung one arm over his
shoulder and down across his chest while she smacked the top of his blond head.

Seonaid was a tall woman, large enough that many men would have been overset by such an
attack, but Allistair came from the same stock, was taller than she, and built like a
bull. Chuckling with amusement, he caught her under her legs to keep her from slipping off
and turned to face his sister as she dismounted and moved to join them.

“You two are a right pair,” Aeldra said with amusement. "But you can't fool us with
claiming to have let her win to make her smile, Allie. She's been smiling ever since we
came up with a way to avoid the

Sherwell."

“Aye. So there!” Seonaid gave his long hair a tug.

“Hair pullin',” he snorted, bouncing her on his back. “That's a female's technique if ever
I saw one.” A shout came from the wall, past the gates they'd just ridden through, and he
paused to look.

Seonaid followed his gaze, her eyes widening as a wagon and at least twenty riders came
slowly into the bailey.

She frowned at the sight of her father at the head of the party, then spotted her brother
riding with his young wife, Iliana, mounted before him. The couple were keeping apace of
the open wagon. Seonaid could see at least one head poking out of the wagon, but couldn't
see much else.

“What's about?” Aeldra asked.

Unhooking her ankles, Seonaid patted Allistair on the arm to get him to release her, then
let her legs drop. Once on her feet, she moved around to the man's side to eye the riders.
“I doona ken. I dinna ken they'd left the castle.”

“I wonder where they are coming from,” Aeldra murmured.

Seonaid shook her head. “It couldna ha'e been far. We werena gone long and they were here
when we left.”

“They went to fetch Lady Wildwood,” explained the breathless maid who was now rushing down
the stairs toward them. Seonaid thought her name was Janna. She was one of the new women
Iliana had hired from the village.

“Lady Wildwood?”

“Lady Iliana's mother,” Janna explained, looking worried. “She fled that Greenweld fellow
that forced her to marry him and headed here, but it appears she fell ill or something,
for she made it as far as the border of Dunbar but no farther. A servant rode to the
castle to say a wagon would be needed to bring her the rest of the way. Lady Iliana and
Duncan headed right out with Lord Angus and twenty men to fetch them back.”

Seonaid nodded at this news, then turned back as the small party came to a halt before
them. She watched in silence as her brother lifted his wife off his mount. The moment her
feet hit the ground, Iliana was running around to the back of the wagon. Duncan was quick
to follow her. Seonaid saw her brother climb into the back of the wagon and stoop to pick
up what at first appeared to be a bundle of heavy cloth. It wasn't until he was back on
the ground and walking toward them that Seonaid could clearly see that his burden was a
woman. It was only her hair, trailing across his arm and toward the ground in lank salt
and pepper waves, that revealed her gender. There was no way to tell from her battered
features.

If Lady Wildwood normally looked anything like her lovely daughter, there was no sign of
that now. Her face was puffy and blotchy with bruises, her lip split, and her nose was
swollen so badly that Seonaid could only assume it was broken. From the way the woman was
whimpering and flinching with every careful step Duncan took, the rest of her body had not
faired any better. It must have been a hellish journey for her.

Seonaid's gaze slipped away from the woman's ravaged face to her brother's expression. Any
questions she might have asked him were immediately swallowed back. He was furious.
Curious now, Seonaid caught her father's arm as he made to follow Duncan up the stairs.
She held him back and waited a moment before asking quietly, “Janna said that was Iliana's
mother?”

“Aye.” His voice was sharp and short with the same anger Duncan was carrying.

“What happened to her?”

“Greenweld,” Angus said with disgust. “The English took his fists to her. She was forced
to flee for her life.”

“And came all the way here?” Seonaid asked with amazement, thinking that surely there was
somewhere closer in England that she might have sought sanctuary.

“We're kin now through Iliana. She knew we could keep her safe from that bastard husband
of hers, and wouldn't turn her back over to him when he comes to demand her back,” Angus
said grimly, then followed the rest of the party up the stairs and into the keep.

The bailey seemed unnaturally quiet once the doors had closed behind them.

“I'm thinkin' 'tis a shame ye werena leaving today,” Allistair commented quietly, drawing
Seonaid's attention away from the closed door.

“Aye,” Aeldra agreed. “Distracted as they are with Iliana's mother, they may no notice our
being gone for a bit.”

Seonaid nodded slowly in agreement, then shook her head. “Nay. We'll stick to the plan. We
ride out tomorrow. They most like still willna notice our absence fer a bit. Greenweld's
treatment of Lady Wildwood will have them all fired up for a few days.”

“Hmm.” Allistair scowled at the closed doors and shook his head. “Bloody English. Cowardly
bastards taking their fists to women.” He turned a hard look on Seonaid, his eyes burning.
“If Sherwell ever”

“He'll not,” Seonaid interrupted firmly.

“Aye.” Aeldra nudged her brother in an effort to jolly him out of his sudden dark mood.
“Seonaid'll no be here for him to treat in any way. We're seeing to that, if ye'll recall.”

“Aye.” Seonaid forced a smile. “He tarried too long. I'll no be sitting about here waiting
for him.”

That just seemed to irritate Allistair more. “Bloody idiot. He'll be sorry when he finally
sees ye and realizes what he's tarried so long to collect and thereby lost. He'll try to
woo ye then.”

“Oh, aye,” Seonaid said dryly and started to walk toward the practice area. “A Scottish
Amazon. Every Englishman wants one to wife.”

Allistair caught her arm and jerked her back around to face him. His expression was hard
and angry. “He should have claimed ye at least six years ago. And he wid ha'e too, if he'd
bothered to come see ye, if he'd kenned how beautiful ye are.”

Seonaid gave a slight shake of her head and tried to turn away, but he caught her by the
chin, holding her in place and forcing her to meet his gaze. “For ye are beautiful,
Seonaid. I ken how ye've suffered from his neglect. He humiliated ye with his refusal to
claim ye. I ken ye felt there must be something wrong with ye to make him tarry so. I've
watched ye; I've seen it pains ye.”

Seonaid dropped her eyes uncomfortably as the pain and embarrassment he spoke of
threatened to overwhelm her. She'd been betrothed to the Sherwell as a child. And
Allistair was right; the man should have come to claim her years ago. But he hadn't, and
with each passing year, her humiliation had grown. She'd hidden it carefully, pretending
she didn't care. Who wanted to be married anyway? Marriage would restrict the freedom she
enjoyed. She'd have to wear dresses rather than the braies she and Aeldra ran about in.
And no doubt he wouldn't wish her practicing with bow and swords in the bailey, or let her
ride into battle with the men. She'd scoffed at the idea of getting married to all who
would listen. But of course, Allistair and, no doubt, Aeldra too, hadn't been fooled.
They'd seen her pain and the uncertainty that Sherwell's neglect had raised in her. They'd
seen her confusion. Had he heard about her? Seen her from a distance without her realizing
it? Did he find her repulsive? Was that why he did not come?

Aye. Her outward confidence had hidden a bundle of pain, humiliation, and uncertainty. And
then she'd learned he was finally coming to claim her to wife... because the king had
ordered it so. Seonaid's pain and humiliation had bundled itself into rage. He was coming
to get her because the king ordered it so? To devil with that! She wanted no man who did
not want her, who had to be forced at the end of the king's sword.

And she'd be damned if she would sit about and wait for him like some dutiful dolt.

Taking a deep breath, she held it for a minute, then exhaled it slowly and forced a smile.
“Well, and mayhap that was so, but 'tisn't now. And I'll no be here when he finally does
make it here to claim me, will I? Aeldra and I ride out first thing on the morrow.”

When Allistair remained still, his expression grim, she cocked an eyebrow and grinned as
she asked, “Are ye sure ye'd no like to accompany us?”

For a moment she was afraid he wouldn't let go of the dark mood she was trying to banish,
but then he slowly released her arms and forced himself to relax. He even managed a slight
smile.

“To the abbey? Oh, aye,” he said dryly, then shook his head. “While the idea of being the
only man amongst so many women is charmingI'd no wish to have to don a nun's gown to do
so.” His smile widened when Seonaid and Aeldra both burst out laughing at the idea, then
he shook his head. “Nay, as sore as it'll make me heart to be without ye, I'll have to
stay here.”

“Oh, aye, sore me arse,” Seonaid teased. “No doubt ye'll be relieved to have some peace
from us.”

“Nay, I'll not,” he assured her solemnly. “I'll miss ye, that I can promise.”

Seonaid smiled as Allistair draped an arm around her shoulders and drew her into his side,
then grinned when he caught Aeldra with his other arm and drew her into a three-way hug,
adding, “You, on the other hand, I'll no miss at all.”

“Aye. Well, I won't be missing you either, brother,” Aeldra said dryly. “Hmm.” He started
to walk them toward the practice area. "Ye two look after each other, and stay out

of trouble."

“What kind of trouble can we get into in an abbey?” Seonaid asked with amusement. “I'm
more worried about ye. Without us here to distract ye, there's no end to the possible
trouble ye could get up to.”

“What does she look like?”

The Chase
Chapter One

Rolfe ignored the question as they crested the hill and Dunbar keep came into view. He
sighed his relief. The castle symbolized an end to the sorry task he'd been burdened with,
an end he would be happy to see. Though loyal to the king, he was beginning to think
Richard II was going out of his mind. Rolfe Kenwick, Baron of Kenwickshire, was no cupid;
and yet he had already been forced to arrange two weddings, was seeing to a third at the
moment, and no doubt would have another to see to on returning to court. If he returned to
court, he thought grimly. 'Twould serve Richard right if he did not. There were far better
things he could spend his time on than arranging weddings and chasing after unwilling
grooms. And this groom was definitely not eager.

It would have been smarter to simply send one of the king's messengers to Blake, ordering
him to travel to Dunbar. It certainly would have been easier. At least then he would not
have been forced to listen to Blake's constant protestations or to suffer his many delays.
He also would not have had to answer Blake's constant and repetitive questions as to the
fairness and disposition of his soon-to-be-bride, or lied in the matter of both.

Grimacing, Rolfe raised a hand in signal to the two long rows of men-at-arms at their
back. The king's banner was immediately raised higher to make it more visible to the men
guarding the wall.

“What does she look like?” Blake repeated, his gaze moving anxiously over the castle on
the horizon.

Rolfe finally turned to peer at the strong, blond warrior at his side. Blake Sherwell, the
heir to the Earl of Sherwell, one of the wealthiest lords in the kingdom. He was called
“the Angel” by the women at court. The name suited him. The man had been blessed with the
appearance of an angel; not the sweet innocence of a cherub, but the hard, lean, pure
looks of one of heaven's warriors. His eyes were as blue as the heavens themselves, his
nose acquiline, his face sharp and hard and his fair hair hanging to his shoulders in long
glistening golden locks. He was just over six feet in height, his shoulders wide and
muscular, his waist narrow, and his legs long and hard from years of hugging a horse. Even
Rolfe had to admit the other man's looks were stunning. Unfortunately, Blake had also been
blessed with a tongue as sweet as syrup; honeyed words dripped from his mouth like rain
drops off a rose petal, a skill he used to his advantage with the ladies. It was said he
could have talked Saint Agnes into his bed had he lived in her time, which was why the men
generally referred to him as “the devil's own.” Too many of them had wives who had proven
themselves susceptible to his charms.

“What does she look like?”

Rolfe put aside his thoughts at the repeated question. He opened his mouth to snap at
Blake, then caught the expression on the face of the over-large man riding a little behind
the warrior.

Little George was the giant's name. A friend and knight, he had decided to accompany Blake
on this journey. An odder pair could not be found; the two were as opposite as fire and
water. Where Blake

was blond, Little George was dark; where Blake was handsome, Little George had been cursed
with the face of a bulldog. But what the man lacked in looks, he made up for in strength.
The fellow was possessed of incredible height and bulk. He stood somewhere in the
neighborhood of six-foot-eleven and measured a good three and a half feet across at the
shoulders. He was a rock; silent, solid, and usually expressionless, which made the way he
was now rolling his eyes and shaking his jowled face particularly funny. It seemed he,
too, grew impatient with Blake's constant questioning on the appearance of his
soon-to-be-bride.

Regaining some of his patience, Rolfe turned back to the man beside him. “You have
askedand I have answeredthat question at least thirty times since leaving Castle Eberhart,
Blake.”

“And now I ask again,” the fair-haired man said grimly.

An exasperated tsking drew Rolfe's attention to the bishop, who rode at his other side.
The king had dragged the elderly prelate out of retirement to perform several weddings in
the recent past. The marriage between Blake Sherwell and Seonaid Dunbar was the third he'd
been called to officiate in as many months. If they ever got it done. Rolfe wasn't all
that sure that they would. It had been nothing but trouble from the start.

Although the betrothal had been contracted some twenty years earlier, no one seemed to
wish the wedding to take place.

While Seonaid's brother, Duncan, had forced the marriage with his demand that the king
finally see it take place, he'd made it obvious he'd prefer to see the betrothal broken
and his sister free to marry elsewhere. As for the father, Angus Dunbar had managed to
avoid him for days, then made him talk until he was blue in the face before agreeing to
the wedding. The moment he had, Rolfe had sent a message to the groom's father, the Earl
of Sherwell, informing him of the upcoming nuptials and the necessity of attending, then
he'd headed off to collect Blake. Rolfe could have simply sent a messenger to the son as
well, but he'd needed the break from the Dunbars.

Damn. Rolfe had almost pitied the poor man for marrying into the cantankerous bunchor at
least he had at the outset of their journey. However, after the way the fellow had
dillydallied using every excuse he could think of to delay on the journey here, then
pestered Rolfe throughout the entire week of the trip with his repetitive questions about
his betrothed's looks, intelligence, and nature, Rolfe was fair sick of the lot of them.
He could not wait to show them his backside on accomplishing the deed.

“Well?” Blake growled, reminding Rolfe of his question.

Giving a long-suffering sigh, he answered, “As I have told youat least fifty times since
starting our journeyshe is tall.”

“How tall?” “Mayhap a finger shorter than myself.” “And?”

“Lady Seonaid is well-formed, with long ebony hair, large blue eyes, a straight patrician
nose, high cheekbones, and fair, nearly flawless skin. She is attractive...” He hesitated,
debating whether it was time to warn the other man of the less than warm greeting he was
about to receive.

“Do I hear a howbeit in there?” Blake asked, drawing Rolfe from his thoughts. “Aye,” he
admitted, deciding if he were to warn him at all, the time was now. “Howbeit what?” the
warrior prompted, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “She is a bit rough around the edges.”

“Rough around the edges?” Blake echoed with alarm. “What mean you she is rough around the
edges?”

“Well...” Rolfe glanced at the bishop for assistance.

Bushy white eyebrows doing a little dance above gentle green eyes, Bishop Wykeham
considered the question briefly, then leaned forward to peer past Rolfe's bulk at the
groom. “Her mother died when she was young, leaving your betrothed to be raised by her
father and older brother. I fear she is a bit lacking in some of the softer refinements,”
he said delicately.

Blake was not fooled. The bishop was a master of understatement. If he said she was
lacking some softer refinements, she was most likely a barbarian. He turned on the younger
man accusingly. “You did not mention this afore, Kenwick!”

“Well, nay,” Rolfe allowed reluctantly. “Nay, I did not. I thought mayhap it would set you
to fretting, and there was no sense in doing that.”

“Damn!” Blake glared at Dunbar Castle as they approached. It appeared cold and unfriendly
to him. The Scots had not exactly rolled out the welcome, but then he had not expected
them to. They wanted the marriage no more than he did.

“ 'Tis not so bad, son,” the bishop soothed. “Seonaid is a bit rough and gruff, but rather
like your friend Amaury is. In fact, I would say she is as near a female version of that
fellow as 'tis possible to have.”

Amaury de Aneford was Blake's best friend and had been since they'd squired together as
children. They got on well and had even been business partners until Amaury's recent
marriage and rise in station to duke had forced him out of the warring business. Bishop
Wykeham thought he was offering a positive comparison to the young man. He thought wrong.

“B'gad,” Blake muttered in horror. In his mind's eye he was lifting his bride's marriage
veil and having to kiss a tall, black-haired version of his good friend. It was enough to
near knock him off his horse.

Shaking the image away, Blake tossed a glare in Little George's direction as he burst out
laughingno doubt under the influence of a not dissimilar vision. When his glare had little
effect, he slumped miserably in his saddle. He would dearly have loved to turn around and
head straight back to England. However, it was not an option. The blasted betrothal had
been negotiated when he was but a boy of ten and Lady Seonaid just four. His fatherthe
earlhad regretted doing so almost before the ink had dried on the scroll. He and the
Dunbaronce the best of friendshad suffered a falling out. They had not spoken to each
other since two weeks after completing the betrothal, some twenty years ago. Both had been
more than happy to forget all about the contract, but neither of them had been willing to
break it and forfeit the properties and dower they had put up against it. Their reluctance
had left the possibility of the king ordering the fulfillment of the contract if he so
wished. Unfortunately, he wished.

Blake could not turn and head back to England. His future was set. By noon on the morrow,
he would

be a married man.

Life was a trial, and what little freedom a man enjoyed was short-lived. He forced himself
to straighten in the saddle as he realized they were about to pass through the gates into
the bailey of Dunbar keep. He would present a strong, confident front to these people. His
pride insisted upon it.

Blake lifted his head and met the silent stares of the guards watching from the walls, but
soon found it difficult to keep his face expressionless when the men began shouting to
each other.

“Which one be he, diya think?” shouted one man.

“The poor wee blond one, I wager,” answered another, an older soldier. “He be a fair copy
of his faither.”

There was a brief silence as every eye examined him more thoroughly, then someone
commented, “A shame, that. I be thinkin' the dark braw one might have a chance, but the
wee one'll no last a day.”

“I say he'll no last half a day!” someone else shouted.

“Whit diya wager?”

Blake's expression hardened as the betting began. Indignity rose in him on a wave. Never
in his life had he been calledwee before. He was damned big next to the average man,
though he supposed he appeared smaller next to Little George. Still, he was of a size with
Rolfe and by no means small. He also didn't appreciate the fact that they doubted his
ability to handle one lone woman, taller than average or not. A glance at Rolfe and the
bishop showed both men looking uncomfortable as they avoided his eyes. Little George,
however, was looking a bit worried. It seemed he was letting the men on the wall unsettle
him.

Well, Blake had no intention of doing so. Stiffening his back a bit more, he led his horse
up to the keep's front steps. The absence of his bride, who should have been waiting on
the stairs to greet him, was an added insult. 'Twas damned rude, and he would be sure to
say so when he met the woman. He had just decided as much when the men in the bailey gave
up all pretense of working and began to gather around their party to stare. Being the
cynosure of all eyes was discomfiting, but their mocking smiles and open laughter were
unbearable.

Blake was relieved at the distraction when one of the large doors of the keep creaked
open. A young boy appeared at the top of the steps, turned to shout something back behind
him, then bolted down the stairs.

“Thank you, son.” Blake slid off his mount and smiled as the lad took the reins of his
mount. His smile faded, however, as he noted the mixture of pity and amusement on the
boy's face. The child retrieved the reins of Rolfe, the bishop, and Little George's horses
as well, then led them away.

Shifting uncomfortably, Blake raised an eyebrow in Rolfe's direction. The other man merely
shrugged uncertainly, but worry crossed his features before he turned to give instructions
to the soldiers escorting them.

Scowling, Blake turned to peer up the steps at the closed double doors of the keep. The
upcoming meeting was becoming more intimidating every moment, and he took the time to
mentally calm himself and gird his courage. Then he realized that he was allowing himself
to be unsettled by a meeting with a

mere female.

Blake paused and gave his head a shake. What the devil was he worried about? Women had
always responded well to him. He was considered quite attractive by the opposite sex. He
wouldn't be surprised if his soon-to-be-bride melted into a swoon at the very sight of
him. Her gratitude at being lucky enough to marry him would know no bounds, and her
apologies for not meeting him on his arrival would flow unending.

Being the Angel, he would gallantly forgive her; then they would be married. After which
he would have done with the business and head home. There was no law and no line in the
agreement stating he had to take her with him. Blake thought he would leave her here,
making regular if infrequent visits, until he had a home where he could put her and forget
her.

His usually high confidence restored, Blake smiled at an anxious Little George, then
jogged jauntily up the front steps to the keep doors. He pushed them open with a flourish,
then led his much slower and somewhat less confident companions into the keep. His steps
slowed when he spied the men seated at the trestle tables in the great hall. They were
wolfing down food and laughing with loud ribaldry. If he had thought the hundred or so men
guarding the wall and going about their business in the bailey were all Laird Dunbar
ruled, it seemed he had been sorely mistaken. There were at least as many men enjoying a
rest and repast inside. 'Twas a lot of men for such a small keep.

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