Taming His Rebel Lady
Taming His Rebel Lady
Can the heat of passion burn too bright?
His welcome comes at the point of a sword. It’s only after a fierce fight that Edwin discovers that underneath the banned tartan, the “boy” he’s just wounded is none other than the lady of the house.
If the crown thinks Lady Iona Cameron will allow an English soldier to turn her out of her own home, the crown is sadly mistaken. She never thought her desperate attempt to defy authority would send her to a traitor’s death—unless she agrees to marry Roxburgh.
Edwin quickly realizes he has his hands full trying to control the fiery, rebellious widow—and trying to control his own desire to fill his arms with her beautiful body. But he has a dark past that makes love not only impossible, but dangerous—especially if Iona manages to slip past his guard.
Copyright © 2015 Jane Godman
All rights reserved
He had been fighting for his life for the last ten minutes, yet in spite of this Edwin Roxburgh was still grudgingly able to admire the skill of his opponent. It was rare for him to find someone whose dexterity and determination matched his own. Now, after possibly the fiercest sword fight of his life, Edwin could finally sense his opponent weakening. Unable to see clearly in the darkness, he had assumed that his opponent was only a boy since he was a slender youth, whose head barely reached Edwin’s shoulder. It made this unprovoked attack all the more surprising.
Presumably the lad’s motive was robbery. Although they were far from the main highways and a lone rider with no luggage could hardly be expected to yield any great gain. Heaven help me, Edwin thought as he swung his sword in response to a forward thrust. I have been accosted by a robber who is stupid enough not to know that and also seems hell-bent on murdering me.
“Have done with this foolishness, lad.” The words came out between panting breaths. “Throw down your weapon. I’ve no wish to kill you.”
The response was a desperate lunge. His assailant’s sword point came within a whisper of Edwin’s chest, and he swore furiously. It was time to end this. The situation was not helped by the treacherous terrain on which they fought.
Earlier that day, Edwin had led his men through the dramatic valley of Glencoe in daylight. As darkness descended, he had left the soldiers to make camp, while he rode on ahead. The increasingly steeper ground had forced him to dismount, and he had been leading his horse up a craggy ridge of rocks known as the Devil’s Staircase when, from nowhere, a figure had hurled itself upon him from above. Cold steel had been pressed to his throat before he had been able to use the advantage of his superior size to throw his attacker to one side and draw his sword. Instead of running off, as he had expected, the boy had flung his dagger aside, and moonlight had glinted on his narrow sword as he took up a fencer’s stance. Edwin had gained a brief impression of burning hatred and anger before the lad had come at him in a whirl of movement.
Now, in a final, determined attempt to bring the encounter to an end before it resulted in either of them losing their lives, Edwin used his greater strength to drive his opponent back against the rocks. As the boy, sensing defeat, thrust wildly, Edwin feinted, and brought his sword arm up and across the boy’s right side.
The blade went neatly through the lad’s shirt and sliced across the flesh of his shoulder, piercing deep into his upper arm. It was a classic wound, intended to incapacitate, but not kill, an opponent. The lad’s blade went spinning out of his now-useless right hand, and with a hoarse cry of pain, he pitched face forward into Edwin’s arms.
Edwin dropped his sword and reached out instinctively to catch the unconscious form that fell toward him and to prevent his assailant from tumbling off the rocky ridge into oblivion. As he did, his outstretched hand caught the knitted bonnet on the lad’s head. To his horror, as the hat was swept away by his grasping fingers, a mass of soft, fragrant and unmistakably feminine curls tumbled free. Realisation hit him like a punch in the gut. His would-be murderer was not a lad at all. The person he had been fighting, and upon whom he had just inflicted a devastating stab wound, was a woman.
Blood, hot and sticky, covered his hands as he swung the unconscious girl up into his arms, carrying her to the edge of the ridge where the moonlight shone brighter. Ripping open the front of her linen shirt, he exposed the ugly wound his blade had made. A quick scan of her body also confirmed that which had, until now, seemed impossible. The flesh of her upper body gleamed pale in the silvery moonlight. Her unbound breasts and narrow waist left him with no further doubt about her gender. The outlawed tartan trews of the clansman encased her long, slim legs, and her discarded blue bonnet bore the Jacobite white cockade. Whoever she was, this girl had been dicing with death even before she had drawn her sword and challenged him.
Cursing under his breath, Edwin turned to look for his horse. The well-trained animal was waiting patiently exactly where he had been walking it when the girl had launched her assault. There was water and cloth in his saddlebags. He would tend to her injuries and then deal with the mystery of who she was. Rising to his feet, he went over to the horse to collect the items he needed.
When he returned the girl had gone.
The horse clattered into the stable yard, and Lady Iona Cameron slid unsteadily from the saddle. Her servants were well trained, and the two stable boys who had been on the lookout for her return hurried to assist her. They knew better than to make any comment about her appearance.
“Will we fetch Gordie to you, my lady?” One of them did feel compelled to ask, casting a look of concern at the bloodstains on her clothing.
“No, just tell him I’m home. He will know what to do.”
Drawing her tartan shawl closer about her, she saw her mount safely stabled and made her way slowly into the house. Once inside, she began a painstaking ascent of the grand staircase. Twice she was forced to pause while, holding on to the bannister, she fought off the waves of dizziness and nausea that threatened to overwhelm her. As her gaze drew level with the top stair, she realised her progress was being watched by two pairs of eyes. While the expression of Cù-sìth, her faithful Levrier hound, was nonjudgmental, the look on the face of her maid, Morag, was full of reproach.
Iona was anticipating a scolding from the woman who had been her servant since she was a girl. Reaching the top stair at last, she managed to avoid this outcome by promptly fainting at Morag’s feet. When she came to, she was lying on her own bed while Morag gave orders to the two footmen who had, presumably, carried her there.
“You heard me,” Morag was saying, in the manner of one speaking slowly for the benefit of those of limited understanding. “If anyone asks, Lady Iona did’nae leave the house this night. She went straight to bed after dinner with the headache.”
“I forgot to tell them at the stables to check my horse as well—” Iona’s voice came out on a croak, and she tried again. It worked better on the second attempt. “Make sure there are no bloodstains on Aoidh’s coat and that it does not look as though she has been out of her stall this night.”
“Aye, my lady, Gordie gave the same orders and ’tis already being done.” The servants bowed their way out of the room.
“What possessed ye?” Morag clucked her tongue as she cut the linen shirt away, exposing the gash that ran across the skin of Iona’s shoulder and ended in a deep stab wound to her upper arm.
“You already know the answer to that question.” Iona bit her lip as she glanced down at her torn flesh. It was even worse than she had imagined. “Now patch me up fast, for the love of God. He could be here at any minute.”
“Tell me ye didn’t try to take on the whole troop?”
That made Iona laugh, even though doing so caused her to gasp in pain. “Of course not! I was watching them as they made their way through the pass at Glencoe. He—” Her face hardened. “Roxburgh was on horseback, with his men marching behind. When the light faded, they made camp while he rode on. Presumably he intended to come straight here. It was an opportunity that was too good to miss.”
“But ye did miss. That much is obvious,” Morag said, as she swabbed the dried blood from around the wound.
“I nearly had him! If he had only been an inch or two shorter…and not quite so strong…”
“Keep still, my lady. ’Tis hard enough as it is to stem the bleeding, but if you keep agitating it’ll never stop. Ye look woeful pale.”
“Din’nae be afraid. I’m fine,” Iona assured her, although she felt anything but fine. The last thing she wanted was Morag fussing around her when Roxburgh arrived. “Just bind my arm up tight so that there is no chance of the wound starting to bleed again. We must hurry.”
As if on cue, the heavy bell that hung alongside the huge entrance doors of Cameron House rang its warning throughout the building. For a moment the two women stared at each other, frozen into immobility. The sound of voices in the hall below galvanised Morag into action. She dashed to the wardrobe and snatched out a gown of soft grey velvet. After throwing it onto the bed, she searched out shift, stockings, garters and shoes, issuing commands all the while.
“Get you out of that mannish garb at once. Gordie will keep our fine gentleman waiting for as long as it takes.”
“I can’nae move my arm,” Iona said, as if making an unexpected discovery.
“Well, ’tis hardly surprising, is it, when ye’ve had a sword thrust into it not two hours since? Ye’ll just have to plead illness or fatigue and get away from him as soon as ye can. Like as not he will’nae notice anything amiss. The English are known for their stupidity.”
Between them, they managed to get Iona out of her bloodstained trews and into her feminine clothing. Morag was brushing out the red-gold length of her mistress’s hair when there was a knock on the door.
“He is here, my lady.” Gordie entered in response to Iona’s instruction. The steward’s face was sombre.
“What is his mood?” Iona asked.
“English,” he replied, his face tightening with undisguised hatred.
“Has he mentioned any untoward incident on the road here?”
“No, my lady, although he does look a wee bit dishevelled.” A slight smile crossed his features. “Will I send to Lachlan and tell my laird Fraser that the Englishman has come?”
“No.” Iona remained determined. “He has enough to deal with. Lady Martha will be brought to bed to deliver the bairn any day now, and my brother is in constant negotiation with the commanders at Fort William to try and prevent any further damage to the clans.” She did not add that she had no desire to have her older brother discover the details of her nocturnal activities. Fraser Lachlan was a highlander through and through, but she wasn’t sure he would approve of his sister taking the law into her own hands. “Tell Sir Edwin I will be with him directly.”
Iona turned back to her mirror and allowed Morag to catch her hair up, pinning it loosely in place at each side with a jewelled comb.
“Too beautiful for English eyes,” the little maid said.
“Whisht now, lass,” Iona said softly. “Din’nae fret. We’re not done for yet. Not by a long way.”
Holding her injured arm close to her side, Lady Iona Cameron prepared to go downstairs to greet the man who was about to make her homeless.
Edwin was pleasantly surprised by the house. The exterior was as dour and unprepossessing as all Scots mansions tended to be. They were built, after all, with the intention of repelling invaders, rather than welcoming guests. Once inside, however, Cameron House was warm and bright. The rooms were well furnished and comfortable, and a blazing fire still burned in the great hall.
He knew very little about the previous owner. Sir Donald Cameron had been one of the older Jacobite rebels. Despite his advancing years, it was said he had fought bravely at Culloden. When he had been killed on the battlefield at Drumossie Muir, he left behind him a widow and no children. More had died than brave men on that never-to-be-forgotten April afternoon, when battalions of half-starved Scots clansmen suffered defeat at the hands of the English. The thousand-year-old highland-clan system had come to an end as well. And now the Jacobite traitors must continue to pay for their crimes, even beyond death. Sir Donald Cameron’s family were to be punished for his part in the rebellion by forfeiting their home.
“What of the widow?” he had asked when the deeds of the property were given to him by the Duke of Cumberland’s representative. It was, he was told, his reward for loyalty to the crown throughout his long service in the army.
The response had been a dismissive shrug. “Do with her what you will. She matters not.”
While he supposed that was true, it still didn’t sit comfortably with Edwin to be the person responsible for throwing a middle-aged woman—Scottish or not—out of her home without a penny to her name. Frowning as he stood in the great hall of Cameron House, he stirred the logs in the huge fireplace with the toe of his boot. Grimacing, he rolled his shoulders in an attempt to relieve some of the ache. Whoever she was, that bloody girl who had attacked him on the mountainside had worn him out. He had spent a good hour searching the area around the Devil’s Staircase in the darkness, before finally giving up and continuing on his way. She had disappeared without trace.
He doubted he would even mention the incident to his men or to the English commanders at Fort William. Who would believe his story of a mere girl wielding a sword like a demon, sustaining a crippling injury and vanishing into the night? Edwin had no desire to be a target for his fellow soldiers’ ridicule over the next few weeks. The strange encounter would be best kept secret.
A faint sound made him glance up. A young woman was standing midway down the wide, central staircase looking at him, and he wondered how long she had been there. A beautiful white hound clung about her skirts, and they were both so still a lesser man might have imagined himself watched by spectres. The wall sconces that must have brightened the scene earlier had been extinguished now, so her features were in shadow. Edwin was at a disadvantage since his own upturned face was fully revealed to her gaze, and he felt the full weight of her emotion bearing down upon him. It was a sensation that lasted only a minute, then a log spluttered in the grate behind him, breaking the spell.
The woman descended the rest of the stairs, making her way slowly toward Edwin. She was tall and slender with copper-bright hair and eyes that were an unusual light hazel colour. Her skin was pale and lightly freckled, and his gaze was drawn to the full, sensual generosity of her mouth. Her gown was grey and trimmed with black lace, denoting mourning. He frowned. The information he had been given had stated that Sir Donald and Lady Cameron had no children. She couldn’t be their daughter, yet, since she wore mourning, she was clearly a close family member. So who was she?
“Your pardon.” He bowed slightly. “I know the hour is late, but I seek Lady Cameron.”
“I am she.” When he looked blank, she clarified. “I am Lady Iona Cameron. Sir Donald was my husband.”
A dozen thoughts whirled through his head at her words. One, perhaps the most incongruous, persisted long after the others had faded. Sir Donald, he decided, had been a lucky old bastard. He must have died with a smile on his face. Conscious that his thoughts were out of place and that he was the one staring at her now, he collected himself and stepped forward.
“Your pardon, my lady. I am Sir Edwin Roxburgh—”
“I know who you are. I received the orders of forfeiture a week since.” Her voice was low and husky, the Scots accent pronounced.
He bowed again. “I am at your service.”
“Is that what ye always say?” A wry smile flickered across her face. “When you throw people out of their homes, you tell them first that you are ‘at their service’?”
For a moment Edwin was rendered speechless. “I can assure you, my lady—”
But she had moved away from him toward the fire, effectively silencing him. He noticed that her movements were oddly stilted, her back was unnaturally straight and she held both arms at an awkward, stiff angle at her sides. Iona took a seat at one side of the fireplace, and as he watched her, she briefly rested her head in one hand. When she looked up again, he saw that her face had paled to the point of translucence, and the hand, as she lowered it, was shaking violently. He decided she was less in command of her emotions than she would have him believe.
“May I?” He indicated the chair opposite her.
“’Tis your home now, Sir Edwin.” Although the pallor remained, she seemed to have regained her former composure.
He sighed. “Contrary to what you may have heard, Lady Iona, I’ve no desire to evict you from this house.”
She raised her brows. “Ye’d have me believe that such a thing as a chivalrous Englishman exists, Sir Edwin? Ye’ll forgive my incredulity, but I’m a highlander. I’ve seen the murders, thefts and rapes that have been wrought upon my people since Culloden. I’m mightily surprised, in fact, that we’ve been together two minutes and my skirts are not yet up around my ears.”
Her unexpected coarseness shocked him. It also excited him. He knew she must have seen the flash of desire that he felt briefly light his eyes before he got it back under control. This night was not going quite the way he had planned it.
“I am sorry to be a disappointment to you, my lady.”
She laughed and it was a genuine, musical sound. “I’m sure you would be. We highlanders have very high standards.” She looked him up and down. “In everything.”
“Is that a challenge?” The words were out before the thought was even fully formed. What was happening to him? It hardly suited his code of chivalry to be considering the seduction of a woman whose home he had just commandeered. And yet…now that the idea was in his mind, nothing else seemed important. Hard—very hard—on the heels of that thought, a sudden erection strained against the tight material of his riding breeches. He was grateful that he had not removed his cloak since its folds hid his body from her gaze. He could not remember his body reacting so instantly to a woman since he had been a schoolboy. It was as if she had cast a sensual spell on him. He wondered how the hell she had survived to adulthood without being burned at the stake.
“Good God, no! Let us stop fencing with each other, Sir Edwin—” it seemed a strange phrase for a woman to use, “—and you can tell me when you wish me and my servants to leave.”
“I see no reason for haste in the matter, Lady Iona. We can discuss this further over the coming days. My men will arrive tomorrow, and I will lead them on to Fort William and discover there what our orders will be. In the meantime, if a room can be made ready for me, I will trouble you no more tonight.”
“I will send for Gordie, my steward,” Iona said.
Although the bell cord was easily within reach of her right hand, she made no move to pull it. Instead, she sat immobile for a moment or two with her eyes fixed on his face. Edwin regarded her in consternation. What on earth could she be waiting for? Biting her lip, she rose unsteadily to her feet. He wondered if she might have fortified her nerves with whisky and perhaps overdone it. It seemed the only explanation for her strange behaviour. Still keeping her right arm clamped to her side in that curious way, she turned her body so that she could use her left hand to ring for the steward. Edwin watched this manoeuvre with increasing astonishment. Once she had finished, Iona leaned against the back of the chair, breathing heavily.
“Are you quite well, my lady?” he asked, perturbed at the expression on her face.
She was looking at him as though he were a tiger preparing to pounce. He glanced down. The right sleeve of her gown was gradually darkening with blood, and one or two vivid droplets ran down her wrist and over the back of her hand. They splashed bright red and damning onto the stone flags of the floor. Realisation and fury dawned on Edwin at the same time.