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Wednesday 8 April 2015

#LastCall You Found Me #historicalromance #ChapterTwo The Duke or the Laird, Who Will She Choose?

Sorry I'm late, but as promised here is chapter two from my historical romance You Found Me, to which I've asked for my rights back. (story here along with Chapter One, if you missed it)

Injured, lost and alone, what more could a girl ask for than to be rescued by a roguish Scottish Laird and a proper English Duke?

Marcus Sunderland, reared in England, groomed from birth to be the Duke of Carlton, is everything a proper English gentleman should be. Unwaveringly loyal to his liege and childhood playmate Queen Elnor, devoted to his people and his country.

Laird Niall Lummisden of Clan Logan in Lomond, Scotland, is everything a roguish Scottish Laird should be. Dedicated to his clan. Friendly, easygoing, born with confident swagger, he is the complete antithesis to his English half-brother Marcus.

As the brothers travel to a royal engagement they discover a woman left for dead in the road, beaten beyond recognition. It is decreed by his Queen that Marcus must take the stranger back to his estate to recover from her injuries. The unidentified woman not only survives the vicious attack but, as she begins to heal and communicate, struggling to recall her life before they found her, both men are intrigued and attracted to her.

The Duke and the Laird have survived a lifetime of cultural and political differences, but can the brothers survive her?

Chapter Two

Once during the journey, Marcus leaned into the carriage offering to take Niall’s place. His brother refused quickly and followed the rebuff with a sharp rejoinder not to delay for any reason, the anxiety in his voice indicative of the girl’s declining condition.
Marcus allowed his mind to wander, passing the miles in the saddle contemplating his half-brother in the coach behind him. Their lives though very different were forever intertwined by the mother they shared. Niall had come a long way from the skinny battered lad seeking sanctuary within Tranmere’s walls to the beloved leader he was to his clan today.
Being so young, Marcus didn’t even remember leaving England for Scotland when his mother had remarried after the death of his father. His stay in Scotland was short, since his mother died giving birth to Niall, while simultaneously the successor to the Dukedom back in England also passed, leaving Marcus the rightful heir to the title. He was returned to England into the care of his Uncle Robert; Marcus had no choice but to leave his baby brother behind. He’d always wondered about the boy and, at sixteen, had taken it upon himself to seek him out, leading his own men across the border into Scotland.
Marcus remembered how hospitable the Laird of Clan Logan had seemed, welcoming him into his hall while he spat vile insults at an eleven-year-old Niall. After that visit Niall and he had agreed that in future Niall should visit him at Tranmere, giving him a break from the misery at Logan. He fit in seamlessly at Tranmere, especially enjoying training on the field with Marcus’ men. Occasionally, the old Laird appeared and dragged the poor child back to Lomond, but more oft than not he left him to his own devices.
Marcus chuckled as he recalled how the young maids at Tranmere vied for the young Scot’s attention, especially as he grew. By the time he reached sixteen, he looked more a man than a boy, with his long black hair and dark eyes. With that and his easygoing confident swagger, he commanded attention. It didn’t seem to matter to the girls how badly injured he was from the old Laird’s latest beating. When he arrived, they were more than willing to nurse him back to health, and Niall absorbed the attention as any teenage lad would.
It was during one of Niall’s recuperative visits that Marcus introduced him to Nor, she being in residence when the lad arrived. She hated him on site, for no other reason than he was Scottish. Old hatreds ran deep. Niall goaded her at every turn. Marcus grinned again as he straightened in his saddle, remembering how Niall used to over-exaggerate his already heavy brogue so Nor couldn’t understand him, leaving her no alternative but to rely on Marcus to translate. But most of it he couldn’t repeat, not to a lady, most especially not to a princess.
As time passed even Nor could not ignore Niall’s budding good looks, and the one time she sought him out an inadvertent incident at sword-play left Niall in a pool of his own blood, his cheek halved. He was left with a pale jagged scar, a permanent reminder of the would-be queen. To this day neither Nor or Niall had offered him a decent explanation as to the altercation, and after that, the two were never in residence at the same time.
Marcus dragged his thoughts back to the present. Niall had not planned to accompany Marcus to the queen’s festival. They traveled together but planned to separate on the road, going to their respective destinations. The discovery of the young lady had altered their plans.
Tranmere came into view. The vastness of the keep with the roll of the bluff behind her, never ceased to make him proud. The keep was large, employing many of the villagers, and a crowd gathered as they rolled into the bailey, women rushing to greet their men.
Marcus gave orders to have the girl settled into the suite adjoining his. He thought it would be the best place for the women to tend her and for him to keep an eye on her. If, in fact, she survived the night.
Marcus dismounted, making his way over to the coach. Niall was already alighting, the strain and fatigue from the long trip evident in the harsh lines of tension on his face. 
He reached inside and carefully removed the battered limp form.
When Niall had her securely in his arms he looked at Marcus for direction.
“The Lady’s Chamber off my suite.”
Niall stalked into the keep.
Marcus made his way inside more slowly, giving orders to anyone who approached him. Water, linens, clothing, laudanum for the pain, and Hester. She would be the best nurse. She was more than his former nanny or mere housekeeper — more of a substitute mother for the one he’d lost.
By the time Marcus made his way into his suite he could hear the flurry of activity in the next room. He went to the door, leaning on the doorframe, taking in the scene before him.
Niall was on his knees beside the bed, speaking quietly to the girl and holding her hand. Hester was directing the maids, ripping sheets to make bandages, slings, and rags for removing the blood. They had done a poor job of caring for her in the village, Nor’s haste to have her away was all too apparent.
“Laird, you need to do it,” Hester’s tone was encouraging. “You are best qualified. Come, Niall,” she coaxed by using his given name. “Help her. Then let me do what I can to make her more comfortable. Then she can sleep and heal.”
“Hold her head still.” Marcus watched Niall stand, straddling the girl’s prone body.
“I’m so sorry, Sweet,” he whispered right before he snapped her nose back into place.
Hester took Niall by the shoulders, forcing him off the bed and directing him toward Marcus. “Get your brother a whisky, Your Grace, and I will do my best in here.
* * * *
It took two hours to bathe the girl, take inventory of her injuries, splint her broken arm, rinse the blood from her hair, and put her into a clean gown.
When the door to the Lady’s Chamber opened, Niall leapt to his feet, charging toward 
Hester in alarm. Marcus came to his feet more slowly.
Hester raised her hand to stop Niall.
“She’s resting, Laird. I have her drugged. She has been through a lot. I cannot believe she survived the trip.”
“Her injuries?” Marcus questioned.
“Her nose and arm are broken, as you know. I cannot be sure of the ribs. She seems to be breathing well, so I am thinking they are intact. Multiple cuts, bruising. She is swollen and raw from head to toe. The next few hours will determine her fate. She may be bleeding inside. I’ve no way of knowing.” She shrugged helplessly and added, “Her head may be addled.”
“Her head is no’ addled,” Niall said firmly. “She spoke ta me and made appropriate responses.”
Marcus steeled himself to ask the next question, wondering why he was having such a hard time forming the word in relation to this girl. “Has she been raped, Hester?”
“I know naught, Your Grace. She was so bloodied and bruised. I could determine if she has been, but I could not bring myself to do that to her after all this. ’Tis disgusting someone has beaten the poor woman many times before this incident. She has old healed scars all over her body. I believe this was meant to be her last and final beating. Whoever brutalized her meant to cause her death. They may have very well succeeded.”
Niall walked around the older woman and opened the door.
“Niall,” Hester called him by his given name and touched his arm.
“Let him go, Hester. ’Twill be better for both of them.” Marcus said. “Go rest yourself now. You’ve done all you can do for her this night, and I thank you.” He poured her a glass of brandy.
She downed it. “Thank you,” she said gratefully.
“Go rest.”
She made it to the door before he said softly, “Is there no hope?”
Hester shrugged helplessly and shook her head. “There’s always hope, Marcus,” she only called him that in private anymore. “I would not bet against the sheer will of that one to pull her through.” She flicked her thumb toward the door Niall had disappeared through. “Good night, Your Grace.”
Marcus looked in on his brother and his mysterious houseguest before he went to find his own rest. Niall was in the bed, with the woman swaddled in quilts. Her head and broken arm lay across his chest. It was highly improper for the pair of them to be left alone like that, but Marcus could not bring himself to intervene. And who knew if she would even be alive in the morning.
Marcus was about to close the door when he heard Niall’s whisper. “Her hair be dark. Would ya ’ave guessed tha’ when we found her?” Niall held a strand of her clean hair between his fingers.
Marcus thought it was a strange observation after all that had occurred in the last three days. Her hair had looked dark to him. But what other colour could it have seemed, saturated in her own blood and the filth from the road. Marcus blamed Niall’s fatigue for the odd comment. “No, I’d never have guessed.”
“She’s gonna live, Marcus, I feel it.”
Marcus knew it would be so, Niall’s “feelings” were never wrong. “Call out if you need anything. Good night.”
“G’nigh’, Brothermine.”

Still available for a limited time

Tune in Next Week and I'll pop up Chapter Three
Happy Reading!

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