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Friday 5 April 2019

Historical Romance - The Devil Take You - Enjoy the First Chapter!

The Devil Take You 

I believe your stay in purgatory has only just begun...

Braelynn Galbraith wants peace for her beloved Scotland, marriage to her childhood sweetheart, and a house full of children. In that order. But evil incarnate, in the form of Gard Marschand, turns her life inside out and destroys all hope of a decent marriage.

Known in the Highlands as the legendary devil, Gard Marschand raids his way across Scotland and England amassing power and property in his malevolent wake. He will stop at nothing in his pursuit to regain what is lost— even conceal his true identity and associate with his enemies. His determination is all-consuming until he and his men lay siege to Ross-shire and one feisty Scottish lass obliterates his single-minded purpose.

Can Gard abandon his deep-seated need for revenge for a love that just might save his rotten soul? Or will he succumb to the demons that hound him and surrender to the devil within?

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Enjoy the Preface —

Ross-Shire, Scotland, April 1307 

Braelynn Galbraith ran as if the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels. This time they might well be. “Please God, if ya get me outta this one last scrape, I promise I will never pass another message to the rebels again.” 

Since Brae had taken up the cause she had been chased many times, yet she had always managed to avoid capture. By now she should have learned her lesson. This would be her final escapade one way or the other. The territory was becoming much too dangerous for such folly. 

The steady beat of hooves pounded in her ears as the unknown pursuers bore down on her. Brae ran for the cliffs. The strategy had worked in the past. 

Brae rounded the dune with her plaid bunched into her fists to keep her legs free. With an additional burst of speed born of pure fear, she veered for the bluff. By the time she reached the crags, more horsemen had appeared on the rock face. She skidded to a halt, caught between the two. She had to make a decision, and fast. 

Following her first instinct, she scurried over the rocks and ducked under the overhang, then slid through an arch that water and wind had eroded over time. 

Brae launched herself into the shadowy mouth of the first tunnel she came to. 

Molding herself against the cavern wall, she listened intently for the horsemen above while gulping much-needed air into her burning lungs. Though her chest heaved, she tried not to make a sound. 

Trembling in the darkness and unable to keep the memories at bay, Brae found her thoughts returning, as they often did, to the one other time she had nearly been detained. On that occasion, she had hidden in a narrow crevice. Not by design and quite by accident, she had fallen into it while fleeing from her would-be captors. 

Fortunately, the crag had been deep enough to swallow her whole. At the time, she had been certain she’d broken every bone in her body. Before she could take inventory of any injury, she’d heard the clip clop of a horse’s hooves dancing very close to the gap. Luckily, she had not been wedged so far down that she couldn’t see the surface. 

Holding her breath, she had hazarded a glance upward, only to meet the most ferocious set of black eyes she had ever encountered in her eighteen years. His predatory stare had chilled her. 

The stranger had been dressed severely, all in black. Everything about him was dark—his eyes, his hair and clothing, even the billowing overlong cloak that snapped like thunder in the wind. The fine whiskers covering his cheeks only added to his sinister air. For a split second, she had believed she was enduring her last moments. But to her utter shock, he had gestured to his men and reported the all-clear. As she’d stared up at him in shock and gratitude, he had directed his mount slowly away from her hiding place. 

Much later, to her horror, she had discovered he was none other than the man they called the devil. His misdeeds were legendary in the highlands. If the stories were true, he was a thief, a murderer, and a rapist. His innumerable offenses appeared to have no rhyme nor reason. One scheme seemed to benefit the English, the next gave advantage to the Scots. No one knew for certain where his loyalties lay. 

Since then, Brae had been plagued by his actions. Many a morning when between wakefulness and dreaming she roused to find his black eyes swimming before her. The devil stalked her dreams, taunting her. Why had he allowed her to escape and not dispatched her forthwith, as she knew he was capable? Whose side was he on? She spent hours thinking of possibilities. Was he—like so many of her countrymen, forced to make choices—pretending to conform to English rule while remaining true to Scotland in their hearts? Or had he merely considered her inconsequential. His mistake. 

Brae knew the messages she passed between the rebels not only diverted senseless slaughter and aided the efforts to establish Scottish independence, but also thwarted the English in their pursuit of domination. However, she was equally aware the missives she had traded had also caused harm and even death. And that was something she had to live with. She longed for the day when peace could be taken for granted. 

Snapping from her reverie, Brae realized there were no sounds from above save the wind and the waves crashing. 

Fairly confident she had lost her pursuers, Brae lifted the hem of her plaid and picked her way through the empty passageways. 

“Ahhh,” she sighed in relief and even allowed a smile. She lowered her guard for just a moment and in the next instance found herself pinned against the slimy rocks. An unknown assailant slapped his filthy hand over her mouth. 

Brae squirmed, while screaming into his smelly palm. 

The man spoke in rapid French. 

“I dinna understand ya,” she mumbled against his hand. She knew a bit of the language but could not speak fluently. 

“I will not hurt you, Mademoiselle,” he repeated in broken English. “That is, if you can get me out of this hellish maze.” 

Brae continued to struggle until he pressed his knee between her legs, then leaned his big body against her. Afraid of what else he intended, she stilled. Her heart pounded even more now than during the chase. 

“I may even reward you,” he added, slowly removing his hand from her mouth, yet he kept her in his hold. 

“Let me go,” Brae demanded, thrashing about. 

“Help me return to my men. I was separated from them and became lost in these passages.” 

“Why should I?” Brae’s voice shook. 

“Could you not use the reward and save yourself some bodily harm?” he threatened, shifting his leg still lodged in her skirts. 

“I dinna trust ya. Release me and I will get us both outta here.” 

“And I do not trust you, Mademoiselle. ‘Tis obvious you know these tunnels well. You could outmaneuver me and leave me here to die.” He eased his knee away. Still crowding her, he kept a firm hold of her forearm with one hand while he rooted in his pocket. He pulled out a sizable oval stone then held it aloft. “Yours.” Easing his grip, he stepped back. He lifted her hand and placed the cold mineral into her palm. “Help me safely rejoin my men and you may keep this bauble. Create a diversion so we can make a clean getaway, and that will bring you much more. ‘Tis very valuable.” 

Brae hesitated to accept anything from him, leery of what the more might entail once she led him to safety. Ross-shire had been under siege many times in the last few years. Living under an enemy’s rule had given Brae an extreme understanding of what men were about, especially in numbers. 

“Mademoiselle!” Her latest captor snapped her from her musings, reminding her of the tight spot she found herself in. 

She had no choice. “A’righ’. Follow me.” She pushed off from the rock wall. 

“We will hold onto each other,” he said, grasping her arm. “Until we reach our destination.” 

“Where are your men? Be they the ones above”—she pointed to the surface—”or the ones beyond?” 

“Above.” His eyebrows rose. 

“They were headed for the waterside o’ the cliffs,” Brae explained. “We are best to go this way.” 

Carefully she led him through the darkness, using the filtering light to guide the way. 

“What if your men are entangled in combat with the ones who are trackin’ me?” 

“They are not chasing you, Mademoiselle. ‘Tis I they pursue.” 

“So, I’m leadin’ ya to your death, then?” 

“You would not be so lucky. When they realize I’m not with my men, they will continue their search. I am the target, not my men.” 

“And what will happen when they find me with ya?” Her stomach cramped. 

“I will do my utmost to protect you.” 

She did not believe that boast, since he was the coward hiding in the caves. 

“Shhh,” Brae warned. “I hear voices up ahead.” 

Her kidnapper’s hand tightened on her forearm. 

“Stay here while I see who be aboot,” Brae whispered as she approached a shaft of daylight beaming through a cleft in the rock above. 

“Merci, Mademoiselle,” he said, relief evident in his voice. 

Cautiously, Brae boosted herself up, trying not to give their whereabouts away. 

“Are your men dressed in opulent English splendor?” Brae asked acerbically. 

“Oui.” He chuckled. “Be there a white horse with a black star on his left haunch?” 

“Aye,” she replied. 

“And the others? Giving chase?” 

“No sign.” She eased herself down. 

Immediately, the man took her place in the void. He took a moment, as if weighing his options. 

“Merci, Mademoiselle,” he said, athletically hiking himself to the surface. 

Brae blinked. In the darkness of the cave, she had been unable to see him clearly. His sweat-soaked shirt clung to his muscular upper body. 

He offered her his hand, which she declined. 

“Perhaps a wise choice, Mademoiselle,” he said, with an indulgent grin. “What is your name?” 

Uncertain she should tell him, she raked her lower lip. 

“I only ask so you might collect your reward in the future. One day you may be in need of my influence.” 

“Who are you?” she blurted. 

“Gaveston,” he said with a flourish, then he narrowed his gaze. 

Should I know the name? It did not ring any bells. 

“Galbraith,” she responded, in kind. 

With a chortle, he bowed. “Mademoiselle Galbraith. I am indebted to you.” 

Fleetingly, she thought he was quite handsome. 

“Do not forget, the gem will prove your identity. Return it to its true owner and you will be granted any boon you may ask, in payment for saving my life this day.” He shrugged. “Or perhaps if you find yourself in need of coin, the bauble will bring a tidy profit. You cannot lose here.” 

With a disreputable grin, he ran for the white horse, then vaulted onto its back with stealth and ease. 

Brae poked her head out from the rock face. “How will I ken the rightful owner?” 

“You will”—he said with certainty—”if, and when, the time comes.” 

How cryptic. “How am I to find ya? You’re fleein’?” 

“I will not be gone long. Perhaps even less time than some might wish. Bonne chance, Mademoiselle.” He kicked the horse into motion. “Keep up your end of the bargain now and create a diversion.” 

“And you, good luck.” Brae slid the cold stone into her bodice for safe keeping, which left her hands free. She heaved herself onto the flat rock above, then ran in the opposite direction Gaveston had ridden. It was not long before the other Englishmen caught sight of her and gave chase. Once again, her familiarity of the terrain served her well. Within minutes Brae was safely ensconced in the maze of passageways while the soldiers above shouted and searched. 

Having nothing but time while she waited for them to depart, she held the stone up to the light. The clear blue gem was hard and cold. “Beautiful,” she murmured. “Whatever it is.” 

The precious stone was oval in shape, except for one damaged edge. She ran her finger over the flaw, convinced it had been sanded smooth. 

“And what of the true owner?” she whispered. Gaveston had insinuated the person might be of some import. Yet how am I to know? She shrugged, dismissing it. Gaveston was most likely full of bunk, only concerned with saving his own skin. The bauble was almost certainly fake as well. She didn’t care. It was very pretty. She fitted it into her bodice. 

As dusk descended, Brae climbed stealthily from the depression. With no riders in sight, she scurried over the escarpment and headed toward Ross-shire. First, she would alert the vicar she had survived another mission.

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