06 May 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Blythe Gifford

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're celebrating with one of our contributors, Blythe Gifford, as her latest book hits the shelves. Blythe is the author of five medieval romances from Harlequin Historical. She specializes in characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. With HIS BORDER BRIDE she crosses the border and sets a story in Scotland for the first time, where the rules of chivalry don't always apply. Join us Sunday when Blythe will be here to answer questions and give away a signed copy!

Royal Rogue: Gavin Fitzjohn is the bastard son of an English prince and a Scotswoman. A rebel without a country, he has darkness in his soul.

Innocent Lady: Clare Carr, daughter of a Scottish border lord, can recite the laws of chivalry, and knows Gavin has broken every one.

Clare is gripped by desire for this royal rogue--could he be the one to unleash everything she has tried so hard to hide? These persuasive urges have stayed safely dormant--until now...

From Chapter One
On the Scottish Border, 1356

Morning's warmth had ebbed, and a chilly mist huddled in the valley and obscured the hills, reminding her of the dangers that lurked all around. The Inglis army might be far away, but the Inglis border was not.

That was her last thought before he rose out of the fog, a golden man on a black horse, like a spirit emerging from the mist.

A man without a banner.

A man without allegiance.

The hound barked, once, then growled, as if cowed.

The man's eyes grabbed hers. Blue they were, shading as a sky does in summer from pale to deepest azure. And behind the blue, something hot, like the sun.

Like fire.

Any words she might have said stuck in her throat.

Next to her, Euphemia gasped, then giggled. "Where are you going good sir?"

Clare glared at her. The girl was hopeless. They'd be lucky to get her married before she was with child.

"Anywhere that will have me." He answered Euphemia, but his eyes touched Clare.

Her cheeks burned.

Beside her, young Angus drew his dagger, the only weapon he was allowed. "I will defend the ladies."

"I'm sure you will." The stranger's smile, slow, insolent, was at odds with the intensity in his eyes. "That's a handsome dirk and I'm sure you could wield it well against me, but I would ask that you not to harm my horse."

His tone was oddly gentle. Where was his own squire? "Who's with you?"

"No one."

"A dangerous practice." Did he lie? An army could hide behind him in this mist. Her fault. She had ridden out alone and unarmed and put them all at risk. "Don't you know Edward's army still rides?"

He frowned. "Do they?"

His accent confused her. It held the burr of the land closer to the sea, but there was something else about it, difficult to place. Yet over the hill, in the next valley, each family's speech was different. He might be a Robson from the other side of the hill, scouting for one last raid before the spring, or loyal to one of the Teviotdale men who had thrown their lot with Edward. "You're not an Inglisman, are you?"

"I have blood as Scots as yours."

"And how do you know how Scots my blood is?"

"By the way you asked the question."

Did her speech sound so provincial to Alain? She winced. She wanted to impress the visiting French knight, not embarrass him. "What's your name, Scotsman?"

"Gavin." He paused. "Gavin Fitzjohn."

Some John's bastard, then. Even a bastard bore his father's arms, but this man carried no clue to his birth. No device on his shield, no surcoat. Just that unkempt armor that, without a squire's care, had darkened with rust spots.

No arms, no squire. Not of birth noble enough for true knighthood then.

"Are you a renegade?" On her wrist, Wee One bated, wings flapping wildly. Clare touched her fingers to the bird's soft breast feathers, seeking to calm them both.

His slow smile never wavered. "Just a tired and hungry man who needs a friendly bed." His eyes traveled over her, as if he were wondering how friendly her bed might be.

"Well, you'll not find one with us."

"I didn't ask. Yet."

Did he think she'd offered to be his bedmate? She should not be talking to such a man at all. "Well, if you do, I'll say you nae."

"I don't ask before I know whether I'm speaking to a friend or an enemy."

"And I don't answer before I know the same." Her voice had a wobble she had not intended.

"Are you a woman with enemies?"

"Three kings claim this land. We have more enemies than friends."

"Aye," he said, nodding, a frown carving lines in his face. He flexed his hand as if it itched to reach for his sword. "Who are yours?"

Her eyes clashed with his. She should have asked him first. Where was his loyalty? To the Balliol pretender, recently dethroned? To David the Bruce still held for ransom by the Inglis Edward? Perhaps he had lied about his blood and was Edward's man himself.

Next to her, the young girl sighed. "This is Mistress Clare and I'm Euphemia and I have nay enemies."

"Euphemia!" Was she batting her lashes? Yes, she was. "Do you want us to be killed?"

"He wouldn't do that. A knight is sworn to protect ladies, aren't you?" She fluttered her eyelashes at him, then turned to Clare. "Don't treat him as an unfriend."

"If I do, it's because I have a brain in my head."

If she kicked the horse into a gallop, could she outrun the man? Not with Angus and Euphemia in tow and Wee One on her wrist.

She lowered her voice to a whisper. "He looks like a dangerous ruffian, not a knight. He wears no markings and he's wearing dirty armor with rust spots!" The man, if he knew the maxims of chivalry, cared little for them.

Euphemia shrugged and turned to the man. "You're not dangerous and dirty, are you?"

Something darkened his face before a smile waved it away. "Well, that may depend on how you mean the words, but I'd say Mistress Clare has a gift for judging character."

Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ®and T are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. © 2010 Excerpt © Wendy Blythe Gifford 2010 Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.