is our theme for this round of Medieval Monday!
Please welcome this week’s guest Cathy McCrae with her romance
The Highlander’s French Bride
Horses whinnied, sensing danger in the air, but the people about her remained silent, anticipation evident in the lines of their bodies and the expressions on their faces. To her left she glimpsed a man as he eased forward, wearing the Hospitaller colors of white cross on a black tunic. A furtive look on his face, his hand drifted to the sword at his belt.
Slipping her dagger from the pocket in her cloak, Melisende turned toward the man, hand fisted on the knife’s hilt, angled just below belt level. “This is their fight, not yours, monsieur knight,” she admonished softly. His head turned at her words, distaste on the sneer of his lips as he saw who gave him challenge.
Melisende nudged him with the tip of her dagger, glancing down as she did to ensure he understood her threat, offering him a chance to reconsider. “Should you wish to assist, you will do so as a eunuch.” The knight blanched and stepped a pace away. Giving her an angry look, he disappeared into the crowd.
A quick look showed Kinnon’s men scattered at the perimeter of the crowd, and Melisende took a deep breath, satisfied they would do their best to keep others from interfering. The ring of steel shifted her attention back to the combatants.
Jean-Luc circled Kinnon. Melisende cringed to see the subtle change in Kinnon’s balance as he favored his injured leg. His gaze bore into Jean-Luc as he deflected the knight’s attacks. Melisende fumed. Fall, Jean-Luc. Trip over your overwhelming ego and be done with this nonsense. Furious barking sounded from within the stables. Jean-Baptiste!
Jean-Luc lunged again, just inside Kinnon’s defensive circle. Kinnon parried the thrust, but did not advance. “Fight me!” Jean-Luc roared. “Let us see who is the better man.”
For a heartbeat, nothing happened. Jean-Luc’s guard relaxed, the line of his shoulders drooped slightly, allowing the tip of his sword to dip down. “Coward.”
Kinnon’s attack was a blur of motion, and Melisende gasped, afraid his leg would betray him. He beat Jean-Luc back, his sword hammering against the knight’s, the ring of the blows nearly one continuous flurry of sound. In an instant, Kinnon was inside Jean-Luc’s guard. Holding the knight’s sword to the side, braced against his own, he rammed Jean-Luc with an uppercut from his left fist that sent the knight sprawling. He landed on the ground amid the dust, sliding a few feet from the force of Kinnon’s blow. Still clutching his sword, Jean-Luc thrust it tip-down into the earth, using the hilt to brace himself as he struggled to rise.
A crash sounded from the stable as the upper half of a stall door burst open, slamming against the wall. Jean-Baptiste leapt through the opening, landing on the ground at a hard run. He skidded to a halt before Jean-Luc, teeth flashing in the early light as he fought against Kinnon’s sharp command to hold.
“Get up,” Kinnon barked at Jean-Luc.
Clearly stunned from the blow, the man levered himself up, but slipped, falling to one knee. Kinnon kicked the weapon from Jean-Luc’s hand and stood one foot on the blade to keep him from picking it up again. Using the tip of his sword, he forced Jean-Luc’s chin up.
“I can finish this here, or ye can admit ye are an arrogant bastard and hie yerself away to yer barracks. Either way, it ends now.” He slid the blade a bit forward, toward the tempting pulse in the knight’s throat.
Jean-Luc spat in the dirt. “Keep la prostituée,” he snarled.
With a forceful kick to the man’s chin, Kinnon laid Jean-Luc in the dirt. “I dinnae call that an apology.”
He turned with a slight wince, and strode to the edge of the crowd, snapping his fingers for the dog to follow. With a last sniff at the prone knight, Jean-Baptiste bounded after Kinnon as he pushed through the throng, a dark scowl on his face.
Melisende gathered her skirts and ran after him, catching him as the Scots converged on him. “You are injured!” she exclaimed, half-questioning him, half-chiding him for fighting on a leg that was a possible liability.
His furious gaze stopped her. “He was drunk!” He stopped and snapped at his men over his shoulder. “Get the horses.” Half of them barreled their way through the crowd, the rest formed a guard about him and Melisende. Jean-Baptiste eyed them warily, hackles up.
“Forgive me,” he said to Melisende. “I am not angry with ye. I did not provoke him, and he was rather uncomplimentary about ye.” He cast a look at the knight’s form still sprawled on the ground. “Mayhap he will wake a better man.”
Heir to a lairdship, Kinnon Macrory is driven to prove his worth by fighting the English on the battlefields of France. His dreams of heroic valor are destroyed by the realities of war—the atrocities visited by fellow soldiers on the very people he is sworn to protect. Three years in a French prison for a crime he did not commit leave Kinnon longing for the one thing of beauty in his war-torn life—a young woman of great kindness and wisdom named Melisende.
Melisende de la Roche struggles to stay one step ahead of soldiers who would imprison her for helping an injured Scotsman wrongly accused of treason. She finds refuge in her uncle’s shop—until a chance encounter sends her fleeing into the unknown once again, haunted by the beguiling friendship with the troubled young Scotsman she is certain she will never see again.
Determined to find the woman of his dreams, Kinnon returns to France, only to discover a trail of clues to Melisende’s whereabouts. Their reunion will open the doors to passion, but half-truths and lies from the past could destroy the one thing they both are willing to fight for—each other.