Her Irish Warrior
Her Irish Warrior
TORONTO • NEW YORK • LONDON
AMSTERDAM • PARIS • SYDNEY • HAMBURG
STOCKHOLM • ATHENS • TOKYO • MILAN • MADRID
PRAGUE • WARSAW • BUDAPEST • AUCKLAND
I would like to thank archaeologist Patrick Neary for teaching me the differences between Irish ring forts and Norman ring works, and for answering numerous questions about medieval Ireland. To MLFF, Tabbwriters, Fiona Lowe, Michelle Styles, Anna Campbell, Larissa Ione, Jillian Hart and Subcare at eHarlequin—I deeply appreciate your support during this journey. Special thanks to Allison Littlehales who helped me see the manuscript with fresh eyes and to my agent Carolyn Grayson for her patience. All of you helped me in many ways you didn’t realize.
And most of all, thank you to my editor, Joanne, for seeing potential and for helping me to become a better writer.
To my family and my husband, for always believing in me over the years and for your unfailing support.
Coming Next Month
The island of Erin, 1171 AD
G enevieve de Renalt’s breath burned in her lungs as she ran. Every muscle in her body cried out with exhaustion, but she refused to stop. With every step, freedom came a little closer. In the distance she heard hoofbeats approaching. He was coming for her.
I am such a fool, she thought. She needed a horse, supplies, and coins if she had any hope of success. But there had been no time. She had seen the opportunity to flee and seized it. Even if her flight was doomed to failure, she had to try.
This was her only chance to escape her betrothed. The thought of Sir Hugh Marstowe was like a dull knife against an open wound. For she had loved him once. And now she would do anything to escape him.
Hugh kept his horse at an easy trot. He was playing with her, like a falcon circling its prey. He knew he could catch her with no effort at all. Instead, he wanted her to anticipate him. To fear him.
He had controlled her for the past moon, deciding how she should behave as his future wife. She’d felt like a dog, cowering beneath his orders. Nothing she said or did was ever good enough for him. Her nerves tightened at the memory of his fists.
Loathing surged through her. By the saints, even if her strength failed her she had to leave. She stumbled through the forest, her sides aching, her body’s energy waning. Soon she would have to stop running. She prayed to God for a miracle, for a way to save herself from this nightmare. If she stayed any longer she feared she would become a shell of a woman, with no courage, no life left in her at all.
A patch of blackberry thorns slashed at her hands, the briars catching her cloak. The afternoon light had begun to fade, the twilight creeping steadily closer. Genevieve fought back tears of exhaustion, pulling at the briars until her hands were bloody.
‘Genevieve!’ Hugh called out. His voice sent a coil of dread inside her. He had drawn his horse to a stop at the edge of the woods. The sight of him made her stomach clench.
I won’t go back. Stubbornly, she pushed her way through the gnarled walnut trees until she reached the clearing. Frost coated the grasses, and she stumbled to her knees while climbing the slippery hillside.
A strange silence permeated the meadow. From her vantage point atop the hill, she caught a glimpse of movement. The dying winter grass revealed the presence of a man.
No—men, she realised. Irishmen, dressed in colours to blend in with their surroundings. Behind them, at the bottom of the hill, she saw a single rider. The warrior sat astride his horse, his cloak pinned with an iron brooch the size of her palm. He did not reach for the sword at his side, but his stance grew alert. A hood concealed his face, and a quiet confidence radiated from him.
Tall and broad-shouldered, he watched her. She could not tell if he was a nobleman or a soldier, but he carried himself like a king. With a silent gesture to his men, they scattered and disappeared behind another hill.
Her heart pounded, for he could strike her down with his sword. Nonetheless, she squared her shoulders and stared at the man. She walked towards him slowly, even as her brain warned her that warriors such as he did not treat women with mercy.
But he had a horse. A horse she needed if there was any chance of escaping Hugh.
The man’s gaze locked with hers. If she screamed, it would alert Hugh to their presence. Precious seconds remained, and soon Hugh would overtake her.
‘Please,’ she implored him. ‘I need your help.’ Her ragged voice sounded just above a whisper, and for a moment she wondered if the soldier had heard her. Upon his cloak she noticed a Celtic design. This time she repeated her request in Irish. The man’s posture changed, and after a moment that stretched into eternity he turned his horse away. Within seconds he disappeared behind a hill, along with Genevieve’s hope.
Bevan MacEgan cursed himself for his weakness. From the moment she spoke he had recognised the woman as a Norman. The familiar hatred had risen within him, only to be startled by the desire to help her.
She had awakened the ghost of a memory. With her face and dark hair, the first vision of her had evoked a nightmare he’d tried to forget for two long years. He closed his eyes, willing himself to block her out.
He’d seen her fleeing, long before he had given the order for his soldiers to hide among the hills. Her attacker did not intend