The Knight's Runaway Maiden

Publication: Harlequin/Mills and Boon (May 2021)

ISBN: 9781335506207

She hates all Warstones.

Can this one win her love? Balthus of Warstone secretly loved Séverine, even though she was unhappily married to his brute of a brother, then she fled six years ago. Now that her husband is dead, Balthus must find Séverine and reclaim her sons as his father’s heirs. Balthus’s desire is to claim her, too, and despite his battle-maimed arm and her distrust of his family, he’ll prove he’s a suitor worthy of such a courageous woman…

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CHAPTER 1

France, 1297
     ‘I must confess, Séverine, your living here like this was…unexpected.’
     Séverine of Warstone, once Séverine de Marteldois, the name she secretly still called herself, slowly stood from her hunched position stacking kindling and hoped the shadows in the woodcutter’s hut hid her reaction. It wasn’t the use of her true name that alerted her to a threat. N
or the fact that she had been identified despite her poor gown, the ash brushed through her tightly bound hair, and the vigilantly patted sheep dung around her ankles.
     No, her imminent endangerment came through the carefully cultivated construction of that sentence. Just a few words purposefully measured in a cadence to exploit fear. Ian of Warstone only used that tone of voice when he was about to strike. The tenor was different, but the control of it was the same, as was her reaction. That cold Warstone voice had always crystallised dread like hoarfrost along her spine.
     Only now it was terror that stopped her. Because of what she had done to him and his family. Because of the punishment that would be enacted, the torture, the public rebukes. The certain lifetime confinement.
     Because she had fled and disappeared from Ian of Warstone, her husband, and he would leave her with no merciful choices. Not that she expected any. After all, she’d stolen coin, priceless artefacts…his two only sons.
     Running and hiding, actions she had effectively done for almost six weary years, were futile with him this close. Ian of Warstone, the eldest child of one of the few families feared by monarchs, kingdoms and emperors, had found her. He’d seize her before she took one step away.
     Her life was forfeit, now she had to protect her sons. His sons. As long as no harm came to them, she would do whatever was necessary. In truth, she’d hidden from him far longer than she’d expected to. Long enough to avoid her sons from becoming the monster their father was. If fortune favoured her at all, it would always be so. For now, she would face the consequences. If only…
     But the slight uneven scrape of his boot against the ill-swept floor indicated that the figure behind her was not a figment of her nightmares.       However, his presence was curious. Warstones weren’t known for being quite so impulsive. Ian would have secured her by now. Never would he have announced himself first when there were two doors to the outside and one was near her. There was also something about his step that was odd. Every one of his family was uncommonly graceful. Her husband’s lone faltering step was almost alarming…but heartening. Was running possible? Perhaps he was injured and too slow to catch her. But…her children. She knew where they should be, but there was no certainty, and there was no risking them. Not ever, no matter what would happen to her.
     Thus, Séverine, with a bundle of sticks cradled in her arms, turned to face a fate that was never meant to be hers.

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