Rowena had learned this in childhood when her knightly father had abandoned her. And now Sir Christian Greatham, afire with vows of vengeance, insisted she was heir to a powerful legacy. But she wanted nothing of titles and lands. What her heart desiredyet was forever deniedwas Christian!
Christian Greatham was determined to restore the daughter of The Dragon to her rightful position. Why else had he risked all to bring Rowena out of the wilds of Scotland? It couldn't be lovefor the headstrong beauty was suspicious of all things nobleespecially him!
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By Catherine Archer
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWith a frown of pity, Rowena looked down at the man who lay on the windswept beach. His face, which she imagined might normally be handsome enough, was gray and lifeless. His dark hair was matted with seaweed and sand. His garments were in tatters, though because the fabric was a rich, dark blue velvet, she knew they once had been fine.
He was indeed breathing, as young Padriac had said when he came bursting into her cottage with the wild tale of finding a stranger on the beach. But just.
Urgently Rowena turned to the boy, who looked up at her with wide, fawn-colored eyes, his round cheeks flushed with concern and excitement. She spoke with deliberate calm. "We must get him to my cottage."
But how? she wondered. The very reason Padriac had come for her was that all the men, including his own father, had already gone out in their fishing boats for the day. They were not due back for many hours.
The trail up to the village from the shore was steep and slippery. It would not be possible for Rowena and Padriac to move the man without assistance.
"We canna carry him." The round-faced child echoed her thoughts.
Again she looked down at the stranger. There was no telling how long he had been lying here, but surely it could only have beensince this very morn, for someone would have seen him the previous day. 'Twas a deserted stretch of coast indeed, with rocky cliffs jutting steeply above the narrow shoreline, but the village children did roam it searching for gulls' eggs, as Padriac was surely doing when he found the man.
Rowena said, "Go to Hagar and tell her to bring some of the women here to help us. He is a big man, but methinks together we can move him."
It was the way things were done in Ashcroft. The village being so remote and small, its occupants were more family than neighbors, for the most part. This fact had helped Rowena to get through the grief and loneliness of losing her mother some three years before.
As Padriac scampered off, Rowena felt a tug of melancholy. Her mother, sad and bitter as she was, had been the center of Rowena's world. She had hardly a clear memory of anything before the two of them had come here to Ashcroft, when Rowena was not quite four.
One of the two memories she did have was of looking up at a high stone wall. So vivid was this recollection that she could almost feel the rough, cool texture of the stone against her fingers. The other was less clear a vision, but more compelling. She believed it was of her father, for she had a sense of being held close to a broad strong chest and hearing the steady and comforting beat of a heart as she inhaled the combined scents of sweat and leather and fresh air. The warmth she felt at the recollection brought up such feelings of love and safety that she was sure it could only be of her father.
The fact that her mother had become so disturbed each time they'd spoken of him, of the fact that he had been a knight, and in the business of making war to protect lands, always kept Rowena from asking about it. Agitated and distraught, her mother would lament the fact that he would still be alive if he were a common man, concerned with no more than his livelihood and family. When Rowena had grown old enough to wonder why they had come to Scotland rather than go to other relatives upon his death, her mother had become hysterical, blurting out that her family were all dead and her husband's family did not want them. She had never been more than a servant in his home, she'd said, never his wife.
She had begged Rowena to let the past remain there. And she had seemed more disturbed by his position as a noble than by the one detail that troubled Rowena most: his failure to legitimate her.
Leave it in the past was what Rowena had done, though in her deepest heart she continued to wonder about the man who had fathered her. In spite of her own anger at his refusal to wed her mother, Rowena would have given much to know him. She wished to know if the memory that lived in her heart was truly of him. For it was the one thing she could not set aside. He may have been mistaken in his loyalties, may have failed to give her his name, but perhaps he had loved her to some extent.
That question would never be answered, for all who might have known had gone on to the next world, or were lost to her because of her illegitimacy.
Rowena looked down at the man before her. He might have someone, somewhere, who would grieve should he fail to return. Perhaps even nobles like her father, if his clothing was any indication. 'Haps it was this that had brought her these unwanted thoughts of things best left forgotten.
With determination, she knelt to run her sure hands over the man's large form. There was an unnatural coldness to his flesh that told her he had been exposed to the elements for too long.
She knew he must be warmed, and without delay. More than one death had been brought about by extended exposure to the cold.
Hurriedly she continued to run her hands over him, searching for injuries. She found nothing more than a prominent lump on the back of his head. And though she tried not to think on it as she slid her fingers over the smooth skin beneath his woolen tunic, she had an unaccustomed awareness that the man's body was hard and lean, the muscles well developed. Rowena felt an odd stirring, a sense of him as a man that was far different than what she usually experienced in her work as a healer.
Even as uncertainty coursed through her, he groaned and opened his eyes.
Starting, Rowena looked up at his face, into the most unusual blue eyes she had ever seen in her life. They were an oddly compelling shade, light and yet dusky at the same time, like periwinkle blossoms.
Rowena's heart thudded in her chest.
As she continued to return his gaze, she noted that although the man was looking directly at her, he did not appear to be focusing. He was seeing but not seeing, his expression troubled by some inner vision. Even as she noted his distress, she saw that it was softened by compassion and yearning.
He opened his pale lips, murmuring, "Rosalind." His lids drifted closed once more.
Rosalind? For a brief instant Rowena felt a stirring of familiarity in hearing that name. She quickly dismissed it. There was no one hereabouts named Rosalind.
Clearly this unknown woman meant something to the man with the unusual and compassionate blue eyes. What an enigma he was. Unless she was completely mistaken, her examination of that powerful, lean body told her he had been in the best of health and vigor ere he had washed up on their beach.
Though she wondered once again how he might have gotten here, the way to Ashcroft being arduous and seldom traveled, Rowena knew that would be determined only if the man regained consciousness. He could have fallen from a passing ship, but few ships sailed this close to their treacherous shores, for the sea was far too shallow for any vessel larger than a fishing boat.
Excerpted from Dragon's Daughter by Catherine Archer Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.