A betrothal neither wants . . . a passion neither can resist.
When the English murder Lady Katherine Calbraith’s family, she refuses their demands to wed an English noble to retain her home. Avalon Castle is her birthright, one she’s determined to keep. After Katherine’s daring escape, she’s stunned when Scotland’s king agrees to allow her to return to Avalon, but under the protection of Sir Stephan MacQuistan . . . as the knight’s wife. To reclaim her heritage, Katherine agrees. She accepts her married fate, certain that regardless of the caliber of the man, Stephan may earn her trust, but he’ll never win her love.
One of the Knights Templar, Stephan desires no bride, only vengeance for a family lost and a legacy stolen. A profound twist of fate tears apart the Brotherhood he loves, but offers him an opportunity to reclaim his legacy—Avalon Castle. Except to procure his childhood home along with a place to store Templar treasures, he must wed the unsuspecting daughter of the man who killed his family. To settle old scores, Stephan agrees, aware Katherine is merely a means to an end.
The passion that arises between them is as dangerous as it is unexpected. When mortal enemies find themselves locked in love’s embrace, Stephan and Katherine must reconsider their mission and everything they once thought to be true . . .
Praise for the novels of Diana Cosby
“Cosby gives you it all—passion, danger, lush history and a touch of magic. Excellent reading.”—Hannah Howell, New York Times bestselling author
“A sexy new voice in historical romance. Scottish historicals have a bright new star."—Sandra Hill, USA Today bestselling author
“Diana Cosby writes wonderful historical romance!”—Susan King
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The Forbidden Series
By Diana Cosby
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Diana Cosby
All rights reserved.
Scotland, September 1307
Red-orange flames crackled within a massive stone fireplace as sunlight poured through the arched windows of the throne room in a play of shadows and light. Golden beams spilled through the dust motes, illuminating the plum carpet leading to the dais, the intricately carved columns behind the platform, and the stone lions positioned discreetly on either side of the throne.
Seated on the ornate chair, Robert the Bruce accepted the writ. His brows furrowed, and he broke open the Grand Master's seal.
Paces away, keeping his expression void of emotion, Sir Stephan MacQuistan tamped his anger as Scotland's sovereign scanned the document. A missive he'd carried at a devil's pace to deliver; a task he damned with each breath.
The king's fingers tightened on the parchment. Face ashen, he leveled his gaze on Stephan. "Bloody damn!"
With a hard swallow, Stephan fought to relax his taut muscles. However much he craved vengeance, his orders were clear: deliver the writ, answer any questions, and await the King of Scotland's command.
With another curse, the Bruce shoved to his feet. He stormed to a side table and seized an elegant glass carafe. Dark amber liquid sloshed inside. Mouth grim, he filled a pair of metal goblets inlaid with an intricate Celtic weave, a ruby centered in between the breaks of the design.
The king crossed to Stephan and handed him a cup. He raised his own in silent salute. "For our Knights Templar brothers, may God bless each one of them. And for his atrocities ordered, may King Philip burn in Hades!" He downed the brew in one long pull.
Stephan followed, recognizing the taste of uisge beatha, the spirit distilled by the Border Abbey's monks, welcoming its potent slide.
Eyes hard, the Bruce lowered his goblet. "How many Knights Templar escaped with you to Urquhart Castle?"
"Twenty-seven, Your Majesty, along with five galleys and their crews."
"The rest of the Templars and their fleet are headed south?"
Stephan's fingers tightened around the cool metal. "Aye, to Portugal."
His gaze shrewd, the king eyed him for a long moment. "I take it the Grand Master disclosed that I am a Knight Templar?"
"He did, Your Grace."
"And informed you that in exchange for financial support and training of my knights, I will conceal the Templars' presence in Scotland?"
A wry smile touched the sovereign's mouth. "'Tis a bloody shame King Edward is dead. Longshanks went to great lengths to ensure I was excommunicated. 'Twould have put a burr under his arse if he'd known my religious exclusion, and the Scottish clergy's refusal to acknowledge my excommunication, allows me to offer all Knights Templar entry into my realm with impunity and bolsters Scotland's efforts in reclaiming its freedom." His smile faded. He glanced toward the entry. "Bernard!"
The chamber door opened. Moments later, a thin, stately man rushed in. "Sire?"
"Once Sir Stephan and I are finished speaking, ensure he and his men are well fed and given beds to rest."
The official who controlled access to the king nodded, then turned to Stephan. "I will await you in the corridor, Sir Stephan."
"I thank you," Stephan replied.
The chamberlain departed.
"While you see to the needs of your men, 'twill give me time to ponder the situation," the king said. "Once I decide how best to proceed, I will send for you."
"I thank you, Your Grace." After a solemn bow, Stephan turned, thankful Robert Bruce, a sovereign known for his strategic excellence and wit, now guided a portion of the Templars' fate.
Fate? A pathetic term against the false charges leveled upon an elite Christian force who'd displayed naught but the highest principles for nearly two centuries!
Blood pounding hot, he strode across the throne room, his steps muted beneath the crush of the woven rug. More than a sennight had passed since he and the other Templars had sailed from La Rochelle, yet each time he thought of the French king's treachery, outrage poured through him, a fury so black 'twas like soot upon his soul.
God's blade, in little more than a fortnight, the arrests of Knights Templar ignorant of King Philip's loathsome decree would begin. While he, and those who'd sailed beneath the shield of darkness from France, lived.
He reached for the forged knob illuminated by flickers of firelight.
"Sir Stephan." Robert Bruce's voice echoed within the large chamber.
He swallowed hard, fought to quell the hatred coiled inside. Wanting to leave, he faced the king. "Sire?"
"I recognize you."
Stunned, Stephan stilled. "You do?"
"Aye. Your father introduced us at Avalon Castle many years ago. Do you remember my visit?"
"One doesna forget meeting you, Your Grace." From the first moment he'd met the noble, his bearing and intelligence had impressed Stephan. Though King Edward's hand ensured John Balliol was crowned king at Scone over a decade earlier, Stephan had always believed the realm belonged to the family of Bruce. "My father spoke highly of you."
"The Earl of Dunsmore was a man of great knowledge," Robert Bruce replied, his voice solemn, "a man known for his intellect and cunning."
Honored by his praise, Stephan nodded, surprised Scotland's king remembered him, let alone acknowledged his familial connection. "His recant of your skills in battle, Your Grace, were spoken with reverence." The recollection of hearthside stories his father had shared kindled childhood memories as well as his life ended too soon. And the damning fact of how Stephan had failed those he loved. "'Twas a long time ago."
"Indeed. But I dinna forget those I trust, those who sacrificed their lives to preserve Scotland's freedom, nor those who betray me." The Bruce took another sip from his goblet, motioned toward the door. "Go; ensure your men are settled."
"Aye, Your Majesty." Stephan opened the door. As he made to depart, the chamberlain rushed past.
"Your Grace." The king's man hurried forward. "Lady Katherine Calbraith has arrived and requests an audience. She states 'tis of the utmost urgency."
Calbraith? Anger ignited at memories of the man who'd slain Stephan's family, seized Avalon Castle, and claimed the title of the Earl of Dunsmore.
A birthright lost.
And now, as a Templar, a forbidden legacy.
He shoved aside thoughts of the despised lord. Many Calbraiths lived in Scotland. After the years passed, the odds of this lass being a distant relation to the bastard who'd slaughtered his family were slight.
Dismissing the servant's announcement, he entered the torchlit corridor, determined to keep his oath to the Grand Master. The secrets and legacy of the Knights Templar rested upon his shoulders; he'd give anything to ensure they were kept safe, including his life.
* * *
Her pulse racing, Lady Katherine Calbraith swept into a deep curtsy before the king, thankful to find Robert Bruce in residence. "Your Majesty, I appreciate your seeing me in such haste."
"Rise, Lady Katherine," he said, warmth filling his voice. "For my goddaughter, I can set decorum aside." As she straightened, he stood. A frown touched his brow, and he glanced at the entry. "Is the Earl of Dunsmore outside?"
At the mention of her father, Katherine fought back the swell of grief. "Nay. Sire, En-English knights have seized Avalon Castle."
The king's face paled. "And your father?"
Her shoulders began to shake. "My father and mother are dead, butchered by the English!"
"Oh God, lass!" Robert Bruce stepped from the dais and drew her into a fierce embrace.
Her body trembled, yet Katherine smothered her weakness with anger toward those who'd murdered her family. However much she longed to lean against her godfather, to accept the empathy he offered, it wouldna replace her loss. She tried to step back.
With a firm grip, her godfather kept her in place. A scowl lined his mouth. "Dinna hold back the tears, lass. To lock them within will make the suffering worse."
Dry-eyed, she held his gaze. Naught could be worse than having witnessed her family slain.
Lines dredged his brow as he led her to a small table, poured a tawny drink into a goblet. "'Twould seem the day for strong spirits."
He handed her the cup. "Drink, and slow. 'Tis uisge beatha."
Lively water? Appreciating anything that would cut through the rage, the unbearable grief, Katherine downed the potent mix. At the burn in her throat, she began to cough, waving the king away when he made to step forward.
Robert Bruce grunted. "I see your stubbornness hasna changed."
Tears gathered behind her lashes. Furious, she glanced toward the hearth. Whispers of blue flame danced into slivers of red, then orange, and as fast became lost in a curl of smoke to disappear up the chimney.
"Tell me what happened." His compassion fractured her composure. Katherine dug her nails into her palm and welcomed the pain, wished for another glass of the powerful brew to help guide her words.
The horror of the scenes too fresh, she recounted the castle's attack by the English troops. Her voice wavered as she described how her family was killed, and of being locked in the dungeon until she agreed to wed the Earl of Preswick, a command decreed to the English noble by England's new monarch.
Outrage mottled the Bruce's face. "Though the young king hasna a taste for war, he is a fool to believe a forced marriage will help win even a fragment of peace with Scotland." He shook his head. "With Avalon located on a strategic sea lane, the castle canna remain in English hands. 'Tis a necessary stronghold if I am ever to unite Scotland."
Hope whispered through her that her home wasna lost. She straightened her shoulders. "Sire, once the castle is reclaimed, I will strengthen its defenses and ensure its walls are never again breached."
"As much as I wish to grant your request," he said, his voice somber, "without a husband to oversee the rebuilding of the castle's defense as well as offering protection, 'tis too dangerous to allow you to return."
She shook her head. "But I must go back, bury my parents, and —"
"Nay! I will send knights to reclaim Avalon Castle, ensure your parents receive a proper burial, and bolster its defenses. You will remain at Urquhart Castle."
"Please, Your Grace, dinna deny me my heritage." She regretted the catch in her voice. "If your concern is my finding a husband" — she took a steadying breath, damning each word — "'tis a fate I will eventually achieve."
A dark brow raised. "Eventually?"
Heat touched her cheeks. "My father promised me I could choose the man I marry."
Robert Bruce straightened, his gaze softening to regret. "To allow you to choose the man you are to wed is a luxury. We are at war. Scotland's clans are nae united, England's warrior king is dead, and their country is now led by a man who hasna a desire for his father's aspirations of power. Despite King Edward II's claims to procure Scotland as his own, given out of sincerity or pressure, many nobles within his realm plot against him. Regardless his reason for continuing his father's fight, the young sovereign shall fail." He laid a hand upon her shoulder. "Lady Katherine, as much as I wish to grant you your entreaty, even after Avalon is retaken, 'twill be unsafe to allow you to return." He removed his hand. "After Scotland is reunited and peace has settled upon our land, then will I revisit your request."
Nay! I must go back. If I stay —
"... ensure you are safe," her godfather continued, his words a blur in her mind, "and then —"
"Your knights canna breach Avalon's defenses," she interrupted.
Holding his gaze, she lifted her chin. "If you send knights to seize my home," she said, selecting her words with care, "little hope exists of their reaching the castle before they are killed."
"Walls the English were able to breach."
"Aye," Katherine agreed, disgust sliding through her voice, "due to a traitor within lowering the drawbridge. Otherwise, entry into the castle is all but impossible."
"I am familiar with the towering cliffs, the treacherous currents, along with the near-impenetrable defenses." He crossed his arms over his chest. "There is naught you can say that will change my mind."
He couldna forbid her now! Screams of battle assaulted her mind, the English noble's brutality as he'd forced her to witness her parents' deaths and, after, ordered her locked within her chamber until she agreed to wed. Except, as had the English lord, her sovereign underestimated her. "Along with being aware that hidden catacombs lie beneath Avalon, I know of a secret passage into the castle."
Interest flickered in the king's eyes, as if he were weighing the truth of her declaration. "Your father informed me of the catacombs, but I wasna aware of a secret passage."
"Aye. However," she continued, mindful of her boldness, even risking his incarcerating her in the dungeon by her next words, "I willna reveal the location of the tunnel's entry unless I am allowed to return with the assaulting force."
The Bruce's eyes widened at her defiance. On a sharp hiss, he lowered his hands and stepped closer, towering over her. "You dare to make demands of your king?"
"Nay, Your Grace," Katherine breathed, "I–I only wish to help. I am skilled with a sword."
"You will remain here!"
Her heart dropped. 'Twas a risk to push him, but she was desperate. Who wouldna be after the gruesome events she'd witnessed? "I know I speak out of turn. It wasna my intention to usurp your authority." At his hesitation, she pushed on, her words spilling out. "I am loyal to you, I swear it, but Avalon Castle is my home; 'tis all I know," she rasped, her words trembling with grief. "If necessary, for my home and my country, I shall sacrifice my life."
He glared at her. "You are but a wee lass."
"Mayhap." She drew herself up to her full height. "But one who fights with the fury of a thousand warriors!"
For a long moment he studied her. Then his mouth twisted into a wry smile. "If I agree to let you return, you will comply with my wishes?"
"Aye, Your Grace, anything."
The king nodded. "At first light you will depart with a seasoned force to recapture Avalon Castle."
Relief swept through her. A smile trembled on her mouth. "Your Grace, I —"
"But," he continued, "for your protection, before you go, you must agree to wed the knight who leads the attacking force."CHAPTER 2
With the details of finding resting places for the Templars settled, Stephan walked down the corridor. Exhaustion weighed heavily on his mind; he should find his bed until King Robert requested his presence. As if with the worries blackening his thoughts he could rest.
Hurried steps echoed from the turret.
Torches seated in ornate wall scones illuminated the chamberlain as he reached the top step, then hurried his way. "Sir Stephan, the king requests your presence."
In silence Stephan kept pace at his side, worried the Templars would be forced to remain at Urquhart Castle until they'd seized a coastal stronghold. With the importance of the cargo onboard, 'twas imperative to reach a secluded location without delay.
The king's man halted before the throne room's entry, moved aside. "You may go in."
"I thank you." After a deep breath, Stephan stepped across the threshold. He paused, stunned to discover a beautiful woman with hair as gold as the desert sand standing rigid at the king's side. Confused by her presence, more so at her unyielding stance, he closed the door.
At the soft thud, the lass turned and her eyes met his, then flared with anger.
Far from intimidated, Stephan held her unwelcoming gaze. His arrival displeased her. Whatever caused her upset wasna his concern. He had enough problems without adding hers.
Paces from the throne, Stephan halted and then bowed. "Your Grace."
"Sir Stephan." The king nodded toward the woman. "May I introduce my goddaughter, Lady Katherine Calbraith."
"My lady," Stephan said, smothering the wash of irritation her surname wrought. 'Twas coincidence, surely, that her family name matched that of a man he loathed.
"Lady Katherine," Robert Bruce said, "may I present Sir Stephan."
Excerpted from Forbidden Legacy by Diana Cosby. Copyright © 2016 Diana Cosby. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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