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Taken and Seduced
by Julia Latham
Adam Hilliard, secret Earl of Keswick, lives for one thing: to kill the man who slew his parents. Raised in secrecy by the League of the Blade, he would do anything to restore his family's honor.
Lady Florence Becket is the key to his revenge. But when he kidnaps her, Florrie is neither frightened nor furious, as most other young ladies would be. The bold and powerful stranger who spirited her from her father's castle could give her the freedom and adventure she craves.
She is moved by his quest. He is captivated by her courage. They have no defense against the passion ignited by a single kiss. Adam has taken her from all she's ever known--but now Florrie will delight in her scandalous seduction.
The first book in the "Raised To Be Bladesmen" Trilogy!
"Strong writing, a keen knowledge of the era, engaging characters and a depth of emotion make Latham's Bladesmen series so enjoyable."
Romantic Times Magazine
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Inside the book at the HarperCollins website
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(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)
(Story set up: Lady Florence Becket has been kidnapped from her family castle, dropped into a sack, and traveled by cart for many hours.)
At last, the cart came to a jerking stop, and she groaned her relief. The man pulled her across the wooden bottom, then set her upright on the edge, legs dangling. Someone loosened the sack and slid it down her face. With relief, she breathed in fresh, cool air through her nose—
And looked up at the large man standing before her.
She noticed his eyes first, deep and brilliant as blue sapphires. Narrowed, they watched her solemnly, with no show of emotion, as if his response would only be dictated by her behavior. His lean face was composed of sharp lines, angling down until they met at a square chin with a cleft in the middle. Though his mouth was a flat line, he had generous lips. She wanted to think they were made for smiling, but everyone always told her she had too much foolish optimism.
His black hair, which hung neatly to just below his ears, was held in place by a peasant’s cloth cap. His clothing was just as non-descript, a tunic belted over wool breeches, with a cloak falling from his shoulders. The two other men, dressed nearly the same, stood behind him in a clearing that was shaded by immense oak trees. Though she could hear the sound of water nearby, she did not look anywhere else, for she guessed that this man was the one who controlled her fate.
He pushed the sack lower, until it puddled around her waist. Lifting her bound hands free, he calmly said, “I will remove the gag if you promise not to scream. As you can guess, we have taken you far enough away that no one will hear you regardless.”
She hesitated, wishing desperately she could somehow thwart him, but at last she gave a stiff nod. His long arms reached around her to untie the gag behind her head, leaving her to stare helplessly at the center of his broad chest. He smelled of warm man and wool garments, hay and horses. Uneasy, she was glad when he stepped back and carefully pulled the gag from her mouth. She gasped as the dry cloth tugged free of her skin. Before she could even ask, another man stepped forward and held up a wineskin. He was just as tall and dark as the first man, but the blue of his eyes was as bright as cornflowers. His face was a little softer, broader, and younger—but with the same cleft in his chin. Surely they were brothers.
“My lady?” Brother Number Two said, offering the wineskin.
She nodded gladly, taking several deep sips. The respectful way they spoke to her showed that at least they knew whom they’d kidnapped. Perhaps they would not injure her—unless she proved uncooperative. As he stepped back, she could not stop her shudder.
“You are cold?” asked Brother Number One, with some incredulity in his voice.
His body brushed her knees as he stood before her. She understood his disbelief—after all, they’d been plastered together beneath straw, building even more heat on a summer’s day.
She swallowed again and spoke. “Can I not simply be a frightened maiden, sir? Who are you and why did you so cruelly take me from my home? When my father discovers—”
seemed to go dark with winter’s ice. “Your father,
the marquess, is in
“Then what is your purpose?” she demanded, trying not to tremble with her fear of the future. “Why so brazenly risk yourselves to kidnap me in broad daylight?”
She gasped as Brother Number One lifted her against him with one arm. She tried to rear back, but realized a moment later he was pulling the sack down her hips. As it collapsed to the ground, he set her back on the edge of the cart.
He put both hands on either side of her hips and looked into her eyes. She held her breath, staring up at him, feeling as if no man had ever really looked at her like this, with such intense focus.
“Lady Florence, my name is Sir Adam. Your capture was necessary, because I had to find a method to convince your father of my sincerity.”
Bewildered, she said, “But you just said it didn’t matter if he knew about this insane plan of yours.”
“Nay, you should listen more intently. I said it wouldn’t matter if he knew, because he couldn’t stop me. Nothing will stop me from issuing him a challenge of combat to the death. And if he needs more of a reason than an honorable challenge to face me, your captivity will provide it.”
She gaped at him. “You want to kill my father.” She could not be surprised at that. Her father had made many enemies, and acted however he wished, with no care about God’s laws, or man’s.
“I want to fight your father. If it leads to his death, then that is God’s judgment.”
Sir Adam finally looked away from her, his mouth set in grim lines. “That is not your concern. Only know that a grievous wrong has been done by him, and I demand justice.”
“So you counter one grievous wrong with another?”
He glanced at her, and if she thought she saw a flash of regret in his eyes, she had to discount it, for he spoke coldly.
“Trust me, my lady, the wrong done to you in no way compares. And if you are obedient, nothing worse will happen, and this adventure will soon be over.”
She stiffened at his too casual words. “But if you have your way, my father will be dead.”
“You so easily discount his famed skills?” Sir Adam asked, arching a dark brow. “Even though he is a generation older than I, he yet enters tournaments and fights for his king. A battle between us might be legendary.”
Florrie looked away, afraid he might be able to read the truth in her eyes. Martindale was once a famed warrior, but his youth and strength were long gone, lost to age and illness. But he was so vain, so worried about showing weakness, that he made certain the world still thought him a knight of great renown. He had sworn his family and servants to secrecy, and no one dared cross him. She would never go back on her oath to her father—nor did she want to give such information to a man who wanted him dead, a man who could use such a secret to his advantage, in whatever feud he pursued.
She lifted her chin and stared at him coolly. “So who does your bidding?”
He stepped aside, so that she could see the other two men. Already they’d been bringing saddlebags out of hiding in the trees, where she could hear the occasional neighing of horses out of sight. The men gathered wood against the encroaching twilight. Only then did she realize with dismay that night would fall soon, and she would be alone with her kidnappers.
“This is Sir Robert,” said Sir Adam, gesturing to the dark-haired man who looked like him.
But instead of wearing Sir Adam’s cold expression, Sir Robert grinned at her and doffed his cap to reveal hair that fell into waves. “My Lady Florence, ’tis a pleasure to meet you.”
She was taken aback by his easy charm, as if he’d come to court her instead of kidnap her. “And you agree with your brother’s methods that led to this introduction?”
Sir Robert met Sir Adam’s gaze, his grin fading into simple amusement. “You are observant, my lady. Aye, he is my brother, the head of our family. I follow him obediently.”
She thought she heard Sir Adam give a choked cough, but when she turned to him, he was still regarding her impassively. Then she looked at the third man, redheaded, with freckles scattered across his tanned face. He was shorter than the two brothers, and as he squatted to put flint to steel to spark a fire, he only gave her a brief look of disinterest.
“And this is Sir Michael,” Sir Adam said.
“Another relation?” she asked.
“Nay, a loyal knight and companion. Do not think to turn him against us, for it shall not work.”
Sir Michael gave a faint smile and continued to prepare for the night.
All around her was wilderness and strangers. Though she’d always longed to leave home and travel, this was not how she’d anticipated seeing the world, bound and watched, taken hostage to persuade her father to do something she knew he never would.
What would happen if Sir Adam discovered her presence was useless? She’d seen his face and could identify his features—would he have to rid himself of her?
A sick feeling of nausea sank into her stomach, and she realized it had been many hours since she’d used a privy for her private needs.
She looked between the three men, feeling a little desperate and frightened. Surely they could not deny her something so basic.
“I—I have need to…I—I need a woman’s privacy.”
Sir Adam only studied her as embarrassment flamed through her cheeks. She desperately wanted to look away, but somehow didn’t.
“And I am supposed to allow you to walk into the trees alone,” he said.
Panic rose in her throat at the thought of his accompanying her. “What else do you expect me to do?” she cried.
She looked to the other two men for support, but they busied themselves with their backs turned, as if leaving her to Sir Adam’s care—to Sir Adam’s decisions.
To her surprise, he began to untie the knot that bound her ankles. As her feet were released, she felt a rush of blood and pinpricks through them, and she moved them in circles in relief.
“Do you give me your oath that you will remain nearby?” he asked.
She nodded, afraid to say the words she didn’t mean. He took her waist in his big hands and set her on the ground, making her feel like the most fragile of women, though she’d never felt like that before. Her legs were too weak to support her after the hours of confinement, and she swayed against him, ashamed that he had to support her. Better that, than to fall on her face in front of him. He caught her bound arms, held her still, looking down on her from his great height.
“You did not speak the words, my lady.”
She sighed. “I promise.” But she was lying. Why should a man who’d kidnapped her expect her to tell the truth? She held out her hands to him, and when he only cocked his head, she said, “It might be easier for a man to…with hands bound, but I have a skirt to hold up.” Was he going to make her explain every detail?
Saying nothing, he freed her hands. Moving her wrists with a relieved sigh, she looked about the clearing and decided to head downhill, hoping that if she could escape, she could head for the valley.
She took several limping steps.
“Are you injured?” he suddenly demanded, coming up behind her.
It would serve him right if he’d wounded the daughter of a marquess. Without thinking, she said, “I guess I am.”
He caught her arm to stop her, turned her about to face him, then dropped to his knees. As she gave an incredulous stare, he reached for the hem of her skirt and lifted it, tossing it across his shoulder and reaching to touch her.
“Show me where,” he said gruffly. “You need healing.”
No man had ever presumed to touch her ankles—or anything else. She could feel the cool competence of his hands even through her stockings. She gaped at him, then at last slapped down her skirt and pushed at his immovable shoulders.
“I am not injured! Well…not recently. When I was a girl I broke my left leg and it never healed correctly. ’Tis shorter than the other.”
Very slowly he rose to his feet, towering high over her head. Her gaze followed his ascent helplessly.
“I did not mean to lie!” she insisted with breathless fear. “Tying me up made my legs lose all feeling.”
He took a deep breath but said nothing, only turned her about and gave her a push—a gentle push, to her surprise. She took several steps, realizing he still followed her. Though she wanted to cower, she sent him an arch look over her shoulder.
He halted. “Leave just a few trees between us, my lady.”
Her heart raced at the thought of eluding him. “Sir, do not come charging after me if I take what you think is too long. Women are not like men.”
For a moment, a puzzled look came over his face, as if he were trying to make sense of her words. She frowned at him, feeling confused, then turned away and stepped into the brush at the base of the trees. She deliberately made a lot of noise, cracking sticks, rustling bushes.
“Far enough, my lady,” he called.
She quickly did what she had to, then began to move more cautiously downhill, watching where she placed each foot.
She gasped as she stumbled to a halt as she heard a man clear his throat. Sir Adam was in her path, leaning against a tree, arms crossed over his broad chest. He watched her coldly. How had he—she hadn’t even heard movement! He would have had to rush to get past her.
Regardless, he had found her out. She waited for his reprisal, chin lifted. How could he blame her? But would he punish her?
To her surprise, he grasped her arm above the elbow and pulled her with him as he slipped through the thinning line of trees, away from the encampment. She wanted to dig in her heels, panicked that he meant to punish her in private.
“I am not going to harm you,” he said stiffly. “I want to show you where you were headed. Go before me.”
He thrust her forward, keeping his grip on her arm. She had no choice but to stumble before him, her limp even more pronounced on the uneven hillside. She went through the last of the trees, then cried out as she suddenly leaned out over a cliff. Sir Adam caught her against him and held her there, her back to his front, while the entire valley spread out before her. They were on the edge of the mountain, sheep dotting the valley below in pastures separated by rough stone walls, and the narrow Hawes Water glimmering in the distance.
She shuddered, her every sense reeling at the thought that she would have rushed right over the edge in her flight from him. Now she couldn’t stop shaking, even as he held both of her arms and kept her tight against him. She could feel his thighs at her backside, as well as the hard muscles of his chest.
It was as if they were alone in the world.
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