Book One in the Rebel Hearts Series
Here’s what people are saying about The Renegade…
“One of the best books of the year…”
“I loved this story from the beginning to the end. I did not even stop to eat. I just couldn’t stop reading until it was over.”
The world sees Lady Elora Brodie as a controlling noblewoman, but inside her beats a passionate and rebellious heart. Determined to protect her independence, she will do anything to avoid marriage. She will even venture beyond the comforts of home to traverse the disreputable shipyards of Edinburgh in search of a man reckless enough to set her plan in motion, a plan she hopes will ensure that she never need utter the words “to honor and obey.”
To all the world, Nathan Campbell is fearless, strong, irresistibly sexy and when not tracking down thieves for a price, he can generally be found in a tavern, too far into his cups and draped by women vying to welcome him into their beds.
Both Elora and Nathan will see the other as a means to achieve their worldly goals–but what if within their wounded hearts beats more? What if dreams lie in wait? Dreams that can only be realized when unleashed by a passion too powerful to contain and impossible to deny.
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Enjoy a sample read from The Renegade…
Rife with danger and wicked salaciousness, Lady Elora Brodie had never walked the narrow roads and alleyways of Edinburgh’s shipyards, nor had she ever imagined she would, especially after nightfall.
“My lady, forgive me but I fear for yer safety,” the head of her guard said in a low voice at her side. “Do not think yer title will save ye here.”
“Declan, no one knows who I am, nor will they, allowing ye stop calling me my lady,” she hissed in reply.
“’Tis not too late to turn back.”
She stopped in her tracks and looked her loyal warrior straight on. The silver at his temples shone in the lantern light as did the worry in his gaze. “My mind is made up. I will not be persuaded from my chosen course.”
Declan’s gaze scanned the Heavens. “There’s no moon nor any stars to be seen. ‘Tis a bad omen.”
She cocked a brow at him. “’Tis dry at least, which I believe is a good omen, considering that it has done naught but rain these last two days.”
“Or…mayhap ‘tis only the calm before the storm.”
She took a deep breath to quiet her frustration. “Declan, ye’ve been more of a da to me than my father ever was in life. I love ye, and I love how much ye care. But I will command ye back to the livery if ye cannot accept why I’ve come here.”
His eyes flashed wide. “Ye wouldn’t wander these streets alone, surrounded as we are by thieves and beggars and whores?” His voice had risen to mirror his concern.
“Wheest,” she hissed. “Remember, we do not wish to draw attention our way.”
She pressed her lavender-scented handkerchief to her nose, trying, with no avail, to mask the pungent scent of low-tide, dead fish, and other odors she dared not consider long enough to identify. Lantern and torch fire illuminated the motley assortment of people milling about near the docks in varying stages of intoxication. Her surroundings were unnerving, to say the least, but her humble clothing bolstered her confidence. She wore an unadorned dark-green tunic and a simple black cloak, both of which she had borrowed from her maid, Mary. Even Elora’s waist-length golden curls had been coaxed into two thick plaits down her back rather than the intricate style and veils that she typically wore. More than that, riding for two days in the rain had left her garments splattered with mud, allowing her to hope that she truly did appear as common as any of the women passing by.
“Ye’re a handsome one, aren’t ye?”
Elora turned to see who spoke. Her eyes widened when she saw a woman with unbound black hair that fell in ragged waves to her waist pursing her brightly painted lips at Declan. “I’ll treat ye right,” she crooned, fluttering her lashes.
Elora cringed inwardly as she looked at the woman whose bosom was barely covered by the deep cut of her tunic, over which her tattered surcote was cinched tight to accentuate her ample curves.
Well, mayhap, Elora hoped, she didn’t look that common.
Declan cleared his throat. “Move along,” he replied firmly.
With a shrug, the woman sauntered away, continuing her search for a man to fill her bed and subsequently her purse. Despite her easy laughter, Elora could sense the woman’s desperation. In fact, everywhere she turned, she glimpsed regret and grief sadly pushing through smiles meant to hide the pain of the downtrodden and broken-hearted.
Pulling her cloak tighter about her shoulders, Elora forced her gaze back to the roadside where she scanned the businesses lining the narrow, muddy streets. There was a sailmaker and a smithy, both boarded up for the night. Farther down, she spied an apothecary, which was also closed, but in front of the locked entry stood a boy with no more than ten and two years. He had tangled dark hair, a dirty face, and was selling hot pig’s feet.
“My—,” Declan began but corrected himself by calling her by her given name. “Elora, now that ye’ve seen this place, surely ye wish to leave and find a comfortable inn. On the morrow, we can seek out the guilds and find a merchant or another tradesman.”
Squaring her shoulders, she shook her head firmly in reply. She was very aware of the fact that she did not have the captain’s approval, only his protection. Her steward also did not support her decision, but it mattered naught. After all, she was lady of Castle Bròn. She made her own choices, which was exactly the intended goal of her current mission—to maintain control of her own life.
Picking her way carefully down the muddy roads, she forced her attention away from the respectable businesses to the taverns and brothels, all of which looked the same to her…raucous dens where only the basest of pleasures could find satisfaction.
“Choose one,” she muttered to herself, but she knew why she delayed in making her choice.
She was afraid.
Steeling her shoulders, she tilted her chin. This was not her first taste of fear nor would it be her last. Seizing her courage, she took another deep breath and picked a tavern at random.
“The Ship,” she declared, looking pointedly at the drinking house across the way where a wooden sign carved with a square-masted cog hung.
Declan opened his mouth as if to try to persuade her once more from her current course, but then he sighed and shook his head. At length, he said, “As ye wish, my lady.”
Forcing one foot in front of the other, she approached the slatted door. Just as she reached for the handle, it flung wide. Stepping back quickly, she barely missed being struck in the face by the wood. Raucous laughter and music filtered out on the heels of an old man with wizened cheeks. He stumbled drunkenly into the night. Teetering to the left, he collided into Elora. She gasped, feeling her feet slide out from under her in the slick mud, but Declan seized her arm to keep her upright.
“Where’s my ship?” the man slurred, meeting Elora’s gaze. Then a slow smile spread across his face, revealing the few remaining teeth he still possessed. “Ye’re a pretty bit of skirt.”
“Move along,” Declan snapped at the old sailor.
Eyes wide, the old man looked up at Declan and nodded, then stumbled backward. When he had crossed the road, Declan whirled to face her, his face etched with concern. “I beg ye to reconsider yer plan. ‘Tis too dangerous!”
“The risk is necessary,” she shot back. Then she smoothed her hands down her simple tunic and adjusted her cloak about her shoulders. Certainly, she acknowledged the risks she took. Still, whatever ill she faced in that moment or the days to follow could never compare to the lifetime of unhappiness she was fighting like hell to overcome.
Her plan, although perilous, was simple enough. She needed to hire a man—but not just any man. She had a list of criteria, all of which had to be met.
She needed a man who could be bought, who was not overly concerned with his mortal soul, and who was not without connections. He needn’t be a laird or a laird’s son, but mayhap a laird’s nephew or even an ill-favored cousin. Certainly, such a man may prove difficult to find, but she did not doubt that with persistence and courage, she would complete her mission.
“Trust me, Declan. I know what I’m doing.”
She scanned the road ahead and set her gaze on a tavern called, The Devil’s Bridge.
Once again, she drew a deep breath, then marched across the road, determined to enter the bawdy establishment regardless of what obstacles she met along the way.
Declan reached the door first. “Please, my lady. Allow me to at least make a quick scan of the room.”
Singing, raucous laughter, and raised voices carried outside. She raised her brow at him. “Listen to the din. Ye know very well what it will be like behind that door, and no amount of inspection is going to make ye feel better about me going inside or my purpose for doing so.”
Declan’s lips pressed together in a grim line. She could almost feel the rebuttals reverberating on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed his refusals, and instead dipped his head, acknowledging her authority. “Aye, my lady.”
Opening the door, he began to step out of the way, but then he stopped and turned on her. His wide shoulders filled the doorway, blocking her entry. Uncharacteristically, he seized her by the arms. “Ye needn’t fear Laird Mackintosh’s coming. Yer warriors would consider it an honor to die in battle for ye if need be.”
She shook her head. “No one is going to die. Now, step aside.”
His nostrils flared. She knew it pained Declan, but he did as she bade.
Men crowded around tables, calling out to each other over games of dice. Victors raised their tankards high, sloshing ale on the floor and tabletops while losers cursed and guzzled their cups to soothe the sting of an ill-fated roll. Everywhere, women moved among the tables, serving ale and bowls of pottage, or they perched on men’s laps, locked in passionate embraces. Breasts were fondled. Skirts pushed past their knees. Elora gulped. Took another deep breath and squared her shoulders.
It was now or never…
“For the last time, Elora,” Declan pleaded in a hushed voice. “A place like this will be crawling with the most disreputable men.”
“Good,” she said with false confidence as she stepped inside. “Because I am not looking for a reputable man.”