Published by Altiora Press on June 6th 2017
Sir Bryce Waryn has dreamed for years about the day when he will finally liberate his home from the Scots who killed his parents and stole his brother’s birthright. Now that day is finally upon him, only his brother has abdicated the title of lord of Bristol Manor to him. Bryce should be celebrating, but something unexpected stands in his way—the sister of the Scot who held Bristol. In the chaos of the raid, Lady Catrina Kerr was injured and left behind. Bryce takes her captive, hoping to exact an even more satisfying revenge from his enemy. Except the fiery beauty is far more compelling than he would like…
Raised by three elder brothers, Lady Catrina Kerr knows a thing or two about stubborn men. But Bryce is more strong-willed than all of her brothers combined. He’s also maddeningly handsome, brave, and kind—but no matter how compelling her captor, she’s intent on escaping him. Only then will she be able to protect her brothers. But as Bryce’s plan escalates and her feelings for him intensify, she finds herself facing an unthinkable choice between her family and the man who has captured her heart.
Northumbria, England, 1271
Sir Bryce Waryn wanted to rejoice, but the sight of his childhood home in partial ruins overshadowed his victory. The stench of battle hung in the air.
“What ails you, brother?”
Geoffrey, two years his senior, often treated him like a child.
“This.” He gestured to the carnage in front of them. “I fear it will never end.”
They watched as a body was removed from the hall of Pele Tower, the center of activity at Bristol Manor.
“I wish I could disagree. Are you sure you want to inherit this mess?”
Bryce ignored Geoffrey’s question. “Come with me.” He had no destination in mind—only the urgent need to escape the smell. His brother nodded, and together they walked through the aftermath of a raid five years in the making.
The battle had started as the sun rose and ended before mid-morn. Thanks to his brother’s men, they’d overwhelmed the usurpers quickly, and they’d spent the better part of the day assessing the damages. Their losses could have been much worse.
Yes, he wanted to inherit Bristol Manor. Its proximity to the Scottish border guaranteed turmoil for years to come. But it was their home, and home meant something.
Although it should have been his brother’s inheritance. As a feudal barony, the title was tied to the land. Now that Bristol was theirs once again, the title was his brother’s by rights. But Geoffrey had already bequeathed the manor to him.
“I do,” he said to Geoffrey. “Though it’s an honor I don’t deserve.”
Geoffrey rolled his eyes. “We’ve been through this, Bryce. My home is with Sara, in Kenshire. Besides, I’m not doing you any favors here,” he added, gesturing to the brutality all around them.
New grass attempted to peek through the dirty brown snow of the courtyard. It was a small bit of pleasantness, that bright green. Still, he could not deny the manor was very different from his memories.
“You do know we won the battle?” Sir Hugh Blakeslee, their uncle, walked toward them with purpose. His black hair was sprinkled with grey, but though he was past his prime, Hugh still towered over most of the other men scurrying around the courtyard to dispose of the dead.
Bryce let his more talkative brother answer.
“We wonder how soon the counterattack will come. You know as well as I do, peace is unlikely at Bristol.”
Bryce handed his broadsword to his brother’s squire, a young boy who had begged to take part in the battle. The squire doted on his brother, much as Bryce himself had done when they were children. Neither of the brothers had wished to see the boy hurt, but they’d reluctantly agreed to his request, and Reginald had held his own in the battle. They were both proud of the lad.
He turned his attention to Hugh. “Much needs to be done here. Uncle, I’ve no right to ask you this. You’re newly wed. But—”
“My wife understands I’m needed at Bristol until it is fortified once again.”
“I’ll send word to Faye that you’ll be staying with us,” Geoffrey said.
“No,” Bryce said. “Not us.”
Both men turned looked at him. Bryce’s eyes narrowed.
“I promised your wife you’d return, unharmed, and by God, you’ll do just that,” he told his brother. “I’ve no wish to incur the wrath of Lady Sara. If not for your knights of Kenshire and the men Lord William sent, we would never have seen this day.” For years they had lacked the manpower to take back Bristol. Now they had enough men to secure both the manor and the surrounding area.
“You’ll need help to secure and restore Bristol,” Geoffrey insisted.
“Aye, and I have help. Hugh will stay, and I plan to ask Thomas to take a permanent position here. You’re needed at Kenshire.” Bryce looked back and forth between two sets of eyes that matched his own, startling blue and unflinching. His brother had the uncanny and singular ability to make him break eye contact.
Yet he would not back down, both for the reasons he had given Geoffrey and for others he didn’t wish to share.
“If you wish.” Geoffrey gripped his arm. “I’m proud of you.”
His chest constricted, but the feeling did not have time to take root. Geoffrey had already turned away to say something to their uncle.
Five years they’d sought their revenge. The Scots who’d invaded their home and killed their parents were finally defeated. Driven out. But now that the day of reckoning had arrived, Bryce felt unexpectedly devoid of emotion. He stared at the building in front of them, an old tower at the center of the manor. From the outside, it looked the same.
He’d balled his fists in anger when they went inside earlier. The manor’s decorative features were now distinctly Scottish. He would rectify that immediately.
“Excuse me, Uncle. Brother.”
Walking through the courtyard, Bryce surveyed his land as he looked for his steward. Or the man he hoped would be his steward.
Built on river basin two days’ ride from the border, Bristol Manor had started as nothing more than a single defense tower and an attached hall. Though it was still no grand castle like the one Geoffrey now occupied, it was a handsome stone structure that had been improved enough throughout the years to make it worth capturing. Surrounded by a curtain wall, an addition courtesy of Bryce’s father, it was large enough to house the men who’d fought for them that day, but not many more. Bryce’s father had also added the buildings he now passed, including the solar block, storerooms, and stable.
Finding his right-hand man in the courtyard was easy, for Thomas’s long brown hair and beard made him appear as wild as the bears they had hunted as boys. Bryce, on the other hand, shaved nearly every day. It was a habit from his days as a squire, one of the many quirks he acquired at Huntington.
Although they had height in common, their resemblance stopped there.
Thomas clapped him on the shoulder in greeting. “So grim for such a great victory. We lost just one man and Bristol is yours again.”
“We’ll celebrate once we’ve secured the area and stripped it of the Kerr stench. The hall reeks of Scots.”
“We can be sure it’s not you.” Thomas leaned in as if to smell him. “I’ve yet to meet a maid that bathes as much.”
Thomas didn’t have a serious thought in his head. Bryce gave him a look that said as much.
“Very well.” Thomas abruptly stopped smiling, drew his bushy eyebrows together, and gave him such a deliberately serious look it almost made him laugh.
“Any news?” Before the raid ended that morning, he’d charged Thomas with scouting the area beyond Bristol in every direction.
“Aye,” Thomas said, finally offering some useful information. “Most of the men have returned save those who were sent north. The village is secure, and there are no signs of Clan Kerr to the east or west.”
Bryce frowned, and he watched Thomas’s easygoing grin transformed into a scowl that matched his own. He knew without asking that they were entertaining the same thought. In all likelihood, the usurpers had fled north, toward the holes from which they’d crawled in the first place. Which meant some ill fate might have befallen their men.
“The scouts should have returned by now,” said Bryce.
“Most of that group are from Kenshire,” Thomas offered. “Perhaps they’re unused to the terrain?”
Both men looked in the direction the scouting party would have traveled. The lush, flat land where they stood gave way to rolling hills. From this distance, with spring finally upon them, the rising slopes appeared green and smooth. The terrain appeared ideally suited for an afternoon ride, but Bryce knew the reality of those mountains from experience. Only borderers could appreciate the stark contrast that was Northern England. One day’s ride could offer wide-open fields, roaring rivers, and treacherous inclines which taxed all but the heartiest of steeds bred for such terrain.
“Thomas.” Bryce put aside the thought of potential trouble to the north for a moment. Steeling himself for the possibility his friend would deny him, he said, “Will you stay on at Bristol Manor as its steward? I can offer continued raids, battles with our Scottish neighbors, and very likely retribution from Clan Kerr.” He wished he were exaggerating.
The large knight gestured to the mostly muddy courtyard of the manor they had fought to reclaim.
“So tempting.” His trademark grin returned. “It would be my honor. Mayhap I can even coax a smile from the Slayer as Bristol’s new steward.”
Thomas knew he despised that nickname, which was exactly why he’d used it. Unfortunately, it was not a comment on Bryce’s battle prowess, as it sounded, but on his effect on women.
“Maybe not,” Thomas said.
“When you’re done joking, can you alert Geoffrey and Hugh? I’m going to find the search party.” He sensed Thomas’s displeasure but knew his new steward wouldn’t attempt to dissuade him.
“You’ll take men with you?” Thomas asked.
It appeared they may have started celebrating too soon.
You can follow the Border series on Goodreads.