Authors: Natasha Knight
Her Rogue Knight
Copyright © 2013 by Stormy Night Publications and Natasha Knight
Copyright © 2013 by Stormy Night Publications and Natasha Knight
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published by Stormy Night Publications and Design, LLC.
Her Rogue Knight
Cover Design by Korey Mae Johnson
Images by The Killion Group and BigStock/Toma Bonciu
This book is intended for
. Spanking and other sexual activities represented in this book are fantasies only, intended for adults.
I'd like to thank Lina Sacher for beta reading this manuscript and pointing out things I wouldn't have seen myself no matter how many times I read through the book. Thank you so much, Lina. You have an incredible eye for detail.
Gemma climbed the final hill, her horse’s reins in one hand, her kill hanging from a rope in the other. She walked barefoot in the soft, fresh grass of spring. There had been no rain for four days now, and the normally wet earth had dried. She had bathed earlier in the river, but with the unseasonably hot afternoon sun, her waist-length, chestnut-colored hair was nearly dry and she was already beginning to feel too warm beneath her dress.
Morning Glory, her horse, paused to graze, but she tugged on the reins as she was anxious to get home.
“Come on, girl,” she coaxed, clicking her tongue. “Let’s go home.”
The horse ignored her as usual and nudged her nose against Gemma’s face when she pulled again.
“Come on now,” she tried again.
Finally Morning Glory conceded, and they ascended to the top of the ridge. Gemma always loved the view from here, even with the estate in its current crumbling state. From this vantage point, it was as if the whole world had opened up just for her. Hills, valleys, and green grass disappeared into acres of thick wood.
But today, the sight that greeted her halted her heart and turned her blood to ice.
“No!” she called out, dropping the two pheasants she had killed for dinner and mounting Morning Glory while simultaneously urging the horse into a run. “No!”
Below her the blaze of a freshly set fire burned bright in the otherwise clear blue day. The two boys who worked the land ran from the burning barn only to be attacked by two of fifteen or so men on horseback. Their swords were drawn against the unarmed boys, and even at this distance Gemma could feel the violence emanating from the men.
She swore she heard laughter coming from the riders as one of the boys fell to the ground, barely escaping the hooves of the animal the warrior rode. The man stood out—the reins of his horse were so horribly ornate she could see them even from the top of the ridge.
Gemma charged as fast as Morning Glory would carry her, knowing all along she would be too late. The men were disappearing from her sight and into the woods before she had made it halfway down the hill.
She pulled Morning Glory to a stop and reached for an arrow, preparing the bow with a trembling hand. She would never reach them in time, but she could shoot some arrows and drop a few of the men from their horses. But before she had the arrow in place, the charging of another horse from behind her panicked Morning Glory, who bucked upright, sending the newly released arrow off into the sky. Gemma screamed as she tried to grip the reins, her saddle, anything to hold onto, but she only caught air. She would have toppled off the giant black beast if the man who had caused the incident in the first place hadn’t grabbed her and lifted her onto his own horse.
“Let me go!” she screamed, fighting him, dropping her bow in the process, and hearing the sound of the remaining arrows topple to the ground as they slipped out of the quiver. “Let me go!”
“Be still,” the man said, his voice gruff, as if he hadn’t spoken in a long time. “Quiet, if you don’t want them to come back for you.”
“Let me go! Get off me!” she screamed again, struggling in vain against the solid chest she was pressed against. “They’re getting away!”
“Aye, and that’s what you want,” he said.
“They set our barn on fire!”
“I know,” he said, his voice quieter as the rest of the men disappeared into the woods and Gemma’s struggles ceased.
She sat watching them leave, then turned her attention to the small barn that was now burning to the ground. The man who held her released his hold and set her gently on the ground.
“Who were those men?” she asked, turning to have a look at the stranger whom she knew had likely just saved her life.
“Mercenaries, outlaws,” he said. “Are you all right?” He dismounted his horse and stood before her.
She squinted her eyes, unable to see him clearly as he stood with his back to the sun. He was taller than she, a lot taller, and big from what she could make out. She moved to the side to see his face, sliding her hand beneath her sleeve to take hold of the small but sharp kitchen knife she kept sheathed to her arm. But when he moved out of the sun and she was able to see him fully, she recognized him. It took her a moment to speak, for her breath had momentarily caught somewhere inside her throat.
“You live on our land,” she managed, “in the small cottage.” Her already racing heart picked up even more speed. She hadn’t seen this man in a very long time.
He nodded. “That’s right.”
She stared up at him. She had first met him five years ago. She’d been thirteen at the time, and he had just come to her father to rent the small, decrepit cottage along with the parcel of land that surrounded it. He kept to himself, and she had been told not to bother him. Although she had caught glimpses of him now and again through the years, she had never spoken to him directly.
His dark blond hair had grown longer, looked thicker and wilder, and a beard now covered most of his face. But his bright blue eyes still carried an air of pride, that spark of both knowledge and wisdom as well as courage.
Her gaze travelled to his lips for a moment before returning to his eyes. She swallowed, finding them too raw, too full, and too confronting to hold his gaze. She flushed pink and turned to look to the edge of the woods behind him.
“Sir William,” she said.
He nodded. “You’re Abraham’s elder daughter.”
She nodded. “I’m Gemma.”
“Gather your kill. I’ll take you down to the house. We’ll see what damage they’ve done.”
She began to obey but then paused, turning back to him. “How did you know I had a kill?” she asked, lessons of the last years teaching her not to trust so easily, so naively.
He studied her for a moment. “I saw you drop them when your horse charged,” he answered smoothly.
“I didn’t know anyone was near.”
“You should pay better attention, especially since you’re alone in the woods without protection.”
“I don’t need anyone’s protection,” she said, stubborn pride forcing her chin upward and outward, her generous lips forming a hard line. She narrowed her eyes as she thought, suddenly feeling like she needed to defend herself. She had thought she had been alone all that time. Was she so oblivious? “Were you following me?” she dared ask.
He shook his head and picked up his horse’s reins, his tone changing to one of near reprimand. “I just saved your life, little girl.”
She stilled at his words, and he remained studying her.
“Let’s go,” he said.
* * *
William held her gaze, daring her to challenge him even as he felt ashamed that what she had just said was true. He watched her often when he came upon her in the woods. She was always unaware, a danger for a young girl alone, and even though he had vowed to remain a hermit, he’d naturally taken it upon himself to keep
safe. He hadn’t been following her this time, at least not consciously. But when he had first heard her and then seen her by the river, he’d kept himself hidden. He was ashamed to admit he had watched her bathe.
And he knew well she was no little girl beneath the cover of that dress.
“Gather your kill. No sense in wasting it. I’ll take you down to your father.”
“My father!” she said, panicked again. “Leave the kill.” She whistled for her horse while collecting her bow and fallen arrows.
“Get it. This is no time for wasting food.”
She ignored him as her horse loped out of the woods. She walked toward the animal and gripped the saddle with both hands, mounting the beast in one smooth, impressive motion. She spared one final glance at Sir William and clicked her tongue, urging her horse down the hill and toward the house.
Sir William watched her go, surprised. The waif-like girl who rode like a man was brave. And stubborn. The top of her head reached to about the middle of his chest, and she had weighed nothing when he had lifted her when her horse had bucked. Yet, she used a bow and arrow fairly accurately. She had managed to kill two pheasants and carried another weapon hidden inside her sleeve, this one concealed. He had seen her reach her hand to it before she had recognized him. Even though he hadn’t seen the weapon itself, he knew it must be a blade of some sort.
He smiled and galloped his horse back to fetch her kill before charging down the hill and on to Abraham’s house.
* * *
“Father!” Gemma called out. She dismounted Morning Glory and ran toward her father who stood outside the fallen, smoking structure that was once their barn.
“Child,” he said, turning to her.
Gemma’s step faltered. Her father, already older and weakened beyond his years, now stood leaning on Mary’s shoulder, their maid of forty-one years.
“What’s happened?” she asked, seeing the anguish in his eyes. He only stared at her, and she once again glanced at the barn where the boys worked to put out the last of the fire. “Where is Alys?”
Mary’s tears began to flow at the mention of Alys’ name. Gemma looked from one to the other as understanding dawned, and every hair on her body stood on end. “Alys!” she called out, running into the once-grand estate. “Alys!”
Alys was her younger sister. At twelve, they had six years between them, and as her mother had died in childbirth, Gemma had raised her with the help of Mary and her father. After her mother’s death, her father had become a ghost of the man he had once been. Her mother’s death had begun the descent of the family into ruin, and today, it seemed a new and final low had been reached.
“Where is Alys? Who were those men?” She ran back out, her eyes filling with tears as she asked the questions whose answers she already knew.
Sir William stood with a hand on Abraham’s shoulder while Abraham wept openly.
“Father?” Gemma asked, her step faltering. She hadn’t seen him cry in twelve years.
“They took her, Gemma,” he said, his voice breaking mid-sentence, his face just barely turning to her.
“Let’s go inside,” Sir William said, shifting Abraham’s weight over from Mary’s own slumped shoulders. “We can talk there.”
Gemma nodded once, then led them inside. Once everyone was settled, she went to kneel by her father’s feet. “Who were they? Who were those men, and why did they take Alys?” she asked.
Abraham placed a hand on the top of her head and caressed her hair. “Most likely they thought she was you, child.”
Gemma tilted her head, confused by his comment. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“They were outlaws, mercenaries. They ate the food we had left, drank our ale, burnt our barn, and took your sister.”
“For what? What would they do with her? She’s a child. And what do you mean they thought she was me?”
Abraham’s hand moved so his thumb pressed against the skin at the back of Gemma’s ear.
“The mark,” Gemma said, goose bumps rising all across her body.
“What mark?” Sir William asked.
She had forgotten he was in the room but turned quickly at the sound of his voice.
“Folklore. Peasant’s tales. The mark of the Fey—the twin serpents of Avalon. Catalina had it,” Abraham said, his eyes watering a little at the mention of his wife’s name. “Gemma inherited it. Alys did not.”
Sir William looked at Gemma with a worried expression before returning his gaze to Abraham.