The Pride of Lions by Marsha Canham
The Pride of Lions
Book One of the Award-Winning Scottish Trilogy
by Marsha Canham
Bestselling, award-winning author Marsha Canham sweeps us into the turbulence and romance of Scotland's quest for freedom in a saga of two born enemies whose lives and destinies are irrevocably bound to the fate of an empire.
Forced into an unwanted marriage by a reckless game of chance, how was the spoiled and pampered Catherine Augustine Ashbrooke to know the handsome stranger with the brooding midnight eyes would make her the pawn in a dangerous game of his own?
Alexander Cameron may have won the highborn English beauty in a duel, but not even the lure of long-forgotten desires could keep him from his meeting with destiny. He had no choice but to carry his reluctant bride off to the Highlands, to a world of ancient blood feuds and a brewing rebellion--a world where fiery passion and breathtaking courage would prove that even legendary warriors could lose their hearts.
The Pride of Lions
Catherine dropped the curtain and whirled around. “Why is this happening? Why? It was such a stupid little thing. A kiss, for pity’s sake. I have kissed dozens of men before tonight. Why make such a fuss now? And why could Hamilton be satisfied with nothing less than a duel?”
“Because he is Lieutenant Hamilton Garner of His Majesty’s Ninth Dragoons,” Harriet said on a gust of exasperation. “What did you think he would do, Catherine? What were you playing at when you let Mr. Montgomery take you out onto the terrace?”
“I did not let him take me anywhere. We were dancing and … and I did not even realize where we were until it was too late.”
“You did not realize where you were? It must have been quite the kiss.”
Catherine felt her cheeks warming in response to Harriet’s accusing tone, but how could she possibly explain what had happened? She could hardly explain it to herself. It was as if Montgomery had cast a spell over her, had swallowed her into his eyes so that she could not think or move or even breathe without his command. And the kiss…! Her lips still burned with the memory, but that was all it had been: a kiss. A simple kiss that was threatening to turn her whole life upside down. Undoubtedly it would cost her any hope of winning a proposal of marriage from Hamilton. And likely it would cost the London merchant his life. The lieutenant was a master swordsman, an instructor for his regiment. Catherine had heard stories about his instinct and agility, and despite Montgomery’s bravado—or perhaps because of it—Hamilton would take delight in cutting him to bloody ribbons.
“Oh, God.” She leaned her forehead against the cool pane of the window and saw a new commotion below. Hamilton had emerged from the shadows around the courtyard and was walking with his seconds—two junior lieutenants—into the center of the lighted ring. He had removed his scarlet tunic and decorative white leather belts and wore only his nankeen breeches and collarless white linen shirt. He halted by the stone fountain while one of his seconds unsheathed his sword and handed it to him. He held it aloft, running a finger down the gleaming surface of the steel before he gripped it in both hands and flexed the supple blade in a slight arc. He whipped it free almost at once, slicing the air with spirals and deadly swift slashes to warm his wrists.
A smaller stir rippled through the crowd at the opposite side of the courtyard as Raefer Montgomery and Damien approached the ring of lanterns. Montgomery had also removed his coat and satin vest, his fancy lace jabot and starched neckcloth. His shirt was silk, opened at the throat, and his jet-black hair lay like splashes of ink against his neck and temples.
Catherine’s hand twisted into the curtain again. Hamilton moved like a dancer, preparing for the macabre performance ahead; Montgomery stood motionless, the smoke from a cigar rising in thin tracers above his head.
“Why did he not leave?” Catherine asked in a horrified whisper. “Why did he not just get on his horse and leave? He did not seem to care what anyone thought of him earlier; why should he care if they think him a coward now?”
Harriet moved up beside her. “Men call us proud and vain, but I daresay everything we learned, we learned from them.”
Catherine was only half-listening. Colonel Halfyard had apparently been chosen to act as adjudicator, for he was walking solemnly into the center of the lighted ring and holding a hand up for silence. The window was open enough to hear the hush fall over the crowd and the colonel’s voice when he called the principals forward.
Hamilton strode confidently toward his commanding officer. Montgomery drew deeply on his cigar one last time and dropped it onto the cobblestones, grinding it beneath his heel before he took his sword from Damien. He wore a curious smile on his face, but there was nothing amusing in the way he carved an invisible Z through the air with the slim steel-blue blade.
“Gentlemen.” The colonel’s voice boomed out through the dampness. “I am bound by convention to appeal to both of you to settle this affair of honor without bloodshed. Lieutenant Garner … will you accept an apology if tendered?”
Hamilton shook his head. “A mere apology is insufficient.”
“Mr. Montgomery.” The colonel glared at him from under beetling white brows. “Do you believe there is any other way of settling this dispute?”
“The lieutenant seems to have his mind made up, sir. I can but oblige.”
“Very well.” The colonel nodded brusquely to the seconds. “If everything is in order, we shall proceed. Is there a doctor in attendance?”
A barrel-shaped, bewigged gentleman stepped forward importantly and raised his hand. “Dr. Moore, at your service.”
The colonel looked gravely at each combatant. “At the command en garde, you will take up your positions. I understand first blood has been waived by both parties? Very well. God have mercy on your souls. Gentlemen, take your marks.”
Hearing this, Catherine backed away from the window, her face as pale as wax. “They have waived first blood?” she whispered in horror. “That means … the duel is to the death?”
Her heart pounding painfully against her rib cage, she turned and ran for the door.
“Catherine! Where are you going?”
She did not stop to answer. Flinging the door wide and gathering the voluminous folds of her skirts in her hands, she flew along the hallway to the stairs, then down and through the double oak doors as if a demon were snapping at her heels. She ran along the fine gravel of the drive and onto the manicured lawns, slipping on the dew-laden grass and giving her ankle a painful wrench in the process. She did not stop. She kept running toward the rear courtyard, and long before she rounded the corner of the house, she could hear the angry bite of steel on steel, the shrill metallic screech of offense and defense.
The duelists faced each other, left arms bent and raised for balance, right arms in straight thrust, parrying, engaging, counterthrusting without a break in the stride or rhythm of their movements. It was like a ballet—a lethal, deadly ballet that had the crowd holding its collective breath, knowing from the first few strokes that these were no fainthearted academy duelists who would be worried more about the art of their footwork than the presentation of their blades. Each step was precise, calculated for the most efficient use of speed and strength. Each thrust and riposte was effected with a terrifying grace and beauty; a less experienced swordsman meeting one or the other would have been dead after the first pass.
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