From U.S Bah ❤ ✌🏽
The wind hissed through the hedgerows around
them as Isabelle stared up at him, still as a
statue un-der his hands.
“Isabelle,” Graham said gently.
nothing but ice left in her eyes as they held
his. Gone was the fatigue that had filled them
in her suite, the day his royal guard had
chased the Germanian prince from the palace.
If Graham had been the one to barge in on
them, the foreigner having nearly mashed her
into a wall with his rage, he’d have torn
Leopold’s head from his shoulders with his
Whatever the brute had done to
put a haunted look into Isabelle’s eyes was
cause enough, in Graham’s mind, to hunt him
through Pretania and cut him down if they
found him before he crossed the border.
Unfortunately, the king did not agree.
“My my, don’t tell me that you’ve gone soft and
s£ntimental, your Highness. Dare I hope that
you’re concerned for me?” Isabelle asked. Her
words caught him off guard, dropping his
hands from her shoulders in an automatic
reflex to reel his emotions back in.
quirked the edge of her li-ps, igniting twin fires
of frustration and desire in Graham as his eyes
dropped to her mouth.
He wanted to kis-s her again, badly, but not
now that she’d picked up on whatever emotion
he’d so clumsily allowed onto his face.
hated the way she was smiling at him, having
caught him using one of his own tricks, and
yet the fact that she’d outwitted him made him
yearn to kis-s that smug look of victory away.
A whoop erupted from the men on the other
side of the hedgerow, breaking whatever spell
had settled over them, an arms-breadth apart
as they stared each other down.
“Wouldn’t you enjoy it if I had,” Graham said
darkly, adding before he turned on his heel to
leave. “I do hope the news you received from
Kentshire was better than what I’d been told.
My thoughts and prayers go out to your father.”
He knew it was cruel, especially from the way
her face had paled, her li-ps parting in shock as
he stalked away, but the bluff had served its
It was clear now that she had no idea
what was happening in Kentshire and that she
feared the worst. She’d sought out Sam
Winters as his father was one of Francis de
Haviland’s closest allies in the region.
Francis had summoned his men-at-arms, Lord
Winters would have called upon his own,
including each of his sons, as well.
Graham had an idea about what had happened
in Kentshire, but only thanks to one of his
father’s spies, who had rushed in on an
exhausted horse, covered in road dirt after
riding through the night.
Prince Leopold had
run with his retinue to Kentshire, where he’d
met with Isabelle’s father briefly before
storming out once again. The Germanians
hadn’t stayed the night in Kentshire castle
before they left, but the spy had reported that
they had set up camp a few hours’ ride away.
Reports had come in from farther east that
armed troops were gathering near the
Germanian borders. The spy hadn’t waited for
news of their movements before he’d ridden,
[email protected], for Highcastle.
The king was expecting to hear from the Duke
of Kentshire, but so far had not received any
word from the northeastern duchy. Whether it
was Duke Francis’ pride or his determination to
align himself with Germania, Graham now
suspected that he wasn’t about to call on his
own kingdom for aid.
He’d gotten a message
through to Isabelle, which meant that if he’d
requested help, that message would already
Graham ignored the calls from the other men
as he strode past them, a stony-eyed Sam
Winters watching him as he made for the
palace. With a sharp gesture, he beckoned the
tall northerner to his side, not bothering to
slow his progress or give any explanation to
He had more pressing matters to
attend to than archery contests now.
Prince Leopold had left Highcastle without
Isabelle. Kentshire was not calling on the king
for aid as Germanian troops ma-ssed on its
The king had elected to sit and wait,
confident that should the Germanians attack,
his own for-ces could successfully beat them
back over the border even if they took
Graham knew the way his father thought and
the smug way he’d settled back into his throne
after hearing the spy’s account meant that he
would use the Germanian attack as a further
punishment for the Duke of Kentshire.
foreigners looted and raided the duchy, Duke
Francis would be for-ced to plead before the
king, begging for a reprieve from the crown’s
punishing taxes if only so he could feed his
people through the winter. His father would
enjoy every moment, but Graham was still
undecided as to whether the king would help
the duchy if called upon.
“You’ve had news from Umberwood. What was
it?” Graham said as Sam Winters fell in beside
“Nothing more than usual,” Sam shrugged.
Graham fixed him with an unimpressed glare
as he took the stairs to the royal quarters two
at a time.
“Tell me what Isabelle wanted to know,”
Graham said. “And remember, Winters, I don’t
enjoy being kept waiting.”
Graham slammed open the door to his own
sitting room, unpinning his cloak as he strode
“She had news of Kentshire and was
concerned,” Sam started, choosing his words
carefully. Graham tugged the call bell and
levelled a frigid, unblinking glare at the
“The truth, Winters.
Or I’ll s£nd you home, as
your father asked, without giving you a chance
to share your news with Isabelle or bid farewell
to the fair Miss Neasmith.”
The colour rose in the ruddy northerner’s
cheeks, his grey eyes murderous enough that
Graham was glad he’d summoned his butler.
He didn’t trust the big oaf not to draw his dirk
at the threat, but Graham needed answers
before their conversation devolved into b!0ws.
Thankfully, Samuel Winters was the most level-
headed of his brothers.
Alasdair, the next
eldest after Sam, and Duncan, the youngest,
had reputations as brawlers, the pair of them
so undisciplined that their father hadn’t dared
let them leave Umberwood, their homeland.
Malcolm Winters had interrupted his studies at
Highcastle’s Royal Conservatory the same
week that Sam had been summoned to court.
Graham didn’t doubt that Lord Winters, who
shared the Duke of Kentshire’s s£ntiment
towards the throne, had called Malcolm home
if only so that two of his sons weren’t within
reach of the king at the same time.
“My father has summoned me home, at the
urging of the Duke of Kentshire,” Sam said
finally. Graham noted with satisfaction that the
lethal knife had stayed in its scabbard at the
“Has the duke summoned his allies?” Graham
pressed. His butler appeared, wordlessly
gathering Graham’s discarded cloak as the
prince asked quietly for him to fetch tea.
“Your Highness, I-” Sam started, only for
Graham to cut him off, collap-sing into an
armchair and gesturing for Sam to do the
“Let’s forget the formalities, shall we Sam?”
Graham said, “I know you and your family hold
no fondness for me and mine, but I’d prefer we
discuss this like men rather than prince and
Sam took his seat, still wary. Good, thought
Graham, the more the young future lord thought
he had any negotiating power, the better. He
didn’t, of course, but in order for Graham’s
newly hatched plan to work, he had to turn
Sam Winters’ loyalty.
Graham couldn’t afford for Isabelle de Haviland
to run to someone else for help, least of all to
“As your Highness wishes,” Sam said.
“Graham, if you don’t mind,” the prince said.
“Are you planning on heeding your father’s
It was almost too easy to read the thoughts
behind the big redhead’s eyes, but Graham
waited patiently for him to acknowledge the
yes that already lur-ked there.
“If I may be frank, Graham,” Sam said, shifting
in his seat, “I am. While your father’s threat
against my lands is daunting, the threat of
Germanian invasion is far more so. I cannot sit
here like some cowering courtier when the
battle cry has sounded.”
Battle cry, that was interesting, thought
“I wholeheartedly agree,” Graham said, the
butler returning to set out a tea tray before the
pair of them.
He poured a cu-p and handed it to
the prince first, who gestured for him to give it
to Sam. The northerner accepted it despite the
shock still registered on his face at the
prince’s last words.
“Forgive me, but did you say that you agree?”
“Of course,” Graham said, “If you father has
summoned his men, it would not do for his
heir to…how did you put it? Ah yes, to cower
“And what of the threat of taxation if I leave?”
Sam asked. Graham made a show of
considering his words so Sam wouldn’t know
that he’d already made up his mind about that
“I’ll speak with my father.
I think he’d be most
interested to learn of such a turn of events in
Umberwood and Kentshire,” Graham said. “I’m
sure I can persuade him to allow you to leave
without penalty, considering the
“That would be most gracious of you, your
H…Graham,” Sam said, taking a sip of his tea.
“I a-ssume you’ll want to depart with haste,”
Graham continued, watching Sam for any hint
of a lie. Once again, the other man hesitated,
but it seemed to Graham’s shrewd eye that he
was being honest.
“Now that I’m not for-ced to depart like a
fugitive, gathering provisions for the journey
shouldn’t take quite as long,” Sam said. “I
imagine I’ll leave in a few days’ time, once I’ve
gotten word to the other Umberwood men in
“A sound plan,” Graham agreed. “Though I
would ask one favour of you in exchange for
me changing my father’s mind about the
“Of course,” Sam said. Graham fought to keep
from grinning at how easily he’d played the
northerner into a corner.
There was no way he
could decline now.
“You cannot take Isabelle de Haviland with
you,” Graham said. When Sam bristled, the
prince continued. “You and I both un-derstand
how dangerous such a journey would be for
her, given the current situation with Germania.
If she were to fall into the hands of the
Germanians, I doubt they would treat her with
any shred of decency, especially now that
she’s ended their betrothal.”
Graham’s words worked, despite the lie buried
at their core. As far as he knew, Isabelle hadn’t
ended her betrothal, but he’d bet on the fact
that Sam knew even less about the whole
situation. The palace rumours backed his
claim, for even Sam knew that Prince Leopold
had fled the castle without Isabelle.
Sam’s brow knit as he digested the new
information, unable to verify its authenticity
without speaking to Isabelle. It would require
some artful manipulation on Graham’s part, but
he could ensure that the northerner departed
Highcastle before Isabelle could corner him for
a proper conversation.
The whole plan would fall through if Sam ever
learned that Isabelle had not, in fact, ended her
betrothal to the prince of Germania, but
Graham hoped that the unexplained tension
along the border would lend credence to his
lie. If Sam’s father hadn’t given him a reason
for being called home, the Germanians
mounting an offensive in retaliation for a
broken betrothal would be a logical enough
explanation. It should also help convince him
that the road to Kentshire wouldn’t be safe for
its sole heiress, not if she risked capture by
Graham could almost read the thoughts
running through Sam’s mind as he fit the
pieces of the puzzle together. Isabelle had
been notably abs£nt from a number of season
events and, if her clandestine appearance in
the courtyard was thanks to a letter from
home, as Graham suspected, her actions would
also fit with this fabricated version of events.
“If her father summons her home, I’ll be
honour-bound to escort her,” Sam said finally.
Graham bit back his sigh of frustration. He’d
forgotten about the code of honour that
highlanders like Sam lived by. It wouldn’t allow
him to abandon an ally in enemy territory nor in
a time of need, which was no doubt what he
considered Isabelle to be at the moment.
“The Duke of Kentshire is an intelligent man.
He knows that the safest place for her is here,
within our walls and far from the threat of
kidnapping by the Germanians,” Graham said.
“Of course, if her father s£nds for her, you have
my word that we’ll provide the best royal
escort to ensure she returns safely home. You
needn’t dally on account of worrying for her.”
Sam Winters hesitated, chewing the inside of
one of his cheeks as he held the prince’s gaze.
“Do I have your word?” he asked finally.
“On my honour and future throne,” Graham
said, standing to extend a hand. Sam regarded
him for a moment before he rose, clasping
Graham’s outstretched hand.
To be continued……