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the heiress episode 37

THE HEIRESS
EPISODE 37

From U.S Bah ❤ ✌🏽

“You must hide,” Marcus whispered, attempting
to rush Isabelle towards the service corridor.

Sam had placed himself between her and the
door, his sword ringing as he drew it from its
sheath.

“Isabelle please, I only want to talk. I can help
you,” Leopold said, his voice muffled by the
door.
“He’s lying,” Marcus hissed, s£nsing Isabelle’s
hesitation.

They’d made it halfway across the
room when the service door opened, a pair of
burly Germanians blocking their path. Sam
whirled around,

roaring a warning, only to
freeze in his tracks as the bedchamber door
was kicked open behind him.
In his bed, the duke groa-ned and all the pain
in Isabelle’s heart congealed into rage.

“For the love of all that’s holy, you will sheathe
your weapons in my father’s pres£nce!”
Isabelle roared, whirling around to face
Leopold. “Call off your men at once, before I
consider this invasion an act of war!”
The foreign prince, whose expression had been
nothing but schooled surprise from the
moment one of his henchmen had broken the
lock, gestured to his men in the service
corridor.

Once again, steel sang as their
swords sli-pped back into their sheaths.

Sam
Winters, however, remained coiled like a
spring, his knuckles white around his
broadsword as he kept his eyes trained on
Leopold.
One wrong move and Isabelle had no doubts
that the northerner would attack, which would
inevitably result in Leopold’s men ma-ssacring
the rest of them.

But if she could keep
Leopold from acting rashly, if she could lie to
him and convince him that she hadn’t really
meant what she’d said in Highcastle, perhaps
she could prevent him from resorting to
violence.

The room teetered on a knife’s edge, her
father’s coughing the only sound cutting
through the tension.
Inhaling to steel herself, Isabelle marched
across the room towards Leopold. She would
not cower in her own castle, nor would she
accept so many armed men in her dying
father’s bedchamber.

She’d chos£n her words
carefully, well aware that the suggestion of a
declaration of war would give Leopold
sufficient pause to allow her to take control of
the situation.

Praying that she’d learned enough of Graham’s
tricks, she for-ced an expression of annoyance
onto her face, burying her fear and sadness to
better play the role that might save all of their
lives.
“You dare break down my father’s door?” she
demanded, poking Leopold in the che-st. He
stared at her, that same surprise on his face.
“Forgive me…I thought…” he began, but she
shoved past him, throwing open the door to
her father’s study.
“Isabelle,” Sam said, a warning in his tone.
“He wants to talk, then we will talk.

But like
civilized people in my father’s study, not like
savages with swords over his deathbed!”
Isabelle snarled. Leopold blinked while Sam
swallowed. The prince eyed the northerner
warily as he pa-ssed him, following Isabelle
towards the study.
“Marcus, you mind this door and fetch
someone to sort this all out.

Sam, you mind
the hall,” she said, fighting down the panic that
clawed at her throat as Leopold approached
her.
But she would not let that show. She would
play the part of angry, conflicted, mourning
daughter. She would throw herself, sobbing,
into his arms if she must, even if it made her
skin crawl. Anything to buy enough time for
Marcus to alert Sam’s men and give her some
chance of ridding her castle of this pestilence
of a prince.

Isabelle had no idea how many men Leopold
had with him, nor how he’d managed to get
them onto the castle grounds, but she’d leave
that to the estate agent in the bedchamber and
the warrior in the hallway to figure out. She
had no time for such worries, not when
Leopold was gently closing the study door
behind him, as if to make amends for his
earlier entrance.

At least he was still attempting to maintain his
persona of charming prince, Isabelle thought.
She fought to keep from gulping, instead
seating herself as daintily as she could while
still dressed in Cedric’s trousers. Leopold
lowered himself into the armchair opposite her,
warily gauging her mood just as much as she
was gauging his.

It did not take much for Isabelle to for-ce
herself to tears, which had their desired effect.
Leopold’s face softened as he sli-pped
completely back into the charming role he’d
played to woo her, fishing out a handkerchief
for her.
“Oh, Isabelle,” he said, their f!ng£rs brushing as
she took it from him.

The mere scent of it
revulsed her, that cologne too reminiscent of
the man who had once been her betrothed.
The man who had punched a hole into her
suite wall. The man who had kicked down her
father’s bedchamber door because he “only
wanted to talk.”

Stifling those thoughts, Isabelle for-ced her
mind to the task at hand.

She needed to get
Leopold out of her castle with as few
casualties as possible. The only way to do that
would be to placate him, to somehow convince
him that she’d changed her mind since their
last encounter in Highcastle, that she needed
some time to think before making a decision
about their betrothal. Crying like a terrified
child had seemed a fitting reaction, softening
him into thinking that he was dealing with a
sobbing little girl.

But sobbing little girl she was not, not any
more.
~*~
Graham had his men change out of their royal
livery before they rode into Inverloch. Having
abandoned his own princely garb, Graham’s
signet ring was now the only sign of his royal
station. They dismounted at the inn, he and
William striding in to speak with the innkeeper.

It was a fine, clean place, much like the town
surrounding it. Inverloch itself was alive with
chatter and business, despite the winter chill in
the air.
“We’ll need rooms for a dozen men, as well as
stables for the horses,” Graham said, flashing
enough gold to ensure the innkeeper’s
compliance.

The older man, however, wrung
his hands even as he took in the two men
before him.
“Aye, I can do that for you,” he said. “Though if
ye was planning to stay more than a night, I
should warn ye that we’ll be full up.”
“Why?” Graham asked, tamping down his
annoyance when all he wanted to do was
sleep. They had been riding for nearly a day
and he was saddlesore, hungry, and tired. He
had no time for fretful innkeepers and didn’t
much care what happened in a few days, so
long as he was able to get a few hours’ rest.
“Well…” the innkeeper hesitated, before
Graham bit back his sigh and fished out
another coin.
“What news?” Graham demanded.

“The duke has fallen gravely ill,” the innkeeper
said, pocketing the coin with surprising ease
for one so fretful. “Our cook is friendly with his
cook, ye ken, and it seems they’re preparing for
a feast.”
“A feast?” William repeated, frowning. But
Graham’s blood had already turned cold.
“Stable the horses and prepare our rooms,”
Graham said to the innkeeper, before nodding
for William to follow him.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
William asked, stoically blinking away his own
fatigue as they emerged into the cold once
more. Graham ordered the rest of the men to
ensure that their horses were taken care of
before they retired to the inn.

“Because northerners don’t have funerals like
we do, they have feasts,” Graham said, striding
out of the inn’s courtyard and back towards the
town’s central square, Kentshire castle looming
above them in the mist.
“Perhaps we should take the horses, your-”
William started. In his irritation, Graham
silenced him with a sharp gesture.
“We walk. The horses need rest and I want you
to pick up whatever gossip you can gather
from the marketplace. I need to know what’s
happening in that castle, but I’m not alerting
them to our pres£nce yet.” Graham said,
tossing his captain a few coins. “Find yourself
something to eat, I’ll go eavesdrop at the
tavern.”

“As you wish,” William said, bowing ever so
slightly before he broke away from the prince
and headed the opposite way down the market
street.

Graham waited for his captain to disappear
into the throng of townsfolk before turning to
the nearest vendor. He had no intention of
wasting his time at the tavern, not if there was
a chance of gleaning information directly from
the source.
“Three dozen eggs,” he said, looking over the
farmer’s produce. “With the basket.”
The farmer goggled, but held his tongue as
Graham offered more than enough in payment.
Tugging the hood of his cloak up to hide his
face, Graham ensured his signet ring was
safely hidden beneath his gloves before he set
off towards the castle.
Falling in beside a wagon laden with root
vegetables, he sli-pped easily past the
guardhouse, showing them the eggs with a
vague gesture towards the wagon that
preceded him.

The harried gate guards waved
him through with little more than a moment’s
scrutiny as they turned to the three women
behind him, each bearing heavy bolts of dark
cloth.
Sloppy work, Graham thought. The guard hadn’t
even thought to check him for weapons, of
which he had many. But his cloak had
concealed them, just as it had concealed his
face as he strode onto Kentshire castle’s
grounds.
He could have been anyone, armed to the teeth
with no more than a basket of eggs as a
disguise, and the guards had allowed him to
saunter in at a time when the very future of the
duchy hung precariously in the balance. Sure
enough, there was a steady flow of deliveries
to the castle, coupled with the load of dark
cloth carried by the women behind him.

The
innkeeper’s cook seemed to have been correct,
they were indeed preparing for a funeral feast,
but Graham still couldn’t shake that nagging
feeling that something else was amiss.
Neither his party nor the northerners ahead of
him had come across Leopold on the road,
which had both surprised and relieved Graham.
But now with the innkeeper’s ominous gossip,
he had to be sure that Isabelle had indeed
arrived home, safe and sound. He kept a sharp
eye out for any Germanians, but the bustling
courtyard was filled with northerners talking in
shouted Gallic, the castle staff at work.
He sli-pped into the kitchen, sliding back his
hood so as not to draw any suspicion. His
eyes raked the room as he crossed to a
worktable, sp-otting a pair of corridors leading
off the opposite side.
“Oy! Eggs go over there!” someone barked,
smacking his hand with a wooden spoon.
Forcing a smile, Graham muttered an apology
before moving the eggs towards where the
older woman had pointed with the wooden
spoon. She watched him only until she was
sure he’d done as she’d directed before turning
her attention elsewhere and rapping someone
else with the wooden spoon.
Graham sli-pped into the nearest of the two
corridors, taking in every detail of the castle
layout. Two stairwells led off the hallway, one
currently being used by a maid bearing a tray
laden with a half-finished bowl of broth and
countless soaked cloths.

When she’d darted past him towards the
kitchen, he hurried up the staircase. Pausing at
the top, he listened to the quiet din of male
voices in the hallway. Risking a peek around
the corner, he eyed the men a-ssembled there,
bi-ting his tongue to keep from swearing.
Before the door, Sam Winters stood like a
great northern ox, a hand on the hilt of his
sword as he surveyed the men around him. To
either side were two more burly northmen, their
red tartan bright in the dim hallway. They eyed
the men lounging against the opposite wall,
their [email protected] faces unreadable.
The men across from the northerners were
clearly not Pretanian, which was the reason for
Graham’s stifled curse. Snippets of Deutch, the
Germanian language, reached Graham’s ears,
confirming his worst fears. That Sam Winters
hadn’t drawn steel was as good a sign as any,
but what lay beyond the door was far more
worrisome.

Running the calculations in his head, Graham
turned on his heel and hurried back the way
he’d come. He needed his father’s men and he
needed them now, but their sheer numbers
would be cu-mbersome enough on the narrow
northern roads. They’d arrive in a few days’
time, but Graham doubted that he had the
luxury of such time.
Leopold was in the castle. His men were in
the castle.

Graham needed to know how many
more were stationed in the surrounding
countryside and whether he even stood a
chance of holding Inverloch against the
Germanians.
Because if he didn’t, he had a duchess to
kidnap.
He was halfway across the courtyard before
Gallic shouts and the sounds of men and
horses tore himself from his thoughts. Red
tartan was everywhere as dozens of men rode
through the gates, the tide of deliveries
stemmed to make way for them. The red
stretched down the road as far as Graham
could see, the tartan gracing both foot soldiers
and cavalrymen.

Relief washed over the prince as he paused for
a moment, taking a quick tally of the men
climbing the road towards the castle. Ensuring
that his hood was still in place, he skirted the
courtyard, careful not to draw the eye of their
leader, a man familiar enough that he might’ve
recognized Graham on sight.
Between twin banners of a black dragon on a
red field, Lord Callum Winters rode into
Kentshire castle’s courtyard, surrounded by his
men-at-arms.

To be continued…..

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