The Lady and the Flame - Excerpt

 The Lady and the Flame - part of the Hearts Through History Anthology - The Light of Love 

Can the flame of love survive in the midst of betrayal and lies?

When Lady Margaret Whitaker falls in love with the rugged highlander Laird Duncan Gordon, she has no idea of the dangerous past that threatens to tear them apart. Her own father was involved in the death of Duncan’s father, a dark secret that has remained hidden for fifteen long years.

Desperate to keep his daughter from running off with Duncan during the Yule celebration, her father locks her away in the abandoned castle dungeon.

But Duncan will not let the flame of their love be extinguished by her father's lies and deceit. He devises a daring plan to rescue his true love and spirit her away.

Will their passion overcome the secrets and lies that threaten to keep them apart? Or will the flames of love be snuffed out by the cold heart of betrayal?

Chapter One

December 14, 1560

“Steady as she goes.” Laird Duncan Gordon stood on the quarterdeck of his ship, The Golden Flame. His concentration set on the job at hand. His heart pounded from the exhilaration of sailing to the next port and knowing he would soon be with her. He loved sailing. The corner of his lips turned up. He loved her more.

Duncan combed his thick, wavy hair out of his face with his fingers. Shading his eyes, he peered at the top of the mainmast and the red flag that whipped in the wind. It was their private signal.

Duncan had been trading with the villages along the eastern shore of England for the last eight years, each year expanding his business to new ports. Eighteen months ago, he added Sommer-by-the-Sea, a small village nestled on the rugged northeastern English coast, to his route. It was a day’s sail from Edinburgh.

“Stand by.” Jamie Murdock, his quartermaster, readied the men. He’d bring the ship a quarter of a mile up the River Sommer to the village port.

The captain’s disciplined crew, skilled in the ways of the sea, executed the maneuver at hand. The Golden Flame glided up the river and through the sea gate into the busy Sommer Bay. With precision and efficiency, the crew lowered the sails and took to the small boats to bring the vessel to the dock. Their seamless coordination and deft skills were a testament to their years of experience at sea.

“Docking at Sommer-by-the-Sea is like coming home.”

Duncan smiled at Jamie’s remark. He could easily express the same sentiment.

Home. Like many villages in the wake of the border wars, his home in Scotland was a shadow of what it once had been. The attack fifteen years ago changed everything. Many of the survivors lost everything and moved away, taking the traditions with them. Now it was difficult to remember how fine his Scotland home had been.

“How long will we be here?” The quartermaster kept an eye on the docking.

“Three days. One to unload. Another to reload. And the third is to sit and do nothing.” Duncan liked that plan. “We’re not in any rush.”

Duncan gently touched the small parcel tucked in his doublet. The item, acquired at great cost, wasn’t overly ornate but rather beautiful in its simplicity. Forged by a master Belgian goldsmith, the piece was an intricate Celtic Love Knot, its center adorned with a solitary sapphire Duncan had given the goldsmith to include in his creation.

The crew tossed the mooring lines to the men on the dock, who fastened them to the cleats.

“You can see the villagers coming to meet us.” Jamie gestured toward the shore. “With any luck, the proprietress of The Maiden’s Blade Inn will be with them. I can help her with the barrels if you like.”

Duncan watched as Jamie tried hard not to laugh at his mock scowl. Instead, his quartermaster gave him a playful slap on his back.

“On the other hand,” Jamie grabbed his crotch. Everyone knew what the captain and the inn’s proprietress meant to each other. “I’d rather keep all my body parts.”

“I wouldn’t worry if I were you. No one would be interested in those little things.” Duncan sent them both chuckling.

From where they stood, the village layout was clear. The docks were splayed out in a wide crescent along the natural harbor. Several warehouses and a tavern lined Water Street, the road parallel to the pier. A wide street led from the docks to the town square. Behind the warehouses was a network of lanes and byways surrounding the square. Past that, on the promontory, was the church and the abandoned Sommer Castle, a relic from four hundred years ago.

“From the size of the crowd, I hope we brought enough beer.” Jamie licked his lips and avoided looking at Duncan.

“I agreed that you and the men should sample our gift to the Inn but not drink the barrel dry.”

“We left some,” Jamie said half seriously.

“But not much.”

“That’s why the crew went back and commandeered more barrels. I made sure there were plenty of barrels for each of the taverns. It’s Yule time. We should be generous.”

“At my expense. I suppose the beer is my gift to them.” He shook his head.

Duncan brought the village more than beer. On this trip, he brought precious spices, olive oil, silks to sell to the villagers, and two special woven willow baskets made by the women in his village. The Golden Flame was a floating tinker’s wagon as well as a bona fide trading vessel.

Jamie was right. Sommer-by-the-Sea was like home. Who didn’t bring gifts when you returned home, especially during this time of year? His hand went to his doublet.

“The wee package is still there. You’ve touched your doublet so many times, I’m surprised you haven’t worn the thread thin.” Jamie pounded him on the back.

“Go see to the unloading.” Duncan shook his head as Jamie began calling out the orders.

As the men secured the ship, he scoured the crowd, looking for her. He had something important he wanted to discuss. She was the reason he looked forward to returning here, to her, Lady Margaret Whitaker. His Maggie.

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