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Tatiana March
 

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Tatiana March


  Scotland, 1541

  Having lost his claim to his family estate, Olaf Stenholm has no choice but to accept the bride and lands chosen for him by King James. He knows Brenna Kilgarren will be reluctant, but he doesn’t expect the fiery beauty to greet him at the point of her sword. Yet her passion only makes him more determined to take her to the marriage bed...

  Brenna has sworn never to submit to any man, but from the moment she sees her latest suitor, her resolve begins to crumble. Perhaps here at last is a warrior who will fight by her side by day—and show her the true meaning of desire by night...

  Surrender to the Knight

  Tatiana March

  Dear Reader,

  Surrender to the Knight is the third book in my miniseries Hot Scottish Knights. I expect it to complete the series but you never know—Ian and Alistair, the tall Viking brothers who make a brief appearance, might demand a story of their own.

  Olaf Stenholm is introduced in the closing chapters of Submit to the Warrior. He attempts to strip his brother’s widow of the fortune she has inherited, not accepting that she has earned it through suffering in the hands of a cruel husband.

  This portrays Olaf as a villain, when in truth he is only fighting for what by law should be his. In telling his story I wanted to reveal his true nature, his deep sense of honour and loyalty, and the longing to be loved hiding beneath his anger.

  Olaf’s father hated him for the death of his mother in childbirth. His only brother was a violent man whose evil deeds drove a wedge between them. While still in his teens, Olaf left his home in Scotland to forge a career as a knight for hire in foreign lands.

  Now he is back, a grown man hardened by a decade on the battlefield. His claim to his birthright fails, but as consolation King James offers him a bride with lands.

  Lady Brenna Kilgarren believes that love brings nothing but heartbreak. A wise woman relies on her own wits and strength, and certainly makes no pledge of obedience to a man. When forced to marry, she is determined to keep her distance—not easy when her husband has the face of an angel, the body of a warrior, and gentle hands that awaken her passions.

  Olaf and Brenna’s story is one of redemption, of learning to overcome loss and bitterness, of gaining trust and allowing the trust to grow into love. It is also about a woman’s quest for equality, even on the battlefield, about leadership and loyalty, and about taking a chance—both in love and war.

  I enjoyed writing about Olaf and Brenna, how they find each other and defeat their enemies. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this final story in the Hot Scottish Knights miniseries.

  Tatiana March

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Historical Undone BPA

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  November winds howled across the Highlands, whipping the falling snow through the air. Olaf Stenholm blinked against the icy flakes that penetrated the visor on his helm. Beneath him, the big bay stallion whinnied with fatigue. The load Thor carried—a rider in steel armor and bundles of possessions in two sacks hanging down his flanks—was an insult to a destrier trained for the battlefield.

  Just like the ride to the remote northwest was an insult to a knight.

  Olaf flexed his fingers inside the leather gauntlets to keep his hands from going numb. His entire life seemed one endless humiliation. First, he’d been cast out of Stenholm Castle for challenging the right of his elder brother to inherit. Then, after his brother died, he’d lost his claim to the estate against the widow. Now, King James had offered him a bride with lands.

  A bride with lands.

  Olaf’s dismissive snort echoed inside the steel helm. The Kilgarren estate might stretch miles inland from the rocky coastline, but it was an expanse of barren moor. And the bride, Brenna Kilgarren, was rumored to have gained the lairdship by poisoning her only brother. According to the whispered accusations, she wanted to rule the godforsaken wilderness alone and had sworn to kill any man who tried to force her into submission. But King James wanted the coast protected against an attack from the sea.

  And the king would never trust a woman for the task.

  In the distance, the outline of a castellated tower peeked like a ghost amidst the flurries of snow. The single structure formed the only fixed point in the endless landscape of rolling hills covered in coarse grass. Olaf picked up his speed, forgetting all thoughts except the temptation of a roaring fire and a jug of hot whisky.

  Closer, he noticed several mounds of earth that looked like dugouts where people and domestic animals could huddle through the winter months. Still closer, flapping sounds filled his ears. In the lee of the primitive castle, two canvas tents strained in the wind. From their pointed peaks, brightly colored banners rippled against the laden winter sky.

  His competition.

  To pacify Brenna Kilgarren’s protestations, the king had sent the lady three suitors to choose from. Outside one of the tents, a pair of men-at-arms stood guard, the pointed ends of their lances resting on the ground. Neither wore steel armor, but their leather jerkins were new, and the horses grazing on the frozen grass behind them looked strong and fit.

  Olaf sighed with regret. His wealth would fail to measure up.

  Before setting out on the long ride, he’d sold the possessions he’d collected in his years as a knight for hire. He’d released from his service the lad who’d followed him from the lands of Livonia, letting the young man keep the cart and carthorse. Now he wished he’d held on to it all, goods and cart and servant. Not only for a show of force against his competition, but to enjoy a few added comforts if the lady chose him for a husband.

  “Go no further!”

  The sharp cry almost startled Olaf into falling from the saddle. He surveyed his surroundings, his narrow gaze sweeping the barren moorland in the fading afternoon light. A ragged figure stood to his left, feet firmly planted in the thin layer of snow, a broadsword raised between two gauntleted hands.

  The blade cut through the air with a sharp whoosh. “Get down and fight!”

  Intrigued, Olaf studied his challenger. No armor, only an ancient shirt of chain mail, clearly made for someone much taller. Everything looked too big, the great helm resting like a bucket on the challenger’s shoulders, the hem of the hauberk flapping about her knees. On the downward swing, the tip of the sword almost sliced into the ground.

  With a sigh, Olaf dismounted. It seemed that his prospective bride was wasting no time in her campaign to kill him. Briefly, he wondered how his rivals had fared, assuming their welcome had taken the same form. Dismissing the thought, he pulled his sword from the scabbard by his side and faced his adversary.

  The lady raised her weapon with both hands and aimed a low blow. Olaf grinned inside his helm. Not bad. She was using her mind. His knees were a weak point, since he’d chosen not to wear full armor for the journey, only the larger pieces. Even those had caused him discomfort during the long ride, but without a packhorse the easiest means of transporting plate armor was wearing it.

  Easily, he deflected the attack. With light swings of his sword, he forced the female warrior into retreat, testing her skill and strength. She fought well for a woman. The long sword hampered her speed, and the huge boots weighed like anchors on her feet. As she twisted and turned, the hauberk clung to her contours, revealing a slender body with feminin
e curves beneath.

  Heat that had nothing to do with the physical exertion surged inside Olaf. Although he needed to carefully control each blow to make sure he didn’t hurt her, he couldn’t recall a fight that had given him a greater thrill. With each swing of the blade, his dark mood lifted.

  Picking a spot where a mound of earth would soften her fall, he drove his opponent into a backward flight, until she tripped over a clump of grass and landed on her backside with a resounding thud and the rattle of chain mail. He pressed the tip of his sword against her throat at the base of her helm. “Don’t move,” he warned her.

  Through the twin slits in her visor, he could see her eyes widen, but the light was too faint for him to see the color. Something dark. His own eyes were pale green, like the first leaves of spring. He resisted the urge to lean in for a closer look, brushing away the question that had crept unbidden into his mind. What did it matter to him what color her eyes were? His journey to the ends of the earth was not about finding a woman to stand by his side, or even just to lie next to him at night. It was about gaining lands and serving his king.

  “Stay down,” he ordered.

  Olaf withdrew his sword, replaced it in its scabbard and strode back to his horse. As he reached for the leather parcel tied behind Thor’s saddle, an image flooded his mind: a woman with serene beauty, golden hair and pale green eyes. He’d never known his mother—his memories came from a painting—but he clung to them nonetheless.

  For a second, Olaf hesitated. Then he gave in to the impulse. He pulled down the long parcel and unwrapped the sword hidden inside. For as long as he remembered, he’d cherished the finely crafted weapon. Holding it by the blade, he turned to face his prospective bride.

  The lady hadn’t stayed down.

  She was on her feet, charging up at him, getting ready to skewer his entrails. Olaf would have sidestepped the attack but he feared she might pierce the flank of his bay stallion, so he stood his ground, hoping that Lady Brenna lacked the mettle to slice up a man who hadn’t drawn his weapon.

  With a clang, her blade connected with his breastplate. The impact of his solid, unyielding stance made her bounce back and stumble on her feet. The sword slipped from her grasp and clattered to the frozen ground. Olaf stole a glance at his aching chest. The force of the blow had made a dent in his breastplate. Without the protection of the steel armor, his blood would be staining his boots right now. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the foolishness of setting himself up for slaughter and increasing the likelihood of being injured by giving the attacker a better weapon, just as he was about to do.

  He offered his treasured sword to her. “Try this.”

  The small figure in chain mail had crouched down to retrieve the fallen blade. When she heard him, she turned to look up at him, her movements awkward as she controlled the weight of the big helm on her shoulders. Slowly, she rose, leaving her weapon lying on the ground.

  Olaf held out the shiny length of steel. “It’s a single-handed arming sword for a lady,” he told her. “A female lacks the strength for two-handed combat and needs to rely on speed and agility instead.”

  “You knew?” Dark, shining eyes met his through the slits in her visor. Brown. Her eyes were dark brown, with golden glints in them.

  “Of course I knew.” Olaf threw the comment back at her, his voice full of scorn at the suggestion that she might have deceived him. “A woman moves differently. Fights differently.” Makes a man’s loins ache and his blood run hotter than the flames of hell, he could have added.

  In silence, he held her gaze. He could see only a thin sliver of skin around her eyes, and yet his gut tightened, adding to the restlessness that had seized him while they were parrying. She looked away first. Then she took the sword from him, stepped back a few paces and tested the weapon, slicing and stabbing at the empty air, lunging forward, attacking an invisible enemy and retreating again.

  In the Nordic lands, Olaf had seen women fighting beside their men. He’d always found female warriors in battle a glorious sight. Brenna Kilgarren moved with grace, her body slender beneath the chain mail that swamped her. Unlike the tall women of the north, Lady Brenna was small. The kind of woman who ought to be seeking a man’s protection instead of rejecting it, the thought flashed through Olaf’s mind.

  She ceased her prancing and turned to him. “Why did you bring me a sword?”

  “I didn’t,” Olaf replied. “I just let you try it out.” He wondered if the lady might be amenable to bribery. Such a sword was worth a fortune, certainly more than the other suitors’ tents, perhaps even their horses. “It used to belong to my mother,” he added.

  “Why did she give it to you instead of a daughter?”

  “She had no daughters.” Olaf paused. He disliked talking about himself, but despite his reluctance, the words tumbled out. “She died birthing me. My father thought it fitting that I should inherit her sword. It’s the only thing I have from my family. The rest went to my brother, who lost it all.” He gestured toward Thor. “This is all I possess.”

  “I see.” Before handing the sword back to Olaf with obvious regret, Lady Brenna glanced at the sacks hanging on the flanks of the bay destrier. “As you have no tent, where do you propose to sleep while I evaluate my suitors?”

  Taking his time over the task, Olaf wrapped the lady’s sword in the protective piece of sheepskin and stowed it behind Thor’s saddle. “When do you plan to make your choice?” he asked, returning his attention to the female warrior.

  “I don’t know.” Her brown eyes flashed in defiance. “Perhaps in a sennight.”

  Olaf gave in to the bitterness that brewed inside him. “I’ll give you until suppertime to make up your mind. Either I’ll sleep in your bed, or I’ll be on my way riding out.”

  Her surprised gasp made his mouth tighten with satisfaction. He was done with politeness, done with seeking to please. He wanted to settle down, or get back to some bloody battlefield where a swing from an enemy sword would give him eternal peace.

  “I’ll take orders from no man.” Lady Brenna’s voice rasped with anger.

  “You might defy a husband, but you’ll take orders from your king.” Olaf turned to stroke Thor’s sleek neck. “What about shelter for my horse?”

  For a long moment, Lady Brenna stood in silence. Then she lifted one mail-clad arm and pointed toward the simple stone tower. “Animals are on the ground floor, the servants on the next, and the top floor is for the laird and his family. You can settle in the guest solar.” Without another word, she spun on her huge leather boots and plodded along the path to the massive iron-studded front door.

  Olaf set off after her and gave a sign for Thor to follow.

  By tonight he’d know if his future lay in this barren land.

  * * *

  Brenna flung open the heavy oak door and banged her feet against the earth floor to shake off the snow. In her mind, doubt and fear fought with gratitude so deep that she was tempted to sink down to her knees and thank the Lord.

  She’d prayed for a man who would let her fight, who would treat her as his equal. A husband brought her one benefit and nothing more: he would strengthen her hold on the Kilgarren lands. After their union had been sealed, King James couldn’t strip away her heritage, claiming that a woman lacked the military skills to defend the borders of Scotland.

  The newcomer would help her secure her future.

  Then he could leave.

  And he would leave.

  Those not born on the remote edges of the land could never tolerate the loneliness, the shrill winds that blew in from the sea and the lack of daylight during the winter months, or the monotony of the meager meals the harsh climate could produce.

  Behind her, the knight led his big stallion inside and slammed the door, shutting out the remains of the dull winter daylight. She turned to
study him in the glow of the fire from the massive central chimney. He was broad-shouldered and lean at the hip, and no more than medium height. From the way the armor fit his body, she could tell it had been made for him.

  She’d already seen that his eyes were pale green. Now, he pulled off the heavy gauntlets and raised his hands to lift away the steel helm that covered his head. Tingles raced along Brenna’s skin at the sight that met her. Straight nose, square jaw, smooth, pale skin. The firm set of his finely curved mouth hinted at a determined nature. She could not have imagined such features. Elegant yet masculine, strikingly male despite their beauty.

  The horse butted at the knight’s side, and he turned to soothe the animal. When he bent his head, the golden locks that skimmed his shoulders fell forward. The light from the chimney set the strands alive with fiery glints. As a child, Brenna had once traveled to Edinburgh, where she’d seen paintings of saints, some of them with a halo just like that.

  Don’t be a fool, she told herself. He’s not a saint, just a man greedy for lands.

  “Where do you keep the oats and hay?” the knight asked, his hands busy on the flanks of the bay destrier, stripping the load from the animal’s back.

  “This is all we have.” She pointed at the dwindling stores in the corner. The knight followed her direction, his expression searching, until he accepted that there was nothing more than a single barrel of grain and a half dozen bundles of hay.

  Brenna hurried past the central stone chimney, enjoying the wave of heat from the flames. She scooped oats from the barrel into a wooden bowl and returned to give it to the knight.

  “Thank you.” He took the bowl from her and said nothing more.

  A fence made of birch saplings penned the animals into one end of the room. Ramsey, the workhorse, stood like an emperor in the middle, flanked by the pair of milk cows, Trudy and Sally. The dozen sheep had no names. Brenna didn’t like naming creatures she might have to eat.

  The knight had opened the gate to the enclosure and guided his horse inside. The sounds of the animals filled the silence. The horse drank with blustery slurps from the bucket on the floor. The others tried to push in for a share of the oats, erupting into a noisy protest when the knight ushered them back.

 
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