Title: The Guardian’s Witch
Author: Ruth A. Casie
Genre: Historical Fantasy
She must choose between keeping her secret and losing the man she loves.
Lord Alex Stelton can't resist a challenge, especially one with a prize like this: protect a castle on the Scottish border for a year, and it's his. Desperate for land of his own, he'll do anything to win the estate—even enter a proxy marriage to Lady Lisbeth Reynolds, the rumored witch who lives there.
Feared and scorned for her second sight, Lisbeth swore she'd never marry, but she is drawn to the handsome, confident Alex. She sees great love with him but fears what he would think of her gift and her visions of a traitor in their midst.
Despite his own vow never to fall in love, Alex can't get the alluring Lisbeth out of his mind and is driven to protect her when attacks begin on the border. But as her visions of danger intensify, Lisbeth knows it is she who must protect him. Realizing they'll secure their future only by facing the threat together, she must choose between keeping her magic a secret and losing the man she loves.
“Lord Alex,” said King Edward. “Say goodbye to your bachelor days. Tonight you marry.”
Alex felt the blood drain from his face. He quickly summoned up his control to stall the display of any emotion.
“You’ve succeeded where the others have failed. Every other protector I’ve sent to Glen Kirk has gone missing. Was it Lady Lisbeth’s beauty and charms that kept you there?”
The mention of Lisbeth’s name among this crowd made his temper rise. The room exploded in loud laughter. A flurry of activity left Alex draped in flowers and propelled onto the small dais where a veiled woman stood attended by two others. Alex glared at the king.
Edward leaned close to ensure only Alex heard. “If only you could see your face.”
“A word, sire,” Alex asked in a controlled quiet tone.
“You have my full attention,” the king said softly as he nodded recognition to courtiers.
“There was no mention of a marriage.”
“And your point?”
“Sire, I’m certain I will marry, but it will be to a woman of my own choosing.” Alex held to a thin glimmer of hope that this was all a bad hoax.
The king’s expression turned hard. “Do you doubt my judgment?”
Alex looked at his king and knew all was lost. “No, sire.” He bowed his head slightly in submission. “But would you reconsider?” He could hear the desperation in his voice.
“You know I have your best interest at heart.” Edward paused. “Would you give me Glen Kirk as forfeit?”
He imposed an iron control on his face. “I am grateful for your choice of wife, sire. I am a fortunate man.” Alex bowed. He would never give up Glen Kirk.
The king straightened, clapped him on his back, and boomed in a loud voice, “Come, you’ll be married to your Lisbeth by proxy. I’ve arranged everything.”
Alex was certain he had. He smiled through clenched teeth.
“Lord Alex.” The king ushered Alex in front of a meek little man who hardly fit the elegant robes he wore. Two of Alex’s brother’s, Bennett and Cameron, moved out from the crowd and joined him.
“Easy, Alex,” said Cameron. “The king’s entertainment will soon be over.”
Alex stood there seething. The robed man went on and on but Alex stood rigid and remote. Glen Kirk was worth the inconvenience of a wife.
“Kneel, sir,” the robed man, sword in hand, demanded of Alex. “Kneel and prepare for the sword of courage.”
“Watch that sword of yours, Alex. You won’t need courage, more likely stamina. I suspect you’ll be thrusting it all night,” shouted someone, sending the crowd into peals of laughter.
Every muscle tightened but Alex forced a bland disinterested expression on his face while deep down he raged. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bryce standing by the door. A silent signal passed between them.
“Steady, man,” cautioned Bennett.
“Take your rightful place and humble yourself before your king and maker. As you bravely and solemnly come here today, you have shown to all present that you are worthy and ready to care for this woman your king has chosen for you, from this day forward. To take thy woman’s hand is an act of bravery only supplanted by the call to arms.”
“Is it war he enters or Lady Lisbeth?” Another roll of laughter passed through the room.
Husband or not, Lisbeth was Wesley’s daughter. Her name would not be dragged into this farce. He turned to the crowd and gave them a hostile stare.
The effect was immediate. The raucous talk quieted at once.
“Do you understand and accept this, sir?” The little man couldn’t hide the fear in his voice.
“Sure he does—now get on with it. There’s no wine until this is over.”
The king gently nudged Alex.
Alex glanced at Edward and saw something honest in his gentle smile. The edge smoothed off his anger. He turned to the holy man. “Yes, I understand.”
The sword was too heavy for the man to handle. The tip came dangerously close to Alex’s neck but he didn’t move. Cameron quickly interceded and helped place the blade on Alex’s shoulder.
Alex gave his brother a scathing look.
“Mother would never forgive me if I let someone lop off your head,” he whispered.
“Three times I tap thee, once in the name of our King…”
A shout rang up from the attending audience.
“…once in the name of our bishop, and once in the name of our holy protector. Now that you have knelt and been christened and tapped, I declare thee ready to receive your bride.”
The king squeezed his shoulder. The veiled woman approached. “My dear.” The king took her hand and drew her next to Alex.
With all the solemnness the little man could muster he began. “We are gathered here to join this man and this woman in a binding of life. At this day of binding, if any man declares any reason why they may not be coupled together, speak now.”
“It is all well with us—let them marry,” responded the crowd in unison.
The man turned to Alex. “Sir, do you take this woman who represents Lady Lisbeth Reynolds, daughter of the late Lord and Lady Reynolds to wife?”
Alex gave the obligatory response but he didn’t hear the rest of the ceremony.
“Lord Alex, I said you can kiss the bride,” said the frightened man.
The room was quiet. Whispers went through the room. “Who is she?”
“Well, Lord Alex? Do you need instructions?” The king’s words sent a ripple of laughter through the room that soon turned into a tidal wave.
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RUTH A. CASIE is a USA Today bestselling author of historical swashbuckling action-adventures and contemporary romance with enough action to keep you turning pages. Her stories feature strong women and the men who deserve them, endearing flaws and all. She lives in New Jersey with her hero, three empty bedrooms and a growing number of incomplete counted cross-stitch projects. Before she found her voice, she was a speech therapist (pun intended), client liaison for a corrugated manufacturer, and vice president at an international bank where she was a product/ marketing manager, but her favorite job is the one she’s doing now—writing romance. She hopes her stories become your favorite adventures. For more information, please visit RuthACasie.com or visit her on Facebook, @RuthACasie, Twitter, @RuthACasie, Instagram RuthACasie, or Pinterest RuthACasie.
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