Wednesday 4 November 2015

“Are you come to kill me, or help me?”

Blurb: In 1543 Harry Wharton is caught up in a reivers' cattle raid and left for dead. Alina hides him, but her father threatens to kill him and subsequent events force her into a life-changing decision. An exciting historical romance set in the Anglo-Scottish borders in Tudor days.

“Are you come to kill me, or help me?”
At the sound of the croaky, laboured voice, she dropped his cap and jerked backwards. Her heart loosed a single mighty thump against her chest wall. Poised to rise and flee, she hesitated when the man made no effort to move. She frowned. He hadn’t sounded like Harry at all. His eyes were open, but only as mere slits. Careful to stay out of reach of his arm, she bent low to peer into his face.
She prodded his shoulder. “Harry?”
His eyes had closed again.
“Sir? Sir?”
His lids lifted, but only half-way. “Yes?”
Alina shuffled to one side, so he did not have to adjust his line of vision to see her. “What are you doing here?”
His lids closed once more. “My head…hurts.”
“You have a swelling. There.”
She whipped her finger back from his brow. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to cause pain.”
One of his eyes opened to the merest slit and regarded her with displeasure. “My horse has a gentler touch than you, madam.”
“Well!” Affronted, Alina could think of nothing to say.
“No,” he said. “Since you ask, I am not well.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Then you should have done.” He closed his eyes again.
Alina stared at him. His name was Harry Scott, and because of that, hurt or not, her father would kill him. But Harry had saved her from the bull, so she owed him something. She couldn’t walk away and leave him.
Yesterday the intensity of his gaze made her heart flutter.
Today he behaved as if she were a stranger.
Birdsong flooded from the branches above. Dragon dozed in the sunshine. The stranger’s horse moved a pace or two out into the meadow and continued to graze. Could she keep him hidden? Father might return at any moment. She turned back to the prone figure.
“Can you walk?”
His dark brows drew in towards his nose while he considered the matter. “I doubt it.”
“I can’t shift you on my own.”
“No need. Just let me be. Sleep…would be…good.” His voice slurred on the words and his eyes closed.
Alina leaned over and shook his arm. “You can’t sleep here. Someone will find you, and then it will be all over. There was a raid last night, and Father will think you were a part of it.” He took no notice, so she shook him again and raised her voice. “Do you want to die today?”
He groaned, and his hand lifted, fingers splayed, to stop her rough shaking. “Enough, I am awake.”
She sat back on her heels and surveyed him. “I hope you are not too heavy, Harry.”
His fingers clenched on the fabric of her skirt. “You know me?” His voice was sharper, demanding. “You know my name? Wait. Help me sit up.”
It was the kind of flippant reply she gave Lionel when he tried his new found authority on her. Lionel didn’t like it when she stood up to him, but she was the elder and had no intention of being brow beaten by her brother. Harry, however, was unmoved. He stared at the damp hem of her brown skirt as if fascinated by it.
“You are correct,” he said. “I am sorry. Would you please help me sit up? I shall do my best to assist.” Resigned amusement flavoured his apology.
Lionel never reacted like this. Alina made no move to help the man at her feet, but studied the lines of his face and remembered the oddness of his remark. “What do you mean when you ask if I know your name?”
“For God’s sake, woman! Help me!”
“How do I know you won’t attack me?”
He groaned. “By the Rood! How will I manage to attack you when I can’t sit up? You could fell me with a hazel twig at the moment.” Frustrated resignation rang through his voice.
“Can you turn over? It will be easier if you are on your back.”
“I can but try.” His mouth lifted in a crooked smile.
She observed his careful sequence of movements with a critical eye. Each limb seemed sound, and when he rolled over and stared at the spreading canopy of green leaves above him, she could not help but gasp, for his eyes glowed like sapphires in the soft light beneath the tree. Her heart gave an odd little jerk.
“Where are you?”
“Here.” She moved closer, confident he would not hurt her. “Can’t you see me?”
“I can now you’ve moved.” His eyes flickered and squinted as he struggled to focus on her. “What lovely eyes you have. I hope they are kind eyes. If I move my head it makes me dizzy, so just now I prefer not to, if you don’t mind.”
“Then how am I to move you?”

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