An Outlaw’s Desire
Lost Riches, Book 2
Gold Medal winner, Published – Novella Category, of Florida Writers’ Association’s 2021 Royal Palm Literary Awards
Days before Christmas, Pitt Rutherford is blackmailed into planning an attack on Millenstowe Keep. He discovers, however, that Lady Blythe Welborne, the only woman he’s ever truly loved, is within the castle’s walls.
As the attack draws ever near, Pitt must choose whether his obligation to claim a legendary treasure is worth more than a second chance at true love.
Read an Excerpt
Early December, 1185
“Why did the guards leave us on our own?” Fifteen-year-old Lady Blythe Welborne folded her arms over the front of her green wool cloak. A deeper chill settled in the shadows of the towering standing stones surrounding her, for the armed men on duty had walked out of view.
They’d left her with Pitt Rutherford.
Her heart drummed with uncertainty and excitement as wild as the winter wind whispering through the ancient site. At long last, were she and the squire alone?
With swaggered strides, Pitt closed the few steps between them. His straight, dark-brown hair, always untidy, lent a roguishness to his features. “Worry not. All will be well.”
His smile and words were doubtless meant to reassure. For years, though, her parents and tutors had impressed upon her the importance of following the rules of propriety. Ignoring the rules could ruin a lady’s reputation and her chances of a good marriage.
Blythe respected such rules were set for a reason. Her best friend Rosetta’s father, Lord Milton Montgomery, had greatly honored Blythe’s family by taking her in as his ward at Millenstowe Keep. As her mother had said, many young ladies wished to complete their tutelage in his lordship’s household, and Blythe should be grateful she’d been chosen.
At this moment, though, Blythe cared not about the honor. Finally—oh, finally!—she and Pitt were alone.
A flush tingled over Blythe’s skin as he halted a hand’s span away from her. Anticipation became a sweet, hot ache.
She’d met the squire, also fifteen years of age, weeks ago in the bailey. She and Rosetta had been walking to the gardens when Blythe’s cloak pin had come loose and fallen in the mud. Dashing away from the other squires gathered near the well, he’d retrieved her pin, wiped it clean, and they’d exchanged pleasantries. They’d become friends, and soon after, she’d dreamed of being in his arms, for his keen brown eyes seemed to see the forbidden longings in her soul.
With her leather-gloved hand, she pushed windblown hair from her cheek and gazed up at him, staring down at her. His hungry gaze sent a thrill racing through her. Now that she and Pitt were alone, did she dare to indulge her longings? Oh, how she wanted to. Rosetta had kissed Ash, her handsome squire, at the stone circle. Rosetta had told of the pleasure of that kiss, and now Blythe had the chance at such bliss, too.
His mouth ticking up at one corner, Pitt pulled off his gloves and stroked his fingers down her cheek; the gentlest of caresses. But, the glide of his warm fingertips on her cool skin set aflame every part of her body. Her eyelids fluttered, and she drew a sharp breath.
How did his touch hold such power? If he touched her like that again, she’d never be able to resist—regardless of the consequences. But, she didn’t want either of them to get into trouble.
“Pitt,” she said. “How can you be sure all will be well?”
“I am friends with one of the guards. I told him about us.”
Her breathing turned shallow; eager. She longed to throw herself into Pitt’s arms and kiss him. Really kiss him, without a single care to hold her back, and with all of the desire and joy gathered within her. Heat swirled up inside her to remember how they’d kissed in the stairwell the other day; frantic kisses with her hands clawing in his hair, his fingers running over her waist and hips. However, they’d promised to keep their relationship secret.
They had to.
Soon, she’d be wed to a well-respected lord almost forty years her senior. She’d had no say in the marriage, didn’t want to marry the man, but couldn’t defy a union arranged by the crown. Such disobedience would cast dishonor upon her family as well as Lord Montgomery. She’d not disappoint her parents or his lordship.
Dismay settled inside her; she must refuse her squire. Uncrossing her arms, Blythe glanced at where she’d last seen the guards. “Pitt—”
“I promise, we will do no more than kiss.” He leaned in and pressed his lips to her brow.
She shivered. Such a tender brush of his mouth, but her body had gone deliciously tingly all over.
Her half-lidded gaze slid to his mouth, the evenness of his teeth, and her belly swooped to remember his lips crushing down on hers in the stairwell, his breath warming her cheek, his body pinning her against the stone wall.
Whatever he’d stirred up within her that day still smoldered within her like a kind of fire: hot, bright, and enticing. She wanted him to kiss her like that again. Over and over and over.
“My friend understands.” Pitt caressed her cheek again. “He remembers being young and in love.”
Do not let this chance slip away. Take it!
“When he and his colleague are returning, he will forewarn us by raising his voice.”
Yearning sharpened to urgent need. Soon, she’d be forever bound to an older lord. Why not take what she wanted now?
Again, the breeze blew strands of her hair into her eyes. Before she could brush them away, Pitt’s fingers were there, sweeping them aside and tucking them, so gently, behind her ear. His puzzled gaze searched hers.
“I thought you’d be pleased.”
“Oh, I am.”
“If you do not want to be alone with me—”
“I do. I—”
Take the chance!
She leaned up and pressed her mouth to his.
He groaned, a sound of pleasure. His arms locked around her waist and pulled her flush against him. Her hands curled into the front of his cloak as she gave into the maelstrom of desire inside her.
The looming stones around them faded in focus. All she knew, tasted, sensed, was Pitt.
This is what she wanted every day for the rest of her life. His kiss, his embrace, held the power to meld all the tangled feelings inside her into one goal: to be his.
The fire within her burned hotter.
Pitt sighed against her lips. His kisses deepened, and he nudged even closer, coaxing her to move backward, until her back pressed against the standing stone behind her. As she melted against the monolith, his fingers sank into her hair. He held her head still, while he kept her against the cool stone with his kisses and his body.
Kissing him back with all the passion in her soul, she vowed to remember forever this glorious moment. No one—not even her wedded husband—could ever wrest it from her.
* * *
She tasted sweet, perfect, and of every dream he’d ever imagined.
Pitt shuddered as the hunger within him burned hotter. Deepening the kiss, he caught her quick intake of breath, felt her quiver against him, and he sighed again, the sound blending into a growl.
She stilled, clearly unsure. Of course, being a well-bred lady, she had no knowledge of carnal passion. She was still a virgin, while he was not. He paused, his mouth hovering over hers, and their breaths mingled. Blood pounded in his veins. His fingers curled against the curve of her waist; he remembered the silkiness of her gown when he’d touched her in the stairwell, and how the fabric had held the heat of her body. With a silent oath, he drew his arm away and pressed his palm to the weathered stone behind her, the coldness and rough texture drawing his thoughts from inappropriate cravings.
“Pitt,” she whispered.
He looked down into her beautiful green eyes, softened with desire. “Aye?” Sunlight shimmered on her auburn-colored hair and encircled her head like a crown of light.
“Kiss me…like before.”
Anguish threaded into her voice. An answering ache gripped his heart, a wish for much more between them than a few stolen kisses, but she’d told him weeks ago of her betrothal. Her fate couldn’t be changed, no matter how much they wanted it to be.
Here in this ancient place, though, she was his. He could imagine, in this spot where countless lovers must have kissed before, that she belonged to him—and always would. He lowered his mouth to hers again. As she arched against him and clung to him, he swept his tongue into her mouth. Today, he’d leave his mark upon her heart; his invisible claim that if things had been different, or ever could be different, they’d be together forever.
“Pitt,” she half-whispered, half-moaned.
Closing his eyes, he kissed her with all of the passion raging within him. As their lips brushed and molded together, he silently told her that he loved her. He always would. No other man would ever cherish her as sincerely and deeply he did.
As she wilted against him, voices carried on the wind.
“Aye, ’tis true,” a man said in a raised voice. “Our mates’ll deny it, but ’tis the truth.”
Pitt broke the kiss. Blythe swayed toward him; he caught her arms, steadying her.
Her expression dazed, her cheeks flushed and strands of her hair caught on the stone behind her, she stared at him. He’d never seen a more beautiful woman.
“Right yourself,” he murmured.
She blinked, her gaze still unfocused.
“The guards,” he said, more urgently.
The dreaminess left her expression. Straightening, she swiftly smoothed her hair and cloak. As she hurried from the shadows of the monolith into bright sunlight, the two guards strode into view.
As though she’d been studying the stone directly ahead of her, her attention shifted from it. Her expression calm and collected, she met Pitt’s gaze. “Thank you. I am grateful for what you shared with me.”
“My pleasure, milady.” He fought not to grin.
“I should return to the castle now. Would you please accompany me back to the fortress?”
* * *
Five days later
“If you have left any of your belongings behind, we will send them on to you.”
“Thank you.” Blythe smiled at the elegant and ever-gracious Lady Odelia Montgomery, who had become like a second mother to her. When Blythe dried her tears with a linen handkerchief, a raindrop landed on her hand, the beginnings of the rainfall the gray morning sky had promised.
Beside her, the door to the enclosed wooden carriage stood open. In the bailey beyond, tack jingled, and horses pawed the ground as the guards who would be safeguarding her on the journey waited for her to finish her goodbyes. Once she stepped inside the vehicle, her life as Lord Montgomery’s ward was over. She’d journey back to her father’s castle, and in less than a sennight, she’d be married.
Her heart hurt, the pain greater than any she’d experienced before. If only she could have one wish fulfilled this Christmas: to spend the rest of her life with Pitt. They were destined to be together. She knew that with absolute certainty. But, when she’d sobbed in his arms, begged for them to run away together, he’d refused. Stroking her hair, his voice heavy with sadness, he’d told her the dream could never be.
“’Tis for the best,” he’d murmured. “You deserve more than I can give you.”
Tears trailing down her cheeks, her ladyship drew Blythe into her embrace. “I am not good at such moments.”
Blythe hugged her ladyship. “Nor am I.”
Lady Montgomery drew back to arm’s length. “Come visit us whenever you wish.”
Stocky, broad-shouldered Lord Montgomery, standing beside his wife, drew Blythe into his fond embrace. She blinked hard before turning to Rosetta. Her dear friend’s eyes were red and puffy from crying. When their gazes met, Rosetta launched herself at Blythe.
“I do not want you to go.”
Hugging her friend tightly, Blythe barely held back sobs. “You know I must.”
“Promise you will write to me. Once a sennight, at least.”
“Of course, I will.”
Drawing back, Rosetta wiped her eyes. “At least I will see you soon at your wedding.”
Days ago, they’d gone to their favorite spot in the garden; to the stone bench near the rows of grape vines that had gone dormant until Spring. She and Rosetta had spread a blanket on the bench and had sat and talked about their squires. Promising to attend each other’s weddings had been one of the pacts Blythe and Rosetta had made to one another. At Blythe’s nuptials, with lots of guests to speak with, she and Rosetta might not get much of a chance to talk to each other, but ’twould be wonderful to see her and her parents amongst the throng.
Blythe’s vision cleared of tears for the barest instant—enough to recognize the man standing at the well, rinsing mud from his boots.
His gaze locked with hers. The anguish in his expression echoed the pain within her, and she fought not to wail. A low moan escaped.
Unable to bear any more, Blythe spun, stepped up on the mounting block and climbed into the carriage’s shadowed interior. The dark wooden walls, as suffocating as a stone tomb, closed in on her.
Pressing her hand over her mouth, she fought not to collapse in a sobbing heap.
Her gaze fell to the opposite leather-covered seat, lit by sunlight. A folded piece of parchment, topped by a stone the size of a plum, lay there. Leaning over, she picked up the rock: It appeared to be a piece of the standing stones. With a shaking hand, she opened the parchment.
I love you. Never forget me.
A cry wrenched from her.
The carriage door closed, plunging her into near darkness.
Men called to one another outside, and the carriage jostled and started forward. Blythe fell on her side and wept.