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My candidate for this week and for my seventh post I picked a scene from the The Knight (Highland Guard, 7.5) by Monica McCarty. This one had some intense moments between Joanna and James. I think I spent half the book with my throat tight because of these two. Poor Joanna! But as with all romance novels, this one does have a happy ending.
Synopsis: Stripped of his lands by the English king who killed his father, James Douglas will do whatever it takes to see his clan’s honor and fortune restored. The ambitious young knight, whose dark visage, powerful stature, and ferocity in battle has earned him the epitaph “the Black,” knows he must use fear, force, and intimidation to defeat the English, put Robert the Bruce on Scotland’s throne, and restore the honor of the Douglas name. Nothing and no one will get in his way. Not even the lass who captured his heart in childhood and still holds it in her delicate hands.
Joanna Dicson has loved James Douglas for as long as she can remember. That she is “only” the daughter of the marshal of Douglas Castle has never concerned her. Yet even as James’s ruthless reputation grows, and despite the warnings of others to guard her heart—and her virtue—against him, Joanna never dreams he will turn on her. He loves her and would never hurt her. But when James returns to Douglas to force the English garrison from his castle, Joanna learns that their love is nothing against his ambition. His marriage—like everything else—will be a means of bettering his clan. Heartbroken and humiliated, Joanna is left alone with a secret that may destroy them both.
Joanna’s heart was breaking. The man she thought she knew didn’t exist. She’d given her love to an illusion, a myth, a legend that he was sure to become.
Here was the “Black Douglas” the English whispered about, the ruthless, uncompromising warrior who had led a campaign of destruction and terror in the English-held Borders. She’d seen hints of this man over the years but had never thought that ruthlessness would be directed toward her.
How many times had she made excuses for him? Told herself the James she knew was different from the one on the battlefield? She knew the dragons of his past that James fought….
She understood the dark shadows of vengeance that drove him but naively thought that love would be enough. That she would be enough.
Dear God, how could she have been so wrong?
“I never said I would marry you, Jo. I never made you any promises.”
He seemed to be reading her mind, something that had been commonplace between them. Until now she’d always seen it as evidence of their closeness–a fallacy that seemed laughable now.
She looked up at him, chest burning, feeling her hopes and dreams char to ash. “You’re right. You didn’t make me any promises. I assumed that you honored me enough not to take that which was meant for a husband.”
His face flushed with anger–and, she knew him well enough to detect, a tinge of shame. “I honored you enough to count you a woman who knew her own mind and was capable of making her own decisions. I did not take anything that was not freely given, nor was I made aware that there were conditions.”
His words stung like a cold slap across her face.
Seeing her reaction, he swore under his breath. The harsh lines of his face softened. “I’m sorry, Jo. I will accept the blame for my part, but I will not be cast in the role of wicked seducer or evil deflowerer of virgins. I did not act alone. You wanted what happened as much as I did.”
As much as she wanted to curse him and blame him, he was right: It was as much her fault as it was his. She was not a girl fresh from a nunnery; she knew what was happening, and what it meant. She’d been just as carried away as he had. In fact, as she recalled now to her shame, she’d begged him to take her innocence–pleaded with him when he’s hesitated.
But it didn’t solve the problem or lesson the crushing blow of disappointment. Right or wrong, James had let her down.
And it wasn’t just her who would pay the price for her foolishness. Oh God, the baby. The baby, who only minutes before had seemed like a blessing, now felt like a curse.
I have to go,” he said. “They’re looking for me.” He looked torn, clearly not wanting to leave her like this. He reached for her.
This time she didn’t shirk away, but neither did she let him comfort her. She felt numb–strangely hollow.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Jo. We’ll figure something out.”
Maybe he didn’t know her at all. “There is nothing to figure out. You do not intend to marry me, and I do not intend to be your leman.”
He frowned. “What are you saying?”
She straightened her spine, looking him right in the eye. “That you have to choose. In this there is no in between. Nor will you convince me otherwise. My whole life I have given you everything, but I will not give you this. I will never be your whore. It is me or your ambition.”