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Mina took off her stiffened headband and wimple and walked her horse along a narrow path through the unfamiliar woods.

The path wound close to tended fields, and she could hear snatches of conversation among the peasants. They spoke of the coming harvest and their families, and they made jokes. Sir Roger must be a good lord, she thought, or she would hear complaints and grumbles from people thinking themselves unheard by anyone from the castle.

Soon she reached a babbling brook,. She sighed contentedly, taking in the beauty of her surroundings and her few moments of peace. Long ago she had learned to savor such rare moments, and to store them in her memory to recall again when her life grew more difficult.

How many more such solitary rambles would she enjoy? Very few, probably. She was quite certain that Sir Roger never stopped to admire a lovely, sunny summer's day, or watch the birds and squirrels preparing for the winter.

She slowly walked the horse back to the main road, stooping periodically to pick a bouquet of wildflowers. Then Mina heard the sound of horses on the road.

As she suspected, it was Sir Roger and his soldiers. Since she had accomplished her goal, she did not try to conceal herself.

Sir Roger gave the signal to halt. "Where have you been?"

"Picking flowers," she answered calmly, ignoring Sir Roger's glare.

Sir Roger swung down from his horse and marched toward her, his frowning lips matching his glaring black eyes. "It is dangerous for a lady to ride out alone."

"Really, Sir Roger? Your lands are not safe? Outlaws do not tremble to hear your name?"

Roger stared at this foolish young woman with the limpid eyes who dared to imply that he could not maintain the safety of his people. "No forest is safe for a lone woman."

"How stupid of me to forget."

She went to go past him, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her close. Her horse's reins fell from her hand, and the flowers she carried in the other were crushed against his chest. "You are not stupid, but you are a lady. And if you want to be treated like one, I suggest you act like one." He pulled her even closer, so that her breasts were pressed against his hard chest. "Or would you rather I did not treat you like a lady?" he whispered huskily.

"You would not dare -"

"I dare whatever I like, my lady. This is my land and you are to be my wife. If you do not wish to anger me again, I suggest you do as you are told."

"Or you will what? Rape me?" she demanded, her voice low so that the others could not hear, but so intense he couldn't doubt the passion and the conviction behind them.

She twisted away from him.

"My lord, I can believe you are capable of anything, and if I am to act like a lady, might I suggest you act like a gentleman?" She tossed the destroyed flowers aside and crossed her arms. "Rest assured, Sir Roger, when we are married and in public I will be a docile, obedient wife. But do not ever try to take me against my will, because if you ever attempt to destroy the one shred of dignity I have left, you will regret it."

She grabbed the reins of her horse and mounted quickly, heading down the road toward the castle.

Roger stalked to his waiting horse. God's blood, she had surprised him - and not just with her words.

A woman who was not afraid of him, even at his most domineering. How did she get that way? From what source did that incredible resolve and the fierceness in her glowing gray eyes come? Even more surprising, perhaps, was his other reaction.

He liked her. He admired her poise and her assurance. More importantly, he could respect her.

He put his hands on his saddle when another response besieged him. He wanted her. The perception of his desire was nearly as shocking as its magnitude.

But there could be no denying what he felt. What he had first experienced the moment he had brought her body into contact with his, with the scent of flowers about her, her hair loose and her cheeks flushed, she seemed wild and untamed. Free. Passionately free. God's teeth, if he could but turn a portion of that passion to himself....

This is the fifth book in Margaret's Warrior Series.

However, Margaret always writes each book to "stand alone" so if you haven't read any of the previous books in the series, you shouldn't feel lost.

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Cover Copyright © 1996 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Text Copyright © 1996 by Margaret Wilkins
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