(Barons of the Cinque Ports Series)
Isobel MacEwen has been sent as her cousin’s proxy to marry Lord Conlin de Braose, Baron of the Cinque Ports. But she’s a witness to her king’s murder, with only a pair of shoes as evidence. Isobel is infatuated with shoes, and has fallen in love with her cousin’s husband.
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Excerpt from The Baron’s Bounty
Isobel couldn’t find the horse, and figured she had no choice but to make her way toward the lighthouse on foot. She was already very late, and had been warned more than once by Catherine that the baron insisted on punctuality and would not keep his ship on Scottish soil longer than he had to.
Picking up her heavy, wet skirts, Isobel trudged up the road toward the lighthouse, braving the downpour of rain and the wicked weather. She was almost to her destination when she heard the neighing of a horse through the trees. Making her way toward the noise, she at first thought it was her own steed. That is, until she saw the horse’s trappings with the king’s crest displayed prominently. She pushed her long, wet hair out of her eyes and walked forward to investigate.
The horse’s reins were tangled in the brambles at the edge of the cliff. As she reached out to untangle it, she heard some low voices but couldn’t decipher what the people were saying. Startled, she jumped backward when she heard the loud sound of a thud and breaking branches. Something – or someone fell from the top of the cliff, hitting on the rocks and roots along the way down.
Isobel ran to the edge of the cliff and peered over just as the moon broke through the clouds once again. She gasped when she saw King Alexander lying on the beach with his neck twisted at an odd angle, obviously broken from the fall. More twigs snapped underfoot, and she heard the sound of someone hurrying through the underbrush – headed in her direction.
Her heart beat furiously and her body shook in fear. The murderer of the king was not going to be in a hurry to be caught. She couldn’t let him see her, or he’d kill her as well. Without her escorts, she was unprotected and very vulnerable. Isobel had only a dagger at her side – no match for the broadsword of a knight, or even the strong hands of a crazed serf. She had no choice but to hide in order to save her own life.
Hurrying behind a tree, she hunkered down behind a bush, not able to believe what she’d just witnessed. It sounded as if the person freed the king’s horse and slapped it on its rear to send it off. Hoofbeats sounded loudly as the horse ran through the foliage. Leaves crunched underfoot and she heard the killer coming toward her.
Step, Drag, Swish. Step, Drag, Swish, echoed in her brain as she focused on the sound of their footsteps. Isobel couldn’t keep her body from shaking as the murderer walked past her, so close she could have reached out and touched him.
Moving her hand slightly, a twig snapped beneath her palm. The killer stopped right in front of the bush that concealed her presence. Isobel didn’t dare move or even breathe, for fear the man would hear her and she’d end up at the bottom of the cliff alongside their ruler.
Her eyes fastened on to the man’s feet, and his boots immediately took her interest. She’d never seen any like these before. They were side-laced riding boots that looked to be made of two-toned Cordoba leather. They were of the finest quality, and very expensive since Cordoba leather came all the way from Spain. They were made from the hides of Musoli goats, tawed in alum in a secret method only known to the Moors. That’s what the cordwainer in town had told her. They were good friends since she spent so much time in his shop, and she’d learned everything she could about making shoes. He’d also said this type of leather was brought back by the Crusaders and very expensive. So expensive that cordwainers only made these shoes on special order from nobles who paid dearly for them.
The killer must have been satisfied thinking no one was there, and started forward again. As he passed by her, his very long cape dragged on the ground, brushing against her hand. It felt soft, as if it were made from fine-spun wool. It wasn’t the coarse material used to fashion cloaks for traders or servants. This cloak surely must have cost a high price. The killer had money. Or was perhaps a thief!
When she glanced up, from the corners of her eyes, she was sure she’d seen a flash of bright blue, red, and yellow that reminded her of the crest of the Cinque Ports. She closed her eyes tightly and clamped a hand over her mouth in order not to cry out. The intruder’s gait continued to echo in her brain. Step, Drag, Swish. Step, Drag, Swish. It was unlike anything she’d ever heard before, and odd. Very odd, indeed, but she couldn’t decipher why.