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Spellbound Summer historical romance book cover photo 
of gladiola flowers

An excerpt from
Spellbound Summer

copyright by

Janet Lynnford Ciccone 2002

Argyll, Scotland, 1600

Chapter 1
Geddes MacCallum, fifth Laird of MacCallum, wagered that a battle could have raged around the Englishwoman and she would pay it no heed. She stood knee-deep in the rushing water of the burn, looking happier than any woman had a right to, given what she was doing.
Her spade flashed in the summer sun as she wedged it into the gray muck of the bank, levered a chunk loose, and dumped it into a waiting bucket. With her rapt expression and her dirty clothing, she reminded him of a child making mud cakes.
She was no child though. The womanly curves beneath the drape of her clothing made that plain. She had tucked up her practical brown kirtle skirt to reveal slim, enticingly bare legs. Though the fabric of her simple bodice was brown linen, its excellent cut emphasized her small waist and graceful movements as she bent and straightened, harvesting muck from the bank.
Geddes frowned as she paused to push back an errant lock of shining brown hair. Her gesture streaked her creamy cheek with mud, though she didn't seem to notice. Nor did she seem to realize that she was in danger. The burn ran between his land and that of Angus Kilmartin, Master of Fincharn. Everyone in the area knew that only five months past, he had vanquished the Kilmartin in a deadly battle over the right to Castle Duntrune, but the Englishwoman was not from this area. She could not know that his four men, stationed along the burn, watched for marauding Kilmartins, anticipating their attack. Or if someone had told her, she didn't care.
She was more interested in digging clay.
It a dangerous attitude for a young gentlewoman, traveling with naught but a young male escort and an old man to protect her. Dangerous, but intriguing, to find such daring in a female.
He moved closer, intent on seeing more of her.
As he approached within hailing distance, Geddes stared at her hair. Glinting with highlights of rich cinnamon, it was bundled in a careless knot at the nape of her slender neck. It sagged as if it were about to tumble down, yet its dishevelment did not lessen the provocative quality that held his interest.
Her manner fascinated him most of all. With single-minded concentration, she riveted her gaze on the bank, as if her entire future lay before her.
Two old men and a bairn just learning to toddle stood above her on the bank, seeming equally interested in the work. Geddes recognized one man as Magnus the Potter, who lived with his son in the village of Duntrune. The old man usually spent his days dozing in the sun at his son's doorstep, uninterested in anything around him. The Englishwoman's arrival had apparently changed that.
Geddes would not have believed it possible for Magnus to be so animated. With his wizened face full of color, he gestured and barked orders to the other old man, who must be the Englishwoman's teacher. The doddering old fellows, reportedly acquainted, were in their element as they each claimed a full bucket of gray muck from her. The Englishman lugged his to a waiting cart.
"Come, Jamie," Magnus ordered his grandson as he trudged toward the cart as well. "I'll no' have ye fallin' into the burn."
The child, unsteady on fledgling legs, ignored his grandsire. Fascinated by the flashing spade, he toddled to the edge of the steep bank and stuck his head too far over the edge. His balance failed him. Both arms flailed. Realizing his peril, his face crumpled and he emitted a wail.
The Englishwoman dropped her spade in the burn and leaped forward, arms outstretched to catch the child, but Geddes was closer. He swooped down and scooped the lad into his arms.
Startled, Jamie yowled at the top of his lungs.
"I've got him," Geddes assured the Englishwoman, whose anxious gaze widened and locked on him. He patted the bairn on the back, feeling awkward but triumphant. Yowl as he would, Jamie would have disliked a tumble into cold water far more than being snatched to safety by his laird. "Och, wee Jamie, ye dinna fancy a dunking, do ye?" he quipped, jiggling the bairn in his arms, hoping to soothe him.
Jamie bellowed louder.
Geddes's confidence in his child-tending skills sank lower.
"James Malcolm, shame on ye," his grandsire muttered, stumping up to relieve Geddes of the lad. "I told ye to stay away from the burn. Thank ye, MacCallum. 'Tis good o' ye to look out for the laddie."
The child quieted at once in his kinsman's arms. As Magnus put distance between his grandson and the burn, Geddes noted how the Englishwoman's gaze followed the old man, an appreciative expression lighting her features.
Geddes stepped forward, thinking it high time she attended to the ruling chieftain as closely as she did the local potter.
"Greetings," she called, shifting her gaze back to him and waving in a salute. "You must be the other local laird." She smiled, and a sparkle danced in her eyes.
Despite the mud streaks on her cheeks, that smile nearly bowled him backward as she offered him the same friendly appreciation she had bestowed on Magnus. The charming dimple that appeared in her rosy cheek accentuated the good-natured humor in her face.
Geddes didn't know what to make of her. Women didn't look at him with impersonal friendliness and appreciation. Nor did they refer to him as "the other local laird." Women behaved in a seductive or obsequious manner, depending on what they hoped to gain from him. He was known, after all, as the Rakehell of MacCallum.
He glanced at his men to see if they'd noticed. The four members of his garrison studied the meadow opposite and the wood behind him, as they should. But he didn't doubt they were listening to his exchange with the Englishwoman. By nightfall, every word he and the maid uttered would spread around Duntrune.
Geddes watched her as she fished for her spade in the burn and retrieved it, further wetting her skirts in the process. Seeming untroubled by her dripping garments, she hoisted a load of gray sludge aloft and waved it at him. "Look! I told you I would find the clay, and I did. Isn't it wonderful?"
Strictly speaking, she had not told him. She had told his tacksman, Dougal Dunardry, who had questioned both her and her young Scots escort last night, then told them to clear off. But here she was still. The hump of blanket reclining under yon tree was, he judged, her young escort. Not much protection just now, though by all accounts they'd been here all night. His wish to sleep might be understood.
As they had not obeyed Dunardry, he had decided that someone with more authority must send them on their way. He would do it now, whilst the young man, who was reportedly tall and muscular and might have been the reason for her resistance, slept on. "This was my grandsire's favorite place to fish. I dinna appreciate yer digging it up without my leave, Mistress Cavandish." He adopted a curt manner that most people found intimidating.
She dropped the gray chunk into her bucket, propped the spade against the bank, and shaded her eyes against the sun with one slim hand. "My apologies, but the Kilmartin laird said in his letter that this land was his. He gave me permission to dig, so I did."
His impatience dissolved, replaced by incredulity. "You exchanged letters with him?" The villain had written to her and said she might dig, so she had come? How naive could she be? Worse yet, how naive were the pair who served as her protectors?