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Juliet sat down
on
a section of the broken wall and closed her eyes.

The thud of a horse's
hooves pounded across the pasture. With awareness tingling at the back of her
neck, she waited. The hoofbeats came closer.
Α
small metallic jingle from the bit, a little
snort. The horse had stopped.

Warmth spread through her
blood as if the sun shone directly
in
to her heart.

'I am sorry there's no treasure,' she
said, letting her joy run freely.

'Indeed, ma'am. Devil take it! Why else ask
you to meet me here, where the Felton Hoard was supposed to be buried? After
all, Ι have longed only to see you draped in Harald Fairhair's gold,'
his voice replied, rich with laughter and love. 'A massive torque around
your neck. Barbaric arm rings and necklaces. Α Viking hoard of solid gold
draped over your body.'

She grinned as the balm of his presence spread
its soothing, brilliant light. 'What gown could Ι possibly wear with
such jewelry?'

'No gown at all, of course: only the
treasure and nothing else. Ι have had to find a great deal of solace in
memory and imagination these last three months.'

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Mirth bubbled in her, as if the spring found its
way once more to the surface. 'You imagined me
naked,
sir?'

'Every day!'

Juliet opened her eyes and stood up. Alden swept
off his tricorn.

He was dressed entirely in white: coat,
waistcoat, a froth of snowy lace, even the ivory tricorn pulled from his golden
head. Only his boots shone black, while his mount's coat gleamed like a pearl,
the mane and tail a sweep of liquid frost.

The horse moved restively and pawed the ground.

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'A white stallion,' Alden said.
'It seemed appropriate.'

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'It doesn't matter. Only that you are
here!'

'You no longer wish for a knight on a white
horse, ma'am?' He grinned. 'Alas, Ι am shattered,'

'No, the treasure. The treasure doesn't
matter,'

'It never did,' Alden replied.

'You still wish to marry me, even without my
mythic ancestral fortune?'

'If you'll take a penniless younger son. We
can live at Gracechurch while Sherry is little. By the time he is old enough
to pick up the reins for himself, Ι trust I’ll have created enough wealth
of my own to keep us in comfort - at least enough to buy us a cottage with some
chickens and pigs,'

'Ι never kept pigs.'

'As you wish, wife. Will you be content to
be plain Mrs. Granville-Strachan? '

'Ι should be content to be plain Polly
Brown, if it means we can be together. But Ι have something for you,'

From her pocket, she pulled out a letter her
father had written and sealed, addressed to Alden. Controlling the horse with
one hand, he read for a moment in silence, then spun his mount back to face
her.

'Alas, ma'am. It would seem that we shall
not have the option to remain plain Mr. and Mrs. Granville-Strachan forever,
after all.'

Juliet stared up at him, her heart suddenly
plummeting. 'What do you mean?'

He dropped the letter into her hand and laughed.
'Only this, Juliet: the earldom of Felton will die with your father-'

'Ι know that. It made Kit's death even
worse,'

'So your father has petitioned the king to
re-create the title on his death and bestow it on whichever man is fool enough
to marry you. The king has agreed. If you marry me, we shan't be Lord and Lady
Gracechurch, but one day we'll be Lord and Lady Felton instead. '

Juliet stared up at him in open amazement for a
moment, then she began tο laugh also. She waved both hands, indicating the
huge estate around her.

'All of this will come with the earldom:
mansion, grounds, farms, land-'

'Faith, ma'am,' Alden said between
shouts of mirth. 'Ι am deuced disappointed! Ι was determined on
a cottage and you will saddle me with all this.' He held out one hand,
eyes sparkling with mischief. 'Yet Ι believe Ι must agree to
your father's terms. As you are no doubt aware, Ι am only interested in
your wealth, ma'am - been the case from the beginning.'

'
Ι
am certainly relieved, sir, that you are not
interested at all
in
my body.'

'Faith, then you may
not marry me, after all.
Ι
am
on
fire for your body.'

'While
Ι
, sir, am
only
on
fire for your bright mind. We have our last chess match to
finish.'

'Not the last,'
he said. 'The first of many more. But the truth is
Ι
am desolate, lonely and pining for your
presence:
in
my life,
in
my heart,
in
my bed.'

She stepped closer to the
horse and laid one hand
on
its glossy neck.

'Me, too,' she
said, holding up her hand.

Alden reached down and
took it. Juliet picked up her skirts and set her foot
on
top of his boot
in
the stirrup. In the next instant he had swung her
onto the horse with him and his mouth hungrily found hers.

WindWherever

The stallion began to
dance, uncomfortable with its double burden.

'Damnation!'
Alden broke the kiss, forced to give at least part of his attention to their fractious
mount. 'This carrying away the maiden
on
the white stallion is more complex than
Ι
thought.'

Juliet settled
in
to his embrace. Alden turned the horse's head and
began to canter it
in
spirals around the
meadow.

'We're going
nowhere!'

'You
are correct,' he
said, kissing her ear. '
Ι
thought you might like
to know what
Ι
think about your
treasure.'

She leaned back
in
to his strength. 'What do you mean?'

'That you do indeed
have gold here, sweetheart, if you want it for your daughter's dowry.'

'The heavy,
metallic, materially valuable kind? Kit and
Ι
followed the instructions
in
my mother's locket to the letter, so did Lord Edward
Vane. Nothing was ever found.'

'Look at the mud
patch,' Alden said as the horse cantered past the disturbed ground.
'Burying boxes
in
the ground is a deuced
bad way of hiding things. If the Fe1ton Hoard had been buried
like that, Oliver Cromwell's men wou1d have found it
in
an
in
stant.'

'So we had it all
wrong?'

'
No
, just a tiny bit of it. That wall,' he nodded to
the old brickwork, 'has been here a very long time. Perhaps originally it
was a mill, but the bricks are Roman. It was definitely here at the time of the
Civil War. What better place to hide treasure than
in
its crumbling walls?'

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She clutched his sleeve
as the horse began to prance. 'But the locket says the treasure is five
feet from the surface of the spring.'

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'Indeed
it does, but five feet
above
the surface, not below
it. What do you wager, ma'am, that if our sons and daughters break out bricks
the right distance above the ground, they'll find Harald Fairhair's gold?'

'
Our sons
and
daughters -
something
about
that sounds very, very good. What would you like me to wager?' Juliet
asked. '
My
shabby virtue?'

His lips brushed the back
of her neck, sending a keen rush of yearning down her spine.
'I’ve
already had that. How
about giving me your promise to love me forever? You have mine. Forever,
Juliet.'

'In
that case, husband,
Ι
don't really care about any other treasure.'

'Good,' he
said.
'
Harald Fairhair's gold
has lain here for a hundred years. If it exists, it can wait another century.
Meanwhile, this damnable stallion is desperate to stretch his legs. Shall we
gallop away
in
to the misty distance and
live happily ever after?'

'With you,'
Juliet said, breathing
in
his scent, reveling
in
his bright presence, secure
in
the embrace of his powerful arm, '
Ι
shall live happily ever after anywhere you
want to take me.'

Alden spun the stallion
about and gave the horse its head.








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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Julia Ross was born and grew up in Britain.
Α graduate of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, she has won
numerous awards for her novels. Julia now lives in the Rocky Mountains. Her
website may be found at www.juliaross.net.