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Kinsey's Defiance
Author: Madeline Martin




July 1341

Castleton, Scotland



Kinsey Fletcher never cared much for market days. They were loud, crowded and filled with Englishmen trying to stir up trouble.

Like the two bleary-eyed sods pointing at them as Kinsey and her older sister, Clara, walked by.

“Ignore them,” Clara said gently. “They mean us no harm.”

“They would if given a chance.” Kinsey narrowed her eyes at the men, who grinned salaciously in return. The arrogant fools.

“Ye can’t go around picking a fight with every man who looks at ye.” Clara led them away from the carpenter’s stall they’d been perusing, and through the crowded streets. “Ye’d never get any rest.”

Kinsey scoffed. “I’m not the only one they’re looking at.” Though sisters, their vastly different appearances went beyond their personalities to their hair, with Clara’s being dark and silky straight while Kinsey’s curls were bright red. Regardless, they both seemed to draw a significant amount of notice.

Not that it was anything Kinsey couldn’t handle. Indeed, it was the exact reason she insisted on bringing her bow and a quiver of arrows to the market.

“Come, we’re nearly done.” Clara lifted the basket from Kinsey and examined the contents. They needed only a few nails and a bit of wool, and then they could finally return to their stone manor on the outskirts of the village.

It wasn’t only Scots who lived in the village, but English as well, given that they were so close to the border between the countries, where the two nationalities tended to blend. How could they not when the lands were stolen by either country, then taken back, only to be stolen again?

But reivers often spilled over from England in greater numbers on market days. Some seeking items from the traveling merchants; others in retaliation for some raid against them, which had been a retaliation for another prior raid. On and on it went.

One day, someone would need to put a stop to it. And Kinsey wouldn’t mind being that someone.

Regardless, the men all somehow wound up at the tavern with too much ale sloshing about in their heads and a keen determination to woo whatever lass they came upon.

Kinsey and her sister stopped at the blacksmith’s booth, where Clara bent to inspect a bin of nails. It was a rare sunny day, one she would prefer to spend at home rather than at the market. The sun beat down overhead, and the dry, dusty air rose around them, mingling the fetid scent of too many people with the various sweet and savory scents of cooking food.

“They’re all straight, miss.” The blacksmith folded his arms over his broad chest. His gaze wandered appreciatively over Clara’s slender pale hand, then up her arm and to her face.

“Ye always do quality workmanship, I know,” Clara rushed to reassure him. She lifted her focus to him, and her cheeks colored with a blush as she took note of his attention.

Kinsey shifted from one foot to the other in agitation. This was why they were always getting into trouble during market days. Clara was the type who wouldn’t ignore anyone speaking to her. Not the vendors, who she politely declined when she passed, nor the men who approached her to compliment her. Clara would flush prettily, a genuine response she could never stifle, while offering a “Nay, thank ye,” which was far too sweet to be taken as an actual rejection.

It only made the men press harder, and then Kinsey would have to step in to demonstrate the power of true discouragement. Usually with her bow and arrow.

It wasn’t Clara’s fault, of course. She was a beauty, though she never believed it regardless of how many men tripped over their hanging tongues as she passed. It was more than her wide, pale blue eyes and the full mouth they’d all inherited from their mum.

There was an innocence to Clara, a demeanor of genuine kindness. Mayhap that was why her good sister attracted the worst men.

Kinsey wasn’t as oblivious when it came to men’s notice. She knew they watched her as much as they did her sister. But she didn’t blush at their flattery. She sliced them with the blade of her tongue and set them back a few paces.

The two Englishmen were still there, pointing at her now. One caught her notice and gave a cheeky wave with the tips of his plump fingers. Kinsey practically growled her irritation.

“Do ye think these will be enough?” Clara asked.

Kinsey distractedly examined the twenty or so pointed nails in her sister’s cupped hand.

Kinsey nodded, though she had no idea how many were needed. Their eldest sister, Faye, had always been the one to attend the village on market days. Not only did she enjoy the task of shopping, but she also managed to procure the best deals. Except now, Faye was married, living in the Highlands with a bairn on the way. And there was nothing for it but to attend the market in her stead.

Clara paid for the nails and thanked the blacksmith, who gave a slow, besotted smile as he accepted the coins.

They had only a length of wool to purchase, and then they could leave. Kinsey’s shoulders didn’t relax though, not with those men nearby. She glanced about and realized she’d lost them. Mayhap that meant they’d given up and—

“You’re a pretty one.” One of the two Englishmen stepped from the surrounding crowd and approached Clara.

A delicate shade of pink blossomed over her cheeks, damn her.

“Thank ye.” Clara shyly ducked her head.

Kinsey didn’t bother to hide her huff of aggravation. Clara would eventually get them both killed.

“I bet you’re far sweeter than any honey I could buy here.” The man stepped closer, swaying a bit. His friend stood behind him, saying nothing as he offered them a smile that looked ready to slide off his homely face.

Clara shook her head, her smile wavering with uncertainty. “Nay, I—”

Kinsey moved to stand before her. “She’s not interested.”

The man didn’t bother to hide his lust as his gaze slithered down Kinsey’s body. “And I bet you’ve got the right amount of spice to offset that sweet, eh, Red?”

She resisted the urge to cross her arms over her chest to shield herself from his foul stare. Not only would she not give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d unsettled her, but she also wanted to ensure she could draw her bow quickly.

“I’m also not interested.” She notched her chin a little higher. “We’d like ye to leave.”

“What if I want to stay?” He licked his lips.

She slung her bow off her back, drew an arrow and sent one into the dirt just before his feet where he stood several paces away. He stepped back, and a second arrow landed where his other foot had been.

“The next one goes a little higher.” She nocked another arrow, aimed it at his groin and smiled. “Is that enough spice for ye?”

“Kinsey.” Clara’s voice held a note of warning.

Kinsey could already hear the admonishment. Though, with Clara, it was more a careful reminder than a chastisement. “Remember what the constable said—the next time ye bring out yer bow, ye’ll be fined.”

But Kinsey wouldn’t be fined. The constable made the threat often enough for her to know it held no weight. Then again, she’d only ever shot the ground. Would the constable continue to be as forgiving if she actually put her arrow into someone?

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