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    The Protector
    Sharon Balts
    Anne Dutton was sworn to secrecy, never to reveal her true identity lest dangerous repercussions fall upon the uncle and aunt in whose home she lived. When danger threatens, a bargain is struck with fearsome Thomas Blackaby. But Sir Thomas can deal betrayal as deftly as he wields his famous sword.

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    book excerpt

    "You called me naughty first!" Anne accused in a whisper.
    "And you deftly returned the compliment," Blackaby retorted in a good-natured manner.
    "Yet you have remained so, have you not?" Anne teased. "You have been the object of much gossip about court, Sir Thomas. I can scarcely trust you to act in accordance with that which my aunt has proposed."
    "Upon my oath, dear Anne, I am as well-behaved as I need to be in accordance with the eyes that watch me. And I am under far more scrutiny upon this wee vessel than ever I was in the grand household of royalty. I assure you, you shall be safe in my company."
    Anne made no further remark. She curtsied daintily. "I must go," she said quietly and quickly took her leave. Though Lady Elianor was anxious to learn of the conversation, Anne divulged little as they made their way to the cabin, citing mundane pleasantries such as the fine weather.
    "I scarcely think one would giggle about fine weather," Lady Teague commented dryly when she could not pry adequate information from her niece.
    Anne shrugged and smiled politely. Secretly, her heart was rejoicing. Long ago, she had become infatuated with the gallant man who had carried her so effortlessly through the falling snow. Though she had glimpsed him only a few times since that night, Anne had considered no man more handsome than Thomas Blackaby when he was wearing the livery of the royal guard and riding his fine horse beside a grand carriage.
    Though courtship with Sir Thomas was a lie and her time with him would end in a few short weeks, Anne decided she would enjoy this escapade as long as she could.
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