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Knight in My Bedby Sue-Ellen Welfonder
As chieftain of the Clan MacInnes, Lady Isolde will do anything to protect her people including sacrifice herself to the enemy. Donall the Bold, laird of the hated MacLeans, lies locked in her dungeon awaiting execution. But rather than slay him, Isolde comes up with a daring plan to forge a lasting peace between their clans.… See more details below
As chieftain of the Clan MacInnes, Lady Isolde will do anything to protect her people including sacrifice herself to the enemy. Donall the Bold, laird of the hated MacLeans, lies locked in her dungeon awaiting execution. But rather than slay him, Isolde comes up with a daring plan to forge a lasting peace between their clans. Though Donall curses his beautiful captor, only a madman would refuse to savor the pleasures beneath that tantalizing aura of dignity and grace. But Isolde offers a mere covenant ... and Donall craves nothing less than total conquest. Vowing to steal her heart and take his freedom, the renowned warrior instead will find himself in a different kind of prison one made of sweet, decadent passion, and one he may never wish to escape.
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Knight in My Bed
By Sue-Ellen Welfonder
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2002 Sue-Ellen Welfonder
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDUNMUIR CASTLE THE ISLE OF DOON, 1330
NIP HIS FLESH with white-hot pinchers, expose him to showers of offal and ceaseless floggings. Pour molten lead down his throat and force him to fetch pebbles from a cauldron of boiling oil. Make him weary of drawing breath. Hasten his mortal exit.
The hum of angry voices pierced the blessed refuge of Donall MacLean's deep slumber with all the subtleness of a heavy-handed peasant battling moonbeams with a rusted scythe.
Careful not to reveal he'd awakened, Donall the Bold, proud laird of the great Clan MacLean, opened his eyes to mere slits and squinted into what could only be called the antechamber to hell.
Trouble was, Donall the Bold, belted knight and warrior of untold renown, was not yet ready to pass into legend.
Pull him asunder by four stout oxen. Get him to his knees until he pleads the mercy of God's holy blood.
"Pull me asunder? Make me plead God's mercy?" The words burst past Donall's parched lips, riding hard on a floodtide of fury he could no longer suppress.
Now fully awake, and uncaring if his malefactors knew it, he strained against the heavy bands of iron secured around his wrists and ankles. Outraged, he stared in disbelief at the unsmiling graybeards outlined in the open doorway to his dungeon cell.
An unlikely assemblage to be spouting brazen words, but the hatred simmering in their aged eyes brand marked them as the crazed dominions who'd rained such vile threats upon him.
Behind them, a wall torch sputtered and smoked, its reluctant flames edging their gaunt figures with an eerie reddish glow-an odd effect that underscored the impression he'd awakened in the talons of the horned one and his cloven-footed minions.
Relying on a fast-waning reserve of strength deep inside his battered body, Donall raked them with a defiant glare. "A MacLean gets on his knees before no man." Incredulity warred with his fury over the very idea. "'Tis mad the lot of you are if you think to accomplish such a feat. The only getting I'll be doing is out of here."
"Aye, and leave us you shall," one of the men agreed, "as a corpse to be tossed from the cliffs, your cold flesh good for naught but carrion for the gulls."
Donall narrowed his eyes at his captors. He'd howl with laughter at their effrontery but regrettably, he lacked the vigor to do much more than glower.
Cold and shivering, he'd been left unclothed to wallow on a pallet of fouled straw, his every muscle screamed in agony and his temples throbbed so fiercely he'd almost swear some heavy-armed churl had cleaved his head in twain.
Giving heed to the urge to laugh would only increase his misery. Even scowling cost him.
With a low groan, he leaned his head against the damp wall and drew in a few shallow breaths. He instantly regretted doing so, for a bitingly rank smell assailed his senses with each ragged gasp.
A stench almost as sharp as the white-hot shards of agony shooting through his head.
Where, by the Holy Rood, was he? And who were his stern-faced tormentors? Donall peered hard at the one who'd spoken. Hawk-eyed and boasting an unkempt shock of hair the color of rusted iron, the graybeard returned his stare.
They all stared.
And waves of anger emanated from their ancient bones. Several of them seemed hauntingly familiar, but the throbbing in his temples kept him from thinking clearly.
And who was the lady Isolde?
The woman whose name the jeering old weathercocks had bantered about before they'd let loose their barrage of ludicrous threats.
Or had he imagined the name? His mind's attempt to wrest his thoughts from his ravaged and aching state of being?
Or was Isolde the name of a long-forgotten paramour? A faceless victim of a one-time dalliance, come back to haunt him in his darkest hour?
Either way, the name wove a fine dance along the outer edges of his mind. Elusive as a nimble sidhe maid cavorting in the gloaming, the name taunted him with its familiarity but never came close enough for him to comprehend who she might be.
Snatches of angry words and a half-remembered scuffle joined the chaos of confusion in his mind but the red haze of pain banished each snippet of thought before he could make sense of aught.
"Not so mighty now, are you, Donall the Bold?" another of the graybeards commented, his aged voice laden with sarcasm. "Still, we purpose to grant you the preservation of your dignity by allowing you to repent your sins before our fair chieftain."
A female chieftain. The lady Isolde.
Fragments of conversations he'd had with his brother's now dead wife, Lileas, joined the swirling morass in his head, adding to his bewilderment.
Hadn't Lileas called her sister Isolde? And hadn't there been some talk about Archibald MacInnes's eldest daughter assuming the role of chieftain upon Archibald's death two years past?
The answers teased him, hovering close but not near enough to grasp.
Not with his blood pounding louder than a smithy's hammer in his ears.
He opened his mouth to let loose a stream of choice epithets but the dark oaths died on his tongue when a tiny, four-footed something skittered across his bare feet. He jerked his legs in reaction, but the cold iron binding his ankles hindered any further movement and drove home the grim reality of his plight.
At once, the haze clouding his mind lifted, leaving only pain, anger, and indignation in its place.
With dawning clarity, the wretched details of his surrounds and the sorry state of his own bruised body became as clear as if illuminated by the flames of a thousand well-burning torch lights.
Not as clear but equally disturbing came the faint memory of a grizzle-headed female bending over him, a hell-hag who peered at him from clouded eyes. To his horror, he also recalled the crone lifting the tattered cloth someone had tossed across his vitals and, brazen as day, peeking at what lay beneath.
Saints preserve him if she proved to be the "fair chieftain" his captors thought to force him to do penance to. The very thought was enough to curdle his flesh.
"You appear vexed," said a third graybeard. This one had stark white hair and leaned heavily on a walking crook. With slow, shuffling steps, he came near to where Donall sat braced against a cold, slime-coated stone wall. "Dare we hope you are regaining your senses at last? Perchance remembering the ease with which we took you?"
The man leaned down, so close his stale breath fanned Donall's cheek. "Pray, how does it feel to have been bested by an insignificant clan such as ours? I doubt you e'er thought to awaken wearing naught but MacInnes irons?"
At last, the remaining dredges of fog cleared from his mind and he remembered.
But he hadn't been bested, they'd tricked him.
When his brother Iain's grief upon his wife's death had proved too great for him to perform the sorry task himself, Donall and his foster brother, Gavin MacFie, had set off alone to bear Lileas's body home to her clan's stronghold, Dunmuir Castle.
Upon arriving, they'd been welcomed, thanked, and even offered victuals and ale to sustain them before they continued on their journey to the mainland to purchase cattle and supplies for the MacLean holding, Baldoon Castle on the opposite side of Doon, the bonnie isle both clans had shared since time beginning.
A voyage Donall had expected to make together with a party of MacInnesses.
An excursion he'd meant to use to locate the true murderer of Iain's beloved MacInnes bride.
An endeavor of great and dire import, a matter he'd hoped to see resolved before his short-tempered brother awakened from the haze of his sorrow and set off on his own to avenge his wife's death. Iain's rashness would only make a bad situation worse.
Deep inside, in a hidden place Donall did not care to let his thoughts linger, he hoped Iain's hot temper and tendency to quick bouts of irritability had nary a finger in causing the tragedy.
And now his attempts to avert further turmoil were rendered impossible by the MacInnesses' addlepated plans to wreak vengeance on him!
He strained against his fetters, frustration hot and bitter in his throat. Cold iron emphasized the futility of his efforts to break free, while the closed expressions on his captors' faces bespoke the folly of trying to persuade them to form an alliance to seek the true perpetrators of their kinswoman's murder.
But futile or folly, he must try.
Donall forced himself to swallow his anger. If only Archibald were still alive, he might have half a chance. But the old laird was gone, and the graybeards holding him captive showed none of Archibald's desire to maintain at least a semblance of peace.
Though they had been bitter enemies for centuries, the old laird's efforts had enabled the two clans to enjoy an uneasy truce in recent years. Neither Donall nor Gavin had suspected the lass they'd come upon not long after their departure from Dunmuir of pretending to have twisted her ankle. Her supposed injury allowed the scheming MacInnes whoresons to fall upon them from behind when they'd stopped to help her.
"What ails you, laddie?" The white-haired ancient nudged Donall's bare thigh. "Are you so vexed o'er being bested that you've lost your tongue?"
Donall ignored the taunt and swept the cell with his gaze, peering deep into the shadowy corners to see if his pain-addled state had prevented him from spotting Gavin. But he was indeed alone, his foster brother nowhere to be seen.
"What have you done with Gavin?" He struggled to sit up straighter. "If aught has befallen him, it is your clan who will be bested," he swore, directing his words to the hawk-eyed man he at last recognized as the late MacInnes laird's brother, Struan.
"Proud words for a man in your position." Struan's gaze flicked over Donall's iron-bound limbs. "Your man rests in his own cell and more comfortably than you, never fear. We bear no grudges against the MacFies. Our fight is with you."
"Striking a man from behind has naught to do with fighting." Ire swelled in Donall's gut. "Such trickery was a sorry deed, one I doubt your brother would have allowed."
"Archibald is dead." The youngest-looking of the gray-beards stepped forward. He cast a sidelong glance at Struan.
"Our ceann cath now advises us in war matters, and we possess the wisdom of our combined years. It is enough."
Without further discourse, he went to stand before the chink in the far wall that served as the cell's only window. Though painfully narrow, the opening had allowed a semblance of light and an occasional stirring of brisk sea air to enter the chamber. By blocking the air slit, he stole the scant comfort Donall had gleaned from the few stray breezes that had found their way into the cell.
As if Donall's thoughts were emblazoned upon his forehead, a knowing smile spread across the man's grim-cast face. "You see, Donall the Bold, brawn is not always required to make one's enemies squirm. Clever planning can often wreak a far more fitting revenge than a well-wielded sword."
"And it is the taste of my well-wielded blade's steel you shall suffer if you do not release me at once." Donall's anger heated his blood to such a degree he no longer felt the cell's damp chill.
"Your blade is secured far out with your reach," Struan countered. "Indeed, your days of swinging swords are past, MacLean. Even your supposed prowess with another sort of, shall we say, thrusting weapon will serve you no more."
Bracing his hands on his hips, he gave Donall a wholly unpleasant smile. "I daresay you shall regret being denied the use of that sword once you glimpse the fair countenance of our chieftain, the lady Isolde. But alas, sampling such a tender fruit as she is a pleasure beyond your reach."
"I would sooner plunge my staff into a she-goat," Donall seethed, his shackles cutting into his wrists and ankles as he sought to lunge at the graybeard. "May my shaft wither and fall off afore I-"
"Be assured I find the notion equally displeasing." Donall froze. Smooth and rich as thick cream yet irresistibly spiced with the bite of pepper, the woman's voice poured over, around, and into him.
Under any other circumstances, the pleasing tones would have banished the sting of his anger with ease, mayhap even ignited fires of an entirely different sort of heat, but he was in no mood to be swayed by the sweet lilt of a few saucily spoken words.
Especially when the melodious voice most assuredly belonged to Isolde MacInnes.
A woman he had no intention of being attracted to. "Distasteful as your presence is to me, you are under my roof and I am determined to have done with you accordingly," she spoke again, her words confirming her identity.
Donall shifted on his pallet of straw and wished more covered his manhood than a thin piece of cloth. If the lady Isolde's appearance proved halfway as provocative as the honeyed timbre of her voice and the avowals of her uncle, he would have preferred a more substantial modicum of dignity.
Cell-bound and fettered or nay, red blood yet coursed through his veins.
Nor had the blackguards put out his eyes.
Pressing his lips together, he pushed aside all thought of fetching lasses. It'd been longer than he cared to admit since he'd last taken his ease with a wench, but he did not want to be bestirred by Isolde MacInnes.
Not even a wee bit. What he wanted was a way out of this cell.
With luck, he'd find her so unappealing, any unwanted surges of admiration would fly away at first glance. Holding his breath lest it not be so, he turned his head toward the door whence her voice had come.
She stood just inside the open doorway, holding a rush light, her aged kinsmen clustered around her. And much to his ire, he recognized her worth immediately.
Her uncle hadn't lied: she was indeed a beauty.
A powerful jolt of frank appreciation shot through him, boldly declaring his hot-blooded nature's refusal to cooperate with his avowals to resist her charms.
"Lady Isolde." He curtly inclined his head. Blessedly, his voice remained free of any indication he found her alluring. "I refuse to be a part of such foolery as your men intend to perform on me and demand you release me at once."
She stepped farther into the cell, her rush light held aloft. Its flame illuminated the finely formed contours of her face, emphasizing the smooth perfection of her skin and casting a bright sheen upon her plaited hair.
Hair the color of a thousand setting suns, its deep bronze tones shot through with lighter strands that shone like molten gold. Unbound, it would surely swirl around her gently curved hips and bewitch the good sense out of any man fool enough to try to resist his attraction to her.
Excerpted from Knight in My Bed by Sue-Ellen Welfonder Copyright ©2002 by Sue-Ellen Welfonder . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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