The last thing Sir Kenneth MacKenzie needs is a wifeeven if there is a beautiful woman claiming to be his wife and living in his newly inherited castle. He has every intention of forcing her out, but Lady Mariota Macnicol has no intention of letting that happen. Original.
About the Author
Sue-Ellen Welfonder is a Scotophile whose burning wish to make frequent trips to the land of her dreams led her to a twenty-year career with the airlines.
Now a full-time writer, she's quick to admit that she much prefers wielding a pen to pushing tea and coffee. She makes annual visits to Scotland, insisting they are a necessity, as each trip gives her inspiration for new books.
Proud of her own Hebridean ancestry, she belongs to two clan societies: the MacFie Clan Society and the Clan MacAlpine Society. In addition to Scotland, her greatest passions are medieval history, the paranormal, and dogs. She never watches television, loves haggis, and writes at a 450-year-old desk that once stood in a Bavarian castle.
Sue-Ellen is married and currently resides with her husband and Jack Russell terrier in Florida.
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Until the Knight Comes
By Sue-Ellen Welfonder
WARNER FOREVERCopyright © 2006 Sue-Ellen Welfonder
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDRUMODYN CASTLE SCOTLAND, THE FAR NORTH AUTUMN 1344
Hugh the Bastard. The three words dealt Mariota Macnicol a smiting blow, each one lodging in her throat like searing lumps of hot-burning coal as she stood on the threshold of the tower bedchamber and stared at the man she loved more than life itself.
Certainly more than her own, for she'd willingly suffered the pains of scandal and ruin to be his lady, turning her back on her well-comforted existence to pave him the way to his dreams.
His lofty ambitions. And now Hugh Alesone, Bastard of Drumodyn, was dead.
Or soon would be, for the twinkling blue eyes that had e'er besotted her were now full-glazed and bulging, the horror on his handsome face as he caught sight of her, an unmistakable recognition of his imminent end.
Aye, Mariota's golden giant of a Highland lover was about to die naked in his bed.
Naked in the arms of an equally unclothed whore. Shivering, Mariota stared, not trusting her eyes. Shock and disbelief crashed over her, stealing her breath until her anguish rose in a tide of fury, and the welling pain burst free.
"No-o-o," she cried, agony ripping her soul. "By the living God! Hugh...."
"'Tis m-my heart," he gasped, his eyes widening. Her own heart poundingfuriously, Mariota bit down on her lip as he broke away from the sweat-dampened bawd straddling him and pressed both hands against his chest, its well-muscled planes, resplendent with a smattering of golden hairs, proving as drenched and heaving as his whore's fleshy, over-generous breasts.
His penis glistened as well, highlighted almost obscenely by the glow of the night candle. Flaccid now, and surprisingly small for such a great stirk of a Highlandman, the dangling appendage was clearly wet from vigorous love play.
A truth underscored by the disarray of the bed coverings, the flagon of wine and two half-emptied goblets on a fireside table, and the trail of discarded clothing littering the rush-strewn floor.
That, and the reek of passion sated still hanging so heavily in the chill air.
"Saints have mercy!" Mariota clapped her hands to her face, the only movement she could manage for her legs felt leaden, her feet as roots of stone.
The other woman suffered no such loss of agility, scrambling off the bed so swiftly her ungainly efforts to extract herself would have been comical if her very presence didn't feel like a vise around Mariota's heart.
All but spitting and snarling, the bawd flung the last of the bed coverlets from her naked body, knocking over the flagon of wine in her clumsiness, the blood-red libations splashing onto the floor rushes.
Watching her exodus, Mariota curled her hands into fists. The back of her neck throbbed, its tender skin blazing as her gaze lit on the spilled wine, some still coherent part of her seeing a reflection of Hugh's ignoble demise in the quickly spreading stain.
An irony the Bastard of Drumodyn would miss for he'd collapsed onto the bedsheets, lay staring at her from blank, unseeing eyes.
And just looking at them sent a bitter, piercing cold sluicing through her. "Dear sweet saints," she gasped, more to herself than the woman still looming so naked beside the bed. "He's dying...."
But Hugh Alesone was already gone, having left to join his forebears, breathing his inglorious last without a further word spoken.
And with his departure, a great gusting wind rushed into the room, guttering candles and sweeping across a worktable strewn with parchments, the icy blast scattering his treasured writings to every corner of the room.
Love sonnets, the most of them, and composed for Mariota, but also painstakingly gathered accountings of the ancient line from which Hugh claimed descent-even if his bastardy had constrained him to subsist on little more than his own silvered words and broth of limpets and milk.
Good enough fare until Mariota's munificence enabled the would-be bard to indulge his higher tastes and live as befitted one who believed to carry the blood of kings.
Scarce able to believe him dead, she swayed, almost reeled into the other woman. But she backed away as quickly, something about the woman's moist red lips and the slant of her eyes, prickling Mariota's nape.
"You!" she cried, awareness slamming into her. "You are-"
"Elizabeth Paterson," the whore supplied, her gray eyes cold and glittery as a winter dawn.
In numbed shock, Mariota recognized her with surety now. If not by name, then by reputation, for the woman was none other than the notorious alewife of Assynt.
Widowed and slightly older than Hugh, Elizabeth Paterson ran the Burning Bush, an establishment of less than noble repute where the high-spirited widow was rumored to offer wayfarers much more than victuals and simple lodgings.
The air around Mariota grew colder. "You are the alewife," she said, the acknowledgment sounding faraway, her voice a stranger's.
"And that surprises you?" Nowise inhibited, the bawd made no attempt to cover her spurious charms. "Did you not know Hugh had dark, lusty tastes? Needs he could only quench with someone like me?"
Mariota gritted her teeth, her world splitting open to become a yawning void filled with naught but Hugh's naked, inert form and the triumphant little sneer playing about the alewife's generous, love-swollen lips.
"Be gone from here." Mariota flicked a hand at the crumpled clothes on the floor. "Dress, and take yourself from my sight."
The bawd ignored that and lifted her chin. "A pity you returned sooner than expected, Lady Mariota," she said, her throaty voice taunting. "You might have been left to your illusions had it been otherwise."
Mariota stiffened, something inside her cracking, turning her to stone.
"I turned back before even nearing Dunach," she admitted, the name of her home bitter on her tongue. "Praise God I did not plead my father's beneficence yet again-"
The alewife sniffed. "I told Hugh he'd seen the last of Archibald Macnicol's coin. Word of your puissant father's spleen with you is widespread."
Sliding a hand down her belly, the bawd let her fingers hover above the dark tangle of her nether hair. "See you, Mariota of Dunach, Hugh knew you might return early, but he did not want to forego our amusements."
Mariota's eyes began to sting, hot gall rising in her throat. Equally damning, she seemed unable to lift her gaze from the other woman's abdomen.
Elizabeth Paterson's decidedly swollen abdomen. Her emotions churning, Mariota dug her hands into her skirts. "It would seem the two of you indulged often enough."
The other shrugged. "That may be, but 'tis not Hugh's child I carry. Not that he cared. Truth be told, he took great relish in hearing of my encounters at the alehouse." Mariota stared at her, wordless.
The alewife's lips quirked. "If you would know the whole of it," she said, reaching to trail her fingers across Mariota's stomach, "he gloried in my swelling form, even likened my sweetness to a ripening plum. His get, or no."
Recoiling from the woman's touch as well as her words, it took Mariota a moment to notice the multicolored bursts of light suddenly flashing about the alewife's fingers, and yet another to recognize the bawd's true purpose in putting her hand to Mariota's waist.
"My dirk!" Mariota's heart slammed against her ribs at the sight of her bejeweled lady's dagger in the other's hand.
She fumbled at her skirts, her cold fingers finding the blade's empty sheath, the discovery sending chills down her spine.
"You've stolen my dirk!" "Say you?" The alewife feigned astonishment. "Och, nay, my lady, 'tis not stealing it I am-only borrowing."
The alewife nodded, her mouth curving in a satisfied smile as she returned to the bed and, with the dirk's blade, swept several of Hugh's windblown parchments onto the floor.
Spearing one that yet clung to the edge of the mattress, she waved the thing at Mariota. "See you, lady, to your face he called you his minx but behind your back he named you a fool," she said, her tone steeped in derision. "I was neither. Ours was an understanding of mutual fulfillment and I meant to use him as boldly as he used me."
Her eyes flashing, she yanked the scroll off the dagger and tossed it at Hugh's body, her mouth twisting in another mirthless smile when the parchment landed on his shriveled manhood.
But, as quickly, her attention flickered to the half opened window shutters across the room, and something about the glint in her eyes iced Mariota's blood.
"Did you know that your precious Hugh carved footholds in the outer wall of this tower?" She spoke softly, her fingers playing over the gemstones in the dagger's hilt. "He cut them there to allow such as me to win in and out of this chamber discreetly."
"Indeed?" Mariota raised a brow. "I see nary a shred of discretion on you."
The odd look in Elizabeth Paterson's eyes intensified, her expression hardening. "The need for suchlike is past, would you not agree?"
Mariota held her rival's stare and hoped her own features appeared as cold. Drawing a deep breath, she strove to ignore the tight edges of fear beginning to beat through her, the rapid hammering of her heart.
"Tcha, my lady, all that remains is my need for revenge." The woman's contemptuous glance slid over Mariota. "Aye, vengeance will be mine and served on you!" she hissed, hauling out to slap Mariota full across the face.
Mariota gasped, the smashing blow sending her reeling. She flung up an arm to stave off further blows, but her knees gave out and she sank to the floor.
"Not so proud now, are you?" The whore's face darkened with malice.
Mariota blinked, tried not to gag on the blood filling her mouth as Elizabeth Paterson's menace and her own pain slipped over her like a sheet of cloaking ice.
"Fie, but you have lost your wits, eh?" The alewife leaned close, spite pouring off her. "You'd best gather them, for when I climb out yon window, your life will be worth less than these floor rushes," she vowed, scooping up a handful and letting them drift onto Mariota's head.
"A meet revenge, Mariota of Dunach, for with your untimely return, you have ruined my life!"
Mariota stared at her, the woman's gall restoring her tongue if not her strength. "'Tis you who-"
"'Tis I who could have made Hugh a master at barderie," the other boasted, waving the dagger for emphasis.
"You come of a long line of fighting men, warrior lairds who live by the sword," she went on, her eyes blazing. "I have the blood of poets, and a sufficiency of influence in bardic circles to have seen him on his way. So soon as he'd amassed enough coin for us to journey forth from this bog-ridden land of dark hills and desolation."
"Sweet Jesu, you are mad," Mariota breathed, her cheek still burning like a brand. "Hugh would ne'er-" "Hugh would as he pleased, and he ne'er intended to make you his wife," the other flashed, bringing the blade dangerously close to Mariota's face. "But if it soothes your mind, I had no use for him beyond his promise to settle me with a new alehouse-a fine establishment to serve a better lot than frequent the Burning Bush."
Mariota struggled to her knees, silently cursing the light-headedness that kept her from standing. She did turn a blistering stare on the woman. "And now you, like I, have nothing."
"Not so," Elizabeth Paterson disagreed, whirling back to the bed, a whooshing streak of steel revealing her intent.
"No-o-o!" Mariota's eyes flew wide as the dagger plunged into Hugh the Bastard's chest. "In sweet mercy's name!"
"Not mercy, revenge." Her tone chilling, the ghastly deed done, the alewife calmly retrieved her gown from the parchment-littered floor and crossed to the windows.
Heedless of her nakedness and with her flaunting wealth of hair swirling around her, she tossed her gown into the dark night beyond, hoisted herself onto the broad stone ledge.
"Be warned. Hugh's men will have heard the ruckus," she said, looking pleased. "When they come, your dirk will be raging from the Bastard's heart. You will be thought to have murdered him. Vengeance will be mine." And then she was gone, her parting words echoing in the empty chamber, the threat behind them giving Mariota the strength to clamber to her feet.
She staggered forward, intent on reclaiming her dagger however mean the task, but the moment her fingers curled around the blade's jeweled hilt, the sudden clamor of pounding feet stayed her hand. Harsh male voices, raised in outrage and disbelief.
Hugh's men. A half score of them pushed into the room, ready anger flaring on their bearded faces, hot fury thrumming along every inch of their brawny, plaid-hung bodies. Her own body chilled to ice, Mariota faced them. "God as my witness, I did not kill him. 'Twas-"
"Whore! See whose blade pierced his heart!" The nearest man pointed at the dagger hilt thrusting from Hugh's chest. The dirk's jewels sparkled, each colored stone screaming her guilt. "Think you we do not have eyes?"
"And lo! See the handprint on her cheek," another yelled, seizing her arm. "They fought and she slew him in his sleep!"
A third man spat on the floor.
"Hear me, you err ..." Mariota protested, but her tongue proved too thick, the agony in her head and arm too laming.
With the last of her strength, she jerked free and threw a glance at the window. But nothing stirred save a thin smirr of rain.
Elizabeth Paterson may well have been a moonbeam- a figment of Mariota's imagination. But the blade lodged in Hugh the Bastard's heart was real.
And it was hers-as all at Drumodyn knew. She knew she was innocent. And that Hugh the Bastard was a bastard in more ways than one.
A murrain on the man and all his perfidy! Her peace so won, she offered her arm to the guard who'd seized her only moments before, let the fire in her eyes dare him into escorting her from the chamber.
Mariota of Dunach, proud if misguided daughter of the far-famed Archibald Macnicol, would be double damned if she'd tremble and cower before any man.
And she'd be thrice cursed, and gladly, if ever she fell prey to love again.
"Pigs will sing from trees the day I take a wife." His mind spoken, Kenneth MacKenzie glanced around the dais table of Eilean Creag Castle's great hall, looking for understanding. Perhaps a sympathetic nod or, at the very least, a companionable grunt to acknowledge the wisdom of his views.
He received neither. Worse, he was almost certain he'd caught one or two looks of pity.
Having none of that, he fixed his gaze on the high, vaulted ceiling. Just long enough to swallow the snort rising in his throat. Dear to him or nay, the menfolk of Clan MacKenzie had addled wits when it came to the lasses.
He knew the dangers. Not that he ne'er appreciated the amiable sweetness of soft, well-rounded and acquiescing females. Their warm loveliness and other such intoxicating accoutrements. He relished suchlike indeed.
But only with a good measure of caution and when mutual need and satisfaction could be assured, hearts and emotions unfettered.
A wife was a wholly different matter. And utterly out of the question.
"Singing pigs? And in trees?" Elspeth, Eilean Creag's female seneschal shook her gray head as she plunked down a platter of oatcakes in front of him. "Tut, tut, laddie, here is no way to talk."
The only woman in the hall this early of a morn, and the most free-spoken one at that, she dusted her hands on her skirts and looked at him, her merry eyes displaying how little she thought of his declaration.
Her certainty that he'd unsay the words. But Kenneth made no reply. Nor did he regret the sentiment.
Indeed, were it not for the respected old woman's bustling presence, he would have spoken more boldly. Told every gog-eyed, woman-crazed fool who called the loch-girt castle their home exactly what he thought of their jabber. As it was, he simply pressed his lips together and reached for an oatcake.
Not that the sternest look he could muster or even stuffing his mouth with Eilean Creag's finest baked delicacies might spare him the seneschal's keen-eyed perusal. Or her opinion.
"Stranger things than singing pigs have been known to roost in these hills," she said, proving it. Leaning close, she topped his ale cup. "A wise man is prudent with his vows."
"And a wise woman knows when to curb her tongue," Duncan MacKenzie, the Black Stag of Kintail, declared from his laird's chair at the head of the high table. "She knows, too, when men wish to be left alone."
Excerpted from Until the Knight Comes by Sue-Ellen Welfonder Copyright © 2006 by Sue-Ellen Welfonder. Excerpted by permission.
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"Loved your characters, internal dialogue, and plotting. Thank you for sharing your vivid imagination and talent."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Review: "Until the Knight Comes" by Sue Ellen Welfonder was a good medieval historical romance with some fantasy. This novel was definitely a 'Scotland Sensually romantic' with Sir Kenneth Mackenzie was a fierce knight and Lady Mariota MacNichol comes together...both being fiery with such passion. This novel was somewhat a highlander story that was full of twist and turns that will keep you turning the pages till the end. This author does a good job in her descriptions of the sexy Scotsmen and the ladies that tame the gracious knights. As a reader you are lead to be enchanted and charmed with this read. You will find each character to be well developed and even showing the smallest details that really makes this story come alive for its reader. This novel was of two people who were afraid of the commitment of falling in love. Now, I hope I have your attention in that you will pick" up this good read of "Until the Knight Comes" to find out just what all in going on this this read. It will be a interesting read. If you are looking for a good novel that is full of sexy Scotsmen and feisty ladies... you have come to the right place and I would recommend "Until the Knight Comes" as a charmed and enchanted good read.
I had high hopes after reading a previous novel. Unfortunately I read it, or tried to read it. Boring, repitious, uneven prose and pacing.----I was almost willing to offer myself up as a sacrifice for the river monster rather than finish it. The story held so much promise and ended with a thud.
Since I am into historical medieval and mainly Scottish Highlander genre, after reading 'Only For A Knight' I couldn't wait for this one to come out! It lived up to my expectations! It is a fantastic romp through the historic Highlands with Mariota Mcnicol, accused of a murder, that really wasn't. She hides out in a supposedly deserted ruin of a castle, which suddently is crowded with braw gruff Scots, and Sir Kenneth MacKenzie, a fierce Highlander Knight not to be played with. Throughout there is a magical weave of highland mystique, treachery, and scenic beauty. Humor blended with intense intrique and secret passageways that are twined round with other wordly magic and ancient lore of Scotland.
I liked Ms. Welfonder's other books much more than this one. The hero, who is anti-marriage, sure falls quickly. And I didn't like the fact that his lack of swordsmanship hinted he could not defend his lady properly. I wasn't thrilled with the heroine either. Their love story just wasn't exciting.
Once again Welfonder returns the reader to her beloved medieval Scotland to give her fans a dose of romance and intrigue amongst the heather, lochs and crags of the land and people she clearly loves. ------------------------- Lady Mariota Macnicol defied her family to become the lover of Hugh Aleson, B------d of Drumodyn thinking he loved her and would take her to wife. Instead, he lived right up to his name the moment Mariota discovered him fornicating with the local alewife. So shocked at being discovered Hugh died of a heart attack, but the alewife so angered at losing a hefty source of income, stole the stunned Mariota¿s dirk, plunging it into Hugh¿s chest and escaped while Mariota was found and accused of killing the liege lord of the castle. ------------------------- Imprisoned in the dungeon, Mariota was rescued by her companion Nessa and they escaped to the vacant ruin of Castle Cuidrach. Unfortunately, for the two women the newly made knight, Sir Kenneth MacKenzie has just arrived to take possession of his inheritance. Mariota boldly claims she is the lady of the keep awaiting her husband but quickly changes her story when Kenneth informs her -- the keep in now his. Both have vowed to never love again, but chemistry and the meddling Devorgilla of Doon would soon be working her magic to have them both singing a new tune and to help them face the danger of besting those who sought to tear them apart. ------------------------- *** This was a bit slower in pace than Welfonder¿s previous titles but resonates clearly this authors love of Scotland through the vivid imagery of her prose. I also found the suspense and intrigue to be a tad bit less developed in this and focused more on the character development of both Kenneth and Mariota and their burgeoning romance. Lady Mariota, was ashamed of her affair with the knave Hugh and to have witnessed his betrayal of her in the most shocking manner after going against her beloved family to be with him was a tremendous burden to carry. Kenneth lived with the stigma of his illegitimate lineage and had always steered clear of `fallen women¿. These were two wounded souls whose physical attraction to another disguised the `love¿ that neither cared to admit to. Secondary characters were all colorfully brought to life and I was thrilled to see Devorgilla reappearing to add that delightful bit of magic I¿ve found to be immensely satisfying in this series. Jamie ¿the Small¿ was a darling and I certainly hope to see more of him in future offerings. Well written, nicely sensual love scenes combined with a sweet ending that will melt your heart and mist your eyes are all in store for the reader. ------------------------- Marilyn Rondeau, RIO ¿ Reviewers International Organization
The best of the best, Welfonder lives and breathes Scotland. Sensually romantic, with history recalled in beautiful detail, this story is highly recommended for those who like sexy Scotsmen and the feisty ladies who tame the fiercest knight. I was charmed and enchanted throughout the book. A keeper!