Before Adela could offer comfort, Madelyne suddenly turned and started for the door. "Madelyne. You must stay here. Duncan hasn't given you permission—"

"I must find a protector, Adela, isn't that the way of it?" she shouted over her shoulder. "Well, Duncan's fit enough for the task."


"What are you going to do?"

"Your brother is going to send Louddon's men away. And I am going to instruct him on the matter now."

Before Adela could caution Madelyne, her friend was out the door and running down the steps. Adela hurried after her. "Madelyne, you think to instruct my brother?" Her voice squeaked with worry.

"I do," Madelyne shouted.

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Adela had to sit down on the step. She was stunned by the change in Madelyne. Her dear friend had lost her mind. Adela watched Madelyne continue down the circular stairs, her hair flying out behind her. Only when Madelyne had disappeared down the next level did Adela realize she should try to help her. No matter how frightening the prospect, she was determined to face Duncan by Madelyne's side. Why, she might even be able to speak up to him.

Madelyne reached the entrance to the hall and paused to gain a breath. Edmond and Gilard were seated across from each other at the dining table. Duncan was standing with his back to the entrance, directly in front of the blazing fire.

Edmond was just finishing his comments to his brothers. Madelyne only heard the last of what he was saying. "Then it's agreed that Duncan will take her—"

Madelyne immediately jumped to the conclusion that everyone thought it a good idea to give her over to Louddon's men.

"I'm not going anywhere."

Her bellow got an immediate reaction. Duncan slowly turned around and looked at her. She watched him a long moment and then turned her attention to his brothers. Gilard had the audacity to smile, as if he found her outburst amusing, while Edmond, true to his contrary nature, scowled.

Duncan didn't show any reaction. Madelyne picked up her skirts. She slowly walked over to stand directly in front of him. "You captured me, Duncan. That was your decision," she announced. "Now I've a decision to tell you. I'm staying caught. Do I make myself clear on that issue?"

His eyes showed his surprise. Aye, he'd heard every word. And why wouldn't he? she asked herself. She'd fairly roared her decision right into his face.

When he just continued to stare at her, Madelyne thought he might be trying to frighten her. Well, it wasn't going to work this time. "You're stuck with me, Duncan."

Damn, her voice shook.

Edmond stood up, upsetting his chair. The sound turned Madelyne's attention. She slowly walked over to the table, her hands on her hips. "You can rid yourself of that frown, Edmond, or I promise God I'll smack it right off your face."

Gilard watched Madelyne. He'd never seen her this angry. Did she actually think Duncan would send her back to Louddon? The realization made Gilard smile. Poor Madelyne. She obviously didn't know Duncan very well. She wasn't aware of her own importance either, he concluded. She'd worked herself into a fine state. Such a gentle little thing, yet hadn't he just seen her challenge Duncan? If he hadn't seen it, he wouldn't have believed it possible. God help him, he started to laugh.

Madelyne heard him. She rounded to glare at him. "You find this amusing, Gilard?"

He made the mistake of nodding. He looked up at Madelyne just in time to see her hurl one of the jugs of ale at his head. Gilard dodged the jug, and when Madelyne picked up another, Edmond reached over her head and took it from her grasp. The two were standing side by side on the edge of the platform. Madelyne gave Edmond a hard shove with her hip. The middle brother promptly lost his balance and fell backward.

He landed on his backside. Edmond might have been able to stop the fall if the stool hadn't gotten caught up in his feet. Madelyne watched his puny efforts before turning back to Gilard. "Don't you ever laugh at me again," she demanded.

"Madelyne, come here," Duncan ordered. He was leaning against the mantel, looking bored enough to fall asleep.

She obeyed without question and was almost across the room before she realized what she was doing. She stopped then, shaking her head. "I'm no longer taking orders from you, Duncan. You've no hold over me. I'm only a pawn to you. Kill me if you wish. I would prefer it to being sent back to Louddon."

Her fingernails were digging into her palms. She couldn't keep her hands from shaking.

He never took his gaze off her. "Edmond, Gilard, leave us now." His command was softly given, yet there was an unmistakable edge of steel in his tone. "And take your sister with you."

Adela had been hiding behind the wall next to the entrance. When she heard Duncan's order, she rushed into the room. "I would like to stay here, Duncan, in the event Madelyne needs me."

"You'll go with your brothers," Duncan stated. His voice had gone cold now, effectively stopping further argument.

Gilard took hold of Adela's arm. "If you want me to stay, Madelyne—"

"Don't contradict your brother's order," Madelyne interrupted. She hadn't meant to shout the command.

Adela started to cry, renewing Madelyne's anger. She reached over and patted Adela on her shoulder. She couldn't manage a smile though. "I'm not going to marry Morcar," she said. " 'Tis a fact I'm not marrying anyone."

"Aye, but you are," Duncan said. He actually smiled at her when he made his promise.

Madelyne felt as if he'd just slapped her. She took a step away, shaking her head in denial.

"I'll not marry Morcar."

"No, you'll not."

His answer confused her into temporary submission.

Duncan wasn't looking at Madelyne now. He watched his brothers walk with Adela toward the entrance. The three of them were taking their own sweet time, acting as though they had armor nailed to the bottoms of their shoes. It was obvious they were bent on hearing as much of his conversation with Madelyne as possible. Duncan placed the blame for their sudden show of insubordination directly on Madelyne's shoulders. Aye, it was all her fault. They'd been obedient enough before she entered their lives.

From the moment Lady Madelyne had set foot inside his home, everyone and everything had gone upside down.

Duncan told himself he didn't like the changes, even as he acknowledged there were still more to come. He was sure to meet with resistance, especially from Gilard. The youngest brother was Madelyne's greatest ally. Duncan sighed over it. He much preferred a good battle to the dealings of family.

"Edmond, find our new priest and bring him to me," Duncan suddenly called out.

Edmond turned, a question in his expression. "Now," Duncan snapped.

His command was frigid enough to chill Madelyne to the bone. She started to turn around to speak to Edmond, when Duncan's next command stopped her. "Don't you dare instruct him to obey me, Madelyne, or so help me God, I'll take hold of your red hair and bind your mouth shut with it."

Madelyne let out a gasp of outrage. Duncan was satisfied, thinking that his crude threat had made her realize her vulnerable position. His goal was her submission. Aye, he wanted her docile for what was to come.

When Madelyne began to walk toward him with a murderous look in her eye, Duncan decided his threat hadn't bothered her much. She wasn't acting the least bit docile. "How dare you insult me? My hair isn't red, and you damn well know it. It's brown," she shouted. " 'Tis unlucky to have red hair, and mine isn't."

He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Her contradictions were becoming a usual occurrence.

Madelyne stopped her advance when she was a scant foot away. Close enough to grab, he thought.

The woman was brave but innocent about the world. It was the only excuse Duncan could find for her comments. There were over a hundred of Louddon's men waiting outside the walls, threatening to attack if Madelyne wasn't handed over to them by tomorrow morning. She should have been raging about that situation, he told himself.

Instead, she argues about the color of her hair. It was more red than brown, and why in God's name she couldn't see that was beyond him.

"Your insults know no bounds," she told him. Then she started to cry. She couldn't look up at him anymore, and surely that was the reason she allowed him to take her into his arms.

"You're not going back to Louddon, Madelyne," Duncan said, his voice gruff.

"Then I'm staying here until spring," she said.

Edmond appeared at the entrance with the new priest. "Father Laurance is here," he announced to get Duncan's attention.

Madelyne pulled away from Duncan. She turned to look at the priest. Why, he was so young. That surprised her. He looked vaguely familiar to her, too, though she couldn't put her finger on just where she might have met him. Very few young priests visited her uncle Berton.

She shook her head, deciding then that she couldn't have met him before.

Duncan suddenly pulled Madelyne up against his side. They stood so close to the fire, Madelyne forgot about the priest and began to worry her gown would catch flame. When she tried to move away, Duncan tightened his hold. His arm was draped across her shoulders, anchoring her to him. Odd, but after a moment or so, his closeness calmed her, and she was able to fold her hands in front of her and regain her composed expression.

The priest seemed worried. He wasn't a very appealing-looking man, for his face was pock-marked into scars. He looked unkempt too.

Gilard rushed into the room. The look on his face suggested he was ready to do battle. He and Edmond had suddenly changed dispositions. Edmond was smiling now while Gilard scowled.

"Duncan, I'll be the one to marry Lady Madelyne. I'm more than willing to make this sacrifice," Gilard announced. His face was red and he'd deliberately used the word sacrifice so that Duncan wouldn't know the depth of his true feelings for Madelyne. "She did save my life," he added when Duncan didn't immediately answer him.

Duncan knew exactly what was going on inside Gilard's mind The brother was as transparent as water. He thought himself in love with Madelyne. "Don't give me argument, Gilard. My decision is made and you will honor it. Do you understand me, brother?"

Duncan's voice was soft but menacing, and Gilard, after giving a loud, angry sigh, slowly shook his head. "I'll challenge you."

"Marriage?" Madelyne whispered the word as if it was a blasphemy. She shouted the next. "Sacrifice?"

Chapter Fourteen

"Giving honor unto the wife, us unto the weaker vessel."

new testament, i peter, 3:7

"I'm not marrying anyone." Madelyne meant to shout her decision, but the words came out strangled. She couldn't help that, for she finally understood what Duncan meant to do. Gilard might not challenge that decision, but she certainly was going to.

Duncan did seem determined in the matter. He ignored Madelyne's struggle to get away from him and motioned for the priest to begin the ceremony.

Father Laurance was so flustered, he couldn't even remember most of the standard phrases, and Madelyne was so incensed, she wasn't paying the least attention. She was too busy yelling at the man trying to squeeze her to death.

When Madelyne heard Duncan promise to take her as wife, she shook her head. The priest then asked her if she'd have Duncan for husband. Madelyne gave an immediate answer. "Nay, I will not."

Duncan didn't care for her answer. He gripped her so tightly, Madelyne thought he was trying to push the bones right out of her.

Duncan grabbed hold of her hair, twisted it back until she was looking up at him. "Answer him again, Madelyne," Duncan suggested.

The look in his eyes almost changed her determination. "Let go of me first," she demanded.

Duncan, believing she meant to obey him, released her. His arm settled on top of her shoulders again. "Ask her again," he told the frazzled priest.

Father Laurance looked ready to faint. He stuttered out the question again.

Madelyne didn't yell a denial or an acceptance. She didn't say anything at all. Let them stand there until morning, she didn't care. No one was forcing her into this mockery.

She hadn't counted on Gilard's interference. Madelyne thought he looked as if he wanted to kill Duncan. When his hand went to the handle of his sword, and he took a threatening step forward, she let out an involuntary gasp. Good God, he was going to challenge Duncan. "I do take you, Duncan," she blurted out. She continued to stare at Gilard, saw the indecision in his eyes, and added, "Willingly do I pledge myself."

Gilard's hands dropped back to his sides. Madelyne's shoulders sagged with relief.

Adela walked over to stand between Edmond and Gilard. She smiled at Madelyne. Edmond was grinning too. Madelyne wanted to scream at both of them. She didn't dare, what with Gilard looking so crazed.

The priest rushed through the rest of the ceremony. After giving an awkward, backward blessing, he excused himself and rushed out of the room. His color had turned green. The man was obviously terrified of Duncan. She understood that feeling well enough.

Duncan finally let go of Madelyne. She rounded on him then. "This marriage is a mockery," she whispered so that Gilard wouldn't hear. "The priest didn't even give us a proper blessing."

Duncan had the audacity to smile at her. "You told me you never make mistakes, Duncan. This time you certainly have. Now you've gone and ruined your life. And for what purpose? Your vengeance against my brother is endless, isn't it?"

"Madelyne, the marriage is real enough. Go up to my room and wait for me, wife. I'll join you soon."

He deliberately stressed the word wife. Madelyne stared up at him in astonishment. There was a warm glint in his eye now. His room?

Madelyne jumped when Adela touched her on the shoulder, trying to tell her everything would be all right. That was certainly easy enough for her to say; she wasn't the one bound to a wolf.

She had to get away from all the Wextons. There was so much to think through. Madelyne lifted the skirt of her gown and slowly started to walk out of the room.

Edmond stopped her when she reached the entrance by putting his hand on her arm. "I would welcome you into our family," he said.

The brother actually looked as though he meant what he said. That infuriated Madelyne almost as much as his horrible smile. She much preferred him scowling at her. "Don't you dare smile at me, Edmond, or I'll hit you. Just see if I don't."

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