"To let you know I'll fight you to the death if you try to have your way with me," Madelyne stammered. She thought it was a brave speech, but the force of it was ruined by her shaky voice. She sighed, discouraged.
Duncan smiled again. "To the death, Madelyne?"
From the horrible look on his face, Madelyne decided he found the idea pleasing.
"You jump to conclusions," Duncan commented. " 'Tis a flaw, that."
"You threatened," Madelyne countered. " 'Tis a bigger flaw, that."
"Nay," he argued. "You suggested."
"I'm sister of your enemy," Madelyne reminded him, pleased by the frown her reminder provoked. "You can't change that fact," she added for good measure.
The tension went right out of her shoulders. She should have thought of that argument sooner.
"But with my eyes closed, I'll not know if you're Louddon's sister or not," Duncan said. "It's rumored that you lived with a defrocked priest and that you played the whore for him. Yet in the dark, that wouldn't bother me. All women are the same when it comes to bedding."
She wished she could hit him again. Madelyne was so outraged over such evil gossip, her eyes filled with tears. She wanted to scream at him, to tell him that Father Berton was in good standing with his God and his church, and that he happened to be her uncle as well. The priest was the only one who cared about her. The only one who loved her. How dare Duncan stain her uncle's reputation?
"Who told you these stories?" Madelyne asked, her voice a hoarse whisper.
Duncan could see how his words wounded her. He knew then that all the stories were just as he suspected. False. Madelyne couldn't hide her pain from him. Besides, he'd already recognized her innocence.
Madelyne was shattered by his malicious words. "Do you think I'm going to try to convince you that the gossip you've heard about me isn't true?" she asked. "Well, think again, Baron. Believe what you will. If you think I'm a whore, then whore I am."
Her outburst was vehement, the first real display of anger Duncan had witnessed since taking her captive. He found himself mesmerized by those incredible blue eyes, flashing with such indignation. Aye, she was innocent all right.
He decided to end their conversation so that Madelyne would be saved further distress. "Go to sleep," he commanded her.
"How can I sleep with the fear you'll take advantage of me during the night?" she asked.
"Do you actually think you'd be able to sleep-through it?" Duncan asked. His voice sounded incredulous. Lord, she'd insulted him, yet he realized she was too naive to know it. Duncan shook his head. "If I decide to take advantage of you, as you describe it, I promise to wake you first. Now close your eyes and go to sleep."
He pulled Madelyne into his arms, forcing her back up against his chest. His arm circled her in an intimate way, resting against the swell of her breasts. And then he threw the cloak over both of them, determined to dismiss her from his mind.
It was easier said than done. The scent of roses clung to Madelyne, and she felt so soft against him. Her nearness all but intoxicated him. Duncan knew it would be a long while before sleep claimed him.
"What would you call it?" Madelyne's question came to him from beneath the cover. Her voice was muffled but he caught every word. Duncan had to recount their conversation before he thought he understood what she was asking him.
"Taking advantage?" he asked, clarifying her question.
He felt her nod. "Rape." Duncan muttered the foul word against the top of her head.
Madelyne jerked upward, hitting his chin in her haste. Duncan's patience was wearing thin. He decided he never should have spoken to her. "I have never forced myself on any woman, Madelyne. Your virtue is safe enough. Now, go to sleep."
"Never?" Madelyne whispered her question.
"Never!" Duncan shouted his answer.
Madelyne believed him. Odd, but she felt safe now and knew he wouldn't harm her while she slept. His nearness was starting to comfort her again.
She was soon drugged sleepy by his warmth. She snuggled closer to Duncan, heard him groan when she wiggled her backside against him to get more comfortable, and wondered what was bothering him now. When he grabbed hold of her h*ps and held them still, she assumed her movement was keeping him awake.
Her shoes had fallen off and she slowly slipped her feet between Duncan's calves to gain more of his heat. She was careful not to wiggle too much for fear she'd irritate him again.
His warm breath heated the side of her neck. Madelyne closed her eyes and sighed. She knew she should resist the temptation, but his warmth pulled at her, lulled her. She remembered one of her favorite stories about Odysseus and his adventures with the Sirens. Aye, Duncan's warmth wooed her just like the song those mythological nymphs sang to lure Odysseus and his soldiers to certain destruction. Odysseus had outwitted the Sirens by stuffing wax into the men's ears to block out the irresistible sound.
Madelyne wished she were as clever and resourceful as the epic warrior.
The wind whistled and moaned a forlorn tune around her, but Madelyne was well protected, held tightly in the arms of her captor. She closed her eyes and accepted the truth then. The Siren's song had captured her.
She awakened only once during the night. The back of her was warm enough, but her chest and arms were freezing. Ever so slowly, so as not to disturb Duncan, Madelyne turned in his arms. She cushioned the side of her cheek on his shoulder and slipped her hands beneath his shirt.
She wasn't completely awake, and when Duncan began to rub his chin against her forehead, Madelyne sighed with contentment and snuggled closer. His whiskers tickled her nose. Madelyne tilted her head back and slowly opened her eyes.
Duncan was watching her. His expression was unguarded, so warm and tender. His mouth looked hard though; she wondered what it would feel like if he kissed her.
Neither said a word, but when Madelyne moved toward Duncan, he met her halfway.
Madelyne tasted as good as he knew she would. God, she was soft, inviting. She wasn't completely awake and therefore didn't resist him, though her mouth wasn't opened enough for him to penetrate. Duncan solved that problem quickly by forcing her chin down with his thumb, and then thrust his tongue inside before Madelyne could guess his intent.
He caught her gasp and gave her his groan.
When Madelyne timidly used her own tongue to stroke his, Duncan rolled her to her back, settling himself between her legs. His hands cupped the sides of her face, holding her still for his tender assault.
Madelyne's hands were trapped under Duncan's shirt. Her fingers began to caress his chest, teasing his skin into a fever.
Duncan wanted to learn all her secrets, to satisfy himself, then and there, and all because Madelyne was so wonderfully responsive.
The kiss turned so hot, so consuming, Duncan knew he was in danger of losing control. His mouth slanted over Madelyne's again and again, his tongue penetrating, stroking, taking. God, he couldn't seem to get enough of her.
It was the most incredible kiss he'd ever experienced, and he wouldn't have stopped if she hadn't started trembling. A soft whimper came from deep in her throat. The sensual sound nearly pushed reason aside.
Madelyne was too stunned to react when Duncan abruptly pulled away from her. He rested on his back, with his eyes closed, and the only indication he gave of their kiss was his harsh, uneven breathing.
Madelyne didn't know what to do. Lord, she was so ashamed of herself. Whatever had come over her? She'd acted so wanton, so… common. And she could tell from the frown on Duncan's face that she hadn't pleased him.
Madelyne felt like weeping.
"Duncan?" She thought her voice sounded as if she were already crying.
He didn't answer, but his sigh told her he'd heard her call his name.
He was so surprised by her apology, he turned back to his side to look at her. The ache in his loins was painful and he couldn't keep the scowl from his face.
"Sorry for what?" he demanded, irritated that his voice sounded so harsh.
He knew he'd frightened her again, because Madelyne immediately turned her back to him. She was shaking enough for Duncan to notice too. He was about to reach out and pull her back into his arms, when she finally answered him.
"For taking advantage of you."
He couldn't believe what he'd just heard. It was the most ridiculous apology he'd ever been given.
A slow smile overcame Duncan's scowl. Lord, he felt like laughing now, would have given in to the urge, too, if Madelyne hadn't sounded so damn sincere. His desire to guard her feelings kept his laughter contained, however. Duncan didn't understand his reason for wanting to protect her feelings, but it was there, nagging at him.
He let out a long-drawn-out groan. Madelyne heard him and immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was thoroughly disgusted with her. "I promise you, Duncan, it won't happen again."
Duncan put his arm around Madelyne's waist and pulled her up against him. "And I promise you that it will, Madelyne."
She thought it sounded like a vow.
Evil is the man who has known honor and discarded it.
Baron Louddon was only a half day's hard ride from where Duncan and his soldiers were camped. Luck was on Louddon's side, for he was able to ride during the night hours by the light of a full, bright moon. His soldiers equaled Duncan's men in loyalty and numbers, and not one complained over this sudden turnabout in plans.
A half-mad servant had chased them down to give them the news of Duncan's foul deed. They had all returned to Louddon's fortress then. All had witnessed the message left by Baron Wexton. Aye, all had seen the mutilated bodies of those soldiers left behind to guard Louddon's domain. The men joined together in outrage and vengeance, and every one of them vowed to be the one to kill Duncan.
The fact that they had all joined with Louddon and acted with treachery toward Baron Wexton was ignored now; they concentrated, instead, on avenging their leader.
Louddon had been quick to decide to go after Duncan.
His reason was twofold. Foremost was the realization that his own plan to destroy Baron Wexton by dishonorable means would be unveiled, making him a coward to be ridiculed in court. Duncan would alert William II, and the king, though he favored Louddon, would nevertheless be forced to issue a battle to the death between the adversaries in order to end what he'd probably deem a petty difference of opinion. The king, called Rufus, the Red, because of his fiery face and disposition, would certainly be irritated over the squabble. Louddon knew, too, that if he had to face Duncan alone on a field of battle, he'd come out the loser. Baron Wexton was an invincible warrior who had shown his ability countless times. Aye, Duncan would kill him if given the chance.
Louddon was a well-skilled man, yet it was in areas that would give him little aid against the likes of Duncan. Louddon was a power to be reckoned with in court. He acted the role of secretary of sorts, though he couldn't read or write and left those mundane matters to the two priests in residence. When the king was holding court, Louddon's primary duty was to sort out those who had true business with the king, and those who didn't. It was a powerful position. Louddon was a master manipulator. He instilled fear into those lesser-titled men who willingly paid for the opportunity to speak to their king. He paved the way for these eager men, lining his pockets with their gold.
Now, if his attempt to kill Duncan became known, he could lose everything.
Madelyne's brother was considered to be a handsome man. Blond hair with nary a crinkle of curl to mar the shine, hazel eyes with chips of gold, tall as well, though reed-thin, with perfectly sculptured lips. And when he smiled, the ladies at court all but swooned. Louddon's sisters, Clarissa and Sara, shared the same color of wheat-white hair and hazel eyes. They were almost as pretty as Louddon was, and just as sought after.
Louddon was known as a most available bachelor and could have his pick of any woman in England. He didn't want just any woman though. He wanted Madelyne. His stepsister was the second reason Louddon chased after Duncan. Madelyne had returned home to him only two months past, and after having forgotten her for most of her growing years, he'd been given a shock when he saw the remarkable changes in her appearance. She'd been such an ugly child. Large blue eyes had swallowed up most of her face. Her lower lip had been too full, her expression set to pouting most of the time, and she'd been so skinny as to look sickly. Aye, Madelyne had been such an awkward child, with long, bony legs that caused her to stumble whenever she tried to curtsy.
Louddon had certainly misjudged her potential. In childhood there had been no sign in her appearance suggesting she might one day look so much like her mother. Madelyne had turned from embarrassment to beauty, so lovely, in fact, as to outshine her stepsisters.
Who would have thought such a miracle could happen? The timid caterpillar had changed into a lovely butterfly. Louddon's friends also had been quite speechless when they'd first seen her. Morcar, Louddon's closest confidant, had even begged him for Madelyne's hand in marriage, putting pounds of gold in front of his petition.
Louddon didn't know if he could let Madelyne go to another man. She was so like her mother. When he first saw her, he'd reacted physically. It was the first such stirring for a woman in so many years, Louddon was all but undone by it. Only Madelyne's mother had been able to affect him in such a way. Ah, Rachael, the love of his heart. She had ruined him for other women. He couldn't have Rachael now; his temper had stolen her from him. Louddon had believed his obsession would end with her death. A foolish hope, he now admitted. No, the obsession lived on. Madelyne. His stepsister could well be his second chance at proving himself a man.
Louddon was a man tormented. He couldn't decide between his greed and his lust. He wanted Madelyne for his own use, but wanted the gold she'd bring too. Perhaps, he thought, if he was shrewd enough, he could have both.
Madelyne awakened in the most awkward position. She was on top of Duncan. The side of her face rested on his hard, flat stomach, her legs were entwined with his, and her hands were wedged between his thighs.
Because of her sleepy state of mind, Madelyne didn't immediately realize exactly where her hands were resting.
Duncan felt so warm, though… so hard. Oh, Lord, her hands were snuggled against the most private part of him.
Madelyne's eyes flew open. She tensed against her captor, not daring to even breathe. Let him be sleeping, she prayed frantically as she slowly edged her hands away from his heat.