Only by using the intensity of her will did
Isabel force out a few sounds to convince the man thrusting
into her body that she enjoyed his touch and having his
body in hers. Moaning again and tossing her head from side
to side seemed to work for he paused, holding his massive
body still for a moment before she felt the hot spray of
his seed within her. He collapsed on her, his weight forcing
the breath from her lungs, but she waited before moving.
Moving away too quickly and he would chance to see her
distaste and need to leave. Moving too slowly and he would
fall asleep on her as he had before. When a few minutes
had passed, she eased out from under him, the sweat on their
skin making it possible to escape. Isabel slid to the edge
of the pallet and dropped her legs over it to touch the
floor. She tried to ignore the way they trembled and the
bruises that formed in the shape of a man’s large
handprint on her thigh as she reached for the remnants of
her shift. Allowing herself to believe she could get away
before he stirred, she made the biggest mistake—she
“Ah, sweetling,” he whispered as he placed
his hand on her neck, tugging her back against him. “Your
step-father told no false tales when describing your skills.”
Isabel sat completely still, waiting for his next word or
action. “Come back,” he said, pulling her to
face him. “He is a man of his word.”
Seeing the proof of his arousal before her eyes, Isabel
accepted the inevitable and let out a long breath, masking
it as one of deep appreciation for the size of his maleness.
“Lord Malcolm, I did not wish to disturb your rest.”
“Rest?” he asked, laughing in his deep voice
as he pulled her face to his and kissed her. Isabel began
the silent ritual that would allow her to leave her body
behind and hide behind a wall in her mind. “I will
rest when I am dead!”
He gave her no chance to resist or to stop, as she knew
would happen, so she just let go, allowing her body to react
as it would until he finished with her.
As the sun rose over Duntulm Keep, he finally slept soundly
and Isabel dragged her body from his. Tugging her gown on
and leaving behind the torn pieces of her chemise, she walked
barefoot from the chamber, down the steps and out through
the back door, nodding to the guards who recognized her
and allowed her through the gate.
Following the path to the south, she continued until she
reached the narrow strip of beach that sat below the walls
of the keep. Though the sun’s light crawled up the
sides of the keep, illuminating the flecks of quartz within
the dark stones, the beach would remain shadowed for some
Time enough for her.
She dropped her shoes and stockings on the sand and pulled
the gown and undertunic over her head. She tossed them down
before she walked into the icy water. Only when she’d
scrubbed the feel and smell of him from her skin would Isabel
retreat from the icy water and return home.
Nay, not home, but the place where she lived now.
Home was the distant memories in her thoughts that could
keep her separate and keep her soul safe while her body
was used to satisfy the desires of men who could feed the
ambitions of her step-father.
Home was where she lived with her mother and younger sister,
safe from the machinations of those who would use and use
up anyone who could be for their own success.
She sank under the surface, the cold water stinging her
skin, until she could hold her breath no longer. She rose
and then dipped once more, waiting for the icy chill to
penetrate her limbs and remove all memory of the other causes
for her pain. The third time was the worst, for there was
always a moment when her soul urged her to stay beneath
the water and seek the comfort that its depths offered.
Isabel could almost leave everything behind to seek that
comfort, if not for the knowledge that the fate of her sister
lay in her hands.
When that happened as it always did, she burst up from
below, gasping and pulling air into lungs constricted by
the freezing grasp of the water. Then, covered in gooseflesh
but no longer Malcolm’s scent, she struggled back
to the beach on legs so deadened by the cold they did not
move easily and while shivering so much that every breath
was a fight. Shaking and shuddering with every step, Isabel
wrung out her hair, tied it with a strip of leather and
pulled her clothes over her trembling limbs.
Her stepfather would be waiting, ready to punish not her
but her sister for every moment she delayed. He would demand
the details of the tryst, his eyes smoldering with some
unholy need as he poked and prodded until everything that
had happened was laid bare before him. Any attempt by her
to avoid his questions or hold back some detail would find
him making threats about Thora’s future. She is
safe and well-cared-for now. . .
When he was satisfied that he knew all, he would nod and
then go off to plan his next conquest deciding to whom he
would pimp out his whore of a stepdaughter as a token of
appreciation or esteem and she would be left to continue
to live out this nightmare.
Isabel gathered her control, and put her hand on the latch.
Letting out her breath, she searched for and found the sense
of control she needed to have when facing down this man
who’d turned her life into hell on earth. Bowing her
head as she entered, she never realized that someone watched
her from high above on the ramparts of the keep’s
An t-Eilean Sgitheanach (Isle of Skye)
Skíð (as it was called by the Norse)
Duncan, son of none, watched the storm grow
from the window of his chambers at the very top of Duntulm’s
keep. It rushed across the minch from the outer islands
of Lewis and Harris towards those who lived here on this
rocky cliffside. They would all seek cover from the dangerous
winds and lightning.
But he would not.
As it grew in size and ferocity, Duncan left his room and
climbed to the roof, bracing himself against the stone wall
that encircled the tower and waited. The rumbling thunder
warned him of the strength of the worsening storm and the
first rain, blown by those winds, began to pelt him with
drops as sharp as daggers.
He ripped open his tunic, baring his chest to the worst
of it, waiting, praying he would feel the slicing rain cut
his skin or sting his eyes.
Duncan waited, not moving from the path of the rain and
hail that tore at him. On and on it went, red welts appearing
on his skin from the damage in every spot the hail or rain
And still, he felt nothing.
Even the desperation he’d felt only weeks ago at
these changes in his body and spirit dulled now and he searched
for the anger and pain that should be coursing through him
and found a growing emptiness. Prepared to suffer the onslaught
of the storm until he felt something, Duncan knew only that
someone with strong arms wrapped them around him and dragged
Though he could not feel the cold, it must have penetrated
deep into his muscles, for he could neither resist nor help
the efforts to get him out of the storm’s way. Soon
he was flung onto a bed and his soaked garments pulled from
Even if his senses of pain and hunger and any other feelings
or needs were dulled, his hearing was as good as ever and
he heard every word and curse rained down on him by his
manservant. Ornolf spared no insult as to his intelligence,
his plans to kill himself or his ability to follow instructions.
Duncan could not fight the strong tremblors that shook his
body—most likely from the cold. Ornolf fretted and
fussed, pulling off the soaked layers of clothing and tossing
them away, even as he layered blankets on top of him.
“What did you hope to gain by that?” Ornolf
asked, his first actual question that had not been rhetorical.
Duncan tried to move, but his limbs refused to answer his
“I did not hope for anything, Ornolf,” he said.
“’Twas simply a test.”
When Duncan did not explain more fully, Ornolf crossed
his arms over his chest and glared down at him. “And,
young master, what was the test?”
Duncan did not want to voice the purpose before he understood
more about these changes happening within him. To put it
into words made it real and he must find out the full extent
before the next step could be taken.
But, even as he comprehended that the changes were dire
ones, his body did not react with the customary rolling
bile or nervousness. No, his heart continued to pump along
at an even pace and his breathing changed not-at-all. Though
he should feel frightened at this realization and though
he wished he did, he was empty of all emotions.
Finally Ornolf gave up any attempts to get answers and
went back to fussing and muttering under his breath. Duncan
lay there empty of fear, empty of pain, empty, even while
knowing he wanted to feel something. Anything. And that
had been the reason he stood out in the storm and let it
inflict its worst on him.
It was hours before he could climb from the bed and hours
more before his body stopped shaking. Ornolf shoved a bowl
of steaming porridge into his hands, placed a cup of ale
on the table and left without another word. Tempted not
to eat, for no hunger assailed him, Duncan realized another
change as he scooped up another spoonful of the porridge.
Although he could taste every ingredient in the thick concoction,
none of it appealed to him. The flavors of the oats, cream,
butter, seasonings and even a dash of some spirits rolled
over his tongue with each spoonful, but it made no difference—he
neither liked the taste or disliked them. He drank from
the cup—a well-aged ale, kept for his consummation
as a gift from a wealthy benefactor, but now it was nothing
special, simply a liquid to wash down the thick porridge.
Had all his sensations been burned from him during the
ritual? It seemed that when the fires in his body went out,
everything else stopped, too. Would those senses return?
Would he feel emotions again? Duncan realized he would have
to wait and complete his recuperation before discovering
the answer and the extent of these changes.
Days and nights marched on for nearly a week. Though the
pain had long since disappeared, his skin could not feel,
his appetite vanished completely and the numbness in his
soul and heart deepened.
But when the moon reached half-full, the familiar need
returned. His scent poured out bringing women to his door
to fulfill some part of what he now called ‘his curse’.
Though any hot-blooded man would never think having an never-ending
stream of willing women at his beck and call was a bad thing,
Duncan learned that having that was not necessarily a thing
to be coveted. Endless need without satiation could lead
to one thing—madness—and Duncan feared that
would be his fate.
Spring flowed into summer as the Norse king Magnus and
his noblemen and warriors continued their travels throughout
the western isles, fortifying their allies and smiting their
enemies. When they moved south to deal with the Welsh and
to bargain with the Scots king, Skye quieted. But those
who held land or titles or power here all began planning
anew, for the Norse would pass this way on their journey
home and favor was to be gained.
Duncan managed to stay out of view and his arrangement
with Lord Davin for protection in return for using his strange
ability when needed remained a secret that few knew of and
fewer questioned. With the changes wrought in him these
last months though, Duncan knew the truth of it—he
had no idea of his curse’s origin and less about its
eventual end. He used his accumulated wealth to seek out
knowledge, but there seemed none to be had. When some visitors
from Orkney arrived, Duncan decided to seek them out at
the feast given by Davin in their honor.
Every possible space in the hall of the Duntulm keep was
filled. Many of those who owned land in the surrounding
areas attended to meet the men from Orkney and take their
measure. Though invited to sit at table with him, Duncan
declined Davin’s invitation, choosing to sit away
from them so he could observe them. It seemed that the fires
of hell left his sense of curiosity intact when it burned
away all the rest, so Duncan listened and learned much about
these visitors from the north.
Related to Davin through the marriage of their grandparents
or some other ancestor, Davin called these men cousins and
the welcome he gave was warm. Foodstuffs and ale were plentiful
and everyone ate and drank their fill. Ornolf placed a bowl
and cup before him, bothering him every so often so that
he would eat and drink. The smoke grew thick as the fires
burned lower, offering heat but not much light. The torches
and rushlights added what they could, but Duncan could see
clearly through the dimness and the haze.
A strange effect he’d noticed these last few months,
it now served him well in his attempts to watch and learn.
He was studying the similarities in appearance between Davin
and the one called Ragnar when the woman arrived. The room
suddenly grew brighter and the chatter lessened as though
everyone wanted to see her at once.
Nothing she wore was ostentatious, but the cut of her gown
drew every man’s eyes to her body. He could not identify
the material of it, but it draped her curves as though painted
over her flesh instead of being a garment. Duncan noticed
the tightened nipples of her very full breasts as the gown
molded to them and the way it fell into the junction of
her thighs. When she turned to sit down, he and every other
man also noted the way it hugged her arse, flowing into
the indentation of the cleft and outlining her strong legs.
Watching her move in it, he did not have to imagine what
her body was like—he could see it.
He let his gaze wander over her and waited for her to be
seated to see her face.
Something he had not felt in months coursed through him
in that moment that their eyes met. A heat, a need, a wanting
made him ache. Her eyes widened as though she knew her effect
but then she looked away when someone spoke her name.
Who was she?
What was she?
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