HE WATCHED HER EYES TRAVEL ABOUT THE BEDCHAMBERDo you like it?Good heavens, Douglas, I wouldnt go that far, she saidlightly. It suits you, of course. For my taste its too dark,too large, too harsh. She could have been describinghim. Its saving grace is the parapet walk.His male vanity was piqued. He grasped her wrists withhis hard hands, imprisoning her. Do I have a savinggrace? he demanded, lust and anger suddenly blazingin his gut like banefire.She searched his dark face and whispered, I hope so,my lord. I pray for both our sakes that you have a senseof humor.He released her wrists. We go to Castle Douglas dayafter tomorrow. Perhaps my bedchamber there will be
more to yer taste.Perhaps, she murmured, allowing her lashes to sweepto her cheeks. God, they were like two scorpionscircling each other, looking for the most vulnerable spotto leave their sting.Perhaps Ill stay here.You, madam, will do as ye are told. His words had ahard, challenging ring.She laughed up into his face. You do have a sense ofhumor! Critical Raves for VIRGINIA HENLEY and her exciting dazzling brilliant * historical romances THE DRAGON AND THE JEWELA VERY SPECIAL ROMANCEdazzling, brilliant, blazingwith passion, and more exciting because it is all true astory with lust, pageantry, history, and sensuality.
Romantic TimesTHIS IS A GOOD ONE historical romance readers willnot be disappointed with The Dragon and the Jewel. Ms.Henleys historical events are presented in such a waythat they are never boring. She makes the reader feellike shes living history, not just reading it. Rendezvous THE PIRATE AND THE PAGANA RARE DELIGHT Virginia Henley captivates readerswith this tale of desire and deception, teeming withsuperb, sensual, and authentic descriptions thatcapture the spirit of the age. Romantic Times
THE FALCON AND THE FLOWER winner of the 1989 Romantic Times Award for Most Sensual Medieval RomanceVIRGINIA HENLEYS LUSTIEST, BAWDIEST, MOSTDARING, AND HOTTEST historical romance to date thisis most definitely a must for fans of powerful, erotic, andpassionate medieval romances. Romantic Times THE HAWK AND THE DOVE
winner of the 1988 Romantic Times Award for Best Elizabethan Historical RomanceBOLD, LUSTYand very SEXY exciting adventures andhot love scenes. Romantic Times THE RAVEN AND THE ROSEHenley brilliantly interweaves a passionate love storywith the turbulent events of the War of the Roses, an eraunmatched for intrigue and drama. Romantic Times* Romantic Times
Books by Virginia Henley: THE MARRIAGE PRIZE THE BORDER HOSTAGE A WOMAN OF PASSION A YEAR AND A DAY DREAM LOVER ENSLAVED SEDUCED DESIRED ENTICED TEMPTEDTHE DRAGON AND THE JEWELTHE FALCON AND THE FLOWER THE HAWK AND THE DOVE THE PIRATE AND THE PAGAN THE RAVEN AND THE ROSE
In memory of my father, Thomas Syddall and Dedicated to the real Tina (Moskow) and Damaris (Rowland). Two blithe spirits! Chapter 1Twixt Wigtown and the town of Ayr,Portpatrick and the Cruives o Cree,No man needs think for tae bide thereUnless he court wi Kennedy! Valentina Kennedy, so named because she hadbeen born on Saint Valentines day, was more oftencalled Firebrand or Flaming Tina because of her
glorious red-gold hair, all molten flames and fire. Shebrushed it back with a nervous gesture as sheapproached the tower room of Castle Doon. Herexpressive golden eyes, usually so dreamy or sparklingwith challenge, were now liquid with apprehension.She straightened her shoulders and pushed open thedoor with a bravado she did not feel. Simply steppingover the threshold was an act of courage, for ever sinceshe was a child this room had been dubbed the torturechamber She had always played roughhouse with herolder brothers, sometimes showing more daring andrecklessness than they did and she felt quite cockywhen she heard the servants call her a plucky little lass.But her mettle had deserted her the day they draggedher up to the torture chamber and showed her the crudeinstruments one by one, describing in grisly detail howButcher Bothwick cut out a tongue or plucked out aneyeball. They had gleefully pointed out the red-stainedflagstones and reached for a jar of black leeches theysaid would suck out her blood. Valentina flushedremembering what she had done when she sawButcher Bothwick, the hairy giant who wielded theseinstruments of torture. She had fainted.It was years later before she understood that Bothwickwas the castle surgeon who staunched Kennedywounds, lanced boils or pulled rotten teeth. A toothachewas the reason for her being here today. She had neverhad a tooth pulled before, never even seen a toothextracted from anyone else, but common sense told herthere would be pain and there would be blood.
Come in, lass. Ive been expectin ye, said the big man ina thick Scots brogue, flexing his muscles with pride,eager to show his finesse.Tina was quite literally terrified, yet she had so muchstiff Scots pride, she would rather die than allow thisman to know her total fear of him.I ha all in readiness, he said, taking up a pair oftorturous-looking pincers in hands whose size madeher tremble, for she knew with a certainty that they weretoo large to be capable of gentleness. Tina seemedrooted to the spot, unable to move, until Bothwickencouraged her, Im no a monster, Ill no hurt ye!She took a deep breath to steady herself, and hispromise made her fear recede a little. She shrugged onepretty shoulder and walked boldly forward. He toweredabove her, so close she could smell the whisky on hisbreath. His bare biceps bulged above hairy forearms,clearly displaying his strength, and she knew he couldeasily overpower her if she resisted.His fingers brushed her lips and he coaxed roughly,Open for me, theres a good lass.An inborn instinct for self-preservation made her shrinkfrom him, backing away slowly and imperceptibly, butwith dismay she saw him advance upon her withdetermination. She broke away from him and retreatedhastily, no longer able to bear his touch. The couch wasnow between them. Lie doon here fer a minute, an itll beover an done wi, he urged, but every instinct told hershe would then be completely at his mercy.
Tinas mind seethed with uncharitable thoughts of herfamily. Her young sister had cast her a look that told herplainly Beth was most thankful she was not the one tosuffer such a dreadful fate. Her loutish brothers slappedtheir thighs, hilarious that for once fate was beingunkind to the willful beauty of the family.Ive hardly complained at all! Tis not fair! shed cried, andtheyd laughed all the harder at her predicament, winkingat each other and demanding, Who the hell ever said lifewas fair? But it was her father she blamed the most atthis moment. Hed issued his orders and none dareddisobey him. Even her timid mother had blanched whenRob Kennedy, Lord of Galloway, had said, She goes toBothwick!B-Butcher Bothwick? Oh Rob, must she?Aye, ye heard me, womanyer no deaf, and Ill have noweepin and wailin. His fierce glance swept over all witha challenge. Is there any in this room dares tae hint Idinna ken whats best fer ma ain family?Valentinas throat constricted, and her lovely full breastsrose and fell with her growing apprehension as thepowerful man vaulted across the couch to trap her.When he slipped a thickly muscled arm about hershoulders to prevent a second escape, fear swept overher in a great wave. She squeezed her eyes closed asshe felt the rough stone wall against her bottom, andshe knew she could retreat no further.He took her chin in his hand, forcing back her head. Herpleading eyes sought his. Please, no. Cant we wait untiltomorrow?
Dinna be a coward, lassthe longer ye wait, the moreaffeared yell be. Well do it now! he said decisively. Ill bequick as I can aboot it.To be called a coward was anathema to Tina. Shegathered every ounce of courage and swayed towardhim. His fingers touched her lips gently as hewhispered, Open fer me.She did as she was bidden, and he slipped his fingersinto her mouth. Her dark lashes swept to her cheeks, alow moan built in her throat, and as she felt him probing,she could not speakshe could not even breathe.Suddenly something inside her snapped.She gathered all her strength and pushed the huge manaway from her with a suddenness that sent himsprawling across the flagstones.Judas Iscariot! he cursed.Valentina was immediately contrite. Oh Bothwick, Imsorry. She reached down to help the burly man to hisfeet. Its just that I changed my mind. Suddenly the paindisappeared and my tooth doesnt hurt anymore. Theresno point pulling a perfectly good tooth.Liar! he accused gruffly, rubbing a skinned elbow.Suddenly she grinned and the older man thought hednever seen such a radiant lass in his life. I dont care ifyou call me liar, so long as you dont call me coward.Dont tell them I was afraid, for I certainly wasnt. Whenyou put your fingers in my mouth, the pain vanished.You have the healing touch, Bothwick.He grinned back at her reluctantly and put away the
primitive-looking instrument hed been holding. Yer a liar,but yer a bonnie liar!Ill go and see Mr. Burque. Hell give me something tohelp.Wheesht, lass, tis his muck give ye the toothache taestart with. Yon prancin fop will rot every tooth in yer haidafore hes done.Mr. Burque was the elegant French chef who hadaccompanied her mother to Scotland when she hadmarried Lord Kennedy. When Bothwick saw the forlornlook on her face, he relented. Away with ye tae thekitchens then. Nae doot his chocolate will cosset ye awee. ***Down in the castle kitchen Tina couldnt help comparingMr. Burques attractive hands with the thick, hairy onesof Bothwick. He was fluting the edges of a giganticmutton pie, his long, slim fingers transforming thehearty fare into an artistic masterpiece. Tina sat uponhis worktable, her foot propped upon a kitchen stool.Chérie, Ill be putting flour on your pretty gown, hewarned.Youll be putting flowers on my grave if you dont give mesomething for this toothache, she said dramatically.Mr. Burque was all sympathetic concern at her cri decoeur He rolled his eyes and wrung his hands at her
plight. Valentina laughed up into his attractiveexpressive face, thoroughly enjoying his company. Hewas better looking than most women, and the two hadshared a rapport since she was a child. Mr. Burque liftedthe lid of his precious spice box, selected a tiny treasurefrom it, and, holding it between elegant thumb and firstfinger, uttered a fanfare: Ta-da!Tina sniffed the minuscule object and decided it was aclove. She opened her mouth for this man as trustinglyas a baby bird, and he popped it against the offendingtooth.They were both startled by the loud, grating voice ofRob Kennedy as his imposing bulk filled theentranceway to the kitchen. He saw the two heads closetogether but had no fears for his daughters chastity withyon prinking, prancing ninny of a Frenchman. Did yeattend Bothwick as ye were bidden?Lady Valentina jumped down from the table and facedher father squarely. I did, my lord. I took your advice andfaced right up to it.His florid face softened a mite. Was there pain?Hardly any, she assured him.Blood? he commiserated.Not a drop, she said truthfully.He shook his head in admiration. Theres a brave lass.Gods passion, but ye get more like me every day.She fervently hoped not.Mr. Burque made a choking noise behind her, and RobKennedys baleful eye fell upon him. How much moretime afore we sup? he demanded.
A mere soupçon, my lord, came the reply.Soups on? Aye, a good thick brothll stick tae the ribs.None of yer French muck, mind ye! he admonished.Peste! swore Mr. Burque as the Lord of Galloway tookhimself off.Unexpectedly, Kennedys bulk again shadowed thedoorway. Tell yon pest we ha guests fer dinner, he toldhis daughter.Take heart, Mr. Burque, she murmured. He sailstomorrow, praise Heaven.Her fathers words made no impact upon Tina. Theyalways had guests. Doon Castle was a warm,welcoming place atop the headlands above the busyseaport of Ayr. Kennedy hospitality was legendary butonly for the invited. The Lord of Galloway was affluentand set the best table in Scotland. Kennedy captainsdined alongside the young lairds and masters of theruling clans.The bachelor quarters of Doon Castle overflowed at themoment with red-haired young men from no fewer thanfour different branches of the clan. They had broughtthe wool from the first shearing to be exported viaKennedy vessels.The racket that assaulted Tinas ears as she entered thedining hall was loud enough to raise the rafters. Sheliked nothing better than mingling with her brothers andfirst, second, and third cousins. She loved menscompany, their laughter, their boisterous camaraderie,their coarse language. She secretly longed to be one of
the lads. At her approach the young lairds abandonedtheir shoving match. She parted them like the Red Sea,then they closed about her, making her the center ofattention.May I get ye some wine, Tina? asked Callum Kennedyof Newark.She rewarded him with a smile and announced, Ill haveale like the rest of you. A leather tankard was pressedinto her hand, and her eldest brother, Donal, censuredher.Ale is a mans drink.She flashed him a look of challenge. Aye, I knowlikeeverything else in life, its devised to pleasure a man.They hooted, and the air was thick with ribald rejoindersas they seized upon the age-old male-female bone ofcontention. Well, I ask you, what pleasures are reservedfor women? she asked, warming to her subject. You dothe hunting and we tend the hearth!Hark at her, said her brother Duncan, laughing. Tend thehearthshe canna boil water.Jesu, an a good thing or wed all be poisoned, Donalsaid, teasing.You have armor and weapons, claymores, swords, anddirks The knife Im allowed is a pitiful thing compared tothe weapon Duncan polishes day and night.Theres no call tae bring my sex life into this, Duncanmurmured to his cousin, who howled at his wit.I heard that aside, Duncan Kennedy, which only helpsprove my point. Thats another indulgence allowed men.The king holds the record for bastards, and the rest of
you are in the running, except mayhap my wee brotherDavie.David, at fourteen, bristled at her remark. His was theonly fair head in that sea of flames. Are ye tryin tae makeme a laughingstock? Im no without experience. Yer aright bitch of a sister!See what I mean? Tina asked, laughing. Men brag abouttheir conquests, which only bring sorrow and shame towomen.An argument had broken out between Kennedy ofNewark and Kennedy of Dunure. Yer witless! The kingno holds the record fer bastards. Tis ma brother Keith,he announced with pride.Yer daft, man! There isna a Kennedy breathin cancompete wi the Stewarts when it comes tae bastards.His cousin gave him a shove that almost knocked himinto the huge fireplace, and he came back in a rush withclenched fists flying. Ill flay ye!Donal and Duncan each grabbed a combatant with astrong arm beneath the throat, effectively ending theskirmish, but not before blood had been drawn. Duncansaid, Robert Stewart of Orkney has seventeen sons,none born in wedlock, an none tae the same mother.Donal said, This is no fit subject tae be discussin wi thelittle firebrand.Now it was Tinas turn to be angered. Because Imfemale, I cant talk about bastards. I cant drink, curse,fight, or go off on a raid with the rest of you. A suddenunnatural silence fell on the gathering. Donal
exchanged a furtive glance with Callum Kennedy, andimmediately Tina scented something in the wind. Shewas wise, enough to keep her mouth shut, however.To fill the silence Andrew Kennedy, Lord of Carrick, tookTinas hand and said, If yed accept one o the proposalsye receive, yer husband would bring ye all the pleasurea lass could yearn fer.A harsh voice, loud enough to raise the dead, cutthrough the conversation. Whats this o proposals?demanded Rob Kennedy, and once more the group ofmales parted, exposing Valentina to her fathers wrath.II said no when Andrew asked me to marry. I have nowish to marry, she said faintly.No wish tae marry? Rob Kennedy thundered, his facebecoming a congested purple. His accusing eyesburned into her as if she had uttered an unspeakableblasphemy. How many others have ye sent packing wi aflea in their ear?N-none, she whispered, and the brawny young menbehind her with heads like torches coughed at thebarefaced lie she gave her father.Every last one of em in this room, revealed Davie, aswell as Sandy Gordon last week.Duncans boot jabbed into Davies shin before he waseffectively silenced, and Rob Kennedy looked as if hewere about to have a seizure. Ye turned down the Earl oHuntlys heir?Lady Elizabeth and her younger daughter, Beth, chosethis moment to arrive in the dining hall. Tinas mothercast an apprehensive glance over the gathering and
faltered. She wondered if she could stomach theKennedys en masse. Rob outwardly ignored theirarrival, but it made him put a curb on his outburst.Attend me after dinner. Gods passion, but daughterscan be a curse tae a man.Andrew Kennedy, feeling protective toward Valentina,asked her to sit with him. On her other side Donalwarned, Fathers right hot wi ye. Itll pay tae use himsoftly.She gave them both a grateful smile. Ill handle Father,she whispered with bravado, but it ruined her pleasurein the chocolate truffles that Mr. Burque had madeespecially for her, and the cursed tooth began itsnagging ache again.At the far end of the hall two women in their thirtiesdined at a table for the more important servants ofDoon. The castle steward eyed the two nursemaids withrelish. It was well known that the two women barelytolerated each other, and he could see that at anyminute entertaining hostilities were about to break outbetween the foes.Kirsty, a Scotswoman whose charge was BethKennedy, the younger, sweeter daughter, could notwipe the satisfied smirk from her face as she helpedherself to the mutton pie She adjusted the severeneckline of her gown trimmed with vair and whisperedalmost gleefully, Trouble! Trouble is Valentina Kennedysmiddle name.
Ada, the Englishwoman Lady Kennedy had broughtwith her when she was but a girl, held on to her temper.Tina was her charge, but they were also friends andclose confidantes. Ada was still an attractive womanwho wore her hair in an upsweep to show off her longneck and dangling earbobs. I warrant the poor animalwhich owned that mangy fur youre wearing didntcomplain at losing it.Och! Kirsty cried, compressing her lips until theydisappeared. Yeve an insolent tongue. Tis plain tae seewhere Flaming Tina gets it.I freely admit Ive taught her to stand up for herself. If youmake a doormat of yourself, people will wipe theirmuddy boots on you in this world, Ada said dryly.Some of the smugness crept back into Kirstys face. Mylord is incensed this time. I have my doubts shell standup tae him long.Rob Kennedy will ride roughshod over any who will lethim, but he admires guts, even in a woman. Thatssomething youd know nothing about.If she were my charge, Id soon whip some obedienceintae her, declared the Scotswoman. The stewardlaughed in her face. Gods passion, it would take astrong man in jackboots to whip obedience into FlamingTina Kennedy.Ada said, Shes sixteen, almost seventeena womangrown. Shes too old to take orders from a nursemaid.Beth takes orders from me, Kirsty stated firmly. Adawasnt about to start pulling young Beth to pieces butsaid, They are different as chalk and cheese. Valentina
is all comely, shapely fascination and beauty.And well she knows it, Kirsty accused, her eyestraveling down the tables to the men surrounding thetempting redhead She has a reputation for bein ahoneypot, an no wonder, when yeve been in charge ofher morals.Ada was a widow who could not deny she enjoyed thecompany of men. Jealousy ill becomes you, woman.In my experience men prefer a bit more innocence. Theydinna like it when some o the bloom has been rubbedoff, Kirsty said maliciously.In your experience? Theres a figment of theimagination. Ada had had enough and decided tosilence her adversary. Do you know what happens tospinsters on their fortieth birthday? Their holes makeup!Kirsty gasped, turned beet red, and fled from the table.The steward was still choking on a mouthful of ale. Adassatisfaction diminished somewhat when the pagetugged at her sleeve. Laird Kennedy wants tae see ye.A pale Lady Kennedy followed her husband into thefirst-floor room he used for conducting his business.Valentina followed her in, and Ada brought up the rear,whispering, One more day and he would have beengone.Tina had a habit of shrugging one shapely shoulder,and Ada sighed with resignation. Sparks were bound tofly when two such volatile personalities came together.Mother and daughter seated themselves while Ada
stood guard behind Tinas chair. At one time RobKennedy had been a handsome man with a flamingtorch of hair. Now it was sparse and gray. His florid faceshowed sagging jowls, and his paunch thrust forwardas a testimonial to Mr. Burques talent. He was still animposing man, however, with his broad back andshrewd eyes. He stood with his backside to the fire andasked in a deceptively quiet voice, Do I detect aconspiracy here? His eye fell upon his hapless wife.Just how many proposals have ye been keepin fromme?Elizabeth grew even paler. Rob, I know nothing of this,she said softly.Know nothing know nothing? God ha mercy woman,do ye go through life wi blinkers on? Ye knownothingye never do! His voice had risen, and it had agrating quality that pierced the eardrum painfully.Please dont browbeat Mother, Tina said reasonably.Ive no intention of browbeatin yer mothertis ye Illbrowbeat! He locked eyes with her and demanded,What earthly use are daughters tae a mon? Silence. Illelucidate. Lasses, in especial ravishin beauties likeyersel, are valuable tae forge marriages betweenpowerful clans tae preserve peace, tae extend power,and tae increase wealth. He turned on his wife again. Ishouldna listened tae ye. I shouldha sent her taecourtshe woulda had a husband an a bairn in her bellyby now.With great daring Elizabeth said, The last Kennedy whowent to court didnt manage to catch a husband.
She did even bettermistress tae the two most powerfulmen in Scotland, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, annow the king hissel, if yer talkin about ma wee cousin,Janet Kennedy.Dont you dare say that name in this house, Elizabethwhispered.Janet Kennedy? Shes a bit o a whore, but let me remindye, woman, the Kennedys were Kings o Carrick. We hathe finest blood in Scotland! he shouted.I was speaking of Douglas, Elizabeth said quietly.Rob Kennedy cleared his throat. Aye, well, I didna meantae stir painful memories, Lizzy. Foul fall all the bloodyBlack Douglases.Elizabeth had her handkerchief to her eyes. May Ileave? Im feeling unwell, she pleaded.He nodded, not trusting himself to speak until she haddeparted, then his invective burst forth like a dam uponthe remaining pair. Now see what yeve done! I shouldflay ye fer upsettin yer mother!Tina was on her feet. You did that when you brought upthe profligate black-hearted Douglases.He waved his hand dismissively. Och, the womans toosensitive. It all happened over fifteen year past an bestforgot. She acts as if Damaris was her sister rather thanmine.Damaris was her best friend, her only friend in Scotland.The Douglas Clan poisoned hermother will never forget!Thats no the issue here. As he caught sight of hisdaughters vivid beauty, he wondered how on earth hed
produced such an exquisite child. The fireshine playedacross her heart-shaped face and turned her hair tomolten copper. She drew men like bees to a honeypotand it had been a puzzle to him why none had offeredfor her. His heart softened. Lassie, I want a Campbell ora Gordon for ye.Father, I dont want to marry. Why cant you teach me tosail one of the ships so I could take the wool toFlanders?His face hardened again, and his accusing eyes came torest on Ada. Wheesht, woman, tis ye whos put thesedaft ideas in her haid! Why could ye no make her gentlean biddable?My Lord Kennedy, Scotland is a harsh land filled withharsher men. I swore I wouldnt make the mistake ofmaking Tina soft like her mother and Beth. Besides,shes too much like you to be gentle. As for biddable, itwill take a very strong mate to make her that.Ayeeven then I ha ma doots. Tina, lass, listen tae yer olddad. Choose while the choice is still yers. Yer nighseventeen. If ye dinna wed soon, Archibald Kennedy,Earl of Cassillis, will choose fer ye. Tis his duty as lairdo the clan. Or the king might force ye tae wed tae hisadvantage. Be sensiblechoose an earls son andsomeday yell be a countess. Off wi ye now, vixen! Ill haa word in private wi Ada. After she left, he grated, Godspassion, women can be willful!Youd have no respect for one who wasnt, Rob Kennedy.Aye, well, the other gets round me wi her tears, he said,
referring to his wife. I suppose itll cost me a visit taeEngland tae placate her. He gave her a sidelong glance.Yer a fine figure of a woman, Adatis a long time since wehad a good grapple. Do ye think ye might be in need ofcompany the nicht?Ada tossed her head so that her earrings swungprovocatively. I might, she admitted. ***When Ada entered Tinas chamber, she found her beforethe polished silver mirror with her mouth open and herneck contorted at an odd angle.Let me have a look, Ada said, picking up a candelabrum.Obediently Tina opened her mouth wide and pointed tothe back. After a moment Ada said with relief, Its awisdom tooth having a spurt of growth because itsspring. Thank heaven you didnt let Butcher Bothwickpull it. A woman should keep her back teeth at all costs.It keeps your face young looking. Once your back teethare gone, your cheeks fall in to age you terribly.Thank you, Ada. If I leave it alone, it should be gonesoon?If I were you, Id be off to bed, and perhaps it will be goneby morning. Ada wanted what was best for Tina, but atthe same time she had her own interests in mind.Tomorrow is May Day.Beltane! Tina said, hugging her arms in anticipation of
the Celtic holy day. In daylight the villagers would dancearound the maypole, but at night they would have revelsand dance about Beltane firesaye, and do more thandance!Tina yawned and lifted a pretty shoulder. She shook outher bedgown and said, Good night, Ada. I think Ill takeyour advice.The minute Ada was through the door, Tina shoved thebedgown back beneath her pillow. Not bloody likely,she murmured happily. Tonight was the night that theGypsies returned to the Valley of Galloway. Chapter 2Degenerate Douglas! Unworthy Lord He!Hush thee, hush, my little pet ye,The Black Douglas will not get thee. Thirty miles away at Douglas, the Black Ram laystretched on the floor of the hall, casting dice with his
brothers and some of his moss-troopers. The Boozer,his fierce wolfhound, sprawled at his feet before the fire.The flames turned Rams swarthy face into planes oflight and shadow.Ramsay Douglas had saber-sharp cheekbones andpewter-colored eyes with heavy black brows archedabove them, giving him the Devils own look, and hedthe Devils own temper when roused. Tonight, however,he seemed in a mellow enough mood as he lazily castthe dice.The noise level in the hall was high but that was usual.The borderers were such a rough and rowdy bunch oflusty rogues, it always sounded like a brawl or a rape. Abagpipe skirled from somewhere on the walls, andCameron, the youngest Douglas, was singing a bawdysong: Hooray, hooray, the first of May, outdoor fuckinstarts today. The words then became even more grosslyindecent, and two of his cousins joined in the chorus.The Boozer stood up and stretched, thinking thecompany sufficiently drunk, it wouldnt be noticed if hehelped himself to the leftovers littering the tables.The massive wolfhound stood with great paws on thetable, crunching a mutton bone with its razor-sharpteeth. A servitor tried to wave the beast from the board,but the Boozer laid his ears flat and growled deep in histhroat. The servant backed off with a filthy epithet, andthe dog tipped over a goblet, then lapped up itscontents before they had a chance to drip to the floor.Gavin, every bit as dark as Ramsay, but handsomer andless dangerous looking, eyed his brother with
speculation. Would ye care tae raise the stakes to makethis more interesting?Why not? Ram drawled.With great audacity Gavin said, Would ye put up Jenna?Ian and Drummond, captains of Douglas vessels,exchanged swift, apprehensive glances. The BlackDouglas wasnt a man to share anything, let alone awoman who warmed his bed.Ram Douglas lifted an amused brow. Against what? heasked.Gavins eyes glittered. Against my falcon. He knew Ramadmired his beautiful raptor. Ram shrugged. Why not?Gavin knew Ram had more confidence in his own abilitythan any man breathing, and he knew there was littlechance of his outcasting his brother at dice. But it neverhurt to try.Gavin blinked as his brother Ram rolled a pitiful three,and he felt a rush of hot blood at his own good fortune.Then common sense took over, and he accused, Ye loston purpose, man.Ram hauled himself to his feet and stretched. No suchthingye won fair and square. I wish ye joy of her. Well,Im off.Gavin Douglas looked puzzled. I thought ye were taebring the horses down from the mountains tomorrow.I leave at dawn, Ram said, and theres still eight hours tilldawn. He winked at Gavin and picked up his leatherjack.Rams brother stared after him, then said to Cameron, He
just lost Jenna tae meI suspect it was done deliberately.Why the hell would he do that?Camerons black brows smoothed from their puzzledfurrow as he remembered something. The Gypsies! Thisis the night the Gypsies return to Galloway ValleyTina changed into a warm green velvet riding habit andslipped from the castle toward the stable. She looked upat the tiny sliver of the new moon in the dark sky andshivered as she thought it would be a good night for araid. As she opened the stable door and slipped inside,her nostrils quivered with the pungent odor ofhorseflesh, hay, and manure that rose up in a miasma inthe dim interior. Before she had taken three steps,however, she came face-to-face with a dozen Kennedymen saddling their mounts. The girl and the men lookedat each other with dismay, knowing they had beendiscovered in a clandestine activity. Oh, youre going ona raid! Tina gasped. All her instincts had told her theydbeen planning a raid, but she had assumed they wouldwait until their father had sailed.Ye daft loon, of course were no, denied Donal. Wherethe hell are ye sneakin off tae?She ignored the question. I know you are riding out toraid. None of you are wearing the telltale Kennedytartan, and the moon is just right!Donal mounted, and Duncan and the rest of the clanmembers followed suit. Tina, yer imagination takesflights o fancy Were just riding tae Glasgow. Get backtae the castle, lass, before ye get yersel in more trouble
Duncan, make Donal let me come with you! Ill do exactlyas Im told. I want to help.Yeve never done as yer told in yer life, cut in Donal.Im a Kennedy too! she flared. I want to comeI want tohelp!Duncan bent low and said confidentially, Tina, were offtae a whorehouse in Glasgow. How can ye help? Holdup the lassies skirts fer us, mayhap?She flushed at their crudeness, and they filed past herout into the dark night.Valentina was relieved that the Kennedys were headingnorth to Glasgow. It was close to thirty miles, and thepace Donal and Duncan set would be punishing. Shewas riding east so there was no chance they would runinto each other again.Where the Gypsies made camp was about eight milesoff along the banks of the River Ayr. Tina had no fear ofriding in the dark save for concern that her beautifulmare might step into a badger hole, so she chose tocanter over the rolling fells rather than gallop.The hills were dotted with sheep and newborn lambsthat had been freed from their winter pens to spend theirfirst spring night outdoors this last day of April 1512.She could hear the river in spate at the moment, rushingheadlong over rock and boulder, and not far off sheheard the bark of a fox. It was the sort of night that wasfilled with promise and magic. The kind of night thatmade her glad to be alive with the wind in her hair and
good horseflesh between her knees.Tina embraced the night. Tomorrow with its threat ofhusband and marriage was a million miles away, butwhen it arrived she would meet it head on and on herown terms.She saw their campfires first, and then the silhouettes oftheir caravans, long before she reached the valleys floorto mingle with the raffish band of dusky nomads.A black stallion stood beneath the trees on the edge ofthe camp. His rider bent low to aid a young Gypsy girlmount behind him. Her red skirt fell back to reveal barelegs that she used seductively to grip the iron-hardthighs of the man in front of her. A deep thrill ranthrough Zara as her body came in contact with his.There was nothing about him that was not dark andhard. The line of his jaw was stubborn, and the set ofhis head was arrogantly proud atop the wide, powerfulshoulders. He was clad in black from head to foot. Hisjack and thigh-high riding boots were made of suppleblack leather. Zara shivered, knowing the Black Ramwas ruthless and dangerous. Of all the men she hadever knownand men were her businesshe was the onlyone she couldnt rule in bed.Suddenly he leaned forward, resting his arm on hissaddle pommel, and watched intently as a youngwoman with flaming hair streaming about her shouldersrode into the camp. She rode astride, which was almostunheard of for a woman. She flung herself from herhorse and ran laughing into the outstretched arms of atall young Gypsy male: Heath! Oh Heath, how Ive
missed you!Ram continued his slow, deliberate appraisal of thevivid creature as the man lifted her in the air and swungher about. Who is she? Ram asked, his voice low andintense, in no way trying to disguise his interest in thebeauty.I dont know, Zara lied. Probably someones wife lookingfor forbidden fruit. In any case youd better leave Heathswomen alone unless you fancy a knife in your ribs.Ram smiled to himself. Zara was clearly jealous, as shehad every right to be, for the girls looks werebreathtaking, but her jealousy had better not make herbold enough to threaten him. Would ye fancy followingme on foot tae Douglas? he asked silkily.What makes you think Id follow you? Zara hissed, butshe knew she would and so did he, damn him to hell-fire!Heath and Valentina caught up on what had occurred intheir lives since theyd last been together. The Gypsieshad traveled as far north as Inverary in the Highlandsduring the summer and had wintered in Carlisle, inEngland, where the climate was not so inclement. Theydalso spent time in the old capital of Stirling and the newcapital of Edinburgh while king and court had been inresidence.Tina had a million questions for him, coveringeverything from the Earl of Argylls Campbells to herown notorious kinswoman who was rumored to be the
kings new mistress. Is it true she was mistress toArchibald Douglas, the hated Earl of Angus? Tina askedwith a shudder. No wonder she sought the kingsprotection.The Douglas name is never uttered without a shiver offear, and yet I think Scotland has much more to fearfrom Argyll. He intends to swallow the Highlands whole.Heath, Douglas is less than thirty miles away. The wholeof the border country is beneath their heel.Sweetheart, tis no bad thing that theyre so strong. Sincethe king appointed Douglas the leading marcher lordpatrolling the borders, Englands learned it cant attackwith impunity. This past winter I didnt hear of manyraids between the two countries.Well, that is good news, she said, laughing. We Scotscan now resume our favorite pastime of raiding eachother. She put her head on one side, the better toobserve Heaths warm brown eyes. You didnt answer,my question about Janet Kennedy.His beautiful white teeth flashed when he laughed. Tohell with Janet Kennedy! What about ValentinaKennedy?The news is all bad, she teased. Ive a wisdom toothplaguing the devil out of me, and the marriage noosetightens about my neck even as we speak.His eyes twinkled. You could always run away with theGypsies.Someday I just might, she vowed passionately. Comeon, Old Meg will give you something to soothe thattooth.
Oh yes! She can tell me my fortune, Tina said withenthusiasm.Old Megs caravan was a small world within a world. Theoutside was painted a dramatic red and black, the insidecluttered with the curious trappings of her trade. Shetold fortunes, cast spells, and dispensed electuaries forevery complaint known to man. Her ceiling was hungwith dried herbs that gave off odd pungent fragrances,and the walls were fitted with wooden shelves that heldbottles, bowls, and boxes of strange powders, liquids,and dried animal parts. A polished brass lamp swungover a small round table, casting a red glow upon hermystic glass ball and tattered tarot cards.Meg was a shrewd old party who had made herself richby performing abortions on noble ladies. Her businesswas always briskest when they visited the kings court.Meg gave Tina no greeting when she climbed the stepsof her wagon, but mixed her a concoction to sup whentold of the toothache. Heath was her grandson Hismother had died in childbirth.Meg, will you tell my fortune? Tina asked hopefully asshe sat down at the small table and sipped the steamingbrew. Heath, who had to keep his head bent inside thecaravan to avoid the ceiling, said, Ill be at the campfirewhen youre doneOld Meg, her mouth set in severe lines, went through themotions of placing her beringed hands upon the glassball, but after a minute of silence she said, The stars arenot right tonight. I can tell you nothing.
Tina held her stare, her strong will battling with that ofthe Gypsy. Meg, you know you can read the cards.Meg compressed her lips. She disapproved of therelationship between her grandson and this spirited,spoiled girl. She had no reason to love the Kennedys.Cross my palm with silver, she commanded, and heldout her gnarled hand.Tina placed three silver coins upon the none-too-cleanpalm and held her breath in anticipation as she shuffledthe large deck of painted pasteboards Meg handed her.She closed her eyes and made a wish as she had beentaught to do, then handed the cards back to the oldprofessional.The first card turned up was The Emperor, from themajor arcana. Meg described the picture: A dark,authoritative man sits upon a throne, the armrests andupper back made into rams heads. In his right hand heholds the Cross of Life, the Egyptian ankh. On his rightshoulder there is another image of the rams head.Behind him are stark mountains devoid of scenery. Thesymbolism of The Emperor is earthly knowledge. Thisman is ruled by his mind rather than his emotionsherepresents law and order. The stark mountains show hispower and strength. He is unyielding and unbending inhis judgments. He is a leader rather than a follower. Heenjoys being in command and rules with an iron hand.Meg turned over the second card. It was The Empress,also from the major arcana. Meg again described thecard: A beautiful woman is wearing a crown of twelvestars. By her side is a heart-shaped shield bearing the
sign of Venus. Before her is a ripe field of corn, behindher are trees in full bloom. She is Aphrodite, goddess ofhuman love. The symbolism of this card is fertility. Bothsexes joined. It denotes a fulfillment of erotic needs. Sherepresents heaven on earth, the Garden of Eden, thedoor that opens unto earthly pleasures and treasures.Meg placed the Page of Swords, from the minor arcana,upon the table: A youth holds a sword tightly in hishands. Clouds surround him. He has to prove hismasculinity by fighting. He uses aggressiveness as adefense against self-doubt. Tina immediately thought ofher brother David. She caught her breath as a secondsword card turned up, for she knew they were the worstcards in the deck. It was the Five of Swords. A mancarrying two swords on his shoulder, another in hisright hand looks with scorn upon two dejected figureswhose swords are on the ground. The sky is filled withstorm clouds. Here is a man who defeats others, wholives by the sword, who is insensitive and indifferent.The symbolism suggests you will lose something; therewill be a breaking of bonds and separation from lovedones.Tina was relieved to see the next card was the Seven ofWands, but Meg made it, too, sound ominous. Allsevens imply change. The card indicates you must holdyour own against unfavorable odds. You must take astand and be adamant in the face of opposition, for onlyin change is there growth.The Four of Cups was laid upon the small table, and
Tina let out her breath thankfully. Meg continued: Ayoung man sits against a tree with his arms folded. Ahand extends a cup to him, while three other cups situpright in front of him. The young man is not reachingout for the cup extended to him, rather he iscontemplating the offer. This card represents the lovebed, pleasure, and irresistible sexual attraction.Meg turned over the seventh and last card. Tinagasped; it was the Ten of Swords. Meg said nothing.Tina didnt need it described to hershe could clearly seeit was a man lying prostrate on the ground with tenswords stuck into his back, while above him was ablackened sky.Meg gathered the cards together quickly. It has manymeanings; everything looks black.Interpret the whole thing for me, Tina said, gathering hercourage. Will I get my wish?Yes, said Meg without hesitation.Tina sighed with relief. Though she had someone inmind for her husband, she had asked that there be nomarriage for her this year.The cards speak for themselves. You will be involvedwith a dark man whose symbol is the ram. He will ruleyou. The Empress represents you. The dark man willbring you sexual fulfillment; you will be fertile.At this point Tina decided none of it would come truebecause she would get her wish and her wish was nomarriage.The Page of Swords is a youth who is close to you. Hewill be instrumental in starting trouble. The Five of
Swords shows there will be fighting, struggling,bloodshed that will result in your being separated fromyour loved ones. The Seven of Wands confirms thischange and warns you will have to stand firm if your willis to prevail, but the Four of Cups indicates you willreceive an offer and the choice will be yours.And the last card? Tina pressed.Meg saw the dark male lying prostrate with the swordsin his back. Her beloved Heath was dark. She piercedTina with a fierce glare. You will wish you were dead!prophesied the old Gypsy.Tina felt something move against her foot beneath thetable and jumped. Oh, what was that? she cried, liftingaside the table cover and peering down. She saw alarge tortoise with a great red jewel embedded in itsshell. Is that a ruby? asked Tina with disbelief. Arent youafraid your tortoise will be stolen? she asked, tracingher finger over the ruby.The corners of Megs mouth turned down in derision.The jewel is cursed. Any who touch it will experiencepain and sorrow.Tina looked at Meg, and suddenly amusement filled hereyes. The Gypsy was doing her very best to fill her withforeboding. There were no such things as curses.Everyone was responsible for their own fortune ormisfortune in this world. You are a terrible tease, Meg.Thank you for the potion. The ache in my tooth iscompletely gone. She went to bid Heath good night soshe could return to Doon before her absence was
discovered. Tomorrow night will you take me to see theBeltane fires?His teeth flashed. What choice do I have? If I refuse, youwill go alone. He lifted her into her saddle and sheconfided, Father sails tomorrow. Ill be able to stay out allnight! ***Ramsay Douglas thundered across the drawbridge athis castle, and the guard immediately drew it up andlowered the portcullis, preventing any other fromentering. The guards had dubbed him Hotspur becausehe always rode hell for leather, even when he had awoman riding pillion.Zara ran up the stairs ahead of Ramsay Douglas, liftingher red skirts high to display her bare ankles andshapely calves Ram followed carrying a blazing torchthat flared and sputtered, casting long shadows againstthe rough stone walls.Suddenly another man holding a torch high stood at thetop of the stone steps. He moved on with a lurch afteracknowledging them with a curt nod. Ram placed historch in the iron cresset outside his door, and Zara flewinto the large chamber that shed first entered theprevious spring. As Ram lit the lamps, she turned to himwith a provocative pout on her lips. He hates me! shesaid.
Colin doesnt hate anyone. Hes too soft and gutless forthat.That was a look of disgustIm not blind.He grinned at her. That look was for me My cousindisapproves of my wenching. Hed have me wed andbreeding Douglas sons if he had his way, as would therest of the clan.She came close and slipped her arms up about his neckand whispered, In this castle I suspect its your way orno way.He looked down at her with an almost casual glance Yesuspect right. Though the hour was late, he seemed inno hurry, and Zara was piqued He continued his perusalof her person, of the small pointed breasts hardeningbeneath his glance, and the slanted eyes that gave herthe look of her exotic ancestors. He touched the goldring in her ear. Did you lose the other earring I gave you,or did you pawn it?She gave him a provocative look. It was the first realgold I ever earned. I shall keep it alwaysin a place thatwill do me the most good. She was speaking in riddles,and he had neither time nor patience for womensriddles. He pushed her away from him so that he couldremove his leather jack. Her eyes widened when shesaw he wore chain mail beneath it. His movements wereso lithe, she hadnt guessed he was wearing the heavyvest, but the Black Ram had too many enemies to goabout unprotected.As he removed his linen shirt, boots, and leather trews,her eyes became greedy as they slid over the pure male
splendor of him. In contrast Zara wore only twogarments, skirt and blouse. Rams deft fingers lifted theblouse over her head, and he said, Lets have a look atyou, then, holding her at arms length.The tip of her red tongue came out to slowly circle herlips as she lifted her red skirts beneath her chin andposed for him. His dark eyes lost their casual look asthey focused upon her triangle of tight black curls.Jesu, he breathed, I thought Id seen everything!The mate to her gold earring had been pierced andmounted at the tip of her mons. This guarantees memore customers than I can ever accommodate. I am thehighest-paid lay in Scotland, more famous than anycourtesan. The king was enthralled.Ram whistled. The king? How do we compare in bed?She lifted off her skirt and flung it across the chamber.The king is not without talent, but you most definitelyhave the longer wind!He let out a whoop and lifted her high as if she weighedno more than a feather. He tossed her onto the greatbed and dove after her, his fingers seeking the goldbauble.Tis exactly the right size for a man to pass throughbefore he enters the gates of Paradise, she said,drawing her knees wide so the golden hoop dangledover her hot center.Then youve had inadequate lovers, my wild little Gypsy.My shaft is far too thick, as ye can plainly see. However,if ye insist on playing games, I suppose I have other
appendages will fit through. Chapter 3 Rob Kennedy had shrewdly guessed that his wifewould manipulate him into allowing her a visit to herhome in Carlisle. Her trunks were all packed by the timehe was ready to set sail at midday. The five Kennedyoffspring as well as the cousins from the otherbranches of the clan went down to the firth to watchthem board the Thistle Doon and wave farewell to Lordand Lady Kennedy.Tina had had all night to think about her fathers adviceto choose her own husband, and she had decided tosend him off with a tiny glimmer of hope. As they walkeddown to the ship, she slipped her arm about his girth,and he hugged her to him and again thought how likehimself she was.How do you fancy an alliance with the Hamiltons? sheasked lightly.
He gave her a keen scrutiny. Was she hinting at the Earlof Arrans heir? Jesu, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran wasthe grandson of King James II and Lord High Admiral ofScotland. Are ye talking about Patrick Hamilton?I decided long ago hes the most eligible of all mysuitors, she said, smiling up at him.Yer a canny wee lass. Invite him to Doon, he advised.The admiral has the kings flagship anchored a mileaway at Ayr, so Patrick wont be a stranger to theseparts.He grinned and hugged her to him. Ive nae doot yellhave the young stallion eatin out o yer hand. Hesobered and wagged an admonishing finger at her. Justdinna let the laddie take gross an filthy advantage o ye,before ye bring him tae commit hissel!As the sails filled and the floodtide rapidly carried theship out to sea every face showed signs of relief. Davieyawned behind his hand and Tina teased, Im amazedyou dragged yourself out of bed to do your filial duty.Christ, I had tae see the back o him wi ma ain eyes. Hesdone nothin but lecture me aboot carnal appetites o theflesh. The old lecher makes me puke!Tina murmured to Donal, Davids not himself thisafternoon.Davie is exactly himself. Hes a vicious wee bastard atthe best o times, Donal said, thinking of the youngprostitute David had abused at the brothel last night.Tina didnt take Donals criticism of her youngest brotherseriously. When they were little, there had been a strongbond between her and Davie. The older brothers had
never included him in their hell-raising because the birthof the two Kennedy daughters had separated him fromthem in age, and Davie had been relegated to playingwith the girls. Tina, a few years his senior, had alwaysprotected him from lifes knocks and disappointments.Shed always stood up for him against the others, butlately he had distanced himself from her and was benton proving himself a man. To her he was still a boy, hisslim build a long way from the brawn of the older,rougher Kennedy men. She would make an effort tostop mothering him.Tina fell behind the others to walk with her sister Bethas the group of young people walked along the shore.Beth whispered, Im glad Mother didnt insist I go toEngland with her. She glanced shyly at the rugged-looking Andrew Kennedy, then blushed profusely.Tina followed her sisters glance and smiled to herself.He never notices me, whispered Beth.Thats because you never do anything to draw hisattention, pointed out Tina. Do somethingdo somethingright now! Tina ordered.Beth, afraid to, yet afraid not to, bent and picked up apretty pink scallop shell and quickened her pace tocatch up with Andrew. She summoned all her courage.Lord Carrick, she said breathlessly, see the shell I justfoundAndrew glanced down at the small blond girl and saidabsently, Very pretty, dear.Beths steps faltered, and Tina came up beside her. Men
arent interested in pretty shells, Beth.What does interest them? she asked, wide-eyed.Tina laughed. You can always count on two things Butinstead of blurting out money and sex , she said, A manwould get excited about a gold doubloon on the sand,or a moonlight swim with a naked lass.Beth went white with shock.Tina said, Dont take everything so seriously. Men like tolaugh. Listen to how rowdy they are. It takes a specialtalent to draw their attention from mens affairs and holdthat attention. Let me show you. The light of challengemade Tinas eyes sparkle. She took off her shoes andstockings and kilted up her skirts to display a deliciouslength of bare legs, and the men moved toward her likesteel filings attracted to a lodestone. When their remarksand suggestions became risqué, she kicked cold waterover them, and Beth looked on in amazement that theydidnt retreat because of the drenching they risked butinstead became more daring in their antics, pushing andshoving each other like rams locking their horns overan ewe. Valentina managed to chase them away, like aqueen banishing them from her presence. She sat downupon a rock to put on her shoes, stuffing her hose intoher pocket.Tina, why dont I take supper in your chamber so we canspend the evening together? Beth suggested hopefully.Tina looked at her blankly. Tonight is BeltaneIm off andaway. Beths face fell. Come with me! Tina invitedgenerously.Heavens, no! Arent you afraid? Beth cried.
Only a tiny bit, but thats what makes it exciting, likegoing to the graveyard at midnight or bathing in thewaters of Black Loch naked.Kirsty said you were wicked, confided Beth, beginningto believe it.Did she? Tina asked, sounding inordinately pleased. Idrather be wicked than frightened as a rabbit. Theresnothing to fear. Heaths back. Hell look after me.Beth flinched and wrinkled her nose. That ragtagGypsy?That ragtag Gypsy is more man than any woman couldwish for in her wildest dreams. But Tina admitted toherself, she was relieved that Beth didnt want to come.She brushed the lovely blond strands of hair from Bethsface and nodded toward the group of attractive red-headed men. Theyll all be gone tomorrow. They onlycame to bring their wool for export. I want you to dine inthe hall tonight. Wear your prettiest gown.By early afternoon, Hotspur Douglas had been in thesaddle eight hours, and before dusk fell he would be inthe Highlands in the magnificent Grampian Mountains.To cover this great distance in so short a time, he hadtaken an extra saddle horse and alternated between thetwo sturdy mounts. At five in the morning he hadshaken awake one of his men and thrust the Gypsy girlinto his arms with orders to return her to her valley.Then he had chosen two of his fleetest moss-troopersand told them that by dark tomorrow night, they would
have the herd they were going to fetch, back at Douglas.The wild, unbroken horses had been brought up in thenorthern forests so they could withstand cold andsevere weather. They could run a dozen leagueswithout food. These sure-footed garrons were preferredby border mosstroopers who had to patrol endlessmiles of wild, wide-open rugged carse and moors. TheDouglas stables boasted more than their share ofblooded, well-fed stallions. Rams favorite mount was ablack brute that stood more than nineteen hands high. Itamused him to call the animal Ruffian, a mostmisleading misnomer. He could vault into the saddletotally ignoring the stirrups, and many would-beimitators had come a cropper trying to master the trick,especially wearing heavy chain mail.Ram Douglas had as sharp an eye for a horse as he didfor a woman, and he soon cut the choicest mares andsturdy stallions from the herd. He left the foals with theirdams to run free another year and laughed when thedominant stud stallion tried to attack him for stealing hismares. There was no way he was going to take himsouth to a possible gelding. Ram pulled a bullwhip fromhis belt and cracked it in the air whenever the stallionapproached, and he shouted, laughing, Get the hellaway! If ye follow yer mares, yell lose yer balls!These Highland forests were alive with wolves, boar,and wild bulls, and Ram itched to hunt, but he promisedhimself not to indulge unless a beast crossed his pathand threatened the herd. His instincts told him not to beabsent from Douglas for any length of time, for it would
be just like the bloody Hamiltons to pick this time tomount a raid, whoremongering cowards that they were.When he returned, he would send his brother Gavinsouth to Castle Douglas with at least half the herd. Thecastle at the town of Douglas, which was often dubbedCastle Dangerous, was not to be confused with themassive stronghold of Castle Douglas, which lay deepin the borders, forty miles to the south.When Beth Kennedy took her blue velvet gown from thewardrobe, Kirsty was alerted. I think it best ye dine in yerchamber with me, since yer parents are no in residenceand the castle is full o rough men.For once Beth asserted herself. Im dining in the hall withValentina tonight, thank you, Kirsty. Shell look after me.Kirstys lips compressed. She would be the length of theroom away at the servants table. Heaven only knewwhat topics that hellion Tina would introduce into theconversation.Kirsty went down to the hall early so she would missnothing that transpired tonight. Valentina arrivedwearing a copper-colored outfit that made her evenmore vivid than usual Kirsty was pleased to see that themen were not wearing their dress tartans to impressMistress Honeypot, but she craned her neck to watchwhat Tina would do when Beth arrived. She was notbest pleased when the two sisters sat down betweenLord Carrick and Callum Kennedy Respectable youngwomen would have sat with their brothers.
When Ada took her seat at the servants table, she sawimmediately what was causing Kirstys anxiety, and likea true adversary she decided to rub salt in her wounds.Im so glad that Tina has decided to teach Beth socialintercourse.Kirsty hissed, I consider Valentina Kennedy no fit rolemodel for my gently reared Beth.With a straight face Ada said, Oh Kirsty, let down yourguard for one night. Its Beltane.Kirsty gasped. Filthy pagan ritual! How dare ye speak oit in a godly household? Tis an excuse tae indulge insinful antics of the nicht. Well, let me tell ye, madam, thecarnal appetites o the flesh shall no inherit the Kingdomof Heaven.You think sex and church dont mix? asked Ada with alaugh. The holier the occasion, the fiercer the grapple.Did I ever tell you the tale of the Abbot of Aberdeen?I willna listen tae such smut. She glanced at the stewardand the other household servants at the table and sawthey were enjoying her discomfort.Meanwhile, Tina was enjoying teasing her dinnercompanions every bit as much as Ada was. With astraight face but mischievous flashing eyes, she said,Andrew, why dont you tell Beth the interesting thingsyou did on your visit to Glasgow last evening?Andrew darted a warning glance at Tina and wonderedhow she managed to look such a picture of innocenceIm sure she has nae interest in mens affairs, he saidrepressively.Oh, you are wrong, Lord Carrick. I am fascinated, said
Beth, hanging on to his every word.Yer brothers showed us parts o Glasgow Ive neverseen, he managed between mouthfuls.Beth said, Ive heard there are a lot of poor hovels there,but Ive seen some fine houses, and the ladies dressquite differently in town, dont you think?Tell us about the house you visited, and how the ladieswere dressed, Tina prompted.Yed no be interested, he said repressively.Beth put her small hand upon his arm. Please? shebegged softly.Andrew flushed as he recalled last nights debauch, thenhe put his hand over Beths and gently explained, Yersister is a wicked tease. She knows we spent last nightin a an alehouse.Oh, how silly of me, said Beth, giggling. Tina joined inthe laughter, then finally Andrew, and all was forgiven.Down the hall the steward spoke up. Mistress, would yecare tae attend the revels wi me? he asked Adahopefully.Oh, Im sorry, Jack, I already accepted Mr. Burques offer,Ada said, casting a satisfied glance at Kirsty, for sheknew the Scotswoman had lost her heart to the good-looking Frenchman.Burque? Yon prancin cook? I thought yed be wantin amore sportive companion on such a nicht, the stewardderided.Mr. Burque is a chef, Ada corrected, and you can take itfrom me, she said, glancing from the steward to Kirsty,
he can be exceeding sportive.At the other end of the hall Valentina was plotting hergetaway and wanted to be certain everyone wasoccupied when she rode out. She addressed bothCallum and Andrew Kennedy. Youll both be gone atsunup, I suppose? What are your plans for thisevening?The men exchanged glances, and Andrew temporized,Well, we did think tae visit Glasgow again.Oh, thats too bad. I thought perhaps youd enjoy a strollup on the ramparts to count the Beltane firesunlesstheres time before you leave?Andrew spoke up Thats exactly what I planned tae doas soon as weve finished here.Callum scowled at him. Id like tae escort ye, Tina. Itsvery dark up on the walls. A lady needs a strong arm, anI offer mine.You are both so gallant. Tina smiled. I cannot accept,but Beth would like your escort.Both men knew theyd been outmaneuvered and bowedto Lady Beth. It would be an honor, mistress.Kirstys hand was at her throat as she saw Beth takeboth men by the arm. It was not customary for a maid toapproach the head table in the great hall, but alarmmade Kirsty ignore convention. My lady, I willaccompany ye, wherever it is ye wish tae go.Tina looked the woman up and down coldly. Dontoverstep your bounds, Kirsty. Im mistress here at Doonat the moment. I dont believe Lord Carrick would enjoyyour forcing yourself upon him. I think perhaps the
steward would be a better choice for you.Butbut Beth has never been alone wi men, she saidangrily, as she watched her charge depart the hall.Then it is high time, Tina said. Theres safety in numbers,Kirsty. Besides, I dont really think little Beth will arousetheir carnal appetites.Men dont need much arousin, hissed Kirsty.Really? Tina drawled, raising questioning eyebrows.You must tell me all you know about mensometimewhen you have a moment. Tina waved to Ada at the farend of the hall. It was her way of saying, Dont wait upfor me!Valentina had not ridden a miles distance from Doonwhen Heath met her. He was dressed in soft doeskinbreeches and was astride an animal every bit asexpensive as Kennedy horseflesh. She whistled herappreciation. Where did that come from?He grinned at her and laid a finger alongside his nose.Ask no questions, sweeting. You wouldnt want to know.Could you get me a black mare with Barbary blood? sheasked eagerly.Thats a tall order, he replied.But not impossible? she pressed.No, sweetheart, not impossible, he admitted.Lovely! Where will we go tonight?Wherever you fancy. Lead on. Before the words wereout of his mouth, she was off on the wind. She hadplaited her long copper hair into a thick braid that fell
below her waist, and it soon began to unravel. Heathchuckled to himself and let her take the lead. She had awildness in her blood, and he understood she neededthis outlet.The River Ayr was in spate, and once they crossed overthe brig, they began to climb out of the valley. TheBeltane fires would not be lit on hilltops, for then theycould be mistaken for the beacon fires used as an alarmsystem for invasion and suchlike. Tina headed towardMuirkirk, a plain stretching between the counties of Ayrand Lanark, as this was likely the closest Beltane revel.As she topped the ridge, she saw half a dozen riderscoming from the opposite direction and recognized theywere Hamiltons from their bright blue tartan.She quickly brought one leg over her saddle so thattheir leader would not know she had been riding astrideand hoped her velvet skirts would cover the fact thatthere was no side-saddle.Valentina! Patrick Hamilton was both pleased andconcerned to find her abroad this night. He dismountedimmediately and came to her side. His men stayed backto give them some small privacy. Patrick Hamilton wasdark and dashing, his tall slim back straight as a ramrodwith the pride of clan in his bearing. He placed apossessive hand upon her knee. I carina believe yer outwithout a groom, mistress. Tis Providence brought yema way.The tip of her riding boot rested almost touching hishand upon her other knee. She let him know she couldkick his hand away if she so chose. The last light was
fading fast and wasnt sufficient for him to see hergolden eyes, but where it touched her magnificent hair,it set it aflame. Patrick felt a strong desire to pull herdown to him and ravish the mouth that teased sotemptingly.I assume you are riding to visit the admiral, she said Ifyou come to Doon for dinner on Friday evening, Ill getMr. Burque to prepare your favorite, Patrick.Thanks, Tina, Id be delighted. Ye know my destination,but I dinna know yours.Youre right, she said laughingJust as Patrick was about to reach for the maddeningcreature, Heath topped the ridge. Patrick frowned at herescorts good looks and wide shoulders. Ye ha a groomafter all, he said, sounding most disappointed.Good night, Patrick, I must be off. I have a most pressingappointment.Hamilton had ridden five miles with Valentina Kennedyfilling his senses before he remembered that it wasBeltane, but as soon as the dark suspicion crossed hismind, he dismissed it. She wouldna dare, he assuredhimself.The Kennedys had laid their plans well the previousnight and had even ridden out to the perimeter of theDouglas lands they were about to raid. The Douglasclan was the richest in Scotland, their acreage vast, theirherds too numerous to count. Donal and Duncan hadconceived the idea and laid it before the other
Kennedys when they brought down their winter wool.Without going close to the castle at Douglas, which wasnicknamed Castle Dangerous, Donal estimated theycould lift about two hundred cattle and four hundredcurly-horned sheep from Douglas tenants, and the bestpart was that the Douglas clan would blame their bitterenemies, the Hamiltons, who lived not ten miles away inthe same county, Lanark.The Kennedys had agreed to divide whatever they wereable to steal and leave immediately for their ownholdings, which lay in half a dozen different directions.Donal would take his share to Castle Kennedy on LochRyan, which he hoped would be his when he married.He would also leave a few on his holding inKirkcudbright, overlooking Solway Firth It amused himthat his peel tower at Kirkcudbright was only ten milesfrom the massive stronghold known as Castle Douglas.Donal had given his men strict orders not to approachthe castle, for he wanted no violent affray. This was tobe a simple cattle raid under dark of night, and if theirluck held, the Douglases wouldnt even know about it tilldawn.All went according to plan, with the Kennedys contentto let Donal give the orders. All except David who had afew ideas of his own. It was Davie Kennedys first tasteof reiving, though hed been anticipating the event foryears, avidly listening to tales told at clan gatherings. Herelished the brutish pleasure of wreaking havoc upon arival. It was rumored the Douglases had an excess often thousand horned sheep, and this being the case,
Davie reasoned their most vital crop was hay. Donal hadordered him to stand watch rather than rustle cattle andsheep, but he was boldly determined to play a more vitalpart in the operation. He set a torch to the hayfields, andthe wildfire raced across the acres that hadnt felt rain inover a week.When Donal smelled smoke and heard the flames beginto roar like the wind, he cursed violently. What recklesswhoreson set the fire? he shouted. Already the Douglastenants were running to the scene and had no doubtalerted the men of the castle. Fire at night was moreterrifying than in daylight, and the Kennedys were ableto drive off the sheep and cattle in the chaos andconfusion it caused.Duncan rode up beside Donal. Davie was posted guardover yon. It must ha been the little pisser.Christs blood, Ill skelp the skin off his arse when I getback from Kirkcudbright.David, elated with the successful destruction of thehayfields, moved on to the low cowsheds andhaystacks against the very walls of the castle. Theflames danced high, almost mesmerizing him, whensuddenly the torch was dragged from his hand,brushing across his sleeve to set it afire. At the sametime he was knocked from his saddle by something thatfelt like a thunderbolt.The thunderbolt was a naked Gavin Douglas, who hadbeen plucked from his bed and the soft arms of Jenna,his new wench. Davie Kennedy was lucky Gavin had no
weapon to hand, or he would have been a corpse bynow.Gavin grabbed the raider by the scruff of the neck,rolled him in the dirt to extinguish his smolderingsleeve, and dragged him to his feet. His dark eyeswidened as he saw the extreme youth of his culprit. Hecursed that hed only caught the runt of the litter, but ashe peered about in frustrated fury, he saw none but hisbrother Cameron and other Douglas men whose firstpriority was to put out the fire before it destroyed theentire village of Douglas.Gavin dragged his captive by the hair into the hall,which had suddenly come to life with men-at-arms andservants. As Colin Douglas limped into the hall, Gavinsaid, I only caught one o the bastards. The bloodyHamiltons are using bairns now tae raid us.Colin saw the pallor of the fair-haired lad and saidquietly, Ill get ma bandages and dress that burn.Dress his burn? Gavin shouted in disbelief. Ill truss himon a spit in yon fireplace and roast his other bloody arm!Colin said, When yer temper cools, yell realize Ram canlikely ransom the bairn.Davie decided hed been called bairn once too often.Gathering a full gob of spit in his mouth, he shot it inColins face. Gavin backhanded him, bursting open hislip and felling him to the floor.Gavin ran his hand through his tangle of black hair.Christs blood, Ram will ha ma nuts fer this. Who was onguard? he demanded, glaring at the men-at-arms. Why
wasna the alarm given at the first glimmer o fire?We thought it a Beltane fire, the mosstrooper saidstupidly.Lazy lounging bastardsall ye are fit fer is drinkin, fightin,and fuckin. Then as he rubbed the back of his neck, heglanced down at his own naked body and recalled whathed been doing while Douglas crops burned. Get himout o ma sight. Lock him up downstairs. He glowered atthe Douglas men. Yeve two minutes tae get mounted.Well catch them or see where the trail leads. When Ramgets back, one o ye will swing for this. He rubbed hisneck again, fervently hoping it wouldnt be him. Chapter 4 Tina Kennedy was very excited about venturingout on Beltane. The chance meeting with PatrickHamilton had heightened the excitement for her. Let thearrogant young lord wonder what she was up to!She and Heath joined in the merrymaking
wholeheartedly, leaping through the flames while thefire was small enough, then joining in the frenzieddancing when the bonfire was piled with brush andyoung trees and finally thick logs from oaks that hadbeen felled and dragged from the forest to feed theBeltane fires.It was the ancient rite of spring that all cultures hadcelebrated in one form or another since pagan times,and Tina wouldnt have missed the exhilaration of thisnight for anything. By midnight, however, men andwomen, young and old, were either falling-down drunkor sexually aroused to the point where they tore off theirclothes and copulated with any willing stranger.Tina was visibly shocked, and Heath was quick to dragher away from the abandoned writhings. Its time I gotyou back to Doon, he said firmly. As he lifted her into hersaddle, she looked down into his warm brown eyes. Is italways like this? she asked in a distressed voice.Aye. Animals! They fool you by walking upright, dontthey?She was subdued on the ride home, and Heath wasthankful. He never forbade her nor read her a sermonabout the things she wished to do. Rather, he let herexperience everything and trusted to her own goodsense whether she repeated the folly.He stayed with her until she crossed the drawbridge ofDoon, then turned his Thoroughbred and gallopedsouth.Tina stabled her mare in a rear stall, then quietly rubbedher down and covered her with a plaid. Suddenly the
bailey was filled with horses, men, and herded animals.The cattle lowed, and about fifty sheep ran baaing intothe stables, setting the dogs barking and the hensflapping.Duncans voice came terse and harsh to his men. Getthese bloody sheep tae the far meadow an the cattle taepasture by the river.Tina walked from the rear stall just as Duncan lit thelantern. Her eyes were like saucers. Gods blood, youvebeen on a raid!Fold yer tongue behind yer teeth. What the hell are yedoin out here at this ungodly hour? Get tae bed, andkeep yer mouth shut!Hands on hips, she was about to defy him when heraised his fist to her, and she saw he was in no mood toargue with a woman. Shrugging one pretty shoulder,she lifted her skirt and picked her way through thebleating menagerie.Tinas blood was high, preventing sleep, so she arose atdawn and made her way to the kitchens, unwilling towait until breakfast was served in the hall. Mr. Burquesface was tinged with green as he supervised the foodpreparation for scores of mouths while trying to keephis gorge from rising.Too much Beltane, Tina whispered knowingly.Too much whisky! It rots the gut as well as the brain Nowonder the Scots are thick-tongued!Duncan kicked open the kitchen door. Christ, mon,when do we eat? Where the hells the pot-boy wi the
ale? he demanded before slamming the door.Mr. Burque rolled his eyes. Somethings wrong gravelywrong Duncan is the best natured of all the Kennedys.They went on a raid last night, Tina whispered.That should put him in a benign mood. Tis a borderersfavorite pastime.I thought that was wenching, she whispered.He shook his head very gingerly and said, No, no,chérie, that is Frenchmen.She stole a fresh pastry from the table and said, Ill findout why hes in a filthy temper.The Kennedys were merchants and Doon was nogarrison, but they did have some men-at-arms. They satmorosely at the trestle tables in the hall. Usually their dinwas deafening, so Tina did not need to ask if somethinghad gone amiss. Well, this is a riotous company. WheresDonal? she asked, suddenly apprehensive.The pot-boys hands shook as he filled Duncanstankard, and as a result the ale sloshed over the rim.Cursed lackey! Then Duncan told her shortly, Donalsaway tae Kirkcudbright.Let me guessAndrew went home to Carrick, and Callumto Newark. Tina grinned. You divided the spoils anddeparted in six different directions. Duncan, that wasbrilliant strategy. Why are you fierce as a bear with aburr up his bum?Duncan looked at her bleakly. Davie, he muttered.Davie? she repeated, puzzled. You think hell rat on youout of spite for not taking him along?We did take the little piss-ass.
Her throat tightened. Where is he?Duncan flared, Why are ye forever stickin yer nose intaemens affairs?Hes been wounded, she cried, running toward thestairs.Tina! Duncans voice sounded anguished. He didna rideback wi ushes missin. Missing? she echoed.Must ye repeat everythin like a bloody dementedparrot?Ride out and look for him! she ordered. Gods passion, Illgo!Weve been out lookinas close as we dare go. I thinkthey captured him.She was angry now. Go and demand his return threatento pull their bloody castle down stone by stone! Whohas him? Who did you raid?Duncans mouth hardened, as if he couldnt get the namepast his teeth. Finally he rasped, Douglas.The Black Ram? she whispered, and the color drainedout of her face, leaving her lips bloodless and trembling.Her gaze encompassed all the Kennedy men, and nonecould look her in the eye. She was both appalled andafraid. Do you realize what youve done? Challenged theDouglas might? she whispered huskily. Gods death,why did you risk all? Our Kennedy motto is Considerthe end. How could you be so brainlessso reckless?The Hamiltons will take the fall fer this raid. PatrickHamiltons devil-may-care face flashed before her eyes,and she groaned and sat down hopelessly upon a
bench. But theyve got David, she pointed out.Hes no a redhead like the rest o us. If he folds histongue behind his teeth, theyll never guess hes aKennedy.Hes only a boy! she cried. You know what blackheartedbastards the Douglases are. Theyll torture him. My God,Duncan, you must do somethinganything!Well wait fer Donal. Well lie low today. Davie wont openhis mouth for fear Kennedy blood will stain the swordsof Douglas. If were no careful, this raid may reap usmore grief than spoils.Valentina avoided her sister Beth for fear of alarmingher. Every half hour she climbed to the parapets ofDoon to anxiously scan the horizon for a sign of Davieor any other. Fear had a tight grip upon her as shepaced back and forth. She knew a need to scream, yether throat felt closed as if she couldnt scream if shetried. She had a very vivid imagination that was sographic, it made her shudder at what they might do toDavie or to every Kennedy breathing if they set theirblack hearts to it.The Kennedys had had no dealings with the Douglasesin her lifetime because of the tragedy that had torn thetwo clans apart when she was first born. When hermother had come up from England to marry LordKennedy, his young sister Damaris had become herbest friend. At the wedding Alexander Douglas had seenDamaris for the first time and he wanted her. A whirlwindcourtship resulted in a quick marriage, the Kennedysthinking the heir to the title and fortune of Douglas a
brilliant match. How wrong they had been!While Damaris had still been a bride, her husband hadpoisoned her in a jealous rage. Tina shuddered,desperately hoping the hatred between the two clanswould not flare up to destroy them. Perhaps Davidalready lay dead. A sob escaped her as she said afervent prayer to Saint Jude. If Davie was alive, escapewas his only hope.The bruise-colored clouds gathered above her headand cast an ominous pall over the whole countryside.She felt caged like a prisoner, completely attuned toDavies condition. She knew if she didnt do something,she would go mad. She needed to be active to releasethe fear, worry, and dread that clutched her heart like amail-clad fist.She ran down to her chamber and rummaged about herwardrobe until her hand closed upon a lavender woolgown. Valentina was superstitious and believed anyshade of purple was a lucky color for her. Sheconcealed her knife inside one riding boot, then pulledon the other and her velvet cloak and went cautiouslydown to the stables.When she rode out, Tina had no conscious destinationin mindshe simply needed to free herself from thesuffocating walls of Doon. She rode on and on,following a direct path eastward, never looking back,never slowing her pace. She was blind to the field ofbluebells through which she cantered. She wasoblivious to the intoxicating scent that wafted upon the
breeze. She was deaf to the screaming peewits and thebaaing sheep. Tinas mind was obsessed with the plightof her brother. It blotted out all else.Gradually it came to her where she was heading, andshe drew rein and looked about apprehensively. Shehad followed the River Ayr, and though she had neverridden this far upriver before, she knew it led straight toDouglas. She rode past burned and blackened fields,saw village people rebuilding two burned huts, thenrode out of the village toward the castle, which satapart, alone and broodingShe knew she must somehow get inside, yet she knewit would be futile to simply try to ride in. She would getno farther than the guard on the drawbridge. Herthoughts flashed about, quick as mercury. She pushedher fear away from her and thought of Davie. The onlycertain way of gaining entrance to Castle Dangerouswas if a Douglas took her inside. A plan came to herwhose very audacity made her tremble. She wouldstage a riding accidenther own accident. She was ahelpless woman, young and beautiful, surely the men ofDouglas would come to her rescue. She concentratedsolely on making her fall look like a genuine accident.She tangled her reins in a gorse thicket, loosened thegirth strap so that her saddle slipped, then lay downupon the ground, gathering her purple velvet cloakabout her body and flinging out her arm as if she hadtried to save herself Then she screamed at the top ofher voice, closed her eyes and waitedAlmost immediately she began to wish she had not
done this reckless thing. The rainstorm that had held offall morning dropped from the low sky in torrents She laystill as the deluge soaked through to her skin, makingher shiver uncontrollably. Tina knew it wasnt just thecold that was making her shiver. Now that she had donethis impulsive, reckless thing, she had nothing to do butlie there and imagine what might happen to her inDouglas hands.If she had been witness to the scene earlier, whenRamsay Douglas had returned to find his cattle liftedand his hay and oat crops burned, she would have fledfor her life. He had given his two brothers such adressing-down that Gavin finally put up his fists andshouted, Ill fight ye and be damned if it puts an end taethis harangue!Ram Douglas in full spate was not a pretty sight. Hispewter-colored eyes glittered like hard diamonds, andhis dark face looked as if it were chiseled from granite.They hadnt expected his return until well after dark. Nowonder they called him Hotspurhe must have ridden ahundred and fifty miles without pause. Though he washardened, the fact that hed had little rest in the pastthree days added an extra edge to his vile temper. Nexthe turned his blistering tongue on the Douglas moss-troopers, denouncing them as lazy, drunken idlers whothought of nothing but their pricks. With a powerful armhe swept their tankards of ale from the table to the floor.Not bad enough ye let the bastards lift the cattle an burnthe cropsye let them escape! I couldha overlooked it if
yed had a row o stinkin Hamiltons swingin by theirnecks. I couldha overlooked it if yed retrieved thelivestockbut ye couldna even find a clear trail! Maybehalf rations will clear yer thick heads. Hed turned on hisheel in disgust, his silver spurs striking sparks on theflagstones as he went himself to find the trail. Only hiswolfhound Boozer had enough courage to keep himcompany.He inspected the burned huts and told the womenfolk totake their bairns to the castle until their homes could berebuilt. Then he accompanied a small group of histenant farmers into the fields. Well replant wi oats andhope for a second crop. Get seed from the castle stores.They gave him a tally of the sheep and cattle missing,and he promised to replace the beasts.The sheep had all been sheared o their winter wool, butit were stored in the sheds alongside the hay. It went upin smoke, a tenant told him grimly.Ill send the men-at-arms to repair the houses andreplant the fields. Theyre on leave from patrolling theborders for a month. I dont want them idling about winaught tae do save drink and procreate, he said,grinning.They watched him go, their hearts filled with gratitude.He had a black reputation for harshness, yet he wasalways more than fair to his Douglas tenants and theirfamilies.The embers of his fiery temper were considerablybanked when he saw with his own eyes that there wasno clear trail and that the animal tracks went off in at
least six different directions. Then the heavens opened,and he cursed the resulting deluge that would washaway all traces. Why the hell couldnt this rain have fallenbefore the raid to wet the oats and keep them fromburning?He was subdued as he turned his stallions head towardDouglas and whistled for the Boozer to come to heel.The castle was in sight when suddenly the greatwolfhound loped ahead of him to investigate a riderlesshorse that seemed to be tangled in a thicket.Tina had never been more afraid in her life when agigantic, hairy animal leaped upon her limp body Hereyes flew open, and she discerned that it was aferocious hound twice the size of any shed ever seen.Immediately she closed her eyes and bit her lips toprevent a scream of terror from escaping. If the creaturethought she was dead perhaps it wouldnt rend her limbfrom limb. Then she heard a mans deep voice cursing,and her body shuddered like a leaf in the wind.Heel! Gods passion, what the hell have ye found here?Looks like a drowned rat. The mans voice was deep andresonant and sent a chilling shiver of fear down herback. She felt herself being lifted as if she weighed nomore than a child, then without ceremony he threw herface-down across his saddle.She risked a quick glimpse and couldnt believe howhigh she was off the ground. His horse was asoversized as his hound. She could have cried withchagrin at his cavalier treatment of her as her head
hung down and her wet hair trailed down the stallionslong flanks.As Ram untangled the reins of her mare, it screamed infear as the enormous black stallion tried to bite it uponthe neck. Ram smote the brute with his fist. Nay,RuffianIll admit tis a fancy piece, but yell no mount itwhile I stand here taking a drenching.Omigod, the brute is going to let his stallion ruin mymare, she thought wildly, and emitted a groan ofdespair. When they reached the bailey, Ram Douglasthrew the reins of both horses to a groom. Keep themseparated, he ordered. Ill no have him waste hisvaluable seed on a piece o cheap horseflesh.Looks like an expensive mount tae me, yer lordship.Did I ask fer yer opinion, man? Ram asked shortly. Helifted the soggy burden from Ruffians back none toogently and carried her through the massive studdeddoors of the castle. He carried her straight through tothe hall where there was a roaring fire and deposited herupon a carved wooden settle.He pulled off her sodden cloak and threw it to a servant,who spread it over a stool to dry, then the man knelt toremove his masters thigh-high boots.Forcing herself to be totally limp with lashes lowered toher cheeks, she felt a strong, callused hand firmly takeher chin and lift her face for his perusal. A flicker ofrecognition showed in Rams eyes as the firelightshowed him the lass had red hair. Hed seen her before,and he knew exactly where. His heart skipped a beat.When hed seen her ride in to the Gypsy camp, hed
coveted her. Now here she was delivered up to him!Tina opened her eyes slowly and put a trembling handto her head. Wh-where am I? she asked. Is this myhome?Ram Douglas stared at her fiercely, afraid that she hadsustained some terrible hurt in her fall. This is DouglasCastle, he said as both his brothers came to investigate.Tina tried not to shudder at the name, but she couldnthelp it. The only thing she had control over was herface. Her voice was unnaturally high-pitched and jerkyfrom the threat of impending tears. The dark-visagedman who sat beside her was so broad-shouldered, heblotted out the rest of the room He was clearly the figureof authority, and she knew instinctively that this was theman she must convince. She knew she must saysomething to confirm that she had received a blow tothe head and wasnt in her right senses. She lookedhelplessly into Rams glittering eyes and asked, Areareyou my father?He was nettled at the insult. He found her unbelievablyalluring, yet she thought him old. His voice cut throughhis brothers laughter. Christ, I dont deny the possibilityof by-blows, but Ill be damned if I couldha fathered awoman grown. Whats yer game? he demanded.Who are ye, lass? Gavin asked.She looked at them blankly, and again her hand went toher head as if she were dizzy II dont know, shewhispered.Cameron, callous as only the very young can be, asked,
Is she a halfwit?Nay, said Ram, more kindly now that he realized shehad been hurt. Ive seen it in battle. Shes lost hermemory, but itll return if she bides awhile.Tinas golden eyes watched the beautiful curve of themans mouth soften as he looked at her. She wasmomentarily mesmerized by his penetrating pewtergaze, and she sat absolutely still while his strong handsreached out to touch her body. He was checking her forbroken bones, but suddenly she realized his handswere lingering upon her as if he were deliberatelycaressing her! Did he think her some grooms daughterhe could tumble? She wanted to cry out that she wasLady Valentina Kennedy, but of course she could not.She had allowed men to kiss her before, but none hadever dared take the liberty of touching her bodyintimately as this bold devil had just done. His handsstill lingered on her shoulders. She jerked away fromhim. Dont!Colin came limping up and gave his cousins a blacklook. Mistress, forgive these rough men. Yer soaked taethe skin. Allow me tae offer ye a private chamber wi abed and a fire where ye mun rest an recover.Th-thank you, she said in a bewildered voice. She stoodup, and indeed her knees were like butter. She swayed,and three pairs of Douglas arms reached for her. Ramwas quicker than Gavin or Cameron, and he swept herhigh in his arms, gently enfolding her body against hishard-muscled chest. Her golden eyes were bright withtears and apprehension, her tempting, generous mouth
inches from his own. Suddenly he was handling hermuch more gently than when he had carried her in fromthe rain.Colin led the way, his crippled leg echoing oddly acrossthe stone floor. Gavin followed.Tina felt panic rise within her If only one of the younger,less dangerous men had picked her up, she would beable to think coherently. She knew instinctively shewould have a much easier time cozening them.Rams deep voice spoke intimately to her as theyclimbed the rough stone stairway. When ye recall yeridentity, sweetheart, send for me. If ye are no known taebe a friend, perhaps yer a foe, he teased and gave heran audacious wink. He stopped at his own chamberdoor and handed her over to Gavins waiting arms. Illchange my wet clothes and look forward tae seeingmore of ye later. His words were accompanied by adevilish leer as his pewter eyes dipped to her wetbreastsshe could not mistake the double entendre.Tina trembled in Gavins arms, and he felt oddlyprotective of her. She was grateful to be relieved of thatother ones presence. He was more swarthy than anyGypsy. His pewter eyes had had an arrogant gleam, hismouth a reckless slant that intensified his magnetism,yet everything about him was dangerously dark andhard and threatening.Who are youand where am I? Tina whispered, knowinghe would be putty in her hands.Im Gavin Douglas, and this older man is ma cousin
Colin. The handsome devil grinned down at her.Colin reprimanded his levity. Stow yer foolishness,Gavin. The lass has injured her haid. This place isDouglas, mistress. Just north of the border countryatween England and the cities o Glasgow andEdinburgh. The rough stone passageway was cold, andshe shivered uncontrollably in Gavins arms. Ill soon haye out o yer soakin gown, lass, he said, grinning.Hoots, Gavin, yeve no the brains ye were born wi Canye no see shes a lady? She must be frightened witlesstae waken in the clutches o Black Ram Douglas.Tina jerked and stiffened. My God, that had been theinfamous Black Ram!They entered a most elegantly appointed chamber, onethat had been decorated with the sure hand of agentlewoman with taste and breeding. A cat that wascurled in a chair awoke with a start and ran beneath it.Gavin reluctantly put her down on the edge of the widebed, and Colin limped over to a clothespress andbrought her towels and a warm plaid.A deep voice from the doorway said, Dont stand theregrinning like a gargoylethe lass will think shes in amadhouse. Order a servant tae build a fire so she canget warm and have a rest.Something inside Tina responded to that deep voice.His eyes told her that he found her special. As Gavinmoved to the door, the tone of Ram Douglass voicechanged. Ye can show me this prisoner ye took.Colin said with disgust, Hes a bairnwi down on hischeeks.
Then it should be childs play tae break him, Ram said.Fury almost choked Valentina. She loathed herself forresponding momentarily to his animal attraction. Thecruel bastard had one count against him for throwingher over his saddle like a sack of grain. Two countsagainst him for invading her body with his filthy hands.But in the moment hed spoken of breaking her weebrother Davie, a deep hatred for the man had been born.It was a personal hatred, spawning a personal vendetta.If one hair on Davies head were harmed, she wouldsettle the score with Black Ram Douglas if it was thelast thing she ever did in this lifetime. Chapter 5 The servants departed after building her a fire, anda moment later she stripped off her woolen gown andwet underclothes and hung them over the foot of thebed to dry She concealed the knife from her boot underthe mattress and took up a large linen towel to dry her
long red tresses. She noted that the towel was finelywoven from the best flax and embroidered with anelaborate letter D. She tested the quality of the Douglasplaid between her thumb and forefinger and felt anoverwhelming distaste for the tartans dark greens andblues. Her pride forbade her to wrap herself in itswarmth until she heard a knock upon her chamber door.Then without thinking, she grabbed the finely wovenlength of woolen cloth and wrapped it about herself likea cloak.Colin Douglas entered, balancing a tray upon his stiff,almost useless arm. Let me help you, she offered as arush of sympathy swept over her. This man was notnearly so dark as the others. He had a square, honest,clean-cut face, and his manners set him apart as beingmore civilized. She was curious to know what hadruined his once-magnificent physique, but she hadmore breeding and sensitivity than to even stare at him.Ive brought ye some broth an bread. Tis rough fare,unfit fer a lady, but were a household o men withoutwomenfolk, save fer servin and kitchen wenches.Thank you. It smells good, she offered. If there are nowomen here, whose chamber is this? The lady in theportrait? she asked, indicating a painting above thefireplace.My brother Alexanders bride, Damaris. Shes deceased,he said shortly, and limped toward the door.Tina almost choked on her broth. Dont burn yerself, hewarned before he closed the heavy door.Tina sprang up to examine the lovely face in the portrait.
Her fingers reached up to trace the fine lace of whatmust have been her wedding gown. Aunt Damaris, shewhispered, how unearthly fair you were. A lump cameinto her throat as she noticed how young and innocentthe girl must have been.From a shadowed corner of the room, the spirit ofDamaris focused on the young woman with flaming hairand whispered, Sweet Mary, you must be my niece,Valentina Kennedy! She hovered between Tina and herown portrait, more agitated than she had been for fifteenyears. Begone! Begone from this place, she cried, thenshe was filled with a great sadness because she knewshe could not communicate with the living, breathingValentina.What did the degenerate Douglas do to you? askedTina, overwhelmed with pity.Dont you know Alexander poisoned me? My ownhusband whom I loved more than life? He accused meof lying with his brother Colin. He struck me. Damarisshand went up to her cheek, still feeling the blow afterfifteen long years.Tina picked up a hand-painted porcelain powder bowland matching toilet articles standing upon the mantel.These were your things, Tina said in wonder. Shemoved across the chamber to touch the heavy, silver-backed hairbrushes and the brocaded bedhangings. Itsso strange its almost as if I can feel your essence in theroom, Tina said.Oh God, I hope so, my dear. Get out, get out while there
is still time!Tina closed her eyes and lifted the stopper of a crystalperfume bottle to touch her cheek. They say you weremurdered here, but all I can feel is love and warmth. Youmust have suffered unbearably, and yet I sense onlyyour happiness in this lovely room.I was happyhappier than Id ever been in my entirelifehappier perhaps than a woman has a right to bebefore that fateful day. Love is blind. Dont let theDouglas blind you, Valentina! Damaris passed aninvisible hand over the garments hanging to dry.Quickly, put on your clothes and depart.Tina reached out her hand to touch her undergarmentsand was amazed to find they were already dry. Sheunwound the plaid from her body and donned herunderclothes. Ada had sewn every stitch of them, andthey were exquisite. She fingered the delicate mauvefrills embroidered with violets and was willing to wagershe had the most beautiful lingerie in Scotland. Lingeriewas a French word that Ada had picked up from Mr.Burque.Hurry, Valentina! Damaris placed an urgent hand uponTinas shoulder. Tina felt a sudden chill and hurried intoher undershift.When Ram Douglas inspected the youth his brothershad captured, he laughed outright. Christ, hes still onmothers milk. Whats yer name, laddie? Ram asked thepale young man incarcerated in the dungeon, one floorbeneath the hall.
David Kennedy gathered a full gob of spit and aimed itat the Douglas. Piss off!Ram grimaced. A length o hemp about yer throat willchoke the spit from it.Hang me an be damned tae ye! flung David.Bloody little bantam cock! Gavin said.Bravadohes scared shitless, Ram said, whistling pastthe graveyard.Im scared o no fuckin Douglas!Then its brainless ye are, laddie, Ram said cheerfully.Then to Gavin, Ill give the Hamiltons a chance to ransomhim. If theyre tightfisted, Ill hang him.Upstairs, Tina reached beneath the mattress to retrieveher knife when without warning the chamber dooropened. She whirled about to face her intruder, hergolden eyes flashing annoyance, then fear. Dont youknock, sir?Ram Douglas slanted a black brow. In my own castle?Yes, in your own castle, before you enter the chamber ofa lady.Lady? he questioned. Then ye remember who ye are?N-no. She again reached for the hated Douglas plaid tocloak her undergarments from his bold, dark eyes. Thewarm fire had dried her sodden hair, and it fell about herin radiant abundance. Tiny gold-red tendrils framed herface and Rams fingers itched to touch the temptingmass. She spoke from nervousness. I remember I wasout riding I remember a torrential rainI remember your
hands upon me, she accused.Aye, well, thats something no woman could forget.Her temper almost choked her, temporarily blotting outher fear. He thought himself Gods gift to women! He wasso deadly dangerous, however, she knew she must notanger him. She bit her lip and managed a faint smile. Imsorry, my lord, to intrude like this. As soon as Iremember where I live, I will leave. Tis the mostmaddening thing my name is on the tip of my tongue,then it escapes and eludes me.His eyes ran over her as if he were assessing her finepoints. His eyes lifted to her mouth, fell to her breastsnow concealed by the plaid, then lifted to her eyes. Shebit back a cutting remark, but she might as well haveuttered it because his eyes filled with amusement. Ifworse comes tae worst and ye never recall yer name, Illjust keep ye. He laughed. Dont look so outraged, lass. Ifye dont get total recall by tomorrow, I can soon learnwho ye are.Tina sensed danger immediately. How? she askedblankly.He stepped closer, and his fingers closed over atempting tress of molten copper. Ive seen ye before.The statement left her terrified. Where on Gods earthhad he seen her? Shed never laid eyes on him before.Shed remember that face for a lifetime. Wh-where? sheasked warily.In a mans arms, he said cryptically.She thought that impossible. You mistake me, sir.ImpossibleI could never mistake ye, he assured her.
More than anything else in the world, he wanted to tastethis woman, and since Ram Douglas usually didwhatever he wanted, he threaded his fingers into thecrackling mass of flaming curls and lifted her mouth tohis. A static spark jumped between them, producing alittle shock.Oh, let me go, sir! I am unused to men, she gaspedbreathlessly.Ye delude yerself, he said flatly. I think yer very used taemen. A husband perhapslovers, of a certainty.How dare you say such a wicked thing? Tina demandedin outrage.Because ye had no trouble arousing me. His strong,brown hand tore the plaid from her breast. Yerunderclothes are designed tae bring pleasure tae amans eyes. They reveal the swell of yer breasts,emphasize yer tiny waist, tempt a mans fingers tae undothe ribbons and remove yer frilly laceslike so. In thespace of a heartbeat he undid a ribbon and actuallyopened his palm to cup her breast.Valentina was shocked to her very soul. She raised herhand to slap him full across the face, Douglas or noDouglas.He caught her hand before it connected. Ye must beexclusive. I like that. He grinned.She snatched back her hand and whirled away fromhim, then gathered the plaid high about her neck andclutched it desperately. Please leave me in peace so Imay dress and come downstairs.
Dont ye like this luxurious chamber? he mockedYes, its lovelyshes lovely, Tina said, indicating theportrait of Damaris.The Kennedy bitch! She thought she saw a look of painin his eyes before he spat.Valentina felt as if he had slapped her in the face. If youhate her so much, why havent you removed it?Ramsay Douglas laughed, but there was no mirth in thatlaughter. Dont think we havent tried When the paintingis taken down, all hell breaks loose in the castle until itsback in its place. The bitch haunts us, he said quitematter-of-factly.She laughed derisively. Oh comethe infamous BlackRam believing in ghosts?His eyes narrowed and gleamed with their strangepewter shade. Ye know me, wench?C-Colin told me your name. He said it with suchreverence, I assumed you must be a god at the veryleastA god? he snorted Perhaps an archangel, he conceded.Valentina laughed and her eyes sparkled, her fearmomentarily forgotten. Well, at least you have a senseof humor.Ye too, he conceded. Perhaps we are alike in otherways.I dont even know who I am, or who you are for thatmatter, she replied coolly.Yer a woman, Im a man. It might be rewarding tae findout, he said, stepping closer. If he touched her again,Tina thought she might faint. There was a sound at the
door, and impatiently Ram flung it open. It was hiswolfhound.Oh, please dont let him in, she begged, retreating to thefireplace.Never fear, he wont enter this room. The specter keepshim at bay.You are serious about her spirit haunting this castle?Aye, he said grimly. My cousin Alexander brought herhere as a bride over fifteen years ago. She was a whore,like all the Kennedy women. She had two brothers ateach others throats over her. Alexander poisoned her,then took a dive from the parapets.Tinas cheeks colored with anger at his offensive words.Perhaps it is the evil shade of the poisoner Alexanderwho is condemned through eternity to haunt the halls ofthis cursed castle.His phantom stands ever at my shoulder warning meagainst marriage. Wives are like spidersonce they aremated, the female slowly devours the male.Valentina shuddered. She knew she must get away fromthis dangerous man. Women were obviously less thandirt to him. My lord, I beg you will allow me to finishdressing and also allow me the freedom of your castle. Iknow my memory will come back to me if I walkaboutperhaps get some fresh airtake a look at the spotwhere I fell. Perhaps seeing my horse will jog my mindso that all will fall into place.He waved an arm. Feel free tae explore my cursedcastle, if yer no afraid of bogles.
Tis the living I fear, she said pointedly.Touché, my lovely vixen. Tis obvious ye would be rid ome. He smiled cruelly. Im off for an interestingencounter wi my nearest and dearest neighbors, theHamiltons. I invite ye tae sup wi me when I return.Thank you, she said faintly. She leaned her headagainst the door weakly after hed gone. Hed called hervixenher fathers name for her.Never be alone with him again, warned Damaris.Tina walked to the fireplace, threw off the despisedDouglas tartan, and put on her lavender-wool gown Shelooked up at the beautiful pale girl in the portrait andwhispered, Damaris, help me find Davie. We must getaway. All hell will break loose when he learns it wasntthe Hamiltons who raided.I seldom leave this chamber Tis the only way to avoidAlexander, whispered DamarisTina retrieved her knife and carefully slipped it up thesleeve of her gown.Mary and Joseph, whatever are you doing with a knife? Isuppose I have no choice but to come with you. I mustdo all I can to protect you You must be a very recklessgirl, Damaris lamented.Tina climbed upon a chest beneath the high window slitAfter a few minutes she saw the powerful figure of theBlack Ram heading toward the stables, his moss-troopers at his heels. She sighed with relief knowingthey were no longer under the same roof. Before shecrept quietly from the chamber, she picked up theDouglas plaid and covered her bright hair
Her heart was in her mouth as she made her way withstealth along the passageway, then she forced herselfto walk casually as if she had nothing to hide. For themoment she hoped to avoid the hall where men-at-armstended to gather in inclement weather. From afar shesaw servants and members of the Douglas clan, andshe was thankful they wore plaids as she did Themoment she saw stone steps leading below, sheslipped down them. The air had a distinct damp andmusty smell here below ground that was mingled withthe sickening odor of rushlights burning mutton fat.She passed through a room filled with barrels and kegsof ale and wine. Scufflings and squeaks came from theshadows, and she stopped dead in her tracks as sherealized what creatures caused them.The rats can sense me, Damaris said. Dont be afraid.When Tina realized the rats had fled, her couragereturned, and she ventured down a narrow,whitewashed passageway. Here were empty cells withbarred doors, similar to the ones beneath Castle Doon.When she looked through the bars of the fourth door,she gasped as she saw her brother nursing a bandagedarm.She put her fingers to her lips and didnt speak until theywere only inches apart. Youre wounded. What did theydo to you, Davie?They burned me! he lied.Give him the knife, Damaris urged.What the hell are you doing here, Firebrand? Are ye here
tae ransom me?She shook her head. They dont know who we are, andwe must get away before they find out. There isnt muchtime, Davie. That bastard Douglas has gone to theHamiltons to demand ransom for you. I cant unlock thecell, but heres my knife, Davie.As he grasped the haft, he said, When the mosstrooperbrings me food, hell be a dead man if he doesnt unlockthis door.Dont kill him unless you must, Davidtheres been nobloodshed yet, she urged.He held up his arm grimly. Someone will pay fer this.Ive done all I can. Im leaving before the Douglas returns.Done all ye can? he scoffed. Fire the castle afore yeleaveraze the bloody place tae the ground!Gods passion, keep your voice down. I just want usboth out of here with our lives! Her heart washammering as she retraced her steps and walked adirect path to the hall.The spirit of Alexander Douglas sensed the presence ofDamaris immediately. He left the small group of men-at-arms who were casting dice and approached the twobeautiful women, one flesh, blood, liver, and vibrant withenergy, the other ethereal and hauntingly remote.Damaris, beloved, who is this ye guard so carefully?Not by the flicker of an eyelash did the lovely wraithacknowledge that she had seen or heard him. Alexandersighed. For fifteen years he had begged that his bridelisten to his denials, but he had begun to conclude thatthough he saw her apparition, she could not see his.
At first he had tried to communicate with the living,consumed by the need to exonerate his name andhonor, but it had been impossible. The horses in thestables were aware of him, and Rams wolfhound hadseen him so often, hed begun to wag his tail whenAlexander approached, but Damaris always acted as ifhe were invisible. He suspected that she saw him andheard him well enough, but she believed the lies that hehad poisoned her and like all females was too pig-headed and stubborn to listen to his pleas.As she glided past him, his breath caught at herloveliness. She was still exactly as she had been thatfateful night over fifteen years ago. Her blush-pinknightgown with its trailing sleeves emphasized herdelicate beauty. Her skin was like porcelain and her hairlike silken strands of moonlight.Alexander was heartsore that his beloved Damaris waslost to him, yet he was willing to exist through eternity ifhe could see her like this and know they were togetherat Douglas He still clung to the hope that someday shewould look at him, smile at him, or even cursehimanything that would indicate she was aware of hisspirits existence.Tina knew the moss-troopers were staring at her. Sheshrugged her shoulder and removed the dark greenplaid. Then she picked up her purple velvet cloak fromthe wooden settle, wrapped it about herself, and pulledthe hood close.Colin Douglas moved slowly across the hall toward her.
Are ye leavin us, mistress? he puzzled.No, no. I thought Id walk about the castle now that therain has stopped. Lord Douglas suggested that seeingmy horse might bring all back to me. I promised to supwith him when he returns from Lanark. She bit her lip.She knew immediately that she had made a slip. Herown knowledge provided the information that theclosest Hamilton castle was at Lanark, less than tenmiles north. But it went unremarked by Colin Douglas,who must have assumed Ram had mentioned hisdestination, and the blush that colored her cheeksbegan to fade. A pulse beat in her throat as she tried notto quicken her steps outside.Damaris did not want to accompany her niece inside thestables because her presence always made the horsesskittish. She knew that Tina would get away safely, andshe was grateful she had had a chance to see the lovelycreature. She kissed Valentinas brow and whispered,Goodbyeplease never return.Tinas hand came up unconsciously to brush back thehair from her brow, then boldly she walked to her mareand led her from the stable. The saddle had beenremoved, but luckily the bridle had not.Tina vaulted onto the mares back and dug in her heels.She didnt think anyone would ride after her to bring herback. The men of Douglas were likely glad to be rid ofthe strange female.It was full dark before Tina clattered over the drawbridgeinto the bailey of Castle Doon. A grim-faced Duncan was
awaiting her by the time she climbed the stairs to theelegant living quarters. He grabbed herunceremoniously and shook her until her teeth rattled.Do ye ken how worried Ive been the day? Yer a rightthoughtless bitch, Tina! Ye knew Donal wouldnt be backtill the morrow, so ye went runnin off tae yer stinkinGypsy friends! Do ye even care I ha all the worry anresponsibility on ma shoulders?Dont you dare be fierce with me, Duncan. I went toDouglas to rescue Davie! Ive just ridden thirty milesImexhaustedAre ye insane? How many times must ye be told tae stayout o mens affairs? He ran his hand wildly through hisflaming hair in an effort to keep from striking her. Hebreathed deeply before passing sentence Im goin taerecommend Donal give ye a beatin.Tina was dead on her feet, and giddiness made herflippant. Itll give him practice for when he weds MegCampbell.Donal has more sense than tae wed a lass who needsbeatin Meggie is obedient and gentle. Shes no a cursetae her menfolk Father lets ye get away wi murder Yetwist him aboot yer finger. Meggie canna do that wiArchibald CampbellTo be fair, Valentina saw his point now that he made itso graphically. She only knew one man as coarselydominant as Archibald Campbell, and that wasArchibald Kennedy, Earl of Cassillis and head of theirown clan Perhaps it was the name Archibald that made
them so unpalatable.A great shout went up outside, and hope sprang intoDuncans eyes. Mayhap its Davie.Of course its Davie, Tina said, shrugging a prettyshoulder. Havent I been telling you I went to rescuehim? She quickly closed her eyes and crossed herself,praying that it was so.When Duncan saw the state his young brother was in,he carried him to his bedchamber and undressed him.He sent for Ada to tend the lads arm because his painwas almost unbearableGet me whisky, Duncan, Ada bade, assuming the role offemale authority While a servant was dispatched for afull jug, she examined the soiled bandages.It must have been Colin who dressed your arm. Hes theonly Douglas who is half civilized, Tina said.Aye, the cripple, Davie said, gritting his teeth in front ofthe women.Ada took the whisky from the servant and told Davie todrink up He grinned at her and took a long slug of thefiery liquor He shouldnt have put grease on it. Ill have towash it off, she said regretfully Do you think youre up toit, David?He took another long pull on the stone jug and began tolaugh. When the Douglas asked ma name, I spit on himan told him tae hang me an be damned, so I think I cansuffer your ministrations.One day your temper will be the death of you! Tina said.I dinna ha a temper, and Ill knife anyone who says so!Duncan grinned And here was I thinkin Flamin Tina had
all the Kennedy guts.And so I have. You would have been proud of me ifyoud seen my performance.David had consumed half the jug of whisky and couldntstop laughing. The Douglas said if the Hamiltons weretightfisted, he would hang me. Id like tae ha seen hisbloody face when he found the bird had flown. I bet itwas blacker than the hobs o hell!Tina, help me with this bandageits stuck to his arm, Adaimplored.As Valentina saw the extent of the ugly burn, she wasfurious and called the Douglas every foul name in herextensive vocabulary.David laughed between long mouthfuls of whisky all thewhile Ada bathed the arm. Then she took the jug fromhim and ordered Duncan to hold him securely. BeforeDavie was aware of what she did, she poured the lasthalf of the fiery liquor over the burnDavid screamed and passed out.I had to do that. If that arm starts to fester, he might loseit, she said plainly.Valentinas face was white. I never really knew what hatewas until today. Ada, I hate Black Ram Douglas with allmy heart and soul, and I pray God I never, ever see hisugly face again.Get her tae bed, said Duncan. Sufficient untae the day isthe evil thereof.
Chapter 6 Tina did not get her wish. The moment shesuccumbed to exhaustion and fell into a deep sleep, shewas back at Douglas, an unwilling prisoner of the BlackRam. He was The Emperor sitting upon a thronedecorated with carved rams heads. As she lay at his feetclutching a dark green plaid over her nakedness, shewas aware that he had the power and strength of tenmen. He was unyielding and unbending in hisjudgments, and he ruled with an iron hand.Across the room Butcher Bothwick stood before asteaming caldron, his instruments of torture displayedupon the wall behind him. He held her brother David in agrip of iron. Guilty! Hang him! ordered the Black Ram.No! Please! begged Tina, crawling to his feet, whichwere booted and spurred with spiked rams horns.Arise! Disrobe! ordered the Black Ram.Never! cried Tina defiantly, her golden eyes blazing herfury.The Black Ram raised his thunderous brows to
Bothwick, who plunged Davids arm into the vat ofboiling oil. The boy screamed in agony.Obey me, and the torture will stop!Slowly Valentina arose and let the plaid fall to the floor.She stood before him naked, trembling with loathingand fear. She knew she must not let him see either theloathing or the fear Pride straightened her back andlifted her flaming head high. Her breasts thrust forwardimpudently, her rouching nipples drawing his eyes,which were devouring her with animal lust. He held outa commanding hand: Come!She hid her seething emotions behind a cold mask asshe drew close to the cruel monster. His callusedfingers brushed the flaming triangle of curls upon hermons, and he leered, Firebrand.She shuddered as he lifted her upon his knee andplaced a large ruby in her navel. The jewel is cursed, hetold her cruelly. Any other who touches you will die. Thepalm of one hand opened, and she gasped aloud as itcupped her bare breast; his other hand moved downher thigh, and he whispered hoarsely, Open for me.Her mind refused to believe he meant her to open herlegs, then suddenly he was holding a golden chalicefilled with bloodred wine. Open for me, he repeatedcoaxingly. She was relieved that he meant her to openher lips, but as she drank from the goblet, she realizedwith horror that the wine was poisoned.Valentina sat bolt upright in bed and cried out. As shesat shivering, it was a long time before she realized shehad been having a nightmare and that in reality she had
never sat naked upon the Black Rams knees while hefondled her and took pleasure in feeding her poison.She slipped from bed and lit a candle to dispel thedarklings; then on her knees she gave a quickthanksgiving for their deliverance. When she recalledOld Megs tarot cards and her tortoise, she got back intobed and hugged her knees. Safe and secure in her ownbed, she began to laugh. She savored the victory sheand David had won over Ram Douglas, and warmthcrept back into her limbs as she exulted over theimpotence he would experience when he discoveredhis pigeons had flown the coop.Tinas first stop in the early morning was Davidsbedchamber, where she discovered that Duncan hadslept there to keep an eye on Davie. They were relievedthat he was looking considerably healthier and thatmost of the pain had left his arm.Duncan, she said in a coaxing tone, I dont believe itwould be politic to tell Donal about what I did yesterday.In fact, she said, giving David a speaking look, whyeven tell him that Davie was caught, since everythingworked out so beautifully? Hell rant and rave and readus a sermon cataloguing all our shortcomings, andbefore you know it Beth will be in tears, the maids willbe embroidering the tale, and that Kirsty will have a facelike a pikestaff and will make a point of letting Fatherknow you went raiding as soon as his back was turned.David pressed, She has a point, ye know. The raid was a
success. Why spoil it fer Donal?Duncan eyed his uncontrollable young siblings. If yestop in bed all day, he told Davie, and ye dinna leaveDoon tae go gallivantin God only knows where, he toldTina, Ill think on it.Duncan, we promise to do whatever you say. We wontgive you the slightest trouble, she vowed.Trouble is yer middle name, Valentina Kennedy, as halfScotland already knows and the other half will discoverbefore yer twenty! Duncan said.Wheesht, man, when ye flatter her like that, theres noliving wi her, Duncan! said Davie.With a light heart, Tina flew downstairs to the kitchens.She sat herself on Mr. Burques worktable, a favoriteperch whenever she wanted to beguile the attractiveFrenchman. Mr. Burque, I need your assistance. Iveinvited Patrick Hamilton to dinner tonight, and I needyou to serve something superb. And please, my dearestMr. Burque, make it something that doesnt wear horns.He chuckled. Chérie, a Scot doesnt feel hes been fedunless hes served mutton.Patrick is the Earl of Arrans son. Hes not quite as coarseas last weeks visitors.Then I suggest smoked salmon followed by grouse. Illmake the skin brown and crackling, just the way youlike it.I dont knowmen always eat game with their fingers, shesaid doubtfully.Then Ill provide rose-water fingerbowls and napkins, he
suggested.Mr. Burque, I said he wasnt coarse, I didnt say he wasrefined!Donal will be back today. Just to be on the safe side,chérie, I think Id better do a rack of lamb. Its in your bestinterests to have him in a mellow mood, nest-ce pas!Tina was not worried that Mr. Burque was privy toKennedy business. He knew enough to keep his mouthshut about her secrets. Last time Patrick Hamilton washere, he went mad over your pâté en gelée. Could Iimpose upon you to make it again, Mr. Burque?He cast her a provocative glance. Beware! It will makehim very frisky!Oooh la-la, promise? Tina giggled. ***Ram Douglas would not have taken the word of a lyingHamilton for all the whisky in the Highlands, butsomething about the gatehouse guard of Lanark Castlerang true. He told Douglas that he was the highest-ranking Hamilton in residence. Patrick and his men wereat Ayr, where his father had anchored the kings newflagship. The Earl of Arrans younger sons were onborder patrol, and the rest of the Hamiltons were atHamilton Castle, much farther north. Too, the deep-seated rivalry between the two clans was so ingrained,a Hamilton would have found it impossible to cower
inside his castle while a Douglas with half a dozenmoss-troopers sat without. The challenge would havebeen too insulting, too provoking, too damneddeliciously tempting to pass up.On the ride back to Douglas, Ram pondered who but theHamiltons would dare lift his cattle. The English wouldnever get this far north because even when he and hismoss-troopers were on leave, other borderers guardedthe marches. His brow cleared. When he got back, hewould soon persuade the lad languishing in thedungeon to enlighten him. Hed never seriouslyconsidered hanging the young devil, but he was readyto give his head a damned good bashing against thestone wall of his cell.That decided, Rams thoughts turned to the fiery beautywho awaited his return. His loins tingled, and his shaftbegan to fill just thinking about her. Had she seen him atthe Gypsy camp and decided to try her luck at snaringhim? Women tended to throw themselves at him whenthey learned he was a wealthy, powerful Douglas. Hehadnt wholly swallowed her tale of memory loss. Hesmiled. She was up to some female mischief, and hewas willing to join her in whatever game she wanted toplay. Hed had little sleep in the last few days and wasready for bed in more ways than one.His mouth went dry at the thought of undressing her.Hed never realized it before, but lacy undergarmentsthat both concealed and revealed the delicious curvesof a womans body were erotically arousing. RamDouglas licked his lips in anticipation.
The hallful of hard-bitten Douglas men looked verysheepish indeed as Ram read the riot act. Christs holywounds, to be outfoxed and duped by a bairn! Hisbrothers hung on to their tankards, knowing hisfondness for sweeping them from the table in his rage.Did ye lend him a horse and pack him a bag of oatcakes for his ride home?Logans bad wounded, Gavin said. He was a viciouswee bastard.Ye didna even strip him tae see if he had a knifeconcealed, he said with contempt. The Boozer herewouldha made a damned sight better guard. Ye makeme spew! He ordered a servitor. Ye can take food tae mychamber enough for two. He looked at Colin. Wheresthe girl?Overwhelmed by Douglas hospitality, she fled while hervirtue was still intact, he said sarcastically.Gavin shrugged helplessly and tried for a light note. Shemust ha come tae her senses and bolted when sherealized she was in the evil clutches o Douglas.Cameron ventured, Let me pour ye a dram o whisky.Stay back, Ram warned, picking up a jug of whisky fromthe table and taking it with him. Tonight I dinna trustmyself!He threw off his leather jack and poured whisky into thefirst thing that came to handa silver goblet wrought withCeltic patterns. He tossed off the liquor in one mouthful.Its heat warmed his throat and blossomed in his chest.
He braced his arms on the mantel, then pressed hisforehead against them and gazed down into the flames.It was a few minutes before he realized how good it felt.The wolfhound sat beside him and leaned into his leg.Absently he reached down to ruffle the dogs shaggyhead. The minute his hand stopped, the Boozer liftedhis paw and prodded him, a tiny wheedling whineemitting from the animals throat.Oh, all right, for Christs sake! Dont cry about it. Heunbuttoned his fine linen shirt and threw it on a chair. Asif that were a signal, the wolfhound stood on his hindlegs and placed his front paws on Rams shoulders. Asthey stood eye to eye, a low growl gathered in theirthroats, and then they were rolling together on the floor,each trying to pin the other down, ferocious as a pair ofwild beasts, pitting their strength and wits against eachother.Ram grabbed two great handfuls of hair and had hisopponent on his back for about three seconds, but theflailing legs and sharp, nipping teeth soon reversedtheir positions. The minute the Boozer had Ram on hisback, his great tongue came out to wash his mastersface. Ram doubled over with laughter, and the dog laydown beside him, paws in the air, belly shamelesslyexposed, knowing Ram would scratch it for him until hewas in ecstasy.When the servant brought the food, he knew enough toknock. Enter, called Ram with an amused eye onBoozer. The dog was immediately on his legs, hacklesraised, body rigid with warning. He knew better than to
play the puppy when any but Ram was about.Ram Douglas sighed with regret as he saw the tray setfor two. He put the second plate on the floor for thewolfhound. To lowest hell wi all women, he said,especially redheads. Then he gave his full attention tohis meat and his whisky. Two hours later, as he watchedthe play of the firelight on the wolfhounds silvery pewtercoat, his eyes closed and the silver goblet rolled fromhis nerveless fingers.He descended into sleep and began to dream. He wasastride a tireless garron, facing into the wind. Hed beenin the saddle twelve hours on border patrol, and CastleDouglas just beyond the River Dee called to him tocome home. He wasnt tired, he was alive withanticipation. As the massive fortalice shadowed bymoonlight rose before him, he suddenly knew whatdrew him so irresistibly. It was the woman. At sight ofhim, her face was filled with joy. Her flaming hairtumbled about her in a fiery mass. His heart overflowedwith happiness because he knew she would always bethere to welcome him, day or night.He vaulted from the horse and ran up the stone steps tolift her against his heart. She laughed up into his face,clinging to him, inviting his touch, inviting his kisses,inviting his body to claim hers. Then suddenly he wasnaked, carrying her to his wide bed. He was fullyaroused and taut and could not think beyond her body.He knew if he did not soon see and touch the blazingred curls between her legs and burn himself in her fire,
he would die of need.She wore the most erotic garment hed ever seen. It waspale lavender, embroidered with flower petals thatcupped her breasts. The centers of the flowers,however, were her nipples that burst through slits in thesheer material. Filmy panels floated from the naveldown, and each time his hand lifted one of the silkenpanels to reveal her treasure, there was another toimpede and frustrate him. His callused hand ripped thegarment from her body with one brutal tear, and heburied his face against her fragrant satin skin. I knowwho ye are, he whispered huskily.Who? she beggedYe are my woman, he shouted exultantly, ready toplunge in and drown in her. Suddenly the chamber doorwas flung open, and the handsomest man hed everseen challenged, She was mine first. He sprang fromthe bed to face the Gypsy, who was as swarthy andnaked as himself They faced each other with knives,eager for the fight that would give the victor theundisputed prize. Through his teeth he snarled, Ye mayhave been first, but I shall be last He plunged in theknife, and blood covered his hand, wet and sticky. Hiseyes flew open, and he realized it was just his houndlicking his hand. He arose and went to bed, laughing athimself ruefully. Perhaps if he fell asleep again he couldcall her back in his dreams. As he drifted off he distinctlyheard her voice: Well, at least you have a sense ofhumor.The next day, however, his sense of humor deserted
him completely. He usually had a hard head for liquor,but this morning it felt like a cord was knotted about histemples and being slowly tightened. One thing,however, was glaringly clear: The escape of the youthand the visit of the beautiful vixen were directly linked.Had her vivid beauty blinded himaddled his brains? Hewas astounded that he had not guessed her purposethe moment he discovered her lying in his path. She hadmade fools of them all! The rest of the Douglas men hadbeen as obtuse as himself. Anger at the youth who hadstabbed one of his men and anger at himself put him ina savage mood The knowledge that he had been bestedby a woman poured oil on his fiery temper. The face ofthe Gypsy rose up from his dream Rams mouthhardened and set in grim lines. Of one thing he wassure. Deadly sure. Before the sun set, he would knowher name. Chapter 7
When Donal arrived back at Doon, he was in highgood humor. Castle Kennedy was partially stocked now,and his mind was busy with plans for the future Hewould talk his father into giving the peel tower andlands at the mouth of the River Dee to Duncan inexchange for sole ownership of Castle Kennedy atWigtown. The castle would be more fitting for a bride,especially a Campbell bride and daughter of thepowerful Argyll. Hed finish stocking it with milky herdsof cattle and curly-horned sheep, supplemented bywhat he could lift in another raid, perhaps from themassive Castle Douglas itself next time. Then hedpropose to Meggie and carry her off to Wigtown withArgylls blessing. The buxom wench whod warmed hisbed at Kirkcudbright last night played only a small rolein his decision. Twould only be politic to keep his whoreseparate from his wife.Just as dawn began to pinken the sky, Ram Douglas ledhis favorite mount, Ruffian, down to the river. Heremoved the bridle and left the choice to the horse.Ram, however, stripped and plunged into the frigid, fast-flowing waters without hesitation to clear his head andkeep an icy edge upon his temper. He knew it would belate in the day before he extracted the information heneeded, and he didnt want to vent his spleen in anexplosion with his family.Hed take no moss-troopers with him this time. He would
extract a personal revenge. Ruffian enjoyed his bath,blowing the water from his nostrils, then dashing up theriverbank to roll ecstatically in the sweet green grass ofspring.Ram banked the fires of his fury and went about his daywith slow deliberation. At the noon meal his brothersand Colin eyed him with speculation. They knew him fora man of action. Quick anger followed by swiftretribution was ever his way; he had not earned thesobriquet Hotspur for his sweet temper.In the early afternoon he took one of his favorite swordsdown from the wall, cleaned and oiled it lovingly, thenpolished its silver sheath. It was a flat, broad, double-edged claymore with a heavy, blunt handle, wornsmooth over years of use, that fitted his palm toperfection. Then he did the same with his favoritedagger, whose hilt was a heavy silver rams head withcurled horns. He stood naked before his mirrorcontemplating what he would wear. His arms, legs, andchest were furred with black hair. He usually favoredblack from head to toe, for with his swarthy face andlong black hair it had an intimidating effect.Today, however, he took up his Douglas plaid. The shortkilt rode on his hipbones, exposing muscular thighs. Heeschewed a shirt and instead draped the plaid acrossone massive bare shoulder and fastened it with abrooch boasting the clans ancient device, the BleedingHeart of Douglas. He fastened his sword about his hipsand stuck the dagger into his wide leather belt. Fromonly a short distance the dark greens and blues of the
Douglas plaid appeared black.As he observed his reflection, his were not the onlyeyes that looked upon him. The spirit of AlexanderDouglas was restless and alert. The very air of thechamber was charged with raw animal power, barelyheld in check by the Black Ram. With his long black hairfalling to his wide shoulders, he looked exactly as hiswild ancestors had looked, and Alexander knew thatonly an extremely thin layer of veneer covered a savage,primitive nature. He was as uncivilized as the firstDouglas had been centuries ago. Alexander was filledwith dread, for he feared that Ramsay was tainted by thefatal Scot weaknessa preference for fighting each otherrather than a common foe This very castle harbored eviland hatred for Douglas against Douglas. There hadbeen enough bloodshed and sorrow in CastleDangerous, in every Douglas castle for that matter, tostain the stones throughout eternity. The Douglasreputation for ruthlessness was legend. Mothersthreatened their bairns with punishment by the BlackDouglas only as a last resort. The fact that Ram wasnephew to the all-powerful Archibald Douglas, Earl ofAngus, only added to the dread in which he was held.Anguss favorite pastime was hanging felons. He wasrumored to have a degenerate capacity for cruelty, andwhen he rode forth with his escort of one hundredclansmen at his heels, all obeyed the order, Make wayfor a Douglas!Hotspur needed no saddle. Ruffians glossy black coat
reflected the last rays of the afternoon sun before itsank behind the mountains. Ram Douglas knew exactlythe picture he created astride the stallion, which stoodan impossible nineteen hands high. He held the reinslightly, guiding the animal with his bare knees.When Zara saw the Black Ram gallop into the Gypsycamp, her heart leaped inside her breast. Was his needfor her so great that he came before the last twilight oflate afternoon deepened into dusk? She ran to himbefore he had time to dismount, her dark eyes greedilyrunning over his bare thighs, lingering upon his wide,furred chest, then up to the dark face whose intensitymade her shudder.Her teeth flashed, and her eyes could not conceal herpleasure. My lord, I am flattered that you came beforedark of night.You have something I need. I have come for it, he saidsimply.Prideful as a cat, she led him through the camp towardher caravan. Zara threw pitiful glances toward the otherGypsy women who were starting cooking fires for theevening meal. In truth, she felt more triumphant than thenight she had managed to snare James Stewart, King ofScots.Ram Douglas halted as he saw a Gypsy man leading astring of horses from the river. He did not need toexamine the animals to see that they were prime quality.At the moment, it was the male who received hispiercing scrutiny. The two men faced each other, theirthoughts hidden behind careful masks, but the
challenge of their stances revealed the raw animositythey felt toward each other. Ramsay tasted bloodlust onhis tongue. He would have relished pressing hisknifepoint into the Gypsys throat to make him utter thename he needed to know, but he knew he would be ableto extract that from Zara. Tonight he could not spend hisfury on the Gypsy; he was saving it, holding it in checkfor a deadlier enemy. He promised himself, however,that at its appointed time the smoldering emotions eachprovoked in the other would burst into violence andprobably climax in death.Ram took a firmer hold upon Ruffians bridle as he feltthe stallion respond to the string of mares. The two mendisengaged their eyes, and Ram passed through thecamp to Zaras painted wagon. He fastened Ruffiansecurely where the animal could graze upon the clover-rich grass and climbed the three steps that took him upinside the caravan.Most of the room was taken up by her bed, and as Ramseyes adjusted to the darkened interior, he saw thatalready Zara lay back upon the covers.Light the lanterns for me, she begged, her ragged voicerevealing her need to see the magnificent male torso thedimness hid.The red glass chimney of the lantern illuminated thecaravan with an erotic glow, and Zaras eyes dilated withpleasure as the light played across the planes of thestrong face, wide shoulders, and bared thighs of herunequaled lover. Her nimble fingers tore off her top to
display her small, round breasts, as hard anddeliciously tempting as apples from the tree in theGarden of Eden.She spread her knees wide apart, then her quick brownfingers went to the hem of her scarlet skirt and sheinched it slowly up her bare legs until she was naked tothe waist. The corners of her mouth went up withdelight when she saw Rams erection lift the folds of thedark Douglas tartan. She quickly lifted off her skirt overher head and caught her breath in wonder as he slowlyremoved his plaid.She worshipped him with her eyes, knowing that whenhe joined his body with hers, she would be filled withhis strength, his power, his force. Damn him, he seemedin no hurry in spite of the evidence of his readiness forher. He stood still, looking down at her, making no movewhatsoever to join her on the bed or reach for her.She gazed up at him almost mesmerized. The sheerbrawn of his thews and sinewed muscles caused apainful ache from the pit of her belly all the way downbetween her legs. Her need for him built inside her untilit erupted into her throat and she wanted to scream. Shecame up onto her knees and crawled to him as hetowered there at the foot of the bed. Her eyes becamefixed upon his male center with its thick, rigid shaft andproud vermilion head. The tip of her tongue circled herred mouth, and she moved close enough for him to feelher warm breath as she blew upon him lightly to tease,to tempt, to lure, to stimulate the virile, lusty border lordto expend his brute force upon her. Her lips opened to
take him.When she was only a fraction of an inch away, sheasked, Is this what you want from me, my lord?No, he said, lifting her to stand before him on the bed.She threaded her fingers through the crisp dark pelt ofhis chest and clung to him seductively. He peeled herbody from his and held her off momentarily; then verydeliberately he reached down to unfasten the goldencircle from her mons. She moaned as his hands cameinto contact with her sensitive female cleft, and thebacks of his fingers brushed her tiny curls aside tounhook the golden wire that pierced her female flesh.He fastened it into her ear and lifted her so that shecould clasp her legs about his waist. The tip of histongue traced the outline of her lips, and she closed hereyes as she felt his intimate gesture arouse her further.The head of his shaft brushed her bare buttocksrhythmically as his massive ribcage moved her up anddown with every breath he took.His fingers stroked her breasts, encircling over and overthe hardening nipples until they stood at attention,making her ache above as she did below. Then his hardmouth finally took hers, and she opened her lipseagerly, needing the thrust of his tongue inside her asmuch as she needed the thrust of his shaft.She tasted the texture of him and caught the scent ofhis special maleness. Her fingers tangled in the blacknight of his hair, and she felt she would scream if hearoused her further or die if he did not soon give her
release. He lifted his mouth from hers and his handslightly caressed her back Is the Gypsy your brother?Every sense was filled with Ram Douglas, so it took amoment for her thoughts to organize themselves. No,Heath is not my brother.This Heathis he your sometime lover?She puzzled over the questions, not wanting to talk. No,no. He has no desire for me, no claim upon me at all. Donot worry, my lord.He prefers redheads, said Ram Douglas.Suddenly she knew. Zara knew exactly what he wantedprecisely how he would go about getting itand yet shedid not care. She wanted something from him, and ifshe could, she would make him pay the price in full Sheuntangled her slim brown legs from his body and stoodupon the bed. I told you, my lord, she said playfully, I donot know her name.Ram Douglas smiled inwardly. By her denial, she hadjust told him she knew the girls name as well as sheknew her own. It would be childs play to coax it fromher. He could be a most persuasive man when he puthalf a mind to it. He spread himself across her bed andpulled her down on top of him. He slid his hard shaftinto her hot, wet cleft and rubbed it back and forth in amost seductive and tantalizing manner.Zara reached down between their bodies and tried toguide him up inside her. Rams hand slid down to cupher and form a barrier. Holding her whole mons in hiswarm, strong hand, he squeezed and massaged herexpertly. I really dont know her name, she gasped
stubbornly.His hand came up to grasp her chin, and as his mouthlifted to take hers, he growled, Hush His kisses were likeheaven. His mouth was so firm and so demanding, shegave herself up to him totally. He rolled her onto herback and held her captive between his muscular thighs.He was torturing her, and he knew itdamn him to hellfire!II think her name is Tina, she whispered. The namemeant nothing to Ram, but he rewarded Zara for thescrap of information He braced himself above her onhis arms, then thrust deeply inside her. She cried outher pleasure, digging her nails into his massiveshoulders. He thrust savagely three times, filling hercompletely until he was buried to the hilt Then suddenlyhe withdrew and said, Lets go outside now that itsdarker This small caravan makes me feel trapped.Zara knew it was a cruel game he played. She knew alsothat before he was finished with her, she would give himthe rich ladys name. Hellfire, Ram Douglas wouldarouse her to the point where shed give him her soul ifhe asked for it!She wrapped a shawl about her body and slippedoutside. Ram followed her naked. He was one of thosemen who enjoyed being naked. He was totally at easewithout his clothes, never feeling threatened orvulnerable, as others did when they were bare. It wasthe animal side of him. It felt natural, and like mostanimals he was well furred.He took her to the riverbank and laid her back in the
long, cool grass, stroking the most vulnerable, intimateplaces of her straining, healthy young body. He kissedher temples, her eyelids, her high cheekbones, and thenhe hung over her in the moonlight with his hungry eyesupon her mouth. The tension built until it wasunendurable. She lives west.Rams fingertips traced a line from her taut nipple,straight down across her belly and directly to theswollen bud high in the slit between her legs. He took itbetween his finger and thumb, rolling it gently, thensqueezing it rhythmically, keeping time with herheartbeat.Zaras hand reached out to cup his heavy sac, and sheused the same technique on him, gently rolling his ballsone against the other to arouse him to where he mightlose control. Her fingers closed around his thick shaft,and she manipulated his foreskin up and down withexpertise. She knew every trick. It was her business toknow what pleasured a man, what aroused him tomadness, and what made him beg for mercy.He plunged two fingers deep inside her, and she archedup into his hand. Then he straddled her, withdrawing hisfingers and replacing them with his long, hard manroot.He thrust to the hilt, knowing he was filling her as onlyhe could.She was almost incoherent now, rising and falling withhis deep thrusts. Suddenly he withdrew and whispered,Sweetheart, I think it was better in your caravan after all.Dear God, she hadnt known there were any moremountains left to climb! He had taken her to the peaks
over and over, only to let her fall back into the valleyswithout ever reaching the summit. She knew she couldnot bear to have him start again. Lady ValentinaKennedy! she cried.He plunged down savagely, knowing exactly how manydeep thrusts would bring her to the point where shewould let down her love juices and enjoy a mercifulrelease. He waited patiently for her to come down fromthe dark side of Paradise to a place where she wasaware of their surroundings. Zara became aware ofmore than that, however She knew he had notejaculated. She knew he was still hard and throbbing,still unsatisfied, and she knew that that was what hisperverse body wanted at that moment.She knew also that his mind had left her the momentshe had uttered the name. She reached for her shawl,and he picked her up as if she were made ofthistledown and carried her back to her caravan. He laidher gently upon her bed, donned his plaid, and leftwithout another word.The bloody Kennedys! Theyd once been kings ofCarrick. This western seacoast had more than twodozen Kennedy lairds. His eyes raised to the hills,which had seen some of the grimmest scenes of clanwarfare and feudal savageries. The Kennedys were asawkward and troublesome a bunch as history had everthrown up!He rode toward Castle Doon at almost a leisurely pace
with slow deliberation. Finally he allowed his mind tofocus on the woman. So that was Flaming TinaKennedy. He should have guessed. In actuality he wasshocked that the beautiful wild creature he had seenwas a lady of noble birth. He was doubly shocked thatan unmarried lady was allowed the freedom of a Gypsycamp, the freedom to ride about the countrysideunescorted, the freedom to come and go, obtainingentrance into castles where she could be raped orworse. Of course he did not delude himself that she wasa virgin. She was a honeypot. Her reputation waslegend. Hed heard her name on the lips of men at court,on the lips of his friends, the Gordons and theCampbells. Hed heard her name deep in the bordersand in the Highlands. Hed heard her name in Glasgowand Edinburgh and Stirling. Her name was mentionedevery time men spoke of beautiful women, of willfulwomen, of women they would like to bed, of womenwho would make magnificent mistresses. He clampedhis teeth until his jaw looked and felt like a lump of iron.She was just another Kennedy bitch! Chapter 8
The dinner at Castle Doon had been enjoyed byone and all. Donal was so pleased with himself, hepummeled Duncans broad back with his hamlike fisteach time he passed him. Duncan was pleased that foronce he had taken Tinas advice to shut his mouth, andas a result matters had not blown up in his face.David was pleased that his arm was healed enough toleave off the bandage. What scar still remained from theburn was a testament to his daring deeds on the nightof the raid.Beth was pleased that her sister Valentina had taken thetrouble to help her select a gown for dinner and that herbrothers for once were as amicable as three red foxpups.Ada was more than pleased that when Lord Hamiltonarrived, he had had his second-in-command with him,who seemed as gallant and polished as aHamiltonindeed, she suspected he was a by-blow of theEarl of Arran himself.Kirsty was pleased that Mr. Burque had stared at her fora full minute tonight. It could only be due to the paddingshe had courageously stitched inside the bodice of hergown. Apparently a little enhancement had gone a longway in gaining her the attention she craved. Mercifully,she had not yet discovered that one of her new tittieshad slipped around to the back of her gown.
Lady Valentina Kennedy was more than pleased thatPatrick Hamilton had arrived early and had never oncetaken his dark blue eyes from her. He was attentive,witty, intrigued, and very clearly smitten. In the past theyhad exchanged many glances, many teasing sallies,many dances, and many touches and light kisses, butshe had never singled him out from her other admirersfor special attention until lately. Tonight there wassomething in the very air that told them both they wouldget to know each other more intimately. All wasconducive to forging the first links of a liaison. Herbrothers were friendly and affable tonight, almosttreating him as one of the family, and best of all herparents were not in residence.The food had been nothing short of superb, and thewine and whisky had flowed freely. The evening itselfwas romantic. The spring air was almost balmy, fragrantwith the scent of bluebells and gorse. The moon andstars hung brilliantly in a black velvet sky.Tina took Patrick up on the parapets of Doon to observethe savage beauty of the sea, but he was both annoyedand disappointed that her woman, Ada, chaperonedthem. Valentinas hair was blown into a red cloud by thenight wind, and it billowed about the shoulders of herwhite silk gown. Patrick was so close that her fragrancestole to him, filling his nostrils with the mingled, headyscent of hyacinth and woman as she threw out her arm:This view is never static. The ebbing tides and therolling mist see to that.Beautiful breathtaking, he whispered in her ear, and
she knew he was paying homage. He slipped his armabout her waist, defying her woman to make someobjection. He stiffened as Ada approached. He wasready for her. To his amazement she suggested,Valentina, why dont you take Lord Hamilton to see thepear trees in the orchard? The blossoms are so profuse,youd swear the branches were covered by snow. Shesmiled at Patrick. My lord, if you send your man up here,I will show him the sea and entertain him so that thenext two hours will not drag endlessly for him.Patrick could have kissed the woman. She couldnt havemade it plainer that she was allowing him two hours ofuninterrupted privacy with her charge. Tina flashed hima provocative smile. She removed his arm from herwaist and clasped his hand, then together theydescended the castle stairs. He had a quiet word withhis man, directing him to the parapets, and then he andTina went out into the castle garden. Once there, shetook back her hand, then quickened her steps to carryher deep into the orchard, glancing back over hershoulder to lure him after her.The moon bathed the blossoming trees with a pale,delicate light, and her silk gown was like a splash ofwhiteness beneath the fragrant pear blooms. His longstride soon closed the distance between them. Imhaving a most enjoyable evening. Will ye allow me taecome again?Tina shrugged a beautiful shoulder. Perhaps.He took a step closer. She did not retreat. If I invite ye
tae Lanark an Hamilton, will ye come?Tina ran a provocative tongue over her top lip. PerhapsPatrick was quick to catch on to her teasing replies, andhe framed his next question accordingly. If I kiss ye, willye kiss me back?Her lips made a little moue. Perhaps.He closed the distance between them, then placed hishands on either side of her small waist and drew hertoward him. The piquant fragrance of pear blossomsmingled with her delicious womans scent. He hadbecome aroused the moment they were alone together,and her teasing, come-hither glances to lure him afterher had painfully hardened him. Now as he dipped hishead to taste her, his manhood reared and bucked andthen began to throb. He felt the throbbing all the way tohis eardrums. He kissed her softly, tentatively, moldinghis lips to hers. His pulse quickened when she openedher mouth slightly beneath his in a most inviting way. Helifted his mouth from hers and murmured huskily,Sweetheart, when ye say perhaps, do ye always meanyes?Perhaps, she whispered, but when he again lowered hismouth to hers, she slipped away playfully and duckedbeneath a heavily laden bough. He did not hesitate topursue and capture her. This time he brought her bodyclose to his and pressed her against his hardness. Littlewanton, ye know what ye do tae me, he said raggedly.What? she asked innocently, her eyes brimful ofmischief.Patrick Hamilton was a very experienced man with
ladies of the sporting variety, and up until tonight hehad always had a strict code of behavior towardunmarried girls of high birth. But Flaming Tina Kennedywas a force to be reckoned with. More than any femalehed ever desired, either whore or virgin, she made aman think of bed and fucking.He decided to break his code of behavior. He bent hislips to her ear and whispered, Ye are cockteasing.Tina had to stand on tiptoe to put her lips against hisear. Am I good at it? she whispered outrageously.Damned good! he said aloud. I think yeve had lots ofpractice. Is it true yeve turned down six proposals?She laughed up into his handsome face. Six marriageproposals, but scores of indecent proposals.He laughed at her candor, then exhaled a slow breath ofdesire. Though her interest in him was undisguised, hefeared she would not succumb to his wiles. Ye knowexactly how tae twist men about yer fingers. Ye refuse aproposal and twist them tighter.Not guilty, Patrick. I truly didnt want to wed any of them.He slipped an arm about her, then took her chin in hisother hand and held her so that he could look deeplyinto her eyes. What about me, Tina?You have a most comfortable pair of arms, my lord.He smiled, knowing she would make him spell it out inplain language. Do ye think I could make Lady Kennedybecome Lady Hamilton?Patrick, I must be totally honest with you. I told my fatherflatly I did not wish to be married. He told me in no
uncertain terms that I must marry. He advised me tochoose while the choice was still mine. The alternativewould be a forced marriage, chosen either by ArchibaldKennedy or the king.She was easily the loveliest woman hed ever held. Too,she had a most exciting quality about her, as if she wereready to kick over the traces, and more than anythingon earth he wanted to be the man to teach her themysteries of her own sexuality. Sweet, are ye telling methat I am yer choice?I am telling you that I am in no hurry to marry, but that Ishould like to be wooed. I am telling you that perhaps Iwould enjoy being your sweetheart. Then, if we find thatwe love each other, we could be betrothed. Im told thatleads to marriage. The look in her eyes held all the fatalpower of destruction.He groaned and covered her mouth with his, this timekissing her deeply. Tina, Id be unwilling tae wait thatlong for ye.The man on guard at Doons gate tower saw the lonerider in the dark plaid and raised the portcullis. Heshook his head and laughed to himself, for obviously itwas another suitor for Valentina. The torches on thegatehouse showed the dark head of the clansman andthe dark greens of the tartan, and the guard guessedthat it was either a Campbell or a Gordon. Both menwere heirs to powerful earldoms, and he wished hecould be present when the man riding in discoveredthat the heir to the powerful Arran and cousin to the king
already had his feet under the table.Ram Douglas rode up to Doon Castle and across thedrawbridge with cold deliberation. God help any whostood in his path. A young Kennedy groom cameforward to take his horse, but one look at the enormousbeast stopped him short. He saw that the black devilwas savage and ready to attack anyone whoapproached with teeth and hooves. The groom ran backinto the stables.The Black Ram dismounted and tethered Ruffiansecurely. He strode into the castle as if he owned it. Noone even considered stopping him. He had all thearrogant poise and confidence of a man who knew hisown power. He walked a direct path to the great hall.The servants moved back to make way for him.Donal Kennedy. His voice was deep, resonant, andcommanding.Donal looked up from his leather tankard, and RamDouglas saw the burly figure, the full-bearded face, thepiercing eyes. He saw those eyes widen in recognition.There was no mistaking the swart darkness of BlackRam Douglas. Holy Christ, how had he found out?Donals claymore was at the ready, but he never evengot the chance to unsheath it. Ramsay swung hisweapon high with both powerful arms and brought theflat of the broadsword down full force upon DonalKennedys head. It felled him instantly. He dropped like adead horse.Duncan Kennedy stared in disbelief at the scene that
met his eyes as he came into the back of the hall fromthe kitchen. He saw his brother go down, and even frombehind he knew a dreaded Douglas when he saw one.He drew his dirk and launched himself from behind.The Black Douglas had the eyes and ears of a hawk. Hedid not need to turn around to know he was beingassailed. His elbow smashed into Duncans belly,doubling him over; then the heavy hilt of Rams knifecame up under Duncans chin with an uppercut thatknocked out a tooth and embedded it in his tongue.Blood was everywhere.Davie was in the solar plucking out a tune on a lutewhen he heard the commotion. He thought that mostlikely Donal had had too much to drink and had picked afight with Patrick Hamilton. Not wanting to miss the fun,he ran down the winding stone staircase that led to thehall. His face turned ashen as he saw the fury of BlackRam Douglas. The intruder snatched the lute fromDavids hands and smashed it against the wall Thewooden, pear-shaped body splintered away, leaving ajagged neck with its fretted fingerboard. Ram jabbed itinto Davies throat as he growled, Vicious youngbastard!In spite of his damaged mouth Duncan had cried thealarm, and now red Kennedys were gathering fromevery direction. Ram grabbed Davie with one powerfularm and wielded his sword with the other. None daredto make a move against him. Ram knew he had timedhis one-man assault perfectly. Every last Kennedy hadbeen drinking heavily, and there was none to challenge
the Douglas might.Ramsays voice rang through the castle: Restore mycattle, or face the consequences! If its reiving ye want,its reiving yell get! he promised with relish Before hecame to Doon, hed had a notion to take back his youngprisoner and hold him for ransom, but now with greatcontempt for the cowardice of a clan who would raidknowing another clan would be blamed, he flung DavidKennedy away from him and watched dispassionatelyas he hit his head against a fireplace and sank to theflagstones.Ramsay turned to leave, disappointment surging insidehim that there were not more of them to put up a fight.He still had a hot ball of fury burning inside his gut thatneeded an outlet. He flung open the heavy studdeddoor and heard the seductive laughter of a woman verysure of her prey. A couple were kissing before theycame inside.Douglas stood to one side to let them enter and stareddirectly into the eyes of Patrick Hamilton. Christspassion! he swore, his pewter eyes glittering withhatred The bloody rotten Hamiltons in cahoots with thecowardly Kennedys! He spat on the floor to rid hismouth of the taste of their names.Patrick Kennedy had no idea what Douglas was talkingabout, but it made little difference to him. Here was hishereditary enemy. Theyd lived their entire lives at eachothers throats. Their castles were built almost nose tonose, and the two clans were bitter rivals because of
territory, ambition, and the ruthless power-mongering ofArchibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, and James Hamilton,Earl of Arran. Even the king knew better than to putthem on border patrol at the same time, and he wasforever at them to sign a bond of friendship or at leastdeclare a truce.Step inside, man, invited Douglas.Ye scurvy, uncouth bastard, how dare ye act like anuncivilized savage afore a lady? Hamilton demanded,drawing his rapier. This is a godly household!Man, yer so self-righteous, I wonder it doesna choke ye!spat Ramsay. Both men stepped into the hall to givethem more room for their quarrel. Join yer fearsomepartners in crime. They fair had me quaking in my boots,invited Douglas.Hamilton gazed about the room in disbelief. Where areyer men? he demanded.I came alone, the Black Ram said insolently.Yer vaunty boasting makes me spew! roared Hamilton.Ye need guts before ye can spew! taunted Douglas.It will give me pleasure tae rid the world o one moremaggot-blown Douglas, snarled Hamilton.Ye crawling louseI ha better things than ye crawling inma body hair! spat Douglas.Valentina had followed the two men inside. She ran toDonal with her heart in her throat, thinking him dead.When she saw he was unconscious, she was angry andassumed hed drunken himself into oblivion just whenDoon needed defending.Duncan, covered with blood, was still trying to stanch
the flow of the severed artery in his tongue. Tina ran toDavids side. He too was bleeding from a gash on thehead. Let me help you, Davie! she cried.Get the hell away from me! he snarled, shamed that shetreated him like a puling bairn.She stared about the hall at the servants and theKennedy clansmen and wondered wildly why they didnaught, save watch and listen to Patrick Hamilton andRamsay Douglas circle each other exchanging insults.Her pulses raced, her heartbeats quickened. Suddenlyshe felt no fear, only a mounting excitement that shewas witness to the confrontation of two deadlyenemies. As they circled each other warily, she saw howproud Patrick Hamilton looked garbed in elegant blackwith the white linen ruffle at his throat. He was tall andslim and moved with the grace of a black panther Hisdeadly rapier blade glinted in the torchlight, and sheknew his reach was longer than that of Douglas.Then her eyes were drawn to the Black Ram. She hadnever seen a naked man before. His plaid did little tocover his nakedness. Instead it revealed andemphasized his magnificent torso. He was not as tall asPatrick, but his shoulders were broader by far, with thepowerful, sleek strength of a swordsman.Her mind flashed about like quicksilver. Part of her feltguilty because she was enjoying the spectacle. Thenshe saw with disbelief that the two men were smiling,and she realized with a shock that they were relishing itmore than she. She caught her breath on a half sob as
the two enemies lunged at each other, but instead of theblood she expected she saw the double-edged Douglassword snatch the deadly rapier from Hamiltons grip. Itflipped into the air, and Douglas neatly caught it in hisleft handHamilton, unarmed, tore off his doublet and challengedDouglas. Throw aside yer weapons and fight me wi yerfists!Douglas was guilty of many things, but stupidity wasnot one of them. Unarmed he would have been jumpedby a score of Kennedys. He slammed his broadswordinto its scabbard and advanced upon Hamilton with themans own rapier. Patrick had the good sense to backaway.Bad enough ye raided my cattle, but tae aid an abet theKennedys tae do likewise, lured on by yon red-hairedbitch in heat, is unconscionable, Patrick man.His foul accusation was totally unfounded, but whenTina tried to defend Patrick, both men totally ignoredher. Douglas backed his prey clean across the hall, thenwith a swift downward slash he slit the white linen shirtand carved a crude letter D on Hamiltons breast.You swine! screamed Tina. Youre doing this because Ibested you. How did you learn my name?Twas a simple thing tae sniff outyer reputation as awanton stinks to high heaven.Patrick Hamilton tried to control her, but shed heed noman at this moment. Before Im done, Ill see you inhellfire! she screamed.Most likely, Ram acknowledged with a courteous bow.
Then he dismissed her and swept Hamilton and theKennedy men with a look of blackest contempt Yer nofit tae clean the shit off ma boots. He strode from thehall looking to neither right nor left. Turning his back onall that company showed he was fearless.Valentina looked down at her white gown and saw itspattered with Patricks blood and smeared with Davids.In that moment she knew a need to see Douglas bloodspilled. She cried out to the men in the room, but theywere already screaming abuse at one another andexchanging brutal blows. Heedlessly, she ran outsideafter Black Ram Douglas His hand was about tountether his devil-horse. Coward! Whoreson coward!she cried.He turned to face her, his eyes raking her from breast tohip. Ye mistake, mistress. Tis all Kennedy men who arecowards, just as all Kennedy women are whores!She flew at him and struck him full in the face. Herbreasts heaved wildly with her agitation as shescreamed, You dont have the guts to strike me back!You dont have the guts to defend yourself against awoman. You dont have the guts to lay a finger on me!A muscular bare leg shot out and knocked her to theground. Then Lady Valentina Kennedy found herself ina shameful position shed never experienced before inher life. Ram Douglas was on top of her, imprisoning herbody between his muscular thighs. As she struggledwildly, her hands came in contact with his massivehirsute chest, and her eyes saw clearly his shameful
male parts. As he straddled her they were shamelesslydisplayed only inches from her face. She was acutelyaware of the heady, disgraceful, masculine scent of him.He clenched his fist on a handful of turf and was sorelytempted to grind the dirt into her beautiful face. Hemastered the impulse as beneath his dignity He did notneed to use his brawn on the little wanton. His contemptwould show his superiority. How many men have yerolled in the grass? Ram Douglas got to his feet. He wassecretly impressed that she had shown more couragethan the Kennedy men. He hid his response to herpassion and fire behind a contemptuous look of scornto show he despised her He drew away from her as ifcontact would contaminate him. He gave her one lastinsolent look that almost scorched her skin, thenvaulted onto the back of his black devil-horse.Tina struggled to her feet, impotence feeding the fires ofher anger and hatred. She cried out into the night, Iswear that someday the positions will be reversed! Ishall be armed, and you will be weaponless, but I vow toyou that I shall use my weapon!When Tina went back inside, she saw Patrick and theclansman who had attended him exchanging blows Adalooked on helplessly. Shed spent a most rewardingevening with the Hamilton moss-trooper in the privacyof her cozy chamber and wondered why men alwaysended up shouting and brawling by midnight.Donal was staggering about. Though now conscious,he was still groggy and very much confused about whathad taken place at Doon tonight. Tinas eyes caught
sight of her pretty lute smashed to smithereens, andsuddenly she was overwhelmed. She picked up theforlorn neck with its dangling strings and broke down intears. She brushed them away impatiently with uncleanhands, smearing dirty rivulets across her cheeks. Whydo they ruin and destroy everything they touch?whispered Valentina.Because theyre men, explained Ada, ushering her off tobed.The moment she was alone in her chamber sheremembered Old Megs tarot cards.She had met The Emperor, the dark man of authoritywho sat upon the throne decorated by rams heads. Shesaw the Five of Swords in her minds eye. Just as Meghad foretold, he had come with his swords and defeatedall. Her mind refused to go further. It was all ridiculousnonsense. Her future could not possibly be affected bysome silly pasteboards laid out by an old Gypsy! Chapter 9
During the following week the Kennedys ofNewark, Dunure, and Carrick were raided, along withthe Hamiltons of Lanark, Dunbar, and Midlothian.Naturally Black Ram Douglas was the prime suspect,but there were many who doubted that it was possiblefor one man to hit so many far-flung castles within thesame week.Ramsay Douglas had decided to join in the game and toteach the other players how to go about the thing with avengeance. When he hit, he hit hard, and he hit wherehe knew it would stir up a stink as foul as a cesspool. Ateach of the Kennedy holdings he left cattle thatbelonged to the Hamiltons, and likewise he depositedthe famous Kennedy sheep upon Hamilton property.The Kennedys of Doon, however, were not touched,and it was a week before they realized their herds weremysteriously multiplying. The head of the Kennedy clan,Archibald, Earl of Cassillis, was renowned for owningthe finest horseflesh in Scotland. Some he bred, othershe imported from Ireland, Flanders, Spain, and Morocco.He supplied the royal stables, both at Stirling andEdinburgh, with the very best. Ram Douglas, with hisbrothers Gavin and Cameron, lifted every horse atCassillis. It was a major undertaking that requiredplanning, cunning, nerve, and speed. The brothersrelayed the horses to their Douglas cousins, Ian,Drummond, and Jamie, who in turn passed them on toDouglas moss-troopers, who planted them in the
stables of both the Kennedys and the Hamiltons.There was one particular mare, however, with whichBlack Ram Douglas could not bear to part. He had beenlooking for a worthy dam for Ruffians offspring, and themoment he saw the glossy filly, he knew he had foundher.She was tall for a female, with extremely long legs. Herneck also was long and graceful, yet her chest wasdeep, and he knew instinctively she would prove tohave long wind. In the dark she had looked black, butwhen he examined her more carefully back at Douglas,he saw she was an unbelievable shade of purpledamson. Just by looking at her, he could tell herbloodlines were royal and that she was part Barbary orArabian. Her face was exotic, with large eyes, and if hewasnt mistaken, she had been bred with one lessvertebra, so that her tail went up high at the leastexcitement.He tucked her away in a small meadow at Douglas withone of his most trusted herdsman-tenants. ThenRamsays perverse humor prompted him to furthermischief. It was no secret that the wealthy Kennedys ofDoon were thick as thieves with the Campbells of Argylland that the clans would soon be united in marriage.This was clearly a power-move by the ruthless Argyll.The Campbells already held and ruled the Northwest,and the Kennedy alliance proved their greedy eyes hadturned south.Douglas knew the Campbells had culled about sixtyyoung bulls from their famous herds of shaggy, short-
legged Highland cattle with their great spread of hornand had brought them to the spring cattle auction inGlasgow. Lifting the cattle was childs play for theDouglas reivers; the tricky part was depositing them onDonal Kennedys doorstep without being observed.Black Ram Douglass men used the ancient border trickfor sneaking undetected upon a castle they coveredthemselves with cowhides.By the time the violet fingers of dawn turned the sky anominous dull pink, panic had set in at Doon. How in thename of all that was holy were the Kennedy brothers toexplain their possession of hundreds of cattle andsheep that belonged to their neighbors, to say nothingof their Kennedy chiefs horses and Argylls prize bulls?The scene at Douglas was as different as chalk fromcheese. Though the promised storm was gathering bylate afternoon, a holiday atmosphere prevailed. By wayof celebration for a most successful and satisfyingweek, the Douglases had invited the Gypsies to theircastle to entertain them till dawn.With his wolfhound at his heels, Ramsay Douglascantered Ruffian out to the meadow where he hadhidden the beautiful new mare. When they came withinhalf a mile, the stallions nostrils began to quiver as hescented the female he would serve. Ram had not usedhim on the raids because a horse that stood nineteenhands high was instantly recognized. As a result, hewas difficult and mettlesome. Ram removed his bridle,then sent him thundering into the meadow with a slap
across his rump. He secured the tall gate and stood fora few minutes watching the biplay of the twomagnificent animals. Tonight every Douglas celebrates,he called into the wind. Wear off some o that energy thatmakes ye so damned bad-tempered. He laughed as themare kicked up her heels and raced about the meadowas if the demon of darkness were after her. Ruffian tookup the relentless pursuit, teeth bared and eyes rolling. Ithink yeve met yer match. By morning, shell have yequivering on yer legs, man.By the time Ram and Boozer walked back to the castle,the Gypsies were setting up their wares in the bailey.The great wolfhound scattered a troupe of trainedminiature dogs, then started nipping at the heels of theirWelsh ponies until all was pandemonium. With a quietword Ram brought the wolfhound back to his side andtook him upstairs to his chamber. While he bathed andchanged into doeskin breeches and linen shirt, the dogrolled on his back in a disgraceful display of love andaffection. Ram ruffled the shaggy pewter head. Yer afraud Ye think yer quite a perilous character, and yeexpect me tae keep yer secret. The great wolfhoundwas such a contradiction. Capable of tearing the throatfrom a man, a soft word from Ram turned him to jelly.Dont worryIll keep yer reputation intact, he promised ashe reflected whimsically on whether the dog had takenon his own personality. Hed never know, for there wasnone to give him a soft wordThe Gypsies set up their wares on colored blanketsboth outside in the bailey and in the great hall. They
sold and bartered everything from tawdry paper flowersto knives of finest Toledo steel. They had the knack ofbeing vivid, dramatic, and exotic, and their displayscleverly appealed to all tastes and all ages.The children were attracted by the straw dolls and tinwhistles, the women by the ribbons, beads, and lovepotions, the men by the leather belts, knives, and luckcharms set into amulets. Their love of life and zest forliving were infectious. They made their own music withfiddle, tambourine, and lute, which fired the blood andinspired both men and women to set their feet todancing. Whenever the Gypsies entertained, it wasguaranteed the very air would be charged withexcitement and laughter.Ramsay sent the servants scurrying to the cellar forbarrels of ale and kegs of whisky, sniffing the air withappreciation. Kennedy lamb and Hamilton beef smellbetter than our own when spitted and roasting, he told agrinning Gavin. Lets bring down old Malcolm, Ramsuggested.The mad laird? asked Colin with disapproval. Hes betteroff in bed.The hell he is! disagreed Ram. Hes condemned tae thatbed fer the rest of his life now his legs are gone. Gavinman, fetch that chair we fixed wheels on last year, an Illcarry him down.Tis not just his legs are gonehes a ravin lunatic. Twouldno be kind.Ram understood how sensitive Colin was because of
his own affliction, but he overruled him. Twould no bekind tae exclude him like a bloody leper!He wont thank ye. He never had a kind word foranybody in his life, even before he went off it, saidCameron.He takes his pleasure by cursing everything andeverybody, but I know for a fact he wouldna be aDouglas if he didna enjoy the whisky and the Gypsydancers. Maybe Ill buy one of the wenches fer his bedtonight, said Ram.Maybe yell buy one fer the cripple while yer at it, flaredColin. We all know Black Ram Douglas never had taepay fer a woman in his life, he sneered.Gavin arrived with the old wooden chair. What the hellsburnin yer arse? he asked Colin.Flames about this high, taunted Cameron, holding hishand a scant two feet from the floor.Colin relented. I suppose I felt sorry fer myself all week,missin the sport.Ram thumped his shoulder. Theres nothing tae stop yetonight, man. Theres everything from a cockfight tae aknife-throwing contest. Ian, ride down tae Douglasvillage and tell everyone theyre invitednot just thelasses, mind. Drummond, tell all the kitchen wenchesthey can have the night off. Ill go and fetch Mad Malcolmfrom his tower room.There wasnt a woman at Douglas who didnt lookforward to having her fortune told; there wasnt a manwho didnt anticipate the late hour when any womanwith a shred of respectability retired from the
bacchanalia of the hall and the dusky-skinned Gypsygirls danced naked.Two slim Gypsy youths were performing acrobatic featson the backs of half a dozen white ponies while the littledogs with ruffs around their necks ran in and out of theriders legs. Ram was drawn to them. He was dying to tryhis own skills. He recalled hed wasted many an hour ofhis own youth practicing such daring feats of dexterity.His moss-troopers egged him on, challenging him toduplicate the supple acrobatic leaps of the youngGypsies.When they wagered their silver that he would come acropper and fall off in less than a minute, he had toprove them wrong. He selected his pony carefully,choosing one that was not on too short a rein. He knewthat man and beast must not be mismatched. His eyesoon singled out the animal with the steadiest rhythm,and vaulting onto its back, he rode astride for a fewmoments to accustom himself to its gait. Slowly hepulled up his feet until his palms and his soles rested onits broad back; then finally he stood tall with his armsstretched out to the sides and rode with ease, circlingthe bailey.The cheers that went up were deafening, not only fromhis own men but from all the people of Douglas andfrom the Gypsies themselves. Ram chuckled to himself.There was nothing to it really. It was simply a matter ofagility and balance. The trick of course was to summonenough courage to try it. He vaulted to the ground and
back up again, then he did the same on the ponys otherside. He reflected that here was the secret of success inany venture, whether it was a small cattle raid or a warbattle: the courage to take a chance, while at the sametime having confidence in your own ability toaccomplish what you set out to do. It worked every time!Men were setting up a target butt for the knife throwingwhen suddenly lightning flashed, thunder rolled, andlarge raindrops began to spatter the bailey. Everyonedashed inside to the great hall, laughing and jostlingone another. The barrels of ale were rolled inside, andsix men lifted the heavy wooden butt theyd set up forthe knives and carried it indoors. It put an effective stopto the cockfights, but the whole troupe of trained dogsran inside with the throng, sniffing around the sizzlingspits and initiating the legs of the stools.At first, Mad Malcolm brandished a wicked-lookingwalking stick at any who approached his chair, butColin kept his leather horn filled with whisky, andeventually the old laird was seen tapping on theflagstones, keeping time with the music.Occasionally tempers flared over possession of a castlewench or a Gypsy girl, but the high spirits of the menprevented the scuffles from degenerating into full-scalebrawls. Gavin Douglas couldnt keep his eyes off abeautiful young Gypsy until he noticed with annoyancethat Jenna was flirting outrageously with an extremelywell-favored Gypsy male. When the knife-throwingcontest began, she urged the Gypsy to show off hisskills and tossed her tawny head when she saw Gavin
was watching her. The men of Douglas and their moss-troopers were trained in the expert use of many differentweapons from swords and dirks, bills and spears, tohagbuts and longbows. The Gypsies, however, usedonly knives and were highly profficient, so there was noshortage of contestants who lined up to pit their skillsagainst the Gypsies.Not a single contestant from either side missed thetarget, and there were quite a few men of Douglas whohad no trouble hitting the bulls eye with the sameregularity as the Gypsy men. But when the ringed targetwas removed and replaced by one with small red starsforming intricate patterns, the ranks soon thinned.Heath had a matching set of eight balanced silverknives that he used on these festive occasions whenthey earned money entertaining the nobility. GavinDouglas was determined to match the Gypsys skills andgathered knives from the moss-troopers. Because hehad to prove himself to both the beautiful young Gypsygirl and to Jenna, his performance matched Heaths, andhe hit every single red star. He was gratified by thedeafening cheers of the men, who all seemed to bepulling for him.Heath flashed his white teeth in a good-natured grin andheld out his hand to the audience. The beautiful youngGypsy girl stepped forward without hesitation, andHeath positioned her before the target, her head high,her arms and legs spread wide. It was an act the couplehad performed many times.
Every breath was caught and held as Heath took thefirst dagger blade in his hand, pointed the hilt towardthe unflinching girl, and let it fly through the air. Itthunked into the wooden target three inches from herleft ear. The crowd gasped as another knife found itsmark three inches from her right ear. The next twoknifeblades struck the target between the spreadfingers of her small brown hands, and the crowd brokeinto applause. The knives that struck either side of herwaist were an inch closer to her body than the othershad been, and the crowd roared its approval. Theseventh dagger entered between her legs, pinning thescarlet material of her skirt to the target. The knifes haftprotruded from between the girls legs like a suggestivephallic symbol, and every male watching achieved anerection. The climax of the performance followedquickly. As Heaths final knife left his fingers, hisbeautiful target bent double from the waist and the wideeyes of the audience saw that the last dagger hadentered the target exactly where her heart had been.Tension filled the air as all eyes swung to GavinDouglas, but before he could take up the challenge, thebeautiful young Gypsy girl held up her hands, laughingprettily, but refusing to be the target for the handsomeyoung Scot. Gavin grinned good-naturedly, extremelyrelieved that the challenge was over. Jenna touched hisshoulder. Ill be your target, Gavin, she offered bravely.He looked down into her clear green eyes andwondered what in the name of God hed found attractiveabout the young Gypsy girl. Sweetheart, I canna let ye
do that, but Ive other weapons I wouldna mind testing.As Gavin slipped his arm about Jenna, he cast Heath alook of triumph, feeling he had definitely taken the prizeeven though hed lost the contest.Ramsay Douglas stepped forward to take up thechallenge. His pewter eyes glittered coldly as they fixedupon Heaths darkly handsome face. Ill use your knivessince theyre perfectly balanced, his deep voice saiddecisively.Heaths warm brown eyes crinkled at the corners as heaccepted the challenge. He gestured toward the finesilver-handled weapons. Be my guest, if you can findanyone brave enough to be your human target.Theres someone here with enough courage, Ram saidcalmly.Who? Heath asked with a smile, as no one steppedforward. You, Ram said simply.The smile left Heaths face as the men took each othersmeasure like two dogs with their hackles raised. Heathwas aware of Black Ram Douglass other nickname,Hotspur, that sprang from his volatile temper and lowboiling point. In these parts he enjoyed a larger-than-lifereputation for breaking womens hearts and mens jaws,but Heath looked beneath the surface, realizing thisman was intense, complex, and intelligent as well asstrong and poised for an eruption. Apart from this, therewas an unknown quality about him. Gypsies were hot-blooded and admitted it freely; Heath wondered if RamDouglas was the same, or if he was cold-blooded. He
was about to find out.With a nonchalant bravado he did not quite feel, hehanded over the knives and stepped in front of thewooden target. Douglas picked up the first knife andfixed the Gypsy with a piercing look. The weapon wasan age in coming, and Heath realized it would be a battleof nerves. Douglas was testing him to try to learn hisbreaking point. Heath was puzzled. He knew this levelof rivalry between two men was only ever about awoman, yet he was almost sure that woman was notZara. Douglas had too fine an intelligence and was tooblood-proud to be jealous of a Gypsy harlot.Heath did not flinch as the first two knives thunked intothe wood beside his ears; he knew Douglas hadenough confidence in his own ability to stretch thegame to its limits. Heath realized it would be the last twodaggers he must worry about, but he was relieved tofind he still had all his fingers after the second pair wasthrown.The third set of daggers came so close to his body, theynicked his shirt at the beltline. It was a clear reminderthat Douglas had him at his mercy. Heaths mouth wentdry as he thought about the next knife. This hostilitybetween them was definitely a cock-and-balls thing.Heath prayed that Ram Douglass pride was strongerthan his acrimony. How easy it would be to emasculatehim, then claim it was accidentalbut then, all would thinkhis prowess with a knife somewhat inferior.Heath wanted to flash him an insolent devil-may-caresneer, but his lips seemed to stick to his teeth. It was
Rams mouth that curved into a wolfs grin as the daggerleft his fingers and embedded itself snugly againstHeaths balls, bruising them deliberately.So far, Douglas had won and both men knew it. But theywere more alike than either knew. Built into both wereseeds of self-destruction. The whole point of thechallenge came down to the last knife, yet theconclusion was far from inevitable At that moment it wasas if they stood aloneno other beings existed in theentire universe. Each man had a decision he must makeregarding his enemy.Heath asked himself if Ram would aim for the heart orthrow the knife above his head. Ram asked himself ifthe Gypsy would drop the top half of his body or defyhim by remaining erect.Their eyes locked together for endless minutes as eachman made his fatal choice. Heath found suddenly thathe could smile As he did so, his head lifted with pride. Atthe last split second the Black Ram knew the Gypsywould not move a muscle. The dagger parted theGypsys hair, cutting off a lock and pinning it to thewood behind him.A great roar of approval went up from the clan and themoss-troopers, showing that they believed Douglas theclear victor. But Ram and the Gypsy male knewotherwise. Both knew who had given way at the lastmoment. And yet it was a moral victory for RamDouglas. He alone knew he had not given in to thebloodlust that would have branded him a coward in his
own eyes.As the night progressed, the noise level increased. Themusic came louder and faster. The shrieking laughter,stamping feet, and barking dogs made it necessary toshout every word. The amount of food and drinkconsumed would have fed an army for a week, and theentire castle rang with the unrestrained mirth of menand women who knew how to abandon themselves tothe moment.The spirit of Damaris was extremely restless. At first shekept to her chamber, but the laughter and the Gypsymusic finally lured her to the hall. As she surveyed thecelebration, she reflected how shocked she would havebeen at such abandoned behavior when she first cameto Douglas, but after roaming the castle for fifteen years,she understood and accepted that they had a hungryzest for life. She sighed. Twas what had attracted her toAlexander in the first place. Ramsay had a love formusic and a passion for heroic literature that he kepthidden. He was so like her dead husband, it frightenedher. They were both so dour, grave and curt on thesurface, but underneath they loved colorful spectacleand had a distinct flair for extremes. She watched one ortwo Gypsy women laying out tarot cards and listened asthey told fortunes. Damaris smiled sadly. All that theyoung girls seemed interested in was snaring a man.Had she been like that? Once she had laid eyes on AlexDouglas, she admitted, he was all she had ever thoughtabout. She had grown up amongst a clan of redheads
and garnered a lot of attention because she had silkenblond hair and not a freckle in sight. Alexander Douglashad been the darkest man shed ever seen. So dark, itgave her shivers just picturing him. He had seemed justas wildly attracted to her paleness. How ridiculous tochoose a lifetime mate on the basis of coloring! And yetwhen you thought about it, vivid coloring was whatmade certain individuals stand out from the crowd. Itwas the first thing you noticed about them. There weremillions of ordinary drab people, and then nature wouldproduce someone so darkly beautiful, they lookedsinful. Someone with the opposite coloring like herself,with milk-white skin and silvery-gilt hair, looked pureand angelic. Then there were vivid creatures like herniece Valentina, with startling golden eyes and a massof molten, flaming hair at which a man wanted to warmhis hands. She and Alexander had been fatally attracted,and the day Tina came to Douglas, she had feared thesame thing would happen between her and Ram.Fortunately, sparks of hatred had been kindled, so sheneed never worry on that score.The specter of Alexander watched her from theshadows of a deep window embrasure. How etherealshe looked! His heart ached with longing as heremembered the first night they had shared a bed. Herlimbs, so exquisitely pale, contrasted shockinglyagainst his swarthy black-haired legs and chest. It hadseemed a desecration to join their bodies, to mate,almost like a devil ravishing an angel, and yet their wild
attraction for each other had aroused them to suchneed, such peaks of desire, he knew he must wed herso they could share a bed every night for the rest oftheir lives.Alexander could not help himself. He drew near to hislove. Damaris, he breathed.Her apparition began to fade, then was gone.Damaris! he called urgently, but he knew it was quitepointless. She would never acknowledge his presence.Old Meg the Gypsy, however, said, Who is there? Whatdo you want?Im Alexander Douglas! Can ye see me? Can ye hearme? he demanded.The old woman stood up and put out a gnarled hand,feeling the texture of the air about her.Ye canna see or hear me, but ye can sense me, cantyou? God, if only I could communicate with ye. Damarisis ma wife. I didna kill her! Come with meIll show ye herportrait.Old Megs eyes swept around the hall searching forsomething. She did not quite know what she sought.She closed her eyes and let her other senses, includingher sixth sense, have full rein. She circled the hallslowly, her shrewd eyes missing very little. She pausedbeside Mad Malcolm. He brandished his stick. FilthyGypsyaway wi ye!Old Meg recoiled, not at his words but at the evil she feltsurrounding him. Something from the long-dead paststirred in her memory. Shed had an unwitting hand in apoisoning here at Douglas. At the time she had put it
from her mindshe had no reason to waste her pity on aKennedy. She had a nodding acquaintance with evil.Shed been exchanging poison for obscene amounts ofsilver for years. She lived by the Gypsy code of no guilt.Colin Douglas refilled Malcolms drinking horn and castMeg a helpless apologetic look, then he tapped hisfingers to his temple in the age-old sign that conveyedmadness. Meg stalked off. She was in a mood to prowlabout a bit. Alexander stood at her shoulder at thebottom of the staircase. He tried to will her up the stepsbut learned that her willpower was every bit as strongas his own. Discouraged, he withdrew up the staircase.Old Meg followedAlexander halted outside his wifes chamber. Ever sincehis death, he had never entered, never violated hersanctuary. Meg, it seemed, had no such scruples. Hergnarled hand turned the doorknob, and she went insideand stood transfixed before the painting of Damaris.Alexander said, The portrait-limner did a credible job,but she was beautiful on the inside as well.Get out!Alexander whirled about, joy radiating from him like therays of the sun. Damarisye can see me. Fifteen yearsyeve looked through me, but I never gave up!Fifteen years should have conveyed how I feel, youpigheaded spawn of the Devil!His eyes shone with happiness. Yer angry wi me.Angry? Theres the understatement of the century! I hateyou, I loathe you, I detest you, I abhor you!
I love ye, Damaris, he declared.I curse you! she vowed, then vanished.Old Meg reached up her fingers to touch the girl in theportrait. She could feel the very air in this chamber wascharged with emotions, all conflicting. The memorycame back clearly now. So this was the Kennedy girlwho had wed a Douglasan explosive, deadlycombination. Both clans were insufferably blood-proud.Dont touch that portrait, or all hell will break loose,ordered a deep voice of authority.Old Meg turned to see an angry Ram Douglas. Zarahovered in the corridor, assuming Meg had been caughtstealing.A double murder will leave its imprint until justiceprevails, Meg said.Twas a murder-suicide. They got justice. The bitch wasunfaithful. Alex Douglas killed himself before theKennedys could get their vengeful hands on him. Getdownstairs before I hang ye fer theft.Her lip curled with contempt. As if it were yesterday, sherecalled selling the poison to this man who stood beforeher so arrogantly. He had been a wild and willful youthof only about sixteen, but shortly thereafter LordAlexander Douglas lay dead and the Black Ram was thenew lord and master. Have a care for yourself, RamsayDouglas. Visitants from the other side have such power,they could strike you down for the lies you perpetrate.Ram laughed derisively. Go on, call up thedeadcommand them to materialize. Yer supernaturalpowers underwhelm me, old woman!
I claim no supernatural power, but I do have the secondsight. Her eyes flickered beyond the door toward Zara.Debauch yourself while theres darkness left. Tis the lasttime youll be permitted to waste your seed.Her implication was marriage or death, and he wasntsure he didnt prefer the latter If yer hinting at my beingleg shackled, yer second sight is playing tricks on ye,old woman. Tis yer own shackles ye can see when Ilock ye up. Begone from this place, while yeve breathleft in yer body.Megs eyelids covered the windows of her soul. It wasnot politic to threaten this man. He would not cavil atone more murder. Chapter 10 Ram Douglas could not close his eyes even longafter hed sated himself. Zara slept beside him, curledinto a ball like a sleek cat replete with a fortnights rationof cream inside her. He smiled grimly into the darkness.
The mere hint of a suggestion of marriage had robbedhim of sleep. Deny it as much as he liked, the truth washe was a coward with no guts for marriage.Wedding bells were the death knell for love Love was amyth in itself, perpetrated by females and poets. Hednever seen a happy union in his life. Lord AlexanderDouglas and Lady Damaris Kennedy had hadeverything going for them. Their union had joined twoof Scotlands greatest clans. Not only that, but both oftheir great-grandfathers had married daughters of KingRobert III, so their marriage linked them with the royalhouse. How long had it lastedtwelve days? A fortnight?His mind strayed to his mother and father. There was aunion made in hell Theyd lived at the top of their lungs,not caring if the whole world knew of their savageexchanges How many nights had he comforted Gavinand Cameron as they crawled into his bed shaking? Hismother was a Ramsay, giving as good as she gotThreats, fights, recriminations, betrayals, beatings. Hehad been ten when she left. Shed taught him thehypocrisy of the sanctity of marriage.His relentless mind moved on. The biggest sham inScotland was their kings marriage. James IV had aweakness for women, and Scotland thanked God for it.His father had been a raving homosexual who had failedto keep his minions in his bedchamber but allowedthem in the council chamber. His ruling chiefs could notstomach such a thing; sodomy was not a Scots vice.Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, had led the men whohad dragged the kings catamites out and hanged them.
Rams thoughts shied away from examining his uncletoo closely and returned to the kings marriage. Jameshad avoided the matrimonial trap until he was thirty,then for the weal of the realm and to beget heirs, hedbeen persuaded to wed fourteen-year-old MargaretTudor, Princess of England.Their marriage was a nightmare. The princess had a flat,pudgy face like a lump of dough and a stodgy body tomatch, yet she was highly sexed. James himself hadonce confided to Ram that he feared impotence whenhe had to bed her. Though theyd now been wed overeight years, every pregnancy had ended in a dead child.The queen had just produced another puny bairn, sothere still might be no heirs to the throne. Even asanctified marriage was no guarantee of heirs. Marriagein fact was a guarantee of naught save misery!Ram reflected that he was past thirty, and he knew itwas his duty to produce strong Douglas sons to inheritthe land, titles, and wealth and to keep the clanpowerful. One of these days hed have to hold his noseand take the plunge. When the time came, hed yield toexpediency. Hed listen to his head and choose the wifewho would bring him the most wealth and power. Hecould listen to his blood when he chose his mistresses,and if worse came to worst, there were ways of riddingyourself of an unwanted woman.Valentina Kennedys day began splendidly. Ada broughther a breakfast tray with the most divine-smelling,
freshly baked French bread. The first strawberries of theseason sat in a compote of clotted cream. Mr. Burquehad followed Lord Kennedys orders to serve everyoneat Doon with porridge, but he had provided a jug ofsweet golden syrup to make the oatmeal palatable. Tinapicked up the fruit but pushed away the fluffy eggssurrounded by thick cured ham.Ill join you, Ada said, picking up the plate. If I have tosuffer your brothers company through one more meal,the back of my skull will fall in. Their tempers are readyto explode.Isnt it wonderful that for once trouble has passed meby?Ada laughed, but at the same time she felt sorry for thelads. Poor buggers, how the hell are they to hide twohundred shaggy Highland cattle amongst our ownherds of red and white Ayrshires?Thats their problem, Tina said, throwing back thecovers.Ada gave a little gasp as a man climbed in at the opencasement. Heath! Gods nails, you scared me.Liar. He grinned, spanning her waist with his strongbrown hands and lifting the woman for a kiss. There isnta man breathing scares you!He occupied the spot Tina had just vacated and pulledthe breakfast tray toward him. Tis a bonnie day for aride, he told Tina, his rogues eyes sparkling.Heath, you didnt! she squealed with excitement. Closeyour eyes while I put on a riding dress.The moment hed denuded the tray of every last morsel,
he swung his leg across the sill. Tina prepared to followhim. Use the stairs, Firebrandyoure a lady, not a Gypsy,he said.Praise God one of you remembers, Ada said, rolling hereyes.Heath had the mare tethered down by the river, awayfrom the castle. As she approached, Tina thought shednever beheld such a memorable picture in her life.Above, thrushes and yellow hammers flitted in thehazels. She walked across a carpet of moss andladyferns and slowly held out her hand to the gracefulmare. The animal pricked its ears forward, staring at herintently; then catching her scent and accepting her, shelowered her head, blew through her nostrils, andallowed Tinas hand to rest upon her velvet nose. Oh,her lines are superb, her color indescribable! Tinaexclaimed with awe. Wherever did you manage to findher?At the horse fair in Paisley, he said with a straight face.He took a paper from his shirt. Listen to me, Tina. Itsimportant that you have this bill of sale to proveownershipshes had one or two owners recently.She glanced at him knowingly and took the paper. Hername must reflect her color. Her coat is the hue ofdamsons or aubergineslets see, Heliotrope doesntsound right. I know, Ill call her Indigo! She took a fewsteps back to observe the animals lines. Behind Indigo,the water cascaded over the rocks into a deep poolsurrounded by bog-myrtle and marsh marigolds The
morning sun filtered through the trees, making a nimbusof light about the purple equine, turning it into somemythical, magical creature from the Arabian nights. Shelooked at the paper again. Did you really pay this muchfor her?His teeth flashed. I won her in a knife-throwing contest.I believe you; thousands wouldnt.He lifted her to the mares back. I know you are far tooimpatient to take her to the stables to be saddled. Justbe careful, he admonished, and dont lose that paper.Valentina discovered Indigo had a sensitive mouth andresponded beautifully to the slightest pull on the bit, butwhen given her head she could run as fast as the wind.They rode along the banks of the River Doon all the wayinto the seaport of Ayr. Tina wanted to see how theanimal reacted on the streets of a busy town.Something was causing a stir down at the quay.Curious, she rode through the crowd that had gathered.Suddenly her heart, which had been so high,plummeted to her feet and her spirits sank to the pit ofher stomach. The Thistle Doon rode at anchor badlydamaged. She now boasted only half a mast, and hertaffrails had been blown away by what must have beencannon fire.Tina dismounted hastily as she saw her mother beinghelped into a litter. Mother, whatever happened? shecried.Tina, thank God! thundered Rob Kennedy, taking a firmgrasp of her arm and propelling her some distance fromthe litter. The bloody woman will drive me tae violence if
ye dinna get her outa ma sight. His face was purple withcholer.What happened?The bloody English is what happened! They attackedma ship, stole ma precious wool, almost sank us. Ivebeen limpin home fer days, an all the bloody womanhas done is cry! He cast a scornful look down the quay.I tell ye, lass, nothin good ever came up from England.Deliver me, theres a good lass.Ill take her home and see to her needs, Tina said, andfor once her heart went out to the gentlewomans plight.Tis a curse tae be wed tae a woman who expects ye taedance attendance on her. Ive dispatched a rider taefetch Archibald Kennedy, and I see Arran is here. Ive acomplaint or two fer the bloody admiral. The king mustbe informed that the English are attackin our ships, andall the pathetic woman can do is weep an wail an gnashher teeth!Tina thought she would scream at the slow progress ofthe litter, but she firmly squelched her impulse to ridehell for leather into Doon to tell her poor beleagueredbrothers that not only was Lord Kennedy home, theycould expect the chief of Clan Kennedy to descendupon them shortly.She patiently listened to her mothers tale of woe, gentlyhelped her from the litter, summoned Duncan to carryher up to her chamber, ignoring his look of desperation,and began to feel positively virtuous for the sacrificeshe was making. She ordered the servants to plenish
the room, and she bathed her mothers pale face withrosewater, removed her shoes, and asked softly, Whatcan I get you?You can get me Beth, Elizabeth said in tragic tones.Valentina, you are not the most restful person for aninvalid. Just looking at all that flaming hair and vulgarvitality is exacting a toll upon what little strength I haveleftIm sorry, Tina whispered, quickly lowering her darklashes to mask her hurt. Ill get Beth and ask Mr. Burqueto make you some chamomile tea.Yes, her mother said rather petulantly, but have Adabring it to me, if you please.When Lord Kennedy arrived home, his mind was sopreoccupied, he saw naught amiss at Doon. His threesons met him at the door rather than waiting to besummoned. They did not want to further exacerbateRob Kennedys temper.When Tina joined them in the hall, her father wasalternately describing the harrowing sea venture andraining curses upon the English. His Scots was sothick, she could hardly comprehend his words until hesaid all too clearly, Arran an Archibald Kennedy will behere the nicht. Tina, direct yon peste Mr. Burque taeprepare somethin fittin fer two earls o the realm.She saw her brothers exchange trapped looks.Tell Elizabeth tae prepare guest chambers. Davie, seetheres room in the stablestheyll both ha their men wi emDavid slunk out like a rat deserting a sinking ship. Donalcleared his throat as if he were about to make a clean
breast of things. Tina shot him a warning glance andsaid, Mothers in bed.God damn an flay the woman! What use is she tae amon? he choked.Tina said, Ill give the servants their orders. Everythingwill be ready for them. Mr. Burque is ever prepared, nomatter how many descend upon us.Theres ma lass, he said, thankful that one of hisoffspring could be counted upon. I want ye at the tablethe nicht, sittin smack atween James Hamilton anArchibald Kennedy. Ye can cozen them intae givin metheir full support when I take ma complaints tae the king.Neither o them can resist the blandishment o a beautifullass.She glanced at Donal, now feeling just as trapped as he.It must be catching, she muttered to herself.Though he had farther to come, Archibald Kennedy, Earlof Cassillis, was the first to arrive. He had twenty of hismen at his heels, all armed to the teeth. David had thepresence of mind to keep them out of the stables byhaving a dozen grooms and stableboys on hand toreceive their horses in the bailey as soon as theydismounted.Valentina took a deep breath and came forward with aleon knees that felt like butter. Archibald Kennedy was socoarse in appearance, he made her father look refined.He had once been barrel-chested, but with age all hadslipped into a heavy paunch. It seemed a miracle hisshort bowlegs supported his girth. He seemed to have
no neckhis wide florid face, marred by broken veins, satdirectly upon his shoulders.His men drank off their ale, but he grabbed the gobletfrom Tina, sniffed it loudly, then flung its contents to theback of the fire. Wheest, lass, whats this muck? hedemanded, fixing her with a small beady eye. Rob cameforward with the whisky, and Tina thought, well, somuch for being unable to resist me!Theres no need tae tell meyeve been raided. Yer no theonly one, Rabbie. Every Kennedy has beensystematically raped, frae Newark tae Portpatrick. Whenwe find the culprits, therell be the biggest reivers battleever fought. Well gibbet the lot! The whoresons lifted allma prime horseflesh, an one in especial was earmarkedfer the king!Rob looked up sharply at Donal. Weve no been raided?Weesucks, were overrun wi horses an cattle.Archibalds beady eye became instantly suspicious. Isthat a fact? Id best ha a look aboot Doon. Yer meadowsdid seem uncommon full o beasties when we rode in!Rob Kennedys face turned purple with choler, butDonals ruddiness vanished completely.Are ye accusin me, Rob Kennedy, Lord o Galloway, oliftin cattle frae ma ain kith an kin? he demanded.Well see! said Archibald, snatching up his riding whipand gauntlets from where hed flung them on the oaktable. The two Kennedy lords elbowed each other asthey exited the castle, but wide as the doorway was, itcould not accommodate two such broad individuals atthe same time. Tina noticed it was Archibald who took
precedence. She heard Donal mutter to Duncan, Ill layye ten tae one theyre the earls horses.Tina followed, unable to resist observing what couldvery well be the doom of Doon. Rob Kennedys eyesbulged as he saw that every stall held at least twoanimals The stablehands and Archibalds men fell backto watch the fireworks.Ye filthy, thievin rogues! Heres the proof these are mahorses. This Barbary mare was fer King Jamie hissel!Rob Kennedy felled his son Duncan with one powerfulblow, though Duncan topped him by a full head. Donalhad wisely stayed beyond his reach. Ma ain sons are acurse tae me! What a pox have ye been doin? Theminute Im off tae sea, ye whore aboot the country,disobey ma orders, squander my siller, and now yevelifted the earls horseflesh. Tis like bitin the hand thatfeeds ye, tae rob yer ain!Tina had to do something. My lord earl, you aremistaken about this particular mare. She fished thepaper from the leather purse at her belt. Ive a bill of saleto show she was purchased at the horse fair in Paisley.Shes mine, and you can see I paid a fortune for her.Archibald Kennedy snatched up the paper, and his ragedoubled. Tis a conspiracy! Yer lass is the biggest liar othe bunch!Why, ye bandy-legged bastard, yed best keep a civiltongue in yer haid when ye speak o ma daughter Tina!Ye maggot-blown bladder o lard, Im the haid o ClanKennedyIll see ye hanged fer yer crimes afore this day
is done!A great clatter of horses echoed round the bailey asJames Hamilton, Earl of Arran, Lord High Admiral ofScotland, with twenty men at his heels, arrived. Beforehe dismounted, he was hurling accusations. Christsblood, Ive worn ma nags legs down tae its fetlocks ridinabout my holdins this week. Ma sheep an cattle havbeen disappearin like snow in summer, an here are thebloody culprits holed up like a skulk o foxes!Archibald Kennedy, also an earl of the realm, decided totake exception to his words Yer no insinuatin theKennedys have dirtied their hands wi yer vermin-riddensheep, are ye, Jamie boy?Arrans dark, thin face was stiff with outrage. His eyeswere narrowed to slits, and his pinched lips haddisappeared altogether. Tina groaned inwardly. Justwhen she had Patrick Hamilton eating out of her hand,their families were determined to start a feud. Still, shemused wryly, if Patrick was going to look like his fatherin later years, perhaps it was just as well.Rob tried to speak up, but Archibald was ahead of himHe waved Tinas bill of sale in his hand and said,Everything on four legs on Kennedy land has beenbought an paid for, an weve the papers tae prove it,which is more than ye can say, Hamilton! And whilewere talkin plain, our red hair may make us resemblefoxes, but were all legitimately born here. We dinna rideabout wi a passel o bastards at our back!Tina bit her lip at Archibalds hypocrisy. Both he and herfather had their share of by-blows
Well no stop here tae be insulted. Well ride taeEdinburgh and lay our complaints afore the king, Arranshouted.Rob spoke at last. An while yer at it, ye can report thatyer doin such an admiral job as admiral, the bloodyEnglish are attackin our ships the minute they sail outathe Firth o Clyde!Arran dismounted, completely distracted for themoment. I saw yer shipIll need a full report. Dont keepus standin aboot out here. Yer hospitality is as lackin asyer wits.Valentina closed her eyes at the thought of having to sitbetween these two men, who had taken on thecharacteristics of two bristling boars. In the hall, theKennedys closed ranks, as any clan worth its salt did intimes of trouble. The Kennedys of Cassillis and of Doonpresented a solid flank to the Hamiltons.No sooner were the servitors carrying in the first courseof Mr. Burques culinary efforts than a great uproar ofshouting and brawling was heard outside. ArchibaldCampbell, Earl of Argyll, strode into the long room. Theescort at his back, all Highlanders, looked savage asprehistoric men. Campbell was blue-jowled, hard asgranite, and foul-mouthed. Firkin borderers! He spat agob of phlegm onto the flagstones. I come in good faithtae sign the betrothal document, an I find ma ownHighland cattle that went astray last week. So theHamiltons and the Kennedys are up each others arses!Looks like a treasonable plot tae take ower the whole
south! His fierce eyes beneath his bushy browschallenged every last one seated on the dais table.When his eyes fell on Donal, he recalled his originalmission. Whoremonger! Ye ha taken gross and filthyadvantage of ma foolish daughter. He flung out hishand toward the entrance to the hall, and Tina andDonal both realized that Meggie must haveaccompanied her father. They arose in unison andhurried out to find her.Yeve foxed and duped, cheated and defrauded Argyll ferthe first and last time! he roared. Ill seek damages fra thecrown, and if ma Meggie has a bairn in her belly, yer sonwill swing frae the turrets o Doon!Meggan Campbell, covered with shame, shrank into acorner of the passageway outside the hall Donalslipped a protective arm about her, and she buried herface against his powerful barrel-chest. Dinna fashyersel, Meggie. Ill put things right. Ill tell the truth andconfess all.Tina swept him with a scornful glance. This calls formore than the truth! This calls for a magnificent lie! Thislot will swallow lies a hell of a lot faster than the truth.Meggan was trembling, and Donal could not persuadeher to come into the hall, so Tina said, You go up to mychamber, Meggie. As soon as I can get away, Ill bringyou some comfits from Mr. Burques kitchen. Donal,stand beside me in the hall and back up whatever I say.When the beautiful young woman stood in the center ofthe hall and raised her hands for silence, she drewevery eye until finally the men left off their curses and
threats while they drank in the flaming hair and proudbreasts. My lord earls, we have all been the victims of aruthless freebooter. My brothers are too ashamed toacknowledge how easily they were gulled in my fathersabsence. You all know the name of the cattle thieveswhove made merry hell in the borders for centuries.Their clan has made it their business to keep the rest ofus at each others throats made it their business to keepthe throne and the kingdom weak to their ownadvantage. No wonder all men shudder when they hearthe name Douglas! Twas Black Ram Douglas sold usCampbell longhorns, Hamilton sheep and Cassillishorses, and provided us with bogus bills of sale. Heknew Donal was needing to stock Castle Kennedy inWigtown before he wed with Meggie Campbell.Arran took up the denigration of the Douglas name, andinside five minutes every man in the vast dining halltook up the cry and was banging his tankard or hissword hilt on the table.Donal felt the sore spot on the top of his head whereDouglas had brought down his broadsword. Christ,women were natural-born mischief-makers! A simpleman didnt stand a chance against a clever woman. Hethanked God for his Meggie.Before Tina left the hall, she was amazed that for oncethey were all in agreement. They would all go to the kingin Edinburgh to lay the blame at the door of Douglas.Donal cast Tina a look of alarm. She shrugged onepretty shoulder and came to a quick decision. She
wasnt going to be left behind to face Black RamDouglas when next he came hotspur to Doon.Every Kennedy servant would be occupied this night,plenishing chambers and serving food and drink. Onlythe earls and Meggan would be provided with rooms, ofcourse. Their men would bed down wherever theycould, either in the hall or in the outbuildingssurrounding the bailey. The stables were so overfilledwith horses that stableboys were working around theclock to shovel out the piles of manure. The men-at-arms were so toughened, especially those from theHighlands, that if there were no shelter, they simply dugthemselves a hole in the ground, no matter the season.In the kitchen Tina found Ada making up a tray for hermother. Damn it, Ive missed all the fun.Gods nightgown, it was like a scene from the Hobs ofHell where they house all the lunatics, Tina said. Youwarned me how coarse and uncouth men were. Theyare bad enough one at a time, but en masse they areunbearable, unreasonable, unruly, and unsavory. WhenArchibald Kennedy arrived, he made Father lookrefined. Then when Archibald Campbell crawled in, hemade the others look like gentlemen!Ada laughed. When Ive taken this up to your mother, Imgoing to leave her in Beth and Kirstys capable handsand slip down to the hall for a bit of fun.Valentina shuddered. Better you than me. Ill try tosoothe Meggie Campbell. No wonder she wants tomarry Donal. He must seem like a bloody prince afterliving with Argyll at Castle Gloom. Oh Ada, before I
forget. I want you to talk Father into taking me toEdinburgh with him.And how in Gods name am I to manage that? Adademanded.Tina winked. Oh, youll think of a way, love.The hour was extremely late when Rob Kennedyextricated himself from his unexpected guests andclimbed the stairs. In the passageway outside his wifeschamber, he was pleased to encounter Ada. He undidthe laces of her gown and fondled her lovely breasts asthey came spilling out. Lass, lass, Im in sore need o areal woman.She slipped her arms about his neck and rubbedagainst his hardness. Valentina wants you to take her toEdinburgh, instead of your wife.He whispered, Elizabeth will have a rapid recovery ifshe thinks shes goin tae the queens courtAda pressed against him I could come with Tina to dofor herand do for you, she promisedHow will I manage it, Ada? Ye know what Elizabeths like.Ada laced up her gown and reached out to unlatch thedoor, Order her to go, and leave the rest to me.As Ada approached the bed to trim the candles,Elizabeth sighed and sat up. Rob, how can you disturbme at such an hour? she asked reproachfullyAdas come tae pack fer ye. We leave fer Edinburgh atdawnAda shot him a withering glance and said, Lady
Elizabeth is in need of peace and quiet after her terriblevoyageI need a womans influence at court, he insistedIts high time Valentina took on some of theseresponsibilities, Ada suggestedIm traveling wi Arran, Cassillis, and Archibald CampbellIt would no be fittin fer an unwed lassElizabeth felt a relapse coming on at mention of thecompany she would be expected to keepIf I came along to look after Valentina, it would be quiteproper, Ada said firmly.Yes, Rob Valentina can go in my stead for once It willgive me a chance to spend time with BethI suppose I could manage, said Rob grudgingly Wheest,woman, ye always get yer ain road He followed Adaoutside the door and whispered, Can I come up later?Youll have to wait until Edinburgh, she said firmly,removing his hands from her breasts. I promisedArchibald Kennedy a bit of a romp. Ill mollify him overthe horses he lost. She winked.He slapped her across the bottom, sighing with regret.So long as yer doin this fer mekeep it in the clan, mind!he admonished.Ada blew him a kiss. He had nothing to worry about;even she would be hard pressed to tackle ArchibaldCampbell, Earl of Argyll.
Chapter 11 Ramsay Douglas received the kings messengerwith resignation. At the beginning of the month, whenhe and his men came on leave, he should have reportedto James, but once they arrived back in Douglas, thehunting had been excellent and lambing time was uponthemno small undertaking when you grazed tenthousand horned sheep. Too, other things hadoccupied him, the wild horses from the Highlands, theGypsies, then the sport of the raids. Time was drawingclose for the Border Wardens Court, when the Scotswho patrolled the marches met with their Englishcounterparts and disputes were discussed andresolved.The king must wish to advise him regarding this formal,seasonal meeting, he decided. He may even wish toattend. James Stewart was a king who ruled his countrywith a stern eye and a strong hand. The kings lawprevailed everywhere, except in the wildest borders andthe remote Highlands.As Ram gave his servants orders to pack his finestclothes for court, he told Gavin to pass the word to the
rest of the Douglases and to the moss-troopers. Hewalked down to the meadow taking note of the scent ofbroom and the golden gorse. It was a far cry from thefilthy vennels of Edinburgh, yet he was ready for achange.He was an adaptable man who fit easily into anybackground, squeezing the most life had to give fromhis days and his nights. A curse fell from his lips as hesaw a solitary Ruffian cropping the thick clover. Did yehave tae be such a savage brute she jumped the hedgetae get away from ye? He mounted the stallion andsearched for over an hour for the lovely mare with asinking feeling inside him. He was truly disappointedthat he had lost her, for already he had been picturingthe exquisite colts the pair would have produced.Edinburgh was only thirty-five miles as the crow flies,but the rugged Pentlands stood between Douglas andAuld Reekie, as the capital was called. Ram Douglaswith his full complement of forty moss-troopers rode intheir leathers, armed to the teeth. They met with notrouble on their journey since any who encounteredthem gave them a wide berth.They watered their horses in the reed beds of a loch,startling its mallards and wild geese, and then in thedistance they saw the long, smoky skyline ofEdinburgh. The city was walled, and they enteredthrough the archway called the West Bow. Theyclattered past St. Giles, where The Maiden was set up atthe Market Cross. It was a delicate piece of machinery,
to be sure, with its great knife counterbalanced by aheavy weight, designed to chop off heads. It alwaysseemed to give his men a raging thirst, for they couldnever get beyond the alehouse on the corner.Inside, one of the patrons unfortunately was wearing abright blue and red plaid that looked suspiciously likethe Hamilton tartan. Two Douglas moss-troopers pickedhim up bodily, tankard and all, and flung him into thecobbled high street. Ram allowed them an hour beforehe called, To me! He showed no mercy for his man whohad just lifted a barmaids skirts and laid her across thetable. If he hadnt been able to get himself a piece ofmutton in an hour, it was his own fault.As they stepped outside the alehouse onto the long,busy street that stretched uphill to Castle Rock, thereseemed to be a preponderance of Hamilton moss-troopers. Ram frowned, then his brow cleared. The kingmust have summoned Patrick Hamilton and his otherborder lords. Ram eyed his men, trying to keep thewolfs grin from his face. What do ye say, lads? Shall wecleanse the thoroughfare?A cheer went up followed by cries of Way fer a Douglas!Make way fer a Douglas! None hearing it could repressa shudder. It had been an ominous cry for threecenturies. They fought and brawled their way to the verygates of Edinburgh Castle, surely the mostbloodstained fortalice in the world. The Hamiltons gavealmost as good as they got, so that by the time the highwest gate, separating the castle from the city street,
clanged shut behind the Douglases, there was not amoss-trooper of either clan who wasnt sporting a blackeye, a bloody lip, or a busted hand. Needless to say,they were thoroughly enjoying their visit to the capital.Bathed, shaved, and resplendent in skintight hose andvelvet doublet, Ram Douglas joined the throng ofambassadors, diplomats, bishops, petitioners, andcourtiers who daily sought audience with JamesStewart. The king was handsome and athletic, thoughhe was nearing forty. His dark auburn hair fell to hisshoulders, and his hazel eyes, though warm andfriendly, were exceedingly shrewd. He eschewed sittingupon his carved throne but preferred to mingle with hispeople, both here at court and outside in the streets ofthe city. He was much loved by his people. He couldtend a sick man, apply a leech, play a practical joke, orcouch a lance with his knights.James spotted Ramsay Douglas immediately. Hisswarthiness set him apart from other men. James didnot acknowledge his presence immediately, however,so that he could observe his behavior when he cameface to face with Patrick Hamilton. James was mildlysurprised when the two borderers ignored each other;then his mouth tightened as he saw Hamiltons swollennose and the raw gash on Douglass cheekbone.Apparently this wasnt their first encounter here. He hadoverlooked their feud, excusing their incompatiblepersonalities. He decided he would put up with it nolonger. He understood them only too well. War ratherthan peace was their normal condition. It was right and
proper to be a fighter for just causes, but in times ofpeace they became rogue animals.He dismissed everyone from the reception room exceptfor his two border lords, and still they ignored eachother. James smoothed his down-curving moustachethoughtfully. Lets sit down, he said, indicating paddedchairs around a carved refectory table.Ill stand, sire, Douglas replied.Yell sit! the king said with authority.Ram sat with his back toward Patrick Hamilton.Wine? offered James, serving them with his own hands.Hamilton shook his head, refusing to drink withDouglas.James exploded. Goddamn it, I dont ask that ye loveeach other! Clan feuds are no a way of lifethey are anevil. An evil I intend tae eradicate!Neither of his lords was cowed, but they were warned.The king was noted for his quick bursts of temper thatwere soon over and served to clear the air He neverheld a grudge. Ye can vent yer spleen on the enemy, noteach other. Ye are both indispensable tae me in theborders. The minute ye went on leave, a Scots wardenwas murdered by an English warden, he told Douglas.Who? asked Ram, his dark brows drawing together.Kerr, said the king, murdered by Heron of Ford.Ram shook his head. The Kerrs and Herons have livedwithin spitting distance for decades with only the borderbetween them. Theyve always been mortal enemiesitwas bound tae happen. Ill hunt Heron down, sire.
The king slammed his fist on the table, making the winegoblets dance. Yell no hunt him down. It is clearly a casefor the Border Wardens Court. Ye will attend and resolvethis dispute.When I patrol the borders, sire, there is little troublebecause I dispense justice, not mercy, Douglas saidfiercely.Patrick Hamilton spoke up. Sire, when old Henry Tudorwas King o England, we could expect redressoccasionally. Thats all gone by the board now that thespoiled boy-king sits on the throne.Ye dinna need tae paint me a picture o Tudorsshortcomings. I married his sister. Theyre like two peasfrom the same worm-eaten pod. Both are shallow,greedy, vain, immature, petulant, and demanding. Theseare their virtues.Ramsays mouth lifted in a rare smile.Christs holy wounds, thought James Stewart, if I sentBlack Ram Douglas to Whitehall, he would serve assuch a dire warning to that overblown bairn Henry VIII,he might even die of fright.Patrick Hamilton opened his mouth to speak, but Jamesheld up his hand. Well take it to the Border Court first.He dismissed the subject and proceeded. Tonight wewill have music and pipers, and tomorrow night there isa play for entertainment. See that ye keep yer swordssheathed and yer men under control.Ramsay gave his moss-troopers leave to go abroad inthe city, knowing that if Hamiltons men were housed atEdinburgh Castle, it would be the only way to avoid
brawls and knifings. For a moment he envied them theiradventure into the notorious windy city. It was dark aspitch in that labyrinth of vennels, or narrowpassageways between tall timbered houses. They stankof damp and piss, cats and rotted rubbish. If you set afoot wrong after a rain, it squelched in filth up to theankle, yet the alehouses were filled with song, goodfood, and merry company, the brothels and gamblinghouses were colorful and filled with laughter and goodsport.Ram entered the banqueting hall at Edinburgh Castle Itwas long, low and dark, with small slit windows set highin its rough-cast walls. Though the floor was flagged, itwas uneven, and a deep runnel ran across it, intendedas a urinal when it was built. So much smoke blew backdown its chimneys, the ceiling had to be whitewashedbetween the beams every month. No expense had beenspared to make it habitable. The walls were coveredwith Flanders tapestries, the floor with woven silk rugsfrom Damascus, the mantels with French velvet. Thedining tables were laid with silver plates, cups andchalices, Venetian crystal bowls, and silver with ornateCeltic patterns. Dominating the room was a thirty-footbanner of the tressured Red Lion of Scotland on its fieldof gold.Janet Kennedy appraised the swarthy Douglas, whowore black velvet, startlingly relieved by his crest, theBleeding Heart of Douglas, embroidered in crimson.She stepped intimately close to him and touched her
finger to the raw gash upon his cheek. She was amusedthat he did not flinch. Thats what comes of havingsaber-sharp cheekbones. His shoulders were so broad,they looked padded, yet she knew otherwise. Shedseen him naked once, swimming in the sea at Tantallon,which belonged to Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus.She knew that his uncle preferred him to his own sonand often lamented that the earldom would be passed tothe wrong Douglas. She allowed herself the indulgenceof imagining Ram naked. She could still remember thedrops of salt water clinging to the dark pelt of his chestand groin. But it was something else about him thatmade her pulse accelerate and her breath catch in herthroat. One glance told a woman he was dangerousShed never tame him if she tried for a hundred years.His pewter eyes made a woman feel she was inherentlyshallow and vain and that all her blandishing cajolerywould get her a fuck and nothing more.Hello, Janet, he said, his eyes boldly dipping into herdécolletage to stare at her scarlet-painted nipples.The king, who adored beautiful women and had aparticular weakness for redheads, came up behind Ramand said, I thought I told ye tae keep yer swordsheathed. He then passed on to the dais table. Forappearances he would dine with the queen, but afterdinner he usually left the board to his heavy-drinkinglords while he indulged vices more to his tasteJanet laughed up at Ram They knew each other quitewell, since she had been Archibald Douglass mistressfor some years. She was indeed beautiful tonight, yet
inexplicably it annoyed him that she reminded him ofValentina Kennedy.Ive risen in the world since last we met, she said lightly.Indeed? Tae go from a Douglas tae a Stewart is a stepdown, in my opinion.Christ, youre still the most arrogant bastard in Scotland!He brought her fingers to his lips. Yer silver tongue is nodoubt what attracted a king. He bowed and passed ondown the room. He turned the head of every woman insight. He deliberately avoided the Countess of Surrey,who had come from England with Margaret Tudor. LadyHoward had six daughters at court, known as thequeens sluts of honor, and she was never without thatspeculative look of a huntress. He had no patience for awoman who was obtuse enough to think a Douglasmight take an English woman to wife. The Kennedysmight have lowered their standards and even the royalStewarts, but Douglas blood was the finest in Scotland,and theyd never taint it.He could not, however, avoid Queen Margaret. Shebeckoned him the moment she spied his darkcountenance. She had only four interests in the world:jewels, clothes, rich food, and sexnot necessarily in thatorder. She was in the market for lovers and no longereven paid lip-service to discretion since the king hadmade no secret of the fact that he would welcome ahorning from any of his nobles kind enough to oblige.Ramsay graciously accepted her invitation to partnerher for dinner, and he caught the amused glance James
bestowed upon him. She cast Douglas a babyish glanceof helplessness so that he would pull out her chair. Shespoke in a childish voice that might have beenprovocatively arousing in a young girl, but Margaretlooked middle-aged and because she could not curbher appetite, her figure was dumpy She spoke offashion, rudely pointing to the clothes of variouswomen in the banqueting hall. She rabbited on,exhausting both the subject and those close by whowere forced to listen. When she was finished with asubject, there was no further contribution to be made ordetail added.Rams eyes traveled about the hall, mentally noting theattractive women, most of whom had been mistress tothe king at one time or another. Marion Boyd was themother of the kings eldest illegimate son, Alexander.Isobel Stewart, the kings own cousin, had borne him adaughter hed called Jean. He had otherbastardsCatherine, James and Ram remembered adark-haired baby girl that James and his belovedMargaret Drummond had made together. MargaretDrummond had been the great love of James Stewartslife. It was even rumored they had secretly wed. She hadbeen exceedingly beautiful with her black hair andcreamy, flawless skin. Ram wondered cynically howlong it would have lasted if the girl hadnt beenpoisoned. It had supposedly left the kingbrokenhearted, yet he had managed to console himselfwith the aid of endless courtesans like Janet Kennedy.Suddenly, Ram became aware of a hand upon his knee.
It trailed up his thigh slowly in blatant invitation. Helooked down at Margaret in disbelief. He was tempted tolet her reach her goal and learn the unflattering truththat he remained flaccid and unaroused, but he foundthe invasion so distasteful, his hand closed about herfingers and firmly lifted her hand until it lay in her ownlap. Margaret looked up at him with hurt bewildermentHe held her eyes with a scorching look of anger andpressed her hand to her womans hot center. Hedeliberately used her own fingers to rub her until hereyes became dilated and glazed, her mouth slack withneed. Once she was fully aroused, he swiftly let go ofher hand and resumed eating. Thirty seconds laterMargaret was on her feet, begging to be excused. Shewould have to finish what the wicked Douglas hadbegun.Ram moved over to sit beside James, with whom he hadmuch more in common. The king was intelligent,curious, high-spirited, warm-hearted, and generous. Hecould discuss ships, trade, crafts, politics, or alchemy.His latest passion was building up a creditable fleet inthe royal shipyards along the River Clyde.Ram, I wanted to talk to ye about mounting cannon onyour mercantile vessels to convert them to warships.My ships are already armed, sire.The king raised his eyebrows. Without my authority?Ram shrugged. Ive letters of marque against thePortuguese. My ships must be able tae defendthemselves when I take my wool tae Flanders. Ive ten
thousand sheep, ye ken.So it is feasible tae convert mercantile ships? Over two-thirds of Scotlands vessels are the property of mysubjects. We keep England, France, Flanders, and theLow Countries supplied with fish, wool, and hides. Howmany ships do ye have? asked the king.I have only three vessels, sire. I could use more. One ishere at Leith, the other two are anchored where theRiver Dee empties into Solway Firth.Castle Douglas is on the Dee. Can ye sail clean up taethe castle?Only with the smallest ship, sire, but we get closeenough, Ram said. Angus has ships, of course.Do his vessels bristle wi cannon? James challenged.Yed best ask Angus.By the Power, yer a canny bastard, James said with agrin. Though technically the kings authority was thehighest in the land, if there was a power behind thethrone, it was Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. If everJames was absent or disposed, Angus was actingRegent of Scotland, but where the king was loved,Angus was feared. I expect sometime tomorrow hell bereturning from Stirling, James said, and was amused atthe look that came into Rams face. Ye chafe underArchibalds authority. James laughed. I didnt think therewas a man breathed who put fear into ye.Ram grimaced. I dont fear himI fear myself and the injuryI may do the bloody dictator one day.The king shook his head with forbearance. Douglasmen are all savages, yet I know that Archibald loves ye
above every other Douglas, and only wants whats bestfor ye.Or whats best for himnot always one and the samething, sire, Ram pointed out. Though they werediscussing the iron-fisted authority of the Earl of Angus,Ram did not make the fatal mistake of underestimatingthe king. There were times when he was easygoing andintimately friendly, but his word was law, and he wouldassert his authority if it meant hanging every last one ofhis hardened Scots lords.The next day brought not only Archibald Douglas andhis son, the Master of Douglas, with two hundred menat their back, but a veritable horde of disgruntlednobles, each vexed and querulous and all clashing onewith another. The king received them en masse, saw hiserror immediately and brought the audience to a close,banishing them to the bowels of Edinburgh Castle untilthey could be summoned one at a time in strict peckingorder.This was enough to make them sink their teeth furtherinto each others throats. When James summoned hisadmiral, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, first, itimmediately plunged Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll,into a black temper. He raged that though Arran was incharge of Scotlands navy, that merely amounted to onenew flagship and a ragtag of dubious floating arks.The king asked Arran about the seaworthiness of hisnew flagship, the Great Michael , then went on to tell him
he intended to keep the shipyards busy buildingvessels from now on. The admiral eyed him, wonderingif Rob Kennedy had been before him with his tale of theEnglish attacking his ship. He kept his mouth shutabout the incident and instead launched into acomplaint about his cattle being raided James raised hiseyebrows and assured him hed get back to him whenhe got to the bottom of it.When Archibald Campbell rolled into the presencechamber, James knew better than to expect a courtier.Only a trained ear could understand his thick Highlandburr, and when he spat on the velvet carpet, Jamesforced himself to remember the invaluable service thispowerful earl had recently rendered in destroying therebellious MacDonald, who had declared himself Lordof the Isles and become a traitorous law unto himself.Im no best pleased yon whoreson Arran takesprecedence oer me in yer favor, Jamie!No such thing, Archibald. You are invaluable to me. Areyou not Master of the Royal Household?A tinpot empty title, Jamie, when stacked against LordHigh Admiral, he said bluntly, and spat again.James sighed. Argyll was a canny old bastard; landgreedy to boot. The kings other nobles feared Argyllsgrowing might, feared that before he was finished, hedhave the whole of the western Highlands under histhumb. Still, it was the only way to keep rebellion down,so James knew he must keep Archibald Campbell loyal.Governor, James said. Governor General of theNorthwest. I think that would be in order.
The old chief grunted with satisfaction, was about tospit, saw the kings forbidding eye upon him, andchanged his mind. Governor general, he beamed. Nowthats summat like a royal post, he said with satisfaction.Now then, Archibald, whats this complaint youvebrought me?Firkin Kennedys raided ma prize longhorns! Yerpermission tae hang the bastards frae their ain trees?The king wasnt amused. I thought your daughter wasbetrothed to Donal Kennedy. Im in favor of such amarriage bond.The governor generals daughter wed tae a bloodyKennedy? he asked in outrage.The king tried to hold his patience and failed. Its gonestraight to your bloody head, Archibald. I can have it offyou in a minute!Ma haid or ma new office? asked Argyll, in a heavyattempt at humor.Christ, not only do I have Kennedys and Hamiltons ateach others throats, now I have Kennedys andCampbells! Settle yer differences, man! Yell sign a bondof marriage and a bond of friendship. And yell do itbefore ye leave.Argyll eyed Jamie, saw he was adamant and wouldbrook no refusal, so he immediately acquiesced. Whenthe daughter of Argyll weds, it should be in the capital.The Highlands are too far off fer Scotlands nobility, saidthe canny Scot.James shook his head at Archibald Campbells audacity.
Stirling, said the king. They can be wed in the chapelroyal. I think even ye will agree it is a signal honor fer theRoyal House of Stewart to offer the hospitality ofStirling. James looked at Argyll fastidiously. Have ye noother attire save sheepskins?Argyll drew himself up with pride. That I ha, Jamie. Itshall be bearskins the nicht!James Stewart rolled his eyes heavenward, not reallyexpecting help from that quarter, and gave audience tothe next noble.Archibald Kennedy, Earl of Cassillis, heaped everycrime in the book upon the shoulders of the Hamiltonsand the Campbells, then started afresh upon ClanDouglas.Christ Almighty! swore the King. Now yere dragginganother clan into it! Wild accusations are useless,Archibald. I need proof.Yer Grace, the Barbary that was meant fer ye was riddentae Edinburgh by ma niece, Lady Valentina Kennedy.Black Ram Douglas sold it tae her and forged a legal billo sale. Ill show ye the horse, sireits in yer ain stables.The kings eyes narrowed. Make no mistake, Cassillis Ishall countenance no clan feuds. If I investigate thematter of raiding and find any of you involved, Ill hangthe lot of you. Cattle reiving, then demanding mail forthe beasts return, had been a way of life until he hadclamped down on it with an iron hand and addedrobbery to murder, arson, and rapethe criminal offensesthat were pleas to the crown and judged by the king. Yecan send in Rob Kennedy, the king said wearily.
James was thunderstruck when he heard Roberts taleof attack on the high seas. While his bloody earls weresavaging each other, the English had committed whatamounted to an act of war. Too bad I didnt have thegood sense to fetch ye in first, Rob. My governorgeneral and my admiral are haggling over sheep andcattle while Scotlands ships are being attacked anddestroyed. When my borders and my ships are attackedby the enemy, I need unity in the realm, but unity isabhorred by all! He crashed his fist upon the blackwalnut table, making the inkwell and sand-caster danceabout. Men often said the king was gifted with thesecond sight, and he often wondered himself if it werenot so. For a long time now he had known an innerurgency to build warships and amass a navy. He hadbuilt the Lion, the Margaret , and the Michael withseasoned oak from Fyfe, but he had the feeling now thathe would need many more vessels and men withexperience to sail them.Thank you, Rob, for coming to me directly with thisnews. Nothing good ever came out of England. Jamesthought of his dumpy wife the moment the words wereout of his mouth, and inevitably Rob Kennedy thoughtof his. I hear that Lady Valentina accompanied ye. I shallbe delighted tae make her acquaintance.Thank ye, Yer Grace, replied Rob, wishing he had lefther at home where Jamess roving eye could not fallupon her. Then James smiled and added, Janet will bedelighted tae have her kinswoman here for a visit. The
king looked appreciatively at Rob. The Kennedy womenare said tae be the most beauteous in the land with hairlike fire.Oh aye, my Tinas a firebrand, sire.We are tae be entertained by a play tonight. I hope yeand yer daughter will join us. Chapter 12 The firebrand was almost without breath at themoment as Ada pulled mercilessly upon the strings ofher corset. Although they had been at court less than afull day, both women were aware of the contrastbetween Tinas gowns and the costumes displayed bythe courtiers.Mens doublets were now wide at the shoulders withpadding, the sleeves slashed with silken undershirtsplucked through the vents. The womens gowns werequilted and embroidered, and the queens weredecorated by dangling jewel egrets. Bodices were so
low in the front, they were shocking, and so high in theback, they were wired so that the high collars were likeframes for the face.The fashion that Valentina had immediately fallen in lovewith and that Ada had already copied for her was afrilled and pleated creation worn under the chin like asmall plate and called a ruff. Adas needle had loweredthe neckline on Tinas most vivid gown, an emeraldgreen velvet, and when she fastened the snow-whiteruff and brushed out her silken mass of flaming copperhair, she hoped she would not look too gauche.Tina shared a chamber with Meggan Campbell, andwhen the two girls entered Edinburgh Castles long, dimbanqueting hall, they were vastly relieved to see DonalKennedy and Patrick Hamilton walk a direct path toclaim them. Meggan clutched Donals hand almostdesperately, and the couple sought a quiet cornerwhere they could talkTina smiled up at Patrick with genuine pleasure. Id noidea you were in Edinburgh.Nor I you, he said, his eyes telling her how lovely hefound her, his brain giving thanks that his nose was nolonger swollen.Tina placed her hand upon his arm and bent toward himconfidentially. Your father descended upon Doonaccusing us of cattle rustling, and then my fatheraccused yours of not keeping the seas safe. It was like acircus, especially when the clowns arrived. The upshotwas our families rushed to the king to lay theircomplaints and have him settle the disputes. I was
afraid wed never be allowed to see each other again.He covered her hand and squeezed it. Sweet, I think Iwould die without ye.She withdrew her hand and slapped him playfully.Flatterer! Suddenly she felt nervous. The hall seemed tobe filled with Douglas men, easily identified by their darkdress tartan and their Bleeding Heart crests. Two of thedark-visaged fellows were openly staring at her now,and she felt her cheeks suffuse as Patrick said curtly,Keep yer eyes tae yerselves!She whispered, The ugly fellows seem to beeverywhere.Patrick told her, The earl rode in todayafraid tae movewithout two hundred at his back.Her eyes danced, but she whispered a warning: ForGods sake, Patrick, have a care for your tongue. TheEarl of Angus is all-powerful and ruthless.Im no afraid of Archibald Douglas, he said with recklessbravado.Tina shuddered. The name Archibald turns men intomonsters.Wheres Meggan? demanded a rough voice. Thepiercing eyes of Argyll bored into her so that she did notdare to lie. Shes with my brother, my lord earl, Tinamanaged.To her vast relief he grunted and replied, Thats good. Idinna want her flauntin hersel aboot the hall until shesraped. The narrow morals he set for his daughter in noway applied to himself. He leered down the front of Tina
Kennedys gown and in a coarse whisper that carriedsaid, Yer bonnie enough tae make an auld man scorchThen he thumped Hamilton on the back. Careful yedinna receive a hornin!Tinas cheeks flamed, and Patrick flushed. Old lecher! Nolady is safe from his coarse tongue.See what I mean about the name Archibald? MeggieCampbell is incapable of flaunting herself. Her eyes litwith amusement again. While I She let her words trailaway, and Patrick finished her sentence While ye attractevery man from sixteen to sixty. Damn, the hall iscrowded tonight. As soon as the meat is ready, there willbe such an undignified rush for seats, I think Id best goand secure ours, or well find ourselves below the salt.That would never do for the admirals son. She laughed.Nor his betrothed, he murmured low.Her eyebrows rose at his presumption, but she was farfrom displeased that he was beginning to commit to aserious relationship. Suddenly she stiffened as a pair ofvery possessive hands squeezed her waist and abeautifully modulated voice said from behind, Honeylove, slip away before the play is done, and Ill join you inbed as soon as I can get away.With an angry retort upon her lips she swung about andlooked into the face of an extremely handsome manwith dark auburn hair and beard. The kings hazel eyeswidened as he realized the lady was not his mistress,Janet Kennedy. I beg yer pardon, my lady. I mistook yefor another.At that moment the other radiant redhead appeared at
his elbow, and the womens resemblance was somarked that they all laughed and knew each othersidentities immediatelyYou could only be Lady Valentina Kennedy, the kingsaid, kissing her hand.And you could only be the king. She curtsied gracefullyand with mock innocence asked, Your Grace, does thatmean your invitation is withdrawn?His hazel eyes held warm admiration mixed with thesecret amusement they alone shared. Nay, it is an openinvitation that will stand through the years. Jamesintroduced her to Janet, who was thicker than Tinathrough the middle, but no mans eyes would ever noticewith her nipples deliciously exposed and painted redlike two ripe cherries. James excused himself to join thequeen on the dais and murmured to Janet, Later.A pair of pewter eyes across the room had watched asthe king laid familiar hands upon Valentina Kennedy. Itmerely confirmed what he had always knownthatKennedy women were whores, he thought withcontempt. As the tall, slim figure of Patrick Hamiltonclaimed Tina Kennedy, Ram Douglas felt pity for hisenemy. Hed be wearing horns before he was even abridegroom. He had no idea he was the third man tothink of a horning within minutes of glancing at thehoneypot.Janet joined her Kennedy cousin and Patrick Hamilton,surprised that coarse Rob Kennedy had bred such adazzling creature. She remarked upon it: The contrast
between the men and women of Clan Kennedy neverceases to amaze me.Tinas eyes swept over her brother Donals barrel-chestand sparse carroty hair, then they passed over herfathers coarse, ruddy person and on to the Kennedychief, Archibald, Earl of Cassillis. She repressed ashudder and smiled at Janets radiant beauty.Janet said, I remember your aunt Damaris at herwedding. I was only a young girl at the time, but I wasquite overcome with envy for her delicate beauty and forthat sinfully handsome Alex Douglas.Both women thought of Damariss death, and Janet, ona sigh, said softly, He was a man to die for.Tina almost said something about the degenerateDouglas men, then bethought herself that Janet hadbeen mistress to the Douglas chief and shudderedinstead.Patrick put an arm about her shoulders. Surely yer notcold in this crowd?She arched her brows at his familiar hand, and heremoved it with a murmured apology. He knew betterthan to treat her like one of the easy ladies of the court.Janet and Tina had instantly decided there would be norivalry between them. They were fast friends upon thebriefest acquaintance, and Tina spoke quite intimatelywith Janet, who filled her in regarding half the people atcourt.Is it true that the king wears an iron belt of remorsebecause he feels guilt over his fathers death? Tinaasked.
Janets lips tightened momentarily. Tis true, though I railagainst the obscene thing. Tis so heavy, it would crippleany other man. She leaned closer. I do talk him out ofwearing it to bed since Ive been with him. Hells teeth, tispenance enough to have to live in Edinburgh Castle andbe wed to Margaret Tudor!After the meal, while the court remained seated at table,the play began. Valentina was caught up with thenovelty of it all, when suddenly the gnarled Argyll,resplendent in his black bearskin, confused the actorswith reality and joined the argument and theswordfighting. The king and the more sophisticated ofhis courtiers were helpless with laughter until it becameapparent that Argyll was going to dispatch the actorswith his mighty swordarm.The Earl of Angus directed his son, young ArchibaldDouglas, to get Argyll under control and explain mattersto him, a formidable task that the faint at heart would notattempt. Douglas did a creditable job of controllingArgyll, and the assembly applauded him with many aribald comment about Lord Bleary.Janet said, There is something splendid about Douglasmen. She was not looking at the young Master ofAngus, however, but at his powerful father, the highestearl in the land. Valentina could see she was still half inlove with him.Janet sighed and arose. It is time for me to withdraw, Ithink. I shall look forward to seeing you tomorrow.Perhaps we could ride together.
As the tables were cleared away for dancing, PatrickHamilton presented Tina to the queen. Though her faceand figure were heavy and plain, her gown was not. Itwas black velvet, embroidered all over with white silkenTudor roses whose centers were diamonds, pearls, andrubies. As Tina went down before her, Queen Margaretlooked her over, saw no array of jewels, and decidedshe was no rival. She chose to overlook the fact that thegirls face and hair were adornment more radiant thanany jewels.Lady Valentina, how sweet of you to honor me bywearing my green and white Tudor colors.Tina had not been aware of it until the queen pointed itout The queen continued, Your dear mother is English,of course. That is why you have such pretty mannersand a cultured voice. This is Nan Howard, said thequeen, introducing her lady-in-waiting. Beside thequeens sallowness, the Howard girl looked like a flowerfrom an English rose garden. She was all lovely roundcurves with golden hair and blue eyes, yet the look shecast Tina was most unlovely. It was sullen, in fact, whichwas puzzling until Valentina saw her glance at PatrickHamilton with accusation in her eyes.Tina was almost amused. She negligently shrugged onepretty shoulder before she turned away from the girl tobe introduced to her father Lord Howard, Earl of Surrey,was acting as ambassador to Scotland at the moment.He was a close confidant of the queen and acted assecret liaison between Margaret Tudor and her brotherHenry, the new all-powerful king of England. Howards
daughters had inherited his blond hair and fine Englishskin, which gave him a youthful appearance, belying hisalmost fifty years.Howard raised Valentinas fingers to his lips and madeher an elegant leg. Though dressed in the height offashion, his clothes were in impeccable taste. Thecontrast between Howard and the Scots nobles clearlyshowed he was from a more civilized culture. He was nofop, however. He had a military bearing and hadcommanded forces for the old Tudor king when he wasalive. Lady Valentina, may I tell you that you are morebreathtaking than your mother? In my youth I spent timein Carlisle, and I admit freely that Elizabeth broke myheart when she married Robert Kennedy.Tina rewarded him with a smile, thinking how nice itwould be to have a father with such polished manners.Will you save me a dance, my lady? I intend to givethese younger men a run for their money.Farther down the hall, Ramsay Douglas praised hiscousin Archibald in front of his father, the Earl of Angus,in hope of raising his uncles opinion of his own son.That took both courage and diplomacy, Ram said.The rash Master of Douglas replied, It felt good tae hacontrol of Argyll, even if only fer a few minutes.Ram made no comment but thought it showed a lack ofself-control to display his lust for power quite so openly.Still, his father was so dominant, it was hard to get outfrom under his shadow. Though aging, Angus still ruledthe whole Douglas clan, not just his son, with an iron
fist. Ram smiled wryly. At least a dozen women had theireyes upon them as they stood talking, and he knew thatif he spurned their offers, they would gladly settle forthe powerful Earl of Angus, despite his age.As the music started for the dancing, Ram said low tohis cousin, Here comes the queen. I would rather avoidher advances.What do ye mean, man? asked young Archie.Ram cast him a cynically amused glance. She seems taehave developed a craving for Douglas flesh. Ram sawraw speculation come into his cousins eyes.By God, Ill ha at her! he said aggressively, and Ramsuppressed a shudder, thinking it would take a greatdeal of either fortitude or ambition to ride that gray mare.He was cynical enough to wonder if his cousin acted onorders from his father; then his cynicism went one stepfurther, and he wondered if Angus had pushed Janetinto the kings bed for his own devious purpose.Patrick Hamilton led Valentina Kennedy onto the floorfor the slow and sensual pavane. She concentrated onthe gliding steps, carefully keeping pace with Patrick,who had obviously danced at court before. There weremany elegantly gowned ladies dancing, and Tina didnot wish to appear unsophisticated before that polishedassembly.As the slow measure advanced, she gained confidenceand began to enjoy the music. Everyone changedpartners as the men circled one way and the ladies theother. Valentina was shocked to find herself face to facewith Black Ram Douglas. His pewter eyes went
insolently up and down her person, as if he weremeasuring her with his own personal yardstick andfound her lacking in every way.Here was a very different Ramsay Douglas from theuncouth wretch in thigh boots and leathers. He wore ajeweled codpiece, begod! It drew her eyes, then shecould have died when she felt herself blushing.Suddenly all her fine confidence dissolved. She feltyoung and awkward and very countrified. He was sodamned elegant, so arrogant and utterly sure of himself.She remembered with deep humiliation how he hadstraddled her in the grass, and suddenly she could notbear the thought of his hands touching her again. Shegathered all her courage, lifted first an elegant bareshoulder, then her chin, then deliberately walked off thedance floor.Hotspurs jaw clenched like a lump of iron at the insult.All Douglas males were blood-proud, but this particularDouglas was nine-tenths pride. He knew a murderousurge to pursue her, to put his hands about that slenderneck below the pretty ruff and snap it. His rage blindedhim to the open invitation of other women, and he leftthe hall and went alone to his bed that night.Patrick Hamilton saw Valentina depart and hurried afterher. He caught up with her outside in the chilly night air.Tina, are ye feeling unwell?I needed fresh air, she temporized.The smoke from the candles is enough tae choke astrong man, but theres a cold wind off the North Sea
tonight. He moved close to slip a warming arm abouther shoulders.Patrick, I walked off the dance floor because my nextpartner was to be Ramsay Douglas.She felt his hands tighten into fists, and he demanded,He hasnt made advances toward ye, has he?No, no. We cannot tolerate each other. She shivered. Hedrew her against his body. Let me warm ye, he saidthickly. Her scent stole to him, and the wind blew a tressof her hair against his cheek, arousing him instantly. Hislips sought hers, and as their mouths fused, helengthened and hardened with a dizzying need. Tina,Tina, come tae my chamber. We can be snug up there.She pulled away from him. Patrick, you know I cannotHis raging desire made him ignore her refusal. Hepressed her urgently. Well soon be betrothedlet me loveye, Tina? His insistent lips came down upon hers again,and his hands pulled her hips against his hard sex.Valentina knew she must leave him before he lostcontrol. She was not ready for this yet. The court mightbe amoral, but she was not Patrick, let me go! We bothknow what would happen if I came to your chamber.Christ, he could see her in his bed, feel her beneath hishard body. Talking about what would happen sent theblood beating in his temples and his cock. She pried hishands from her hips and said, In the morning I wouldhate myself, and I would hate you too. I must findMeggie Campbell and go up now.Patrick groaned. Donal Kennedy was likely fuckingMeggie Campbells brains out at this moment, but of
course he couldnt say such a thing to Lady Valentina.He had to let her go back inside alone because it wouldbe a few minutes before he could even walk.Nan Howard saw Valentina Kennedy return to the hallwithout Patrick Hamilton. She took hold of her sisterKats hand and went outside to look for him. She didnthave to go far before she saw his tall, slim figure in theshadows. She went forward to him, while Kat hoveredbehind her. She was shorter, plumper than Tina, but ohso much more willing. Patrick, she said in her little girlvoice, have you been avoiding me?Of course not, he said huskily. Dancing bores me.She giggled prettily. Kat and I are bored too. Why dontwe join you? Im sure you can think of something toamuse us, Patrick. She took both his hands in hers, andhe raised first one and then the other to his lips andsuggestively traced his tongue across her palms. Heheard the quick intake of her breath that told him he hadaroused her. He was most familiar with Nan Howardssensuality and imagined her naked, her soft pink fleshand blond curls spread invitingly for him.He cleared his throat and wondered how they could ridthemselves of Kat. He said low, The game I have in mindis best played by twoPatrick, any game that two can play can be even morefun with three players, unless of course you aremonkish by nature.Hamiltons eyes widened in surprise. Christ, he knew theHoward daughters were exceeding sportive, but if he
wasnt mistaken, they were both asking for a taste of hisprick, and in the state Tina Kennedy had left him, he wasready for them. I just happen tae have a small cask ofaqua vitae in my chamber that cries out to be tasted, heinvited with a wink.The rooms in Edinburgh Castle were cheerless to saythe least, but this night, in Patrick Hamiltons bed, the triocouldnt have been more cozy. The three of them rolledabout as the girls playfully disrobed their willing victim.Patricks lust was such that he took Nan almostimmediately, without preliminaries. When Kat saw howwilling and able he was to perform, she pressed hernakedness to his humping back, crying, Dont begreedy, Nan! Save some for me.As Patrick lay sprawled between them to catch hisbreath, they plied him with drink. He assessed Kat withheavy-lidded eyes. Her hair was a darker gold than hersisters, and her belly wasnt nearly so rounded. Hedecided he hadnt had such a fine piece in months.Kat dipped her finger into the alcohol flavored withcaraway and painted the head of Patricks cock. As itstarted to rise again, she dipped her head between hislegs and licked him, giggling, Now I know why they callit liquor.He groaned. Christ, was he dreaming, or had he diedand gone to Heaven? My angels. He sighed softly,closing his eyes.The two sisters exchanged meaningful looks across thebared body of the Earl of Arrans heir.
The moment Tina returned to the hall she was claimedby Lord Howard. She gave a little sigh of relief knowingshe would be perfectly safe in his hands and allowedhim to lead her off for a dance. At first she thought shewas imagining it, but as his hands became more andmore playful, she knew it was not her imagination.He held her much too close as his hand caressed herbottom. Tina was loath to make another scene, so shesaid pointedly, There is Lady Howard. You must havethe next dance with your wife.He chuckled. My wife gives all her attention to theyounger men, hoping to lure husbands for our sixdaughters. Younger men, however, do not have the skilland experience of a mature man. He bent toward herear. We make much better lovers.Howard was hot for the beautiful young redhead. Hethought to follow the king and take a Kennedy lass forhis mistress.Tinas steps faltered. My Lord Howard, I promised tolook after Meggie Campbell. I really must go.He looked down at her with a most understanding andindulgent smile. What a fool I am. You are reluctantbecause you are still a little virgin, arent you?Tina was shocked enough to blurt, Yes, I am!He gave her a quick kiss upon the lips and whispered, Illlet you go this time. But when you have lost your littlecherry, come back to your uncle Howard and let himteach you all the refinements.This time Tina ran from the hall. There wasnt a man who
lived and breathed who wasnt ruled by his prick!Apparently Englishmen were as lecherous as Scots. ***The next morning, Valentina, thinking there was safetyin numbers, joined a merry group who decided to rideabroad. They wouldnt have much of a gallop in thegrounds atop Castle Rock, but fresh air and exercisewould be welcome after the dark chambers inside theancient fortalice.The king joined Tina and Janet Kennedy inside the longstables and insisted upon saddling the ladies horseshimself. He ran an appreciative hand over Tinasdamson-colored Barbary. Shes a rare beauty, heenthused. James had as keen an eye for a filly as he hadfor a woman.Thank you, sire. Tina beamed.He lifted her into the sidesaddle with his own hands,and Tina was quite breathless to be shown suchgallantry by the king himself. He brought Janets marefrom its box-stall, and Tina, eyeing her cousinsfashionable riding clothes with envy, said, My habit issadly out of style.Janet lifted the hem of Tinas cream riding skirt and toreopen the small slit all the way up the seam so that Tinaslacy black stockings and garters showed daringly. Voilŕ!Now you are up-to-the-minute.
Tina laughed down at her, knowing they were sistersunder the skin. She raised her eyes as a tall figureapproached. There you are, Patrick. I feared you wouldstay abed all morning. His Highness had to saddle mymare for me.Patrick flushed and murmured a profuse apology. Tinawalked her Barbary out into the pale sunshine of thecastle courtyard to give the men space to saddle up theother horses. She had not ridden thirty yards when shecame face to face with Ramsay Douglas.He stared in disbelief when he saw the mare uponwhich he had set his heart being ridden by the spoiledKennedy bitch. A red mist of rage almost blinded him.He knew exactly how she had come to be in possessionof his property. The fucking Gypsy had gone directlyfrom the knife contest with him to steal his prize mareand bestow it upon his fancy piece. He snatched thebridle with a firm hand and ordered, Dismount!The exotic fillys tail stood straight up, and she dancednervously sideways. Tina looked down into themurderous pewter eyes and raised her riding crop.Rams lips curved downward as he saw her intent, andhe wrenched the crop from her fingersbut not before ithad reopened the gash upon his cheekbone.Take your filthy hands off my Indigo, Hotspur! sheordered icily.Your Indigo? he repeated incredulously, his eyes rakingher shamefully displayed legs and garters. This horse ismine, stolen from me by your Gypsy lover! He flung theriding crop from his hand and reached up to drag her
from the saddle.The riding crop hit Archibald Kennedy, Earl of Cassillis,across the chest, and he confronted Douglas withexploding rage. Ye reiving borderer! I knew it was yelifted ma horses, ye thievin whoreson! I suspected yefrom the first, and now heres the proof the king needed.James Stewart, Janet Kennedy, and Patrick Hamiltonemerged from the stables to overhear the quarrel.Valentina stood between the two men, who were readyto murder each other. When Ram Douglas pushed heraside, Patrick Hamilton sprang forward, drawing hisrapier. Douglas swung around, instantly unsheathinghis sword before he saw the king.The Earl of Cassillis snatched up the bridle of theexcited filly, which was now rolling her large eyes in afrenzied panic. Yer Grace, here is the very special mare Iintended as a gift before the thieving Douglas lifted herfrom under my nose.James Stewart was furious at his brawling, uncivilizednobles. He glared at the savage Douglas and Hamiltonuntil they sheathed their weapons. He refused to bandywords with them before the ladiesin fact, he did not trusthimself to even speak with them at the moment. Butdeal with them he would. He took the lovely animal andgentled it with a firm hand and a soft voice. Then hestepped forward and placed the reins into Tinas hand.Lady Valentina, please accept my gift to you. None othercould grace the lovely creature as well as you, my dear.He turned to Janet. Ladies, please take your ride. I have
some pressing business.The ladies hastily departed, and the king turned uponhis heel and walked briskly back to the castle. The threeremaining males stood in the courtyard, their bloodhigh, screaming for release, yet impotent to do anythingabout it.Within the hour Douglas and Hamilton were curtly toldto gather their moss-troopers and depart for the BorderWardens Court. Both knew they had earned theirmonarchs wrath and would need to do a creditable jobwhen they met up with their English counterparts. Theyhad not yet been punished for their raiding and knew itwould hang over their heads until they returned fromthe Wardens Court in a week or two.That night Rob Kennedy sat up in bed enjoying theview. Ada removed the modest gray gown of a tiringwoman to reveal her daring scarlet petticoat and corset.Robs eyes kindled. Come here, lass, he begged thickly.Ada came to the bedside, allowing him to unfasten herlaces so that her voluptuous breasts spilled into his bighands. He groaned with pleasure as her dark brown hairfell across his barrel-chest, and she bent forward to givehim a generous kiss.Ada felt no guilt at the adultery. Elizabeth would havebeen devastated if shed suspected, but Ada knew thesex act was a duty for her mistress, a duty that sheavoided altogether these days.Rob marveled at the differences of women. Ada was thesame age as his wife, had never been pampered or
indulged in her life as a servant, yet she was moreexciting to a man in her plain gray gown than anycourtesan. At his age he was no longer driven by lust,and his arousals happened only occasionally in amonths time, but Ada made him as horny as a ruttingstag.He couldnt get her out of her scarlet underclothes fastenough, but she playfully slapped his clumsy handsaway, lest he tear the fabric in his haste, and finishedundressing herself. She did it slowly, sensually,exposing a shoulder, a thigh, the curve of her back, sothat by the time her breasts and bum cheeks werebared, he knew only that he had to have her beneathhim while he plunged. He labored and groaned, hisbreath heaving, his face reddening alarmingly.Rob, are you all right, love? she asked softly.He grunted his delight, sweat breaking out across hisbrow and chest.Her fingers brushed his temples, and she said softly, Letme on topyoure going at it too hard.He plunged a few more times, realized she wasprobably right, and rolled over onto his back. Ada clungto his great body so that she rolled with him, then laystill to allow him to catch his breath. Then she kneltabove him and continued the plunging motion hedbegun. Ada built to orgasm quickly and allowed him tosee and hear how much pleasure he was giving her.She was wise enough to realize how it thrilled the maleto know he could give an aroused female deep
satisfaction. Within a minute of her own writhing vocalclimax, Rob Kennedy spilled himself profusely.She rested in the curve of his arm, both of them gratefulfor what they had shared.Lass, he said hoarsely, I wish we could stay fer a month,but its no to be.This is our last night?Aye. I did ma duty by informin James about the Englishattackin ma ship, so theres no need tae tarry. Hepaused, then confided, Cassillis practically ordered mehome. The kings enraged over these clan feuds, andour chief seems tae think our Tina inflames the men taeviolence.I think its best we go. The king has a weakness forredheads, and in truth it does her reputation no good tobe in the company of Janet.Dear God, her mother would run mad if she knew, Robsaid helplessly.Well, she wont know, so stop your worrying. Tina hasmore good sense than to breathe the name JanetKennedy to her mother.Rob pushed away thoughts of Elizabeth as he filled hishands and his eyes with Adas generous globes.In the royal bed James Stewart breathed the name overand over. He adored women in general and worshippedthis one in particular. Janet, Janet, he crooned,entwining his fingers in the luxuriant red hair spreadacross the satin embroidered pillows. Though he wasforty, he had the body of an athlete. He rode every day,
as often as he couldboth horses and women. He had apreference for red hair that was almost a fetish, anobsession. He gazed at the burning bush at the apex ofher thighs and lowered his mouth to it reverently.James, she whispered, I think Im carrying your child.He lifted his head and gazed at her with joy. Jan, thatsmarvelous! He loved all his children. Hell be a littleredhead like the two of us. He kissed the round curve ofher belly reverently.Your hair is auburn, a far more beautiful shade thanmine, she protested.Not to me, sweet, he murmured against her flamingmons, lost in her womans scent.She too was delighted at the prospect of the child. Hewould keep her in luxury for the rest of her life, as he didall the women who had borne him children. His councildidnt object to his mistresses and bastardseach newone reconfirmed that he was not tainted by his fathersdepraved and degenerate homosexuality. Sodomycould not be stomached by the rough, masculine Scots.Later, as they lay on the floor before the fire, where theirlast bout of coupling had landed them, James absentlystroked her hair.Whats troubling you? she questioned as she fingeredhis roughened skin made by his chain of remorse. Nobody hair grew in a wide circle about his middle.The English, he replied. Nay, if Im truthful, its my ScotsClan feuds only if we are united and stand together canwe keep England at bay. The clans have been at their
favorite pastime, cattle raiding, again.The Campbells and the Hamiltons? she asked.He nodded and bit her ear playfully, And you damnedKennedys are as bad as any, if not worse.Ha! What about Douglas? she demanded.The king shook his head. Young Hotspur would raid justfor the pleasure of harassing the bloody Hamiltons. Notbad enough we have a running feud between Hamiltonand Douglasfeuds have almost erupted betweenCampbell, Kennedy, and Douglas. I told Campbell taeget his daughter wed tae Donal Kennedy as soon asmay be and ordered him tae sign a bond of friendship. Iagreed tae have the wedding at StirlingWhy not a marriage bond between my cousin Robsdaughter and Douglas? Janet asked.It wouldnt be the first marriage between Clan Kennedyand Clan Douglas, he said, remembering.It shouldnt have gone wrong. It was a good match,Janet said.It was a perfect match, James agreed. Both their great-grandfathers married daughters of King Robert III.Damn, Id love tae see an alliance between Kennedy andDouglas. Id also like a bond between Hamilton andDouglas, but both houses have only sons.I have the solution! Rob Kennedy has two daughters.Marry one to Hamilton, the other to Douglas, then theyllall be united. Order them to do it, and order them all tosign a bond of friendshipThe king smiled. Ah Jan, ye make it sound so simple.Order this and order that. Black Ram Douglas wouldnt
be best pleased tae be ordered tae take a wife.Hes past thirty, its time he had an heir! she pointed out.Over time, chuckled James. Hes one of my finest youngwarriors, Jan. Im counting on him tae use his vesselstae harry the English if their ships keep up their piracy. Idinna want him pissed off at me for ordering him taewed.She moved sensuously against him and lifted hermouth to his. Sire, you are not nearly devious enoughHis shaft raised its head and stretched itself like ananimal awakening from a nap. Call in your earls and tellthem to put an end to the feuds, or youll be forced tohang a few of your lords. Cassillis will soon give RobKennedy his orders. I admit you might have to bangyour fist on the table to make Angus know you meanbusiness, but I dont think even Ramsay Douglas woulddare defy his chief.She was right, James admitted. To say ArchibaldDouglas was frighteningly arrogant was anunderstatementhe was insufferable. As the king coveredJanets silken body, he wondered once again whyAngus had allowed this delectable woman to slipthrough his fingers.
Chapter 13 James Stewart decided this time that there wassafety in numbers. He summoned three of his earlsCassillis, Arran, and Angusto a private meeting andassumed a cold, implacable attitude. Though theHamilton and Douglas clans were sworn enemies, Arranand Angus never let it interfere with their civility towardeach other. As chiefs, they were above petty feuds andleft the quarreling to their clans.The king looked at each in turn and finally said with anote of contempt, Are ye growing too old tae control yerclans?They were on the defensive immediatelyexactly wherehe wanted them. He proceeded with a blisteringdenunciation upon their abilities to put an end to theraids. I want ye, nay I demand that ye eradicate theseraids! They are an evil to which you turn a blind eye, butIm warning ye for the last time, I will no longer toleratefighting, burning, and taking booty among ourselves.James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, tried to point out thatthere would be feuds as long as two Scots remainedalive in the realm, but the king crashed his fist downupon the oak table. Silence! Must I need spell outchapter and verse the various means at yer disposal?His voice was raised in anger, which was unusual for
the even-tempered monarch. Bonds must be signed.Then if the bonds are broken, hanging is justified!Cassillis swallowed hard, for he knew damned well hisKennedys had been raiding. Arran too felt his necknotonly had his Hamiltons likely been lifting cattle, the kingknew theyd been brawling with the Douglas up anddown the Cannongate. On top of that, as admiral, hehad to take the censure for allowing English ships toharry Scots vessels.Only Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, remainedundaunted. He was a borderer, and a good bordererbelieved that the goods of all men in time of necessitywere by the law of nature common. The king had a goalin mind, but he had yet to reveal what he wished toaccomplish with this passionate harangue. Angusveiled his shrewd eyes and waited.The king turned to Archibald Kennedy. Cassillis, you arethe pivotal means tae an end of these hostilities. Bloodbonds are the best means of forging together rebelliousclans tae preserve the peace. Ive already spoken taeArgyll. I want ye tae see that Donal Kennedy weds theCampbell girl immediately. Now Cassillis, yeve twonieces. I want one tae go tae Arran and one tae Douglas.The Earl of Arran knew his son Patrick was ready todeclare for Lady Valentina Kennedy, so he bowed hishead in acquiescence. Angus, however, knew HotspurDouglas would welcome marriage as heartily as thehangmans noose. He opened his mouth to protest, butJames said smoothly, Angus, you know how a bond ofmarriage cements good relations. Since yer son married
Bothwells lass, theres been peace between yer clanswhere once there was nothing but hostility.Archibald Douglass mouth turned down at the corners.The Hepburn wench enjoyed indifferent health and hadyet to produce an heir. He almost told the king to forgetwedding plans for Ram Douglas, then bethought howthe clan was in need of heirs to carry on the bloodline.Wed no do well tae keep the best blood in Scotlandbottled up when theres so many could do wi a drop,Douglas said with a contemptuous look at the others.The king stood up, and they knew the audience wasover. See to it, he added in conclusion.As Cassillis and Arran departed, James said, Angus, aword.Archibald paused, wondering shrewdly what elseJames was after.The king possessed great shrewdness too, however. Iassume all yer vessels are armed with cannon?Douglas nodded in a guarded fashion.The king continued, If it becomes necessary, I want yetae put them at Ramsays disposal. I know hes not abovea bit of pirating.Sire, Arrans yer bloody admiral, Douglas pointed out.James rolled his eyes. I know, man. Is it any wonder Ineed the help of Douglas? James let out an inaudiblesigh. At last he had won him over.Ramsay Douglas and his hardened moss-troopersusually wore scuffed leathers and rode about the wild
borders armed to the teeth. Other years he had attendedthe Border Wardens Court attired this way and eyedwith contempt the English penchant for pageantry. Thistime, however, his instincts told him to arrive with allpomp and ceremony.He arrived at the meeting in Berwick-on-Tweed in black,half armor, inlaid with gold. His helmet sported a tossingblack plume. His mens breastplates gleamed in the sun.Four trumpeters with their horns at the ready led thecavalcade, followed by two standard-bearers in coloredtabards carrying the Red Lion on Gold of Scotland. Nextcame a piper in Douglas dress tartan, and directlybehind him a flag bearing the Bleeding Heart ofDouglas.Ramsay dismounted from his massive black stallionand tossed back his crimson-lined cloak. His black headwas erect with pride, and he smiled inwardly, thinking,top this, Dacre!Lord Dacre, the English chief warden of the marches,had been given new orders by his spoiledmegalomaniac of a monarch, Henry VIII. He was to raidinto and devastate Scotland as far as he could. Henryhad an overpowering ambition to gain control ofScotland, and he would use any means to attain hisgoalconquest, assassination, bribery, or even intriguewith his sister Margaret, Scotlands queen.James Stewart knew Henry had his pig-greedy eyesfocused upon his realm, but he had no idea to whatlengths Henry would go to attain anything or anyone hedesired.
Most of the small border clans posed no threat to Dacre,even the ones who were wardens like Ferguson, Elliot,and Lindsay, whom he discounted as without muchpower or influence. It was the larger, more powerfulclans like Hamilton who would pose trouble since thechief was so high in the Scots kings favor, he had beennamed admiral. And of course he feared Douglas. Henryknew the voracious ambition and power hunger of ClanDouglas. They were probably the most powerful familyin Scotlandat least, they had the greatest armedmightand they were easily the richest.Dacre came to the wardens meeting with his ownheralds and flags, but for once the English wereoutdone at their own game. Lord Dacre had a long nose,and whenever he addressed a Scot, he looked down itas if he smelled something rancid.Lord Ramsay Douglas was the highest-ranking Scotsborder lord, and he presided over the court with Dacre.There was a panel of judges made up of the wardensfrom both sides of the border; then there was a jurychosen from English and Scots families who lived oneither sideRam reviewed the usual list of cases that were to beheard, which dealt with thieving, raiding, and the liftingof sheep, cattle, and other goods Some were chargedwith poaching, and there were a couple of rapes, butnowhere could Ram Douglas see the case uppermost inhis mind: Kerr versus Heron. Douglas pointed theomission out to Dacre.
Ridiculous. Heron killed no Scot! Dacre said firmly.Perhaps not, said Douglas, holding on to his famoustemper, but he is charged with the murder of Kerr, andwe will try him in this court.Dare you challenge my word? demanded Dacre in hismost supercilious manner.I challenge ye if yeve guts enough tae step outside.You would love to reduce this court session to afreebooters brawl, I have no doubt. Your temper andlack of self-control are perhaps why you are calledHotspur!Douglas froze him with a dark look. No, the name wasgiven tae me because of our motto, Never Behind. I ama leaderalways the first in battle or any other fight. Thefirst tae right a wrong, the first tae punish injustice. Hecontinued without pause, You will summon Heron taepresent himself within twenty-four hours.Dacre thought discretion the better part of valor andnodded his agreement.The next day, when Heron was conspicuous by hisabsence and Ram again challenged Dacre, the latterspread his hands. Heron was nowhere to be found.Ramsay looked at him incredulously. There were verydirect means of making an invisible man appear, bysimply threatening to torture one of his offspring. Ramrealized this was a farce. His first instinct was to takeHeron himself and hang him from one of his own trees,but the king had been adamant about doing the thinglegally.Late in the afternoon, Ramsay was informed that people
had been gathering across the River Tweed. They hadgrievances but would not set foot in England. He rodeacross the bridge to speak with them, canny enough totake the other Scots wardens with him as witnesses.The savage tales he heard of pillaging angered him, thetales of butchery sickened him. One man claimed, Thebastards put the torches tae our village. The women andchildren took refuge in the stable, but they fired that too!Ram questioned them closely to see if they couldidentify the raiders. There had been no identifyingbanners or badges, yet some of the people swore thatuniformed soldiers had slaughtered their animals andstolen their fodder. Douglas pledged his help to theseborder families, whose clan names were so familiar tohimBruce, Scott, Hay, Armstrong; they were his people.Once more Douglas challenged Dacre in a hard, coldmanner. He knew if he allowed his temper to heat, bloodwould be spilled. Again came the supercilious excuses:A warden cannot control every last moss-trooper whoserves on border patrol.Douglas was almost speechless. I have no troublecontrolling my men. I pity a man who lacks leadershipqualities. They almost drew steel until he saw PatrickHamiltons eyes upon him. Hamilton would love to carrythe tale back to the king, of Hotspur losing control of hisinfamous temper.In bed that night Ramsay reflected upon Dacres words.It was true that men, especially hardened moss-troopers, were difficult to control, but surely that was
what made a leaderhe had to be stronger than the menunder his command. He searched his mind for a manwho was almost impossible to control and came up withhimself With a grimace he assured himself that even heobeyed Angus and the king. He had no idea thisobedience would shortly be put to the test.The Wardens Court concluded a week later, with all thecases before it tried and justice dispensed, but to saythat it had been an unsatisfactory meeting was a grossunderstatement. Douglas prepared a strongly wordedreport for James Stewart, recommending he makeimmediate, formal protest to the English Crowndemanding redress and compensation and immediatecessation of hostilities. The alternative he suggestedwas simple. The king could look the other way whileDouglas used his own methods to keep law and order.When they left Edinburgh, the Campbells and Kennedysrode together as far as Glasgow. When Argyll had soldhis cattle at the stockyards, they would make their wayto Stirling to await the bridegroom and his clan.Argyll grudgingly told Donal, his son-in-law to be, thatsince hed driven the prize Campbell longhorns fromGlasgow to Doon, he might as well carry on with thecattle drive and take them to Castle Kennedy atWigtown.Donal wanted to reassert that he had not stolen thelonghorns, but he swallowed the protest that rose to hislips and thanked Agryll wholeheartedly No sensestarting out on the wrong foot with the irascible old
devil.Meggan rode beside Valentina and Ada. She was weakwith relief that the wedding had not been called off. Shewould have much preferred not being on display atStirling, but she knew better than to make the slightestprotest. She had confided to Tina that Donals seed wasgrowing inside her, and she lived in daily terror that herfather would find out she had a bairn in her belly.Tina kept a sisterly eye upon her, and when the men settoo hard a pace, she spoke up without hesitation to herfather and Argyll, secretly amused at the hot glances theold earl cast in her direction.When the Kennedys arrived back at Doon and Rob toldElizabeth that the king had graciously offered to holdDonals wedding at Stirling, she was inordinatelypleased When Rob mentioned a date less than twoweeks hence, she flatly refused. That is impossible! HalfScotland will be there. Tina and Beth will needbridesmaidens gowns in fact, Beth will need a wholenew wardrobe. Two months might just suffice, not twoweeks.Rob closed his eyes in an effort to summon patienceand murmured to Ada, Make her listen tae reason. Wecanna keep Argyll waiting, tae say naught of KingJamie.Elizabeth looked askance at Ada. The gossips wouldhave a heyday if we rushed the marriage in such anundignified way.Tina looked at her mother and said softly, The gossips
will have a heyday if we do not rush the wedding.When her mother took Tinas meaning, her mouth fellopen, and then she took her humiliation out on Tina Youare a disgraceful girl, knowing of such things! Tis mostunseemly for an unwed maiden to stand there soknowingly and discuss such a shameful subjectunblushingly in front of her mother. Ada, you have madethe girl brazen and immodest with your modern ideas!Ada conceded dryly, Perhaps, but she wont make themistake of getting a bairn in her bellyElizabeths lips disappeared in disapproval, but sheknew there was no time to lose lecturing. In less than aweek and a half they would have to set out for Stirling.Riders were dispatched with invitations that daynomean feat to ensure none were offended by beingoverlooked. Elizabeth had to rely upon Rob to providethe guest list. The Gordons were high on the list,insufferable as they were with the Earl of Huntly callinghimself the Cock o the North. Then there were abouteight other earls Erroll, Montrose and their clans, and soon, and so on.Their own clan was so widespread that over twentyinvitations were dispatched, and when Elizabeth listedthe Douglases, she was quite vexed that there were somany of the disreputable devils, stretching fromTantallon and Dunbar through Galloway, Mearns, andup to Kilspendie and Longniddy.Invitations must not be extended to any of the clanswho were out of favor with the king or with Argyll,namely MacDonald, McLean, and Cameron.
Every female at Doon was expert with a needle, and Adadesigned, cut, and supervised Beths new wardrobe, anew gown for Elizabeth, and the sisters bridesmaidensdresses. On the ride to Glasgow with Meggie Campbell,Ada and Tina had learned that the shy girl favored blue.So even though Tina thought there was nothing soinsipid as blondes in powder blue, she shrugged ashapely shoulder and agreed, knowing her copper hairlooked ravishing against blue of any shade.Although Valentina hated to ply a needle, she did sonow because Ada had no time to spare. She would haveto take clothes that were not new, but at least no one atcourt had seen them before, and she lowered thenecklines on the ones she decided to take. She wouldneed enough clothes for a few days stay and her moststunning riding dress in which to arrive.As she surveyed the contents of her wardrobe,selecting and discarding various gowns, her hand fellupon an unusual creation she had never worn. Sheloved the varied colors of the sheer material, whichwere a mixture of orange, amber, and tawny, all over anunderskirt of black, which showed through the palercolors, making it resemble the skin of a wild animal. Onimpulse she packed it with her other gowns.In the kitchen Mr. Burque was busy mixing currants,raisins, and candied fruit with just the correct amount ofliquor for the wedding cakes. He was to travel to Stirlingwith the family to assemble and decorate the cakes andto create other confections for the banquet.
Rob Kennedy had made a special trip to get the rarespices and nuts Mr. Burque had demanded from one ofhis ships that had just anchored at Ayr. Rob had beenable to get sacks of almonds for the almond paste, ormarzipan as the Frenchie called it, and he had obtainedcinnamon and nutmeg for the custards, but he couldnot remember for the life of him the other spices thechef had requested. Rob found Tina perched upon Mr.Burques worktable, one of her favorite spots wheneverhis kitchens were filled with heavenly aromas thatwould tempt the devil himself.As Rob set down the supplies he named them.Almonds.Mr. Burque nodded, Marzipan, oui, ouiCinnamon.Merci, Oui, ouiNutmegs.Oui, oui, trčs bien!I could no get the other stuffwhat was it? Rob muttered.Merde!Thats itthe ships didna fetch merde, lied Rob.Tina covered her mouth quickly before she laughed inher fathers face. Shit-flavored wedding confectionswould be quite a novelty!Non, nonhow you say ginger?Ginger! Rob said, remembering now.Oui, oui! cried Mr. Burque.Wee wee? A real mon calls it piss, Rob said in disgust.Valentina and Mr. Burque caught each others eye andwent off into peals of laughter. Rob Kennedy escaped,
knowing he was out of his depth in the domesticenvironment. Prancin ninny! he muttered.Lady Valentina elected to ride with her brothers theforty-odd miles to Stirling. She felt a pang of pity for Ada,who had to ride with her mother, Beth, and Kirsty in themonstrous, uncomfortable carriage. All Rob Kennedysretainers kept the slower pace with their lord and hiswife and suffered the hard edge of his tongue withevery mile.Tina had refused point-blank to take two days andconvinced her father she would be perfectly safe withDonals men at their back. Duncan and Davie raggedDonal mercilessly about the shackles and fetters ofmarriage, but he took it all philosophically, knowing inhis very bones that marriage, especially with his sweetlass, was right for him.Tina tended to agree with her younger brothers on thesubject of marriage but refrained from teasing, knowingit would be her turn only too soon. On the ride theypassed lonely peel towers, ideal places where reiverscould dwell, but the law stated that lairds were toconstruct these towers for defense purposes every fewmiles. Tina caught her breath at the vistas. They passeda burn that had come down for thousands of years,slashing open a fearsome wooded ravine. The fiercelyrushing waters had battered and gouged their way,forging pinnacles and jagged rock facings. The hillswere covered by pine and larch and fir. They rodethrough glens, past fan-shaped waterfalls and quiet
ponds, where the fish lurked beneath hazel bushesbefore they darted upstream to feed.They scattered hen and cock chaffinches andblackbirds and small furry creatures that disappeareddown their burrows before they could even beidentified. A lochs surface rippled like watered silk, andinside Tina a slow, delicious excitement stirred becauseshe was engaged in an adventure that might afford heropportunities of disobedience and misbehavior.The town of Stirling was on the River Forth with thepurple ramparts of the Highlands just beyond thesteeply winding, narrow streets. The sun was setting asthey reached Stirling Castle, a hilltop citadel on variouslevels with towers, bartizans, and parapet walks. Grassyledges and terraces with steps cut for access wereutilized for gardens. Halfway down the northeasternflank was a plain consisting of a few acres where cowsgrazed peacefully.They rode around the back of the fortress, past thebowling green and the quoiting pitch, to the barracksand stables. Valentina spoke to a royal groomexplaining that her mare, Indigo, was valuable and mustbe kept safe from stud stallions. She laughed to herselflater as she realized how shocked her mother wouldhave been if shed overheard.The queen and her court were already in residence andplanning festivities for every evening they would spendat the Highland castle, which was far more conducive topleasure than the brooding castle at Edinburgh. There
would be a couple of days for fun and games, then onthe third day the marriage would be solemnized, andbefore everyone departed at weeks end, the queen hadplanned a lavish costume ball.It was highly entertaining just watching the guestsarrive. Tina was surprised that a wedding was such apotent draw She had never seen so many tartans,mottos, and badges displayed in her life. She knew theScots were wickedly proud, but she began to wonder ifAda wasnt right when she said that although they had adour facade, they were romantics and sentimentalists toa man.Before the rest of her family arrived, Tina had acquiredsome brown-gray Lazarus beads to conjure the Devil.The queen and her ladies thought it amusing andfashionable to practice magic. When her sister and herfemale Kennedy cousins arrived, Lady Valentina heldher own court, which also included the bride and themany Campbell females who were quite countrified andthought Tina the height of fashion and sophistication.She was thoroughly enjoying herself among the vastcompany, showing off her rustling taffetas, pointedstomachers, and ruffs rimmed with pearls.She got more than her share of electric glances from thelusty men. She adored the temptation to recklessness,but she had more good sense than to return theirintimate glances of silent invitation. Yet she saw many acoy look from ambitious girls. She laughed with hercousins and said clever things about men: He hasneither rank nor virility, two necessary qualities in a
man. But when she saw Colin Douglas limp into the hallwith Black Ram Douglass brothers at his side, her softheart went out to him. On impulse, she crossed the largechamber and sketched him a curtsy. Colin, welcome toour wedding.His eyes were friendly and amused. It is my pleasure,Lady Kennedy.I cannot call you Colin unless you call me Tina, shepointed out.Gavin and Cameron Douglas grinned cheekily andelbowed Colin aside. Gavin kissed her hand gallantlyand murmured, Ye are even more beautiful than last timewe met, Tina.She arched her brows coolly at his use of her name.Colin Douglas was kind to me in a trying situation, butthat doesnt mean I embrace any other Douglas! Sheswept off with an aloof shrug of her shoulder.Yer no but dirt beneath her feet, Cameron needled.Christ, Id like tae be beneath her skirt, Gavin said. Illnever know why Ram hates the sight o hershe hasenough allure tae stiffen a corpse.Ramsay Douglas did not think he would be bothered toride to Stirling to the Campbell-Kennedy wedding. Afterhe made his full reports to the king, he thought itexpedient to return to the borders since they were insore need of patrolling. But when the king and Angustook it for granted he and his men would escort them toStirling, he capitulated without demur.James Stewart and Archibald Douglas each waited for
the other to bring up the subject of marriage to Ramsay.When Angus realized the king expected him to do thedirty work, he put it off until he had enjoyed thefestivities at Stirling. He was damned if he was going tolight the fuse of Hotspurs explosive temper quite yet.The day was bright with sunshine, a rarity for theHighlands, which so often had a somber, broodingquality. Everyone young and not-so-young wasoutdoors crowding around the archery butts, quoitingpitch, bowling green, or the menagerie of bears. But allthe youngest guests who were daring enough weregathered atop the northeastern flank, where a long,grassy slope led down to the plain. A raucous game ofhurly-hackit was in full spate, a grass-sledging activityon the skulls of oxen, using the upcurled horns to steer.Naturally Tina was the first female to challenge the hill.She raced both of her brothers, easily beating Duncanbecause her light weight made her sledge fly over thegrass. Davie was too sly and cunning, however. Hedeliberately cut in front of her, causing her to swerve offand lose the race. This only spurred her on, of course,and by stooping to his tactics, she beat him at his owngame. She thought shed never laughed so much in herentire life.Gavin Douglas joined in the fun, giving the other men arun for their money. There was a streak of recklessnessin Douglas men. Gavin shot down the slope soheedlessly that he came a cropper before he reachedthe bottom. His great body flew over the oxen horns,
and he lay sprawled directly in Tinas path. Shescreamed as her skull collided with Gavins and she wasflung directly on top of him. They stared into eachothers faces for one horrified moment, then went offinto peals of laughter at the undignified spectacle theywere creating with their arms and legs entangled.Ramsay Douglas had been watching the silly game forsome time through jaded eyes that were drawn againand again to the streaming copper tresses of theKennedy wench. She was truly a wanton, heedless ofher grass-stained skirts flying in the air, making herselfthe center of attention. His jaw tightened as he watchedher collide into Gavin, the pair of them laughing likelunatics.As Tina and Gavin helped each other to their feet, shecaught sight of his oxen skull and went off on anothertrill of laughter. You ugly brute! Your great weight hascrushed your damned skull!He felt his head in mock alarm, and Tina laughed up athim. I suspect your brains are in a much lower place.He grinned and rubbed his buttocks. Suddenly theysobered as they looked into the dark face of Black RamDouglas, who was in no way amused. They were able tokeep straight faces for a count of perhaps five or sixseconds, then they both went off again into paroxysmsof laughter, far too giddy to maintain a semblance ofdecorum.Yeve not the smallest shred of sobriety. His hard voicerelegated her to the ranks of foolish, shallow women
who cannot be held responsible for their stupidity. Hewas so tall and broad-shouldered, he blocked most ofthe sun.You are so old and dried up, youve forgotten whatinnocent fun is. Have a care your face doesnt freezewith pious disapproval.Violent, angry energy flamed between them like sheetlightning. In that instant it was apparent why he wascalled Hotspur and she Firebrand. Chapter 14 Even though the chapel royal at Stirling wasmassive by church standards, there certainly was notenough room for all the members of all the clans whohad gathered. Bishop Kennedy had come down from St.Andrews to officiate at this wedding, and the front of thechurch overflowed with the red-haired clan.Archibald Cassillis, the Kennedy earl, looked about thechurch at all his people. He knew it would not be long
before Rob Kennedys lasses exchanged their vows.Ram Douglas and Arrans heir were spectacular matchesfor his nieces, yet he hadnt broached the subject to Robbecause instinctively he knew Elizabeth would object toallowing her baby to go to Douglas. He agreed thepoisoning years ago had been a bad business, but thedamned woman must learn to forgive and forget. Hedhad his orders from the king, and the Kennedys ofDoon would have their orders from him, but hed waituntil they were back home before he issued them.A pale Meggan Campbell walked down the aisleovershadowed by her powerful father, trying to swallowthe lump in her throat as she wished her mother, longdead, could have been with her, or at least her eldersister Elizabeth She shuddered. That was impossible, ofcourse, for Elizabeth was wed to the traitor LachlanMacLean and she would likely never see her again.Meggans eyes caught sight of the back of DonalKennedy standing so stiffly by the altar, and suddenlyshe was no longer afraid. Unlike the savagely cruelMacLean, Donal really loved her. In a world wherewomen never got to choose their own fate, MeggieCampbell felt truly blessed.The nuptials were being solemnized just before thehour of noon so the couple could receive the HolySacrament. Megan had the requisite six bridesmaids, allCampbell cousins except for Tina and Beth. Theirdresses were a much paler shade of blue than those ofthe Kennedy sisters, but all blended together wellenough.
The small bride had the lovely Blackwatch tartan of theCampbells draped across one shoulder, and shelistened solemnly to the words of Bishop Kennedy. Heexhorted the young couple and the congregation ingeneral in a resounding sermon denouncing sinfulpride.Tina glanced down the chapel royal at the sea of high-held heads and thought irreverently that if he preachedfrom now till doomsday, he would never rid the Scots ofsinful pride. The bishop then gave a blisteringdeclamation of womens lewdness and mens filthy lust.He had just touched upon adultery and fornicationwhen the king cleared his throat and gave him a blacklook. Without missing a beat, the bishop demanded,Who giveth this woman tae this mon?Argylls burly figure stepped forward garbed in a silverwolf pelt. His scarred hands with missing top finger jointplaced Meggies hand in Donals, then he planted hisfeet, declining to step back until hed witnessed themarriage legalized.Elizabeth Kennedy was crying openly, and Tina sawthat Beth was shaking like a leaf to be exhibited beforesuch a great throng. Silly child, thought Tinadoesnt sherealize no one is looking at her?The wedding banquet began at two oclock and wouldgo on for the next twelve hours. The food was plentifulbecause the clans wealth was in sheep, cattle, and oxenand the rivers and forests surrounding Stirling teemedwith fish and game.
The pičce de résistance, however, was Mr. Burquestowering wedding cake, the likes of which none hadever seen before. The top layer was an imitation of thedeep blue sea, and rising from the waves was a greatdolphin, the Kennedy device, cleverly wired so that itrose up from the water in a magnificent leap.During the first hours of the banquet, decorum reigned,but by dusk most of the men were well on their way tobeing drunk. The king and queen, who had sat downtogether, were now absorbed in other partners. JamesStewart danced tirelessly with Janet Kennedy, a natural-born wanton, wholehearted, generous, and unashamedof their affair.Queen Margaret had hot eyes and hands for the Masterof Douglas, that ambitious young man who had beentaught by his father, the Earl of Angus, that power wasthe only thing that mattered.The rest of the Douglases had spurned the wedding infavor of hunting. Colin showed to advantage in thesaddle, while the dance floor was a nightmare for him.Ram hated the very atmosphere of weddings. Theygave him a trapped, caged feeling he found difficult todispel. Gavin and Cameron vied with their cousins Ian,Drummond, and Jamie to bag the most game. The stagswere only just losing their velvet and coming intoseason. All knew that at days end when they returnedfrom their sport, there would still be plenty of roastbullock and ale to wash it down with, a bedding for theirentertainment, and a castle filled with amenable youngwives whose husbands would be unconscious or at
least incapable with drink.Valentina had so many men clamoring to partner herthat she quite neglected Patrick Hamilton. She did it onpurpose, to punish him for not showing up earlier in theweek. He found that in order to dance with her at all, hehad to cut in on an arrogant Gordon or a wild Stewart,most of whom were jumped-up whelps or by-blows inspite of their royal blood.For miles outside Stirling, the crowds surroundedcrackling bonfires and indulged in fighting, screaming,singing, and finally mass lovemaking, all to theaccompaniment of skirling bagpipes.Inside, the behavior of the celebrants was in danger ofdegenerating from bawdy to profligate. The matronsretired in disgust at the mens inherent coarseness,removing their youngest daughters from the danger. Atthis point the banquet turned into a bacchanalia Thelewd songs became grossly indecent and wereaccompanied by graphic gestures. Serving wenchesnow sat upon mens knees with their skirts pulled aboveplump thighs. The racket was deafening as silvergoblets and sword-hilts were banged upon the tables toa rhythmic demand that the bride and groom kiss, kiss,kiss, kiss!Donal obliged the crowd, while his little bride grewvisibly more nervous. Archibald Campbell drained asilver drinking cup, hurled it down the table, then pickedup another. Archibald Douglas, drunk as a lord,bellowed intimate appraisal of every female in sight.
Valentina stayed for only one reason: She feared for herlittle sister-in-law, Meggie Campbell, now MeggieKennedy, as the crowd banged their goblets andchanted, Disrobe, disrobe, disrobe, disrobe! She knewshe must rescue the bride and spirit her away to thenuptial chamber. Tina managed to reach Meggie andtake her hand, but that seemed to be the signal therevelers had been awaitingThe women, led by the queen and the Howard sisters,descended upon Donal and began to strip him, while amob of drunken males tore Meggie from Tinas graspand lifted her on high, tearing at her gown and veiledcoif Meggan screamed, her face a pale blur above theheads of the men as they began their exodus to thenuptial chamber, their progress impeded by the bodiesof those who had lost consciousness and lay amongthe vomit-fouled rushes.Tina followed helplessly, unable to aid Meggan. It was allshe could do to protect her own person as she heardher gown tear, and to slap hands away from her breastsand bottom.The bride and groom were stripped quite naked by thetime they were carried into the bedchamber, and Tinacould do no more than shrink into a corner in horror asthe mob pushed the groom on top of the weeping brideand chorused, Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!Ramsay Douglas glanced into the room with jaded eyes.They flickered over Tina Kennedy with disgust. She wasin the thick of things, as usual. She was making for thedoor before they could strip her too. She looked up into
his face with dismay. His pewter gray eyes reflected herimage, but the depths were filled with contempt. He castone last look at the women in the chamber. He had laidmost of them, and there was not one he would havebeen bothered to lay again.The bride was distraught. Through a bleary haze Donalsaw that the fun and games had gone too far. Heglanced about looking for help. His brother Duncan andPatrick Hamilton were enjoying the spectacle far toomuch to desist. Davie was hateful enough sober; drunk,he was almost demonic. Donal looked in vain forMeggies father, but Argyll had been too far gone in drinkto even climb the stairs to the nuptial chamber. Thewomen with their hands at his groin and all over hisbody were even worse than the men. In desperationDonal appealed to the king: Sire, I need yer help!The good-natured James elbowed his way to thebedside. Ye want me tae bairn her for ye, laddie? Thenhe saw that the little bride was past hysterics and goinginto shock. In a brisk deep voice that brooked norefusal, he took command of the situation. The revelersstaggered from the room holding each other upright.The ones who were still bent on lewd and lasciviousconduct suggested other bedchambers they couldinvade as the king herded them safely away from thenewlyweds.Meggie lay sobbing, her pale face pressed into thepillows. Donal in his clumsy way tried to comfort herShe shrank from his rough hands, never wanting to see
or hear or smell another man as long as she lived.Gradually she became aware of a tender hand strokingher hair over and over and a voice pleading, Dinna cry,lass.She realized that from this day forward Donal Kennedywould be her only source of strength or tenderness orlove With a sob she turned blindly toward him. Donalsarm encircled Meggies waist, her hand stole into his andheld it tightly, and her head folded into his shoulder.Each fulfilled a need in the others life.Since Ram Douglas had enjoyed the hunting more thananything else at Stirling, he decided to go again the nextday. His brothers and indeed most of the males werenursing massive hangovers this morning, so he wentalone. In the royal stables he noticed that the lovelydamson-colored mare he thought of as his was gone.He was mildly surprised that others besides himselfwere in the saddle this earlyIn no time at all he was swallowed by the dense forestthat surrounded Stirling. His senses were alert for anysound or movement that signaled game. His ears easilypicked up a bellowing roar, and as he rode toward aclearing and a steep, grassy hillside, he knew what hewould find. It was a wild bull, a relic of an ancient breedthat had roamed all the uplands at one time. The bullhad stolen two domestic cows that grazed the lowerslopes to breed wild, misbegotten offspring.A bull hunt was a far more exhilarating and taxing sportthan hunting hart or boar. Bulls were totally
unpredictable when maddened and would charge andgore anything in sight with their long, viciously curvinghorns.Ram tried to drive the bull further into the trees, wherehe would be hard pressed to turn and charge, but thecreature was far too wily to fall into such a trap. Ramwatched the bull cautiously, wishing his brothers werethere to aid him. His wolfhound, Boozer, would havebeen an invaluable help too.The wild creature was a dirty white with a massive,thickmaned neck and a wicked six-foot spread of horn.For one split-second he questioned the wisdom ofhunting it solo, but the challenge was far too temptingfor Ram Douglas to ignore. The shaggy-coated creaturewith massive shoulders was obviously cunning as wellas savage, for it ran out into the clearing, where it wouldhave room to maneuver and charge.Rams eyes scanned the perimeter of the grassy slope,noting a long outcropping of stone that formed a ledgewith a steep drop beyond. His horse must avoid thatdanger, but the rest of the ground didnt appear toorough a terrain.The bull saw her before Ram did. Its red eyes rolled inits head, it pawed the ground, it let out a snort andcharged downhill. Valentina Kennedy had seen RamDouglas mounted on his great black stallion long beforehe emerged at the clearings edge. She watched indisbelief as he waved at her and shouted, Get the hellaway!
It was almost too late when she saw the maddened bulltearing up great clods of earth in its efforts to chargeher. She spurred her damson mare cruelly, knowing ifshe did not, the bull would tear into her mare broadside.Ram knew there was not a split-second to lose as herode out into its line of vision and tried to divert it fromits chosen goal. It was roaring now, savagely intentupon the girl and horse. Rams knife was more a short-bladed sword. He screamed a Douglas war cry andheaded toward the bulls rear quarters, hoping to crashinto it and roll it over while at the same time avoiding itsvicious hornsHis vivid imagination saw the Barbarys exposedunderbelly being ripped like a punctured bladder if hecould not divert the bulls attention from its intendeddisemboweling. Indigo was screaming, eyes rollingwildly, as she shuddered with terror Ram glimpsed Tina,her face as white as her riding habit, her hat gone, herfiery hair licking across her face and neck like flames.Then he had no time for anything but his prey as thebull dug in its forelegs and pivoted about, thinking toexpel its great fury upon its attacker rather than upon acreature intent upon fleeingRam was now face to face with a head-on charge. Hecould save himself by leaping from the saddle, but hisstallion would be sacrificed upon the vicious,upthrusting horns. He made his decision instantly,hurling himself with a vaulting spring upon the brutesback. He knew the reaction would be instantaneousThe white bull thrust down its head, arched its back
steeply, and convulsed its hindquarters into the airRams powerful fingers dug into its shaggy mane tosave himself from being tossed forward over the bruteshead, then with thighs, calves, and ankles curved aboutits belly, he unsheathed his short broadsword anddrove it into the brutes neck. The bull lashed its head toright and left, trying to hook its clinging burden with itsgreat horns. It did manage to tear open his leatherbreeches and gash a shallow wound along his lowerleg.Ram was now as enraged as the bull, and he removedboth hands from the thick mane to plunge his weapondeep behind the beasts shoulder blade He felt theshudder convulse through the powerful body as itcoughed but did not go down He knew he had notfound its heart. The enraged killer was going to toss andgore him any second if he bungled again Desperatelyhe drew his dagger and plunged it to its hilt a few inchesfarther back than his short sword Finally he felt itstagger, but it did not drop Maddened by pain, it beganto run. Desperately Ram struggled to pull out hisweapons for another onslaught The bull still hadenough strength to roar as it hurled its massive bodytoward the trees where Tina had taken shelter.Ram gazed upon her for one horrified moment beforethe bull faltered, tripped, its forelegs buckling, and hewas thrown to the ground at her feet. The brute finallylay dead, its head twisted at a grotesque angle, scarletblood flowing from its mouth Her terrified mare
shuddered uncontrollably as she tried to gentle her.Shes nearly mad with fear, she said huskily.His eyes were murderous as they swept over the whitevelvet riding dress and the cool beauty of her face. Notrace of fear could be detected in the golden eyes thatviewed the carnage before her. Black fury was written inevery line of his face His leathers were slashed at chestand thigh, where the bull had tried to gore him, and hewas drenched in blood He was in the Devils own temperYe have a knack for attracting misfortune tae yourself,and ye dont give a damn if ye attract it tae others! Heseized her by her slim waist and shook her like a ragdoll. Have ye no brains? This forest is dangerous. Wildbeasts and death lurk behind every tree. Yer a recklesslittle fool tae ride without even a groom. Ram Douglasseldom tasted real fear, but it had filled his throat whenhe saw the beautiful girl about to be gored before hiseyes He had expended a superhuman effort to save her,and now that he had done so, his fear was released byanger.Her compelling eyes blazed like golden fire, fringed byblack lashes above proudly slanting cheekbones. Yourbloody hands have damaged my velvet, she accused.For a moment he stared at her in utter disbelief that allshe cared for at this moment was her gown. Any otherfemale would have fallen trembling in his arms. This oneshowed not the slightest gratitude. He tore his weaponsfrom the bulls carcass and picked up the hem of herwhite velvet skirt. Damage it? Ill ruin it, he threatened,intending to wipe his swordblade.
She shrank back from him, but still her eyes showedmore defiance than fear. So this is how a chivalrousknight aids a damsel in distress, she said with coolcontemptHe had the decency to flush. Christ, why did she alwaysbring out the worst in him? He could charm any womanin Scotland save this one He released her and wiped thedripping sword upon the grass It gave him time to leashhis blazing temper. He realized how easy it would be tophysically dominate herbut where would be thesatisfaction? He would cut her down to size with herown weapon: carefully chosen, cutting words. His eyeswere the pewter of stormy seas. I did it tae save themares life, not yours, he said bluntly, so dont bother taethank me.You apparently not only expect thanks, youd like me togrovel. You think me a bitch wholl lick your hand andwag my tail. Im more likely to relieve myself upon yourleg!All women are bitches, he thought silently, but this onehad managed to get under his skin He was irked that hecould not humble her; worse, he felt his loins blaze intoa desire so intense, he caught his breath. Christ, shewasnt just under his skinshe was under his foreskin!With a lust he had seldom experienced, he wanted totake her on the forest floor. He wanted to arouse aresponse in her to match her suddenly savage beauty.His eyes licked over her, revealing his smolderingdesire, and in a voice husky with sensuality, he stepped
close and murmured, I want tae tame ye.She raised her riding crop and deliberately slashedopen his cheek. Without hesitation he took hold of herwhip hand and squeezed until she yielded it up to him.He turned upon his heel, ignoring the blood tricklingdown his leg from where the bull had gashed him,vaulted into the saddle, and cantered off without abackward glance. ***By evening all traces of her mornings misadventure hadfaded in significance. More pressing matters were nowupon the Kennedy ladies. On this last night at Stirling,there was the queens fancy dress ball. Their mother,worn out from the emotions of the wedding, was notattending, and she argued with her daughters abouttheir participation. When she saw the look ofdisappointment on Beths face, she relented and agreedthey could go, providing Kirsty and Ada went along tokeep an eye on them. The four rushed to the sistersbedchamber to solve the problem of costumes, andKirsty immediately antagonized Valentina and Ada. Theycan wear their blue bridesmaids gowns again. So muchwork went intae them, tis a pity tae wear them only once.Absolutely not, said Tina impatiently.Well, the costumes must be appropriate fer modest
young maidens. Perhaps simple shepherdesses. I shallwear ma gray uniform, of course.Youre simple, said Ada rudely.Kirsty bridled. Well, madam, what outlandish costumewill ye opt fer?I was thinking perhaps a nuns habit, Ada said dryly.Kirsty compressed her lips. Beth shall wear full dressKennedy tartan, she said decisively, and took Beth backto her mothers chamber to gather the accessories theywould need.Ada said to Tina, Well, I shant presume to advise you.Whatever you wear will be a standout. I shall wear agown with a neckline cut to the clavicle and a tiny maskto deceive them into thinking me a countess.Tinas wicked juices had begun to bubble. Of course, tocarry off her plan she would need a male accomplice.She immediately ruled out Patrick Hamilton. He woulddefinitely frown upon his future betrothed making aspectacle of herself. She wished Heath were herehewould dare anything for her. By a process of eliminationshe was left with Davie. Hed do it if she turned it into adare and perhaps sweetened it with some sort of bribe.She took a gold-plated collar-necklace from her jewelcasket and hurried along through Stirlings outbuildingsuntil she came to the blacksmiths forge and with onebrilliant smile pressed the muscular smithy intoattaching a long chain to the collar.Later she stood in front of a polished steel mirror tosurvey the effect. She was going as a wild jungle animal,whichever one was striped. Though she had never seen
one, she thought perhaps it was a tigress. She wore thegown with the filmy orange and tawny markings withthe black underskirt showing through.She wore her flaming hair unbound in a wild mane andpainted black stripes sweeping from her golden eyes,slanting across her temples to her hairline. Davielounged on her bed in hunters green, his bow andarrows lying negligently on the floor. As she fastenedthe collar about her neck, she admonished, Now afteryou lead me in on the chain and present me to thequeen, dont forget to detach the chain. You mustntactually give me to her as a gift. Its supposed to bemerely symbolicthe hunter presenting his spoils.The great chamber at Stirling had what was called thefire end and the throne end. Valentina had not dined inthe banqueting hall, so that she could make her grandentrance in the great chamber. The costumes wereamazingly inventive for people who had not beenforewarned they would require such things. There weresailors and jugglers, Gypsies and shepherds, wizardsand Vikings, Romans and goddessesbut there was onlyone tigress!A small hush fell over the crowd as the young hunter ledhis prey down the entire length of the chamber to wherethe king and queen sat upon their thrones. The hushgave way to a murmur as more people stopped talkingto stare at the vivid creature. Flaming Tina Kennedy! Thename was on every lip.Beth and Kirsty gasped, some whistled, others
applauded. A mans voice said, Id like tae pierce her wima arrow! The womens faces hardened, the menhardened also. Davie, who never did anything without alittle malice, led her directly to the king. Tina tried to leadhim toward the queen, but he made a great show ofyanking her chain, so that she had to obey him. Tinalooked as if she were about to claw him. When Daviegave the chain into the kings hand, some swore theirmonarch had selected a new concubine.James Stewart immediately released her from the chainand led her out to start the dancing, gallantlyexclaiming, The captor becomes the captive Black RamDouglas stood at the far end beside the fireplace As thecouple danced toward him, the fireshine played overValentinas molten hair and tawny gown, turning her intothe most breath-stopping creature he had ever seen.Desire flared in him like banefire. He wanted somethingwild to tame.When the dance ended, the queen asked her where shecould get such a gown for herself, and Tina wasrelieved that she hadnt taken offense that James hadpartnered her in the first dance.Valentina looked up as a strong hand took possessionof her wrist. Her golden eyes widened so that the tigerstripes slanted exotically as she realized who had takenhold of her. No, thank you, I dont wish to dance, shesaid in a cool voice. Rams eyes changed from pewter tomidnight black. Ye owe me a dance. His voice cut likethe crack of a whip, and the pressure of his powerfulfingers on her wrist became painful. She set her will
against his. You are hurting me, she retorted.I hope so, he replied with relish.You base-born dog! she muttered low.Perhaps it is the dog in me that attracts the bitch.Oh! she gasped as he swung her into the pavane. Sheknew an overwhelming need to say something equallyoutrageous, and the scandalous words she hadoverheard at court were off her tongue before she couldstop them. It takes more than six stiff inches to attractme.More? He raised an amused eyebrow. I have more.Her cheeks flamed. A witchy look flickered in her goldeneyes, telling him she was about to walk off the dancefloor again. He reached out a powerful hand to clampher to the spot. Tina found it intolerable to be overruled.She almost pretended to faint rather than dance withhim, but upon reflection she realized if she fainted,rumors would fly about her being in a delicate condition.She moved with fluid grace, dipping, revolving, herbreasts rising and falling in time to the pulsing music.She saw that his brother Gavin would be her nextpartner, and she sent him an inviting smile, knowing hewould rescue her. When the measure changed andGavin approached, Ramsay said, Bugger off. GavinDouglas, disconcerted for only a moment, had nochoice but to gallantly partner the lady Ram hadignored.Tina glanced about and saw she was surrounded byKennedys, her own clan. Again his powerful hand
reached out to stop her from leaving. She smiled andsaid through her teeth, If you try to use your spurs onme again, I shall create a scene you will never live down!His lip curled, and then he simply walked off the floor,exactly as she had done to him, embarrassing herbefore the whole assembly.He was a lout without scruples. It was a ladys privilegeto rebuff a man, but for him to openly scorn her in sucha public manner humiliated her to the core. If it was thelast thing she did, she would even the score. Douglaswas certainly not indifferent to her, she knew. Was it herbeauty that attracted him, perhaps, or did she representa challenge to the dominant male? Whatever it was, shewould use it to her advantage to best him and prove aKennedy was a match for a Douglas. Chapter 15 The next morning, when Angus and his Douglasescort were ready to depart, he sent a message
requesting Ramsay to ride with him. Now would be asgood a time as any to lay down the law. He learned,however, that Hotspur had departed late last night,taking his borderers and leaving behind only hisbrothers and Colin.Gavin dutifully attended the earl, whose escort wasusually close to a hundred. Gavin didnt know whyAngus should need Ram, but Archibalds lipsdisappeared in annoyance when he learned Ram hadleft. Can Colin or Cameron or myself be of any service,my lord?Im tae ride with Arran and his bloody Hamiltons on thekings orders, tae repair some o the havoc yer raidinghas wreaked. Tell Ram Ill see him at Douglas tomorrownicht! Gavin stared hard at the ruthless earl. His wordshad an ominous ring.Patrick Hamilton strode purposefully toward the stables.He would not keep his father, the admiral, waiting. Onthe kings orders they were to ride with the Douglas earlin a show of unity.Nan Howard beckoned to him urgently, and he steppedinto the herb garden to bid her good-bye. Her sister Kat,whom he hadnt seen bending over to pick a sprig ofthyme, suddenly straightened, and he knew this wassome sort of confrontation. He frowned as his instinctswarned him to bolt.Nan said, Patrick, theres no way to wrap this up in prettywords Im afraid Im going to have a child.He swallowed as he felt the trap closing on him. Christ,surely yer not accusing me of being the father!
Her eyes narrowed against tears, and Kat spoke for her.Deny it all you want. You have bedded her, and I am thewitness.I bedded you both! Suddenly he understood that Nanhad baited the trap with the irresistible lure of twovoluptuous bodies at one time. What a gullible fool hedbeen! There was nothing so devious as a slut, unless itwas two two English sluts!I am betrothed to Lady Valentina Kennedy, he saidstiffly.Not yet, youre not, Nan said.And youd better not pledge yourself, if you know whatsgood for you, warned Kat. The queen will be furious ifyou bring dishonor to one of her ladies-in-waiting.He almost blurted, Get rid of it! before he realized thiswas her means to marriage with the heir to the Earldomof Arran.Tina rode back to Doon in high spirits. The wedding atStirling had proved to be an exciting diversion, and theparty that now traveled south was quite large. Thenewly-weds were on their way to Castle Kennedy inWigtown, and a large number of Campbell retainerswere going with the bride. Donal had an equal numberof Kennedy household servants, and it had beendecided that some of the tenants from Doon wouldmove with him permanently.Archibald, Earl of Cassillis, traveled to Doon with thefamily, and Rob, ever suspicious, wondered if he had an
ulterior motive. Tina was blissfully unaware of theundercurrents that would change her life forever oncethey were revealed.When she parted company with Meggie, she promisedto ride down for a visit with her new sister-in-law verysoon; then she headed for home, vowing to be the firstto clatter into the castle courtyard.The first hint that something was in the wind came fromAda. When she came into Tinas chamber, she found thatshe had almost finished unpacking her own clothes. AsAda hung the remaining gowns in the wardrobe, shesaid, Somethings up. The minute we arrived, Archibaldsequestered your father. When the door opened, Ivenever seen Rob so grim-faced. He whisked Elizabethinto the chamber, the door shut with a crash, and theyare still in there.It must be something urgent. The very first thing myfather does when he arrives back at Doon is enjoy oneof Mr. Burques sumptuous meals. She tapped her chinwith a reflective finger. The wedding went off without ahitch, and the newlyweds are on their way to CastleKennedy, so it cannot concern them.Ada agreed. The earl had a queer look about him fromthe minute we left Stirling. He had something in hisgullet, and I could see if he didnt disgorge it soon, hewould choke to death.There was a great clatter in the courtyard, and bothwomen immediately went to the window. Its Cassillis.Hes leaving! Tina said with disbelief. She experienced aprickling at the nape of her neck. The very air seemed
ominous, and Tina knew the ripples from the whirlpoolthat had been stirred would reach her any minute.A servant boy knocked on the chamber door and toldthem Lord Kennedy wanted both of them. Immediately.He led the way to the first-floor room Rob Kennedy usedfor business, and Tinas eyes went to her mothers facethe moment she stepped over the threshold. Elizabethlooked as if she had been struck in the face. The dooropened once again to admit Beth and Kirsty.The moment Elizabeth saw Beth, she dissolved intotears. Ada took one step toward her, but Rob, his face aflorid red, said, Leave her. Yell have more than onehysterical woman on yer hands afore were done here.Ye had better all sit doon. When his audience sat beforehim in a semicircle, he gave each one such a fierce look,even Tina knew he would stand for no interruptions.A pox on all my misbegotten offspring! I ha nurtured anest of vipers here at Doon. The minute ma back wasturned, all hell broke loose! Dinna thank me for what yeare about tae receivethank yer brothers!Elizabeth sobbed. Rob glared at her fiercely, and thesobs settled down to hopeless tears.The whoresons have been raidin, stirrin up old hatredsand feuds atween Kennedys, Campbells, Hamiltons,and Douglases, and the king wont stand fer it. He calledthe heads of the clans on the carpet and told them ifthey didna sign bonds of friendship and bonds ofmatrimony, he was goin tae start hangin the culprits.Now, weve made a start wi the Kennedy-Campbell
marriage, so that keeps bloody Argyll frae ma throat. Butthats just the start! Theres tae be two more weddinswithout delay. He cast a fierce look upon Tina. Ye canexpect a visit and a proposal frae Patrick Hamilton anyhour now. Ye will accept that proposal, and while yer atit, ye can get on yer knees and thank God fer yer goodfortune in landin the heir to the Earldom of Arran.Tina flushed. If there was one thing she could not abide,it was taking orders. She opened her mouth to speak,but Ada laid a warning hand upon her sleeve, and whenshe glanced at her fathers face, she realized Ada haddone right to warn her. His face had gone from red topurple and he looked as if his next words might kill him.Our youngest, sweet child, our baby girl, goes as asacrificial lamb tae none other than Black Ram Douglas.Beth gasped, Kirsty choked, Elizabeth sobbed. ThenBeth went into hysterics, Kirsty looked ready to scratchout Robs eyes, and Elizabeth gabbled, Ill take her toEngland, Ill hide her. Shes only a baby, far too young towed any man, let alone a degenerate Douglas!Enough, woman! roared Rob. We ha no choice. Thehead o the clan has decided, and his word is law! This isScotland, woman. Gods passion, yeve lived heredonkeys years, and still yer ignorant of our customs.Tina at last found the courage to speak up. Black RamDouglas wont come with cap in hand and a proposal ofmarriage on his arrogant lips. Hes not the marrying kind.Her father swung on her. Ye forgetArchibald Douglaswill be givin him his orders. Can ye imagine any man
breathin not doing as the powerful Earl of Angussuggests?It took the combined ministrations of Elizabeth, Kirsty,and Ada to get the distraught and hysterical Beth to herbedchamber. Rob, his mouth grimmer than Tina hadever seen, said in an ominous tone, Ye may tell Duncanan David tae present their misbeggotten carcassesafore me.Valentina was in a very subdued mood when sheentered her own chamber. She sank down onto the bedto slowly digest her fathers orders. She would make noprotest about her marriage to Patrick Hamilton. She feltshe was the luckiest girl alive when she comparedherself with her young sister. It was unthinkable thatinnocent little Beth must become the mate of Black RamDouglas. He would swallow the tiny morsel whole. Sheshuddered involuntarily as her mind conjured a pictureof the dark, intimidating ScotThe Prince of Darkness himself could not have beenmore compelling, yet more forbidding. She knew thehorror her mother must feel at the mere suggestion of amatch between her favorite child and the Douglas. MyGod, it was as if history were repeating itself. When aKennedy daughter wed a Douglas, the result could onlybe tragic.The next afternoon brought Patrick Hamilton,accompanied by his father, the Earl of Arran. Tinafidgeted while Ada pinned up her hair in a chignon. She
was almost resigned to the inevitability of her marriageand was determined to act in a composed, maturemanner when she was summoned before the men whowere deciding her fate.At last the knock came upon her chamber door, but theservant told her that young Lord Hamilton awaited herin the garden. She was glad that Patrick was thoughtfulenough to propose to her in private, even though it wasjust a formality.As she walked toward him she thought wryly, my God,he looks as if hes been handed a death sentence. Hetook her hands and searched her face. There were nowords that would be kinder or less hurtful. Tina,sweetheart, ye must know I want tae marry ye more thananything in the world.Yes, Patrick, I know how you feel, she replied, smiling toencourage him.Im tae wed Nan Howard next week, by order of thequeen.Tinas eyes went wide. But why? I thought the king hadordered a bond of matrimony between our clans.Patrick looked ill. Ishe Nan Howard is with child, hesaid miserablyYours? she asked softly.No I dont know. Perhaps, he admitted. The queensladies are such sluts, I dont suppose Ill ever know, hesaid bitterly.Tina withdrew her hands. She looked up at the windowof the chamber, where her father conducted hisbusiness. He and Arran must be having a similar
conversation. Her pride was stung that Patrick had beenhaving a liaison while courting her, but she bit back thecutting remarks that sprang to her lips as she realized itwas much worse for Patrick than for herself. In astrange way she felt relief that she had been reprieved.She touched his hand again. Patrick, Im sorry.Dear God, how can ye be so understanding when Ivebeen such a foolish swine?She could not explain her mood. Life had suchunexpected twists and turns. The last thing in the worldshe had expected was rejection, for whatever reason. Itwas pointless to linger. What more could she say? Nexttime we meet, we will still be friends. She turned and lefthim. She could not bear to witness the deep despair shesaw clearly writ upon his face.Tina did not recall climbing the stairs to her chamber,but before she could explain matters to Ada, they wereboth summoned to the first floor. When they entered theroom, Elizabeth joined them and the Earl of Arran hadapparently departed. Tina saw that her mothers facewas still swollen from crying. Now she was to be upsetagain, and Tina felt wretched to bring her mother moreunhappiness.She took a seat and folded her hands in her lap. Herfathers face was so grim, it took all her courage to meethis eyes. Tina felt guilty. Not only was Patrickdevastated, her parents would be heartbroken, whileshe herself was almost unscathed.The clans o Kennedy and Hamilton will no be joined in