50740926 douglas-kennedy-tempt


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50740926 douglas-kennedy-tempt

  1. 1. 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
  2. 2. 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.
  3. 3. 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
  4. 4. 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
  5. 5. 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
  7. 7. 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
  8. 8. 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.
  9. 9. 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.
  10. 10. 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?
  11. 11. 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
  12. 12. 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
  13. 13. 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.
  14. 14. 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
  15. 15. 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
  16. 16. 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
  17. 17. 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
  18. 18. 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.
  19. 19. 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
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. 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.
  22. 22. 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
  23. 23. 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,
  24. 24. 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
  25. 25. 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
  26. 26. 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
  27. 27. 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
  28. 28. 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
  29. 29. 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
  30. 30. 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
  31. 31. 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
  32. 32. 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.
  33. 33. 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.
  34. 34. 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
  35. 35. 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
  36. 36. 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
  37. 37. 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
  38. 38. 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.
  39. 39. 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
  40. 40. 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
  41. 41. 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.
  42. 42. 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
  43. 43. 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
  44. 44. 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.
  45. 45. 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
  46. 46. 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
  47. 47. 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.
  48. 48. 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
  49. 49. 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,
  50. 50. 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
  51. 51. 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
  52. 52. 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
  53. 53. 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
  54. 54. 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,
  55. 55. 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
  56. 56. 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
  57. 57. 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
  58. 58. 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
  59. 59. 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
  60. 60. 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.
  61. 61. 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
  62. 62. 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
  63. 63. 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
  64. 64. 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
  65. 65. 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
  66. 66. 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
  67. 67. 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
  68. 68. 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
  69. 69. 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,
  70. 70. 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
  71. 71. 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
  72. 72. 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.
  73. 73. 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
  74. 74. 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.
  75. 75. 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