Authors: Sue-Ellen Welfonder
Knight in My Bed
The following dearly-loved individuals stood by me through this book's difficult deadline. Their generosity of spirit kept me grounded in a time I often felt as if my world was fast tilting out of control. I feel so blessed to call them my friends:
My writing sisters, Elizabeth Sinclair, Lauren Bach, Lauren Royal, Susan Grace, Brenda Novak, Pat Laye, and Rosalie Whiteman. Bless you for always being on the other side of the keyboard when I needed you.
Gaye and Jim Walton, for always caring and for the special stones. Kristine Hughes, for the good old days and assuring that my heroes never suffocated in those closet boxer. And Gwen McDaniel, for telling me about her brother, Drake Allen McLean, a true MacLean Nero.
My intrepid travel companions, Karen D. Stevens and Cody. a thousand hugs for keeping up talk about our t jaunt over the Big Pond. The anticipation kept me going!
Karen Kosztolnyik and Beth de Guzman fort their reassuring smiles when I was feeling most lost. Courtney Boissonnault, whose shining enthusiasm never fails to cheer me, for her incredible support. Larissa Rivera for being so sweet. And Michele Bidelspach, for not forgetting me.
My much-appreciated agent, friend, and rock, Pattie Steele-Perkins, for not letting me look down.
As always, for my Knight in shining armor, my handsome husband, Manfred, who held the keep with a masterful hand and slew many dragons as I wrote this book.
And last but by no means least, for the real Bodo, my own four-legged champion, Em, for filling my heart with love and joy.
THE LEGACY OF THE LADY ROCK
In the Mist-Shrouded waters off the western coast of
, not far from the remote but beautiful Isle of Doon, lies a tidal rock known as the "Lady Rock." Visible only at low tide, the treacherous islet provided displeasured lairds with a means to rid themselves of unwanted wives: a barren or disobedient bride stranded upon the rock would drown with the incoming tide, leaving the laird free to wed another.
One such laird was a MacLean, and though his nefarious act took place in the distant past, the deed ignited a bitter feud between two clans who had once been allies if not friends.
At odds for centuries, the MacLean and the MacInnes clans have grudgingly shared the windswept Isle of Doon, neither clan willing to share an inch more of "their" island than absolutely necessary.
Now, in the troubled year following the death of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, they've shared an uneasy truce as well.
A truce soon to be shattered.
Another MacInnes bride has been found dead upon the Lady Rock, murdered in the same manner as her ill-fated ancestor, and this time, when the ancient enmity flares anew, the Clan MacInnes wants blood.
Aye, they will seek revenge.
A most fitting revenge ...
THE ISLE OF
Nip his flesh with white-hot pinchers, expose him to showers of offal and ceaseless floggings. Pour molten lead down his throat and force him to fetch pebbles from a cauldron of boiling oil.
Make him weary of drawing breath.
Hasten his mortal exit.
The hum of angry voices pierced the blessed refuge of Donall MacLean's deep slumber with all the subtleness of a heavy-handed peasant battling moonbeams with a rusted scythe.
Careful not to reveal he'd awakened, Donall the Bold, proud laird of the great Clan MacLean, opened his eyes to mere slits and squinted into what could only be called the antechamber to hell.
Trouble was, Donall the Bold, belted knight and warrior of untold renown, was not yet ready to pass into legend.
Pull him asunder by four stout oxen.
Get him to his knees until he pleads the mercy of God's holy blood.
"Pull me asunder? Make me plead God's mercy?" The words burst past Donall's parched lips, riding hard on a floodtide of fury he could no longer suppress.
Now fully awake, and uncaring if his malefactors knew it, he strained against the heavy bands of iron secured around his wrists and ankles. Outraged, he stared in disbelief at the unsmiling graybeards outlined in the open doorway to his dungeon cell.
An unlikely assemblage to be spouting brazen words, but the hatred simmering in their aged eyes brandmarked them as the crazed dominions who'd rained such vile threats upon him.
Behind them, a wall torch sputtered and smoked, its reluctant flames edging their gaunt figures with an eerie reddish glow-an odd effect that underscored the impression he'd awakened in the talons of the horned one and his cloven-footed minions.
Relying on a fast-waning reserve of strength deep inside his battered body, Donall raked them with a defiant glare. "A MacLean gets on his knees before no man." Incredulity warred with his fury over the very idea. "'Tis mad the lot of you are if you think to accomplish such a feat. The only getting I'll be doing is out of here."
"Aye, and leave us you shall," one of the men agreed, "as a corpse to be tossed from the cliffs, your cold flesh good for naught but carrion for the gulls."
Donall narrowed his eyes at his captors. He'd howl with laughter at their effrontery but regrettably, he lacked the vigor to do much more than glower.
Cold and shivering, he'd been left unclothed to wallow on a pallet of fouled straw, his every muscle screamed in agony and his temples throbbed so fiercely he'd almost swear some heavy-armed churl had cleaved his head in twain.
Giving heed to the urge to laugh would only increase his misery. Even scowling cost him.
With a low groan, he leaned his head against the damp wall and drew in a few shallow breaths. He instantly regretted doing so, for a bitingly rank smell assailed his senses with each ragged gasp.
A stench almost as sharp as the white-hot shards of agony shooting through his head.
Where, by the Holy Rood, was he?
And who were his stern-faced tormentors?
Donall peered hard at the one who'd spoken. Hawk-eyed and boasting an unkempt shock of hair the color of rusted iron, the gray-beard returned his stare.
They all stared.
And waves of anger emanated from their ancient bones.
Several of them seemed hauntingly familiar, but the throbbing in his temples kept him from thinking clearly.
And who was the lady Isolde?
The woman whose name the jeering old weathercocks had bantered about before they'd let loose their barrage of ludicrous threats.
Or had he imagined the name?
His mind's attempt to wrest his thoughts from his ravaged and aching state of being?
Or was Isolde the name of a long-forgotten paramour? A faceless victim of a one-time dalliance, come back to haunt him in his darkest hour?
Either way, the name wove a fine dance along the outer edges of his mind. Elusive as a nimble sidhe maid cavorting in the gloaming, the name taunted him with its familiarity but never came close enough for him to comprehend who she might be.
Snatches of angry words and a half-remembered scuffle joined the chaos of confusion in his mind but the red haze of pain banished each snippet of thought before he could make sense of aught.
“Not so mighty now, are you, Donall the Bold?" another of the graybeards commented, his aged voice laden with sarcasm. “Still, we purpose to grant you the preservation of your dignity by allowing you to repent your sins before our fair chieftain.”
A female chieftain.
The lady Isolde.
Fragments of conversations he'd had with his brother's now dead wife, Lileas, joined the swirling morass in his head, adding to his bewilderment.
Hadn't Lileas called her sister Isolde? And hadn't there been some talk about Archibald MacInnes's eldest daughter assuming the role of chieftain upon Archibald's death two years past?
The answers teased him, hovering close but not near enough to grasp.
Not with his blood pounding louder than a smithy's hammer in his ears.
He opened his mouth to let loose a stream of choice epithets but the dark oaths died on his tongue when a tiny, four-footed something skittered across his bare feet. He jerked his legs in reaction, but the cold iron binding his ankles hindered any further movement and drove home the grim reality of his plight.
At once, the haze clouding his mind lifted, leaving only pain, anger, and indignation in its place.
With dawning clarity, the wretched details of his surrounds and the sorry state of his own bruised body became as clear as if illuminated by the flames of a thousand well-burning torch-lights.
Not as clear but equally disturbing came the faint memory of a grizzle-headed female bending over him, a hell-hag who peered at him from clouded eyes. To his horror, he also recalled the crone lifting the tattered cloth someone had tossed across his vitals and, brazen as day, peeking at what lay beneath.
Saints preserve him if she proved to be the "fair chieftain" his captors thought to force him to do penance to. The very thought was enough to curdle his flesh.
"You appear vexed," said a third graybeard. This one had stark white hair and leaned heavily on a walking crook. With slow, shuffling steps, he came near to where Donall sat braced against a cold, slime-coated stonewall. "Dare we hope you are regaining your senses at last? Perchance remembering the ease with which we took you?"
The man leaned down, so close his stale breath fanned Donall's cheek. "Pray, how does it feel to have been bested by an insignificant clan such as ours? I doubt you e'er thought to awaken wearing naught but MacInnes irons?"
At last, the remaining dredges of fog cleared from his mind and he remembered.
But he hadn't been bested, they'd tricked him.
When his brother Iain's grief upon his wife's death had proved too great for him to perform the sorry task himself, Donall and his foster brother, Gavin MacFie, had set off alone to bear Lileas's body home to her clan's stronghold,
Upon arriving, they'd been welcomed, thanked, and even offered victuals and ale to sustain them before they continued on their journey to the mainland to purchase cattle and supplies for the MacLean holding, Baldoon Castle on the opposite side of Doon, the bonnie isle both clans had shared since time beginning.
A voyage Donall had expected to make together with a party of MacInnesses.
An excursion he'd meant to use to locate the true murderer of
Iain's beloved MacInnes bride.
An endeavor of great and dire import, a matter he'd hoped to see resolved before his short-tempered brother awakened from the haze of his sorrow and set off on his own to avenge his wife's death. Iain's rashness would only make a bad situation worse.