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Authors: Miriam Minger

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BOOK: Wild Roses
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"Easy . . ." Duncan set down the goblet and
moved to rub her back, but she recoiled from him so fearfully, still coughing,
that he sat back on his haunches instead and waited until she recovered
herself. That gave him a chance to study her, and to wonder again how the devil
she had come to be in his bed.

The wench was Irish, of that he had no doubt. She
hadn't needed to utter a word for him to discern her ancestry, her terrified
reaction to him alone telling him much. She was no more comfortable with
Normans, a plight shared by clans loyal to King John as well as not, than he
had a clue to her presence in his chambers. Unless . . .

Cold anger swept him, intuition once more gripping his
gut.

Damn the woman! Adele's enigmatic smiles, her odd wish
for him to have a pleasant night. Her criticism of Flanna that she'd seen
prettier Irish women. And this wench was certainly lovely, beautiful in fact,
her tangled midnight
hair
and eyes reddened from
sobbing hardly marring her looks.

Such exquisite gray eyes too, soft as a doe's. He found
himself staring into them, which was safer than at the tempting whiteness of
her breasts, the blanket having drifted down when she began to choke on the
wine. Unconsciously, he moved to lift the covering for her, but once more she
drew away from him as if she thought him Satan reaching out to beckon her to
hell.

Duncan smiled grimly. As no doubt she did. He lifted
the goblet and held it out to her. "More?"

She shook her head,
then
grimaced so painfully that he wondered if she'd been hurt when she tumbled from
the bed. Only then did he notice the swelling above her left temple, and he
tensed. He hadn't seen her strike her head. Then how . . .?

Dark questions filling him, Duncan rose so suddenly
that she cried out, grabbing the blanket beneath her chin like a shield as she
looked up at him wide-eyed. Her stunning gaze held such distress, such fear,
and such confusion
too,
that he could only wonder at
what harsh events had brought her to Longford Castle.

Duncan cursed at that thought and strode for the outer
chamber, any hope now for a peaceful night shattered.

Was this some form of trickery on Adele's part, the
wench a chieftain's daughter who'd been wrested from her home and brought to
his bed as a ploy to force him to wed her? That his half sister might have
contrived such a thing just to secure him a wife—indeed, if he'd taken the
wench as he'd damned well come very close to doing, believing she was Flanna .
. .

Pulling open the door, Duncan felt a hard stirring in
his loins that did nothing but further stoke his fury, the memory of the
wench's silken, heated flesh parting beneath his fingers foremost on his mind
as he roared down the stairs.

"Faustis!"

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Duncan wasn't surprised at how quickly the squat
steward came running, and he realized then that what Faustis had tried to tell
him earlier must have something to do with the strange woman he had found in
his bed.

"Forgive me . . . my lord." Out of breath as
he neared the top of the stairs, Faustis leaned on a wall and mopped his brow.
"I wanted to tell—"

"Where is Flanna?"

"In the servingwomen's quarters, my lord, and in a
terrible temper. Lady Adele forbade her to leave until morning."

So Adele was at the heart of this mess as he had
suspected. Glancing over his shoulder into his apartment to see the wench
standing and more securely wrapping the blanket around
herself
,
Duncan was wondering again what ill treatment she had endured when she
staggered and sank back into the chair. He met Faustis's eyes, the man clearly
paling at his expression.

"Summon Lady Adele. Tell her I want to see her at
once."

"Y-yes, my lord, of course. At once." The
steward turned to oblige him, but Duncan wasn't done with him yet.

"The wench, Faustis. Did she kick and struggle as
they brought her to my apartment?"

"No, my lord, not at all. She was senseless. I
asked after her, thinking to call Clement to tend to the poor girl, but Lady
Adele would have none of it. Forgive me, my lord, but she said rest, and your
attentions, would rouse the wench quickly enough. And that I wasn't to say a
word to you—yet when I saw you ready to retire . . . Ah, such a night. Such a
night!"

Dismissing his overwhelmed steward with a nod, Duncan
couldn't have agreed more. And this latest news didn't please him. If the wench
hadn't injured herself under his roof, then she must have done so during her
abduction and hopefully she had suffered no worse from that lecherous rabble of
knights Adele had brought with her. And if she wasn't returned to her father a
virgin, then he might very well find himself shackled to an unwanted bride . .
.

Duncan strode back into his bedchamber, the wench
twisting around in the chair to watch him anxiously. And this time he cared not
if she recoiled from him. He would have some answers. Surely she had a tongue
to speak, rather than just lungs to scream. He took only a brief moment to
stoke the fire, light flooding the bedchamber as dying logs crackled and sprang
to life. Then he sank to his haunches in front of her and braced his hands on
the arms of the chair, his voice
low
but stern.

"Who is your father, woman? I can imagine well
that you'd like nothing more than to be returned to your home, but I can't help
you unless you tell me his name."

Her father? Maire's confusion as intense as the renewed
pounding in her head, she felt as if she
were
trapped
in a nightmare and could not wake. Yet one thing was becoming clear, that the
Norman had been as surprised as she to find her in his bed—in truth, had
thought her another woman altogether. Now that she'd had a few moments to
think, he had called her Flanna—

"Woman, have you no tongue? Answer me!"

She jumped when he pounded a fist upon the chair, tears
leaping to her eyes. She had never cried so much or so often as that day, but
it seemed she could not stop. Yet almost at once she could see he regretted his
action, for he sighed heavily and ran his hand through his dark hair as if
exasperated with
himself
.

"Forgive me, but you must speak if I'm to
help—"

"I-I've no father."

He stared at her mouth, the soft words she'd uttered
clearly confounding him. Growing uncomfortable at his scrutiny, she licked her
bottom lip, an action she promptly regretted for the way in which he continued
to study her, a deep frown forming between his brows.

"No father?"

Maire shook her head, more slowly this time than the
last, but even that made her temple ache.

"Your godfather, then. You must have some
protector, a chieftain surely. Adele is too damned conscious of rank for it to
be otherwise—"

"Truly, Duncan, do you always speak of me in such
a complimentary tone?"

Maire gasped and rose from the chair so suddenly that
she almost fell over the Norman, who stood as well; he caught her around the
waist just before she toppled. Yet she scarcely noticed the weight of his hands
supporting her as she twisted around, her heart beating so fiercely that the
blood seemed to roar in her ears.

That voice! She knew at once that the imperious-looking
blonde who glided into the bedchamber was the woman from the meadow, the woman
whose cool hand had slid across her brow, the woman whose laughter she could
not forget. Stricken, she stared into blue eyes as beautiful yet as chilling as
a winter's day. The woman flicked her with an amused look,
then
glanced above her head to the Norman.

"Ah, such a delightful
pose
.
I take it she pleases you, brother?"

Brother? Maire glanced in panic at the man looming so
tall just behind her, noticing for the first time how closely he held her against
him, his strong hands encircling her waist. But he didn't spare her a look, his
expression grimly furious, so much so that she could feel his mounting tension
in the splayed fingers digging into her flesh.

"I shall tell you how pleased I am this night.
You've gone too far, Adele. Damn you, from what clan did you abduct this woman?
Answer me now!"

The vehemence of his words clearly startling the
stunning blonde, a winged brow raised in affront, Maire was astonished that
Adele could answer so coolly.

"Abduct, Duncan? I brought you a gift, is all. My
men and I enjoyed a bit of sport—some Irish strayed into our path on our
journey north from Wexford. A motley bunch, they attacked us actually. So of
course we had to defend ourselves—"

"No!"

Maire's hoarse cry filled the room, and she almost
regretted her outburst when the icy force of Adele's gaze settled upon her.

"The wench still suffers from that nasty bump on
her head, I see. Poor thing. She fell from her horse in the fray."

"Either that or one of your knights roughly
handled her when you stole her from her home," came the Norman's equally
cold voice behind Maire. "Dammit, Adele, if you used such a ploy to secure
me a wife—"

"A wife?
Her?
"

Adele's voice was so full of scorn that Maire flinched,
in the next moment she almost felt sick as the woman's laughter echoed in the
lofty chamber.

"Good God, Duncan—oh, my, yes, this is rare. You
thought I had the wench abducted to be your bride? An Irish chit? If I've any
say in the matter, and I hope you allow me as much, your wife will be
Norman-born as is only fitting for the astonishing rank you've achieved—"

"So you've already said tonight, Adele, remember?
Who would have thought?
"

As the room suddenly fell silent, the Norman scowled
and his sister stared back at him with her lips pressed together. Maire sensed
they were no longer talking about her plight but another matter altogether—
something that clearly held such bitterness for the man named Duncan that his
grip around her waist tightened to the point of pain, and she cried out, trying
to twist free.

"She doesn't seem very fond of you, brother. No
matter. I had meant her as a maid for myself, but thought her comely enough
that she might amuse you. Yet I can see . . ." Adele didn't finish but
reached out and clamped her hand around Maire's wrist. "Come, girl. You
can sleep with my maidservants—"

"No, leave me be! Leave me be!"

Never having struck a soul in her life, Maire lashed
out now in terror, scratching Adele's arm so wildly that the woman cried out in
shock and pain. Maire didn't stop there, but flung her elbow once more into the
Norman's ribs with such desperation that, in his surprise, he released her.

Her eyes riveted upon the door, she lunged away from
him, her heart hammering in her throat, one hand clasping the blanket to her
body while she prayed with all her might for her legs to run. Run! Yet in her
haste she lost her balance almost at once, her stiff right leg dragging behind
her, no aid to keep her from falling. She hit the floor with a terrible thud,
her anguished sobs nearly choking her as incredulous laughter filled the room.

"Oh, this is truly rare! Irish, a bump on the
head, and a useless cripple as well. If you think I would have chosen such as
that
to be your bride, Duncan
FitzWilliam—"

"By the blood of God, woman, enough!"

His roar thankfully silencing his half sister, Duncan
was at the wench's side before he even realized he had
moved,
her heart-wrenching weeping touching him even more than had her ungainly flight
for the door. That so lovely a young woman would suffer such an affliction . .
.

"Easy. Let me help you," he said as he made
to lift her. Duncan was not surprised when she tried to struggle away from him,
her ink-black hair damp with the tears streaking her ashen face. But she didn't
fight him long, her sobs growing still as well, as if sheer exhaustion had
overtaken her.

And he had no doubt she was exhausted, despite what
little Adele had told him. As he carried the wench back to the chair and gently
set her down, he could only wonder at the
horrors
with
which her day had been filled, his scowl deep indeed as he met Adele's gaze.

"This
attack
you claimed—"

"So it was, but my men triumphed, I'm delighted to
say."

Her tone more than slightly defensive, Duncan imagined
it was anything but an attack, again given what he'd seen of her debauched
retainers. Yet there was no purpose to exploring that now. "Where did the
battle take place?"

"Where, brother?" Adele's grimace marred her
lovely features as she massaged her injured arm. "How am I to say? I know
little of this country."

"But you said you were heading north. Did you come
across these Irish on the plains? Near Dublin? God's teeth, Adele, where?"

She started at his harsh tone but answered him, her
voice grown twice as affronted. "South of Dublin. I believe there were
some mountains to the west."

Mountains? That could only mean Wicklow. Perhaps they
had been attacked after all, Duncan considered grimly. But what of the wench's impassioned
protest when Adele had said her knights had been made to defend themselves? No
Irish clan loyal to King John would have wantonly raised their weapons against
Normans.

"Why did you stray from the coast?" he
persisted, glancing at the wench. He saw that she sat huddled, with her eyes
closed,
her chin slumped to her chest. "Did no one tell
you when you landed your ship in Wexford that the mountains are filled with
rebel clans and to stay clear?"

"Of course they warned us, but we weren't so close
that I considered it any danger."

"No danger?" Duncan gave a harsh laugh.
"To stray anywhere near those mountains is pure folly. There are clans,
Adele, the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles, who would have relished skewering each of
your knights with a hundred arrows,
then
left their
corpses to rot under the sun. Two years ago when we were fighting the de Lacys
and their vassals in the north, there were so many raids by those bastards in
south Leinster that King John has since tripled the reward for Black O'Byrne, a
rebel I long to capture and hang myself."

BOOK: Wild Roses
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