Authors: Kinley MacGregor
For Lyssa and all her wonderful insights that help so incredibly much, and for Nancy, who keeps me sane. For my dearest friends, Janet, Lo, Rickey and Cathy
But mostly for my husband, who has always been and will always be the greatest love of my life. You keep me sanest of all and allow me to pursue my dreams. I may not always say it or show it, but deep down where it counts, I keep a running tally of just how much I do owe you. You’re the best, hon, and I love you
“The talented Kinley MacGregor has just shot to the top of my ‘must read’ list.”
A SINFUL PASSION
Though few can equal her skill with the sword, Caledonia MacNeely fights an unfamiliar shiver when she is offered in marriage to the infamous “Lord Sin.” Though Callie fears this mysterious, unreachable stranger—less for the dark whispers that damn him than for the heat of his touch—she is under the order of the English king. And with the fate of her troubled clan hanging in the balance, she has little recourse.
Banished as a child, “Sin” MacAllister learned to despise his Scottish heritage. Yet now, to unmask King Henry’s foes, he must return to the hated Highlands—wedded to a bewitching lass whose flaming red hair matches the fire of her spirit. A cold, hard heart has always been the key to Sin’s survival, but this beauty awakens in him a perilous need he’s never known.
“Humor and passion are the trademarks of any Kinley MacGregor book.”
The cold night wind carried laughter on it as it…
“I would sooner geld myself. Drunk. With a dull knife.”
“Are we going to escape this time, Callie?”
Sin heard the latch on his door rattle. Instinctively, he…
“I beg your pardon?” Callie repeated, her heart stopping. “What…
Sin stood in the center of Henry’s throne room, waiting…
Callie trembled with nervousness as Aelfa helped her dress for…
Callie hesitated at the solar door where two guards stood…
Well, so much for her war to win Sin’s heart.
They left early the next morning. Callie barely had time…
Callie spent the afternoon visiting with her family and friends…
The men sat for hours bantering and laughing. Callie listened…
By midmorning of the next day, Sin was painfully aware…
Sin didn’t join them for supper that night, and as…
It was long after midnight before Sin ventured toward his…
Callie watched as Sin dressed, his muscles rippling with every…
That night, neither Aster nor Dermot came home. Callie and…
It amazed Callie that Sin didn’t send her brother straight…
The great hall was warm in spite of the freezing…
he cold night wind carried laughter on it as it blew against Sin’s desert-blistered cheeks and dry, cracked lips. Unused to such a sound, he crouched down low in the shadows on the outskirts of the English camp and listened. It had been a long time since he had heard such.
But his hesitation cost him, as Marr rammed a barbed stick into his spine. “Why do you stop, maggot? Go!”
Sin turned to his Saracen master with a look so feral that for once Marr shrank back.
Barely ten-and-eight years old, Sin had spent the last four and a half years of his life beneath the harsh hand of his trainers. Four and a half long years of being beaten, tortured and cursed. Of having his morals, his language and his identity stripped from him.
At long last he had become the animal they called
him. There was nothing left inside him. No pain, no past.
Nothing but an emptiness so vast that he wondered if anything could ever make him feel again.
death, in every sense of the word.
Rad handed him the long, curved dagger. “You know what to do.”
Aye, he did. Sin took the dagger in his hand and stared at it. His hand was one of a youth just barely entering his manhood, and yet he had committed sins and crimes that had aged him into an ancient.
Marr urged him forward. “Finish quickly and tonight you will eat well and have a bed for your comfort.”
Sin looked back at Marr as his stomach rumbled from hunger. Day to day, they fed him only enough to keep him barely alive. He had to kill for anything more than a crust of rotten bread and stale water. They knew he would do anything for a decent meal to lessen the hunger cramps in his belly. Anything for a night free of torture and pain.
From the shadows, Sin watched the English knights sitting in their camp. Some of them ate, while others played games and passed wartime stories. Their tents were bright even in the darkness. The colors were faded by the night, but still evident.
Again he heard their music and songs.
It had been so long since he’d last heard Norman French spoken, let alone sung. It took him a few minutes to remember and understand the foreign words they used.
On his hands and knees like the animal they had trained him to be, Sin crept toward the camp. He was a shadow. An unseen phantom who had but one purpose.
He slipped easily through the English guards until he reached the largest and grandest of the tents. Here was the target for the night.
Lifting the bottom of the tent, he looked inside.
A gold brazier stood in the center of the tent, the coals from it casting shadows on the linen canvas. In one corner was a bed so large and golden that for a minute Sin thought he was dreaming the sight. But it was real. The carved dragon heads were regal and bespoke the high station of the man who slept in blissful ignorance, clutching at covers made from snow leopards and lions.
A man who had no idea his life was about to end.
Sin focused his gaze on the target. One quick cut and he would be dining on figs and roasted lamb. Drinking wine and sleeping on a feather tick instead of scratchy sand where he had to be vigilant against scorpions and asps and other things that scavenged in the night.
Suddenly a new idea came to him while the wounds and welts on his back throbbed. He looked about the tent again, noting the wealth and power of the man on the bed. This was a king. A fierce king who made the Saracens tremble with fear. One who might be able to free him from his owners.
The word rang in his head. If he had any soul left, he would gladly trade it for a night’s sleep in which chains didn’t hold him down. Trade it for a life where no one ruled him. No one tortured him.
He curled his lip at the thought. When had he ever known anything else? Even in England he had known nothing but torment. Nothing but ridicule.
He had never belonged anywhere.
Kill him and be done with it. Eat well tonight and worry about the morrow when it comes
That was all he knew. That basic philosophy was what had gotten him through his short, hard life.
Determined to eat again, Sin crept forward.
Henry came awake the instant he felt a hand on his throat. Then he felt a cold, sharp blade pressing against his Adam’s apple.
“One word and you die.” The cold, harsh words were tinged in an accent that was a strange blend of Scottish, noble Norman French and Saracen.
Terrified, he looked to see what sort of man could infiltrate his guard and…
Henry blinked in disbelief as he caught sight of his killer. It was a scrawny, frail boy dressed in Saracen rags. Reeking of hunger and with black eyes devoid of emotions, the boy stared at him as if he were weighing the value of Henry’s life.
“What do you want?” Henry asked.
He frowned at the child and the peculiar, thick accent he spoke in. “Freedom?”
The boy nodded, his eyes burning eerily in the darkness. Those eyes didn’t belong to a child. They belonged to a demon who had seen hell firsthand.
One half of the boy’s face was swollen and blackened from a beating and his lips were split and cracked. His neck was red, raw and bleeding as if he normally wore a steel collar around it that he fought against. Henry looked down to see similar injuries on both of his wrists. Aye, someone made a habit of chaining the child like an animal. And the boy had made a habit of fighting his manacles.
When the child spoke, his words stunned him even more than the boy’s ragged appearance. “If you will give me my freedom, I will give you my loyalty until the day I die.”
If those words had come from anyone else, Henry would have laughed. But there was something about this child that let him know gaining this boy’s loyalty was quite a feat and that, once given, it was truly valuable.
“If I say no?”
“I will kill you.”
“My guard will capture you if you do and they will kill you.”
The boy shook his head slowly. “They will not capture me.”
Henry didn’t doubt that in the least. It had been quite a feat for the child to get this far already.
He looked at the boy’s long, black hair and black eyes. Still, his sun-blistered skin was fairer than most of those born to this region. “Are you Saracen?”
“I am…” He paused. The sharpness faded from his eyes and revealed a pain so profound that it made Henry ache from the intensity of it. “I am not Saracen. I was squire to an English knight, who sold me to the Saracens so that he could buy passage home.”
Henry lay stunned at the news. Now he understood the poor shape of the boy. There was no telling what abuse and depravity the Saracens had heaped on him. What kind of monster would sell a child into the hands of an enemy? The cruelty of it overwhelmed him.
“I will see you free,” Henry said.
The boy narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “This had best not be a trick.”
The boy released him and moved away from the bed.
Henry watched as the child went to squat by a wall with one hand on the canvas, no doubt ready to flee should Henry make a sudden move. Slowly, so as not to frighten him, Henry got up and left the bed.
The boy looked about nervously. “They will be coming for me.”
“My masters. They always find me when I escape. They find me and they…”
Henry saw the horror on the boy’s face, as if he were reliving whatever they had put him through. The boy began to pant in panic.
“I have to kill you,” he said, rising to his feet. He drew his dagger again and moved toward Henry. “If I don’t, they will come for me.”
Henry grabbed the boy’s hand before he could sink the dagger into his chest. “I can protect you from them.”
“No one protects me. I have only myself.”
They wrestled for the dagger.
Someone drew back the tent flap. “Majesty, we found—” The guard’s voice died as he caught sight of their struggle.
The guard shouted for reinforcements.
The boy let go of the dagger as guards swarmed into the tent. Henry watched in awe as the scrawny child fought like a cornered lion. Had the boy possessed any strength on his starved bones, he would have easily defeated the twelve-man guard. But as it was, they brought him down hard on the floor.
Still the boy fought so furiously that it took five guards to keep him there.
All twelve of his guards looked at him as if he were crazed.
“Majesty?” his captain asked hesitantly.
It wasn’t until they let go that Henry realized the boy’s arm had been broken during the fight. His nose was bleeding and he had a cut on his forehead. Still, the child made no sound as he pushed himself to his feet. He merely held the broken arm to his side while he watched them warily as if expecting the absolute worst from them.
The child neither begged nor pleaded, and that told Henry much about what horrors the boy must have lived through. He stood strong and defiant before all of them.
His guards regained their feet and the captain came forward to address Henry, but he still kept a jaundiced eye on the youth. “We found two Saracens on the edge of camp, Sire. I am sure he is one of them.”
“We are sure as well,” Henry said. “Boy, what is your name?”
The youth dropped his gaze to the floor. When he spoke, his voice was barely audible. “My masters call me Kurt.”
Henry frowned at the foreign term he’d learned the first few weeks they had been in this land. It was used to mean either maggot or worm. “What is your Christian name?”
“When I served the Earl of Ravenswood, I was called Sin.”
Henry’s breath caught at the name, for he knew who this child was. “You’re the MacAllister’s son?”
Again, the emptiness returned to the boy’s eyes. “I am no man’s son.”
Indeed. When Henry had offered to return this boy home to his father in Scotland, the old laird had said as much. Sin was the only one of the Scottish boys whose father had refused to have him.
Not knowing what do to about the matter and having little time to deal with it, Henry had left the boy in Harold of Ravenswood’s custody.
Obviously, that had been a mistake.
It wasn’t often Henry felt guilt. But he felt it now. It gripped his heart with unfamiliar pain and burned in his soul. This poor, unwanted boy had been his ward and he had left him to a fate no child should ever know.
“Fetch a surgeon,” Henry said to his captain. “And bring food and wine for the boy.”
Sin looked up in shock at the order. Part of him still expected the king to hang him. At the very least beat him. That was all he was fit for. That and killing.
“Don’t looked so surprised, boy,” Henry said. “Come the morrow, we shall see you home.”
Home. The vague, elusive dream of that word had haunted him all his life. It was all he’d ever wanted. A home where he could be welcomed, a people who would accept him.
His father had thrown him out of Scotland, where no one had ever wanted him, and the Saracens had spurned and spat on him in Outremer, but maybe this time, when he went to England, the people there would want him.
Maybe this time, he would at last find the home he had ached for.
Aye, in England he would find peace.