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Authors: Kinley MacGregor

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BOOK: Born in Sin
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“Nay!” she shouted, but they paid her no heed.

All the knights laughed except the black knight. His eyes blazed furiously at the others. “Release the boy,” he said with that same calm tone.

“Come now, my lord. Can we not have a bit of fun with him?”

He turned his fearsome, obsidian stare to the knight who had spoken. “My idea of amusement is disemboweling those who contradict and annoy me. What say you that you and I have a bit of fun?”

The knight paled, then instantly released Jamie. He ran to Callie’s side and balled his fists into the coarse material of her skirt.

“Did you see what he did?” Jamie asked in a loud whisper. “Aster would die to know you let an unarmed Sassenach take your sword away.”

“Shhh,” Callie said softly, holding him to her side with one arm as she faced the black knight.

The man’s gaze never wavered. “I think ’tis time you return to your room, milady.”

Callie lifted her chin in a worthless sign of defiance. He knew as well as she did that he had bested her. This time.

But next time, she would find a way to beat these Englishmen, and get the two of them home where they belonged.

Holding her head as high as she could, she turned and headed back toward the castle, with Jamie still clutching her skirt.

The maid held the door open for her and actually flinched as the black knight drew near.

He followed them back up the stairs. And even worse than the strange hot and cold feeling running through her body was the way Jamie kept glancing back at the knight with worshipful awe showing clearly on his young face.

“Tell me,” Callie said over her shoulder as she neared the top of the stairs, “why is everyone so afraid of you?”

For the first time, she heard just a hint of bitterness in the black knight’s voice. “Everyone fears the devil. Don’t you?”

Callie scoffed at his words. “You are a man, sir. Not the devil.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

“Truly?” he asked, his voice edged by humor. “Are you a witch, then, to be on such familiar terms with the devil?”

Callie paused at the top of the stairs and whirled to face him, angered over such a question. People had been burned and hanged for less. No doubt these English would love to see her executed as a witch. “I am God-fearing.”

He stood so close to her, she could smell the warm, clean scent of his skin. Those black eyes seared her with their probing intensity, and when he spoke his tone was low. Lethal. “I am not.”

She trembled at that. For there was no doubt he meant it.

To her dismay, he reached out and touched her cheek. The warmth of his hand surprised her, and it raised chills over her entire body as he traced one finger near her ear. She couldn’t believe the tenderness of his touch, the way his fingers felt feather-light against her skin. It did the strangest things to her body. Made her throb and ache with a need she’d never before encountered.

Then he gently pushed back her veil to run his hand just along her hairline, where she felt him crook his finger around one of her curls and pull it free of the linen.

His gaze narrowed on his hand, and one corner of his mouth curled in disgust.

“Red,” he said, his voice scarcely more than a growl. “I should have known.”

“I beg your pardon?” she asked, confused as to why something as simple as her hair color would elicit such a heated response from him when nothing else had.

A shuttered look came over him as he dropped his hand from her face and took a step back.

“Aelfa,” he said to the maid. “Take her to her room and see to it she stays there.”

“Aye, milord,” the maid said, dropping to a low curtsy.

 

Sin didn’t move until after he saw the Scotswoman enter her room.

You should have let her escape
.

In truth, it had been his momentary intent. Only his loyalty to Henry had prevented it.

Well, that and the small fact that he knew he’d never have to marry her. Not even Henry possessed that much power or money.

Still…

Sin felt just a tiny stirring of regret as he recalled the way she had disarmed Roger.

The wench had spirit. He’d give her that much. But that kind of spirit before one’s enemies was more curse than virtue.

He should know.

Shaking his head at the dismal memories he refused to think about, he headed down the narrow corridor to his own room, which turned out to be next to hers.

Sin clenched his jaw at Henry’s audacity. No wonder the man had become king. His tenacity would rival a mule’s. Still, it was no match for Sin’s.

He opened the door to his room and moved toward the spartan bed by the window. He spent a large amount of his time at Henry’s court and, unlike the other courtiers who lived in Henry’s hall, he’d never cared how luxurious his bed was. So long as it had a frame big enough to hold him and came with a blanket, it was enough for him.

As carefully as he could, Sin pulled his surcoat and mail hauberk from his body and placed them over the small trunk at the foot of his bed. Then he inspected the damage her sword had wrought on his forearms.

Oblivious to the pain, Sin unlaced the sleeves of his aketon as he headed toward the washstand. After draping the padded garment over a simple wooden chair, he poured water into the bowl and washed the blood from his forearms.

Reaching for a cloth, he heard a commotion outside in the hallway.

His wounds forgotten, Sin grabbed his sword from the bed and threw open the door.

Three of the royal guards were dragging the boy from the Scotswoman’s room, while a fourth guard held the woman back. The boy wailed like a dying harpy and the woman fought like a feral cat.

“What goes here?” Sin demanded.

The guard closest to him blanched, then said hastily, “His Majesty wants the boy moved to another location.”

“Nay!” the Scotswoman snarled. “You’ll not take him from me for them to abuse. Haven’t you done enough to the lad?”

“Please!” the boy wailed as he kicked and fought against the knights so fiercely that one of his shoes was thrown off. “Don’t let them take me. I don’t want to be beaten or hit anymore.”

Anger welled inside Sin at the boy’s words.

The woman struggled even more furiously against the guard holding her. If she continued, she’d end up bruised and bloody. As would the boy.

“Release him,” Sin ordered.

Everyone froze at his words.

“Milord,” the guard holding the woman said, “we are acting on the king’s orders.”

Sin directed a cutting glare to the man, who shrank back a full two steps. “Tell Henry I said it would be fine.”

“And if she escapes with the boy?” another guard asked.

“I will take custody of them. Think you she will escape
me
?”

Sin saw the indecision in the guard’s eyes as he weighed whose wrath he feared more—Sin’s or Henry’s.

In the end, the man released the boy, who ran quickly to his sister.

“I will tell the king what you said,” the guard responded, his resentful words weakened by the note of fear in his voice.

“Yea,” Sin said dryly, “tell him.”

As the guards left, Callie looked up at the black knight who had saved her brother from being taken. His kindness to them was beyond measure.

It had been on her mind to thank him, but as her gaze darted over his body, she couldn’t speak.

Indeed, ’twas all she could do not to gape.

His bare, tawny shoulders were as wide as they had appeared beneath his mail. His body was hard and well defined, the muscles flexing with every breath he took.

But what held her gaze captive were the numerous deep and angry scars crisscrossing the bare flesh. He
looked as if he had survived untold battles and attacks. The sight wrenched her heart.

And it was then she saw his bleeding forearms. “You’re hurt.”

He glanced down at the blood. “So it appears.”

“Have you someone to tend it?”

“I have myself.”

He started back to his room, but Callie followed. “Would you like for me to send in my maid?”

“Nay,” he said in that emotionless tone as he paused in the doorway and glanced from her to Jamie, then back to her. He gave her a meaningful glare that was no doubt meant to intimidate her into cowering like the others. Though it did send a tremor down her back, she was a long way from cowering. Much like he must have been, she’d been taught to let no man see her fear of him.

The knight stepped back. “My only wish is to be alone.”

“But your wounds—”

“Will heal,” he snapped.

Och, but the man was insufferable. Fine, then, let him rot.

Callie turned about, retrieved Jamie from the hallway, and returned to her room.

But she didn’t stay there. How could she? There was no doubt in her mind where the black knight had gotten his wounds.

Her sword.

Of course, he wouldn’t have been hurt had he not stopped her from escaping. Still, he had saved her and Jamie from the others. Whether she liked it or not, she owed him.

And Callie had never been one to remain indebted to anyone. Gathering her sewing kit and a small bag of herbs from her trunk, she ordered Jamie to stay with Aelfa, then opened the door.

Determined to owe him no more, she went to face the devil in his own lair. She only hoped he didn’t gobble her up.

S
in heard the latch on his door rattle. Instinctively, he pulled the dagger from his boot and balanced it between his thumb and forefinger, waiting to see if it needed to fly into the chest of whomever was trespassing.

The door opened a hair to show him a pert little nose, followed by the profile of an angel. An angel who paused while she stared at the wall opposite him.

“Sir? Sir Bl…Knight? Are you in here?”

Sin tucked the knife back into his boot. “Given how this is my room, where else would I be?”

She still hadn’t looked inside, and she chose to ignore his sarcasm. “Are you decent?”

Sin snorted. “There are many, milady, who say I haven’t a decent bone in my entire body.”

“And there are many who say it’s drafty here in the hallway. What I want to know is, are you dressed?”

“I’m as dressed as I was the last time you saw me,
which means you should go back to your room, posthaste.”

She didn’t. Instead, she opened the door wider and, to his immediate dismay, stepped inside.

Her gaze scanned the room until she found him, sitting on the bed. And when those light green eyes focused on his bare chest, Sin could swear he felt a riveting shock from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. His groin drew tight and hot with a need so profound that he actually ached from it.

What the devil was the matter with him? He wasn’t some callow youth, to swell at the sight of some winsome maid. He had conquered his body and his lust long ago.

But for some reason, his control slipped every time she came near him. Worse was the knowledge that she could be his. All he had to do was go to Henry and he could have her.

If he dared such….

Oblivious to the havoc she caused him, she crossed the floor to stand in front of the bed.

“What are you doing here?” he asked sharply.

She took his words in stride. “I’m here to tend the wounds I caused.”

Sin fingered the makeshift bandage on his left arm. It was far from a perfect wrap, but it would suffice.

Besides, the last thing he needed was for her to come any closer to him than she already was.

“Then you have no fear, milady. You weren’t the cause of my wounds.”

She frowned. “You didn’t get them when you disarmed me?”

“Aye, but it wasn’t your actions that caused them so much as my own.”

She waved his words away with her hand as she set a dark brown leather bag and a small basket on the bed beside him next to the piece of white linen he had been using for bandages.

“You are arguing just for the sake of it, and I shan’t listen anymore. Now stop your fussing and let me see about those wounds before they fester and rot your arms off.”

Sin stared at her incredulously. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had dismissed him so flippantly, but he was relatively sure he must have been in swaddling when it happened.

She reached for his right arm. He quickly moved it out of her grasp.

“Why would you care whether or not my arms rotted off?” he asked as she again tried to capture his arm. “I should think you would be wishing for it as opposed to trying to prevent it.”

She paused and gave him a peeved glare because he wouldn’t hold still. “Because you saved Jamie.”

“And you think you owe me?”

“Aye.”

He snorted again. The foolishness women could get into their heads. Still, it was the first time in his life anyone had ever
wanted
to tend a wound of his.

He found it strangely comforting, and that thought made him angry.

He didn’t need comfort. Ever.

He shot to his feet and sought to put some distance between them.

She pursued him across the room like a herding lioness.

“My lady, if you had any idea who and what I was, you’d know better than to be alone with me in my room.”

Her eyes fluttered to his face and for the first time he saw a bit of trepidation. Then she reached again for his arm.

Sin groaned as he realized she wouldn’t leave him alone until he submitted to her treatments. Fine, then, the sooner she wrapped his arm, the sooner he could return to peace.

Ever a reluctant patient, he made a grand showing of stretching his right arm out to her.

Thank you
was evident in her eyes as she gingerly pressed her fingertips to the wound.

“I do know who you are,” she said softly as she examined the cut. “Aelfa told me all about you.”

“And what did she say?”

To his dismay, she held his fist in one hand while the long, graceful fingers of her right hand glided over his hot skin with a soothing coolness that seemed to reach far deeper than just his flesh. Worse, it sent a rush of heat straight to his groin, which burned and throbbed with need.

Sin held his breath as strange and foreign sensations swept through his entire body. No one had ever touched him so gently. So kindly.

But the most terrifying of all was the sudden need he felt to reach out, cup her head in his hands, and pull her lips to his own.

By the very saints, what was wrong with him?

All he could do was stare at her like some besotted ape as he struggled to keep his breathing even and normal.

She bent her head ever so slightly down as she studied the cut. “This one is not so deep, but it still needs a poultice if it’s to heal without festering.” Her long, tapered fingers continued to brand his skin with unfamiliar kindness. “This burn scar looks fairly new. Is it from battle?”

Sin shook his head, but didn’t elaborate. There was no need to go into the events that had caused that particular injury.

Besides, it was all he could do just to stand there calmly and not pull her into his arms as an image of her lying beneath him tore through his mind.

She turned to head back to his bed, where she had left her accoutrements.

He stared at her trim back, but it was her hips that held the most appeal for him. Well shaped and round, they beckoned a man in a way most carnal. Indeed, he could easily imagine walking up behind her, lifting the hem of her dress and burying himself deep inside her until he fully sated the fire in his groin.

“My wounds are fine,” Sin snapped, wanting her out of his room immediately.

She looked over her shoulder, glared at him, then looked back down and continued digging out some noxious-smelling plant as if she didn’t care one fig for what he’d said.

The woman was mad. Insane! Completely and utterly moonstruck. No one disregarded him when he spoke. No one.

So rare was this that Sin had no idea how to deal with it.

After a few seconds, she straightened from the bed. “I need wine. Have you any?”

“Nay,” he lied.

It didn’t work. She spied a flagon on the table by the hearth.

Going to it, she quickly learned it was far from empty and Sin wished he had drunk the whole of it the night before.

She gave him a smarting stare, then poured a goblet of it.

Sin narrowed his eyes.

“I wish you would stop scowling at me,” she said as she returned the lid to the flagon. “’Tis unnerving.”

“The devil is oft—”

“And stop with the devil nonsense. I told you I know who you are and I’m not afraid of you.”

“Then you, milady, are a fool.”

“I’m not a fool,” she said with a meaningful look as she wrapped her long, sensuous fingers around the bowl of the goblet and brought it toward him. “But I do know demons when I see them.”

“Obviously not.”

She pulled leaves from the plant and dropped them into the wine. “Demons feed on children, they don’t stop them from being hurt.”

“And what would you know of demons?”

She met his gaze levelly. “Quite a bit, actually.”

She added more herbs and bits to the wine until it formed a thick paste. Then she took the paste and smeared it over his skin, her touch searing him with heat.

“Do you have a name?” she asked.

“Since you claim to know me so well, you tell me.”

She paused. “Well, I’m rather sure your mother didn’t name you Demon Butcher, Satan’s Spawn, or King’s Executioner.”

Sin suppressed a smile at her cheekiness. Aye, she was a brave lady, with the heart of a lioness. “My mother gave me no name at all,” he said as he watched her wrap a bandage over his arm.

Those light green eyes flashed as she met his gaze. “You have to be called something.”

She stood so close that her breath fell softly against his skin as she spoke and the warm, floral scent of her filled his head.

He became acutely aware of the fact that all he wore was a pair of chausses and she was dressed in naught save a thin servant’s dress. One that would be easy to divest her of.

His mouth watered.

The woman was beguiling, and for some reason he couldn’t fathom, he wanted to hear his name on her lips.

“Those who dare speak to me directly call me Sin.”

She nodded. “Cyn? Short for Cynric?”

“Nay,” he said, recovering his stoicism as he remembered who and what he was. “S-I-N. As in conceived, born in, and am currently living happily in.”

He felt her hand tremble for the first time.

“You like to frighten people, don’t you?” she asked.

“Aye.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

To his surprise, she laughed. It was a wondrous, musical sound that came from deep within her. Sin stared at her, entranced by the way her face softened.

By the saints, she was a beauty. And right then he wanted desperately to taste those lips. To feel her breath mingling with his own as he claimed her. To allow Henry to see them wed so that he could enjoy her for the rest of his life.

He froze at the thought.

Nay, he would never allow himself such comfort. Even though she touched him gently now, she would curse and fear him as all others did if she knew the truth of him and what lay in his past.

It was not for him to feel comfort or solace. He had crushed and banished that delusion long ago.

She opened up his other bandage, and gasped as she saw the blood that had already soaked the cloth.

“I am sorry for this,” she said. “I never meant for you to be hurt.”

He cocked a chiding brow at her. “Might I point out, milady, that when one picks up a sword in offense or defense, it can pretty much be determined that someone
will
get hurt.”

That rose blush returned to her cheeks as she reached for her needle. “This needs to be stitched.”

“It will heal on its own.”

“It will leave a scar.”

Sin looked down at the multitude of scars marring his bare chest and arms. “Think you it matters?”

Callie looked up at his words. Even now she couldn’t read the emotions buried in those deep, dark
eyes. What agony he must have suffered, to be able to shield himself so completely.

Normally she could read even the most careful of souls. But this man was a complete enigma to her.

“It matters to me,” she said, wondering why it was so. Yet it was.

As gently as she could, she made four short, tiny stitches in his arm. It amazed her that he didn’t cry out or tense. It was almost as if he didn’t even feel what she was doing; but then, given the severity of some of his larger scars, she could deduce he had been hurt so much that this tiny wound meant nothing to him.

But it meant a lot to her conscience, for she had never been one to cause pain in others. Though her father had been a mighty warrior, her mother had been a healer, and it was her mother’s love of life to which she subscribed.

She cut a fresh bandage from the linen and wrapped it over her stitchery.

Lord Sin remained silent as she worked, and yet she could feel his eyes on her. Searching.

There was something different about this man, though she couldn’t say what. And it wasn’t just the fact that he seemed to delight in making people fear him.

He’s the devil’s own
, Aelfa’s voice whispered in her ear.
They say he has murdered over one hundred people just for the pleasure of it, and killed thousands more in battle. When he was first brought to court, he was wearing the robes of a heathen and spoke in tongues no one knew
.

They say he sold his soul to the devil to make him invincible
.

Callie didn’t know how much of that was true, but from the looks of his body, she would say he was far from invincible.

Even so, he possessed a strength and power that was undeniable. Never had she seen his equal.

For the first time in her life, she felt herself drawn toward an Englishman.

What are you thinking
?

She blinked. Indeed, what
was
she thinking? She was the daughter of a laird who had spent his entire life trying to rid their precious lands of the English! Her father had died while fighting them, and she would never betray his memory.

Looking at Lord Sin’s chest, Callie wondered how many of the scars on his body he had received while fighting her own race. And how many of those thousands killed in battle had been Scots?

“There,” she said as she finished wrapping his arm.

Sin frowned at the sudden veil that came over her face. He didn’t know what thought had descended, but he grieved the way it had robbed her of her serenity.

She gathered her supplies, mumbled a good-bye and quickly left the room.

His frown deepened. He should be thrilled she had finally gone, and yet…

Why, all of a sudden, did the room seem colder?

Shaking his head, he banned the thought. He had more important things to do than to dwell on a woman who wasn’t his concern.

Henry would just have to find another of his men to marry her.

 

The next morning, Sin had finally succeeded in pushing the wench from his thoughts.

Of course, it had taken a cold bath to help and he had spent an agonizing night tormented by dreams of rose-red lips and sweet green eyes.

After he broke his fast, he stubbed his toe so severely he feared the digit broken. The pain of it had driven the woman right out of his mind.

Now he was heading toward the stable, where he intended to take a brisk ride to further keep his mind and body under heel.

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