Authors: A Touch So Wicked
Damian’s expression hardened. He grasped her arm, pulled her up, and hissed into her ear, “Your kinsmen must believe that you accept your fate.”
“That would be a stretch of the imagination, my lord,” Elissa returned sarcastically.
Rather than cause a ruckus, Elissa let Damian usher her to the head table.
“Have you made your farewells to your mother and sister?” Damian asked.
“Aye,” Elissa answered sullenly.
“You will be given a proper escort for your journey,” Damian allowed.
Elissa picked at her food and sipped ale sparingly. Sitting beside the dangerous dark lord was unnerving. Power emanated from his pores, and his blatant sexuality flustered her. Dimly she wondered how many women he had tupped, and whether there was a special woman in his life.
“Are you married, my lord?” The question came unbidden, startling her. She hadn’t the slightest interest in the ruthless Englishman sent by his king to destroy her life.
If her question surprised him, he did not show it. “Nay, lady, I have no wife, but the king has promised me an heiress.”
Elissa said nothing as she pushed her food around her plate. In a fit of pique, she fervently prayed that Lord Damian’s heiress had pendulous breasts, protruding teeth, and a lumpy figure. It would serve him right, she thought, smiling with self-righteous pleasure.
“Has something amused you?” Damian asked. “Perhaps you’d like to share it.”
“’Tis naught, my lord. I’m not hungry. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to retire to my chamber.”
“I will escort you,” Damian said, rising gallantly.
“Donna bother, I know the way.”
“’Tis no bother.” He picked up a brace of candles from the table. “After you, lady.”
Elissa rose stiffly and stalked toward the spiral staircase. “Do my kinsmen know I am to be sent away tomorrow?”
“They’ve been told. Be careful, lady, the stairs are treacherous.”
“I’ve climbed these same steps every day since I learned to walk,” came her scathing reply. “You needn’t proceed any further if you’re afraid of falling.”
Her words earned a growl that began deep in Damian’s broad chest as he prodded her up the stairs. Elissa paused at the top landing and turned abruptly, placing a small hand on Damian’s chest. “’Tis far enough, my lord.”
Damian looked beyond her. “Which chamber is yours?”
Elissa had no intention of answering his impertinent question. “Good night, my lord.”
She turned with a swiftness that startled them both and consequently lost her balance. Damian had the presence of mind to anticipate disaster and reached for her. Elissa made a desperate grab for the closest support, which happened to be Damian. He was ready. He had already blown out the candles and dropped them, holder and all.
Damian’s large hands sought purchase on Elissa’s slim waist, preventing her headlong plunge down the stairs. A tremor went through him as he took the full length of her soft body, breast to chest, thigh to thigh. He felt her tremble. He groaned in response, and without conscious thought, shifted his hands downward to the taut mounds of her buttocks. He pulled her close, inserting his knee between her legs in a purely instinctive move.
She raised her face to him, her eyes luminous in the darkened passage. His reaction was spontaneous as his lips descended to devour hers. She looked so innocently shocked, tasted so sweet, that he lost all semblance of control. He plundered her mouth ruthlessly, his tongue battering against her lips until they opened to him.
Damian could tell she’d never been kissed before and he exulted in that knowledge. It would be a shame to confine her in a convent before she experienced passion at least once. And the vixen was passionate, whether she realized it or not. Her mouth had softened beneath his and her sweet tongue met his with a shy eagerness that brought him to throbbing erection.
Clasping her tightly against him, he lifted her and walked down the passageway. “Your chamber. Which one?”
“The one beyond Lora’s,” she gasped. “Please put me down. I can find my own way.”
“Not bloody likely,” Damian growled.
He found the chamber, opened the door with one hand, and carried her inside. He slammed the door shut with his boot heel and scanned the dimly lit room for the bed. He was so aroused he didn’t feel her hands drumming against his chest, or realize that the gurgling noises rumbling from her throat were protests. It wasn’t until he released her mouth and shoved her backward onto the bed that he realized things had gotten out of hand.
“Don’t, please. Would you send me to the convent with my innocence ripped from me?”
He stepped back, utterly astounded. “Bloody hell! What have you done to me?”
Her breathing was erratic but her voice was strong. “’Tis you who attacked me. I’ve done naught, my lord.”
“Naught but entice me, vixen,” Damian said harshly. He backed away from the bed, his staff a painful throbbing within the tight confines of his breeches. “Be ready to leave at first light.”
Damian stormed from the chamber, his swollen sex reminding him that he needed a woman. Any woman would do. But when he searched the hall for a likely young maid, none had the vibrant red hair and glittering green eyes of the vixen he’d just left in her chaste bed. With a snort of disgust, he decided it was a good thing the Maiden of Misterly was leaving the next day, for if he had his way she wouldn’t remain a maiden for long.
Elissa lay where Damian had left her, her chest rising and falling with each rapid heartbeat. What had just happened? she wondered dismally. What had she done to the Demon Knight to turn him into a rapacious animal? She touched her lips. They still tingled from his kisses, and she felt wet and swollen in private places she rarely thought about.
The new Lord of Misterly was far too attractive, too experienced for a maiden who had never been kissed. Thank God she was leaving, for nothing good could come of what happened tonight.
Elissa was still shaking when she rose and pulled her knapsack from beneath the bed. She placed a few more articles of clothing inside and snapped it shut. Then she donned a woolen dress, flannel petticoat, and warm hooded cloak. Finally, she located some sulfur matches and placed them in her pocket.
Elissa waited until the darkest part of night. When all was quiet, she opened her door and peered down the darkened hallway, breathing a sigh of relief when the only sound drifting up from the great hall was that of muted snoring.
Holding her knapsack against her chest, Elissa crept down the stairs, grateful for her dark cloak that blended with the shadows. She had tread these same stairs so many times in the past she had no need of a light to guide her. When she reached the bottom, instead of picking her way around sleeping men to reach the front door, she slipped into the dark void beneath the solar stairs. It took but a moment to locate the tunnel exit. Opening the door noiselessly, she slipped through. Fumbling in the dark, Elissa found the lamp hanging from a hook embedded in the solid rock wall and stuck a match to the wick. Guided by the lamp’s mellow glow, Elissa continued down the dank passage. Mice scurried out of her way but she tried to ignore them and any other creepy creatures that inhabited the little used tunnel.
It seemed to Elissa that she had walked forever before she arrived at the exit. A few wooden steps led to a trapdoor that opened inside a shabby hut in the forest beyond Misterly. Lord Alpin had ordered it built many years ago to conceal the tunnel exit. He had also kept the passageway clear of debris should a hasty escape be needed.
The trapdoor opened with little difficulty. Elissa doused the lamp and left it on the step before leaving the tunnel and closing the trapdoor behind her. She exited the hut a few moments later and soon disappeared into the dark forest.
Damian paced his room, his mind and body too restless to sleep. He was a fighting man, one who had survived by relying on his instincts, and instinct told him all was not as it should be, even though he hadn’t sought the chamber he had taken for himself in the north tower until the keep had settled down for the night. Could something be amiss with Lady Fraser and her small daughter? Sleep was impossible until he learned what had set his nerves on edge. Holding a candlestick to light his way, he left his chamber.
When he arrived in the great hall, he encountered the overflow of men who hadn’t found beds in the barracks, sleeping on mats near the glowing hearth, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Damian glanced toward the solar, deciding to check on the ailing Lady Marianne and Lora before returning to his bed. He mounted the stairs and found naught amiss. His instincts had failed him, he decided, as he turned to retrace his steps to his own chamber. Suddenly someone stepped out of Lora’s room, startling him. He recognized Elissa’s kinswoman but didn’t recall her name. When she saw Damien, she nearly dropped the candlestick she carried.
“My lord! You frightened me.”
“Who are you? What are you doing up so late?”
“I’m Maggie Fraser. I often stay with Lora when she has a bad night.”
“What seems to be the trouble?”
“She’s coughing something fierce. I was on my way to ask Nan for a potion to ease her.”
“Then you’d best hurry, mistress. Unless my ears deceive me, the child is still coughing.”
Maggie scurried off. Since Damian was already awake, he decided to sit with the child until Maggie returned. He stepped into the chamber and approached the bed. Lora was stirring restlessly after a fit of coughing, her small face flushed. She saw Damian standing over her and her eyes widened with fear.
“Nay, child, you have naught to fear from me. Rest easy. Mistress Maggie has gone for Nan.”
“I donna like you,” Lora said. “I want Lissa.”
“I’ll get her for you.”
Lora shook her head. “’Tis too late. She’s already gone.”
“Nay, she’s just…” Damian went still as a prickling sensation crawled up the back of his neck. “What are you saying? Why wouldn’t Elissa be in her chamber?”
Apparently Lora realized she had spoken out of turn, for she clapped her palm to her mouth. Damian gently removed her small hand.
“Tell me, Lora, ’tis all right. If your sister is not in the keep, she could be in trouble.”
Lora said naught; she merely stared at Damian through luminous eyes.
“Donna frighten the lass, me lord.”
Damian spun on his heel, surprised to see Nan standing behind him. “I didn’t hear you enter.” Nan leaned over the bed and touched Lora’s forehead. “I wasn’t trying to frighten the child, Nan. I’m concerned about her health. Will she be all right?”
“Aye. She’s getting better, but sometimes her cough becomes worse during the night. I’ll handle it.”
“Administer to her, then. I’ll wait in the passage. I would have a word with you.”
Turning on his heel, he left the chamber. But instead of pacing outside the door, he rapped on Elissa’s door and burst inside when no answer was forthcoming. He was angry but not surprised to find the bed empty and Elissa missing. Muttering a curse, he turned abruptly, almost knocking Nan down.
“What do you know of this?” Damian roared.
“You’re lying. You’re not helping your mistress by withholding the truth. Did she leave the keep? How did she get past the guards? A young maiden wandering the countryside on her own is an invitation to disaster.”
“She willna come to harm, me lord,” Nan said with utter confidence.
Damian gave her a strange look. “What makes you so certain?”
“I know many things,” she said cryptically. “Ye’d best hurry if ye want to catch her before trouble finds her.”
Damian realized there was more to the old crone than met the eye. “I’ll leave immediately. Can you tell me in which direction to look? Does she seek Tavis Gordon?”
Nan shrugged. “Mayhap. His stronghold is deep in the mountains, me lord, but ye’ll find Elissa in the forest.”
Damian’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Are you telling me the truth? I thought all Frasers considered me the enemy.”
“There are many definitions for enemy, me lord. Neither Elissa nor Misterly will find peace with the Gordons. Elissa doesna believe me but she canna stop the hand of destiny.”
Damian shook his head in dismay. He already knew his own fate and it didn’t include the Maiden of Misterly. The heiress promised to him by the king was his future.
Elissa plunged deep into the forest, ignoring the brambles snagging the hem of her petticoat and tree branches snatching at her cloak. The rain that had fallen earlier had turned the earth mushy beneath her sturdy boots but the sky had miraculously cleared and the moon had suddenly appeared to guide Elissa to her destination. She didn’t know exactly where to find Tavis’s stronghold, but she was convinced that if she didn’t find him, he’d find her.
Tavis had once held vast lands south of Misterly, but he had been forced into hiding after Culloden and his lands had been given to an English lord. Tavis and the surviving clansmen had fled into the mountains, where they lived in crude huts and caves. Though they were considered outlaws, they had lived in relative freedom ever since. Then word reached the king that Tavis Gordon was planning insurrection and intended to unite his clan with the Frasers.
Following a little used path through the forest, Elissa was making good time until a bank of rain-swollen clouds scudded across the moon, pitching the forest into blackness. Then a heavy mist rose up and swallowed her.
Elissa soon lost her way amid the towering trees. She knew that to go on without light to guide her was dangerous. But some good would come of the weather that had suddenly turned against her, she reflected. It would hinder searchers, should Lord Damian decide to look for her.
Elissa shivered as the first drops of rain hit her face. She stopped beneath a broad-leafed tree and slid down its trunk to the ground. Resting her head against her knapsack, she decided the best thing to do was to rest while she could and continue her journey at sunup.
She hadn’t intended to sleep, but her eyes were so heavy she couldn’t hold them open. Despite her best intentions, she huddled miserably beneath her cloak and drifted off.
Damian was wet, cold, hungry, and furious. The chilling rain did nothing to improve his foul mood. He’d been tramping through the forest for hours. When the moon had scudded beneath a bank of clouds and rain began to fall, Damian cursed his rotten luck. He was somewhat consoled, however, by the knowledge that Elissa had to be as uncomfortable as he was.
As rain poured down upon his head, his temper notched upward several degrees. By the time a murky dawn arrived, Damian was in a murderous mood. Didn’t the red-haired vixen realize the dangers an unprotected maiden might encounter in these turbulent times? Brigands and four-footed predators roamed these forests in search of prey, and Elissa was a tasty morsel.
Damian reined his horse through the forest, his keen eyes searching for clues. He wasn’t about to give up, for to do so would be admitting defeat at the hands of a woman. In all his years as a soldier, he’d never lost a battle or given up. If Elissa eluded him now, he stood to lose the future he’d always dreamed of. Nay, he decided, his face hardening with resolve. Elissa would
escape him. There was too much at stake.
Suddenly Damian spied something caught on a thorn and reined Cosmo to a halt. He reached out and plucked a small piece of material from the bush. Turning it over in his fingers, he recognized it as a scrap of flannel. Was this a piece of Elissa’s petticoat? His lips curved into a smile. Had Elissa seen that smile, she would have been terrified.
A short time later, Damian found a small footprint in the soft earth and another piece of cloth. Grimly determined, he pushed forward. Caught up in the thrill of the chase, rain, cold and hunger were forgotten as he became a hunter running down his prey.
Elissa awoke with a start, dismayed to find the murky light of a dismal dawn greeting her. She picked herself up from the ground and stretched. Her bones protested the exercise as well as the chill that had stiffened them. Her stomach rumbled but she ignored it; she had no time for hunger. It was her own fault she’d forgotten to provide food for her journey and had eaten very little the day before.
She picked up her knapsack and quickly found the path she had abandoned during the night. Shortly thereafter she heard a rustling noise behind her and froze. Was an animal stalking her? There were plenty of them in the forest. Mayhap brigands. Or poachers. Pray, Lord, not the Demon Knight. ’Twas unlikely he’d find her so soon; her absence wouldn’t have been noticed yet. The sound grew closer, louder. Someone was definitely behind her. When she heard a horse blowing through his nostrils, she dropped her knapsack and fled, her heart bouncing erratically against her ribcage.
Elissa ran as fast as her legs could carry her but the pounding hooves came closer, closer still, until she feared she’d be run down. She dared a glance over her shoulder and saw a sight so frightening it caused her to stumble. A dark rider perched high upon a black stallion, his cloak billowing out behind him and his powerful thighs girding his mount, came pounding after her. That one brief glimpse hadn’t revealed her stalker’s face, and Elissa was sure she was better off not seeing it.
Abruptly she was lifted off her feet. She felt the strength and determination in the brawny arm clasped around her middle and gasped out a painful breath. She was a scant moment away from expiring from lack of air when the horse skidded to a halt and she was dragged up roughly into the saddle before her captor.
The man holding her between his strong thighs said nothing, as if waiting for her to speak. Though she was frightened by this dark devil, her fury overcame prudence.
“How dare you!” Elissa rounded on her captor. “Do you know who I am?”
When an ominous silence ensued, Elissa raised her eyes to her captor’s face and fear renewed its hold on her.
“Were you expecting someone else?” he mocked. “Tavis Gordon, mayhap?”
“How did you…who told you? I shouldn’t have been missed yet.”
“I should have placed a guard at your door,” Damian growled in a threatening voice. “What a fool I’ve been! I didn’t realize how desperate you were to reach Tavis Gordon. Perhaps I’ve misjudged you. Perhaps you know Tavis Gordon more intimately than I assumed. Are you lovers?”
Elissa raised her arm to strike Damian, but he grasped her wrist and held it behind her.
“Don’t ever do that again,” he warned.
“Donna insult me again,” Elissa shot back.
Elissa ground her teeth in frustration when Damian reined his horse back toward Misterly. “Where are you taking me?”
“Home. How did you leave the keep without being seen? The gate was closed. Is there a way in and out of the fortress that I don’t know about?”
Elissa glared at him, her lips clamped tightly together.
“Not talking?” Damian mocked. “Never mind, if a secret exit exists, I’ll find it.”
She made a sound of derision deep in her throat. “Your guards aren’t as vigilant as you think. There is no secret exit. I’m warning you, Lord Damian, there are no walls high enough to keep me where I donna wish to be. Send me to the convent if you wish, but I’ll not stay there.”
Her words created a firestorm in Damian’s brain. He hadn’t counted on the Maid of Misterly’s rebellious nature. Would the convent walls contain her? he wondered. He knew precisely what would happen if she escaped. Her people would follow her to the Gordon stronghold and that which he’d hoped to prevent would happen.
There had to be some practical way to keep Elissa from finding her way to Tavis Gordon. The problem seemed insurmountable, but Damian considered himself up to the task. He pondered the situation all the way back to the fortress.
Sir Richard met them. “You found her,” he said, slanting Elissa a quelling look.
“Aye, Dickon, soaked through but apparently unhurt. Have a tub and hot water sent up to my chamber.”
“Will she be traveling to the convent today?”
“Nay, Dickon, I’m not sure sending her away is the best solution.”
“What! Are you daft, Damian? The woman is a troublemaker. Send her away before she causes more problems. How did she escape without being seen?”
“If you think I’m trouble now, wait until they have me in the convent,” Elissa charged. “They’ll rue the day.”
“’Tis exactly what I’m afraid of,” Damian muttered darkly. “See to the tub, Dickon.”
“As you will, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
you plan to do with me, my lord?” Elissa asked.
“I haven’t decided. Until I do, you’ll remain locked in the tower.”
Damian saw her shiver and realized she was as cold and probably as hungry as he was. Grasping her arm, he ushered her through the hall to the winding staircase that led to his tower chamber.
“I demand to be returned to the solar.”
Damian gritted his teeth. “You have no right to demand anything. Your fate lies entirely with me. I don’t think the king cares whether you’re in a convent or…” His words ended in an ominous silence.
Elissa’s small chin notched upward. “Go ahead, finish your sentence. Nay, let me do it for you. I would be less of a problem to your country if I were dead.”
“Don’t put words in my mouth, lady. Right now I’m not too kindly disposed toward you. I’m soaked to the bone and in need of food.”
“And I’m not?”
Elissa’s prickly bravado amused Damian. She appeared fearless, but he knew she wasn’t as brave as she pretended, for her lips were trembling and her hands were clasped so tightly her knuckles were white.
When they reached the stairs, Elissa dug in her heels. Rather than argue, Damian swept her into his arms and carried her up the stone staircase as if she were weightless.
Damian’s chamber was the only one in that particular tower. His door stood open and he carried her inside, slamming it shut behind him. The moment he set her on her feet, Elissa whirled to confront him.
“Why have you brought me here? Don’t you dare touch me.”
“Fear not, lady. As thorny as you are, I fear I’d bleed to death from a thousand puncture wounds.”
“I wish to see my mother and sister.”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. You’re to see no one until I’ve decided what’s to be done with you.”
“I thought that had already been decided.”
“I’m not sure the convent’s the wisest choice. I need time to mull over the options where you’re concerned. As you so kindly pointed out, convent walls are not secure enough to keep you from escaping and running to Gordon. Perhaps I should wash my hands of you and send you to London for the king to deal with.”
Elissa recoiled in horror. “Nay! You’d be sending me to my death.”
“Not necessarily. Perhaps the king will find an English husband for you. Someone who would beat you into submission.”
The fiery sparks in her green eyes all but singed him. “I willna go to London and I willna marry an Englishman!”
Damian’s answer was forestalled by a discreet knock on the door. He strode forward, flung it open, and stood aside as servants rolled a large tin tub into the chamber and placed it before the hearth. While Damian looked on, the tub was filled with buckets of hot and cold water. The lass, Maggie, remained behind, casting anxious glances at Elissa.
“You may go,” Damian said dismissively.
“Nay, stay,” Elissa said. “The Demon Knight means me harm.”
Damian swung around to face Elissa, one dark brow winging upward. “Your lies are beginning to annoy me. No harm will come to you at my hands.” He turned back to Maggie. “You have my word on it, mistress. Kindly shut the door behind you.”
“Donna believe him, Maggie! He means to ravish me.”
“Out!” Damian shouted.
“What’s amiss?” Sir Richard asked, poking his head into the chamber. “I could hear you shouting all the way down to the hall.”
“Mistress Maggie has duties elsewhere, Dickon,” Damian bit out. “She’s not needed here.”
“Nay, Dickon, I know what I’m doing. Escort Mistress Maggie from my chamber and close the door behind you.”
Dickon looked as if he wanted to object but apparently thought better of it. Grasping Maggie’s arm, he drew her out into the passageway. Damian turned the iron key in the lock and placed it in a pouch he carried on his belt.
“Get in the tub,” Damian ordered. “You’ll catch your death in those wet clothes.”
Elissa glanced longingly at the tub and shook her head. “Not until you leave.”
He cast her a dark look. “Shall I undress you? I’m quickly losing patience, lady. I intend to use the tub after you and I don’t enjoy bathing in cold water.”
He took a menacing step forward.
“Nay! I…I’ll do it myself. Turn your head.”
Damian stared at her, then turned his back and walked to the window. “You needn’t worry. Your dubious charms hold little interest for me.”
He nearly choked on the lie. When Elissa sat between his thighs on Cosmo’s back, he’d been painfully aware of every tempting curve beneath her wet dress. Not even his anger could make him forget the kisses they had shared, or the way her rounded bottom filled his hands. He remembered her soft, supple body and firm, tempting breasts. He’d wanted her then and he wanted her now.
Damian heard the rustle of clothing and felt a tightening in his groin. She was undressing. Blood swelled his loins. A splash of water was followed by a contented sigh. Torment rode him as he visualized his hands sliding over her slick flesh. Suddenly the window and the scenery beyond held little appeal for him and he whipped around. His gaze found her.
Her eyes were closed, her head resting against the rim, the upper curves of her rounded breasts visible above the water line. Because the tub wasn’t large enough to accommodate her length, her legs were bent, revealing dimpled knees. Damian’s heartbeat accelerated. What in bloody hell was wrong with him? He’d seen more than his share of naked women in his lifetime, so why should this insignificant woman affect him?
As if aware that he was watching her, Elissa opened her eyes and met his heated gaze. She gasped and pulled her knees up to her chest, denying him a view that pleased him greatly.
Her voice rose on a note of panic. “What are you doing? Turn around.”
Damian’s silver eyes darkened with ill-concealed desire, but he forced himself to remain motionless. Had he succumbed to his body’s dictates, he would have swept Elissa from the blasted tub and carried her to his bed for a night of unbridled passion. This wouldn’t do. He had to find a willing woman soon or go crazy.