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Authors: Karin Tabke

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BOOK: Master Of Surrender
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While the wound cooled, Isabel made a poultice of dark bread and herbs. Setting it to the side, she cut away the bottom part of Manhku’s leather bindings and chaussures. She folded the garments into a snug square. When she started to lift Manhku’s heavy leg, du Luc leaned forward to help her. She slid the garments beneath his knee and elevated the thigh.

Praying the cauterization would hold, Isabel slowly untied the tourniquet. With each releasing turn, she held her breath tighter. When finally the cloth was limp in her hand, she let out a long sigh of relief. It held.

“The trencher, please,” she said. Du Luc handed it to her. She dipped two fingers into the salve, then spread it over and around the wound. Once the wound was dressed, she molded the bread poultice to fit the gouge and gently packed it. She ripped several linens into long bandages and dressed the leg. Before setting back on her heels to survey her work, Isabel pushed back an errant lock of hair from her forehead and noticed the dampness of her skin despite the coolness in the air. She turned and warily eyed the knight who stood several feet from her.

For a long moment, he stared back, his expression hidden behind the shadow of his helmet.

“I can assure you, sir knight, at least for the moment, you are safe from a Saxon attack. Would you remove your helmet so that I may see the face of Satan?”

“Do you fear that cast angel?”

“Nay, I fear only God.”

First, he removed his mail gauntlets. His hands were bigger than they looked encased. Strong hands with long, thick fingers. Hands that killed. Her gaze rose to his face. Slowly, he removed his helmet, then pushed back his cowl to reveal thick shoulder-length hair the color of a moonless night. As he came to squat beside her, his lips quirked. The full impact of his harsh features caught Isabel off guard. Even with the ragged, angry line of a fresh scar along the left side of his face and the one that dug into his chin, she could not say him other than handsome. The aristocratic line of his sire’s line was prominent in the wide set of his eyes, the high cheekbones, and the aquiline nose. The blunt cut of his chin carried the line of the scar as if it was meant to be there.

Her belly trembled as the vision of him bending her to his carnal will flashed in her head. Panic tore through her with the fury of a maelstrom. Her body stiffened as taut as a bow string. Until she remembered his oath to grant her any wish should she save his man. Letting out a long breath, Isabel quieted her nerves and turned her attention back to the giant. “Your Manhku will heal so long as he remains down and the wound has time to knit. Once healed, it will not be pretty, and he will have less strength.” She pressed the back of her hand to his damp brow. “Pray he does not take the fever. The result, should he survive it, will be a wooden leg.”

She struggled to stand, her legs tight from her position on the hard stone floor. The dark knight took her elbow. She swatted his hand away and nearly fell back into the fire. Rohan grabbed her to him, laughing at her struggle to be free of him. “I do not bite, damsel.”

With reluctance, Isabel allowed him to steady her and guide her upward. “’Tis not your bite that concerns me, sir.”

He threw his head backed and laughed heartily. He peered at her, a genuine smile gracing his lips. Something shifted deep inside her. The transformation to his face when he smiled was staggering.

He lowered his voice, and as if they were the only two in the great hall, he said, “You may well find you would come to crave my bite.”

Heat rushed to Isabel’s cheeks. Her back stiffened. “I would never!”

His grin widened, and he bent close to her and whispered, “Never say never, damsel. Those words may come back to mock you.”

Isabel stepped back from him, shaking her head. Her heavy hair swirled around her shoulders. “Do not speak to me of such things. ’Tis not decent.”

His face closed at her words, and his eyes hardened. “Nor am I.”

Her heart thundered against her chest wall. One minute he threatened her life, then the next he made her promises of pleasure? His next action stymied her more. As if she were queen of the realm, he stepped back and bowed ever so chivalrously.

“Lady Isabel, ’twould appear my man’s life has been spared due to your experienced hand. What prize do you choose for the life you saved?”

She smiled sweetly and curtsied. “Why, sir knight, my maidenhead, of course.”

Rohan’s men roared uproariously behind him. Thorin slapped him hard on the back. “Hah, Rohan, the lady does best you at your own game.”

With great satisfaction, Isabel watched the dark knight’s eyes narrow, the golden sparks barely discernible beneath his stormy brow. She could see him mulling over her demand. He bowed again and grinned wide. “’Tis a price worth paying for my man’s life. No woman’s maidenhead is worth more.”

The smile that played on her lips faded. She suspected this knight, Sir Rohan du Luc, did not have much regard for the fairer sex. She wondered why, then caught herself. It mattered not, for she did not care. Instead, she curtsied and asked, “Sir knight, may I be excused to see to the business of running this keep?”

He nodded. “Aye, prepare a feast. For this eve we celebrate!”

She scowled. “Winter comes, the stores—”

“Are full to bursting. My men will hunt and fill the smokehouse more.”

Isabel curtsied again, and this time she did not choose to hide her contempt. “Of course, Sir Rohan, a feast for you to celebrate the blood on your sword.”

She turned and had begun to walk away when he called out to her. “Lady Isabel?”

She halted in her tracks, her body tense. Setting her jaw, she turned to face him. He stood rubbing his chest as if a wound bothered him. But his wide grin belied any pain. Indeed, his sprits suddenly soared with the eagles. She cocked a brow in question.

“Before the meal, have a bath prepared in the lord’s chamber, and make yourself available to bathe me. I shall be clean for this evening’s sport.”

Isabel opened her mouth to argue but decided not to. He had made his promise for all of his men as witness. He would not retract it. She swallowed hard. At least, she hoped not.


efore Isabel set about seeing to preparations for the evening feast, she saw to soothing the fears of her people. ’Twas a difficult chore, for she noted that no matter where she went in the hall, a hulking shadow was close by. If it was not one of the menacing knights, it was one of Rohan’s foot soldiers. When she ventured out to the courtyard, she stopped short when she saw Russell secured to the whipping post near the stable. He’d been stripped down to his trews. As she ran to him, he looked up and warned her off with angry eyes. “Nay, milady, let me take my punishment!”

“Russell,” she pleaded.

He dropped his eyes to the ground. “Milady, leave me my pride. I can survive his hand. Stand back.”

Isabel looked up to see Rohan stride her way, a long whip in hand. Furious, she lashed out at him. “How dare you harm a boy for protecting his mistress?”

Rohan strode past her. Isabel followed, grabbing at the handle of the whip. Rohan turned on her. “You overstep your bounds. Be gone.”

Isabel glanced at Russell, who hung his head, humiliated. She did not understand Russell’s wish for her to let him be. He seemed almost to welcome the lash. Isabel shook her head and backed away. “After your senseless torture, bring him to me to salt his wounds.” She turned and ran to the hall and up to her chamber, where she slammed the door and threw the bolt.

Then she paced the thick woven carpet. The sharp crack of the whip followed by a boy’s cry of pain stopped her in mid-step. Unable to help it, Isabel rushed to the slitted window, pushed the heavy tapestry aside, and unhinged the shutters. She had a clear view of the courtyard. A crimson slash marked Russell’s fair back. Rohan raised his arm and brought it down again. Russell cried out and pulled against the leather tethers holding him secure against the thick pole. Rohan’s arm rose and fell several more times, reducing Russell’s cries to gurgling moans. Isabel tore herself from the window, threw the bolt to her door, and rushed down the great stairway out to the courtyard. Rohan’s arm rose, and as he brought it down, she lunged at him. “Nay! You have done enough! Leave him some flesh!”

Rohan flung her off. Drops of blood flew from his hand, spattering onto her face. He glowered down at her. “What do you offer this time, damsel?”

Isabel moved to where Russell hung, his back a bloody pulp. “Have mercy on the child. Show you have some decency.”

“I have none.” Rohan tossed the whip down to the ground, then nodded to one of his men who stood nearby. “Take him to the stable.” He looked down at Isabel. “Tend to him if you must, but see also that my bath is ready.”

Isabel hurried to fetch her herbs as Russell was cut down. As she grasped the basket from where she had left it by the ebony giant, she knelt down to him and felt his brow. Warm. But not overly so. Enid came to her, twisting her hands in worry. “Milady? How fares the boy?”

“He will survive; it could have been worse. Have Bert fill a tub for the bastard knight.”

“In the lord’s chamber, milady?”


“Aye, it will be mine thus forth,” Rohan said from the doorway. She noticed the carpenter had begun to repair it.

“’Tis my father’s, and he will expect to use it upon his return!”

Rohan moved toward her, removing his gauntlets as he did. Russell’s blood clung to the metal circlets. “Your father is not coming back.”

Isabel gasped, her heart tightening at such cruel words. “You have no heart.”

He nodded. “Aye, make no mistake of it.” He looked past her to Enid. “See to my bath.”

Isabel moved past him as Enid hurried to her task. Rohan grabbed Isabel’s arm, spinning her around to face him. “See to your squire, but make haste, I expect you to tend me.”


Rohan followed the maid’s lithe form as she hurried past him into the courtyard. His blood warmed, coursing through his veins. Each time he thought of the Lady Isabel warm and naked beneath him, his cock swelled. He had long ago tired of camp whores. In truth, he had only one reason to seek out a woman. He’d never taken a regular leman. His eyes narrowed as Isabel vanished from view. Mayhap it was time to change that. He doubted he would tire of the wench in one night, and the long English winters were bitter. Though there wasn’t much to her, she would be a warm body to spend the long nights with. Besides, when there were no enemies to squelch, he could think of only one sport that gave him the same pleasure as his lust for the fight. Aye, it would be his pleasure to warm the cool heart of the maid Isabel.

He frowned. She was not only beautiful but a wily one. He’d have wagered his horse and mail she would have asked that he not punish the boy for his trespass. Not ask for her maidenhead to remain intact. Rohan smiled then. Ah, but while he promised her her maidenhead, it was not what she swore an oath to him for.

He rubbed his chest where the brand of the sword bothered him still. After all these years, he had not become accustomed to the hard scar, a constant reminder of that pit of a prison.

Rohan strode through the partial portal, glad to see the carpenter making quick progress on the repair. A new permanent door would begin the next morn. He stood at the top step of the large hall known as Rossmoor. A fitting name. Its rich tapestries and fine furnishings pleased him.

Rossmoor was no hovel. The grand manor sat on a slight mound looking down into an open meadow surrounded by thick forest. The village tucked against the bailey walls just down the way once teemed with expert artisans and craftsmen. The granaries were full to bursting, the smokehouse laden with an assortment of meats. The stable boasted several fine mares that would strengthen his line. Rohan’s gaze traveled to the lord’s table and the great lord’s chair positioned by the roaring hearth. If his luck held and William was true to his oath to reward Rohan’s unwavering loyalty these past six years, he would one day sit upon it. His blood quickened. Aye, he could see himself as permanent lord and master here. Next his gaze touched on his trusted left arm, Manhku. For Thorin was his right.

He stepped down the next stair, then moved slowly across the woven rush mats. Several hounds sniffed near the kitchen entrance, looking for a morsel. Rohan frowned and cast a gaze about the hall. Nary a servant in sight. No doubt, they huddled in fear in a dark corner.

He’d have a word with the lady instructing them to be more visible. They were useless to him if he could not utilize them. Rohan stopped and squatted next to Manhku. The African slept fitfully. A soft sheen of sweat dotted his brow.

The wound was bad, he admitted, but Manhku had suffered worse. They all had. He would survive to see many more winters. Rohan stood and let the warmth of the fire infiltrate his tired muscles. They had ridden nonstop since Senlac Hill, spending no more than two days at each shire they claimed in William’s name.

Rossmoor would see them settled until he received word from his liege that he should join his train in Westminster. He welcomed the respite.

Rohan tilted his head back and closed his eyes. As oft happened, the vision of A’isha sprang into his mind’s eye. Their angel of mercy in Jubb. Had she not defied her brother and her father and sacrificed her life for theirs, he and his Blood Swords would all be naught but dust. He owed her much he could never repay.

He had turned back for her. But the bats. They swarmed her in a dark, enveloping death spiral. He’d shouted for them to disperse. But they turned on him, and he had only one course of action. And so he moved as fast as his legs would carry him to the beckoning daylight—and freedom.

Rohan opened his eyes and stared into the fire. A braver woman he had never met. He would never forget her sacrifice for him.

“Sir du Luc?” a timid woman’s voice squeaked from behind him.

Rohan turned weary eyes on the maid Enid and scowled. She bobbed her head and stared at the floor. “Your bath is ready, sir.”

“Fetch your lady posthaste. Tell her if she dallies, I will see her strung out on the whipping post next.”

Enid gasped, bobbed again, and took off toward the portal. Rohan moved slowly up the stairway. With no eyes upon him, he gave way to the soreness in his right leg. Another constant reminder of his time in that cesspit of a prison.


As if she were being led to the gibbet, Isabel walked slowly up the stone stairway leading to the lord’s chamber. She pushed the heavy door open and caught her breath at the sight that greeted her. Rohan stood as naked as the day he was born before the firelight of the hearth. His back was to her, and she could not help but admire his manly shape. His buttocks were rounded and hard, the muscles flexing with his movement. His long legs were equally muscled and finely proportioned. His wide shoulders tapered into a narrow waist. Her eyes traveled down his buttocks to his legs and feet. She frowned. A reddish-purple scar marred the back of his right hock.

Steam rose from the copper tub positioned before the fire. Rohan turned angry eyes on her. “You tarry at my expense, wench. My bath grows cold.”

Isabel kept her eyes focused on his chest. When she did, a gasp caught her by surprise. Pressing her hand to her lips, she could not help but stare at the large scar marring his skin. As if a burning sword had been pressed into his chest. An inkling of compassion stirred in her chest for this man. For to survive such a terrible injury, he must have suffered unbearable pain. Quickly, Isabel settled her emotions, then, as if she saw such brutal scars every day, she said, “The water still steams. Stop your complaining, and step in.”

He raised a dark brow, but she had gathered her composure and was ready to see his bath through. Gathering up a linen towel and a bar of sandalwood soap from the bench beside the cabinet, Isabel noticed several saddle bags and a small trunk set on the floor at the foot of the large four-poster bed. By their presence she knew he meant to stay. ’Twas no wonder. One thing this Norman could not say was that Rossmoor lacked any creature comforts. The hall was renowned for its hospitality and luxurious amenities.

As Rohan sank into the warm water, he let out a long sigh. “By God, this feels good.”

Isabel moved to the side of the tub and dipped the cloth into the water, then lathered it with soap. She wrinkled her nose. “By the stench of you, it has been a score of winters since last you bathed.”

He settled back against the high rim and closed his eyes. “Only half a score.”

Isabel decided not to engage him in further conversation. The sooner he was bathed, the sooner she could leave him. He made her uncomfortable in a way she was not used to. When he’d turned to face her, she caught the heat in his eyes. And she knew he would find a way to get her into his bed.

But try as she may to keep her mouth closed, curiosity got the best of Isabel. She traced a soapy finger from his throat down the indentation of the scar. “How came you by this?”

Rohan’s body stiffened at the question. His eyes remained closed, and he did not answer. Feeling most uncomfortable, Isabel chose not to push.

She rubbed the soap into his head, digging her fingers into his thick hair. She poured clear water from the pitcher on the bench and rinsed. Next, she lathered the rag and rubbed it into his chest, mashing the fine hair there. When she moved to soap his arm, he grabbed her hand. She yipped and pulled back.

Rohan opened his eyes. His gaze held hers. “Not so fast, damsel. I would enjoy this moment. It has been a long time since one so fair as you has rinsed the stench of battle from my body.”

Isabel lowered her eyes. His intense gaze discomfited her. “I have matters that need my attention,” she softly said.

He raised her chin with two fingers, forcing her to look at him. “The only matter you need to see to is me. Should you make haste, I will have you repeat the bath until I am satisfied.”

Isabel bit back an angry retort but made no move to continue the chore. His fingers tightened around her wrist, and he pulled her toward him. She resisted, but he pulled harder until she was leaning across the tub nearly in his lap. Her breasts dipped into the warm water. She recoiled, knowing the wetness would show every detail of the swell of her bosom. He pulled her closer so that now to gain balance, she had to rest her left hand on the edge of the tub. His lips hovered only inches from hers. His warm breath caressed her cheek. “I own you, damsel.”

“Nay,” she murmured, their breaths mingling.

He trailed a wet fingertip across the high swell of her breasts. Her body shivered at the touch. Heat rose in her cheeks.

“Aye, I do, and you would do well to know it.” He pressed his open palm to her left breast and softly squeezed. She closed her eyes as shame flooded her. But worse than that, in the very deepest recesses of her body, a spark of pleasure ignited between her thighs. The sensation was foreign, yet it intrigued her more than she would ever admit. Confusion reigned in her head. Arlys had touched her thus, and she had felt nothing but irritated. His kisses left her cold. Yet he was gentle. Not like this barbarian.

“Not only are you a murderer, but you are not a man of his oath.”

Rohan would not be waylaid. “Your mocking words do not affect me, damsel. I will do as I please. And at the moment”—he pressed his lips to her throat and pulled her closer, as she stiffened, bracing her arm against the pull of him—“you please me.”

“You gave me your word. You would leave me intact,” she breathed, trying hard to ignore the way his lips branded her skin and the warm flush cascading through her because of it.

“Aye, I gave you my word not to take your maidenhead.” He pulled back from her, and his tawny eyes sparkled. Isabel shivered. He was going to trick her. “But you swore before my men and your people to allow me to explore what lies beneath your gown. And there is more than your maidenhead at stake.”

Isabel cried out and pushed back, shoving the linen into his face. He sputtered as the soap burned his eyes. She scurried to the door, intending to leave the chamber, but his harsh words stopped her. “Break your oath to me, Isabel, and see mine broken as well.” He grabbed the pitcher of rinsing water from the bench and poured some over his face. When he opened his eyes, they were red, but she could see he was free of pain. “Now, get thee back here and complete my bath.”

BOOK: Master Of Surrender
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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