Authors: Johanna Lindsey
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica, #Historical, #Romance
because he liked the first one.
Norway 873 A.D.
irk Gerhardsen dropped to the ground and then elbowed his way closer to the river where the golden-haired girl had stopped. Kristen Haardrad looked once behind her, as if she might have heard him, then tethered her great stallion and walked right to the water’s edge. To the left, the Horten Fjord flowed swiftly on its course. But here a spattering of boulders kept the currents at bay, and the water was smooth, calm, like a still pool. Dirk knew from past experience that it would be deliciously warm, too, and much too inviting for the girl to ignore.
He had known Kristen was coming here when he saw her leave her uncle Hugh’s house and ride this way. When they were younger, much younger, they used to swim here together with her brothers and cousins. Kristen had a large family: three brothers, an uncle who was Jarl on this side of the fjord, and dozens of distant cousins from her father’s side, all of whom thought the sun and moon rose in this one girl.
Dirk had thought so too, until recently. He had taken his heart in hand and asked Kristen to marry him, as so many others had done before him. She had turned him down—gently, he grudgingly admitted—but still the disappointment was nearly devastating. He had watched
her grow from a tall, awkward child into a majestic, stunning woman, and there was nothing else he wanted quite so much as he wanted to call Kristen Haardrad his own.
Dirk held his breath as she began to remove her linen gown. He had hoped she would. It was why he had followed her, knowing that she might, hoping, and—Odin help him—she did. The sight was almost more than he could bear—the long, shapely legs…the gentle curve of her hips…the slim, straight back covered only by a thick tawny braid. Just a fortnight ago, he had held that thick braid in his fist and forced her lips to meet his in a kiss that fired his blood to near madness. She had slapped him soundly for it, a blow that actually staggered him, for Kristen was no small, weak-limbed girl; she was in fact only two inches shorter than he, and he was six feet tall. This did not daunt him, though. At that time, at that moment, he had felt he really would go mad if he couldn’t have her.
It was fortunate that Kristen’s older brother, Selig, had intruded, but unfortunate that it was precisely when Dirk had reached for her again and was wrestling her to the ground. He and Selig both bore wounds from that encounter, and Dirk had lost a good friend in Selig—not because they fought, for Norsemen were ever ready to fight for any reason, but because of what he had attempted to do to Kristen. And he could not deny he would have taken her, right there on the floor of her father’s stable. He would have been dead now if he had succeeded. And it was not her brothers or cousins he would have had to fight, but her father, Garrick, who would have killed Dirk with his bare hands.
Kristen was covered now by the water, but the fact that Dirk could no longer see all of her did not cool the fire running through his veins. He had not thought what torture it would be to him to watch her swimming. He
had only reasoned that she would be alone, far from her family, and that this might be the only time he would ever find her alone again. There were rumors she was to wed soon, to Sheldon, the oldest son of Perrin, her father’s best friend. Of course there had been rumors before, countless times, for Kristen had seen nineteen winters, and in the last four years nearly every able-bodied man along the fjord had asked for her to wife.
She was floating now on her back, the tips of her toes visible, the creamy tops of her thighs, her upthrust breasts—Loki take her, she was asking to be ravished! Dirk could withstand it no longer. He tore his clothes off in his haste.
Kristen heard the splash and looked in the direction she assumed it came from, but there was nothing there. Rapidly she turned a full circle, but the warm pool was empty except for her, the only ripples in the water those she caused. Nonetheless, she started swimming toward the bank where her gown lay, along with the only weapon she had with her, her jewel-hilted dagger, which was worn more as an ornament than for protection.
She had been a fool to come here by herself, instead of waiting for one of her brothers to join her. But they were busy readying her father’s great Viking ship that Selig would be taking east next week, and the day was so beautifully warm after a cool spring and an exceptionally cold winter. She had been unable to resist the temptation.
It had seemed like an adventure to do what she had never done before, and she did so love adventure. But all of her previous adventures had been shared with others. And mayhap it had not been the wisest thing to remove all of her clothes, though at the time it had seemed a deliciously wicked, bold thing to do, and if Kristen was anything, she was bold. It was always after the fact, as now, that she regretted being so bold.
Just as her feet touched bottom, he rose in front of her, big and threatening. Kristen groaned inwardly that it was Dirk instead of someone else, for he had already tried once before to force his will on her, and the look on his face was the same as it had been that day a fortnight ago. He was a brawny man of a score and one years, the same as her older brother, Selig. In fact they had been the best of friends, being the same age. She had thought Dirk was her friend too, until that day he attacked her in the stable.
He was changed from the boy she had grown up with, ridden and hunted with, swam with in this very pool. He was as handsome as ever with his dark-gold hair and gold-brown eyes. But he was not the same Dirk she knew, and she very much feared that what had happened that day in the stable was about to be repeated.
“You should not have come here, Kristen.” His voice was low, husky.
His eyes were caught by the beads of water sparkling like diamonds on her long spiky lashes. More dripped over her high cheekbones and the small straight nose. Her tongue came out to lick the moisture from her full lips and he groaned.
Kristen heard him and her eyes widened, not in alarm, but in anger. Those eyes, so like her father’s, a cross between the sky and the sea and the land, with a sunburst behind them to make them a clear, light aqua color. Only right now they were more turquoise, turbulent, like the foaming waves of a storm-tossed sea.
“Let me pass, Dirk.”
“I think not.”
She did not raise her voice; she did not have to. Her fury was evident in every line of her heart-shaped face. But Dirk had a monster riding his back, the monster of
lust. Gone were his earlier thoughts of how fortunate he had been not to have ravished her before.
“Ah, Kristen.” His hands rose to grip her bare shoulders, holding her firm when she tried to shrug him off. “Do you know what you do to me? Have you any notion of how a man can lose his mind in want of a woman as beautiful as you?”
Dangerous currents glittered in her eyes. “You
lost your mind if you think to—”
His mouth came down brutally to silence her. The hands gripping her shoulders pulled her close, crushing her full young breasts to his chest.
Kristen felt suffocated. His mouth was bruising hers painfully and she hated it, hated the feel of his body pressed so close to hers. The fact that they were so similar in height brought his manhood probing directly at the portal he sought, and she hated that most, for she was not ignorant of the ways between a man and a woman and what they did together when they made love. Her mother, Brenna, had long ago explained all aspects of lovemaking to her, but this could not be called that, not when she felt only revulsion.
She damned his brawny strength as she struggled to break his hold on her. She admired strength and courage in a man, but not when it was directed against her will. It would not be difficult for Dirk to find the entry and steal her maidenhood from her. She would kill him if he did, for that was something he had no right to take. It was hers to give, and when she found the man she wanted to give it to, she would do so gladly. But it would never be like this, and Dirk Gerhardsen was not the man.
Catching his full lower lip between her teeth, she bit down hard, her nails digging into his chest at the same time. She increased the pressure on his lip until he took his hands away from her; then she directed him to move
sideways until they had changed places. He could have struck her to make her let go, but of course she would have torn his lip wide open if he had and undoubtedly he realized that. But she took no chances, keeping her teeth clamped hard on his lip until she unexpectedly brought her feet up to his belly.
Kristen released his lip at the exact moment she used his stomach for a springboard, thrusting herself toward the bank and Dirk backward into the deeper water. His falling back gave her enough time to exit the water and have her dagger gripped firmly in her fist before he reached her. But he did not try. One look at her weapon gave him ample pause.
“You are as full of tricks as Loki’s daughter!” Dirk bit out painfully, wiping the blood from his lip, his brown eyes glaring furiously at her.
“Do not compare me to your gods, Dirk. My mother raised me a Christian.”
“I care not what god you believe in,” he retorted. “Put the knife down, Kristen.”
She shook her head at him. She was calm now, he could see, now that she had a weapon in her hand. And, by Odin, she was magnificent, standing there stark naked with water glistening all over her, her breasts taunting him with their fullness, her soft, flat belly above that thatch of tawny gold hair between her legs. And she was daring him, daring him to make the slightest move toward her, and holding the knife as if she knew exactly how to wield it.
“I think your mother taught you more than to love her God.” Bitterness rose in his voice. “Your father and brothers would never have taught you skill with that toy, nor condoned your learning, for it would be a slight to their ability to be able to protect you. The Lady Brenna taught you her Celtic tricks, did she? After all these years she should have learned her Celtic skill is no
match for a Viking’s. What else did she teach you, Kristen?”
“I know the use of every weapon save the axe, for that is a clumsy instrument of death that requires no skill to wield,” she answered proudly.
“Clumsy only because you have not the strength to wield it,” he replied sourly. “And what would your father say if he knew? I wager he would take a strap to you and your mother both.”
“Will you tell him?” she taunted.
He glowered at her. Of course he wouldn’t tell her father, for then he would have to explain how he came to know. And the curving grin on her lips said she understood that. And thinking of Garrick Haardrad, who was half a foot taller than he and still a fine figure of a man even at two score and six years, cooled some of Dirk’s ardor—but not all of it.
His brown eyes probed hers. “What is wrong with me, Kristen, that you will not have me?”
This question took her by surprise, coming as it did with a note of confusion and softly uttered. He was as bare to the eye as she was, standing in stiff pride before her, and her eyes hesitantly moved over his long body. She was not unnerved by what she saw, for she had seen grown men naked when she and her best friend, Tyra, had snuck into her uncle’s bathhouse and hidden behind the water barrel to watch several of her cousins bathing. Of course, this was more than ten years ago, and there was yet another difference now from then. She had never before seen a man’s instrument of pleasure standing so straight and proud as Dirk’s was.