Authors: Suzan Tisdale
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
Book One of
The Clan MacDougall Series
Copyright © 2011 by Suzan Tisdale
Cover design by Suzan Tisdale
All rights reserved.
For my mother, who gave me a great love of reading and
always encouraged creativity wherever it could be found.
For my husband, because of his insane love and belief in me.
For my children, who love me though they think I’m crazy.
For the Bunco ladies for being my secret keepers.
For Vicki Terry and Shelley Turner--
tremendous editors in the making
Northern England, Late Winter 1329
The wee bairn wept as bitter winds whipped down from the hills thrashing whirlwinds of snow around the feet of those gathered to pay their last respects. They were there to say goodbye to Laiden, the bairn’s mum.
The little girl clung to Moirra; her tiny face buried in the auld woman’s wool skirts. Moirra had been her mother’s best friend until the day she died. Now she was the only good thing the child had left in the world and the only person who remained who would protect her from her father.
The bairn tried to be brave, as Moirra had told her she needed to be, but it wasn’t easy for someone so young.
When Laiden had died, Moirra had made the sign of the cross, wiped tears from her wrinkled face, and told the bairn that her mother was in a much better place.
Young though she was, the bairn wondered what better place could there be than here with her daughter?
The priest spoke in strange words the little girl did not understand. The tone of his voice and the leaden sky matched the heaviness in her heart. He didn’t seem to be reading from the book he held in his claw-like hands; he seemed instead to have memorized the words. There was no sadness or feeling to his scratchy voice. The bairn did not care for the skinny man with the dull brown eyes and wished he would go away.
Perhaps, the bairn thought if she could just lie down next to her mum and warm her, then her mum could come back from the better place Moirra had told her of.
Earlier that morning, she had shared her idea with Moirra.
Tears had welled in the auld woman’s brown eyes before she gave the little girl a hug and told her, “Twere it that simple lass, I woulda done it meself.”
They had been by Laiden’s side for days, had placed cold rags on her forehead, and covered her with blankets.
They offered her warm broths and had prayed over her. None of the herbs the healer provided had worked. In the end, nothing had worked.
On the morning of her passing, Laiden must have known she was not long for this world.
She begged and pleaded with Moirra to take care of her daughter. Moirra made the promise, a promise the bairn wished desperately the auld woman could keep.
She did not want to stay with her father and brothers.
The three older brothers were mean to her, especially when no one was looking.
They thought it quite funny to leave spiders in her pallet or to pull at her braids.
As a light snow began to fall, the bairn’s thoughts turned to the morrow, and all the morrows without her mum that would follow. Who would sing to her at night or comfort her when she was frightened? Who would tell her stories or care for her when she was ill?
Who would teach her to weave or sew?
Who would protect her from her father and brothers?
She could only pray that it would be Moirra.
When the priest had finished speaking the people gathered around her father. They gave him their condolences and offers of help should he need it. Broc stood somberly, nodding his head, but said nothing.
He was a tall man and strong, but somehow he seemed small this day, and his skin looked nearly as ashen as Laiden’s had been when she died.
Long after the men had covered her mum’s body with stones, the bairn remained at her side.
Her stomach hurt from missing her so much.
The only thing that kept her from screaming out was the fear that even on this day, her father would send her to cut a switch with which to beat her.
Such an outburst would not be tolerated, no matter the reasons behind it.
After a time, Moirra came and took her back to the bairn’s own cottage. Perhaps they were going to pack up what few belongings she had before they would go to Moirra’s home.
She had, after all, made a promise.
The pain in the auld woman’s eyes when she asked her of it was quite evident.
Moirra explained that first she must speak to Broc and together they would make the decision as to where she would live and who would care for her.
Moirra tucked the bairn into her pallet by the fire and pulled the blankets snuggly under her chin.
Had this been a normal day, the bairn would have pleaded for permission to forgo her afternoon rest.
Today however, was not a normal day.
Moirra told her not to worry, that all would be well. The bairn wanted so much to believe her.
After night had fallen and the candles were lit, the bairn feigned sleep. She stayed quiet and hidden under her blankets as she listened to Broc and Moirra argue over what was to become of her.
“How are you goanna teach her about things when she’s no longer a bairn but a full grown lass? Have you thought of that Broc?” Moirra asked, frustrated with his obstinacy.
Broc would not listen. He would not let anyone take Laiden’s daughter. It wasn’t out of devotion to his dead wife that he kept the child, there were other reasons; reasons he kept secret for fear of losing his own life. While it was true that he had loved Laiden, loved her with all that he was, she had not been able to return those feelings. After all these years, after all he had done for her, he could not lay claim to that which he wanted most -- her love.
Her heart, right up until the end, had always belonged to another.
The bairn could not understand why this cold, distant man refused to let her live with Moirra.
She had known her whole life, short as it was to this point, that the man held no good feelings towards her.
She was always in the way and stealing her mother’s affections from him.
He never hid his resentment toward her for it.
Had the bairn been blessed with the ability to read minds, she would have known that it was guilt and fear that drove Broc. Guilt for a lie he had told long ago in order to keep Laiden for himself and the fear of being found out that kept him from letting the child go.
“Nay!” His voice rose in anger.
“I’ll not hear of it!”
The next words that Moirra spoke were words that would change the little girl’s life forever.
“I promised Laiden on her death bed that I would take care of her daughter! Why do you want the child, when you be not her real father?”
The child froze. Surely she must have misunderstood.
A low growl came from Broc’s throat. “I be more of a da to her than her own woulda been! I be the only da she knows and that is how it shall remain.
I’ll not hear anymore of the matter.
Now be gone with ye auld woman!”
When Moirra left the cottage she took the bairn’s heart with her.
Only five summers old, she was bright enough to figure out that her life would never be the same.
The grief and anguish she felt at losing her mother increased a hundredfold the moment she realized she would never be allowed to live with Moirra.
As she lay hidden under the blankets her mind asked questions her heart could not answer.
Sadness, blended with the dread in her heart, formed into quiet tears that spilled down her small cheeks.
She prayed that God would keep her safe and protect her from her father’s wrath. God would have to, for He was the only one left who could.
14 Years Later
Hot searing pain burned Aishlinn’s face and throughout her body, yet she remained firm in her resolve not to succumb to the demands the earl was making. She’d not bed this smelly and repulsive man, no matter how badly he beat her.
With all the strength she could muster Aishlinn stood firm. On legs weak from fear, she teetered for a moment and tried to stare him down. “Nay,” her voice was but a mere whisper.
Intense anger and fury filled the man’s eyes as he threw another blow to her face. Her mouth filled with more blood as sparks of white light burst behind her eyes as she fell to the floor.
“How dare you!” he yelled as he towered over her.
“I am your lord. I am the Earl of Penrith and you shall give me what I demand!”
Her breathing was labored, her heart filled with fear and hatred. Wiping her bloodied lips on the torn sleeve of her dress, she took a deep breath. Through eyes so swollen she could barely see she looked up at the earl and told him once again, “Nay.”
A loud growl escaped the earl’s throat. An impatient man to begin with, he was furious with her stubbornness.
He had bed countless women over the years. Many had been willing partners while others had to be persuaded a bit more firmly to give into his demands.
But this wench was different.
For some reason she would rather be beaten near death than to simply give him what he wanted. He was an Earl after all, and no one denied him anything.
He was a man of privilege.
Appointed to this God-forsaken land by the King of England, the earl was accustomed to having anything he wanted. It mattered not to him if this wench surrendered willingly or fought him every step of the way.
have what he wanted.
He stared down at the trembling heap lying on the floor. When she had first arrived in his room, he had tried to be gentle, yet firm.
When words had not worked to convince her to warm his bed, he had gone with a much sterner approach.
Still, she refused him, even after several slaps to her face and some well-chosen blows to her body. And the leather strap he’d taken to her back and legs had done nothing to change her mind.
It had been her willful disobedience that had angered him more than anything else. Now she lay upon the floor before him, battered to the point he no longer recognized the beauty that had caused him to want her in the first place.
Her face black and blue, her dress torn and bloodied, she still refused him. Who on earth did this young whore think she was?
She tried to steady her breathing to keep from passing out.
Every inch of her body hurt and she was exhausted beyond measure.
But she simply could not give in, could not submit to his demands.
She had no idea how long she had been in the earl’s room.
It had been very late when Baltair, one of the guards, had come to her room.
When he had told her the earl wished to see her, fear shot through her veins for she was certain there could only be one reason why she would be summoned to his room.
Baltair had respectfully turned his back while she slipped back into her dress before escorting her to the earl’s room. “I’m sorry, lass,” he had whispered before opening the door to the earl’s chambers.
Aishlinn was certain she had seen a glimpse of genuine sadness in his eyes when he had closed the door behind her.
She had heard many a story about the earl and his lust for women. She also knew that he was ruthless man who would inflict instant punishment on anyone, regardless of age or gender, who had either defied or displeased him.
The earl was merciless.
Aishlinn lay now upon the floor of the earl’s chambers and prayed.
She prayed that he would grow weary and give up or that God would strike one of them dead, preferably the earl.
She was saving her purity for a husband she knew she would probably never have, but saving it nonetheless.
As far as she was concerned, the earl could shove hot coals up his arse; she would not bed him.
It was no longer important to him to hear her utter the word ‘yes.’
He bent down and grabbed Aishlinn by her arms. His eyes were filled with rage as he lifted her and threw her upon his bed.
Her heart shattered into a thousand pieces as she flew through the air. No matter how hard she fought, no matter what she did, he would have what he wanted.
The next moment he was straddling her and she felt the cold hard blade of a dagger against her throat. A repulsive smile had formed across the earl’s face when he saw the first hint of fear in her eyes.
Grabbing the top of her dress, he began to cut it from bodice to hem.
His movements were careful and slow and he would pause frequently to glance at her face.
The fear flashing behind her green eyes excited him more.
She could no longer fight him.
In the recesses of her mind, she heard a small voice tell her that if perhaps she gave in to his demands, then afterwards she could flee this place.
Maybe she could find safe passage to London and start her life over.
No one would ever have to know what the earl had done to her this night.
As the last bit of her dress gave way to his knife the earl angrily tugged at her sleeves. Rolling her out of her dress, she landed face down on the mattress.
She gasped when she felt his knee in her back and his hand grab her hair.
Violently he jerked her head back and she could feel his hot breath on her ear.
Droplets of blood from her cut lips ran down her chin.
Angrily he whispered in her ear, “You have a decision to make whore. Do you choose life or do you choose death?”
Aishlinn had no fight left in her.
Let him have his way and then she could be gone.
If she had to walk all the way to London she would.
Surviving the night was all that mattered now.
Nearly retching on her own words, her throat and mouth dry, she answered.
“I choose life.”
Though she could not see the earl’s face she knew the evil smile remained upon it. Victory was his; defeat hers.
When he rolled her over onto her back the sordidness in his smile terrified her.
With the dagger still in his hand, he grabbed her dress and wiped the blood from her mouth. It mattered not to him that her lips were cut and swollen and still bleeding, he kissed her anyway. Harshly and savagely his tongue found its way into her mouth. His breath smelled of whiskey and onions.
The vileness of it caused her to gag. Her stomach churned with disgust and shame.
She had never been kissed before and this was not how she imagined her first kiss would be.
He stopped for a moment still displaying that same nasty smile, “You’ll be choking on more than my tongue momentarily dear.”
Aishlinn had no idea what he meant and dreaded the thought of finding out.
More revolting kisses came as he began grabbing at her shift, tugging at the sleeves.
Trepidation, fear and disgust washed over her.
Thoughts and images of her family came rushing into her mind.
She saw her father’s face, shaking his head and telling her he had known all along that she was no good. Then her three brothers appeared, laughing and taunting her.
“Tis what you get for thinking yer better than ya really are! Yer worth nothin’.”
Then she saw her mum, beautiful, strong Laiden, with a curious look upon her face. ‘Twas her mum who said “Nay! Do not give in!”
Aishlinn’s heart sank when she felt the earl pulling her shift down, his hot hands upon her small breasts, squeezing them forcefully. ‘Twas then that Aishlinn realized he had made his first mistake.
He had both hands upon her breasts.
Where was the dagger? She turned her head and saw it lying upon the mattress and realized it was in reach. She could still fight!
Perhaps if she could grab the knife she could threaten him with it. She could threaten to cut off his manly parts or stab him in the heart if he did not stop.
Slowly, she reached for the dagger.
She would pretend for a moment, repulsive as the thought was, to enjoy what the earl was doing. Pretend just long enough to grab the dagger. When she feigned a soft moan of pleasure the earl mushed his face into her neck and bit her.
She could feel his manhood growing as she carefully wrapped her fingers around the hilt of the knife. ‘Twas then that the earl made is second mistake; he believed she was truly enjoying his hands and mouth upon her.
With his face still buried in her neck he said, “I told you that you would enjoy this.” ‘Twas then that he moved his mouth to her breast and bit.
The pain was unbearable.
A low growl escaped her throat and without thinking, she plunged the dagger into his back, pulled it out and thrust it in a second time.
She had not intended to harm him but she could take no more.
The earl lifted his head and looked at her.
The victorious grin had been replaced with a look of complete bewilderment. As he let out a long, slow breath, he said, “You whore!” then collapsed upon her.