She fumbled at her skirts, her cold fingers finding the blades empty sheath, the discovery sending chills down her spine.
Youve stolen my dirk!
Say you? The alewife feigned astonishment. Och, nay, my lady, tis not stealing it I amonly borrowing.
The alewife nodded, her mouth curving in a satisfied smile as she returned to the bed and, with the dirks blade, swept several of Hughs wind-blown parchments onto the floor.
Spearing one that yet clung to the edge of the mattress, she waved the thing at Mariota. See you, lady, to your face he called you his minx but behind your back he named you a fool, she said, her tone steeped in derision. I was neither. Ours was an understanding of mutual fulfillment and I meant to use him as boldly as he used me.
Her eyes flashing, she yanked the scroll off the dagger and tossed it at Hughs body, her mouth twisting in another mirthless smile when the parchment landed on his shriveled manhood.
But, as quickly, her attention flickered to the half-opened window shutters across the room, and something about the glint in her eyes iced Mariotas blood.
Did you know that your precious Hugh carved footholds in the outer wall of this tower? She spoke softly, her fingers playing over the gemstones in the daggers hilt. He cut them there to allow such as me to win in and out of this chamber discreetly.
Indeed? Mariota raised a brow. I see nary a shred of discretion on you.
The odd look in Elizabeth Patersons eyes intensified, her expression hardening. The need for suchlike is past, would you not agree?
Mariota held her rivals stare and hoped her own features appeared as cold. Drawing a deep breath, she strove to ignore the tight edges of fear beginning to beat through her, the rapid hammering of her heart.
Tcha, my lady, all that remains is my need for revenge. The womans contemptuous glance slid over Mariota. Aye, vengeance will be mine and served on you! she hissed, hauling out to slap Mariota full across the face.
Mariota gasped, the smashing blow sending her reeling. She flung up an arm to stave off further blows, but her knees gave out and she sank to the floor.
Not so proud now, are you? The whores face darkened with malice.
Mariota blinked, tried not to gag on the blood filling her mouth as Elizabeth Patersons menace and her own pain slipped over her like a sheet of cloaking ice.
Fie, but you have lost your wits, eh? The alewife leaned close, spite pouring off her. Youd best gather them, for when I climb out yon window, your life will be worth less than these floor rushes, she vowed, scooping up a handful and letting them drift onto Mariotas head. A meet revenge, Mariota of Dunach, for with your untimely return, you have ruined my life!
Mariota stared at her, the womans gall restoring her tongue if not her strength. Tis you who
Tis I who could have made Hugh a master at barderie, the other boasted, waving the dagger for emphasis.
You come of a long line of fighting men, warrior lairds who live by the sword, she went on, her eyes blazing. I have the blood of poets, and a sufficiency of influence in bardic circles to have seen him on his way. So soon as hed amassed enough coin for us to journey forth from this bog-ridden land of dark hills and desolation.
Sweet Jesu, you are mad, Mariota breathed, her cheek still burning like a brand. Hugh would neer
Hugh would as he pleased, and he neer intended to make you his wife, the other flashed, bringing the blade dangerously close to Mariotas face. But if it soothes your mind, I had no use for him beyond his promise to settle me with a new alehousea fine establishment to serve a better lot than frequentThe Burning Bush
Mariota struggled to her knees, silently cursing the lightheadedness that kept her from standing. She did turn a blistering stare on the woman. And now you, like I, have nothing.
Not so, Elizabeth Paterson disagreed, whirling back to the bed, awhooshing
streak of steel revealing her intent.
No-o-o! Mariotas eyes flew wide as the dagger plunged into Hugh the Bastards chest. In sweet mercys name!
Not mercy, revenge. Her tone chilling, the ghastly deed done, the alewife calmly retrieved her gown from the parchment-littered floor and crossed to the windows.
Heedless of her nakedness and with her flaunting wealth of hair swirling around her, she tossed her gown into the dark night beyond, hoisted herself onto the broad stone ledge.
Be warned. Hughs men will have heard the ruckus, she said, looking pleased. When they come, your dirk will be raging from the Bastards heart. You will be thought to have murdered him. Vengeance will be mine.
And then she was gone, her parting words echoing in the empty chamber, the threat behind them giving Mariota the strength to clamber to her feet.
She staggered forward, intent on reclaiming her dagger however mean the task, but the moment her fingers curled around the blades jeweled hilt, the sudden clamor of pounding feet stayed her hand. Harsh male voices, raised in outrage and disbelief.
A half score of them pushed into the room, ready anger flaring on their bearded countenances, hot fury thrumming along every inch of their brawny, plaid-hung bodies.
Her own body chilled to ice, Mariota faced them. God as my witness, I did not kill him. Twas
Whore! See whose blade pierced his heart! The nearest man pointed at the dagger hilt thrusting from Hughs chest. The dirks jewels sparkled, each colored stone screaming her guilt. Think you we do not have eyes?
And lo! See the hand-print on her cheek, another yelled, seizing her arm. They fought and she slew him in his sleep!
A third man spat on the floor.
Hear me, you mistake. . . . Mariota protested, but her tongue proved too thick, the agony in her head, and now her arm, too laming.
With the last of her strength, she jerked free and threw a glance at the window. But nothing stirred beyond the gaping shutters save a thin smirr of rain.
Elizabeth Paterson may well have been a moonbeama figment of Mariotas imagination.
But the blade lodged in Hugh the Bastards heart was real.
And it was hersas all at Drumodyn knew.
knew she was innocent. And that Hugh the Bastard was a bastard in more ways than one.
A murrain on the man and all his perfidy!
Her peace so won, she offered her arm to the guard whod seized her only moments before, let the fire in her eyes dare him into escorting her from the chamber.
Mariota of Dunach, proud if misguided daughter of the far-famed Archibald Macnicol, would be double damned if shed tremble and cower before any man.
And shed be thrice cursed, and gladly, if ever she fell prey to love again.
THE EDITORS DIARY
Like two magnets, lovers either attract or repel. And when they attract, heaven help whatever is caught between them. Dont believe me? Test out the science of love yourself in our two Warner Forever titles this July.
Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine
praised you couldnt ask for a more joyous, loving, smile-inducing read thanSue-Ellen Welfonder
s previous book. Well, hold onto your kiltsshes outdone herself with her latest,ONLY FOR A KNIGHT
. The last thing Robbie MacKenzie desires is to abandon his bachelorhood and wed a complete stranger...but he will. For only the promise of this union has kept the peace between two rival clans and it is time for Robbie to face his destiny and claim heir to his fathers lairdship. But on his way home, he sees a beau-tiful woman on the verge of drowning. He saves her and an attraction ignites within him hot enough to sear his soul. Though he is sworn to another, Robbie cannot bear to leave this bonnie lass who knows nothing of her past. But when the truth of this tantalizing strangers identity and mission comes to light, can these two star-crossed lovers resist the love that burns in their hearts?
If your sister was missing, is there a limit to what youd do to save her? Stephanie Grant fromToni Blake
sIN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS
knows there are no bounds to what shed do. So, as she steps onto the secret third floor of Chez Sophia, her resolve is only strengthened. Amid heady champagne, wealthy men, and stunningly beautiful women, Stephanie begins a dangerous charade to find her beloved sister. But she never expected to find an ally in Jake Broussard, the strong but sexy bartender and ex-cop. Since he reluctantly agreed to help her, she thought shed feel only gratitude for him. But his gentle touch and soft Cajun accent send her senses reeling. Can she trust him? More importantly, can she trust herself with him?New York Times
bestselling author Lori Foster raves with sizzling sensuality and amazing depth, a book by Toni Blake is truly special and she couldnt be more right. Pick up a copy today and find out why.
To find out more about Warner Forever, these titles, and the author, visit us at www.warnerforever.com [http://www.warnerforever.com].
With warmest wishes,
Karen Kosztolnyik, Senior Editor
P.S. Love doesnt always come before marriage in these two irresistible novels:Kimberly Raye
delivers the wickedly funny story of a woman marrying to get rid of her mother and finds unexpected romance inSWEET AS SUGAR, HOT AS SPICE
; andPaula Quinn
makes her Warner Forever debut with the exciting and unforgettable story of a woman forced by the king to marry who soon vows to win her new husbands heart inLORD OF DESIRE