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Knight in My Bed
By Sue-Ellen Welfonder

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 Knight in My Bed

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Knight in My Bed
By Sue-Ellen Welfonder
ISBN: 0446610348
Genre: Romance

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Chapter Excerpt from: Knight in My Bed , by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Chapter One


DUNMUIR CASTLE
THE ISLE OF DOON, 1330


NIP HIS FLESH with white-hot pinchers, expose him to showers of offal and ceaseless floggings. Pour molten lead down his throat and force him to fetch pebbles from a cauldron of boiling oil.
Make him weary of drawing breath. Hasten his mortal exit.

The hum of angry voices pierced the blessed refuge of Donall MacLean's deep slumber with all the subtleness of a heavy-handed peasant battling moonbeams with a rusted scythe.

Careful not to reveal he'd awakened, Donall the Bold, proud laird of the great Clan MacLean, opened his eyes to mere slits and squinted into what could only be called the antechamber to hell.

Trouble was, Donall the Bold, belted knight and warrior of untold renown, was not yet ready to pass into legend.

Pull him asunder by four stout oxen. Get him to his knees until he pleads the mercy of God's holy blood.

"Pull me asunder? Make me plead God's mercy?" The words burst past Donall's parched lips, riding hard on a floodtide of fury he could no longer suppress.

Now fully awake, and uncaring if his malefactors knew it, he strained against the heavy bands of iron secured around his wrists and ankles. Outraged, he stared in disbelief at the unsmiling graybeards outlined in the open doorway to his dungeon cell.

An unlikely assemblage to be spouting brazen words, but the hatred simmering in their aged eyes brandmarked them as the crazed dominions who'd rained such vile threats upon him.

Behind them, a wall torch sputtered and smoked, its reluctant flames edging their gaunt figures with an eerie reddish glow—an odd effect that underscored the impression he'd awakened in the talons of the horned one and his cloven-footed minions.

Relying on a fast-waning reserve of strength deep inside his battered body, Donall raked them with a defiant glare. "A MacLean gets on his knees before no man." Incredulity warred with his fury over the very idea." 'Tis mad the lot of you are if you think to accomplish such a feat. The only getting I'll be doing is out of here."

"Aye, and leave us you shall," one of the men agreed, "as a corpse to be tossed from the cliffs, your cold flesh good for naught but carrion for the gulls."

Donall narrowed his eyes at his captors. He'd howl with laughter at their effrontery but regrettably, he lacked the vigor to do much more than glower.

Cold and shivering, he'd been left unclothed to wallow on a pallet of fouled straw, his every muscle screamed in agony and his temples throbbed so fiercely he'd almost swear some heavy-armed churl had cleaved his head in twain.

Giving heed to the urge to laugh would only increase his misery. Even scowling cost him.

With a low groan, he leaned his head against the damp wall and drew in a few shallow breaths. He instantly regretted doing so, for a bitingly rank smell assailed his senses with each ragged gasp.

A stench almost as sharp as the white-hot shards of agony shooting through his head.

Where, by the Holy Rood, was he? And who were his stern-faced tormentors? Donall peered hard at the one who'd spoken. Hawk-eyed and boasting an unkempt shock of hair the color of rusted iron, the graybeard returned his stare.

They all stared.

And waves of anger emanated from their ancient bones. Several of them seemed hauntingly familiar, but the throbbing in his temples kept him from thinking clearly.

And who was the lady Isolde?

The woman whose name the jeering old weathercocks had bantered about before they'd let loose their barrage of ludicrous threats.

Or had he imagined the name? His mind's attempt to wrest his thoughts from his ravaged and aching state of being?

Or was Isolde the name of a long-forgotten paramour? A faceless victim of a one-time dalliance, come back to haunt him in his darkest hour?

Either way, the name wove a fine dance along the outer edges of his mind. Elusive as a nimble sidhe maid cavorting in the gloaming, the name taunted him with its familiarity but never came close enough for him to comprehend who she might be.

Snatches of angry words and a half-remembered scuffle joined the chaos of confusion in his mind but the red haze of pain banished each snippet of thought before he could make sense of aught.

"Not so mighty now, are you, Donall the Bold?" another of the graybeards commented, his aged voice laden with sarcasm. "Still, we purpose to grant you the preservation of your dignity by allowing you to repent your sins before our fair chieftain."

A female chieftain.
The lady Isolde.

Fragments of conversations he'd had with his brother's now dead wife, Lileas, joined the swirling morass in his head, adding to his bewilderment.

Hadn't Lileas called her sister Isolde? And hadn't there been some talk about Archibald MacInnes's eldest daughter assuming the role of chieftain upon Archibald's death two years past?

The answers teased him, hovering close but not near enough to grasp.

Not with his blood pounding louder than a smithy's hammer in his ears.

He opened his mouth to let loose a stream of choice epithets but the dark oaths died on his tongue when a tiny, four-footed something skittered across his bare feet. He jerked his legs in reaction, but the cold iron binding his ankles hindered any further movement and drove home the grim reality of his plight.

At once, the haze clouding his mind lifted, leaving only pain, anger, and indignation in its place.

With dawning clarity, the wretched details of his surrounds and the sorry state of his own bruised body became as clear as if illuminated by the flames of a thousand well-burning torchlights.

Not as clear but equally disturbing came the faint memory of a grizzle-headed female bending over him, a hell-hag who peered at him from clouded eyes. To his horror, he also recalled the crone lifting the tattered cloth someone had tossed across his vitals and, brazen as day, peeking at what lay beneath.

Saints preserve him if she proved to be the "fair chieftain" his captors thought to force him to do penance to. The very thought was enough to curdle his flesh.

"You appear vexed," said a third graybeard. This one had stark white hair and leaned heavily on a walking crook. With slow, shuffling steps, he came near to where Donall sat braced against a cold, slime-coated stone wall. "Dare we hope you are regaining your senses at last? Perchance remembering the ease with which we took you?"

The man leaned down, so close his stale breath fanned Donall's cheek. "Pray, how does it feel to have been bested by an insignificant clan such as ours? I doubt you e'er thought to awaken wearing naught but MacInnes irons?"

The MacInnesses!

At last, the remaining dredges of fog cleared from his mind and he remembered.

Everything.

But he hadn't been bested, they'd tricked him.

When his brother Iain's grief upon his wife's death had proved too great for him to perform the sorry task himself, Donall and his foster brother, Gavin MacFie, had set off alone to bear Lileas's body home to her clan's stronghold, Dunmuir Castle.

Upon arriving, they'd been welcomed, thanked, and even offered victuals and ale to sustain them before they continued on their journey to the mainland to purchase cattle and supplies for the MacLean holding, Baldoon Castle on the opposite side of Doon, the bonnie isle both clans had shared since time beginning.

A voyage Donall had expected to make together with a party of MacInnesses.

An excursion he'd meant to use to locate the true murderer of Iain's beloved MacInnes bride.

An endeavor of great and dire import, a matter he'd hoped to see resolved before his short-tempered brother awakened from the haze of his sorrow and set off on his own to avenge his wife's death. Iain's rashness would only make a bad situation worse.

Deep inside, in a hidden place Donall did not care to let his thoughts linger, he hoped Iain's hot temper and tendency to quick bouts of irritability had nary a finger in causing the tragedy.

And now his attempts to avert further turmoil were rendered impossible by the MacInnesses' addlepated plans to wreak vengeance on him!

He strained against his fetters, frustration hot and bitter in his throat. Cold iron emphasized the futility of his efforts to break free, while the closed expressions on his captors' faces bespoke the folly of trying to persuade them to form an alliance to seek the true perpetrators of their kinswoman's murder.

But futile or folly, he must try.

Donall forced himself to swallow his anger. If only Archibald were still alive, he might have half a chance. But the old laird was gone, and the graybeards holding him captive showed none of Archibald's desire to maintain at least a semblance of peace.

Though they had been bitter enemies for centuries, the old laird's efforts had enabled the two clans to enjoy an uneasy truce in recent years. Neither Donall nor Gavin had suspected the lass they'd come upon not long after their departure from Dunmuir of pretending to have twisted her ankle. Her supposed injury allowed the scheming MacInnes whoresons to fall upon them from behind when they'd stopped to help her.

"What ails you, laddie?" The white-haired ancient nudged Donall's bare thigh. "Are you so vexed o'er being bested that you've lost your tongue?"

Donall ignored the taunt and swept the cell with his gaze, peering deep into the shadowy corners to see if his pain-addled state had prevented him from spotting Gavin. But he was indeed alone, his foster brother nowhere to be seen.

"What have you done with Gavin?" He struggled to sit up straighter. "If aught has befallen him, it is your clan who will be bested," he swore, directing his words to the hawk-eyed man he at last recognized as the late MacInnes laird's brother, Struan.

"Proud words for a man in your position." Struan's gaze flicked over Donall's iron-bound limbs. "Your man rests in his own cell and more comfortably than you, never fear. We bear no grudges against the MacFies. Our fight is with you."

"Striking a man from behind has naught to do with fighting." Ire swelled in Donall's gut. "Such trickery was a sorry deed, one I doubt your brother would have allowed."

"Archibald is dead." The youngest-looking of the gray-beards stepped forward. He cast a sidelong glance at Struan.

"Our ceann cath now advises us in war matters, and we possess the wisdom of our combined years. It is enough."

Without further discourse, he went to stand before the chink in the far wall that served as the cell's only window. Though painfully narrow, the opening had allowed a semblance of light and an occasional stirring of brisk sea air to enter the chamber. By blocking the air slit, he stole the scant comfort Donall had gleaned from the few stray breezes that had found their way into the cell.

As if Donall's thoughts were emblazoned upon his forehead, a knowing smile spread across the man's grim-cast face. "You see, Donall the Bold, brawn is not always required to make one's enemies squirm. Clever planning can often wreak a far more fitting revenge than a well-wielded sword."

"And it is the taste of my well-wielded blade's steel you shall suffer if you do not release me at once." Donall's anger heated his blood to such a degree he no longer felt the cell's damp chill.

"Your blade is secured far outwith your reach," Struan countered. "Indeed, your days of swinging swords are past, MacLean. Even your supposed prowess with another sort of, shall we say, thrusting weapon will serve you no more."

Bracing his hands on his hips, he gave Donall a wholly unpleasant smile. "I daresay you shall regret being denied the use of that sword once you glimpse the fair countenance of our chieftain, the lady Isolde. But alas, sampling such a tender fruit as she is a pleasure beyond your reach."

"I would sooner plunge my staff into a she-goat," Donall seethed, his shackles cutting into his wrists and ankles as he sought to lunge at the graybeard. "May my shaft wither and fall off afore I—"

"Be assured I find the notion equally displeasing." Donall froze. Smooth and rich as thick cream yet irresistibly spiced with the bite of pepper, the woman's voice poured over, around, and into him.

Under any other circumstances, the pleasing tones would have banished the sting of his anger with ease, mayhap even ignited fires of an entirely different sort of heat, but he was in no mood to be swayed by the sweet lilt of a few saucily spoken words.

Especially when the melodious voice most assuredly belonged to Isolde MacInnes.

A woman he had no intention of being attracted to. "Distasteful as your presence is to me, you are under my roof and I am determined to have done with you accordingly," she spoke again, her words confirming her identity.

Donall shifted on his pallet of straw and wished more covered his manhood than a thin piece of cloth. If the lady Isolde's appearance proved halfway as provocative as the honeyed timbre of her voice and the avowals of her uncle, he would have preferred a more substantial modicum of dignity.

Cell-bound and fettered or nay, red blood yet coursed through his veins.

Nor had the blackguards put out his eyes.

Pressing his lips together, he pushed aside all thought of fetching lasses. It'd been longer than he cared to admit since he'd last taken his ease with a wench, but he did not want to be bestirred by Isolde MacInnes.

Not even a wee bit. What he wanted was a way out of this cell.

With luck, he'd find her so unappealing, any unwanted surges of admiration would fly away at first glance. Holding his breath lest it not be so, he turned his head toward the door whence her voice had come.

She stood just inside the open doorway, holding a rush light, her aged kinsmen clustered around her. And much to his ire, he recognized her worth immediately.

Her uncle hadn't lied: she was indeed a beauty.

A powerful jolt of frank appreciation shot through him, boldly declaring his hot-blooded nature's refusal to cooperate with his avowals to resist her charms.

"Lady Isolde." He curtly inclined his head. Blessedly, his voice remained free of any indication he found her alluring. "I refuse to be a part of such foolery as your men intend to perform on me and demand you release me at once."

She stepped farther into the cell, her rush light held aloft. Its flame illuminated the finely formed contours of her face, emphasizing the smooth perfection of her skin and casting a bright sheen upon her plaited hair.

Hair the color of a thousand setting suns, its deep bronze tones shot through with lighter strands that shone like molten gold. Unbound, it would surely swirl around her gently curved hips and bewitch the good sense out of any man fool enough to try to resist his attraction to her.

She came closer and Donall caught her scent. A light, clean fragrance, fresh and feminine, with a trace of wild-flowers and summer days, yet laced with a breath of some warm and tantalizing spice that promised darker pleasures beneath her aura of grace and innocence.

The sort of pleasures he'd love to awaken in her. Were she any other woman.

"I told you she was a prize. What a pity you can no longer indulge in such sweet pursuits." Struan laid his arm around his niece's shoulders and drew her closer to where Donall sat pressed against the cell wall. With his foot, he lifted the rag covering Donall's male parts and kicked it aside. "You appear fit and hale... I imagine it pains you to know your few remaining days will be abstemious ones?"

The white-haired ancient hovering to Donall's left chortled, a thin-sounding, old man's laugh. Isolde MacInnes gasped and turned away, her cheeks blooming near as red as her hair.

"By God's teeth, you base-minded miscreants, have none of you any shame?" Donall met the graybeards' smirks with a fierce glare. "If your chieftain is a maid, what madness possesses—"

"I am a maid, sirrah, and it is you who bears the weight of shame. You, and every other MacLean male ever born." She stood with her back to him, her stance rigid and proud, her shoulders squared.

A goddess carved of stone.

She turned back, and the light from her torch shone full on her face. Her eyes, beautiful and exceptionally large, appeared dull. The sparkle that should have lit eyes of such a rich amber color was extinguished, snuffed out by a pall of sadness. Marred as thoroughly as her expression of accusation and disdain turned down the corners of her lips, thus spoiling the sweet allure of a mouth that fair begged to be kissed.

Not that he was the man to do the kissing. Delectable lips or nay.

Donall turned on the pallet, a vain attempt to shield his male parts from her view, but even more, a fruitless endeavor to free himself from the witchery she'd cast over him. Straw jabbed the backs of his bare legs and a gust of briny air swept into the cell, bringing with it the sharp tang of the nearby sea and stirring up the stale smell of the cell itself.

Dank and sour, full of shadows, darkness, and unnamed scurrying creatures, the pathetic confines and the cold iron of his fetters flooded him with renewed vigor and scorn.

Scorn, not for the lady, but for her aged advisers and their misplaced plans to wreak revenge on him for a deed he had naught to do with.

A nefarious act he prayed had not been born of Iain's lightning-quick mood swings.

Digging his nails into his palms, he banished the troublesome nigglings of doubt that threatened to eat away his very soul.

Iain could not be the murderer. He simply would not allow it to be so.

The MacLeans, including his brother, condemned the foul deed, were stricken by it, and burned to avenge the gentle-hearted Lileas's death.

They would, too, if the MacInnesses would but listen to reason and release him.

And mayhap he'd lost all reason, too, for he half believed that whilst the graybeards turned a deaf ear upon his avowals of innocence, the lady Isolde might prove more open-minded. A wild-brained notion, to be sure, but he had naught to lose and everything to gain.

Only by securing his freedom could he locate the true blackguards and circumvent further chaos should Iain be left too long to his own devices.

Turning back to the MacInnes chieftain, he cleared his throat. "My brother had naught to do with his wife's death," he said, fighting hard to ignore his undignified state and hoping his words held more assurance than he felt.

Just broaching the matter caused his chest to constrict with pain. He could see the mild-mannered Lileas still, her red-gold hair tangled with seaweed, her slim body cold and unbreathing.

"Iain loved his wife. Ne'er would he have laid a hand on her," he vowed, focusing on the many times he'd seen Iain rain affection on his quiet wife rather than the rare occasions he'd ranted at her when beset by one of his black moods. "I'd swear his innocence on the holiest relics of the land."

Unbidden, Iain's haunted eyes loomed vividly in Donall's mind. His gut twisted at the memory of how inept he'd been in his attempts to ease his brother's sorrow. "He mourns her truly," he said, this time with more conviction.

"You lie." The two words fell upon his naked skin, cold as two chips of ice.

Isolde shivered. As so often since learning of her younger sister's death, waves of cold washed over her even as her heart burned with the need to avenge Lileas's murder. "You lie," she repeated, her gaze fixed on the opposite wall rather than upon the naked man sprawled at her feet. "No one else could have done the deed."

Slipping out of the reassuring circle of her uncle's arm, she thrust her rush light into his hands, then began pacing the bracken-strewn floor. She'd looked at the MacLean longer than she could bear. His unclothed state unsettled her, and knowing she'd soon be even closer to him, and to that part of him, made her heart pound with trepidation.

But get close to him she would. For Lileas. For her people.

And for herself, a tiny voice in the recesses of her mind reminded her. But those other reasons seemed sorely insignificant now.

Still, she'd be strong. Brave. She'd follow her secret plan, even if it meant relinquishing her virginity to a man she reviled. Her sister's murder must be avenged and she had to ensure the survival of her clan.

Her council wanted the MacLean laird to die. They boasted his death would prove the ultimate revenge against the MacLeans. But such a plan, justifiable though it was, would destroy the MacInnesses. Vengeance would come swift and without quarter. She might as well unbar the gates and let the MacLeans storm within. Only a fool would think himself capable of staving off an attack by a clan so powerful.

Yet almost all within her household seemed bent on being fools.

She had no choice but to implement her own secret plan. A strategy to assure the MacLeans posed no future threat. For such a gain, the loss of her maidenhead was a small price to pay.

Especially if her couplings with the MacLean left her blessed with a child as she hoped.

"So if you believe me a liar, Isolde of Dunmuir, are you as bloodthirsty as your kinsmen?" Donall MacLean challenged her. His deep voice held a tinge of amusement and cut straight through her musings. "Are you, too, determined to torture me?"

What I am wont to do to you, Donall the Bold, shall be a torture unto myself. The words echoed so loudly in her ears, she half feared she'd blurted them for all to hear.

"Not as vocal as your wild-eyed band of elders, fair lady?" he taunted. "Have you no desire to recite the myriad cruelties you mean to inflict upon my flesh?"

Wincing, for his accusations came closer to the truth than he could possibly know, Isolde joined Lorne, the youngest of her clan elders, in front of the cell's narrow window.

She did not trust herself to meet her prisoner's dark and furious eyes. Keeping her back to him, she clasped her hands before her and took a deep, cleansing breath of salt-laden air. The muffled whoosh of waves washing over the pebbled beach just beyond the dungeon wall made her heart wrench.

How often had she and Lileas skipped along the shore's narrow reaches in the carefree days of their childhood?

And how often had her dear da scolded them for venturing onto a beach he deemed dangerous because of the quick-changing currents of its harmless-looking waters?

Now both Lileas and her father were gone. Isolde blinked hard.

A speck, something, must've gotten into her eye.

She unclasped her hands and smoothed her palms against the woolen folds of her belted arisaid. The plaid's soft and nubby texture comforted her with its familiarity and provided a tenuous but reassuring link to normality during a situation that seemed to have skittered completely out of her control.

Not yet ready to turn around, she stared out the window slit. Too narrow to reveal more than a slim swath of brilliant blue sky, the view was enough to make her hands clench at her sides.

How could the sun shine when such darkness had settled over her heart?

She blinked again, no longer able to blame the stinging heat at the backs of her eyes on a mere speck of dust. But rather than give heed to tears, she squared her shoulders and braced herself to face her enemy.

The man she held responsible for her sister's murder.

Vengeance must be had but neither was all lost. She had much to be grateful for, and she wasn't alone.

She had the support and devotion of her clan. Her people now, for upon her da's passing, and following his wishes, she'd accepted her place as chieftain. And as such, she had to do what was best for the good of them all.

Especially in times of trouble, and including the daunting task of saving them from their own stubborn and foolish selves.

"One of our own, a fine young woman we trusted your brother to treat with respect, has been killed upon the Lady Rock," Lorne's commanding voice sounded beside her, his austere words calling her back from her silent reverie. "Murdered by her MacLean husband in the same manner as her ancestress so many years past. You, Donall the Bold, as MacLean laird, will do penance by—"

"Lorne, please." Isolde swung around and touched the elder's arm, unable to bear hearing the gory details of her kinsmen's intent spoken aloud yet again. "The MacLean is aware of what he faces."

Returning to her uncle Struan's side, she hoped naught about her bearing or expression revealed the turmoil swirling inside her.

Her voice as level as she could manage, she said, "I am weary and shall retire early. I trust verily no one will disturb me before cockcrow."

Bracing herself to play a role she already doubted she could master, she cast a disdainful glance at the MacLean.

"Niels and Rory have insisted on guarding my door so long as he remains within our walls. Rather than injure their feelings, I agreed, so do not be alarmed if you see them there. They've sworn to let none save the Blessed Mother herself cross my threshold." With that, she kissed her uncle's cheek, gave the MacLean a curt nod, then sailed from the chamber as quickly as her pride would allow.

A safe distance from the cell, she paused before a dark alcove set deep in the passage's wall. "See that he is properly bathed and brought to my chamber this eve," she whispered to the man concealed by shadows. "Late... not before the hour of compline. And, pray God, let none catch you."

The man opened his mouth to reply, but Isolde hitched up her skirts and hurried down the dank corridor before the words could pass his lips.

If her well-meaning cousin Niels tried once more to sway her purpose, she might well abandon her ambitious plan for securing peace with the MacLeans.

Indeed, after seeing their laird in the flesh, completely in the flesh, she harbored serious concerns about the wisdom of pursuing her goal.


Donall stared after her long after she'd gone, a multitude of conflicting emotions eating him alive. Saints, but she took his breath away, riling him with her blunt refusal to listen to reason, yet even as fury made his blood boil, he had to admire her courage and spirit.

She had to know what her clan elders meant to do with him. Her willingness to allow such barbarous acts beneath her roof spoke of her sheer will to see her sister's death avenged.

Whether he shouldered responsibility or nay, and he most assuredly did not, such strength of character as she displayed was something any Highlander or Islesman had to admire.

"An uncommon beauty, is she not?" Lorne MacInnes drew Donall's attention with a swift kick to his ribs.

Biting back a groan, Donall shot a dark look at the smirking graybeard. The tattered cloth that had covered his male parts dangled from the bastard's fingers.

"A sweetmeat the likes of you will never sample again," Lorne drawled, twirling the rag before letting it drop onto Donall's groin. "If good fortune is with you, mayhap our fair chieftain will grace your dreams," he added, then strode from the cell, the other MacInnes ancients trailing after him.

"Surely you cannot deny her appeal?" yet another male voice came from the darkness, robbing him of the welcome quiet that had settled over his cell since the graybeards' collective departure. "I doubt there is a finer lass in all of the Isles."

Donall clenched his jaw and said naught. He wouldn't give the insolent lout the gratification of an answer. Especially when none was necessary.

Isolde MacInnes was a prize grand enough to bring a king to his knees.

Most men would be afire with need at the mere thought of bedding a maid so fine. Not that such thoughts had entered his mind. Nor was he most men.

Though regional unrest and his duties as laird left him little time or inclination for wenching in recent years, none could claim he lived a monk's life.

But ne'er had he sampled the favors of a female as alluring as the MacInnes chieftain, and a merry pox on the whore-son who'd brought such unwanted notions to his mind!

His brows drawn together in ire, he sought the source of his irritation, ready to unleash the full wrath of his fury on the cur, only to have the words lodge in his throat when he spied the wretch in the shadows of the still-open cell door.

A veritable giant of a man, the overgrown ox with his outrageously red hair had the audacity to look amused by Donall's surprise. "Not all MacInnes men are old and bent," the giant said, holding out his well-muscled arms and flexing his fingers. " 'Twould be wise of you to remember it."

"And who are you?" Donall shot back, wishing fervently he could rid himself of his shackles. "Are you come from the lady to begin my torture?"

The man peered hard at him. After a long moment, he said, " 'Tis Niels MacInnes I am, and, aye, the lady Isolde sent me, but her reasons for a-wanting you have naught to do with breaking your bones, though I will not deny I wouldn't mind getting my hands on you."

"So why are you here?" "I asked if you find our chieftain appealing. You didn't answer." Niels MacInnes folded his arms and pinned Donall with a piercing stare. "Do you?"

Thinking the great buffoon a mite short of all his wits, Donall snapped, "And if I did?"

"'Twould lend ease to the covenant my lady seeks to offer you."

"Covenant?" Now Donall knew the man was witless.

"I will come for you sometime between the hours of vespers and compline," the giant informed him, his voice so low Donall scarce heard him. "If you do not cooperate, your daylight hours will be made as miserable as the night ones could have been pleasurable."

"You spout nonsense," Donall protested, straining his full might in a vain attempt to break free. "I'll go nowhere with you and I want naught to do with your lady and her covenant."

"Aye, you will go, and you will be gentle with my lady. If you are not, I shall grind your bones to powder. The decision falls to you." With a last sharp stare, the giant stepped back through the open doorway. "Misery or paradise," he added, and disappeared from view.

Miserable, indeed, and more than confused, Donall stared at the rough planks of the door the lumbering oaf had closed and locked behind him.

What the devil had he meant about Donall being gentle withhis lady? Surely not the obvious? Heat sprang to the base of his neck at the very thought, and of a sudden, his lungs seemed incapable of drawing air.

Nay, it could not be anything so preposterous.

Beautiful, of exceptional grace, and very likely yet to be deflowered, Isolde MacInnes would be the finest paradise.

If such was the meaning behind the giant's riddles, a possibility Donall highly doubted. Still, none could call him dense. His sharp wit and keen sense of perception had guided him through many a treacherous encounter.

And the more he mulled it over, the more he came to the wildest, most absurd conclusion.

With a sigh, he fell back against the wall and stared at his cell's water-stained ceiling. May the saints and their entire retinue of holy men preserve him, but a trace of the wench's scent lingered in the air.

A mere whisper of wildflowers, but enough to tempt his senses and mock his determination to remain unmoved by her charms.

Should his suspicions prove true.

Donall closed his eyes and groaned. A deep, full-bodied groan straight from the very bottom of his soul. Had the giant truly said he had a choice?

Indeed, he'd most assuredly been given a choice. The trouble was, if his instincts hadn't failed him, he doubted he possessed the strength to make the right one.


Excerpted from Knight in My Bed , by Sue-Ellen Welfonder . Copyright (c) 2002 by Sue-Ellen Welfonder . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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