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Summoned for Seduction

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«Summoned for Seduction» - Джоанна Рок

Laird Léod Mac Ruadhán is accustomed to being feared.But when his dark reputation causes his betrothed, Lady Helene MacKail, to flee from him every time he attempts to get close to her, it is an insult he cannot ignore. Léod vows to make Helene regret turning her back on him—by seducing her in disguise before selecting a new bride.In the dark intimacy of a secret meeting, however, Léod may be the one seduced by the provocative Highland beauty. . .
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About the Author

Three time RITA-nominee JOANNE ROCK became fascinated with the Middle Ages during her undergraduate years when a dedicated history professor made the period come alive. Today, Joanne indulges her love of all things medieval through her books, and she continues to pen both sexy contemporary and historical romances. Her work has been reprinted in twenty-four countries and translated into nineteen languages. A former college teacher and public relations coordinator, Joanne has a Master’s in English from the University of Louisville where she adored all the works of Chaucer despite a tongue-twisting struggle to read the poems in Middle English.

Visit her at http://www.joannerock.com to enter monthly contests and learn more about her work.

Summoned for Seduction

Joanne Rock

www.millsandboon.co.uk

To Dean—Merry Christmas!

Chapter 1

Scottish Highlands Winter 1072

He was gaining on her.

Resisting the urge to peer over her shoulder, Helene MacKail quickened her pace toward Domhnaill Keep’s massive great hall where Twelfth Night festivities awaited guests hailing from all over the Highlands. If only she could reach the throngs of revelers before Léod mac Ruadhán caught her, she might slide into a seat beside her mother and avoid conversation with the brooding Scots laird.

The man sought more than her hand in marriage. He required her lands, her wealth and her body. And he wished to dominate them all absolutely.

“Lady Helene.” The deep tone of his voice would surely carry over a war-torn battlefield at the height of mayhem. It reverberated now down the long, narrow corridor of an old tower with ease.

If she pretended not to hear him, she would offend the most influential clan leader in all of Scotland. Word of it would surely reach her father’s ears. But to speak to the warrior here—alone in a remote part of the drafty old keep—made her heart race unsteadily. Léod mac Ruadhán had been known to turn on his own knights, keeping his men in a heightened state of readiness fueled by fear so they might fight for him at naught but a moment’s notice.

She’d heard enough tales of his cruelty. And not justtoward his own men. She also knew that his insatiable appetites had sent his last wife running to the furthermost outreaches of the Highlands until she perished from the inhospitable winter. Unfortunately, Helene’s father had been more concerned with Mac Ruadhán’s ability to protect the people of the clan MacKail than with his unsavory reputation with women.

Perhaps—knowing she could end up wed to the brute in the spring—she would do well not to earn even darker levels of animosity than his last bride.

For that reason, she slowed her step on the cool stone floor.

“My lord.” She faced him in the darkened corridor lit only by two sickly tapers sputtering at either end of the long expanse.

Was it possible he loomed even larger and more threatening than she recalled from previous meetings? He stood far closer than she’d realized when she’d been hurrying to increase the distance between them. The leather of his boots was heavy, yet his step had been surprisingly light. Agile. Stealthy, even. She could envision him prowling about the Highland forests at night, personally gutting any man or beast who dared to threaten his stock of fat sheep or his stables of coveted horseflesh.

It helped that his hair, black as a raven’s wing, would blend with the shadows. A strong jaw and prominent cheekbones made him appear as though he were carved in granite, an illusion upheld by the impossible breadth of his shoulders. A gray wool cloak drapeed him now, the fabric held by a heavy silver brooch at one shoulder, though most swept down his back like the folded wing of a great predatory bird.

Or perhaps she merely thought as much since she felt as nervous as a mouse about to be carried off in the grip of steely talons.

“I see you are in some haste to dine.” He offered her his arm.

To escort her? Or to squeeze the breath from her with one careless touch?

Memories of the more graphic tales she’d heard came to mind. A maid in her father’s hall had confided that the laird’s dead wife had rattled the rafters with her screams on their wedding night. One of the laird’s grooms had bragged to all her father’s men-at-arms that his lord’s… endowments… were the stuff of legend, as disproportionately large as the rest of him.

Helene had nightmares for many days hence.

“My lady?” Léod’s voice pierced her inappropriate thoughts. “Will you join me to sup?”

Her cheeks flushed with warmth as an expression of annoyance sent his dark brows swooping downward.

A frown curled his lower lip. Her breath caught in her throat at the thought of what he might do to women who displeased him.

She hadn’t heard that he would eat them for dessert, but that did not mean she couldn’t be the first.

“I am sorry.” Flustered, frightened and angry that her father would give her to such a man, Helene executed a ridiculous little curtsey that would better befit a kitchen maid or a wine server. “I have forgotten my knife in my chamber.”

Hoisting a handful of her skirt in one hand, she turned on her heel and sprinted away from him, her eating knife actually jostling her hip where it dangled from the chain at her waist. In a few moons’ time, she would not have the legal right to run from this man. But for now, she would follow her good sense and put as much distance between them as possible.

Behind her, she could have sworn she heard him snarl like the ravenous beast he was reputed to be. And, skiddingback into her chamber, she promised herself that no matter the cost, she would find a way to avoid a betrothal to the monstrous laird. Even if it meant openly appealing to another man in attendance at the holiday festivities. She could compromise herself, or at least create whispers of her unworthiness to wed, if she were to dally in dark corners with another man.

She had until Twelfth Night before her father packed her up and sent her back to the isolated mountains Léod called home. Less than a fortnight to make sure Léod mac Ruadhán viewed her as the last woman on earth he would choose for his bride.

It would be the last time Helene MacKail walked away from him.

Léod promised himself as much as the Highland beauty hid from him in her chamber. He needed to solidify a marriage contract before he returned home. He’d been away for too long after the debacle with his first wife, allowing his dark reputation to grow since it had the benefit of protecting his lands and people even more than his formidable skills with a sword.

But word had reached him that the reputation had begun to attract unsavory characters to his Highland keep—the kind of men who killed for sport and relished the notion of rule by brute force. The time had come to end the gossip and nothing would quiet the storm of suspicion as efficiently as a new wife. While he’d hoped to wed the only heir to the profitable MacKail lands, he would not force himself on an unwilling bride, especially after what had happened with Margaret.

Still, that did not mean he would stand by idly while the gently bred Helene snubbed him by skittering off into corners to hide from him. He’d treated her with deference.

Well, if not deference exactly, he certainly hadn’t bared his teeth at her. He’d taken her riding one morn, and one of her lady companions had fainted when he’d brought down a boar. Later, he’d followed her onto the ramparts one day to speak to her privately, not realizing until she’d turned frighteningly pale that she assumed her life was in danger. Had she assumed he would toss her over the wall? He’d attempted to reassure her, but his soothing remarks had soured a bit when he’d thrown in a biting reminder that he’d never risk her life before he’d secured her dowry. But curse the Fates, he’d been in a foul mood by then.

He did not appreciate her looks of wide-eyed horror. Today’s scrambling exit to escape with the bold lie of the eating knife was the last straw. As long as he celebrated the holiday at Domhnaill Keep when it overflowed with visitors from all over the Highlands, he would use the time to seek another wife to fatten his coffers and fill his bed.

But first, he would open Helene’s eyes to what she missed in running from him. Indeed, he would take great pleasure in such a diversion. It was the holiday season after all. Enticing a delectable maid to forget her reservations would be a gift beyond measure.

He just needed to find a way to seek her out alone. Preferably under cover of night so he could whisper to her in the darkness. That way, she would not know she spoke to the fearsome Highland lord who had unwittingly caused the death of his first wife. Helene would think she merely conversed with another suitor, a circumstance which she might greet with eagerness given her obvious aversion to him.

Nay, she would not run from him again. Tonight, he would ensure she came to him instead. Once he had her—alone and unprotected—he would soothe his wounded pride with the taste of her lips. Her first flush of passion.

Only then, when she panted sweetly beneath him wouldhe consider today’s slight assuaged. It was a fitting retribution. Considering his reputation for slaying his brides, stealing a feel of Lady Helene’s sweet treasures was hardly a high price for the hardhearted maid to pay.

.

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