Denise Lynn.

The Warrior's Winter Bride






Praise for Denise Lynn:

Lynn captivates readers with a rich, intense romance.

RT Book Reviews on PREGNANT BY THE WARRIOR

Lynn weaves an intricate tapestry full of royal intrigue, slavery and revenge.

RT Book Reviews on BEDDED BY THE WARRIOR

Lynn carries on her tradition of producing love stories full of suspense, romantic characters, humour and a cant-wait-to-read-it happy ending.

RT Book Reviews on FALCONS HEART

Dunstan is no friend of Warehaven.

She explained what he already knew.

Why would you deliver me to him?

Her tone rose with each word.

He heard her inhale sharply before asking, Who are you?

He tightened his hold round her, lifted her feet from the ground and resumed their walk towards the beach. He was certain from the tightness of her voice that shed already guessed the answer.

Dipping his head, so he could whisper into her ear, he responded, Who am I? He brushed his lips along the delicate curve of her ear. Why, fair maiden of Warehaven, I am Richard of Dunstan.

She trembled against him. Why are you doing this?

Glenforde must pay for his crimes. Richard hardened his voice. And you, as his intended bride, will ensure he does.

Award-winning author DENISE LYNN lives in the USA with her husband, son and numerous four-legged kids. Between the pages of romance novels she has travelled to lands and times filled with brave knights, courageous ladies and never-ending love. Now she can share with others her dream of telling tales of adventure and romance. You can write to her at PO Box 17, Monclova, OH 43542, USA, or visit her website: www.denise-lynn.com

The Warriors

Winter Bride

Denise Lynn


www.millsandboon.co.uk

DEDICATION

For Mom, with love.

Contents

Cover

Praise for Denise Lynn

Introduction

About the Author

Title Page

DEDICATION

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Extract

Copyright

Chapter One

Warehaven Keepautumn 1145

Men were no better than toads, hopping mindlessly one way and then the next without warning.

Before, shed only wondered about it, but now she knew for certain it was true.

The cool night air did little to soothe her raging anger. Isabella of Warehaven shouldered her way through the throng of people crowded in her fathers bailey. She needed some time alone before returning to the celebration about to take place inside the keep.

Her betrothal and upcoming marriage to Wade of Glenforde had been painstakingly planned for months. Each detail had been overseen with the utmost of care. Every line of the agreement had been scrutinised with an eye to the futureher future.

And in a few moments time she would toss all of her fathers planning into the fire. Her parents would be so upset with her and she hated the idea of disappointing them, but she just couldnt, she wouldnt marry Glenforde. He could wed the whore shed seen him kissing while he pulled the giggling strumpet into a private alcove.

Thankfully, her mother and father had given her, and her younger sister, Beatrice, the rare blessing of choice. And while shed dragged her feet until her father, out of impatience, took it upon himself to find her a husband, Isabella was certain he would not force her to go through with this betrothal or marriage. Especially when she shed light on Glenfordes unseemly behaviour.

Isabella picked up her pace as the recent memory renewed her rage. It was one thing for him to have a whore, but it was another entirely for him to so openly flaunt the relationship inside her fathers keep. And to do so on the evening of their betrothal was beyond acceptable.

Adding this indiscretion to the way hed pushed her to the ground in anger earlier this afternoon when discussing her sister was more than Isabella was willing to accept.

If he acted in such reprehensible ways now, what would he do once they were wed?

She had no intention of discovering the answer to that question. She was certain that once she explained all to her parents, they would understand her misgivings about this arrangement and shed never have to worry about the answer. They would more than likely be upset that theyd been so duped into believing he was a suitable choice by her aunt. Her fathers half-sister, the Empress Matilda, had insisted Wade of Glenforde was not just suitable, but the perfect choice all round: he was young, wealthy, available and, more importantly, supported her claim to the crown over King Stephens. To sweeten the pot, the empress had promised to supply Wade with a keep, demesne lands and a title worthy of Isabella. How could her parents turn down such an offer?

Fisting her hands, she lengthened her stride in an effort to get clear of the guests milling their way to the keep. Isabella nearly choked on the urge to scream.

The sound of a splash and the ice-cold wetness seeping into her embroidered slippers made the scream impossible to resist. My God, what more ills will this cursed day from hell bring me?

She slapped one hand over her mouth, lifted the long skirt of her gown with the other and then ran at an unladylike pace towards the stables at the other end of the bailey. No one would hear her curses there.

Quickly gaining the privacy offered by the stables, she ducked to the far side of the building. With her chest heaving from the effort and speed of her escape, she lowered her hand from her mouth. This far away from the keep no one would hear, or see, what was about to be one of her finest bouts of temper since shed gained adulthood.

Isabella closed her eyes and took a deep breath before parting her lips. Only to have a large work-worn hand slapped firmly over her mouth.

She opened her eyes wide in shock as she swallowed the scream shed been so eager to let fly.

My, my, what have we here? the man standing behind her asked softly over her shoulder.

He ignored her struggles to free herself to ask, Why, I wonder, would Warehavens whelp travel this far from safety in the dark?

He leaned closer, his chest hard against her back, his breath hot across her ear. Unescorted and unprotected.

The deepening timbre of his voice acted like a bucket of ice-cold water sluicing down her body, making her tremble as she suddenly realised the danger in which shed placed herself.

Shed been a fool to have flown the keep so rashly. Alone, without protection, she had foolishly risked her life. Her family had repeatedly warned her about her rashness. Theyd gone to great lengths to frighten her with terror-filled tales of what happened to headstrong maidens who cavorted about in such a thoughtless manner.

Was she now about to be killedor worsefor paying no heed to their dire warnings?

His deadly soft chuckle served to increase her tremors. Do you smell that? He inhaled deeply. Its the scent of fear. Pulling her closer against him, he stroked the flat edge of a blade against her cheek adding, Are you afraid, Isabella of Warehaven?

Of course she was afraid. It was a time of anarchy and unrest, when no one could truly be safe. With the great number of people whod been invited to Warehaven for this betrothal ceremony, countless criminalsmen who had no sense of honour or decencywould surely follow.

Cut-throats and pickpockets alike would flock to Warehaven simply to take advantage of the opportunity to line their pouches with gold, jewels and any other item that might garner them a goodly sum.

Her breath caught in her throat. Would not the lords daughter gain such a man much wealth?

The ground beneath her feet seemed to sway. She desperately tried to gasp for breath, but his hand over her mouth and nose prevented her from drawing in the air she needed. And his arm, now wrapped so tightly around her waist, made even normal breathing nearly impossible.

Isabella kicked back, frantic to free herself from his hold, and more frantic not to swoon. She had to escape. There was no telling what this unchivalrous knave intended.

* * *

Richard of Dunstan did his best to ignore the misplaced bit of guilt pricking at him as he held tight to Glenfordes betrothed. He tamped it down, squashing it as one would a bothersome gnat. Useless things like morals and guilt were best left to those who still cared about the niceties of life.

Guilt had provided him with nothing more than a way to avoid doing what needed to be done. And morals had only held him back from exacting vengeance for what had been done to his family.

The only thing Richard cared about any more was satisfying his need for revengeWade of Glenforde had seen to that by his murderous actions on Dunstan.

With that solitary end focused sharply in his mind, Richard and one of his men had slipped into Warehavens bailey with the throng of arriving guests, intent on discovering a way to kidnap Glenfordes bride-to-be after their betrothal ceremony.

He and his man Matthew had quickly stepped away from the throng to take a position alongside the wall and survey the lay of the bailey. That was where Richard had overheard two of the guards, on the wooden walkway above them, talking to each other about the bride-to-be. It appeared that the lady in question was currently alone in the bailey and the two men were debating if they should be overly concerned for her safety or not.

To Richards relief the older-sounding guard had set the other mans worries at ease by asking what could possibly happen with so many of Warehavens armed guards on duty. Who, he had asked, would be daft enough, with so much manpower in evidence, to harm Lady Isabella?

Who indeed?

However, hed never seen either of Warehavens daughters, so hed paid close attention to the guards discussion, hoping theyd supply the information he needed. It was imperative he seize the right daughter. Thankfully, it didnt take long for them to provide enough detail for him to realise the richly dressed young woman rushing towards the stables was the woman he sought.

This had been an opportunity he couldnt afford to ignore. And once the guards broke apart to go their separate ways, hed put his hastily revised plan into action. With his prey so near at hand that very moment, it had made no sense to wait until after the ceremony. Certainly not when it had seemed to be divine intervention. It was as if God himself had blessed his quest for vengeance by placing this woman neatly in Richards hands.

Eventually, Glenforde would get the death he so deserved, but first he would suffer. He would be outraged that his bride-to-be had been taken. If he cared for the woman at all, he would suffer torment as he thought of the horrors his beloved might face.

And if Glenforde didnt hold any feelings for her, he would still be in agony at the lost riches Warehavens daughter would have brought with her into their marriage.

Lord Warehaven possessed land and gold aplenty. He was aligned through blood with the royals on both sides of this never-ending war. There was little doubt that his daughter would bring not just wealth, but also political advantage to a marriagethe combination would be too much for Glenforde to willingly set aside.

Yes, Glenfordes pride and greed would draw him to Dunstan. He would come intent on rescuing the woman and retaining a secure hold on his future. But success would be far from his reach. He would arrive on Dunstan to find his beloved already wed and instead would be greeted only by the sharp blade of Richards sword.

By luring Glenforde back to the scene of his heinous crime, the spirits of his innocent victims would have the opportunity to lead the blackguards worthless soul to the gaping mouth of hell.

The woman in his arms struggled yet again, drawing Richards attention back to his captive. Her apparent youth almost made him regret the future she was about to begin, but a fleeting memory wove through his mind. The vision of a perfect blonde curl resting against a lifeless, blood-streaked cheek chased away any regret.

Warehavens daughter would accept what fate decreed for heror she would perish. That choice would be up to her.

He hadnt come this far, or taken such a risk, to turn back now. For months he had set aside duty and responsibility, existing solely for vengeance.

Now that the key to his revenge was securely in his arms, he wasnt about to let go. At this moment she likely thought him nothing more than a knave seeking to take advantage of her. Little did she know exactly what type of advantage he would take.

Against her ear, he warned softly, We are leaving the keep and if you scream, if you so much as think to draw attention to us, I will slit your throat. He paused, allowing his threat to settle into her mind, then asked, Do you understand me?

Richard waited until she nodded before moving them slowly back towards the shadows behind the stable where his man waited.

A hand touched his back, bringing him to an instant halt. Light from a torch fell across them. Richard tensed, prepared to defend himself and somehow still retain his unsuspecting captive.

Lord Richard, all is ready.

He relaxed his defences at the sound of Matthews voice. However, the woman in his arms stiffened. Richard tightened his hand over her mouth and placed the edge of his dagger against her throat. Your betrothed thought nothing of killing an innocent, defenceless six-year-old girl. Rest assured, I can easily even the score if you so much as sneeze.

He loosened his grasp over her face slightly, relieved that she kept her lips together. You will live as long as you remain silent. He waited a moment to let his threat take hold, then ordered, Nod if you understand me.

She nodded. But something in the stiffness of her spine warned him that she wasnt going to be as compliant as hed hoped. He would deal with that laterfor now he only required her silence.

Matthew held up a hooded cloak. For the lady.

As Warehavens daughter, she would be too easily identified. The long, dark woollen garment would conceal her form and features. Richard uncovered her mouth, grasped her shoulder and pulled her further into the shadows, away from the glare of Matthews torch, before releasing her. Stand still.

He draped the cloak around her shoulders, secured it in front and pulled up the hood. After tucking her hair inside the fabric, he checked to make sure there was nothing visible to mark her as Warehavens daughter.

Richard held his blade up, pointed towards her face and explained, You are feeling unwell and as your concerned brothers, we are escorting you home. If you give warning of any kind, you will forfeit your life before the guards can take mine.

To his relief, she nodded her understanding without being told to do so again. With one arm across her shoulders, he motioned Matthew to her other side. Richard pressed down on her shoulder. Slump over as if you are ill.

He could only hope she feared him enough to follow his orders. But when they took their first step, she tripped over the excess fabric of the cloak.

With a soft curse, he slid the dagger back into his boot and then swung her up into his arms.

She gasped, jerking away from him.

He held her tight against his chest. I wont warn you again. Rest your head against me and be silent. With a nod towards Matthew, he ordered, Lead on.

* * *

Isabella wasnt sure who deserved her curses more. While she knew that Wade of Glenforde was far from a gallant knight, she didnt think hed stoop low enough to harm innocent children. But for whatever reason this man thought he had. So, Glenforde also deserved a portion of her curses.

And she was most certainly deserving of themit was her own rashness that had got her into this situation. Or did the unkempt lout holding her deserve the curses more?

His man had called him Lord Richard. So, he was not a lowly cur as shed first feared. He didnt lack status, nor did he lack the ingenuity to be armed.

Most of the revellersinvited or nothad left their weapons in the tents theyd erected outside the walls of the keep. Since it was easier to control an overlarge crowd when they were unarmed, those who hadnt stowed their weapons were relieved of the items upon entering Warehaven.

From the dagger in this mans possession, at least one guard had lacked thoroughness with his given task. A serious lapse in duty of which her father should be made aware.

The man holding her tightened his grasp as they neared the gate. She understood the silent warning and hoped they wouldnt be stopped. Not for a single heartbeat did she think the man wouldnt carry through with his threat to kill her.

Isabella took a deep breath to keep her fear at bay. She knew this warriorthis knavewould interpret any tremors on her part as a weakness he could use to his advantage. She could only pray that he released her before she could no longer suppress the need to quake with dread.

To her relief no one paid them the least bit of attention. Yet, as they passed beyond the gates and towards the open field now littered with tents and larger pavilions, the man didnt release his hold.

She thought he would hold her captive in one of those tents until Glenforde, or her father, came to claim her. But he kept walking and seemed to gather her even closerimpossibly close. His heart beat strong beneath her cheek. She felt the steady rise and fall of his chest with each breath he took.

His fingers pressing into the side of her breast drew an unrestrained gasp from her lips. Even through the layers of her clothing and the cloak, the heat of his touch seemed to scorch her skin before it skittered along her nerves, escalating her need to escape.

She twisted away and shoved at his shoulder, trying to lunge from his hold. Where are you taking me? Put me down.

Richard stopped at the head of the trail leading down to the beach. If she screamed now, they would be close enough to board his ship before anyone from the keep could come to her rescue.

And that was the whole point of this unorthodox kidnappinghe wanted Warehaven to know who had taken his daughter, but he did not want to get caught. More importantly, he needed Glenforde to know who had possession of his betrothed. Otherwise, if they didnt know where to find the lady, this entire task could prove a waste in more ways than one.

He relaxed his hold on her legs and let her slide down the length of his body until she stood on her feet. But he had no intention of releasing her. Where am I taking you? You are going to be my guest for a time.

She frowned, rightfully confused by his statement. Your guest?

Anxious to be away, he ignored her to motion Matthew ahead with the torch. Then Richard turned the woman around so her back was against his chest and, with his arms wrapped about her waist, bodily forced her down the path.

Only then did he answer, Yes. You are going to Dunstan.

He wasnt surprised at her cry of dismay or at the way she dug her heels into the ground in a feeble attempt to halt their progress. Hed expected some type of struggle from her, especially after hed divulged the first part of his intentions.

Dunstan is no friend of Warehaven. She explained what he already knew. Why would you deliver me to him? Her tone rose with each word. He heard her inhale sharply before asking, Who are you?

He tightened his hold round her, lifted her feet from the ground and resumed their trek towards the beach. He was certain from the tightness of her voice that shed already guessed the answer. Dipping his head, so he could whisper into her ear, he responded, Who am I? He brushed his lips along the delicate curve of her ear. Why, fair maiden of Warehaven, I am Richard of Dunstan.

She trembled against him. Why are you doing this?

Glenforde must pay for his crimes. Richard hardened his voice. And you, as his intended bride, will ensure he does.

She jerked her head back, most likely to slam it against his nose. He was quicker and easily dodged her attempt to injure him. Come now, you can do better than that.

However, her heels drumming sharply into his shins and kneecaps was a distraction he feared would send them both crashing to the ground. Unwilling to take a chance of either of them being injured, he lowered her to the path, with the intention of taking her hand to lead her to the beach.

Her scream, loud and piercing, changed his mind. By her glare of mutinous rage and fear, he quickly realised there would be no leading her anywhere. Instead, Richard hauled her over his shoulder and ran down the narrow path. He shouted at Matthew just ahead, Move faster, before Warehavens men catch up to us.

He was fairly certain they were far enough away from the keep that while her screams would be heard, just as he had planned, her plea for rescue would go unanswered long enough for him to reach his ship. But it was a risk he didnt want to take.





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