Surrender To the Highlander
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Nothing she did escaped his gaz e.
Not a thing.
Not the way her mouth curved when she spoke.
Not the way her hand lightly touched the surface of everything as they passed by.
Not the way her voice grew husky as she whispered her prayers over meals or before sleeping.
Not a cursed or blessed thing.
Rurik closed his eyes and begged forgiveness from the Almighty. Not the many gods of his ancestors, but from the One who truly ruled the heavens and earth.
For he was a man whose body and soul lusted after a nun.
Praise for Terri Brisbin:
‘A welcome new voice in romance…
you won’t want to miss.’ —bestselling author Susan Wiggs
SURRENDER TO THE HIGHLANDER ‘…a carefully crafted plot spiced with a realistic measure of deadly intrigue and a richly detailed, fascinating medieval setting.’ —Chicago Tribune
‘…a seductive, vivid love story’
–Romance Reviews Today
TAMING THE HIGHLANDER ‘TAMING THE HIGHLANDER is a lively, frolicking tale of life in the highlands; truly a must-read.’ –Historical Romance Writers
THE COUNTESS BRIDE ‘The author uses a time in history that is fraught with war, deceit and uncertainty to move her characters into love, conflict and danger. Brisbin woos her readers with laughter and tears in this delightful and interesting tale of love.’ —Romantic Times BOOKreviews
Terri Brisbin is wife to one, mother of three, and dental hygienist to hundreds when not living the life of a glamorous romance author. She was born, raised and is still living in the southern New Jersey suburbs. Terri’s love of history led her to write time-travel romances and historical romances set in Scotland and England. Readers are invited to visit her website for more information at www.terribrisbin.com, or contact her at PO Box 41, Berlin, NJ 08009-0041, USA.
Recent novels by the same autho r:
LOVE AT FIRST STEP
(short story in The Christmas Visit)
THE DUMONT BRIDE
THE NORMAN’S BRIDE THE COUNTESS BRIDE THE EARL’S SECRET TAMING THE HIGHLANDER
Look for POSSESSED BY THE HIGHLANDER Coming September 2009
SURRENDER TO THE HIGHLANDER
This book is dedicated to two groups of women
who have supported me in the last two years and one special person—
First, the wonderful women in the office
of Dr Linda Graziano in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. A caring group of professionals, they are also avid romance readers and have been asking for Rurik’s story since they first read TAMING THE HIGHLANDER.Linda, Patricia, Pat, Helen, Shelley, Deb and Amy– here he is! Enjoy! (And thanks!)
And to the warm and amazingly helpful women and
avid romance readers in the Stratford, New Jersey, office of Dr Jerome Pietras. To all of you who helped me ease through difficult situations and appointments, many thanks and this one’s for you, too!
And this is for Melissa Endlich, my editor,
who has been a help to me more than she will ever know over this last year. She understood and loved Rurik as much as I did.
Saying thank you is not nearly enough.…
Lairig Dubh, Scotland 1356
His sword sang its death song and the sound pulsed through his soul, giving him strength and resolve. Swinging it over his head and aiming its sharpened tip down, Rurik Erengislsson allowed the Viking buried deep within him to rise as he became one, in that instant, with the messenger of death in his grip. Only his control, exerted at the last moment, kept the deathblow from being delivered to the man lying at his feet in the dirt. Raising his face to the sun, he screamed out his battle cry like a berserker of old, loud and long, until it echoed out past the buildings of the yard and even over the walls surrounding the keep of Lairig Dubh.
His opponent judiciously allowed him the moment of triumph and did not move. The sharp tip of the sword held at Connor’s neck was, no doubt, part of what held him motionless, waiting for Rurik to relent. When those watching erupted into cheering, he lifted the sword away and reached down to his vanquished foe, the man he called laird.
“I was beginning to think this was the end,” Connor MacLerie, Laird MacLerie and the Earl of Douran, said under his breath. “There was an expression in your eyes I did not recognize, Rurik.”
The laird brushed the dirt from him and held his hand out for his own weapon, which Rurik had tossed aside during their battle. A boy ran to pick it up and bring it back to Connor.
Rurik cleared his throat and spit in the dirt. “I do not kill those I serve.”
Connor nodded at the gold armbands he now wore. The laird was an observant man. “The sword. The armbands. I suspect they are related to the visitors who stand in my hall and await your arrival there.”
“Visitors?” he asked.
Nodding to another of the lads who stood watching, he leaned over and gave him instructions before handing his blade to the boy. Facing Connor once more, he knew that an attempt at feigning surprise would not be missed and would be considered an insult by the laird, who was also his friend.
“They come looking for Rurik Erengislsson. They carry word from the Orkneys…from your father.”
The news was nothing he did not already know. Two previous visits by them had not gone unnoticed, but they returned north after being unsuccessful in their quest each time. In spite of his ability to avoid them, Rurik had not been able to cast the items they sent to him away as easily as he had their written missives.
“I know,” he said. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Rurik shrugged. “I do not wish to speak to them.”
Connor’s not-even-furtive glances over his shoulder told Rurik that the men approached from behind. Although quite capable of knocking them to the ground, he understood that Connor had welcomed them and had thus protected them with his name and hospitality. Attacking them, even if to give himself time to escape, was not possible without making the MacLerie himself an enemy. And the urge to run was growing, disconcerting him even more.
“That sword held over me in your hand tells me otherwise, Rurik.” Connor clapped him on the shoulder. “You cannot run from your past forever. ’Tis a lesson I learned and one that you should consider.” Leaning closer, he lowered his voice. “You need not repeat my mistakes to learn from them.”
That sword had been his failing. The armbands, although appealing to him, did not carry the importance of the sword. He damned his own weakness in not simply burying it when it was delivered to him. Rurik gazed over to watch the boy following his instructions on how to clean it. Giving in to the inevitable step he must take, he nodded at Connor and turned to face the two men who had dogged his every move for more than three months.
They need not remove their hoods for him to recognize two of his boyhood friends now grown. Rurik held out his hand to each in turn. Memories flashed through his thoughts reminding him of how much trouble three boys, who were all bark and no brawn, could get into when they had too much time and not enough guidance.
The hesitation lasted only a moment more, until Sven reached over and pulled him into the crushing clinch given by one friend to another. Reluctant to admit even to himself how good it felt, Rurik pulled away. Magnus’s reaction should not have surprised him, but it did and he barely missed having his wits knocked out of him by the blow when it came. The silence in the yard grew as he climbed to his feet, brushed some dirt from his breeches and began to laugh.
“Connor, come and meet these two worthless…”
They both jumped him when he turned back to the laird and he continued laughing as they all hit the ground. He held his own in the battle for a few minutes and then Rurik pushed them away, ending the fight and the uncomfortable beginning between them. Connor approached then and he introduced them in the Gaelic spoken by the clan here. When the laird invited them to seek the comforts of the hall, Rurik shook his head. He did not wish to hold the coming conversation in front of those here.
Leading the two out of the yard, through the gate and toward the village, Rurik felt the knot in his gut tighten. What kind of mistake was he making in wanting to hear their message?
He’d lied to Connor and knew the truth of it in his soul—he feared the words sent by his father. He dreaded the choices he would have to make once they were spoken. Swearing not to return to the northern islands was fine when there was no invitation, but now what would he do?
Sven and Magnus did not speak on the way to the cottage Rurik maintained here in Lairig Dubh for his use. A woman from the village watched over it when he was gone and kept it clean and stocked while he was here. Rurik smiled as he thought on the other things that the lovely Daracha provided to him during his stays. His body hardened and his mouth watered in anticipation of such things happening this night after the village quieted.
Sven and Magnus would have to sleep in the keep.
He pushed the door open and let them walk in first. Leaving the door open to allow the breezes to flow through, he pulled the few stools and chair near the small table and pointed for them to sit. Going to a storage cupboard, he took out a skin of ale and three cups. Filling them, he sat and nodded at Sven, the one who would most likely deliver the message.
“We have sought you for nigh onto three months now, Rurik. Why have you avoided us?”
“I had no interest in your words or the one who sent you,” he offered, not certain he believed the excuse, but it sounded like a good one.
“And now?” Magnus asked. “Why did you want to hear it now?”
Rurik looked around the cottage and wondered himself about the reasons that drove him to avoid them for months, as they’d said, and now approach. “It was time.”
Sven and Magnus snorted, almost in unison, exchanged looks and then shrugged before drinking more of their ale. The tension around them dissipated, as though now that they knew he would hear them out, they did not have to worry about his trying to leave them behind.
“He wants you to come back. He is willing to recognize you as son and heir,” Sven said, not bothering with niceties.
The word slipped out before Rurik could stop it. The longing tore through him and his gut tightened. Years and years of fighting it and, with one word, it won.
“He needs someone to oversee his lands in Sweden. And there’s a marriage offer to be considered.”
Rurik tried to fight the smile and was as successful in that battle as he had been with trying to hold back the hunger for exactly what had just been offered to him. “Marriage?”
“Come now, Rurik, you know his connections. Many would like to be linked to the son of Erengisl Sunesson. Bastard-born or not, you are an advantage to have as husband to some nobleman’s daughter.”
The reference to his illegitimacy stung, but he knew the truth of Sven’s words. Many alliances were made through marriage and his birth would not really be an impediment to many who craved a connection to those with political or social power, or wealth. His father had all of those.
“Will you come?” Magnus asked.
Rurik held back that part of him that wished to jump at the offer. Many here depended on him and he did not wish to disappoint them. The laird was one such person, as was their uncle, who had taken him in without question and without rancor for his beginnings. Although hesitant to reveal so much about himself, Rurik knew that he must in order to make such a decision wisely.
“I will think on it, Magnus. I need time.”
Sven and Magnus exchanged another look and then both of them peered around the interior of the cottage. Their plan was obvious; their distrust or suspicion palpable. They turned back to face him.
“The laird’s hospitality will be extended for you both in the hall. You will have no complaints about the amount or quality of his food or the cleanliness of his keep.”
He stood and waited while Sven and Magnus finished their ale. They began the walk back with him to the keep. It did not take long before women gathered along the path near his cottage. Smiling, he nodded at them as they passed. Sven and Magnus noticed them as well.
“Stay away from the virgins. The laird will take offense if you tangle with them and leave. There are enough others,” Rurik said, nodding his head in the direction of several of the women with whom he’d spent time since Nara’s departure, “who are willing.”
Sven and Magnus now smiled at the women as they passed, nodding to one or another. Men had needs; women filled them. And when the women were willing, pleasure followed.
“One thing you should know,” Rurik said in a low voice. “They believe that all men from the north are like me, if you get my meaning.”
His reputation as a lover of women, and a great one at that, had been built over the years here with the MacLeries. He had shared enough nights of wine and women with Sven and Magnus to know that they would not disgrace him or their ancient heritage when it came to their treatment of women here.
Rurik and his old friends made their way to the keep, where the laird and lady provided for their comfort, and then back to the village, where the women provided them another kind of comfort.
Five days had passed since Rurik heard his father’s offer and still he had made no decision. His uncle said nothing, although Rurik was certain he’d known the topic of the message. Dougal had never once spoken of what had happened to his sister, Rurik’s mother, and Rurik had never asked how much he’d known. The one thing that was certain was that Dougal had taken in and provided for the son of his sister and had been his staunchest supporter in every step he took in becoming part of the Clan MacLerie.
Now, Rurik found himself hesitant to raise the issue and he turned for counsel to his friend. After the evening meal, Rurik sought out Connor’s favorite place in the keep—other than his wife’s bed—and found the laird there, high on the walls, observing the comings and goings in the yard.
“So, when do you leave?” Connor asked as Rurik approached.
“I have not yet decided to answer his call.”
“Rurik,” Connor said, slapping him on the shoulder, “you decided as soon as the words were said. Even before,” he said, nodding his head at Rurik’s sword. “The moment you took that sword out of hiding and used it, the deciding was done.”
“I…” Rurik began but could not continue denying it.
Connor shook his head. “There is no need to deny the truth to me. And Dougal understands as well, but does not wish to talk about it with you.”
Rurik did not have words to express his surprise or his gratitude for the understanding of the two people closest to him in life. Before he could embarrass himself, Connor held out his hand. “May I see the sword?”
“I would have thought you’d seen it close enough from the ground?” Rurik chided. Taunting was much safer than to speak of what he was feeling.
“’Twas clear to me when I looked in your eyes and realized the man standing over me holding death at my throat was not the Rurik I knew that you’d made your decision.” Rurik slid the sword from the scabbard and held it out, hilt first, to Connor. “A beauty,” he said in a voice filled with appreciation for the work of art that a weapon like this one could be. “Is it your father’s then?”
“And his father’s before him. I saw it hanging behind his chair in his hall when I was growing up. Five generations of warriors in his family have used this sword.”
Connor stepped back and took a two-handed hold on the hilt, swinging the sword above and around his head. Rurik knew that the sword was perfectly balanced and as lethal as it was beautiful. He watched in silence as Connor moved through a few swing-and-thrust motions with it. Only another warrior could truly appreciate a weapon such as this and, clearly, Connor did.
“And now it is yours?” he asked.
“Aye, ’twould seem so.”
“When do you depart?” Connor asked. Then he added quickly, “And have you told Jocelyn yet?”
Rurik shook his head. The lady had become a good friend, but she would not take well to the news that he was leaving. And he would miss her also.
“Coward!” Connor said, one of very few who could accuse him of such a thing and live to tell of it. “Very well, I will tell her after you have gone.”
Rurik returned the sword to its place and nodded. There was too much for any words to convey properly, so he held out his arm to Connor.
“Laird,” he said, bowing his head.
“Friend,” Connor replied, taking his hand and arm in a tight grasp and shaking it. “You always have a place here with the MacLeries, Rurik. Know that always.”
Rurik found his throat tight as Connor released him. With a quick nod and a turn, he walked away from the laird and toward his destiny.
Convent of the Blessed Virgin Caithness, Scotland
Margriet sat on the steps leading up to the small chapel and held her hands over her ears. If another of the holy sisters began to wail, she would—God forgive her—be tempted to strangle her. Granted they were only novices and young at that, but already Sister Madeline and Sister Mary were caterwauling as loudly as she’d ever heard anyone scream. Sister Suisan had fainted again, so at least her crying had stopped.
The reverend mother, Mother Ingrid, overwhelmed at the sight of the warriors at their gates, promptly ran to the church, fell to her knees in prayer and would not respond to any questions or requests. Although Mother’s manner was usually one of calm and control, Margriet guessed that when confronted with such a formidable group of outsiders anyone’s calm could be disturbed. That left Margriet, as was their usual custom in recent days, in charge of the others and she was uncertain what to do.
“Lady?” a soft voice broke into her quiet cone of thoughtfulness.
Margriet looked up and realized it was Sister Sigridis and she was not whispering but shouting at her. She dropped her hands. “What is it, Sister?”
“He is calling for ye again.”
“Yes, Sister. He has been doing that for two days now.”
“Do ye think that mayhap ye should answer him? He sounds angrier than before.”
Margriet took in a deep breath and let it out before standing. Each time the warrior yelled out her name, the youngest of the nuns began their hysterics again. Lifting her long braid and tossing it back over her shoulder, she strode off toward the main gate and… him. Tugging on the thick brown gown as she walked, she prayed he would relent this time and leave them, and her, in peace. The stubborn set of his jaw in each encounter so far told her otherwise.
Truly, if it had been in a different situation, she might find him appealing. He was certainly fit and the strength in his arms—as he banged hard enough on the wooden gate to nearly shatter it—would provide strong protection to those in his care. His head, though it appeared that his custom had been to shave it of hair, was now covered with a downy layer of pale hair. Instead of marring or softening his appearance, it both gave him a dangerous look and made her palms itch to touch it and test its softness. It was the only thing soft about him for even his deep voice made her heart pound in terror at its fierceness.
Since she was the person he sought, Margriet felt mostly irritation at his behavior and his methods of attempting to gain her compliance. Sister Sigridis dropped away from her side and stood a distance from the gate as she climbed up into the guard’s tower to look over the wall.
“I asked you to stop terrifying the good sisters, sir.”
The words certainly sounded brave to her ears and she waited for his response. Margriet took a small step forward so she could look down at him. The man backed away a few paces, intent on looking up at her. With the nun’s habit on her, she knew he could glimpse only a small part of her face and not much more. The bulky robes covered her from feet to shoulders and the wimple and long veil covered everything else.
“And I asked Lady Margriet to present herself for escort home, Sister. One will surely follow the other,” he called out to her. When he stopped shouting, his voice could be quite pleasant…for a barbarian.
“Lady Margriet has taken vows…of silence…” she answered, thinking it an excellent reason for not talking to him, “and she fears for her soul if she breaks that.”
Guffaws from all the men below filled the air. Apparently the men did not think a woman capable of silence.
“Present the girl now!” He was back to yelling and banging and she feared the gate would give way soon to his strength.
“A short respite, please, sir. Let me see if I can convince her to see you,” Margriet offered.
There was a buzz of conversation below among all the men there and then an answer. “An hour, good sister. You have one hour to convince the girl to speak to me or I will burn this convent to the ground and remove her myself.”
She knew for a certainty the result that would occur because of his threat and her left eye and the brow above it began to twitch in anticipation. Scrunching her eye shut, she gritted her teeth the moment it began.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî