Viking Warriors Book Two
To save her sister, can Catriona slay the Dragon Slayer?
Ruard, the Viking warrior known as The Dragon Slayer, has no great hopes for the wife he’s to take as the lord of Dunnsmuir Castle, so long as she’s a biddable wife, with all her teeth, who doesn’t drool—a plain, humble woman. He has no use for the flame-haired nymph with breasts as ripe as melons and whose supple hips beckon a man’s hands. Nor for a maiden with a stubborn chin and flashing eyes that speak of naught but trouble.
Catriona hopes for a husband ‘twill be easy to poison. Lord Ulfric holds her sister captive and demands Catriona do his bidding: poison his Viking rival, the man they call the Dragon Slayer. Catriona hopes for a cruel warrior, a man easy to hate, not this Thor god come to life with golden hair, sky blue eyes, and a laughing smile. Her sister’s life depends on it, but how can she slay this Ruard, her new husband, who makes her heart pound with joy?
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“Am I to rejoice she has deigned to arrive?” Ruard gritted his teeth, but the anger he’d suppressed surged, his hands fisted, and every neck tendon strained. He had battled long and hard for Dunsmuir Castle and the two score farms and villages adjoining the fortress. By Odin, his bride and people would know their place before winter set in.
The few meager oil lamps on either side of the castle’s entrance did little to lift the shadows darkening the smoke-hazed hall. A fierce, icy gust sent the rushes concealing the filth of the uneven stone floors into a flurry, a mangy dog snuffling a peasant’s footsteps lifted his jaw and howled, and a crackle of white split the midnight sky. Thunder boomed as the long-promised storm ruptured overhead.
All eyes turned to the new arrivals.
Ruard trained his gaze on the party, searching for a glimpse of the woman he would take to wife. His mouth dropped open when he glimpsed the lone female in the center of a group of armed warriors.
“Never have I seen a woman so dissimilar from her name.” Njal drained his goblet. “’Twere me naming her, she would be Catriona the Siren not Catriona the Pure.”
Ruard barely registered Njal’s words. He had hoped for a biddable wife who had all her teeth, did not drool, and performed her wifely duties without complaint. A plain, humble woman.
He had no use for a luscious goddess who drew every man’s attention. For every male in the hall, every serving boy, every wizened elder, every warrior gaped at the beauty as she glided across the hall.
Ruard had no use for a flame-haired nymph with breasts as ripe as melons and ruby lips begging for kisses. Nor for a wench whose supple hips beckoned a man’s hands. Nor for a maiden with a stubborn chin tilted just so in rebellion. Nor for a woman whose flashing eyes and narrowed gaze spoke of naught but trouble.
He waited until his bride stood in front of the high table, her hands folded at her waist, before he acknowledged her presence. Her lips flattened and he knew she understood his displeasure.
“You are late.” Rurad stood and slammed his hands onto the table.
Twining her fingers so tightly together the skin at her knuckles went white, she spoke, her voice soft and musical, “Forgive my tardiness, my lord.”
’Twas plain from her mocking tone she cared not a whistling wind for his forgiveness. Before Ruard could utter a reply, a man dressed in the garb of a monk stepped forward. “Storms delayed us, my lord.”
No male less resembled a man of God than the one who stood before Ruard. Broad, tall, fleshy, he wore a brown robe made for a man half his girth and height, and the hem of his tunic barely scraped knees as thick as oak trunks. The man behind the priest stepped forward and tugged his helm off.
Ruard stifled a hiss when he recognized the knight. He fingered the cold steel of Heiðir Slayer, the sword named Dragon Slayer by both his Christian and Norse enemies. He clenched his jaw before inclining his head. “Ulfric, what brings you to Dunsmuir?”
He had no liking for the Lord Ulfric, third son of the Earl of Tees. Though he called King Cnut liege lord, Ulfric had been late to raise his sword to aid Ruard and his brothers when they had fought border battles against King Máel Coluim of Scotland. Ruard’s marriage to Máel Coluim’s niece, Catriona, had been arranged to formalize the tentative truce between the two sovereigns as Castle Dunsmuir’s lands rode the border betwixt the two kingdoms.
“Cloak your anger,” Njal murmured, his hand brushing his beard, his voice too low to reach Ulfric’s ears. “Play the welcoming lord.”
Ruard gave his brother an imperceptible nod without budging his focus from the unwelcome lord. He folded his arms.
“I am to witness your vows to the Lady Catriona.” Ulfric bared his teeth, but no laughter lit his clear blue eyes.
“I will not delay you on your journey. The vows will be said this night. Njal, send a boy to fetch the priest.”
“The king sent his own holy man.” Ulfric angled his head at the monk.
“I would have the local priest as well as the king’s man preside over the ceremony.” None would gainsay the vows he and Catriona the Pure said on this day.
Ulfric shrugged. “As you wish.”
Ruard ordered the castle steward to fetch food and drink. He assisted his intended bride onto the dais, careful to keep a loose hold on her delicate fingers, and reluctantly released her hand before taking a seat on the bench.
His lust surged when her hips brushed his thigh and he shot his intended wife a sidelong glance. She had the pinched look of one who had suffered through a poor harvest season. Yet she was Máel Coluim’s niece, albeit through a brother’s handfast wife. By royal rights she should be plump and spoiled. According to the villagers, the Lady Catriona had never graced Dunsmuir’s threshold, though she had inherited the castle and lands that stretched to the east coast of Northumbria. Lands that became his once the marriage was consummated.
After pouring wine into a goblet, Ruard offered Catriona the vessel.
“Must we marry this eve, my lord?” A smattering of freckles dusted Catriona’s arrogant nose, and her small hands curled tightly as she hissed the question.
Too surprised by her boldness to formulate an answer, his gaze swept to her lap, the proud tilt of her chin as she stared straight ahead, and returned to a wrist bared when the sleeve of her cyrtel slipped to the side. Faint marks the color of heather blooms ringed the flesh at the base of her palm. Ruard frowned.
“Must we, my lord?”
Irritation slashed heat across his brow, and he took a deep breath hoping to still his rising temper. And regretted the action immediately.
Catriona smelled of spring, fresh and green, and she radiated the heat of a dozen meadows warmed by a blinding summer sun. Her head grazed his upper arm, and when she rearranged her skirts, her hair slid a silken caress over his forearm.
Her lips moved and he was so bewitched by the sight of even pearly teeth he heard not a word she said. ’Twas only when Ulfric straddled the bench on his right that Ruard registered the fury in her voice and the question she’d asked.
“Aye.” He would have her to wife this night. “We marry this eve.”
“’Tis custom to say the banns thrice.”
Ruard caught Catriona’s chin and tipped her head back so she had to meet his gaze. “We marry when the priest arrives in this hall.”
Anger lit the rich brown depths of her eyes. A rosy hue dusted her cheeks. Ruard would’ve sworn flames licked his fingertips, but ’twas the hot air from her snort that singed his flesh.
The ale-sotted castle priest chose that moment to announce his presence.
Ruard had Catriona trapped by his gaze, and the smell of her this close, all sweetness and delight, the feel of her soft flesh, the nervous lick of her pink tongue to the corner of her lips, sent any vision but that of her, glorious and naked, out of his head. “Marry us priest. Now.”
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