Authors: Selena Kitt
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A Twisted Bard's Tale
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By Selena Kitt
High school senior, Moxie, agrees to be moral support for her friend, Patches, who is totally enamored with a college boy, so she says yes to a double date, even though she has to lie to her parents to do it. But Moxie wasn’t counting on lying about her age to get into an x-rated movie, and she definitely wasn’t counting on her date’s Roman hands and Russian fingers, or the fact that the pants she’s borrowed from Patches are several sizes too small. By the end of the night, Moxie finds herself in far more trouble than she bargained for!
NOTE: If you read this book in the Highland Shifters Boxed Set, this is an extended version! It now contains over 10,000 more words of story as well as an epilogue, and a sneak preview of the sequel!
Sibyl Blackthorne isn’t afraid of anything—except maybe being sold into marriage to a man she doesn’t love. A man she’s never even met. A man who, by reputation, is one of Scotland’s cruelest lairds in over a century.
But what choice does she have, with her father dead and her uncle now married to his brother’s widow, putting him in charge of not only the Blackthorne fortune, but Sibyl’s future as well?
Then her betrothed turns out to actually be far worse than his reputation, so headstrong Sibyl decides life as a peasant, or even death, would be preferable to a future with such a despicable man, and makes plans to run away.
On an organized hunt for wolves—or, as the Scots call them, wulvers—Sibyl escapes her fiancé’s clutches, only to find she’s run into something far more untamed and dangerous in the middle of the woods.
When a big, brawny, long-haired man, who only speaks to her in Gaelic and calls himself Raife, simply picks her up and carries her off with him into the Scottish wild, Sibyl knows she’s in trouble.
When he takes her to a place no human has ever been, she knows she’s gone over the edge.
And when he, at last, marks her as his own, she discovers that only one wild heart can claim another.
By Selena Kitt
Year of our Lord 1502
Sibyl Blackthorne wasn’t afraid of anything.
That’s what her father had told everyone, from the time she was a toddler. It was probably because she was an only child, and a girl, that Robert Blackthorne, her dear, sweet father had encouraged her to do more masculine things than feminine ones. Who could blame the man for wanting a son? If she’d been a boy, she could have carried on the family name, assumed the family title, and run the family estate.
But Sibyl was a girl, and all she was good for was marrying. After all the sword fighting, archery and riding lessons, Sibyl’s only real contribution to her family was her pretty face and ability to catch a husband. She found the whole process ridiculous and told her mother so, several times, while her mother instructed the servants to lace her corset tighter, pinch her cheeks for color, and powder the tops of her breasts as if they were dinner rolls and they were dusting them with flour.
Her protests, however, did her no good whatsoever. Her father wasn’t even around to protect her anymore—a fact that made her tear up every time she thought about it, so she tried not to—and in the end, her uncle got his way. Godfrey Blackthorne was a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer, whether it was from the Archbishop of Canterbury or even the king himself. He wasn’t going to let a little slip of a girl like Sibyl thwart him. So Sibyl had been effectively sold—that’s how she saw it, even if it was a perfectly legal marriage pact, drawn up between her uncle and her betrothed and signed by King Henry VII—to a man she not only didn’t love, but a man she didn’t even know.
She had thought the worst part would be adjusting to living in Scotland, but she was wrong. The worst part, at least so far, had been her betrothed himself. The man she had anticipated meeting during the entire month-long trek across the English countryside, through the Scottish lowlands, to a dank, dark structure the Scots actually called a “castle,” had turned out to be far worse than the uncle she had left behind.
“We need to get ye ready fer the hunt, ya ken?” Moira bustled into the room, her arms full of fabric. Sibyl felt like a doll they dressed up several times a day and paraded out for her fiancé’s approval. She didn’t understand—it wasn’t as if the man hadn’t already agreed to marry her. But Alistair seemed to delight in each new outfit. She found it rather disconcerting.
“I don’t want to go.” Sibyl sighed, leaning against the window ledge and peering down at the courtyard below. The men were already tussling in the yard, energy high, anticipating the kill. She’d been excited at the prospect of a hunt at first. Her father had led many on their estate back in York, and she’d ridden alongside the men with her own bow. Her father had even marked her cheeks and forehead with the blood of the first boar she’d ever taken down by herself from horseback. She was an excellent shot—she could hit her mark at fifty yards.
But when her fiancé had informed her, in no uncertain terms, that English ladies didn’t carry weapons on a hunt, that they rode side-saddle, like respectable women, Sibyl knew she was, once again, just going to be paraded out in front of everyone for show. She wasn’t going to get to hunt at all on this “hunt.” And, she had decided, if that was the case, she was just going to stay in her room and read a good book. That was far preferable than riding side-saddle on some old, tame, brood mare while her husband-to-be bragged about his hunting prowess, nudging his men and whispering to them about Sibyl’s long, curly red hair and big, sea green eyes.
“Now, come along.” Moira clucked and fussed, putting the pile of dark green velvet on the bed. “Yer betrothed bids ye hunt wit’im.”
No, her betrothed bid her to ride on a horse beside him like a good little girl.
“More clothes?” Sibyl looked down at the blue silk day dress she had worn to breakfast. “Isn’t this sufficient?”
“Aye, more clothes, and be grateful, lass!” Moira’s eyes flashed. “This dress could feed a family in my village fer a year.”
A year? Surely not! Sibyl had always been a bit spoiled, even at home, although her toys had been things like her own falcon, Peri; a Norwegian longbow; and her stallion, Prince. Her mother had purchased her dresses over the years, but Sibyl had refused to wear them, and her father had indulged her. For years, she had gone around Blackthorne Castle wearing breeches like a boy, much to her mother’s embarrassment. Only when company came did her mother put her foot down. Then there was the struggle of fighting Sibyl into a bathtub, brushing the tangles out of her long red hair, and lacing her into a dress.
Of course, that didn’t stop her from challenging their guests’ sons to foot races or shooting contests, which she usually won, much to her father’s delight. It also usually ruined whatever clothing she was wearing. She would end up with dirt smeared all down her front, or mud caking the hem of her gown. Then there was the time when she was twelve and she stripped down to her chemise and had a boy unlace her corset so they could go swimming in the waterhole and try to catch frogs with their hands. Even her father had been angry that time.
Sibyl lifted her arms obediently at Moira’s urging, letting the old woman take off her day dress and toss it on the bed. She was used to the process now, had gotten used to it back home, when her uncle—her father’s brother, a man so unscrupulous, he had wooed and won Sibyl’s mother after her father had died—had insisted on finding her a “match.” It had been an endless supply of dresses then too, and a continual parade of men who wanted to hold her hand. Some of them had even dared to kiss her cheek, or even her mouth. Those she had kicked in the shins. The one who had pinned her against a wall in the south garden and grabbed her breast had been kicked somewhere more private. Her father had taught her that too.
Her uncle had soon discovered that Sibyl’s value, while it was quite high in looks, decreased considerably once a man had actually met and attempted to court her. Her uncle could order her bathed and groomed and dressed, but he couldn’t control her behavior—as much as his threatened, and actual, beatings made the attempt. So her uncle had changed his strategy, and had started looking for men much further away, who might have had heard of her beauty, but who were too far away or too busy to actually travel to meet his young, marriageable stepdaughter.
The best match—in her uncle’s estimation—had been Alistair MacFalon, laird of clan MacFalon and warden of the Middle March in Scotland. It wouldn’t have been Sibyl’s choice, but Sibyl didn’t have a choice. The agreement had been made over ale and fish in King Henry’s court. The King himself had suggested and approved of the match. Sibyl knew then, with a sinking heart, that she was done for. Before she knew it, her mother had kissed her dryly on the cheek, murmured something about behaving and doing her “wifely duty,” and then Sibyl was on the road to Scotland with a pack of armed guards and one ladies’ maid.
Rose was a silly girl who liked to talk about fashion and clothes and court and who was doing what with whom and when, until Sibyl was bored to tears. Rose especially liked to talk about men. She talked about royalty, she talked about lords and ladies and earls and duchesses, she talked about men she’d met at court, she even talked about the guards who were escorting them through the English countryside to what would be Sibyl’s new homeland. Rose talked so much, Sibyl was grateful when the girl started slipping out at night, because Rose would talk until she finally fell asleep—and then, she snored.
A few nights, Sibyl awoke to the sound of something she thought, at first, was an animal, hurt and crying in the forest. Then, she realized, it was Rose. She’d heard her talking enough to recognize the sound of her voice, even if it was a non-verbal sort of scream. Sibyl listened, ashamed of herself for doing so—but the woman was so loud, the whole camp had to have heard her, she reasoned!—knowing that Rose was having marital relations with one of the guards. Her mother hadn’t told her anything about them, but the ladies’ maids at her father’s estate did so like to gossip, and Sibyl had gleaned most of it from them. That, and from watching the animals in the forest, the dogs in the yard.
But Rose wasn’t married. She knew standards were different for ladies’ maids than they were for women of Sibyl’s station—but the consequences weren’t. It had taken them a month to finally reach the Scottish border, and by then, Rose was with child. Sibyl was furious when the captain of the guard, who lined up his men and fired off the question about who had been bedding with their charge’s ladies’ maid, came back and told her that none of the men would confess.
“Was it an immaculate conception then?” Sibyl had snapped.
She had been tempted to fire them all. She fantasized about riding the rest of the way on her own, showing up at her betrothed’s castle alone, on horseback, with no escort. She knew, however, that her uncle would hear of it, and his reach was long. He would punish her somehow for such a transgression.
The captain of the guard had suggested they leave Rose by the side of the road and simply move on. This had angered Sibyl even further, so she had ordered they stop at the next town for longer than the guard wanted, and she had searched out a family that would take Rose in. She would have to work, of course, in trade for her room and board, but at least she and her baby would have a safe place to stay.
That left Sibyl without a ladies’ maid at all, which suited her just fine. Although she hadn’t quite anticipated the dressing problem she was going to have. Instead of lacing herself up into a corset—which was impossible, she discovered—she went without it altogether. She wore those dresses that laced or buttoned up the front, and once she reached the castle, it was Moira who greeted her, clucking over her appearance, insisting she be bathed and dressed before meeting her husband-to-be, so that she look like a “proper English lady.”
It was important to her betrothed, Sibyl quickly discovered, that she look like a “proper English lady” at all times. It became clear that her Scottish husband-to-be had agreed to marry her almost solely on the basis that she was highborn, English, and a lady. This last was debatable, but as long as she looked the part, so far he hadn’t seemed to care. He just liked to look at her, and show her off, and brag about his conquest. Alistair MacFalon did a lot of bragging about his conquests.
“There.” Moira nodded in satisfaction, curling the last of Sibyl’s long, thick auburn tresses around her fat, sausage fingers. “Ye look as pretty as a pitcher.”
Sibyl frowned into the mottled looking-glass seated in front of her. She’d been trussed up like a turkey in her corset and dressed in green velvet like a Christmas tree. Moira put a green velvet hat with silver ribbons threaded through it on her head, securing it with pins that Sibyl knew would be useless on a hard ride. But the effect was stunning, she had to admit. As girls went, she was kind of a pretty one, she thought, cocking her head and squinting at the glass. Whenever she had lamented her carrot-colored hair as a child—the village boys had teased her mercilessly about it—her father had told her she would appreciate it, one day, when she was older and men started to take notice of her.
There had been one boy, a gruff, dark-haired chap who worked in her father’s stables, who had looked at her in a way that made her skin tingle and flush. He had told her once he thought she had beautiful hair. “Like fire,” he said softly, helping her off her horse. At the time, it had been tangled and full of brambles, but he hadn’t seemed to notice. Her body had slid all the way down his long, lean frame when he gave her a hand, a sensation that made her gasp and his nostrils flare like her stallion, Prince, when he caught scent of something interesting.
Other girls had said, rather cattily, that she was “too pretty for her own good,” whatever that meant. They seemed to think beauty was wasted on a girl like her—one that would rather go hunting for deer than dance and flirt with boys.
Sibyl stood, smoothing the velvet dress over her hips, seeing herself as her fiancé must. She was tall—taller than most girls—and thin. Too thin, really, and quite muscular. It came from years of being so active. Her skin wasn’t the type to turn brown from the sun, but it was freckled, much to her mother’s chagrin. They dotted her nose, her arms, even her breasts—hence all the white powder. But she had to admit, in spite of all her flaws, once she was dressed up, she made quite an elegant looking young lady. Her mother would have been proud.
Her father, she thought, frowning at her own image in the mirror—what would he have thought of her impending marriage? Her betrothed? She thought she knew. And the answer wasn’t a good one.
“Yer as ready as ready can be.” Moira gave a satisfied nod, ushering her toward the door. “Hurry up now, he’ll be waitin’ fer ye.”
“I forgot my wrap,” Sibyl said, turning back halfway down the dank, damp hallway. Moira sighed, turning to go back for it. “No, no, you go. I know you have other work to do. I’ll fetch it myself.”
“Of course.” Sibyl was already heading back to her room.
She gave a quick peek to make sure Moira was continuing on her way before closing the door. Her wrap was sitting on a chest and she snatched it, but she also knelt to peer under the big canopy bed, reaching to grab a satchel she had packed slowly over the past several weeks since arriving in Scotland. Inside was a canteen—stolen and filled with water—three days’ worth of food, if she stretched it, a flint, and a knife, stolen from the kitchen. Thanking God for the current fashion of big skirts, she pulled hers up and pinned the satchel to her chemise.