Johanna Lindsey Beautiful and defiant, Kristen Haardrad meets the hot, longing gaze of Royce, Thane of Wyndhurst, with icy fury -- vowing never to be enslaved by the powerful Saxon lord who holds her captive. But through maddened with desire for the golden-haired Viking temptress, noble Royce, in conscience, cannot force his exquisite prisoner to submit. Chapter One Norway A. Dirk Gerhardsen dropped to the ground and then elbowed his way closer to the river where the golden-haired girl had stopped. To the left, the Horten Fjord flowed swiftly on its course.
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Johanna Lindsey 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Chapter Four It was the storm that gave Kristen away, and it was not even a bad storm, at least not yet. But as soon as the ship had started riding the bucking waves, she started retching.
A fine sailor she made. She had forgotten it had been this way the last time she sailed. The least disturbance to the sea, and she could not hold on to the contents of her stomach. Someone had heard her retching and had opened the hatch to the cargo well. After one look at her, the sailor had slammed the hatch back down. She did not even see who it was, nor did she care at the moment, for the pitching of the ship grew steadily worse.
She had been so fortunate until now. Getting into the cargo well had been the easiest part, for only one man had been left to watch the ship, and though he sat near the cargo well, he had nodded off to sleep. Kristen, quick and nimble despite her height, had seized the opportunity. And the cargo well had kept her quite comfortable even if it was pitch-dark inside.
It was piled high with soft furs to hide behind and make her a nice bed. So it had done for two days. She could have hoped for at least one more day before revealing herself, for the food she had brought would last that long. It was not to be. The storm had revealed her now. And although no one came yet to confront her, inevitably someone would.
To Kristen, it seemed as if that third day had come and gone by the time the hatch was opened again and the light of day flooded down on her. She stiffened herself to prepare for battle to the extent that her weakened body would allow, which was not much. She still felt miserable, even though the storm was finally over. It was Selig who dropped down into the well. Kristen lay where she had last been tossed, practically at his feet. It was his voice, hard with anger, that told her who it was.
Darkly his eyes scanned the tightly gartered leggings and the soft-skinned high boots trimmed in fur. Her waist was girded with a wide belt, the large buckle set with tiny emeralds. His gray eyes were as dark as the storm that had just passed. He looked as if he longed to hit her and it was taking all his strength not to.
Never before have you done anything this foolish! There was also the fact that I want to wed, Selig, but there is no one at home that I want. I hoped to meet many new men at the great market towns. Mother already told me he might do that when you returned or, if not then, in the spring. Just like that! There was one other reason. There was someone—and I will not give a name, so do not ask— but someone who meant to force me to wed him by—by taking me. But I could not tell anyone about this man, or I would never have been able to go anywhere or do anything by myself.
Father would have dealt with him, but would not have killed him with no harm done yet. And a talking to or a beating—well, I do not think that would have dissuaded this particular man. I would have lost my freedom, so I felt the best thing to do was take myself away for a while, and if I might find myself a husband at the same time, then all the better.
I told you it was all those reasons combined that decided me," she said defensively. Would you kill every man who wants me? You will be all the protection I will need in the market towns. The men would never forgive me if so much time was wasted. Where is the harm if I go along? You are only going trading.
That was a fool thing to do," the blond giant grumbled. She had only guessed before. Take her home so she can tell your father? How our enemies would love to get their hands on you. He followed the blow by diving on top of Hakon, who retaliated in true Viking fashion. Kristen let the fight go on for several minutes before she interrupted in a tone just loud enough so they would hear her above their grunts of pain.
Then I would only have to tell our parents you drowned, instead of having to confess I took you Viking. I think they would rather hear that you drowned. You will stay on the ship and out of sight.
She turned on Hakon, who was just standing. Have a heart, Kristen. Chapter Five They had sailed south, farther south than Kristen had ever dreamed of going. She knew it was south, for each night the sky stayed darker longer, until finally the darkness was equal to the daylight. Or it could even be the land of the Franks, though she did think that land would be to the left, not on the right as this one was. If it was one of the large islands, then she had reason to believe they might be raiding the Danes, for those Northmen had set about conquering both islands, and the last she heard, they had nearly succeeded.
And if it was the Danes they would raid, well, what an equal match that would be, as opposed to attacking the smaller peoples of those islands. Although still highly displeased with her, he had finally let her come out of the cargo well.
As if she would have the nerve to tell her father any of this! He was a successful merchant. He did not condone raiding with his ships. But of course the young men dreamed of the riches that could be had with one successful raid, and these men sailing under Selig were all young, and this was a fine ship for such a venture. Built of oak, it had a stout pine mast that supported the large square sail of red and white stripes. Kristen was not sorry she had come, for the excitement of the men became her own.
And the climax was soon at hand. She could tell by the change in the men, and by the way Selig and Ohthere now watched the coast even more closely. It was early morning when they turned into the mouth of a wide river, and every man was now needed at the oars.
The explorer in her was fascinated with everything she saw. The adventurer in her held her breath when they finally dropped anchor and Selig came to her, for she was still hoping she might be allowed to go with them. She had even readied herself for that possibility, tucking her long braid into the back of her tunic to keep it out of the way, and wearing the silver helmet that Ohthere had teasingly tossed to her that morning.
His scowling expression as he looked over her male apparel did not bode well for his changing his mind about where she would stay until he returned. Selig was a very handsome man, but when he scowled he was frightening, except to her, who knew him so well. You will get yourself into the cargo well and stay there until I return. But then he nodded toward the cargo well, and Kristen dropped her shoulders in defeat and went.
She did not stay there for long, however. No sooner was the last man over the side and heading for the river-bank than she pulled herself out of the well, gaining a grin from Bjorn, one of the men left behind with the ship, and a scowl from the other guard.
But neither of them barked at her to get below, so she was able to watch the crew make their way inland toward a thick forest that blocked the rest of the land from view.
She paced about in her frustration to be stuck here where there would be no action at all. It was only midday and a hot sun beat down on them, hotter than any she had ever known in Norway. How long would the men be gone? And then she heard what the man beside her had heard: the clanging of swords and the cries of men engaged in battle. Get below, Kristen! Kristen obeyed, but only to collect her sword. When she pulled herself back out of the well, she saw that both of the men who had been left behind were now running toward the forest to help their friends.
She did not hesitate to join them, for as Bjorn had said, only a mighty force would attack so many armed Vikings, and she reasoned they would need even her help, little as it might be. She caught up with the two men just as they reached the forest and charged into it with bloodcurdling yells. She did not follow directly. There was nothing around her but fallen bodies.
Oh, God, she had not thought it would be like this. She saw her cousin Olaf lying at an odd angle Where was Selig? She forced her gaze away from the ground littered with dead men to look ahead of her, where the fighting was still going on. She took note of the attackers now, and could not believe that these small, wiry men had done so much damage, for there were not so many that she could see—and, she realized, they were not all small, either.
There was one even a few inches taller than she, and he was fighting—Selig! And God in heaven, he was not the only one wielding a sword against her brother.