Scotland, in the year of our Lord thirteen-hundred and eighty
whispered her husband’s name and dropped a bouquet of purple
saffron. She shook her head in disbelief and choked on the sob filling
Twilight glistened off
Kael’s sweat-slicked back as he held another woman against the
ancient stone—their stone—and thrust wildly between her
legs. The musky scent of sex blended with the salty aroma of the sea.
Waves slapped a hideous melody against the shore at the base of the
cliff. Elise stood immobile, unable to turn away from the scene before
The woman propped herself
up higher on the free-standing boulder and clasped her ankles around
his buttocks. She leaned to the side and bit Kael’s ear, her
lips curling into a wicked grin. Glowing green eyes leered at Elise
from over Kael’s shoulder.
Elise stared at her, confused
by her appearance; pale hair, gold lashes, high cheekbones. Her image
mirrored Elise. Who was she?
The man Elise had called
husband for nigh six months held tight to the woman’s hips and
drove a final thrust. A deep throaty moan Elise had heard often enough
prefaced the whimpers coming from the female snake intimately coiled
around him. His muscles rippled and his head fell back as he spent
himself inside her.
The woman laughed—a
tinkling bell-like giggle that cut Elise’s ears and sliced through
her heart. She gripped the amulet Kael had given her the day of their
wedding and yanked it free from her neck. He’d vowed to be faithful.
He lied. He betrayed her.
Drawing deep breaths,
Kael whipped his head to the side. Dark brows dipped low above blue
eyes filled with confusion and distance. He searched her face then
offered a fleeting glance toward the woman he was still buried inside.
Seething with anger, Elise
felt cool tears fall over her hot cheeks and wished her father had
never given her to the leader of Clan Kraig. “Damn ye and your
clan! Ye are a liar. May you and all those who share your blood be
cursed for eternity.” She threw the amulet at him.
The woman shot out a hand
and caught it in midair. Kael jerked out of her as she spread her
naked form over the massive bolder and chanted words of the old language.
Words of black magic. She arched her back and raised her hand above
her. Purple rays of light beamed out of the fist wrapped around the
“So shall it be
done, dearest Elise, and may ye be forever blinded by the truth.”
ONE – CHAPTER ONE
Italy, in the year of our Lord fourteen-hundred and eighty-six
“Remove your garments, per favore.”
Although, her forthrightness
shocked him, Taveon Kraig had no intention of denying the beauty’s
request. Her nonchalance confirmed the lingering question that had
pecked at him for nigh a sennight. Her association to the wealthiest
families in all of Italy could no longer be denied. She was a courtesan
to the Medici Empire.
Excitement, raw and feral,
whipped through him as he released the clasps holding his burgundy
doublet together, more than eager to be rid of the garment. Hell must
surely lie directly beneath Firenze soil as he’d never known
such sweltering weather.
“There is a robe
on the chair if you are modest.” She gestured toward one of
the few pieces of furniture in the chamber.
Modest? Taveon grinned.
There wasn’t a modest bone in his body. After removing his boots,
he peeled his tunic off over his head and neatly draped his garments
over the chair’s back. Only briefly did he drag his eyes from
her to glance at the renderings of serpents and cherubs carved into
the wood. Everything at the Medici Palace was elaborately decorated—the
furniture, the door panels…the women.
The coquette raised her
ivory skirt, exposing bare toes, and gracefully floated across the
chamber to push open shutters of an arched window. Eyes closed, lips
pursed, she tilted her face upward and smiled. Light poured over her
flawless skin. Long locks cascaded down her back like a veil of black
Anticipating the moment
he would tangle his fingers through the masses set his palms to itching.
His bollocks pulsed inside his braies.
He couldn’t peel
them off quickly enough.
Do not get familiar
with the girl, else she’ll end up in the grave like the others. The soothsayer’s warning stuck in his head, but he decided becoming familiar with the Italian lassie might be the best means
of locating the amulet.
He freed himself of the
last of his apparel without taking his gaze from her. She was exquisite,
and the little minx intended to make merry in the full light of day
in a room scarcely furnished. “Is there no bed?”
“No. You will remain
in an upright position.” She turned, making his heart beat out
of cadence. ’Twould take all his strength not to spend himself
inside her, for if he failed his task, he would poison her womb with
his cursed seed the same as he had Nessa.
Stripped to his skin and feeling quite vain, he held his arms out
in presentation. When she yielded little reaction to his physique,
he flexed his muscles and waited for her to pay heed to what he deemed
a most impressive erection.
But her gaze never once
He frowned. What was wrong
“I trust Messer
Lorenzo explained to you how I work.”
lied. Taveon had skulked on rooftops and in corridors just to get
to her. For two nights he’d awaited the opportunity to sneak
past the handful of sentries guarding the palace.
She padded toward him
and stopped a baw hair from his chest.
Sweet Venus! She
was a curvy wee lassie, full breasts, narrow waist, flaring hips.
Oh, she would be soft, supple; with an ample amount of flesh for him
to dine on. He thought of all the ways he intended to wrap her body
around him. Carnal desire raced through his veins. He’d yet
to be this close to her and became entranced by her eyes. They were
remarkable. An odd shade of violet—a smoky violet. An erotic
mixture of honey and citrus coated his senses like liquid heat. The
tickle of her velvet skirt against his shins made his nipples pebble
and his cock jerk outward.
He was going to enjoy
her and refused to allow her to rush through the process regardless
of her expertise. Aye, he would taste her and show her all the ways
a Scotsman could pleasure a woman.
One of her delicate hands
reached out to touch him, and he braced himself for the contact. Cool
fingers splayed over his chest. He staved off the need to flinch.
Her violet eyes widened.
She jerked back and gawked
up at him. Her breaths came fast and furious along with a frown that
pulled thin dark brows tight in the middle. She pulled the corner
of her lip between her teeth and touched him again—this time
with the tip of one finger on his breastbone.
She yanked her hand back.
“Oh, cazzo! Cazzo!” Her words were delivered
in her native tongue, but the emphasis told Taveon she was either
cursing or praying.
Dinnae be afraid.” He wrapped an arm around her waist and flanked
her against him, pressing his erection against her belly.
Her head shook, her eyes
pinched tight. “Who are you?”
“I am the last lover
ye will ever want.” He bent low and descended on her glossed
lips, hoping to ease her sudden discomfort.
Tiny fingernails dug into
his chest while her scream vibrated over his tongue. He released her
and watched the fury alight her face with fire. What in the name of
Zeus was wrong with her?
Her hands curled into white-knuckled fists. “Angelo, come this
“Who is Angelo?”
Taveon asked just as she reared back and punched him square in the
nose. He faltered back a step and bent slightly at the waist as pain
sliced through his skull. “Shite!” He stood upright, squeezed
the bridge of his nose, and stared at the hellion through the spots
now speckling his vision. “Ye hizzie!”
She swung another clenched
fist wide, but missed him by an arm’s length; nonetheless, he
felt the breeze of her intentions over his abdomen.
The door flew open and
a boy with gangly limbs too big for the rest of his body dashed into
the chamber. ’Twas the same boy Taveon had seen attached to
her arm on the Sabbath when she’d attended mass at their kirk.
The boy Taveon assumed
was Angelo, latched on to her elbows and shook her. “Che
cos’è, Mistress Viviana?”
Taveon pulled the robe
on to hide his nudity. If her sharp hand movements didn’t indicate
her agitation, the way she ranted did. Though he’d studied the
Tuscan dialect en route to Italy, the speed of her delivery made it
impossible for him to decipher her words.
A clicking sound grew
in volume and prefaced the entry of a huge gray dog. The beast slid
into the chamber and nearly skidded into the empty hearth. It took
a stance at Taveon’s feet. “Yap, yap, yap…”
Short-haired and strongly
built, the beastie’s annoying bark didn’t coincide with
its size. The dog’s instincts to guard her only added to the
pandemonium erupting in the chamber. The blood left his erection and
throbbed at his temple in time with the dog’s persistent yelping.
Angelo left her side to
retrieve an iron poker from the hearth then poised the weapon at a
threatening angle. Taveon swallowed a chuckle. The laddie appeared
determined to protect her and Taveon wouldn’t insult Angelo’s
combinato?” Angelo glared at him. “What have you
done to her?” he added in English when Taveon didn’t respond
“I did naught,”
Taveon defended. “She asked me to remove my garments. I assumed
she…well…I suspect—” Taveon stammered, now
realizing his Italian siren hadn’t intended to make merry at
all. He now wondered who the man had been leaving this same chamber
just three days past. He’d been disheveled, righting his garments
and grinning like a lone ram in a heard of ewes.
“You thought me
a courtesan?” Outrage raised her voice an octave, but her gaze
pinned to the floor and contradicted the strength in her words.
“Yap, yap, yap…”
The beast’s shrill bark pulsed through Taveon’s head,
making him want to pull his ears off.
“Are you not the
model Messer Lorenzo commissioned for me?” She rubbed the knuckles
she’d used to smash his nose into his skull.
“Sì. Model.” Angelo clarified with temper. “Mistress Viviana
is a sculptor.”
Understanding came to
light, and Taveon suddenly found the situation comical. He grinned
sheepishly, tightened the belt of his robe, and bent awkwardly to
try and catch her eyes. “Ye intended to sculpt me?”
“Not you. The stone.”
Angelo jerked a sheet off a partially carved statue in the center
of the room. “You were compensated to model as Goliath.”
Heat curled around Taveon’s
ears. “Forgive me, mistress. I misinterpreted your actions.
Ye touched me, and I—”
“She sculpts by
feel, idiota,” Angelo interrupted again. “As
she is blind.”
growl made a gradual crescendo, and Viviana considered letting the
dog bite the man. It would be no less than the goat deserved.
call back your beastie.”
yelps beat a painful tune inside her head that pinched the back of
her eyeballs. She loved her pet, but his bark could set a man’s
ears to bleeding. Positioning her pinkies at the tip of her tongue,
she blew a quick whistle. “Miocchi, cease. Come.”
A whimper preceded the
canine’s toenails tapping across the floor until his cold nose
nuzzled the palm of her hand. Without bending, she rubbed his ears
and stroked his sleek fur, soothing his temper.
man blew a heavy breath. “Thank ye.”
Viviana pressed a hand
to her bodice and felt the warmth of the amulet against her skin.
“Angelo.” She held out her hand and awaited her young
friend’s familiar touch, eager to see the man through
Angelo’s eyes. The boy’s fingers clasped hers and only
a heartbeat later, her vision blurred then focused in shades of gray
on the man before her.
was a giant. A beautiful giant with muscles cut of hewn stone, but
a giant just the same. He could crush her and Angelo with one hand.
His every physical trait was dark; hair, eyes, skin. He could easily
pass for a native, but his thick brogue told her he hadn’t been
bred on Tuscan soil.
He took a step forward
and waved a hand in front of her face. “Ye dinnae look blind.”
“Back away, Goliath.”
Angelo sliced the poker between them. “I’ll summon a sentry,
Mistress Viviana.” Angelo released her hand, as the boy was
wont to do, casting her back into darkness. The heavy weight of the
poker suddenly filled her palm.
“Do not leave me
with him.” Viviana’s pleading was wasted on Angelo’s
footfalls fleeing the chamber. She blinked and strangled the handle
with both hands then thrust the iron rod side to side.
A swift tug ripped the
weapon from her hands, after which it hit the floor with a clank.
A gasp dried her throat.
Her muscles tightened. Her fists curled as Alberto had taught her
Miocchi growled beside
her leg, and her heart slammed against her chest. She hated her weakness,
had hated it for eight years since she lost her sight at the age of
ten and three. “If you value your life, you would be well advised
to refrain from touching me.”
“I will not hurt
ye,” he said in a tenor voice beside her ear that sent a trill
through her breasts.
Her head snapped to the
side, twirling her hair around her neck. “The Medici guards
will be upon us in a trice.”
“I will be gone
before they arrive.”
The softest caress brushed
her cheek, just before he cupped her jaw with a strong calloused hand.
The moment his skin touched hers, light flashed, tingles ran up her
spine, and a colorless image of herself formed behind her eyelids.
She saw herself through his eyes the same as she did through Angelo’s.
Wide-eyed and panting through parted lips, she looked as terrified
as she felt.
Panic ensued, causing
her to tremble.
She jerked backward, separating
herself from his touch. Blindness returned and the chaos swarming
her senses sent her swaying. Angelo had been the only person she’d
ever been able to see through…until now.
Part of her desperately
wanted to know this man who shared Angelo’s unique gift, but
her instincts warned her to be wary.
His breath whispered over
her face and turned her skin to gooseflesh. She honed in on her remaining
senses. A hint of wine hid beneath the more dominant smells of mint
and licorice. It was the same wicked smell that had always clung to
Radolfo during their marriage. “What do you want from me?”
A tickle feathered over
her collarbone only long enough for light to blink behind her eyes.
The gold chain around her neck slid over her skin just before she
felt the lift of the heavy stone between her breasts.
“I want the amulet.”
No! Her hands
flew to her chest to protect the stone. She didn’t dare reveal
the talisman’s power, lest he steal it from her. “Messer
Lorenzo will not part with it. The amulet belongs to the Medici family.”
“Nay. It belongs
to my clan, and I must return it to Scotland.”
The man was a Scot!
He tucked the stone intimately
between her breasts which caused a frisson of pleasure to wrap around
her nipples. “Keep it safe for me until we meet again.”
A rush of footsteps sounded
in the corridor just as she was about to assure him they would not
Angelo’s voice rose amidst the commotion.
The man’s closeness
vanished and a rustle of clothing ensued. The soft velvet robe hit
her in the chest then pooled at her feet. She tilted her head and
awaited the next sound, the next smell, something to tell her where
he’d gone, but the guards’ entry overwhelmed the scent
she’d had of him. They reeked of onions and ale, of cheap perfume
and unwashed skin.
“Where is he, Mistress
Viviana?” Angelo grabbed her wrist and this time she held tight
to him with both hands.
She scanned the room through
Angelo’s eyes, but naught remained of the Scot. Even his garments
were gone. “Come with me to the window.” She dragged Angelo
across the chamber. “Look down. Search the courtyard.”
Angelo did as she instructed
and together they inspected the garden. The courtiers, draped in ells
of fabric, posed beside the fountain for the young garzoni to sketch.
A lute player walked among them, filling the air with song. Lorenzo’s
perfect world remained in harmony. And a naked Scotsman would most
certainly have caused an upset.
“He is not there.”
Angelo pushed away from the sill.
Viviana pulled him back.
“Look up. Search the outer walls.”
“I see naught, mistress.”
Viviana blew a frustrated
breath through her nose and pressed her palm against her chest, safeguarding
the amulet. The man lacked a brain if he thought she would just give
it to him. It wasn’t hers to give, and Lorenzo would not part
with it so easily.
Viviana turned to face
the guards and spoke in their native tongue. “Thank you for
your assistance, Alberto. Inform Messer Lorenzo of what has transpired, per favore. Have the roof secured and install a lock on this
window as well as the two windows in my personal chamber.”
“Sì, Mistress Viviana. I will place two sentries outside your door
for your safety as well.”
Grazie.” Viviana thanked him but doubted two guards would
be enough. She held fast to Angelo’s arm when he tried to follow
the guards. The click of the door latch announced their departure.
“Stay a moment, Angelo.”
Her young friend sighed,
but she had little patience for his mood. Viviana set Angelo in front
of her with his back to her front. “Scan the chamber.”
A quick glimpse passed
through her head. Viviana rolled her eyes beneath her lids and held
on to her frustration. “Slower, per favore.”
stopped him. “What is that?” She followed Angelo back
to the window and picked up a small scrap of stained cloth from the
floor beneath the sill. A flower was embroidered onto its center and
stitched words formed a circle around. Viviana focused on the letters
and wished she could remember Sister De Rosa’s teachings, but
she hadn’t been literate since she lost her sight. “The
words. What do they say?”
“It is Latin. It
says, ‘Love is the reward for bravery.’”