Alluring and dangerous, the Hawk of Inverfyre came to rest at my father’s house, his motives unknown. His seduction was breathtaking. I resisted him, this enigmatic warrior, but his kiss transported me to a time and place where his relentless pursuit and my passionate surrender made perfect sense.
’Twas then I erred. My defenses harried, I was tricked into marriage by the Hawk and taken by force to his lawless castle. I have vowed to flee: The grounds abound with rogues and whores, and the servants whisper of murdered wives. And yet, his dizzying touch hints that we have lived here before – he as the castle’s intrepid founder and I as his betrayed lover.
Am I the bride who will break the spell of Inverfyre? Or have I been captured by a scheming sorcerer, only to be ravished and discarded like so many before?
—Lady Aileen of Abernye
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An excerpt from The Warrior:
Two hundred gazes followed their course, the whispers beginning in the rear. Aileen walked with her back as straight as a blade, knowing full well that Blanche’s women would tease her about her supposed marital ambitions. They were so confident that she had none, that even she knew her chances of a good match to be nil.
There was something exciting about being chosen by such a dangerous rogue, even for a matter as disinteresting as granting him a tour of the keep. Indeed, Aileen’s heart skipped with the heat of his presence.
At least until they passed his companions, one of whom winked boldly at Aileen. Another gave a lecherous whistle that made her color rise.
“Ignore them,” the Hawk counseled softly.
Aileen resolved in that moment to ensure that no taint could be cast upon this excursion, that no rumor could cast shame upon her father. She might not be marriageable, she might be rumored to be cold, she might carry the taint of madness, but she would not earn an undeserved reputation as a harlot either. She would keep their course in the light and the company of others, and ensure this man cultivated no interest in her meager charms by sparing him no more attention than she would grant a hungry hound.
“Aye, it would be better to begin at the gates to ensure that you are not confused,” she said, ensuring that the Hawk did not miss her condescension. She pulled her arm from his grip then marched out of the hall ahead of him.
“Do you oft have this trouble with unfamiliar abodes?” she asked, as if he were the most dim-witted man that ever she had met. “I would think it a most inconvenient affliction for one who reputedly makes his way by raiding and pillaging.”
The Hawk let her precede him, though she heard him strolling behind her. “Is that the rumor of my deeds?” he asked mildly.
The hall’s sounds faded as the shadows of the quiet corridor enfolded them. To Aileen’s dismay, there were no other souls in what was commonly be a busy corridor. She hastened her pace, but the Hawk caught her elbow in a casual grip, slowing her steps to match his.
“Oh, that and more,” Aileen ascertained with an insouciance she did not feel. She was aware of his heat as she had not been before, aware of his fingers wrapped around her upper arm and their proximity to her breast.
He could probably feel the wild dance of her pulse, he could probably smell her skin as clearly as she smelled his.
She waited for fear to seize her throat as it customarily did when she was alone with a man, but this time, her terror was absent.
Why? Did this man have no amorous intent?
His thumb caressed the back of her arm and belied any such thought. Still Aileen did not fear him, though she granted first his hand and then him an arch glance.
“You might become cold,” he said with apparent innocence, though his eyes glinted with intent.
“I am most hale,” she insisted, putting an increment of space between them. He let her do so, easing his grip slightly.
“Tell me what else is rumored.”
“Why?” Aileen cast him a mutinous glance. “So you can hold these half-truths against me? Blanche would love to hear that I had so compromised my father’s hospitality.” She tossed her braid over her shoulder. “Ask a more willing maiden to sate your vanity about your own repute.”
That beguiling smile touched his lips again. “Might I conclude that you and your father’s bride are not compatible?”
Aileen slanted him a glance so rueful that even in the flickering light of the sole torch, it should have answered his every question. He chuckled. If she had thought the timbre of his voice intriguing, the rich echo of his merriment was even more so.
Aileen knew that she was too clever by half to find such a man alluring and yet, and yet, some foolish part of her was tempted to know more of him. How would such a man kiss? Her gaze rose to his firm lips and her heart leapt, though the twinkle she found in his green eyes made her spin away.
If he mocked her, she gave him fodder for his jest. Why was she intrigued by this man? Surely, she should fear him above all others?
But this was the first time she had been alone with a man other than her father and felt no terror. She felt only a strange excitement that seemed to make her blood dance in her very veins.
She quickened her pace again, breathing a sigh of relief as the light of the bailey came into view ahead. “You are in a fine mood for a man whose wits are so addled that he cannot follow corridors as well wrought as these,” she charged.
“Indeed, I am,” he acknowledged. “It is the finest mood I have known for nigh twenty years. Would you care to celebrate the occasion with me?”
Aileen glanced to him, mystified by his meaning.
He arched a dark brow, which made him look diabolical. “You said ‘half-truths’, lady mine.”
“I am not your lady!”
“A mere slip of the tongue,” he murmured, his gaze dropping to her lips. It was as if he had read her thoughts.
Aileen blushed crimson, though she struggled to maintain her outraged manner. “Of course, I said half-truth. All rumor is half-truth.”
“Yet few acknowledge as much.” His voice was dark, seductive, and Aileen was sorely tempted to lean closer to him though she knew that would be a foolhardy deed. He would take advantage of weakness before she had a chance to correct her mistake.
“It is only sensible to make conclusions upon evidence,” she said, her words falling more quickly than was her wont.
“Indeed, it is.”
The Hawk’s tone was complimentary. Though Aileen was not adverse to an acknowledgement of her intellect, she was again certain that he teased her. She pivoted to shake a finger at him. “Do not begin to pour some nonsense in my ears…”
“Do you realize that you are the first in decades to find me only half-guilty, Aileen?”
While she wondered what to make of that, he moved closer. She could see the glint of his eyes, she could feel the intensity of his gaze and found herself helpless to step away. Indeed, she had no desire to flee. The cold of the stone floor permeated her leather slippers. Surely that was what made her nipples tighten, what made her shiver so deliciously, what made her lick her lips as if she hungered for some forbidden morsel.
“Then, perhaps you should change your behavior so that it does not lend itself so readily to rumor,” she said, her words uncommonly breathless.
“Or, perhaps I should reward the rare lady who thinks well of me.” He held her elbow fast, but his other hand rose slowly to cup her chin.
Aileen had never felt a man’s caress afore and the gentle warmth of his touch turned her protests to naught. Had he sought to subdue her, to force his desire upon her, she would have fought him tooth and nail, but she could hardly protest such a gentle seduction.
Not when his touch felt so wondrous.
Not when she was so curious as to where it would lead.
Not when she was without fear in such circumstance for the first time in all her days. Perhaps she had passed some threshold, she did not care, she yearned only to know what a man’s embrace was like. Oh, she knew she should flee his touch, she knew she should shun his scheme, but she was snared in unfamiliar desire, her own wits addled by his sure touch. Surely he would claim no more than a kiss? Surely it would not hurt to know?
The Hawk eased her back against the wall and Aileen found her breasts against his chest, his thumb moving across her chin in a caress that threatened to melt her very bones. Heat rose within her as well as a desire she had never felt before. Her gaze fell to his lips and yearning quickened within her, even as he watched and waited.
“I did not know that the despoiling of maidens was among your crimes,” she whispered.
“It is not,” the Hawk said with reassuring resolve. Aileen parted her lips, knowing she should protest his familiarity, but found no words upon her tongue.
She had no chance to summon any. The Hawk’s mouth closed over hers with such determination that she understood this kiss had been his objective all along. He coaxed her to join the embrace, his lips cajoling her, his grip firm but not rough. His fingers slid into her braid, cupping her nape, holding her captive to the pleasure he seemed determined to grant.
Aileen was lost. She had never felt such a delightful languor, never yearned for more of what she could not name. She parted her lips to him without intending to do so. His tongue slipped between her teeth as he made a low growl of satisfaction. She felt the hardness of him against her, felt the thunder of his own pulse when her hands landed upon his neck, and thrilled that she summoned a response from him. His hand tightened in her hair as he lifted her to her toes, his own desire as fervent as her own. His other hand slid around her waist, catching her close, his fingers fanned across the back of her waist.
He deepened his kiss and the oddest thought came to Aileen.
A memory unfolded in her mind, a recollection of another passionate kiss so shared. Though Aileen knew she had never been kissed with such possessive ardor, that she had never been touched by this man, a curious certainty grew in her thoughts. She had the odd conviction that they were lovers met again, that they had so embraced a thousand times before, that his heart was as familiar to her as her own.
It made no sense, yet this notion grew in her thoughts, seemingly fed by the power of his kiss. It pushed her doubts from its path, it dominated her knowledge of who she was and who she embraced. She saw them entwined nude together, as she knew they had not been, yet was convinced that this was a memory of her own.
It seemed some fey being had taken possession of her body and soul, and that the truth she knew – that this enigmatic warrior stole a kiss from her in her father’s abode – faded like a whisper on the wind. It was replaced by a strange urgency, a need to feast upon this man’s lips, a lust to lift her skirts and welcome his heat within her once again.
She wanted to welcome and celebrate his return.
Her arms twined around the Hawk’s neck, and Aileen kissed him with a wantonness she had never known that she could feel. She was caught on a tide of desire that she could not stay. She wound her fingers into his hair and drew him boldly closer, wanting more, wanting all the pleasure that he could grant.
To Aileen’s shame, it was the Hawk who broke their embrace. He put an arm’s length between them with an obvious effort. They both breathed quickly and his eyes glittered like stars.
“Magnus,” Aileen whispered, awe in her voice and no clear sense of why she had said such a thing in her thoughts.
His expression turned wary. “What did you say?”
“Magnus,” she repeated, unable to explain her compulsion to address him thus. “You are Magnus Armstrong returned and I welcome you.” She reached to touch his cheek in a gesture of affection from a source she could not name, but he stepped abruptly away.
“My name is Michael,” the Hawk said harshly. “Do you confuse me with another of your lovers?”
She flushed. “Of course not!” Aileen averted her face, ashamed to have to confess such a thing aloud. “There has been no man who has touched me as you just have.”
He stepped closer, his hand rising to her jaw. He tipped her face so he looked into her eyes. Aileen returned his regard unflinchingly, willing him to see that she told no lie.
“Then why?” he asked more quietly, so quietly that she almost thought he knew the answer.
“I had a vision…almost a memory. It was most strange.” Before his obvious skepticism, Aileen’s confession faltered and fell silent. She thought of the accusations against her mother, the rumor that she too would go mad in time, and bit back her words. Silence stretched long between them, the corridor suddenly cold as it had not been moments before.
“There are no visions, Aileen,” the Hawk said.
She glanced up, stung by his tone, and his eyes narrowed, as if to warn her.
“None,” he repeated. “Do not succumb to such madness.”
“My mother was not mad!” Aileen declared and pulled away from his grip.
“I speak of you, not your dame.” The Hawk glared at her, then he pivoted and marched down the corridor with nary a backward glance.
He left Aileen standing alone, her body screaming for something she could not name, her thoughts filled with confusion. She shivered as he stepped through the portal to the bailey, shivered in the cold she had only begun to feel.
Then the Hawk was gone, the corridor as silent as if he had never been in her presence. And still Aileen stood there, lips afire, heart filled with trepidation that alien thoughts had evicted her own. She touched her burning lips with marveling fingers and tried to recall if she had ever heard tell that the Hawk of Inverfyre was a sorcerer.
This could not be madness. No, it was witchery wrought apurpose by the Hawk. Aileen could only hope the effects of his potent kiss were fleeting, for she had certainly been beguiled.
©2004, 2011 Claire Delacroix, Inc.