Moon Craving
Berkley Sensation (mass market paperback)
ISBN: 978-0425233047
February 2010

Excerpt © 2009 Lucy Monroe

.  .  .

Talorc stood before the English priest in the small chapel.  The MacDonald warriors and most of the English baron’s soldiers had to remain outside.  His own warriors, the MacDonald and five of his men, his bride’s family and a few English soldiers were the only witnesses for the wedding to come.

There were no flowers, no pomp and ceremony for this royally dictated marriage.  That should not have bothered him, but the soft-spoken woman he had met the night before seemed to deserve more.  Even if she was English.  She had been so vulnerable, and yet when he had demanded to know if she planned to marry him, she had taken her time replying.

She had weighed him.  He could feel her doing it, and she hadn’t been adding up the size of his lands in her head.  She’d been judging him personally and something inside him had refused to be found wanting.

She was nothing like Emily, which was both good and bad.  He did not relish the prospect of being likened to a goat by another Englishwoman, but he had no desire to see Abigail Hamilton eaten up and spit out by his clan.  Emily had come to the Highlands to protect this very sister from such a fate.  He could not help believing her fears had been justified.

Abigail spoke in whispers, seemed oblivious to her beauty and had a nervous habit of holding her hand over her throat when she talked.  As if she was preventing the wrong words from coming out.  His wolf felt protective toward her like he had no other besides family.  Since the only one left, his younger sister Caitriona, was now mated to the Balmoral’s second-in-command, it had been a long time since Talorc had felt those instincts stir so restlessly.

He wanted to believe it was only because the woman was slated to be his wife, but his wolf had shown no such concern for her sister when King David had originally instructed Talorc to marry Emily.  The wolf had wanted to howl at the evidence of bruising on Abigail’s pale skin.

And then hunt.

Talorc spent his time waiting for his bride’s arrival glaring at the woman’s mother and forcing down the wolf’s threatening growls.

Lady Hamilton had that same greedy, unreasonable look to her that his stepmother Tamara had had.  As if she expected the world to do her bidding and woe betide anyone who refused.  At first, the bitch had attempted a smile, but Talorc merely warned her with his eyes how close to death she had come by mistreating the woman that was his.

The fact he had not wanted an English bride made no difference.  The kings had dictated that Abigail was to be his and no one dared to mistreat a Sinclair.  He was still tempted to kill Lady Hamilton, despite his bride’s pleas to the contrary.  His wolf clamored for retribution, if not death.

Eventually, the English lady began to squirm under his hostile regard.

Good.  She had no place in Abigail’s life and he meant her to know it.

Niall cleared his throat, but Talorc did not need the prompting.  He had picked up Abigail’s scent the moment she entered the chapel.  Fragrant herbs, known to heal, mixed with her own unique perfume creating a heady fragrance that called to his beast.  It was all Talorc could do not to turn to watch his bride walk up the aisle.

It would not do to show such interest though.  The English baron might take it as a courtesy.  Not that his wolf seemed to care that Abigail herself was English.  The beast never took notice of women, but he certainly noticed Abigail.

And wanted her.

With a ferocity that forced Talorc to keep strict control of the semi-stiff member under his kilt.

The wolf fought to get out and make itself known to the woman about to marry the man.  Talorc had to concentrate harder than he ever had on keeping his wolf inside while he waited for Abigail to make her silent trek up the aisle on the arm of the baron.

Finally, he turned, if only to appease the wolf.

Abigail was not smiling, but she did not hesitate in her slow procession toward him.  She looked scared, but determined and he respected that.

It was easy to face battle without fear, much harder to face it with uncertainty of the outcome.  Eyes the color of rich earth reflected fear, but not terror.  That was something.  He should not care, but he did not like the idea that marriage to him would terrify her.  It was natural for her to be somewhat worried about her future.

She was leaving England for the Highlands.  Her life would never be the same.

Nor would his, a low voice inside him insisted.  One that sounded suspiciously like his wolf.

Her long ringlets, the color of pure, sweet honey swayed just above her hips with each step she took.  Talorc experienced an unfamiliar desire, nay need, to reach out and run his fingers through the silky strands.

He bit back a curse.  Where had that thought come from?  He had never wanted to touch Emily.  Or any other woman.  Not since the years during which his body had transitioned from boy to man.  His sexual urges had run rampant then, but he had not acted on them.

He had not been ready for a wife and had not found a mate.  He would never dishonor his family by not following through on the promises of the flesh either.

Unlike the Balmoral, the Chrechte among the Sinclairs believed sex a binding act.  The Balmoral held more lax standards so their warriors could gain control of their ability to shift at will at a younger age.

Luckily for Talorc, his father had had the good sense to mate a white wolf who passed that ability at birth on to their children.

That control over the beast within him had never been truly tested until now.

The wolf wanted Talorc to claim Abigail in the way of his people, but he had no intention of doing that in front of a chapel full of people.  Nor did he intend to mate her on anyone’s land but his own.

It was bloody frustrating, but for an Englishwoman, Abigail was beautiful and all too alluring.  She had perfect bow-shaped lips in a feminine, oval face.  Her nose was small and straight and her brown eyes were big and expressive.  She’d tried to hide her body’s allure in the English clothes she had donned that morning.

She wore her father’s colors for the last time.  The female tunic over the long dress covered every inch of her skin from her neck to her dainty feet.  At least she wasn’t wearing the awful cowl-thing her mother had donned.  He thought the English women called them wimples.  Tamara had insisted on wearing one with the Sinclair, constantly reminding the clan she would not relinquish her English ways.

If Abigail thought to dress so, she would soon learn her mistake.

He would not allow it.

A question came over her lovely features and the baron blanched beside her.  Talorc realized he was scowling.  He smoothed his features into expressionless repose and put his hand out to take her from her stepfather.

The priest cleared his throat.  “We are not yet to that part of the ceremony, my lord.”

Since the man spoke English, Talorc chose to ignore him.

He lifted a brow to his bride, asking why she had not complied with his request.

In a move that surprised him and clearly Sir Reuben as well, she dropped her stepfather’s arm, stepped around him and took Talorc’s hand.

He nodded, grasping her hand firmly and turned to face the priest.

The man looked flustered and took several moments to collect himself before beginning the service.  In Gaelic after only one false start.

Talorc spoke the vows of his people in Chrechte when the time came, ignoring the murmurs around him.  When his bride’s turn came, he moved her so the saw only each other, not the rest of the congregation gathered as witnesses.  He told her the vows to speak, speaking slowly so she would not stumble on the unfamiliar words.

Her expression puzzled, but accepting, she whispered them back to him, making lifetime promises he was determined she would keep.

Her mother had a fit then, demanding their vows be repeated in English.  Talorc ignored her until the priest intervened.

“I have married her in the way of my people,” Talorc said in Gaelic.

The priest nodded.  However, when he told Lady Hamilton in English what Talorc had said, the older woman refused to be appeased.

Talorc did not care.  The vicious bitch’s opinion was of no importance to him.  Bored with the argument and unwilling to stay in the company of the English any longer, he swung his new wife into his arms and carried her out of the chapel.

Abigail’s arms flew around his neck, but she did not fight him.  Nor did she make so much as a peep in surprise.  He looked down at her only to find her gazing at him with an expression bordering on panic in her dark brown eyes.

“You are mine now.”

“I know.”

“You have no need to worry.”

“Was the wedding over?  The priest did not say the final blessing?”

“We spoke the blessing ourselves as befits my people.”

“I did not think the Scottish were so different from the English.”

“I am from the North.  We have not taken on your civilized ways.”

“A priest’s blessing is civilized?”

“It is unnecessary.  He spoke the words that made us man and wife and we said our vows.”

“All right.”

He should have been glad she gave up so easily, but again he worried about her spirit when faced with the people of his clan.  They were not cruel usually, but they respected strength and abhorred weakness.

Sir Reuben shouted something behind them, but Talorc ignored the baron just as he had the man’s wife.

His warriors had followed him out of the chapel and were already mounting their horses, clearly as eager as he to get out of the Lowlands.  He went straight to his horse, but when he went to toss Abigail on its back, she squirmed from his arms faster than he would have thought possible for a human.

He grabbed her arm before she could dart to the cottage.

She frowned up at him.  “I need my things.”

“No.”

She shook her head and twisted from his grasp with shocking agility.

He went to grab her again, but she backed up.  “Please.  I have gifts for Emily.”

“She needs nothing from England.”

“Thank you for your opinion on the matter, but I must disagree.”  She spun and headed toward the cottage.

She had disobeyed him.  The shock kept him from going after her at first.

“What is she doing?” Niall asked.

“Getting her gifts for her sister.”

“The Balmoral will not like his wife receiving tokens from our enemy’s land.”

“I know.  ‘Tis why I have chosen to allow Abigail to get the things.”

Niall laughed.  “His wife will be grateful.”

“’Tis another reason to allow Abigail leeway in this.”

“Aye.”

The Balmoral might now be his ally, but Talorc did enjoy needling the man.

Just when Talorc was considering the possibility Abigail had taken refuge in the cottage rather than merely gathering her belongings, she came out.  She was carrying one large and two small bundles.

He glared.  “You’ll not wear English clothes as my wife.”

“I left all but what I wear now behind,” she said, showing more sense than he thought one born a Sassenach might have.  “These are the gifts, my sewing and other personal things, and herbs for healing.”

The English baron and his wife had come out of the chapel and had spent the last few moments haranguing the priest.  But even a holy man knew better than to question the will of the Sinclair.  He had refused to demand further concession on the wedding vows.

So, now they were shouting at Talorc, demanding to be heard.

Talorc derived marginal pleasure from ignoring them.  He looked at the MacDonald.  “Do you have a woman who can help my wife don my colors?”

The laird of the lowland clan nodded. “Aye, indeed.”

He waved his wife over and told her what Talorc wanted.  The redheaded woman gave Talorc and approving nod before going to Abigail and guiding her back into the cottage, after handing her bundles to Talorc’s warriors.

The English baron had given up on the wedding and was now demanding Talorc share the nooning meal with them like a civilized man.  As if Talorc desired to be such.  Idiots.

“Surely you wish to partake of the game you hunted yesterday for just this occasion.”

He had hunted to avoid spending more time than necessary with the English.  He had given his game to the MacDonald as thanks for the use of the clan’s holding to host the wedding demanded by their king’s edict.

When the other man did not seem to know he was supposed to shut up, Talorc turned to the baron with the full force of his displeasure.  “I am neither civilized, nor am I English.  We leave as soon as my wife is garbed appropriately.”

“There was nothing wrong with her dress.  Her clothes are the height of fashion.”  Lady Hamilton looked mortally offended.

“Niall, inform this woman who thinks nothing of beating her daughter into submission how close to death she came.”

Niall said the appropriate words in English.

The woman started shrieking at her husband to take exception to such an insult.

Talorc turned to the baron.  “You allowed her to harm what belongs to me.  You live only because your daughter pled for your life.”

Niall started to translate into English, but the baron waved the words away.  “I speak your language,” he said in English.  “I was led to believe you speak English as well.”

“Our laird does not allow the language of traitors to pass his lips,” Niall said with harsh anger.

Instead of getting angry, as Talorc would have expected, Sir Reuben merely looked thoughtful.  “Your father married Lady Tamara of Oborek.”

Talorc nodded.

“I would not wish such a match on my worst enemy.”

It was Talorc’s turn to be shocked, but he did not allow his surprise to show on his face.

“Sybil can be a grasping shrew, but she would not betray her house,” the baron said in Gaelic.

“That shrew will never see her daughter again.”

“I supposed as much.”

The woman in question was still complaining, but no one paid her any heed, not even her husband.  She moved from complaint to wheedling, trying to talk Talorc into staying so Abigail could share a last meal with her family.

Since she continued to utter the profanity to his ears that was English, he made no attempt to answer.  Or even acknowledge she was speaking.

A few minutes later, Talorc’s attention was drawn to Abigail coming from the cottage.

She wore a pale yellow blouse under his plaid.  She looked worried, her lower lip caught between her teeth and her gaze flitting from one person to another so quickly it was like a butterfly lighting.

He put his hand out again and she seemed to relax a bit.  She started walking toward him with a faster gate.

Her mother went to grab her arm rather than let her pass.

Talorc let out a subvocal growl and the only thing that saved the abusive witch from his wolf was the MacDonald’s wife slapping the English woman’s hand aside.

“No one touches a laird’s wife without his permission,” she spit out in heavily accented English.  The glare she gave the Englishwoman indicated she had seen Abigail’s bruises and either guessed their cause or had asked Abigail and learned the truth.

“Sybil,” the baron barked.  “Come here, now.”

“You would let him deny me my final goodbye to my daughter?” Lady Hamilton asked with furiously offended dignity.

“If she touches what is mine, she dies,” Talorc said in a tone that promised he made no threats, only promises.

“I deny it,” the baron said furiously.  “You reneged your rights as her mother on too many occasions to count.  She is no longer your daughter.  She is a Sinclair.”

His willingness to marry such a viper put his wisdom in question, but Talorc thought the Englishman might actually have some marginal intelligence after all.

“His king promised proof of the consummation,” the woman shrieked.  “How are we to get that if he leaves with her now?”

“He can send the bloodied sheet by messenger.”

“What if he doesn’t?”  She scooted around her husband and stood in front of Talorc.  “You promised your king.  Are you a man of honor, or not?”

Talorc’s fury burned so bright, his wolf literally itched under his skin to get out and tear out the bitch’s throat.  “You dare question my honor?”

He didn’t wait for the baron to translate Talorc’s words for the stupid woman.  His king had made the requirement and Talorc had no intention of wasting a messenger on sending bloodied sheets to the grasping Englishwoman.

He marched forward, grabbed his bride and dragged her to the cottage.  He went inside and slammed the door so hard the walls rattled.

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