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THE CURSE
Scotland, in the year of our Lord thirteen-hundred and eighty

“Kael?” Elise whispered her husband’s name and dropped a bouquet of purple saffron. She shook her head in disbelief and choked on the sob filling her chest.

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 her.

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.

“Ye bastard!” she yelled.

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. “Elise?”

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 amulet.

“So shall it be done, dearest Elise, and may ye be forever blinded by the truth.”

PART 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 silk.

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.

“I’m ready.” 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 detoured south.

He frowned. What was wrong with her?

“I trust Messer Lorenzo explained to you how I work.”

“Aye,” he 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.

“Please, sweetling. 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?

“Angelo!” Her hands curled into white-knuckled fists. “Angelo, come this instant!”

“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 bravery.

“Cos’hai combinato?” Angelo glared at him. “What have you done to her?” he added in English when Taveon didn’t respond immediately.

“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.

“Model?”

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.”

“Blind?”

 

Miocchi’s menacing growl made a gradual crescendo, and Viviana considered letting the dog bite the man. It would be no less than the goat deserved.

“Yap…yap, yap…”

“Mistress, please call back your beastie.”

Miocchi’s high-pitch 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.

“Ouish.” The 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.

Mannaggia! He 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 to do.

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 meet again.

“Make haste!” 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.”

Mannaggia! He was gone.

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.”

Sì. 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.

“There.” She 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.’”

 

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ISBN-13: 978-1467917704
ISBN-10: 1467917702
ASIN: B006JX66I2

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my cursed highlander

2010 Stroke of Midnight Contest
Honorable Mention ~ Historical Category
Sponsored by Passionate Ink RWA®

2010 Romance through the ages
2nd Place ~ Paranormal Category
Sponsored by Hearts Through History RWA®

fBy far one of the best contest entries I’ve ever read! The hero gives me butterflies and a blind heroine is VERY intriguing.  The paranormal elements are woven deftly into the story and the setting is original and vivid.f
—RTTA Contest Judge, Score: 150/150

fEverything about your characters draws the reader in. You’ve put the reader in the perspective of a blind woman beautifully, using her senses to guide us on her journey.f
—RTTA Contest Judge, Score: 150/150

 
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