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Authors: Jo Ann Ferguson

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My Lord Viking

BOOK: My Lord Viking
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My Lord Viking

 

***

 

 

Jo Ann Ferguson

E-Book ISBN:
 
978-1-61026-022-0

 

 

For
Debra Dixon

vice president extraordinaire and good friend

Enjoy your “retirement!”

Other Forever Regency Books

Writing as Jo Ann Ferguson

Gentleman’s Master

Marry Me, Millie

Under Her Spell

Writing as Jocelyn Kelley

Sea Wraith

Other ImaJinn Books

Writing as J. A. Ferguson

The Dream Chronicles:

Dreamsinger

Dreamshaper

DreamMaster

Dream Traveler

 

Other Titles

Call Back Yesterday

Daughter of the Fox

Luck of the Irish

Sworn Upon Fire

The Wrong Christmas Carol

 

Prologue

 

     
So this was death.

     
He had not thought it would be like this.
 
Where was the
Valkyrja
to carry him to
Valhalla
so he might spend the rest of eternity among brave warriors, trading tales of spectacular deeds and of enemies slain in vengeance and for glory?
 

     
He was so alone.

     
That was worse than the pain.
 
The pain would soon be gone when his last breath sifted from his body.
 
But would he spend all of eternity alone?

     
He had fought valiantly.
 
He should have earned a warrior’s death.
 
Those enemies who had fallen around him would never again raise their swords against his chieftain.

     
Salt flavored the gulps of air he tried to pull into his broken body.
 
Where was death?
 
A seat at the table in
Valhalla
should be his reward, but how could he aspire to that when his blood-oath remained unfilled?

     
“Freya!” he called with what strength he had left.
 
His voice was as raw as the wounds sending his blood to mix with his enemies’ and the sand.
 
“Freya, send your handmaiden to me!
 
Help me complete my quest for my chieftain.
 
Bring me strength to complete my quest, or bring me death.”

     
There was no answer but the sound of the waves on the shore and the sea birds.
 

     
He was alone.
 
His prayer had not been heard.
 
Now he would die, his vow incomplete.
 
Maybe that was why he had been denied
Valhalla
.
 

     
“No!” he cried into the merciless sunshine that seared his skin.
 

     
There was no answer.

     
He was alone...with death.

     

One

 

     
Sunlight teased the waves, glittering them with jewels before they dashed themselves into oblivion on the sand.
 
Above the water, gulls spun the clouds together like a spinster at her wheel.
 
The last signs of winter had been banished, for gorse flowered on the low hill rising from the shore.
 

     
Linnea Sutherland pushed back her straw bonnet to let it hang by its pink ribbons over her shoulders.
 
Mama would be dismayed to see her youngest child letting the sun paint color on her face, but Linnea did not care.
 
Not today.
 
Loosening her hair, she let it fall in waves along her shoulders.
 
The dark strands blew into her face, but she simply shoved them aside.
 
She wanted to be as free as each droplet within the sea, free to wander from one shore to another to discover what might be waiting there.
 
As free as her cocker spaniel puppy Scamp, who was barking at each wave and snapping at the water.

     
She raised her hands to embrace the fresh air and the sunshine.
 
Mayhap they would wash away the consternation inside her that even Scamp’s antics could not dispel.
 
She should be happy.
 
How many times had she told herself that in the past week since
Randolph
had asked her to marry him?
 
Randolph Denner had asked her nicely, and no one in the shire would be astonished that Lord Sutherland’s youngest was making a match with Randolph Denner who had recently inherited the title of Lord Tuthill along with his father’s holdings farther inland.
 
She should be happy, so filled with joy that she could not walk to the beach.
 
She should be dancing about like her sister Dinah had when she had become betrothed.
 

     
But she was not.
 
She did not understand why not.
 
She had known
Randolph
for a long time, and she had imagined many times getting married in one of the gardens with a view of the sea.
 
She should be happy.

     
“Blast and perdition!” she called to the sea.
 
Then she laughed.
 
Mama would be even more distressed by Linnea using such language than by leaving off her bonnet.
 
Yet the truth was simply that Linnea could not understand why she had not given
Randolph
an enthusiastic yes when he proposed, or why she was not as elated as she had dreamed she would be.

     
Pulling off her slippers and stockings, she curled her toes in the warm sand.
 
The sea would be deadly cold at this time of year, but the sun had heated the strand, luring her from the heavy walls of
Sutherland
Park
to this quiet cove.
 
With the preparations for Dinah’s wedding in two weeks, all the talk was of betrothals and wedding guests.
 
That was too unsettling when she was so torn.
 

     
She balanced her slippers in her hands as she looked across the sea.
 
There were so many places she had read about, so many things she had dreamed of.
 
If she married
Randolph
, she would see no more than his fusty house and
London
.
 
The one time she had broached the subject of going to
Italy
for their honeymoon, he had acted as shocked as if she had suggested they live together without the benefit of the clergy’s blessing.
 
Was that what was bothering her?
 
No, for this uneasiness had begun before they had discussed that.

     
“I wish I knew what was wrong,” she said to Scamp as he ran about her feet, threatening to trip her.
 
She smiled as he raced back to the soft rush of the waves.
 
“Everything is going just as I had expected, so mayhap it is time to do something unexpected.”

     
She arched a single brow at her own thought.
 
Papa and Mama would not force her to wed
Randolph
.
 
She could not imagine Papa forcing anyone to do anything, even though he was a capable businessman who, rumor suggested, could wring every shilling out of a deal.
 
Papa had told Mama over and over that he had worked so hard to bring wealth back to the family for the benefit of Mama and the children.
 
He wanted each of his six sons and six daughters to be happy.
 
And he had succeeded...until now when Linnea could not sort out in her mind what she wanted.
 
Even a few days ago, she would have laughed if anyone had spoken of how she would feel once plans for her own wedding were about to get underway as soon as Dinah’s was over.

     
What was wrong with her?
 
It must be her, for there was nothing amiss with
Randolph
.
 
He was the fourth viscount in his line.
 
He was well-favored, if one ignored his chin that jutted out and his ears that turned red each time someone spoke to him.
 
Tall, he carried no spare flesh.
 
He could ride well and oversaw his father’s lands with a cautious wisdom that bordered on parsimony.
 
That was to be respected when his father had left him little coin.
 
Never had she heard of him drinking more or gambling more than a gentleman ought.
 
He was the perfect husband for his nearest neighbor’s youngest daughter.
 

     
Linnea sighed as she continued along the sand.
 
She should be grateful that
Randolph
had approached her father to ask for her hand.
 
Papa had said yes, if she agreed.
 
While growing up, she had longed for this chance to have a man propose to her as sweetly as her other sisters had been proposed to.
 
Then when
Randolph
had, she had surprised herself as much as anyone when she had asked for time to think it over.

     
She smiled.
 
Randolph
had thought her overmastered by his proposal, and she had let him hold onto his misconception.
 
It was simpler than the truth, although she must own to the truth soon.
 
How could she tell him that she seemed to like the idea of marriage more than the idea of marriage to him?
 
It would hurt him, when he had done nothing but try to make her silly dream of being in love come true.

     
“Egad!
 
How do you expect him to understand what you want when you do not know yourself?”
 
She chuckled at her own outspokenness, even though no one was near enough to heed her, save for Scamp and the birds turning overhead.

     
A frown lowered her brows as she shaded her eyes with her hand.
 
The birds were acting most peculiarly.
 
They were circling, as if a storm had scoured the sea bottom and the waves were tossing a feast onto the shore.
 
Her nose wrinkled.
 
Dying fish and drying seaweed always created such a noxious scent.

     
She almost turned to walk in the other direction, but her curiosity refused to let her resist the temptation of discovering what had the birds so excited.
 
Once she and her brother Alfred had chanced upon a case of smuggled French brandy on the beach.
 
Papa had been furious with them for bringing a single bottle to the house, and he had ordered such froggish drink destroyed.
 
Who could guess what she might find today?
 
Mayhap it would something to help her deal with her dilemma.

     
Laughing at her silly thought, she called to Scamp to follow, but did not need to worry, for he was eager to chase every wave.
 
The puppy’s fur, which was usually the shade of honey, had become the dreary color of wet sand.
 
Barking, he sped toward her.

     
With her hand on the boulders to keep herself from slipping into the water, she eased around the edge of the cove.
 
She winced when she scratched her toe.
 
Blood dripped from the torn skin, but she paid it no mind save to dip her toe in the icy water.
 
The salt would help heal the small cut.

     
Linnea flinched again as she stepped on a sharp shell, but did not slow.
 
This was as close to an adventure as she might find today, so she wanted to enjoy it.
 
She did not doubt that
Randolph
would not look kindly upon his future wife cavorting upon the shore with her bonnet, shoes, and stockings off.
 
He would surely—

     
She froze and stared at a body lying on the beach.
 
The man did not move.
 
Was he asleep?
 
She did not want to disturb anyone who might wish to be alone.
 
The puppy ran, barking, up to the man, but he did not move.
 
Not even when Scamp licked his face.
 

     
“Oh, my dear heavens!” she whispered as she saw blood on the sand.
 
‘Twas much more blood than from her scraped toe.

     
She must get help!
 
She must do something.
 
She must...

     
Taking a deep breath, she warned herself to be calm.
 
She could do nothing to help this man—if, indeed, he was in need of help—while acting like a want-witted chucklehead.

     
“Sir?”
 
Her voice cracked on the single word.
 
She inched forward and tried again.
 
“Sir, do you need assistance?”

     
A groan answered her.

     
Linnea rushed to his side.
 
She pressed her hand over the ribbons laced through her bodice as she stared down at him.
 
What sort of man was this?

     
Blood was caked on his forehead, in his tawny hair, and through his beard which was a shade darker.
 
By his left side, his arm lay at an angle that was impossible unless it was broken.
 
His clothes were unlike anything she had ever seen.
 
He wore a woolen shirt that was longer than Papa’s nightshirt.
 
Embroidery in colors that once might have been as bright as the flowers in
Sutherland
Park
’s water garden accented the neckline and ran down its front.
 
Around his neck was a gold chain.
 
On it, an odd triangular ornament hung.
 
A belt, holding a pouch and an empty scabbard, at his waist was made of the same cracking leather as the bands lashing his stockings below his knees.
 
He wore only one shoe, and his other foot was covered with dried blood.

     
“Sir?” she whispered.
 
She pushed Scamp’s curious nose aside.
 
Until she was sure where the blood was coming from, she did not want the puppy causing the man more injury.
 
“Sir, can you hear me?”

     
Only the waves sliding up onto the sand answered her.
 

     
Squatting next to him, she put out her hand to shake him gently, then drew it back.
 
There was so much blood!
 
She should get help.
 
The cry of a gull halted her from jumping to her feet.
 
She could not leave this man here, unprotected from the sun and wounded.
 
If only he could speak...

     
She dipped her stocking in a wave and dabbed it against his forehead.
 
He muttered something she could not understand.
 
She hoped his wits had not been rattled from his skull in the blow that had raised a lump.

BOOK: My Lord Viking
12.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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