Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle, gets the shock of his life when he discovers the reiver captured in a raid on his lands is not a boy, but a young woman. Although she flatly refuses to tell him her name or how she came to be riding with a raiding party, Duncan cannot countenance imprisoning a woman in his dungeon but neither can he release her without compensation. Unable to ransom her back to her family, he treats her as an honored—though exceptionally well-supervised—guest. He takes to calling her Reva and determines to seduce the truth of her identity from her. There’s just one problem—the reiver may steal his heart before he can reveal her secrets.
Lochmorton Castle, West March, 1595
Duncan Maxwell grabbed one of the pitch torches from its sconce on the dungeon wall, and ducked to avoid hitting his head on the lintel, as he entered the small, dark cell. The reiver his men had captured in the wee hours of the morning huddled in the far corner. The figure neither looked up to see who had entered nor flinched at the sound of the heavy wooden door thudding shut. Duncan knew that his presence had been registered, however, for the boy’s spine stiffened and his respiration increased.
“Well, reiver, what have you to say for yourself?”
The boy didn’t move.
Duncan sighed. So that was the way it was going to be. He didn’t relish the notion of threatening a child, but he would do what he must to find out who was responsible for the recent raids on his territory resulting in the loss of a dozen cattle and twice that many sheep. His men were getting restless and angry and would soon begin to take out their frustrations in raids of their own.
He strode over to the lad and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him up with one hand until the boy’s feet dangled several inches from the floor. It was far easier than it ought to have been, even for a man of Duncan’s unusual height and strength. He grimaced, wondering when the child had last eaten, for he weighed little more than a wet cat.
Notwithstanding his sympathy for the boy’s plight, Duncan gave him a none-too-gentle shake. “Answer me, lad, or you ken I’ll have no choice but to hang you on the morrow.”
Still, the boy ignored him. Duncan had to give him credit—he was brave and loyal, if not bright.
“Come on, boy, you can’t be more than fourteen. Do you want to die before you’ve even swived your first wench?”
That brought the boy’s head up. In the light of the torch, his eyes glittered black with malice. He drew back his head and spat in Duncan’s face.
Under any other circumstances, such an action would have brought a swift and violent reaction. But, at the precise moment the spittle hit his chin, Duncan realized his mistake. His gaunt-faced, dirty-cheeked prisoner was no lad, but a lady.
He was so startled by the revelation that he nearly dropped her. Christ in heaven, what manner of raiding party would permit a woman to ride with them? Bad enough to think they’d impress a child, but a female? The very idea bespoke an unthinkable brand of madness and desperation.
Filled with remorse at having treated her so roughly, he set her gently on her feet, half-fearing she’d crumple back to the floor in a heap. To his relief, she held her ground, staring up at him defiantly with wide, thick-lashed eyes that might be either dark brown or deep blue.
Although her cheek and jaw bones were far too prominent, no doubt a consequence of poor nutrition, her heart-shaped face and bowed lips were unmistakably feminine. His men must have been blind to mistake her for a boy.
But then, to be fair, they had come upon the raiders at night and had brought her directly back to the dungeon, which was hardly well-lit. The possibility that their captive might be female would never have crossed their minds, as it hadn’t his until he’d gotten a good look at her face. If she had kept her head down, he might not have recognized the truth, either. Christ, he might have kept her in the dungeon for weeks on end without ever realizing what a treasure he had been handed.
For however mad and desperate her clan must be to bring her along on a raid, they would be ever madder and more desperate to ransom her back. And he would gladly stretch the necks of the men responsible for reiving his livestock in payment for her safe return.
“Let’s begin again, shall we? I am Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle, and you are…?”
He tried another tack. “I’m sure your family is very concerned for your safety. Would you not like to get word to them that you’re well and in no danger?”
More silence. She had the fortitude of a stone, he had to give her that.
But then something happened which betrayed her. A long, low gurgle issued from the region of her belly.
“Your first name, then, in exchange for your breakfast.”
At that, he could almost see her salivate. She was terribly hungry, almost starved. Duncan wished he didn’t have to use her privation against her, but this was no time for an attack of conscience. Especially when she was the thief, and he was not responsible for her condition.
She raised her head and thrust her chin out. “You already have my name, Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle.”
His brow furrowed. He most surely did not know her name.
“You said it when you first came in,” she clarified.
Duncan thought back. What had he said when he’d entered the cell? Well, reiver, what have you to say for yourself? Cheeky, that’s what she was.
“Reiver is not your name, and we both know it.”
“Aye, well, it’s the only one you’re going to get,” she said with a shrug. The gesture drew attention to the thin, pitiful shoulders beneath the oversized linen shirt she wore. He found his gaze drawn lower, involuntarily seeking the outline of her breasts. She must have bound them, he decided. Either that or she was exceptionally small-bosomed.
For some peculiar reason, the image of breasts so tiny he could encompass their entirety in his mouth flashed through his brain, bringing with it an immediate flare of lust.
Duncan shook himself, puzzled by his response. Small breasts did not appeal to him. He preferred his women full and curvaceous…not to mention welcoming. Odd that his body didn’t seem to agree with this assessment. Even filthy and scrawny as she was, he couldn’t dismiss his awareness that she was young and female and utterly in his power.
If he chose to take her to his bed, no one would say him nay. No one but her, and her only defenses—an excess of bravado and a sharp tongue—would be easy enough to overcome.
Duncan wasn’t a vain man, but he was well aware of his effect on females of the species, and he doubted this slip of a woman would be any exception. And once she’d sweetened up under his assault, she’d likely tell him not only her name, but anything and everything else he wanted to know.
The scheme built itself before he was even fully aware he had conceived it. She was cold, hungry, and alone. Her clansmen had turned tail and deserted her, undoubtedly believing she would swing by morning for their collective crime. Any person subjected to the kind of privation she’d obviously suffered would likely be more easily seduced by kindness than by cruelty. You caught more fish by baiting hooks than throwing rocks, after all.
He smiled, benign and beneficent in his newfound, if devious, magnanimity. “Very well, Reiver, you’ve admitted what you are if not whom. For now, I think that’s sufficient for breakfast and an improvement in your accommodations.”