The Romance Reviews Best Book of 2011
The STORM Stories
An epic struggle for dominance is ravaging the Isle of Skye. And in its midst, a man and a woman are locked together by fate—and fantasy…
Odious though it is, Isabel knows what she must do: go to the one known as the Healer, seduce him, and recruit him to her power-hungry stepfather’s cause. If she refuses, her innocent young sister will pay the terrible price of her disobedience. Yet after just one night with the man she must manipulate, it is clear to Isabel that even if she succeeds, the deceit will not leave her unscathed. For in the Healer’s powerful arms, her heart is lost forever…
Duncan of Skye knows there are those who would use his unusual gift for their own selfish gain. Even so, he yearns to trust the beautiful temptress who warms his bed and fills him with insatiable passion. And when he must choose between her future and his own, he may have to risk everything—even his life…
ISBN-13: 978-0758235206 ISBN-10: 0758235208 Kensington Brava
“MISTRESS OF THE STORM is a passionate and powerful page-turner! If you love Kathleen Woodiwiss, you'll adore Terri Brisbin!”
— NYT and USA-Today Bestselling Author Teresa Medeiros
“With her usual captivating characterization and fast-paced plotting, Brisbin continues her paranormal-infused, medieval-set historical series with another steamy tale of two individuals battling fate for the chance at love.”
— ALA Booklist
“The last book of Brisbin’s Storm series is a sensual feast, an erotic tale of good vs. evil, magic vs. humanity, man vs. man. Readers will enjoy the well-written characters, the emotional plot and the high level of sexuality.”
— RT Book Review
“Explicit love scenes and emotional turmoil lend drama en route to a powerfully moving conclusion.”
— Publisher's Weekly
Only by using the intensity of her will did Isabel force out a few sounds to convince the man thrusting into her body that she enjoyed his touch and having his body in hers. Moaning again and tossing her head from side to side seemed to work for he paused, holding his massive body still for a moment before she felt the hot spray of his seed within her. He collapsed on her, his weight forcing the breath from her lungs, but she waited before moving.
Moving away too quickly and he would chance to see her distaste and need to leave. Moving too slowly and he would fall asleep on her as he had before. When a few minutes had passed, she eased out from under him, the sweat on their skin making it possible to escape. Isabel slid to the edge of the pallet and dropped her legs over it to touch the floor. She tried to ignore the way they trembled and the bruises that formed in the shape of a man’s large handprint on her thigh as she reached for the remnants of her shift. Allowing herself to believe she could get away before he stirred, she made the biggest mistake—she hurried.
“Ah, sweetling,” he whispered as he placed his hand on her neck, tugging her back against him. “Your step-father told no false tales when describing your skills.” Isabel sat completely still, waiting for his next word or action. “Come back,” he said, pulling her to face him. “He is a man of his word.”
Seeing the proof of his arousal before her eyes, Isabel accepted the inevitable and let out a long breath, masking it as one of deep appreciation for the size of his maleness. “Lord Malcolm, I did not wish to disturb your rest.”
“Rest?” he asked, laughing in his deep voice as he pulled her face to his and kissed her. Isabel began the silent ritual that would allow her to leave her body behind and hide behind a wall in her mind. “I will rest when I am dead!”
He gave her no chance to resist or to stop, as she knew would happen, so she just let go, allowing her body to react as it would until he finished with her.
As the sun rose over Duntulm Keep, he finally slept soundly and Isabel dragged her body from his. Tugging her gown on and leaving behind the torn pieces of her chemise, she walked barefoot from the chamber, down the steps and out through the back door, nodding to the guards who recognized her and allowed her through the gate.
Following the path to the south, she continued until she reached the narrow strip of beach that sat below the walls of the keep. Though the sun’s light crawled up the sides of the keep, illuminating the flecks of quartz within the dark stones, the beach would remain shadowed for some time.
Time enough for her.
She dropped her shoes and stockings on the sand and pulled the gown and undertunic over her head. She tossed them down before she walked into the icy water. Only when she’d scrubbed the feel and smell of him from her skin would Isabel retreat from the icy water and return home.
Nay, not home, but the place where she lived now.
Home was the distant memories in her thoughts that could keep her separate and keep her soul safe while her body was used to satisfy the desires of men who could feed the ambitions of her step-father.
Home was where she lived with her mother and younger sister, safe from the machinations of those who would use and use up anyone who could be for their own success.
She sank under the surface, the cold water stinging her skin, until she could hold her breath no longer. She rose and then dipped once more, waiting for the icy chill to penetrate her limbs and remove all memory of the other causes for her pain. The third time was the worst, for there was always a moment when her soul urged her to stay beneath the water and seek the comfort that its depths offered. Isabel could almost leave everything behind to seek that comfort, if not for the knowledge that the fate of her sister lay in her hands.
When that happened as it always did, she burst up from below, gasping and pulling air into lungs constricted by the freezing grasp of the water. Then, covered in gooseflesh but no longer Malcolm’s scent, she struggled back to the beach on legs so deadened by the cold they did not move easily and while shivering so much that every breath was a fight. Shaking and shuddering with every step, Isabel wrung out her hair, tied it with a strip of leather and pulled her clothes over her trembling limbs.
Her stepfather would be waiting, ready to punish not her but her sister for every moment she delayed. He would demand the details of the tryst, his eyes smoldering with some unholy need as he poked and prodded until everything that had happened was laid bare before him. Any attempt by her to avoid his questions or hold back some detail would find him making threats about Thora’s future. She is safe and well-cared-for now. . .
When he was satisfied that he knew all, he would nod and then go off to plan his next conquest deciding to whom he would pimp out his whore of a stepdaughter as a token of appreciation or esteem and she would be left to continue to live out this nightmare.
Isabel gathered her control, and put her hand on the latch. Letting out her breath, she searched for and found the sense of control she needed to have when facing down this man who’d turned her life into hell on earth. Bowing her head as she entered, she never realized that someone watched her from high above on the ramparts of the keep’s tower.
An t-Eilean Sgitheanach (Isle of Skye)
Skíð (as it was called by the Norse)
Duncan, son of none, watched the storm grow from the window of his chambers at the very top of Duntulm’s keep. It rushed across the minch from the outer islands of Lewis and Harris towards those who lived here on this rocky cliffside. They would all seek cover from the dangerous winds and lightning.
But he would not.
As it grew in size and ferocity, Duncan left his room and climbed to the roof, bracing himself against the stone wall that encircled the tower and waited. The rumbling thunder warned him of the strength of the worsening storm and the first rain, blown by those winds, began to pelt him with drops as sharp as daggers.
He ripped open his tunic, baring his chest to the worst of it, waiting, praying he would feel the slicing rain cut his skin or sting his eyes.
Duncan waited, not moving from the path of the rain and hail that tore at him. On and on it went, red welts appearing on his skin from the damage in every spot the hail or rain struck.
And still, he felt nothing.
Even the desperation he’d felt only weeks ago at these changes in his body and spirit dulled now and he searched for the anger and pain that should be coursing through him and found a growing emptiness. Prepared to suffer the onslaught of the storm until he felt something, Duncan knew only that someone with strong arms wrapped them around him and dragged him inside.
Though he could not feel the cold, it must have penetrated deep into his muscles, for he could neither resist nor help the efforts to get him out of the storm’s way. Soon he was flung onto a bed and his soaked garments pulled from him.
Even if his senses of pain and hunger and any other feelings or needs were dulled, his hearing was as good as ever and he heard every word and curse rained down on him by his manservant. Ornolf spared no insult as to his intelligence, his plans to kill himself or his ability to follow instructions. Duncan could not fight the strong tremblors that shook his body—most likely from the cold. Ornolf fretted and fussed, pulling off the soaked layers of clothing and tossing them away, even as he layered blankets on top of him.
“What did you hope to gain by that?” Ornolf asked, his first actual question that had not been rhetorical. Duncan tried to move, but his limbs refused to answer his mind’s commands.
“I did not hope for anything, Ornolf,” he said. “’Twas simply a test.”
When Duncan did not explain more fully, Ornolf crossed his arms over his chest and glared down at him. “And, young master, what was the test?”
Duncan did not want to voice the purpose before he understood more about these changes happening within him. To put it into words made it real and he must find out the full extent before the next step could be taken.
But, even as he comprehended that the changes were dire ones, his body did not react with the customary rolling bile or nervousness. No, his heart continued to pump along at an even pace and his breathing changed not-at-all. Though he should feel frightened at this realization and though he wished he did, he was empty of all emotions.
Finally Ornolf gave up any attempts to get answers and went back to fussing and muttering under his breath. Duncan lay there empty of fear, empty of pain, empty, even while knowing he wanted to feel something. Anything. And that had been the reason he stood out in the storm and let it inflict its worst on him.
It was hours before he could climb from the bed and hours more before his body stopped shaking. Ornolf shoved a bowl of steaming porridge into his hands, placed a cup of ale on the table and left without another word. Tempted not to eat, for no hunger assailed him, Duncan realized another change as he scooped up another spoonful of the porridge.
Although he could taste every ingredient in the thick concoction, none of it appealed to him. The flavors of the oats, cream, butter, seasonings and even a dash of some spirits rolled over his tongue with each spoonful, but it made no difference—he neither liked the taste or disliked them. He drank from the cup—a well-aged ale, kept for his consummation as a gift from a wealthy benefactor, but now it was nothing special, simply a liquid to wash down the thick porridge.
Had all his sensations been burned from him during the ritual? It seemed that when the fires in his body went out, everything else stopped, too. Would those senses return? Would he feel emotions again? Duncan realized he would have to wait and complete his recuperation before discovering the answer and the extent of these changes.
Days and nights marched on for nearly a week. Though the pain had long since disappeared, his skin could not feel, his appetite vanished completely and the numbness in his soul and heart deepened.
But when the moon reached half-full, the familiar need returned. His scent poured out bringing women to his door to fulfill some part of what he now called ‘his curse’. Though any hot-blooded man would never think having an never-ending stream of willing women at his beck and call was a bad thing, Duncan learned that having that was not necessarily a thing to be coveted. Endless need without satiation could lead to one thing—madness—and Duncan feared that would be his fate.
Spring flowed into summer as the Norse king Magnus and his noblemen and warriors continued their travels throughout the western isles, fortifying their allies and smiting their enemies. When they moved south to deal with the Welsh and to bargain with the Scots king, Skye quieted. But those who held land or titles or power here all began planning anew, for the Norse would pass this way on their journey home and favor was to be gained.
Duncan managed to stay out of view and his arrangement with Lord Davin for protection in return for using his strange ability when needed remained a secret that few knew of and fewer questioned. With the changes wrought in him these last months though, Duncan knew the truth of it—he had no idea of his curse’s origin and less about its eventual end. He used his accumulated wealth to seek out knowledge, but there seemed none to be had. When some visitors from Orkney arrived, Duncan decided to seek them out at the feast given by Davin in their honor.
Every possible space in the hall of the Duntulm keep was filled. Many of those who owned land in the surrounding areas attended to meet the men from Orkney and take their measure. Though invited to sit at table with him, Duncan declined Davin’s invitation, choosing to sit away from them so he could observe them. It seemed that the fires of hell left his sense of curiosity intact when it burned away all the rest, so Duncan listened and learned much about these visitors from the north.
Related to Davin through the marriage of their grandparents or some other ancestor, Davin called these men cousins and the welcome he gave was warm. Foodstuffs and ale were plentiful and everyone ate and drank their fill. Ornolf placed a bowl and cup before him, bothering him every so often so that he would eat and drink. The smoke grew thick as the fires burned lower, offering heat but not much light. The torches and rushlights added what they could, but Duncan could see clearly through the dimness and the haze.
A strange effect he’d noticed these last few months, it now served him well in his attempts to watch and learn. He was studying the similarities in appearance between Davin and the one called Ragnar when the woman arrived. The room suddenly grew brighter and the chatter lessened as though everyone wanted to see her at once.
Nothing she wore was ostentatious, but the cut of her gown drew every man’s eyes to her body. He could not identify the material of it, but it draped her curves as though painted over her flesh instead of being a garment. Duncan noticed the tightened nipples of her very full breasts as the gown molded to them and the way it fell into the junction of her thighs. When she turned to sit down, he and every other man also noted the way it hugged her arse, flowing into the indentation of the cleft and outlining her strong legs. Watching her move in it, he did not have to imagine what her body was like—he could see it.
He let his gaze wander over her and waited for her to be seated to see her face.
Something he had not felt in months coursed through him in that moment that their eyes met. A heat, a need, a wanting made him ache. Her eyes widened as though she knew her effect but then she looked away when someone spoke her name.
Who was she?
What was she?