Prologue: Rose's Beginning
Screams filled the night air. Shrieks of terror mixed with yells of victory in the overrun village. No safe hiding place remained. Women and children, even the tiniest of babes, all were gathered in the center of the conquering horde.
The bedraggled group of women ranged from Grandmother Baia to Gaila, who had only recently left the school room. The children outnumbered the women. They included two babes nestled in the arms of their mothers. These women kept their heads down, hoping that respect would save their infants. Frightened girls huddled together, seeking the comfort of their elders. What males remained were toddlers or very young boys; not yet old enough to carry a sword.
Any boy of that age and strength had shared the fate of his father. Their bodies would slowly decompose into the soil.
"Gather them up," the leader of the raiders bellowed. "We have a long journey and I want them in good shape for the auction." He approached one of the women carrying a baby. "Are you nursing?" he asked, lifting her chin with his blood-covered glove.
"Yes, sir," she murmured, cringing back as the hand dropped to her breasts, pushing the baby out of the way to lift and knead the sensitive flesh.
"Yes, you have milk." He chuckled, slipping his finger into the front of her threadbare gown. Pulling slightly, he ripped open her bodice, exposing the creamy white, heavy mounds. Her huge nipples sagged slightly. "Beautiful," he muttered, raising his hand for a man to come and take the child from her.
"My baby!" she screamed.
"The child will be returned to you... if you do as you are bid." He slipped off his gloves, folding them through the belt that circled his waist.
"What is it you want?" Her body shook with fear as he continued staring at her exposed flesh.
He reached out, lifting one heavy breast in his scarred and calloused hand, his thumb brushing over the engorged nipple. He played with it, surprisingly gently. The woman gasped in surprise as he teased her sensitive flesh. "Stand still," he ordered, his voice a husky grunt.
She closed her eyes. His warm lips feathered over her nipple, then the heat of his mouth covered her as he suckled her in, drawing hard. There came a heavy sensation, the not-quite pain that triggered the let down of her milk. He hummed his pleasure as the first thin stream filled his mouth with warm sweetness.
His free hand found her other breast, gently pulling at the sensitive nipple, twisting it slowly until she felt an unwelcome wetness of arousal between her slender thighs.
It tore her soul. She'd watched this man plunge his blade into her husband's chest moments before. He'd killed her Jared, the only man who'd ever touched her in this way, and now he was stealing the succor of her milk.
"No," she gasped, her feet moving in place as if she'd try to back away from him.
He lifted his head, a stream of milk still spilling from her nipple to spray his chin with watery blue-white liquid. He wiped it with one finger, plunging the glistening digit into his mouth and closing his eyes to savor the taste.
"Does it bring you to heat? Does my mouth on your teat make you long for a plunging cock?" he whispered coarsely. His hand slid to her skirt, lifting it even as she fought him, finding his way between her naked thighs. Forcing her legs apart, he dipped that same finger between her hairy lips. He chuckled as moist heat coated his finger.
Her hands pushed at him, grabbing his wrist in an attempt to pull him away, but he was too strong. He plunged his fingers inside her, fucking her crudely, dropping his head to her breast once more.
"No, stop," she moaned, though her hips twitched as his tongue flicked over her nipple. He suckled lustily, loudly gulping her sweet milk, his thumb rubbing at the taut nubbin of flesh between her thighs. She came suddenly, her cries a mix of horror and pleasure, her juices flooding his hand. He lifted his head, his green eyes laughing as they gazed into hers.
"You have no shame, rutting away on my hand. The hand that killed your husband. His blood mixes with your come, lady."
Sobs shook her shoulders and she gathered the torn edging of her bodice together over her breasts. Tears of shame and fear, of mourning and grief stained her face, reddening her cheeks as he watched. It made him laugh and he brushed his palm, still covered in her musky spendings, across her face, lifting her chin to drop a hard kiss on her down-turned mouth. "I shall keep you for myself," he whispered. "I shall be your master and if you value the life of your babe, you will do as I say."
He moved away, signaling again to his man, who brought her the babe then took both of them to a small wagon. He leashed her inside, a thick leather collar round her slender throat, the leash chained to a small metal circle in front. "You are a lucky one, lady, for his pleasures are few and usually quickly achieved. The rest will be auctioned off, used as serfs or bedded for the joy found between captured thighs." The henchman gave a short, cruel laugh.
The woman did not respond. Her eyes remained blank, mirroring the emptiness she felt in her soul. She sat there, her babe laid across her lap, arms wrapped around herself. Only the lusty cries of her hungering infant woke her from her daze. She picked up the small lass, holding her to her naked breast, crooning a low, somber song until the babe had drunk its fill.
She watched as the others were tied together at the ankles, hobbled to prevent escape. They were warned that to fall would simply mean being dragged and she knew a moment of guilt over her own luck at being chosen by the leader. The other young mother screamed as her baby boy was plucked from her grasp and handed to another woman. Two men held her arms, tearing off her blouse, their mouths latching on to her leaking breasts. They drank hungrily until forced away by others, each man eager to drink. Her nipples stretched painfully as men fought for each drop.
The shocking scene filled her with dread. The poor woman wasn't molested in any other way; the men seemed more eager to nurse from her life-sustaining milk than to sexually abuse her. With a jerk, the wagon began to move. The last of the waiting men wiped his mouth as he moved away from the shivering woman.
She laid down in the wagon, unwilling to watch the village of her birth as it disappeared from sight. The women and children tried to keep up with their captors. Those who fell were dragged as threatened, until one of the men came back and roughly righted them. She closed her eyes, cuddling her daughter, her very own Adaira Rose, to her naked breasts. Eventually, darkness took her.
A huge hand rudely woke her from sleep, pulling her up by her leash. Her captor climbed easily into the wagon. He lifted her babe in one hand, staring at the small bundle with her curly dark hair and huge blue eyes that returned his interested gaze. "Is it a boy?" he asked roughly.
"N...no," she managed, her voice stuttering badly as she made a grab for her child. "P...please my lord, s...she's all I have l...left."
"What will you give me if I let her live?" he asked, gazing down at the comely lass, for she was pretty, even in fear and sorrow. She was too thin, for food was scarce in this season and the babe drained much from her. But her skin was fair and smooth, her eyes large and bright blue like her daughter's. Blonde hair curled under the rag she wore upon her head. Her teeth were white, straight and even, not black and broken as some of the women's.
"P...Please, lord. Anything you wish," she begged, holding out her hands for her baby.
"What is your name, wench?" he asked roughly, eyeing her breasts.
"Madelaine, lord. My h...husband called me Maddie."
"Maddie, aye it has a sweet ring. I tire of battles and of the travel. I wish to settle on my land, to erect a home worthy of the title and raise sons that will win the day for me. You've bred before, and while I'd prefer a woman known to breed sons, I find you a lusty enough wench. You shall become my wife. If you want this girl child to live, you will not fight me in this."
"Y...you wish to make me your bride?" Maddie's voice bore the strain of her surprise. She'd expected rape and death at the hands of her captor, not this.
"You find me offensive?" he sat back against his heels, bringing the babe to lie securely in the curve of his arm.
In truth, she found him far from offensive, despite the twisted scar that marked his wide forehead. His face bore the harsh results of a life of war and battle, but his eyes shone bright with intelligence. Dark green, they stared at her from under a heavy brow. He had a long nose, wide at the bridge and slightly crooked from being broken in one fight or another, his mouth too big, teeth white and slightly uneven. He was tall and heavily muscled, built for war, easily filling the opening of the wagon. His upper arms were as wide as her waist, their strength more than apparent.
He smelled good: male sweat mixed with the tang of the horse and the scent of leather. A heady aroma, so different than her husband's. His speech indicated learning, articulate and well modulated. That held importance for her; before her marriage, she'd been the village teacher.
"No, lord," she answered truthfully. "I do not find you offensive."
"Then what is your answer, Maddie, for I do not have all day to waste. We must be to auction before nightfall."
"My daughter, she will be allowed to stay with me?"
"Aye, this I promised before."
"Then I agree," she whispered, despite the tug at her conscience.
He brought his free hand to her face, slowly tracing her slender cheek. "It is good," he said softly, bending to taste her lips for the first time.
The kiss brought a flush to her face, and not one born from embarrassment. He was talented with that overly wide mouth, teasing her with a gentle swipe of his tongue that promised nights of passionate play. "Now, this foolishness is behind us and we must get back on the trail." He backed out of the wagon.
"Wait," she called as she gathered her babe back to her breast.
"What is it, Maddie?" he said, his tone half teasing, half irritated at the extra delay.
"I do not know your name, lord."
"Aye," he laughed, mostly at himself. "Would be a sad day when a wench married a man whose name she could not give to the priest when asked. 'Tis Hawkesmoor, Maddie. But most know me as the Black Hawke." He gave a tug at his inky black locks and threw her a wink before disappearing from sight.