BookshelfMeet SamanthaContestHomeNewsletterContactSite











From across the Scottish Highlands strides Cameron MacKay, last member of the once powerful Clan MacKay. He has but one goal—to find Meredith of the Clan Munro. For the wrong done his family by her treacherous father can only be righted in one way . . . when she provides him with a son.


 

His Wicked Ways


Re-released with a new cover
(See the original cover)
September 2005 · Avon Books

ISBN 0-380-80586-3

 


A SPECIAL EXTRA FEATURE

Check out these letters from Meredith and Cameron to you, the book's readers.

Cameron of the Clan MacKay and Meredith of the Clan Munro are avowed enemies--the longstanding feud between their clans has been filled with treachery and deceit.  Bent on vengeance, Cameron abducts Meredith, and the contest begins anew, with tempers high and passions flaring . . . Is it Cameron who will claim your sympathies?  Or Meredith?  For both have been wronged most grievously . . .

medieval romanceBe not afraid. I'd known for a very long time I'd wanted to start a book with the words. I maintain a list of story ideas—bits and pieces of thoughts, conversations, scenes, characters and situations, a little like a "honey-do" list! But those words ... Be not afraid ... were my sole inspiration for His Wicked Ways. No characters. No plot. The rest of the story came after my husband and I had visited Scotland the previous year. Feuds between Scottish clans were notorious -- remember the Campbells and the MacDonalds? At one of the castles we visited, the tour guide recounted some colorful history. One story I found intriguing was this one: as a means of ending bad blood between two warring clans, there was a woman forced to marry the man who had murdered her father. I used a variation of that scenario in His Wicked Ways, but that's what started the wheels turning, and I knew I had the perfect story to fit with my opening line.I originally named the heroine Rosalind rather than Meredith. It didn't take me more than a chapter or two to figure out that Rosalind just wasn't the right name for Meredith!My working title for this book was CAMERON'S PRIZE.

His Wicked Ways is Book 1 in a two-book series. The main characters, Cameron and Meredith, also make a brief appearance in the spin-off book, His Wicked Promise.

top



 

 

His Wicked WaysAvailable in Large PrintThree weeks on the USA Today list

Three weeks on the Waldenbooks bestseller list

His Wicked WaysThe original cover from September 1999

top

ScotlandHis Wicked Ways
Early 1200s

"Be not afraid."

The words slid past her ear, cold as a loch in the midst of a wintry freeze. Hearing it, Meredith Munro felt a chill that reached the very depths of her soul . . . a chill she'd known but once before.

Her prayer beads slipped to the floor. Be not afraid, the voice intoned. Alas, but she was afraid! Indeed, she was terrified, for within her tiny cell stood three men—she'd caught a glimpse of two hulking figures from the corner of her eye . . .

And the one whose hand clamped tight about her mouth.

Men did not belong here at Connyridge Priory. Father Marcus was the only man who came here, and 'twas in order to say Mass and hear the transgressions of the nuns and novices who resided within these ancient stone walls.

Her mind reeled. Dear Lord, she was on her feet—snatched from her knees as she prayed at her bedside! The one who held her . . . His hand was immense. It covered her nose and mouth so that she could scarcely breathe; all she could hear was the pounding of her own blood in her ears.

Fear pumped through her with every beat of her heart, a fear nourished by the dire certainty that these men meant her harm. A dozen questions tumbled through her mind. Where was Mother Gwynn? Sister Amelia? How was it possible they had invaded these hallowed walls? There were three of them . . . three! Had no one heard a sound? An awful thought reared high in her mind. Mayhap the others had heard nothing, for they were already dead!

Nay. Nay! She could not think thusly, for she could not bear it!

As if to remind her, the arm about her waist tightened ever so slightly.

Warm breath rushed past her ear. "A word of warning," came the grating male whisper anew. "Do not scream, for 'twill do no good, I promise you. Do you understand?"

His tone was almost pleasant, yet Meredith sensed that such was not his intent. Scream, she thought faintly. Shock and terror held her motionless. Why, the very notion was laughable! The muscles of her throat were so constricted nary a sound could have passed had she tried!

"Nod if you understand."

Somehow she managed to raise and lower her chin.

"Excellent," he murmured. "Now, Meredith Munro, let's have a look at you."

The world whirled all about her. He knew her. He knew her by name! How could that be?

Slowly, the man who held her lifted his hand. Meredith felt herself turned bodily so that she faced him.

As if to oblige him, the light of a full moon trickled through the narrow window set high in the outer wall. Meredith

felt the full force of his gaze dwell long and hard upon her. Though she still wore her coarse gray robe, she flushed, for she had neither wimple nor veil to cover the length of her hair. No man had seen her thus since the day she'd said good-bye to her father those many months ago.

No longer did he touch her, though they stood nearly toe to toe. She knew instinctively that this man was their leader. Gathering her courage, Meredith inched her gaze a long way upward to his face. In the frenzied brew of her mind, he embodied all manner of evil. His features were indistinct and blurred in the darkness, yet never had she seen such intense, glittering eyes, like chips of stone. Her insides turned to ice. Was this the face of death?

Her gaze dropped to the sword at his side. On the other side hung a dirk which looked just as deadly. A shudder coursed through her, for she was suddenly quite certain . . .

If there would be blood spilled this night, 'twould be hers.

One of the other men lit the stub of candle at the wooden table. "She is the one?" he asked.

Those eyes never left her. Indeed, they seemed to pierce through her very skin. "She is," was all he said.

"Aye," the man said. "She's the look of a Munro."

Her mouth had gone dry, yet she forced herself to speak. "What do you here? I do not know you, yet you know me."

He neither agreed, nor disagreed.

"You mean to kill me, don't you?"

He did not deny it. Nay, no denial sprang forth from him.

Instead he asked, "Are you deserving of death?"

Nay, she longed to cry. Instead her fingertips crept to the small silver crucifix which hung about her throat—it had been a gift from her father the day he'd brought her here. She fingered the finely etched surface, as if to draw both comfort and strength from it. Once again she heard his parting words to her, "Remember, daughter, God will always be with you . . . as will I."

She gave a tiny shake of her head. "That is not for me to judge."

His smile did not reach his eyes. "Mayhap 'tis for me to judge."

Meredith gasped. Did the man have no respect for the Lord? Oh, silly question, that! a voice within her chided. His very presence here dictated the answer.

"'Tis for no man to judge, only God himself." She sought hard to keep the quaver from her voice.

"Yet such is hardly the case, is it not? How many of God's creatures die from sickness?" He did not ponder, nor seek an answer from her. "Children and the aged, mayhap. But men . . . Ah, well, men kill other men . . . and sometimes women, too."

A chill went down her spine, for this time there was no mistaking the threat implicit in his tone. Meredith could not help it—she felt herself go pale.

"The others." Her voice quavered. "Mother Gwynn. Sister Amelia. Are they—"

"They are alive and well, and snug in their beds."

Her breath came in and held. Slowly she let it out, trying desperately not to panic. Why had he come for her? Surely not to fetch her for her father! Oh, but she must escape this lunatic, for only a lunatic would dare to intrude into this holy place as he had done! Escape was foremost in her mind. In her heart . . .

She bolted.

Oh, but she should have known! Quick as she was, he was quicker. She managed not three steps and he was upon her. Strong arms encircled her, thwarting her cold. She felt herself dragged backward, her entire length brought upright against his body—'twas if she'd hit a wall of stone.

Her reaction was more instinct than conscious thought. She twisted and writhed, trying wildly to escape the shackle of his arms.

"Be still!" he hissed.

Nay. She could not. She would not. She renewed her struggle with vigor, only to hear a vivid curse resound in her ear.

"By God, cease!"

The forearm about her waist tightened, threatening to crush her ribs and cutting off her breath. She could feel the strength in him, feel it in every muscle of his body. As she gasped for air, only then did the realization come to her that he might break her as easily as he snapped a twig from a tree.

Her body lost all resistance. Her head dropped. A choked sound emerged from her throat, a keening sound of despair. She hated the way she trembled . . . and hated the awareness that surely he must feel it too. If she was to die—saints forgive her for being such a coward!—she prayed that death would come swiftly, a dagger sheathed in the heart just so.

It was not to be.

Without further ado, she felt her feet leave the cold stone floor. She was stunned to find herself deposited on the bench before the table.

"Now then, you will do as I say."

But one thought ran through her mind, like the rush of the wind through the trees. Once before she'd been dragged from her bed in the midst of the night. Would the outcome be the same? Pray God, no. For if it was, she could not bear it . . . not again.

Little by little she raised her head. "If you mean to . . . to . . . " Faith, but she could not find it within her to even say the words!

Not that there was any need. "To defile you?"

She felt her skin heat with the flood of embarrassment. "Aye," she whispered.

His laugh was mirthless . . . and merciless. "I think not, Meredith Munro. Were I in need of a woman, of a certainty 'twould not be you. Indeed, I must force myself to suffer your presence."

Such assurance hardly brought her ease. She heard the snap of his fingertips. One of the others moved, producing parchment, quill and ink. This was set down before her.

"You will write a note to Mother Gwynn, stating that alas! you cannot give your life over to God, nor can you remain on this earthly world, for you are deeply ashamed that you are so weak in devotion and spirit."

Meredith gaped. God above, he would have her forfeit her own life!

"Nay, I cannot do it! Why, to take my own life would be mortal sin."

The dark stranger had only to place his hand on his dirk.

She shook her head. "I cannot write," she began desperately.

"You lie. You keep accounts for the prioress."

How did he know that? Who was he, that he knew all about her? Her attempt at a glare was pitiful—as she was pitiful!

medieval romanceNever had Meredith despised herself as she did this very moment! She lowered her gaze that he would not glimpse her despair, then reached for the quill. Her eyes misted with tears, she watched as the words took shape.

Mother Gwynn, and my dearest sisters in Christ,

Though it pains me deeply, I have no choice in this matter. I fear I can no longer remain in the service of the Lord. I am deeply ashamed that I am so weak in devotion and in spirit, and so I must end it all. Forgive me, sisters, for what I must do, and pray for me, that my soul does not dwell in eternal damnation.

Trying desperately to still the trembling within her, she signed her name. A crushing feeling deep in her breast, she looked up.

He was watching her, his gaze like the point of a lance. He picked up the letter and quickly scanned it. "'Pray for me'," he quoted. "Let us hope that someone does." He lowered the letter, leaving it on the table in the center of the chamber.

"Up," he ordered.

It crossed Meredith's mind to defy him . . . but only for an instant. In truth she was so relieved to still be alive, that for one mind-spinning instant she feared her legs would not hold her.

"Your hands, pray."

Mutely she obliged. At a nod from him, one of his men dutifully stepped forward. Her hands were bound together before her with a length of rope. When the task was done, the man stepped back and opened the door.

Those burning eyes snared hers. "You will come," was all he said.

Meredith instinctively recoiled, but it was no use. His fingers curled around her elbow. She endured his touch as best she could. She had no choice but to follow, battling both a helpless frustration and a numbing fear. Who was this man? What did he want with her? Why hadn't he slain her? Indeed, why should he want her dead? Why should he want her alive? Or did he truly mean for her to slay herself?

They had passed Mother Gwynn's quarters. Meredith's gaze skipped forward, then quickly bounced away. She bit her lip, her pulse quickening its tempo. They were nearing the door to the dormitory, where the nuns slept. If she were to call her name and raise the alarm, one of the sisters might awaken. Indeed, mayhap someone was already awake, for surely it was nearing time to gather for Prime in the chapel. Then the intruders would be discovered—

He jerked her against him. The notion disappeared mid-thought. The breath was jarred from her lungs. Her heart surely stopped, for suddenly they were wedded together, breast to breast, thigh to thigh. Meredith froze, even as it vaulted through her mind that his chest was like an immense wall of iron. baby

Panic raced through her, for he bent his head so that his lips brushed hers. Had he not held her in his grasp, she would surely have leaped from her very skin. Sweet Christ, surely he did not mean to. . .

"Do not," he warned in a voice meant for her ears alone, "for they would only be hurt should they seek to aid you. 'Tis a fight they cannot win . . . nor can you. I am set on this course, lady, and no one will stop me . . . no one." The arm around her back tightened ever so slightly before he stepped back—oh, aye, a warning indeed! she decided bitterly.

Despairing her weakness—despising it—Meredith clenched her bound hands into fists. To deepen her humiliation even further, those hard lips pulled into a tight smile, causing her own to press together.

Her eyes found his through the shadows. "There are ways to fight other than with swords." Where her words—or the courage!—came from, she would ever wonder.

There was a short, harsh laugh. "Aye, but there are indeed."

With that cryptic remark, he reclaimed her arm and led her into the passageway, down the narrow stairs. His men trailed behind them.His Wicked Ways

He seemed to know precisely where he was going, leading her through the nave of the chapel. They skirted the chancel and hurried through the cloister, turned left near the refectory. All too soon they emerged into the moon-drenched freedom of the night. His bold stride never faltered. Onward they continued, past the wooden outbuildings, weaving through the gardens and into the orchard. Before long they were outside the high stone wall that enclosed the priory, and only then did they halt.

They stood before the ringed granite cross of St. Michael, a cross which had been here for centuries. The smell of the sea was pungent and sharp, but Meredith scarcely noticed, for the ache of remembrance battered her. She fought a sudden, scalding rush of tears. Her lungs burned with a pain so intense it nearly brought her to her knees. It was here, on this very spot outside Connyridge Priory, that she had said her goodbyes to her father. She had beseeched him not to return, not until she asked—unless she asked; for Meredith feared that if he did, she might be tempted to leave with him, to return to Castle Munro and the home of her youth. Her heart wrenched, for she could almost see him again, the blue eyes so like her own shimmering with tears he made no effort to hide. He had wept openly . . .

So had she.

It seemed so very, very long ago . . . it seemed like yesterday. She vividly remembered how she had hated herself—hated that she had disappointed him. As his only daughter, his only child, she knew it was his heartfelt wish that she would someday marry and give him grandchildren.

Meredith knew that she would never marry . . . never.

She had not told Papa of that horrible night. She never would. In truth, she'd never told a soul on this earth! Though it tore her apart to leave Castle Munro, she could not stay! Nay, she could not live her life afraid of every man she saw, wondering if it was he who had touched her, who had shamed her so. Nor could she tell Papa the truth of what had happened that horrible night . . . indeed, even she did not know the truth of it.

It was why she had left the father she loved so dearly . . . why she would never return to her home.

When Meredith had asked that he bring her to Connyridge to join the sisters here, he hadn't refused. She was achingly aware that he fully expected her to remain cloistered her forever.

She had come to Connyridge solely to seek refuge. And it was here that the terror that night had wrought had finally begun to ease. She had found sanctuary within these walls; she had begun to regain a measure of the peace she had feared was forever lost to her. Though it had taken time, she had come to feel safe here at the priory, no matter that the cold seeped through her sandals and into her very bones. Not so long ago, she had made the decision to give her life over to God. As a nun in the service of the Lord, she would be shielded from the lustful appetites of men . . .

Yet her struggle had continued, oh, in other ways! For she had been so very confused—in truth, she still was. Though the choice was hers . . . she was no longer certain . . . Would she be doing the right thing in taking her vows? Was this her chosen vocation? She should have known it in her heart, yet she did not! These past weeks she had prayed daily for guidance in that one particular endeavor—that she had made the right choice.

She was to take her vows within the month . . . but would she even be alive then?

To some, such a life might have been a prison, for life at the nunnery was comprised solely of prayer, work, study, sleep and meals. Idleness was believed to be an enemy of the soul. With her mind thus occupied, she need not think of . . . other things.

But the sanctuary she sought was no more. All because of him . . .

A man who had yet to reveal his name.

Meredith could not help it. She stared at him warily. In the gloom of the night he appeared dark and featureless. She shivered, wondering what he might look like in the full light of day. She sensed he was young, not so aged as her father and Uncle Robert. Oh, but surely such a wicked man would be ugly as the devil's own sin! No doubt his teeth were gaping and yellowed and rotting, his skin mottled and pock-marked and dark as a heathen's. She shuddered, thinking that mayhap 'twas better this way. In daylight he might have frightened her to her grave!

She stood awkwardly as he spoke in hushed tones to his men; she could not hear what was said. The men nodded and strode away. Her mouth dry, she watched as he walked to a small cart that she hadn't noticed until now.

His Wicked WaysHer apprehension spiraled as he turned back to her, then beckoned to her. A heavy tightness in the pit of her belly, Meredith moved forward. Unable to help herself, she peered inside the cart. A woman lay within, long reddish-blond hair dirty and snarled, strewn across the wooden boards. Her head was turned at an odd angle; dull, unblinking eyes stared back at her.

The woman was dead.

A scream curdled in her throat. She felt herself sway, but mercifully remained on her feet of her own power.

Lean fingers curled around her arm. "Remove your robe," came his voice . . . a voice she had already begun to dread.

Meredith looked on as he removed the rope around her wrists, wondering if she'd lost her wits. Was this naught but a dream, a horrible trick of her mind? Her eyes squeezed shut, telling herself she was back in her cell, huddled in her bed. Swallowing, she allowed her lids to drift upward.

Male, booted feet came into view. Alas, he was there, a presence as unwelcome as ever . . .

And just as forbidding.

His jaw thrust out. "I'll not tell you again."

A foggy haze seemed to dance all around her. Nay, she thought, she couldn't have heard him aright. Her mouth opened. She felt her jaw move, yet no sound came out.

"Fine, then. It matters little to me." Peremptory hands dropped upon her shoulders, seeking the neck of her robe. A jolt went through her as warm fingertips brushed her bare skin.

Meredith wrenched away as if she'd been scorched. "Nay!" she gasped.

"Do it. . . else I shall."

She could well believe he meant precisely what he said. She need not see his features to know that he meant it. She could hear it in his tone, see it in the set of his shoulders. Aye, there was an unswaying purpose about him that could neither be denied nor ignored.

His threat resounded all through her. Her fingers were clumsy with fright . . . and with wrenching shame, knowing that she would be naked before him . . . Awkwardly she did as he demanded, berating herself all the while. Ah, but she was a fool to comply so readily! Why couldn't she be stronger? she raged inwardly. Would she ever be meek and spineless? She was a weakling, in mind and heart and in body, for she was powerless to fight him. Nay, she could not overcome his strength . . . nor his will, she thought, brutally chastising herself.

Her eyes downcast, she stepped from the coarse dark fabric now puddled on the ground at her feet. Burning with shame, she tried to shield her body with her hands—not just from the cool night air, but from the prying of those steel-edged eyes.

Yet he spared her nary a glance as he bent and scooped her robe from the damp ground. Instead he strode to the cart, where he proceeded to strip the gown from the dead woman. To her surprise, he tossed it at her.

"Put this on!"

This time Meredith did not delay. With shaking hands she donned the dirty, ill-fitting gown, glad of the chance to cover herself once more.

By the time she finished, his men had reappeared, leading three horses. Meredith's heart leaped. Did they plan to take her with them? Her mind had scarcely formed the thought than the two men stepped toward the nude woman who still lay on the ground. Stunned, she watched as they dressed the woman in the robe she'd discarded . . . her robe! When it was done, they glanced enquiringly at their leader.

"Do it," came the low-voiced command.

One man grabbed the woman by her left arm, the other by her right. Together they dragged her some twenty yards to the east. What happened then shocked Meredith to the marrow of her bones.

She was cast down the cliffs to the jutting rocks below. Of course there was no scream—yet Meredith could hear it in the soundless chambers of her mind. There was only a dull thud. . .

Meredith cringed. The rocks below would tear into her flesh like the gnashing teeth of a sea monster, leaving her body bloodied and broken . . . that poor creature! Perhaps 'twas a blessing that she was already dead . . . yet why would they kill her? Why kill her only to throw her over the cliffs . . .

A paralyzing dread seized hold of her. Would she be next? No one could survive a fall from the cliffs. They were deadly; their height alone was enough to kill. Indeed, though Meredith had no fear of heights, she had always avoided the cliffs.

Her heart twisted as she thought of the woman. She'd been pretty. That much had been clear. Young and pretty and far too young to die . . .

Even as she sent a quick prayer heavenward for the woman's soul, she blanched. Only then did Meredith begin to realize the significance of what she had just witnessed. The blond hair . . . dressing the dead woman in her robes . . .

His Wicked WaysHer eyes slid to him. He stood motionless, his gaze upon her, as if awaiting her reaction.

"Saints above," she said faintly. "I . . . They will think that . . . " She could not go on. Swallowing, she tried again. "You mean for the sisters to think that . . . "

"That the woman is you." His smile was rimmed with satisfaction, a satisfaction she could not even pretend to understand. "Her body will hit the rocks," he stated matter-of-factly. "'Twill be mutilated. Bloodied and broken."

God's mercy, he was right. Shortly after she'd come to Connyridge, the body of one of the villagers had washed up on the rocks—he'd been a fisherman. His flesh was torn to shreds, his face bloated and white so that he was unrecognizable. It had sickened her so that she'd nearly lost the contents of the stomach. Oh, aye, her note was damning indeed. The nuns would see the reddish hair of the woman and think that she had thrown herself from the cliff.

Meredith's heart wrenched. At least the poor woman had already been dead . . . Suddenly her breath caught. "You killed her, didn't you? You killed her!"

The tension spun out endlessly. He said nothing . . . a stifling silence that said far more than mere words.

Meredith shook her head. For one awful moment she feared she would be sick there and then. "Why?" Her throat ached so that it hurt to speak. "Why would you do such a thing?"

Again that debilitating silence.

"And I am next, am I not?" Drawing upon a daring she hadn't known she possessed, she straightened her shoulders and struck her breast with one knotted fist. "Kill me then, if you will! Kill me now!"

"Kill you?" His laugh was harsh and brittle as he gestured to the cliff. "Come now. Do you truly think I'd have gone to such trouble if I meant to kill you? Now then. Will you come or must I bind your hands again?"

Meredith lowered her head, battling within herself as never before. A woman lay dead because of her, and all she could think was how she might save her own soul! She was not only weak but selfish as well, and she could only hope that God would forgive her! Yet something within her protested—something refused to let this vile man win so easily.

Meredith knew she'd been dismissed as he glanced away. He made a sign to his men, who led the horses forward. He did not even deign to glance at her as he motioned her forward.

"Come," was all he said.

Meredith took a deep fortifying breath. "Nay," she said clearly.

Now she'd done it, it seemed. She felt the touch of those ice-fire eyes return even before she forced herself to meet his regard.

"Y-you are a madman, and I'll go nowhere with you."

Beside her there was a curse. There was a stunning blow to the middle of her back that sent her toppling forward. It was he who caught her and saved her from falling headlong before his feet.

"Nay, Finn, leave her be!"

Meredith was half-afraid to breathe. She could feel his hands around her wrists like clamps of iron, imprisoning her as surely as a trap. Oh, aye, she could feel the strength in him and knew that were it his will, her life would be forfeit.

Slowly she raised her head from the awesome breadth of his chest.

"I'll go nowhere with you."

"Ah, but you will, Meredith Munro. You will."

"I will not," she stated again. She raised her chin, all at once not so sure of herself. In her heart she was appalled at her audacity. Mayhap she was the one who was mad!

"Who are you? Why are you doing this? What do you want with me?"

He released her. Meredith resisted the impulse to turn and flee. Instead she held her ground, her bare toes digging into the dew-draped earth.

"Who are you?" she said again. "You pretend to know me, yet I vow I've not laid eyes on you before this night!"

"Nay, lass, you have not."

"Then who are you?" Determination swept away her fear and uncertainty. If she was to die, she would at least know why—and she would at least know the identity of the man who would slay her!

"Who are you?"

His eyes scraped over her, like a sword of molten steel.

"I am Cameron" —he stated but one thing . . . and alas, 'twas all that was needed— "of the clan MacKay."

 


LIKE IT? ORDER IT!

Samantha's newsletter announces exclusive advance excerpts and new book releases.
Get Notified!

 

His Wicked Ways

 

Read another
Medieval Excerpt
Try a Victorian Excerpt Meet Samantha.
Read her bio.
See what's
coming next.

 

top

samanthajames.com
home | bookshelf | meet samantha | newsletter | contact | site | copyright