One month from today, Untamed will be on bookstore shelves!
I am so excited to share Book II of the MacKinnon's Rangers series with you all. I know you've waited a long time for Morgan's story. I hope you'll feel it was worth the wait.
To celebrate the impending release of the book, I thought I'd share this very special excerpt, something that's been in my mind for a week now since my visit to the "18th Century" on the eastern shore of Lake George.
By the time they reached the campsite, the sun was low in the sky, and Amalie felt grubbier and hungrier than she could ever remember feeling. Joseph was waiting for them, crouching near a cook fire and turning something over the flames, his back to them, the scent of roasting meat making Amalie’s mouth water. Without looking over his shoulder, he spoke to Morgan, and Morgan answered, both of them using words Amalie didn’t understand.
It had been a long day and hard. Though she missed Morgan’s men — she’d grown fond of them and enjoyed their teasing banter — she’d been grateful for the slower pace. Morgan had helped her when she’d needed it, offering her his hand when the ground became steep or rocky, carrying her through deep marshes. And as she’d watched him pick a safe path for her, he’d seemed both alert to danger and utterly at ease in the wildness of the forest. And she’d realized that she was seeing him for the first time as he truly was — not just the gentleman and soldier she’d known at the fort, but Morgan MacKinnon, the Ranger of legend.
She glanced about and saw that they stood in the midst of a small clearing not far from a little river. The river, its banks verdant with ferns and blue forget-me-nots, tumbled down the rocky hillside in three small waterfalls before flowing off through the trees. All around them stood thick forest, primordial and dark. Her dream still in her mind, she shivered.
Chuckling with Joseph over some shared jest, Morgan grinned down at her, his arm sliding about her waist, two days’ growth of stubble and long, unbound hair giving him a rakish appearance. “Joseph has been busy.”
And, indeed, he had.
Not far from the fire stood a lean-to just like the one she’d slept in last night, but spread upon the pine boughs was a thick bearskin, its black fur gleaming. In the middle of the fur sat a small pile of what was unmistakably women’s garments — a gown of dark blue, ivory petticoats, and a clean, white chemise.
“Oh, merci!” She looked up at Joseph, who smiled. “Thank you, monsieur! Wherever did you find them?”
“Thank him.” Joseph nodded toward Morgan, his dark eyes warm. “He’s the one who gave up a good hunting knife. One of my men traded for them before we left Fort Elizabeth, hoping to surprise his wife.”
Morgan dropped his tumpline pack on the ground near the lean-to, unbound it, and drew out a long knife in its leather sheath. Then he handed it to Joseph. “Tell Daniel I wish him luck both on the hunt and in battle. And thank you.”
Joseph met Morgan’s gaze. “My brother who was dead has returned. I would do anything for him and his woman.”
The words made something catch in Amalie’s belly, and she wished they were true. But this marriage had been forced upon Morgan and was still incomplete. Clearly, he cared for her and desired her, but did he truly want her for his wife?
If there were any way for me to stay wi’ you, I would. You are all a man could hope for in a wife, all a man could desire.
She remembered his words — and dared to hope.
Joseph ducked down, gave her a kiss on the cheek, then, with a nod to Morgan, he turned and strode into the forest.
“He is not staying with us?” she asked, as he vanished from sight.
“He has to see to his men.” Morgan sat before the fire, drawing her down beside him. “Sit and eat, lass. Joseph has a feast set out for us.”
Compared to the parched cornmeal she’d nibbled at since breakfast, it was a feast—roasted turkey, field greens, and tart wild raspberries. But there were no plates, no silverware, no serviettes. How were they supposed to—
“Like this.” Morgan grinned, shifting the wooden spit so that it no longer sat directly over the open flames. Then he took his penknife, cut off a strip of roasted breast meat and held it to her lips.
Amalie opened her mouth, took the succulent meat onto her tongue, and almost moaned at the savory taste.
“Now you feed me.”
Amalie rose to her knees, leaned in, and, using the penknife Brandon had given her, cut off a slice of meat, then brought it to his lips. He took her wrist and held it as he nipped the meat from between her fingers. Then he licked the juices from her fingers one by one, his gaze locked with hers, his tongue hot and quick.
Memories of that tongue licking other parts of her sent blood rushing into her cheeks and made her insides feel quivery. It was only two nights ago when he’d tasted not just her fingers, but her throat and breasts, as well, suckling her until she’d gone almost mad from the pleasure of it. Was he remembering the same thing?
Morgan watched her eyes darken and knew she still felt at least some desire for him. Despite Rillieux’s cruelty, she did not fear a man’s touch as some women did in the aftermath of such violence. Still, Morgan would not rush her. When he at last made love to her, he wanted her to want it as much as he did, wanted her to enjoy it as much as he did.
He cut off another strip of breast. “For you.”
Feasting with their fingers, they fed each other sliver upon sliver of rich, tasty meat, then turned to the greens and, last of all, the berries, Morgan following each sweet bite with a kiss, until one appetite was satisfied—and another was roused.
But it wasn’t time for that. Not yet. First he must woo her beyond shyness, beyond fear.
“Come.” Morgan stood, drew Amalie to her feet with one hand, grabbed his tumpline pack with the other. “It’s time for your bath.”
“My bath?” Her gaze flitted toward the creek.
“Aye, your bath.” He took her hand and led her up the hillside, over the ramble of rocks toward the middle waterfall. It hid a secret he and his men had discovered two summers past on their way back from a scout — a secret they’d kept carefully guarded.
“Watch your step. The stone is quite slidey when it’s wet.”
He led her behind the waterfall along a wide ledge where the rushing waters of the freshet had through the ages gouged out a row of deep pools in the stone. Once the freshet had passed each June and the waters had receded, the pools, filled with fresh river water, offered tadpoles a place to hatch and grow into frogs — and weary Rangers a place to bathe and ease their aches.
And now their waters would soothe Amalie’s hurts, washing away the day’s grime and the memory of Rillieux’s touch. She hadn’t said anything, hadn’t complained at all, but he knew she must feel it — the lingering taint of near-rape.
He dropped his pack onto dry stone beside the pools. “What do you think?”
“It is… enchanté!” She glanced back and forth between the pools and the waterfall and smiled, a smile of pure joy. Then she stretched out her hand, the tips of her fingers piercing the silver curtain of falling water, her laughter like music.
“Aye, I thought so, too, the first time I saw it—a place of magic. The water in the pools is warm. Feel it.”
She knelt down, trailed her fingers across the water’s surface, a look of surprised wonder spreading across her face. “But how can this be?”
“During the day, the sun warms the stone, and the stone heats the water.”
She smiled up at him. “Such a wondrous thing!”
Morgan knelt down beside her, dug in his pack for the soap and her comb, and set them down at the edge of the deepest pool. “Whenever we come this way, I reward the bravest among my men with the chance to wash away the grime of battle. But tonight, ’tis yours to enjoy in peace.”
She stood, her smile gone, her gaze shifting to the forest.
He knew what haunted her. He stood, grasped the folds of the blanket she held about her shoulders and drew her close, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You’re safe, Amalie. There’s no one to spy upon you and naugh’ that can harm you.”
She gazed up at him, looking like a battered wood nymph, her cheek bruised, her green-brown eyes deep enough to drown a man. “And you—”
“I’ll be nearby.” He willed himself to step back from her, some part of him unable to believe he was doing this—leaving her here to bathe alone when he might have joined her. His mother’s Viking blood burned in him again, urging him to give in to his need.
You’re an animal, MacKinnon. The lass has been through hell.
“Call if you’ve need of me.” He turned his back to her, willing himself to walk away from her, to give her this time alone.
He’d gone but a few steps when he heard the whisper of silk as she undressed and the tinkling of water as she slipped into the pool. Then came her sigh of undisguised pleasure, and his blood went hot at the thought of her sweet body bared to the water’s warm caress. Yet, somehow he found the strength to take another step and another.
Amalie watched him go, disappointment welling inside her. She’d thought for a moment that he intended them to bathe together. The idea hadn’t frightened her; on the contrary, it had stirred her blood, made her pulse skip. Didn’t he know how much she needed him, how much she wanted to know the secrets of his body as he knew the secrets of hers? Did he not understand that she longed to give herself to him?
“Morgan?” The sound of her own voice startled her.
He stopped, kept his back to her as if he could not face her. “Aye?”
“M-must you go?” Stunned by her own boldness, she sought for the right words. “Is… Is it not customary for a wife to bathe her husband?”
She heard the breath leave his lungs in a gust, saw his hands clench into fists, and watched as he slowly turned toward her. She was afraid she’d gone too far and that he now thought her brazen. But when his gaze met hers, she saw only desire.
“Are you sayin’ you wish to share your bath?” His gaze dropped to her bare breasts, a muscle tightening in his jaw.
She swallowed, ignored the impulse to cover herself. “Y-yes.”
He strode toward her with slow steps. “Are you certain? I’ve a man’s need for you, Amalie. You ken what that means now, aye?”
She knew he was giving her a chance to change her mind, but she’d never wanted anything more than she wanted him. “Oui.”
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