VIRTUE by Victoria Vane
THE SONS OF SCOTLAND BOOK ONE
A man without a past…
Abandoned at a monastery as a young child, Alexander serves two masters—God and the fading memories of his past life—the one he never got to live. As he nears the day to take his vows, he’s sent on a last sojourn into the real world, but what begins as a test of faith becomes a journey to manhood.
And a woman who doesn’t know her own heart…
Born from the line of two kings, Lady Sibylla Mac William is abandoned by her sire as a child and then ruled illegitimate. Though she lives a happy life under her uncle’s protection, Sibylla craves something more, but never could she imagine losing her heart to the would-be monk who unexpectedly arrives to tutor her brother.
Together, they will forge the future of a kingdom…
When dark secrets from the past come to light, Alex and Sibylla’s fates become inextricably entwined. Will Alex choose the safe and secure path he knows, or will he reject holy orders to embrace his true destiny… and the woman he loves?
Alex left the keep for midday prayer but instead of retiring as usual to the chapel, he found his gaze drawn to a distant promontory. He needed a solitary place to think and pray. His instincts urged him to go to that high place apart from people just as the Lord had done in troubling times.
After wandering for about half a mile in the general direction, he encountered a narrow drover path that seemed to lead the right way. The going was steep, rocky, and overgrown from irregular use, but he was certain it led to his intended destination. When he reached the top of the cliff, Alex was surprised to discover a circle of carved stones marking an old Druid worship site. In the center of the circle stood a great oak tree. At first he hesitated to go further, but then considered the place. What better way to venerate the one true God than to rededicate to Him this former site of Pagan worship?
Kneeling beneath the branches, Alex retrieved his psalm book. Though he opened the page by habit, he closed his eyes and recited the verses by rote. “Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me: for I am poor and needy—Ouch!” He cried out as an acorn dropped upon his head. “Be merciful unto me, O Lord,” he continued, “for I cry unto thee daily.” He drew breath to continue, only to be struck by another acorn, and then a third! “Bluidy squirrels!”
Mumbling a curse, he rubbed his head, and once more took up his psalter. “Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.”
He startled at a sudden rustle of leaves, but there was no wind to stir them. The branches above him shook more violently, but now he had the good sense to protect himself. But this time, the hailstorm of acorns was echoed by a ripple of feminine giggles.
Alex’s gaze darted upward, searching through the thick canopy of green to a flash of billowy white. Had he somehow conjured a wood sprite? He was quick to shake off that notion. He didn’t ascribe to old folklore or superstition, and would surely burn in hell if he allowed such Highland heresy to rub off on him.
Closing his book, he stood and searched the tree more intently. The glimpse of white he’d seen transformed into a more corporeal shape—that of Sibylla.
“Sibylla?” he cried out. “What the de’il are ye doing in that tree?”
“Looking for mistletoe, of course,” she answered as if he were a simpleton.
“Mistletoe?” He frowned at her. “Ye shouldna follow the Pagan ways.”
“Is it evil and heathenish to make medicine for my clan?” she argued. “‘Tis not as if I’m performing human sacrifices!”
Alexander had no reply.
“I come here often to be alone,” she said, stretching out full length. The branch barely dipped under her weight. “It’s quiet and peaceful and the view of the land is breathtaking. There’s room for two. Ye should come up here and see it.” Swinging back up to a sitting position, she dangled her bare legs and patted the place beside her.
“I willna humor ye, Sibylla.”
“Why nae? Canna ye climb?” she taunted. “Or perhaps yer robes get in the way? Ye could always do what I do and tie them up.”
His gaze tracked slowly upward from her delicate bared toes, to a set of trim white ankles, and then to a pair of smooth, shapely calves. Alexander shut his eyes before he could give in to the temptation of looking higher. He really should leave now. He’d come to this place seeking peace for his soul, but all he could think about now were the strange stirrings in his body.
“Enough of the games. If ye want to speak ye’ll come down!”
“Verra well,” she replied with a huff. “Hold out yer arms.”
“What? Ye canna mean to jump!”
She grinned. “But I do.” Bracing her hands on either side of her hips, she wiggled forward on the branch.
“Ye’ll break yer fool neck,” he warned.
“Nae if ye catch me.” Her gaze sought his. “Would ye let me fall, Alexander?” she asked softly.
“Nae,” he murmured with a slow shake of his head. “I’d ne’er see ye hurt if I could help it.”
Her mouth stretched into an impish grin. “Then ye’d best hold out yer arms.”
Before he could protest, she launched herself from the tree. Alex crashed backwards feeling like a ton of stones hit him as her small body slammed him onto the ground. While he lay stunned and breathless beneath her, Sibylla burst into uncontrolled chortles. But he found no humor in his situation. Nothing had ever disturbed him more than his present situation.
By the time he caught his breath, heat of an unfamiliar kind had begun to warm his blood and infuse his loins, as he lay beneath her soft, feminine body. As much as he wished it, he couldn’t bring himself to move—except for the parts that shouldn’t.
Awareness of his arousal came to her suddenly. Her breath hitched and gaze widened, but she made no move to pull away. Instead, they both lay fixed and still, and almost afraid to breathe. Alex willed his body to ignore its natural response, but his efforts were futile. He’d never before been so much at odds with himself.
“What is wrong, Alexander?”
He opened his eyes to find her staring down at him with a furrowed brow.
“Nothing.” He shook his head, only to refute himself a moment later. “Everything,” he said. “Everything is wrong. Nothing is as it should be.”
“I dinna understand ye.”
“Neither do I,” he replied. “’Tis why I came here—to be alone and to figure it out.”
“Do ye want me to leave?” she asked.
He knew what he should say. He knew what he should do but, somehow, he was powerless to resist the lure of her warm, soft body. “Nae,” he replied after a moment. “I dinna want ye to go.”
“I’m glad.” She smiled. “I dinna want to leave.” To his dismay, her gaze drifted down to his mouth. She leaned closer until her silky hair brushed his face. “If ye dinna mind, I would verra much like ye to kiss me, Alexander.”
He knew he should not but, God help him, he wanted to. “Kissing leads only to temptation,” he replied.
“But a kiss in itself isna sinful or wicked,” she argued. “A kiss can mean many things. Are there nae chaste kisses? Kisses of friendship? Affection? Kisses given as greetings? Kisses to say goodbye?”
“Aye, but that’s nae the kind of kiss ye wish for, is it?” he asked.
“Nae.” She shook her head with a grin. “I’ve had all of those kinds before. What I havena known is a lover’s kiss.” Her grin faded and her eyes entreated as she whispered, “Would ye oblige me, Alexander?”
If he allowed himself to respond to her request, the dam would surely break. Alex shut his eyes, trying to marshal both his wits and his faltering will, but he failed to block out her subtly fragrant scent that seemed to come straight from heaven above, her warm, sweet breath, and her pliant breasts pressing against his ever-tightening chest… and then her petal soft lips brushing lightly over his. He felt her hesitancy and wanted to reassure her but sheer force of will restrained him. He’d never wanted anything as much as he wanted to kiss her back. His bones ached with the need to respond, but he knew very well that his resistance would crumble to dust.
“Did ye nae like it?” she asked.
He opened his eyes to find uncertainty clouding hers. He reached up to touch her face. “I dinna kiss ye back, Sibylla, nae because I dinna want to. I dinna kiss ye because I kenned I would only want more.”
“And do ye?” she asked breathlessly. “Want more?”
It was not the response he’d intended to evoke. “Aye. I do.”
Victoria Vane is a bestselling, award-winning author of smart and sexy romance. Her books have received more than twenty awards and nominations to include the 2015 Red Carpet Award for JEWEL OF THE EAST, 2014 RONE Award for TREACHEROUS TEMPTATIONS, and 2012 Library Journal Best E-Book romance for THE DEVIL DEVERE series. Victoria also has a passion for historical fashion and lives in the beautiful upstate of South Carolina with her husband, two sons, a little black dog, and an Arabian horse.
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