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The Key

Deed, Key & Chase

Series Book #


Iliana Wildwood & Duncan Dunbar

Nov 27, 2012



ISBN 10:


Return to the wild beauty of Scotland in The Key, a classic historical romance novel from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands.
Married to a barbaric laird in order to escape a worse fate, Iliana Wildwood is determined to remain a chaste wife...until her warrior husband plunders the marriage bed, awakening her to pleasures she's never known before!
If you love the quirky, loveable heroines of Julie Garwood's historical romances, then you’re going to love award-winning author Lynsay Sands. Featuring Sands's trademark humor and sexy alpha hero, The Key is a sensual historical romance you won't want to miss!
The Key was originally published on February 1999.

Excerpt for
The Key
Chapter One "The English be comin'!" "What?!" Angus Dunbar shook his gray head and roused himself from the semi-stupor he had been enjoying to peer around. The stablemaster's young son was slipping back through the open door of the keep. "Ho! Lad! "What was that?!" "The English be acomin' over the bridge!" the boy cried, his faced wreathed in excitement as he turned away and slammed the keep door. "Damn!" Staggering to his feet, Angus gave the man who lay slumped at the table beside him a shake. "Duncan! Wake up, lad. She be here. Wake up, damn ye!" Grabbing a pitcher of ale off the table, he turned his son's head by the hair and splashed it in his face, then stepped quickly out of the way as he came to sputtering life. "Rouse yerself, man! Yer bride be here." "Me whit?" Duncan tried to frown and squint at the same time, but found the effort to accomplish either task made the pulsing in his head increase to a horrid pounding. Groaning miserably, he lowered it to the table again. He had definitely overindulged; in fact, Duncan could not recall the last time he had imbibed like that. He and his father had been on a binge since the English had left two weeks earlier. At least he thought it had been two weeks ago. They had been celebrating ever since. Well, mayhap they had been holding more of a wake. He, Duncan Dunbar, heir to the title of Laird of the Dunbars, had agreed to be married. At the age of twenty-nine, he was finally giving up his freedom and taking on the responsibility of a wife, and eventually, children. Damn. Now he'd done it. Got himself in a fix it made him fair froth to even consider. Even the fortune he had been offered no longer seemed worth losing his freedom for. Mayhap 'twas not too late to back out of the deal, he thought hopefully. "Where the Devil did your sister get to? Seonaid should be here to greet the lass." Duncan sighed, his hopes for escape vanishing. Were he to back out now, the King would not be held to the agreement that he was to see to Seonaid's long neglected betrothal. It had been his one demand before agreeing to the wedding. His sister's reluctant groom was to be brought to heel and either forced to fulfill the contract that had been arranged when they were children, or set her free. The latter option was what he was hoping for. He was sure his father would never forgive him did Sherwell arrive prepared to fulfill his part of the contract. "Damn ye, Duncan, they are here I tell ye! Rouse yeself man!" That bellow near his ear drove all thought out of Duncan's head. Eyes popping open, he was about to force himself to sit up when a second pitcher, this one full of whiskey, splashed into his face. That brought him upright at once, cursing and sputtering as the liquid burned his eyes. "Dammit father, I be awake! Jist give me a minute to-" "There be no minute to give ye. Git up, man!" Grabbing his arm, the Dunbar tugged him to his feet, then sighed at the sight he made. "Ye've blinded me! Damn ye!" "It'll pass. But ye've ale and whiskey all over ye, lad," he chastised gruffly, taking up a corner of his own plaid to wipe roughly at his face. "Aye, well, ye put it there, didnt ye?" his son muttered, grabbing at the cloth moving across his face and trying to use it to wipe at his eyes. They fair burned. "Ne'er mind that." Angus tugged the plaid away and straightened it about himself, then turned toward the door. "Come along." "I cannot see!" Duncan protested, still rubbing at his eyes. "Then I shall lead ye! I want to see the mother o' me grandbabies." "We are no e'en wed yet, father. 'Twill be awhile ere there is fruit from it," Duncan muttered, allowing himself to be dragged across the Great Hall. "Nine months. 'Tis all the time I'll be givin' ye. Then I expect the squall o' bairns to echo off these old walls. It has been too long since that sound has filled these hollow chambers." Pushing the keep doors open, he dragged him out onto the steps and paused as he saw the riders crossing the bailey toward them. "Damn," Angus murmured suddenly. "Damn me all to hell." "Whit?" Duncan scowled into the bleary distance. All he could make out was the blur of a large party crossing the bailey toward them on horseback. "She's bonnie." "Bonnie?" "Aye. No beauty, but bonnie. She looks fair delicate though," he added, worry obvious in his ones. "A real Lady. Sits her mount like a queen, she does. Her wee back straight as a sword...Aye, a real Lady." Duncan watched the blurred figures draw nearer suspiciously. "What exactly do ye mean by a real Lady?" "I mean the kind that'll no approve o' yer sister's shenanigans," he said dryly, then shook his head. "Mark me words, lad. Yon wee Sassenach lass'll set this place to rights straight off." Duncan frowned over that. To his mind, there was nothing that needed setting to rights at Dunbar. "Ah well." The older man sighed resignedly. "We couldna expect to live the grand bachelor's life forever." "Which one do you think he is, my Lady?" Iliana Wildwood gave a start at that question and drew her eyes from the two men standing on the keep steps to glance worriedly down at her maid. Seated in the wagon that held all of their belongings, Ebba's plain face was aglow with excitement. An excitement most likely born of the fact that they would no longer be sleeping in the open, Iliana thought with a sigh, but could not blame the other woman. They had been riding from dawn to well into the evenings, and camping in two inches of mud, for over a week. "Of course, you do not know either," the maid murmured apologetically when her mistress remained silent. "Nay," Iliana admitted faintly, her now troubled gaze returning to the men in question. She had assumed that the younger of the two was to be her husband, but now realized that she could be wrong. Young women were married off to old men all the time, but she had not even considered that. Not once during the long, dreary trip here had she thought to ask what her betrothed was like. If he was cruel or kind. Strong in battle or not. If he had all his teeth and was healthy. Sighing, she shook her head in self-disgust at her own oversight. And oversight it had surely been. Though to be fair, she had been slightly distracted of late, what with her father's death and her mother's predicament. Between one worry and another, she had quite neglected to consider the possibility that her husband might be much older than herself. Considering that possibility now, she began to nibble at her lip anxiously. Both men were attractive in their own way. 'Twas obvious they were father and son. The son appeared to be in his late twenties, while the father was at least fifty. The son's hair was a reddish brown and long and wavy. The father's hair was a mass of wiry, white strings that shot in every direction from his head. The son's face was hard and strong, all plains and edges like the land they had crossed to reach him. The father's; just so, but with lines of character to soften it. Both men had generous mouths, strong noses, and eyes she suspected could be both hard and gentle by turn. They were also both tall, and hard and lean of body. "'Tis the younger one," Bishop Wykeham murmured from where he rode at her other side, drawing a grateful smile from Iliana that lingered until they reached the base of the steps. Then she got her first really good look at the two men. Her smile was immediately replaced with dismay as she took in their tattered outfits and filthy faces. Iliana had paid little attention to the people in the bailey as she had crossed it. Now she shifted, craning her neck to peer about, and immediately began to worry at her lip as she saw that they appeared in need of a good cleaning and some attention. Their clothes were worn and stained, their hair shaggy and unkempt, and most of their faces dirty. As for the bailey and the keep itself, both were in sore need of repair. "Lady Wildwood." Iliana turned at that bluff greeting, unaware that she was still frowning as she met the gaze of her future father-in-law. Startled by her expression, Angus reached back to grab his son's shoulder. "Help 'er down, Duncan," he ordered, giving him a shove forward that sent him stumbling into the side of her mare. Iliana peered wide-eyed at the grimy hands that were now raised in her general direction, then glanced to their owner's dirt streaked face and red-eyed, squinting state. Swallowing unhappily, she reluctantly released her reigns and slid off her mount. He caught her easily and set her gently on the ground and Iliana swiftly stepped away from him, unable to keep her nose from wrinkling at the heavy, stale scent of ale, spirits, and sweat that wafted from him. Despite his impaired vision, Duncan caught her action and raised an arm to sniff at himself, then shrugged. He smelled fine. Not as fine as her mayhap. He had caught a whiff of summer flowers about her while lifting her from her horse, as if she had found a field of the fragrant buds and rolled in them to carry away their scent. It was a fair sweet smell. He liked it, he decided, trying to get a better look at her. Unfortunately it was an impossible feat just yet. She seemed all aglow to him, her gown near hurting his head with it's canary, yellow brightness. "My Lords." Iliana dropped a curtsy, then hesitated and peered toward the Bishop for help. She felt quite out of her depth in this situation. 'Twas the truth, she had no idea what to say or do. This was the man she was to marry. A veritable stranger...Who stank. "Mayhap we should move indoors," the Bishop suggested gently. "It has been a long journey and refreshments would not go amiss." "Oh, aye. This way, Lass." Remembering his somewhat rusty manners, Angus Dunbar took the girl's arm and turned to lead her up the stairs to the keep, leaving the others to follow. The older man's legs were a fair sight longer than Iliana's. She had to grab up the hem of her skirt and near run to keep up with him. By the time they reached the top step, she was panting slightly from the effort. Taking in her breathless state, Angus frowned at her worriedly. "Frail," he muttered to himself with a sad shake of the head. Iliana caught the word, but had little time to worry over it as he opened the door of Dunbar keep and her attention was turned to what was to be her new home. If she had hoped that the inside would show more promise than the outside, she had been sore mistaken. 'Twas an old building. A set of stairs to her right lead up to a second floor where a narrow walkway had three doors leading off of it. Bed chambers she guessed, turning to survey the Great Hall now. It took up most of the main floor and was a large, dark cave with arrow slits for windows that were too high up for the feeble beams of light they allowed to penetrate the gloom in the room. If not for the fire roaring in a large fireplace against the far wall, she doubted she would have been able to see anything. Which might not have been a bad thing, she thought with dismay, taking it all in. The floor was covered with filthy rushes, the walls marked and smoke stained, the tapestries that graced them showing the effects of age and neglect, and the trestle tables and benches looked as if they were quite ready to give up the ghost. Iliana was almost afraid to sit on them and not just because they appeared about to shatter under the least weight, but because they were also stained and splattered with grease and bits of food. She was appalled. Wildwood, her childhood home, had been run efficiently and well. One could almost eat off the table top there. The floors no longer sported rushes, but several rugs that were warmer in winter and softer underfoot. Iliana had never seen the likes of this place and did not know whether to burst into tears or turn and run for the hills. She simply could not live like this; could not manage amid such filth. "Some ale." Oblivious of her thoughts, the Laird of Dunbar ushered her to the table and pushed her down onto one of those frightful benches. He then reached for a pitcher, straightened, saw that she had got to her feet at once, and frowned slightly as he pushed her back onto the seat with his free hand. "Rest lass. Ye've had a long trip." Grabbing a nearby tankard, he emptied the dregs of ale that still remained in it out onto the floor, then grabbed up a pitcher, only to scowl. "'Tis empty. Oh, aye, I er..." His gaze slid to his son who bore the contents of the empty pitcher, then he started to turn toward the kitchen, only to pause and frown as he saw that Iliana was once again standing. Grunting, he pushed her back down onto the bench before bellowing toward the kitchen door, "Giorsal! Bring me more ale, wench!" Turning back, he saw that Iliana had risen once more and his scowl deepened. "Yer rather like a rabbit, are ye no, lass? I press ye down and ye pop right back up. Settle yerself," he instructed not unkindly and pressed her back onto the bench before his gaze slid over her head. He began to set up a storm of twitching and nodding then. Iliana began to think the poor man was suffering a fit...Until she glanced over her shoulder and saw his son standing behind her, squinting at the signals his father was giving him. Growing impatient, the elder Dunbar finally snapped, "Set yerself beside her, lad. Woo 'er a bit." "Woo 'er?" Duncan was taken aback. "We are getting wed, Da. No acourtin'." Angus Dunbar rolled his eyes at that, then peered at Bishp Wykeham as if for commiseration. "The young today, eh Bishop?" He shook his head, then his attention was turned by a gray haired woman who entered the room from what Iliana suspected was the kitchens. "Ah, good. Refreshments." Taking the pitcher from her, he handed the empty one over, then turned to pour the liquid into the tankard he had decided would be Iliana's. Filling it to the brim, he set it before her, then moved on to first empty, then fill, tankards for the Bishop and Lord Rolfe. Iliana lifted the tankard she had been given toward her mouth, only to pause and stare down into the murky drink doubtfully. There appeared to be something foreign floating about on the top of the liquid. A bug of some sort. "What be bothering ye? Do ye no care fer ale?" Iliana glanced at her betrothed. He was still squinting, but it seemed he could make out enough to know that she was not drinking the ale his father had poured her. "Nay, there is- I am not thirsty just now," she lied faintly, unwilling to offend. "Ah. Well." Taking the tankard, he lifted it to his mouth. "Oh! But- " Iliana began to stammer in dismay, but it was too late. He downed almost the entire tankard in one swallow... And the bug with it, she saw as he rested the now empty tankard back on the table between them. "'Tis no sense it agoin' to waste," he murmured cheerfully, flashing her a brief smile before wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Iliana stared at him wide eyed. For one brief moment when he had smiled, his emerald eyes sparkling with good humor, her husband-to-be had taken on the look of an entirely different man. He had looked quite handsome for a moment, despite the grime and soot on his face and whatever else was staining it just now. Of course, he had ruined that at once by wiping his mouth on his sleeve and bringing her attention to the fact that the fine, white lawn was hopelessly stained from such repeated actions. Among others. "My Lady?" Sighing, Iliana tore her eyes away from Duncan to peer questioningly at her maid. "'Tis your skirt." The woman gestured and Iliana stood again, twisting her head to peer over one shoulder at the skirt of her gown. There were stains, smudges, and crumbs of food on it just from sitting. There was also a great wet spot on it. Apparently, the bench had not been wholly dry when she had been forced to sit there. From the scent wafting up to her she would have guessed she had sat in a puddle of ale. Frowning, she began brushing at it fretfully. Care for clothing had been hammered into her from a very early age. Clothing was expensive and difficult to replace so far from the city with it's tailors and dressmakers. That being the case, she had never been allowed to run or roll about on the ground with the other children at Wildwood. She had been expected to ever be a little Lady and act with decorum. Her mother would have been appalled at the state of her gown just now. Ebba knelt to try to aid in removing the marks on her skirt, but it quickly became obvious that 'twas an impossible task. Her skirt was ruined, she realized with dismay. "Aye. 'Tis no time like the present." Angus Dunbar's bluff words caught Iliana's attention, dragging it away from her skirt and to the conversation Lord Rolfe and the Bishop were holding with him. "'Tis true," Rolfe murmured now. "The sooner we get this business finished, the sooner we can move on to tending to Lady Seonaid's problem." Turning sharply toward his son, Laird Angus glared at him meaningfully until Duncan sighed and murmured, "Me father does no agree that ye go to Sherwell and force 'is hand. He fears he may agree to the marriage takin' place." Rolfe's eyebrows rose. "But I thought marriage was what you were hoping to achieve for Lady Seonaid?" "Not to that stinkin' sack o' manure English whelp!" Angus snapped furiously. "I see." Rolfe frowned over this, then shook his head helplessly. "I-" he began, only to pause when the Bishop leaned to murmur something in his ear. Nodding his head with relief, the younger man then turned back to his host and forced a smile." Mayhap we should leave this worry for now. Once we've tended to Lady Iliana and your son, we can discuss what to do about Lady Seonaid and Lord Sherwell." There was a moment of tense silence, then Angus nodded grimly. "Aye. I'll inform the men and send one out to fetch Seonaid." "Fetch her? Is she not here?" "Nay. She's gone ahuntin'. She'll no have gone far. 'Twill take no time at all to find her. We can the ceremony when she returns." Brushing her maid's efforts away, Iliana hurried anxiously to Lord Rolfe's side as Angus Dunbar headed for the doors of the keep. "My Lords!" Her gaze slid toward her would-be-husband. He sat where she had left him, but was turned toward them, obviously listening to the conversation. Urging the two men a few steps away, she hissed, "I do not think I can go through with this." "Praise the Lord," Ebba murmured behind her. Lord Rolfe was a little less impressed. Expression blank, he shook his head. "Go through-?" "Have you not looked about you?" She asked with bewilderment. "How could you expect me to live here? How could you expect me to marry him?" She gestured toward the man seated at the table. "He smells. This whole place smells. They are drunken louts. They wreak of spirits. It fair oozes from their very flesh." Rolfe took a look about, noting for the first time the frayed edges that seemed to grace every strip of material in the place, from Duncan's less-than-pristine clothes, to the stained tapestries on the wall. A glance down showed him bones and gristle mixed in with the rushes on the floor, along with several other things he did not care to identify. "Well...Aye 'tis a bit messy," he agreed slowly. "Messy?! 'Tis a pig sty and these people are pigs!" "Mayhap it just needs a woman's touch, Lady Iliana," the Bishop began soothingly, but Iliana was not in a mood to be soothed. "My dear Lord Bishop, the touch of ten thousand women could not set this to rights. These people are barbarians and I will not stay here. Look at my gown from simply sitting on that bench. 'Tis ruined! 'Tis simply impossible. I will not marry him." There was silence for a moment as Lord Rolfe and the Bishop exchanged helpless glances, then the younger man sighed and pulled his trump card. "What of your mother?" Iliana stiffened. A vivid image of her mother's bruised and tear-streaked face filled her mind and she sagged unhappily. She had no choice. She was in dire straits. She needed a strong husband, far from Wildwood, who could keep her safe. 'Twas the only way to free her mother from the hell that had descended on them with her father's death. "Is there no one else I could marry?" she asked dismally now. The Bishop's expression was sympathetic. "I fear not, my Lady. Not someone so far north. 'Sides, the claim has already been made to Greenweld that this contract was arranged by your father ere his death. 'Twas in the letter bearing the King's seal. We could not claim another name now." "No, of course not," she agreed miserably, then sighed unhappily. "I suppose I really have no choice then?" "I fear not," Lord Rolfe agreed gently. "The contract was signed by both Lord Dunbar and the King acting as your guardian in your father's absence. 'Tis done."
Family Tree For
Iliana Wildwood & Duncan Dunbar
Iliana Wildwood & Duncan Dunbar
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