Edin's embrace

Edin's embrace by Nadine Crenshaw Read Free Book Online

Book: Edin's embrace by Nadine Crenshaw Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nadine Crenshaw
then shone again. Some of them pranced like war horses, drunk on Edin's wedding wine. One blood-spattered youth stumbled off into the dark with his treasure sack and had to be brought back.
    Two others were too wounded to stumble anywhere. The one called Rolf was half-leading, half-carrying the man who had nearly cracked Edin's head open. And the grey-eyed giant's outline was visible against the background of fire as he helped carry someone who hung limp between him and another man. When they put this one down, she recognized him as the man who had murdered the housecarl. He looked nearer death than life, lying on his back with his face to the heavens, his breath hissing through his clenched teeth.
    One or two others walked slowly to the mound, like men who had come a long distance and were nigh exhausted. Edin herself was swaying on her knees. All the captives were kneeling, most with their palms together beneath their chins and their lips moving in prayer.
    Cedric's murderer shouldered through to them. He nodded to the burly man guarding them. This one, spear in one hand, shield in the other, barked something strange and heathen at the Saxons. Naturally the Norse words made no sense to them, yet a shimmer of apprehension passed through them.
    The Viking repeated his order, this time using his spear point to urge Lothere to his feet. They were being told to stand, and they obeyed, Edin included. They bunched together, rubbing against one another like deer that had caught a sudden, pungent whiff of wolf scent. Edin, dressed in nothing but her flimsy under-shift, had no modesty left at this point, and what good would it have done her anyway?
    The Viking lined them up, and now the grey-eyed one, as if resigned to a distasteful job, slid his sword into its scabbard, lifted off his helmet and flung it down. He had a truly magnificent head of yellow hair. His golden arm ring and the one big bead he wore as an amulet winked in the firelight. He started at the far end and made his way along, looking each Saxon over. He examined hands, felt arms and legs, looked into mouths and at the straightness of backs. Many were rejected by him: the dairy woman, who was getting along in years; a field serf who looked as if he'd been pressed for decades between the pages of a heavy book; and many others.
    When he got to Edin, he blinked slowly. She saw malice beneath his heavy eyelids. She stared back at him with what she hoped was frigid haughtiness. In return, he gripped her upper arm with a mighty hand, pushed her back and looked her over sharply — not her face, as one person looks at another, but her body. He turned her around, as if turning an inanimate object, presumably to look at her backside. When he turned her to face him again, she didn't resist. He reached for her hands. Her chest gave two sharp heaves. He couldn't help but notice, but there was no change in his expression. He was the tallest man she'd ever beheld, tall and muscular in his mail war shirt, and dangerous. His hard, battle-stained fingers turned her palms up. Unlike the other captives, she had no calluses, and for that she felt suddenly vulnerable. She clenched her fingers shut. His eyes lifted and met hers at last, his expression still grim.
    He felt her head. At first she thought he meant to take it between those strong capable hands and crush it, but he only found the place where her skull had met the wall so hard. His fingers measured the size of the lump, drawing a small sound of pain from her. He left off, yet his touch hesitated in her hair an instant longer, finally lifting a few strands and letting them fall from his fingertips.
    Squatting, he felt under the hem of her shift with one rough palm. There was snickering among the men surrounding them, and Edin realized why: This was not the same examination he'd given the others. He wasn't looking for strength of muscle. His palm was open. He was testing the smoothness of her skin rather than the strength of her

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