"Gabrielle Holly spins her stories in a way that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster you'll never forget!"
~Paranormal Romance Junkies

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

FREE READ: Complete 1st Chapter of Viking-age Erotic Romance "Delivering Kadlin"

Hello Darlings!

I'm toiling away at Book 2 in my new supernatural/shapeshifter series "Wolf's Mark." Book one will be out the end of this year from Ellora's Cave. In the meantime, enjoy the complete first chapter of “Delivering Kadlin,” the first in my two-book Viking-age romance series. “Delivering Kadlin” and “Rescuing Kadlin” both feature a hot Viking, a headstrong woman, a little light bondage… oh, and some spanking.
xoxo ~Gabrielle
Still mourning the death of her beloved father, Kadlin is sent to live with her only remaining family and soon finds herself offered up to an aging jarl as payment for her uncle’s gambling debt. The handsome, enigmatic Viking who is tasked with bringing Kadlin to her future husband is harboring painful secrets of his own. Will the Viking be able to heal both of their hearts while delivering Kadlin?

“Delivering Kadlin”
by Gabrielle Holly
Chapter One
Gods forgive me, but I hate him so!
Kadlin stared at the Viking’s back and wished he would be struck dead. He seemed steady in the saddle, but she imagined his mount tossing him to the ground and stomping him until his heart stopped. Perhaps Thor would take pity on her and send a bolt of lightning into the oversized brute. Doubtful. Thor would likely side with the men—her uncle, her captor and the stranger to whom she was to be delivered.
Kadlin and the Viking had left her uncle’s home at dawn, and now, the sun was directly overhead. He had not said a word to her. She thought him big and stupid and surly—just like the bear he was named for. The sun beat down on Kadlin’s dark hair and sent rivulets of sweat into her eyes. It streamed down her back and between her breasts. At every clearing, she thought they would stop and rest, but the stupid “bear” just kept trudging onward. Her thighs ached from squeezing the sides of the skittish pony she rode. The prancing gait was jarring, and the heavy pouch that hung around Kadlin’s waist bounced with every step. Her wrists chafed beneath the rough ropes binding her. Her belly was empty, and her bladder was full. They rounded a stand of spruce, and she heard the sound of rushing water. The need to relieve herself was suddenly urgent.
“Bjorn, I have to stop.”
He growled in response.
Yes, he is a stupid, surly bear.
The path opened onto a clearing that sloped down to a wide stream. The water coursed through a grouping of smooth boulders, causing it to froth and gurgle before flowing into a calmer pool.
Kadlin’s bladder contracted. “I have to stop now!”
The Viking didn’t turn, but slowed his horse and smoothly dismounted. Kadlin’s horse stopped and snorted. Bjorn walked his animal down to the bank, and it lowered its huge head to drink. The Viking trudged back to where Kadlin waited, squirming in the saddle. He didn’t meet her glare but looped his thick arm around her waist and hauled her down, setting her solidly on her feet. He gathered up her horse’s reins and led it to the stream.
“I’ll need my hands,” Kadlin shouted at his back.
He gave no indication that he’d heard her. He waited until her mount had begun drinking beside his before he slowly walked back to where she stood. She held out her bound hands. Bjorn looked down at her, his green eyes searching her brown eyes.
“I’m not going to run,” she spat out. “I don’t even know where I am!”
He combed his fingers back through his long, red-blond hair as if considering what to do.
“Would you have me stand here and piss on your feet?” she snarled.
The Viking looked down at his knee-high leather boots. He smirked then reached out to work loose her constraints. As soon as the last knot was undone, Kadlin turned her back to him, unwound the lengths of rope from her stinging wrists and let the coils fall to the ground then hurried into the bushes.
When she returned, the horses had been hitched to a sapling in the shade and the gear they’d been packing was piled at the center of the clearing.  The Viking was gone. Kadlin wondered how far off he was and how far away she could get while riding his horse bareback and towing her pony behind. They’d come from the west. If she followed the sun, she could be back to the village before sundown.
Kadlin swept her gaze over the edges of the clearing then held her breath to listen. She heard only the sound of the stream, the birds in the trees and the soft huffing of the horses. She slowly blew out her breath and crept to where the horses stood dozing in the shade. Bjorn’s animal roused and tossed his enormous brown head with a snort.
“Shhh,” Kadlin soothed and stroked the horse’s broad forehead.
She reached for the reins, and his eyes widened. He skittered backwards and pawed the mossy earth. Kadlin’s heartbeat quickened. The long black tail began to swish. She realized that not only would she not be able to ride this horse, she was in real danger of being bitten.
Kadlin dropped her hand and began to ease away from the agitated animal. She’d taken two long backward strides before bumping into an immovable mass. She knew before turning that it was the Viking. She spun around and looked up into seething eyes.
“I was only—”
She didn’t bother to finish the lie. The corner of Bjorn’s jaw flared slightly as if he were clenching his teeth. It was no less a signal of danger than the horse’s swishing tail had been. He held a freshly killed rabbit in each hand and gathered both in his right then reached out to her with his left.
She winced when he grabbed her by her abraded wrist, but he took no notice of her discomfort. He’d already looked away. He yanked her into the clearing and roughly shoved her to the ground. She landed on a pile of bags and blankets and glared up at him.
With no other way to express her anger, she crinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue. He pointed at her, making it clear she was not to move from that spot.
Bjorn stomped about the clearing, gathering sticks and kindling. He started a small fire, dressed the two rabbits then set them cook on long sticks. When they were ready, he shoved one towards Kadlin, and she crossed her arms under her breasts.
“Eat,” he demanded. “We won’t stop again until nightfall.”
“Oh, it speaks!’” she jeered.
Kadlin wanted to spit on the food he offered, but the roasted rabbit smelled wonderful and her empty stomach groaned. She snatched the stick from his hand and tore into the tender, juicy meat. She moaned in spite of herself. Bjorn took a long drag from a wineskin then tossed it to her. She gulped the sweet honey mead then tossed the skin back to him.
When she was full, she stood and walked down to the stream then knelt on the sandy shore. After shoving up her sleeves, she washed her face in the blessedly cool water then bowed her head and poured handfuls over the back of her neck. She rinsed her mouth before plunging her hands back under the surface to let the stream soothe her raw wrists.
The Viking knelt down beside her. She stole a look as he stripped off his tunic and washed. His body looked as if it were carved of wood. His skin was smooth and pulled taut over thick muscles. He washed carefully; first his face then his neck. He methodically swished a mouthful of water then spit onto the sand.
Kadlin tried to look away but was snared when he began scrubbing his chest and torso. She was mesmerized by the way the topography of his corded arms changed with each movement.
He turned, caught her admiring him then huffed a self-satisfied chuckle.
Kadlin sneered as she got to her feet and smoothed down her sleeves. “I thought your type didn’t bathe.”
Bjorn shook off his hands and stood. “I thought your type knew when to hold their tongue.”
He slid on his tunic then reached out and grabbed her wrist. “It’s time to go.”
This time her wincing did not go unnoticed. The Viking pushed up one of her sleeves and then the other. He turned her hands over, examining her wrists top and bottom. “Why didn’t you say something?” he thundered.
“Would it have mattered?” she said, pulling away her hands.
“My people are not animals. I am not an animal.”
“No? But they treat other people like animals! Who but an animal would tie up women like cattle and drag them against their will to be handed over to a complete stranger?”
Bjorn shook his head. “And who but an animal would offer up his ward to pay his debts? Perhaps, your uncle should not gamble if he cannot afford the stakes. The jarl isn’t stealing you. You are his due.”
“And what’s in it for you?” she demanded.
“I am earning my land by trading my services to the jarl. Delivering you will be my final payment.”
The Viking walked back to the fire circle, and she glared at his back. His final payment! She bit back angry tears and followed him. He knelt by his saddle and rummaged through one of the tooled leather bags.
Please sit down,” he said, without turning. She didn’t need to see his expression to hear the sarcasm in his voice. She sank to the bare ground and leaned back against a rolled blanket.
He knelt beside her, sat back on his heels and held out his palm. She crossed her arms under her breasts and glared at him.
“May I please tend to your wounds so we can continue on?”
She thrust out one hand. He gently laid it across his thigh and yanked the wooden plug from a hollowed antler tine. It was filled with rendered fat that had been mixed with crushed herbs. Kadlin recognized the smell.
She pulled back her hand. “That’s for horses!”
He placed her hand back on his thigh, more firmly this time. “It’s for wounds.”
He dipped his finger into the medicine then smoothed it over the puffy red stripes on Kadlin’s wrists. She tensed at the sting of the healing plants. The Viking lifted her hand, bowed his head and blew cool air over the balm. Her body relaxed as the pain subsided.
While he tended to her other wrist, she looked down at the back of his head. His hair fell past his shoulders and was shot through with strands the color of copper, bronze and gold. Thin, neat braids hung amid the long waves and were adorned with coins, glass beads and tooled metal baubles. She leaned forward and breathed in his scent. He smelled manly, but clean.
When he’d finished with her wrists, he stood, kicked out the fire then began loading the horses. Kadlin waited until the last pack was secured then held out her arms.
The Viking shook his head. “I’ll not bind you, but do not make me regret it. Roll back your sleeves so you’ll heal.”
“How kind of you,” she said, smirking. She hoped that her disdain was not lost on the stupid ox.
Bjorn helped her onto her pony. “Not kind at all. I can’t very well deliver damaged goods to the jarl.”
* * * *
Gods, give me strength. Just one more task, and my debt will be paid.
For three years Bjorn had provided meat and cheese for the jarl’s table. He’d fashioned tooled leather belts, pouches and wrist bracers for the jarl’s house staff and boatmen. With each exchange, the man had relinquished another tiny parcel of the fertile farmland. The last bit of land to be released was the most coveted. In its borders was a clear, fast-moving stream loaded with fat brown trout. The fish would help feed him, his workers and his future family, for years to come. He could almost taste savory, fire-roasted fish, and the thought made his mouth water.
Certainly, the price he paid now would be worth a future of freedom.
Twice, the Viking had tried to earn his way by sailing under the jarl’s crest, but he was no seaman. His legs had never grown accustomed to the pitch and roll of the ship and his stomach had fared even worse. But all the stumbling and retching he’d endured at sea might be better than his current charge.
Bjorn glanced over his shoulder at Kadlin. She wouldn’t meet his eyes. He thought delivering this troublesome bundle was surely his most daunting payment yet. She was like a little imp, keeping him constantly on guard for her next bit of mischief. To be fair, the jarl should give him not only the stream but the mountains beyond it too for suffering this nightmare. Her horse was wound as tight its rider, and its skittish prancing caused woman’s big breasts to bounce with each step. Bjorn found it hard to look away. She didn’t wear the modest apron dresses of Viking women. In the summer her kind—the Reindeer People—shucked their layers of skins and furs in favor of woven tunics dyed deep blue and belts ornamented with neat rows of beadwork. Men and women alike wore trousers and leather shoes that curled at the toes. Her clothes seemed as if they were made for someone much larger, and the open neck hung too low. With her wrists bound in front, her arms had pressed her breasts together and he’d been enchanted by the long, tight valley of cream-colored skin that peeked out from the divide in the fabric. His penis jerked, and he chuckled. The old jarl won’t know what to do with all that succulent flesh. Surely, the jarl would have more use for the horse than the woman.
He was sorry that he’d had to bind her hands earlier, but she’d left him no choice. When they’d readied to leave her uncle’s home, she’d come at Bjorn with her fingers hooked as if intent on clawing out his eyes. He recalled the feel of her struggling against him when he’d bound her, and his rod stiffened further. The Viking bit down on his tongue until his eyes watered. He was to deliver the woman untouched. Pity, I would know exactly what to do with her.
The fire had died down, and the Viking was snoring softly, his hand still wrapped around the empty wineskin. He’d flung off his blanket, and he lay bare-chested under the moonlit sky. Kadlin’s attention to his carved body was broken by the pain in her own. Her back ached and her thighs felt bruised from the long, brutal ride.
She didn’t know what to make of the Viking’s description of her husband-to-be, the jarl. He was old, so old in fact that Bjorn believed she’d be a widow before three winters had passed. And if she wasn’t? What if the jarl merely grew older and feebler? With no children to care for him, surely the duties would fall to his new bride. She had seen the old ones at the end. Their bodies folded in on themselves, and every step seemed to pain them. Sometimes, half of their body died, leaving one side of the face drooping and one arm hanging dead and limp with a useless clawed hand dangling from the end.
Kadlin stared up through the frame of the treetops at the stars shining from the black velvet sky. The pinpoints of light blurred as the tears filled her eyes. She’d been betrayed by her uncle and, she suspected, to no small degree her aunt, who’d never bothered to hide her dislike for her sister’s only child.
Kadlin had come to them as a young woman, unaccustomed to the wandering ways of her late mother’s people. They followed the reindeer herds, and whole families slept together in hide tents. She hadn’t realized how much solitude had meant to her until it had been stripped away. She longed for the privacy of her old sleeping cupboard and the stability of the strong frame cottage that had been built around it. Kadlin’s father had been a shipbuilder and her mother had seemed perfectly adapted to a more leisurely life than the one she had left behind. But Kadlin had never known anything different, and she had struggled to bend to her adopted family’s routine.   
Learning how to scrape hides, sew clothing, and artfully stitch beads had come slowly to Kadlin and her gaunt, birdlike aunt had expressed her displeasure from the very beginning. Even while Kadlin had still mourned her father, her aunt was loudly muttering about the unfair burden of being stuck with an extra mouth to feed. But her aunt and uncle had plenty to share. For all of his faults, her uncle was a skilled hunter and trapper. They never wanted for meat and there were always enough pelts to trade.
Kadlin suspected her aunt’s complaints had more to do with Kadlin herself. The woman had insisted that Kadlin keep her curls tamed in tight, matronly braids, claiming it was to keep the hair out of the food. And, not long before the Viking had come to fetch her, Kadlin’s aunt had taken to cruelly pinching her below her waist and hissing that Kadlin, “Ate like a cow with hips that were beginning to show it.” Kadlin knew that men didn’t think she looked like a cow and, indeed, often appraised the lush curve of her hips with a feral hunger in their eyes. And the single ones were always more than happy to sneak away with her for a few secret moments. She suspected that her aunt had noticed and that just stoked her hatred.
Kadlin winced when she remembered the ugly smirk on her aunt’s face the morning the Viking had come to collect her. She’d leaned in and hissed in Kadlin’s ear, “It’s a good thing the old jarl didn’t demand a virgin. He let us off easy.”
A sudden, sickening insight burst into Kadlin’s mind, and she sat bolt upright. She knew that her aunt kept a cache of coins and jewels hidden among the furs she slept on. Kadlin had seen it herself. One night she had woken and spied her aunt sitting beside the fire admiring her shiny stash. No doubt she’d amassed her collection slowly over the years, skimming a bauble here and there from the payments her husband earned by trading with the Vikings. Perhaps, she dreamt of finding a more comfortable life as her sister had. A tiny portion of that treasure would surely have been enough to satisfy her husband’s debt. Clearly, her aunt had seized the opportunity to be rid of her “unfair burden.” Kadlin supposed the pony had been a far greater loss to the bitter old hag.
Even if Kadlin could escape her fate, she wouldn’t be able to go back to her home, such as it was. She felt like a boat without anchor or sail. She couldn’t go backward, and she loathed going forward. Despair crashed over her and settled like a millstone on her chest.
The Viking snorted and rolled on his side. Kadlin hugged her knees to her chest and bowed her head, as if making herself small would rein in her galloping thoughts. She looked up to the heavens again and prayed to Freya, or whichever goddess was aware of this insignificant little piece of chattel huddled in a forest clearing. Each breath seemed a struggle as the reality of her future constricted her breast.
The rim of the great sky bowl began to glow with the first hint of dawn. The birds would stir soon, singing their morning song, and the Viking would wake and they would continue this awful trek. They would complete the last leg of the journey that would bring her to her dismal future.
Over Kadlin’s shoulder, the horses huffed quietly in their sleep. They would rouse soon as well.
A shuffling sound at the edge of the clearing drew her attention. She turned and saw an enormous, snow-white buck staring at her. She held her breath, waiting for the beautiful beast to startle and crash back into the forest. Instead, the deer bowed its head as if moving to graze, but his shiny black eyes remained fixed on Kadlin. Perched upon one great antler was a huge black raven, and Kadlin immediately recognized the omen.
“Freya,” Kadlin whispered. The raven spread out its wings.
Kadlin stared in rapt attention. The goddess had been watching over her. The stag stepped into the clearing and walked the perimeter stopping at the head of the trail that had brought them in. The raven turned on the antlers to face Kadlin and opened its wings again.
Kadlin rose, not bothering to look back at the sleeping Viking. She was bolstered by the courage that came from having the goddess lead her. She quietly approached the horses, calmly this time, and Bjorn’s horse did not startle. He leaned his broad forehead into Kadlin’s hand when she reached up to stroke him. She untied the two horses and mounted the Viking’s then walked them slowly up the trail, following behind the stag. The great animal turned onto a hidden path, and Kadlin followed. The raven cawed, spread its wings then flew off. The sky lightened, and the birds began to sing. Kadlin tapped her heels against the horse’s sides.
She brought Bjorn’s big mount to a trot. She didn’t dare go much faster without a saddle. Her cantankerous pony trotted to her right, occasionally tossing his head against the lead. The stag suddenly charged into the underbrush, leaving Kadlin alone on the narrowing path.
Her body tensed. She didn’t know where she was going or what she would do when she got there—wherever “there” was. How would she eat? What would she drink? She had been heading away from the stream.
Kadlin squeezed her thighs against her mount and straightened her spine. The big horse must have felt her demeanor change because he began to toss his head. It seemed the birds were now trilling from every branch. Bjorn would have woken by now and found her gone, and she had barely covered any ground. She knew he couldn’t outrun a horse, but she’d feel much better if she put some distance between her and the Viking.
The brush closed in, and she had to let out the rope that was attached to her pony so he could follow behind. The twittering of the birds reached a crescendo, and the sharp sounds made Kadlin’s skin prickle.
A birdsong like none she’d ever heard cut through the din. Three staccato chirps followed by a drawn-out note caused her to tilt her head. Her mount did the same then stopped dead on the path. Kadlin goaded him with her heels, but the horse wouldn’t move. He stood as if waiting and listening. The song was repeated, and this time the horse wheeled around on the narrow path, his step stuttering as his hooves came down in the thick brush.
“No,” Kadlin cried, struggling with the reins and her pony’s lead.
The two horses were now face-to-face, and Kadlin felt her panic rise.
Again, three short chirps followed by a long note. The Viking’s horse whinnied and shouldered past the smaller pony, sending it skittering off the path. The lead was jerked from her hand, and Kadlin watched helplessly as her pony crashed through the forest straight in the direction of his home paddock.
Kadlin gripped the big horse’s halter with both hands and pulled back, pleading with the beast to stop. The animal would not be dissuaded. He trotted back up the path, his gait steadily increasing. Kadlin tensed her aching thighs but knew that if the horse moved any faster she wouldn’t be able to cling to his bare back. Her mount turned sharply onto the main trail, and she began sliding to one side. The trees seemed to rush by, and when the four-note birdsong rang out again, the horse broke into a full gallop, throwing Kadlin off. She thanked Freya when she landed in a thick growth of ferns. She rolled up on to all fours and watched helplessly as the Viking’s horse thundered away from her and toward what she now realized was his master’s whistle.
* * * *
The moment Kadlin heard the hoof beats returning, she considered diving off of the trail and hiding in the underbrush until the Viking gave up and let her go free to live or die, prosper or starve. But she knew he wouldn’t let her go. He wouldn’t stop until he found her, and she was certain he could do so with little effort. He was at home in the forest and could track any animal with ease. Locating a clumsy girl would be easy.
Instead of running, she stood in the center of the path and did her best to look strong and proud, when she felt only weak and dejected. The Viking’s eyes were ablaze when he caught up to her. His anger showed on his face and in the way he held his body. She was terrified. Even if she hadn’t committed to standing her ground, she would have been unable to flee. She was pinned in place by his glare. His hair was wild from sleep, and he wore only his trousers. His feet and chest were bare.
Bjorn rode up to her side but did not dismount.
“Where’s the pony?” he demanded.
“Headed home,” she spat out.
“You spoiled, little imp! Gods! The jarl will be displeased.”
“Curse the jarl! And curse you too, Viking!”
He reached down, grabbed her upper arm and yanked her belly-first across his lap. Her arms hung down one side of the horse’s neck and her legs down the other as if she were a doe taken down in the hunt. Kadlin’s legs flailed as she tried to reposition herself. Bjorn flattened his palm on her back making it clear that she was not to move.
“Do not kick my horse,” he muttered.
Kadlin could only stare at the ground passing by as they turned around and headed back. She hoped the slow progress would give the Viking a chance to calm down, but when they’d reached camp and were standing face-to-face, it was clear that was not the case. 
Like what you’ve read so far? Find out what happens next. Buy “Delivering Kadlin” today from Resplendence Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks and other great eBook retailers.

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