When Brenna’s father sells her to a band of passing warriors, her only thought is to survive. She doesn’t expect to be claimed by the two fearsome warriors who lead the Berserker clan. Kept in captivity, she is coddled and cared for, treated more like a savior than a slave. Can captivity lead to love? And when she discovers the truth behind the myth of the fearsome warriors, can she accept her place as the Berserkers’ true mate?
The day my stepfather sold me to the Berserkers, I woke at dawn with him leering over me. “Get up.” He made to kick me and I scrambled out of my sleep stupor to my feet.
“I need your help with a delivery.”
I nodded and glanced at my sleeping mother and siblings. I didn’t trust my stepfather around my three younger sisters, but if I was gone with him all day, they’d be safe. I’d taken to carrying a dirk myself. I did not dare kill him; we needed him for food and shelter, but if he attacked me again, I would fight.
My mother’s second husband hated me, ever since the last time he’d tried to take me and I had fought back. My mother was gone to market, and when he tried to grab me, something in me snapped. I would not let him touch me again. I fought, kicking and scratching, and finally grabbing an iron pot and scalding him with heated water.
He bellowed and looked as if he wanted to hurt me, but kept his distance. When my mother returned he pretended like nothing was wrong, but his eyes followed me with hatred and cunning.
Out loud he called me ugly and mocking the scar that marred my neck since a wild dog attacked me when I was young. I ignored this and kept my distance. I’d heard the taunts about my hideous face since the wounds had healed into scars, a mass of silver tissue at my neck.
That morning, I wrapped a scarf over my hair and scarred neck and followed my stepfather, carrying his wares down the old road. At first I thought we were headed to the great market, but when we reached the fork in the road and he went an unfamiliar way, I hesitated. Something wasn’t right.
“This way, cur.” He’d taken to calling me “dog”. He’d taunted me, saying the only sounds I could make were grunts like a beast, so I might as well be one. He was right. The attack had taken my voice by damaging my throat.
If I followed him into the forest and he tried to kill me, I wouldn’t even be able to cry out.
“There’s a rich man who asked for his wares delivered to his door.” He marched on without a backward glance and I followed.
I had lived all my life in the kingdom of Alba, but when my father died and my mother remarried, we moved to my stepfather’s village in the highlands, at the foot of the great, forbidding mountains. There were stories of evil that lived in the dark crevices of the heights, but I’d never believed them.
I knew enough monsters living in plain sight.
The longer we walked, the lower the sun sank in the sky, the more I knew my stepfather was trying to trick me, that there was no rich man waiting for these wares.
When the path curved, and my stepfather stepped out from behind a boulder to surprise me, I was half ready, but before I could reach for my dirk he struck me so hard I fell.
I woke tied to a tree.
The light was lower, heralding dusk. I struggled silently, frantic gasps escaping from my scarred throat. My stepfather stepped into view and I felt a second of relief at a familiar face, before remembering the evil this man had wrought on my body. Whatever he was planning, it would bode ill for me, and my younger sisters. If I didn’t survive, they would eventually share the same fate as mine.
“You’re awake,” he said. “Just in time for the sale.”
I strained but my bonds held fast. As my stepfather approached, I realized that the scarf that I wrapped around my neck to hide my scars had fallen, exposing them. Out of habit, I twitched my head to the side, tucking my bad side towards my shoulder.
My stepfather smirked.
“So ugly,” he sneered. “I could never find a husband for you, but I found someone to take you. A group of warriors passing through who saw you, and want to slake their lust on your sweet body. Who knows, if you please them, they may let you live. But I doubt you’ll survive these men. They’re foreigners, mercenaries, come to fight for the king. Berserkers. If you’re lucky your death will be swift when they tear you apart.”
I’d heard the tales of berserker warriors, fearsome warriors of old. Ageless, timeless, they’d sailed over the seas to the land, plundering, killing, taking slaves, they fought for our kings, and their own. Nothing could stand in their path when they went into a killing rage.
I fought to keep my fear off my face. Berserker’s were a myth, so my stepfather had probably sold me to a band of passing soldiers who would take their pleasure from my flesh before leaving me for dead, or selling me on.
“I could’ve sold you long ago, if I stripped you bare and put a bag over you head to hide those scars.”
His hands pawed at me, and I shied away from his disgusting breath. He slapped me, then tore at my braid, letting my hair spill over my face and shoulders.
Bound as I was, I still could glare at him. I could do nothing to stop the sale, but I hoped my fierce expression told him I’d fight to the death if he tried to force himself on me.
His hand started to wander down towards my breast when a shadow moved on the edge of the clearing. It caught my eye and I startled. My stepfather stepped back as the warriors poured from the trees.
My first thought was that they were not men, but beasts. They prowled forward, dark shapes almost one with the shadows. A few wore animal pelts and held back, lurking on the edge of the woods. Two came forward, wearing the garb of warriors, bristling with weapons. One had dark hair, and the other long, dirty blond with a beard to match.
Their eyes glowed with a terrifying light.
As they approached, the smell of raw meat and blood wafted over us, and my stomach twisted. I was glad my stepfather hadn’t fed me all day, or I would’ve emptied my guts on the ground.
My stepfather’s face and tone took on the wheedling expression I’d seen when he was selling in the market.
“Good evening, sirs,” he cringed before the largest, the blond with hair streaming down his chest.
They were perfectly silent, but the blond approached, fixing me with strange golden eyes.
Their faces were fair enough, but their hulking forms and the quick, light way they moved made me catch my breath. I had never seen such massive men. Beside them, my stepfather looked like an ugly dwarf.
“This is the one you wanted,” my stepfather continued. “She’s healthy and strong. She will be a good slave for you.”
My body would’ve shaken with terror, if I were not bound so tightly.
A dark haired warrior stepped up beside the blond and the two exchanged a look.
“You asked for the one with scars.” My stepfather took my hair and jerked my head back, exposing the horrible, silvery mass. I shut my eyes, tears squeezing out at the sudden pain and humiliation.
The next thing I knew, my stepfather’s grip loosened. A grunt, and I opened my eyes to see the dark haired warrior standing at my side. My stepfather sprawled on the ground as if he’d been pushed.
The blond leader prodded a boot into my stepfather’s side.
“Get up,” the blond said, in a voice that was more a growl than a human sound. It curdled my blood. My stepfather scrambled to his feet.
The black haired man cut away the last of my bonds, and I sagged forward. I would’ve fallen but he caught me easily and set me on my feet, keeping his arms around me. I was not the smallest woman, but he was a giant. Muscles bulged in his arms and chest, but he held me carefully. I stared at him, taking in his raven dark hair and strange gold eyes.
He tucked me closer to his muscled body.
Meanwhile, my stepfather whined. “I just wanted to show you the scars—”
Again that frightening growl from the blond. “You don’t touch what is ours.”
“I don’t want to touch her.” My stepfather spat.
Despite myself, I cowered against the man who held me. A stranger I had never met, he was still a safer haven than my stepfather.
“I only wish to make sure you are satisfied, milords. Do you want to sample her?” my stepfather asked in an evil tone. He wanted to see me torn apart.
A growl rumbled under my ear and I lifted my head. Who were these men, these great warriors who had bought and paid for me? The arms around my body were strong and solid, inescapable, but the gold eyes looking down at me were kind. The warrior ran his thumb across the pad of my lips, and his fingers were gentle for such a large, violent looking warrior. Under the scent of blood, he smelled of snow and sharp cold, a clean scent.
He pressed his face against my head, breathing in a deep breath.
The blond was looking at us.
“It’s her,” the black haired man growled, his voice so guttural. “This is the one.”
One of his hands came to cover the side of my face and throat, holding my face to his chest in a protective gesture.
I closed my eyes, relaxing in the solid warmth of the warrior’s body.
A clink of gold, and the deed was done. I’d been sold.