Wulfson of Trevelyn, trusted knight of William the Conqueror, has never met a man he could not master. But in the tempestuous young widow Tarian of Trent, known as the Lady Warrior, Wulf may finally have met his match. Ordered by the king to eliminate her traitorous bloodline, Wulf captures the lady but hesitates to execute his orders, falling captive himself to her seductive dark beauty.
To Lady Tarian’s dismay, neither her fighting spirit nor her wiles are sufficient to bend Wulfson completely to her will. As she and Wulfson try to stay one step ahead of the angered King, Tarian vows she will not be the loser in their passionate battle, but her own desire for this overpowering stranger threatens not only her body, and her heart, but both of their lives.
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Scene set up: Wulfson of Trevelyn, captain of William’s elite guard les morts, is sent to Draceadon to eliminate Tarian Godwinson. Murdering her Saxon husband, Earl Malcor of Dunloc, is not her worse crime, being blood niece to the slain Saxon king Harold is.
Wulfson’s heart seemed to stop for one inexorable beat. From behind some type of metal device, a helmet with cross bars and what appeared to be a bridle of sorts, glittering eyes the color of the ocean stared at him. From what he could see of her face, it was a muted mass of bruises. His hands reached out to her, and she hissed and spat like a cat being dunked in water.
“My lady…” Gareth whispered from behind him. Wulfson moved closer to her, his gaze catching every detail: a bloody chemise twisted around her waist, the sharp rise and fall of her breasts was hardly discernable beneath the combined caked blood and dirt of the floor. Deep purple bruises, along with the criss-crossed markings of the lash, etched her arms and thighs. His gaze moved back to hers. In quiet amazement and a grudging respect for the woman who had not only survived such torture but still had fight left in her, he could not look away. He raised his right hand to touch her, to see if she were indeed human. The movement elicited another hiss, followed by a clawed hand digging into his gauntlet, halting his movement. He nodded, and withdrew, but not to ease her comfort. His hand slid to the leather-wrapped hilt of his short sword. As his fingers wrapped around the well-worn grip, he could not tear his eyes from her defiant glare. What kind of woman was this?
Slowly he pulled the weapon from the leather sheath, intending to ease her suffering for all time. As the blade slid from the sheath, his eyes dipped, unable to meet hers when he plunged the dagger deep into her heart. The fullness of her breasts trembled beneath the dirt and blood that covered her. A fleeting stab of regret pricked at his belly. He ignored it and pressed the tip of the blade to what he knew would be a silky-smooth spot between the full globes. As he moved to press the metal into her heart, he made the mistake of looking up into her eyes.
Time halted for the briefest of moments. Transfixed, as if drugged by some potion, Wulfson watched a lone tear track slowly down her cheek, leaving a bloody stream in its wake. And at that precise moment, something deep inside of him shifted.
It was also the same instant Gareth came undone. “She belongs with me!” he called hoarsely, lunging forward. Wulfson flung his hand back, staying the Dane. From the commotion and scuffle behind him, Wulfson knew the man was contained.
Never breaking eye contact with the specter crouched before him, Wulfson said, “Her fate is not in your hands.” Her eyes narrowed at his words, and her back stiffened. In silent defiance, she dared him to harm her.
“Whatever lies Rangor has spilled to your king I can disprove them!” cried Gareth. She is not a witch. She is not a murderess, nor is she an enemy to the crown! I will stake my life on it!”
“She is what she is, sir captain. I cannot change the facts,” Wulfson answered.
“She is with child! Wouldst you murder a babe as well?” Gareth pleaded.
“I doubt even had she been with child it would have survived the torture.”
“Be not so sure of that, Sir Wulfson,” Rangor said from behind him. At Wulfson’s notice, the noble moved to the doorway, filling the space. “The wench has a penchant for survival. With her herbs and spells, she no doubt extracted Malcor’s seed from his unholy body and nurtures not one heir of Dunloc but a spare as well.”
Grabbing the lady’s hands, Wulfson drew her from the dark hole, hoisting her up to her feet. She cried out, collapsing against him. Not wanting to but having no other choice, Wulfson lifted her up into his arms. She weighed not more than a mite. He turned with her in his arms and faced Rangor, Gareth and his men.
“It matters not.” The small body in his arms tightened at his words.
“You are wrong, my stubborn Norman,” said Rangor. “Princess Gwladus of Powys is not only my goddaughter, but first cousin of Malcor, and should her cousin’s heir be murdered in cold blood, her father, the mighty warmonger King Rhiwallon, will be most unhappy. William will lose more than he can calculate. Add to that the lady’s mother is a Welsh abbess and very much alive and in the care of Powys. You would tempt the devils for a fight. Should I school you with regard to her royal blood of the North?”
Wulfson scowled. It seemed the lady’s pedigree extended well beyond Godwinson. Which made her all the more dangerous.
Rangor continued. “Aye, you are wise to listen to reason. The Lady is great-granddaughter of Canute, which makes her kin to most kings of Scandinavian decent. Like the Vikings, the Welsh are not weak, as are the Saxons. The Marches are thick with fortresses and warriors who will stoop to any measure, including witchcraft, to see their homes and their blood kin protected. With the lady’s death by a Norman hand, and even the suspicion she died carrying the heir of Dunloc, there will be more than the wrath of hell to pay. Does William court more loss so soon?”
“Should the lady spill Malcor’s brat, where does that leave you?” Wulfson demanded.
Rangor smiled. “I intend to have the lady as my wife.”
Tarian struggled in his arms, her strength pitiful. He tightened his hold, and she grunted in anger, but settled.
“You would wed with the woman who slew your nephew and raise another’s issue?” Wulfson shook his head and sneered. “I think not.”
“You underestimate my affection for the lady.”
Wulfson made the mistake again of looking down at the bloody, and dirt-encrusted creature in his arms, and she turned her head to look up at him once again. He found himself speechless. Her eyes sparked in furious rage. She turned her head back toward Rangor, the metal of the head device grinding against Wulfson’s vambraces. “Indeed, is this how a Saxon lord courts his lady love?”
Rangor shook his head. He took a step closer. “She is insolent and thinks herself a man’s equal. She has her own army! No wife of mine will dress in mail and sit like a man astride a warhorse. Her—punishment, though a bit harsh, is but a way to show her who is lord here. She would have come around, if not to save herself, then the child she may carry. Marriage to me would be the justice I exact for her murder she committed.”
Wulfson contemplated the dilemma. If the loss of life was forgiven by the family, and if the lady carried the heir to Dunloc, blood kin to the Welsh kings, and word got out William slew her in cold blood—things would not settle well for his liege, to be sure. For the Welsh had aligned with Harold, and now aligned with Edric, the wild and unpredictable Saxon Earl of Mercia.
But, he thought, should her womb prove empty, then there would be less cause for alarm. Rangor may think he would wed with her, but William would choose a Norman bride for the new earl and be done with the Lady Tarian. Wulfson nodded. Prudence over haste ruled this day. By an unforeseen twist of fate, the Lady Tarian had managed to buy a few more days on this earth.
He would immediately send word to William, of course. In the mean time? He handed her off to Gareth, who gladly claimed her. “See that the lady is returned to her chamber. “Time will tell us if her womb bears fruit.” And as he said those words, Wulfson had the most uneasy feeling that, despite the outcome, his orders would remain the same, for the child, whilst it may be kin to the Welsh kings, would also be kin to a dead king, and that bloodline could not be resurrected under any circumstance.
“Captain, see the lady to her chamber, and her maid secured,” Wulfson directed, then turned to Rangor. “You, milord, are forbidden to see the lady under any circumstance. Should you do so and be found out, you may consider yourself a prisoner of the realm.”
Not giving the ignoble a chance to argue the point, Wulfson swept past him, shoving the slighter man aside with a well-placed shoulder. His anger tangled with his frustration over the sudden change of events. He was a knight of William, a warrior, a killer, and here he was to languish, waiting for proof positive that an enemy of the Crown show signs of a pregnancy!
“Sir Wulfson!” Gareth called. “The key for the helmet and bridle, please.”
Wulfson growled low, and though wanting no further dalliance with the lady, he would not release the keys to the captain. Wulfson jammed one of the smaller keys on the leather ring he had taken from Rangor into the device, and turned it. The metal scraped, but the lock turned and the split face of the mask popped open. The lady gasped, as if a huge pressure on her skull had been relieved. Deep indentations near her temples and forehead looked angry and red. Wulfson swore under his breath, then took the same key to the wide metal bit strapped around the bottom portion of her head.
As the metal piece clanked against her teeth then rolled from her mouth, her small her small sigh of relief tested his resolve. Her lips were swollen, but when she licked them he saw straight white teeth behind them. His gaze met hers, and for the third time since he had laid eyes on her, something deep inside him twisted. Her eyes did not spark fire, now they had warmed and glittered unnaturally.
“Merci,” she said, her voice nothing but a husky rasp. Wulfson clicked his spurs together and nodded, then turned on his heel and nearly ran from the chamber.