From fastâgrowing USA Today bestseller Linda Needham, a medieval historical romance between a young maiden and the powerful knight who's taken over guardianship of her castle â and of her.
"By the rood, Lady Talia, that bloody Lord Rufus be the meanest, ugliest bugger there ever was!"
Mustn't forget cruel, malicious, and stone-stupid, Talia thought, but didn't dare say to Leod, else the dear old warrior and his compatriots might take the matter of Lord Rufus into their own hands.
"Mean and ugly or no," Talia whispered, swallowing the cold panic that had settled against her heart, "in just a few minutes Lord Rufus will be my husband."
Husband. Dear Lord, the word tasted bitter.
"Hell's hoary hound, girl, y'can't marry that Pig-snouted bastard!"
"It's not a matter of choice, Quigley," Talia said, a darkly distant thunder shifting her off-balance as she stepped into the firelit shadows of her castle courtyard. "I'm Rufus's Ward."
And this time there would be no escaping the inevitable.
No escaping the horrid ogre waiting for her to join him on the chapel steps.
To marry him.
This time there'd be no army to come crashing through the castle gates, like the last time.
No act of God, like the time before, no broken siege.
No royal warrant in trade for her wardship, like the first.
No escape at all from this marriage to Rufus.
"When you reach the chapel steps, my lady, stand clear of the blighter, and I'll put an arrow through 'is empty black heart."
"You'll do nothing of the sort, Jasper." That's just what she needed; Rufus's men tearing her father's old archers to pieces. She took hold of the man's bony arm. "You'll each behave yourselves tonight, else you'll have worse than Rufus to answer to."
Talia heard the three men grumbling as they all set off again toward the chapel. She suffered another soul-hollowing chill as the sky rumbled and thundered again, as the night wind slipped over the timber-picketed battlements, whirling together clouds of glistening leaves and sparks from the fire baskets.
"Gor, Rufus!" someone shouted over the milling mass of brutish soldiers. "There your lady be!"
The crowd laughed and parted only wide enough for Talia and her old champions.
"Mmmmmm ... Tasty, she looks to me."
"'E's waiting for ya, yer bridegroom is. Stiff as a pike, I'll wager."
On she went, through the serpentine corridor of jeering, ogling men, stinking with drink and neglect.
So like their master.
There he was, strutting around at the bottom of the chapel steps.
Her gluttonous, barely human guardian turned husband-to-be, downing a flagon of ale and grabbing another from a cowering page.
Rufus de Graffe.
Mother Mary, where was a true warrior when she needed one? Her very own Green Knight to slay these dragon whelps and their unspeakable master?
A man who would keep this unrelenting war at bay, who'd keep her people warm and fed and secure in their homes.
Who'd be a husband to cherish?
Just one more miracle. And I'll never ask again.
"There she is, Father John," Rufus bellowed, his ale-slitted eyes gleaming at her, "my little bride. All pink and clean and ready for me."
Aye, ready to lose her stomach as the ghastly man staggered and stumbled toward her through the drunken crowd.
Please God, let the great ass drink himself into a stupor long before our wedding chamber is blessed.
"Come here, girl." Rufus clenched her upper arm between his bruising fingers and yanked her up against his barrel chest, his foul breath flipping her stomach on end.
"Keep your bloody -- " But Quigley's outraged shout ended behind Jasper's hand.
"Please, let's get on with it, Father John," Talia said, easily yanking out of Rufus's reeking embrace. She took the few steps toward the chapel, terrified that the old warriors would draw Rufus's wrath...