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Tears of the Dragon

By: Cyndi Friberg | Other books by Cyndi Friberg
Published By: Anything-but-Ordinary Books
Published: Jan 08, 2013
ISBN # 978988300149
Word Count: 76,932
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Categories: Romance>Paranormal/Horror Romance>Fantasy Romance>Historical Medieval

Neither wars, nor famine, nor Fairy curses have intimidated Lady Rowena of Pendragon, but now she’s locked in a battle of wills with Dominic of Capstow. Dominic is William Marshal’s trusted knight, and the regent has sent him to escort her to court so she can face charges brought forth by her scheming stepfather.

She’s infuriated, insulted, and intrigued. Dominic is by far the most attractive man she has ever encountered. He’s dangerous, appealing, and she needs him in her bed for reasons she dare not reveal. Knowing little about seduction, but more than willing to learn, Lady Rowena sets out on a conquest of her own.

The stakes are high, higher even than Lady Rowena realizes. For the Fairy curse is real and dark forces are at work, ready to tear the young lovers apart and rob them of their happily ever after.
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He emerged from the darkness like a specter, moonlight glistening off his chain mail and the massive black horse beneath him. His hand rested upon the hilt of the lethal-looking sword strapped to his side. The gesture should not have been so intimidating, given the distance separating them, but Lady Rowena of Pendragon trembled all the same.

“If you persist in this foolishness, I will lay siege to your castle,” the dark knight called out in strong, articulate Norman French.

Rowena squared her shoulders and pressed her hands against the stone ledge of the battlement. She had been summoned to the forward tower some moments before by the frantic urging of one of her castle guards. One would think Satan himself had appeared at her drawbridge, not this one knight with a handful of men.

“Pendragon Castle has never succumbed to a siege, and many have tried. You don’t frighten me!”

“I don’t want your fear, my lady. I want your cooperation. Storming your defenses will give me no pleasure, but I've orders from—”

“I understand your orders,” she interrupted. “It’s your misfortune that your needs are incompatible with mine. I cannot leave Pendragon Castle at this time.”


Rowena glared impatiently at Farrell, her steward. He stood behind her, his expression a potent mixture of anxiety and fear. She couldn't fathom what had him so distraught, but she stopped his interruption with an upraised hand.

“Lower the drawbridge, so we can discuss this like civilized people,” the dark knight tried again.

“There is nothing to discuss. You've requested that I accompany you on some fool’s errand, and I've refused. That is the end of it.”

“Milady,” Farrell repeated more urgently. “You should—”

“I should what? Allow myself to be duped by one of Edwin’s tricks?”

“Lady Rowena!” The stranger’s bellow demanded her attention. “The night is chill, and I am weary of your stubbornness. Lower the bridge!”

“If I allow you in, you will only have to leave come first light. I am not going anywhere with you.” Though shaken inside, she did her best to sound assertive. Edwin had tried all manner of intimidation over the past few weeks, but this felt different somehow.

“You will accompany me regardless of your preference. If I must, I shall complete my mission with you bound and gagged over the back of my horse. Now open or pay the price!”

Rowena didn't respond well to ultimatums. “Seek shelter in the village and be off my land by Prime!”

Not waiting to hear his response, she turned from the opening in the guard tower and shoved her way past several stunned soldiers. The long-distance conversation was only straining her voice and fraying her nerves. She descended the narrow stone steps, emerging in the lower bailey.

“Was it wise to dismiss him out of hand?”

Rowena glanced over her shoulder and found Farrell half a step behind her. A steward was a valued member of any castle’s staff, but Farrell was more than just her steward. He was her mentor, her adviser and her friend. “What else could I do?”

“Invite him in, serve him mead, and explain your position.”

She smiled and slowed her pace just a bit. “Did you hear what he said? He threatened to abduct me if I continued to refuse him. Edwin has tried some despicable things in the past, but this—”

“Edwin did not send this man. I tried to tell you in the tower.”

“Tried to tell me what?” Rowena faced Farrell.

“Did you look at the message he sent you earlier? Did you study the seal before you broke it?”

Chagrined by his gentle reproach, Rowena asked, “What of it?”

“He claims to be Dominic of Chapstow.”

Farrell’s tone implied she should recognize the name. Anxious energy set her in motion. They climbed the stone steps of the keep together, and she glanced at him while he pulled open the heavy door. “I remember his name, Farrell.” Stepping past him and into the great hall, Rowena moved to the hearth in the center of the room.

“If his claim is true, you should have invited him in.”

“Who, pray tell, is Dominic of Chapstow? And why does his name ensure him better treatment than other men?”

“Have you heard the name William Marshal?”

Biting back a sarcastic retort, Rowena took a moment to unfasten her ermine-trimmed cloak. She handed the garment to a passing servant then continued the conversation. “William Marshal is the regent of England, Farrell. I have heard his name a time or two.”

“William is also the Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Chapstow Castle.”

“Sir Dominic is William Marshal’s man?” Her heart sank. “Oh my, I should have let him in.”

Farrell smiled but made no further comment on her blunder.

“Edwin has me so off balance,” she whispered. “I thought only to protect what’s mine.”

“He will not retreat, milady. He will most likely present himself again at daybreak, and I suggest you let him in. You have already introduced him to the Shrew of Pendragon, perhaps on the morrow he can meet Lady Rowena.”

If Farrell knew how badly it stung each time she was called the Shrew of Pendragon, he’d never have repeated the unwanted title. But she carefully hid her feelings, maintaining an unshakable composure. No one must ever guess the fear concealed beneath her fire and bluster. “I pray you’re right. I don’t need another enemy.”

“I’ll return to the tower. If Sir Dominic is still in sight, shall I send for you?”

“Aye. What a muck I've made of this.”

Inclining his head, he moved away.

Rowena stared into the fire, which had been carefully banked for the night. The hall was quiet and clean, but it hadn't always been so. She could still remember the neglect and disorder that greeted her five years before.

Large iron wheels filled with costly candles hung suspended by chains from the massive oak trusses. The candles were only lit for special occasions. Their real purpose was to impress visitors. On ordinary days, smoky torches, one at each corner of the hall, provided inadequate lighting. Sprigs of lavender and mint had been scattered among the rushes covering the floor. The scent was pleasant but subtle. Numerous long tables had been dismantled and stacked against the outer walls, making room for the villeins and workmen to bed down for the night.

Stepping away from the central hearth, Rowena moved toward the head table at the far end of the hall. The head table couldn't be dismantled and it rested upon a low stone dais. An enormous, elaborately carved wooden chair dominated the center of the arrangement. Rowena’s eyes automatically gravitated to the chair.
Gaston's chair.

But this was her hall!

Rowena had made it hers through long hours of hard work and determination. And Edwin would not take it away, not while breath still stirred within her body.

The door at the other end of the hall banged open, snatching Rowena from her thoughts. Farrell stood framed in the threshold.

“Come quickly, milady,” he called. “He has breached the castle walls.”

“What?” The word burst from her, propelled by disbelief. “’Tis impossible.”

Shouts and pandemonium greeted them as they reached the lower bailey. Farrell rushed on to explain that the drawbridge had been lowered without the proper order, a guard had been found dead and the portcullis had risen, seemingly of its own volition.

None of it made any sense to Rowena, so she focused more closely on the scene surrounding her. Archers had manned the walls, and the castle knights were rushing about with no apparent order or direction. She scanned the area for Ludlow, the captain of the guards.

Before she could locate him or comprehend the chaos, an eerie hush descended over the bailey. Like thick, cloying fog, the tension became palpable. She heard a horse nicker, and then the line of her best knights parted, as if directed by some unseen hand.

Destriers were always large and intimidating, but never had Rowena seen a horse so mammoth or magnificent. Its long, glossy mane gleamed in the moonlight. Condensation rolled from its nostrils like smoke. The solid black coat made it appear as if the beast had been fashioned from the darkness itself.

Raising her gaze to the rider, she forgot all about the horse. From the guard tower, he’d looked much as any other knight, a large man concealed beneath chain mail and a thick surcoat. But now the moonlight provided dimension and detail. Rowena felt her world tip out of balance. His metal helm was tucked beneath one massive arm while the night wind played through his long, dark hair. Even in the dense night shadows, Rowena couldn't miss the flash of his gaze.

“Dominic of Chapstow is also called Undaunted,” Farrell whispered from beside her.

Rowena didn't respond. She couldn't take her eyes from the invader. How had he gotten within the walls of her castle? Why had someone not launched an arrow through his neck as soon as he uncovered his head?
Because no one wanted to start a war with William Marshal. She hadn't known this man’s reputation, but thankfully her knights had.

From the impressive proportions of his body to the fierce arrangement of his features, he emanated power. With lithe agility, he dismounted, his heavy mail apparently no hindrance to the fluidity of his movements.

His men rode in behind him, quickly forming a menacing circle. In an instant, she and Farrell were trapped within the ring, face-to-face with the dark knight. He tossed the helm to one of his soldiers, striding directly toward Rowena. Her insides quivered and throat constricted. He was huge—and obviously furious.

His mail-covered hands closed around her upper arms, jerking her violently forward. She collided with his chest. He shook her once, hard, and then glared down into her upturned face.

“I have killed men for far less insult than you dealt me this night. Never has my simplest request been met with such discourtesy.” After sneering the words directly into her face, he shoved her away.

Rowena stumbled backward, barely catching herself before she fell to the dirt at his feet. “You accuse me of discourtesy and insult, but you are the one issuing threats.” With quicksilver speed, anger evaporated her fear. “I've explained that I am unable to leave my castle. That is all the explanation any honorable knight should require.”

He rejected the statement with a harsh laugh. Rowena planted her fists on her hips. Heat burned her cheeks.

Farrell smoothly stepped between her and Sir Dominic. “Might I suggest we move this conversation into the hall? Surely, you’d both be more comfortable having this discussion over a tankard of mead or ale?”

Remembering Farrell’s earlier words, Rowena reined in her temper. She still had no intention of going anywhere with this beast, but she must find out how he’d breached her defenses. If he could get in, so could Edwin.

“Farrell is correct,” she said softly. “Shall we away to my hall? I would be honored to extend my hospitality.”

Another burst of laughter assured Rowena he hadn't missed the possessiveness in her invitation.

“Farrell, please ask Ludlow to see to the needs of Sir Dominic’s men.”

She turned back to the knight. “If you will follow me.”

She didn't wait to see if he accepted her invitation. Spinning on the ball of her foot, she maneuvered between two of his soldiers and marched toward the keep. Never before had she been this angry—or this afraid. Her world was coming unraveled and this man was gleefully tugging the string.

Tears of the Dragon

By: Cyndi Friberg