Monday, April 27, 2015

Medieval Monday with Cathy MacRae

What is Medieval Monday? Fall in love with new stories and find new authors. Each Monday for the next 12 weeks another author will share the cover and excerpt from their story. Today it's Cathy MacRae’s turn.
The Highlander’s Outlaw Bride by Cathy MacRae
Thrust into the role of laird upon his father's unexpected death, Connor MacLaurey returns home to find his cousin has usurped his lands and title. Furthermore, his betrothed--a lass he barely knows and certainly did not agree to marry--is hunted by the sheriff, accused of stealing cattle. His plan is to petition the king for clemency for the foolish chit, break the betrothal, and take his castle back from his treacherous cousin. Marriage is not in his plans.
Brianna Douglas has no desire for marriage. Widowed young, berated daily for failing to give her first husband a child, and sent home in subsequent disgrace, she devotes her life to holding her family's land for her young brother as their sotted father drowns his sorrow in whisky over her mother's death. Raiders have hit her clan hard, and to save them, she finds herself betrothed to Laird MacLaurey's absent son to seal a pact of protection with the MacLaurey clan.
Forced into a marriage neither wants, it will take a king's edict and sacrifice from both to discover what love means. But can they accept their losses and learn from their mistakes before Brianna marries another?
Her step quickened and she fled the room to the stairway leading to her chamber. An iron grip on her arm yanked her to a stop and she whirled to face him, his expression black with fury.
“Let go of me!” she hissed angrily.
Conn released her arm, but did not move away. “What do ye think ye are about? Are ye dead set on being hanged?”
“The king pardoned me.”
“Aye, for reiving. Disobedience to the king is treason and will also get ye hanged.”
Brianna eyed him narrowly, unable to quell her toe as it tapped the stone floor impatiently. “I dinnae want to marry.”
“Well, there will be none to wed ye from the gallows.” He loomed over her, his expression darker still. “And I could have refused ye for yer lack of respect.”
“Lack of respect? I said naught that is not on any other’s tongue, m’laird.”
“Ye know naught of me or my past year in France.”
“Enough to know I dinnae want to be shackled to a skirt-chaser like yerself. I dinnae want such disrespect in my marriage, either!”
Conn exhaled a long breath. “Why are ye so against this marriage?”
“Are ye daft? What is there to recommend it?”
“The reivers—“
“Have stripped my clan of their wealth.”
“Yer dowry is of no importance to me. However, I do find myself in need of an heir.”
Furious, Brianna tossed her head. “Ye would do better to find a woman ye know will give ye one. I have no desire to be that woman.”
“Is that so?” The soft tone of his voice did not match the fire she saw in his eyes. She shook off the frisson of longing before it woke the passion his voice ignited in her, and did not flinch as she spoke the lie.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Medieval Monday with Ashley York

What is Medieval Monday? Fall in love with new stories and find new authors. Each Monday for the next 12 weeks another author will share the cover and excerpt from their story. Today it's Ashley York’s turn.
The Gentle Knight by Ashley York
A medieval soldier returns home to find his lover died in childbirth just as his own mother had. Believing he is cursed, Peter of Normandy turns from love. When he must give escort to an Irish princess more noble than many knights, he struggles with his decision to live a solitary life. Can he take the chance that his love won’t be a death sentence and possibly make them stronger?
Padraig MacNaughton’s death bed decree rips his daughter, Brighit, from the shelter of her protective clan in Ireland. Forced to take vows at a Priory in England, she finds herself in the hands of lecherous mercenaries with their own agendas. Dare she trust the Norman knight to see her safely to her new life as a nun? Even when she finds in him the fulfillment of all she’s ever wanted?
Or will honor and duty eclipse their one chance for happiness?
She had dreamed of him! All at once it came to her. He had taken her into his strong arms and held her tight against that hard body. Every muscle pressing into her. Then the touch of his warm lips sliding along her cheek to meet her mouth with a hungry kiss. Brighit had actually felt his lips on hers and that same heat swirled through her now.
She sighed. Yes. It was a very nice dream.
The shock of cold air accompanied with the sound of the curtain being dragged back had her eyes flying open. There in front of her was the man from the lake... the one in her very real dream. In the flash of a second, his eyes changed from wide with shock to a look she’d swear spoke of pleasure.
“And what is this?” He tipped his chin toward her, a knowing smile gracing his pleasing face.
Brighit covered herself. One arm across her breasts and one hand over her private parts. She felt like Eve posing in the Garden of Eden.
The sudden silence stole her breath away. She refused to confirm it but knew all eyes were on her.
“Do you mind?” Ivan’s voice cut through the awkward moment as he stood next to the carriage. He yanked the curtain from the fine-looking man’s hand, dropping it back in place. Brighit was again cocooned in darkness.
“Yours?” The man’s voice was low, resonating through her core. It was as appealing as his body.
She took a steadying breath, trying to calm her nerves enough to cover herself. She couldn’t have done a better job of calling attention to herself if she’d tried.
Just how many men were out there? How many men had seen her without so much as a stitch of clothing? She yanked the chemise down but it refused to cooperate. The sopping material bunched at her hips. She grabbed at her gown, her hands shaking with the rage coursing inside her.
That now familiar sound of fist-against-flesh cut through the silence.
An unfamiliar laugh. His laugh. A slight tremor responded through her insides.
“Mort,” the handsome man called to someone.
The indistinct image of a shorter man with a gaping mouth came to mind. “Yes, my lord?”
“I believe this man was about to take a terrible misstep with his fist. Does it seem to you these men have a certain…lack of knowledge?” he asked.
What arrogance!
Ivan’s angry face came to mind. She shivered. The handsome man did not know who he was dealing with.
“I would say that it does.” The shorter man was closer now.
“Mayhap some learning is required?”
“Do you believe it’s possible, my lord? Are they trainable?”
“They have a naked woman in a carriage while they fight out here over who will get her.”
She gasped, a soundless intake of air. Like a standard being dropped, the men talked at once. Tears threatened and a few leaked down her cheek. She wiped them away. She was only trying to clean herself not be fought over. Who was he to say such cruel things about her?
The morning had started out so promising. They’d had a nice time breaking their fast with very little interaction at all. Cole’s offer of extra water had come as a surprise but not one she wanted to miss.
Sudden silence. Brighit held her breath.
“And what would your name be?”
“I am called Ivan.”
“And this…young lady?”
This was just getting worse and worse. His words fairly dripped derision.
“Brighit.” She answered for herself albeit through a clenched jaw from within the carriage.
“Ireland? You’ve taken her from Ireland?”
Brighit was surprised at his ability to name where she’d come from. She wished she were still there... any place but here. This was infuriating. She could not go out there now. They may have imagined her naked and their occasional lustful glances assured her that they did. But to have them actually see her was beyond embarrassment. Embarrassment only increased by the fact that at least two of them weren’t even known to her.
“That I have.” Ivan’s smug voice drifted to her.
“Please clothe yourself forthwith.”
He must be facing her now for he sounded very close. A warmth tingled up her spine. No! His voice may be low and quiet but there was nothing intimate about this situation. She struggled with the ties up the front of her dress.
“It’s what I’ve been trying to do.” Her irritation came through in her tone of voice. Good!
“And I wonder why you have not been successful thus far.” He had the nerve to sound irritated? “Just do it... and be quick about it.”
Arrogance oozed from the man!
“Yes, my lord.” She clipped her words, struggling with her wimple, and hoped her sarcasm carried through the curtain.
“Hurry up.”
“I am hurrying!” Her thick hair refused to cooperate but she was not about to go out there with so much as a single strand visible.
The man cleared his throat. Brighit would like to take a knife to it. He may be pleasant to look at but his manners lacked even the slightest courtesy.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Medieval Monday with Lauren Linwood

What is Medieval Monday? Fall in love with new stories and find new authors. Each Monday for the next 12 weeks another author will share the cover and excerpt from their story. Today it's Lauren Linwood's turn.

Music For My Soul by Lauren Linwood

As the third wife of an abusive French vineyard owner, Madeleine Bouchard hasn’t produced the expected heir after three years of marriage. Fearing he plans to kill her, she flees during a trip to England. Unable to make her way home, she joins a troupe of traveling mummers and reinvents herself as the only woman troubadour in the land, captivating audiences with both song and story.

Nobleman Garrett Montayne’s fascination with Madeleine causes him to pay the troupe to bypass their next stop in order to journey to his estate. Though he suspects Madeleine of being a thief with dark secrets, love blossoms between them under the magical moon of summer solstice.

But Madeleine’s past is about to catch up with her, as her husband is set to arrive to conduct business with Garrett. Madeleine determines to free herself from her loveless marriage and make a new life with Garrett, no matter what the cost.


             Garrett peered into the angry face of the woman who haunted his dreams by night and left him absent-minded by day. Their encounter had been brief, but he doubted he had ever met a more remarkable woman. Not even his petite Lynnette had brought such a sweet longing to his loins as did the bewitching creature before him.
            Her honeyed hair, loosened from its intricate braid, curled around her shoulders. Tiny beads of sweat had formed just above her upper lip. Without thinking, Garrett reached his thumb towards her and wiped it away. She flinched slightly, her dark, amethyst eyes glowering at him.
            Garrett smiled in spite of himself, offering her a hand to pull her to her feet. He had forgotten how very tall she was as she stared at him, her cheeks flushed with anger.
            “Perhaps we could arrange a trade?” he suggested.
            She eyed him suspiciously. “I’m not sure if I could trust you, my lord,” she countered.
            “Trust me?” he sputtered. “This, from the woman who traipsed about the countryside claiming to be my wife?”
            She shrugged nonchalantly, an almost Gallic air about her. She didn’t sound French, but there was an unmistakable manner to her movement. Garrett spent enough time in France to recognize the behavior. However, when she spoke, he quickly put it from his mind.
            “I chose a bloody awful name to scare away anyone who accosted me on the road! How was I to know I’d run into you?” She snorted in an unladylike fashion. “I had heard tales of the wicked Lord Montayne, how he frightened old and young alike and gobbled up babes for his dinner. Why, the very mention of his name would cause grown men to plead for their lives and their loved ones. Oh, no, my lord, I was an honest liar. You were the one who resorted to trickery and hid your true identity from me."
            Her accusation so startled Garrett his jaw flew open. No sound came out for a moment. The woman lifted her chin high and turned on her heel. That brought Garrett into motion.
            He grabbed her elbow and pulled her around to face him. “Not so fast, my lady.” He studied her a second.  Her eyes narrowed at him, but she remained silent. Finally faced with her visage square in front of him, Garrett was at a loss of what to do. His emotions swirled out of control as he spoke.
            “’Tis curiosity,” he sputtered.
            She looked puzzled. “Curiosity?” she echoed.
            He nodded, his words spilling forth rapidly. “I know not who you are, nor where you come from. I’ve dreamed of you since that night only to awaken to an emptiness.” His voice became low and tinged with sadness. “I don’t even know your name.”


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Monday, April 6, 2015

Medieval Monday with Ruth A. Casie

What is Medieval Monday? Fall in love with new stories and find new authors. Each Monday for the next 12 weeks another author will share the cover and excerpt from their story. Today it's my turn.

Knight of Rapture
He crossed the centuries to find her…
For months Lord Arik has been trying to find the right combination of runes to create the precise spell to rescue his wife, Rebeka, but the druid knight will soon discover that reaching her four hundred years in the future is only the beginning of his quest. He arrives in the 21st century to find her memory of him erased, his legacy on the brink of destruction, and traces of dark magick at every turn.
A threat has followed…
Bran, the dark druid, is more determined than ever to get his revenge. His evil has spread across the centuries. Arik will lose all. Time is his weapon, and he’s made sure his plan leaves no one dear to Arik, in past or present, safe from the destruction.
But their enemy has overlooked the strongest magick of all…
Professor Rebeka Tyler is dealing with more than just a faulty memory. Ownership of Fayne Manor, her home, has been called into question. Convenient accidents begin happening putting those she cares for in the line of fire. And then there’s the unexpected arrival of a strange man dressed like he belonged in a medieval fair—a man who somehow is always around when needed, and always on her mind. She doesn’t know who to trust. But one thing is certain. Her family line and manor have survived for over eleven centuries. She won’t let them fall, not on her watch… in any century.

"A thrilling and emotionally evocative tale filled with adventure, love and hope. Casie's weaved an exciting medieval fantasy romance series that I can't get enough of."
...Eliza Knight, USA Today bestselling author

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Chapter One

September 22, 1605 – Early Morning
Visions of his warm bed and even warmer wife lit Lord Arik’s face. A deep rich chuckle rumbled in his chest at the vivid images of how he’d wake Rebeka.
Who would have thought the great druid Grand Master was a besotted bridegroom? The summer had been warm and all the sweeter with Rebeka by his side.
He stood on the open terrace at the back of the manor, surveyed his domain and swelled with pride. Fayne Manor was a thriving estate that had been the family home for eleven centuries and it would stand for eleven more.
While he waited for the sun to rise, he prepared for the ritual. He took off his linen shirt and braced himself for the crisp September air. The morning breeze stirred sending the red and orange leaves racing across the garden, twisting and tumbling like rowdy children at play.
Out of the corner of his eye he sensed a movement but nothing was there. It sobered him. The Shade, an otherworldly thing, was an old acquaintance begging for an audience. Like an old woman with aches and pains predicting bad weather, the Shade’s shadow warned him of trouble. What did it bring this time? He had learned long ago to listen to it. It was accurate, most of the time. He glanced at manor door. A little longer. He wanted more time to love her before he began her training. Dark Magick. Faith. She wouldn’t be the same when they were done. He didn’t want any changes. She was fine the way she was.
He placed his shirt on the stone railing as the sky brightened. Any moment the small sliver of golden sun would crest the rim of hill then he would ask the Great Mother to grant his people a good day.
His nostrils flared. The trace of a sweet pungent metallic smell sobered him. He tried to push it aside but it remained at the edge of his mind stealing the last of his pleasure. Lightning. The smile slid off his face. For everyone’s safety he needed to take action—he recognized the signature.
He cleared his mind for the ritual and thoughts of Bran faded—for the moment.
“Hail and welcome,” he declared to the east as fingers of sunlight stretched over the hill. His body warmed as the tattooed runes draped across his back and chest, thrummed and brightened. They were a sign of his station as the druid Grand Master. Each rune strengthened his power and had been earned as he progressed in the Order from Druid to Master to the ultimate title of Grand Master. “Thank you, Great Mother for giving us another day, a day of peace…“
And, he murmured, for giving me Rebeka.
The lingering mist faded with the morning sun. Like a cozy down blanket pulled from a bed, the retreating haze revealed the thriving village and farms.
Soon the quiet valley would come to life. Farmers would set off on their daily chores, the villagers would open their shops, and his soldiers would take to the practice fields. His chest swelled. Was it a sin to be proud of what he, together his people, had accomplished? He’d do anything for them, anything to protect their hearths and homes.
He closed his eyes for the morning blessing. “As above, so below. As within, so—.“ He took a deep breath and caught the faint scent of lavender and roses. The teasing fragrance announced Rebeka was near. Her morning appearance, with his tankard of watered ale, had become part of his ritual. “…so without,” he continued the rite. “May guidance and love mark our way. And bring success for our clan today. So mote it be.” He opened his eyes.
“The day appears promising.” Rebeka’s voice brought a smile to his lips. She tugged her shawl closer around her shoulders. “M’lord.” Soft puffs of breath surrounded her mouth. There was indeed a chill in the morning air. She gave him his discarded shirt and waited while he shrugged into it before handing him his ale.
She had little on beneath her great shawl. It made his mind wander. “Yes. It will be a good day.” It was always a good day when it began with her at his side. “Almost as good as last night.” They drove each other mad with their verbal banter and soft touches yesterday until she surrendered to him. His reward was to tease her until she yielded last night. Who knew who would yield today? Either way they both won.
Her gaze slid from his chest to his face. Her searing expression brought back the warmth of their passionate evening. Her flushed skin was her silent response.
He returned his gaze to the valley pretending to be interested in the smoke now rising from a distant chimney. He turned his attention back to her.
Faith, how he loved sparring with her.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught her blank stare. But the challenge was given and he understood it had been accepted. With a long pull on his ale he returned his attention to the curling smudge in the sky and like a game of chess waited for her to make the next move.
She rose on tip toes and bathed his ear with her soft breath. “But not as good as tonight will be,” she whispered. “We celebrate Samhain tonight.”
He didn’t try to hide his arousal. He set the tankard on the wide stone railing before the ale sloshed over its rim.
“Happy thoughts for the day, husband.” She laid her hand on his chest and bent to kiss his cheek.
He caught her around her waist and brought her face to his. How he adored the passion in her violet eyes. They asked for more. He answered with a searing kiss and teased her mouth open with his tongue. She didn’t protest. Instead she moved closer molding her body into his, fitting like a key in a lock. Encouraged, his tongue swept her mouth and he reveled at the sweet taste. When he released her she stood in the crook of his arm, her head on his chest with his cheek resting on her hair. Quiet and content, he savored the last few moments while the sun rose over the edge of the hill.
“Wife, you surprise me with the… thoughts you put in my mind.” His blood heated at the mere idea of his musings.
“I didn’t…”
“Yes, I know… But if you did mind touch and put thoughts in my head I know what they would be.” Mind touching was a special skill. No Druid would trespass another’s mind. It was a grave violation. She would never abuse her ability.
The sound of footsteps from the Great Hall interrupted them. “Arik? Ah, here you are.” Logan, his younger brother peeked out the terrace door. “Are you ready to leave? The sun rose hours ago. I thought we’d breakfast with the men and start maneuvers today.” Logan gave Rebeka a devilish nod. He casually filched Arik’s forgotten tankard and took a deep swallow.
Arik observed the bottom of the sun clear the eastern hill. “Hours?” He shook his head and let out a snort. Threading his fingers through Rebeka’s he gave them a tender squeeze. He had wanted more time with her. He always wanted more time with her. But for now their game was over, at least until tonight. “Hours,” Arik muttered while he released her then took the tankard out of Logan’s hand. “And get your own ale. Better yet, get yourself a wife to bring it to you,” he told Logan in feigned aggravation before he drained the tankard dry.
“Ah, but where will I find one like Rebeka?” Another nod for his sister-in-law. Rebeka bobbed a quick curtsey and tried not to laugh.
Find one like Rebeka, indeed. There was no one like her, but good sense told him Logan would find a love of his own. He earned that. A cool morning breeze stirred the bottom of Rebeka’s thin night dress and she shivered.
“Go get something warmer on before you catch your death,” Arik whispered in her ear. She nodded and scooted into the house.
“Maneuvers today?” Arik glanced at Logan and observed his pleasure turn to concern. “The winter’s coming. We should make sure the farms are prepared, there’s enough food stored, and the necessary repairs have been made before the snow.” He had hoped the calm that his valiant soldiers fought to achieve in August would last longer. “There’s still more to teach Rebeka. She’s not ready to face Bran.”
“She came through the portal to return to you. She’s strong. We need her skills to defeat Bran. We can’t do it without her.” Logan didn’t hide his impatience. “Yet you haven’t taught her about Dark Magick. Instead you hide it from her. And I know why.” Arik almost sneered at Logan. This was an old argument. Logan would have had him start her training after their wedding night.
“You’re afraid she won’t be able to control it, that she’ll become like Bran. Don’t you see she’s made of stronger stuff?” Arik waved him off. He stepped away to put space between them. But space wouldn’t help.
Who did he fool, certainly not Logan. Arik glanced at his brother and recognized his silent strength. The only fool here was him. He couldn’t continue with this idyllic illusion. Logan was right. He had been delaying teaching her. He knew Dark Magick would test her, change her. And he wanted her just the way she was.
“After years of being battle ready the men have earned more than a two month furlough,” Arik said in one last effort to put Logan off. The air was alive with Logan’s unspoken objection. He was losing this battle. He glimpsed at Rebeka. Faith, he didn’t want anything to change. She signaled him with a slight nod. He was lost. He couldn’t fight them both. “We’ll recall the men.”
“I put out the word. Many of the men arrived last night. I’ve told them to meet us at the garrison this morning.” It was Logan’s turn to find the smoke from the distant chimney interesting.
“You haven’t forgotten about the portal,” Logan said. Rebeka returned in her morning dress and shawl
Ah, this was the crux of the matter. Maximillian’s last time travel portal still existed. Arik had sealed all of the others except this one in order to leave Rebeka one opportunity to go back to the 21st century. She valued her independence and ability to determine her own destiny. It challenged him but he loved her for it. He couldn’t seal it, trap her here. It had to be her choice.
“We’ve spoken about closing the portal on Samhain,” Logan said. Magick was strongest on the first day of spring, with its balance of light and dark. He needed that magick to finish the former Grand Master’s work.
“I agree with Logan. Seal the portal and begin my training.” Arik stood next to Rebeka she had no idea what she asked.
He brought her around to face him and peered into her eyes. “I can’t undo the magick once it’s done. You must be sure.” Would she regret not returning? He needed her to be certain.
“My father took me to the future to protect me. All my life I’ve been searching for something without knowing what it was. When I came to Fayne Manor, your Fayne Manor, I knew I had found what I had been searching for.” She held him close. “You. Here is where I belong. Why would I want to be anywhere else? Seal the portal now, forever, before anything happens.”
“She’s right. Seal the portal before Bran finds a way to use it.” Logan echoed before he started took to the terrace steps on his way towards the manor gate.
“Wait,” Arik called after him. “I’ll go to the garrison with you.” He trotted down the steps and caught up with Logan.
“So, you recalled the men. You were certain I’d agree.” He had considered calling the men after Samhain. A few days earlier were fine with him. But he hadn’t wanted to start Rebeka’s training. He glanced back at her standing on the terrace. Logan was right. They needed his sorceress wife’s strength.
“Of course you would agree. Once you reviewed the situation from every angle. Besides, you’ve sensed the Shade, too. We both know it’s time.”
Arik threw his arm around Logan’s shoulder. When had the adoring younger brother become a knowledgeable man, a good friend and soldier? “I thought I heard them gathering when I prepared for the morning ritual. While you organize the men I’ll see to the portal. I’ll meet you at the practice field when I’m done.”

Rebeka watched the brothers leave through the garden gate and marveled at their similarities. People moved out of their way to let them pass. Their self-confidence and air of authority was obvious to everyone. Arik gave the appearance of one who demanded instant obedience. Logan was quick to learn the skill. From the back they were difficult to tell apart. But she would recognize Arik anywhere. He moved with a smoothness and grace that excited her.
She took the empty tankard then entered the Great Hall ready for breakfast. Maybe later, when she finished harvesting herbs, she’d take the trail from the meadow that passed by the practice field. She pursed her lips at the idea. It was more than watching her sweaty husband half undressed practicing with his men.
No, she set a wicked smile on her face.
It was all about watching her sweaty husband half undressed.
“Are you going to gather herbs in the meadow?” Skylar said while she spread jam on her morning bread. “If you don’t need help, I thought I’d cheer the soldiers on while they practiced.”
“And how did you know the men would gather today? You shouldn’t eavesdrop.” Skylar’s scarlet blush flashed up her neck to her checks. Rebeka bit her lip to keep from smiling while she took her seat at the table. Skylar’s embarrassment told her she was right.
Cheer on the men? Rebeka was more inclined to believe that Skylar meant to cheer on her Robert. And how different was that from her watching her Arik?
“Rebeka.” Aubrey, the younger of the two girls, interrupted, oblivious to her sister’s discomfort. “I can go with you. I’m sure Elfrida wouldn’t mind.”
Elfrida, the oldest person in the village, lived alone in large house on the path to the lake. She had been Skylar and Aubrey’s nurse, and even Rebeka’s nurse. Some said the woman was so ancient that she had been the nurse for the Ancients who lived in the Otherworld.
Her nurse. She hadn’t remembered Elfrida when she returned. She hadn’t remembered anyone. When her father took her to the 21st century to protect her from Bran and his Dark Magick he clouded her memory with an enchantment.
Skylar’s head rose. “It’s not that I don’t want to go with you.” The bread in Skylar’s fingers was poised in midair. The pleading expression on her face melted Rebeka. It was obvious to her that Skylar wanted to do both but who could compete with the handsome Robert. The boy searched for any opportunity to spend time at the manor house.
Young love.
Rebeka laughed. “Go ahead to the practice field but don’t stay too long. Jeannie and the other women will need help with the tables and food.” Skylar popped the last of the toast into her mouth then got to her feet. “How do I look?” She brushed imaginary crumbs and wrinkles from her skirt.
“Don’t shine too much or you’ll blind Robert.” Rebeka shook her head then realized that being older and in love wasn’t much different.
“I’ll be back in plenty of time.” Skylar rushed from the room.
Rebeka’s gaze slid to Aubrey. “What wouldn’t Elfrida mind?”
“We’re making sachets for the festival. I can tell her I’m coming later.” A frown settled on Aubrey’s face. “I do like helping her. She always tells old stories about the family.” Aubrey licked the jam from her fingers. “Skylar likes to listen to them too. She pretends she’s grown up but you should see her when Elfrida starts. Her face gets all dreamy.” She wiped her hands on her napkin.
Elfrida, a born storyteller, held everyone’s attention with her tales of the different families. She’d been a source for Rebeka, helping her fill in some of the spaces to recall the past once the enchantment was broken. “I’m helping in the village when I’m finished in the meadow. You make your sachets with Elfrida. When you’re finished meet me by the baker. We can volunteer to sample the meat pies.”
Aubrey’s face broke into a broad smile. Rebeka was glad to see the young girl happy and animated. It had been a few months ago that Cousin Katherine had bullied and harassed her. A distant cousin of Arik’s, Katherine arrived for a visit and stayed on after Arik’s sister Leticia death. Without a woman in the house, Katherine had taken on more and more household control until she ran Fayne Manor.
But Katherine was gone.
Now Aubrey’s face was bright and she chatted almost as much as her sister, if that was possible. The change had been startling. She had been withdrawn and almost never spoke. Everyone in the manor and the village had been concerned. Katherine had found Aubrey’s vulnerable spot, Leticia. The more Aubrey tried to hold on to her mother’s memory, the more Katherine bullied her.
Katherine, the witch. The very idea of the woman made her blood boil. Katherine had tried to keep Arik under her power and isolate him from everyone.
It wasn’t all Katherine’s fault, it was Bran’s. It had taken little for him to manipulate the woman’s already jealous and spiteful mind—giving her the tools to plot against her family. When she realized Arik would never be a part of her twisted dream, to be the true mistress of Faye Manor, she used the tools Bran gave her for he own purposes. With murder in her heart she was determined to see her dreams fulfilled.
Memories of what happened at the standing stones and portal filled her mind. She had been caught in the magick gateway. Arik had been intent to get her out. He didn’t see Katherine attacking him from behind. But she did.
She threw her dirk and hit her mark. Arik got her out of the portal. But while Katherine lay wounded she taunted them. She admitted she had killed Leticia. The pain that had crossed Arik’s face had broken her heart. The woman had kept on laughing until Arik swung his sword and silenced her forever.
Rebeka glanced at Aubrey finishing her meal. No regrets. She’d do it again to save those she loved. But when would Arik understood the man behind everything, Bran, was beyond saving?
There was no way he could turn back.
She understood the devastation that Bran suffered when his wife, Cay, died but that was a long over used excuse. He was aware of the consequences of using dark magick before he began. Everything had consequences and some couldn’t be avoided. Arik knew that better than most in his capacity as Grand Master and lord of Fayne Manor.
“Rebeka, is something wrong?” Aubrey asked.
“Nothing’s wrong. Reminiscing.” She pushed Bran out of her mind and concentrated on her breakfast.
“You’d better hurry and get over to Elfrida,” Jeannie told Aubrey when she came in from the kitchen, carrying an empty tray. “I left some scraps of material in a basket by the garden door. You can take those with you to make your sachets. And don’t forget the flower petals you gathered.”
“I won’t.” Aubrey dusted the toast crumbs off her hands and rose. She leaned over to Rebeka. “I’ll meet you in the bakers as soon as I’m done.” She hurried off through the kitchen.
Jeannie set the tray on the table and collected the dishes. “And you’d better hurry, too. I’ll need those herbs. I’m making the herb goat cheese you’re fond of.” Jeannie gave her a sideways glance.
Rebeka licked her lips thinking about the creamy cheese. It was a recipe she’d made for Jeannie, one she learned in the 21st century. “Yes, ma’am,” she said as she too left the room.

The day was bright and mild, a good day for a festival. Not a cloud in the sky. A breeze carried the hint of cooler days to come. After the hot summer, the day was a perfect relief.
The aroma of fresh baked bread wafted up to the manor and drew Rebeka into the village. Happy and content, she leaned against a table in the market square, eating the last bite of the warm crusty bread slathered with sweet creamy butter.
“You approve?” Mary’s voice grabbed her attention. “You told me you were eager to see everyone.” Rebeka had a special place in her heart for Mary.
“This is perfect. The aroma of the hot bread,” she lifted hers in salute, “is better than any alarm bell. My mouth watered as soon as I stepped outside the gate.” She leaned her head towards Mary.” And I’d already eaten.”
Rebeka glanced past Mary at the crowd milling around the table and the clutches of chattering neighbors who had been hard at work with the harvesting and preparing for winter. It reminded her of the 21st century coffee wagon.
“The loaves were set out to cool when Lord Arik rode through the village with Doward. I gave them a large slab for their ride.” Mary pulled Rebeka around to face her. “Is it true he goes to seal the last portal? You’re not going back?”
“Yes. This is where I belong and where I want to be.” All those early concerns about how she had arrived at the manor. The irony was laughable. The Lord Knight of Fayne Manor was the Druid Grand Master—the ultimate magician. And she’d worried his people wouldn’t be able to accept that she’d traveled through time. Yet when he’d tried to explain his magick she considered him to be primitive. How absurd and narrow-minded.
“Mary.” One of the other women waved her over to another table.
“I’ll be right there,” she called out. She turned back to Rebeka. “Wait until you see what we’ve planned. I know I shouldn’t say anything but it’s your first fall festival as lady of the manor and we have a surprise for you.” The woman was excited she couldn’t stand still, but hopped from one foot to the other.
Rebeka laughed. “You don’t have to do anything special. Not because I’m lady of the house.”
Mary took Rebeka’s hands. “You’re right but being lady of the house isn’t why everyone wanted to do something special for you. You are an inspiration. You lead by example. You’re smart, fair minded, and yes, maybe a bit strong willed. To me, you’re my valued friend.”
Rebeka paused, “You know you mean as much to me.” Mary was the first in the village to befriend her, an outsider. All her life she shied away from attachments with a sense of not belonging. But she didn’t retreat from Mary.
“Mary.” The woman’s call grew more insistent.
“Coming,” Mary shouted. She squeezed Rebeka’s hands. “Of course I do. And understand I am not the only one who recognizes the good and caring person you are. Everyone does.” One final squeeze and she hurried off. Rebeka stared after her.
In the 21st century she and her father, an authority on Celtic history, lived near a rural college campus. It was only the two of them. She surmised that her parents must have been very much in love. He never spoke about her mother nor did he have any pictures of her. She asked questions but got short unsatisfying answers. Over time, she stopped asking. They stayed to themselves most of the time. He died when she was a freshman in college and believed she had no family and belonged nowhere until she discovered her place and her people. She only had to travel back in time four centuries to find them.
“They need more bread.” Marcus, Arik’s captain stood next to her. “Skylar and the older girls set a table by the practice field to serve the men. She mentioned the villagers were gathering here. I came to see. Was this,” he motioned to the people in the square, “your idea?” He nodded his thanks to the young boy who handed him a tankard.
“No, the morning gathering was Mary’s idea.” Her eyes moved from one group of people to the next. The villagers greeted the arriving tenants and their families with shouts and laughter. The small children ran about while the older ones chatted, the boys on one side and the girls on the other. More bread came out of the ovens and barrels of ale from the brewer.
Marcus’ gaze spanned the crowd. His satisfaction and approval was apparent from the broad grin on his face. “Most of the men have arrived. The practice field is filled to capacity.” He brought his tankard to his lips but before he took a sip he gave her a teasing smile. “Lord Arik will be wrestling later. You may want to watch.” He drained his tankard.
How did Marcus know she enjoyed watching Arik?
“Don’t look surprised. You’re secret is safe with me.” He had a pleased expression on his face. Marcus, too, was a good friend. He was the second, after Logan, to pledge himself to her after she married Arik. “My soldiers have found their ale and are taking a few kegs for the field.” He nodded towards a knot of men hefting barrels on their shoulder. “If you’ll excuse me I have to get back. This was a fine idea. Everyone’s looking forward to the banquet tonight. I hope you and Arik will sing for us. You were the highlight of the summer celebration. What was the song you sang?”
She reflected for a moment. “Row, row, row your boat.” She had taught Arik, Logan and the girls to sing the song in a round one evening after dinner. They taught the song to the villagers at the summer bonfire. She saw a different side of him at the festive. Not the warrior but the man. That was when she realized she loved him. “I’m certain if you ask him he won’t say no.” Marcus titled his head in salute then followed his men. She observed him exchange his empty tankard for a piece of bread when he passed the last table.
She glanced around and absorbed the warmth and closeness of family and friends and her love for Arik. How could he think she would ever want to leave? She slipped on her empty backpack and took her staff. If she hurried, she could harvest the herbs then watch Arik on the field. That would still leave her time to meet Aubrey by the baker.