The Earl of Dentin excels in his position as Securer of the Realm. But the king’s order to pluck an orphaned child from a loving home unsettles Dentin. When a dark-eyed woman challenges his honor regarding the mission, Dentin finds himself unable to justify his actions or get her out of his mind. Something about her lack of fear intrigues him. Lady Elsa Reeve attempts to avoid the marriage of convenience her brother and mother demand of her. She understands the need to pay off her brother’s massive debt. She only wants her family to consider her wishes in the process. As Elsa becomes further entangled in a snare of her brother’s creating, only one man defends her. But can she trust Dentin, her unlikely champion, and his motives? With a murderer on the loose, Elsa’s fate in jeopardy, and a traitor plotting against the king, Dentin finds his priorities shifting in an unexpected direction.
A smattering of raindrops cut my ruminations short. I studied the angry gray clouds just as thunder rumbled. I decided running for the keep would be better than waiting the storm out in the shelter of the maze tower. I gathered my skirts up and ran for the opening in the nearest hedge. Even running so hard my lungs burned and my legs ached, the downpour beat me to the shelter of the vargar keep.
Normally safe footing became treacherous in the sudden rush of water. Puddles and slick slate pavers slowed me more. Once gaining the half-open undercroft door, I plunged into the underbelly of the castle and pushed the heavy door closed behind me. Not bothering to check the corridor, I began wringing out my heavy rain-soaked skirt.
“Greetings, Lady Elsa?”
I jumped. It took all of my control not to cry out in surprise at the sound of the male voice. I lifted my head to find Lord Dentin standing not three feet away. He looked like he had just returned from a swim. Water coursed down his face and dripped from his clothes into a growing puddle on the stone floor. A partially dry wool blanket draped his shoulders. His hair, black with moisture, stuck out from his head at odd angles as though he had paused mid rub.
Yet, his eyes were bright and a twitch pulled at his mouth. “It is good to know I wasn’t the only one caught in the sudden downpour.”
Suddenly realizing I was holding my dress up and exposing quite a bit of leg, I dropped my skirts. The slap of them hitting the wet floor echoed down the corridor. I flinched.
His eyebrows rose and an actual smile pulled at his mouth. It took years off his face, revealing the remnants of the mischievous rascal he must have been in boyhood.
“Don’t look so frightened. I won’t tell on you.”
Anger gripped my chest and my chin rose instinctively. “I doubt my mother would care, my lord. She has grown calloused in her despair of me. I beg pardon. I didn’t see you there.”
His smile disappeared and his expression grew thoughtful. “I am a bit hard to miss.”
“True, my lord. I need to proceed to my rooms now and change.”
“By all means. I would not wish you to grow ill. I anticipate an animated conversation at the evening meal.” He stepped back a bit, offering half the narrow hall for me to pass.
I gathered my skirts, keeping the edge just above the floor this time, and stepped through the gap. Then straightening my back and shoulders, I strode down the corridor to the servant’s staircase.
I paused instinctively, but I didn’t turn around. He approached, his boots making squelching sounds on the stone.
“Have this.” He wrapped the wool blanket around my shoulders without actually touching me. It smelled of smoke, rain, and dog, but his residual warmth radiated from it. The heat felt heavenly on my chilled skin. “You need it more than I do.”
Then before I could voice my gratitude, he strode toward the kitchen calling for someone named Reginald.
“Thank you,” I whispered. Clutching the fabric to me, I dropped the pretense of dignity and ran for the stairs. If I was caught in this state of dress, my mother would never let me out of her sight again.
Rachel Rossano is a happily married mother of three children. She spends her days teaching, mothering, and keeping the chaos at bay. After the little ones are in bed, she immerses herself in the fantasy worlds of her books. Tales of romance, adventure, and virtue set in a medieval fantasy world are her preference, but she also writes speculative fantasy and a bit of science fiction.