Sir Robert Alain de Bellencombre has been granted what every man wants: a rich English estate in exchange for his valiant service at the Battle of Hastings. To claim this reward, the Norman knight must wed the estate’s Saxon heiress. Most men would leap at such an opportunity, but for Alain, who broke his vow to his dying mother by failing to protect his youngest brother in battle, it means facing more easily broken vows. But when rumors of rampant thievery, dangerous beasts, and sorcery plaguing a neighboring estate reach his ears, nothing will make him shirk duty to king and country when people’s lives stand at risk. He assumes the guise of a squire to scout the land, its problems, and its lady.
Lady Kendra of Edgarburh has been granted what no woman wants: a forced marriage to an enemy who may be kith or kin to the man who murdered her beloved brother. Compounding her anguish is her failure to awaken the miraculous healing gift bequeathed by their late mother in time to save his life. Although with his dying breath, he made her promise to seek happiness above all, Kendra vows that she shall find neither comfort nor love in the arms of a Norman…unless it snows in July.
Alain is smitten by Lady Kendra from the first moment of their meeting; Kendra feels the forbidden allure of the handsome and courtly Norman “squire.” But a growing evil overshadows everyone, invoking dark forces and ensnaring Kendra in a plot to overthrow the king Alain is oath-bound to serve. Kendra and Alain face a battle unlike any other as their honor, their love, their lives, and even their very souls lie in the balance.
Ruaud joined him, and they headed for the stables. The outlaws’ horses were gone, even the animals the dead men had ridden, leaving a morass of the imprints of boots and hooves in the dew-dampened dirt. Alain studied the swath of tracks leading toward the crossroads and released a sigh.
“Any idea where they might have gone?” Ruaud asked.
“I cannot be certain. On the road’s hard-packed surface, they can ride anywhere without fear of being followed. But I do have a reasonable guess.” Ruaud cocked his head as if inviting Alain to continue. “West. Back to Glastonbury.”
Staring westward, Ruaud let out a low whistle. “For once, I hope you are wrong. I would not like the implications if you are proven right.”
The implications that someone in Sarum knew who they were and the nature of their mission, perhaps having been warned by a traitor in the regent’s employ… Alain couldn’t agree more.
As he turned, an odd print caught his attention. He stooped to trace it.
“Did you find something?” Ruaud asked.
“The innkeeper must have a dog.” An extremely large dog, he surmised, though he couldn’t recall having seen such an animal on the premises. A howl pierced the gloom from afar. Alain stood and gazed in the direction of the eerie sound. “Or perhaps a wolf passed through.”
“And the mere sight of us convinced it to keep going, eh?” Ruaud’s grin looked wan in the moonlight.
Hellish beasts… Alain shrugged.
They warily resumed their course toward the stables and discovered one of the outlaws inside, lying facedown in a puddle of blood. Alain kicked him in the side. The man didn’t move. With his foot he righted the body.
Ecgfrith. Eyes bulging, his throat bore wide, jagged slashes as if he’d been cut with a dull blade.
Or a predator’s teeth.