Pebbles crunched beneath the mare’s
hooves, the sound breaching the eerie stillness of the night. An owl released a
startled screech of protest. It rustled the leaves of a gnarly oak, took flight
and soared across the full, ringed moon.
Isobel Fitzjames held a gasp captive
within her throat. Her heart galloped in her chest and sweat pooled between her
breasts. She had recently been stripped of her magic by that wily thief, Falcon
Montague—or Robin Hood as those in English society referred to him with disgust.
Aye, stripped of her magic, apart that is, from when she’s in Lancelot
Fridwulf’s company. And damn it all to Hades, Lance most definitely was not
present. Therefore to be devoid of her powers for the first time in hundreds of
years gave her immense cause to worry, particularly tonight as she traveled
She scanned the clearing and attempted
without success to calm the hackles rising on the back of her perspiring neck.
Where was that bastard, Vychan? Had the queen’s favored knight duped her after
all? She gulped. Mayhap she had been lured into a trap?
"Good evening, milady." The ominous
voice of the soldier rang familiar just as she prepared to dig her heels into
her mount and flee.
She tightened her grip on the dagger
held beneath her cape and whirled her mount around. "Vychan, is that you? Show
your face at once or our agreement shall be annulled."
"Aye, Isobel, ’tis me." Vychan stepped
out from behind a lofty pine, his mammoth frame unmistakable even by the dark of
Isobel caught a glimpse of his steed’s
silhouette behind him. The regally outfitted beast had been tethered near a
stream. The narrow snake of water appeared visible only at intervals as the
overhead tree limbs swayed in the midnight breeze and allowed spears of
intermittent moonlight to glitter upon its surface. A thick ray of lunar light
flashed to the left as a sudden gust of wind tossed branches and sent shadows
scurrying. It was there in that fleeting moment that she learned he’d been lax
in his judgment for she could not mistake the shimmer of his sword nor the bulk
of his bow, both left behind and secured to the saddle.
Apparently he thought of her as no
threat. Her mouth compressed. If she had possession of her powers, she could
easily make him rue that assumption.
She eased out a quiet rush of air from
her lungs. "I have the first half of the gold." She reached down and caressed
the bulging bag of coins dangling from her saddle. The cool, heavy weight of it
rested reassuringly against her thigh. It was her only hope of righting the
wrongs done her hence she would not relinquish the remainder unless given
tomorrow’s promised proof—the sight of Lance’s handsome face. "Let us get this
bargain underway before your beloved queen changes the rules yet again."
Vychan sauntered toward her. Twigs
snapped beneath his fine warrior’s boots. He halted his steps so near to her she
could feel the heat rising from his armored body. She held her breath when his
sweaty stench wafted up to smother her.
"Careful, milady, lest Her Highness
catches wind of your words and misconstrues them to imply that you do not take
her as your beloved queen."
She clenched her jaw and spoke through
her teeth. "No one rules me, sir, whether ’tis Queen Mary or God above himself."
He trailed a finger down her leg. A
disgusting gurgle of lust vibrated his knotted throat. "Were I to rule you, you
would be begging for my…leadership."
She shivered, suppressing a wave of
nausea and the instinct to kick him. "Get your filthy hand off me. I would
rather die than allow your vile touch." Her fingers fondled the cool handle of
her concealed weapon. The reflex overwhelmed her to whip out her dagger and
slice his arm into ribbons.
Rein in your emotions, Isobel. That tempting action would
only prevent you from ultimately reclaiming your magic and rescuing Lance from
Even in the dim twilight she could see
that his scarred face screwed into a snarl. His beady eyes glowered up at her
making her think of a rabid wolf. He licked his thin lips and scoffed, "Surely
you jest. From what I understand, you prefer to be presided over by not one, but
two men at once. And might I add there are many in Our Highness’s army who I
could recruit for such luscious—"
She had the blade against his throat so
swiftly it could have been by the blessed force of her magic. But Isobel knew
better. That despicable bandit Montague was mostly to blame for her current
vulnerabilities and lack of powers.
And by the
Druid gods and goddesses, she would see that he paid whether her immortality
became reinstated or nay.