The newly-widowed Lady Eadlin of Mercia yearns for an independent life in control of her own destiny, but King Edward of Wessex has other plans. When he commands her to marry again to forge another political alliance, she flees to a convent in Kent. During a Viking raid, Eadlin is captured and taken to the English Danelaw where she is out of the king’s reach, but her life is again controlled by a powerful man.
After one last Viking raid, Jarl Thorolf plans to put down his sword and farm his lands, which he realizes is the only way to achieve long-term peace in England. However, the young defiant novice whom he enslaves is King Edward's runaway goddaughter and worth a large ransom.
If Eadlin escapes her captor, she risks falling into King Edward’s hands. If she stays, she risks falling in love with the enemy. Captivated by Lady Eadlin, Thorolf must decide whether to protect her or return her to King Edward and prevent war with the Anglo-Saxons. Will he choose peace or love?
She could hear him moving and the splash of water in a wooden bowl, from which he washed every day. She knew he meticulously groomed his hair morning and night, probably with the fine-toothed comb of ivory she had glimpsed once from the doorway.
Tonight the hall was quiet. Only a soft glow from the central fire lit the room. Most in the hall were asleep, the others were quiet.
When Eadlin rolled to face the wall, it wasn’t into darkness that she peered. A light from Thorolf’s room glimmered through the crack in front of her nose. Something had been moved from the wall.
This morning, Ingrid had taken down the woven cloths and washed them. They hung, still damp, over a drying rack.
Thorolf came into view. He was preparing for bed. His hair hung long and blond down his back. That was all Eadlin could see.
He toed off his leather boots and pulled his leather jerkin from his arms before moving towards the wall to hang it on a peg. Returning to the clothes chest that supported his washing bowl, he drew his linen shirt over his head.
Eadlin gasped, then glanced around to check that no one watched her. She turned back.
Thorolf had paused for a moment.
The muscles of his back knit together into a sinuous mass. With each movement, one group rippled, followed by another. His shoulders and arms bulged as he cupped his hands to splash water on his face.
Awareness tingled through her belly. Thorolf straightened and pushed his hair away from his forehead with wet hands. Dampened, it clung to his head.
Restless, Eadlin squirmed on the bench, trying to find a comfortable position.
Her captor paused again, bent over the bowl, then taking a leather strip from the table he straightened and turned to face her. She had an unimpeded view of his naked chest and abdomen.
She felt her face flush. A lightning rod of arousal shafted through her womb, coming to rest between her thighs.
She watched him pull his hair back from his face and tie it to hang down his back, and her body seared with need. With every movement his muscles tensed and relaxed, like water flowing smoothly over a streambed.
She wriggled again. Arousal welled in her cot. Did she moan?
Then Eadlin spared a glance at his face. A slash of red lit his cheeks and his mouth curved in a half smile, whilst his eyes were shadowed and unreadable.
Had he heard her?
Thorolf walked to his bed and undid the cord holding his breeches. They slid to the floor in a rush, revealing his tight, naked buttocks. He leant forward and extinguished the tallow candle set on his clothes chest, replacing the tableau with blackness.
A sigh of disappointment escaped her before she could suppress it. In the dark she twisted on her bed, pressing a hand to her belly, where her insides tingled and contracted.
Her hand slid lower to clutch her throbbing flesh.
Her thoughts lingered on the fascinating scene she had witnessed. That she had experienced such a physical reaction to the sight of Thorolf’s body... her enemy’s body... troubled her and seemed like a betrayal of her Saxon people... the nuns, and the slaughtered and enslaved villagers.
Her body froze with horror.
Isabella Hargreaves writes Romance through the Ages. From the Anglo-Saxon and Danish frontier in tenth century England, to the English Civil War, to Regency London and outback Australia in the 1920s, she has a romance to tell.
Isabella lives in Brisbane, Australia with her family and a house full of pets. Her love of history surfaced in childhood when she subscribed to a history magazine for children. Now she works as a historian, researching and writing about Australian people, places and institutions.
When she's not reading and writing, Isabella loves horse-riding and walking. She dreams of an around-the world trip to indulge these passions.