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.
Her face lost all color. Though she tried to hide her disquiet by adjusting the toddler on her hip, her sudden tension betrayed her. I struck close to something important.
I continued to prod. “Darnay is not a boy easily spooked, but he was convinced Merrill intended to do something terrible to you.”
“Merrill is more of a friend of Barack than me. I hardly speak to him usually. Lately he has been taking more of an interest in me. Perhaps he liked the cut of my new dress.” She tried to toss her dark mane in a flirtatious manner. The movement fell flat. Her honesty shone through despite her intentions.
“I don’t believe you.”
Her chin came up and she glared at me. “Regardless, it is none of your concern, my lord.”
“Considering this is the second time I played hero for you, you owe me something.”
“I never requested help.”
The defiant look in her eye warmed my heart. I much preferred her fire than the alternative. She put on a brave front, but the cracks were showing. This was a woman who felt alone.
“Darnay did,” I pointed out.
“He did, didn’t he?” She sighed, as though giving in after a fight. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome.”
She took a step toward me, obviously assuming I would step aside. I did not.
“I need to deliver Ian to the nursery before he is missed.”
“Not until you tell me more about your dealings with Merrill.”
Gold flashed in the brown depths of her eyes before she diverted her gaze to my feet. “I plot no treason or crime, my lord. My business is my own.” She hefted Ian higher on her hip.
The boy regarded me solemnly. “Food?”
“Soon,” Elsa assured him before turning her full attention to me. “If you will not move, I shall go another way.”
As she turned to do just that, I offered my open hands to the child. He came willingly to me with surprising eagerness. Before she could protest, Ian was securely in my arms. The lad settled his head against my shoulder, stuck his thumb in his mouth, and relaxed.
Elsa stared at me in shock. “So much for the fearsome monster.”
“Now you have to listen to me.”
Her eyebrows quirked and one side of her mouth rose. “Actually I don’t. I could walk away now and leave you to deliver him to the nursery. He seems to have tamed you.”
“Appearances can be deceiving.” Though, I was hardly in a position to demonstrate it.
“I will show you the way.” Striding past me, she set a brisk pace through the hedges.
I followed, using my longer legs to overtake her. “Merrill is an evil man.”
“I have heard the same said of you.”
“He isn’t trustworthy.” I grappled for words to convey a warning about Merrill’s complete lack of moral restraint. I couldn’t exactly start numbering the women he had ruined, numerous though they were. Pointing out that he had committed treason with the princess would be foolish, especially in such a public place. “He is not an honorable man.”
“And you are?”
She turned to confront me so fast I almost plowed her down. As it was, I ground a patch of rosemary into the earth to avoid the collision. Ian protested the abrupt halt with a squeal in my ear. However, Elsa’s flushed features demanded my full attention. She glared up at me.
“You walk into each situation, pronouncing judgment before even assessing the intentions of the people involved. Merrill could have been caught in a perfectly innocent conversation and have the best of the intentions. Did you ask him? No. Did you investigate? No. Yet, you blithely proclaimed words that ruined a man’s reputation without so much as trying to understand what was actually happening. Have you ever considered that no one invited you?”
I frowned in confusion. “Are we still discussing Merrill?”
Her face flushed crimson and then blanched. “Give Ian to me.” She held out her arms.
“Not until tell me what is truly going on between Merrill and you.”
“Keep Ian. Just be sure to deliver him to the nursery before his linens leak. Good day, my lord.” She executed a perfunctory curtsey before whirling on her heel and marching off in the direction of the main entrance to the great hall. I watched her whipping skirts and tried to make sense of her tirade.
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.