Heather Graham The Viking's Woman

ISBN 13: 9780440244738

The Viking's Woman

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9780440244738: The Viking's Woman

Her wild spirit made him crave her...

Her firebrand—hair blazed as glorious as a sunrise. Her long limbs promised the sweet mysteries of the night. Rhiannon, King Alfred’s favorite niece, was enraged when her uncle sealed an alliance of war by pledging her to Eric, the towering golden-haired prince whose blue eyes penetrated her with a glacial stare. But the more she fought the marriage . . . the man . . . the more she became inflamed by the fire that lay beneath his Viking ice.

His passion pierced her heart...

His broad shoulders as hard as the steel of his sword, Eric bowed to no man. The only battle he feared losing was with Rhiannon. For she had reached into the savage recesses of his heart. No campaign on the field, no treason from within, would he fight as fiercely–or with such desire . . . as the war he waged to possess what was his.

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About the Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham has written over one hundred novels and novellas including category, romantic suspense, historical romance, and paranormal. Married since high school graduation and the mother of five, her greatest love in life remains her family, but she also believes her career has been an incredible gift. Romance Writers of America presented Heather with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One


The first dragon's prow appeared upon the horizon at the same time that the first stroke of lightning sizzled across the sky and the first mighty crack of thunder drummed throughout the heavens.

And then there was a sea of dragon prows, striking new terror into weary hearts. Tall and savage upon the water, like mythical beasts, they sailed in, raining devastation and slaughter.

The fury of the Norseman was well-known along the Saxon coastlines of England. The Danes had wreaked havoc upon the land for years, and all Christendom had learned to stand and tremble at the sight of the swift dragon ships, the scourge of land and sea.

The ships came from the east that day, but no man or woman viewing the host of Viking ships that caught a wind that threatened sails, dared pause to ponder that fact. They saw the endless shields that lined the ships, prow and aft, and they saw that the wind, not the oarsmen, advanced the ships like the wrath of God.

Lightning sizzled and snapped and lit up the gray, swirling sky. The wind whistled and roared, and then screamed, as if to portend the blood and violence to come. Red and white, the Viking sails slashed across the dark and deadly gunmetal sky, defying the vicious wind.

Rhiannon was in her chapel when the first alarm was shouted. She prayed for the men who would do battle against the Danes at Rochester. She prayed for Alfred, her cousin and king, and she prayed for Rowan, whom she loved.

She had not expected danger to darken her coast. Most of her men were gone to serve with the king as the Danes were amassing to the south. She was without help.

"My lady!" Egmund, her most loyal, aging warrior, long of service to her family, found her in the chapel upon her knees. "My lady! Dragon prows!"

For a moment she thought he had lost his mind. "Dragon prows?" she repeated.

"On the horizon. Coming for us!"

"From the east?"

"Aye, from the east!"

Rhiannon leapt to her feet and raced from the chapel, finding the stairs to the wooden walls that surrounded her manor house. She hurried along the parapets, staring out to sea.

They were coming. Just as Egmund had warned her.

She felt sick to her stomach. She almost screamed in fear and agony. All of her life she had been fighting. The Danes had descended upon England like a swarm of locusts, and they had brought with them bloodshed and terror. They had killed her father. She would never forget holding him and willing him to breathe again. Alfred fought the Danes and defeated them often.

Now they were descending upon her home, and she had no one left to defend it because her people had gone to Alfred. "My God," she breathed aloud.

"Lady, run!" Egmund said. "Take a mount and ride hard to the king. You can reach him by tomorrow if you ride hard. Take your arrows and an escort, and I will surrender this fortress."

She stared at him and then smiled slowly. "Egmund, I cannot run. You know that."

"You cannot stay!"

"We will not surrender. Surrender means nothing to them–they perform the same atrocities whether men give battle or not. I will stay and fight from here."

"My lady–"

"I may kill or wound many of them, Egmund. You know that."

He did; she could see it in his eyes. She was an amazing markswoman. But she knew, too, as he looked at her, that he was still seeing her as the little girl he had protected for years.

Old Egmund wasn't seeing her as a child at all but as a woman, and he was afraid for her. Rhiannon was beautiful and striking, with a siren's silver-blue eyes and golden-sunset hair. She was Alfred's cousin as well as his godchild, and at his command she had been well educated. She could be softspoken and as gentle as a kitten, and she could trade quips and laugh with the men and manage the vast estates she had inherited with a charming ease. She would be a worthy prize for some Viking, and Egmund could not bear the thought that she might fall prey to such a man.

"Rhiannon, I beg of you! As I served your father–"

Two steps brought her to him, and she flashed him a warm, beautiful smile, taking both of his gnarled hands into her own. "Dearest Egmund! For the love of God, I cannot fathom this attack from the east. I cannot! But I will not surrender, and I will not leave you here to die for me! I will flee when there is nothing more than can be done. But now, you must know that as my father's daughter I cannot leave until we have sent some of those heathens straight to hell! Call Thomas and order out what guard we have left, Egmund. Warn the serfs and the tenants. Hurry!"

"Rhiannon, you must stay safe!"

"Have my bow and a quiver of arrows sent to me. I shall not leave the parapet, I swear it!" she promised him.

Knowing further words would be useless, Egmund hurried down the wooden steps, shouting out orders. The huge gates were ordered shut, the few remaining warriors mounted their horses, and the simple farmers rushed about to find pitchforks and staffs. All looked terrified.

The brutality of the Vikings was well known.

A boy brought Rhiannon her quiver and arrows. She stared across the sea. The sky had grown gray and the wind was whipping fiercely, as if the elements were forecasting the horror soon to come. She saw the ships and trembled. Closing her eyes, she tried very hard not to remember the Viking raids of the past. She had lost so much to the Danes, as had England. She, too, was terrified, and yet she had to fight. To be taken or slain without fighting was not conceivable to her.

The attack made no sense at all. Alfred should have known something of the Danish movements. She should have been warned.

The ships moved closer and closer. The sky and sea seemed not to have the power to stop them.

Rhiannon nearly sank to her knees in fear. The ships were almost at the shore. The prows alone, with their hideously carved dragon faces, were enough to strike terror into most hearts. And still the sailors had not taken aim. Rhiannon prayed that her soldiers would let fly the first volley of arrows. Perhaps they could kill some of the invaders before the Vikings reached them. She closed her eyes in a brief prayer. Dear God, I am scared, please be with me.

She opened her eyes. She could see a man riding the lead ship. He was tall and blond and rode the tempest of the waves without losing his balance, his arms crossed over his chest. Certainly he was one of the commanders, towering in height, broad in the shoulders, lean in the hips, a strongly muscled warrior of Valhalla. She shivered anew and pulled out an arrow. Resolutely she stretched out her bow.

Her fingers trembled. She had never tried to kill a man before. Now she had to. She knew what Vikings did to men and women when they raided.

Her fingers slipped and a new trembling assailed her. Her mouth went dry and a frightening warmth overcame her. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, and when she opened them again, she didn't understand what had seized her. The wind seemed to be whispering to her that the golden-blond Viking was going to be part of her fate.

Impatiently she shook off the feeling and swore she would not tremble again. If it was difficult to aim at a man in order to kill him, she need only remember her father's death.

She tested her bow again, and her fingers were remarkably steady. Kill the leader, her father and Alfred had said often enough, and the men beneath him will scatter. This blond giant was one of their leaders. She had to kill him. And that was what the whisper of fate had been. She had to kill him, even if he seemed to defy the wind, the sea, and the gods, both Norse and Christian.
Eric of Dubhlain had no idea at that moment that his life might be in danger from anyone. He had not come to make war but at the invitation of Alfred of Wessex.

The sea was fierce, but he knew the sea and did not fear it.

The sky went black, and then the lightning came again, a startling streak of gold, as if God Himself had cast down a bolt of fire to light up the doom that approached. God or Odin, the Lord of the Viking horde, of his father's people, was at work. Odin was casting lightning bolts as he raced his black stallion Sephyr, and his chariot across the heavens. Odin, god of the pagans, was creating the storm, turning the sky to pitch, lighting it up again with blazes of sheer fire.

Eric stood tall and towering and powerful, like a golden god against the wind, a booted foot braced hard against the prow. The wind played against his hair, and it was as golden as the lightning, his eyes a blazing cobalt blue. His features were strongly chiseled, ruggedly, implacably handsome. His cheekbones were high and wide, his eyebrows set well upon his brow and cleanly arched, his jaw firm. His mouth, wide and sensual, was set in a straight line as he watched the shore. His beard and mustache were clipped and clean, redder than the hair upon his head, and his flesh was handsomely bronzed. He wore a crimson mantle, drawn closed with a sapphire brooch. He needed no fine garments to display his nobility, for his stature and the confidence of his stance made men tremble. The very air about him seemed charged, revealing his vitality. To maids of any race or creed he created a startling, arresting appearance. He was graced with extraordinary power in his muscles, in the breadth of his shoulders, in the width of his chest, and in the strength of his thighs. His belly was whipcord lean. His legs, hugging the tempest-tossed ship with ease, were as strong as steel from years upon the sea and years riding, running, fighting, and coming a-Viking.

Yet he was not the customary Viking, for he was the son of two races, the Irish and the Norse. His father, the great Lord of the Wolves, ruled as king in the Irish city o...

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