Krista Hart, publisher of the weekly London ladies' gazette Heart to Heart, is not afraid to speak her mind. Even on such unpopular issues as social reform—risking her reputation and her very safety—Krista will not be intimidated, although she knows full well she is the target of angry opposition for her outspoken views.
When she encounters a powerful Viking descendant imprisoned as a local sideshow attraction, Krista angrily demands his release. Although she tells herself that freeing Leif Draugr is simply the right thing to do, she can't deny being attracted to the fierce Nordic chieftain, especially after her father transforms him into a "proper" English gentleman.
But as anonymous threats against Krista become more and more aggressive, it is Leif who must face the unseen enemies desperate to silence her, even as they push her closer into the embrace of a warrior prepared to do whatever it takes to make her his.
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Kat Martin is the New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty historical and contemporary romance novels. To date she has over 13 million copies of her books in print in seventeen countries, including Sweden, France, Russia, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Poland, and Greece. Kat and her husband, author Larry Jay Martin, live on their ranch outside Missoula, Montana, and spend winters at their beach house in California. Kat invites you to visit her website at www.KatMartin.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Leif shivered beneath the thin blanket that was all he had to warm his nearly naked body against the chill. It was not yet spring, the country roads muddy or still partly frozen. A weak sun appeared sporadically, sifting through the clouds, shining here and there for a few brief moments before disappearing again.
A sharp wind whipped the edge of the blanket and Leif pulled it closer around him. He had no idea where he was, only that he traveled through a rolling countryside marked by occasional villages, on uneven roads lined with low walls made of stone. He had been in this land for more than four passings of the moon,though mayhap he had lost track of time.All he knew for certain was that his small ship had been dashed against a rocky shore somewhere north of here, carrying his nine companions to a watery grave and leaving his own body broken and battered.
A shepherd had found him lying in the icy surf and had taken him in, nursing him through a burning fever. Leif had been barely among the living when traders came, paid the shepherd in silver coin and dragged Leif away.
They wanted him because he looked different, because he was different than any of the men in this foreign land. He could not speak their language, nor understand a word of what they said, which seemed to amuse them and somehow enhance his worth. He was at least five inches taller than most of the men, his body far more muscular. Though some of them were blond, as he was, few wore beards, and none as long and shaggy as his. And their hair was cut short, while his grew past his shoulders.
Leif had been weak, unable to defend himself, when he had been lifted into the back of a wagon and driven from the shepherd's hut. As his strength began to return, the people who had taken him began to fear him, and his legs and arms were shackled with bands of heavy iron. He was shoved into a cage not nearly big enough for a man of his size, forced to crouch in the straw on the floor like an animal.
He was a prisoner in this hostile land, an oddity to be displayed to the people of the countryside, a cruel form of entertainment. They paid to see him, he knew. The fat man with a scar on his face who brought him food collected coins from the people who gathered around his cage. The man—Snively, he was called—beat and prodded him, goaded him into a violent temper, which seemed to please the crowd who had paid their money to see him.
Leif hated the man. He hated all of them.
Where he had lived, he was a free man, a man of rank among his people. His father had begged him not to leave the safety of his home, but Leif had been driven to see the world beyond his island. Since then, he had seen little outside his cage, and the hate and anger inside him gnawed like a hungry beast. Daily he prayed to the gods to help him escape, to give him strength until that time came. He promised himself it would happen, vowed he would make it so, and it was all that kept him sane.
But day after day, no chance came and the despair inside him deepened. He felt as if he were becoming the animal they drove him to be, and only in death would he ever find peace.
Leif fought the dark despair and clung to the faint hope that someday he would again be free.
London, England 1842
"I tell you, girl, it is time you did your duty!" The Earl of Hampton's knotted, veined hand slammed down on the table.
Krista Hart jumped at the sound. "My duty? It is scarcely my duty to marry a man I cannot abide!" They were attending a ball at the Duke of Mansfield's town mansion. Through the library walls, she could hear the music of an eight-piece orchestra playing in the lavish mirrored ballroom upstairs.
"What is wrong with Lord Albert?" A tall, silver-haired man, slightly stooped—her grandfather—fixed his pale blue eyes on her."He is young and not unattractive, the second son of the Marquess of Lindorf, a member of one of the most prominent families in England."
"Lord Albert is a complete and utter toad. The man is vain and prissy and full of himself. He is conceited and not particularly intelligent, and I am not the least bit interested in marrying him."
Her grandfather's wrinkled face turned red."Is there a man in the whole of London who would please you, Krista? I am beginning to believe there is not. It is your responsibility to provide me with a grandson to secure the line—and time is slipping away!"
"I know my duty, Grandfather. I have been told often enough." With no direct male heirs, by special writ of the late king the Hampton title could pass through the female side of the family to the first male offspring. After her mother had died, it became Krista's sworn duty, her family believed, to provide that heir. "I am not disinclined to marriage. It is just—"
"Just that you are too busy running that confounded gazette of yours." He said the word with a vehemence that matched the ruddy hue of his face. "Your father indulged your mother in her silly desire to work like a commoner, and now he is indulging you. No decent woman of our social class holds a job, for God's sake. Or associates with the lower elements, as you do in order to produce your ridiculous magazine."
"Heart to Heart is not the least bit ridiculous. Our articles are educational as well as informative, and I am extremely proud of the work we do."
He made a harrumphing sound. "Your blasted gazette aside, it is time you thought of the future, time you assumed your responsibilities as my only surviving offspring and gave me the heir I need."
Krista walked toward him, the petticoats beneath the full skirt of her plum silk gown swishing against her legs as she approached where he stood next to the ornate table in the library. They'd had this conversation a number of times before—always with the same result—but she loved her grandfather and she didn't want to displease him.
Leaning over, she kissed his pale cheek. "I want a husband and family nearly as much as you want me to have them, Grandfather, but I refuse to marry a man like Lord Albert. I am certain that in time I will meet the right man."
And perhaps she already had. Last week she had made the acquaintance of a friend of her father's named Matthew Carlton. Matthew was an associate professor and the second son of the Earl of Lisemore, just the sort of man her family wanted her to wed, and Matthew had truly seemed interested in pursuing a relationship.
Still, she didn't dare mention that fact to her grandfather for fear he would begin to pressure her and perhaps even Matthew.
The earl looked her in the eye. "I don't want you to be unhappy. You understand that, don't you?"
"I know. In time, it will surely work out." At least that was what she hoped. But she was different from other women of her social class: unfashionably taller, more buxom—more independent. She didn't have a line of suitors waiting outside her door, and her grandfather knew it.
"Time," he scoffed, "is something an old man like me does not have."
She reached down and caught his thin hand. "That is not true. You are still quite robust—do not deny it." But as she looked at him, there was no doubt he was aging, and if she didn't marry and begin a family soon, the title might—as the earl so deeply feared—be lost to some distant cousin.
The old man sighed."You try my patience,girl,"he grumbled. "I am sorry, Grandfather. I am doing the best I can." Krista said no more and neither did he. Blowing him a kiss as she left the library, she made her way out the door toward the sound of gaiety in the ballroom, but she was no longer in the mood to dance and pretend to enjoy herself.
Still, she had promised her grandfather and the hour was yet early. Making her way through the house in search of her father and her best friend, Coralee Whitmore, who had accompanied her to the ball, she thought of Matthew Carlton and wondered at the possibilities.
Leif leaned back against the bars of his cage. In the distance, he could hear the odd, lyrical sounds of the machine that played music whenever the traveling company rolled into a village. The sun was out, warming him a little, but his cage was parked in a shady spot and an icy wind raised goose bumps over his bare skin. The only garment he wore was a spotted animal skin just large enough to cover his rod and the rest of his man parts. It did nothing to warm him.
He looked out through the bars of his cage. In the past few weeks, he had lost track of how long he had been confined. Again and again, he had attacked the men who guarded him, fought like a madman for his freedom, but shackled and chained as he was, he'd had no real chance to escape.
He reached down and plucked up a blade of straw from the damp mound covering the floor of his cage. He had wanted to see the world outside his homeland. He scoffed. He had seen any number of amazing things in this foreign land, seen animals unlike any he had known existed, seen houses larger than his entire village back home. There were people of different colors, of every shape and size. If he was not locked in this cage, he would be fascinated by the sights and places in this new and strange world, but instead, he remained a prisoner, locked up and treated like a beast.
In the days since he had been taken captive, he had been laughed at, jeered at, stoned and beaten. The people thought he was mad, and some days he believed it, too. Worse were the ones who pitied him. He had seen women cry at the cruelties he suffered. He did not want their pity, but it made him think that mayhap all of the people in this world were not like the ones who had stolen his freedom. Mayhap one day he would find someone willing to help him. If only he could speak to them, make them understand.
He said a silent prayer to the gods, as he did each day, begging them to help him.
Mayhap one day they would. It might even be today. Leif clung to the thought as the crowd began to form around his cage.
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Book Description MIRA, 2006. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110778323838
Book Description MIRA. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0778323838 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0336734
Book Description Mira, 2007. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0778323838