She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?
England, winter, 1131
Elfrida, spirited, caring and beautiful, is also alone. She is the witch of the woods and no man dares to ask for her hand in marriage until a beast comes stalking brides and steals away her sister. Desperate, the lovely Elfrida offers herself as a sacrifice, as bridal bait, and she is seized by a man with fearful scars. Is he the beast?
In the depths of a frozen midwinter, in the heart of the woodland, Sir Magnus, battle-hardened knight of the Crusades, searches ceaselessly for three missing brides, pitting his wits and weapons against a nameless stalker of the snowy forest. Disfigured and hideously scarred, Magnus has finished with love, he thinks, until he rescues a fourth 'bride', the beautiful, red-haired Elfrida, whose innocent touch ignites in him a fierce passion that satisfies his deepest yearnings and darkest desires.
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Read Chapter One here
Here is another excerpt to tempt you:
Elfrida stirred sluggishly, unable to remember where she was. Her back ached, and the rest of her body burned. She opened her eyes and sat up with a jerk, thinking of Christina.
Her head felt to be bobbing like an acorn cup in a stream, and her vision swam. As she tried to swing her legs, her sense of dizzy falling increased, becoming worse as she closed her eyes. She lashed out in the darkness, her flailing hands and feet connecting with straw, dusty hay, and ancient pelts.
“Christina?” she hissed, listening intently and praying now that the monster had brought her to the same place it had taken her sister.
She heard nothing but her own breath, and when she held that, nothing at all.
“Christina?” Fearing to reach out in this blackness that was more than night and dreading what she might find, Elfrida forced herself to stretch her arms. She trailed her fingers out into the ghastly void, tracing the unseen world with trembling hands.
Her body shook more than her hands, but she ignored the shuddering of her limbs, closed her eyes like a blind man, and searched.
She lay on a pallet, she realized, full of crackling, dry grass. When she scented and tasted the air, there was no blood. She did not share the space with grisly corpses.
I am alone and unfettered. Now her heart had stopped thudding in her ears, she listened again, hearing no one else. Chanting a charm to see in the dark, she tried again to shift her feet.
Light spilled into her eyes like scalding milk as a door opened and a massive figure lurched across the threshold. Elfrida launched herself at freedom, hurling a fistful of straw at the looming beast and ducking out for the light.
She fell instead, her legs buckling, her last sight that of softly falling snow.
* * * *
Magnus gathered the woman before she pitched facedown into the snow, returning her swiftly to the rough bed within the hut. Her tiny, bird-boned form terrified him. Clutching her was like ripping a fragile wood anemone up from its roots.
And she had fought him, wind-flower or not. She had charged at him.
“I wish, lass, that you would listen to me. I am not the Forest Grendel, nor have wish to be, nor ever have been.”
Just as earlier, in the clearing where he had first come upon her, a brilliant shock of life and color in a white, dead world, the woman gave no sign of hearing. She was cold again, freezing, while in his arms she had steamed with fever. He tugged off his cloak and bundled her into it, then piled his firewood and kindling onto the bare hearth.
A few strikes of his flints and he had a fire. He set snow to melt in the helmet he was using as a cauldron. He swept more dusty hay up from the floor and, sneezing, packed it round the still little figure.
No beast on two or four legs would hunt tonight, so that was one worry less. Finding this lean-to hut in the forest had been a godsend, but it would be cold.
Magnus went back out into the snow and led his horse into the hut, spreading what feed he had brought with him. He kept the door shut with his saddle, rubbed the palfrey down with the bay’s own horse blanket, and looked about for a lantern.
There was none, just as there were no buckets, nor wooden bowls hanging from the eaves. But, abandoned as it surely had been, the place was well roofed, and no snow swirled in through the wood and wattle walls. Whistling, Magnus dug through his pack and found a flask of ale, some hard cheese, two wizened apples, and a chunk of dark rye bread. He spoke softly to his horse, then looked again at the woman.
She was breathing steadily now, and her lips and cheeks had more color. By the glittering, rising fire he saw her as he had first in the forest clearing, an elf-child of beauty and grace, a willing sacrifice to the monster. Kneeling beside her, he longed to stroke her vivid red hair and kiss the small dimple in her chin. In sleep she had the calm, flawless face of a Madonna of Outremer and the bright locks of a Magdalene.
He had guessed who she was—the witch of the three villages, the good witch driven to desperation. Coming upon her in that snowfield, tied between two trees like a crucified child of fairy, his temper had been a black storm against the villagers for sparing their skins by flaying hers. Then he had seen her face, recognized that wild, stark, sunken-cheeked grief, seen the loose bonds and the terrible “feast,” and had understood.
Another young woman has been taken by the beast, someone you love.
She—Elfrida, that was her name, he remembered it now—Elfrida was either very foolish or very powerful, to offer herself as bait.
This is Book One of The Knight and the Witch Series.
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