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Outrageousby Christina Dodd
Synopses & Reviews
Wenthaven CastleShropshire, England, 1487
The clash of swords echoed through the long gallery of the fashionable castle keep, and Griffith ap Powel grimaced in disgust. "Dueling?" he inquired of his host. "You've brought me here to watch dueling?"
With a receding silver hairline, aristocratic features, and a pack of auburn-coated spaniels yipping at his heels, the earl of Wenthaven was the model of urbane hospitality. "I am but trying to fulfill your request."
Shrieks of laughter and sham alarm assaulted Griffith as they shouldered their way through the outer ring of spectators. "There is no respect for a warrior in this country," Griffith said. "In Wales, we fight in battle, to the death, with a good two-handed sword in our grip and an enemy before us. There is none of the so-called sport of dueling."
With one elegant gesture, Wenthaven dismissed Wales and its customs. "'Tis a French practice, actually, but many youths abide here with me, and they fight on any pretext. They fight for the pure joy of fighting, so I encourage dueling. The swords are light and have dulled edges, and their vigorous spirits are dampened with judicious training. Moreover, if you wish to speak to Lady Marian, the former lady-in-waiting for our uncrowned queen, then you must come here."
Already aflame with a sense of misuse and a total contempt for his mission, Griffith snapped, "Does this Lady Marian enjoy watching young fools slice at each other?"
Wenthaven mocked Griffith with a dimpled smile. "If you would but look closely, you would see the part which Lady Marian plays."
Griffith had the height to give him a clear view over the circle of cheering spectators. Two figures danced on thepolished stone floor, dulled dueling swords in hand. The skill of both was extraordinary, a testament to healthy bodies and youthful spirits.
Then he rubbed his eyes. "One of the duelists is a woman. That woman is using a sword."
Like a flame above a slim white candle, her red hair fell out of its coif above her pate face. Her green eyes snapped; her teeth sparkled in a challenging smile. The hem of her creamy silk skirt hung over her arm, giving Griffith a glimpse of muscular, silk-clad ankles and calves. Her light step distracted Griffith from the sword she held in the other hand.
Sweet Saint Dewi, but she was tall. She looked the handsome hulk of a man right in the eye, and she did so boldly.
Griffith didn't like bold women.
Singing a tune off key, she ridiculed her opponent with the flash of her blade, with her amusement, with her height.
Both his hands were free to fight, and he displayed a skill and an agility that would tempt most men to back away. But he panted in great, billowing gasps, sweat dripped into his eyes, and he slashed with an aggression out of place for a friendly bout.
He was losing.
At Griffith's side, Wenthaven said, "She's good, isn't she?"
Griffith grunted his unwilling assent.
"I taught her all she knows."
Unable to tear his gaze from the too tall, too bold, too tall beauty, Griffith said, "You're mad. Why would a man teach a woman to duel with swords?"
Wenthaven chuckled. "A woman like her must have a way to defend herself from ... shall we say ... unwanted attentions.'
The curved swords clashed, screeching as the blades scraped together in a shower of blue sparks. "A woman like her?"
"Aye." Satisfied with Griffith's avidconcentration, Wenthaven announced, "That is Lady Marian Wenthaven."
Griffith turned to Wenthaven, missing Marian's coup de grace, but the clamor of the crowd brought his attention back to her. She gave a shout of triumph as her opponent's sword went flying. Glowing with victory, she raised her fists in celebration, and Griffith narrowed his eyes. "Flamboyance is most unattractive in a woman. Most unattractive."
He only wished his body understood what his mind believed.
Wenthaven clicked his tongue. "I don't suppose Adrian Harbottle ever stood a chance. He's just one of those landless knights, scarcely more than a churl."
Griffith glanced at the man Werithaven disparaged so quickly. Blessed with golden hair, even white teeth, and sound limbs, Harbottle didn't look like a churl. He was so handsome, he made Griffith's teeth ache, and he reminded Griffith of something. Something familiar. Something reassuring.
Aye, Harbottle resembled the gilt painting. of an angel in Griffith's mother's Book of Hours.
But Griffith would wager Harbottle was no angel. His breath still billowed his barrel chest, and he stared at Marian with fury. Griffith watched him, not caring for the malevolence his clenched fists betrayed.
Wenthaven rambled on. "He was a dolt to imagine be could challenge her-"
Harbottle sprang for Marian's sword, caught it up, aimed it at Marian. Griffith's protective reflexes whipped him into the fray before he considered the consequences. With a flying tackle, he landed atop Harbottle. Women screamed, men roared, as Griffith took Harbottle's wildly flailing body to the floor. Bones and tendons crunched on impact. Griffith rolled away from Harbottle and came to his feetas the sword skittered across stone.
Before he could reach it, another hand snatched it up. Another hand, a slender, feminine hand, pointed it at Harbottle's throat, and Marian's contralto voice snarled, 'Coward and knave, stand and face the penalty for treachery."
Harbottle rose to his knees, his angelic face contorted and his breath a palpable heat. "Bitch, you betray not a shred of womanly compassion."
"Because I don't allow you to defeat me? To kill me? Must I die at the hands of some misbegotten knight to prove myself a lady?" She pricked at the open throat of his shirt with the shiny tip of the sword. "Get up, I say, and face this lady whom you have wronged."
A woman banished
Griffith, battle-seasoned warrior and the king'smost trusted emissary, expected to find ashallow, vain, frivolous woman at WenthavenCastle. After all, as lady-in-waiting to thequeen, lovely Lady Marian had been in aposition of privilege, yet she had been banishedfrom the court. And the rumors were that shehad given birth to an illegitimate child.
An outrageous offer
When he arrived, Griffith found Lady Marianto be strong, intelligent and fiercely protectiveof the young baby in her custody.... and verysuspicious of him. If he were smart, the knightwould just deliver the message with which hehad been entrusted. Instead, he longs to lingerto delve into the mystery that is Marian, todiscover what she so desperately fears-andwhy he so improperly wants her.
About the Author
Christina Dodd's novels have been translated into ten languages, won Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart® and RITA® awards, and been called the year's best by Library Journal. Dodd is a regular on the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and New York Times bestseller lists.
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