What bridegroom would choose to spend his wedding night in a prison? I, Mr. Palmer—lifelong seeker of occult knowledge—shall tell you. For I possess the inestimable ability to eavesdrop on history. To see and hear the echoes of a location, I need only stand in the space, close my eyes, and enter a trance which allows my soul to flee its mortal home and explore the boundless realm of the spiritual plane. I embarked on one such exploration a fortnight ago in Northumberland, in the ruined prison tower of Ravenwood Keep.
Two medieval warriors—brothers, I divined it—stood alone within the prison’s cold embrace.
The younger of the two spoke first. “William, are you going to tell me why you’re here? Or must I wait until we’re old and gray?”
The elder brother stalked to the dormant fireplace, then back again. “You were right, Robert. My bride does believe in the curse. She just told me.”
“Ah. And how did that drive you to spend your wedding night in a prison?”
“The stench of merry-making plagues the rest of the keep, and I need peace.”
“And ’twouldn’t look right if Ravenwood’s new lord were seen roaming about the castle when he should be enjoying the pleasures of his bed.”
William’s frown deepened. “We never made it to the bed.”
“I see. So at present, Lady Ravenwood is scared of pregnancy.”
“Not just scared. She refuses to consummate the marriage.”
Robert’s eyes widened. “Ever?”
“So she says.”
“God’s blood! ’Tis unthinkable!”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“What will you do?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m too furious to decide.”
Robert shook his head. “You owe your success in battle to calm logic. Clear tactics. You don’t let emotion dim your judgment. ’Tis why so many fear you.”
William stared at the wall, upon which a flaming torch created a miniature battle of shadows on stone. “I know.”
Robert rubbed his chin. Then he began to pace. His footfalls created a smooth, continuous rhythm on the planked floor.
Abruptly, he stopped. “We know the curse is codswallop.”
“Can you convince your wife of this?”
“Not before she survives the birthing bed.”
Robert looked pensive and nodded slowly. “Then you must make her forget until that day arrives.”
William grunted. “One might as soon make a knight forget his sword on the battlefield.”
“Then coax her into choosing you in spite of her fears.”
“You suggest a miracle.”
“No.” Robert arched an eyebrow. “A seduction.”
Readers of The Teatime Tattler, it was then I left the brothers and returned to the present. Yet I cannot help but wonder, what happened next?
Excerpt from Flight of the Raven, by Judith Sterling:
William stood before the cold hearth with his back to the door. His commanding presence diminished the sweeping arch of the vacant fireplace.
“Leave us,” he ordered without turning. “Shut the door behind you.”
The heavy, oak door slammed shut. The stone walls reverberated from the force of it.
Emma studied the sheen of his straight, black hair, the proud set of his shoulders, and the wide, leather belt which cinched his ebony tunic at the waist. An eternity might’ve passed while she waited for him to acknowledge her presence. When at last he turned, his dark eyes blazed.
Her stomach lurched. “Y-you wished to see me?”
He glowered at her in silence. A chill of foreboding ran through her, but she stood her ground.
A full minute later, he still hadn’t spoken. Her patience waned. If he expected her to read his mind, he could think again.
She cleared her throat. “You obviously need time to collect your thoughts, so I’ll leave you to them.”
“You will stay right here,” he ruled in slow, measured words. His scorching gaze belied his smooth tone of voice. “I sent for you to discuss your betrayal.”
She swore under her breath. Someone must’ve divulged her plan to stay celibate. If only she’d told him sooner.
“I can explain,” she said.
“Save your breath. There’s only one explanation.”
“You said ‘discuss.’ A discussion requires two opinions.”
“An opinion laced with lies doesn’t count.”
“But if you—”
His shout echoed off the prison walls. Her stomach churned, but she clamped her lips shut.
“Now,” he said, lower in pitch, “listen and learn. A traitor can challenge the king’s reach, but only a fool underestimates mine. My men know this. Legions of Saracens—alive and dead—know it. Wulfstan will know it too.”
“What has Wulfstan to do with this?”
William grunted. “You play innocence well.”
“Truly, I know not whereof you speak!”
“I speak of your escape…tonight…with Wulfstan.”
“My squire was in the mews while you were plotting your little scheme.”
“Holy Mother!” Frantically, her mind snatched up the pieces of what was said and where. “’Twas Gertrude’s idea.”
“A welcome one, reportedly.”
“I considered it, but—”
“So you confess.”
“No! Your spy heard but part of the conversation. In the end, I chose you.”
He snorted. “Right. And I sell genuine relics of the saints.”
She glared at him. With quick, deliberate steps, she closed the space between them. “Then I’ll fetch my purse, for I speak the truth.”
“I am no fool.”
No, she thought, but you’re a veritable god of arrogance.
A lord of intimidation, too. Why else would he summon her to the prison tower? With dispatch, her desire to explain the curse, and its implications to their wedding night, died.
For an instant so brief she might’ve imagined it, his expression changed. He looked almost…wounded.
“Does the thought of marrying me so disgust you?” he asked.
His dark, infinite eyes became her world. “Not at all.”
Large, warm hands clasped her upper arms. “Is Wulfstan your lover?”
His mouth claimed hers. She wrenched her head to the side, tried to break away. His grip tightened. His lips demanded more.
Emma thought fast. She couldn’t match his physical strength. But maybe, if she didn’t resist, didn’t react in any way, he’d release her.
She willed herself to relax. Almost at once, his lips slackened. They became softer, gentler. Intrigued, she relaxed further.
His lips brushed hers and left a tingling warmth in their wake. She liked the sensation, but the longer he fed it, the more she wanted the full pressure of his mouth. A low sound of protest vibrated deep in her throat.
William moaned, and his hot tongue nudged her closed lips. A curious action. Not unpleasant, though, so she opened her mouth. His tongue slipped inside and began a slow, thorough exploration. In response, she flicked her tongue against his.
He groaned. The sound was raw, exciting. His hands burned a path from her arms down to her hips. His tongue darted deeper, faster. Her mouth tingled. Heat tantalized her belly. Never had she felt so alive.
About Flight of the Raven
How eager would the bridegroom be if he knew he could never bed the bride?
Lady Emma of Ravenwood Keep is prepared to give Sir William l’Orage land, wealth, and her hand in marriage. But her virginity? Not unless he loves her. The curse that claimed her mother is clear: unless a Ravenwood heir is conceived in love, the mother will die in childbirth. Emma is determined to dodge the curse. Then William arrives, brandishing raw sensuality which dares her to explore her own.
William the Storm isn’t a man to be gainsaid. He’ll give her protection, loyalty, and as much tenderness as he can muster. But malignant memories quell the mere thought of love. To him, the curse is codswallop. He plans a seduction to breach Emma’s fears and raze her objections. What follows is a test of wills and an affirmation of the power of love.
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Judith Sterling’s love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Flight of the Raven and Soul of the Wolf are part of her medieval romance series, The Novels of Ravenwood. The Cauldron Stirred is the first book in her young adult paranormal series, Guardians of Erin. Written under Judith Marshall, her nonfiction books—My Conversations with Angels and Past Lives, Present Stories—have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.
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