"I loved this book with the magical elements blended into the medieval setting and romance. Ms. Sterling does a fantastic job with characterization and world building." Penny B., Goodreads
Night of the Owl (#4)
PhD student Ardyth Nightshade has renounced men and pursues her twentieth-century career with single-minded focus. When fate whisks her to medieval England, she meets her match in a man whose passions mirror her own. Can she sacrifice ambition for a love she never sought?
Hugh, Lord Seacrest confounds all who know him. He refuses to marry without a meeting of minds and hearts, and no lady has even approached his ideal…until Ardyth. But she's an odd one, with unique skills, shocking habits, and total conviction she needs no man. She also harbors secrets, and in the midst of rumors, plots, and murder, trust is fragile.
A woman outside of her time. A man ahead of his. They must take a leap of faith to forge a bond that will shape history.
Ardyth looked from one tunnel entrance to the next, and then the next. The ledge in front of them was substantial. It ran along the rock wall to the right, all the way to the mouth of the cave, winding around it to continue along the outer cliff.
Again, she pointed. “Where does that lead?”
“Shouldn’t you be doffing your clothes?”
Her eyes narrowed. “In other words, you don’t intend to answer my question.”
He grinned. “Clever, aren’t you?”
She returned his smile. “I like to think so.”
“If you’re stalling because you cannot swim—”
“Oh, I can swim.” She could hardly wait to feel the cool water on her skin.
He folded his arms, and his intense, gray eyes held a dare. “Then show me.”
“Hold this.” She handed him the folded smock. Get ready to eat crow, buddy! Quickly, she removed her boots, hose, and tunics. When only her thin, white chemise remained, she stole a peek at her skeptical host. He stared at her bare feet.
She sighed. “I know. My feet are hardly attractive. In fact, I’ve always thought my toes resemble…”
He raised his eyebrows. “What?”
Astronauts. But I can’t tell you that. “Nothing.”
His eyebrows settled again, but the orbs beneath them seemed to glow with a new light. “I beg to differ with your opinion. Your feet are quite…lovely.”
She almost laughed, until heat flooded her cheeks. I’m blushing? “Thank you,” she muttered. With an inward groan, she started toward the water. For crying out loud! He only complimented your feet. Your pale, crazy, NASA-evoking feet. Get a grip!
The ocean breeze caught the hem of her smock as she stepped into the surf. Foamy water—colder than she would’ve liked—enveloped her feet. Thank God for the heat of the sun! But this was the closest she’d come to a bath in days, and she was determined to prove her skills to the man who underestimated her at every turn. She waded forward, and the brisk, undulating water swallowed her calves, knees, thighs, and hips.
She turned. Her dry smock in his hands, Hugh stood with feet well apart on the wet sand.
“You needn’t prove your courage further!” he called above the lapping, swishing voice of the sea. “Come back before—”
“Courage isn’t the point! Swimming is!” The level of the surrounding water lowered to her thighs, signaling a coming wave.
She turned just as it crested and dove headfirst into it. Completely submerged in the chill, rushing water, she headed left and allowed herself to rise to the surface. She swam freestyle for several strokes, then flipped onto her back and floated with abandon. After a minute or two, she flipped over, and swam in the opposite direction. Then she stood with the water at her ribs, waited for the next wave, and indulged in bodysurfing, which carried her with a whoosh back toward shore.
Satisfied, she straightened, knee-deep in the water. Her wet chemise clung to her frame, and she knew Lord Seacrest was getting a lordly eyeful. Her nipples were rock-hard from the cold.
She rolled her eyes toward the bright, blue sky. My kingdom for a bra! And throw in a pair of underwear, too! But both articles of clothing were back at Nihtscua and not likely to appear anytime soon. For the first time since plunging into the surf, she regarded Hugh.
Eyes wide, her dry smock clutched in his hands, he stood as if frozen. Only his gaze moved, traveling from her breasts to the apex of her thighs.
She pulled the smock away from her flesh as best she could and advanced toward him, stopping an arm’s length away. “I told you I could swim.”
He blinked. Then his full, sensual lips curled into a smile. “Indeed, you did.”
“You’ve doubted me twice already. Perhaps you owe me an apology.”
His eyes widened, then relaxed. “Perhaps I do. Pray…forgive me.”
The words couldn’t have come easily, and the fact he’d said them made her grin. “I forgive you. This time. But I ask respectfully that you not underestimate me again.”
For two seconds, he hesitated. “ʼTis a reasonable request, and I shall endeavor to honor it.” He gave her a quizzical look. Then he shook his head and chuckled. “Is there anything you cannot do?”
She thought for a moment. “I’ve never ridden aside. If I’m going to ride something, I spread my legs.” The instant the words left her mouth, she cringed inside. Good God. That came out all wrong!
Humor curved his lips, but his eyes smoldered. Did his thoughts mirror hers? He took a step closer, and his masculine aura invaded her personal space. “Tell me more.”
Lady Constance de Bret was determined to be a nun, until shadows from the past eclipsed her present. Marriage is the safest option, but she insists on a spiritual union, in which physical intimacy is forbidden. Not so easy with a bridegroom who wields unparalleled charm! But a long-buried secret could taint his affection and cloak her in shadow forever.
Back from the Crusades, Sir Robert le Donjon craves a home of his own and children to inherit it. From the moment he meets Constance, he feels a mysterious bond between them. When she’s threatened, he vows to protect her and agrees to the spiritual marriage, with the hope of one day persuading her to enjoy a “real” one. She captivates him but opens old wounds and challenges everything he thought he believed.
Two souls in need of healing. Two hearts destined to beat as one.
With an inward sigh, Constance stepped beneath the ornate archway of the chapel. Then her breath caught in her throat.
Lord Nihtscua whispered in her ear. “Say the word, and I’ll remove him.”
Constance tore her gaze from the archdeacon and regarded Wulfstan. His ice blue eyes were intense. He meant what he said.
She stole a peek at her sister. Red-faced, Jocelyn glowered at Dominy.
“Leave him be,” Constance murmured, as much to the lady as the lord.
She stared at the stone floor, forcing herself to ignore the archdeacon. Nothing would irk him more. No doubt you’re here to see if the wedding will actually occur. Well, watch this, you flea-ridden woodcock!
Turning toward the altar, she looked up and into Robert’s eyes. Even from a distance, they held her. And they bespoke a harvest of blessings she’d never hoped to receive from a man.
Admiration. Loyalty. Respect.
Her peripheral vision registered his blue and gray attire, finery such as he might wear to court. But his garb was trivial and beside the point. Her focus—and her future—rested in his eyes.
A Norman loyalist, Lady Jocelyn bristles when ordered to marry Wulfstan, a Saxon sorcerer. She nurses a painful secret and would rather bathe in a cesspit than be pawed by such a man...until her lifelong dream of motherhood rears its head.
A man of magic and mystery, Wulfstan has no time for wedded bliss. He fears that consummating their marriage will bind their souls and wrench his focus from the ancient riddle his dying mother begged him to solve. He's a lone wolf, salving old wounds with endless work. But Jocelyn stirs him as no woman ever has.
Their attraction is undeniable. Their fates are intertwined. Together, they must face their demons and bring light to a troubled land.
Wulfstan’s expression shifted faster than the midnight clouds. “Why are you here?” he asked in a low, tight voice.
Keeping her distance, Jocelyn eyed the wolf behind him and willed her voice to sound calm. “Why do you think?”
Wulfstan’s eyes were like ice. “I think…that you’re spying on me.”
She held his wintry gaze. “Then you think rightly.”
“What? No denial? No protestations of innocence?”
“Would you have me lie?”
He clenched his fists. “No.”
“Then you cannot—”
“Nor would I have you pound your pestle into my private affairs.”
Heat swept through her. “Pray, what affairs have you that are not private?”
“I’ve given you a free hand with the servants and the keep. What more do you want?”
The wolf turned away and padded toward the forest. Her courage doubled. “More.”
Her mind made up, she strode past Wulfstan and approached Woden’s Stair. She raised her foot above the first step.
“Stay!” Wulfstan shouted above the wind.
She stopped short and turned to him. “Are you addressing me?”
He tore his gaze from the forest and settled it on her. “No. The wolf.” With powerful strides, he bridged the gap between them.
Her stomach quivered. He stood but a foot away. “Good,” she croaked. Then she cleared her throat. “For a moment, I thought you ordered me to stay, as you would order a dog.”
Humor softened his features. “Now there’s an idea. I must say, it does have a certain appeal.”
“A dog can be trained to please its master, but the master also enjoys pleasing the dog. Some hounds are spoiled, in fact.”
She frowned. Something in his tone was...suggestive. “Were I a bitch, I would not be so easily managed.”
He grinned. “That I believe. And I know you’re no animal to be trained. You’re a strong woman with a mind of your own. But even the strong-willed like to be pampered. Wouldn’t you like it?”
“I…I wouldn’t mind being pampered.”
His hair looked like spun starlight. “And pleasured?”
She stepped backward, and the heel of her boot met stone. Flustered, she clambered onto the step.
Wulfstan’s demeanor darkened. “Get down from there.” His large hands invaded her mantle and encircled her waist.
She wriggled free of his hands and backed onto the second step.
He crossed his arms. “Didn’t you hear me? Come down. That’s an order.”
Her body heat flared anew, and she climbed three steps higher. “I heard you, but I’ll not play the bitch to any man.”
“This isn’t a game.”
“No? What would you do if I ran all the way to the top?”
His words, exactly measured, were a promise. “I would stop you.”
“You could try.” She whirled around and started upward.
He grabbed her from behind and hoisted her several inches off the stairs. She struggled and kicked, and her left foot connected with his flesh.
“Woden’s blood!” He hauled her away from the stairs and planted her on the ground.
She twisted in his arms to face him. “Your nerve is unparalleled.”
His face was mere inches from hers. “Trust me, it bows to yours.”
“You’ve a clever tongue, my lord.” The hard, hot length of his body pressed against her.
His eyes were now dark and inviting. Expectant. “Would you care to see how clever?”
He lowered his lips to hers in a feather-light kiss. She gasped at the intimacy of it. He slipped his tongue inside her open mouth and began to explore.
’Twas her first kiss. A secret made known.
He’s tasting me, she thought. He tasted like mulled wine.
She melted to the kiss and opened her mouth wider. Their tongues entwined in a wet, rhythmic dance every bit as intricate as the patterns of Saxon art.
This is magic, she thought. And she wanted it to last forever.
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.
For a long moment, Emma stared into his eyes. Then she cleared her throat and whirled around to face her worktable. William’s gaze burned a trail of desire down her back, following her two long braids to the provocative curves where they stopped.
God’s teeth, he cursed inwardly. How shall I wait until tomorrow night?
Battling his instincts, he claimed a space beside her at the table’s edge. He watched intently as she placed a handful of leaves in a mortar. “So this is your work.”
“Aye.” Her gaze fixed on the task. “The people depend on me, and I’m happy to serve.”
She wrapped her delicate fingers around a thick, stone pestle. The action did nothing to ease his condition. He had to make conversation, or he’d have his bride on the table faster than a Turk wielded a scimitar.
He pointed to the small pile of red berries beside a cluster of twigs. “What are those?”
“Hawthorn branches and their fruit. You’ve probably tasted the berries in jellies and sauces, but a powder made from the seeds is good for the heart. Don’t expect to see the blossoms in any of the local cottages, though. ʼTis bad luck, I’m told.”
Her wide grin proved she didn’t share the belief. He couldn’t help grinning back.
“I didn’t recognize the plant,” he said, “but I’ve heard the legends. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought it protected them from evil spirits.”
“Ah, so you listen to legends too. I thought you only made them.”
He didn’t know whether to laugh or take offense, but at least his blood had cooled. His gaze dropped to the leaves she bruised in the mortar. “What’s that there?”
“Mandrake. It can be deadly, but in moderation, it makes a soothing ointment. ʼTis likewise a stimulant.”
“How so?” He pretended ignorance. This plant had inspired its own tales.
“It encourages the act of—” She broke off and looked at him. Her amethyst eyes were large, hypnotic.
A new shaft of desire sliced through him. “What does it encourage?”
She opened her mouth, but no sound escaped.
He lowered his gaze to her full, sensual lips. Their natural shade was a deep pink. Almost purple. The upper lip was unusually plump, as ripe and tempting as its counterpart.
In a hushed voice, he continued, “You were saying...”
“You were. Mandrake encourages...”
He inched toward her. He would kiss her, teach her the meaning of the word.
About the author:
Judith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Whether penning medieval romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) or young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), her favorite themes include true love, destiny, time travel, healing, redemption, and finding the hidden magic which exists all around us. She loves to share that magic with readers and whisk them far away from their troubles, particularly to locations in the British Isles. Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, 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.