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July 2011, Avon Books
ISBN-10: 0062019139
ISBN-13: 978-0062019134
September 1995, Leisure Books
ISBN 084393834X
Reissue September 1999/June 2002
ISBN 0843945575


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"My lady, you offend me. I have told you afore, and will not repeat it again. I am an honorable man. I would not disgrace a wife so." 

Casting a sidelong glance of skepticism at him, she asked, "Are you saying you would never take a mistress?" 

She delighted in the flush that swept his face and the manner in which he squirmed in his seat. He refused to answer, just watched her closely with arms folded across his massive chest, stroking his infernal mustache the whole time. 

"I do not mean to make you uncomfortable, Eirik. I have not asked you to give up your women." 

"Women! Oh, Eadyth, you do credit me with more endowments--and endurance--than I truly have," Eirik remarked, shaking his head incredulously. "Where do you get these ideas of the many women I have?" 

"'Tis said you fornicate like a rutting stag." Oh, sweet mother, did I really say that? 

Eirik inhaled sharply at the words she had blurted out, without thinking, and his jaw tensed with outrage. 

"You heard such said of me?" 

"Well, not quite those exact words." 

"Then be more specific," he demanded. "Who would insult me so? 'Twas Steven of Gravely, I warrant, the damned rumormonger." 

"Nay, 'twas not Steven," she informed him, wishing once again that she could learn to curb her foolish tongue. Hastily, she added, "Actually, I think the words I heard in the marketplace were more like, 'The Raven cannot pass a pretty maid without sampling her honey, and the women buzz with satisfaction at his pricking.' Or some such words." 

She shrugged her shoulders dismissively. 

Eirik's eyes almost popped from his head and his mouth went slack-jawed at her frank words. Then he exploded with laughter. 

"Oh, Eadyth! The things you do say!" he finally choked out. "Ne'er have I met a woman with your blunt tongue. 'Tis too bad you...ah, well, a man cannot have everything." 

Eadyth somehow knew he was about to bemoan her age and ugliness. Or some such thought. A small part of Eadyth shriveled inside at his unspoken words. The low estimation of this devilishly handsome oaf should not matter to her, but it cut nonetheless. 

A thrum of alarm swept over Eadyth at her weakening resistance. What was happening to her usual good sense? Sitting up straighter, she vowed to maintain better control over her oddly churning emotions... 

The harsh lines in Eirik's face smoothed a bit, but then he grabbed her wrist and pulled it toward him on the table. She watched, mesmerized, as he laid her hand flat on the hard surface, palm up, and ran a forefinger back and forth lightly over the pale skin of her wrist. 

The barest touch of his finger, a whisper of a caress, ignited sweet tingles of sensitivity which ricocheted sensuously up her arm, to her breasts, causing the tips to harden into tiny pebbles of aching need. Eadyth inhaled sharply, alarmed at this new feeling of helpless yearning. She tried to pull away, but Eirik held her hand fast. 

His head tilted questioningly and his eyes narrowed as he studied her closely. 

"When you are not frowning, you do not look so aged. How old did you say you are?" he asked, without warning, in a suspicious tone of voice. 

Eadyth could see the erotic luminosity hazing his eyes and knew the mere touch affected him as much as it had her. At the same time, he obviously puzzled over his uncharacteristic attraction to an aging woman. Thank the saints for the dimness of the chamber. Before she had a chance to respond or turn her face away from his scrutiny, Eirik suddenly unsheathed a sharp blade hanging from the belt at his waist. 

Good Lord! Was he going to kill her just because he felt a momentary lustful impulse for an old crone? She gasped and yanked futilely against his grasp. The man had lost his senses. 

Before she could guess his next move, he ran the razor-sharp blade across her wrist, then did the same to his own. In shock, Eadyth watched entranced as thin streams of blood pooled on both their wrists. For a long moment, they both gazed at the twin wounds, the only sounds in the room the even, exaggerated echo of their breathing. 

Gently, he pressed his massive hand across hers so the blood mingled and their pulses merged, then looked her directly in the eyes and stated in a firm, husky voice, "Blood of my blood, I pledge thee my troth." 

Heart hammering, Eadyth stared at him. Sweet Mother of God! He truly was a Viking barbarian. At the same time, she felt an irresistible pull toward him, a melting of her defenses that frightened her to the core. 

Seemingly unaware of his devastating effect on her, Eirik adjusted his hand so that their fingers twined together and folded, wrist to wrist. Her tingling wound throbbed and changed character, became almost an erotic rhythm, a sharp counterpoint to her pounding heartbeat. 

Oh, my! 

"Now you repeat the words," he demanded raspily, refusing to let her pull her wrist from its savage embrace with his. 

In stunned silence, her eyes locked with his. She could not speak. 

"Say the words, Eadyth," Eirik coaxed rawly. 

"Blood of my blood, I pledge thee my troth," she repeated softly. 

Her world tilted askew then as something new and beautiful-- and frightening--blossomed inside Eadyth's chest and unfurled with exquisite, heart-stopping intensity. This was not the usual betrothal ceremony, presided over by church clergy, attended by family and friends, as solemn as the wedding ritual itself. It was better, and its heart-wrenching intimacy shook Eadyth's long-frozen soul. 

"Do you think this is binding?" she finally whispered. 

"Yea, 'tis," he answered softly. 

Still holding her arm fast, Eirik pulled a ring from his tunic and slipped it on the third finger of her right hand. "'Tis the first of my arrha gifts for you. You will move it to your left hand after the wedding, symbolizing that you accept your new position of obedience." He chuckled at his last word. 

Eadyth raised an eyebrow skeptically, but she could not fail to appreciate the magnificence of his gift as she closed her fingers to keep the huge gold band from slipping off. Looking closer, she saw the image of a raven, with gleaming emerald eyes, etched into its center. 

"'Twas my grandfather's." 

Eadyth nodded at the significance. "I have never heard of arrha. It means 'earnest gifts', does it not?" 

"Yea, tradition calls for three bridal gifts. The ring was the first." Then he reached into the packet on the table and handed her a silk-embroidered shoe, proclaiming, "This is the second. It belonged to my grandmother, Aud." 

"Only one?" she asked with a laugh, pleased, despite herself, that Eirik had taken the time to honor her with tokens. 

He grinned. "I get to strike you on the head with it during the marriage ceremony. Normally, your father would hand it to me, symbolizing his transfer of authority over you to my hands." 

"Hah! My father never exerted that kind of control over me. I would not allow such, even if he had wanted it." 

Eirik continued to grin. "On the wedding night, the other shoe is placed at the head of the marriage bed, on the husband's side, to signify the bride accepting her husband's authority." 

Eadyth shoved the slipper back into Eirik's hands. "Keep your bloody slipper. As for the ring," she said admiringly, not wanting to give it up, "I accept it with my own interpretation of obedience to my husband." She smiled at him, despite her resolve to develop no fondness for the churlish knight. "Well, if that is all--" 

"Nay, you forget. I mentioned there were three 'earnest gifts'." 

She raised an eyebrow. 

"The traditional betrothal kiss." 

Before she could demur, he leaned forward. Alarmed, Eadyth turned at the last moment so his warm lips brushed her cheek. Eirik chuckled low in his throat at her maneuver, then put his right hand at the nape of her neck and forced her lips to meet his in a light feather stroke of a kiss. His left hand still held hers in a firm clasp. 

Eadyth closed her eyes momentarily to savor the sweet pleasure of his warm lips. 

Oh, Eadyth girl, you are in big, big trouble. This man is a dragon, and you are the dry tinder. He will burn you alive. Run, girl, run as fast as you can.

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