Night of the Owl
The Novels of Ravenwood Book 4 by Judith Sterling Genre: Time Travel Fantasy Romance
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.”
Shadow of the Swan The Novels of Ravenwood Book 3
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.
Sitting without repose on one of the solar’s high-backed chairs, Constance shifted positions. An unexpected chill crept in with the evening. The shutters were closed, and a fire danced and hissed on the hearth. The room was aglow with candles whose light harmonized to showcase the exquisite tapestries on the wall. Vibrant yet vulnerable, the flames quivered at the slightest draft.
Her stomach quivered, too, as she stared at her half-eaten pigeon pie. Whatever made me agree to share his bed? The mention of rats? The thought of a prickly straw mat between her back and the cold, hard floor?
From the other high-backed chair, Robert eyed the pie that lay unprotected on the table between them. “Do you plan to eat that?” A predator drawn to his prey. She shrugged. “I suppose not. Do you want it?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” He attacked the food.
She folded her hands in her lap. “Sir, your appetite is a thing of wonder.”
He swallowed, then grinned at her. “Why, thank you.” His smile disappeared. “Or do you criticize?”
“Not criticize. Marvel.”
His dimples were back. The one on the right was deeper. “I’m a man of many talents, and eating is one of them.” He took another bite.
“Evidently.” She cleared her throat. “I only wondered if…” Her stomach trembled as he licked sauce from his fingers.
Abruptly, he ignored the food and studied her face. “If what?”
She sighed inwardly. Just say it! “If all your appetites run that strong.”
His intense stare roused something inside her. She’d never felt its like. Heat, not only in her face but her entire body.
“You’re referring to appetites of the flesh.”
She lifted her chin. “I am.”
With a casual air, he leaned back. “I’ll admit, I’ve enjoyed the company of women. Have I ever! Truly, deeply, unreservedly—”
“I grasp your meaning.” She shifted again on her chair. “Do you think you can live without it?”
“I’m willing to try.”
“Trying won’t suffice. If we’re to share a chamber, I need a clear statement of your intentions.”
He grabbed his wine, drained the cup, and plunked it down on the table. “We agreed to be friends, did we not?”
“Friends don’t steal from one another. They take only what is willingly given.”
“Know this now: I shall never give it.”
His gaze held hers. “So you’ve said.”
“I mean what I say.”
“As do I, and you have my word. I shall never force you to consummate our marriage.”
Relief coursed through her. He was a man of his word; that much she knew. She was safe. All would be well.
He slapped his thighs. “That said, shall we to bed?” He eased out of his chair and stretched his limbs. “The mattress is calling my name.”
She hesitated only a second, then stood. “Odd. I thought it called mine.”
“You don’t mean—”
“No. The bed is as much yours as mine. We’ll share it.” ’Twas a simple matter of fairness. No need to overthink it. Then why do my legs feel weak?
He glanced at her as they started toward the bedchamber. “Good. Feathers are far superior to the floor.”
“So the mattress is stuffed with feathers. I noticed you testing it before; now I know why.”
“I thought perhaps it held wool, which would’ve been fine. But I’ll take luxury any day. Here we are. After you, my lady.”
The lively fireplace greeted them as they entered the chamber. Already, the space was warmer than before. Two stools stood in front of the fire. A table lined one wall; above it hung another fine tapestry, whose threads wove the image of a swan on a secluded, tree-lined pond. Directly opposite sat the bed. Its canopy was suspended from the ceiling, and rich green curtains spilled down around the carved, wooden headboard and frame. The inner sanctum, with its turned-down linen and coverlets, waited in shadow.
She stared. A person could lose herself in a bed like that. And in eyes as infinite as her husband’s.
Soul of the Wolf The Novels of Ravenwood Book 2
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.
Flight of the Raven
The Novels of Ravenwood Book 1
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.
Toasts abounded, and the music soared. Yet Emma’s gaze kept straying to the gold ring on her finger. ʼTwas tangible proof she was a married woman, the property of William l’Orage. Soon, in the bedchamber they would share, she’d discover exactly what that meant.
She shuddered. Would he understand her predicament? He might laugh. He might even force her to betray her sense of self-preservation. ʼTwas his right, and she’d said the words: “to be bonny and buxom in bed and at board.” The board she could handle; bed was another matter.
Still, there were moments during the ceremony when he seemed softer somehow. When she entered the chapel, the look in his eyes stole her breath. It implied approval, pride.
For the second time in as many minutes, she shivered. She looked to the high, vaulted ceiling and twisted her wedding band.
“Cold again?” her husband asked. The low, rich timber of his voice was seductive and becoming all too familiar.
She dropped her hands into her lap and cast a cautious glance his way. “Not especially.”
A pox on the man! He looked sinfully handsome today. It made him unduly appealing and far more dangerous. His eyes glittered like the dark jewels on his belt.
She squirmed in her high-backed chair. His belt!God save me from what lies below it.
“You’ll be warmer once we withdraw to our chamber,” he said.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Oh?”
“I told Tilda to have a fire waiting, and plenty of warm wine.”
“Is that all you can say?”
“What more do you require?”
“If not words, how about a smile?”
“I’ve smiled overmuch the past few hours. My cheeks are numb.”
His grin was sensual by nature and mischievous by design. “Have you no enthusiasm for the coming festivities?”
She stifled a grimace. “Festivities. Is that what you call them? If you want a festive night, you’d do better to invite jugglers and mummers to prance about the chamber.”
His black eyes smoldered. “No, my bride. You and I will devise our own entertainment.”
The power of speech deserted her. Yet she kept her composure during the toasts and as the people cheered the bride and groom for the last time. Then William rose to his feet.
The dreaded moment had come. In a daze, she stood. Her eyes sought Meg, but the older woman was deep in conversation with Wulfstan and didn’t notice.
William guided Emma away from the table and out of the boisterous, oblivious hall. Once they were beyond observation, she pulled her hand from his arm and used her veil as an excuse to occupy her hands elsewhere.
She climbed the spiral, stone stairs as slowly as she dared, delaying the moment when the bedchamber door would close behind them. The stairwell torches were ablaze with flames that eagerly licked the shafts of wood. Behind her, William’s footsteps were as loud as thunder.
At the top of the stairs, the large, oak door stood wide open. There was no one inside the bedchamber, not a single soul to grant her one last pardon. Tilda had turned down the bed, and it loomed in the shadows, waiting.
On shaky legs, Emma crossed the rush-strewn floor and stood in front of the massive, arched fireplace. She studied the inferno roaring inside, refusing to look at William. Behind her, the door closed with a thud, and the bolt slid to with a scrape of finality. She heard and felt each crunching step as he came up behind her.
“My lady,” he murmured. “My wife.”
She couldn’t face him. “Aye,” her voice cracked. The fire looked wild, hungry.
“Would you like some wine?” His breath warmed the side of her neck. A second later, his lips sealed the tender flesh with a kiss.
“Wine.” She spun around. “Wine would be nice.”
His eyes blazed hotter than the fire. He hesitated, then smiled. “Then wine you shall have.” In two strides, he moved to the table where it waited. He grabbed the pitcher and poured dark liquid into one of two silver cups. Then he offered one to her.
Her fingers brushed his as she took the cup. She thanked him with a closed-mouth smile and took a sip of wine. The heady mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves tickled her tongue. The liquid warmed and soothed her throat.
“Good?” he asked.
She nodded and sipped again.
He grinned. “Perhaps ʼtwill loosen your tongue.”
His grin deepened. “Though I see it’s had no effect yet.”
Hours of nervous tension crystalized. “I’ve better use for my tongue than to prattle the night away.”
“Really?” He inched closer. “Would you care to demonstrate?”
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.