The Bride Who Rode in With The Storm
A rugged Viking surrounded by treacherous assassins and a virtuous nun hounded by more than the storm. Two cultures collide when Anglo-Saxon Rosamund bursts into the mead hall of jaded Varangian Guard Grimulf and demands he marries her.
Since her nunnery was sacked, Rosa has been on the run. She has relied on her wits to keep her safe, but now she needs someone willing to wield shield and sword for her.
Grimulf is Rosa’s wild warrior, who conceals his past traumas from his years as a soldier in the East. Rosa is the innocent novice forced to bind herself to him for protection.
As their story unfolds, she discovers this broad, scarred hero has a tender, protective side. A complex man who does not force her to slake his lust but slowly seduces her until she is close to begging for his touch.
However, will the lies she has whispered in his ear be their undoing?
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Genre: Historical Romance
~ A Pink Satin Romance ~
January 912 – Heimer’s Settlement, East Anglia
More enemies than friends went to the feast honouring Grimulf’s return. The Varangian Guard had put down his axe, finally sated on the war and bloodshed his youth had craved. Most anticipated him claiming a wife and a great many hoped their daughters might catch his attention tonight.
The guest of honour had yet to be sighted. They blamed the storm. Not because it might have delayed Grimulf, but because he would have turned back to ride through it just for the thrill. His father, had he still lived, would have boomed with laughter along with the thunder if someone was foolish enough to warn him to rein in his son.
“It’d be the same as trying to tame the winds. It’s not my job to stifle his lust for adventure. That’s for his wife to do, if she wants him home long enough to net a few sons!”
Rain harried the land, striking the dunes and rattling the coarse bracken bushes. Night approached, the lightning only a faint eyelash-like flutter of white against the whorls of magenta and poppy-red entwined with the clouds.
The mead hall blazed from the fires of the feast, fearlessly built on the edges of sand cliffs overlooking the sea. Timbers were carved into snarling dog creatures with lizard flesh instead of fur.
The guests ignored the whistle like wail of the wind. Their ale, a sharp, nettle sting needling their throats warm, sloshed into held out drinking horns. Trickles spiderwebbed down the sides as serving maids served up their smiles, too occupied with watching interest glisten in the men’s eyes.
Grimulf’s men caroused, exchanging stories from their battles. None seemed to care their master was missing. One man was too busy showing off the scar from his throat to his belly to any maid willing to trace her fingers along the raised flesh, still tanned from a Syrian sun.
Those who had come to report to their own chieftains sullenly licked the mead from their lips, eyeing the hall doors. They were not so trusting of the sudden truce brokered by the young man. He had absconded with many an enemy cursing his name. This night could lead to years of peace and unity against the Lady of the Mercians or the continuation of bloodshed.
Hunting dogs roamed beneath the tables, hungering for fallen scraps. Grimulf’s favoured dog was amongst them. Shuck snuffled at a boot, tail thumping. The man’s hand came down to scratch him on the ear, then gently nudged him lest he gave the game away.
Grimulf hid amongst his own people, hunched over like an old man with a cloak wrapped around him and a gnarled stick in his hand. He deeply breathed in the nutty aroma of the fires and the marsh mud damp and clinging to people’s shoes.
This must be what home smells of, he thought, warmth, comfort, the promise of a bed to soon tumble into, and not alone either.
This land was his to shelter and command. He wanted to settle. He must after what had occurred in Byzantium. Instead of battle, his blood now burned for that other conquest—the begetting of heirs.
Upon disembarking from his boat, Grimulf had sent a scout ahead to gauge the welcome awaiting them. Rudolf did not return at the appointed time. His party found him face down in the waterlogged sands.
Amazingly, Rudolf lived. As they dragged him, his hand went around Grimulf’s throat, fighting even when his sword had been swept off by the sea.
“What’s the sea belched up, then?” Grimulf had joked even as thick fingers dug in tighter. “Something a fisherman would throw back in!”
Rudolf’s warning roared with the blood in Grimulf’s ears. It had been his own kinfolk who had ambushed him. Those once loyal to his family had turned to another chieftain.
With three sons, there should have been no threat to Heimer’s line. Grimulf had never expected to be foisted with the duty of their farmstead and the surrounding lands.
He looked to the throne, where the true heir should have been sitting. Instead, it was as barren as a shell picked clean by the gulls. Harald and his wife perished in the shipwreck that had also ferried off their father.
He’d been a boy then, desperate to escape the fury bubbling inside, unable to rage against the taking of their lives when there was no one to blame save the Gods. His brother Ragnar had thought it best he was out of the way, rather than interfering with his running of things.
A messenger had arrived with news Ragnar had been slain by an unknown enemy. Whoever killed him knew the new chieftain’s hold would be weak, after so long being absent. Grimulf must quickly shore up support amongst his people.
If Grimulf claimed a bride, it must be now. No one here truly knew him, thinking him the reckless youth who had run off to be a soldier. Depending on his choice of wife, his bed might be warmed by an ally or remain frigid from the viper he invited between the sheets.
He eyed the daughters of his enemies as a wolf did a deer. Hungry, but cautious. They were all beautiful, whether it be their bundles of honey-hued hair, the daring quirk of their smile or throaty laughter. They were certainly strong in their haunches: a sure sign of healthy bearing and something soft to embrace in bed.
No matter his concerns, a decision must be made. He had considered this throughout his voyage. Rudolf’s revelation had only spiced it with danger.
Whatever came at him, he would have the pleasure of bending it to his will.
Night swathed its damask across the sky. Each time lightning struck it shot across like an arrow aflame. The dogs lifted their heads, staring at the shadows dancing in the rafters.
Grimulf thrust aside his stick. It was time to announce his arrival and make his choice. He mounted the steps leading to the empty throne, curved back straightening to reveal the tall, rigid form of the true man beneath.
The hall doors burst open. In strode a horse, white as the frost coating the grasses. Seaweed dragged behind one of its legs. Sand encrusted the hooves.
Draped across it was the long skirt of a dress dyed the vibrant hue of the sea, delicate silk detailing resembling spider’s gossamer. A woman clung to the thick neck. No more could be discerned of her, not her hair or eyes or whether she was maid or crone, for a veil engulfed her face and breasts. Bone hair pins held the veil in place, so it could not even suggest the contours of her face, shielding her from their gaze.
Guards hurried after her, snatching at the horse’s reins, but the creature had none. She had ridden here without a saddle, simply clinging on.
Women and men stared in awe. One old farmhand shuddered, muttering phantom under his breath. She was a gust of winter wind turned corporeal. Common sense warned not to meddle with those from the other world, for it might be Loki up to his tricks.
“Where is Grimulf?” the woman cried, and at least Grimulf now knew she was young. “I must speak with him!”
Murmurs of apprehension. This woman was not a Dane. She was a Saxon. Most likely a Christian. Not even a Saxon man would dare come to these pagan lands, what would lure a woman here? One youth too far into his cups clumsily mounted the table, helped by his friends, to proudly declare he was the mighty chieftain and more than ready to welcome her.
The actual Grimulf, sneering in distaste at the runt, pulled down his hood.
“I am who you seek.”
The woman made no response. Though her face might be covered he felt the heavy weight of her stare. She was assessing him. His curiosity hungered to see what colour those eyes were, whether they were wide with fear, bright with interest or narrowed in disdain.
The horse shifted, snorting and heaving after its furious ride.
“Come now,” Grimulf urged, voice rough. “You’ve made this perilous journey—speak!”
She did not flinch, instead her hands slowly rose, scooping up the veil. This simple action transfixed him.
First, she revealed her slender throat, then her thin, pointed chin, petal shaped lips half-parted, red from the bite of the cold and slightly trembling as she panted. The veil did not go any higher.
“My name is Rosamund Thorne. I come from the nunnery ten miles from here. I have ridden without rest.”
“And why would you be so foolish—”
“I had to come. My God commanded me.”
Now she threw back the veil. Curls of her dark hair cradled her face, as clinging as water weeds, so only one eye could be seen. Her eyelashes were dark and heavily fringed, the arched eyebrow thick and imposing. She stared down at him, the pale blue eye oddly unsettling and stark. She looked like a soldier given her orders, and no one would get in her way.
He thought she might throw herself weeping into his arms, but she was not miserable. Instead, anger flushed her cheeks. The barely held in fury animated her pale features.
By Odin, she was stunning. He felt a stir within him. And yet she was a nun, a woman wed to her Christian God, forbidden and untouchable.
It made her even more appealing.
“When I was at prayers,” she told him, “a vision came to me. I must come to this heathen place and offer myself as your bride. And convert you to the true faith.”
A held breath of silence, then the hall roared with outrage.
Grimulf hoped desperately she spoke the truth. His curse hungered within him, snarling and pacing, whispering all were out to get him. One night he might snap and kill them all.
This woman offered salvation. If she spoke true, he would get on his knees and worship her.
* * *
The bride surveyed the men closing in around her. They were like baited bears who had dragged off their furs to reveal facsimiles of human creatures.
In her opinion, the one called Grimulf kept his pelt on. His wind thrashed hair was red as the amber found along these coasts. His beard had not seen a knife for some time, the face beneath hidden.
Her mouth curled with aversion. She doubted he had touched scent or water, instead stinking of the road. The musk of hard work on a man might be appealing, but too much and they were no better than common beasts.
His eyes shone through the fire and bracken of his hair. They were completely black and easily mistaken for shadows, yet at that moment they reflected every light in the hall, engulfed in white flame.
She could not tell his expression. Normally she was adept at reading men. Perhaps it was because she herself had changed. When she wore a habit, pilgrims had often spoken their secrets to her, simply unable to mistrust a nun.
All that had been stolen from her, leaving only Rosa.
Exhaustion clawed at her. It had hunted her as endlessly as the dogs had done, but now she might finally give in. She dearly wanted to rest. But in this place, she must bargain her flesh to gain a marriage bed.
She was amongst pagans. Vikings. In raids she had seen men carried off to be thralls, women left behind, ravaged and weeping. She came to this willingly.
She watched Grimulf, awaiting his answer. He cracked a smile at her, which barely showed through his beard. His otherworldly eyes looked to the Heavens.
“What a task your God has set you! I am afraid his powers do not extend as far as here. You are on your own.”
There came a shout, one of the warriors calling he’d have her instead. Grimulf held up his hand. In an instant there was silence. Even as dirt-weary as he was, he still commanded these men.
“I admire your gall. Most of you women must be led by the hand like a lamb to the axe.” His grin turned sharp as she bristled. “A Viking woman chooses her husband and brings to the marriage her wisdom and dowry. Well, nun, what do you have to offer if I am to be your choice?”
Rosa faltered. She should have expected this. Had she been arrogant enough to assume he would accept her without incentive?
Thunder boomed again. The double doors gaped open, slathering rain pelting over the stones. Lightning swept its white cape across, then whipped it back to reveal the night sky.
If he rejected her, she would be thrown out. Left to fend for herself.
The wolves were out there. She would be devoured.
At the threat of this fate, Rosa’s hands began to tremble. Her grip around the horse slackened. Shadows ringed her vision.
She must not faint!
Only Grimulf saw her face. The others could only see her from behind, and it was an enticing view. None of them knew of the fear spilling out.
Grimulf’s mocking smile dropped. He took a step forward, the horse shying, but with one stroke to its nose it calmed.
He held out his hand. There were no words to reassure her, only that offered hand. He wore no glove. His flesh was slightly darker, the tan ending at the wrist. The smallest finger was crooked from a long-ago break and on it was a chunky silver ring of a snarling wolf’s head.
His hands were as large as paws. He could break her fingers as one would crack a nut.
Rosa grasped his hand just as a dying man would snatch for land. His eyebrows rose at her ferocity and he seemed… pleased.
Grimulf pulled her into his arms. She expected stale sweat and the stink of horses. She smelt a trace of the road, the heady scent of masculinity alongside something dark and feral but tinged with it a fresher smell. As rough as he looked, he had bathed recently.
As her feet touched the ground, her limbs went limp. She had ridden without rest. The insides of her thighs were red raw, thickened and puffy from going without a saddle. To feel the chafing of her legs made her flinch, the sensation akin to needles being pulled in and out. Her eyes flicked down, expecting her gown to be drenched in blood. It remained as dark as the seas.
Sensing her weakness, his arm came around her waist to support her, the broad forearm resting beneath her rump. It forced her to look at him, past the great bush of beard. Their chests pressed tightly together, his heartbeat a steady thumping sound resounding inside of her. If she felt his lifeforce penetrating her, he must have her sparrow flutter of a pulse tucked within him.
“Now, little bird,” he whispered lowly, the heat of his breath caressing her ear, “tell me why I should choose you, besides this?”
His hand passed over her buttocks, firmly squeezing. A small gasp made her mouth fall open, shocked at herself. There had been a sharp sensation that could not quite rightly be called displeasure.
It was just as the other nuns had warned; the flesh was weak.
“I will bring you the true faith,” she began.
“I am quite happy with the Gods I serve,” he replied.
“My father, Edward Thorne, is a distant relation to the Queen of the Saxons. There will be a great dowry for the man who marries me.”
“That is promising, Rosa.” She liked the way her name rumbled over his tongue. “But a smaller dowry is a better exchange for a sensible woman. Your people have soft, pale hands as delicate as milk.” He still held her hand. His thumb ran over her palm. “What work can these hands do?”
Rosa straightened. These were her strengths. She should have offered them from the start, rather than a wife she was like a servant bartering over her wage.
“I can cook. Sew. I ran my brothers’ households for several years before they were wed. At the nunnery, I was renowned for my skills in healing.”
He was appraising her, seeing if she spoke the truth. Rosa held steady. She was not some weak wisp of a thing who only sat around, beautiful and bored. She was of use. One more push was needed. He was wavering, she was certain.
“I am only twenty-three, with many years to bear you healthy sons. None have touched me—” Her throat went tight. She was untouched through sheer luck and her own hare-like stamina. “I am a virgin. My brothers are dead. My father is far from these lands. No one will come to reclaim me.”
Her muscles went taut. Slowly, she pushed herself onto her tiptoes.
“I am a stranger here. As my husband, you will be my guide. I have no ties to any who might be your enemy. The only ally I have will be you.”
Rosa pushed herself the rest of the way, dragging her body against his. Their mouths crushed together.
Her first kiss had been stolen from her two nights ago. That one had been rough and sloppy, like being smothered. This was different. She assumed because she had initiated it. She braced herself, preparing for him to wrench back control.
Grimulf’s mouth remained soft upon hers. His gentleness surprised her.
Gone was the rest of the hall. She heard a rushing noise akin to the lapping of waves, her blood running quick. This moment became the same as a held breath.
The scrape of his beard was a strange sensation. She was not certain whether she liked it much, though supposed she would have to get used to it. Delicately, his teeth scraped over her lip and, curious, she opened her mouth. His tongue entered, so sudden and strange her lips clamped shut.
She remembered. When the man who hunted her had forced his foul breath upon her, their teeth had crashed together.
Grimulf stilled, thinking she meant to bite him. When she did not he chuckled, the sound travelling between them, vibrating into her core. Her lips were wet and burning when he withdrew.
“Well, I’ll certainly enjoy showing you how to properly kiss,” he murmured, just to her.
He turned to look upon his people. His arm remained draped around her waist.
“Welcome to my new bride Rosamund, daughter of Edward Thorne, sent by the Nailed God himself! We will be wed—”
“Tonight,” Rosa interrupted. “I must be your bride before sunrise.”
He looked at her curiously but did not rebuke her.
“Then tonight it shall be. We will celebrate with the dawn!”
His men were slow to cheer, but they did. Feet stamped. Horns rapped against the table, the spray of ale cresting the air like seafoam.
The storm faded, whimpering, while the people within the mead hall roared louder than the thunder.