Copyright © 2011 Marianne Stephens
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  ENTICE ME EXCERPT - Beltane Lion        
              by Cindy Spencer Pape


Beltane Lion

She set the linen to soak in a bucket, then turned back to her guest.

“You’re welcome to stay and eat, though you’d likely be far more comfortable without all that metal. I’m no squire, but I’ve assisted with armor before, and I promise no one will raise a sword to you while you sit at my table.”

He smiled, then, for the first time, and the beauty of it nearly brought Selene to her knees.

Beneath the grime and blood, this lord was perhaps the most handsome specimen she’d ever seen. Not ethereally beautiful like her father, this was a rough man, accustomed to war, but his clear green eyes and deeply hewn features radiated strength and courage. His hair dusted his shoulders and would probably be a golden brown when clean. The depth of concern for his former squire spoke volumes about his character. And yet, now that she had time to actually look at him, she noticed a dark grey haze dimming the vibrant hues of his aura. He was a good man, she was sure of that, but something about him was very, very wrong.

“Thank you. I should tend to the horses first.”

“True, assuming they haven’t wandered off. There’s a stable in the rear, you’re welcome to put them there.”

When he returned, he stood still in the center of the room and lifted one arm to reveal the leather ties that anchored his breastplate. Selene grimaced, but stepped close. He didn’t smell too bad, she’d noticed that in the bedroom, but like any warrior, he’d sweated in his armor, and was in dire need of a bath.

By the time she’d gotten him disarmed, she was nearly faint from hunger. She’d poured a good bit of her personal power into the young man to ensure his recovery, which always left her weakened for a while. And there was something else, a sharp, tingling sensation she’d never felt the like of before. It was much like standing amid a lightning storm, with her skin taut and her senses awhirl. What was happening to her? Hastily, she moved away from him to serve the soup and a loaf of fresh-baked bread.

“Where are you bound, my lord? I can send word when your friend is ready to be moved.”

She sipped the soup, understanding now why it had resisted spicing. In the back of her mind, she must have sensed an impending patient.

“Home to Wales.” He didn’t even pause between mouthfuls to answer. “But you won’t need to send for me. I’m staying.”

Staying? That was never going to work!

“But my lord, there is only the one bed.” True there was also the loft, where her father stayed on his visits, but Selene had planned on sleeping there herself.

He cocked one golden-brown eyebrow and tilted his head toward the ladder to the loft. So he’d seen it. Fie! Then he swallowed and nodded.

“I’ll pitch my campaign tent in the field beyond the cottage. I’ve spent more nights in that than in a bed these last many years.”

Oh. How utterly reasonable. Selene sagged into her chair and nodded.

“That will be fine, my lord.” She studied her soup, unwilling to gaze on him openly.

“Rhodri.” His voice was gruff, but gentle, and so soft she could not make out his words.

“Beg pardon, my lord?”

He cleared his throat then spoke again, marginally louder this time.

“Since I’ll be your guest, you may as well use my name. It’s Rhodri. Rhodri ap Madoc, Earl of Llyan.” There was but a trace of a Welsh lilt to his English, just enough to lend a musical softness to his rough tone.

An earl? Oh my! She struggled not to let her discomfort show. Here and now, he was only a man, like any other, she reminded herself.

“Well that explains the lion on your shield, I suppose.” She sent him a smile. “I am called Selene. Welcome, Rhodri.”

He tipped his head in a bow.

“Well met, Mistress Selene. I am eternally in your debt. What boon can I offer in return for you care of my young charge? Name it and it is yours.”

“Let us wait until he recovers to talk of payment, my lord.”

He gave her an unexpectedly engaging grin and tsked.

“I mean Rhodri. But you could begin by explaining to me how it is that there are gashes and blood on your clothing, yet none on your skin.”