Ancient law proclaims that, as the year 999 draws to a close and the new millennium begins, the land of Alderich will be wrested from the Rune family by the clan of Leonhart. But when Rafael of Leonhart takes Serath Rune hostage, intending to force her grandfather, the Lord of Alderich, to surrender his land, the old man refuses. Before long, Rafael is falling under the spell of his fiercely beautiful captive--and the conquest he desires most is her defiant heart.
Look for the other sensational romances in the Meet Me at Midnight series:
Midnight Mistress by Ruth Owen
Just Before Midnight by Suzanne Robinson
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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Convent of Saint Basilla
Kingdom of York, Britain
October 31, 999
"The omens are ill indeed."
The bishop leaned back in his chair and allowed the novice to refill his goblet of wine. The young woman did so with steady hands, head bowed, and then stepped back into the shadows of the prioress's private chamber, keeping her jug of wine ready.
"Think you so?" murmured the prioress, taking a bite of her evening meal. "The new year is still weeks away."
"What is a matter of weeks to the mind of God?" asked the bishop. "Mere weeks are nothing to Him. I tell you, God is warning us. He is showing us these signs to prepare us for the end times. How else do you explain the curious weather we've been having? The heat of August on a day so close to winter?"
"You are correct, of course," concurred the prioress.
"One of my villages has reported the birth of a lamb to a cow. How do you explain that, I ask you? And another has had its well dry to dust overnight. Overnight! From a well that was plentiful just the day before. Every day of my travels brings me to a new village with new portents, each one more severe than the last. The Day of the Lord is nearly here!"
The prioress nodded thoughtfully.
"Expect miraculous things," whispered the bishop, his voice low and thrilled. "Showers of fire! The earth opening up! The red dragon himself come to plague us! Yet we will be strong, and be blessed for it!"
"We are grateful you have come to warn us," said the prioress.
"These are strange times," muttered the bishop, and waved his goblet for more wine. The young woman came forward, tipping the jug to the goblet, but the wine splashed out too quickly. A splattering of red fell onto the sleeve of the bishop's robe.
"Clumsy girl!" exclaimed the man, and pushed back his chair, holding out his arm in front of him.
The novice quickly set the jug of wine on the table. She grasped the stained cloth of the robe and began to blot up the wine with the edge of her own sleeve.
"Leave it," grumbled the bishop, jerking away from her. "You're spreading the stain, child. Leave it be!"
The young woman bowed her head again, hiding her face, and curtsied deeply before backing away once more.
"What?" said the man, watching her. "Have you no repentance to offer, child?"
"She cannot speak," said the prioress calmly. "She is under an oath of silence."
"Ah." The bishop studied the girl again, curious. "She's a bit too old to be a novice, isn't she? Most her age would have taken their vows by now."
"Serath has . . . special problems," said the prioress with a needle-sharp glance to the novice, who remained motionless. "She has not done well with discipline, I'm sorry to say. She is willful and disobedient, a great trial to us all."
"Ah," said the bishop again, nodding. "So this is Serath Rune, granddaughter of the Lord of Alderich. I understand."
"Indeed. I'm certain your lordship has heard of the black history of this girl. It is all we can do to control her."
"The Lord of Alderich is a faithful man," commented the bishop meaningfully.
"He is," responded the prioress. "It is due solely to his good faith that the girl remains here."
"Look at me, child," said the man, and slowly the young woman raised her face.
"Come forward," instructed the bishop. "My eyes are old. I cannot see you in the shadows."
And the novice walked toward him, until the light from the lamps on the table fell across her figure and lit the gray of her veil and gown to the color of smoke.
The bishop seemed startled, throwing a look to the prioress before turning back to the novice. He leaned forward in his chair, examining her.
"Remarkable," he announced. "She is her very image, is she not?"
"It is not so strange for a daughter to have the look of her mother," said the prioress.
"Yes, but this--her eyes, her face . . . I remember Morwena Rune. I remember that darkness about her."
"Yes," said the prioress, but nothing more.
The young woman before them had her gaze focused somewhere beyond them, as if she were not really in the same room but rather someplace very far away.
"The devil's beauty," remarked the bishop, frowning. "I can understand how she might trouble you. It's in her blood, is it not? Coldness. Pride. She is tainted with her mother's spell."
"So it is said," agreed the prioress. "Yet her grandfather . . ."
"A faithful man," finished the bishop, still staring. After a while he turned away again, waving a hand at the novice. The young woman spared a glance to the prioress, who nodded, allowing her to fade back into the shadows of the chamber.
The bishop continued eating. "I had forgotten he sent his granddaughter here. I saw him just a few months ago, in fact. He is preparing for the end, as well."
"Oh?" remarked the prioress.
"Fionnlagh is as fine a castle as I've seen," said the bishop. "But Jozua Rune knows it will not be his much longer. He is preparing for the Lord."
"Alderich and everything in it goes to the other branch of the family with the turning of this year. Everyone knows that."
"They will not have the chance to claim it," replied the bishop, serene. "It is the end."
The prioress nodded again to the novice, lifting her goblet. "So what does he think to do?"
"Naught but the will of God," said the bishop.
The prioress watched her goblet being filled. "Jozua Rune thinks to challenge Rafael of Leonhart for the land?"
The jug of wine slipped from the girl's fingers, this time falling to the table and then to the floor of the chamber, where it shattered into fragments of clay, wine frothing over the stone.
Serath Rune stood back, hands apart, staring at the mess, wine spreading to her feet.
The prioress slowly rose from her chair.
"Clean it up," she said, her voice deceptively mild. "And tomorrow there will be fifteen lashes for this."
The young woman looked up quickly, opening her mouth to protest, then closed it again, her face going blank. She nodded and bent to the ground amid the wine, gathering up the shards of pottery in her hands.
Both the bishop and the prioress watched her work.
"A great trial," said the prioress again, almost to herself.
"You may not have time to save her soul," pronounced the bishop. "It is most likely too late for her."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
With two months left before the dawning of the new millennium, superstitious thoughts dominate England and legends are expected to happen. One such tale centers on the Leonhart family taking the land from the Rune family. Serath Rune and Rafael Leonhart grew up in their respective households hearing the story. Rafael feels the legend will allow him to regain his lost estate. Serath knows how savage her foe can be. Rafael kidnaps Serath as the first step in his plan to regain his family¿s estate. However, Serath knows her grandfather will not pay any ransom for the twit¿s return. As the couple begins to fall in love, they must overcome their personal suspicions of the other and their family feud, perhaps by scripting a non-violent solution to the legend. With novels like A KISS AT MIDNIGHT and THE TRUELOVE BRIDE, Shana Abe is gaining an outstanding name for her stimulating historical romances. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action that brings the last months of 999 AD to life. Even though the family members seem like caricatures of the Hatfields and the McCoys, the lead couple makes the novel as they struggle between their attraction and the legend. Ms. Abe is an able storyteller who makes reading a medieval romance a lot of fun. Harriet Klausner