Complete in one breathtaking volume -- Books One and Two of an unforgettable historical romance series by an exciting new author
They were two Viking lords, the brothers Wolf and Dragon, bound both by blood and by a shared ambition to end the war with their lifelong enemies, the Saxons. They know that their only hope for peace is to persuade the Saxon Lord Hawk to unite his noble family with theirs -- in a bond sealed forever by the sanctity of marriage.
Together these three men will strive to overcome centuries-old rivalries and hatred. Each will unite in marriage with an extraordinary woman who has her own special gift -- and her own dreams of bringing about an end to war....
In Dream of Me we meet the Viking leader Wolf Hakonson as he embarks on a mission to kidnap the Lady Cymbra, a legendary beauty Wolf mistakenly believes is the cause of war. Instead he discovers that she is a gifted healer who will challenge him to confront his deepest yearnings -- and together they will become soul mates who forge a future blessed by peace.
The drama continues in Believe in Me, when the Saxon Lord Hawk, brother of Cymbra, seeks to strengthen the alliance by wedding a Norse noblewoman. But Lady Krysta arrives bearing many secrets -- including her gift for seeing what others cannot. And as an unexpected love ignites, only Krysta can sense the looming danger that threatens the peace -- and Hawk as well.
Set in England and Norway at the end of the ninth century, this single volume contains the first two installments of Litton's debut trilogy. Through lyrical prose and sharp sensory details, Litton conveys the harshness of an era tempered by the promise of peace and the prospect of love. When fierce Norse chief Wolf Hakonson receives a scathing response to his offer of peace from Hawk, a renowned Saxon lord, and his sister, Cymbra, he kidnaps Cymbra and takes her back to his settlement. Wolf had originally planned to ravage and humiliate her, but her unparalleled beauty and compassionate demeanor lead him to marry her instead. The attraction between the two is immediate and palpable, but their path to marital bliss is beset with obstacles. First, the women of the settlement refuse to accept their Saxon mistress, who turns out to have empathic abilities, and then Wolf must face the wrath of his brother-in-law. Inevitably, true love triumphs, but the peace forged by their fortuitous union is precarious. To cement the pact between the Saxon and Norse, Hawk grudgingly agrees to take a Norse bride, and his unexpected affection for Lady Krysta, his enigmatic and fiery fiancee, is the focus of Litton's second, less dynamic entry. Although Hawk's sinister half-sister, along with a number of other scheming figures, try to drive a wedge between the couple, the story lacks the romantic tension that distinguishes the author's first installment. Nevertheless, Hawk and Krysta are charismatic characters, and Krysta's guardians a wily troll and an austere woman aptly named Raven add humor and a dash of magic to the mix. Historical romance readers will embrace this capable author and her enchanting new trilogy. (Oct. 9)Forecast: Litton is the pseudonym of a popular romance author, and Bantam is putting a lot of push behind her "debut" including Internet banner ads, print advertising in First for Women and USA Today and extensive ARC mailings. The book's glossy, gold cover and affordable two-in-one format will attract browsers.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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October 01, 2001
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Excerpt from Dream of Me/Believe in Me by Josie Litton
Mist rises from water made inky by moonless night, swirling over the shingle beach where waves curl gently, drifting up the cliff side fragrant with purple gorse, slipping through chinks in the palisade walls of the great fortress called Holyhood.
Nothing stirs save for a stray rat nosing at kernels dropped from a grain sack hours before. A cat crouches on the timber wall ... waits ... leaps....
At their posts, the guards nod, negligent in their duty. Within, the great hall rings to the snores of the garrison.
In a private chamber at the top of the innermost tower, a young woman murmurs in her sleep, turning her petal-soft cheek against a scented pillow, restless as her dreams.
...The cat sits, delicately disassembling her prey. A whisper of wind troubles her fur. She looks up, frozen by the swift, silent shape that cleaves the mist.
In the curved dragon prow of the war ship, a man watches the keep slip by. His eyes cold and deadly as the ice floes of the north whence he comes, he takes the measure of the fortress whose fate he has already decided.
The silent, deadly shape of the vessel vanishes back into the mist. The cat returns to her meal. The young woman, asleep in the high tower, cries out softly but does not wake.
The women were the first to see them. A group had gone down to the stream to wash clothes. They were chatting happily among themselves, talking of men and children, children and men, when one looked up, peered through the rising dust, and rose slowly to her feet. A fine shirt she had labored long to make for her husband to wear on holy days fell to the ground. She pressed a hand to her mouth to contain the scream that nonetheless emerged, half choked but all the more urgent for it.
The other women stopped. They looked at her first, then followed the direction of her eyes. One or two others let out little exclamations of shock and distress, but quickly enough they quieted. Not one made a sound, and they hushed the babes they had brought with them to the riverbank. The silence was broken only by the tread of horses and the soft clank and creak of men in saddles.
Sir Derward came slowly, his back iron straight, relishing every prancing stride, every moment, every gaze. Behind him, the patrol rode in two lines, single file. Between them, watched every moment by two dozen pairs of alternately astounded and wary eyes, came the prisoners.
They were six in number including the leader, few enough against four times that number, unarmed, their hands tied before them and roped together at the neck. They should have been -- and surely were -- helpless.
Not one was less than six feet in height, and the tallest, the leader, was at least four inches taller than that. Their shoulders and chests were massive, surely far too broad and heavily muscled for any normal men. They wore short tunics and were bare legged, their limbs like sinewy tree trunks.
Most were bearded although the leader was clean-shaven, his face hard and lean, his skin burnished, midnight-black hair hanging to his shoulders. His gaze was sharp and clear as it swept beyond the women to the open gates of the fortress. They were grim-faced, hard-eyed, wolf-souled men, and the leader was the most frightening of them all. Yet they were captive.
Incredibly, amazingly captive. The patrol was past before the women thought to raise a hesitant cheer. They grabbed up their babes and their wash, following swiftly behind, not wanting to miss a moment of this.
A guard lounging against the gate stared slack-jawed at what approached and called a ragged warning. Heads appeared on the palisade, a group formed near the gate, parting swiftly as the horses neared. Work stilled as word spread and the inhabitants of Holyhood dropped what they were doing to come see what none of them had ever thought to witness.
Captive Vikings. Men straight out of nightmares led roped and helpless into their own Holyhood. By their own Sir Derward, for whom none had spared an appreciative thought until this very instant. It was a spectacle to stun, to be savored around the winter fires into distant years, told and retold to children yet unborn.
Their cheers, no longer hesitant but full-throated and heartfelt, rose to heaven, passing on the way the high tower at the center of the keep, drifting by the open windows from which the scent of drying herbs floated, and causing the young woman within to look up curiously.
"What is that, Miriam?"
The old nurse paused in the midst of tying bundles of fragrant grasses together and cocked her head. "The people sound very excited, milady. Would you like me to find out what has happened?"
Slender, white hands laid a final rosebud inside a small press, screwed the lid on tightly, and set the press carefully aside. "If you would. I'd still like to get the oils done today."
Miriam nodded, stood, and left the room. The Lady of Holyhood continued her work.
Wolf Hakonson took a look around the cell into which he and his men had been thrust, nodded slowly, and sank down on the damp stone floor, stretching his long legs out before him. His men, ever vigilant to his mood, grinned. They sprawled out and relaxed.
"Damn," one-eyed Olaf muttered. He glanced at Wolf and sighed. "It's ten pelts I owe you."
"It is," Wolf agreed. His good humor was increasing steadily and he was hard-pressed to conceal it. But conceal it he must, for they were all clearly visible through the crossed iron-lattice windows on the double wooden doors that secured the cell. The room was large for a dungeon and he suspected it was more commonly used for storage, as it no doubt would be again when the harvest was brought in. In the meantime, it served as a prison for the Vikings.
Vikings caught unaware beside their apparently trapped vessel, run aground on a sandbar. Vikings too far from their weapons to offer resistance. Vikings who had surrendered with scarcely a murmur.
The mere thought almost made him burst out laughing. Truly Odin had blessed him with the rooster-brained Saxon in charge of the patrol. Scarcely had he seen so pride-blinded a man.
It would have been the work of minutes to disarm and kill the lax Saxons. He and his men had done the same and more enough times to be confident of the outcome. But that would have left Holyhood yet to be taken. Its garrison was large, if poorly led. Its walls were high. The Wolf valued the lives of those who followed him too much to risk them unnecessarily.
Besides, his chosen method brought not merely defeat and loss but profound insult, perfect to his purpose. He was mulling that over, his thoughts grimly occupied, when a clatter outside interrupted him. His eyes narrowed as he beheld Rooster Brain, accompanied by an audience of several knights, approaching the cell.
"Bold Vikings!" Sir Derward sneered. "The terror of the north!" He threw back his head and laughed, an oddly shrill sound more suited to a nervous girl. The men with him laughed too, perforce.
"Never have I seen such cowards," Derward exclaimed, his cheeks flushed, warming to his subject. "They yielded like women. Indeed, I think perhaps they are women! Viking women would be great hulking things, wouldn't they?"
More laughter greeted this witticism. Derward put his hands on his hips and paced back and forth before the bars gloating at his captives. "God's blood, you are pathetic specimens of men, to muster no resistance at all. Was not one of you eager to sup in Valhalla this night? Or did you have the sense to know not even your craven gods would welcome the likes of you?"
The man beside Wolf stirred. "No," Wolf murmured, his lips scarcely moving. The man stilled.
"You'll rot in here," Derward continued. "You'll weep and beg for food. You'll fight over a rat's carcass. You'll watch each other sicken and die, and you'll pray for death. But it won't come quickly -- oh no! The enemies of Lord Hawk die slowly. You'll curse the mothers who gave you birth before your ends come."
When this, too, failed to raise any reaction, Derward's flush darkened dangerously. He clamped his hands on the iron bars, his mouth twisting. Little flecks of saliva showed at the corners of his lips.
"Mayhap I'll put you to fight each other for the amusement of my men. Whoever survives will have a little food, live a little longer. Which one of you will be the last to die?" His eyes swept over the men in the cell, coming to rest at last on Wolf.
"You," he said, not a question. He stared at the man who, even seated on the floor of a cell, his hands still bound, exuded deadly strength and calm. For just an instant, Derward's eyes flickered. "Why didn't you -- ?"
Whatever thought he'd been about to pursue went unspoken. The door opened again at the top of the stairs leading to the cell. A shaft of golden sunlight penetrated the torch-lit gloom. And there, in that light, stood a woman.
Wolf rose in a single, lithe motion. He moved toward the bars, the better to see her. The sun revealed little, only a dark silhouette, but he could make out that she was tall for a woman, willow slim, and graceful.
Her voice came floating through the doorway, low, soft, melodious, a voice to entice a man or soothe a child. It reverberated through him like a deep, inner caress. He was shocked to realize that he actually shivered.