Five hundred years ago, Alexander Addington was the Golden Knight, a man who battled his own ruthless father to save the lands and life of his true love, Princess Elysabeth. But he lost--both the war and his lady. A sorceress's magic turned him into an immortal Irish Wolfhound--at least until he finds his reincarnated lover and breaks the spell.
Survivor Bethany Knight has made a new life in the small town of Winterhaven, Colorado. She loves her job in a pagan specialty store, and she even adopts a stray dog. Then Beth begins having sensual dreams about a handsome knight who claims she is his lady love. And all her dream man wants is for her to believe in magic...and second chances.
Publisher Note: Previously published elsewhere under the title Wolf in Santa's Clothing. It has been revised and expanded for Ellora's Cave.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Happy Howlidays by Riley Ashford
Five hundred years ago
"The Golden Knight. How long I've waited for this moment. How valiant you fought against the forces of evil...hah. Now that I've finally caught you, I'm rather bored." Smirking, Mordrius walked slowly around the half-tilted wooden plank to which his enemy was tied with magical chains. The Golden Knight had no power here, yet the dark sorcerer nervously fingered his leather belt, which housed six small poisoned-tipped daggers.
As Mordrius circled the torture table, his purple robes fluttered around his booted feet. He examined the smudged and stained armor. Then he tapped the faceplate of the knight's helmet and felt the tingle of enchantment. The legendary armor really was hammered from bespelled gold. Fascinating. After he deprived his foe of it, he would sell it to buy more weapons, more mercenaries, more black magic. The world would finally be his--then his heir's--to rule.
He smirked down at his prisoner then allowed his gaze to drift around the dungeon. "This particular room has been devoted to the practice of pain most divine. In here, I have perfected the techniques of suffering. All in preparation for the day I captured you." He patted the Knight's shoulder. "You almost won. 'Tis a pity you fell into the trap of loving a false woman."
The Golden Knight roared and strained against his bonds. Mordrius had not yet unmasked him, the sounds of the man's fear echoed hollowly in the helmet. It would be a pleasure to reveal the rebel who had caused him loss after loss; the man who stood as hero, and soon martyr, to the peasants.
"Oh stop wiggling about! You can't escape. Your men are dead, in my dungeon, or running away like scared children. You're all alone. Except for your little witch. The one who delivered you to me."
"She did not betray me. Elysabeth would never betray me."
Mordrius waved at the guard who stood watch at the door. He, in turn, waved at someone waiting the hall. Seconds later, a young woman stumbled into the room. She had long, silky brunette hair and eyes as blue as a cloudless sky. Her dress, once a royal red, was faded, ripped and stained. The tilt to her chin and the flash of defiance in her gaze, though...oh that's what angered Mordrius the most. Insolent chit. Loyal harlot. Deplorable bitch. He grabbed her by the hair and yanked her forward so that she could gaze upon her defeated lover.
"You're right, oh Golden One. Elysabeth would never betray you. Not willingly. I had to weaken her mind so that my witch could break her shields and read her thoughts." Mordrius drew his thumb down Elysabeth's cheek, laughing when she jerked away. "What do you think it takes to break a woman with Elysabeth's loyalty? Hmmm?"
"Leave her alone," demanded the Knight. "You have me. Elysabeth!"
"Physical torture didn't work. She was too good at escaping with all those mind tricks taught to her by Lady Sage." Mordrius leaned forward, satisfaction thick and delicious stirring within him. "I had to violate her beautiful, ripe body. Not once. Many times. My men thank you, Sir Knight. She was tireless, your whore."
"Nooooooo!" The Knight's wrath was fearsome. He fought like a wild dog against the chains. His screams and curses mixed with the scraping and clinking, but all his effort was in vain.
"Your misery has only begun," hissed Mordrius, "but be glad, my enemy. Your dearest love's anguish is at an end." He drew one of the sharp knives from his belt and stabbed it deeply into the heart of Elysabeth, princess of this little kingdom and lover to the Golden Knight. Her soul left the mortal realm with her gaze on the Knight and a sweet smile curving her lush lips.
"No, Father! No!"
Mordrius looked at the Knight in cold horror. As Elysabeth's body dropped to the floor, he ripped off the golden helmet and stared into the eyes of...his son. "Alexander! You mongrel! You betrayer!"
Rage boiled through him. He plotted and planned campaign after campaign with Alexander, only to be defeated at every turn. He'd thought the Golden Knight had placed men within the ranks, but never had he suspected his own son. God's blood! His mortal enemy was his only heir. "Remove his breastplate. Now!"
The guard at the door hurried to do as Mordrius commanded. After the breastplate, chain mail, and cotton-stuffed shirt were removed, Mordrius jerked out the knife from the dead Elysabeth.
He stood at the side of his child, fury making his hands shake. His son was given the only love he'd ever held for another human being. And that small weakness cost him the one thing he'd thought precious. "Everything I did, I did for you. You would've owned the world."
"I did not want the world," said Alexander, weeping. "I wanted Elysabeth. I wanted a family with her. I wanted peace, Father, and justice...and freedom from tyranny."
"You are a fool." Mordrius raised the blade still red with Elysabeth's blood. "Pledge your loyalty to me, boy. Promise you will claim the Earth for me and me alone and I will not kill you. I will forgive you for falling for Elysabeth's sweet lies and ample charms."
"You have already murdered my reason for living," said Alexander. "I care not what you do next."
With a frenzied cry, Mordrius plunged the dagger into his son's chest. His boy's gaze, one blue eye and one brown, went blind. The last word that left Alexander's lips was, "Elysabeth..."
* * * * *
The old woman in the dark green robe swept through the dungeon. Thanks to her cloaking spells, the guards never saw her. Soon, she found the awful room that housed the bodies of her beloved friends.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, Lady Sage kneeled onto the floor and closed the eyes of the beautiful and kind Elysabeth. "Fear not, child. Life does not end and love never dies. Goddess willing, you will have another chance with your knight."
She rose to tend to the Golden Knight, who lay still on the wooden plank. Mordrius had removed the chains and taken the armor. Once he finished grieving for the son he'd killed by his own hand, he would attempt to use it. And what a surprise he would find. If anyone other than Alexander wore the armor, it would melt off and likely kill the person in the process.
The wound on Alexander's chest was deep and black with dried blood. Lady Sage kissed the brow of the man who'd been the child of her heart and murmured her goodbye.
Startled, Lady Sage looked down and saw Alexander staring at her. Mortally wounded, and yet he still breathed! She took his hand and wound his cold stiff fingers within her own. "I'm so sorry, my dearest. Our forces will defeat Mordrius. I have seen as much in the future, but not this...never this."
"Love her." His cloudy gaze filled with tears. "More than life."
Lady Sage's heart rippled with pain and regret. Rarely did she interfere with the will of the Fates. No man and woman had ever shared so pure a love as felt by Alexander and Elysabeth. Should they not have a second chance?
She looked at the terrible gash in his flesh. How he had managed to live this long was a miracle. Maybe it was too late to save the lovers in this lifetime, but perhaps a happy ending might still be had...
Still, Alexander managed to breathe. He had fought off a fatal wound and the poison, surely he could fight a few moments more...
With prayers to the Goddess, Lady Sage created swirling liquid light within her cupped hands. She poured it onto the slain man and sang:
"Take new form, blessed Golden Knight
Live immortally until wrong is made right
You must search for the mate of your soul
Find love with her again and be made whole.