Coast of England ‐ 1079
All noise ceased as the immense Viking entered the inn. His green
eyes surveyed the scene quickly, then his strong legs carried him
purposely toward the bar, where Esmeralda Handrian attempted to cover
her nudity with the shredded remains of her gown. Was he to be her fate,
then? The nuns who had raised her had not prepared her for the
possibility of being abandoned by her traveling companions. Penniless
and without proof of her identity, she’d been forced to seek shelter at this
inn, only to be stripped and bid upon like a common whore.
Eerie silence reigned until the Viking nodded to the innkeeper and
tossed him several coins. Behind him, his second in command threw a
handful of coins to the gathered men, dispersing them quickly.
“Have her bathed and fed,” the Viking told the innkeeper. “And
make sure we’re not disturbed until morning.”
“Of course, I’ll see to it myself.” The innkeeper cowered before the
Viking’s fierce stare, and then scurried away to do his bidding.
Esme gripped her dress, biting her tongue to keep from crying out
in distress. She wanted to scream that the Viking had no right to buy her,
but knew this was not the time. Her only chance was to try and convince
him that there had been a misunderstanding and try to persuade him to
To her surprise, he swept the white fox cloak from his shoulders
and wrapped it around her half‐naked body. She stared up at him,
stunned. She hadn’t expected kindness. A maid came up beside her and
tried to pull her away, tugging at her hand when she remained frozen in
place, staring up into the Viking’s startling green eyes. He met her gaze
for a long, strange moment then waved his hand in an arrogant command
for her to be dragged upstairs to the inn’s finest chamber.
Esme bathed in the shallow tub provided, rushing to take
advantage of the scalding water before the Viking came for her. The maid
helped wash her long sable curls before retreating, leaving her alone in the
chamber. Taking a seat before the large fire, she raced to stitch the torn
bodice of her gown while the heat dried her hair.
A tray of food sat on a long wooden table in the center of the room,
untouched. Though she was starving, she didn’t want to put herself any
further in debt to him.
She flinched when the heavy door pushed open, and the Viking
ducked through. He was so tall; he had to duck to enter the room. As he
straightened to his full height, she pulled the cloak tighter around her
shoulders, desperately wishing she’d managed to finish mending her
As he shut the door behind him, his hungry gaze swept her from
head to toe. She flushed, and a curious warmth bloomed with her. For one
strange moment, she wondered what it would feel like if he held her,
kissed her, or even touched her intimately. The idea both intimidated and
thrilled her. Ashamed, she dropped her gaze. The nuns would lock her
away forever if they knew what she was thinking.
Ulrich Valda hadnʹt planned on buying a maid for the night, but
the moment he’d seen her, he’d known she wasnʹt in her element.
Normally he wouldnʹt have cared. Heʹd use his purchase and set her free
in the morning. But he’d been stunned by her fear and innocent
appearance. When he’d entered the inn, she’d tensed and set her
shoulders bravely before looking him directly in the eye.
He dropped the bar in place across the door, refusing admittance to
any outsider. Her whole body jolted when the wood made contact. He
was in no hurry; he had all night to do as he wished with her. Noting she
hadnʹt touched the food provided, he sat at the table, poured himself a
cup of mead, and watched her wordlessly.
They’d come to an impasse.
“You look much better cleansed,” he commented wryly.
“Of course I do!” she snapped, obviously affronted.
He couldn’t hold back his laughter. “Ah, so you do have a voice.
Youʹve not touched the food.”
“And owe you more? I think not. And letʹs get this straight between
us from the beginning; the innkeeper had no right to sell me to you. I
simply came in to ask for help and he…started auctioning me off, he—”
She cursed low under her breath as she pricked her finger with a needle.
She put her finger to her lips.
“What is your name?” He didnʹt try to hide his obvious appraisal.
Her story might have some merit. Her pampered hands were not those of
a working maid.
“Would it matter?” Obviously frustrated, she drew in a deep breath
before lifting her gaze. “You were the highest bidder.”
“Was my bid not high enough?” He laughed as she calculated her
next move. “It matters not. Youʹre mine for the night. Might as well eat,
the foodʹs been bought.”
He nodded toward the table, and she finally moved closer to it,
selecting only an apple from a tray before quickly moving back beside the
fire, trying to hold his cloak closed over her naked body. She ate the fruit
quickly, as if she hadn’t been fed in months.
“Now, what is your name?” Ulrich moved from the chair and
poured a second cup of mead, handing it to her. He topped off his cup
and sat back, knowing he made her anxious. Standing abruptly, he took
the core from her fingers and tossed it into the fire beside her.
“Esme. And you are?” An edge sharpened her voice.
“Iʹm Ulrich Valda.”
Comprehension swept over her features. “Ah, the Viking trader,
Iʹve heard stories of you, sir. Are they true?” She softened, curiosity filling
her fine, dark eyes.
“That depends on the story. What do they call you besides Esme?”
“Esmeralda, sir. Esmeralda Handrian.” She seemed frustrated
when he showed no recognition. “Esmeralda Handrian—as in Lord
Gehard Handrianʹs niece. Surely youʹve heard of him?”
He frowned. “Anyone who knows the coast knows of Lord
Handrian. His trading center is run well, fair prices for goods.”
She only nodded her head at his words.
“If you are his blood, what have you done to disfavor yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“You had to have done something to wind up being bid on in the
“I did nothing, sir. And if youʹll let me explain, itʹs not as you might
He inclined his head for her to continue, and she finally sipped
from her cup.
“I was on my way home from the convent. We left three days ago,
and my companions were paid to see me home. Only yesterday morning I
awoke to find theyʹd abandoned me, taken the horses and all our supplies,
including my clothing and money.”
“Why not stay at the inn where you spent the night and send word
ahead to your uncle?”
She looked at him as if he was a complete dolt. “I would have,
except that my companions forced us to go further than the planned stop
last eve, making me believe we could make this inn by night fall. We
couldnʹt and were forced to camp. When I awoke they were gone and so
was everything else we had with us.” Her slim fingers rose to stroke the
back of her neck. When she saw him watching, she dropped her hand.
“Do you?” She stood, glaring at him in the dim light.
Ulrich wondered if she realized the portrait she made, her hair
glowing in the firelight, her long slender legs peaking from his cloak with
each step she took, her slim fingers holding the wrap closed around her.
“I knew it was only a half dayʹs travel to this inn. It seemed wiser to
make my way here, closer to Uncle. But in the last year, the innkeeper has
changed. He did not know me and wouldnʹt allow me time to explain
before the men started bidding on me. You walked in and—” She
shrugged. “Iʹm not going back to the convent. Anything I find further on
my journey would be better.”
They were both quiet for a while, and Ulrich finally tried a different
approach. His mind reeled with possibilities, now that he knew who she
was. Lord Handrian was not a man to anger if you wanted to continue
trading in his port. If this was truly his niece, heʹd best tread carefully.
“You did not appreciate your schooling?”
“Itʹs not the schooling I dread; itʹs the monotony of time, sir. I didnʹt
always board at the school. While my father was alive I lived at Handrian.
I was free there, to ride and wander the fields, to shop the docks and stroll
among the traders. I had friends and we were happy, we laughed…”
He groaned silently. She was beautiful, and Ulrich didnʹt need a
beautiful, spoiled woman on his hands.
“Why send you away?” He shifted in his chair, watching her every
move. She was a bit thin for his taste, but she was young. Sheʹd fill out
with a few years behind her.
“My uncle felt it best. He wanted me educated. I donʹt think he
understood taking me from one life and putting me behind the convent
walls would be so…” She stood and started pacing once again.
“Stop wandering, girl. You make me tired watching you. Come
closer so I can see you clearer.”
She hesitated then sat beside the fire once again.
“Iʹm not an animal,” he snapped, losing his patience. “Come here!”
With a defiant lift of her chin, she slowly approached him, leaning
over his chair to bring her face close to his. When he lifted his hand to
touch her, she pulled back quickly, moving to the other side of the room.
He laughed at her retreat, thinking it was a good thing her uncle had put
her in a convent. She was beautiful and strong‐willed, a temptation to any
man’s good sense.
Best not to let himself get involved with Lord Handrian’s niece.
Better men than he had been tied to the land because of women who
weren’t nearly as beautiful as Esme. He’d not let her beauty bind him to
the mistake of his lifetime.
A woman of Esme’s background would be expected to marry a
man who would enhance her stature. Ulrich was not that man. On the
other hand, he accepted that her plight had become his. If she was truly
Lord Handrian’s niece and he didn’t help her, his trading days in Port
Handrian would cease.
Esme knew if she stayed close to the Viking, sheʹd want to touch
him. He was larger than life to her. The stories sheʹd heard of his
conquering ways had always amazed her. Heʹd found trading to his liking
and was successful beyond anyoneʹs dreams. He was known to be fair
when dealt with fairly and quick to conquer when angered. All she
wanted to do was touch him, to feel the width of his shoulders under her
fingers, to know what his blond hair felt like against her skin. The entire
time she’d been in the convent, her private dreams had always been about
the fair‐haired, green‐eyed warrior who would come and take her away
and make her his own.
Now that she stood in the same room with such a creature,
confusion vexed her mind. What was right and what her body told her
she wanted were two different things. Suddenly she wondered if she
might not have both—Ulrich for the night and a way home. For the first
time since waking that morning and finding sheʹd been abandoned in the
woods, she smiled.
Nobody would ever have to know she’d let him touch her and
teach her what it meant to lay beside a man. The idea made her tingle in
lower places, and her skin heated at the idea of his touch. Esme thought
about all the time sheʹd spent in extra prayer after asking the nuns a
question about sex or love and laughed aloud at the irony of the situation.
Ulrich would have the final word, but at least her mind would be
clear that she tried to keep herself pure. If she wasnʹt holding the cloak
closed around her she would have crossed her fingers in hopes heʹd not
heed her next words.
“Ulrich, please take me home to my uncle. I assure you heʹll reward
“I travel in the opposite direction. Itʹs impossible.”
“Then send me home with several of your trusted men. Theyʹll be
rewarded for their time and trouble.”
“Why should I believe you really are his niece? You could be
“How dare you call me a liar? You have no reason to believe
otherwise and besides, once we got to his castle, what would you expect
me to do if I wasnʹt his blood?” She began to pace again, mumbling under
her breath. She didn’t care if he made out an occasional phrase. She cursed
the fates that had hindered her journey and given her a strange gift she
“Somehow I donʹt think Lord Handrianʹs niece would speak as you
“You don’t know anything about me, only that you think Iʹm some
whore you can buy for a nightʹs pleasure.” And that was her quandary.
She wanted to be with Ulrich but as a lover, not as a paid whore.
She gathered up her gown and brought it to him, dropping it on his
lap. “Here, does this look like the gown of a street whore? No, look at the
fine weave and quality of the stitches. Ulrich, please see me home and
youʹll be rewarded, I swear to you.”
“I canʹt do that. Iʹve done what I can for you, girl. Iʹve taken you
away from the drunks downstairs, given you a bath and food. On the
morrow, I head inland.”
“A horse, then. Loan me a horse, and when you travel back to the
city heʹll be returned and youʹll be rewarded.”
“And what if you come upon another innkeeper who doesnʹt
believe you are who you say? What then?”
“Donʹt you see? Thatʹs my point.” In her utter frustration, she
forgot to hold the cloak closed, giving Ulrich glimpses of her body under
his furs. It occurred to her she should feel uncomfortable about the
situation. After all, the man was a virtual stranger. But for some reason
she didn’t care that he saw her body. Perhaps she was offering herself
silently with her actions.
“With you as my guard, no one would dare…”
“Dare what, Esme?”
“Dare to treat me as they did today.”
Having been born and raised on Long Island, NY, my husband and I were both eager to leave the urban lifestyle behind us and explore our futures. With his encouragement I'm living my dream of writing romance novels full time. Our new rural setting allows us time to enjoy time together
and guiltless hours in my imagination indulging my other passion. When I realized my works consistently tended towards the erotic I gave myself permission to explore places I might not venture in real life.