Europe’s most fearsome prisoner, Vlad Dracula, gifted military commander and one time Prince of Wallachia, the notorious Lord Impaler himself, is about to be released after twelve long years, in order to hold back the tide of Ottoman aggression. The price of his new alliance with his Hungarian captors is the king’s cousin Ilona.
Ilona does not wish to be married. In particular, she doesn’t wish to marry Vlad. Gentle, faded and impossibly vague, Ilona is hardly fit for court life, let alone for dealing with so difficult a husband.
But Ilona’s wishes have nothing to do with Vlad’s reputation and everything to do with a lifelong love affair that finally broke her. Ilona’s family blame Vlad; Vlad vows to discover the truth and sets out by unconventional means to bring back the woman who once enchanted him. Among court intrigues, international manoeuvrings and political deceptions, Vlad reveals himself more victim than villain. But he’s still more than capable of reclaiming his lost rights to both Wallachia and Ilona; and Ilona, when it counts, has enough strength for them both.
Stepping out, with her hand still in his, Ilona inhaled the scents of the night, delicate spring flowers, a hint of herbs drifting over from the kitchen garden, the fading remains of the splendid dinner. She lifted her face into the cooling breeze and breathed deeply as they walked toward the formal flower beds.
As if making a discovery, she said, “That’s the first time I’ve danced with you.”
“I hope it won’t be the last.”
“I can’t remember ever having so much fun.” The words spilled out because they were in her head. Once said, she realised they were probably unwise, but she couldn’t and wouldn’t take them back.
“Even among all those fine young suitors in Buda?”
“Some of them were old,” Ilona confided.
“Who found the most favour?”
“With me? None of them.” She was already spoiled, because her heart had been given long ago to a strange, driven man with a hard face and profound green eyes you could drown in. Those heavy-lidded eyes that seemed to leap now at her flippant comment. A smile played around his full lips.
“You are a difficult woman to catch. Elusive…You slip through my fingers like…” He broke off, pausing in midstride to lift a lock of her hair, letting it trickle over his palm and between his fingers. “Like that.”
Though she’d recovered her breath, her heart still beat like a drum. She said, “I don’t know what you mean.”
The smile tugged his lips higher and faded. “I know you don’t.” Gently, he pushed the captured lock of hair behind her head and rested his hand lightly on her shoulder. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered so hard it was almost painful. He bent toward her until his hair fell across her neck and she forgot to breathe.
His lips touched hers, brushed once, and sank into her mouth. Ilona closed her eyes, let the happiness consume her. It was a brief embrace, yet one so longed for and never imagined that it shook her utterly. When he released her lips, she opened her eyes and gazed up at him. In wonder, she lifted her hand and touched his rough cheek with her fingertips, pleading, though for what she barely knew.
“Again?” he asked huskily.
“Again,” she whispered, and he took her mouth once more, this time in a longer, much more thorough kiss. She felt his tongue slide along her parted lips and delve into her mouth, exploring, caressing. Shattered, she pushed one arm up around his neck and kissed him back while her free hand clung to his velvet mantle like a drowning woman to a rope.
He drew back at last, staring at her from eyes so dark they looked opaque. “Now it’s changed,” he whispered. “Whatever happens, it’s all changed.”
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About the Author
Mary Lancaster’s first love was historical fiction. Since then she has grown to love coffee, chocolate, red wine and black and white films – simultaneously where possible. She hates housework.
As a direct consequence of the first love, she studied history at St. Andrews University, after which she worked variously as editorial assistant, researcher and librarian. Although she has always written stories for her own entertainment, she began to make serious efforts toward publication in order to distract herself from a job she disliked. She now writes full time at her seaside home in Scotland, which she shares with her husband and three children.
Mary is the author of three historical novels:
An Endless Exile – the story of Hereward, 11th century outlaw hero
A World to Win – a Scottish governess finds love in revolutionary Hungary
Mary loves to hear from readers. You can email her at Mary@MaryLancaster.com, and connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mary.lancaster.1656. Find out more about Mary and her books at www.MaryLancaster.com.