Look for Dagger’s Destiny at Amazon in both the Kindle e-book and Print-on-Demand formats.
Chapter One Teaser from Dagger’s Destiny
England – 1354
Gasping for air, Lady Katherine de Grey mouthed the silent plea as she darted between bushes and trees. Her mantle flapped behind, tangling on sharp branches that reached out like talons from the wooded depths.
“Halt, girl!” the closest of the three men ordered, while crashing headlong through the underbrush.
Katherine dared not. She lifted her surcoat and kirtle out of the way of her fast flying feet and ran as if a pack of hounds snapped at her heels. Her vision clouded with pain from the jagged twigs slashing across the backs of her bare hands.
“Slow down. We will’na hurt you,” one man pledged. A roar of laughter erupted from his friends, disputing the truth of his words.
Katherine instinctively headed toward home, then quickly changed course. She couldn’t return to Rosemont. Her father and brother were dead; her beloved castle no longer offered sanctuary. As of yesterday, Lord Seton, their murderer, was the new lord and master.
She wouldn’t go back. Not yet. Not until she could claim her revenge.
She gulped a mouthful of cool morning air that burned a trail down to her lungs. The men were a good distance behind, but every passing minute, the ground between them lessened. Her body screamed for relief, and her heart beat so wildly, the sound pounded in her ears. After a sleepless night, it was only a matter of time before she could go on no more.
The branches ahead parted, showing a rugged deer path up a steep incline. With a small burst of strength, she pushed herself up the climb. At the top of the hill, she scanned the woods below. Through the muted morning haze, her eyes locked on an old fallen log covered with new growth, partly embedded in the forest floor. She knew what to do. She must hide.
Without another thought, she raced down the hill, scrambled over the felled oak, and stretched out along its length. Her ragged breath came in gasps. Her chest rose and fell in short, quick waves. Just pass me by, echoed in her head as she burrowed against the damp, rough bark. Hopefully, the foliage would conceal her long enough for the men to tire of the chase.
The lack of judgment she displayed this morning was disheartening. If she had paid more attention to her surroundings, these wretched men wouldn’t be on the hunt. How foolish. More than one form of danger awaited a lone woman in the midst of nowhere. She should’ve been more vigilant after escaping Lord Seton’s imprisonment last night. If grief over the recent loss of her family hadn’t jumbled her wits, she would never have walked into the men’s cold camp, drawing the attention of a man who was only half-asleep.
Katherine closed her eyes. Just breathe. Branches snapped in the distance. Her body tensed. She sucked in a deep gulp of air that caught painfully in her dry, scratchy throat. Her fingers wrapped in a death grip around the hilt of her mother’s dagger. Slowly, she pulled the blade from its sheath. The small weapon was the only possession rescued from her home. For a brief moment, she imagined a whisper of her mother’s long departed spirit brush against the back of her neck, but in the next instant the feeling was gone.
A small crevice in the crumbling bark provided an odd-shaped opening. She peered through the hole and held her breath when the men charged over the hill. With their prey missing, the three quickly split up and vanished from her sight. She exhaled slowly and sank deeper into the pulp of the wood. As suspected, these were not Lord Seton’s men. From their tattered tunics, torn hose, snarled hair, and Scottish brogue, these men were thieves and outlaws. Dangerous men to be sure. If caught, she didn’t doubt they would ravish and kill her.
“Where’d that whore get off tae?” a breathless male voice yelled.
“Hiding, I’d wager. Come out, girl. We’ve something for ye!”
Unable to see her enemies, Katherine focused on their sounds as the men moved through the thick brush.
“Ye better show yourself right now if ye know what’s good for ye,” a man bellowed in the distance.
“Yer warned, lass. Come out, or it’ll go bad for ye.”
Katherine swallowed hard. Their blatant threats wouldn’t convince her to reveal herself. If the outlaws wanted her, they would have to find her.
“Show ye self. It will’na hurt but a wee bit. We can teach ye a thing or two about men.”
A vivid image of foul men pressing against her naked body flashed before her eyes. She bit down on her quivering lower lip. The taste of warm blood prompted her to stop. She needed a miracle.
A man nearby shushed the others into a deadly silence. The bright new greenery failed to do its job. She licked her dry lips. He found her. The musty smell of decaying timber mixed with fear caused a wave of nausea to turn her stomach. With her dagger clutched against the curve of her breast, she steeled herself for the assault.
Even forewarned, she still startled when cruel fingers clamped onto her shoulders. “Unhand me!” she cried, as the man yanked her from her shelter and into the air. In flight, she struggled to bring her dagger out from under her mantle, but the weapon became entangled in the folds of her cloak.
As Katherine’s back slammed onto the ground, the air forced from her lungs lodged like a cork in her throat before bursting forth in one big breath. When she inhaled again, her assailant’s rank breath accosted her senses, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. She turned her head to ward off the stink, but in that mere moment, the man pinned down her arms and straddled her thighs. Fully restrained, she writhed in pain, his weight crushing her legs.
“Ye were warned to show yourself. Now ye’ll pay,” he snarled, his leather-skinned face only inches away.
“I am Lady Katherine de Grey. Leave me be, or I will have you sliced into small pieces before you are put to death,” Katherine shrieked as she thrashed about.
The man shouted to his friends, “See here, I caught me a lady dressed as a serving wench.”
The bite from the man’s grasp on her arms penetrated layers of clothing. She blinked back tears that threatened her vision. Never would she yield.
She narrowed her gaze and clenched her jaw. “I demand you release me this instant!”
“Ye want me ta let ye go?” he huffed. “Now that would’na be much fun.”
A swelling wave of despair rose in her chest. Had God abandoned her? She shook her head to dispel the crushing loss of hope that threatened to choke off her air. God would never forsake her. She didn’t deserve such torment. How dare these men intend her harm.
Katherine’s anger began as a small knot of outrage that settled in the pit of her stomach. Then a tight bundle of barely restrained fury grew to a volatile force in the center of her chest. Unable to hold back the building of her deep-rooted rage, she took a deep breath, opened her mouth, and let loose with an ear-piercing scream.
Her eyes widened in surprise, for the savage sound that rose from her throat belonged in another world. The man thought so too because he loosened his grip. She heaved her shoulder against his hold, causing him to let go. Able to regain movement in her arm, she brought her dagger out from under her mantle. The double-edge blade reflected a beam of sunlight as the weapon jabbed at his chest. The man, taken back by the sight of steel, jerked away from her reach and scooted down toward her feet. As she pressed forward, he retreated even further until she was free from his weight.
Katherine continued to advance and moved to an upright position on her knees. She faced her assailant with her brandished dagger and warned him off with the sharp tip. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the other two men rushing forward. She watched them warily, expecting them to overpower her with their numbers, but the outlaws were content to remain out of arm’s reach.
“Are ye going to let the little girl best ye?” one man taunted.
“Come on, Hugh. Get her. Ye can do it. Ye can take her,” another cheered.
With bolstered courage, the man attempted a frontal assault. Katherine’s blade whizzed through the air and found its mark on the big man’s forearm, cutting a deep gash. The man yelped in pain and pulled back. Blood oozed between his fingers as he held tight to his injured arm. Hatred blazed in his eyes. She met his heated stare without blinking.
“Ye little whore, ye’ll pay for this,” he ranted.
Ready to battle again, Katherine attempted to rise from her knees. The material from her gowns caught beneath her feet, making her attempt to stand impossible. She fixed her gaze at her adversary. Her hand quaked as she pointed the wet blade at his middle.
A vicious smile twisted on the man’s chapped lips and his cold, murky eyes shone dull with evil intentions. He was well aware of her plight. Where was her miracle?