Bits 'n Bobs Author Blog
This week's Medieval Monday spotlight is on Barbara Bettis' book, The Heart of the Phoenix.
EXCERPT: (Sir Stephen has just escaped attack as he returned from a secret meeting.)
This had been no random assault. The trap had sprung for him alone. But only three people knew of his rendezvous this night. His mind worked the trio of relationships. All friends—he’d thought. Which one had betrayed him? Bitter regret burned his throat, and he forced a swallow. Hadn’t he learned long ago not to trust anyone? Especially friends.
The ringing in his ears died, and he heard silence once more. Not until the rustle of a hare whispered through the brittle dry grass did he move. He settled back against a tree to gingerly unkink his leg, then brush his knuckles across his aching thigh. The thick blood had clotted. A sigh fought free of his clenched lips.
The bay was long gone, leading the others on a futile chase to the river. It would find its way back later. Stephen was on his own for now. And it was a damned long hobble back to St. Anselm. He’d best get started if he wanted to make it before dawn.
The eastern horizon glittered pearl before he espied the monastery’s roof outlined against the night sky’s fading pitch. He limped toward the narrow opening obscured by a tangle of grape vines so ancient no one recalled when they last produced. A muted grunt escaped his throat when he tugged at the warped wood. The old door creaked, then gave a few precious inches.
He squeezed through sideways and hauled it shut.
The scriptorium lay ahead on the right. He’d wait for Brother Gerald there—if his double-cursed leg continued to move. He limped forward, neck and jaw locked rigid in his struggle to remain erect. Perspiration plastered shirt and aketon to his body, soaked through to the plain tunic he wore over a finely wrought chain doublet. But in his chest, a block of ice lodged where his heart belonged. During the long walk back to the monastery, he’d worked out which of his three closest comrades bore the title of traitor. Bile rose in his throat at the answer.
Inside the copy house, Stephen dropped to his knees, numb to the explosion of pain in his thigh. He prayed. He prayed he was wrong. And if his reasoning proved right, he prayed for the strength to act. Tomorrow he’d confront Brother Michael. God help the monk if harm befell even one of the men because of his treachery. Why had Michael turned, now of all times? The Phoenix Brotherhood hadn’t been this close to uncovering the treacherous Dragon for years.
Whatever happened must be quick. They must either find the leader of the murdering mercenaries before the Dragon escaped Normandy, or they must move operations to England. Stephen had promised to be home before the conclave to support John’s claim as Richard’s successor. His father may have recovered in the past months, but he needed Stephen’s help. And
Stephen had vowed to assume duties at Riverton Castle or die trying.
Although that was a distinct possibility.
* * *
Some call him a ruthless mercenary; she calls him the knight of her heart.
Memories Lady Evelynn’s childhood hero is home—bitter, hard, tempting as sin. And haunted by secrets. A now-grown Evie offers friendship, but Sir Stephen's cruel rejection crushes her, and she resolves to forget him. Yet when an unexpected war throws them together, she finds love isn’t so easy to dismiss. If only the king hadn’t betrothed her to another.
Can be cruel Sir Stephen lives a double life while he seeks the treacherous outlaws who murdered his friends. Driven by revenge, he thinks his heart is closed to love. His childhood shadow, Lady Evie, unexpectedly challenges that belief. He rebuffs her, but he can’t forget her, although he knows she’s to wed the king’s favorite.
And deadly When his drive for vengeance leads to Evie’s kidnapping, Stephen must choose between retribution and the love he’s denied too long. Surely King John will see reason. Convict the murderers; convince the king. Simple. Until a startling revelation threatens everything.
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