Authors: Johanna Lindsey
From the shadows of the past.
Prim and beautiful professor Roseleen White clutches her new prized profession - a thousand-year-old Scandinavian sword. And suddenly, a dream stands before her: a magnificent Viking warrior sworn to satisfy Roseleen's every desire.
Accursed for untold centuries, mighty Thorn is now enslaved to a woman. Yet it is Roseleen who is the true prisoner, held willing captive by a handsome barbarian who sweeps her back to the ancient past on a journey of sensual discovery. But only by banishing him from her life forever can Roseleen free Thorn from immortality's chains - forcing her to make a devastating choice that will either imperil their future or preserve a love more powerful than time.
my Thorn, my Challen, my Falon, my James,
my Tony, and I could go on and on…
t was driving her crazy, to let that box sit there on the small credenza beside her desk and not open it. Roseleen White could have sworn she had more willpower than that, but apparently not when it came to her one and only passion. She still tried to ignore it, and the fact that she was glancing over at it every few minutes.
Time was getting away from her. She had to finish grading her students’ papers tonight. Ordinarily, she would have taken the papers home with her, but she wasn’t going home tonight. She was driving straight from the campus to her friend Gail’s house, where she was spending the weekend. And she wasn’t coming in on Monday either. A long-delayed dentist appointment had seen to that, so she had to leave the papers in her desk for the substitute to hand out on Monday.
The next three days had been perfectly scheduled, which was the way she liked her
life to be. She hadn’t counted on the delivery notice in her mailbox when she’d arrived home yesterday that said the long-awaited box had finally arrived from England, or the emergency last night when she’d had to take her neighbor Carol to the hospital, which had kept her from grading the papers.
She’d stopped by the post office to collect the box on the way to the campus that morning and had even stuck scissors in her purse so she could open it immediately. But again, she hadn’t counted on the long line at the post office that ended up giving her only enough time to get to her first class without being late. And she hadn’t found a free moment since when she could have satisfied her curiosity.
Fridays were always her busiest days, with three classes in a row and the inevitable questions after each session from those students who didn’t have to rush to their next class. She’d also had meetings today when she’d had to inform two of her students that they were failing the semester. Then, just when she thought she’d have enough time to grab a quick dinner and to open the box before she tackled the grading, the dean had sent for her.
She was still simmering over
meeting. Dean Johnson had said he wanted to break the news to her gently, before she heard it elsewhere, that Barry Horton was being offered tenure. Barry was the biggest disaster of her life, proof positive that a woman could be
naive and gullible at any age. He was going to be her equal now.
The dean had been very diplomatic about it, but the gist of his summons was to tell her he hoped she wouldn’t cause any trouble about it, that she wouldn’t renew her old allegations against Barry. As if she would bring all that humiliation back to suffer through it again.
Now she was hungry, angry about Barry’s undeserved good fortune, and unable to concentrate on the papers in front of her because that box was sitting there tempting her to open it. It had come down to a test of strength. She
going to open it until the last exam paper was graded and…and to hell with that.
Antique weapons were her passion, the only thing that interested her besides medieval history, which was her field of expertise. Her father had collected them, an unusual hobby for a small-town reverend, and she’d inherited his collection when he died, and was slowly adding to it as she could afford to do so. Each time she visited England, she spent about as much time in antique shops as she did researching the book she was writing on the Norman conquest.
She’d brought the long box into her classroom only because she hadn’t wanted to leave it in her car—or out of her sight, actually. She’d waited too long for its arrival. Three years of tracking down the owner after she’d first heard of the existence of Blooddrinker’s
Curse, the elation in finding out the ancient sword was for sale and that it wouldn’t be sold at auction, where she knew the price would soar out of her reach. Then the frustration in trying to deal with Sir Isaac Dearborn, the eccentric owner. Another four months had passed in haggling over the price and the particulars, all of which she hadn’t been personally involved in, because Dearborn simply wouldn’t sell to her.
“No woman may own Blooddrinker’s Curse,” she’d been told at her initial inquiry, and without an explanation. Dearborn wouldn’t even answer her subsequent calls and letters. But David, her dearest David, the brother of her heart if not her blood, who had been orphaned as a child and taken in by her family, had taken up the gauntlet for her. And after four months and finally agreeing to Dearborn’s unusual demands, David had managed the purchase.
She had been ecstatic when he’d called her from England to tell her he would be shipping the sword home to her, then amazed when he’d added, “You can’t reimburse me, Rosie. I had to sign a sworn affidavit that I would never sell the sword, or even bequeath it, to a woman. Nothing was said, however, about simply giving it away, so consider this your birthday present—for the next fifty years.”
Considering what the sword had cost, which would have taken every bit of her savings, plus a loan for another twenty thousand,
she was definitely in David’s debt, even if he had been joking about it being a birthday present. The cost of the sword was nothing to him, for he had married an heiress who adored him and lavished her wealth on him. His wife, Lydia, collected houses—mansions, actually—the way Roseleen collected weapons. But it was the principle, and the extravagance—Roseleen felt indebted, even if David had been happy to buy the sword for her. She was definitely going to have to do something really nice for him to make it up to him.
Having finally given in to the temptation, Roseleen felt her fingers trembling as she dug the scissors out of her purse. She glanced at the door to her classroom, considered locking it first, but then smiled to herself. She was getting a little paranoid. The campus was almost empty; only a few other professors and the drama class were here this late, rehearsing whatever play Mr. Hayley had chosen for this semester. She wouldn’t be interrupted, and even if she was, she had nothing to hide. Just because Dearborn had been so adamant that a woman couldn’t own the sword…
Well, she owned it now. It was hers. It would be the prize of her collection, the oldest weapon in it, the oldest she could ever hope to find. She had craved it, sight unseen, as soon as she’d heard about it, simply because it
so old. She still hadn’t seen it, not even a picture of it. But David had assured her it was in prime condition for its age, with very
little corrosion—a miraculous circumstance, considering the hilt dated from the eighth century, the steel blade from the tenth. Apparently, every owner from that time on had taken superb care of it, as well as jealously guarding it from the public eye, just as she would.
Now, scissors in hand, she cut through the thick plastic shipping straps, then set them aside to open the box and dig through the straw packing. Beneath it was another box, this one of fine polished mahogany. She chuckled to herself, seeing the wide bow David had tied around it. Attached to the ribbon was a small key to unlock the box.
Carefully, she lifted the wooden box out and shoved the cardboard one onto the floor. The heavy weight that had forced her to use both arms to carry the shipping box into the classroom was still apparent in the narrow wooden one. A tug on the bow, and she had the key in hand. She was unknowingly holding her breath as she inserted it into the lock and heard the slight click as she turned it.
And then she was staring in awe at a stunning piece of history that was more than a thousand years old. The long, double-edged blade was chipped in only two places from corrosion, and blackened from age, but the silver-embossed hilt was so well-preserved it even shone in the light of her desk lamp. Embedded in its center was a round, murky amber gem the size of a quarter. Three smaller ambers graced the end of the curved pommel,
and some kind of misshapen animal was etched around the grip, possibly a dragon or a snake. It was impossible to tell from its strange shape.
The craftsmanship was beautiful, the quality superb, to have survived so many centuries above ground, when usually only excavated artifacts were this well-preserved. It was Scandinavian in origin. She would have known that from the pagan style of it even if David hadn’t told her. A sword made for a man of means. A Viking’s sword named Blooddrinker’s Curse.
Roseleen was a professor of history. The Viking Age might not be her favorite time period, but she was quite familiar with it and its artifacts. Vikings were renowned for giving their weapons names as unusual as the ones they gave themselves. Though she’d never heard a name quite as strange as Blooddrinker’s Curse. Nor could she imagine why the original owner would have named it so. It was something she could only wonder about, the reason behind the name lost with the passing of centuries.
And she would wonder, because she was utterly fascinated by this newest prize for her collection. How many lives had it taken? A few? Countless? The Norsemen were an aggressive, bloodthirsty lot, the marauders of the north seas, ancient hit-and-run artists. And the sword had probably been used in wars for centuries, since it hadn’t been buried with its original owner, as was the Viking
way. And why hadn’t it been? Had that first owner lost it? Had he died not in battle, but peacefully perhaps, gifting his sword to another beforehand? Or perhaps he had died in foreign battle, away from his friends and fellow raiders, in a land that wouldn’t observe his pagan customs.
She had endless questions that she knew would never be satisfied. Her frustration with that fact was mild, however, and nothing compared to her pleasure in being the sword’s newest owner.
“Blooddrinker’s Curse,” she said aloud, unable to resist any longer the urge to hold the ancient sword in her hand. “You have been retired from what you were created for. You won’t be spilling any more blood, but I give you my word you won’t be neglected.”
Her fingers closed about the surprisingly warm hilt and lifted the sword from its bed of gold velvet. It was heavier than she would have imagined. She had to quickly bring her other hand up to support her wrist, or she would have dropped it. And as she held the weapon up in front of her, she barely heard the distant crack of thunder. But the lightning that flashed into the room from her bank of windows brought a startled gasp from her, and as if a dozen flashbulbs had gone off in her face, she was temporarily blinded.
The weapon started to tilt. She had to catch the long blade with her hand to keep it from crashing against the credenza. One of those jagged edges caught her finger and she
winced, but that was nothing compared to the slamming of her heart because of the near-mishap. Though she could hardly see it, she carefully laid the sword back in its velvet bed, cursing the weatherman as she did so, for his morning prediction of clear skies for today and tomorrow. She didn’t relish driving the three hours to Gail’s house in the rain.
“Did you hear that, Professor White?” Mr. Forbes, the night custodian, poked his head around her door to ask. “Strangest thing.”
“There’s nothing strange about an unexpected storm,” she replied.
She quickly closed the lid of the box, though she couldn’t manage to lock it just yet. She recognized Mr. Forbes’s voice. Seeing him just then was impossible. Only the pool of light around her desk was visible, as the large black dots before her eyes obscured the rest of the room.
“That’s just it, Professor. The sky’s as clear as it’s been all evening. There isn’t a cloud in sight.”
She started to argue with the man, recalling now that clap of thunder just before the lightning, but her eyes, trying to focus on what she could see, touched on the exam papers lying ungraded on her desk. She didn’t have
to debate the peculiarities of the weather, even if she cared to, which she didn’t.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Mr. Forbes,” she said, dismissing the subject. “If the storm is blowing away before it even reaches us, that’s fine with me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” was his reply as he closed the door again.
Hearing his departure, she took a moment to rub her eyes beneath her wire-rimmed glasses. When she looked down at her desk again, there were a few less dots moving randomly across its surface.
And then she was startled by another male voice, this one deep and unfamiliar, and with a distinct tone of underlying…Was it anger? Simple annoyance? Whatever it was, it caused a shiver to slip down her spine.
“You should not have called me, lady.”