From the Bestselling author of the Immortal Guardians series comes a new paranormal historical romance that inspired it all, and is sure to enchant fans new and old!
The Gifted Ones Book 1
Expected publication: June 2nd 2015 by Dianne Duvall
From the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Immortal Guardians series comes an enchanting new series full of romance, danger, and loyalty: The Gifted Ones
Since the day Lord Dillon earned his spurs, rumors of his savagery on the battlefield have preceded him into every room, stilling tongues and sparking fear. Weary of battle, he wishes only to find a woman he can wed who will approach him not with fear, but with the tenderness that has been absent from his life for so long. Yet only the wisewoman seems invariably at ease in his presence. Perhaps because she garners the same fear in others that he does himself.
For seven years, Alyssa has been by Lord Dillon's side, counseling him from the shadows, healing him with her hands, and staving off the worst of his loneliness while his fearsome reputation keeps others at bay. Blessed—or cursed—with gifts that label her a sorceress, she is forced to conceal her youth and the love she harbors for him beneath umbral robes that lead Dillon and his people to believe she is the same aged wisewoman who served his father.
All is revealed, however, and passions flare when an enemy threatens Dillon's life and Alyssa sacrifices everything to save him. When Dillon discovers that the wisewoman is far from elderly, he is instantly entranced. And, as he and Alyssa work together to defeat an enemy bent on destroying them both, Dillon will risk anything—even the wrath of his king—to be with her.
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A Sorceress of His Own
The Gifted Ones Book 1
“Where is Father?” Alyssa asked, unable to bear the leaden silence a moment longer.
“Outside.” Kneeling in the rushes that covered the earthen floor of the modest hut in which Alyssa had been raised, her mother completed one last stitch, then bit off the end of the dangling thread.
Alyssa glanced through the window, but did not spy him.
A brisk, cool breeze wafted in, accompanied by morning sunshine. Leaves the color of a golden sunset had just begun to fall in preparation for winter and painted the forest around the isolated dwelling with bright color.
“Is he angry?” she asked hesitantly.
“He is worried,” her mother corrected, “as we all are.”
Alyssa’s second cousin, Meghan, slumped in a chair by the hearth, brow furrowed, teeth nibbling her lower lip. The two were of a similar age and had been the best of friends in their youth until Meg’s parents had been slain when Alyssa was ten. Meghan had gone to live with her grandsire then, far enough away to limit the time the two could see each other.
Rising, her mother crossed to the table in the corner and tucked her needle away.
Matthew, Alyssa’s father, may be blind, but he had lost none of his carpentry skills. He had lovingly created every table, chair, stool, and chest in their small home.
Alyssa gave the folds of the long black robe she wore a little shake and checked the length. Perfect. Her grandmother was a couple of inches taller than Alyssa, so all of the robes had needed to be shortened. “Thank you.”
The fear and sadness that shadowed her mother’s features when she returned tightened Alyssa’s chest.
“Please reconsider this, daughter.”
Swallowing hard, she shook her head. “This is what I want. I have made my decision.”
Male voices erupted outside, one soft and low, the other angry.
Alyssa’s brother, Geoffrey, yanked open the door and stomped inside. His lips tightened when they fell upon her, garbed in her grandmother’s black robe. “I did not wish to believe Mother when I received her missive. What have you done?”
Alyssa raised her chin. “What I have long wished to do. I have taken steps to replace Grandmother as Westcott’s wisewoman.”
He swore foully.
“Geoffrey!” her mother reprimanded.
“Well, ’tis madness!” he raged.
Alyssa held on to her own temper, knowing his was fired by concern for her. “’Tis not madness. Grandmother grows weaker and more frail every year. She cannot continue to serve as Westcott’s wisewoman.”
“Then Westcott can do without one.”
“I see no reason why they should when, shielded by these robes, I can take her place with none being the wiser.”
“They should,” her brother hissed, “because the path you have chosen will invariably lead to either heartbreak or death.”
Her mother’s and Meg’s expressions betrayed their agreement.
“I know not why it should,” Alyssa countered.
He took a step forward. “Think you I know naught of your feelings for him, for the valiant Earl of Westcott? Or the monstrous Earl of Westcott, if the rumors are true.”
She bristled. “A victim of rumor yourself, you know people are always eager to believe the worst of others. The false rumors told of mother’s supposed witchcraft nigh resulted in her death. Yet you would place your faith in the lies told of Lord Dillon?”
“Violence follows him wherever he goes. Can you deny that?”
“You would condemn him for defending his king? Our king?”
He clamped his lips shut.
Meg ventured to speak. “Do you not fear him, Alyssa? The rest of England does.”
“With good reason,” Geoffrey muttered.
“Nay, I do not. You are all well aware the rumors hold no truth. I have seen with mine own eyes the kindness of which Lord Dillon is capable. And Grandmother has said naught but good things of him.”
“Too many good things. She has filled your head with foolish fancy.” Geoffrey paced away a few steps.
Alyssa caught her mother’s eye. “Know you where Grandmother is?”
“I think she is fetching her paints. I shall see why she tarries.”
Alyssa waited for her mother to leave, then turned to her brother. “Ask me again why I do this.”
“Why must you do this?” he asked helplessly as he returned to her side.
“Because I am tired of hiding.”
He motioned to the midnight material that covered her. “This is not hiding?”
“Do not play the half-wit,” she snapped.
“I love Mother,” she interrupted, keeping her voice low so it would not carry. “But I do not want the life she has chosen. I do not wish to live in total isolation, in constant fear for my life. You know I have always wished to use my gifts the way they were meant to be used. I wish to help others. Heal others. Guide them whenever I can. And serving as Lord Dillon’s wisewoman will allow me to do that without risking my life.”
Her brother snorted. “You will risk your life the very night you begin to serve him. You intend to help Lord Dillon take Brimshire, do you not?”
She nodded. “Are you certain you can gain us entry?”
“Aye. Mother sent me there ere the siege began, saying only that I would be needed. They think me one of them.”
“She must have had a vision.”
“Aye. And, had she seen the reason I would be needed, I would have refused.”
“You will die in his service,” Geoffrey predicted, his face full of torment. “Violence does follow him wherever he goes. And your love will drive you to heal every wound he incurs, fatal or nay.” He shook his head. “I do not wish to lose you and, again, ask you to reconsider this.”
She swallowed hard. “I have made my decision.”
He stared at her a long moment. “And ’tis yours to make. I shall await you outside.” He left without another word.
Alyssa looked to Meg.
Ever her friend and supporter, Meg made no attempt to sway her from the path she had chosen.
Alyssa’s mother and grandmother entered.
Her grandmother crossed to Alyssa and offered her a cloth bag. “The paints for your hands. Show me again you know how to use them.”
Alyssa obediently took them and, seating herself at the table, applied them the way her grandmother had instructed. When she finished, her youthful hands bore the appearance of an old woman’s, the skin appearing thin and spotted with age.
Her grandmother nodded her approval.
“You taught me well,” Alyssa said. “Thank you, Grandmother.”
Tucking the paints back in the bag, Alyssa rose.
Her grandmother clasped her hands and stared at her a long moment. “I understand why you do this,” she said softly.
And Alyssa could see in her world-weary eyes that she did. She understood all of the reasons that had driven Alyssa to take her place as Westcott’s wisewoman.
Alyssa’s mother took a step toward them. “Mother, do not—”
“Beatrice,” her grandmother countered sharply.
Her mother quieted.
“Perhaps I did speak too fondly of Lord Dillon,” her grandmother mused.
Alyssa shook her head. “You only spoke the truth.”
Sadness softened her grandmother’s voice. “He will never love you, Alyssa.”
She knew her grandmother did not say it to hurt her, but it did, nonetheless. “I am well aware of that. He will think me the same aged wisewoman who served his sire and his grandsire. He will think me you. And will continue to believe such as long as I wear these robes.”
Alarm lit her mother’s face. “You do not intend to remove them, do you?”
“Nay,” Alysaa assured her. “Grandmother made me vow I would not, for my own safety.”
Her grandmother squeezed her hands. “You are so innocent, Alyssa. You know not what ’tis like to love one who cannot love you in return. What ’tis like to love one who will never be free to love you in return. The pain that accompanies the pleasure of being in his presence every day. You know not the misery that awaits you when you inevitably watch the one you covet turn to another.”
“I know it well,” she insisted, and thought it worth the price she would pay.
Her grandmother sighed. “Nay, you do not. But I fear you soon will.” She released Alyssa’s hands and crossed to the hearth.
Alyssa’s mother stepped forward, tears glistening in her eyes. “We have sheltered you all your life from the hate directed at those who bear gifts such as ours. I fear we sheltered you so much that you do not understand the true danger you will face once you leave here.”
“How can I not understand it, knowing your past and Grandmother’s?” Alyssa asked her. The hate and fear of aught different had nipped at her grandmother’s heels all her life. The same hate had led a man of the cloth to set Alyssa’s mother afire in an attempt to purify her of the devil’s taint when her mother was but a girl. And a similar hate had driven men to hunt and slay Meg’s parents, who also had been gifted ones. “But I will be safe at Westcott, Mother. No one will chance earning the fierce Earl of Westcott’s wrath by attempting to burn his wisewoman at the stake. All fear him too much.”
When her grandmother returned, she bore several wineskins. “Are you certain you wish to begin your service to Lord Dillon with such a grand endeavor?”
“Aye. If I succeed in taking Brimshire for him, he will be too distracted to notice any peculiarities that will arise during my transition.”
For the first time, her grandmother’s lips twitched with a faint smile. “’Tis bold. And clever. You shall serve Lord Dillon well.”
Smiling with just a hint of nerves, Alyssa lifted her robe and secured the skins to her waist with a rope.
“You must be diligent, Alyssa,” her grandmother advised. “And maintain your guise at all times. Never leave your chamber without the robes and cowl. Never allow anyone more than the briefest glimpse of your hands. And never slip and speak in your own voice.”
Alyssa adopted the elderly rasp she had been practicing for months. “I shall be most diligent indeed, Grandmother.”
Meg’s face lit with awe. “She sounds just like you!”
Her grandmother grimaced. “Surely I do not sound as old as that.”
“Of course not,” Alyssa lied, returning to her own voice.
Her grandmother’s wrinkled features reflected her disbelief as she helped Alyssa straighten her robe. “Should anyone at Westcott seek to harm you, all you need do is duck out of sight and doff these robes. None will know a young woman resides beneath them. When they find the robe, they will search for a doddering old woman, not one who blooms with youth.”
Her grandmother forced a smile and embraced Alyssa with frail arms. “’Tis time.”
“Thank you, Grandmother,” Alyssa whispered past the lump that rose in her throat.
“Prove them wrong,” her grandmother whispered. “Do not let your love for Lord Dillon cost you your life.”
When her grandmother stepped back, Meg rose and embraced Alyssa.
Then Beatrice stepped forward and hugged her close. “Be safe, daughter.”
Alyssa nodded, unable to speak as tears burned the backs of her eyes and thickened her throat.
As her mother, grandmother, and cousin watched, Alyssa straightened her shoulders and raised the black cowl that would conceal her features from that day forth.
* * *
Alyssa shivered beneath her dark robe as she and Geoffrey stole through the Stygian forest. The light of a full moon dappled the foliage around them, enabling the two to negotiate the forest’s maze without the benefit of a torch.
Though brittle leaves carpeted the forest floor, a light rain had softened them, permitting silent footsteps that enabled the two to elude the army encamped outside Brimshire’s walls.
Geoffrey touched her arm, bringing her to a halt. Leaning down, he pointed and whispered in her ear, “The postern gate lies through there.”
“You are certain you can gain us entry?” she asked again.
He nodded. “They think me one of them. And, should any seek to prevent our entry, I shall use my gifts to attain it.”
“I must speak with Lord Dillon first.”
Geoffrey’s hand tightened on her arm. “There is still time to change your mind, Alyssa. You do not have to do this.”
She patted his hand, then gently removed it. “I shall return anon.”
Leaving Geoffrey, she once more crept through the forest until she reached the main camp. Simple structures had been erected over the long months to protect the men from arrows should any be let loose by the guards atop the castle walls. They also provided the men with shelter to stave off the illness that could be spawned by poor conditions arising from long sieges.
The light of the fires grew brighter as she approached the break in the trees.
Her heart began to pound when she located the Earl of Westcott.
He sat before a fire with a number of his men. Armor encased his broad shoulders. A sword, nigh as long as Alyssa was tall, lay at the ready beside him. Flickering flames sent golden light dancing across his handsome features, providing a pleasing contrast to the dark stubble that coated his strong jaw and chin. The scowl that creased his brow and made others tremble sparked no fear in Alyssa. She was far too nervous and excited.
Tonight she would begin her service as Lord Dillon’s wisewoman.
* * *
Frustration beat at Dillon. Months had passed and the lord of Brimshire seemed no closer to surrender than he had been when the siege began.
“Do you think they are as well-fortified with provisions as Lord Edward would have us believe?” Sir Simon asked.
Several dead cows had been launched over the walls today. At first, Dillon and his men had feared they were diseased. ’Twas a common tactic in sieges.
But the cows had instead been meant to convey a simple message: Those besieging the castle would starve long before the inhabitants of the keep would. They had food aplenty inside the stout walls.
Dillon shook his head. “I know not… and have reached the end of my patience. Tomorrow we will begin constructing siege towers.” He had hoped to take the castle—one King Richard had granted him when Dillon had saved his life—without violence. Without death. Without destroying walls and structures he would then have to rebuild once Brimshire became his.
“Do you wish to send for the trebuchet?”
Ready to be done with it, Dillon nodded and started to speak.
A twig snapped in the forest.
Every man present leapt to his feet and drew his sword.
A small, black-robed figure stepped into the firelight, seeming to manifest directly from the darkness itself.
Several knights hastened to cross themselves.
Dillon motioned for all to stand down and waited for them to relax before the fire once more. Sheathing his own weapon, he crossed to the wisewoman’s side.
“My lord,” she greeted him in her raspy voice.
Dillon guided her away from his men. “What do you here, Wise One? ’Tis not safe.” How had she traveled such a distance? He saw none of his men with her. Had she come alone?
“My gifts told me you have need of my services,” she whispered.
He could remember a time in his youth when her voice had been stronger. But age had gradually weakened it, first cracking it then reducing it to this faint relic of its former self.
None knew the wisewoman’s true age. The more superstitious of his people, those who crossed themselves whenever she passed them, believed she possessed the powers of immortality and could claim centuries to her past. Others placed her age nigh that of the elders, who all swore she had served the Westcott lords for as long as the oldest amongst them had walked the earth. All Dillon knew with any certainty was that she had seen at least two-score and ten years, for she had advised his father throughout Dillon’s youth.
He recalled his intense curiosity as a boy. She had stood straighter then, had seemed taller, almost grandiose to a precocious child who would not see his final height of a few inches above six feet for many years. A floor-length black robe with long sleeves that fell beneath her fingertips and a cowl that shielded every feature and defied even the strongest gust of wind had been and still was her constant companion. As Dillon understood it, none had ever looked upon her unmasked. Not even his grandfather, beside whom the elders insisted she had first stood.
Since acquiring the title, Dillon had had little chance to speak with this mysterious woman who had served his family for so many years. He had spent most of his time quashing a cousin’s rebellion, then attempting to claim Brimshire. And, though he had known her peripherally all of his life, he had not yet decided how he felt about her coming to him as his advisor.
“All goes well here, Seer,” he told her. ’Twas not a lie. There had been no losses on his side. No sickness. As far as sieges went, this had been an uneventful one. “Tomorrow we will begin constructing siege towers—”
“Such will not be necessary.”
He stared at her, shocked that she had interrupted him. Everyone else feared him too much to risk the fury they all believed would erupt if they did so. “I know not—”
“Rest easy, my lord,” she whispered, interrupting him again. “Brimshire will be yours by sunrise.”
So saying, she backed away and let the forest swallow her.
Nonplussed, Dillon heard no sound of movement but knew without grabbing a torch and thrusting it forward that she was gone.
He turned to face his men.
Judging by their uneasy expressions, most had overheard.
“What do you suppose she meant by that?” Simon asked.
Dillon knew not and, retaking his place before the fire, decided to forgo sleep until she returned.
Hours later, as the sun rose and painted the land around them with a rosy dawn, a loud clanking sound disrupted the silence.
Dillon stood and faced the castle.
The drawbridge began to lower.
Waking his men with a single command, he mounted his destrier and drew his sword.
Squires fetched mounts. Knights climbed into saddles and drew weapons that glimmered in the strengthening sunlight.
The heavy outer portcullis slowly rose as Dillon and his men took up a position some distance from the end of the drawbridge.
A charged silence followed.
The inner portcullis rose.
All waited in tense anticipation for men to pour forth with a battle cry.
Minutes passed as bird song serenaded them.
Then a small black-robed figure emerged, face hidden by her cowl. Striding boldly across the drawbridge, she halted when she reached Dillon’s side. “As I said, my lord, siege towers will not be necessary. Brimshire is yours.”
Dillon stared down at her in astonishment as his men all crossed themselves in a flurry of motion.
She had accomplished in one night what a six-month siege had not.
Just how far did her gifts extend?
Dianne Duvall is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Immortal Guardians paranormal romance series and The Gifted Ones series. Her books have twice been nominated for the RT Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Vampire Romance and are routinely deemed Top Picks by RT Book Reviews, The Romance Reviews, and/or Night Owl Reviews. Reviewers have called Dianne's books "utterly addictive" (RT Book Reviews), "fast-paced and humorous" (Publishers Weekly), "extraordinary" (Long and Short Reviews), and "wonderfully imaginative" (The Romance Reviews).
Dianne loves all things creative. When she isn't writing, Dianne is active in the independent film industry and has even appeared on-screen, crawling out of a moonlit grave and wielding a machete like some of the vampires she has created in her books.
For the latest news on upcoming releases, contests, and more, please visit www.DianneDuvall.com.
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