Viking For Hire (Vikings Saga Volume 1)
    I T WAS a trap. Branwyn O’Tyre was no fool. Why else would her half-brother — the new Bishop of Exeter — insist on meeting her in such a remote location in the middle of the night? He claimed to be in desperate need of a healing. Why then did he not seek aid at the nearest monastery? By the saints, he could not be more disapproving of her methods. A mere fortnight ago, he’d warned her to cease practicing her craft at once or risk being arrested for witchcraft.
    She tucked a stray lock of auburn hair beneath her snood, patted the coiled braid at her nape, and tried not to shiver as she stretched out her hands to the crackling hearth fires of the Silver Swan. The tavern itself was a far cry from its glorious title, consisting of little more than a pile of weatherbeaten timbers hunched between two craggy bluffs on the southernmost point of Devon.
    The only other guest in the room was sprawled atop a corner table in the shadows. He was snoring away amidst a rather impressive assortment of empty mugs. The round shield wedged beneath one arm and the scarred helmet resting askew his dark shoulder-length locks was a sure sign he was a supporter of William the Conquerer. A Viking raider if his navy, salt-spattered tunic was any indication. Branwyn suppressed another shiver at the realization she was alone, truly alone, with naught but a solitary drunkard to witness her arrest if he bothered to wake in time.
    Branwyn stepped closer to the massive redstone fireplace, restlessly twisting the silver cross pendant around her neck. Orange and blue tendrils of flames licked their way around a gnarled array of logs — releasing the tantalizing aromas of pine, smoke, and autumn. Normally it was her favorite time of year. She closed her eyes and bent her pale, heart-shaped face to embrace the heat and her last few moments of freedom.
    Out of sheer habit, her fingers fumbled at the ties of the pouch at her waist. Despite their trembling, she unwound the knot and dropped the precious sack on the nearest table. From it, she withdrew several smaller bundles. Pulling a flask of spring water from the folds of her gray cloak, she took a pinch of powder from each bundle and mixed the contents into her flask. Vervain, frankincense, sea salt, and myrrh. Setting the flask inside the coals of the fire, Branwyn muttered a prayer to heat the potion.
    A shout sounded outside the tavern. Branwyn paused in the act of returning the bundles of herbs to the larger sack and dashed to the fire. Uncorking the flask, she downed the potion in two hasty, choking swallows. There. ‘Twas done. She tucked the flask inside the folds of her cloak. Neither the bishop nor his cronies could harm her now. If they carted her off to jail, however, the potion would almost certainly wear off in a few hours. Then she would be completely at their mercy.
    Spinning to face the door, Branwyn yelped in surprise to find herself staring into the armored chest of her Viking tavern mate. Glancing upwards, her gaze clashed with eyes of the deepest blue. They watched her from the peepholes of his helmet covering the upper half of his face. Oddly enough, they were clear and assessing, not the least clouded by the aftereffects of too much ale.
    The man was taller than she had imagined, towering nearly a foot over her slender frame. He was square jawed, broad of chest, and no stranger to the sun with a darkly tanned neck and hands. His menacing size made the room seem smaller. She shrank back as he waved the leather sack at her. “I’ve a need for knowing what potion you mixed with these, lass.” The rich baritone of his voice washed over her with a mesmerizing quality. She liked the sound. A lot. ’Twas deep and majestic, the kind of voice a body would never tire of hearing.
    “Wh-what?” Branwyn shook herself to regain control of her senses and made a swipe for the sack. “’Tis naught but a collection of herbs, used mainly for cooking. Pray, return them to me, good

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