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Authors: To Guard Her Heart

Ginny Hartman

To Guard Her Heart

A Novel

 

By Ginny Hartman

Copyright © 2014 by Ginny Hartman

All rights reserved.

Cover design by Ginny Hartman

Book design by Ginny Hartman

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

First printing: May 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1499232516

 

To Helaman, my righteous warrior.

May you always be a defender of truth.

Mommy loves you!

 

Author's Note

 

During my most recent travels to Europe, I had the chance to visit and tour many ancient castles that screamed of adventure and romance. I instantly knew that I wanted to set my next novel in the medieval era. It was while touring Drimnagh Castle in Dublin, Ireland that the beginnings of To Guard Her Heart began to take root. I fell in love with the quaint castle and the lush Irish countryside, and I knew that both would figure prominently into my next novel. The fictitious Kingdom of Darth is set in Ireland, and I patterned Emerson Castle after Drimnagh Castle.

 

I also had the great fortune to meet two lovely Irish ladies on my travels in London, Rosalind and Alison, who have become dear friends. They have graciously allowed me the use of their names for the heroine of this book. Needless to say, Rosalind has become my favorite heroine to date. I hope you love her as much as I do. Happy Reading.

 

Chapter 1

First Encounter

 

Kneeling down, Rosalind carelessly tossed her basket aside as she reached for the elusive purple berry she had been searching ages for. The shiny globes beckoned her as she reached forth with shaking hands and plucked one from the small bush. Could it be that she had finally found the cudworth berry whose fleshy magenta fruit was known for its healing properties? She had been hoping to find it for some time, desiring to plant some in her carefully manicured garden at home so she could have access to its miraculous properties whenever the need arose.

 Sinking her fingernail eagerly into the flesh, she pried the berry open and sagged in disappointment when her efforts revealed pulpy white insides instead of the glorious magenta she had been hoping to find. It appeared the fruit was a simple elon berry instead of a cudworth berry after all. With an irritated roll of her eyes, she flicked the berry aside, wiping her hand on the skirt of her green velvet gown. She felt a moment of guilt at her actions, knowing how much it galled her mother that she was so careless with her clothing.

Rosalind stood, letting the guilt pass, thinking her mother should be grateful that at least it wasn't as bad as the time she had been out frolicking on the hillside behind the castle when she had gotten caught in a rainstorm. She had gathered her things and began rushing back towards home when she had slipped in a stream of mud coming off of the hill, landing in an inelegant heap of silk and earth, completely destroying her gown.

Rosalind smiled at the memory. She had never seen her mother so angry. How was she supposed to know that her dress had been fashioned from the finest silk Darth had to offer? It's not like anyone bothered informing her of that key detail. And though she had felt a twinge of remorse at the dresses ruination, she couldn't seem to muster up the same depths of sorrow as her mother, for surely her father could afford to buy her another.

Rosalind glanced upwards, hoping to get a glimpse of the sun in the normally overcast sky. Darth had a nasty propensity for being glum. In her opinion, the sun didn't shine nearly often enough as it should. The sun, as usual, was covered in a mass of gray clouds, making it impossible for her to accurately assess what time of day it was. Though she wanted nothing more than to continue her search for the cudworth berry, she knew she must make her way back home before her mother had a fit when she realized she was missing.

Rosalind bent over to retrieve her basket, rising once more, when she felt her head begin to swim.
Odd
, she thought, maybe she had risen too swiftly. Standing as still as she could, she raised a hand to her forehead as the dizziness only increased. She closed her eyes and took a deep, steadying breath, as she felt the feeling subside. Grateful for the reprieve, she opened her eyes and made to take a step forward when her limbs lost all of their strength. She sunk to the ground, as a warmth encompassed her being, causing a curious humming throughout her body as she became all too aware of the very blood pumping through her veins.

She lost all power to think, as the strange feeling continued. Slowly, she laid her back against the spongy grass, as she no longer had the strength to keep herself upright. The strange sensation was making her tired; in fact, it reminded her vaguely of the groggy feeling that overcame her right before falling to sleep, that moment before slipping from reality into the magical dream world of slumber. Unable to think of anything else, she allowed her eyes to close, when suddenly her body jolted her to complete awareness, her eyes snapping open in confusion at the sudden change.

Her back arched as she looked around in surprise. Creeping slowly towards her was a translucent mist of shimmering colors. Brilliant blues, reds, and greens swirled and climbed as the curious manifestation worked its way closer. Her eyes, which couldn't seem to stay open only seconds earlier, suddenly had no problem now as she couldn't peel them away from the strange mist, not even long enough to blink.

As the delicate mist curled and fluttered in an expert dance to the unheard music, she reached one hand forth to touch it, but something stopped her and she quickly withdrew her hand. Suddenly the pounding of horse’s hooves filled the air, and the magical spell that was weaving itself around her retracted, leaving her feeling completely exhausted.

The horse drew nearer but Rosalind couldn't muster the strength needed to rise. She hoped that whoever was coming would see her and move out of the way before they trampled her to death, for surely she hadn't the strength to move on her own.

"Whoa!" A loud, masculine voice shouted not too far from where she lay.

Rosalind vaguely registered that the horse had been commanded to stop, but she couldn't manage to open her eyes. Rolling onto her side, she placed one arm under her head to serve as a pillow and hoped that whoever had passed by would see that she was resting and be on their way.

Long moments passed when Rosalind felt a strong hand reach out and shake her shoulder. With a start, her eyes flew open, and she turned to see who had dared touch her. At first, as her eyes began to focus, she thought she was catching a rare glimpse of the blue sky above but sucked in a shocked breath when she realized she was staring into the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

The man that was squatting above her smiled, revealing a set of even, white teeth with the smallest of gaps between the front two. "Are you well, my lady?"

His melodic voice washed over her, and it took her a moment to respond. "I think so." Rosalind self-consciously sat up, wiping her dirty palms off on her skirt, once more inwardly berating herself for her careless regard for her clothing.

"Have you had an accident?" The man asked, his intense blue stare boring into her, as if he truly cared if she was well.

"Nay..." her voice trailed off as she contemplated what to tell the man. He waited patiently for her to continue. "I was picking berries and when I made to leave I grew dizzy. It was the strangest thing really.  It was as if something had come over me."

The stranger glanced to the bushes behind her, "Did you perchance consume any of those?" he asked, indicating with one hand towards the bush of elon berries she had just finished inspecting.

"Nay," she said slightly annoyed. "I know what sort of berries those are, and I would never dare to consume one.

Leaning forward, the man reached behind her causing her to inhale sharply, as his body was brought into close proximity with her own. He smelled of sunshine, which was odd, since there never seemed to be an excess in Darth, and something uniquely him, something she could only think to describe as manly. Her cheeks flushed at the thought, and she desperately hoped he wouldn't notice.

The man plucked a handful of berries off the bush and, still squatting, tossed the entire handful into his mouth and began to chew vigorously.

Rosalind's mouth opened in shock before she could find her voice. Leaning forward she lunged at him howling, "You can't eat those, spit them out immediately!"

Her slight body met with his hard chest, which didn't budge an inch, as she reached for his arms in an attempt to shake him. As her long fingers clasped onto his hard upper arms, she realized he was shaking. With alarm she looked up into his face only to see that he was laughing.

Removing her hands swiftly from his arms, she balled one hand into a fist and cuffed his chest. "It's not funny; this is serious."

The concern in her voice caused the man to sober. Slowly he swallowed the mouthful of berries as Rosalind gasped. Clearing his throat he said, "You're really worried."

"Of course I'm concerned. Those are elon berries, and they're highly poisonous. What were you thinking?"

"That lewly berries are highly delicious."

Her face registered confusion as she hurried over to inspect the berries still intact on the bush. Lifting a cluster of the purple berries, she noticed the bright yellow dot on the bottom of each berry and instantly felt foolish. Lewly berries. How had she missed the distinguished yellow dot that differentiated them from the elon berries? Her shoulders slumped. She guessed that in her excitement to find the cudworth berry, she had hastily overlooked that important detail.

Slowly she turned to face the man. "You're right, lewly berries are quite delicious." And, as if to prove her point, she gingerly plucked the largest berry from the bush and plopped it into her mouth.

The man grinned. "An honest mistake to be sure. Many people confuse them with the elon berry."

"Nay," she said, shaking her head furiously as she made to rise. "Perhaps many people do, but not I."

The man watched her stand, before slowly and casually standing himself. When he had risen to his full height, Rosalind had to bend her head back several inches to look into his eyes. He was half a foot taller than her, but she refused to let his size intimidate her.

"With all due respect, my lady, you just did."

Rosalind huffed, folding her arms tightly across her chest. She couldn't think of anything clever or scathing to say to refute the man; for truly she had just confused the two. Truthfully, she wasn't mad at the man for pointing out the obvious. She was mad at herself for not noticing the difference in the first place.

She turned on her heel and began walking away, completely forgetting the basket that lay in the grass behind her.  After a few hurried steps, she remembered her manners and, deciding it wasn't entirely the man's fault she felt foolish, she swung her head over one shoulder and called, "I appreciate your concern, sir, but I truly must be on my way. Good day." Bending over, she lifted the hem of her dress and took off in a brisk run, hoping the man was smart enough not to follow.

 

Chapter 2

Transformation

 

Rosalind's lungs were burning and her chest was heaving by the time the imposing gray dwelling that was Herfordshire castle came into view. She had run home as fast as she could, as anxious to get home as she had been to dispel the feelings of foolishness that had overcome her when the strange man had pointed out her amateur mistake.

Pushing her way into the front entrance of the castle, Rosalind made no attempt to hide her sudden appearance. She was sure by now that her mother had noticed her absence, and it would only be a waste of time to try to sneak into the castle undetected.

"Rosalind Fiona Mildred Alison..." a high-pitched voice shrieked. Rosalind stood rooted in her spot, waiting for her mother to finish listing off her absurdly long name, knowing there was no use stopping her until she was finished. "...Taran Violet Harcourt, where have you been?"

Her mother's voice had gotten louder the closer she got, and by the time she was standing directly in front of Rosalind, the screeching was so loud she couldn't resist putting her hands up to cover her ears. It was mistake. Her mother balled both of her hands into tight fists before stomping one slippered foot in frustration and letting out a blood curdling scream that was sure to be heard by nearly everyone in the Kingdom of Darth.

Her little brother Colin seemed to materialize out of nowhere. He came to a skidding halt next to her, as he instinctively raised his hands to cover his ears as well. Rosalind waited for the scream to end, as she watched a thin vein bulge on the side of her mother's throat. As soon as her mother was finished with her display of frustration, both Rosalind and Colin dropped their hands from their ears and began laughing. They exchanged a brief look of understanding, as if to say they both knew their mother was overreacting, which only caused the pair to laugh harder.