A nice surprise from Harlequin

Did you know March is Women’s History Month? I confess, I didn’t. The surprise didn’t end there: Harlequin counts my heroine, Safira of Paris, as a “woman of action.” 

They’re including her story, Kept by the Viking, in a month long campaign, celebrating historical romance and strong women in history. 

Safira is definitely resourceful, cunning woman who knows what she wants. Don’t take my word for it. Read an excerpt where Safira gives a man his comeuppance…and Rurik could kiss her for doing it:

Kept by the Viking
Forgotten Sons series, Book 1

Mouth pursing, Dom Bertulf paused his rant against evil Viking raiders. Safira eyed the Forgotten Sons and let the leather curtain drop.

“Pardon my interruption, Lord Ademar, Jarl.” She folded both hands against her skirts, her voice subdued. “I will join the men as I have not eaten yet.”

“Please. Sit beside Rurik. Astrid,” Ademar called across the hall. “Some of the lingonberry bread and butter for Safira.” Then to Safira “I recall you enjoyed the bread last night.”

Head bowed, she took her seat. Rurik was stiff in his chair. He didn’t trust her meekness.

“Carry on, Bertulf,” the jarl said. “You were close to the good part of your story...where Vikings threatened you with their words.”

Chuckles rippled through the hall. The Dom pushed up on the balls of his feet, his cassock swinging against spindly shins. Safira sat with both hands in her lap. Her silence suited Rurik for now. It wouldn’t last. She craved conversation with him as much as he did with her.

It was part of their weave. Even their words belonged to each other.

Gyda set a plate of lingonberry bread and a crock of butter before Safira. Eyes downcast, Safira buttered her bread. Gone was last night’s fine lady. She would hardly be noticed save the red silk poking up from her bodice. A leather belt cinched her undyed tunic, and she’d tied her hair in two places, at the nape and lower down her back, the same as when they journeyed.

“It’s all bluster until Ebbo speaks,” Ademar said quietly for Rurik. “He’s the Abbot of Rouen and, for the time being, Wandrille. Wandrille’s abbot died last winter and the bishop has yet to name the new abbot.”

“Who is he? He has the bearing of a warrior.”

“He was. A great one. Served two kings of Paris until his family was killed years ago. Then he devoted his life to the White Christ. He brews excellent cyser, throws a spear with deadly accuracy, and I count him a friend.”

“Who killed his family?”

Ademar’s eyes slanted at Rurik. “Vikings.”

Rurik’s spine hit the chair. Ebbo would have a say if he got the land or not? A fate to be decided over the theft of beer? He wanted to howl against rule of law. No blood was shed. The worst that had happened was a bent door hinge. If it had been Vlad or his men, blood would’ve spilled. Lives would’ve been lost. His father had to be laughing at his good luck.

Was Safira laughing too? She’d warned him. But her profile was a delicate line, a fringe of jet-colored lashes dipping low against tanned cheeks. Where was the woman who kicked dirt at Sothram’s shin? The woman who boldly challenged him to a duel of trading skills in Abbod village? She nibbled a piece of bread, spine straight, head downcast. The corners of her mouth pinched. Safira was up to something.

“What say you, Rurik of Birka, to the crimes you and the Forgotten Sons have been accused of?” Longsword’s voice beckoned from the left.

The riddle that was Safira this morn would have to wait.

“Everyone knows we took their beer,” he said and gave his attention to the monks. “I will pay twice what the caskets were worth and see the blacksmith about forging a new hinge for their door.”

“Sounds like fair payment,” the jarl said.

Abbot Ebbo’s bald pate dipped. “I thank you for making restitution for the wrongs done to my brothers.” His voice rumbled as deep as Thorvald’s. “The greater concern is that you might be their overlord and your men their guardians.”

“There will be a test of battle, a holmgang, between Vlad—” Longsword extended his left hand “—and Rurik.” He stretched a hand to the right.

A holmgang, a common means for Vikings to settle disputes. The fighter whose blood first touched the ground was defeated.

“Because you will not fight,” the jarl went on. “Vlad will fight on your behalf.”

Ebbo’s stone-faced glance went from Vlad to Rurik to Longsword. “You will decide the overlord from this battle?”

“Yes. Tomorrow’s fight will be a uniting of Viking and Christian.”

The good abbot snorted at that. “I’m more concerned about the soul of the man you would put over these good monks.”

“And I’m more concerned about his might,” the jarl sneered. “While your testimony is welcome, the final decision rests with me.”

Bemusement flickered in Ebbo’s eyes. His sandaled feet spread wider. “We welcome your spirit of cooperation and respect for the church, jarl. I make note of it when I send my reports to the bishop.”

Truth boiled in Rurik. He could tell the good Abbot their fates would worsen with Vlad. Monks going into the forest to harvest mushrooms would never come back. Men sleeping in their beds would not wake up, their throats slit in the night. Vlad was a rabid dog who did not care about the rights of men.

Ademar sat taller in his chair. “Do not forget my father built many stone churches in tribute to your God.”

“And then he called for sacrifices to your Odin before he died,” the Abbot shot back. “My brothers from Wandrille Abbey need to know they will be safe under Viking rule.”

Longsword steepled his fingers. The Abbot’s veiled warning about letters to the bishop didn’t appear to bother him. Instead he asked, “Rurik, how do you answer their concerns?”

All eyes were on him. Two of Vlad’s feral-eyed men fingered their knives. Bjorn and Gunnar stood beside a post, marking the warriors across the room. Rurik fought well with a sword, not words. But a new skill was demanded of him—to be a leader of fighters and peacekeepers.

“I have been told a man reaps what he sows.”

Three monks craned their necks at the Viking quoting what must be hallowed words.

The good Abbot nodded sagely. “You are familiar with a Godly tenet. Then you will know there is a time to judge every deed.”

“My men were hungry,” Rurik grated. “Our provisions were running low.”

“Thus, you needed…beer?” the Abbot countered.

Vlad and his men snickered.

Safira stirred in her seat. “Father Abbot, if I may speak.”


“I was traveling with these men.” When Dom Bertulf’s scowl darkened, she rushed on, “They rescued me from a cruel fate.” She linked both hands like a supplicant about to pray. “I will not bend your ear with my sorry tale in the face of such important matters as stolen beer.”

Rurik’s legs tensed. Her breezy tone was familiar. Haughty and quick. A verbal punch was coming.

But…” Her voice trailed lightly as her gaze swept from one monk to the other. “We were terribly hungry and thirsty.”

“You let yourself be ruled by the flesh—” Dom Bertolf stepped forward “—and broke the sanctity of holy ground…for what? Something to drink? These men are little more than outlaws.”

She smiled sweetly. “Good sir, I know I am a simple woman, but please tell me, isn’t there a tale of King David taking altar bread at the tabernacle of Nob? A holy place, no?”

The Dom frowned. “There is such a story, but that hardly equates to Vikings plundering Wandrille Abbey.”

“As I have heard the tale, David and his men were outlaws, on the run from King Saul. They took consecrated bread from consecrated ground.” She rolled her shoulder in a Gallic shrug. “Yet, these Vikings are lawful men. I would have a care if I were you. David became king of those priests, and this man, Rurik, may one day be your overlord.” She paused, her face a picture of innocence. “There is a strong connection between the two, no?”

Bjorn, Gunnar, and Thorvald grinned. So did Ademar, Longsword, and yes, even Abbot Ebbo.

“What kind of unnatural woman are you?” Bertolf blustered.

“A learned one, sir.”

Rurik grinned, familiar with the bite in her voice.