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RESCUE: COWBOY STYLE by REBECCA ZANETTI


Taming the Beast

Taming the Beast, November 2009
by Heather Grothaus

Zebra
Featuring: Michaela Fortune; Roderick Cherbon
352 pages
ISBN: 1420102435
EAN: 9781420102437
Paperback
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"A courageous beauty falls in love with a beast of a man."

Fresh Fiction Review

Taming the Beast
Heather Grothaus

Reviewed by Kay Quintin
Posted December 3, 2009

Romance Historical

Following the battle at Heraclea, Roderick Cherbon returns to Cherbon Castle a crippled beast to take his rightful place after his father Magnus has died. But there is a stipulation to his inheritance -- Roderick must marry. If not, his cousin, Alan Tornfield, will take over everything. Crippled and appearing only at night shrouded in a hooded cape, Roderick engages his best friend Hugh Gilbert to interview a prospective bride in an attempt to win his birthright.

In an effort to dissolve her father's debts, Michaela Fortune is resolved to marry the hideous cripple who has thus far left every other prospect screaming and running from the castle. Falling in love with Roderick is not part of her plan. But several obstacles make it almost impossible for her to convince him that she really does love him.

I thoroughly enjoyed Heather Grothaus' imaginative creation of a true heroine putting herself in jeopardy to save those she loves. Michaela is a strong-willed, beautiful character and Roderick is a man with many facets. The storyline is most interesting and keeps the interest piqued all through the book. I hated to see the story end! I will certainly watch for more love stories by this author.

Learn more about Taming the Beast

SUMMARY

After years of turmoil, Roderick Cherbon has left the Crusades to return to the home he loves. But the wars have changed him, and the heir who thought to heal his father's injustices has become a vicious beast of a man, scarred inside and out. He will speak to no one, see no one; he leaves the shadows of his ruined keep only under the darkness of night. And even in death his father mocks him: to retain his land and title, Roderick, the Beast, must marry.

Lady Michaela Fortune is reviled for her poverty, ridiculed for her dreams, and preyed on for her soft heart. Humiliation and want dog her beloved family, and her pride is an indulgence she can ill afford. Cherbon and its shattered lord offer a solution. But to court a man who has fallen so low, Michaela will need all her grace and beauty to harbor any hopes of taming the beast...

Excerpt

Prologue

October 1101
Constantinople

The damned incense hung eternal, like death, cleaved only by the baneful dirge of screams and curses. Each clang and ring of metal—tool on tool, tools falling into bowls and against remnants of armor and ruined weaponry—was piercing. Sonorous Latin droned from the colorless lips of the robed men who mindlessly haloed the long, plastered room as if puppeted by the enormous crucifix hung at the far end. Bodies thrashed on pallets, fighting to free themselves from the hands of the surgeons who sweated and strained and worked like the dogs their patients swore them to be.

Surely this could be no faithful hospital.

For Roderick, it was Hell’s antechamber.

Sobs roiled within the fiery incense as well, as if attempting to dampen the cloying stench of rot and disease merely by the weighty emotion of upward of 150 men. Men like himself, laid like so much half-butchered meat in a smokehouse. The choking smoke was death, in Roderick’s swollen and bruised mind. He could feel its close, burning char against his already-fevered skin, licking away at his sanity, slurping up his very life.

He waited his turn with the surgeon, who would come soon, Hugh promised. Very soon.

Roderick would have added his own screams to the miserable din—he certainly had pain enough to warrant them— but after three weeks of worsening agony, he had no strength left to utter the feeblest whimper. From the ill-fated battle at Heraclea, Hugh had brought him, returning them both to that grand city of Constantinople—and ultimately its hospital— against Roderick’s protests.

“In Constantinople you will be cured,” Hugh had promised repeatedly. “You must only persevere until Constantinople. You must, Rick, you must!”

And Roderick had, although how, he knew not. He wanted to die. To escape the pain of his injuries. To avoid returning to his father in England a failure.

Yes, that was the worst of all, the thought that made Roderick’s functioning eye well with thin tears—Magnus Cherbon, awaiting his son’s return with hopes of the same treasure and holy favor that Magnus himself had received on his own pilgrimage. Roderick could hear his father’s condemnation already: Worthless failure! Weak, weak, weak! From your mother’s damned womb you were like her. Weak! No son of mine. A disgrace. Roderick had heard the words so many times, they were verse in his memory.

A tear at last escaped Roderick’s left eye and rolled dumbly down his cheek to leap from his face onto the rough blanket beneath his head. The tear left behind a wet path as cold as the hatred it represented.

“He comes, Rick! Look!” Hugh grasped Roderick’s left shoulder and squeezed, his voice sounding as if he was putting on an air of excitement for a very young child. Roderick’s left shoulder and arm were the only places where his friend could touch him without causing further agony, having been saved by the stout English shield strapped to Roderick’s forearm.

Roderick let his head fall to the left, thankful that the surgeon did not approach from the other side of the room, lest Roderick’s injured face—bloated and stitched up like saddle leather by a young Saracen boy—prevent him from anticipating the man’s approach. Roderick felt the crude courses of thick gut pull in his swollen flesh all the same— from the bridge of his nose, over his cheekbone, across and beyond his right temple. His view of the long hospital chamber was reduced to a horizontal sliver through his left eye, and he could see nothing at all through his right. Perhaps it was no longer even in its socket; Roderick could not bring himself to ask Hugh. His nose was broken badly, his cheekbone likely fractured as well. Since he’d been dragged from his mount during that bloody slaughter, the only sound in his right ear had been a dull roar, like an ocean tempest beyond the cliffs of his old home, Cherbon.

His head injuries were serious, Roderick knew. But his arm was so much worse—his right arm, his sword arm. And his left leg . . .

The surgeon neared Roderick’s pallet, his long leather apron and tunic beneath stained a terrible and ghastly black. Two pale, thin lads bobbed along in the surgeon’s wake, carrying his instruments in flat, shallow baskets. The man’s white hair was long and thick to his shoulders, some strands escaping the tight knot of leather at his nape, and the ends looked as if they’d been dipped in blood. His eyes were deep set and wintry, his mouth hard and nearly invisible. He walked quickly, the hands swinging at his side looking as though they had been stolen from a Saracen— stained a deep, deep brown, his fingernails in black relief.

A squealing fear raced up Roderick’s spine at the surgeon’s approach, and he prayed with everything left of his soul that he would die before the learned old man reached him. He’d never imagined fear like this, and it caused Roderick to scream and thrash and beg for reprieve inside his broken shell of a body.

But outside, that shell did not so much as twitch.

“What is it?” the surgeon asked of Hugh, reaching out his nightmarish hands and speaking even before coming at once over the pallet. Hard fingers probed either side of Roderick’s forehead, roughly turning the splintered skull in a starburst of fresh agony. “Head wound, yes?” Hands with the strength of Goliath pressed his shattered right arm. “And arm, I see. Both stitched as well as can be. Fever, yes?”

Hugh seemed to at last regain his voice at the brusque questions and statements, given with little apparent sympathy. “Yes, yes, maestro. Fever, yes. The stitches seem to be holding well, but his fever has steadily worsened since Heraclea. I think perhaps it is his leg—”

Before Hugh could finish, the old man swept down upon Roderick’s left leg and jerked up the stained covering. Roderick fancied he could smell his own wound on the breeze the surgeon created, although his nose had been too swollen to take air in more than a fortnight.

Hugh stepped toward Roderick’s feet and continued. “Perhaps the lance which pierced him was tainted with p—”

“Poison, yes,” the surgeon interrupted. “And through the thickness of his calf, no less. I’ve seen it often enough. Nasty trick.” The surgeon dropped the blanket back over Roderick’s leg and flicked his fingertips to the lads hovering behind him, indicating the boys should move on. They trudged past Roderick’s pallet without a glance.

The old man looked at Hugh. “He’ll die.” Then the surgeon stepped directly into Roderick’s line of sight, putting angular cheekbones before his face. “Awake, yes? Good. You’re going to die, my man,” he nearly shouted, as if he knew Roderick’s hearing was not in its finest capacity. “Do you understand?”

Roderick wanted to nod and thought his chin may have twitched downward. He was so thankful that the man would not be touching him with those black fingers. He let his eye close.

“No!” Hugh shouted. Roderick didn’t want to open his eye again, but the sounds of a scuffle prompted a distant concern for his friend. Hugh appeared again in the narrow slit of Roderick’s vision, having seized the surgeon by one arm. “No, he can not die. There must be something you can do.”

The old man pulled his arm free with a cold look of warning. “The poison’s been in him too long. Had I been at his side when he fell, perhaps. But now, any potion would be wasted on him—like pouring it upon the ground, and we have not enough as it is. He’ll be cold by the morrow’s light. I am sorry. Good day.”

“No!” Hugh shouted again, and this time nearly pulled the surgeon off his feet. “You must try to understand—he saved my life. Anything you can do—”

“Good sir, you see the men lying about this chamber, yes?” the surgeon demanded. “Think you their lives are worth less than this man’s?”

“Yes,” Hugh answered immediately. “Yes, I do.”

“Well, I do not,” the surgeon shouted, and Roderick silently agreed with him. The surgeon turned to go, but Hugh grabbed at the man’s hand once more, this time falling to his knees behind him.

“Please, maestro, please! I beg of you.” At the reedy catch in Hugh Gilbert’s voice and the sight of him pressing his lips to the surgeon’s bloodstained hand, Roderick let his eye close once more. He could not bear to see the man plead for a cause so hopeless and unworthy.

“Do you not think I would save him if I could?” Roderick heard the surgeon say in a quieter, slightly gentler voice.

“Please,” was Hugh’s only reply.

Roderick heard a curt sigh, and then, “Boy!” After the pattering of quick footsteps and a rustle-clink: “This will ease his pain. It’s all I can spare, I’m afraid. Small dose at first, yes? Only from the fingertip, lest you wish to show him mercy and kill him outright. He may stay until he’s dead, and then he must be moved. I need the pallet.”

The surgeon’s steps fled impatiently from Hugh’s “God bless you, maestro. Thank you, thank you!”

In the next moment, Hugh’s breath huffed a cool, hammering breeze on Roderick’s fevered and throbbing face, and Roderick heard the pip of a small cork. “Here we are, Rick—what I had hoped for. Open up now.” He felt Hugh’s rough finger push inside his lips to scrub at his gums. A tingling warmth filled his mouth and then Hugh’s finger returned. And again.

Was his friend trying to kill him? Roderick opened his eye as best he could while his head started a slow, buzzing spin.

Hugh’s face swam before him, milky and pebbled with sweat, as he tried to fit the stopper back in the small, colored glass bottle with fumbling fingers. “Come on, come on, for fuck’s sake!” The cork at last slid home and Hugh slipped the vial away inside his tunic.

“Hugh?” Roderick tried to whisper, but he heard only a gurgling “oo” blurt from his lips. It was enough to get his friend’s attention.

“It’s a lot, I know,” Hugh rushed as he reached over Roderick, gathering together into a rough sack their few belongings scattered on either side of Roderick’s pallet. “But you need it—we’re getting out of here, Rick. I’m taking you to—”

“Oh,” Roderick choked.

“Yes.” Hugh stood and disappeared from Roderick’s line of sight, but his words were still painfully clear as Roderick felt the rough blanket he rested on lift his head and shoulders. “Try to sleep,” Hugh said with a whoosh of effort. “It will—”

But the rest of his friend’s statement was lost to Roderick as Hugh jerked on the blanket and began pulling it like a makeshift gurney. Roderick’s body started, and the white pain that exploded from the rough movement, combined with the sizzling, dazzling substance Hugh had slipped into Roderick’s mouth ensured that he did, indeed, sleep.

Roderick didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious, or how far Hugh had dragged him, but he didn’t think it had been very long or very far, for the acrid taste of the hospital’s incense was still thick and gritty in his mouth. He heard the voices before he could try to open his remaining functioning eye, which refused to cooperate at that moment, any matter. As it was, whatever drug Hugh had given to Roderick was affecting his already-disadvantaged hearing, distorting the voices and, in spots, blanking them out altogether.

He felt no pain—indeed, he was largely numb, save for the uncontrollable trembling which had seized him. Perhaps he was cold. Or fevered. Roderick could not tell.

A quieter voice beyond the black curtain of Roderick’s awareness now deteriorated into a sob, and then Roderick heard Hugh.

“I wanted to come to you first, but I didn’t know—”

“No, no,” a woman said. “I understand. I am glad you’ve brought him, although I doubt I can help him.”

The voice, low and sweet and lilted, filtered through Roderick’s brain in a familiar pattern. He knew this speaker. Who? Who . . . ? Aster? Ophelia? No . . .

“You gave him too much, Hugh.” The woman spoke again, closer to Roderick this time. He could feel her warmth near his left side. “He may not wake.” A brief image of dark, sloe-eyed beauty draped in purple silk flashed through Roderick’s memory, but was gone before

Ardis? No, that wasn’t it either. . . .

“Oh, God!” Hugh cried, and Roderick could hear the very depths of his friend’s misery. He felt a distant sympathy for the man, obviously in a pain which Roderick could blessedly no longer feel. “I knew not what else to do! He was in such agony—I thought moving him with any less would kill him.” A shuffling of feet and then Hugh’s voice sounded closer, hushed though, as if speaking a quiet blasphemy. “I think he wants to die.”

“Then he likely will,” the woman said. “Without the will to live, there would be little I could do were his injuries even half.”

Those sloe eyes again, and music. Dancing . . .

“You are his last hope, Aurelia,” Hugh said, his words nearly a gasp. “Our last hope.”


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Comments

1 comment posted.

Re: A courageous beauty falls in love with a beast of a man.

Oh, this sounds so tantalizing! Can hardly wait to read it!
(Jean Merriott 6:54pm January 24, 2010)

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