"A courageous beauty falls in love with a beast of a man."
Reviewed by Kay Quintin
Posted December 3, 2009
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
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
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.
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
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...
The damned incense hung eternal, like death, cleaved only by
the baneful dirge of screams and curses. Each clang and ring
of metalâ€”tool on tool, tools falling into bowls and against
remnants of armor and ruined weaponryâ€”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 Hellâ€™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 Roderickâ€™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
dinâ€”he certainly had pain enough to warrant themâ€” 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 Constantinopleâ€”and ultimately its hospitalâ€”
against Roderickâ€™s protests.
â€śIn Constantinople you will be cured,â€ť Hugh had promised
repeatedly. â€śYou must only persevere until Constantinople.
You must, Rick, you must!â€ť
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
Roderickâ€™s functioning eye well with thin tearsâ€”Magnus
Cherbon, awaiting his sonâ€™s return with hopes of the same
treasure and holy favor that Magnus himself had received on
his own pilgrimage. Roderick could hear his fatherâ€™s
condemnation already: Worthless failure! Weak, weak, weak!
From your motherâ€™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 Roderickâ€™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.
â€śHe comes, Rick! Look!â€ť Hugh grasped Roderickâ€™s left
shoulder and squeezed, his voice sounding as if he was
putting on an air of excitement for a very young child.
Roderickâ€™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 let his head fall to the left, thankful that the
surgeon did not approach from the other side of the room,
lest Roderickâ€™s injured faceâ€”bloated and stitched up like
saddle leather by a young Saracen boyâ€”prevent him from
anticipating the manâ€™s approach. Roderick felt the crude
courses of thick gut pull in his swollen flesh all the sameâ€”
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 heâ€™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 worseâ€”his right arm, his sword arm. And his left
leg . . .
The surgeon neared Roderickâ€™s pallet, his long leather apron
and tunic beneath stained a terrible and ghastly black. Two
pale, thin lads bobbed along in the surgeonâ€™s wake, carrying
his instruments in flat, shallow baskets. The manâ€™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 theyâ€™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 Saracenâ€” stained a deep,
deep brown, his fingernails in black relief.
A squealing fear raced up Roderickâ€™s spine at the surgeonâ€™s
approach, and he prayed with everything left of his soul
that he would die before the learned old man reached him.
Heâ€™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.
â€śWhat is it?â€ť 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
Roderickâ€™s forehead, roughly turning the splintered skull in
a starburst of fresh agony. â€śHead wound, yes?â€ť Hands with
the strength of Goliath pressed his shattered right arm.
â€śAnd arm, I see. Both stitched as well as can be. Fever, yes?â€ť
Hugh seemed to at last regain his voice at the brusque
questions and statements, given with little apparent
sympathy. â€śYes, 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 legâ€”â€ť
Before Hugh could finish, the old man swept down upon
Roderickâ€™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 Roderickâ€™s feet and continued. â€śPerhaps
the lance which pierced him was tainted with pâ€”â€ť
â€śPoison, yes,â€ť the surgeon interrupted. â€śAnd through the
thickness of his calf, no less. Iâ€™ve seen it often enough.
Nasty trick.â€ť The surgeon dropped the blanket back over
Roderickâ€™s leg and flicked his fingertips to the lads
hovering behind him, indicating the boys should move on.
They trudged past Roderickâ€™s pallet without a glance.
The old man looked at Hugh. â€śHeâ€™ll die.â€ť Then the surgeon
stepped directly into Roderickâ€™s line of sight, putting
angular cheekbones before his face. â€śAwake, yes? Good.
Youâ€™re going to die, my man,â€ť he nearly shouted, as if he
knew Roderickâ€™s hearing was not in its finest capacity. â€śDo
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.
â€śNo!â€ť Hugh shouted. Roderick didnâ€™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 Roderickâ€™s vision, having seized the surgeon by one
arm. â€śNo, he can not die. There must be something you can do.â€ť
The old man pulled his arm free with a cold look of warning.
â€śThe poisonâ€™s been in him too long. Had I been at his side
when he fell, perhaps. But now, any potion would be wasted
on himâ€”like pouring it upon the ground, and we have not
enough as it is. Heâ€™ll be cold by the morrowâ€™s light. I am
sorry. Good day.â€ť
â€śNo!â€ť Hugh shouted again, and this time nearly pulled the
surgeon off his feet. â€śYou must try to understandâ€”he saved
my life. Anything you can doâ€”â€ť
â€śGood sir, you see the men lying about this chamber, yes?â€ť
the surgeon demanded. â€śThink you their lives are worth less
than this manâ€™s?â€ť
â€śYes,â€ť Hugh answered immediately. â€śYes, I do.â€ť
â€śWell, I do not,â€ť the surgeon shouted, and Roderick silently
agreed with him. The surgeon turned to go, but Hugh grabbed
at the manâ€™s hand once more, this time falling to his knees
â€śPlease, maestro, please! I beg of you.â€ť At the reedy catch
in Hugh Gilbertâ€™s voice and the sight of him pressing his
lips to the surgeonâ€™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.
â€śDo you not think I would save him if I could?â€ť Roderick
heard the surgeon say in a quieter, slightly gentler voice.
â€śPlease,â€ť was Hughâ€™s only reply.
Roderick heard a curt sigh, and then, â€śBoy!â€ť After the
pattering of quick footsteps and a rustle-clink: â€śThis will
ease his pain. Itâ€™s all I can spare, Iâ€™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 heâ€™s
dead, and then he must be moved. I need the pallet.â€ť
The surgeonâ€™s steps fled impatiently from Hughâ€™s â€śGod bless
you, maestro. Thank you, thank you!â€ť
In the next moment, Hughâ€™s breath huffed a cool, hammering
breeze on Roderickâ€™s fevered and throbbing face, and
Roderick heard the pip of a small cork. â€śHere we are,
Rickâ€”what I had hoped for. Open up now.â€ť He felt Hughâ€™s
rough finger push inside his lips to scrub at his gums. A
tingling warmth filled his mouth and then Hughâ€™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.
Hughâ€™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. â€śCome on, come on, for
fuckâ€™s sake!â€ť The cork at last slid home and Hugh slipped
the vial away inside his tunic.
â€śHugh?â€ť Roderick tried to whisper, but he heard only a
gurgling â€śooâ€ť blurt from his lips. It was enough to get his
â€śItâ€™s a lot, I know,â€ť Hugh rushed as he reached over
Roderick, gathering together into a rough sack their few
belongings scattered on either side of Roderickâ€™s pallet.
â€śBut you need itâ€”weâ€™re getting out of here, Rick. Iâ€™m taking
â€śOh,â€ť Roderick choked.
â€śYes.â€ť Hugh stood and disappeared from Roderickâ€™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. â€śTry to sleep,â€ť Hugh said with a whoosh of
effort. â€śIt willâ€”â€ť
But the rest of his friendâ€™s statement was lost to Roderick
as Hugh jerked on the blanket and began pulling it like a
makeshift gurney. Roderickâ€™s body started, and the white
pain that exploded from the rough movement, combined with
the sizzling, dazzling substance Hugh had slipped into
Roderickâ€™s mouth ensured that he did, indeed, sleep.
Roderick didnâ€™t know how long heâ€™d been unconscious, or how
far Hugh had dragged him, but he didnâ€™t think it had been
very long or very far, for the acrid taste of the hospitalâ€™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
He felt no painâ€”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 Roderickâ€™s
awareness now deteriorated into a sob, and then Roderick
â€śI wanted to come to you first, but I didnâ€™t knowâ€”â€ť
â€śNo, no,â€ť a woman said. â€śI understand. I am glad youâ€™ve
brought him, although I doubt I can help him.â€ť
The voice, low and sweet and lilted, filtered through
Roderickâ€™s brain in a familiar pattern. He knew this
speaker. Who? Who . . . ? Aster? Ophelia? No . . .
â€śYou gave him too much, Hugh.â€ť The woman spoke again, closer
to Roderick this time. He could feel her warmth near his
left side. â€śHe may not wake.â€ť A brief image of dark,
sloe-eyed beauty draped in purple silk flashed through
Roderickâ€™s memory, but was gone before
Ardis? No, that wasnâ€™t it either. . . .
â€śOh, God!â€ť Hugh cried, and Roderick could hear the very
depths of his friendâ€™s misery. He felt a distant sympathy
for the man, obviously in a pain which Roderick could
blessedly no longer feel. â€śI knew not what else to do! He
was in such agonyâ€”I thought moving him with any less would
kill him.â€ť A shuffling of feet and then Hughâ€™s voice sounded
closer, hushed though, as if speaking a quiet blasphemy. â€śI
think he wants to die.â€ť
â€śThen he likely will,â€ť the woman said. â€śWithout the will to
live, there would be little I could do were his injuries
Those sloe eyes again, and music. Dancing . . .
â€śYou are his last hope, Aurelia,â€ť Hugh said, his words
nearly a gasp. â€śOur last hope.â€ť
What do you think about this review?
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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