Teresa Medeiros makes her hardcover debut in this magnificently sensual and romantic tale filled with passion, humor, and suspense. It is the unforgettable story of two indomitable characters whose love affair is the stuff of which legends are made....
Gwendolyn Wilder did not believe in dragons. But the superstitious villagers of Ballybliss did, and so Gwendolyn found herself bound to a post as a sacrificial offering to the Dragon who haunted the ruins of Castle Weyrcraig. Fifteen years earlier, someone had betrayed the Laird of Weyrcraig and his handsome young heir to the English for a thousand pounds in gold. Now the Dragon was demanding that very amount. The frightened Highlanders hoped that instead of gold, the fair virgin would satisfy the beast's insatiable appetite. As for Gwendolyn, she never doubted that the so-called Dragon was a fraud. She knew there was a perfectly good explanation for the mysterious lights seen flickering in the crumbling castle and the unsettling sound of bagpipes drifting through the glens. But as she waited for whoever-or whatever-to claim his prize, she could not help trembling as a furious storm lashed about her...and she saw what appeared to be dark wings and a stream of silver smoke emerge from the shadows. Rumor had it that the Dragon could take the form of a man, and so he did with Gwendolyn-a man who would not show her his face. He carried her into his lair and made her his prisoner, his pampered pet. And while she didn't expect to be eaten by the fire-breathing Dragon of Weyrcraig, neither did she expect to be warmed by his sensuous caresses or devoured by his passionate kisses.
The Dragon had demanded gold and the fools had given him this golden-haired maiden. She was the very last thing he expected-and now there was no way he could let her go. She could never know that he was no monster but a flesh-and-blood man who had just laid eyes on the one woman who could slay him. Still, this supremely handsome man of devastating virility was more dangerous than any dragon. He would take it upon himself to enchant the practical Gwendolyn as she had enchanted him. He would weave a spell of sensuous magic around her that would defy all her commonsense notions and tempt her to believe in something even more unlikely than dragons and more powerful than the past that threatened them both-true love.
From the Hardcover edition.
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PrologueScotland, The Highlands
Gwendolyn was nine years old the day she almost killed the future chieftain of Clan MacCullough.
She was hauling herself up a sturdy young oak, carefully testing each branch to make sure it would bear her weight, when his shaggy pony came into view.
She settled her backside into a well-worn hollow in the trunk and peered through the minty green veil of leaves, her heart skipping a beat. Aye, it was he. There was no mistaking Bernard MacCullough's regal bearing or the shock of dark hair that tumbled across his brow. He wore a scarlet and black tartan draped over his saffron shirt. A silver badge emblazoned with the MacCullough dragon secured the tartan, drawing her attention to shoulders that seemed to grow broader with each passing day. Below his short kilt, his long, tanned legs hugged the pony's flanks.
Gwendolyn rested her chin on her hand and sighed, content simply to drink in the sight of him as he guided the pony down the rocky path with a grace and mastery beyond his fifteen years. Although he rode through this pass every day, she never tired of watching him. Never tired of dreaming chat one day he would look up and catch a glimpse of her.
"Who goes there?" he would call out, reining his pony to a halt. "Could it be an angel fallen from the heavens?"
"'Tis only I, m'laird," she would reply, "thine fair Lady Gwendolyn."
Then he would flash his white teeth in a tender smile and she would gently float to the ground. (In her dreams, she always had a pretty pair of gossamer wings.) Using only one hand, he would sweep her up before him on the pony and they would ride through the village, basking beneath the proud smiles of her mama and papa, the slack-jawed gazes of the villagers, and the envious stares of her two older sisters.
"Look! There's Gwennie at the top of that tree. And they say pigs can't fly!" A burst of raucous laughter jerked Gwendolyn out of her reverie.
As she looked down and saw the circle of children gathered around the tree, her skin began to crawl with an all too familiar dread. Perhaps if she ignored their taunts, they would just go away.
"I don't know why ye're wastin' yer time up there. All the acorns are down here on the ground." Ross, the burly son of the village blacksmith, slapped his knee, howling with mirth.
"Oh, do stop it, Ross," laughed Glynnis, Gwendolyn's twelve-year-old sister. She twined an arm through his and tossed her flowing auburn curls. "If you'll leave the poor creature alone, I'll let you steal a kiss later."
Gwendolyn's eleven-year-old sister, Nessa, whose silky straight hair was a shade more gold than red, captured his ocher arm, pouting prettily. "Keep your lips to yourself, wench. He's already promised his kisses to me."
"Don't fret, lasses." Ross squeezed them both until they squealed. "I've kisses enough to go 'round. Although 'twould take more kisses than I've got to go 'round that sister of yers."
Gwendolyn couldn't stop herself from replying. "Go away, Ross, and leave me alone!"
"And what will you do if I don't? Sit on me?"
Glynnis and Nessa made a halfhearted attempt to smother their giggles with their hands. The rest of Ross's companions roared with laughter.
Then an unfamiliar voice sliced through their merriment. "You heard the lady. Leave her be."
Bernard MacCullough's voice was both smoother and deeper than Gwendolyn had imagined. And he'd called her a lady! But her wonder over chat was quickly overtaken by mortification as she realized he must have heard the entire exchange. As she looked through the branches, all she could see of her defender...
The Bride and the Beast
By: Teresa Medeiros