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A Tavern Wench to Bed [MultiFormat]
eBook by Brenda Williamson

eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
eBook Description: Sorcha Bronson, the beautiful daughter of a slain dragon trainer is determined to take over her father's business. To make a name for herself means showing off her skills in a tournament where she goes up again the best dragon rider knight she can find. But first, she must convince him to accept her challenge. When the knights of the Dragon Fighter's Society turn her down because she's a woman, she tries using feminine wiles to change one man's mind. Soon, she discovers a game of love that seduces and distracts her. Uncertain she has any real chance at winning Sir Henry's heart, she struggles to stay focused on her career. Handsome, charming, free-spirited Sir Henry Pembroke loves riding dragons and competing in the kingdom's tournaments. With a penchant for harmless fun, he's unprepared for the ambitious lady who wants to participate in a dangerous sport meant for men. He makes it his mission to keep her from getting hurt, but the tavern wench shows unfaltering determination when she attempts to barter sex for a chance to compete. Sir Henry finds himself more attracted to the beguiling and passionate beauty than he bargains on. Yet he has to wonder if Sorcha is just playing on his emotions to get what she wants. Or, can her love be real? Reader Alert!: Determined to compete in the dragon fighter tournaments, Sorcha will do anything to get a dragon knight to accept her challenge, including wagering her virtue. But beware?this story will leave you dreaming of having a steamy sex scene of your own with one breathtakingly handsome knight. To My Readers: In this third book of my dragon fighter romance series, you get to know the third and youngest Pembroke brother, dragon rider knight, Sir Henry. If you remember him from book one, then you know Henry is a fun loving, free-spirited charmer that had to have his own story. He takes nothing too seriously, that is, until he meets a woman much different then the noble ladies his brothers have married, and suddenly, settling down never looked more appealing. As for the lady that turns his head, Sorcha is a strong-willed commoner, a tavern wench, the inheritor of her father's dragon training business. You'll find yourself rooting for her right off, as she persistently attempts to make it in a man's world. She's tough and determined to do whatever it takes, including have sex with a man. Naturally, she never dreamed that she'd fall in love with one of the handsome knights she was trying to use to her advantage. But while they come together for selfish reasons, they develop a deeper bond that comes from similar tragedies in their pasts, and it's that emotional connection that starts them on the path to happily-ever-after.

eBook Publisher: Red Sage Publishing, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2012

Chapter One

Sorcha stared at the old tavern sitting in the center of the village of Milstead. She studied the door hanging cockeyed on one leather hinge. It appeared dangerously close to falling. Actually, the whole rickety building didn't look exactly as if it should be standing. Taking a deep breath, she readied her nerves. She was well experienced with inebriated men, having worked as a bar wench for years in the village she was from. Nevertheless, the new surroundings made her uneasy, especially since she planned to approach dragon rider knights with an unusual request. What she wanted went far beyond their vow to perform chivalrous deeds and she dreaded disappointment.

She let out the breath she held and took another step toward the shoddy establishment. The door suddenly swung open, startling her with its forceful slam back against the exterior wall. The mud filler between the siding planks crumbled and fell to the ground. A man stumbled out. His swift exit suggested someone had thrown him out. He crashed face down on the street. A billow of dust puffed upward and settled back into place.

Drunk and fighting. She shook her head, disgusted by the lack of control men had.

She debated whether to go around him or step over his prone body. His pained groan prevented her from moving. Was he hurt? She watched him roll over.

He rose up on his elbows and gave her an enchanting, boyish grin. Through dark lashes and half-closed his eyes, he gazed up at her as if he enjoyed what he saw. Unruly locks of dark hair framed his face, some strands hanging forward. He flicked his head back and these regrouped with the other strands.

She stared at his handsome expression. His crookedly smiling mouth had a cut at the corner. His perfect nose crinkled at the bridge as he sneezed.

"Well, aren't youuuu the queen of beauuuuty standing so regalleee at my feet." His slurred wording crowned her initial assumption that he was drunk.

Even so, the rich timbre of his voice had a gentle softness that caressed her senses and gave her goose flesh. Few men attracted her attention in such a physically alluring way. She quickly rubbed her arms to stop the prickling heat rushing toward her shoulders.

"I will enjoy pleasuring you with long hot kisses, precious one." His gaze traveled the length of her as if he inventoried the areas where he planned to linger. When it reached her waist, he paused and licked his lips. Its suggestiveness squashed her lapse of judgment. Intense irritation swam through her. His lack of respect and crude attempt to charm her ruined everything.

"I'd rather have a dog lick me," she shot back.

"How do you feel about cats?" he grinned.

"Cats?" She wondered where the conversation was going next.

"Yes." He sat up and his hair fell forward over his eyes again. Immediately, he brushed it back. "I do a good imitation of a cat."

His devilish smirk produced dimples that made him too appealing, but she didn't have time to indulge in games of flirtation.

"Oh, as in licking your genitals?" she mused.

His smile grew wider. "I shall not have to master that feat as long as there are women in the land," he declared arrogantly.

"Oh? And why is that?"

"All I need do is stroke between your silken thighs to have you begging to lick betwixt mine."

"You barbarian. You're drunk, soused to the gills on ale." Hysteria was not her normal response to anything, but she was on edge.

"Aye, that I am milady, but do not hold it against me." His tongue whipped out and ran the course around his mouth again.

Her insides twitched and dampened. "Tis lucky for you I am not in the company of a gallant knight that might thrash you for speaking so vulgarly."

"Apologies, milady. Your beauty spellbinds me while the ale makes my tongue waggle loosely. I cannot help but imagine how luscious and bountiful your body might be with the help of my skills."

"Skills?" She shook her head in disbelief. "I doubt you can get to your feet let alone find my legs."

"I don't know about that, my lovely." He leaned forward and lifted her skirt.

"What are you doing?" Irritated and confused by the desire churning like hot oil in her belly, she stepped back, yanking her clothing out of his grip.

"I'm showing you that the amount of ale I've downed has not incapacitated my hands." He leaned back with a smile that invited her to enjoy his attention.

As a tavern wench, she fought off the manhandling of drunken men everyday. She habitually ignored overbearing miscreants and pompous nobles with barbaric manners. She could almost lump this one in with the rest, but his easygoing, seemingly genuine nature drew her.

"Shall we go inside and find a room with a bed? I want to offer you the sweetest pleasure you'll ever know," he purred, reminding her of his feline licking intentions.

Sorcha felt herself succumbing to his charm. His appearance also outweighed his forwardness. He'd not be the first disrespectful man with whom she had tarried. Nevertheless, she was on a mission far removed from physical gratification. It was time to end the frivolous chatter, shake off her errant attraction and be on her way.

"Has your mother taught you no manners?" she asked, hoping to squelch his interest.

"She's dead," he replied, rising up from the ground.

The pain of losing her own mother resurfaced and her heart went out to him. "I'm sorry."

He remained bent, brushing dust from his clothes, and did not reply. She detected vulnerability in his avoidance of her gaze. Then he straightened, showing his full height. His wide shoulders strained the seams of his shirt. Without an ounce of modesty, he rubbed the groin of his britches, adjusting the manly parts beneath the cloth. She took a deep breath, envisioning his strength in that area. Twinges of excitement tightened her insides. Her thoughts jumped to visions of him stroking between her thighs.

She glanced up from her brazen study of his body to meet his gaze. The amused twinkle in his eyes said he read her mind. Embarrassingly, her cheeks heated. It wasn't often she was caught off guard by her desires. She wondered if his mother was actually dead. He'd not be the first man to lie his way into a woman's bed.

"You truly are a pretty thing." His tongue darted out and swished over his lips, wiping blood away from the cut at the corner of his mouth. Then he followed the path with his hand, wiping away the shine of saliva. "What do you say, sweetness, shall I make your every wish come true?"

If it were only so easy. She let out an exasperated breath. He wasn't the man to fulfill her greatest wish.

Turning away from the scurrilous rogue's temptations to an encounter of sweet decadence, she stepped through the doorway of the tavern. No man should have a glimpse of a woman's desires. No man, she reaffirmed silently. Never show weakness.

The dank room bulged with a crowd of men. She surveyed the dozens of faces looking in her direction. Filthy thoughts gleamed in their dull eyes. The place reeked with stale air, permeated by unwashed men, sour breaths and belched up stomach bile. The odor worked perfectly to squelch her desire for the stranger outside.

"And who do we have here?" one man asked.

She watched the crowd part for him. His tunic, emblazoned with a red dragon on a black shield, proclaimed him a dragon rider knight from the Tulane clan. Patriarch Lord Elan Tulane had died at the hands of a rival dragon rider knight, Sir Ware Pembroke, but the Tulane crest lived on with his two sons. Which one did she face?

His swagger held all the conceit of a Tulane. Vanity showed in the large, ruby encrusted steel cross, shaped like a sword, hanging from a chain around his neck. Such a display of wealth wasn't fitting for the poor tavern surroundings.

"Give me your name," he demanded.

"Sorcha Bronson," she answered, deciding not to start trouble. She needed the assistance of a dragon rider knight. His background made no difference to her if he agreed to help her. "I'm looking for a dragon fighter who's not afraid to meet me in a challenge in tomorrow's exhibition games. Who might you be?"

"Sir Reven Tulane." He cocked his head looking down the length of her. "You're a woman."

"A very astute observation," she replied sarcastically.

Sir Reven chuckled and smiled, asserting an attractive self-confidence that suited his handsome features. She tried picturing him naked and tied to her bed. Would restraints tone down his arrogance?

"I'm glad I amuse you. Will you accept my challenge?" she asked, irritated by the sexual thought and its interference with her clear thinking. Why would she think of sex with him, anyway? She thought of the man outside and blamed him for the tremors of frustration dancing inside her.

"Against you?" Sir Reven's eyes widened with disbelief. "A sprite of a girl wants me to compete against her?"

"Yes. Haven't you been listening?" She hated condescending men and found herself struggling not to walk away.

"You do understand you'd need to ride a dragon, don't you?" He laughed again, as did the men around him. Their insensitivity angered her. She pitied any woman married to the likes of these men.

"I'm a skilled dragon rider, Sir Reven. You'll not find it easy to best me." She fought to hold onto her temper and her dignity.

"You say your family name is Bronson. Where do I know it from?" His smug expression told her he already knew.

"My father was killed during an exhibition dragon fight last year," she answered.

"Ah, the dragon breeder, Kell Bronson." He nodded. "I remember. He found himself in the way of my brother Uther's lance. Not what I call very skilled at the sport."

"Lord Uther went too far in a fight meant only as a demonstration. My father was an expert dragon trainer. He taught me everything I know."

"Teaching a dragon to sit is far removed from the skills of fighting from their backs, as you very well know from your father's demise. What say you let me teach you something useful?" He lifted a hand to her face. His fingers grazed her jaw.

She held still, not giving him the satisfaction of seeing her flinch. "There's nothing I wish to learn from you, Sir Reven."

"I don't know about that." He stroked her cheek several times, seeming more aware of his own actions than her responses.

She tried to read what went on behind his mesmerized gaze. "Would you mind not doing that?" She turned her head, breaking the connection of his petting fingers.

"No, I don't mind." He grinned.

His arm dropped and swiftly wrapped around her waist. As he drew her close, she jerked a knife from the pocket in the folds in her cloak. She always carried the weapon to remind men like him she did not welcome such attentions.

"Unhand me, Sir, or you'll learn how little skill I need to use this." She pointed the sharp steel tip up and held it under his chin.

He snatched her wrist and plucked the knife from her fingers with the swiftness of an eagle. "A hellion sent by angels. I like feisty women," he declared.

She struggled in his binding hold. "Let go of me," she demanded, kicking at his legs.

"Let her be, Tulane!" a familiar voice ordered.

She turned her head to see the man from outside enter the tavern. The sunlight made him a silhouette against the lit doorway. A halo of sunshine crowned his head.

"Did you not hear me, man? I said, let the lady go."

His appearance distracted Sir Reven, and she tried to dislodge herself from his grasp.

"Just hold up a minute." Sir Reven jerked her back against him. "I'm not done with you yet."

She wiggled to get free, but his arms tightened, squeezing the air and energy from her.

"So Pembroke, you back for more?" Sir Reven asked the man.

Sorcha knew the name Pembroke. Everyone within a hundred miles knew the name Pembroke. Her view of him as a useless nobody changed instantly.

"My departure was not of your doing, Tulane. I tripped,"

The room dimmed when someone shoved the door back into its rightful place, but there was still enough light for her to see Sir Pembroke's face clearly. His tongue swirled over the cut on his lip and cleaned the blood away again. "Now let her go."

"Why should I?" Sir Reven asked.

"I don't think you're to her liking. Besides, I saw her first. Your manhandling is going to bruise all the soft parts of the lady I'm hoping to explore myself."

Sorcha looked heatedly at Pembroke. Even as her proposed rescuer, he had a way of irking her.

"First. Last. Possession is the most important," Sir Reven declared.

"Let her go, Rev," Sir Pembroke's voice took on a serious tone.

The whole room went silent. Did the patrons know what came next? Were flames going to shoot out of Sir Pembroke's nostrils like a dragon's or was smoke going to cloud the air making them choke?

The suspense was intriguing and she found herself holding her breath.

Sir Reven's arm around her chest loosened. She took the chance to escape him, but he snatched her by the wrist and stopped her. Men closed in around them, corralling her between Sir Reven and the bar.

His fingers tightened, pinching her skin. "Not all women are for your taking, Pembroke."

"I can accept that, but can you?" Sir Pembroke dove at Sir Reven.

Suddenly, Sorcha was free. She knew it would be sensible to flee the tavern, but unfinished business kept her in the room. She still needed a dragon rider to accept her challenge and there was no better place to find one.

Both men both went crashing to the floor. Their wrestling match slammed them into furniture, toppling tables and breaking stools. She backed out of the way and watched silently. Others in the room cheered, no one caring who won, as long as they had a good fight to entertain them.

The two dragon knights rose, struggling to grip one another. Sir Reven grasped Sir Pembroke by the front of his shirt and pushed him into the bar alongside her. Sir Pembroke glanced her way and winked.

"She's not interested in you," Sir Reven taunted. "Not any more than your mother was interested in your father."

Sir Pembroke swung his arms up under Sir Reven's, knocking him loose. "I told you to stop making empty claims and say what you think you know about my mother." He threw Sir Reven back against a wall.

"You heard me the first time," Sir Reven growled. "Your father stole her from my grandfather, just like your brother stole my father's bride before killing him."

Sorcha lifted a brow. The fight was obviously a continuation of some earlier one, probably the one that got Sir Pembroke thrown out of the tavern. The mention of Sir Pembroke's mother was interesting. He must have been lying about her being dead.

She watched him take a fist to the jaw and return one to Sir Reven's. Eventually, the chaos died down as the liquored up men tired. Sir Pembroke gave the final blow, sending Sir Reven to the warped wood floor. He left him there for others to help and walked a straight line toward her, showing how the fight had sobered him.

"Now what brings you to a rough place like this, pretty one?" he asked.

"I grew up in a place like this," she replied. With everyone moving away, she saw her knife and bent to retrieve it. "I heard Sir Reven say your brother killed his father. Does that mean you are not Sir Ware Pembroke?"

"I, my fair lady, am Sir Henry Pembroke, the youngest and best looking of the Pembroke brothers." He lifted her hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles. "Grew up in a place like this, you say? Then you are not the daughter of a Lord. How encouraging for me."

"How so?"

"You'll not be as offended by my request of a kiss as a reward." He grinned.

"A reward? For what?"

"Saving you from the evil hands of Sir Reven." He leaned forward, puckered for action.

It wasn't a twitter of humor or a chortle of amusement he let out, when she drew away. He bellowed as if she had said the funniest thing he had ever heard. Moreover, he grabbed her by the back of the head and pulled her forward. His mouth hit hers on the side. A slight twist and he was as securely against her lips as anyone could ever get.

The tart flavor of ale hung in the brief, crushing kiss.

His brazen ego fueled her already sour disposition. "No one kisses me without permission." She jerked out of his hold and swung her fist, hitting him square in the jaw.

Caught off-guard, Sir Henry reeled back against the bar. He came forward faster than she could move. Fear swept through her at the thought he'd strike her.

"Why you ... you..." Seething mad, he wafted out more aroma of the potent ale he had consumed.

When his hand lifted, she prepared for his retaliation. If she was going to fight her dragon against any man, she had to show them she could stand equal against them in any situation.

"If you weren't a woman, I'd thrash you within an inch of your life." He waggled his index finger in her face.

She swallowed hard. Her knuckles felt broken, but her pride remained intact. She saw him in a new light--an honorable one. He hadn't hit her. Her attraction to him moved up a notch.

"Take her down, Sir Henry," someone shouted.

"Yeah, you bested Tulane, you can't let that little dove get the better of you," another commented.

Laugher fluttered about the room, and there she found the flaw in her actions. She had embarrassed him. The hint of scarlet flared up Sir Henry's neck to his cheeks. Forcing him to face shame wasn't going to get her a place in the tournament. He had the look of a man ready to extract revenge.

"Now let's be civil," she suggested holding one hand up as he came toward her.

His chest, firm, muscled, and beating with a rapid heartbeat, butted her palm.

"And what makes you think civility is to be had in this place?" His hands fastened to his narrow hips.

Sorcha gulped. "You kissed me," she charged in the face of her mortality.

"A reward well earned." He leaned forward, bowing his head slightly so their faces were inches apart.

"You should apologize," she whispered, feeling the heat of his breath.

"Me?" he exclaimed, expressing shock.

Then a smile began curving up the corners of his mouth.

"There you go again," she muttered, annoyed he didn't just kiss her again. "Is there no teaching you manners? Shall I hit you again to put you in your place?"

"Is that why you hauled off and hit me?" His dark brown brow arched.

"Someone has to instill common courtesy in you. As a knight, you must have a code to abide by."

"Oh, little dove, you have come to the wrong place to peddle refinement. However, my lovely, I do believe I can teach you what you can sell to men."

"You wouldn't dare."

He grabbed her wrist, and as if she were a sack of feathers, he hoisted her onto his shoulder.

"Let me down, I say. I demand you release your hold." She hit his back, vexed by his appalling behavior.

Out of the uproar of hysterically amused men, no one stepped forward to assist her. After seeing how the patrons helped Sir Reven trap her, she didn't expect help from them with Sir Henry either.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked, dangling over his thick, hard shoulder.

"To a room in the back."

Twisting to look ahead, she saw a storage room. Sir Henry kicked the door open, marched inside and tossed her on a narrow cot meant for the tavern owner's naps.

"You can't possibly mean to bed me ... here?" she shrieked, more out of humiliation and anger than fear.

"After you agree, of course."

"Never." Her heart beat a thousand times faster than normal.

"I think I can change your mind."

"I'll kill you." Blood raced like wildfire through her veins.

"You'd not be the first to try, dear one." He booted the door closed and mopped back his hair with both his hands. The tousled wavy locks remained askew, framing his face. Green eyes, sparkling like the emerald pastures of Mansfield surrounding this village she had come to, captured her attention. His lingering gaze made her tremble. His swaggering, cocky approach jarred her from the brief glance at his mouth.

He put a knee on the straw stuffed mattress and leaned over her. She threw her hands up to ward him off, but he grabbed them both and pushed them over her head, pinning them down on the thin, dingy pillow.

Mesmerized by his hesitancy, she waited. She anticipated the feel of his lips, the taste of his ale flavored tongue sliding over hers. Why was she not struggling to get up?

His body blocked out the daylight filtering through cracks in windowless room, but she could see his face coming closer.

She stared into his eyes, reading desire. To control her rapid breathing, she had to part her lips, and she inhaled his breath. It took on a sweeter flavor, intoxicatingly warm.

"I want to kiss you," he murmured softly.

His gentle request surprised her into responding with a soft, "yes." Sorcha didn't care that she had surrendered. All she wanted was to disappear from her life for a moment into his kiss.

Then he chuckled.

She growled with contempt, infuriated by her misplaced excitement. She turned forcefully sideways, never expecting Sir Henry to tumble off and hit the floor as he did.

A slew of wicked curses circled the air. Every one of them he directed at himself. They eased her concerns that she was in danger of his wrath.

"It's your own fault." She rolled to her side and looked over the edge of the cot.

"How about we not start that argument again?" His eyes closed.

She wondered if he'd passed out. Drunks usually did. She watched him lie unmoving, vulnerable to her inspection. His chest moved up and down evenly, proving he wasn't feeling any pain.

She tried to calculate how long it had been since he shaved off the scruff from his face. Could he be even more handsome beneath the dark whiskers?

She shucked off her cape and crawled down to the floor next to him.

"I'll let you bed me if.... "She tried to move back from his swift grasp.

His dark lashes lifted and he eyed her curiously. "If?"

"Yes." She stared back, determined to make the situation work for her.

He slid his hand into her hair, rubbing it between his fingers, giving a satisfied hum as if she needed his reassurance that the strands were clean and silky. Her instincts warned her to move away. However, her ever-scheming mind pushed her to lower herself, and give him a sample of her affection. It seemed the best approach to making him agree. Besides, she'd reap certain benefits, too.

Sir Henry turned her head, and his mouth pressed her cheek. She trembled at the caressing sweep of his lips scorching her flesh with a line of kisses around her jaw, to her neck, and then to her earlobe. He traveled gently, undemanding, unrushed. He was not the kind of man she had given herself to before.

The glide of his tongue along the outer rim of her ear tickled a shiver from her. His warm breath funneled into the canal. "I want you, pretty one."

Sweetness had never meant much to her. Men often used it to get what they wanted. Yet, Sir Henry's words teemed with heartfelt emotion, and she wanted to surrender. But not without gaining something.

His hand folded behind her head, his expression remained serious. "Remember, I said if you were agreeable."

Was she? Would he give in and promise what she wanted? It seemed wrong to barter when he looked at her with such genuine affection. His innocence overwhelmed and shamed her. Yet how did she turn her back on the deal she needed to make? She couldn't let her sudden weakness to Sir Henry's kisses ruin her chances.

* * * *

The flame-haired, green-eyed beauty blinked rapidly. That fluttering of her lashes seemed damn close to a complete surrender. Henry pressed his mouth to hers, sucking her lips to feel the softness meld completely with his. She gasped a small sound of surprise. Quickly, he drew back the breath she tried to inhale. Women equaled pleasure. They provided relief from a tedious day. Their skills eased tension in a man's tired body. Sorcha caught him unaware by drawing out of him an odd, unexplainable emotion he'd never felt before--one he dared not try to name.

"Sorcha," he murmured, liking the way the sound of her name tightened the air in his lungs.

"Yes," she paused.

Her lips remained poised for another kiss.

"I want you," he said, unable to stop himself from confessing his desire again.

"I know you do, Sir Henry." Her breath whispered a soft caress over his face as she turned her head away. "I said you can have me.... if you accept my challenge."

"What challenge?"

"To go up against me in a dragon fight." She lifted her head.

Henry looked at her with incredulous shock. "You're jesting, right?"

"I'm serious. I need a dragon rider to accept my challenge so I can compete. It's the only way non members of the Dragon Fighter's Society can participate in an exhibition or tournament."

"Yes, but that's meant for men with a dragon. Not women."

"I have a dragon, several of them."

"But you're a woman." He stroked her face. "A very beautiful one, too."

"I read the rules. They say 'anyone.'"

"An oversight."

"Regardless, I want to take advantage of that oversight. Will you accept?"

He pulled her head down again. It would be a small price for her virtue. He never cared who he went up against in the dragon games. He'd certainly be able to win against her. And just as she had mentioned taking advantage, he decided to do so now.

She did nothing to prevent him from enfolding her in his arms. He kissed her deeply, taking what he could get.

"So does this mean you shall accept my challenge?" she asked when their mouths broke free.

"Regrettably, I cannot." He relinquished his hold.

"Are you certain you want to refuse me?" A sly grin curved her mouth.

What was she up to? He eyed her curiously, carefully waiting for her to spring some trap.

He never guessed her next move.

Her arms folded around his neck and her lips pressed his. Instead of disappointment, she showed tenacity with a cleverly performed, age-old form of bribery. She kissed him. Not a simple peck to the cheek, or brush of her lips against his, no, she flat out pressed her mouth hard to his and delved deeper than he had ever experienced before. From twisting their bodies closer to tongue flicking and lip nibbling, she exhibited her clear determination. He had to admit, she expressed herself well without words. Her exuberant moans came close to trapping him into agreeing.

"Now tell me you cannot." She pulled back, dropping her arms to her sides.

Passion burned in the sparkle of her violet eyes. He rubbed her shoulders, enjoying the feel of her smooth neck. If lying were in him, he'd have told her anything she wanted to hear. However, as she had pointed out earlier, he was a noble knight who lived by the code of the Dragon Fighter's Society. And as a man, he took pride in having a good character.

"Women don't have any business dragon fighting." He got up, afraid that under her persistent wantonness, he'd yield.

"Why not? Because we're weak, not as intelligent or agile?"

He took in her darkening eyes. The firm set of her jaw and the sternness of her voice shifted the situation from an enjoyable pleasantness to a regretful outcome. There was no bedding a woman with a single-minded purpose. Unless--

"What if I say I shall give it some thought?" He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, finding the velvety texture addictive.

"Really?" Her tone gave away her distrust.

"Show me what spirit you have and I swear I will consider it." He knew he tested the bounds of chivalry when he added, "In certain circumstances, any man can be persuaded."

When her brow rose, a twinkle of understanding shone from her beautiful eyes. It was obvious she was not fooled.

"I can be very persuasive." She pushed him toward the narrow bed.

"I'm sure you can." He dropped back, going along with her plans for the moment.

Her intoxicating smile heated his insides. She leaned forward, tugged loose the string holding his shirt closed, and shoved it open. Her hot fingers glided around his chest, circling his nipples. She scratched lightly over them with her nails, and then raked a path down to his abdomen.

He rose on his elbows to watch her performance, but then had second thoughts. This wasn't how he wanted any woman. Trickery, deceit, it wasn't his style. Besides, Sorcha was different then other women he knew. Yes, she was strong-willed and tenacious. Yes, she was beautiful and willing. Yet, there was a refined quality beneath her outward semblance of a woman with a hardened soul.

She unfastened his trousers.

"Maybe we shouldn't do this?" he said, giving her a chance to change her mind and save face.

She rubbed the hair fringing his groin. A scorching heat rushed from his belly over his chest, up his neck and inflamed his cheeks.

"Why Sir Henry, you're not a virgin, are you?" She turned her hand and her knuckles brushed his hardening cock.

"I have the required experience." He laughed, trying to shake off the unsettling way he felt embarrassed for his actions--for what Sorcha thought of him. "And you?"

The crudeness of his question coupled with the fact that he didn't want to know about her sexual activities with other men made him cringe inside. His enjoyment of a saucy wench was no different from the next man's, so he tried to relax and forget how he wanted to shield her from debauchery.

"I am not new to sexual foreplay, Sir Henry." Her fingers folded around his erection.

In her fisted grasp, she stroked him. Up and down, she pumped his thickening cock. The caressing friction heated his shaft. Then she squeezed harder, yanking on his sensitive skin. He reached back and grasped the smooth timber of the bed frame for support.

This was a woman with the clear intention of getting her way. Had he misread her true character? Was she nothing more than a run of the mill tavern wench, bedded by dozens of men? That thought saddened him, though he didn't know why.

Her hand settled at the root of his erection, ringing the base and coming to rest in the mat of hair. "How does this make you feel, Sir Henry?"

All she need do was ask, and he would agree to do anything as long as she continued.

"Good," he answered, his voice shaky.

"Are you giving my challenge thought?" Her massaging swept over his swollen cock-head.

"Yes," he moaned the lie. He'd try not to regret the untruth later when his head was clear.

She rubbed a sensitive nerve that sent shivers through him.

Hurry, he wanted to beg.

"How long can you hold out?" Her breathy laugh tickled his hot erection.

He anticipated her lips slipping over the end and her wet mouth engulfing as much of his aching cock as she could take.

"Tell me, Sir Henry, will you accept my challenge?" Her serious tone and cool gaze snapped him from his waiting rapture.

"You are persistent," he said.

"You have not answered me." She let go of his cock.

The nippy air, combined with the chill in Sorcha's demeanor, shrank his arousal.

"I have not gained all my senses back." He grinned, attempting to lighten the mood. "I never conduct business with a muddled brain."

"I am more skilled than half the knights in the Dragon Fighter Society." She wiggled out of his hold and sat up. "You were half drunk when you brought me in here for your needs. I saw no slowness in thought then."

"Ale does not interfere with lust, my pretty." He got to his feet and tucked his genitals back into his britches. "I believe it enhances desire."

"You are avoiding the subject, Sir Henry." She rose and faced him with hands on hips. "Do you accept my challenge?"

"No," he said flat out.

"You despicable, dishonorable, poor excuse for a dragon knight! You knew you were going to say no all along." She spun around, her gaze sweeping the room as if she searched for something.

"You're one to talk of dishonorable. Bring a man to the brink of ecstasy and then leave him in pain." He rubbed his crotch, soothing the tenderness of his still throbbing cock beneath his britches. "That's the act of a coldhearted bitch."

He glanced up at the sound of her small gasp. He regretted his words, immediately. Frustration was no excuse for berating any lady, even one who had just sexually teased him.

"I apologize. I shouldn't have--" He took a deep breath.

"You can make amends by accepting...."

"No. You would inevitably get hurt, and I shan't have that on my conscience."

She looked around the room again. He was sure she hunted for anything small enough to throw at him. The termagant had enough fury to kill him for denying her request. He saw the impending trouble pass when she flung open the door to leave. The heavy wood slammed back against the wall, shaking the whole tavern.

"Sorcha, wait." He followed her into the crowded room.

The patrons, consisting of locals and dragon knights, turned. Reven Tulane's intense gaze flitted from him to Sorcha.

"Sir Reven, may I talk to you?" Sorcha marched up to him. "In private?"

Henry clenched his jaw to hold back from trying to stop her. She was a stubborn woman. He wanted to prevent her from throwing herself at another man, but her life was her own, and her business not of his concern.

"Certainly." Tulane bowed, and gave a wave of his hand indicating they take their conversation outside.

Henry half hoped for a glance from Sorcha. Just one showing an ounce of regret for what she was planning next. It never happened. What possessed him to think he made a difference to her? Her mind was clearly set on finding a willing knight to accept her challenge. She had no physical attraction to him. No heartfelt bonding connected them.

"Damn, wench," he grumbled, trailing in the wake Sorcha and Tulane made through the sea of men. He couldn't let Reven take advantage of the lady.

"Was she sweet, Pembroke? All soft and warm?" someone asked.

Henry curled his fingers into a fist. Fighting was in his nature in the name of fun or sport. The urge to defend a lady's honor turned him toward the man still talking.

"I bet she made you too weak-legged for riding a dragon tomorrow."

The man was a villager, a farmer or sheepherder there to watch the tournament. While his comments were crass, they were only to be expected when dealing with tavern wenches. Henry forced himself not to react. He turned away and headed for the door. There he bumped into Tulane coming back into the tavern.

"Where's Sorcha?" He looked outside.

"She said something about getting ready." Tulane shoved him aside.

"What did she want with you?"

"Come now, Pembroke. The wench obviously found you lacking in performance and rethought her options." Tulane's statement sent a round of laughter around the tavern.

"I will not ask again." Henry grabbed Reven's arm. "What did Sorcha want with you?"

"Just that. The comely wench wanted me." His cockiness had no end. "Jealous, Pembroke? Afraid you're losing your gift with the ladies?"

"Stay away from her." Henry warned.

"She is a vivacious beauty, Pembroke. Her ambitious nature intrigues me, and her determination to get what she wants has me spellbound. I doubt you or any other man has a say over what that woman wants. She has the qualities of a true lady. My lady, when I finish with her."

"What are you up to, Rev?"

"To best you, Henry, in the tournament and in the bed of that saucy little tavern wench. She has an ingenious way of getting what she wants. How can I refuse?"

Henry left the tavern in search of Sorcha. Where to begin? Where did she live? Had she gone home or somewhere else? She said she worked in a tavern. He'd never seen her before, so she had to be from another village.

The sprawling village of Milstead consisted of dozens and dozens of houses and shops. In the market square, the influx of traveling merchants had thickened the area with peasants. He didn't have time to involve himself with a willful woman trying to get herself hurt. Yet, there he was looking for her, instead of beating more answers out of Reven about his mother and Reven's grandfather. Reven had implied his mother was a whore, discarded when Lord Relt Tulane tired of her. It wasn't the first time he had heard a rumor linking his mother to Relt Tulane. His brothers never talked about their mother and never even answered his direct questions. The latest had outraged him enough to seek the source of the lies about her, or--God forbid--the truth.

Eventually, Henry returned to the fairgrounds at the south end of the village. The level, open terrain was ideal for spectators to watch the dragon fights overhead.

As the crowds made their way into the arena, he watched for Sorcha. Where else would she be, if not there, when the exhibition started? She had made it clear she was interested in dragons, enough to claim she owned some, though that was unlikely, since dragons were expensive animals to keep fed.

An hour later, spectators filled the modest wooden stands made to form a grandstand. The seating overflowed making some people have to stand nearby. Conversations blended into a drone of voices. When he found a spot he thought was most advantageous for watching for Sorcha in the crowd, yet also seeing the sky event, he noticed the first competitor.

Reserved for the knights going against their accepted challengers, this contest seemed odd. Reven never bothered with Dragon Society hopefuls, and yet there he was landing his dragon at the east end of the field.

The mighty beast with dark gray-green scales let out a ferocious roar. Short flames licked the air and left a smoky scented cloud. The crowd gasped and then cheered, as Reven reared the huge dragon, showing his domination over the animal.

Out of the west, the second competitor arrived, flying in low. The smaller, sleekly toned dragon landed with perfection. While his body was thin, refined like a bird's, his long, muscular legs gave him more height than Reven's stocky legged animal. The dragon lowered on bended knees at the rider's pat on his shoulder.

Dressed in unmarked armament, the rider dismounted. Unable to recognize the challenger, Henry watched him remove his helmet. From beneath the plain steel, Sorcha's long curly locks of flame red hair spilled free.

A chilling coldness coiled up his spine. He tensed, angry that Reven would accept a challenge from a woman--angry with Sorcha for not heeding his warning. He marched out onto the field to put a stop to the contest.

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