Marinska Ionescu reined her mare to a stop on the lush green grass of the creek's edge. The water babbled softly as it flowed along the branch to the Arges River. She slid off Dragomir and let the leather leads fall loosely to the ground.
Slipping off her soft beige kidskin slippers, she wriggled her toes in the soft greenery. The moss was springy under her steps and when she walked in an inch, the cool water rippled gently across her bare feet.
A presence cast a shadow on the bank across the stream. Goose flesh skittered up her arms.
"Should you be alone like this, Mistress? There is much trouble in the land. A criminal could be lurking anywhere. Behind any tree could be a man who wouldn't think twice at..." he let his thought trail off momentarily. "...at taking advantage of such a sweet girl as yourself."
The timbre in the voice was like being caressed by velvet. She turned to face the man, but wasn't ready for what she saw. He stood a full head taller than she. The top of her head would only have reached his chin had they been standing closer.
His deep eyes were almost black obsidian. Rich brown hair fell to his shoulders and a start of a moustache grew over his lips. He stood with confidence, and strength hung around him like a cloak. And he was the most handsome man she'd ever seen.
Marinska was mortified, realizing she had been staring at him.
She cleared her throat and swallowed hard. "I have nothing to fear here, Sir. There is no one about."
He moved closer to her. "I am." The glint in his eye was more mischievous than threatening.
Should she be frightened? She wasn't. She stiffened her spine and looked up to stare him in the eyes. "I have reason to fear you?"
A smile crossed his lips. "None. Your name?"
He took her hand, bowed low over it, and turned the palm to face him. His moustache tickled as he pressed a kiss to her hand. "I am Vlad III, Dracula, son of Dracul, Prince of Wallachia."
Her stomach twisted into knots. There had been rumors of the man's release from captivity and his taking of the throne. He would soon be Voivode. However, the curious sensation building inside her had nothing to do with his rank. It was his presence that made her feel as if she had finally found what she was looking for.
How could that be possible? She had never even been aware she was searching.
"I shall escort you home."
His tone brooked no argument, had she even been tempted to offer one. She was unable to move. He made her feel weak, yet secure with his nearness.
Her confidence faltered slightly when he tugged her toward the horses. His horse was as dark as its master. The large mount was solid black and the hair above his hooves was thick, wavy, and feathered.
Marinska followed Vlad and waited while he collected her mare. He then helped her into the saddle. His touch sent a scorching heat that zinged its way through her body.
She swallowed hard and looked down at him. "Thank you."