“Well,” Taryn Edwards said as she stood beside the road, watching the steady Cool Springs traffic pass by her, “I would throw myself under the nearest bus, but considering my luck today, I’m sure it would break down less than a millimeter from me and just ruin my clothes… Probably break my watch, too.”
“You wear a Timex.”
“Trust me, today not even my Timex could take a licking and keep on ticking. Give me a Tonka truck and I’ll squash it with my ink pen.”
Janine’s laughter echoed through the static. “Taryn, is it really that bad?”
Holding her cell phone in a tight grip, Taryn Edwards looked at her stalled out Firebird which was the prettiest, most expensive lawn ornament she’d ever purchased.
Of all the rotten luck, especially since all she wanted to do was get home and drown her woes in a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. “Considering the fact that I’m stuck out in this wretched heat with a black car that currently wouldn’t go downhill with a hurricane pushing it, I’d say yes.”
Janine laughed again. “Do you need me to come pick you up?”
“No. I appreciate the thought, but I have to wait on the tow truck which seems to be the only thing moving slower than my Firebird today.”
“Goodness,” Janine said, “You are in a fine pique this afternoon.”
That’s because I just caught my boyfriend in his office with his secretary showing her a position I’m sure would qualify them for the Karma Sutra Hall of Fame…
Pain sliced through Taryn’s heart as she remembered the sight of them going at it on his desk. Unable to breathe for a moment, she wanted desperately to tell Janine the whole story, but the last thing she needed was to cry on the side of the road. Her dignity was all she had left and she had no intention of giving Rob that last piece of her.
“Taryn, why don’t we…”
All of a sudden, the phone, much like her car, went dead. “Janine?”
Taryn tried to redial the number, but the static was so severe, she couldn’t hear anything.
“Great,” she mumbled, turning the phone off and glancing at the shopping center across the street. At least it had a grocery store where she could grab something to drink and a few shops she could browse in to pass the time until the tow truck got there.
Dodging traffic, she made her way over to it. As she drew near the grocery store, she happened to see the small bookstore next door. She stared up at the sign “Day Dreams and Rainbows”.
How odd, she’d never noticed the store before. It must be new.
Well, thank God for small favors. A good book would cure her woes tonight almost as much as Ben & Jerry.
Heading inside the cheery store lined with shelves, she saw an elderly woman straightening the books on the wall to her right. The old woman wore a pair of glasses so thick, they made her eyes look small. Her platinum gray hair was pulled back into a tight bun and she wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a pink summer sweater. The store smelled like musty old books and there was a small cafe in a corner on the far left where a pot of coffee percolated.
“Welcome,” the woman said, her squinty brown eyes bright with friendship. “I’ll bet you’re looking for something to read.”
For the first time that afternoon, Taryn smiled. “You must be psychic.”
The woman laughed as she climbed down from her step ladder. “Not really. You are in a bookstore, after all.”
She winked as she came to rest in front of Taryn. “So, what’s your pleasure? Thrillers, Science Fiction….” The older woman tapped her chin as she studied Taryn. “No. Romance. You look like you need a good romance to read.”
Taryn wrinkled her nose at the very thought. She’d given up reading romance novels a long time ago. And she had buried that naive Cinderella part of her in the closet along with her other childish fantasies and beliefs. “To be honest, I don’t read those.”
“One man, one woman. Happily-ever-after. Forever and ever… baloney.”
The woman frowned. “My name’s Marie,” she said extending her hand.
“Taryn,” she said as she shook a hand that felt like warm velvet in her palm.
Marie gave her a probing stare. “Now, tell me about this man who stole that dream from you.”
Taryn had never been the kind of woman to confide in anyone much, least of all a perfect stranger, and yet before she knew it, her entire history with Rob Carpenter came pouring out of her right down to the grittiest of details.
Marie led her to a small table in the cafe area and made her a cup of coffee.
“So you see,” Taryn said as she wiped away her tears. “He told me I was the only woman for him. That he would love no one else. And then the next thing I knew, he was calling me by the wrong name. Good giveaway, you know?” She sighed. “I should have known then, but I stupidly believed his lies and now…”
Again, she saw Rob and his secretary on the desk, their clothes scattered on the floor around them.
Taryn fisted her hand in her hair as pain, embarrassment and grief assailed her anew. “How could I have been so stupid?”
Marie patted her hand. “It’s all right, love, and I am so sorry, but you shouldn’t base your opinion of all men on the actions of one thoughtless ass.”
Taryn smiled at that. “He was an ass.”
“Of course, he was. You’re a beautiful young woman with your entire life before you. The last thing you need is to be so jaded. What you need is a good old-fashioned hero.”
Taryn sighed dreamily at the thought as that buried part of her reared its ugly head. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, there was that tiny, infinitesimal part of her that still believed in fairy-tales. At least it wanted to. “Some knight in shining armor, come to sweep me off my feet. It does sound nice, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.”
She watched while Marie got up and went to the shelves on her left. After a minute, Marie came back with a book in her hand. “You need a champion. Sparhawk the Brave, Earl of Ravensmoor.”
Taryn studied the purple paperback where a handsome, bare-chested man with a sword grinned roguishly at her. The wind swept at his ebony hair and his honest eyes were a deep, vibrant green. A wicked green that was tinged with a look of esoteric knowledge and intelligence, and they bore the glint of a man who knew his way around a woman’s body. A man who would take his time and make sure he did the job right.
Oh yeah, he was a major hottie.
His smile was devilish and there was something captivating about him. His arms bulged with strength and power and he wore a gold, wolf-tipped torc that deepened the perfect tan of his skin.
He was striking and gorgeous, and the woman in her responded automatically to such overt masculinity. It might only be a drawing, but it was a damn good drawing. The kind that made a woman wish for one minute that she could find such perfection in the flesh.
At least for a night or two.
The title, Knightly Dreams, swept across the cover in gold foil, but the name of the author had been worn off.
Oddly enough there was no blurb on the back and she didn’t recognize the publisher. “Wishes Come True?”
“They’re an old publisher,” Marie said. “Been around since before I was born.”
“Oh, yes. You’ll like it, trust me.” Marie looked out the windows to where Taryn’s Firebird was waiting “Your tow truck is here. You better run.”
Taryn pulled her wallet out.
Marie waved her hand at her. “Oh pooh, dear, after the day you’ve had, consider it a gift.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” Marie walked her to the door. “Good luck to you and Sparhawk. And remember, sometimes our dreams appear where and when we least expect it. Sometimes, just sometimes, you can even find them waiting in your own bed when you open your eyes.”
Taryn arched a brow at the odd comment, but then Marie was quite a wonderfully eccentric character. “Thank you, Marie.”
With Sparhawk in her hand, Taryn crossed the street and told the driver where to take her car.
Later that night, after she’d had a good cry over Rob, a tub of B&J’s Phish Food, and a long geld-the-the-useless-bastard conversation with Janine, Taryn pulled out her book and decided to give Sparhawk a try.
And reading this book will help you, how?
It was stupid, she knew that and yet she couldn’t seem to help herself from wanting to read the book and get Rob-the-jerk off her mind before she fell asleep.
She skimmed the first paragraph.
The Earl of Ravensmoor was a hero like no other. Tall, powerful, and insanely masculine, he had windswept jet hair and a ruggedly handsome face that was chiseled and perfect.
Rumor said he’d killed over a thousand men in battle, and as he walked through the crowded hall of bejeweled nobles with one masterful hand on his gilded sword hilt, his arrogant swagger bespoke of a man whose very presence had devastated over a thousand women…
Taryn smiled at the image. Oh yeah, he definitely sounded like someone who could get Rob off her mind.
She sighed as she read more about the wandering, rogue champion and his quest to claim his fair, if somewhat insipid, maiden. It was a pity they didn’t make guys like this in modern day America.
“Sparhawk,” she whispered, smiling slightly, “I wish for two seconds that you were real.”
Closing the book, Taryn laid it on her night stand, turned out the light and settled down to sleep. But as she lay there, all she could see was the last image she’d read of the hero.
A knight in armor on the back of his huge black stallion, riding into the forest to seek out the evil enchantress to make a love potion to bind his heroine to him forever…
Sparhawk dismounted halfway through the forest, his heart pounding in expectation. The brush was so thick he knew from this point on he’d have to travel afoot.
Not that he minded. He would traverse the very fires of hell to escape that which he was sworn to.
Life with Alinor.
A shiver of revulsion went down his spine. He had to find some way to escape his fate and if the town gossips were to be believed the old witch in the woods should have some miracle that could save him.
He picked his way through the dense underbrush. No one ever ventured this deeply into the forest. No one except the Hag. This was her home and it kept her safe from any who would see her harmed.
As he walked, he felt an eerie presence. Almost as if the trees themselves were watching him.
But he feared not at all. Not this man who had stared down the heathens in Outremer. This man who had built his wealth on the strength of his sword arm and sweat of his brow. There was no ghoul or demon inhabiting these woods that was more dangerous than he.
Indeed, the devil, himself, was terrified of Sparhawk.
He walked forward until at last he found the earthen hut draped with twisted vines. The only sign of life from within was the flicker of a large, tallow candle.
More determined, than before, Sparhawk knocked upon the vine encrusted door. “Witch?” he called. “I mean you no harm. I come seeking your guidance.”
After a brief pause, the door slowly creaked open to reveal an old woman with long, silvery-gray hair. Her old brown eyes glowed with the vigor of a much younger soul and her long gray hair fell loose about her frail shoulders.
“Milord,” she greeted, opening the door to allow him entrance. “Come and be seated and tell me of this matter that has you venturing into my realm.”
Sparhawk did as she bade him. He followed her into the small, cramped hut and took the seat she indicated by the window. He sat there for a few minutes to collect his thoughts. “ËœTwas the first time he’d told anyone of his problems with Alinor, and once he started to speak, all the sordid details came pouring out.
“So, you see,” he said gently as the old woman handed him a strange concoction she’d brewed by the fire. “”ËœTis not my duty I find offensive so much as milady’s presence. I would give aught I own to have a lady who…” Sparhawk didn’t finish the sentence. He couldn’t.
What he wished for was something more fable than reality. No one married for love in this day and age.
Not that he knew anything of love anyway. He who had never known a kind touch. Never known what it felt like to be welcomed. He’d spent the whole of his life alone and aching.
His parents had died when he was scarce more than a babe and he had been cast off first to his uncle who despised his very presence, then squired to a man who thought nothing of him at all.
While other boys looked forward to trips home to their families, he had been left to muck out the stables and fetch for his lordly knight. He’d spent his holidays in a corner of the hall watching the families around him celebrating their gifts while he had nothing at all to call his own.
As a man, he’d carved out his destiny from the point of his sword and found plenty of women eager for his titles, wealth and body, but none of them were ever eager for his heart. He’d found them all selfish and vain.
All he’d ever wanted was to see one face, either fair or foul, to light up when he entered a room. To find a pair of open arms to greet him when he returned and a pair of eyes to weep for him when he was gone.
But it was a foolish wish and well he knew it.
The old woman touched him lightly on the arm. “I can help you, milord.”
“Can you?” he asked, noting the lack of enthusiasm in his voice. He doubted if even the saints above could aid him through this plight.
She nodded. “I shall send you to a world of miracles. A world where anything is possible…”
Sparhawk held his breath. Dare he even hope for such? “At what cost?”
She smiled gently. “There is no cost, milord. What I do, I do for penance.”
“Aye. Once, long ago, I came between two hearts and caused them untold misery. For years we suffered until I made it right for them and from that day forward, I swore that I would never again stand by and see such suffering when I could alleviate it.”
Sparhawk offered her a smile. The villagers were wrong about this woman. She wasn’t a witch. She was an angel.
“But,” she said, a note of warning in her voice. “My powers, such as they are, are limited. I can give you no more than seven days to work your miracle. If you cannot find love within that time, then you must return and marry Alinor.”
His stomach turned with the thought of it. Still, the woman before him offered him a chance and the good Lord knew he had been given far worse odds than that and returned victorious.
“Then I shall work this miracle,” he breathed. “No matter what it takes.”
“Drink, milord,” she said, lifting his hand that held the cup. “And remember, sometimes our dreams appear where and when we least expect it. Sometimes, just sometimes, you can even find them waiting in your bed when you open your eyes.”