2017 RITA® Nominee,
Best Paranormal Romance
An ancient evil rises. An ancient warrior awakens.
In an age clouded by legend, Gawain was one of King Arthur’s greatest knights. When he awakens centuries after the fall of Camelot, he faces his most daunting quest yet-the search for his missing companions. His hope is that Tamsin Greene, the alluring historian at Medievaland Theme Park, can help him. Then he senses the magic within her. . . Gawain will now have to trust a witch-and his own heart-to rouse the knights of the Round Table and save humanity from a faery onslaught.
Tamsin Greene blew out her breath to ease the tension squeezing her ribs. Her sigh made a cloud of mist that floated upward to the shadowy stone ceiling of the Church of the Holy Well. The ancient English structure had been relocated to the Medievaland Theme Park decades ago, but it seemed to hold part of the past inside it, as if time itself had seeped into the stone. Or maybe that was just the frigid temperature. November in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t a snowy deep-freeze, but the damp air held a savage bite. At first she’d been annoyed at having to wear a costume to her workplace, but now she was glad of the floor-length gown of green wool. She should have sewn herself a cloak, too.READ MORE
She told herself her shivers were just the result of the cold. What kind of threat could there be at Medievaland Theme Park, anyway? Even in winter, it was a place for family fun, with costumed performers, games, feasts and make-believe. The worst that could happen was a stomachache from too many jalapeño Dragon Fries. The only thing remotely serious—or truly medieval—about the park was the church where she stood now, and normally the old stones echoed with the holiday mood.
But today was different. Tamsin rubbed her arms as the feeling of being stalked crept behind her on stealthy paws. Although a glance confirmed she was alone in the church, fresh wariness settled in her belly. Tamsin turned slowly, senses probing.
Nine times out of ten, being a witch meant nothing more than a knack with cold remedies and some very odd family dinners, but once in a while her sixth sense was useful. She scanned the space, feeling first the layers of history that shimmered in the air, then the small living things that ran and squeaked in the walls. There was ancient magic sleeping there, but it was too old and dormant for her to understand its purpose. And beyond that…
She probed just a little more before she snatched her psychic senses back, all too aware there were creatures that would sniff out spells and come looking. In the past months, victims—witches and humans both—had been turning up dead, their souls ripped from their bodies. Tamsin wasn’t a coward, but that was enough to spook anyone who was far away from the protection of her family and coven.
Habit made her rub the delicate vine tattoo that circled her left wrist—the mark of the Shadowring witches. It should have given her comfort, but it only reminded her how isolated she was. An icy chill rippled down her spine. She spun, reacting to a sound she’d felt more than heard. A movement of air. A phantom footfall. No one but a witch would have caught it. Tamsin’s senses strained until they ached. Nothing.
She stood perfectly still, nervous sweat trickling down the small of her back. Light slanted through the stained glass, creating an otherworldly atmosphere. There were crowds outside, but the thick walls blocked the noise. The echoing silence made her feel incredibly small and alone.
That did it. As much as Tamsin hated to admit it, she was giving herself a case of the jitters. Time to stand on the porch for a while, where she could see plenty of people. She started for the door.
Huge hands grabbed her from behind, pulling her backward until she collided with a rock-hard chest. Tamsin inhaled, about to scream, but a palm clamped over her mouth. A moment later, the man’s free arm grasped her middle. Tamsin lunged forward, but his grip was an iron bar. Her next move was to kick back, aiming for the man’s knee. She missed, catching only his shin with the soft sole of her boot. He grunted and pulled her against him so tightly she could barely breathe.
“Don’t,” he said, the word clipped and cold.
Tamsin froze, going utterly still. Whoever this was, his psychic shields were so powerful he’d been completely hidden from her scan. After fretting about evil creatures stalking witches, she was too scared to reach for her magic. Every instinct warned her this stranger would not tolerate further defiance. This was a professional. A predator. A true threat. She knew it on a level so primitive it was coded into her DNA.
Her obedience seemed to work, because the hand clamped over her mouth slowly moved away. He tasted of salt, sweat and man. He hadn’t used weapons to overpower her, just brute strength. That show of confidence made him seem all the more deadly.
“You will not cry out.” His words had traces of a brogue—Scottish, perhaps. His deep, masculine voice vibrated through the line where their bodies touched and sank into her bones.
“Please,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “What do you want?”
The arm locked about her loosened, allowing her to move but not to escape. Tamsin shrank away as far as she could, the heat of his body a sharp contrast to the cool November air.
“Turn,” he repeated. “I want to see your face when I question you.”
Tamsin obeyed, sliding within the circle of his arm. It put their faces barely twelve inches apart, and that was only because he was so tall. Her first instinct was to avoid eye contact, to rebel at least in that small way, but curiosity won. She snatched a glance from under her lashes.
She froze all over again as he nailed her in place with a brilliant blue gaze. He was younger than she’d expected—maybe in his late twenties—and handsome enough that she forgot to breathe. His face had strong bones, the features bold and almost sensual. Heat rose to her cheeks as her insides curled into a protective ball. He was far too magnetic, far too there for comfort.
He studied her face a moment longer, his gaze filled with bold assessment. It finally broke when the corners of his mouth quirked. “You are the historian who is supposed to explain this place to visitors, Tamsin Greene?”
Tamsin cleared her throat. “Yes. How did you…?”
He gave a pointed look at the name badge pinned to her dress, and she flushed more deeply. He made a noise of amusement. “Historians are meant to be old men in robes and soup-stained beards. A golden-haired sylph is a pleasant surprise.”
“Hey, that’s sexist—”
“You may call me Gawain,” he interrupted, as if he had no time to waste. He had an oddly formal way of speaking, as if English wasn’t his mother tongue. “I do not intend to hurt or rob you. I simply want answers. Keep that in mind and we will go our separate ways in peace.”
There was enough arrogance in the statement to break the spell of his overpowering presence. Gawain was roughly dressed in jeans and a dark green T-shirt beneath a battered leather jacket. He had a few days’ growth of beard and a mass of curling dark hair long enough to brush his collar. In truth, he looked half-wild. She stepped away, putting more distance between them, and felt the press of the wall against her back. The cold stone sent a chill up her spine.
Her neck aching with tension, Tamsin forced herself to nod. None of this made sense. “If you want information, why not just ask? You don’t need to scare me half to death.”
His eyes narrowed. “I have enemies. I never know what face they wear. Thus far, you have not attacked. Perhaps you are what you seem.”
Tamsin felt her pulse jump with alarm as she swallowed against the dryness of her throat. The man was a paranoid lunatic. “What do you want to know?”
“There should be tombs here,” he said in that same impatient manner. “Where did they go?”
Gawain’s stare penetrated right through her, boring deep into private places she barely admitted to herself. It was too much, especially from an utter stranger. He advanced a step, closing the gap between them again. The movement was almost a glide, showing the perfect balance of someone trained to use his body. Whether he meant it or not, it was intimidating and—she freely admitted this went against all common sense—incredibly sexy.
Tamsin held up her hands in a placating gesture. “Which tombs are you talking about? There is a lot of statuary in this place, and much of it’s been moved to make room for the exhibits.”
His eyes flashed with impatience. Without warning, he pulled her into the center of the church, his strides long enough that she was forced to trot. Rough calluses grazed her skin when he finally let her go, and she automatically rubbed the spot where his fingers had been. The guy was clearly used to working with his hands.
He pointed toward the center of the floor. “They were right here. Look around you. The sleeping guardians are absent.”
Tamsin hesitated, unwilling to take her eyes off him. Then she complied, viewing the place with a historian’s eye. This wasn’t a typical church by any stretch, seeming to adhere to no defined period and no typical design. The main area was a large, perfect circle with a ring of black marble slabs set into the floor. Tamsin knew from nineteenth century sketches that each slab had supported a tomb topped with the effigy of a sleeping knight. In the middle was a space for a larger monument guarded by enormous stone lions. The beasts had many symbolic meanings, but the basic message was clear—the knights who slept there were sworn to protect, even beyond the gates of death.
And now the army of knights was missing. Tamsin made a slight noise of understanding. “You’re right, there are some pieces gone.”
Gawain was silent for a moment, that hot blue gaze considering her from head to toe until it came to settle on her mouth. For a moment, Tamsin’s heart pounded with tension, a push-pull of attraction and wariness making her skittish. She’d seen that look on men about to kiss her.
Then, just as suddenly, he turned away. “There were one hundred and fifty knights buried in the church. Ten here, and the remainder in the crypt.”
Tamsin shook her head. “The crypt was filled in when the main structure was moved from England.”
He closed those startling blue eyes and ducked his head, almost as if she’d struck him. “By God’s bones,” he muttered, so low that she barely heard.
Still, the old oath made her catch her breath. “I’m sorry. Did you have ancestors buried there?”
“No.” He took a shaking gulp of air, staring again at the empty space. “Where did they go?”
“I think they’re on loan to different places. Museums. Universities.”
“Scattered.” His jaw muscles flexed, as if he clenched his teeth. His dark mood was gathering like a storm. “I need the exact locations.”
Tamsin cast a glance toward the door, wondering if she could escape. “I don’t know those details.”
“Then you will find out.” The words were hard, but beneath them there lurked pain and need.
Tamsin froze, still staring at the gray day outside the door. Right then, in that brief moment, he slipped under her emotional guard. She hadn’t—not for one instant—forgotten that he had crept up on her, eluding even her magical senses. But now she could feel his grief and desperation, and it was impossible not to respond.
Her power opened again, almost of its own accord. He was no longer trying to hide, and she could touch his words, touch him, with her inner senses. She’d expected a lunatic. What she found instead was enough to raise the hair along her nape. This man was a killer, brutal and steeped in violence. More than that, he was surrounded by danger.
He was danger.
“I need your help,” he said, making it a quiet demand.
Before she could answer or turn back to him, he reached out, laying rough, warm fingers against her cheek. It was gentle, almost a caress, but he had her rattled. She jumped, gathering her power to defend herself. “Don’t touch me!”
The instant her magic rose to strike back, his mouth dropped open and he pulled away as if she’d stung him. He recovered in a heartbeat, though now he was clearly wary.
He grabbed her wrist, glaring at the tattoo as if he hadn’t noticed it before. “Witch,” he said in a low, threatening growl.
Tamsin turned cold at the word. Most thought witches were extinct, and the covens preferred things that way. But her temper was roused, and she pulled away, heat mounting in her cheeks. “Felt that, did you? I think you’ve got a touch of the blood yourself. You certainly have impressive shields.”
“No.” He said it with fierce finality. All trace of softness was gone from his face, reducing it to bloodless, harsh angles. “Now you will tell me what I want to know.”
“I don’t know where the tombs are,” she snapped. “I’ve already tried to locate some of the artifacts that should be in the church, but the old owner died and the information was lost. What paper records they have here are a mess. That’s why the new owners have hired me—to figure all this out.”
Silence hung heavy between them, and his face darkened again, promising thunder. “Then have answers for me the next time we meet.”
“And why would I do that for you?” Her temper was up and the words out before she could stop herself. Her gut knotted, bracing for the backlash.
“Because scholars like riddles, witchling, and there is a cost if you fail to find the answer.” Gawain wheeled and headed for the door.
Alarmed, Tamsin followed only to see him clear the steps in one graceful leap.
“Wait!” What consequences? How did he know about witches, anyway? And what was the big deal about the tombs? But by then, Gawain had disappeared into the throng, gone as fast as he’d burst into her universe.
Urgently needing to sit, Tamsin sank to the cold steps, suddenly shaking. “By Merlin’s pointed hat,” she muttered, and wondered if historians ever got hazard pay.COLLAPSE
The Reading Cafe wrote:
The story is fun and fast-paced, and the attraction between Tamsin and Gawain is hot.
Paranormal Haven wrote:
There’s so much to love in Enchanted Warrior. I found myself swept up in the cloud of magic. Revelations created bonds and illuminated true strengths. Ms. Ashwood gave proper respect to the craft and her spells invoked wonderful imagery as they came to fruition. An understanding, an embracing of power, intensified a love intrinsic to Gawain and Tamsin. The kind of love that transcends time. What a fabulous read!
Erzabet’s Enchantments wrote:
Anticipation catches readers by their throat and refuses to let go . . . Sharon Ashwood has brought sexy knights to life in a modern world.
Combustible scenes between the two MC’s rocked it.