Title: Night of the Owl
Author: Judith Sterling
Genre: Time Travel Romance
PhD student Ardyth Nightshade has renounced men and pursues her twentieth-century career with single-minded focus. When fate whisks her to medieval England, she meets her match in a man whose passions mirror her own. Can she sacrifice ambition for a love she never sought?
Hugh, Lord Seacrest confounds all who know him. He refuses to marry without a meeting of minds and hearts, and no lady has even approached his ideal…until Ardyth. But she's an odd one, with unique skills, shocking habits, and total conviction she needs no man. She also harbors secrets, and in the midst of rumors, plots, and murder, trust is fragile.
A woman outside of her time. A man ahead of his. They must take a leap of faith to forge a bond that will shape history.
Hugh awaited Ardyth in the solar with hands clasped behind his back. All was in readiness: the angled writing desk, prepared parchment, quill pen, inkwell, and knife. Even the sun obliged him, rendering the space as bright as any scriptorium could hope to be.
He tapped his foot. Where is she? How long must I wait?
In a flurry of fine blue cloth, she appeared in the doorway. Smoothing the skirt of her gown, she slowed her steps and entered the solar. Her cheeks were pink; her breathing, fast. She’d come in a hurry.
He motioned to the stool in front of the desk. “Prithee, sit. I’m eager to see your work.”
“Evidently.” With a droll smile, she sat down.
Pert as ever, he thought, suppressing a grin.
She looked up at him, and the sunlight awakened flecks of gold in her eyes. “I thought, if you approve, that I would write in the Norman language.”
He took a step back. “I assumed you’d write in Latin.”
She shrugged. “I could, but wouldn’t you prefer to read your family’s history in your own tongue?”
“I suppose so. Very well, then.”
She beamed up at him with remarkably straight teeth. “What shall I write to prove myself to you? Our names? A poem?”
He thought for a moment, seeking an answer.
Her lips twisted. “The Magna Carta?” Humor touched her words.
“The great charter? Of which charter do you speak?”
“Um, nothing.” Her expression was enigmatic. “Forgive me. I jest when I’m nervous.”
“Why should you be nervous? Unless you cannot write as—”
“I can write well enough. Why don’t we start with your parents? What are their given names?”
“Simon and Lillian.”
She dipped the pen into the ink and inscribed the names in skillful, fluid strokes. Her style was beautiful, neat, and easy to read.
Impressive. “Good,” he said aloud.
Again, she smiled. “I’m glad you approve. What next?”
“Write my words as I say them. Are you ready?”
“I am.” She poised the pen above the parchment.
He gave her a nod. “My family…”
She began to write.
“…originated in Normandy,” he continued, “a fertile land…settled by the Northmen of old.”
When she finished writing, she looked up at him. Her eyes twinkled. “I love history!”
The passion and delight in her voice caught him off-guard. He cleared his throat. “As do I. ʼTis why I want my family’s history in writing, preserved for future generations.”
“A noble aim.” She tilted her head to the side and gave him an impish grin. “Of course, in order to have future generations, you’ll need heirs.”
He stiffened. “I know that.”
“There must’ve been countless possibilities…suitable matches that would’ve increased your fortune. Yet here you stand, alone and…how old?”
“Thirty-four. How old are you?”
He folded his arms. “Why haven’t you married? Mayhap your forthright manner has—”
“I’m proud of my manner!” She dropped her pen and leapt to her feet. “And of my intelligence. I’ll defy anyone who belittles them.”
“That I believe.”
She stepped closer and lifted her chin. “Only the greatest love would persuade me to wed. I’ve seen such devotion from my parents. They’d die for one another without hesitation. If I marry—and that’s a big if—nothing less will do.”
His eyes widened. Here was someone who felt exactly as he did on the subject. He’d never expected a man to share his opinion, much less a woman. “Your reason echoes my own.”
Her chin lowered slightly. “Oh?”
“My parents shared a great love, and I want the same.”
“With Lady Isobel?”
ʼTwould please his mother immensely. Isobel’s family as well, and nearly everyone expected the union. The lady was beautiful, graceful, and of noble birth. Most of the time, he enjoyed her company, and he wished her well. Nevertheless, something held him back.
Ardyth stepped backward. “Then I hope you two find happiness together. You’re a man ahead of your time, and you deserve the best.”
“And you are the most outspoken woman I’ve ever met. Still, we share a common desire, so I hope you, too, find what you seek.”
“Thank you. But honestly, I don’t need a man to be happy.”
His hands dropped to his sides. “You don’t?”
“But I do need a bath.”
He burst out laughing. “A bath?”
“Or at the very least, a swim in the ocean.”
“You can swim?”
“Like a fish.”
He shook his head. “I cannot believe it.”
“Why not?” She planted her hands on her hips. “Oh, wait…let me guess. Because I’m a woman.”
“ʼTis highly improbable—”
“I tell you now, I can do anything a man can do.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Anything?”
She made a face. “Well, not everything, but most things.”
“Including swimming.” He couldn’t temper the doubt in his tone.
Once more, she lifted her chin. “Aye. I’ve proven my skills as a scribe, haven’t I?”
“Then lead me to the water.”
He gazed into her blunt brown eyes for a long moment. She was serious. “Very well. This I must see.”