Rhett is a Huntsman, skilled, secretive, and mysterious. A wanted man, he spends his life on the move.
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About the Book
Once Upon a Duchy Book Three
by Rachel Rossano
Published 31 August 2021
Genre: Fantasy Romance, Fairtale Retelling
Page Count: 279
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Rhett is a Huntsman, skilled, secretive, and mysterious. A wanted man, he spends his life on the move. His sole retreat is the outskirts of an isolated village in the northern reaches of the duchies. Then one fall, he arrives to find his hovel burned to the ground and the village reeve offering a new arrangement.
Catherine knows her father, the village miller, only cares about what she can bring him. The latest scheme of marrying her to the Huntsman is not the miller’s first attempt to sell her. Cat’s dread wanes when she meets the Huntsman. There is something honorable about him, and he treats her with respect, unlike her father or brother. Perhaps she can escape her father’s influence forever.
Despite his suspicions, Rhett agrees to the deal and frees Cat from her father’s tyranny, at least for a time. But can he protect her when enemies from his past catch up to him?
Inspired by Rumpelstiltskin.
The Huntsman stood in the darkest corner of the room, a solid, inky shadow in the growing dimness. Despite the malevolent impression created by hiding himself from me, I didn’t feel threatened. If anything, the opposite feeling lingered. Perhaps it was because he was so bluntly honest with me. It made a refreshing change from Father’s lies and offered hope that the Kurios had heard my prayers.
“Father wishes to be rid of me because I am useless for his purposes.”
“Oh?” His voice, rugged and husky, betrayed mild interest and nothing else.
“I talk back, argue, and refuse to comply with his orders. To make matters worse, I am lame.”
He frowned. “I see no cane.”
“I rarely need one.” I adjusted my weight to rest on my good leg and give my right foot a bit of a rest.
“May I see?”
“What?” I peered at him in alarm. “See what?”
“Your foot.” He stepped forward so that he was partially out of the shadows. My gaze first went to his hair. Gold-streaked brown, it was rumpled a bit about his forehead and ears despite the short crop. His dark eyes, almost black in the dim light, studied my face, waiting for a response. “That is what is injured, right?”
I nodded but didn’t offer it for his inspection. “I have not shown it to anyone since the accident.”
His lips pressed tightly in what might have been disapproval. Of me?
“How did the accident happen?” he asked. Again, he studied my features.
When had someone last asked that? Never. No one ever asked. Before I had recovered, my father had seen to it that everyone had heard his version of the story. Unless I wished to call him a liar and risk a confrontation that would end up with me nursing more than a mangled foot, I had been constrained to silence. “My father crushed it in a door.” I blinked back the burning in my eyes. “Though he will deny it.” I swallowed carefully.
I almost smiled. The man had a way of using as few words as possible. “I was seven.”
“And you are now?”
“Twenty-four.” I cleared my throat of the lump of gathering tears. “How old are you?”
“You approve?” Amusement tinged his voice, but when I glanced at him, there was no hint of humor about his expression.
“Not too old and not too young,” I explained.
I nodded again, this time with a small smile.
“I am going to look.”
He knelt at my feet. Before I was ready, he lifted my lame foot. Off balance, my hands went to his head, fingers sinking into a mess of soft strands, as I struggled to stay upright. Despite his evident care, the sudden pressure of leaning on my twisted foot in his hand to compensate for my shifting balance made the constant ache of my foot ramp up to pain. Tears sprang to my eyes.
“Inspecting the merchandise?” I asked sharply.
“No.” He adjusted his grip, so he held my ankle instead of my foot. The impression of solid, warm fingers seemed to burn through my stockings as he removed my shoe. “Has it healed? Is it infected?”
“No and no.” Angry tears burned my eyes. Heat flushed my cheeks.
“Does this hurt?” He pressed my toes.
After a few more rounds of the same question and more pain, he finally replaced my shoe. Setting my foot back on the floor with far more care than he had picked it up, he waited until I had regained my balance before rising to his full height. Blinking away the tears, I waited for him to move, but he didn’t step away.
“Your father will do worse if I reject you?”
“Don’t worry about me. I will survive.” I studied his tunic front. The coarse wool was dyed a brown so dark it was almost black. Not precisely the clothing of a rich man. My father’s claims about the mysteries surrounding the man before me ranged from his great riches to his right to a lost title. I didn’t believe a word of any of them.
About the Author
Rachel Rossano is a happily married mother of three children. She spends her days teaching, mothering, and keeping the chaos at bay. After the little ones are in bed, she immerses herself in the fantasy worlds of her books. Tales of romance, adventure, and virtue set in a medieval fantasy world are her preference, but she also writes speculative fantasy and a bit of science fiction.
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