When a corrupt local official wants to take Mei Lin as, not second, but third wife, she rebels and makes an outrageous declaration--she'll only marry a man if he can defeat her in a swordfight. She has managed to fend off the local thugs and village hopefuls, but then a tall, mysterious stranger comes into town...***
Shen Leung extracted himself from the tavern to taunting and cries of "One more round!" The chorus finally faded by the time he made his way to the shed behind merchant Wang's house. The storage area had been cleared and swept so that a cot could be laid out to serve as a bed. He unclasped his sword belt and managed to shrug out of his tunic before sinking onto the cot.
Among the many cities and villages he'd passed through, this place was truly remarkable. The people were generous, the wine strong. And the woman...
He closed his eyes and she was there. Mei Lin. Pretty, pretty Mei Lin and her deadly butterfly swords. The noodle shop wouldn't be open this late, otherwise he'd go there now and spend what little coin he had even though he wasn't hungry.
He'd stolen glances from the tavern to search the stand throughout the evening, but she'd never returned. There had been such a quiet sorrow about her after the duel was finished. He'd felt the echo of it inside him. Every time he tried to make an excuse to leave, he'd been dragged back by well-wishers demanding stories of his travels.
Perhaps there would be time in the morning. He'd visit the stand before he left and she'd be there in the sunlight, as beguiling as she'd been when he'd first seen her. She had such delightful skin. The women of these southern regions were so soft and curved and feminine. So different from the harsh northern steppes. He pulled the quilt over his shoulders and prepared to dream.
With a sharp crack, the door flew open. He jerked awake and sat up so fast that the world tilted. A wash of moonlight highlighted the form in the doorway. He'd know that silhouette anywhere. That slender waist and graceful neck. His eyes had already committed Mei Lin to memory.
Tentatively she stepped forward. Her hair was pulled up into a simple knot and her skin glowed in the pale light. Elegant. Sweet. Tempting.
She blinked at him, then glanced away. The blanket had slipped from his shoulders and the stir of the air against his skin reminded him that he was half-naked before this maiden. Blood gathered in his loins alarmingly.
"Mei Lin?" His voice came out thick and huskier than he had expected.
Her mouth pressed tight. It was then that he noticed the glint of the butterfly sword in her hand.
"Shen Leung, you are going to die tonight."