"Norway is the new Scotland!" - Kris Tualla
So, what does that really mean, that Norway is the new Scotland?
It means that though a man in a kilt is a thing of beauty, there are some other really hot heroes in the world. And my big, blond, buff and beautiful Hansen men - with eyes the color of seawater and the blood of their Viking ancestors flowing through their veins - are just such heroes. Isn't it time to expand your horizons?
A Woman of Choice, a novel of the Hansen Series, follows Nicolas Hansen and his wife Sydney through three life-changing years and two continents:
A woman is viciously betrayed and abandoned by her unfaithful husband. She is rescued by a widower uninterested in love. In desperation, she becomes engaged to his best friend. One woman, three very different men. Life is about choices.
The frigid liquid world blurred and roared and tumbled around her. Tossed without mercy, she couldn’t figure out where up was, where air was, where water wasn’t. Hard edges battered her. She was tangled in endless sodden wool. Her limbs chilled, her lungs burned, and she couldn’t draw a breath to scream.
Then blackness drowned her senses.
Pain dragged her back toward consciousness. The surge of her pulse slammed her skull with steady sledge hammers. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to think.
Distant voices mumbled through her awareness.
A man, deep and demanding, “Has she awakened?”
A woman, older, “No, not yet.”
“Well, what are we to do with her?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know.”
Had she dreamt it?
Or were they talking about her?
She willed her eyes open and blinked the spinning room into submission. Her blurred gaze staggered over her surroundings and panic squeezed her chest, intensifying the hammers’ pounding.
Where am I? What happened to me?
She closed her eyes and inhaled slowly, defying the tenderness in her ribs, and ordered her heart to slow its frantic warning. Then she opened her eyes again and searched for the whisper of anything familiar.
She lay curled on her side in a bed with clean linens. She could see the carved top of the footboard without moving her head, its edges rubbed light by years of use.
Should she recognize it?
Plaster walls hemmed the wood floor of the unadorned room. Finished logs and cross-planks comprised the ceiling. Dank whiffs of wet bark and moldering leaves leached through the open window past blue afternoon shadow-light.
A stone fireplace dominated the opposite wall, beneath a faded medieval tapestry with images of helmeted warriors and carved ships. A plain bedside table and slat-back rocker were the only other occupants of the room. Under the encroaching outdoor scents, she smelled dust and old smoke. Realization squeezed her temples and dug behind her eyes.
No one lived in this room.
She rolled to her back and lifted onto her elbows. A blade of pain knifed up her neck and ricocheted through her skull. Her world went black again.
This time, the room held still. So did she.
The window was closed. A diminutive flame sputtered in the large fireplace, while an oil lamp on the bedside table chased the shadows to the far corners of the chamber. On the seat of the rocking chair, a book waited.
But she was no closer to figuring out where she was.
The door creaked open, pushed by the ample backside of a woman past middle-age. She wore a brown dress, a lace cap and a white apron with the strings tied in a drooping bow. Her eyes remained fixed on her tea tray, which she set on the bedside table. She reached down to pick up the book before easing herself into the rocker. Only then did she look toward the bed.
“Oh, my!” she blurted, her voice loosened by age. “Are you awake, dear?”
Remembering not to move her head, she whispered, “Yes.”
“Thank the Lord!” The older woman pushed up from the chair. “I’m so glad to see you finally awake. You were in such a bad way, we weren’t at all assured that you’d survive, poor thing!”
She crossed the room with surprising haste and shouted into the hallway. “Maribeth! Come quickly!”
Then she returned to the bedside, moving like a loose bag of potatoes. Rapid footsteps preceded the appearance of a much younger woman, slim and dark.
“Are you hungry, dear? Do you feel you could do with some tea or perhaps some broth? Nothing solid yet! I don’t believe that would sit well.” Not waiting for an answer, she ordered Maribeth to bring warm broth without delay. “Oh, and find Sir Nicky soon as you’re able, and tell him that our girl is finally awake!”
“Sir Nicky?” she croaked. Her mouth was dry, her tongue sticky. She tasted blood.
“Oh, he’s not truly knighted.” The older woman waved her hand and chuckled. “It’s only that I was his nanny when he was just a boy, him and his younger brother, and they loved to play knights and horses and castles and dragons and all. So I started calling his brother ‘Sir Gunny’ and him ‘Sir Nicky’ and, well, I reckon I just never stopped.”
The woman shook her head. Gray wisps escaped her cap. “Oh, but listen to me go on. You’d believe I’ve lost all my manners! I haven't even introduced my own self yet! My name is Addie, and that’s short for Adelaide, which I feel is much too much of a mouthful for anyone!” She smoothed the covers with her wrinkled hands. “I’ve been here at the manor almost forty years, now. Why, I nearly raised those two boys myself!”
Addie’s verbal deluge drenched her and she felt a wave of panic. So she closed her eyes and tried to sink into the mattress to puzzle things out. If Addie needed to introduce herself, then she hadn’t ever been here before. So naturally she wouldn’t recognize her surroundings.
But if she doesn’t know me, how could she possibly know what happened to me?
Her persistent headache confounded her ability to reason. She heard a bowl rattling on a metal tray and smelled the beef broth. It must be Maribeth who set the tray on the bedside table with an audible sigh.
A shadow blocked the lamplight. “Can you wake up again, dear? Your broth is here,” Addie asked.
She opened her eyes and forced a shaky smile, though her sore lower lip stung with the effort. Perhaps broth was a good idea. After all, she had no idea how long she’d gone without food.
“Do you believe you might be able to sit up if we helped you, dear?”
Addie and Maribeth tenderly lifted and tucked until she sat propped against a stack of pillows, though every bit of movement brought new pain to the surface. The room rolled and she swallowed a surge of nausea.
She held out stiff arms and considered the white cotton and lace nightgown she wore. “Are these my clothes?” Her rough voice was unrecognizable.
“Oh no, dearie… Your dress was ruined, I’m sorry to say. A frightful mess, it was, too, what with all the water and mud and being so cut up. Such a shame, since that green color would go so well with your eyes.” Addie paused long enough to gently brush a strand of hair from her forehead. “But I cleaned you up. Washed and plaited your hair, as well. And I found one of Miss Lara’s best sleeping gowns to dress you in.”
She slid her hands over the finely woven material; it released the faint scents of lavender mixed with camphor.
“Please thank her for me,” she murmured. A shadow passed over the housekeeper’s face and Maribeth’s eyes widened. For a beat, no one spoke.
Addie picked up the bowl of broth and eased her generous bottom onto the edge of the bed. “Let’s try this while it’s still warm, shall we?”
She managed to swallow most of the broth before hard soles on wood echoed heavily toward the room. Addie rose from the bed and straightened her apron. All eyes turned to the doorway as a man of about thirty years ducked inside. The strong odors of fresh air—and fresh manure—entered with him.
He must be a full hand over six feet.
His broad shoulders and solid build seemed to strain the confines of the small room. If he had not looked so stern, she might have considered him beautiful.
Dark blue eyes raked over her and his jaw clenched. A thin scar on one cheek whitened. Pulling a leather thong from his hair, he retied his shoulder-length blond locks. He released a sigh and approached the bed, frowning.
“So.” His uneasy stance and the shift of his feet unnerved her. She looked away, realized she couldn’t evade the man, and faced him again. When their eyes met, he asked, “How are you feeling?”
Before she could answer, a shiver convulsed her and her face contorted. Two quick gasps preceded an explosive sneeze. With a grunt and a groan, she put her hands on her temples and slumped over the edge of the bed, vomiting broth onto the floor. Blood dripped from her nose and her field of vision filled with black motes and silver lights.
The burst of activity around her sounded far away. Steel arms lifted her and laid her back onto the pillows. Someone wiped her mouth and nose, and laid a wet cloth over her eyes. She heard the thud of a heavy bucket on the wood planks and the swish of a rag on the floor next to the bed; she smelled the tang of lye soap.
Her face flamed with embarrassment and her lower lip tensed. Hot tears escaped from under the cloth and rolled down her cheeks. Her head throbbed and felt too heavy for her neck.
“There, there.” Addie lifted the cool cloth from her eyes and used it to wipe her face. “Don’t worry a thing about it, dearie. Happens all the time.”
Reassured by the ridiculous claim, she fixed her grateful gaze on the older woman. She purposefully avoided looking toward the imposing male figure, but his stare from the foot of the bed held weight.
Addie rinsed the cloth and pressed it under her nose, then turned with a cocked brow. “Have you forsaken your manners, young man? You have a guest! And a poor injured woman at that!”
The recipient of Addie’s scolding slowly straightened and placed his right palm against his chest. Though unsmiling, his hard sapphire gaze met hers and he bowed a little at the waist.
“Please forgive my appalling lack of decorum, madam,” he said in a powerful voice that rumbled from the depths of his sizeable chest. “For I was certainly raised to know better by my beloved old, old nanny.”
Addie snorted. But she smiled.
“I am Nicolas Reidar Hansen, owner of this estate, your humble servant, and deeply honored rescuer.”
Rescuer? From what?
Confused, she tilted her head back and held the cloth firmly beneath her nose. “I ab berry pleased to beet you, Bister Hadsend. By nabe is…” She stopped, her mouth still open.
The cloth dropped to her lap.
“M-my n-name is…” she tried again, but only murky water swirled through her wits. The salt of sweat pricked her skin. Nicolas and Addie exchanged unsettled glances.
“My name is—!” She exhaled the words as though, if said with enough intent, the statement would complete itself.
It did not.
Oh, merciful God; this must be a nightmare!
With a mournful wail of denial, she curled into herself in the center of the bed. Why don’t I wake up?
“What is it, dear?” Addie touched her shoulder and she recoiled from the very real contact.
“I don’t remember my name!” She gulped air. Dread pummeled her aching ribs and made it harder to breathe. “And I don’t know what happened to me!”
Neither Addie nor Nicolas moved.
“What!” Nicolas thundered.
“You don’t remember aught, dear? Not anything at all?” Addie’s gentle tone squeaked.
Drowning in disbelief, a small shake of her head was all she could manage.
Kris Tualla, a dynamic award-winning author of historical romances, writes with a fast-paced and succinct style. Her plots are full of twists, passion, and very satisfying outcomes! Kris started in 2006 with nothing but a nugget of a character in mind, and has created a dynasty - The Hansen Series. Norway is the new Scotland!