It happened on a damp April day, 1819, in the Missouri Territory.
When I first met Nicolas Reidar Hansen, I was struck by his size: six-four and two-fifty of solid muscle. Then he looked at me and I saw his beauty. Classic Nordic features, long hair the color of sunlit straw, and intense navy blue eyes. When he spoke, it felt like thunder on a bright autumn day.
But something was missing. Life. I soon realized that the death of his wife, six years earlier, had effectively killed him as well. Though well-educated and world-traveled, Nicolas was still a romantic at heart. He believed his one and only chance at true love died with her.
But circumstances made that impossible. She was going to have to stay a while - and it wasn't in her nature to stay quietly. Every challenge, every glance, every laugh, and every touch stirred parts of Nicolas that had long laid dormant. Slowly, he opened himself to her. He began to see possibilities. He began to feel again. He began to hope.
Her situation, as it turned out, was much worse than his. But she challenged him even so: did he have the courage to live his life?
The love of a strong woman makes a man. And it remakes a broken one. Nicolas grows over three volumes to be more than he ever would have been, more than he ever dreamt he could be. Into the man he was destined to be: a true hero in every sense of the word.
And all because a strong woman loved him.
I love him. I think you will, too.
Keep reading for an excerpt from A WOMAN OF CHOICE
The dogs wouldn’t come back. They yowled and yipped and danced around a muddy heap of fabric lumped beside the receding rain-swollen creek.
“Can’t you control those mutts, Rick?” Nicolas Hansen growled. Irritated, he reined Rusten toward the hounds and wondered which particular Cheltenham resident upstream had seen fit to discard their curtains into his creek. But when he got close, his gut twisted.
The heap had hair. Long, black, tangled hair.
He knelt beside the crumpled and filthy form. His knees sunk into the chilled creekside mud and the roar of the tumbling water almost drowned the roar of his pulse. He stretched his hand over the still figure and hesitated, hoping for some sign of life. There was none. He gently turned the body toward him.
She exhaled a faint moan.
“It’s a woman, Rick!” Nicolas called over his shoulder. “And she’s alive!”
His gaze skimmed the woman’s mud-smeared face. Dark brows slanted from a bruised temple. Their arches flanked a straight nose with a nasty bump. Her lips were blue and the lower one was split and bleeding. That was a good sign. It meant her heart was beating.
“Å min Gud…” Nicolas moaned. He yanked his hunting dirk from its sheath and held it over the woman’s skirt.
He hesitated again, weighing the ramifications to himself—and her—if he cut away her clothing. But he knew he couldn’t balance her on his horse anchored as she was by yards of mud-saturated wool. In Nicolas’s personal economy, saving her life far outweighed saving their reputations.
If he wasn’t too late already.
Rickard’s voice spilled over his shoulder, “Wrap her in this.” A blanket nudged his arm.
Nicolas nodded his acknowledgement. He severed the full skirt from her bodice in a few quick strokes. He left her chemise intact and his gaze didn’t linger on her bruised and bare legs. He rolled her into the blanket, stood with her cradled in his arms, and faced Rickard.
“Hand her up to me,” he said as he transferred the woman into his best friend’s sturdy grasp. Rickard accepted the burden without pause.
Nicolas mounted his tall gelding and leaned down to gather the limp bundle. He shifted a bit until he felt both he and the woman were secure on Rusten’s back. “Ride ahead, will you? Tell Addie what’s coming.”
Rickard nodded and turned to his own mount. “Do you know her?”
Nicolas frowned. “No. Do you?”
Rickard prodded his stallion closer and leaned over the unconscious woman. “I don’t think so. Hard to tell with all the mud and the bruising, though.”
“Hm.” Nicolas jerked his chin at Rickard. “Go on, then.”
Rickard kicked his horse to an easy canter, waved over his shoulder, and he was gone.
Nicolas followed at a steady walk, afraid to jar his fragile passenger by hurrying the huge gelding. He guided Rusten with his knees while he considered her pale, muddy face.
Lying ten miles southwest of St. Louis, Cheltenham was a small township. Nicolas had lived here his entire life—save for four university years and the year he was obliged to stay in Norway. He believed he knew all of its residents, so he was fairly certain he had never seen this woman before.
And that made her appearance even more puzzling. Where had she come from? Where was she headed? And how did she end up in the creek to begin with? Was she the victim of an accident? Or was something more sinister afoot?
“I suppose if you awaken, you’ll explain yourself,” he mumbled and shifted her position a little. Her eyelids fluttered and she gave a tiny whimper. But she lay as limp as a drowned cat in his arms.
When he reached the manor, his aging housekeeper stood in the doorway beside Rickard, craning her neck and worrying her apron. His friend stepped forward, accepted the feminine bundle once again, and held her while Nicolas dismounted.
“Thanks, Rick,” Nicolas said as he took the woman and hugged her securely against his chest. He faced Addie. “We’ll put her in the room at the end of the hall.”
She nodded and followed him into the house. “Poor thing,” she cooed.
Nicolas topped the stairs without noticeable effort and headed toward the uninhabited room, the furthest one from his. After all, he had no interest in any sort of entanglement and fully expected to return this unexpected and unwanted female to whomever she belonged as soon as she regained consciousness. Once in the room, he laid his mysterious charge on the bed and gave her over to Addie’s competent care.
“Rick?” he called down the staircase.
“I’m here, Nick.” Rickard stepped out of Nicolas’s study and gulped a glass of amber liquid.
Nicolas snorted and started down the steps. “Let’s get back to hunting, eh? Before you finish off my best brandy!”
Rickard laughed and set down the empty glass. “You’ve got more stashed in here than even I could finish and you know it!”
Nicolas reached him, grinned and slapped his shoulder. “Come on, then. If you can manage those dogs, I’ve a taste for pheasant for supper tonight!”
Excerpt from The Hansen Series: Nicolas & Sydney
by Kris Tualla
All books are available in trade paperback at Amazon, and in e-book for Kindle (USA & UK), Nook, and Smashwords
Book One ~ A Woman of Choice
Book Two ~ A Prince of Norway
Book Three ~ A Matter of Principle (January 2011)