Excerpt from Dragon Earl

     

     A Chinese monk was walking up the aisle at her wedding. Evelyn blinked to make the apparition go away, but there he was, bright yellow robes billowing out behind him as he strode the length of the Norman church. Right toward her.
     Evelyn hadn't heard the commotion at first. She'd been waiting breathlessly for her moment to say, "I do." But a minute beyond "Dearly beloved," her bridesmaid sister had giggled nervously. Maddie often giggled inappropriately, so Evelyn ignored it. Moments later she'd heard at least four whispers, two creaks from the pews, and one gasp. The final blow had come when the Reverend Smythe-Jones faltered. His words stumbled and his mouth fell slack. That had been too much. She'd had to see what was behind her, no matter that it was her wedding and brides did not turn around in the middle of their ceremonies. So she'd turned her back on cleric and future husband, shot a warning look at her sister Madeline, then glared all the interruptions into silence.
     That's when she'd seen him: the Chinaman. There were three of them, actually—two men and a boy—but the first seemed to dominate, with his ground-eating stride and his bright yellow robe.
     This simply would not do. Evelyn shifted her gaze to her father and arched her brow. She could already see the Earl of Warhaven, her fiancé Christopher's father, rising to his feet on the other side of the aisle. But the earl was choleric in temperament; he'd likely make a bad scene worse. Thankfully, her father felt the same. He would get to the disruption before her future father-in-law. It would take only a moment.
     Except, it did not take a moment. Her father had barely found his feet when the Chinaman reached the front pew. Evelyn expected that the twin form of both fathers would at least make the man pause, but it didn't. He neatly and almost magically sidestepped them. One moment the fathers blocked the man's path; the next moment, he had somehow left them behind and was continuing up to the dais.
     And still, all Evelyn could do was stare. The man wore yellow robes that wrapped him from head to foot. At her wedding?
     "Now see here!" Christopher exclaimed as he stepped forward, his outrage a palpable force. He sounded just as an indignant viscount and future earl should, and Evelyn felt the tension in her shoulders ease a bit. Christopher would handle this disturbance.
     But the Chinaman completely ignored him. He bowed once respectfully to the reverend, then threw back his cowl to focus on her.
     "My God, you're white!" she gasped. And he was, with bright blue eyes, a Roman nose, and ruddy, stubbled skin. If he hadn't obviously been in robust health, she would have thought he resembled Christopher's great-grandfather before the poor man died at the age of ninety-eight.
     The white Chinaman arched an eyebrow at her. It was an aristocratic expression and completely at odds with his clothing. Then he spoke in a commanding voice that was strangely accented. "You are Evelyn Stanton? Of twenty-four years age today?"
     Evelyn swallowed and forcibly reminded herself that she would one day be a countess. Lifting her chin, she responded as haughtily as possible, "I am, and you, sir, belong outside." She should turn her back on him, she decided. It was the best way, according to Christopher's mother, to dismiss someone in regal fashion.
     But before she could even start to move, his arm shot out. He grabbed her elbow and held her fast. She squeaked in alarm, but fortunately Christopher intervened. He'd been too slow to prevent the Chinaman from touching her, but managed to grab hold of the man's rather massive biceps, clearly outlined by the folds of his robe. And there they stood, Christopher holding the bizarre Chinaman, who held her.
     "Release her, sirrah," Christopher growled.
     Again the Chinaman ignored her fiancé, and he boldly scanned Evelyn from head to toe. From the tight compression of his lips, he was none too pleased with what he saw. "You are to wed the Earl of Warhaven on this date? In this church?"
     "Yes!" she snapped. "Now go away!" She glanced over his shoulder—no easy feat given his height—in the hope that the fathers would be able to help. But what she saw made her grimace with disgust. Trust the men to be having a furious whispered debate with two other gentlemen while completely ignoring the Chinamen interrupting her wedding. What was going on?
     Meanwhile, Christopher leaned forward and spoke clearly and directly into the Chinaman's face. "If you have something to say to my wife, you can do so after the ceremony." He jerked his head sideways at his groomsmen. "These are my brothers. They will escort you outside where you will await our pleasure."
     The Chinaman's gaze abruptly sharpened, but was not on Christopher or his bristling brothers. Instead, he pinned the Reverend Smythe-Jones with his intense stare. "The ceremony is accomplished? They are wed?"
     Was there a note of hope in his voice?
     "Er... no... n-not yet," stammered the cleric. "We'd just begun." Then the reverend abruptly straightened and peered down his bulbous nose. "If you would please leave the altar area, I will proceed."
     "Then I am in time." The Chinaman's tone was almost dull, but still clearly heard. He turned to Christopher, and with every word, his voice became clearer and more authoritative. "You are not wed. And she is promised to me—the earl."
     "Sirrah—"
     "And now I am here." He turned to look at the reverend. "You may marry us. I am the Earl of Warhaven."

 

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