Trained to kill swiftly and emotionlessly, Damien has lived his life in darkness, desiring only one thing, to be free. When his master offers him his freedom for the completion of one last mission, Damien doesn’t hesitate. He has no doubt that he will be free. Until he sees the woman he is to kill. She is his…
Compassionate and kind, Aurora of Acquitaine is the epitome of goodness. She lives her life trying to atone for her mother’s cruelty by being fair and just to her people. But when she is attacked by an assassin, she fears her mother’s killer has returned for her.
Will Damien find redemption in Aurora’s kindness or will his darkness consume her?
Aurora climbed to her feet.
“Where is my sword?” Damien demanded, searching the forest floor. He could not look at her.
“Here.” It had been hidden beneath the flare of her dress when she was lying down.
Damien nodded in satisfaction. He picked it up, pausing as he looked into her eyes. They sparkled a pale blue in the moonlight.
Aurora stared at him for a long, pensive moment. Then, she dipped her head in thought. The furrows of her brow deepened as her gaze stopped at his thigh, lingering on his wound. “How do you feel?” she asked.
“Well enough to see you back to your castle.” He sheathed his weapon and took a step toward Acquitaine.
“Damien,” she called.
He hesitated. He didn’t want her to fear him. Would she condemn him now for his violence? The silence stretched. Finally, he turned to her and his breath caught in his throat.
She stood in middle of the forest, bathed in a pool of moonlight. Her blonde hair, loose from any constraints, fell to her waist in thick waves. Her back was straight, her tiny body alluring and curvy and delectable. But it was her eyes that captured his attention. He saw no fear in her eyes. It was concern. Had he mistaken fear for concern?
Damien had never felt such an overwhelming need for anything in his life. He trembled with his want of her.
A swirl of emotions played over her face. Concern, regret, helplessness.
It took all Damien’s willpower not to go to her and sweep her into his embrace. He didn’t want to scare her. He didn’t want to harm her. He didn’t want to taint her.
“I will never leave you,” she finally confessed and tears entered her eyes.
Damien came toward her then, like a tumultuous storm cloud. “You don’t know what you are saying,” he warned in a savage whisper.
Aurora did not run for cover; she did not shrink from his approach. She stared up into his face with those damned clear orbs. And for the briefest of moments, Damien saw himself reflected as she saw him. A hero, a good man. A man worthy of all he could attain.
He stood before her, stunned.
The sound of horses thundering through the clearing pounded a warning through the ground.
Damien grabbed Aurora’s hand in one hand, and drew his sword in the other. He watched the group of men approach through the forest, clumsily maneuvering their steeds through the tight trees. He pulled Aurora behind him.
These men were no brigands. They wore heraldry, and while Damien couldn’t be sure, he suspected they were from Acquitaine.
As they drew closer, his suspicions were confirmed. One of them called out, “Lady Aurora!”
Damien refused to relinquish her. For just one moment, she had been his. And it had been the most glorious moment of his life.
“Lady Aurora!” another called.
His time alone with her was over.
“I am here,” Aurora called out, a reluctance in her tone.
Four men came forward, three of whom wore red tunics with a white dove embroidered onto it, the symbol of Acquitaine. But the leader wore a different crest. A black lion on a white background. He reached them first, reining his horse to a stop before them. His blonde hair waved gently in the breeze. His dark eyes swept them. “Lady Aurora,” he gasped, dismounting. He brushed his blonde hair aside and knelt before her. Practiced, polished. Fake.
Damien hated him on sight.
Aurora stiffened. She released Damien’s hand and stepped toward the knight. “Count Ormand,” she greeted.
Ormand stood and his gaze shifted to Damien with just the right disdainful curl of his lip, then back to Aurora. “I came to rescue you as soon as I heard an attempt was made on your life. Imagine my surprise at finding you gone.”
“We were attacked by an assassin. Damien was struck by a poison arrow.”
One of Ormand’s eyebrows rose. “Another assassin?” He looked at Damien, then back at Aurora. “Were you hurt, m’lady?”
“No,” she said. “Damien saved me. Again.”
Ormand looked at Damien. “This must be the amazing Damien.”
Aurora nodded. “Ormand, this is Damien. Damien, this is Count Ormand.”
“I am Aurora’s betrothed,” Ormand stated with a slight lifting of his chin so he could stare down at Damien.
Betrothed. The word rang in Damien’s head like a thunderous bell and his teeth clenched. Betrothed. Betrothed. What did it matter? But the word did not stop clanging in his thoughts. Betrothed.
Ormand’s pompous stare swept Damien suspiciously from head to foot. “Why is he half naked? And what in heaven’s name were you doing out in the forest knowing that your life is in danger?”
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Laurel O’Donnell lives in Illinois with her husband, four children and five cats. She has always enjoyed escaping into the medieval era, including spending a summer interning at the renaissance faire in Wisconsin where she learned to sword fight and recite Shakespeare. Now, she spends her time reading a good book, or swimming or, of course, writing.
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