When Alinor of Arrus is taken captive by the man bent on revenging himself against her betrothed, she finds that she is caught up in a deadly rivalry between two dangerous warriors. Can she win the heart of the man who has stolen hers?
Original Publication: 01/2003
Word Count: 43,149
Genre: Historical Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, January 2003
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
Alinor had never traveled beyond her father’s holdings in all her short life. Under other circumstances, she would have been enthralled, would have studied everything they passed with keen interest. She was so sick with trepidation, however, that she could not find it in herself to have any interest in her surroundings.
She was not a child. She had matured into womanhood nigh two years past, reached the age when her menses began and she was ripe to bear children for the man chosen for her. She should have left all childish things far behind. And yet, she found that she had nursed the childish hope that her own wishes would outweigh the arrangement that had been made for her, despite the fact that her mother had done her utmost to drum it into her head that, for people of their class, marriage was not an estate to be entered into blinded by emotional attachment. It was a binding together of wealth and power, and most ideally, of superior bloodlines.
Jean-Pierre was by far the most illustrious of those who had offered for her hand. In truth—as they had pointed out to her—she should have been grateful that her parents had chosen a man in the prime of his life when it could easily have been otherwise, particularly since Jean-Pierre was considered by most to be an exceptionally handsome man.
Unfortunately, the beauty of his exterior hid a black soul—one she alone, apparently, could see, but then he had almost seemed to glory in revealing to her his darkness, which he kept carefully concealed from all others.
She had been cold to her parents when she departed. She regretted it now, for it seemed unlikely she would see them again in this lifetime.
Jean-Pierre, no doubt drunk on his newest conquest, had arranged their marriage and sent an escort for her to transport her across the channel to England. Whether it was their usual manner, or Jean-Pierre had given them orders to that effect, they had traveled at a grueling pace, reaching the coast in little more than a day and half. They rested there only a matter of hours and then took ship.
The crossing had been like nothing Alinor could have imagined in her worst nightmares. It was nearing winter, and the channel was treacherous with storms. She had been too terrified by the crashing waves even to fight them when her escort had whisked her aboard, and too sick and fearful afterwards to do more than cling frantically to the nearness support and pray for a quick death, expecting momentarily to meet it.
She had been so weak when they reached the coast of England at last and she was carried ashore that she could not even hold herself upright. The moment the man had set her down, she had collapsed in an ignoble heap on the wet sand. Not so much of a stitch of her clothing had been dry, but neither had she had a more thorough soaking than the one she received when she sank to the sand within reach of the crashing waves, which immediately reached for her and tried to drag her out to sea once more.
Their leader had waded into the water cursing, dragged her out and tossed her onto the back of the horse that had been brought for her. More miserable than she had ever been in her life, Alinor, her jaw locked to fight the chattering of her teeth, had looked around dully at the strange land that would be her new home.
On the cliffs above them, she had seen a solitary rider. His hair, long, falling well past his shoulders, and as dark as a raven’s wing, fluttered around a face that was featureless at this distance, but she had the impression that he was relatively young—no youth from his build, but certainly not old. His bare chest and shoulders seemed broad, deep—massive. Around his shoulders a cape was flung almost carelessly. Of a color somewhere between a deep red and brown, the color alone seemed almost a challenge to those below to notice his presence.
Something about him had caused her heart to leap in her chest. His stillness, the tension in every line of his body had convinced her that it was not mere curiosity that held him enthrall, watching as the small party that had met them brought forth fresh horses for the men who’d accompanied her thus far.
She didn’t know why she hadn’t called attention to him. She had told herself that she was simply too surprised; that she was too ill and miserable to think of it; that the others would probably have noticed him, as well—that he might even be a part of the party who’d come to escort her to Jean-Pierre.
She knew better.
She had glanced around, instinctively, after she’d spotted him, to see if any of the others had noticed him. When she’d looked again, he’d disappeared.
She’d told herself there was little point in saying anything then, but she had caught a glimpse of him again, late in the day, had known that he must be following them—and still she’d said nothing.