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Excerpt for DARK JEWELS

NAL
October 2005, ISBN: 0451216903

Genre: Medieval

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DARK RUBY:

Eyes squeezed shut Trevin counted out his heartbeats as he heard Idelle shuffle from the room.  The large door creaked open only to close with a thud and the chamber was silent aside from the hiss and pop of the fire.

            Now, if only the lady would lie on the bed and fall asleep, he could make good his leave.  The ring would be his and he would leave Rhydd and his past far behind him.

            “Come here.” 

            Her voice seemed to echo through the room.

            Trevin’s muscles turned to stone.

            “Come here,” Gwynn ordered again and Trevin prayed there was a cat lurking in the shadows somewhere that she was calling.  “You there, boy, behind the velvet.  I know you’re there.”

            Holy Mother of God.

            He dared open his eyes to stare straight into hers as she was standing before him, her face looming in the crack of the curtains.

            There was nothing he could do but slowly edge away from his hiding spot and stand before her in his muddy, blood-stained tunic.  She was a small thing, inches shorter than he, but she held herself erect and stiff, as if she were looking down on him with all the power of the barony.  “You heard me speaking with the midwife.”

            It wasn’t a question.

            “You know of my…difficulty.”

            Sweet Mary she was staring up at him with eyes the color of a forest dawn.  “Aye.”

            “And I know who you are.  The thief who was bold enough to steal my ring from my chamber.”

            His jaw grew tight and hard.

            “This blood—“ She touched his shirt with a long finger and eyed the scar that ran along his hairline.  “Yours?”

            “Some, mayhap.”

            “Another man’s as well?”

            He didn’t answer.  Wouldn’t incriminate himself.

            “Did you kill him?”

            He remember the ire on the nobleman’s face, Ian of Rhydd, Roderick’s brother, when he’d realized his bejeweled dagger had been stolen on the streets of the village.  He’d spied Trevin pocketing the prize, caught him by the collar, and slapped him hard.

            “You’ll not best me, you filthy urchin!”

            “Won’t I?”  Trevin had flipped the knife into his fingers and Ian had turned his wrist, the sharp blade slicing down the side of Trevin’s face and neck.

            Blood had gushed.

            With all his strength. he’d kicked Ian of Rhydd in the groin.  The older man had let out a bellow like a wounded bull and Trevin, blinded by the blood running down his face, had lashed out with his newfound weapon, taking off a piece of the nobleman’s ear. Then he’d run as far and fast as his legs had carried him.  He’d dashed through the muddy, dung-strewn alley, dodging carts, peddlers and such, reeling off corners and wiping his eyes as the blood had dried.  He’d ended up here, deep within the castle walls where no one would think to search for him.  No one but the lord’s comely wife.

            Now, Gwynn’s lashes thinned a bit.  Stepping away from him, she said, “My husband would flog you and throw you into the dungeon to rot for your sins.  And—“  she held up a finger “—if he thought that you’d been spying in his chamber and seen his wife without her clothes, he’d whip you to within an inch of your life, then gut you and spill your innards for the dogs while there was still a breath of life in your body.”

            Again, the truth.  Trevin’s insides turned to jelly but he didn’t flinch, just held her gaze steadily.  “Is that what you want, m’lady?” he finally asked, unable to still his sharp tongue.

            “What I want is a babe.”

            She looked at him and he sensed an idea forming in her mind – an idea that, he was certain, would scare the liver from him.  “So, what are we going to do with you?” she asked.

            His heart was a drum.  If he made a run for the door she would scream and call the guards and the window was far above the ground; he would break both his legs if he attempted to jump into the bailey.  There was no escape unless he were to grab her swiftly and cover her mouth with his hand.  And what then?

            She smiled and tapped a fingernail to a front tooth that slightly overlapped its twin.  “Thief,” she said, nodding in self-approval as her idea took shape.  “I have a bargain for you.”

            “A bargain?”  He’d been in enough tight spaces to smell a trap when one was being offered, and yet he had no choice but to listen.

            “’Twill not be unpleasant,” she said, clearing her throat as if her plan scared her a bit.  “I. . .want you to spend the next three days here in my bed, getting me with child. . .”

====================================

DARK SAPPHIRE:

The door swung open.

With a rush of cold wind that caused the lantern to flicker, Captain Keegan with his damnable broad shoulders, beard darkened jaw and suspicious gaze, stepped inside.

            Sheena felt more than a moment’s fear.  In her lifetime she had been frightened of little, but this man with his harsh expression, mirthless laughter and haunted eyes scared her.  She had met him before; now she was certain of it.  But either he had forgotten that horrid, tragic day, or he was keeping his knowledge to himself.

            His hair was black as midnight, his skin nearly bronze, his eyes the color of steel.  He was angles and planes, tight skin stretched over bone and sinew and muscle.  She doubted many men were bold enough to cross him.

            “Well, well, well,” he said, smoldering eyes assessing her slowly from the top of her damp shoes to the toes of her boots where her jewels were lodged.  One of his eyebrows cocked.  “Lady Victoria.”

            “I did not say I be a lady.”

            “You did not have to.”

            “And how would you know?”  Did he remember?

            He grinned, a wicked slash of white.  “’Tis evident.”

            Her spine stiffened and she hiked her chin upward before she realized that in so doing she’d proved his point.

            Sheena’s heart raced and she felt as naked as if he’d actually seen her without any clothing whatsoever.  He closed the door slowly behind him.  The latch fell into place.  She nearly jumped out of her skin.

            The cabin seemed suddenly close and far too small for the two of them.  The floor rolled with the tide, and Sheena, balancing herself against the rock, couldn’t take her eyes off this man, could barely breathe.

            “For the rest of the journey,” he said slowly as he appraised her, “you will remain at my side.”

            “Your side?  Why?”

            “For your own safety.”

            “What care you about that?”

            “Not much,” he admitted, his lips pursing.  “Just protecting my investment.”

            Her blood ran cold.  “Your investment?”

            “Aye, you have agreed to pay me when we dock.  How you will accomplish this I know not, and I care not.  If you do not pay as you have promised, I will be forced to call upon the soldiers of Tardiff; it seems there are men that are searching for you, men who might pay well to have you returned to them.”

            “You would ransom me?”  Disappointment tore at her soul.  The candle in the lantern flickered.  Why had she considered him the least bit different than any other man she’d ever met?  Had he not left her once before, shown his true side then, when he was little more than a lad?

            “Aye, m’lady.”  He nodded and glanced at her one last time.  His eyes darkened a bit.  “Now climb into the bunk.”

            “What?  Think you that I will gladly warm your bed, then you be sadly mistaken.”  Dear Lord, her heart was pounding so crazily she was certain he could hear it.  He, if he be the same man, was the first she’d ever kissed, the only one who had made her blood race wildly, her mind fill with wanton, unthinkable images.  “I’ll not—“

            A strong hand reached out and circled her wrist.  “Hush.  I mean you no harm,” he vowed, his face so close to hers his breath raced across the skin of her cheek.  She noticed the shading in his gray eyes—the hard glint of determination.  He was not a man who was used to being challenged.  “I’ll sleep on the floor.”

            “But I cannot—“

            “Do not argue.”  His fingers tightened.  “And do not be foolish enough to think that you might trick me.  If you try to escape, remember, there is no place for you to run.  Your virtue is safe with me, but I cannot promise the same of the men.  If you leave this cabin, no place on board will be secure.” His fingers tightened, the warm pads pressing against the inside of her forearm, feeling her pulse, which was throbbing in dread.  “Not on the deck, or in the hold, or even the crow’s nest.  They will find you.  And you will be sorry.”

            She swallowed hard.

            “Do you understand me, lady?” he demanded, and she couldn’t summon enough spit in her mouth to answer.  She couldn’t imagine sleeping in his bunk, or having him so close. ”Do you?”  This time he yanked her arm.

            Dear God, what did she get herself into by boarding this ship?  “Aye,” she whispered.

            “Good.  For I am tired and weary of dealing with half-drunk mates and lying women, so take to the bed, go to sleep, and pray that you find the sense to speak the truth to me in the morning.”

            Sheena opened her mouth to argue, then shut it quickly.  And though it galled her to no end, she moved around the man, who seemed to fill the room with his presence, then sank onto the hard mattress.  She expected the captain, despite his promise, to follow her.  She was sweating with fear, the fingers surrounding her dagger wet, her grip so tight her joints ached.

            She saw him move toward her.

            She would not let him touch her, not let him do the unthinkable…oh, dear God, not yet, not here, not with this man, or any man.

            All her muscles tensed.  Her eyes burned but were dry.

            Touch me and meet your doom….