Strands of Sunlight
ISBN eBook: 9781419917936
Release Date: September 12, 2008
Rhiannon always thought she was just a low born peasant. When a mysterious lord buys her contract of servitude and brings her back to his keep, she finds out she’s actually the bastard daughter of a great lady. She also discovers she’s prophesied to kill the man responsible for her mother’s undoing.
And prophesied to die while doing it.
At the keep, Rhiannon is caught between two men: Tristan, the severe and sometimes brutal lord who introduces her to erotic bliss and binds her there, helplessly addicted to his every whim. And Gareth, the shining, handsome knight who treats her like the lady she never knew she was. In competition, Tristan and Gareth tempt her with physical pleasure beyond her imagination. Both of them stake a claim on her body, but only one of them will win her heart.
But once the prophecy begins to unfold neither Gareth nor Tristan will be able to save her…
“Rhiannon, wake up.”
Someone shook her shoulder. That was strange. Ada was never so gentle. Rhiannon assumed she must dreaming and tried to let a deeper sleep catch her once again.
Her head snapped back with the force of the shake this time. Yes, that was the Ada she knew. She opened her eyes. Two plump, reddened faces floated in front of her. She blinked and the two merged into one.
“Rhiannon, get up! We don’t want our nice visitor to think yer lazy,” Ada hissed into her ear.
“Visitor?” Rhiannon came wide awake. “But it’s still dark outside.” She had a bad feeling about this. This could not possibly bode well. Visitors coming before dawn, like they had for her mother.
She sat up on her pallet. “Ada, I’m not a witch. Please, tell them I’m not a witch. I mean no harm. I am merely a healer and nothing more. I abhor the magic-blood that runs through my veins. If I could, I’d—” Movement close to the fire caught her gaze. Her eyes widened.
A shape stepped from the shadows. Firelight kissed half his form, leaving the other half in darkness. It leant him an otherworldly appearance. Her hand went to the sheathed dagger Thay had given her. She’d not yet hidden it yet, but had secreted it in the sleeve of her nightdress for the night. The length of steel comforted her.
“I’ve not come to burn you as a witch,” the dark apparition said in a deep baritone.
Rhiannon shivered and swallowed hard. Her throat closed for a moment before she could force her vocal cords into action. “Then what have you come for, my lord?”
The stranger stepped forward. She scrambled to her feet. In an effort to put some distance between herself and the man, she stepped back until she was against the wall behind her.
“I’ve come for you,” came his ominous reply.
It occurred to Rhiannon that the execution stake might be a preferable option to having anything to do with this man. Her initial urge was to run for the door, but Ada blocked her path.
“Come closer, girl, and let me look at you,” the stranger commanded.
Her feet were rooted in place. The helpless feeling of being a prisoner of the tree came flooding back. When she failed to move as requested, Ada gave her a helpful shove. She stumbled forward into the circle of firelight. Was there a flicker of dislike in the man’s eyes when he looked at Ada? No, it must have been her imagination.
Deciding she had no choice, she stood still and allowed him to peruse her. She wore only her nightdress, making her feel exposed and vulnerable. He walked around her, looking her up and down.
He wrinkled his nose. “Do you never touch soap and water?” he asked. Even though he didn’t touch her, the rumbling of his deep voice went through her.
“Of course I do, my lord. I make soaps every day.”
He reached out and swept her sleeping cap from her head. The unkempt, tangled mass fell to her waist. “Yes, but do you use them on yourself?” he asked with a sardonic twist to his mouth.
Why would this man care what she smelled like? Terror ripped through her. Was Ada to use her as a prostitute now? She’d rather die. “I beg my lord’s pardon,” she snapped in sarcasm. “I did not know of your arrival and therefore could not anoint my body with perfume.”
Upon closer inspection, she could see how ruthless and jagged the stranger’s features were. They looked like they had been hewn from a chunk of stone. His hair hung in dark brown tendrils around his face, having freed themselves from a thin leather tie at his nape. They framed light blue eyes—eyes so light a blue, they were like a frozen lake with a dusting of snow. However, for as much hardness she saw in his eyes, there was also intelligence. She would not underestimate this man, whoever he was.
He didn’t answer her. He only reached out and cupped her chin in one large hand, inspecting her face. Fury clenched its fist in her stomach, even as a curious quickening lit her belly. Lust, curling in thin, odd, disturbing tendrils moved through her stomach, tickled her cunt.
Never had she had such a reaction to a man before. Like she was some whore to be turned by the mere touch of a man. It angered her, yet she wanted this man to take her to the back of the cottage, strip her and take her hard and fast.
And she was a virgin!
She pushed the odd reaction away, forced it to the back of her psyche and funneled her cold anger to the fore.
“Have you come into your magic-blood yet, woman?” he asked.
She remained silent, struggling to push a lie across her lips. That was odd. She’d never had a problem twisting the truth before this very moment.
“Well?” he pressed. “Have you come into your magic yet?”
“I-I hope I never fully realize the magic flowing through my veins,” she sputtered. There, it was not a lie at all.
“Have you knowledge of healing with herbs?” he asked.
“Aye, my mother taught me.”
She saw a shadow flit through his eyes. He released her chin. “Enough,” he stated. From his pocket, he drew a sack that clinked heavy with coin. She watched with mounting anger as the man dropped it into Ada’s palm.
“Are you buying me?”
“In a manner of speaking, aye. I am buying out your contract of indenture. You will come with me now.”
Anger trickled through her, drowning out the fear. She was sick of being commanded by others. Sick of having her future taken from her. It would end now.
Rhiannon exploded with emotion before she could even think about what she was doing. Her hand flew to the sleeve of her nightdress and she pulled the dagger in one fluid motion, letting its sheathing fall to the floor. Then she brought it up fast with the most intense desire to plunge it into the stranger’s stomach.
Before she could bring the blade up to strike, he had her wrist. He squeezed and the dagger fell to the floor. In one quick movement, he twisted her around so her back was against his chest. She gasped for a breath. It felt as if she were being pressed against a boulder.
Ada raised her hand and brought it toward Rhiannon’s head, in position to crack her hard against the face. Rhiannon flinched in the stranger’s grip and squeezed her eyes shut in anticipation of the impact. It was a feeling she was used to, the curling of her stomach muscles before the painful crack of an open hand or something harder against the side of her face. This time, it didn’t come. She opened her eyes. The stranger had Ada’s wrist in his powerful grip.
“Touch her not,” he almost growled. “She’s mine now.”
“Aye, my lord,” came Ada’s quavering answer. He dropped her wrist and she backed away, rubbing at it with a wary look in her eye.
The stranger’s laughter filled the tiny cottage. Rhiannon shivered against him at the sound and he released her. He knelt and retrieved the dagger and its sheath from the floor. He hesitated for a moment, noting the emblem that graced the blade’s leather casing. He waved it at her, then sheathed it in his boot. “Go get yourself dressed and pack what you’d bring with you to your new home.”
“I won’t go with you!” She turned and dashed for freedom. The blessed sound of early birds met her ears as she flung the door open. If she could get to the forest, she would be able to elude him. It was with the purest despair that she felt a meaty hand close around her shoulder and jerk her back. Her spirits crashed to her toes. Ada turned her around to face the dark lord.
Ada spoke eagerly, “Would like me to cuff her yet, my lord? A good sound thrashin’ once in a while puts her in her place, you’ll see.”
“No! I can handle a mite of a woman such as her without resorting to violence.” He came toward Rhiannon, hefted her over his shoulder in one easy movement and started toward the door.
“You’ve just forfeited your opportunity to change clothing or pack. You’ll not go out of my sight now,” he said to Rhiannon as they left the cottage.
Rhiannon glared at Ada from her perch. “Why?”
“You were never worth even a cupful full of dog’s piss to me till his lordship came ’round. And you can take that disgusting thing with you!” Ada tossed her the herb satchel, which Rhiannon caught, her eyes going wide. Ada turned, tossing a final glare over her shoulder, and slammed the door.
The stranger set her down beside his horse. “Trust me, I mean you no harm.”
She looked up at him in disbelief. “No harm? Trust?” she sputtered. “You come in and wake me from my slumber, you buy me? I regret to inform you of this, but I am not property! Yes, I’m an indentured servant, but that does not mean I have no rights. You do these things and then expect me to trust you?”
He shrugged. “All right, don’t trust me, but you’re making all of this harder on yourself. In time, you will understand.”
“In time, I will understand? No!”
She tried to wrench away from him, but he caught her fast. The man held her face between his hands…hands so strong, she noted with unease, they could probably snap her neck in a trice. “What can I do to show my good faith? What can I do so you will go quietly?” he asked.
“You can tell me who you are and why you’re taking me away.”
For a fleeting moment, he bared his gleaming white teeth. “Why does it matter so? Do you wish to stay here with that ham-handed woman and her grimy son who does only the Father-of-All knows what to you?”
She laughed. It sounded bitter to her ears. “You are a great lord, are you not? You have given yourself away with your educated Galladian and expensive dress. What could a fine lord as you possibly want with a dirty peasant like me? It could not be for anything good.” Her voice grew softer. “How do I know you won’t be worse than Wen? How do I know you don’t want to use me for some Underworld spawned g-game that you can’t play with a finer lady and then slit my throat for fun?”
“Blood of the prophets,” he swore under his breath. “Woman, you must trust me now. I cannot tell you my name or why I bought you until we are far from this place. But truly, I mean you no harm.”
She sniffed. “If you will not give me the answers I seek, then you do not receive my trust, my lord.”
“So, you will continue to fight me then?”
In reply, she steadied her gaze and turned her head slowly to spit in the dirt beside him.
“Charming,” he muttered. Without removing his gaze from hers, he pulled a length of leather from his horse’s reins. He caught her wrists and wound the length around them. “I really did not want to have to use this, but if you refuse to cooperate, I have no choice, do I?”