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Authors: Flora Speer

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Secret Heart

BOOK: Secret Heart
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The Secret Heart

 

By

Flora Speer

 

 

Smashwords Edition

Published by Flora Speer At Smashwords

 

Copyright
© 2015 by Flora Speer

 

Cover Design Copyright 2015,

By http//:DigitalDonna.com

 

Smashwords Edition, License Note:

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal
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of this author.

 

 

 

I’ll
follow my secret heart…

No matter what price is paid…

Sir Noel Coward

English composer

 

For the valiant heart, nothing is
impossible.

Motto of Jacques Coeur

Financier to King Charles VII

Of France

Prologue

 

Midnight

Calean City, Sapaudia

Early Spring

 

 

In a private chamber high in one of the
castle towers the spy from the Dominion and the Sapaudian lord
stared at the servant who had just delivered news that neither man
wanted to hear.

“‘
Intends
to flee?’“ the spy repeated.


That
stupid girl,” the lord muttered. To the servant he said, “You may
go. If you reveal a word of this information to anyone else, your
life is forfeit.”


I
understand, my lord.” The servant bowed and made a hasty
exit.


I
thought you said the girl was under your control,” the spy
snarled.


Before
the night is over she will be completely and permanently
controlled,” the lord promised. Seeing the hard look the spy cast
upon him he added, “Never doubt it.”


What do
you intend?” the spy demanded.


If she
should disappear, the search for her will provide a convenient
excuse for me to move freely about the country,” the lord said,
thinking quickly. “I can meet with anyone I choose and no one will
question my motive. After all, that poor, lost girl must be found
before she comes to harm.” A brief and thoroughly evil smile
crossed his face. “You may report to Domini Gundiac that when his
army begins to march through the mountain passes no obstacles will
remain. Sapaudia will be defeated.”


What
about the bridges? I am specifically required to ask you about
them,” the spy said.


Both
bridges will be repaired before the snows begin at year’s end.
Since the northern bridge over the Nalo River lies within my
ancestral lands, I can have the work done by my own people without
King Henryk’s men noticing.”


And the
southern bridge?” the spy asked. “It’s the more important one
because it can be used all year round.”


I will
see to it. You may tell Domini Gundiac that I give him my
word.”


Very
well, then.” The spy offered a bow so slight that it suggested he
wished he didn’t have to bow at all to the other man. “Until we
meet on the field of battle.”


Where we
will fight side by side. And with my assistance, the Dominion will
win.” The lord inclined his sleek, dark head in
dismissal.

After the spy was gone, he thought for a
moment. King Henryk of Sapaudia was no coward. Though he had no
heir, Henryk could be depended upon to ignore the cautious warnings
of his advisors. He would personally lead his army into battle, and
he would not survive. The lord would see to it that he did not.
Then, after the Dominion victory Sapaudia would need a new king.
And who better to lead the conquered country than the man who had
handed Sapaudia over to the Dominion?

That same
lord would, of course, succeed Domini Gundiac as ruler of both
nations when the sovereign of the Dominion succumbed to an
incurable disease. The lord had a plan to make certain of that,
too. Then, finally he’d be in a position to learn the truth about
the legendary jewel that had enabled Gundiac’s grandfather to forge
a nation out of a group of warring tribes. The energy of the Great
Emerald of the East, combined with the lord’s own magical Power,
would make him undisputed master of the two lands.

A rare expression of pleasure lit his sharp
features, until he remembered the girl whose overwrought emotions
could spoil his well-laid plans before they were properly begun. He
yearned to strangle the unruly wench with his bare hands, except
that she might prove useful later. He always liked to keep a weapon
in reserve. And to keep his own hands clean.

Stalking
to the chamber door, he flung it open, knowing he’d find his trusty
man-at-arms standing guard just outside.


Come
in,” the lord said. “I have an assignment for you.”

Part I

 

The Quest

Chapter 1

 

 

Early Autumn.

 

The woman crawled out of the sea toward dawn.
Clawing at the wet sand, she fought against the storm-swept pull of
the waves that threatened to drag her back into the water. On her
hands and knees she began to make her slow way up the beach, only
to collapse when the short burst of energy was spent.

By then she was well past the line of broken
shells and seaweed that marked the highest reach of the waves, so
she knew she could safely stop. At the moment, that was all she
knew. She had been acting on instinct, without deliberate thought,
wanting only to survive. Her mind was blank, with neither hope nor
fear to inspire her to continue moving. Somewhere deep in the core
of her being she comprehended that the void was a blessing.

She lay facedown upon sand that was dry, but
no warmer than the sea had been. And there, exhausted, she
slept.

 


Do as we
agreed. Remember me. Never forget that I loved you.”

The whisper in her memory faded even as it
wakened her. She opened her eyes to silvery light. All was quiet.
Not even the cry of a gull disturbed the silence. The misty sun
hung low in the sky, so she knew it was either evening, or early
morning. She was so confused that she could not be sure which part
of the day it was, or where she was. Of one thing she was certain,
though; the dull ache in her stomach reminded her that it had been
too long since she had last eaten. She needed to find food, and
fresh water, too.

Twice she attempted to stand, and failed. On
the third try, groaning at the effort it took but refusing to give
up, she made it to her feet. Fighting dizziness and her shaky legs,
she squared her shoulders and started to walk. She was aware that
her stumbling footsteps formed more of a wavering line in the sand
than the straight, determined path she intended, but she kept going
because she knew the only direction open to her was away from the
sea and the danger that lay there.

As the impression of terrible danger
flickered across her consciousness, she experienced a chill
stronger and deeper than the cool air alone could impart. Looking
down, she realized with a dim sense of surprise that she was
wearing only a sleeveless linen shift that reached to her ankles.
The fabric was damp, and it was stiff with salt and sand. Her feet
were bare, as were her wrists and fingers, and her earlobes and
throat when she touched them.


No
jewelry.” She frowned, as much at the cracked, husky sound of her
own voice as in wonder at the lack of gold or silver ornaments,
though she did recall standing numb and terrified as her few
remaining pieces of jewelry and her clothing were stripped from her
by rough hands.


Ye won’t
need these, not where yer goin’,” a harsh male voice echoed within
her mind.

Shaking her head in an attempt to dislodge
the dreadful memory, she continued to walk away from the water. On
her right a high cliff of grey rocks tumbled straight into the sea,
offering no way off the beach in that direction. Behind the cliffs
reared the jagged heights of the Nalo Mountains that marked the
eastern boundary of Sapaudia.


Thanks
be to all the heavens,” she murmured. “At least I haven’t come
ashore in the Dominion. And at least I have some idea where I
am.”

She could see how the cliff ended suddenly,
as if a huge knife had sliced through the solid rock. The curving
beach to her left was edged with sand dunes, where long, waving
grasses grew. Inland, a few trees in the distance lured her onward.
Fixing her gaze on the tallest tree, she headed for it.


You made
a promise and you will not break it,” she whispered to encourage
herself. “It’s only a short distance. Where you see trees, there
may be a stream, too, and perhaps bushes with berries, or an apple
tree.”

The thought of a crisp, juicy apple quickened
her steps until a peculiar sensation shimmered along her spine. She
had experienced the same sensation enough times to know what it
meant. Someone was watching her. She halted, tore her gaze from the
tree she was using as a guide, and turned her head.

A man stood at the crest of a high dune just
to her right. Perhaps he appeared so tall and so sinister because
she was looking up at him. A black cloak covered him from shoulder
to calf. Black hair crowned the head he held at an arrogant angle,
as if he habitually regarded the world with his chin high and his
elegantly arched, aristocratic nose in the air. For a long moment
he stared at her without moving, while she fought to control the
unreasoning terror that swept over her.

Had he
been sent to kill her? She told herself it could not be. Everyone
who wanted her dead must think she already was. But then, perhaps
he had been sent to make certain of her death, to search for her
lifeless body on the beach. In any case, she was too weak to create
the illusion that she was someone else. She’d have to deal with him
in her own face and form.

When the
man finally moved she could see the knight’s sword beneath his
cloak and she caught a glimpse of the shorter blade, the knife that
was meant for cutting meat and for eating, but that she knew all
too well was sharp enough and long enough for murder, if murder was
his intent.

She stood immobilized by fear as he came down
the steep slope of the dune with unfaltering steps and crossed the
sand to confront her. By the time he reached her, she realized that
he was every bit as tall as she had first thought. He towered over
her, grim-faced and threatening, and she knew there was no point in
trying to escape from him.

She
didn’t recognize him, but that meant nothing. The important
question was whether he recognized
her.
Uncertainty about his intentions made her
knees quake. Then she decided if he meant to kill her, he’d have to
do it while he looked directly into her eyes. And she would fight
him with all the courage she could muster. She straightened her
spine and squared her shoulders as she silently vowed to make her
death as difficult for him to accomplish as she possibly could. She
owed that much to her beloved—


Woman,”
said the dark-haired man, interrupting her dire thoughts, “what are
you doing here on the beach, alone and unclothed?”


Who are
you, sir?” She put out both hands to fend him off. When he
responded to her gesture by reaching toward her, she stumbled back
a step. Her feet slipped in the sand, so she nearly fell. “No,
don’t touch me,” she cried, suddenly, painfully aware that she was
all but naked before him, and that there were far worse threats
than immediate death by sword thrust. Or, by the vicious stab of an
eating knife.


I only
meant to steady you,” the man said, lifting both arms out from his
sides with his hands open in a movement plainly meant to show he’d
do her no harm. “I am Sir Roarke of Alton. Let me help you, for you
are obviously in need of aid. Who has done this to you?”


Done
what?” Though she longed to turn and flee from him, good sense
prevailed over fear, so she stayed where she was. After all, where
could she run on that very wide and open beach? Weakened as she was
by hunger and imprisonment, how could she possibly escape so large
and formidable a man?

An
onslaught of painful images swirled through her mind, leaving her
thoughts so befogged for a few moments that she couldn’t make sense
of what was happening, or of what had happened, or of why she was
so terrified of the future.

BOOK: Secret Heart
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