Table of Contents
Praise for the Medieval Romances of Lisa Jackson
“Jackson is an expert at building edge-of-your-seat suspense. Just when you think it’s safe to relax, she makes you jump with surprise. Thrilling from beginning to end, as romantic as it is suspenseful, this is a finely tuned novel that will capture your heart and mind and make you a die-hard Jackson fan.” —
“Strong, vivid characters and bold writing style . . . adventurous and sensually passionate.” —
“Entertaining . . . a comedy of errors. Fans will relish this engaging medieval romance.” —Midwest Book Review
. . . and for her
Dark Jewels Trilogy
“Impressive. . . . Lisa Jackson shines once again in her new romantic adventure.” —Reader to Reader Reviews
“Another entertaining medieval romance. . . . Lisa Jackson paces the story well and fills the pages with intrigue and passion.”—Romantic Times
“A complex medieval romance . . . moves forward on several levels that ultimately tie together in an exciting finish. The lead characters are a passionate duo while the secondary players strengthen the entire novel. Ms. Jackson has struck a gemstone mine.” —Painted Rock Reviews
“Snares the readers in an intricate plot and holds them until the very end.” —Romantic Times
“A true gem—a medieval masterpiece. Wonderfully compelling, filled with adventure and intrigue, sizzling sexual tension and a to-die-for hero, this one has it all.”
“Rich, mysterious, passionate. It’s a winner.”
“Fast-paced and fun from the start . . . a high-action adventure that will keep you turning the pages.” —Kat Martin
“A rich, unforgettable tale.” —Stella Cameron
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, September 2007 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Copyright © Susan Lisa Jackson, 2007
All rights reserved
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eISBN : 978-1-4406-2039-3
To Roz Noonan.
Wow. I couldn’t have done it
without you. Thanks!
Thanks to everyone who helped me with this book. It was truly a group effort. First and foremost, I would like to thank Roz Noonan, who worked tirelessly with the characters. Roz’s upbeat personality and persistence were a godsend. Also, I have to give credit where credit is due to my editor, Claire Zion, whose clear thinking and detailed revisions helped me through some of the difficult points of the plot.
I can’t forget my agent, Robin Rue, who insisted we could get this done and done right, and promised drinks with umbrellas when the book was finished.
At home, I have an incredible support team behind me and would like to thank Nancy and Ken Bush, Marilyn Katcher, Kathy Okano, Alexis Harrington, Matthew Crose, Niki Wilkins, Michael Crose, and Ken Melum, along with probably a dozen other people I’ve forgotten to mention.
Frigid air tore at Kambria’s hair and whistled past her ears as she silently spurred her mount onward through the bare trees and snow-crusted ground. The poor mare was struggling, gasping for air as she gamely plunged forward through the scraggly thicket of yew and pine. Hot air plumed from the horse’s nostrils and her hooves tore into the hard, icy earth, but her shaggy coat was covered in sweat, and despite all of Kambria’s prayers to Morrigu, the Mother Goddess, the beast was losing ground.
Soon the hunters would be upon them. So-called holy men, dressed in black. Intent upon seeing their own twisted justice meted out upon her, they chased her with a wrathful, vengeful fire that no amount of reason or persuasion could dampen.
“Faster!” Kambria leaned over her mare’s shoulders, hearing the poor horse labor, its breath whistling. Strong equine muscles began to flag. Her mission was surely lost. Nightfall was too far off. Even then, beneath the shroud of night, the hunters would track her, follow her, run her to the ground. There was no darkness deep enough to hide her.
“Give me strength. Lay your hands upon my mare,” Kambria prayed as icy fingers of wind snarled her hair. Up ahead she caught a glimpse of another horseman darting through the frigid undergrowth. The dark riders were everywhere.
Even as she tugged on the reins and veered west, toward the mountains, she knew with a sinking heart that she was trapped. There would be no turning back, no circling around. The five horsemen had fanned out through the bare trees, cutting off all chance of escape, all roads returning her to her home, to safety.
Frantic, she pulled on the reins, guiding the mare to a narrow twisting path that climbed upward, through the lower hillocks toward a ridge. The territory was new. Foreign. Forbidden. But she had no other choice.
She heard their shouts.
Terror cut like shards of ice through her heart.
Tempest struggled, her hooves slipping, her flanks quivering, foam beginning to spot her gray, wet coat. “Please . . . you can do it.”
Upward, ever more slowly, the beast ran on as snow began to fall, and Kambria felt a sharp cramp. She glanced down at her skirts, bundled high, and noticed the warm ooze of blood that dripped down her leg and splattered to the ground, bright red upon the frozen snow.
Her heart plummeted.
Not only would the blood leave a perfect trail—it would also strengthen the hunters’ purpose.
“God’s teeth,” she said, placing the reins in her mouth and trying vainly to staunch the flow. From the corner of her eye she saw movement, black-robed figures upon fleet steeds climbing the ridge, flashing past a thicket of spindly trees. By the saints, they were upon her!
And all the while drops of blood spotted the ground, caught by the wind.
Somehow she had to stop this madness.
At the top of the ridge, she spurred her horse onward and the mare, finding footing, took off, cutting along a narrow deer trail. Heart pounding, skirts billowing, Kambria thought for a second that she would prevail, that her sure-footed jennetwas more than a match for their bulkier steeds, which would scramble upon this narrow mountain spine. “Good girl,” she whispered, barely believing her luck.
She prayed that the mountain would slow their steeds. If not, if they caught her, at least the dagger was safe; she had seen to that. A weapon possessed of great magick, the Sacred Dagger was destined to be in the hands of the Chosen One, as the age-old prophecy prescribed:
Sired by Darkness,
Born of Light,
Protected by the Sacred Dagger,
A ruler of all men, all beasts and beings,
It is he who shall be born on the Eve of Samhain.
The dagger could not fall into the hands of men with hearts of darkness, men like those who pursued her now.
As her horse galloped into the thin icy wind of the mountain, she felt a clutch of pain in her abdomen, a reminder of her baby, the child she’d had to leave behind. There was no pain like a mother’s loss, but she’d had to see to the baby’s safety, her child of Light.