Something rough and sharp, like jagged pebbles, dug into his side, and an insect seemed to be buzzing at his nose. Garat swatted at it, surprised by the effort it took to lift his hand. He pried open his eyelids to a vast blue…sky? He blinked. He flexed stiff fingers then raised a shaky, heavy hand and smoothed it over his cold face. Why was he lying on the ground? What had happened? Mother of the Goddess, he ached.
He rolled his head to the side. An unclad woman lay an arm’s length away, wilted flower petals scattered around her.
He sprang to sitting position. Reena! Her hair had come free, its tangle concealing her face. Her nakedness revealed she wasn’t merely thin; she was wasting away, her body hard angles and jutting bones.
Memories poured forth: following the Sharona to the spring, Honna firing, him leaping forward to thrust Reena out of the way, catching the photon stream. His hand flew to his thigh. Dagger—gone. No, he recalled, he’d lost it to the guards outside the palace. His leather mail was intact and had diffused the blast’s potency. Or maybe he’d survived because two of them had been hit by the same stream.
He scanned the grotto, seeing no sign of their assailant—or of Reena’s clothing. It made no sense she would be undressed in the autumn chill. Goose bumps roughened her arms and legs. A thigh thrown forward shielded her mons but cold had hardened the nipples of her small breasts to pebbles.
Despite her sickly and chilled condition—and the residual buzzing and cramping in his muscles—desire pulsed anew. He yanked his gaze away and checked the sky. According to the sun’s position, they’d lain unconscious for several hours.
Garat hesitated to touch her naked flesh. Her portrait and presence had affected him enough. He fortified himself with a deep breath and shook her shoulder. “Wake up.”
He shook again. Against her slenderness, his hand appeared huge, hulking, and rough. Despite his resolve to remain unmoved, his thumb drew a swirl over skin as smooth and silky as the fine fabrics worn by royalty. Which she was. He cursed and yanked his hand away.
Why wasn’t she waking? What if she was…
A long, jagged cut crusted over with dried blood and dirt marred her left wrist. He pressed two fingers to her right arm above her crystal. No pulse. With a shaking hand, he swept the hair from her face and probed her neck. Nothing. His heart rate spiked, and his stomach clenched. Oh Goddess, don’t let her be… Pressing harder against her cold throat, he searched for an artery. Oh please…not again, not again. Was that a flutter? Yes. She was alive. Barely.
Dark lashes formed two perfect crescents against luminous skin. Her overlarge eyes had been wide with terror when the beam hit. Had she realized what was happening? Had her fear been of the EID’s effect and her cousin’s treachery—or had she been afraid of him?
He staggered to his feet. What would cause the queen’s niece to attack her own cousin? From eavesdropping on the conversation, he’d gleaned Reena suffered from a serious ailment, further proven by her emaciation. Honna had given her a drink that had gagged her, and she’d dumped it out. He didn’t see the canteen at first then spotted it underneath a bush. He raised the vessel to his nose and sniffed. His stomach roiled at the smell. No wonder she didn’t want to drink it. His pack lay a short distance away, and he snagged it. He shoved the container inside and extracted his water flask. Kneeling at the basin, he filled the vessel. Once there’d been a bubbling, frothing pool. Now only a trickle. Nothing illustrated the Lahon’s crisis better than this.
Their solution lay a few feet away on cold, rocky ground.
You sought a hostage. Now you have one.
Her cousin had tried to kill her. He would use her.
It provided little salve to his conscience that he couldn’t just leave her lying there injured, ill, and at the mercy of an assailant who might finish the deed.
You cannot afford compassion. Your people are counting on you. The Sharona have much and are unwilling to share. And do not forget this one’s blood relative killed your son.
Grasping her twig of an arm, he tugged her to a sitting position; her head lolled forward. One good sign: her crystal was clear, so she wouldn’t cause an uproar by enrapturing multiple males. How she had incited his lust was better left for examination another time.
He removed his mail and pulled off his tunic. After he dressed her in the long shirt, he re-donned his chest guard then slung her slight form over his shoulder. Conscience heavier than his burden, he headed for home.
Warrior’s Curse blurb
A powerful tribe of women warriors lives separate from men, their sworn enemies, until mating fever strikes and they must venture into the wilderness to seek mates.
Sheltered and protected behind palace walls, Princess Reena has never even seen a man. When the mating curse compels her older, wiser cousin to seek a mate, Reena accompanies her, eager for the chance to see a man in the flesh.
Reena learns how dangerous men can be.
Embittered by a terrible wrong a woman committed against him. Garat leaves his encampment to secure the water his people need to survive. When he encounters the queen’s daughter in the wilderness, his need for vengeance consumes him, and he takes Reena hostage. But as her sweetness melts his hatred, Garat begins to suspect there is an evil behind the palace walls that wants Reena dead.
After kidnapping her, can he get his heartmate to believe the people she trusts the most want to kill her? Can he open her eyes to the evil force that threatens their love and her life?
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