Shannon McNear lives in the LowCountry of South Carolina with her
husband, eight children, a dog, a cat, a ferret, a goldfish, and a host
of trained roaches. She’s been writing on one thing or another since
third grade and is currently at work on two novels, a historical set in
1780’s South Carolina and a fantasy, the story of her heart. She has
also served in worship and women’s ministry and as ACFW Southeast Zone
Director and president of her local ACFW chapter. Glimpses of her life
can be found at http://shenandoahdawn.blogspot.com.
Lamplight blazed, glinting off cups raised in toast to the upcoming wedding. Yet through the blur of music and conversation and laughter, all Daymonde could think about was the tall, shapely woman seated just down the table from him.
And now, hours later, still she haunted him. The pulsing throb of insect song filled the warm summer night, and overhead all three moons floated in a sea of stars. Daymonde snorted as he strolled alone through the royal gardens. Did the moons herald some auspicious event besides marking the eve of his wedding?
For six months he’d prepared for the event, supported Fiona as she began her reign after her father’s death. Convinced himself of his commitment to her and that he’d chosen contentment—until the arrival of the first guests less than a sennight before, from all over Nyland and beyond, and Sheena appeared.
She was wildness beneath the thinnest veneer of culture. Ruthless and vulgar, all too aware of how her beauty pulled men’s eyes to her as she sauntered into a room. She’d caught Daymonde’s attention with her fluid grace, then held it with the untamed brilliance behind her calculating gaze.
Not at all what he’d always imagined would draw him—but completely mesmerizing.
She also happened to be newly wedded to the king of one of Nyland’s closest allies, a position she’d gained by barefaced scheming . . . despite the scandal of her origin and the defenses of another Son of the Gift.
Yet, Daymonde could not deny the long looked for spark that flared within him, or how she’d shared that initial shock of recognition. And she remained able to hold his gaze, or mostly so, and completely unafraid of him, where Fiona’s fluttering adulation annoyed him still.
The Stranger help him for this fascination with a woman unsuitable in every way, when both of them were promised to others—and for daring to allow himself to think about her.
He stopped in the shadows of a flowering tree, breathing in the sweet fragrance. The breeze carried something else toward him—the awareness of her presence, though she moved with stealth. He leaned back against the trunk, waiting.
She stepped beneath the boughs and pushed back her hood, facing him. Pale hair tumbled across her shoulder, its luster not lost even in moonlight.
“Why are you not with your husband?” Daymonde asked softly.
A muted laugh answered him, caressing his senses like velvet. “Rydane is a fool.”
Daymonde came upright and loomed over her, watching the glitter of her uptilted eyes. She laughed again, her desire washing through him.
“Aye,” he said, “he is, at that.” For taking her, for not guarding her every moment . . . and for bringing her here.
But Rydane was no less a fool than he for trading words in the moonlight with a woman who only demanded her own pleasure. Unlike Fiona, who wanted more to be pleasing . . .
Never mind that Fiona paled beside Sheena.
He swung away and went to stand on the other side of the tree, his body prickling with sweat. Even then, he could not breathe. “How did you get past Altnik? And don’t try to say he’s a fool as well.”
“You think he guards my bedchamber?”
Couldn’t bear to, if he knew Altnik. Focus. “Rydane loves you,” he growled. “Remember that.”
“He’s but a colt, beside you.”
Not helping. Daymonde folded his arms across his chest. “I know what you’re doing. I know how you took advantage of Rydane, and manipulated Altnik. Now you think Rydane isn’t enough, but believe me, lass, contentment is a great gift.”
She sniffed. “Contentment? Should I have been content with my brother?”
Now there was a man who deserved to be rent limb from limb. Daymonde clenched his teeth. “Nay.”
“What were my choices, then? But I can never return to the place of my birth—have I given up nothing?”
“You’re missing the point. You should not be here. I cannot be what you want. You violate the laws you swore to uphold when you wed Rydane—even the customs of your own people—by seeking me out.”
She mimicked his stance, folding her arms and leaning back on her heels. He could feel her resolve hardening—and then he blocked. He dared not allow himself to sense any more of her emotions.
“It isn’t fair,” she murmured. “Why did it have to be Altnik with Rydane . . . why couldn’t it have been you?”
Because, his traitorous thoughts answered, ¬ I was safely ensconced in Hadraignesse, waiting to become the husband of a queen. But what if he’d refused Glenmarr? Might he have gone adventuring with Altnik and Rydane?
Useless to wish—
He unfurled his Gift but a little; pain and longing assailed him from the tall, slender form at his side. He gulped, catching his breath—she was—was she focusing on him deliberately? She’d learned more of the Gift than he’d first thought.
“Sheena. Lass.” A mistake to speak her name, when her whole being already called to his. He swallowed. “Do not do this.”
He must think of Fiona—of her grief and fear and loneliness. His duty lay with her.
Then, a hand on his shoulder.
Oh, please, not her touch—
How could she do this, Marauder princess or nay? He rounded on her, gripped her shoulders and shook her. But she did not wilt—nay, though her eyes widened and her treacherous mouth trembled.
“Would I be here if you were not worth the risk?” she whispered.
“No man is worth that much,” he gritted back, even as her nearness filled his senses and smothered all caution.
And then she was in his arms.