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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

Chapter Four

Luke grimaced as he cautiously rose to his knees to peer over the rock.

The wooden gate was pushed open. The cave brightened as two men entered, each carrying flaming torches, and for the first time Luke had a chance to get his bearings—but what he saw took a moment for him to process. The sound of revelry grew a little louder with the open gate, and it sounded like there was some fighting going on outside. He heard yelling and grunting, then laughter.

Luke eyed the cave. It was small, with a dirt floor and boulders of various sizes haphazardly placed around the enclosed space. The occasional outcropping of rock interrupted the perimeter, just like the one he currently hid behind. Not the Sheraton, then.

The movement of the men caught his eye, and he frowned. They wore clothes similar to the men who had chased him in the alley. Animal skins and pelts covered their bodies, and their dark hair was long and lank. One man, the one in the lead, was slightly bigger than the other, and he wore a dirt-stained cloth over one eye. His face was scarred, and Luke grimaced. That was one ugly dude. Luke looked around again, and then he saw her.

She stood facing the men. She was shorter than average, a petite woman with dark hair and a pale complexion. She was too far away for him to guess her eye color, but her features were dainty—a narrow nose, oval face and rosy-red lips that were currently pursed with annoyance. Her hair hung in a tangled braid over one shoulder, and she wore a garment that looked like it had come straight from a show on the History Channel—a rough brown woven tunic over a lighter cloth. She wore a belt that looked like leather straps braided together, and her feet were bare.

The cave was silent for a moment, and then the man with the bandaged eye spoke. “Nieve.” He greeted the woman with twisted lips. His voice was low, raspy and…malevolent. Luke watched as the woman lifted her chin, eyeing the one-eyed dude with a haughtiness that bordered on contempt.

“Balor.” For the first time Luke heard her voice, and he listened intently. It was soft, husky. Sexy without even trying. “What brings you here so late?” She injected just the right amount of surprise to sound innocent.

“We thought we heard something from outside.”

“I apologize, milord. I was sleeping and must have dreamed. Perhaps I talked in my sleep.”

Luke frowned. Why wouldn’t she tell the guy he was there? She’d said Balor would kill him. Her extreme actions suggested she truly believed this. Balor? The guys back in the alley had used the same name… Caution told him to keep quiet, and he hunkered down a little lower.

“Perhaps…” Balor took long, slow steps around the cave, and Luke ducked, listening to the scuff of boot on dirt. “Being locked in this room must seem frightening for a maid such as yourself. Of course, you have only to agree to my offer, and this could end.”

“You already have my answer, Balor.”

“You can change it.”

“I won’t.”

Even hunkering down behind the rock ledge, Luke could hear the determination in her voice.

“Your father is not coming for you, Nieve. You are a tribute. Mine to do with as I please.”

“My father would not have agreed to this.” Her words were fiercely uttered.

“But he did. He sacrificed you, Nieve. You or your kin. He chose kin.”

“You took me. He will come for me.”

“With what? What could he possibly bargain with? He lost his most valuable asset when he lost you to me.”

“I will never be yours.”

A sharp slap made Luke flinch, and he reared up to peer over the ledge. He felt his muscles bunching as he got ready to vault over the rock and pummel the guy who dared to hit a woman half his size.

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