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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

Chapter Seven

For a moment, they stared at each other. Heat curled inside him, loosened something inside him that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding so close and tight. He was tempted to lean down, press his lips to hers. His reaction to this woman was stronger than anything he’d ever experienced before, and he didn’t understand it.

She swallowed, and he noticed the pulse fluttering in the indent of her throat. His gaze dropped, and he could see the poke of her nipples beneath her dress. She felt whatever this was, too. He stepped closer, could sense the warmth from her body, could smell the light, clean scent of her, something fresh, with a faint undertone of floral. Natural. There was nothing contrived or artificial about her.

“You’re real,” she whispered.

His lips curled. “I am.” And he was hard, but he didn’t know how she’d react if he shared that with her.

“You’ve come from below,” she said, her voice tinged with wonder. He glanced briefly back down into the well, and nodded.

“I did.” And strangely, he was tempted to stay awhile.

“A man from beyond the veil, come to save me?”

Luke frowned. Okay, now she was getting weird. “Uh, I don’t think so,” he said slowly.

Nieve frowned. “I prayed to the goddess, Danu, and she sent you to me. I prayed for a savior, and you have come through the veil on Samhain eve.”

This time Luke shifted away. Damn. Why did all the beautiful women have just a little crazy in them? “I’m sorry, I have to go home,” he said softly. He turned and eyed the tunnel. Should he go that way, or the way he’d come?

“You’re not here to save me?” He turned in time to see the hope die in her eyes, the disappointment that drained the warm blush that had bloomed in her cheeks. The pain of her dejection, the despondency, that he’d caused her, caught him by surprise.

“I’m lost,” he told her gently. “I need to find my way back home.” He tried to make her understand, to take the sting out of what was essentially a rejection.

Her gaze flittered to the tunnel. “I understand,” she said in a low voice. “I, too, want to go back home.”

He straddled one leg over the wall. “Come with me,” he told her, surprised at the invitation he hadn’t known he was going to extend. That wasn’t part of his plan.

She reared back, looking at him as though he was the crazy one. “I can’t go beyond the veil,” she gasped, as though he’d asked her to dance naked in the next St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“But he’ll hit you again if you stay here. Leave him. Come with me.” He didn’t want to leave her here, not with him. He didn’t question the desire to protect her, he just went with it.

Nieve stared at him in surprise, then smiled sadly. “If I go, then far worse will happen to my family.” She folded her arms. “I cannot allow that. I must stay and fight for my kin.”

Luke sat there for a moment, straddling the wall. On the one side, he could jump, land in the water and swim back to where he’d come from. On the other side stood a woman determined to face a beast of a man—all to save her family. Judging by the size of her, and the size of Balor, it was a very unfair fight.

He should just climb back down that wall and swim. If he’d made it in, he could make it out.

Luke met her green gaze, and his shoulders sagged. She might be crazy as a loon, but she was a beautiful loon, and she just wanted to go home to her family.

He understood family. He didn’t have one, but he liked to believe if he did, he’d do anything for them. He’d be ten times a schmuck if he abandoned her in this situation.

He sighed. “Fine. You win.”

Nieve tilted her head and swept her gaze over him, assessing. “What do you mean by that, Lugh?”

“Luke,” he corrected, although he didn’t mind the husky roughness she gave the end of his name.

He swung his leg back over the wall. He turned to meet her gaze.

“We’re busting out of this joint.”

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