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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

Chapter Nine

“So, tell me, Nieve, how does a girl like you end up with a guy like Balor?” Luke rose from the stream, wading through the water. He winced as he climbed up the bank. He eyed the woman who was determined to pulverize his manhood. Every bounce and jounce of the horse seemed to hammer his balls. He’d asked about ice, but her response was that the snows weren’t due to fall for several weeks. God, he hurt.

The time in the stream was well spent, though. He could walk properly now. He eyed his horse grimly. He had to get back up on the damn thing. At least he was getting better. He hadn’t fallen off the entire afternoon. He might not be able to father any children, but he could ride a damn horse.

Nieve smiled as he stretched out his muscles, but he caught her staring at his butt when he bent to stretch his thighs. Her cheeks reddened as her gaze met his, and then she looked away. He grinned, then strode over to sit beside her.

“Balor?” He prompted her.

She sighed, and he tried not to look at the rise and fall of her breasts. Tried, but failed. This woman was temptation personified. For the last two nights, they’d huddled together for warmth. Each night she burrowed her backside up against him, and it was all he could do not to turn her over and make love to her.

He was trying to be a gentleman. When he'd found her, she'd been caught in the abusive grip of a tyrant. Over the last few days he'd tried to show her that she had nothing to fear from him. He'd avoided asking her about how she'd come to be Balor's prisoner, but his curiosity was getting the better of him. He wanted to know what had happened, but he was also reluctant to cause her any further fear or anxiety. He wasn't about to force himself on the woman.

“I was tricked. I strayed from Tara,” Nieve admitted guiltily. “I wanted to ride my horse farther than I was allowed, and my father’s men fell back. Balor’s men found me. I was lucky.”

Luke frowned. “I found you imprisoned in a cave below the ground. How is that lucky?”

She kept her eyes trained on the stream. “They knew who I was. I am my father’s daughter, so his men brought me to their leader. Otherwise, they would have found another use for me than to trap me in a cave.”

Luke’s frown deepened. She said it matter-of-factly, as though this kind of treatment of women was commonplace. He curbed his lust for her. No woman should feel that beating and rape was normal, damn it. He’d promised to bring her safely back to her family. Now he vowed to himself to protect her—from his own desires, if necessary. She deserved to be protected, to be cherished.

To be loved.

He frowned. O-kay. Maybe that was a little too deep, a little too fast. Just get her home safe.

He tilted his head. “They knew who you were? So it was planned?”

The lines bracketing her mouth deepened, and she nodded. “Aye. I was betrayed—yet I know not by whom.”

Betrayed. Yet she was going back to the men who had handed her over to that bastard?

“Balor said your father—”

“He is wrong,” Nieve snapped, her green eyes glittering with anger. “My father would never do that.”

“What did Balor mean about not using his eye until after?” It was a comment he was still trying to figure out.

“When Balor looks you in the eye with his wicked one, you burn,” she told him. “A man must look his foe in the eye to fight. No one has bested him yet. He cannot be killed.”

Luke snorted. “Every man can be killed.”

Nieve shook her head. “Not Balor. Once, there was a prophecy that he would be killed by his own blood.” She grimaced. “When he learned his daughter had lain with a Tuatha de and borne three sons, he ordered them killed.”

“He killed his three grandsons?” Luke didn’t think even Moretti could be that cold.

“Aye. Two by the sword, and one by drowning. Balor’s man dropped him into the sea.”

“And so he now just looks at a guy to kill him? Sounds like a lot of talk to me.”

Nieve nodded, surprised by his disbelief. “There are many forms of magic, Lugh. Balor can kill a person with just one look.”

Luke shook his head. “There is no such thing as magic,” he said.

Nieve arched her eyebrow. “The very fact that you are here suggests otherwise.”

He winced. He didn’t want to think about it. He couldn’t explain what had happened. He hadn’t seen a car, or a plane, or any kind of modern convenience, and if his cell phone ever dried out, he doubted he’d get a signal. There were no electrical lines. Anywhere. If he didn’t think about it too much, he wouldn’t panic—or worse, go insane.

“You still haven’t told me what he meant by ‘after,’” Luke reminded her. She was so good at distracting him. He stared at her, entranced by the soft rosy hue of her cheeks, the half-moon her lashes made against her clear skin. She didn’t seem to realize how damn gorgeous she was. What was wrong with the guys in this place?

She sighed. “Balor would not want to look upon me with his wicked eye until after I have given him a son.”

Luke clenched his jaw. “A son?” Just the thought of that man forcing himself on Nieve was enough to set a slow burn of rage in his gut. He was getting used to this possessiveness, this protectiveness. He’d wanted to protect Petey, but what he was beginning to feel for this woman made that instinct pale in comparison.

“Yes. Balor seeks to conquer the Tuatha de Danann. If he can do that by forcing a joining between the Fomoire and the Tuatha de, then he will. If he can gain a child from the union, better still, it will strengthen his claim.”

“I won’t let him,” he told her quietly, injecting as much conviction as he possibly could into his words. “I won’t let Balor hurt you.”

She reached for his hand, cradling it in both of hers. “I owe you a debt of gratitude, Lugh.”

There it was again, that husky roughness that made him think of tangled bedsheets and her, with her hair unbound, draped over him.

Naked.

He shook his head. “No, you owe me nothing, Nieve.”

“My father will give you anything you ask for,” she told him.

His lips curled. He wanted her, and somehow he didn’t think her father would be willing to give his daughter to him. He was a nobody. No family, no name but for the one he gave himself when he was old enough to sign the documents. He had nothing to offer.

“I’m not doing this for a reward, Nieve.”

She gazed up him, her gaze intent. “Why are you doing this?” she asked softly, then caught her bottom lip between her teeth.

He cupped her chin, softly caressing her lip out from between her teeth.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he whispered. For once, he was doing what he wanted to do, what made him feel honorable, and good.

“Do you always do the right thing?” she asked, and her gaze dropped to his lips.

He shook his head. “No,” he murmured. “Sometimes I do bad things.” He lowered his head slightly, until he could feel the gust of her breath against his lips.

She raised her hand to cup his cheek. “As do I,” she told him, and he leaned down to press his lips against hers.

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