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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

Chapter Fourteen

Every orphan had their own imagined origin story. Luke wouldn't deny it. He had one of his own. His parents had been millionaires, and they were out there somewhere, still on the imaginary yacht he'd been swept overboard from…

"Well, the reason Balor had his grandbabies killed was because there was a legend that he would be killed by one of them…"

Luke rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and unicorns are real." He shook his head. "Balor is not my murderous grandfather. I come from some place …" Luke hesitated—it was still hard to accept—then continued, "far, far away. There is nobody who would care what I was doing here." And that just made him feel all shades of sad and pathetic.

Nuada turned to him and grasped him by the shoulder, his grip firm. “I care. You saved my daughter, and you rode for three days to bring her to me—although she tells me you spent most of that time kissing the dirt.” He chuckled, then sobered. “You have my gratitude. You have my respect. Today, I give you my family, Lugh of Tara.”

Luke gaped, stunned, and Nuada slapped him on the back, laughing.

“Thank you,” Luke said, humbled. He swallowed. This man had shared more of his time with him than all of his foster fathers combined. “Thank you.”

Nuada held up a finger. “Do not be so hasty. Today I give you a family, and on the morrow we ride to war. Get some sleep, young Lugh. You’re going to need it.”

Nuada stalked down the rampart toward the door to the tower. “And let’s hope your fighting skills are better than your riding skills,” the large man bellowed, then laughed as he disappeared into the tower.

Luke stared after him, nonplussed. He had…family?

Luke stared up at the canopy of his bed. It was well past midnight, but he couldn’t sleep. Nuada’s summary adoption had shocked him­—as had the man's weird theory of his ancestry. Oh, he didn't believe it for a millisecond, but that hadn't stopped Carbrah, the bard, from making up a song. Yes. He now had his own song. Because that's how they rolled, here.

Ogma had come to congratulate him, then showed him some basic moves with the sword. He’d even given Luke a thick pelt to wear the next day, both to warm his balls and protect them from blades, the big man had said.

He was going into battle. Was he nuts? He’d already faced enough dangerous situations in this new world. What did he know about sword fighting? Not much, except that it wasn’t even remotely close to Star Wars. These people lived a harsh life, a dangerous life. There was no such thing as coasting along or marking time. You were either fully committed, or you were dead.

He believed what he’d said, though. If Balor managed to win the battle, the Tuatha de would suffer greatly at his hands. He couldn’t see any of them bowing to his rule, and he couldn’t see that arrogant bully allowing them not to.

The latch of his door tilted up, and his muscles tensed as the door swung inward. The low glow of a candle flickered into the room, bathing its carrier in a golden hue.

“Nieve,” he whispered as she quietly closed the door behind her.

She was wearing a nightgown, and as she moved toward him, with the low flames of the fireplace behind her, he realized how sheer her gown was. He could see the long, graceful lines of her legs, the swell of her hips, the indent of her waist, and the outline of her breasts.

Lust, low and hot, gripped him tight.

She approached the side of his bed, her expression both shy and determined.

“What are you doing here?” he asked her in a low tone. If her father found her in here, he’d kill him, newly adopted kin or not.

She set the candle down on the small wooden table at the side of his bed and sat down next to him. Her green eyes were dark, and she bit her lip in that way that drove him to think of her biting something else.

“Father says he plans to attack on the morrow, to strike before Balor can,” she whispered.

Luke nodded. Yep, that was the plan.

She reached for his hand. “If that be the case, I would know love before I know Balor.”

Luke frowned. “I won’t let that happen, Nieve.” He raised his hand to cup her cheek. This woman meant the world to him—this world, and any other. “I will fight for you, Nieve.”

She nodded, her expression solemn. “Aye. And you may never come back to me. This night, Lugh, this may be our last night.” She lifted her chin. “Because I will never belong to Balor. I would see to that.”

He shook his head. “Don’t. Don’t talk like that, Nieve.”

“Then love me, Lugh. Give me something to keep me warm, keep me hopeful. Don’t march off to fight in the morn, never to come back.”

His gaze flickered across her face. Her visit, her words, her plea, all served to ram home just what the hell was happening. He was going in to fight a battle, and he had no idea what he was doing. Some might call it suicide. But he couldn’t just stand by and watch this unfold. He’d been the negotiator with Moretti. Not getting invested in the outcome, simply negotiating a deal.

This was a deal that could not be negotiated, and for once, he was driven to take an active part in deciding the outcome. But Nieve was right. He might not come back from the battlefield.

It sounded clichéd, it sounded overly dramatic, but it was fitting. This could well be his last night with her.

He pulled her lips down to his.

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