Authors: Rebecca York
By Rebecca York
Marrying her father’s barbaric enemy for political gain is not the future that Princess Devon imagines for herself. She prefers escaping into the world of magic and legend described in books—books that suggest just how a princess could take the safety of a kingdom into her own hands.
When Devon awakens one night to find the mysterious Galladar in her chamber, the lines between myth and reality begin to blur. Before he disappears into the night, the two share an intimate encounter that leaves her determined to follow her heart.
Devon leaves the castle on a quest to find the mythical dragon who can free her kingdom forever and release her from her father’s plan. She’s prepared to do whatever it takes to make her future her own. However, when she finds Galladar again, will she be forced to choose between her kingdom and her happiness?
I feel as though it was just last week I was attending 2010 conferences and telling authors and readers who were wondering what was next for Carina Press, “we’ve only been publishing books for four months, give us time” and now, here it is, a year later. Carina Press has been bringing you quality romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and more for over twelve months. This just boggles my mind.
But though we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary (with champagne and chocolate, of course) we’re not slowing down. Every week brings something new for us, and we continue to look for ways to grow, expand and improve. This summer, we’ll continue to bring you new genres, new authors and new niches—and we plan to publish the unexpected for years to come.
So whether you’re reading this in the middle of a summer heat wave, looking to escape from the hot summer nights and sultry afternoons, or whether you’re reading this in the dead of winter, searching for a respite from the cold, months after I’ve written it, you can be assured that our promise to take you on new adventures, bring you great stories and discover new talent remains the same.
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Executive Editor, Carina Press
To Norman, who keeps me almost sane.
At night, Galladar prowled the great castle under siege. His leather boots made no sound on the stone floor. He was invisible to the king and the fighting men sworn to give their lives in defense of Arandal. No serving maid or lady in waiting spied him, but he watched them and knew their desperate plight.
Outside, he strode through the enemy camp, just as invisible, his breath shallow as the odor of unwashed bodies and greasy cooking fires swirled around him.
The barbarians held the fortress in their vicious grasp. Soon they would be free to rape and pillage and revel in their victory.
But Galladar had the power to change the whole equation, if he chose.
Was that to his advantage?
He had lived longer than any man, and he had learned caution. Or so he thought until he saw the golden-haired Princess Devon, so young and fair, suffering under the edicts of her father, the king.
As Galladar watched her, his desire for her grew.
Could he bend her to his will? Not in the way her father had done with gruff order, insane expectations and harsh punishment. There was a better way. Thinking of it made the blood rush hotly through his veins.
But he must not move too fast, lest he lose the prize he sought.
The smell of fire and brimstone invaded Devon’s sleep, and for a moment she thought she had died and gone to a place of punishment. Then she woke and realized the smoke was coming from the inner keep.
When she heard shouts from below, the clanking of men running in full armor, she reached for the dagger hidden under her feather mattress and wrapped her hand around the jeweled hilt. Barefoot and wearing only her night rail, she leaped from the bed and braced her shoulders against the cold stone wall of her bedchamber as she waited, breathless, in the darkness for the invaders to fling open her door.
But the heavy wooden barrier stayed closed, and from below, she heard the commanding voice of her father, King Wilfred.
“Hurry! You there—Hugo, Cameron, men of the guard! Bring water buckets.”
Moving to the narrow slits that served as windows, she peered down.
In the silvered light from the twin moons, she saw her father standing on a flight of stone steps, making himself a target if the barbarians breached the walls. But the calm control in his voice told her what she needed to know. The savage Lubantans from the south had not stormed the castle defenses. They had only lobbed another burning pot of pitch over the wall.
In the crowd of huddled humanity below her, Devon saw a woman she knew and went very still. It was Senna, one of her old friends from town when she’d still been allowed to mingle with the people. Senna’s dark hair was matted, her gown filthy, and she was holding a screaming baby wrapped in a dirty gray blanket. When a soldier loomed over her, she cringed away.
“Shut that brat up before I smother him.”
Senna had married three years ago. At eighteen, Devon was still her father’s chattel.
But what was her own misery, compared to the chaos below? Families sat in groups, cowering from the soldiers as they rushed past to obey the king’s orders. Devon’s heart squeezed. She knew these people, and she ached for them.
It had been a wet season, so wet that the burning lands to the east had flooded, giving the Lubantans a means to reach Arandal in force.
When her father’s men had fallen back under the invaders onslaught, many of his subjects had been killed in their huts. Some had fled west. And three hundred serfs and town dwellers had crowded inside the high castle walls. That was a fortnight ago, and they were already eating rotten potatoes and stale bread. Soon there would be nothing left to sustain them but rats.
Devon turned away from the window, set the dagger on the end of her bed and lit a candle before crossing to the small shrine of Rivana in the corner of her room. She was the wife of Holder, chief among the gods. Women could pray to her, and although she had less power than her husband, sometimes she could change fate.
The shrine held a small painted statue of the goddess, dressed in flowing blue robes.
Kneeling, Devon stared into the statue’s kind face.
“Help us,” she whispered. “Help us drive the barbarians from the castle. Save the people from death, and worse.”
It was tempting to ask for help from a different quarter. From the magic of the ancient legends. Long ago, Marina, an old woman in town, had taught her something of its powers. That was before Marina had treated a child for burns, and the boy had died. And some cows succumbed to a mysterious illness. When people began to whisper that Marina was a witch and should be stoned to death, she had fled one night and was never seen again. And Devon had understood the power of whispers.
As she turned from the altar, she froze in shock.
In the moonlight, a figure watched her from the corner of her chamber. A tall man with broad shoulders and a piercing stare.
One of the Lubantans? No. She instantly rejected that possibility. The barbarians wore rough tunics under light armor, leather trousers and leather sandals.
This man looked to be in his early thirties, finely dressed in a hip-length black linen tunic and black leggings. His leather boots were set with gold buckles, and he wore a heavy leather belt and jeweled scabbard at his waist.
Only his jet-black hair would be out of fashion in the court. The noblemen of Arandal wore their hair loose. His was clasped at the back of his neck.
Struggling for control, she raised her chin. “How dare you enter my room. Leave here at once.”
From below dark lashes, his midnight eyes regarded her with unnerving steadiness.
“Who will force me?”
She should call for the guard at the bottom of the staircase, but her voice caught in her throat.
Instead she snatched up the dagger from the end of the bed and charged toward him. Before she reached the corner of the room, he vanished. Still, she raised the knife and slashed at the place where he had been.
“You have spirit,” he said, speaking from behind her.
Startled, she whirled to face him again. “Stay away from me.”
“Is that what you really want?”
It should be, but despite her fear, something within her responded in a way that was beyond her understanding.
She had been taught manners and modesty, and she had used them as a shield when she needed them. But she sensed that this man saw through the image she strove to project.
“We’ll talk later. More than talk,” he promised.
The silky tone of his voice sent a hot shiver over her skin. Deep inside herself, she knew that he was offering something forbidden. Something she wanted and feared.
Before she could decide which emotion was stronger, the air wavered, and he was gone.
She stared at the place where he had been, her heart pounding. Had he been real, or was she light-headed from lack of food?
“Who are you?” she demanded, speaking to the empty air.
No one answered.
A knock at the door made her jump. Raising her head, she saw her old nurse, Brinna, step into the chamber.
“Did you call me?”
“No, I was just mumbling to myself. Go back to sleep.”
“I’m too wide awake for sleep. I’ll get you some food from the kitchen.”
Devon’s stomach clenched as she pictured the larder, which was now guarded as closely as the armory. “The people have no food.”
“But the princess must eat. I’ll go now, while it’s still dark and few people are about.”
When the old woman stepped back into the corridor and closed the door, Devon sighed. Brinna had taken care of her as long as she could remember. Even before her mother had died. If her nurse’s mind was set on something, it was hard to change it.
Moments after the door closed, a small sound in the air made Devon turn slowly, fearing what she would see and yet full of anticipation at the same time.
Her visitor was back. Watching her.
As if by magic.
The province of devils. Forbidden to all in this kingdom under pain of death.
She took her lower lip between her teeth, more afraid than ever that she had fallen victim to the strain imposed by the siege. Was she coming unraveled like an ill-made piece of cloth?
“I would have imagined the king’s daughter in a larger, more luxurious chamber,” he said in a conversational tone.
She looked around, seeing the room through his eyes. The narrow wooden bed with a small table beside it. The old, sagging chair. The stone floor partially covered by a threadbare, woven rug. The marriage chest she had started to fill in her tenth year. The shrine to the goddess. The plainly made armoire stuffed with rich clothing.
He was right; her quarters were hardly luxurious because they didn’t have to impress the king’s subjects like the intricately embroidered gowns she hated wearing in court.
Pretending she was the one in control of the situation, Devon raised her chin and used the voice that made people take a step back.
“My private chamber is none of your concern. How dare you come in here.”
“You think I dare too much?”
She couldn’t answer.
As they regarded each other across three yards of charged space, she scrambled to place him in the shrunken confines of her world. He couldn’t have come here in the past two weeks. No one had gotten in or out of the castle since the Lubantans had laid siege.
She tried to recall where she might have seen him. Certainly not in the great hall when the nobles ate together, nor in the yard where the men practiced their swordsmanship.
When he moved slowly toward her, she took an involuntary step backward, then another and another until her shoulders pressed against the stone wall.
“Stay away from me.” Even as she gave the command, she heard the quiver in her own voice.
He continued to regard her. Then he closed the space between them so quickly that she hardly saw him move.
One of his large, square hands closed around her wrist, taking her captive, and she felt his strength. He could crush her bones if he chose, yet his grip eased, and he held her as gently as she might cradle the injured birds she had sometimes found in the forest.
He was like no man she had met in her father’s court. No man who had come to ask for her hand and been turned away by a king who would extract the highest price possible for his daughter. All of them were respectful to Princess Devon.
Respect had nothing to do with the way he was looking at her. He leaned toward her, and to her shock, he touched his free hand to the tender place where her hair met the side of her cheek, stroking his finger back and forth, setting up a tremor of sensation through her. “Your hair is like spun silk. And your skin is soft.”
“Why not? You like it, don’t you?”
“No,” she denied, because that was the only thing she could say. Should say.
She had learned to control her reactions so that no one could guess her innermost thoughts. For her own welfare, much of herself was hidden from the world of the castle. Her love of learning. Her yearning for a different life. The core of strength that had sustained her through too many trials.
But she feared that this man’s penetrating gaze saw through the mask she had fixed upon her face. She should push him away. She should not be so close to this stranger. When she’d come into her womanhood, Lady Ellena had told her that she should never be alone with any man—except her father and her brother—until her wedding night. Yet she could not move.
“You and I have an appointment.”
She shuddered. “That’s impossible. I don’t even know you.” Then a thought came to her. “Did my father arrange it?”
“Your father.” He laughed. “This has nothing to do with the old reprobate. This is between you and me.”
“You dare call him that?”
“You have a higher opinion of him?”
When she didn’t answer, he tipped his head closer, his breath hot against her cheek, increasing the unfamiliar sensations coursing through her.
“Leave me alone,” she gasped.
Ignoring the request, he ran his fingers through the silky strands of her hair.
No man had dared such intimacies. When he massaged his fingers down to her scalp, she closed her eyes, feeling currents of sensation kindle deep inside herself.
“You’ve never been with a man,” he murmured.
“Of course not.”
Every rule she had ever learned commanded her to shrink from his touch, yet she craved what he offered.
A hum of sensuality flooded through her, and she clenched her hands at her sides to keep from reaching out and pulling him closer.
“We haven’t met before, have we?” she whispered.
As he continued to caress her, she felt need coursing through him as he touched her. Or was she only projecting her own feelings onto him?
Through the screen of her lashes, she studied the strong lines of his face, the curve of his lips. In the privacy of her chamber, he could have taken her mouth if he wanted. Instead he bent to press his cheek to hers, that touch as enticing as any kiss. When he slowly pulled her body against his, the breath caught in her throat.
Her senses whirled. Her mind spun. Her blood pumped hotly through her veins.
“What do you want?” she managed to ask.
“Only what you can give.”
A rush of longing overwhelmed her as she responded to his boldness. His brashness. When he pulled her more tightly against himself, she felt a hard shaft pressing against her middle.
As the heat of his body seeped into hers, he whispered her name with such tenderness that she felt her chest tighten.
“I don’t know
name,” she answered in a breathy voice.
A strong name. For a strong man.
She turned her head to look at him. And he turned at the same time, so that his mouth brushed hers.
She should pull back, but she stayed where she was as she marveled at the softness of his lips, marveled at the sudden heat surging through her as his mouth settled on hers, moving, pressing.
Two of her suitors had dared to kiss her when her chaperone had turned away, pressing their lips against hers in a way that repulsed her.
This was different. So different. With them she had drawn back quickly. With this man, she wanted more.
“Open for me.”
“Why?” she asked against his lips and felt him smile.
“You’ll like it.”
She did as he asked, startled when his tongue stroked the inside of her lips, then played with the ridges of her teeth.
She caught her breath, overwhelmed by the intimacy and by the way her whole body responded. It was as though the mouth-to-mouth contact promised more. So much more.
His hands skimmed up and down her ribs, then upward, brushing the sides of her breasts, making them suddenly ache.
She needed to ease the fullness in them—by pressing them against his broad chest.
Before she could raise her hands to pull him closer, he let his arms drop to his side and stepped back, putting a foot of space between them. As the heat of his body left hers, she felt such a sense of profound loss that she had to steady her hand against the wall.
When she raised questioning eyes to his, he murmured, “Your nurse is coming back.”
She had forgotten about Brinna, forgotten everything but the man who held her in his arms.
“Eat the food she brings you,” he said. “You will need your strength.”
Then he was gone, leaving her with a feeling of lingering emptiness.