Excerpt: His Captive Bride
Book Three: Stolen Brides Series
The glitter of steel on the wall caught her attention. Along with hunting trophies and strange sculptures and artifacts, the owner of this place had a number of weapons on display.
How foolish of him, Avril thought with a grim smile of satisfaction, to leave them within easy reach. She walked over and selected a double-edged blade that was long enough to use as a sword yet light enough to throw, if the need arose.
When her abductor returned, he would find himself with more trouble than he had bargained for.
Gripping the weapon in one hand, she was about to renew her search for an exit when a sound from the dark, distant corner of the chamber startled her–the sound of a key turning in a lock.
Her pulse racing, she retreated a few steps, away from the hearth and the open window, trying to conceal herself in the shadows. She raised the sword in front of her and peered into the blackness.
A door creaked open. A massive, heavy portal from the sound of it. It closed an instant later with the clatter of an iron latch. Avril heard a footfall. Another. Then naught more.
Naught but the pounding of her heart.
“Milady?” a deep male voice called after a moment, speaking quietly in French. “There is no need to hide from me. I mean you no harm.”
She did not reply, edging silently along the wall. Now that she knew the general location of the door, if she could tiptoe her way around him…
“You cannot hide forever.” He walked farther into the room, his tone becoming impatient. “And there is nowhere to run.”
Ha, she thought, moving faster. That was his opinion. Once she reached the door, he would discover why she had always won footraces when she was a girl–
Her next step carried her straight into a small table and sent both her and whatever had been on it crashing to the floor.
She landed hard and yelped in pain as she bruised her hip on the hard stone and cut her hand on a shard of glass. Cups and platters and a shattered goblet littered the floor around her.
Uttering what sounded like an oath, her abductor closed in on her, a massive shadow looming out of the darkness.
“Stay back!” she shouted, grabbing the sword she had dropped. “I have a weapon. And I am skilled enough to use it!”
The threat stopped him, at least for the moment. “A blade will avail you naught more than shouting yourself hoarse at the window did.” He sounded annoyed rather than concerned about his safety. “You cannot harm me, milady.”
What arrogance! Shaking her head, Avril got to her feet, careful of the broken glass. “Come any closer and you will discover precisely how wrong you are.” She tried to judge the distance to the door, took a cautious step.
And felt surprised when he moved away from her, toward the window.
“I do not doubt your skill,” he said dryly. “I saw you demonstrate it in the marketplace.”
He stepped into the pool of moonlight that poured through the open shutters.
Avril gasped, staring at him in open-mouthed astonishment. “You!” she choked out. “You are the trader who ran into me at the street corner.”
Her pounding heart seemed to fill her throat as she gaped at him. It was unmistakably the same tall, heavily muscled rogue who had collided with her. The same fierce, rugged face. The same bronzed skin and sun-colored hair, utterly at odds with the moonlight all around him.
“As I recall,” he said sardonically, one corner of his mouth curving, “it was you who ran into me.”
Avril felt a rush of dizziness, just as she had in Antwerp—mayhap because he seemed familiar, in a way she could not explain. There was something about his deep, quiet voice. Something in his gaze.
He had eyes of the palest blue, like a clear, cool lake reflecting a summer sky.
And as he regarded her silently, the unnerving sensation she had felt upon first meeting him shimmered through her once more – a dazzling heat, as if the sun had tumbled from the heavens to fill every fiber of her being. The impact swept over her so suddenly, so powerfully, it robbed her of breath, voice, of her very senses.
Even as she struggled to give the feeling a name, she sensed, somehow, that he felt it, too. Which only mystified and unsettled her all the more.
Shaken, she managed to tear her gaze from his, and realized that he no longer wore the homespun tunic and cloak of a trader. He was garbed in naught but a pair of close-fitting brown leggings, leather boots, and a gold armband encircling one thick bicep. A sheathed sword and knife hung from his belt.
Every hard plane and angle of his shoulders and chest and powerful arms was exposed to view. From his unyielding stance to the blunt tips of his fingers, he looked as strong and solid as the rocks that sliced up the sea below his keep.
He moved away from the window, and a moment later the center of the room flared with the glow of fire, as he used flint and steel to light the candles in an iron candle-stand. The golden warmth flickered over his back and arms, casting every muscle and sinew in sharp relief.
“Put the weapon down,” he said without looking at her.
Avril shivered. It was not a suggestion but a command. He spoke in the same way he moved–with an air of authority. As if he owned not only this place, but everything in it.
She felt renewed fear curl in her belly. But she did not comply. She tightened her hand around the blade’s hilt, ignoring the sting in her injured palm.
Carrying one of the candles, he moved even closer to light a second candelabra. Avril held her ground – and, in the growing brightness, felt surprised to see that she was not in a bedchamber after all.
There were cook pots, copper utensils, and a cauldron beside the hearth. A table for eating in one corner. Shelves that held linens and soaps for washing, next to a rain barrel. This odd dwelling seemed to be some sort of long, one-room home.
Finished with his task, her abductor glanced toward her, mouth open as if he meant to issue another command. But then his gaze fastened on the revealing silk kirtle and skimmed down her body, taking in every inch of skin illuminated by the light.
Those pale azure eyes suddenly darkened in a blaze of heat. Avril inhaled sharply, filled with feminine alarm at the obvious direction of his thoughts. Every instinct urged her to flee, yet she could not move. And could not understand the tingle that coursed through her limbs, holding her fast.
“I left a tunic for you.” His voice sounded even deeper than before. A muscle flexed in his lean jaw. “Did you not see it?” He nodded toward the foot of the bed, where a garment of black velvet lay draped over a trunk.
“I-I was more interested in finding a way out!” She tried to keep her voice from wavering, looked at the distant door. Wondered if she dared try to run past him. “Where am I?” she demanded, deciding boldness was her only choice at the moment. “Who the devil are you and what do you—“
“Put down the blade,” he repeated with measured patience, “and we will discuss this”–he seemed to search for the appropriate word–“situation calmly.”
“Calmly?” she sputtered. “I have been attacked by brigands, kidnapped, carried off to sweet Mary knows where, locked in a room, and now—“
“Milady,” he said in soft warning. Without another word, he advanced toward her, his patience apparently at an end. She retreated only a step.
Then she retreated three more.
As he kept coming, she decided that discretion might be better than valor at the moment. She dashed toward the bed, snatching up the black velvet tunic on the way and clutching it in front of her. She tossed the weapon into the center of the rumpled sheets.
“There. There, are you satisfied?” She kept moving, maneuvering around until the huge bed was between them. The sword was still within reach if she chose to lunge for it.
But he seemed placated for now. He kept his distance, reaching out to close his fingers around one of the dragon-headed posts.
“If I had meant you any harm,” he grated out, pronouncing each word distinctly, as if she were a slow-witted child, “if I had intended to kill you, or do aught else”–his gaze flicked over her body again–“I already had ample opportunity. You will have to trust me.”
Trust him? Trust him! Avril choked back a biting retort and quickly pulled the tunic over her head. It was obviously one of his, the sleeves much too long, the hem falling to her ankles. But at least she no longer felt as exposed as she did wearing only the ridiculous scrap of silk.
“Where am I?” she repeated more calmly once she was dressed, trying not to provoke him again. “How far are we from Antwerp? How long was I asleep?”
“You were asleep…” He paused, clearly choosing his words carefully. “A short time. I brought you here early this morn. That gown was the only female garment I had at the time. I have brought you some others, along with some additional female trappings you might require.” He nodded toward a pair of sacks he had left on the far side of the room. “As for where you are, this is Asgard Island. I bid you…” He paused again, sighing tiredly. “Welcome.”
Despite the greeting, his attitude was hardly hospitable. Naught that he was saying made any sense. The man had kidnapped her, yet he did not seem to want her here.
“Asgard Island?” she echoed, searching her memory for all the names of places she had read about, all the places Gerard used to describe when he spoke of his travels. “I have never heard of it.”
Those blue eyes met hers again. “I know.”
Somehow that simple comment was more terrifying than aught else he could have said. “Who are you?” she whispered. “And what do you want with me?”