Another excerpt today! This time from Thea Harrison.
I loved this story for all the reasons I love Thea’s stuff. Great hero, with his gruff exterior and tender heart, his noble striving to do the right thing. And Lily is a wonderful heroine. Smart and determined, also striving to do the right thing. I love how she exercises her powers and surprises him with her abilities. I would have eaten up their story as a novel, frankly, but I loved it at this length, too.
“You might as well order an early supper,” Wulfgar said to Gordon. “Have Jada bring two plates for the priestess and me. I want you to prepare quarters for her. After we eat, we’ll get her settled for the night. I want her close by.”
Once again, he was disposing of Lily as if she were a possession. Frowning, she opened her mouth, but Gordon spoke first.
“Shall I prepare my tent?” he asked. “Since it’s beside yours, it would be easy enough for the guards to keep watch over her as well. I can make a pallet for myself in here, if that would suffice. Or, if you would prefer, I’m sure Jermaine will be amenable if I bunk with him. You’ll have to send for me if you want something.”
“Go ahead and bunk with Jermaine,” Wulfgar told him. “Once supper arrives, I won’t need your services until morning. And be sure to add another brazier and plenty of fuel to your tent. Extra bedding as well.”
“Very good, sir.” Bowing his head, Gordon slipped out.
Sucking a tooth sourly, Lily contemplated the contents in her goblet. When Wulfgar turned to her, she could feel his attention, almost as if it were a physical touch.
“Now what does that expression imply?” He sounded amused.
She took a sip, more to procrastinate for a few moments than from any real desire to drink. She knew what Margot would do—Margot would fume at the preemptory treatment and probably start another argument, but that didn’t seem productive.
The warm wine was an explosion of flavor, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and orange. After she swallowed, she said cautiously, “I’m not used to being talked about as if I’m not in the room, or disposed of like a… a trunk full of books. But I’m also not experienced at being a liaison for anybody, so…”
“Point taken. Next time I’ll include you in the discussion.” He took a seat, letting his long legs sprawl, and drank wine. “What do you see your role as?”
She shrugged. “I’m not a servant, but I’m not an official ambassador either. I— We— Basically Margot told me to try to behave myself and explain anything you needed to have explained.”
“And assess my camp. Assess me.” His gaze was penetrating. She felt as she had back on the dock, that he was taking in every detail about her and probably seeing more than she wanted him to see. That thought brought a wash of warmth to her face.
“Yes,” she admitted.
“So… assess me.” He gestured at the empty seat across from him. “What do you see?”
Moving to take the seat, she studied him. The black linen shirt revealed the strong, clean lines of his throat and the swell of muscle at the top of his pectoral. Even in such a relaxed pose he conquered the space, the tip of his boots almost reaching hers. His dark hair fell on his forehead, giving his hard features a somewhat boyish look.
No, that wasn’t the right word. There was nothing boyish about the dangerous man lounging so casually across from her.
Roguish. That was the word. The disheveled hair seemed to bely the discipline he had shown so far. He was amused by her.
She said, “You carry a great deal of rage, and you’re driven to accomplish what you have set out to do. It couldn’t wait until the spring—you needed to take action immediately. You won’t turn back or turn aside. But you’re disciplined about it, and despite your anger you’re thinking about the welfare of your men. From what little I’ve seen, you have a code that you are determined to live by, at least when you can. I haven’t seen enough of you to know what might happen to that code when you’re under duress.”
As she spoke, the roguish gleam in his gaze faded, and she fell silent, suddenly uncertain. Maybe she had read him wrong. Maybe he hadn’t really wanted to hear what she thought. But if he hadn’t, then why had he asked her?
She wanted to flail. She was no good in any social situation.
“Don’t stop now.” He tossed back the last of the wine in his goblet. “You just got started.”
So that meant he truly did want to hear the rest of it. Right?
Biting her lip, she continued. “You’re not above seizing every opportunity that comes your way, and you never stop thinking about how to turn things to your advantage. You’re a strategist. I’m no good at strategy, so I would be wary of playing chess with you because you’re always thinking four steps ahead. Your words carried a ring of truth when you said you did not kill the lord of Braugne. You haven’t said specifically who you believe did, but it is clear you see the king of Guerlan as your antagonist, so naturally there are inferences to be drawn. And yet this campaign of yours is about so much more than just avenging your lord’s death. You have the soul of a conqueror.” She hesitated, and then made herself say the rest of it. “I don’t think you will rest until you have taken all of Ys under your rule.”
As she finished, he watched her with the same hard, grim expression he had worn on the barge. Unpredictable. Uncompromising. The wolf in his psyche watched her as well, tension in its figure as if it were about to pounce.
He said in a soft, even voice, “That was unexpected.”
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