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sneak peek!

unedited manuscript not intended for distribution.

It’s her.

I can’t believe it. She’s the last thing I expected to see when rounding this bend in the path. She’s supposed to be safe in the holding cells, hidden and guarded while I gather my wits and my reason enough to decide what should be done with her. If I’d thought to encounter anyone in this garden, it would be Sul. I only just sent him from my presence a few minutes ago.

But it’s not Sul standing before me beneath that arch of stone. It’s her. Her pale skin suffused in the purple light refracted off a blooming amethyst cluster. Those strange, bi-colored eyes of hers blink at me slowly, long lashes rising and falling as they fan her cheeks. She’s like a dream. My deepest longing sprung unexpectedly to life.

The next moment, rage burns in my heart. She is no dream. She is a nightmare. A traitorous witch who beguiled and betrayed me in a moment of intimate vulnerability.

“You!” I snarl, my lips curling back from my teeth. I move to take a step toward her, though I don’t know what I will do. Catch her by the hair, drag her back to her cell? Press her against my breast so that I may feel her heart pounding against mine? Both needs, both desires, rise inside me with equal and opposing intensity, freezing me in place.

Before I can come to any kind of decision, however, she collapses to her hands and knees in front of me.

I stop short. When she falls, the wide neckline of her gown slips far down one shoulder, exposing the smooth curve of her skin. Her golden hair tumbles, catching the lorst light, and I cannot help myself. All the blood drains from my face and rushes straight to my gut where it roils and burns.

I stand there, mouth open. What is she doing? Is this some form of genuflection? Is she begging me for mercy? The urge to strike her is nearly as strong as the urge to take her in my arms. But this violence is a false urge. It's not really me. It's the lingering raog poison in my system. The same poison which drove me far enough into madness that I very nearly had that lovely head severed from that delicate neck. I must fight it. I must master these desires, both natural and unnatural. I am king, and I must act the part.

“Rise, princess,” I say, my voice cold and emotionless. “Come, get to your feet.”

“I would. If I could.” She gasps the words through gritted teeth, and her whole body shudders. The muscles in her neck and shoulders tense as she rolls her head around, gazing up at me. Her face is drawn in lines of intense pain. “Believe me, it gives me no pleasure, abasing myself before you.”

Only now do I notice the line of red streaking her neck, running in a sluggish stream down her throat and drying across her bosom. At first, I cannot comprehend what it is I’m seeing.

Then, in a terrible rush, I remember: humans bleed red.

“Faraine!” The next moment, I’m kneeling beside her. Giving in to the greater of two warring urges, I gather her in my arms. She resists for a moment, fighting to break my hold. Then her eyes roll back, and her head lolls, affording me a clear view of a crimson gash in her throat. I press trembling fingers against it, desperate to stop the slow trickle of blood. “Who did this to you?” I growl.

She shivers, moans. I pull her closer, resting her head against my shoulder. Her hair tumbles across my breast, and when I look down, I can see only the curve of her cheek . . . and the much more expansive curve of her bared shoulder and bosom. It would be an alluring sight indeed, were it not for the ugly red stain.

“Faraine?” I say, my voice rough in my own ears. “Faraine, can you hear me?”

“Yes.” She shudders, and one hand reaches up, clutching the front of my tunic with desperate urgency. “And you needn’t shout. I’m right here.”

End of excerpt

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