Bloodsworn II: Linked by Blood
Never before has the line between desire and duty been so impossible to cross.
The moment the mighty Blade, Bracca Cu-Laurian sees empath, Sheren Ni-Annun, he fights his desire for the young widowed mother. Not only is his life pledged to his Bloodsworn, but his past sins make him an unfit mate for any woman, let alone an empath.
Sheren's late husband taught her to resent a Blade's duty, and she has since vowed to avoid those fierce warriors. Then Bracca awakens her empathic senses with a vengeance. How can she deny her feelings for him and still keep her vow? When her young son is linked to Bracca's Bloodsworn, the consequences that threaten to destroy them and those they hold dear, may also be the very thing that brings them together.
Bracca Cu-Laurian paused at the entrance to the training grounds. Directly above the western battlements, Avalyr's two moons hung like a pair of ghostly eyes, the pale, thick crescents squinting against the rising sun. Despite the early hour, the huge outer courtyard held at least three decca of Silver Blade warriors. Thirty men, all with good reason to hate a former Black Blade.
He'd had a taste of their dislike over the past two days, contemptuous looks, sly verbal insults-minor annoyances designed to prod his temper and tempt him into striking the first blow. He didn't count the two warriors in the deserted hallway last night. The pair were staggering drunk, and probably would have picked a fight with anyone who happened to cross their path. He'd knocked them both out before reporting their whereabouts to their leader, Fate An-Derrith. With the rank of First Blade, Fate was Captain of the Silver Blades, and thus responsible for their behavior. He had not been pleased. Whether his displeasure was because the two Silver Blades had tried to attack Bracca or because they'd been bested so easily was debatable.
Sooner or later, he and Fate would have to come to an understanding, but it probably wouldn't be today.
Bracca stepped out onto the packed sand. The Silver Blades' training grounds were extensive, occupying an entire outer bailey. The surrounding palace, home of Prince Devlin Tragar, ruler of Realm Illian, was as big as a thriving village. It encompassed numerous wings of rooms, several towers, a multitude of smaller courtyards, and countless hallways. He had yet to explore a quarter of his new home, something he needed to remedy as soon as possible.
He glanced around, noting the placement of exits, weapons racks, benches. A picturesque well hid in one corner shaded by a lush tree. His gaze moved up as he crossed the open yard, checking the balconies and roofs of the surrounding buildings.
An uneasy silence descended over the courtyard. He shot a quick glance at the crowd of warriors who'd stopped whatever they were doing to watch him with narrowed eyes. He didn't need the empathic talents that only the females of his world possessed to know he wasn't welcome. Their tensed jaws and clenched fists spoke far louder than words.
Bracca ignored them all. He'd held his own in the midst of a hundred Black Blades. Damn if he would flinch for thirty Silver. He made his way toward a rack of practice swords on the far side of the huge yard. Murmurs rose behind him. He caught the words "Camarie's Black Blade" more than once, usually coupled with a curse. He fought back the urge to forcefully remind them the sword at his side was no longer black.
The link with his former Bloodsworn had produced a sword as black as sin and twice as cold, just like Camarie's soul. The sword Bracca now possessed could not be more different. Golden amber in color, the gracefully curved weapon at his waist reminded Bracca of a slice of sunlight, warm, bright, and as beautiful as the woman it represented.
A woman. A female Bloodsworn!
Throughout history, only men had been chosen by Avalyr's magic to become conduits for the planet's magic. But Avera St. John proved that nothing was ever written in stone. Born on Earth, she knew nothing about Avalyr or Bloodsworn or Blades. Yet the instant he saw her, Bracca had known she was the Bloodsworn he was destined to serve. A woman he would die to protect.
That Avera now had another, far more powerful protector, did not faze Bracca in the least. He knew she belonged heart and soul to Prince Devlin, Bloodsworn to the Silver Blades. She was the prince's prophecy bride, the woman Lord Devlin had traveled to Earth to claim. And if that wasn't enough to bind them together, she was also his Starmate, the other half of his soul. Interfering with a Starmate bond would be as suicidal as taking on thirty armed men at once.
Knowing all this, Bracca was still determined to do his duty as Avera's First Blade. He would protect her to his last breath. If that meant putting up with her Starmate's jealousy and his warriors' less than welcoming attitudes, then so be it.
A cynical smile touched his lips. Perhaps, instead of fighting them, he should teach the Silver Blades a few new phrases for cursing Black Blades. He'd spent the last ten years of his life among the ranks of Camarie's damned warriors, cursing himself and Camarie, too, more times than he could count.
"Are you ready to die?"
He recognized the voice despite the deep pitch, so he took his time selecting a practice sword. If Karess Si-Faderan wanted him dead, he would not stoop to back-stabbing. "I am honored you would take the time to kill me yourself, Si-Faderan. Surely Lord Devlin's Second Blade has more importing things to do than slaughter a poor Amber Blade?"
The blonde-haired warrior grinned at him, a challenge flashing in his gray eyes. "Are you a poor Blade? I would have thought anyone who survived numerous years as one of Camarie's bunch would have learned a thing or two about staying alive. Come, Amber Blade, show me your legendary skills. Prove to me you are worthy of the title of Lady Avera's First Blade."
Bracca rotated his wrist and shoulder, loosening the muscles. Lady Avera's First Blade. Spoken aloud, the words still had the power to amaze him. His memory flashed back to his brief sojourn on Earth, to the exact moment he realized his sword was the color of warm amber instead of chilling black.
Camarie had sent him to Earth to kill Avera in order to prevent the Seventh Prophecy from coming true. But the moment he saw her, he knew he couldn't do it. Somehow, he'd sensed she was Bloodsworn. His Bloodsworn. Instead of killing her, he broke his sword, severing his link with Camarie in order to protect her, knowing it would mean his death.
But Avera refused to let him die. Whether by chance or by the grace of the gods, she'd snatched him from death by forming a blood-link with him. No one was more surprised by his new status as an Amber Blade than he was. Or more grateful.
Needless to say, her Starmate felt just the opposite.
Bracca inclined his head and followed Karess out onto the sands, wondering if the challenge was Karess' idea or Devlin Tragar's.
Sheren Ni-Annun welcomed the heat of the rising sun as she climbed down from the wagon. She paused in her survey of the stable yard to stretch a kink from her back. The two hour ride from Villa Porenmagie to the Tragar's palace had never seemed so long. Honesty made her admit it might have had something to do with the way she'd held herself stiffly on the wagon's seat the entire time, trying to avoid accidentally brushing against Nerrilik.
Her gaze slid to where the warrior stood giving instructions to a stable boy. Nerrilik had been close friends with her late husband. Since Sayjan's death, he'd appointed himself her protector and lately was pushing her for something more.
Lifting her basket from the wagon's bed, she quickly headed for the door to the kitchens, hoping to avoid another uncomfortable scene. Nerrilik was a Silver Blade. That alone made it impossible for her to accept his suit.
Not quick enough.
"I'm not sure how long I'll be," she said as she faced him, hoping to head off his usual interrogation. He was obsessed with keeping an eye on her when they were away from the villa, as if afraid someone might steal her. "I have several errands to complete this trip."
"I'll accompany you." His hand slid down her arm to shackle her wrist in a possessive hold.
"That won't be necessary. I'm perfectly capable of finding my own way. You don't need to neglect your Blade duties for me." She twisted her wrist, trying to break free gently, but his hand tightened.
"I know what you're thinking," he said, his voice lowering as he moved closer. "You know I'm not like Sayjan, Sheren. You can trust me." His other hand stroked her check. She barely kept herself from flinching. "I would never ignore you like he did, me`surrasie."
She did flinch then. No one but her Sayjan had ever called her his beloved. "Nerrilik, please, let me go. You know I don't feel that way about you."
"You could," he said, his voice dipping to an urgent whisper. "You could if you would just let go of the past. If you let go of your memory of Sayjan before he became a Blade."
She'd heard all of this before. Different words, same argument. She was getting tired of fending off Nerrilik's attentions.
"I know how he treated you," he said. "We argued about it the night he was killed. I promised him I would look after you if anything happened to him. Would you have me foresworn?"
"How can you be foresworn? You protect me every day by helping to protect the villa where I live and work. I am always grateful for the presence of you and the other Silver Blades."
His eyes tightened at her words. He'd been captured the same night Sayjan had been killed. By the time he was rescued, the injury to his leg was beyond repair, even by a deep-healing. He'd been retired from the Tragar's personal guard and put in charge of security at Villa Porenmagie. A position Nerrilik seemed to embrace and hate at the same time. She'd come to believe it was only her presence at the villa keeping him from requesting a different assignment.
"I'm grateful for your vigilance in keeping us all safe, Nerrilik." She stepped back as far as his grip on her wrist allowed. "But I can't offer you more."
The skin along his jaw whitened. For a moment, she thought she felt a wisp of anger seep through her shields, though it had to be her imagination. Her empathic gift wasn't strong enough for her to identify emotions.
"There you are, Nerrilik. Come, I have that new mare you ordered."
Sheren smiled at the stable master as he approached. With a final squeeze of his hand, Nerrilik released her and turned to face the older man.
She used the interruption to slip away, conscious of Nerrilik's gaze tracking her to the kitchen door. This could not go on. There had to be some way for her to convince Nerrilik to look elsewhere for a wife-some way that didn't involve her going to Prince Tragar and risking her position as chatelaine of the villa. If her marriage to Sayjan had taught her nothing else, she knew better than come between a Blade and his Bloodsworn.