Hey y’all! (Guess who just caught an episode of Justified? ;)) Today we have the super sweet and generous and Joely Sue Burkhart sharing a very special excerpt with us. Did I also mention the nice part? Well Ms. Burkhart has also decided to offer a giveaway! She’s sharing a bit of The Rose of Shanhasson with us! So read on.
As Our Blessed Lady’s last daughter, Shannari must rule as High Queen or the Green Lands will fall into eternal darkness. Her destiny is to shine against the Shadow, protect the land and people with her magic, and keep the Blackest Heart of Darkness imprisoned. Her blood is the key, powered by the love in her heart. However, Shannari’s heart is broken, her magic is crippled, and the nobles must have forgotten the dire prophesies, because everyone wants her dead.
Only love can restore her magic, but her scars testify how love can be corrupted. So when a barbarian warlord conquers her army and professes a love like no other, Shannari’s first instinct is to kill the mighty Khul. Even worse, one of the Khul’s guards used to be an assassin–a very skilled assassin, if the darkness in the Blood’s eyes is any indication. The same darkness festers deep in her heart and draws her to the wickedly dangerous man as inexorably as his Khul’s unshakable honor. Her weakening heart is not only torn between love and duty, but also between two magnificent warriors.
Yet neither warrior will be able to help her when Shadow calls her name.
Warnings: Explicit sex, BDSM, violence, a barbarian warlord, an assassin, and a woman who not only wields a sword but might also kill both warriors.
JERKING AWAKE, SHANNARI AUTOMATICALLY REACHED for the sword beside her on the bed. The familiar leather sheath calmed her enough to allow her to recall her surroundings.
After the battle, surrender, and subsequent challenge, the barbarian had dragged her away only to pause in the middle of the street, confused by the sights and sounds of the village. Not willing to sleep on the ground when a bed was available, she’d brought him to The Slumbering Lion and ordered a bath and food. As soon as the hot water arrived, he’d left her to her privacy. Clean and relaxed from the bath, she’d lain down on the bed, intending to rest just a moment, but the previous night’s long vigil had taken its toll after so much fighting.
The darkened room indicated she must have slept for hours. A low fire and candles on the table gave a soft, comforting glow to the simple room.
Water sloshed. Naked, the barbarian stood washing himself beside the copper tub. Thick slabs of muscle banded his back and waist. Damp hair slicked midway down his back. His buttocks were firm and round, his thighs columned granite. He raised an arm to wash beneath, drawing her gaze up broad shoulder, bulging biceps, corded forearm to his large warrior hand, fingers curled against his palm.
For such a massive, powerful man, he moved with a predatory grace that stole her breath. Heat flared between her legs, every muscle tightening. Her hands itched to explore that muscular body to see if his skin was as soft as it looked.
Averting her gaze from temptation, she noted the two other barbarians always close to Rhaekhar. Silent and unobtrusive, they sat on the floor against the wall near the door. The darker-headed barbarian flashed a smile at her but said nothing.
“There’s food on the table.”
Startled, she glanced back at Rhaekhar. He continued his bath, his back to her. Her stomach growled loudly, gnawing with hunger. When was the last time she’d eaten?
The covered platters on the table beckoned. Steam rose invitingly from the mugs. She edged toward the side of the bed, the sword still in her hand. Would he let her remain armed in his presence? She certainly wouldn’t if she were the victor.
Hesitating, she wished she were dressed more satisfactorily. A clean linen shirt and pantalettes were as far as she’d dressed before weariness had swept her away. He likely wouldn’t let her keep her clothing for long anyway. The heat in his gaze was as unmistakable as the bulge when he’d kissed her earlier.
Her heart pounded heavily. Trembling, she squeezed her thighs together, trying to still the growing fire. She couldn’t pretend disinterest in him, not when everything about him attracted her. Perhaps a quick, hard session with him would ease this insane attraction.
He picked up a towel, its size thoroughly inadequate for his large body. Still with his back to her, he bent at the waist and dried his legs. “Did you sleep well?”
Awed, she stared at his ass, her mouth falling open. Dear sweet Lady above, why did she keep looking at him? She wasn’t made of iron. In fact, she felt like a puddle of melted butter.
The smart-mouthed guard snickered under his breath. Embarrassed, she jerked her gaze away from the tantalizing view. Determined to continue her charade of indifference, she slipped out of bed and walked to the table with as much grace and arrogance as she could muster. Not another peep came from the shadows.
The steaming cup’s aroma confirmed her hopes. She sat down and drew the mug to her, cuddling the warm stoneware in her hands. Thank the Lady, somebody in the kitchens remembered her love for caffe. She would reward them with a queen’s ransom if she ever returned here alive and free.
Rhaekhar padded about the room, she supposed still nude, so she concentrated intently on the lovely hot brew in her cup and a thick slice of nutty brown bread she ate so quickly she hardly tasted it. Lady, she was hungry. Cheese and meat on another slice barely made a dent in her appetite.
Considering the small amount of food left, she hesitated. The barbarian might not have eaten yet.
He came up behind her and touched her shoulder. “Go ahead, Shannari. I ate while you slept.”
Panic closed her throat. She stiffened, half drawing the sword free. Why must he continue threatening her from her blind spot?
The barbarian did nothing further to alarm her. His touch was casual, not intimate. “I can feel your hunger, na’lanna. Eat your fill.”
Re-sheathing the sword, she left it in her lap and helped herself to another slice of bread. “How is that possible?”
He didn’t answer her question as he touched her braid. “Your hair is still damp.”
She shrugged, making her way through another stack of meat and cheese. Her hair was long, and thick enough that it took forever to dry.
He untied the end of the braid and began unraveling it. She froze, her mouth full.
“Come sit before the fire to dry your hair.”
She swallowed the food in a gulp and reached for her drink to wash it down. “It’s much too long to leave loose. It will tangle into an utter mess.”
Picking up her mug, he walked over to the glowing coals in the fireplace. “I shall brush it for you. Come.”She followed, watching him warily. At least he was dressed, if the cloth about his hips could be called clothing. It was entirely too small in her opinion, especially now that she’d had a glimpse of what hid beneath.
He sat on the thick woolen rug before the fire. When she hesitated, he reached up and took her hand, drawing her down in front of him. She couldn’t bear sitting there with her back to him, a possible threat no matter how carefully he pretended otherwise, so she turned sideways as she sat.
“You don’t need a sword to protect yourself from me.”
She hadn’t even realized she’d brought it with her. “My mother was killed by an assassin when I was only three. I’ve carried some kind of weapon ever since.”
“Even to sleep?”
“Most especially to sleep.” Rage and hurt made her voice shrill. She lightened her tone. “Assassins prefer to strike when you’re least prepared and the most vulnerable.”
He returned to his work, gently unraveling her hair from the braid. It took him a while. Never cut her entire life, her hair reached the back of her thighs when loose. He worked silently, his fingers firm, his manner unthreatening. She relaxed enough to sip from her mug.
Spreading her hair out like a cloak about her shoulders, he picked up the brush. He started at the ends with small strokes, moving to longer, more sure strokes when her hair was free of tangles. Smoothing his free hand through her hair with each stroke, not once did he jerk her head. She should pray her maid learned the same technique.
“I suppose you don’t have Blood here to guard you.”
What an interesting name for guards. “Oh, I’ve grown up with guards all around me. But none ever come into my room where I sleep. They certainly can’t keep someone from poisoning my drink.”
She didn’t turn her head, but she sensed his sudden intensity. His fingers closed about hers on the cup and he lifted the drink to his mouth. He sniffed it suspiciously. “It certainly smells vile.”
She drew her mug free and held it closer to her chest protectively. “Caffe is my favorite drink.”
“If you say so.” He continued brushing her hair. “The Blood are more than my guards. They swore their lives to me. If you were to unsheathe your sword in a threatening manner, one of them would reach you and prevent you from harming me. If he couldn’t disarm you, he would put his body in the way of your sword. He would die if need be to keep me safe.”
Scoffing, she shook her head and set the mug aside to lay her hand on the sword hilt. The two Blood still sat on the opposite side of the room. She could plunge the sword into his stomach before they—
A hand closed about hers on the sword. “Do you think so?”
She flinched back from the formidable Blood. Silent as a ghost, he’d come to protect his Khul impossibly fast.
“This is Varne, my nearest Blood.”
A cold heavy weight pressed against her shoulders, sucking the warmth out of her until she shivered. “Nearest?”
“He’s the last line of defense, the nearest to me at all times. This is Gregar, my shadowed Blood who used to be a Death Rider.”
So cold. She opened her mouth to ask where he was, her teeth chattering harder. A blade touched her neck and she froze. Blessed Lady, the Blood was close enough to hold a knife to her throat while she sat here, oblivious until he touched her with steel. As always when threatened from her blind spot, terror screamed through her body. Muscles bunched, her fingers locking on the hilt, her heart thundering in her ribcage. Her fear only intensified the sense of bone-chilling cold rolling off the Blood.
Varne removed his hand from hers and stood at Rhaekhar’s side protectively. Automatically, she started to draw the sword. Helpless with a knife at her throat, she couldn’t just sit here and—
The wickedly sharp blade lifted her chin higher and the sudden press of bare flesh against her back scalded her. The Blood whispered against her ear. “Shall I draw a bit more of your sweet blood for Khul?”
So? Thoughts? Ever read anything by Joely Sue Burkhart before? What’s your favorite genre? And how do you feel about trying other ones? Tell us! You might just win. ;D