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The Eagle and the Dove Chapter One
Late fifteenth century
It was midafternoon. Snow iced the mountains, blinding white against the harsh blue summer sky where the great copper ball of the sun hung, its heat clawing at the earth.
The girl slipped out of the encampment, her bare feet soundless on the parched grass and scrub of the olive grove. There was no movement, no sign of life. The tribe was all stretched in siesta, sleeping through the heat; even the birds were silent. The dogs opened an eye at her passing but, recognizing her, didn't bother to raise their heads. She didn't breathe easily, however, until she was through the grove and out on the blinding, shimmering white dirt track that wound its way up to the Sierra Nevada behind her and down to the distant sea ahead of her. She stood on the track, drawing the searing air into her lungs, feeling the violent beat of the sun on her bare head. The air was filled with the scent of wild thyme.
A flicker of red showed across the track, from behind a cluster of rocks. He was there.
Heedless of the broiling heat, Sarita broke into a scrambling run up the rock-strewn slope. Her bare soles were like leather, and she hardly felt the scrape of rock or the prickle of thorns in the scrub. Her hair hung unbound down her back, the sun setting aflame bright fires in the unruly mass of ruddy curls. She had kilted her dress, freeing her stride for the climb, and her legs, strong and sun-browned, covered the ground with easy speed.
"Sandro! Ah, you were able to come." Laughing, she leaped behind the outcrop of rock and into the arms of the young man who was waiting, smiling- A pony tethered to a thornbush hung its head in limp patience. Two mules, wine kegs slung across their saddlecloths, cropped the scrub.
"Tariq will not expect me back for an hour," Sandro said. "He will assume I kept siesta in the village. Only mad dogs would go out in such heat!"
"And we are mad dogs," Sarita said, taking his hand and pulling him down into the slight shadow thrown by the rocks. "Mad to court such danger, but no one will see us here." She raised her arms to him in hungry welcome.
Kneeling astride her, he took her face in his hands and kissed her. Her mouth opened beneath his, her tongue dancing, and her breasts pressed warm and firm against his red tunic. "No one saw you leave?" He drew back for a minute, his fingers going to the lacing her bodice.
"No... I am sure not. My mother was snoring when I left the wagon." She laughed, exultant, excited et frightened... by the intensity of her feelings, by the immediacy of their danger, by the absolutely forbidden nature of this meeting.
Sandro slipped the loosened bodice off her shoulders and bent his head to her breasts. Santa moaned softly, arching her body against his mouth as his tongue teased her ni les, his teeth lightly grazed the buds.
"I want you, he whispered, his breath damp and warm on her heated skin. "Oh, Sarita, I want you so much I can hardly contain myself."
She responded only with her body, drawing himHotly against her, pushing up his tunic, sliding beneath his shirt, her hands caressing, stroking, pinching with sudden urgency as her own need spiraled.
A dog barked: sharp, staccato sounds of warning in the motionless air. Their movements stilled, breathlessly they drew apart. The sound was coming from the olive grove. Probably the dog had simply caught an unfamiliar scent, but the damage was done. The encampment would be alerted, the peace of siesta broken.
Sarita sat up, pulled up her bodice, her eyes, the color of seaweed, were still liquid with the desire of a minute earlier, and her hands trembled as she fumbled with the laces. "You go back first," she said, whispering, although time was no one close enough to hear them. "If you make much of reporting on your errand to Tariq and hold their attention, and perhaps no one will notice that I am missing. I'll come into the camp from the rear, as if I have had private need."
Sandro stood up slowly. He looked down at her, his face twisted with frustration. "What can we do? I don't understand why Tariq forbids our marriage."
Sarita shook her head. "Neither do 1. But while he does, you know what we risk by meeting in this Somberly, Sandro turned to untether the pony. Tariq's word was law in the tribe of Raphael on all matters, both political and domestic. Heredity gave him the right to his leadership of the kinship network; his enormous strength and fighting skills ensured that the right could not be wrested from him. Marriage between two members of the tribe was both a political and a domestic issue, and it was for Tariq to approve or forbid. This union, for some untold reason, he had forbidden. Sandro could challenge the edict, but to do so he must challenge Tariq himself. He knew he could not do so successfully. He was no physical match for their leader, and twenty seemed very young to die.
Sarita jumped to her feet. "One last kiss," she demanded urgently, reaching her arms around his neck, standing on tiptoe, pressing herself against his length.
The young man groaned in his need. "I love you so!" He bit her bottom hp with a desperation to match her own, and Sarita tasted the salt of her own blood. It should have checked her urgent passion, but it simply auraugmentedented it...The Eagle and the Dove. Copyright © by Jane Feather. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.