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By Cherif Fortin Lynn Sanders
Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
Fortin & Sanders
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Let's rest here a moment," Leanna called, dropping gracefully to the ground and setting her grey mare free to graze in the sweet heather. "I tire of the ride."
She laughed softly to herself for, in truth, she had another reason for stopping. Running to the edge of a glade that seemed to be fashioned of dark green velvet, she threw herself down in the billowing grass, which was woven with delicate yellow wildflowers and dancing with butterflies. The burble of a brook a short distance away fell like music onto her ears.
Prince Emric smiled when he dismounted, amused that his betrothed moved with such energy though she professed to be fatigued. Although Leanna was ahead of him, it took him only a few strides to catch up with her. He knew this was a game and he was eager to play, for Leanna's passionate nature and independent spirit constantly surprised and delighted him.
Leanna's back was to him when he reached her, her red hair gleaming in the sun like wild silken ribbons.
He fell to his knees beside her, gently touching her shoulder. She turned to face him, and he saw she had undone her saffron surcoat and loosed the laces of her chemise, allowing her breasts, the color of roses and cream, to be caressed by the warmth of the sun.
Emric slid his arms around her and buried his face in her softness. Lightly he kissed her, teasing her with his lips and tongue. He leaned back to take in his lady, his heart racing at the sight of her delicate, creamy skin. In the past, they had always met in secret, in the shadows of the night when they had only firelight. Today, he rejoiced they could enjoy each other in the wild, open fields, their love lit by the pure golden sunlight.
Leanna flushed with desire as she watched Emric's eyes drift lazily over her. Helping him with her movements, she let him push the remaining layers of cloth aside. When his hands traveled up her thighs, her hips pushed forward, seeking his body. Smiling, she pressed her palm against his heart, pleased to feel it pounding with desire. Eager to inflame him as she had never done before, she quickly bared his broad shoulders to the sun.
Leanna's fingers on his skin aroused Emric and while holding her against his chest, he tossed his scarlet cape on the ground beneath them. Carefully, he laid her on the silken bed and arched his body over hers.
He ran his tongue along the seam of her lips again and again until she parted them to allow him entry. Only then were they joined in a deep, passionate kiss.
Gasping for breath, Leanna pulled back, thinking her lover could extract the very life from her with his kisses. She took his face in her hands and combed through his long black hair with her fingers as she stared intently into his smoldering green eyes.
"I am yours, my love," she sighed. Her lips pursed as a playful urge seized her anew. "You must teach me the ways of a truly sensuous woman. I want to please you like no other." Her hands traveled down his neck and chest. "Guide me," she whispered.
Emric's breath quickened as her hands roamed lower. "Oh, Leanna." He laughed softly. "You already please me beyond measure."
Rolling over onto his back, he lifted her above him, guiding her knees forward so that she straddled him. Taking her hands, he kissed her palms. Then he placed them on his belly and guided them lower and lower still.
Leanna shuddered with excitement when she realized he wanted her to caress him. She had touched him before, but only fleetingly and in the heat of passion. Now he was inviting her to explore him.
Slowly, deliberately, she encircled him with her fingers, feeling his warm skin, his shape and hardness. She bent down to him and pressed her lips to his belly.
He moaned and she felt him take her head in his hands and gently urge her farther down his body. As the crisp hair brushed over her mouth, her pulse raced with excitement. Did she dare kiss him there? She wanted this extreme and intimate connection with him.
Emric watched her, his eyes half-closed with passion. With a deep murmur, he pressed his tense body deep into the scarlet fabric beneath him, knowing he was totally in her power.
Leanna heard Emric's moans and felt the tension beneath her touch. Thrilling to the ecstasy she was building with her mouth and hands, she leaned back to marvel at his beauty.
Grasping the last of his control, Emric drew himself from the edge of release. Reaching up, he cupped her face and, threading his fingers through her hair, brought her sweet lips to his.
"My darling, I must have you," he breathed against her mouth. He slid his hand between their bodies and touched her.
Leanna moaned when she felt his touch. She buried her face in his neck and submitted to his strength.
Swiftly, Emric rolled over and fitted their bodies together. He closed his eyes and joined them with a movement of his hips. He wanted to go slowly, but his passion spurred him on as he thrust into her. The tension in his loins took his very breath away. His hands on her hips, his body sleek with sweat, he hung for a long moment on the brink of climax.
Leanna's cry sent him over the edge and he thrust into her shuddering, pulsating body one final time as she convulsed around him.
They lay together as one, their bodies wet against the damp red silk. Even their hair tangled, completing its own mating ritual.
Finally, Leanna laughed, pushing Emric's wayward locks back from his face. "There you are," she teased. "Now I can see your handsome face." She touched the small scar in his eyebrow.
"I need never make love again." Emric sighed. "This moment was all too perfect, my lady." His dark lashes veiled the sensual fire in his eyes. He smiled and stretched like a restive lion in the heat of the afternoon sun.
Leanna smiled and held him close. She knew the depth of his passions. It was good to have him home at Brimhall Castle again.
"The date of our betrothal is rapidly approaching, Emric," she said, propping herself up on one elbow. "I think many a young lady at court will soon have cause to mourn." She traced a blade of grass over his muscular chest.
He arched a dark eyebrow. While Emric could not deny the occasional liaison, he considered his reputation as a rake to be greatly exaggerated. Truth be told, since their fathers' announcement of their intentions to join the houses of Kaherdin and Clairemonde by marrying the king's second son and Gareth's only daughter, he had remained virtually chaste. Well, he grinned to himself, at least virtually monogamous.
"I must profess my innocence, my lady," Emric said. "The idleness at court has made me victim of vicious rumors. If anyone will be in mourning, it will surely be the gallant Sir Bracchus." He traced a single finger down Leanna's neck and between her breasts. "If I am not mistaken, he holds the distinction of having been your most ardent suitor."
"Next to you," she chided. "Sir Bracchus is a dear man and it is not his fault you are so much more charming."
"And handsome," he said as his finger continued its journey over her breast.
"And handsome," Leanna agreed. "And courageous, witty, and oh ... so much more dreadfully conceited."
She watched him shrug his shoulders noncommittally as he laughed. Since the announcement of the intended betrothal, the last year had been a confusing time. Initially, Leanna had been furious over the helplessness of the arranged marriage, but Emric had astonished her by embracing the prospect wholeheartedly and courting her as though the union had been his own idea from the start.
Indeed, she had been flattered at the attentions of the kingdom's most eligible knight. True, his elder brother would inherit the throne, but nothing, not even a kingdom, could make life with Prince Bran bearable. Emric, on the contrary, was the stuff of every young girl's fantasy. He was intoxicatingly charming, yet noble hearted. Indomitable, yet gentle. She had grown to love him deeply. So why, she asked herself, did she continue to feel discomfort at the notion of a marriage with this man?
Suddenly she recalled her mother, Ursanne, two summers before her untimely passing. Leanna had never known her so serious as the day they traveled to Yn' Dunnall in the south of Wareham and entered the ancient circle of stones her mother said was holy. There Leanna first learned of the Ningal, the Gift, practiced for generations by her mother's people. She heard of the rites of Earth and Sea, and the homage owed the spirits of the Sky, and how at the first sign of the moon's blood, the women of Leanna's line came to the sacred stones to recite the oath before the Goddess:
Be true to the Queen of Light. True to Earth and Sea and Sky. Be true to thine own Self besides.
But these were not her beliefs, she reminded herself. She could not even recall the rest of the oath. Why should the words ring true for her now? Her own mother had renounced her Druid order for a life with her father. Be true to thine own Self besides ... What would she do, she asked herself, when the time finally came to speak the words and take Emric as her husband?
Despite the delightful games she played with Emric, her trepidation mounted as the time of the betrothal grew closer. She glanced at Emric, who looked as if he were about to fall asleep. He surprised her when he spoke.
"I hope you're not beginning to doubt me, my dear."
"Of course not." She smiled, concealing a sudden pang of guilt. How could she tell him when she scarcely understood the ambivalence herself? She sat up, gathered her clothing, and brushed the wild grass from her hair. Then she stood and walked to her mare, which had wandered only a short way from where she had dismounted.
Emric regarded her quizzically, sensing that something had gone wrong with the mood their union had produced, but uncertain how best to put his concern into words.
"Have I offended you in some way, Leanna?" he asked, as he rose and donned his tunic.
She smiled reassuringly and mounted her horse, then cast a glance over her shoulder. "Not at all ... but those storm clouds on the horizon disturb me well enough."
Emric looked past her at the dark grey band to the west that spread up from the horizon. "We had best make haste for the castle or we'll be taking our chances with that weather." When he mounted, she was already urging her horse in the direction of Brimhall.
"Aye," Emric murmured to himself. He spurred his steed onward to catch up. "Storm clouds, indeed."
Excerpted from Passion's Blood by Cherif Fortin Lynn Sanders Copyright © 2008 by Fortin & Sanders. Excerpted by permission.
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