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Sinful PleasuresThe Templar Knights
By Mary Reed McCall
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Mary Reed McCall
All right reserved.
A cottage along the coast of England
Three weeks later
Heat pressed down, the sun glinting through the branches of trees to caress Damien's skin. He was hot. Exhausted, too, but in a pleasing way. He rested on his back, replete, one muscled forearm shielding his eyes from the brightness . . . though not from the sight of her, just visible through that slit of space between his brow and arm.
Alissende . . .
She was so beautiful sitting beside him, with her long, dark hair curling over her breast, her hands busy with something.
"What are you doing?" he asked with a lazy smile, amazed that she could do aught after what had just passed between them. He shifted his shoulder a bit to see her better.
She offered that impish look of hers before glancing to him with an expression in her violet-blue eyes that set a new blaze of heat uncoiling through him. But she did not speak, only opening her palms to reveal handfuls of bruised, pale green leaves.
The scent of mint teased his senses an instant before she brushed her hands over his naked chest, and he made a low sound of pleasure at the cooling sensation left in the wake of her touch on his sun-heated skin. So good,that feeling . . . so good . . . and after a moment he reached up to her to pull her close, rolling her beneath him again to take her mouth with his, fully and deeply. . . .
Light stabbed into Damien's eyelids, jerking him away from the sweetness of his dream. He frowned, his lids aching with the effort of forcing them open. Through the hard-won crack of vision, he noted the blurry outline of a long-robed form pushing open a shutter of some kind. Even brighter sunlight flooded the room, then, blinding him, and he made a noise in his throat, turning his head away, trying to lift his arm to block the glare. He could not. His wrists were bound to the frame of padded platform upon which he lay.
Nausea swept through him. Dark, impotent sickness at the memory of such bonds on him before. So many times before, with so much pain that followed . . .
With a strangled growl, he wrenched at the straps that held him, needing to break free, determined to keep from suffering under their diabolical hands and fiendish instruments again. In his struggle, his only covering -- a length of cloth or blanket that had been thrown across the lower half of his body -- began to slide away, but it was of no matter, for he must free himself . . . he had to break free this time or die in the trying. . . .
"Be still, Sir Damien, or you will tear the stitches I labored so long to put in for you."
The low voice penetrated Damien's mind, along with the sliding, welcome sensation of the cloth being draped over his legs and groin once more. Something about that voice triggered a memory. It was the same one from before, from the night he'd been carried away from his cell. Peace, man, there will be no further harm to you with us. . . .
The voice echoed in his thoughts again, and, ignoring the renewed hurts that seemed to sweep through his body with the effort, he raised his head as much as he could, squinting anew to make out the owner of those soothing tones. Slowly, the chamber came into focus. It was a roughly hewn cottage, from the looks of the wattle-and-daub walls and bare window holes; the raw-cut square openings were protected by naught but the shutters that had only recently been pushed open.
Finally, he could see the chamber's other occupant. It was a man, though somewhat older than he'd expected from the youthful lilt of his voice. He looked to be twoscore or a little more perhaps, tall but not overly slender; in fact, he was built like one who handled weaponry, though with short-cut reddish hair and a smooth-shaven face that precluded him from being among the ranks of the Templar Order.
So it was not his former brothers-in-arms who had liberated him, then. "Where -- ?" Damien tried to rasp past tongue and throat that felt as if he'd eaten a handful of sand. He swallowed, shaking his head before lifting it up again to demand hoarsely, "Where am I -- and why bound?"
"Easy, man, you have just awakened at long last . . . one question at a time. They will be answered before long," the stranger said, taking a seat next to Damien and helping him to a sip of cool water from a beaker that stood near a pitcher on the table. It felt like heaven, that coolness sliding down his parched throat, and Damien gulped at it, until his caretaker tipped it away and set it back on the table with a clicking sound of his tongue.
"Too much so quickly will make you ill. You will have more soon," he added with a reassuring nod in response to the avidity he apparently saw in Damien's eyes. "First, let us dispense with these bindings, shall we?" he murmured, leaning over to untie Damien's wrists from the pallet's sturdy frame. "You have been thrashing about in your fever these many days, and so I was forced to secure you like this to keep you from tearing your stitches, or from dislodging the poultices I'd applied to your burns."
Rubbing his wrists once he was free of the ties, Damien deliberately kept his mind from traveling to the place of memory at how and when those still-throbbing injuries had been inflicted upon him. He remained silent, watching the man beside him shake his head and make that clicking sound with his tongue again while he leaned over and prodded with gentle fingertips, checking some of the stitching he'd just mentioned.
"It was all I could do to bring you back to the land of the living, I do confess it," the man murmured. "When I first examined the extent of your injuries after your deliverance, I feared your inquisitors had done their worst."
Excerpted from Sinful Pleasures by Mary Reed McCall Copyright © 2006 by Mary Reed McCall. Excerpted by permission.
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