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Thinking of another attractive male, she looked to the other side of the sleeping chamber where Rion d'Vortimer slept across the inner door, blocking it with his body. Just looking at him made her heart beat faster. She'd hidden her desire for him because of the vow she'd made at eleven and renewed a year ago to be the betrothed of the dragon king. Her family and all the villagers whose lands and homes had been ravaged by the rogue dragons depended on her to meet the price of peace.
Closing her eyes as if to shut out the coming task, Shimmara took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. She would keep her promise no matter how difficult.
While these thoughts flashed across her mind, she gazed at Rion, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to see him asleep. His face was in shadows, but the curved blade of the lethal sword close to his hand glimmered in the faint light. For the last year, since the moment she'd been selected as this year's bride for the dragon king, Rion had watched over her, keeping her safe from those who wanted to ravage the chosen bride.
Slipping out of bed, she drew a robe on over her sleep shift and went to the windows overlooking the castle garden.
Carefully, so she wouldn't make a noise and waken her bodyguard, Shimmara turned the latch and swung open one window.
Cherry landed on her shoulder, crooned gentle encouragement, then flew through the opening and swooped down toward the lush, golden fruit glimmering in the purple leaves of the shagar trees.
In the east, a soft, pearly gray pushed back the fading blue velvet of night. All the stars had vanished with the coming of dawn, except for the Morning Goddess and the Dragon'sPromise.
The heavy, coiling bulk of Dragon Mountain dominated the land. Rays from the sun hidden behind the mountain range lit the highest peak--Dragonhead--the location of the Bride's Pillar.
Resting her forehead against the cool, priceless clear glass, she watched the dawn spread across the trees and flowers, the benches and quiet fountains in the castle garden. For a year, since her seventeenth birthday, and the day she had been chosen as the dragon's bride, Shimmara had lived here in the Bride's Bower set in the tower.
A great sense of loss gripped her heart. Today would be the last time she watched the sunrise from the tower room, the last time she celebrated the Litha season.
She drew in a shuddering breath. Tonight, she would fulfill her vow made all those years ago on her eleventh birthday. Tonight she would be chained to the sacred Bride's Pillar and wait for the dragon king to claim his bride.
Tonight, she would die.