The Maiden Warriorby Mary Reed McCall
The day she was wedded to the bold English knight Aidan de Brice young Gwynne was taken captive by the Welsh bandits who'd claimed her since her birth. Years have passed, and she barely recognizes the breathtaking warrior before her who once won her heart but her senses recall what her memory cannot. Still, any lingering thoughts of love must be dispelled, for… See more details below
The day she was wedded to the bold English knight Aidan de Brice young Gwynne was taken captive by the Welsh bandits who'd claimed her since her birth. Years have passed, and she barely recognizes the breathtaking warrior before her who once won her heart but her senses recall what her memory cannot. Still, any lingering thoughts of love must be dispelled, for the proud, brave lady's loyalties now lie elsewhere.
Aidan is shocked to discover that the infamous "Dark Legend" the elusive rebel leader he is honor bound to defeat is not only a beautiful woman...but also his stolen bride! Now that he has taken her prisoner, Aidan knows his true duty is to his heart. Defying his king, Aidan must use all his power to keep fair Gwynne from harm...and rekindle her lost memories of a soul-stirring love more mighty than any kingdom or crown.
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The wood beyond Dunston Castle
The border of England and Wales
Fourteen years later
She hadn't come.
Frowning, Aidan ducked around one of the towering stones that ringed the clearing. The ancient circle stood as a remnant of times long ago -- days of myth, sorcery, and legend. And it was magic, their secret meeting place. Here he and Gwynne had spent countless hours, free from the weight of prying eyes or the restraints others might wish to impose upon a gentle Welsh lass and her forbidden English suitor.
"Gwynne, are you here?" he called out, appalled to hear the quaver in his voice. He quelled his weakness with a grimace, saying more firmly, "Gwynne, answer me!"
That was better. It wouldn't do for him to sound uncertain. Not today of all days. Today he must be confident and strong, as befitted the fifteen-year-old son of Dunston's lord. He must be sure of himself if he hoped to convince Gwynne that what he planned for them was right.
"Gwynne!" He stalked forward so quickly that the edge of his tunic caught on a felled branch, snapping the wood with a resounding crack.
"For goodness' sake, Aidan, I'm over here. You needn't bellow," Gwynne scolded, making him jump as he spun to face her.
She sat cross-legged on top of one of the ancient stones only a few paces away, looking down at him with mischief in her silver gaze. The sun caressed her face and glinted on the fall of raven hair that hung past her waist like a cloak, concealing what she held cupped in her palms. Hesaw with a flush of pleasure that she wore the circlet of wildflowers he'd woven and left for her here this morning, when he'd departed Dunston on a pretext of hunting. Perching atop the stone, she looked like some kind of fey lass come to him through the misty veils of time.
Just beyond the stone, a crow with a splinted wing -- one of the many creatures he knew she relished taking in and healing -- hopped a little ways off, as if nonplussed by his thunderous entrance. She glanced at it, crooning softly before directing her sparkling gaze at Aidan once more.
He couldn't help but smile at her daring. She was a fearless thing, he thought, biting the inside of his cheek. Especially for a girl.
"What are you doing up there?" he demanded with mock ire.
She didn't respond, instead grinning as she shrugged her shoulders and arched her brow in that maddening way of hers.
"Well, you must come down at once. We may be almost of an age, but that doesn't mean your bones won't break as badly as a child's if you fall from there."
"Nay, I'll not come down." She shook her head, her hair rippling about her. " 'Tis too good an angle."
By the time his bemused mind caught up with his instincts, it was too late. With a shriek of glee, Gwynne sat UP straight and began pelting him with the handfuls of acorns she'd been hoarding. He shouted as the nuts found their mark with stinging accuracy; then yelling a playful war cry, he launched himself at her and pulled her from the stone. She fell on him, scattering the flower petals from her circlet all around, and they laughed and rolled together on the soft grass, coming to rest, finally, with him lying half atop her.
Breathless, he smiled and gazed into her eyes as he brushed a tendril from her brow. He could wait no longer. Leaning down, he tasted her lips as he'd been aching to. His mouth slid smoothly against hers, and he was gratified when she lifted herself into him. She threaded her cool fingers through his hair, causing tingles of pleasure to tighten his groin and jolt every inch of his skin to full awareness.
No matter how many times he kissed her, he knew he'd never get enough. He knew it with the burning certainty of youth; he'd never stop feeling this rush of sensation -- or the tantalizing thoughts that followed of what he wished to do with her ways he wanted to touch her.
But that must needs come later, he reminded himself. Later, after he'd made her his own in truth and by law.
With a groan, he rolled away, settling for lying at her side. Wordlessly, she slipped her hand into his, and their fingers intertwined as naturally as the breeze wafting through the trees near their magic circle. Together they gazed up at the smooth blue canopy of the sky above them.
The splinted crow disturbed their peace for a moment when he hopped over to peck at Gwynne's tiny, expended weapons, but they ignored him. The late summer sun blanketed them with warmth; insects hummed, the grass felt soft beneath them, and the wind swished through the trees, adding music to the scented air around them.
It was time, Aidan decided.
"Gwynne, I have something to ask of you.
"Aye?" she said softly, tilting her head to look at him.
He held his breath, focusing on her gaze; then he just let the words tumble out. "Marry me, Gwynne. Marry me here and now, in the circle. If we betroth ourselves in the age-old way, no one will ever be able to part us. Ever."
"Marry you?" Gwynne sat up slowly. The smile faded from her face, replaced by an expression of wonder.
"Aye. Marry me today!" Aidan pushed himself up next to her. "I love you, Gwynne. I've loved you since the day I found you picking berries in the glen -- so long that I cannot remember what my life was like before you. I want to pledge myself to you, if you'll have me."The Maiden Warrior. Copyright © by Mary Reed McCall. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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