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She was saddened to think this was what had become of the man she treasured more than life itself. She couldn't begin to imagine the strain he was under. Sentenced to a life that put other lives in danger. Derik wouldn't have hurt a fly, but she didn't question what damage he could do now.
She needed to remind herself why she was here. It didn't matter what he looked like now, what mattered was the picture of him that remained in her heart and memory. This wasn't the time to second guess herself or give up. She'd made it this far.
Somehow she would try to converse with the beast and find a way to talk to the man who was hidden inside. Lachlan hadn't told her how she was to set Derik free of the spell, or if she could. She now understood why. There was no way to prepare for such a confrontation.
A bevy of thoughts raced through her mind. She was close to him, closer than she'd been in months. But the sight of him brought pangs of fear. Never had she feared him before. How could she live with him if he never changed back? No. There thoughts were unproductive. She shook her small head and pushed away the nagging questions. It didn't do him any good to be thinking the way she was. She loved him, no matter how he looked. They would find a way to make it work. They would have another chance at love.
Minna moved closer, determined to make contact. Sudden movement just beyond a tall tree made her blood run cold. Were there more creatures like him coming? She watched and waited.
A pale-faced man appeared between the trees, his face set in an arrogant manner.
"Beast, you have done well. That makes fifteen more of the king's precious townsfolk you feasted on tonight. Blood and gore covered the streets. It was a delicious sight. I heard a rumor that King Villaire is close to giving into my demands." Minna gasped. She recognized him as the warlock Lachlan had described to her. He had long silvery-blond hair and wore a heavy black cloak about his shoulders with crimson trim. The rest of his clothing consisted of a pair of long black pants that tapered off at the top of heavy boots. There wasn't much to his shirt, instead exposing his muscular chest. His eyes were a piercing black with ragged eyebrows that extended out in a contorted mess. In his hands he held a thick wooden stick, and around his neck hung a scarlet amulet.
The warlock bravely walked close to the beast and then hit him with the stick. In a pained cry that rocked the forest, the beast cowered away, his arms blocking his face from further punishment.
"You worthless mass of filth. I want to know why you are sparing the lives of the children. Villaire would instantly crumble if the young ones started to fall like flies. Do you dare show mercy to sniveling little brats that run amuck, taking up precious space and making noise? Well, do you?" Blagden's voice echoed throughout the entire forest.
He whipped Derik again, this time with such brute force Minna winced in pain. It tore her apart to see him be treated in such a heartless manner.
The beast growled and spoke in a raspy voice. "I am sorry, master. I will do as you command."
"Good, good. If you fail to follow my orders, your life and that little maiden of yours will be in jeopardy. If you ever want to see her again, in one piece, you will heed my warnings and not go against my wishes. She sounds like a luscious looking thing. I've heard you describe her when you've talked in your sleep. Long, auburn locks, bright blue eyes, and a shapely figure. It's no wonder you desire her. What was her name? Ah yes, Minna. I wouldn't mind a night with the lustful beauty myself," he mused.
The beast shook his head and knelt down to the ground. "Please do not harm her, I will do what you ask."
"I'll do as I please," retorted Blagden, raising the stick high above his head, ready to strike again. "You obey me and she will live. Now, I will leave you to plan your attack tomorrow. It is clear I need to further erase your human thoughts before sending you out to the village; they continue to get in the way. I cannot have a beast weak and sympathetic. Remember, I am always watching you."
Minna watched the warlock leave. After witnessing the way Derik was treated, she found herself less afraid to approach him. He really didn't want to harm anyone, it was clear.
She flew down and perched on a rock beside him. Drops of blood from his lacerations dripped into the river and were washed downstream. Minna opened her mouth to speak and a shrill "caw" escaped her throat. The beast turned her direction, but this time did not attempt to strike. The sickly yellow film lessened and revealed the familiar soft brown orbs she had always lost herself in.
Excerpted from Under a Warlock's Spell by Ann Cory Copyright © 2006 by Ann Cory. Excerpted by permission.
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