Brice initially was uncomfortable with the mercenary's arm across her shoulders. He was very tall and the closeness of his frame made her feel even more insignificant and weak. He seemed to be making his way to the main courtyard, which was probably where the king was preparing to leave from. After assessing that fact, Brice concentrated on keeping up with the man's long strides.

“Have you ever ridden?” Darius asked suddenly.

Shaking her head, Brice managed a breathless, “No.”

“Then you best ride with me,” he announced as they approached the main doors. Pausing before they reached them, he turned her to face him and glanced, quickly, up and down her body. “No shoes, no cloak,” he muttered. “Guess we will have to make do.” He smiled down at her and Brice felt her mouth drop open. His smile was amazing when it involved his whole face.

Ignoring her reaction, Darius swept the door open and stepped out into the courtyard. The air had cooled considerably and an instant chill traveled up Brice's legs from the cold cobbles beneath her feet. The space was loud with the chaos of a departing troop. Horses neighing, men shouting, and the sound of metal horseshoes on stone echoed against the barren walls. The raw volume made Brice want to cover her ears, but she found she could not. His grip on her forearm was too strong.

The mercenary pulled her with him into the wild madness and she soon found herself praying he would not lose her. He was the only stable island amid the sea of horses' legs, rushing men, and dogs. Where did the dogs come from? She hadn’t noticed any signs of dogs before. Suddenly she was thankful her captor had prevented her from running. She witnessed enough hunts in her lifetime to know how an animal was brought down by a pack of hounds.

"There you are." A voice broke through the loud clamor from above them. Looking up, Brice could just make out the outline of a man on horseback. "Your horse is over by the stables." The horse stepped sideways with a plaintive whinny as a man next to his head hollered a curse at the top of his lungs. A massive hoof came down heavy, only inches from Brice's foot. Instantly she shrunk back against the very solid form of the man behind her. Without looking from the horseman's face, Darius enfolded her within the fall of his cloak and almost completely behind his body.

"Meet you back at camp," the stranger called as he urged his beast into the churning mass, and then he was gone.

In a matter of moments, Brice found herself standing by the flank of a caramel colored stallion. Darius made quick work of the knotted reins. Throwing them over the horse's head, he turned back to her. Without a word, he wrapped his hands around her ribs and hoisted her onto the horse's back. Before Brice could even begin looking for something to balance herself with, he was behind her. Clamping a hard arm around her midriff, he took the reins, and with a shout, the horse beneath them lunged toward the gate.


The Mercenary's Marriage
by Rachel Rossano

Trained as a mercenary soldier, Darius Laris was a man of decisive action. He was also a man of compassion. Seeing a young slave woman about to become the spoils of war, he claimed her for his own. Marrying her before God and King, he made her a free and respectable soldier’s wife.

Brice Ashlyn was born a slave. Abused and beaten, she learned quickly to avoid being noticed and to stay away from men. When her master’s walls fell to enemy forces, she ran, but not fast enough. In Darius’ offer she found deliverance, but experience had taught her to fear power such as his. Could she trust in his protection, or had she traded one form of slavery for another?