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Magic and Steel


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fantasy, romance, Helen HendersonThe Lady Mairin Alidryer of the Dragshi searched the world for the one man who would be her mate. Like the true dragons, once their intended mate was found, the dragon shifters mated for life in this world and the one beyond. However, the man she left behind when she gained the freedom of flight refused to accept the truth—that she did not love him. Now the head of a band of raiders, he swore to have Mairin on her knees in front of him.

All that stands between his plans is the true human, Kedar.

Bodyguard to the Lady Mairin, Kedar dared not fail in his duty—or more dangerous—love her.

 EXCERPT ONE:

Mingling with the townsmen and visitors, the ceoltier pointed out merchants known to be friends of the dragshi. Kedar paid special attention to the places—and people—Birog said to avoid. Short cuts through alleyways enabled the pair to return to the loaned quarters in half the time it took for the initial circuit of the town. Birog’s wave and, “Got to get dressed,” reminded Kedar he had his own preparations to make. Festival or not, he still was still responsible for the safety of Lady Mairin Aledriwyr. A task he knew she would not make easy.

Two candlemarks later, he leaned against the doorway of the house and watched the town change. Rays from the setting sun turned the cobbles of the street a dull orange. The mass of bustling bodies in the street flowed in a kaleidoscope of color towards the lakefront—and the festival. Kedar noted a face here or there. Some were guild members acting as additional protection for Mairin. Others set off his internal alarms, and he made a mental note to mention them to Birog. At the guild briefing, the masters had warned that the raiders had struck again—and close by, in the next valley over.

The soft scuff of leather on stone floors shifted his attention and he turned and looked into the shadowed interior.

Mairin stepped into the light. Unlike the split skirt and fleece-lined coat she wore on the road, the hem of an elegant green gown swirled around her ankles. Lace encircled the neck and sleeves, highlighting the light tan of her skin. The desire he had been keeping bottled up filled his frame.

“My lady,” Kedar said. “Do all horse traders look so beautiful? You’ll put the local ladies to shame.” He gestured at the thinned crowd, then at her dress shoes. “Maybe we should ride to the festival. The seidheirn are in the stable, but I could hire a coach.”

After a review of the recently swept cobbles of the street, Mairin answered. “Thank you, Kedar. But the evening portends to be warm. I see no need to roust the grooms or find a carriage.” Her smile added to the desire Kedar fought to control. “After all these sevenday in the saddle, I prefer to walk.”

An acknowledgement of her wishes, he offered her a crooked elbow as suitable for an escort—or the husband he was supposed to be. At first he thought she would refuse, but with a slight smile she laid her fingers on his arm. The heat that burned through the cloth bore little relation to her light touch. I just hope the ceoltiers play tunes I’m familiar with. Otherwise all those hours practicing the moves of formal court will be wasted. More than anything he wanted to dance with Mairin, to hold her in his arms.

EXCERPT TWO:

The hackles of the head dog’s neck straightened into a golden crown of thorns that emphasized the black face. Lir looked up at Kedar, its expression plainly asking for orders.

Suddenly the animals’ actions made sense—gryphlor.

He tried reaching out to the dragon with mindspeech, but only silence greeted the attempt. Kedar realized his friend would be sleeping off her meal and would be unable to defend herself until it was too late. A glance at the sun told the story of distance already traveled.

“No,” Kedar yelled. The path would take too long. Despite the danger posed by the wood’s inhabitants, he would have to go cross-county. With the dog at his side, he raced into the deepening shadows of the forest. I have to reach Rioghnach. The old one must be protected at all costs.

Fear took control of his feet and he ran faster, ignoring both the branches that grasped at his clothes and the stickers that ripped his skin. Sharp pains in his side finally forced him to stop. “Go on,” he ordered Lir in a hoarse croak. As if it had kept its pace slow to accommodate its human leader, the golden dog took off at a fast lope. Unwilling to be left behind, Kedar sucked down long breaths, and holding a hand to his side staggered on.

Reaching the tree line, he saw Faoth and Lir had circled around and now crawled on their bellies, inching closer to the dragon. The only sign of their passage was a slight wave in the grass.

Kedar planned his actions to complement the dogs. Even though they could not see him, without commands to counter them, their training and instincts would direct them. And he had done the training, making the dogs’ defense techniques predictable.

Although he sensed the gryphlors’ presence, Kedar could not spot the large cats. His eyes strained to separate shadows from brown hide. Finally, his efforts were rewarded. Movement, as if a breeze rippled through the meadow, showed the gryphlors’ location. The pride had spread out and were between him and Rioghnach. Wings spread to bask in the warmth radiating from the rocks, the dragon faced away from the threat. Even worse, the big cats were downwind so the dragon would not catch a hint of their presence.

“Rioghnach, wake up,” Kedar screamed. “Gryphlor.”

Whether his cry triggered the attack or the cats just took advantage of the dragon turning towards the sound, a pair of gryphlor broke cover—and leaped.

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Magic and Steel

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Copyright 2014 by Helen Henderson

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