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2011 EPIC Winner in Fantasy Romance
Heat level: Spicy
Published by The Wild Rose Press
A warrior with a destiny, a woman with a gift. Can loving the enemy restore a broken kingdom? Or will forbidden love destroy it—and them—first?
Prince Arn has a destiny—an ancient throne—but he’s not waiting for fate to deliver when he can act now, before his enemies organize against him. The healer Aerid longs for her barely remembered homeland. Marked out by her gift and her foreign looks, she insists she is no witch. The swordsman Naed hopes to honorably defend his uncle’s holding, but he harbors a secret fascination for the exotic healer. Prince Arn’s campaign against Aerid’s homeland throws them into a triangle of forbidden love, betrayal, and heartbreak. Only when they realize love is blood-kin to friendship, and neither is possible without risk, can they forge a new alliance and restore a kingdom.
Excerpt from CHAPTER TEN
Shivers racked Aerid, coming so hard and fast she had bitten her lip bloody, but she refused to make a sound while the Prince rode with her clamped to his body. Her life depended on saying nothing until this man—the Demon Himself for all the cruel efficiency with which he had dispatched their attackers—gave her leave to speak.
Trees whipped by; a bit of moonlight beamed down on a narrow track, and always the horse’s mane lashed her face. She had given up breathing, gulping air whenever the horse’s stride loosened the Prince’s grip a fraction.
The horse slowed, and the Prince straightened in the saddle, allowing a sliver of night air to slide between their bodies. She shuddered at the shock of it, realizing the skin under her tunic was damp with the sweat soaking through his. She had ceased to feel his heartbeat as separate from hers. Both thundered in her ears, and the sweet scent of fresh blood—on his hands, his clothes, his weapons—mingled with horse lather, man-sweat, and her own fear.
He guided the stallion off the track and into a stream. Krenin followed, as did a riderless horse that had raced with them out of the village. Aerid guessed it was one of those that had charged her in the square. Instead of crossing, the Prince headed the stallion downstream, letting it pick its way through fetlock-deep water. Krenin made no comment. Aerid stole a glance in his direction, but the Prince’s Second seemed still in control of his horse although he slumped over the animal’s neck. Around them, water rushed and hissed over stones, the sound echoing the blood-rush in her veins.
The Prince’s arm tightened, drawing her hard against the planes of his chest. Aerid sucked in breath, digging her fingers once more into his tunic sleeve. Every movement reminded her, perched sideways as she was on the saddle pommel, all that kept her out of the water and away from trampling hooves was the strength of his arm—and that arm was trembling. Not with the fear still rattling through her, for he was Tolemak and a warrior. Nor with weakness, though the wound she had stitched a scant seven-night before could yet give him cause. No, in that moment when he had recognized her—in that awful moment after the shock—she had seen all too clearly the fury vibrating through him now. And the knowledge that it had not abated even a whit made her flinch when he bent and his voice lashed at her ear.
“Tell me, witch, and tell me true—does Krenin know who you are?”
The question itself startled Aerid, not its harshness, for she had expected that. Twisting her head, she caught a glimpse of eyes like coals in a face dark and set.
“I mean,” he said, each word measured and knifesharp, “either who you are or who you pretend to be.”
She flushed, knowing full well what he meant. “I—I think not, m’lord. ‘Twas dark and—”
“Then you’ll do nothing to enlighten him. Hear?”
She heard him clearly despite the water-song and hoof splashes she was sure prevented their voices from carrying to Krenin. She understood, too, what underlay his warning. He wanted no one to know that he, the exalted and invincible Prince of Val-Feyridge, had been tricked—trapped—into sparing the life of an Adanak—and a woman!—only to cover the fact he and all his army had been duped into believing—for weeks!—that she was a boy, and a D’nalian. Oh, he had chosen well the moment for his question, Aerid thought, a rush of indignation beating back her shivers.
“Aye, m’lord, ‘tis safe with me, your secret.”
His arm clenched so, she feared he would crush her. “I should have let them kill you!”
He had to feel how her heart fluttered like a trapped bird under his arm, but the breathlessness made her almost giddy, not frightened. Her words had power, and her tongue spat out more of them. “Why did you not? If I be to you what you believe of me, why did you not leave me to them? ‘Twas surely—”
“You helped Krenin. Why?”
Why indeed? Krenin was Tolemak, her enemy. But he had been alone, and injured, and there were so many of them, and they were thieves, not good men, and she could not stand by and watch while… Tears scorched her throat. The Prince would not understand any of that—not
he, the warrior who swung his arm and lopped off heads and limbs without thought of who the bearers might be or where they might be from or who they might have waiting for them—
“‘Twas—’twas not by choice!” Turning away, she pressed knuckles to her mouth to stop its trembling.
He made no response, only straightened away from her and turned the horse toward a grassy bank. When the animal had climbed out of the water, he opened his arm. Unprepared, Aerid slid straight down and fell into marshy grass. She gaped as he dismounted and, looking impossibly tall and featureless in the faint moonlight, stood over her. “Understand then—’tis not by my choice that you’re here, now.” Dropping the stallion’s reins, he walked toward Krenin’s horse, pushing aside the stray that had followed them.
Author's Personal Note:
I hope you enjoy this short sample from The Prince of Val-Feyridge. These characters have been with me since high school when I wrote about half of their story. It lay unfinished, on hand-written sheets of notebook paper in a binder, for many years before I took it out, dusted it off, and found I still cared about these characters. If you have unfinished stories lurking in binders and drawers, take heart and don’t throw them away. You never know when they might call you back and become your break-through book.
She was also kind enough to answer a few questions for us today:
1. How did you get started in writing, and how long have you been writing for? (delete the second part if you prefer not to answer.)
I’ve been a writer since I could use a pencil. My earliest publication was a haiku in grade school, but I remember writing sequels to the books I was reading while I was supposed to be paying attention in class. I credit fairy tales for my early experience with story structure, archetypes, and great imaginary settings/characters/plots.
2. What genre do you enjoy reading? Do you stick with what you write, or “‘play the field”?
I read a mix of fiction from middle grade to YA fantasy to mystery/suspense (romantic and not) to romantic comedy/adventure to historical to some paranormal. (My Goodreads page is all over the place.) I tend to prefer women authors (especially WisRWA), but I mainly love a good story well told. When I’m writing fantasy, though, I try not to read it and stick instead to romance, etc.
3. What do you find most challenging in the writing process?
Getting the words on the page. Sometimes they seem to just stick. Once upon a time, the words flowed, but that was when I wasn’t so aware of “good writing” and effective story structure. In those early days, I needed a lot of revising time. Now, I think that is reduced.
4. What do you enjoy most?
Having my characters come alive on the page and reveal to me secrets I didn’t know they had. That’s when the story opens up for me; it’s a mind-blowing moment. I have great admiration and respect for the mystery that is the human subconscious.
5. What’s your favorite drink of choice while writing?
Hot tea, strong, steeped five minutes. Black or green but definitely with caffeine.
6. What do you have in store for readers next?
I’ve finished Bloodstone, the WIP that won the PRISM contest, and I’m beginning a sequel to The Prince of Val-Feyridge. Readers told me I had to write one, and I agree.
Author Helen C. Johannes lives in the Midwest with her husband and grown children. Growing up, she read fairy tales, Tolkien, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, and Ayn Rand, an unusual mix that undoubtedly explains why the themes, characters, and locales in her writing play out in tales of love and adventure. A member of Romance Writers of America, she credits the friends she has made and the critiques she’s received from her chapter members for encouraging her to achieve her dream of publication. When not working on her next writing project, she teaches English, reads all kinds of fiction, enjoys walks, and travels as often as possible.
You can find Helen on the web at: http://www.helencjohannes.com
I must say having read and loved The Prince of Val-Feyridge, I completely agree you must write the sequel!
Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Helen. Readers, don't forget to comment up through Wednesday for a chance to win this fabulous book!
Have a wonderful week! As always, happy reading.
Stacey Joy Netzel