"Who are you?" His voice was husky as if he hadn't used it in a while. His accent was curious, reminiscent of some of the old men from her village. "Are you a witch?"
Her tongue felt thick and she didn't trust herself to give a coherent answer. She just shook her head.
His gaze flicked over her face and she had the feeling this man missed very little. "You look like a witch."
Li cleared her throat and gave him a nervous smile. "I don't think you can even see me with your hair in your face."
She brushed his long hair away and her stomach flopped. He was, in a word, stunning. His face was slim, his skin tanned as if he'd spent a lot of time in the sun. His brows were slightly darker than his hair and his eyes were a deep, rich blue, a hallmark of the Northern clans. His cheekbones were sharp and his jaw well-defined. His mouth looked firm with his lower lip slightly fuller than the top. He possessed the mouth of a true sensualist. A mouth to be kissed, a mouth made to suckle a woman's flesh-
Her cheeks heated and she shook herself from her carnal musings. "Who are you?" she squeaked.
He ignored her question. His forehead pleated and if anything, he was even more handsome with his slightly befuddled expression.
"I know you." His gaze locked with hers. "Don't I?"
She shook her head. She'd never seen this man before, as she'd have remembered him. He was definitely an elf and he possessed the unearthly beauty that was unforgettable. Besides, her tiny Southern clan would've had no reason to mingle with a group from the north.
"You're beautiful," he said. "Possibly the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." His voice was faint, as if he was talking more to himself than to her. He raised his hand and, light as a feather, he touched her jaw with one finger.
She froze and her gaze dropped to his mouth again. She was struck by the urge to kiss him. He had the kind of mouth that was made for kissing, touching, biting, sucking ...
Her breathing deepened and she leaned forward. Her head dropped toward his.
If this was a dream, let her never wake up ...
In a flash, his expression changed from slightly befuddled to comprehension. His eyes widened and he shoved her away-hard.
Li landed on her butt with a yelp, and her head connected with the edge of a table. She heard the scrape of steel, then the tip of a sword appeared before her eyes. Stunned, she looked up to see the stranger standing over her. The confused look of a few moments before was replaced by a look of complete disgust.
"Witch," he snarled.
Excerpt from "The Shattered Stone" by Rosemary Laurey
The stable yard was near-deserted. All sensible, and well-mounted travelers having departed. Saj whinnied at Ranald's approach. "Ready to be on your way?" Ranald asked as he stroked his horse's nose. "I'm afraid we must tarry a little longer and your accommodations are fair enough." The loose box had clean, fresh straw, the stables being as well kept as the rooms. Ranald hoped mine host spoke truly in regards to the farrier. One day delay could be spared but would be close to a week before he reached the mountains and once there, he had little idea where to go to complete his mission. Would be like hunting for a pebble on the beach, but he'd given his word to his aging Monarch.
Seeing Saj was well cared for, Ranald walked towards the stable gate, thinking to walk down to the the village in the valley and perhaps learn something about the road ahead.
At the open gateway, mine host argued with a lone traveler.
"We'll not take in the likes of you!" Mine host snapped at the small figure-an old woman if Ranald guessed rightly. An old woman with an even older hill pony, both looking as if they'd traveled miles. "Good morrow," Ranald said, to the innkeeper and the old-no young-woman. It was an unlined face under the drab hood, and surprise, Ranald caught a glimpse of hair like royal auburn.
Mine host nodded to acknowledge Ranald and frowned back at the woman. "Be gone. Our rooms are all getting changed for tonight. We have no place for you."
She looked ready to drop on her feet, and the pony looked little better. "Have you traveled far?"
Bright green eyes gave him a wary glance. "From the east, sir." She nodded as a courtesy. "I have traveled for two nights and my pony needs food and rest."
Her pony was not the only one.
"I told her, lord. Rooms are rented by the night not by the day and ..."
"All are unready for guests," Ranald finished for him.
"But mine is ready."
Excerpted from Paradox III by J. C. Wilder Rosemary Laurey Copyright © 2006 by J. C. Wilder & Rosemary Laurey. Excerpted by permission.
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