Fire Hawk

Fire Hawk

Justine Davis

June 2015 $14.95
ISBN: 9781611946390

The Hawk Trilogy, Book 3

She’ll become the warrior’s woman to save her people.

 
Our PriceUS$14.95
Code9781611946390
 
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Blurb

The RITA7 Award winning final book in The Hawk Trilogy! (standalone novel)

In a time of legends, wizards, mists, and magic, the Hawk clan’s ancient spell of protection surrounding their secluded and peaceful forest is weakening. When a vicious warlord threatens the clan’s existence, their only hope lies in finding a great warrior with the skills to save them. The task falls to Jenna, but convincing a legendary warrior who has buried his sword to save her people will cost her everything.

Kane has a past filled with betrayal and a prophecy that warns him taking up the sword again will mean his death. Despite the danger, he’s unable to completely refuse Jenna’s plea for help. He agrees to train her in the arts of war in return for her innocence. All too late he realizes he’s made a fool’s bargain; he wants much more than her body. She owns his soul, and that may cost him his life.

Author of more than sixty books, Justine Dare Davis is a four-time winner of the coveted RWA RITA Award, and has been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books have appeared on national bestseller lists, including USA Today. Find out more at her website and blog at justinedavis.com, Facebook at JustineDareDavis, or Twitter @Justine_D_Davis.


Reviews

Coming soon!


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Before Arthur was King, in a place out of time . . .

SHE’D NEVER WANTED to kill before.

Jenna stared down at the freshly turned earth, watching the rain turn it to mud, wishing she could cry as the sky did so freely. But she had no tears. She had had nothing left but anger for a very long time. There had been too many burials. And too many of those had ended, like this one, with a stone set at the head of the grave that bore the symbol of the Hawk. She had never wanted to kill, but she knew now that she could learn. With pleasure.

"Jenna—”

Jenna ignored the soft voice of Evelin the healer; the woman could say nothing she had not heard before. She turned away from the freshly turned earth. Justus had been her brother, and she had loved him. Idolized him, with his gentle good humor, his quiet ways, and the quick, sharp mind that had helped her hone her own to a sharp edge.

None of it had done him any good. The very things that had made the clan prize him had been his downfall; he was a man of peace, not war. He hadn’t known how to fight any more than any of them did. And now he was as dead as if he’d been a helpless child, not the pride of his people, the heir to the golden Hawk. And she was alone. Alone with her fears. Alone with her duties. Alone with the weight of generations of responsibility on her shoulders.

Alone with her anger.

It bubbled up in her again, fierce and relentless. She was soul-deep weary of feeling so utterly helpless. The last time the yearly rains had come, she’d had a family. She’d had a mother who, despite being the hereditary head of the clan since Jenna’s father’s death shortly after she was born, had always had time for her children. She’d had a sweet, loving brother, who had born the Hawk title with a solemn sadness after the death of their mother.

And now she had no one.

No one but an entire clan, all looking to her to do . . . something. To help them. To save them. And she didn’t know how.

Neither had her mother. Or her brother, in the short time he’d lived to hold the Hawk. They knew nothing of war, and she was as ignorant as they. The closest any of them had ever come to fighting was hearing of the exploits of Kane, the mythical warrior of the mountains, stories told to entertain children.

None of them knew how to fight, yet they expected her to acquire the knowledge that would save them.

"Jenna, it is time for the ceremony.”

"My brother is barely cold,” she snapped at Evelin, even though she knew it was tradition and not the kindly healer herself who demanded it.

"Which is why it is time,” Evelin said, ever reasonable even in the face of Jenna’s temper.

Yet moments from now, Jenna mused as she shoved the long mass of her hair back from her face and reluctantly followed the elderly woman, such a show of temper from her would cause much obsequious bowing and apologizing. She would be the same woman she was now; the people would be the same. The only difference would be she would have the precious golden Hawk, the emblem of her new and unwanted rank. The emblem she had never expected or desired to hold.

She stood miserably in the rain as the ragged clan of less than one hun­dred, all that was left now after months of a battle that was so one-sided as to be hardly deserving of the name, gathered around her in the clearing. Evelin, as the oldest clanswoman still living, began the me­lodic chant. Rising and falling, an evocative mix of mourning for the fallen leader and celebration of the new one, the chant had been a part of Hawk clan tradition for generations. She’d been too young to pay attention to it when the Hawk had passed from her father to her mother upon his death. But she remembered it far too well from the ceremony that had turned it over to her brother, remembered it because it had been mere months ago. Not even five cycles of the moon had passed since Justus had stood where she was now.

She glanced at the gathered clan. They were all gazing respectfully at Evelin, as was expected. Only Cara, her dear friend Cara, looked at Jenna. There was such warm sympathy and understanding in the young woman’s eyes that Jenna felt the fierce anger inside her ebb ever so slightly. But still, when Evelin held the precious statue out to her, she wanted to scream her refusal, wanted to cry to the weeping heavens that this was not right. But she had no time now; grief was a luxury she could not allow herself. She had had to keep going after her mother’s death, and she had to keep going now, after Justus’s death. She had to, for the sake of the clan. She had to, and she would.

She took the heavy golden bird. A lifetime of inculcated traditions were not set aside so easily.

The chant went on, the low words in the ancient language no one spoke any longer, the words that gave to Jenna the power she’d never wanted, the power she’d thought herself saved from ever having to wield by the good fortune of having an older brother.

A movement on the edge of her vision caught her attention. She looked toward it. Cara was not the only one who was breaking with tradi­tion and looking at Jenna rather than the healer conducting the ceremony. The old man who had come to them out of the forest, a refugee from the brutal attacks, was watching her intently. His eyes, sometimes the green of the misty wood, sometimes nearly as gold as the Hawk whose weight was already tiring her arms, were fierce with an intelligence tempered by an unerring wisdom. Despite his intimidating demeanor, Jenna had often gone to him to hear the amazing stories he could tell, of times and places never imagined, of things that could not be, yet came alive in his telling in a way that never failed to fascinate her.

And now, the old, silver-haired man with the dark brows, known only as the storyteller, sent her a look not of sympathy and understanding as Cara had, but of strength, and a support so strong it was almost tangible. So powerful was the surge of it within her that Jenna blinked, startled. As if her involuntary reaction had been a sign of a message received, the old man looked away, glancing up at the clouds that had been pelting them for nearly a full night and day.

Evelin began to walk around Jenna in the traditional way, tossing hand­fuls of her precious herbs down onto the muddy earth, herbs mixed in a way known only to the clan’s healer, and handed down by each healer to the next.

As if responding to the ancient invocation, the rain began to slow. Jenna saw the people glancing skyward, much as the storyteller had, as the ominously dark gray skies began to lighten.

Evelin drew out the traditional dagger, with its hilt carved in a replica of the Hawk, at last beginning the final chorus of the chant, the words meant to call blessings down on the new Hawk, the holder of the golden symbol of the rank of leader of the clan. The rank had been in Jenna’s family for generations, since the only reason for change was misuse of the power it bestowed.

She wondered idly if not using the power at all fell under that dictum.

Evelin’s last words echoed, and silence fell upon the group. From the corner of her eye, Jenna saw the storyteller nod sharply, as if in approval of Evelin’s performance. You’d think the old man wrote the chant himself, she thought, as pleased as he’s looking. A gust of wind blew rain into her eyes, and her vision blurred for a moment. When she blinked them clear again, the rain had stopped and the old man was gone. Another one of his eerie disappearances that brought on the rumors among the children that the man was a warlock, or worse.

Evelin reached out and slid the ceremonial dagger into the sheath at Jenna’s waist. Then the healer turned to the gathered clan. "I give you the new Hawk.”

A cheer arose, with more enthusiasm that Jenna ever would have ex­pected; she didn’t think they had that much left in them. She wondered what it was for, that enthusiasm. She wondered what difference they thought a new Hawk would make. She wondered what lies they were tell­ing themselves.

She wondered what in the name of the heavens they expected her to do.

"I’VE BEEN expecting you.”

Jenna’s breath caught as the low voice came out of the shadows. She should be used to it by now, she thought; no one ever surprised the story­teller.

Involuntarily Jenna shivered. The fire in the center of the small hut had gone out, and she wondered that the old man’s bones could tolerate the damp and cold.

"Sit down, Jenna.”

She saw only the swirl of his robe in the dim light as he stepped for­ward. And then she saw his face, wide jaw, dark, heavy brows beneath silver hair, and always those eyes, fierce, penetrating, the fire from within burning as brightly as the fire reflected in them—

Fire?

She glanced downward, only now realizing that the fire she’d thought lacking even any lingering embers was burning steadily, providing the light she’d needed to see him, and warmth enough to take away the chill of the damp air.

"Or perhaps I’m being too familiar? You are, after all, the Hawk now.”

Jenna wrinkled her nose. "Mercy, not you, too.”

The man’s mouth quirked upward at one corner. "Had enough of it so soon? Most would enjoy the fealty of an entire clan.”

"The fealty is fine,” Jenna said wryly. " ’Tis the expectations I find diffi­cult.”

The storyteller chuckled. Jenna smiled despite her worries; she alone had always managed to make the mysterious man smile. He had come to them weighed down by a darkness she sensed was deep and long-standing, and it had given her a special sort of pleasure to be the one who could brighten it for him. And it seemed a small price to pay for the wondrous tales he spun, holding adults and children alike enthralled.

But it was not stories she’d come for now. She wasn’t certain why she had come, really. Perhaps she had some crazy idea that because the man sometimes told tales of faraway battles he at least knew somethingabout fighting. More than she did, in any case.

She took the seat he indicated, a low stool that bore the marks of Latham, the clan’s woodworker. The storyteller dropped to sit cross- legged on the ground before the fire, his only cushion the bear pelt that passed from storyteller to storyteller. It had lain unused, this hut unoccupied, since Gillan had died in one of the first attacks.

Jenna noticed, not for the first time, that the storyteller moved with a limberness that belied the gray of his hair. It was odd, she thought, also not for the first time, that no one had ever discovered much about the man’s past; the clan was generally a curious lot when it came to newcomers. Odder still that she, the most curious of them all, hadn’t tried to pry his own story out of him, hadn’t even charmed his proper name out of him. But he had come here and taken Gillan’s place almost without question; his skill at storytelling had rendered questions seemingly needless. And no one had really felt up to the task of asking, not when it meant looking into those fiercely intelligent eyes.

"Why did you expect me?” she asked.

"Because it is time.”

Jenna sighed. "Must you always be so mysterious?”

A delighted expression crossed his face. "Have I succeeded, then? Good.”

Jenna found herself smiling despite her worries; it was difficult not to when that rare grin lit up the storyteller’s expression. For an instant she thought she saw something change in his eyes, some flicker of a reality hidden behind a mask, but it was gone so swiftly she could not be sure.

"That’s what I was hoping to see,” he said. "You smile too little of late.”

"There is little to smile about,” she retorted. "You know that better than anyone. You must know that I—”

She broke off. Did she dare confide her fears, even to him? Did she dare admit how frightened she was, how helpless she felt, how terrified she was that she would not be able to save the people who depended on her?

"You will not let them down, Jenna.”

The uncanny accuracy of his guess, and the unshakable certainty in his voice, sent a shiver down her spine. Who was this man?

Her fears, pressing now, churning, overcame her doubts, and the words came from her in a rush. "How can you say that? We’ve had no fighting here for generations. How can I help? How can I save my people, when I know no more than they do?”

"You will find the way.” His eyes had gone distant, unfocused. His voice had changed, taken on the softly compelling note it held when he was telling one of his wondrous tales. "You will go far from here, from your home. Face dark trials. The serpent’s tongue, the lion’s roar . . .”

Jenna stared, holding her breath as his voice trailed off. The silence spun out, as taut as the strings of Cara’s harp. The storyteller continued to stare, as if at something only he could see. Finally the strain was too much for Jenna, and she had to break the stillness.

"But why? Where am I to go? What am I to do? I know nothing of war!”

He sucked in a short breath, and that quickly was back with her, his eyes again focused and intent.

"Then you must find someone who does.”

Her mouth twisted at one corner, and she looked at him pointedly; de­spite the oddness of his ways and the fact that many of the clan were intimidated by him, Jenna was not.

"I did. I came to you.”

The storyteller blinked. "Me?”

It was the first time she’d ever seen him startled, but she couldn’t spare time to dwell on her small victory. "You at least speak of battles. It is more than anyone else.”

He smiled, but shook his head. "You flatter me, child. They are only sto­ries.”

"But the battles were real, were they not?”

"Yes. But still—”

"Your stories are as detailed as if you were there yourself.”

"They are very good stories,” he allowed, his smile widening.

"But you have known such things, or known of them,” she insisted. "Surely there must be some plan to be drawn from those tales, some method by which such things are done, such battles are fought? Surely you must have one tale, amid all your tales, of a small force who defeated a more powerful one? Or at least held them at bay?”

"I have many,” the storyteller said. "Some that will ring in history for­ever, some yet to come.”

Jenna grimaced; she’d lost patience with his enigmatic allusions to other times and places. "I will be content with one that will help us here and now,” she said a little sharply.

The storyteller laughed. "Ah, Jenna, you are truly fit to be the Hawk.”

His approval warmed her, but she felt it was undeserved. "I don’t feel fit. And unless you can help me, I shall be proven right.”

The weight of responsibility seemed crushing now as she thought of the inevitable end if things continued as they were. Those few who had survived until now would be slaughtered like so many pigs. Her friends, and the children, would end with throats cut, sightless eyes staring at the heavens, up to the gods who had apparently forsaken them and left them to the bloody hands of a warlord who had set his evil sights on their quiet glade.

"I cannot,” he said.

Jenna’s heart sank. She hadn’t realized how greatly she had counted on his help until now, when he denied he could provide it. But something else he’d said prodded at her, and she lifted her head, marveling anew at how much effort it took to simply meet his gaze.

"You said I must find someone who does.”

He nodded, and she saw that light of approval still lingering in his changeable eyes, eyes so different from her own, which were always, ever blue.

"Who?” she asked.

He shrugged, as if it were common knowledge. "There is only one who can help you.”

"Who?” she repeated.

"Kane.”

Jenna’s arched brows shot upward. "Kane? He’s a myth! A legend, a story told to children—”

"So they say.”

"But everyone knows he’s not real, any more than the beast of the lake.”

The storyteller shrugged again.

"You’re saying he is real? That he lives?”

"He exists.”

Jenna wondered at the choice of words in the storyteller’s quiet confir­mation, but the entire idea was so absurd she could only shake her head.

"But everyone—”

"Before I came here,” he interrupted, in such a mild tone it took her a moment to realize he might truly be imparting some hint of his hidden past, "I passed through a land where there was a legend of a distant place, a glade in a magical forest that provided safety for all the souls that resided there, where all wants were met, peace had reigned unbroken year after year, and where the leader was marked by the possession of a golden hawk. All knew it was merely legend; all laughed at the idea of ever setting out to find such a place, for it was only a myth. Everyone knew that.”

Jenna opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her mouth quirked; she’d been through this before with this puzzling, very curious man. "An­other lesson hidden in allegory, sir?”

He smiled, that gentle, approving smile that seemed to lighten even her heavy burden. " ’Tis often easier that way, is it not?”

"Especially for those too stubborn to see?”

"You are never too stubborn,” he said. "But sometimes you are too close.”

For a long time, Jenna sat there looking at the storyteller. She won­dered if she had sensed from the beginning that he would somehow hold the key to their survival, wondered if that was perhaps why she had never questioned his sudden appearance, or his right to the position of storyteller to the clan.

He merely endured her scrutiny, as if he’d said what he had to say, and it was now up to her.

As, she supposed, it was.

At last, her fears still present but quieted somewhat at the prospect of doing something—anything, no matter how preposterous—she let out a long, compressed breath.

"What must I do?” she asked simply.

The storyteller smiled.

THE MAN WHO was only a myth sat by the fire, staring into the dark­ness. It would be more natural to stare into the dancing flames, but old habits died hard, and the warrior buried deep within him could not relax enough, even after all this time, to let his night vision be destroyed by staring into the light.

He wondered if he would ever relax that much. If, perhaps, after a dec­ade or so of peace in these high mountains, the warrior might truly give way to the man of peace he’d fought so hard to become. A man who did not see the potential for ambush in every narrow pass, a man who did not hear the approach of an enemy in every footfall, a man who did not wake every morning and search anew for any sign of treachery in his small do­main.

He wondered if he would ever be as other men, then laughed at his own foolish fancy; Kane was Kane, and such would he always be. He had done it to himself, with his own blindness, and it was only right that he pay for it with the rest of his life.

Almost absently his hand stole upward, to trace the scar that ran from his right temple down to his jaw. He’d heard many versions of how he’d received the mark, from a heroic battle against a dozen men to the clash with the fierce lion whose skin now warmed his shoulders against the mountain cold. Only he knew the truth behind the slash that had left him carrying the narrow, oddly straight line of whitened flesh. He didn’t dwell on it, was merely thankful it hadn’t taken his eye as well as disfigured his face.

He pushed raven dark hair back from his forehead. The unaccus­tomed length of it, falling past his shoulders now, was a constant reminder of the vow he’d made never to don a battle helm again. He would never again shear it short for that purpose. He would never—

His thoughts ended abruptly as the faintest of sounds, a mere whisper, like that of a feather pushing against the still air, gave him warning. A moment later a glistening shape came out of the darkness, the sheen of its body the only difference between it and the black of the night.

The raven landed on the log across from him, cocking its head as it looked at him. A wry smile curved his mouth.

" ’Tis as well you sent your emissary ahead, Tal,” he said into the dark­ness. "I’m a bit edgy tonight.”

The laugh that came back at him seemed too sweeping to have come from any human, but Kane had always had his doubts about Tal on that score anyway.

A second shape emerged from the blackness, with even less noise than the bird had made. Kane looked up at the one man he called, if not friend, at least not enemy. Although Tal was slightly shorter, Kane knew he had a wiry strength and quickness—and some unique talents Kane hadn’t quite figured out yet—that rendered the difference unimportant. Tal’s hair was almost as dark as his own, but the flash of silver at the temples—at odds with the young face—and its slightly shorter length, just above his shoulders, ended the similarities. He wore a simple tunic and leggings of soft leather much like Kane’s own, and moved like a man utterly at home in his body.

"And when are you not on edge, my friend?” he asked.

"When I’m asleep?” Kane suggested wryly.

The laugh came again. "Not even then, Kane. Not even then.” He sat on the log beside the bird, who looked at him expectantly. "Be off with you. Make your hunt. You’ve been patient enough.”

The raven squawked something that sounded remarkably like "At last,” and took flight, making no more noise in departure than it had arriv­ing.

"You keep strange friends,” Kane observed.

Tal lifted a dark brow. "This from you?”

"Precisely,” Kane agreed dryly, not missing the implication that he was among those strange friends.

Tal chuckled, and Kane found himself smiling. Somehow the man al­ways did that to him, lightened a burden carried so long he’d become almost numb to it. He’d been more than wary when he’d first encountered Tal; he was wary of any stranger, and more so one who seemed to material­ize out of the mist with no more warning than the bird that seemed to be his constant companion. And in recollection, it was nothing short of astounding that he’d come to trust the man as quickly as he had, but he had to admit the man had a way about him. Even the animals trusted him, merely glancing at him when they would have slipped away from Kane’s approach.

It was something in his eyes, Kane had once decided. Something in those changeable, intense eyes.

"You are feeling a bit edgy tonight, aren’t you? Why?”

Kane shrugged. He had no answer for that. It was just an odd feeling that had overtaken him today, a feeling of . . . anticipation. As if something were about to happen. It was not quite like the feeling he used to get on the eve of a battle, knowing what the morrow would bring, but that was the only thing in his experience he could liken it to.

Tal glanced around as if he’d heard something. Or as if the woods held the answer. And for him, Kane had often observed, they did.

"Is it the feeling of waiting?”

Kane stiffened. Really, sometimes the man’s uncanny guesses were too much to be borne. If Tal hadn’t denied it while steadily meeting his gaze, Kane would have believed him a mind reader, a diviner of the sort careful men looked askance at. As it was, his observations were enough like prophecy—and came true often enough—to be thoroughly unsettling.

"The forest is rife with it tonight, is it not?” Tal said, as if he hadn’t no­ticed Kane’s reaction, when Kane knew the man never missed such things. Tal looked back at him once more, holding his gaze levelly. "After all this time, you still don’t trust me? Do you think I cannot feel what you feel? I lived in this forest long before you came here, and I’ll be here long after you’re gone.”

"I will die here,” Kane said. "Will it be that soon? Or are you that much younger than I, then, that you will be here so long after?”

"No,” Tal said, with no clarification of which question he was answer­ing. Kane knew better than to ask; Tal wasn’t in the habit of explaining himself, and Kane had too many secrets of his own to pry into another man’s.

"Where have you been hiding these last weeks?” he asked instead.

Tal gestured vaguely, a motion that took in far too much area with only one common characteristic, which he then spoke in a tone as vague as the gesture.

"Down there.”

Kane’s mouth quirked. "Oh.”

That got Tal’s attention. "It’s getting . . . quite ugly down off the moun­tain.”

Kane went still. "It has always been ugly down there.”

"But it is worse now. The warlords are slaughtering innocents as well as each other. People who have lived in peace for countless years. Who know nothing of fighting.”

"What the warlords—all of them—do,” Kane said, enunciating care­fully, "means nothing to me.”

"And why should it?” Tal said easily.

"Precisely.” It was flat, unequivocal.

"Nothing happening down there means anything to you.”

"No.”

"What happens here on your mountain is the only thing you care about.”

"Yes,” Kane agreed, but he was looking at Tal suspiciously; he had learned to recognize when he was being led by the too-clever man. "Why?”

Tal shrugged. "No reason,” was what he said. But Kane distinctly heard You’ll find out. He stared at the unlikely man who had become, even more unlikely, his friend. He supposed he had to admit that. Tal was not merely not an enemy, somewhere along the way he had indeed become a friend.

But Tal’s barely disguised smile did little to reassure him. In fact, it made him more edgy than he already was.

So edgy that when he heard the rustling sound behind him, he whirled and reached for a sword he’d quit carrying years ago. And straightened up as the maker of the sound staggered out of the dark and collapsed at his feet. He stared down at the woman crumpled in the dirt, strands of fiery hair escaping from the cloth that tied it back.

"Damnation,” he muttered. "Who are you?”

He looked over his shoulder at Tal.

He was gone.

But Kane could swear he heard laughter from out of the darkness.


Chapter 2

JENNA SNUGGLED deeper into the warmth, seeking to pull the sweet tendrils of sleep back around her. The movement sent pain shooting up from her right ankle to her knee, and she came sharply awake. Her involun­tary recoil from the pain in her leg caused another sharp jab of pain in her left shoulder. Her breath caught, and she stifled a moan.

"You’ll regret it less if you stay still.”

Her head whipped around and she sat up, her eyes searching the shad­ows for the source of the deep, rough voice. She did cry out then at the sharp pain that seemed to stab from both her leg and her shoulder.

"As you will, then,” the voice said.

Instinctively she pulled the roughly woven, heavy cloth blanket closer around her. Vaguely she realized the ankle she had twisted had been bound, and that some sort of balm had been smoothed over her bruised shoulder, but her attention was fixed elsewhere. She stared at the man who sat beside her, illuminated only by the single tallow light that sat on a short, wide, upended log apparently serving as a table.

Kane.

There could be little doubt. He was as the legends described him, tall and broad and strong, a long mane of hair as dark as night, cold eyes of an odd, smoky gray. In only one way did the legends lie; they’d called his countenance menacing, frightful, said that his face was twisted into ugli­ness by a wicked scar. The scar was there, but it was as neat and tidy a mark as she’d ever seen, given what must have been the viciousness of the wound that had caused it. And she found his face not in the least ugly. His features were strong; he looked stern and forbidding and more than a little intimidating, but hardly ugly. Scar or not.

"You do exist,” she whispered.

"Obviously,” he said, his tone biting. "The question is, do you?”

She blinked. "Me? Of course I do. I’m here, aren’t I?”

"So it would seem. Unless you’re something Tal conjured up out of that wicked imagination of his.”

Jenna had no idea who or what he was talking about, but hastened to speak. "I assure you, I’m quite real.”

"Then you won’t mind telling me who you are and why you have in­truded upon me.” His tone lowered ominously. "And how you got here.”

Jenna chose the simplest question to answer first. "I walked.”

His eyes widened, then narrowed. "Walked? Up this mountain? From where?”

"My home. At the foot of Snowcap.”

He went very still, and she saw he knew just how far her mountain, known for its permanent cap of white, was from his own mountain abode.

"You walked . . . from there?”

She nodded. "And an unpleasant ten days it was. The storyteller was right. All manner of fierce creatures, fanged serpents . . . I did not encoun­ter the lion he predicted, but enough other things bent on having me for supper to make up for it.”

She knew she was chattering, and realized she was indeed intimidated. But then, who would not be, sitting two feet from a legend? And he looked nothing less than mythical in the flickering light of the tallow lamp, which cast mobile shadows on the walls of what appeared to be a small cave; when they said Kane never left his mountain, she hadn’t realized he actu­ally lived in it.

She was very conscious of his eyes on her. There was a grudging re­spect in the gray depths as he looked at her, his gaze sliding over her body as if noting all the bruises, cuts, and scrapes that adorned it as a result of her arduous journey.

"Who are you?” he finally asked.

"My name is Jenna. I’m of the clan Hawk, holders of Hawk Glade.”

His brows lowered again. "Hawk Glade is a myth.”

The irony of it caught her off guard, and she laughed. He drew back slightly, as if startled—or stung—by the sound.

"No more than are you, sir,” she said. "If I can believe you are the mythical warrior Kane, then surely you can believe in something so much simpler.”

"The Hawk Glade I was told of is a place of peace and magic, of fruit­ful life and happy people. Something I find very much harder to believe in.”

Jenna’s expression changed as the sadness flowed back, erasing all traces of her earlier laughter.

"It was all of those things, once.”

Emotion tightened her throat and she fought it back; this was not the way to approach this man, she was sure. Kane was reputed to be as hard as granite and as cold as Snowcap’s glaciers; tears would not move him.

But she had to move him.

She swiped at her eyes angrily, and the quick motion brought tears of another kind to her eyes, tears of pain as her bruised shoulder protested.

"Rest.”

It was an order, given by a man clearly used to the process. Still, Jenna shook her head.

"I must speak to you. It’s why I came.”

He let out a harsh breath. "I cannot stop you from speaking. But if you wish me to listen, you must rest first. I have no patience to deal with a rambling discourse on whatever fool’s errand has brought you here.”

"It is not a fool’s errand. Desperate, I will allow, but—”

"You have come a long way. You have survived a journey that would have defeated many. For that, I suppose I must let you say your piece. But I warn you now, it is useless. Whatever you wish from me, I cannot give.”

Jenna fought her trembling; was she to be denied without even a chance? She forced her chin up.

"Or will not?” she said, her fear putting an edge in her voice even as she realized it was no doubt unwise to provoke the man she’d come to seeking help for her people.

Kane looked startled at her temerity, then shrugged as if it meant noth­ing. "As you will.”

He stood up, and Jenna caught her breath as he towered over her; he was indeed as tall as legend had claimed him. And as broad. And as strong, she guessed, judging from the powerful lines of his body in the soft leather tunic and leggings he wore. The laces at his throat were loose, as if his chest were too broad to be covered easily, and the sleeves of the garment clung to powerful and supple muscles as if they were his own skin.

He turned his back to her, and Jenna searched her mind for some word, any word, that would make him stay and listen to her. But her mind suddenly seemed to lose the capacity for coherent thought; her observa­tion of his clothing had brought abruptly home to her that she herself was somewhat lacking in that area. She nearly gasped as she realized she was clad only in a shirt of some finely woven white cloth, fine enough to have belonged to the wealthy highborns the storyteller had told her of, those who lived so far away and had such strange ideas about people and ruling.

A man’s shirt. A shirt that swam upon her slender frame so loosely that it could well have belonged to a man the size of Kane.

The fact that it probably did took what remained of her breath away.

SHE HAD WALKED HERE.

Kane supposed, out of everything, that was what amazed him the most. This woman, who would barely come to his shoulder on her feet, had endured a journey that most men he’d ever known would hesitate to undertake on foot. As if the pure distance weren’t enough, the going was treacherous; not only the predators she’d mentioned, but countless other hazards, swift-moving rivers, swamps hiding lethal, shifting sands, thick, scratching underbrush too often dotted with poisonous plants. And all of that was nothing compared to the task of scaling the mountain itself.

But she had done it. She had walked that distance, through such per­ils, and then had had the courage left to risk the dangers of the mountain. Apparently, with him as her goal. He supposed he must admire her tenac­ity; this haven was not a place easily found or reached.

Which brought him to the most interesting of the questions her pres­ence gave rise to: how had she found him? In all the years he’d lived here, only Tal had found him, and Tal knew these mountains like no other. No one else had ever done it. Men had come hunting him, yes, but he’d managed to avoid being seen by any of them. Sometimes he wasn’t quite sure how; once he and Tal had been caught in the open by a group of armed men, yet they had somehow never spotted them, even though it had seemed they were looking right at them. So much so that Kane had been certain they would die, and regretted that Tal would die with him, yet another soul tallied to his bloody accounts.

He shoved aside the memory and turned back to the complication at hand. Regardless of how she’d found him, regardless of the impossibility of the journey she’d made to do it, she was here, and he had to deal with it. With her. And it had been far too long since he’d had to deal with his fellow man, other than Tal, who was different enough to not be counted. And longer still since he’d had any dealings with a woman.

And she was most definitely a woman.

He spun on his heel and began to pace before the fire. He’d had no choice. He’d had to tend her injuries, or they might well have festered, she would have died, and he’d have yet another death on his conscience. There had been nothing carnal in it. He wasn’t fascinated by the bright, rippling waves of her hair; he’d barely seen the womanly curves of her body as he stripped her, hadn’t acknowledged that the soft curls at the juncture of her thighs were a shade darker than her hair, hadn’t noticed at all the way her soft, rose-tipped breasts made his old shirt peak in the most interesting way. That part of him was long dead, and the tightness he’d felt in his lower body merely an instinctive response to the memory of a time when he’d taken his fill of womanly companionship at his whim.

He spun on his heel again, and started back in the other direction. Damn Tal; he’d disappeared as swiftly and completely as that raven of his, just when he might have been of some use. He could have tended the woman, and much more proficiently; he had the knack, while Kane’s medi­cal skills were of the crude, rudimentary kind learned on a battlefield.

And he doubted Tal would be wrestling with such ridiculous thoughts about the woman; he’d told Kane once that he was dead to such things, and he’d found the freedom from such urges quite liberating.

At the time, Kane had heartily agreed, thinking himself in the same situ­ation. But Tal had shook his head, and observed in that maddeningly confident way of his that Kane’s heart wasn’t dead, merely in a long sleep, as the bears of the mountains did in the winter, and that someday it would awaken and be ravenous. That someday the right lady would lay a fair hand at his door, and he would let her in. Kane hadn’t much liked the idea, and had scoffed. Tal had merely smiled and let the subject go.

Again Kane turned, only vaguely aware of the speed of his gait. He would let her stay until her ankle was strong enough to support her again; he had little choice about that. He could hardly cast her out as she was; either the mountain would kill her or its more brutal inhabitants would, as she’d said, make supper of her.

That the old Kane would have turned her out without hesitation was a fact that wasn’t lost on him. If she were of no use to him, he would have left her to her own devices, caring little if she survived. He might have sampled the tempting sweetness of her body first, but even that, as every­thing in life, was transitory, and only of passing interest.

But that Kane was dead. At least, to the world he was dead, a man rele­gated to the status of myth; Kane himself was resigned to the fact that he would carry some piece of that brutal, vicious man inside him until the day he died. The day he had realized that, he’d been tempted to walk down from his mountain and put the prophecy he’d been given to the test; he wasn’t sure he still wouldn’t welcome the death that had been promised should he leave this place. Surely the world would be better off.

"I see you’ve slipped beyond edgy into plain surly.”

Kane spun around, barely stopping himself from again reaching for a weapon that no longer hung at his side. He swore under his breath, low and harsh.

Tal put up his hands, palms outward. "No, thank you,” he said to Kane’s muttered suggestion. "I’ve been there, and I don’t care to go back.”

"Where’s your familiar?” Kane asked, still peeved. He wasn’t used to being taken by surprise, and now it had happened twice in one day. Tal he’d almost grown accustomed to, but that a woman had done it . . .

Tal’s mouth quirked. "I do wish you’d stop that. You know people don’t take kindly to that kind of thing these days. I have no desire to be hanged for being suspected a wizard.”

"Then quit acting like one.”

"Me?”

Tal’s look of innocence was so overdone, Kane couldn’t help smiling wryly. And had to admit, were it not for Tal, he would have been mightily lonely up here on this mountain all these years past.

"Where is the winged hunter?”

"Maud?” Tal shrugged. "Off hunting.”

"And where did you disappear to in such a hurry?”

"Off hunting,” he repeated, and lifted one hand to reveal the results, a sizable rabbit and equally plump pheasant Kane hadn’t even noticed he held. "I thought you might not have time for a while, what with your . . . guest.”

"You seem awfully sure she’ll be here awhile.”

"Won’t she?”

"Only until she’s well enough to walk,” Kane said firmly, while in­wardly acknowledging that he doubted the woman would be up and mov­ing for several days.

"Of course.”

Kane eyed Tal warily; whenever he agreed so easily with something Kane himself was wrestling with, Kane knew he was in trouble.

"She’s quite . . . striking in appearance, is she not?”

"If you like hair that color.” Acolor that made you think you could warm your hands at its fire.

"The color of a sunset? Some do, I hear.” Tal looked thoughtful. "Her eyes?” he asked.

Kane blinked. "I didn’t . . .” His words trailed off. He’d been about to say he hadn’t noticed, but it was a lie; he had. How could you not? "Blue,” he said abruptly. And it seemed a poor word for the intensity of the color; even in the shadowy light of the cave, they’d been bright, vividly blue.

He wondered how long he’d been standing there like a fool, contem­plating the color of a strange woman’s eyes, when he came out of his reverie and saw Tal watching him with obvious amusement.

"What difference does it make?” he snapped.

"None,” Tal said. "None at all.”

"Stop agreeing with me. It makes me nervous.”

Tal laughed. "I’ll be off then, to round up that unruly bird.”

"You mean you can’t just whistle?”

"I can. But Maud is like any woman; she’ll respond only if she’s al­ready of a mind to.”

"I didn’t realize you were so well versed.”

"A wise man should always know as much as is possible of those around him. ’Tis merely a matter of seeing patterns others miss.”

"I thought you said it was impossible to truly know a woman.”

Tal raised a dark brow. "I was speaking of birds.”

Kane flushed. Tal grinned, lifted a hand to his forehead in a mock sa­lute, and disappeared into the forest.

THERE WAS NO questioning that he was angry. And little doubt that it was directed at her. Yet he tended her with gentle care, a care much at odds with his fierce looks. And even more at odds with his widespread, lethal reputation. A reputation so vast he had become thought of as a mythical being, because it seemed impossible anything less could have amassed it.

Jenna had barely felt the pain as he rebound her ankle. It had been slightly less swollen, but she wouldn’t have noticed anyway; she was, she admitted ruefully, far too fascinated by the man bent over her foot.

For two days she had seen little of him, except when he brought her food, tended to her injuries, and assisted her with more personal needs with a brusqueness that made the embarrassing process remarkably less so. He never spoke more than two or three words, and if she tried to begin a conversation he merely walked away. She spent her time testing her recover­ing body with occasional efforts to move, and contemplating her surroundings.

For a cave, it was almost comfortable. She lay in a small alcove off what appeared to be a larger chamber, a room large enough for even a man of Kane’s size to stand upright with room to spare. There were nicheshol­lowed out of the walls that contained what apparently was a winter’s worth of foodstuffs. She lay on a bed of soft fur, and the cave walls were hung with various pelts for warmth from the cold stone. And there was a place across from her that showed signs of being used as a hearth.

She had been curious when she’d spotted that, wondering what kept the cavern from filling with smoke, then noticed the shape of the roof of the cave above the spot streaked with soot. There was a chute grooved into the stone, a perfect, natural channel for the escape of smoke. She would bet, with a fire going to heat the stones around it, the cave would be comfort­able even on the notoriously cold nights of winter in these moun­tains. Kane had chosen well; if you had to live in a cave, this was probably one of the best to be had.

Why he had chosen to live in a cave at all was another question. And she doubted if she would ever get an answer to it. Not that it mattered. Nothing mattered, except getting him to help her. If she couldn’t do that, there was nothing left. Her people would die. And if it came to that, she would die with them. Not just because it was her place as the Hawk, but because the clan was her entire life; she was connected to them in ways she’d never realized until the attacks had begun and she was faced with losing it all.

She shivered, although it wasn’t cold. She had to get Kane’s help. She simply had to. The alternative was unthinkable. And she couldn’t wait any longer. They had rarely gone a week without another attack from the war­lord, and only the magical protection of the glade had kept them from being wiped out already. People were dying while she lay here coddling herself.

Today she had progressed to sitting upright for a long period, and while she was happy at that amount of success, she was anxious to go further. Anxious to get back on her feet. Anxious to get on with her mis­sion.

She had to talk to Kane, and he refused to stay with her long enough for her to do it. So she must, it would seem, go to him.

She managed to get to her knees, then braced her uninjured foot be­neath her. She stood, carefully, uncertain of her own stability. And even less certain about venturing forth clad only in this shirt; although it cov­ered her from neck to well below her knees, she was very conscious that she wore nothing beneath it.

Her eyes told her she was no more revealed than in her own soft leather leggings and the rough-woven cloth tunic she had worn on her journey. And logic told her that Kane must have seen all there was to see of her already; someone had undressed her and put this shirt on her while she lay senseless, and Kane was the only one here.

This realization sent blood rushing to her cheeks, and she wobbled slightly on her feet.

It’s over and done, she chided herself. You cannot change what happened, that you were so weak you tumbled in a senseless, useless heap just as you reached your goal. Let it go. He obviously will not speak of it if you do not.

"If he will speak of anything at all,” she muttered to herself. He would, she thought fiercely. He must. She would make him listen, make him help. Somehow. There were no other options. She would do whatever she had to. Starting right now.

She steadied herself, testing her ankle with a slight bit of her weight. It protested, but she thought she could walk. She turned her head and lis­tened, hoping to hear a sound from outside that would tell her he was there. She heard nothing. But she did spy a small pile of clothing at the foot of the pallet she’d been lying on; her own clothing. Looking tidy and fresh­ly cleaned.

Kane, the mythical warrior, acting as a washer? For a woman he did not even know? It hardly seemed possible. Yet there her clothes were. And welcome, she thought as she reached for them.

It took her much longer than she would have liked, yet less than she had feared, to get dressed. And only partly because of the lingering stiff­ness of her body; she spent far too long trying to envision the fierce war­rior washing her delicate shift with his big, scarred hands. It was an image that made her shiver in the oddest way as she pulled the garment on; she wore it beneath the rough cloth tunic to prevent her skin from being rubbed raw. It was her one costly piece of clothing, and her only indul­gence.

After considering the still swollen condition of her ankle, she decided against her boots; they looked so sadly battered by her trek she wouldn’t be surprised if they fell to pieces should she pick them up. And she would not be walking far anyway; it would be enough test of her injury simply to make it outside.

She hadn’t thought the cave truly so dark; the cloth hanging at the en­trance was pushed back to allow daylight inside, but still she found herself blinking as she hobbled into full light. She stopped, not daring to risk a misstep until her eyes had adjusted. She didn’t want to—

"What are you doing?”

It was short, sharp, and angry. That alone would have told her the source, even if the rough, low timbre of the voice had not already done so. She turned toward him, squinting against the bright sun as he towered over her.

"Trying to become less of a burden,” she said in the sweet, meek voice her brother had always called wheedling.

"If that was truly your concern, you wouldn’t have come here.”

So much for wheedling, Jenna thought. Just as well; she couldn’t sus­tain it for long anyway; meek, Justus had always said, she was not.

Justus.

She suppressed a shiver as grief rippled through her once more. She had no time for such luxuries as grieving, she reminded herself yet again. She had time for nothing except making this fearsome man agree to help her people. Now, with him towering over her, it seemed a much more hopeless task than it had as she’d lain contemplating it.

"You should not be up. Your ankle—”

"Aches, but it is bearable. And it seems a small cost, compared to be­ing wrapped in the coils of a serpent as long as you are tall.”

Her eyes adjusted now; she could see the bemused expression that flit­ted across his face. She doubted it was at her tale of woe, and suspected it was because he was not used to being interrupted.

"I doubt it would take a serpent that length to wrap around such a tiny morsel.”

Stung, she drew herself up to her full height. "Among my clan I am near the tallest of women, and taller than some of the men, as well!”

"I thought this wondrous Hawk Glade supplied all the needs of its hold­ers. Does it not supply enough food to grow full-size men?”

Anger shot through her as she remembered the bravery of those men Kane was belittling, men who knew nothing of warfare or even self-defense, but tried to defend their home and loved ones anyway, even knowing they would die by the score.

"We are more concerned with brains than muscle, with heart and cour­age than blind force,” she exclaimed. "And you will not find better men for those qualities in any place in any land than you will find among my people.”

For an instant she saw satisfaction glint in his eyes, although she could not guess at the cause. What had he to feel satisfied about? That he had provoked her to anger, when she meant to supplicate? That he had prod­ded a wound still so raw that it managed to deflect even her consuming grief?

She had the flickering thought that that might have been his intent, but she could deduce no reason for him to care if she grieved, so she dis­carded it swiftly. And chastised herself fiercely for having spoken so sharply to the man from whom she had come to beg help.

"Sit down,” he said abruptly. "Before you fall.”

"I won’t fall,” she said, although she wasn’t at all certain of that. It just didn’t seem wise to let this man know just how weak she was feeling.

"And I won’t catch you if you do,” he warned.

"I did not ask you to,” she retorted, wondering if it was her weakened state that made her so irascible this day. She smoothed her hands over the rough cloth of her travel tunic. It hung loose without her belt—

Her belt. And the dagger that was sheathed in it. Neither had been in the neatly folded pile of her clothing.

"I thank you for cleaning my clothing,” she began.

"They would have been unwearable had they waited for you to do it.”

"I thought perhaps . . . is there someone else here who . . . does for you?”

He gave an inelegant snort. "The only person who frequents these heights is a rapscallion who disappears whenever the spirit moves him. Which means whenever there’s something he’d rather I deal with.”

Despite the words, there was a rueful affection in his tone; although leg­end held him a man who walked alone, Kane the Warrior had at least one friend, it seemed.

"Then you will be the one who knows the whereabouts of my dag­ger?”

He gave her a long, silent look. "An interesting weapon,” he said, an­swering yet not answering her question.

"It is . . . important to my people.”

"You were to use it, I presume?”

Jenna blinked. "Use it? For what?”

Kane shrugged. "To kill me, of course.”

Please review these other products:

 
Lord of the Storm

Justine Dare Davis

June 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-512-6

Book 1 of The Coalition Rebellion Novels

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
Skypirate

Justine Dare Davis

October 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-423

Book 2 of The Coalition Rebellion novels

A legendary warrior and a slave with dangerous secrets.

Bound by a love neither expected or wanted.

 

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
The Kingbird

Justine Davis

January 2015 $0.00
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-799

A Coalition Rebellion short

Our Price: US$0.00

click to see more

 
 
Rebel Prince

Justine Davis

January 2015 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-560

Book 3 of The Coalition Rebellion Novels

Our Price: US$16.95

click to see more

 
 
Wild Hawk

Justine Davis

February 2015 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-959

Book 1 of The Hawk Trilogy

Our Price: US$15.95

click to see more

 
 
Heart of the Hawk

Justine Davis

April 2015 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-6-215

The Hawk Trilogy: Book 2

Joshua Hawk made her a widow. Now, can he make her his bride?

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more