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The Garnetsword [The Two Kingdoms Book 1] [MultiFormat]
eBook by Caroline Aubrey

eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Romance Night Owl Romance Reviewer Top Pick
eBook Description: She was a widowed warrior, reluctant heir to a divided throne, thrust into a rescue mission that brought her deep into the heart of enemy territory. But Aurora Carreon, Lady Grayslake, seeks not to avenge her husband's death at the hands of their enemies, but to spread a message of love and forgiveness in the foreign lands adjacent to her home. Rebel, soldier, fighter, lover: Jedren tribal resistance fighter Ardan of the Wolf Clan serves his tribe well, fighting for survival in a hostile land between two hostile rulers. A cold, calculating strategist, he is also a man of intense emotions: passion, anger, love, and hate. When he captures Lady Grayslake, the beautiful, fierce warrior elicits a desire he thought long dead and gone. Two sworn enemies. Desire born out of hatred and distrust. When Aurora is captured and taken deep into enemy territory by the man who murdered her husband, will she fulfill her mission of love and peace, or will she give in to the dark desires elicited by the touch of her greatest enemy, who took from her the one man she loved most of all?

eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, Published: 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2010


4 Reader Ratings:
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Night Owl Reviews Top Pick! "Early on in the story, I sympathized with Aurora. Her character is written extremely well and her motivations are fully explained. I felt and understood Aurora's anguish, and I was moved to tears several times with her pain and betrayal. Even though the plot becomes apparent early on, I still cried when the inevitable happened. When I cry during a book, I take this as a sign of a well-written story and fully developed characters. Aurora and her story definitely fit this description. The Garnet Sword is an extremely emotional and heart wrenching book, in all the good ways. Although I found the pacing erratic, my overall impression of the story is undiminished. I am unsure of the direction of the series after such an explosive beginning, but I am looking forward to another beautifully written, all-encompassing story." Reviewed by: KatieSeely, Night Owl Reviews "Intense! Without a doubt. Riveting, action packed from beginning to end, this one came to the get-together and brought the party :) I was pulled into the story from the start. The world building was FANTASTIC. It is clear the author had everything worked out for the world, characters and the story. Nothing was out of place. Enemies? Maybe, but oh so hot! Rock it Ms Aubrey!" Seriously Reviewed


Prologue

Steam rose like an ascent of prayers climbing toward heaven as water trickled from an ancient underground stream across smooth black rock. Whispers echoed off the rocks of the cave and candlelight flickered on the glistening darkened walls of porous black stone. Steam rose off the water, heated in natural pools that existed underneath the ancient walls of the abbey above which this pool stood. A woman lay in the water, boneless, floating underneath the tiny ripples of the water as it lapped upon the dark rocky edge of the rim of the natural mineral pool. In this place, close to the heartbeat of the land, there was a deep sense of tranquility, of peace, in a land that was engulfed in a terrible and bloody war.

Voices approached, echoing off the damp walls.

The woman sighed. Water rolled against her, like warm, strong hands stretching her flesh in the darkness. Aurora... His voice a prayer in the darkness.

Against the dark rock, there was no differentiation between the thick, dark hair of the woman who rested in the water, not even the sound of her breathing echoed in the silence, as she lay still in the soothing sluice. She was dreaming a dead man's touch upon her and resisted the urge to wake.

My love, forever... His voice was the water lapping against her body, the gentle movement of breath in her hair, upon her face, upon her throat. His hands pressed upon the tear-stained cheek, lips moving ever so softly against the wetness there, his hair falling in tiny rivulets around her face, her neck, her hair. Remember me...

How could she forget? His scent seemed everywhere on her, wood smoke, chicory, sandalwood, the heat of him forged against her skin, his thighs pressed between hers, the long, strong fingers pulling her flesh onto his. Fresh tears flowed from her eyes and down the planes of her cheeks, falling down her neck and flowing into the water. 'Tis your ghost I cannot be released of but I must release you...

Aurora... His whisper was a prayer to her, to the temple of her body, lost within the dark recesses of the water lapping upon the sacred shores. His hands were gentle, movements insistent, and she longed to turn to his warmth in the darkness, his scent everywhere upon her, taking over where her mind left and her body lengthening against his. Aurora...

Two robed figures approached, and stood, their whispers silent as they set their gaze upon the woman. One of them gasped in surprise when only the tiniest movement of sound was heard and the woman in the bath opened her eyes. And then there was the shock of light eyes against the darkness. "It is time, Sister."

With that, when her eyes opened, her ghost lover was gone. In his place was just water and rock, caressing her body with warmth, softness, and the dark.

The woman rose, graceful and catlike in her movements. Water cascaded from her in showers into pools collected in black rock as she stood. She held out her arms, reed straight from her sides, and the two robed figures placed a dark robe around her, belting it, and covering her head with the attached hood. Following her attendants, the woman moved silently, standing nearly head and shoulders above them, along corridors lit with candles and smelling of old wax and water. Along a solid rock corridor they began to climb, where dampness clung to wet walls, drying as they moved further up the path until they emerged from the rock caves and continued through what seemed to be solid wood into a darkened chamber. They had emerged from the earth, and moved now into a large yet spartan chamber that held a large bed, a pitcher and bowl, and a chair. Laid upon the chair was a simple dark tunic, sleeveless, which one of the attendants lifted as the other took the robe from the woman's shoulders.

Gently leading the woman to sit down, the attendants moved to either side of her, one began dressing her; the other took to task the combing and braiding of the woman's waist-length black hair. It wasn't until they had finished braiding and tying the tunic and had stepped away from the woman when one of them laid a hand on her shoulder and said, "Sister. Come."

The woman's gaze met that of her attendants in the mirror. Her eyes, the color of pale, rare amethysts, glowed eerily in the candlelight. One of the attendants moved forward again, holding his arms outstretched to the woman, and straining under the weight of the object he held. Heavy, long, and wrapped in linen, the woman took it, loosening the silken cord that held the wrapping in place. Her fingers felt the familiar, smooth, cold metal as the linen fell away. Kneeling, she placed one hand on the jewel-encrusted hilt of the sword and with the other crossed herself. "Father," she whispered, "help me to endure the trials you set before me, that I may be a worthy servant in the service of your holiness. Amen." Standing, she sheathed the sword in the scabbard at her hip, and followed her attendants out of the room and down candlelit corridors, her bare feet sinking into stone flooring. On and on they moved, walking the long corridors, until they came to a thick door. The attendants pushed it open, and more candlelight greeted them, and the woman moved inside.

Rows upon rows of warriors dressed in shining armor sat, facing one another in a great hall, dark cloaks of the blackest blood red spilling from their necks and shoulders, golden crosses embroidered upon both front and back. They turned toward the open door, all eyes upon the tall, graceful young woman naked under her tunic, reed straight and eyes straight ahead. "Sister Aurora Elenora Carreon of Grayslake," a male voice bellowed from the inner sanctity of the hall, "you have knocked, and the door opened. What do you ask?"

"Admission to the Order," she answered in a clear, resounding voice. The sound of her voice came as somewhat of a shock to her. These words were the first she had uttered in nearly a year; a year of silence and prayer and preparation for this very moment. Her voice did not crack, did not break. Clear as if she had used it just moments earlier.

"Daughter of Valyermo and Elenora, sister to Filiberto and Sidon, do you renounce possessions which bind you to human weaknesses and pledge your life to God?"

"I do."

"Do you place your life and will in God's hands, serving no one but him?"

"I do."

"Do you pledge service and honor to the Regent of this Land, in whom God has given power over others to rule fairly and wisely?"

"I do."

"Do you accept the trials the Order places before you, the final ritual prescribed since the beginnings of this Holy Brethren?"

"I do."

"Come forward."

Row upon row of warriors stood suddenly, as Aurora Carreon stepped along the cold marble floor toward the facade of the hall. In front of her, as she walked, stood Alvand Everend Delorme, the Duke of Tyrrywood, General of the Guard, the Chief Priest of the Order of the Aegis Garnet, his gold armor shining in the candlelight, like a beacon calling her home. To his left stood his lieutenant, a giant of a man with curling auburn hair hanging in ringlets past his armor and cloak. Another lieutenant, the general's second, stood a head shorter than the first, her blonde hair shining in the candles and held back in a thick braid. Beside each of the lieutenants stood the clerics of the Order, dressed in long black monastic robes. Behind Aurora was the life left long ago and the ghost of a love so great that even death could not separate them. Ahead of her, her new life beckoned, the life she'd accepted so long ago in service to God and Queen.

As she approached the captain and the others, Aurora saw out of the corner of her eye, seated at the head of the warriors, the Mother Abbott of Wollstonecraft Abbey. When she reached them, Aurora knelt, taking her sword from its scabbard and lowering her head to it. "I do your bidding, Captain."

You have suffered a great loss, Mother had said when she arrived at the Abbey, three years before this moment. I bid you welcome, and sanctuary. Mother had cared for her, had taken her in, when she had nowhere else to go. When she was battered and broken, wounded in soul as well as body, she needed Mother to reassure her, love her, make her whole. Only God could heal those wounds, and by the grace of God, Mother had given Aurora back her soul.

The general turned toward his first, and nodded, then toward his second, and did the same. The two approached Aurora, and knelt beside her, facing her. As the first held her arms at her sides, the second moved to her right arm, and with a tiny, sharp knife dipped in a dark liquid, began the carving of the ritual tattoo, curving its way from the top of her shoulder, through the curved slope of muscle in her forearm, winding around her elbow and to the tip of her wrist.

Tiny beads of sweat began to pearl at Aurora's brow, but she did not gasp, did not cry out, did not look away. Her eyes bored straight ahead, into the general's, who stood silently, watching as the second dipped the tiny instrument into a bowl of dark ink, working the color into the wound. Aurora's grip tightened along the hilt of her sword as the second carved into her arm the symbols which told of the history of the Aegis Garnet, wrapped in a straight blade along the curves of her flesh, topped off by the image of the dark, red jewels that matched those in her sword.

The pain was great. Father God, her mind wanted to cry out, give me the strength to endure this final ritual... Aurora knew what was to come, in this final test of endurance, this final ritual which had bested even the strongest warrior. Surely, running in the icy rain in the deepest winter wood with nothing but a tunic on and water buckets tied to her shoulders could have prepared her for this? Surely, the bruises and blood from sparring with the first as he pummeled her, day after day, could have prepared her for this? And surely, the broken bones and bruised and torn flesh she had experienced at the hands of the master of the guard day in and day out until she was stronger, more resilient, resistant to pain, silent the whole time, these rituals designed to sculpt the most hardened body, the toughest soul, the truest of the true warrior clans of the land?

None of this, the broken bones, bruises, lumps, cuts, gashes, not even the final ritual of branding the warriors with the age-old crest of the Order that bound them to it for life, was worse than losing him who she loved most in this world in the way that she had.

Her skin throbbed with a dull ache when she heard the captain's voice. "Stand, Sister Aurora, the Grand Tempest, and by the will of God be joined to the Aegis Garnet forever!"

Aurora raised her eyes to the cheers of her brethren, some three hundred knights, warrior monks such as herself. The Mother Abbott of Wollstonecraft came forward, as the second dressed and bandaged Aurora's arm. Armor was placed over Aurora's shoulders, snapped and secured by the captain and the first, and Mother draped the blood-red cloak over Aurora's shoulders, smiling. "My dearest." Mother held Aurora to her, her tiny arms stretching around Aurora's strength. "Welcome to the Order."

The second finished snapping Aurora's armor over the bandage, and turned to admire her handiwork. "Welcome, Sister."

Aurora bowed slightly, showing deference to her superior. "Thank you, Sister Marguerite." She looked up from her bow, and winked at the second.

"Far braver than most." The second, Marguerite Medus, smiled back.

"Join your brethren in honor, Aurora," the general said, and Aurora did so, standing between the elven duke himself and the first. As she looked out at the smiling faces of the robed clerics as well as her brethren knights, a sense of peace overcame Aurora. With her past behind her, she looked toward the future God had in store for her as an Aegis Garnet warrior.


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