The Destined Queen [Umbria Series Book 2] [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Deborah Hale
eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: A young woman has fulfilled her destiny by crowning her lover Rath the Waiting King. Now, in this sequel to The Wizard's Ward, she and Rath must decide whether they should fulfill their destiny as king and queen by overthrowing their enemy or strive for a quiet, peaceful life.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/LUNA
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2005
This eBook is part of the following series:
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Stirring in her sleep, Maura Woodbury felt her lover's strong arms about her. Snuggling deeper into his embrace, she had never felt happier…or more frightened.
Her movement startled Rath Talward awake, his big, hard body gripped with a taut wariness. His right hand groped for a weapon. When it found only the soft flesh of his beloved, the tension bled out of him and he pressed his lips to her forehead.
"Can this be real?" he whispered, tightening his hold on her. "Or did I dream it all?"
Maura gave a husky chuckle. "This place does seem too wonderful to be true, doesn't it?"
For some hours they had slept on the grass in the Secret Glade. Over the tops of the trees, the rising sun now kissed the first blush of dawn into the eastern face of the sky. The luminous midsummer moon was fading, having revealed to the lovers a sweet and terrible marvel.
"For most of my life I've slept on the ground." Rath flexed his lean, muscular frame. "But it never felt like this before."
Maura nodded, her tumble of curls rubbing against his shoulder in a caress. Since beginning the quest that had led them here, she, too, had passed many a restless night on the cold, hard ground. The thick grass beneath them now felt more comfortable than any proper bed she'd ever slept in. The soft, warm earth yielded to the shapes of their bodies, cradling them in perfect repose.
Not even the faintest chill of night had nipped their bare skin while they slept. Instead, the darkness had wrapped around them, warm yet weightless. No queen and king could have asked for a more luxurious resting place…or trysting place.
That thought sent a muted shiver up Maura's back, making the fine hairs on her nape prickle. Many weeks ago, she had set out on her quest to find and waken the Waiting King—a legendary warrior destined to liberate her people…and be her husband. The murder of her wizard guardian had forced her to rely on Rath for protection.
At first she had been as suspicious of the ruthless outlaw as he was of her modest magical powers. But each day of their journey, each new challenge or peril overcome, had forged a stronger bond of trust and respect between them. And fueled their forbidden desire for one another.
"Are you cold, love?" Rath pressed his cheek to the crown of Maura's head and passed his large, warm hand down her arm to rest over her hip. "Shall I pull my cloak over us?"
Maura shook her head, wishing it had been nothing more than a cool breeze that made her shiver. "Just hold me closer."
"I'm not sure I can without hurting you."
"You did last night." Maura slid her hand down to graze his thigh. "Though you warned me it might hurt, it brought me a great deal of pleasure."
They had entered the Secret Glade at sunset, resolved to rouse the Waiting King, even though it would doom their unspoken love. Instead, the kind moon had revealed that Rath was the Waiting King, whose true nobility Maura had wakened during their journey. In a daze of delight, they had lost no time consummating their love.
Now Maura wondered if part of their haste had not been a bid to evade a host of troubling questions about their future. It had worked, though, and worked well. As doubts threatened to ambush her again, she sought assurance and happiness, however fleeting, in the one place she knew she would always find it.
"Again?" Rath's dusky eyes shimmered with desire. "So soon?"
She wriggled against him, lofting a teasing glance through her lashes. "Too soon for you, is it?"
Rath threw back his head and his whole powerful body quaked with laughter. "If you cannot feel the truth of that, with all your wanton squirming, then you are not half as clever as I gave you credit for!"
So they made love again, of a different kind than they had the night before. This time the soft glow of daybreak let them see one another as they touched and kissed and explored. The hushed, earnest endearments of the night gave way to lusty banter. Soon their love play took fire and consumed them both.
In the drowsy warmth that followed, Maura's mind wandered, then shrank from what it encountered. She could not stifle an anxious sigh.
"I do not know," Rath murmured his answer to the question she had dreaded asking aloud—"What do we do now?"
She had come to love him with all her heart and she could not have asked for a more precious gift than this sign that destiny had meant them for one another. Yet for all he had proven himself clever and brave and resourceful…even grudgingly compassionate, Rath Talward was not the superhuman warrior she had expected the Waiting King to be. He had no powerful magical weapons with which to fight the Han. No enchanted army to oust those cruel conquerors from the shores of Umbria.
"Where do we even begin?" Maura whispered, scarcely aware she was giving voice to her thoughts. "You liberated one of those horrible mines, which was an amazing feat for a single man and his prisoner comrades. But to free the whole kingdom…"
"We had help, don't forget." Gratitude for that aid and admiration for her courage warmed Rath's words. Then his arms tightened around her once again, and his voice took on a harsh edge. "And you barely escaped with your life."
How Maura wished she could forget. Forget the seductive poison with which the death-mage had enticed her. Forget the suffocating darkness into which she'd descended after defying him. One victory had not tempered her fear of the Echtroi, and their death magic.
Copyright © 2005 by Deborah M. Hale