The Blades of the Rose:
From Zebra Books
A LONE WOLF
Nathan Lesperance is used to being different. He’s the first Native attorney in Vancouver, and welcome neither with white society nor his sometime tribe. Not to mention the powerful wildness he’s always felt inside him, too dangerous to set free. Then he met Astrid Bramfield and saw his like within her piercing eyes. Now, unless she helps him through the harsh terrain and the harsher unknowns of his true abilities, it could very well get him killed…
AND THE WOMAN WHO LEFT THE PACK
Astrid has traveled this path before. Once she was a Blade of the Rose, protecting the world’s magic from unscrupulous men, with her husband by her side. But she’s loved and lost, and as a world-class frontierswoman, she knows all about survival. Nathan’s searing gaze and long, lean muscles mean nothing but trouble. Yet something has ignited a forgotten flame inside her: a burning need for adventure, for life—and perhaps even for love…
REBEL was a 2010 RITA Award finalist for Best Paranormal Romance
“The action explodes on page one and the pace never lets up. You’re gonna love Blades of the Rose.” —Ann Aguirre, national bestselling author
Her cabin sat in an isolated meadow, a flat expanse of grass that rested in the shelter of the mountains. A small creek ran through the meadow, cold with melting snow, and spruce trees dotted its banks. In spring, the meadow was dotted with snow lilies and cow parsnip, but now, in the first weeks of September, the blossoms were already gone. Feed for her horse was abundant, though, and it made for a good place to situate herself. She had the creek for water, the mountains shielded her from cold winds, and she was utterly alone.
“Lesperance, wake up,” she said over her shoulder. She slowed her horse to a trot, and it snorted with relief. The poor beast wasn’t used to carrying two people. It couldn’t be more uncomfortable than she was, though. She’d endured hours with Nathan Lesperance pressed close, his weight and muscle tight to her, his cheek resting on her shoulder. “We’re here.”
He stirred behind her, muttering something in a language she didn’t recognize.
Astrid brought the horse up to the step leading to the low porch at the front of the cabin. She dismounted, slinging her rifle onto her back, and was relieved to see that Lesperance had enough strength now to sit up on his own. The blanket had loosened from his grip, however, giving her far too good a view of his flat, ridged abdomen.
“Can you get down?” she asked, forcing her eyes up to his face.
He nodded and awkwardly lowered himself from the saddle, with Astrid providing support. As the blanket at his waist slipped further, she lunged, grabbing it and hauling it up. She closed his grip around the blanket.
When he swayed on his feet, Astrid stepped to his side and draped his arm over her shoulder. “There’s a step here. Lift your foot. That’s right.” She guided him up the step and across the porch. “Wait here.” She leaned him next to the doorframe. Satisfied that he wouldn’t topple over, Astrid pulled her revolver and carefully opened the door, using the wood to shield herself.
She peered into the cabin, just as she always did when returning. A quick scan revealed everything exactly as she had left it: a single room, sparsely furnished with a table, one chair, her bed, a cupboard and three shelves holding her books. At the foot of her bed stood a small chest, where she stored shells for her rifle and bullets for her revolver. A quill and bead-decorated elk hide on the wall was the cabin’s only adornment. The wood stove that served to heat the cabin and cook her food was cold—no trapper or squatter or anyone else had moved in while she had been at the trading post. And no opportunistic raccoons or hungry bears had plundered her larder. Muslin covered the small windows cut into the log walls. She had never put glass into the window frames. Too expensive, an unnecessary luxury. In the depths of winter, she simply wore several layers of clothes and huddled close to the stove.
It was so far removed from what she had been raised in, Astrid almost smiled.
There was no time or room for remembrance. Satisfied that her home was undisturbed, she fetched Lesperance from where he was propped against the doorframe. With him leaning on her, they stumbled into the cabin. She glanced around, looking for a place to set him down. There was only one option, an option she hated.
They staggered towards her bed, and she tried to lay him down carefully across the quilt covering the mattress. Gravity worked against her. Lesperance went down heavily onto his back, and the momentum took her with him. She sprawled on top of him, their legs tangling together, bodies pressed close. She braced her hands on his broad, smooth chest and glared down at him as his arms came up to wrap around her waist. Even through her coat and the blanket, she felt his hips against hers.
“Let go,” she growled.
Yet he didn’t. He actually pulled her closer. “Astrid,” he murmured. “Your voice.” His head came up from the bed as he nuzzled at the juncture of her neck and jaw. “Your smell. Mm.”
She fought to keep her eyes open. Resentment propelled her forward, away from longing. “Let go now.” With a surge of anger-fuelled strength, she reared back, unclasping his arms from around her.
Astrid pushed up to her feet, backing away from the bed. He grumbled a little, but made no further protest. Her chest rose and fell with each strained breath. How long had it been since she’d been so close to a man? Five years and she felt her isolation with every part of her. And now, here was this man, this wounded stranger, invading her home, laying upon her bed.
Astrid strode from the cabin. She took her horse to the corral next to the cabin, then stripped off its tack and rubbed it down as quickly as she could. She didn’t want to leave Lesperance alone in the cabin, even though every instinct she had screamed at her to just run, run and abandon him. Protect herself.
Instead, after attending to the horse, Astrid made herself go back inside. She removed her hat and put it on the peg by the door. Lesperance had managed to get himself fully onto the bed. She pulled her one extra blanket from the cupboard and covered him with it. When she tugged off her gloves, she reluctantly touched her palm to his chest to test the temperature of his skin.
At the flesh-to-flesh contact, they both gasped, as though a current passed through them. His closed eyes flew open and an animalistic growl curled in the back of his throat. Astrid skittered back, stunned by both the immediate response and the feral sounds he emitted.
To get away, she lit the fire in the stove. Even though the feel of his skin had rocked through her, she possessed enough sense to recognize that he was very, very cold, and needed warmth and rest in order to heal. The process of lighting the fire—cleaning out the old ashes, putting kindling into the stove, adding dry twigs and wood as the flame caught, adjusting the damper—helped calm her, remove her, and she took shelter in the routine, as she had for the past four years. She hurried out, pumped some water into a bucket, then came back in and filled her kettle. She set the kettle on the stove.
For longer than she needed to, she stared at the fire. It had such purity, fire, clean and merciless. If only life was as simple and spare as flame.
Satisfied that the cabin was receiving sufficient heat, Astrid turned back to Lesperance. He was her patient, now. The sooner she healed him, the sooner he could disappear from her life forever.
Astrid poured some water into a basin and knelt beside the bed, grateful to see that Lesperance had calmed. Carefully, she peeled back the blanket to look at his injuries. Even before she’d come out to the Northwest Territory, she knew about field dressing. Many times had she tended to Michael’s wounds received on missions, just as he had seen to hers. What she saw now on Lesperance turned her blood to sleet.
These were no accidental injuries inflicted by the landscape or animal. His wounds were man-made, save for the scrapes on his feet, clearly indicating he’d walked a goodly ways without shoes. Thank God, not too serious, but a grievous sign nevertheless. Someone had deliberately done this to him. But who? And why?
She dampened a clean rag and dabbed it at the cuts marring his arms, shoulders and chest. He hissed a little at the cold before subsiding back into semi-consciousness. Soon, the water in the basin was pink, but the blood on his body was mostly gone. No need to use ashes to staunch the bleeding. The blood in the corners of his mouth washed away, and she could find no wounds on his lips or, after carefully prying it open, inside his mouth. Strange. She examined the rope abrasions at his wrists. Bound. Tied like an animal. Yet the bruises on his knuckles showed he had fought his captors. Somehow, he’d freed himself. Examining his hands further, she found dried blood under his nails, but again, there were no actual cuts anywhere near them.
It wasn’t his blood.