Sam floated in darkness, swept along by the currents of an ocean so black no light could penetrate or escape. The sky was starless, the same impenetrable black; sky and ocean melded seamlessly together. Sam felt nothing—not the caress of the water nor the cool fingers of wind, nor the weight of her own body. She heard nothing, too, the utter silence deafening.
And then she heard it—the beat of a drum—soft at first, and then louder and louder until it thundered in her ears, vibrating in her skull. The waters became choppy and rough, and lightning zigzagged through the stark black of the sky. Each time lightning struck, the world flashed brilliantly white. Sam saw glimpses of faces in the white, faces she recognized and faces she did not. Shorn blond hair and a rugged jaw, colorless eyes that held more sadness than any one person had a right to, worry lines across the forehead of a beautiful young woman.
And then there was pain—unbearable, excruciating pain, worse than a hundred broken bones or a thousand seeping cuts. Her body screamed out in agony and her back arched, sharp needlepoints pricking her everywhere.
“Shhh,” came a soft, feminine voice. “Shhh, you’re alright now.” A gentle touch swept Sam’s hair behind her ears and something cool and damp was draped across her brow. Then darkness claimed her again and all was silent but for the beat of the drum.
Tristan ran his fingers through his hair. Over the past week, he’d run his hands through the same tract of hair so many times it was a wonder he hadn’t gone bald. “Has there been any change?” he asked the doctor.
The doctor fixed him with a scathing glare, and Tristan winced. Tristan had asked the question twenty times a day since the Uriel took over Sam’s care, and apparently the good doctor was tired of hearing it. “No change, but she’s stable. As I’ve told you before, you will be the first to know if her condition changes, Master Lyons.”
Master Lyons. Tristan still wasn’t used to his new station. He was a nobody now, a man like any other. “Thank you, Addie.”
Addie Branimir nodded distractedly. “Now get out of my sickroom. You’re in the way.”
It shouldn’t have surprised Tristan that the Uriel’s doctor was a woman—and Sander Branimir’s daughter, no less—not when his trainee was his own betrothed. Gods, what a shock that had been. He didn’t believe Braeden at first, and Sam’s face had been so bruised and bloody that it was impossible to reconcile it with the girlish countenance he remembered from his one encounter with the young Lady Samantha. But Braeden had no reason to lie to him, and as Sam began to heal, Tristan slowly started to put the puzzle pieces together.
As for Addie, she could scowl at Tristan for his constant pestering all she wanted, but he would be damned if he lost his betrothed for a second time.
Before exiting the infirmary, he took one last, lingering look at Sam’s pale face. The bruises had faded to yellow and the cuts had sealed over into thin pink lines, some of which would scar. But it was the wound below her neck that scared him—one iota closer and the High Commander’s blade would have pierced her heart. Still, a deep wound to the chest was a grave if not fatal injury, and though her breathing and heart rate were steady, Sam had yet to regain consciousness since she was wounded. Addie changed the dressing twice a day, but refused to let Tristan see what lay underneath the bandages. “A woman has to have some privacy,” she had said.
“I’m her betrothed,” Tristan had insisted, peeling back the thin sheet that covered Sam from neck to feet. Having none of it, Addie had slapped his wrist with the dull end of her lancet. “My sickroom, my rules. Get out.”
If she weren’t so hell-bent on keeping him out of her sickroom, Tristan would have liked Addie Branimir. She had a no-nonsense attitude and a compassionate bedside manner befitting a doctor. As tall as most men but built with the lush curves of a woman, she was, Tristan had to admit, breathtakingly beautiful—the kind of beauty that caused a man to lose his head and a woman to hate her on sight. Addie had inherited her father’s hazel eyes and dark red hair, though it was impossible to tell its length or texture since she wore it in a sensible bun. Her full lips and straight nose, however, must have been gifts from her mother. But she didn’t act like most beautiful women Tristan knew—Addie was far more interested in mending broken bones than in fluttering her eyelashes.
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Sam is the most promising swordsman among this year’s crop of Paladin trainees...and knows it. Brash, cocky, and unbeatable with a sword (well, almost), Sam is the kingdom of Thule’s best hope against the violence wrought by demons. The only problem...