Chapter One

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I woke up lying on a cloud. It was alarming.

I snatched for the hilt of my sword, distrustful of the feeling of waking up in warmth and comfort. My weapon was absent; as were most of my clothes. My feelings of alarm and distrust tripled. My first objective was to find out where I was. Second objective: find a weapon. Finally, fight my way through anyone and anything standing in my way.

I sat up and scanned my surroundings sharply. Wherever I was, it was dark and hard to see. Someone took hold of my arm. Seizing the nearest hard object I found, I turned to my right and struck my attacker in the head with all my force.

"Christ, Zaina! Damn you and yer sure aim..."

Where I was turned out to be a dark bedroom in a well-furnished home, sitting in a comfortable bed. The weapon I had grabbed turned out to be an ornate candlestick. The person I had struck smartly in the face with it was Dark, whom had awoken to my panicked state and had grabbed my arm in an attempt to calm me.

Lowering the candlestick, I felt blindly in the darkness until I found his hand. Using it as a guide, I trekked up the length of his arm, to his shoulder and to his head, which I inspected for damage.

"You could have killed me!" he said dramatically, shifting away from me and threat of further injury.

"Hold still," I cajoled him. "It was accidental..."

He winced when my probing fingers touched the bruise on his temple. "I don't call a woman's fearsome swing to the side of my head 'accidental'," he replied caustically.

I decided to change the subject. "Where are we?"

In the darkened room, he was no more than a silhouette that shifted. "You don't know?"

I paused to consider. The spike of panic had subsided, and my memories of previous days had started to trickle back to me, answering the questions my alarmed mind had asked.

I had been so thoroughly shocked to wake up in a comfortable bed, and in a safe place to boot, that my mind had refused to believe it. I had expected to wake up in my bunk on the ship, or—far more likely—cold and damp in a dingy jail cell.

Truthfully, I hadn't expected to wake up at all.

But I had lived through my ordeal. I had survived. The realization of my survival over the past two days finally hit me: full and unrelentingly in the chest.

I started to sob. It seemed like the only reasonable thing to do.

"Z-zaina?" Dark's irritation evaporated into shocked concern. "What's the matter?"

Wracking sobs shook my entire body. I was only dimly aware of Dark next to me, murmuring reassurances. When my tears subsided, I was exhausted again. I flopped backwards into the pillows, breathing heavily.

Dark, mystified by the decidedly jarring experience of an outpouring of feminine emotion, awkwardly stroked my head.

"It's all right..." he muttered, sounding so uncertain and confused that I burst with laughter.

He snatched his hand away like my sudden insanity was infectious. "I'm alright," I told him breathlessly, reaching across the bedspread to link my hand in his. "Truly."

Dark grunted, unconvinced. He looped his arm around my waist and pulled me closer to him. Holding me tightly, probably to contain any further outbreaks of intense emotion, he leaned his head against my hair. I slid my arms around his naked torso in reply, and we held each other in shared relief.

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