Valor of the healer, p.1

Valor of the Healer, page 1

 

Valor of the Healer
 



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Valor of the Healer


  Valor of the Healer

  By Angela Highland

  The Rook

  An assassin hired by vengeful elven rebels to kill the calculating Duke of Shalridan, Julian walks into a trap and barely escapes with his life. Healed by a beautiful captive in the dungeons, he’s enthralled and vows to free her from the duke’s clutches.

  The Hawk

  A Knight of the Hawk duty-bound to cleanse elven magic from Adalonia, Kestar has a secret—and heretical—ability to sense the use of magic from afar. He knows something suspicious is happening in the duke’s keep, but he has no idea how deep the conspiracy goes.

  The Dove

  A half-elven healer with no control over her magic, Faanshi is the goddess’s to command. She’s always been a pawn of the powerful, but after healing two mysterious and very different men, she faces a choice that may decide the fate of the whole kingdom…

  Book one in the Rebels of Adalonia

  113,000 words

  Dear Reader,

  April is when the romance conference season really starts to get busy for me. Every spring, I attend the RT Book Reviews convention, a gathering of about 500 authors, readers and publishing professionals who come together to celebrate their love of both romance and genre fiction Each year, I come away from that conference, and the many others I attend that are focused on the love of books (like the Lori Foster Reader Get Together in Ohio), with a renewed enthusiasm for diving back into my to-be-read pile. As well as a long list of authors and books to add to that to-be-read pile! But because it’s a busy travel time of year for me, that also means more time on the plane and in airports for reading.

  Maybe you’re like me—traveling to conferences and in need of some plane reading. Or maybe you just need one more book to add to your to-be-read pile. Possibly you’ve got a newborn baby who keeps you up at night and gets you up early in the morning, and you need something you can read on the ereader in one hand while the baby is in the other. Or perhaps you’re just in search of a good book. You’re in luck; our April books can fill all those needs!

  The first book in our newest genre addition, New Adult, releases this month. If you love contemporary romance, sports romance, a (mostly) Jewish, spunky heroine and a hero who will make your heart melt, you’ll want to read Rush Me by debut author Allison Parr.

  This month, I’m pleased to introduce the first book in a six-book series written by four authors. Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher, Emily Cale and Maggie Wells kick off a series of contemporary romance short story collections with Love Letters Volume 1: Obeying Desire. Each volume will center around a different seriously sexy theme. I’ll bet you can’t guess what the theme of the first volume is, with a title like Obeying Desire! Look for the second volume, Love Letters Volume 2: Duty to Please, releasing in May 2013.

  Fans of contemporary romance will enjoy Saved by the Bride, the first book in a new trilogy by RITA® Award-winning author Fiona Lowe. Who knew that being a klutz and combining it with a distrust of wedding bouquets could lead to a black eye?

  Joining Fiona and Allison in the contemporary romance category is Kate Davies, with Cutest Couple, book two in Kate’s high-school reunion trilogy, Girls Most Likely to… Look for the conclusion of the trilogy, Life of the Party, in May 2013.

  Co-authors Anna Leigh Keaton and Madison Layle deliver another scorching Puma Nights story with Falke’s Renegade, while Jodie Griffin joins them in heating up your ereader with her third erotic BDSM Bondage & Breakfast book, Forbidden Fires.

  On the paranormal and science fiction front, we have a number of titles for fans. Veteran author Kate Pearce begins a new series with Soul Sucker, in which Moonlighting meets The X-Files in San Francisco Bay and two worlds collide. Kat Cantrell, winner of Harlequin’s 2011 So You Think You Can Write contest, joins Carina Press with her first science fiction romance, Mindlink, while returning author Eleri Stone gives us another jaguar shifter in Lost City Shifters: Rebellion, book three in this compelling series.

  Clockwork Mafia by Seleste deLaney brings us back to the Western steampunk world of Badlands. Inventor Henrietta Mason is retiring from airships and adventuring to return home to Philadelphia. Determined to erase all trails leading to her late father’s duplicity, she dismantles his lab and removes all records of the Badlands gold. And last but certainly not least in the paranormal category, Night of the Dark Horse by Janni Nell continues the adventures of Allegra Fairweather, paranormal investigator.

  This month, Bronwyn Stuart follows up her fantastic debut historical romance, Scandal’s Mistress, with her unique regency romance, Behind the Courtesan, featuring—you guessed it—a courtesan heroine.

  On the non-romance side, Jean Harrington brings us the third Murders by Design cozy mystery installment, Killer Kitchens.

  And joining Carina Press with an epic fantasy trilogy, Angela Highland tells the story of a half-elven healer with no control over her magic. Faanshi has always been a pawn of the powerful, but after healing two mysterious and very different men, she faces a choice that may decide the fate of a whole kingdom. If you love fantasy, pick up Valor of the Healer, book one in the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy.

  As you can see, April is full of books to distract you wherever you are, whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and even if you have a baby in your arms. I hope you enjoy these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed working on them.

  We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to generalinquiries@carinapress.com. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

  Happy reading!

  ~Angela James

  Executive Editor, Carina Press

  www.carinapress.com

  www.twitter.com/carinapress

  www.facebook.com/carinapress

  Dedication

  For Lyre, Mehul and Salmalin, who loved Faanshi first

  Acknowledgements

  Valor of the Healer is, in a very real sense, a book it’s taken my entire life to create. The world that became Adalonia, Nirrivy and Tantiulo took shape way back when I was in high school, writing novels by hand in spiral-bound notebooks when I should have been taking actual notes in class. That said? Valor would not exist as it does today without the help of some extremely awesome people.

  Astra Poyser Laughlin was the founder of the online game AetherMUSH, where I played from 1999 to 2002 as four different characters, including the original incarnations of Faanshi and Julian. Aether was a rich, complex role-play environment, and that Faanshi and Julian stayed with me is a testament to Astra’s vision, which brought it to life. Likewise, I must thank Ajit, who I met on Star Wars MUSH, for convincing me to come over to Aether and create Faanshi as my first character.

  Props for the third of my main characters coming into existence go to Amanda Hayes. Kestar is named for two of her NPCs, K’star and E’rian, who both romanced my character Mehlani. In his current form, my Hawk has nothing else in common with those boys except names. Nonetheless, they are in a way just as much his parents as Dorvid and Ganniwer.

  As with the development of most books, an army of beta readers contributed to this one. Foremost are Mimi Noyes, who contributed early advice on the opening chapters; Kathryn Tewson, who contributed much brainstorming on character development, especially for Shaymis Enverly; fellow session player Ellen Eades, who gave me excellent ideas for how to improve the book on a big picture level as well as catching a whole fleet of typos; housemate Paul Johnson, who pointed out the boot knife trick Kurt Russell pulls off in Big Trouble in Little China, and which I swiped for Julian in Chapter One because it’s cool; and last but not least, my own beloved Dara, who gave me a much better strategy for a one-handed
assassin to use when he’s about to take out a target, and who also advocated making sure that Julian should get Unexpectedly Pointy at the slightest provocation.

  The rest of my beta readers include Michael at Pike Place Market, Roger Crew, Rachel Blackman, Jenny Griffee, MOO-friends Cow and the Mevs, Janne Tørklep, Jenna Moran, Emma Speagell, Geri Fargher, Angelica from Facebook, Glenn Stone, Sherri Meyer, Joely Sue Burkhart, Howlin’ Hobbit, Tina Beck, Lisa Rock, Luisa Prieto, Chong Lee Leian, Jessica Madden, Kenneth Aalberg, RJ, Leannan Sidhe and Ghislaine from Facebook. Many smiles in particular to Heidi Retzer for being Julian’s very first fangirl.

  Author Kat Richardson pointed me in the direction of my agent Miriam Kriss—and thanks must also go to Miriam, for being willing to take on a query out of the blue, for believing in this manuscript and for taking me on as a brand new client.

  Most of all I’d like to thank Angela James and Deborah Nemeth of Carina Press for giving my Dove, Rook and Hawk a chance to take flight.

  I hope you all will enjoy their tale!

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  About the Author

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  Kilmerry, AC 1876

  No moon crossed the sky that night, nor did any starlight pierce the clouds to dilute the darkness. A rain-heavy breeze rattled the windowpanes of Lomhannor Hall and breached its walls in a hundred different places, filling its chambers and corridors with drafts. Those within huddled in their beds with warming pans and down comforters, lulled into oblivion by the weather’s assault. No one was awake to catch a stealthy tread on the Hall’s back stairways, the ones where only the slaves and servants walked.

  There’d been challenges to getting in, of course, though a wagonload of cobblestones and a laborer’s garb had gotten Julian past the gates. Bundled up in his coat against the wind and rain, the groundskeeper had been far more interested in his warm hearth than in explaining to an oaf of a stonemason why His Grace the Duke of Shalridan owed him three ducats for the delivery, not six. The argument gained him leave to argue his case to the seneschal, and no one challenged him once he was inside the Hall. A servant’s walk and a wheedling tone of voice told those he passed that he had an accepted place in the daily order of life.

  And the map of the great house from the footman he’d bribed told him where to hide until darkness fell.

  Sequestered in that empty cellar, he shifted from his disguise to his working attire. It took time—he had but one hand with which to change his appearance, one eye with which to see what he was doing. But with systematic care, laborer’s clothing yielded to formfitting black, the gray wig to his true hair. Cotton wadding removed from his cheeks altered the structure of his face, and soot from the hearth closest to his hiding place darkened it, turning him from head to foot into a walking shadow. A black patch, pulled into place, hid his false left eye, and a leather glove swathed the false hand on his right wrist. All throughout he checked and rechecked his weapons, making sure they occupied the places his left hand could reach.

  In the night’s smallest hours the Rook emerged to take the servants’ stairs to the third floor, listening for any sound that might be out of place, and keeping a wall to his blind side at all times. With the patience of a snake slithering past a drowsing lion’s paws, he investigated every corner, doorway and alcove, never moving till each one proved safe. He would reach his goal—but only if the lion did not wake.

  Behind his mask of soot, Julian’s mouth curled in a tight smile. Lomhannor meant heart of the lion. But the place’s venerable history and the structure that evoked its name, hinting at the shape of a massive crouching cat, interested him far less than its wealth. On any other night, any of the prizes a thief could spirit out of the place would have tempted him. Tonight, however, he sought a different prize. Tonight he sought a life.

  As he stole through the passageways, Julian reviewed his mental map of the Hall. The footman’s parchment erred in the sizes of certain rooms and the number of doorways in certain corridors, but it led him nonetheless to the southeastern wing, where the duke and his family resided. Their wing of the house faced east for the best views of the town in the valley below, and south in honor of the Duchess Khamsin’s distant homeland. In the vital details of that wing—which doors would be locked, which rooms uninhabited—the parchment was accurate enough. So far.

  Julian’s pulse quickened in anticipation. No one roused at his passing, and no guardsmen leaped out to intercept him. His way to the door of the duke’s suite lay clear. Everything he’d done so far—getting on to the grounds, slipping into the Hall itself, every second he’d spent on preparation while in hiding—it was all prelude. Now it was time for the symphony.

  No bar or lock held the door against him, the first disquieting note in the aria building in his blood. A hallmark of a nobleman who believed himself inviolate within his own walls, this unlocked door? Or the warning sign of a trap? Either was plausible. He frowned. As he slipped into the suite, through sitting room and study and at last into the bedchamber, he scrutinized every last shadow. Night turned the heavy mahogany furniture into indistinct hulking shapes and drained away the colors of walls, ceilings and the arching canopy above the bed. One curtain hung open, admitting just enough light that Julian could make out the shape beneath the sheets and blankets.

  His target. Temptingly close, but he couldn’t advance too quickly, not even now. Too many potential hiding places for attackers surrounded him, and chief among those was the shape to his left that could only be a wardrobe, large enough to hide a man within. Julian didn’t bother to test its doors. Instead, he snatched a chair to his right, hefting it up with his one hand so that it wouldn’t scrape upon the floor, and set it down before the wardrobe.

  Then at last he approached his quarry.

  He bristled with daggers, two on his boots and more up and down his frame, everywhere his left hand could swiftly reach. But those were utilitarian weapons pared down to the essentials of hilt and pommel and blade, and they were for combat. This night’s work required a subtler tool. With one sidewise, slicing motion of his right arm, he released the delicate spike of glass and steel embedded in his false hand. For attack or defense, it was no match for his knives. But for the administering of poison, it had no equal.

  On soundless feet he reached the bed, and there he found that the last vital nugget of intelligence from the footman held true. The Duke of Shalridan had a fierce snuff habit, one he was known to indulge upon waking in the morning. As promised, a snuffbox waited on the nightstand in easy reach. Julian flicked the box open and, holding his false hand steady, gave three taps to the first of two small buttons beneath its glove. For each tap, a drop of concoction of his own design slid down through the extended needle and into the snuffbox’s contents.

  With the first part of his plan accomplished, he turned to the bed itself to carry out the second. Only a few drops more would be needed—in his target’s ear, or better yet, straight into the open mouth if the man happened to snore. He wasted no motion as he snared the outermost blanket, false hand at the ready. As with his weapons, so too with him: he was pared down to focused, fatal grace, the Rook about to strike.

  But as he peeled back the blanket,
the woman in the bed rolled over. Her teeth flashed white in her dusky face, distinguishable from the shadows only by that trace of reflected light. “My husband,” she hissed, “will have your eye for looking upon me without my veil!”

  Then she screamed, bizarrely grinning, as if it somehow gave her joy. She lunged at him, one hand flying out from beneath the pillows to reveal a blade of her own. In the same instant, from beneath the bed, another hand seized his left ankle and pulled him down hard.

  Trap! Julian had no time for thought beyond that, not with threats above and below. One quick jab to the second button on his false hand retracted the poisoned needle even before he hit the floor, and only then could he deal with the figure under the bed. With his right foot he triggered the catch on the blade strapped to his left boot, releasing it so that he could stab forward—and the crunch of bone and a strangled howl told him he’d found his mark. With his right arm he caught the charging duchess against her stomach and flung her on, forward over his head.

  That gave him only seconds to surge to his feet, pull the leather-hilted dagger from the sheath at the small of his back, and pivot to seize the woman. She came at him again with her knife, but neither her speed nor her training matched his. With ease, he dodged the slash she aimed at his face and whipped his right arm around her, his own blade into position at her neck.

  “I’d advise you to drop it, my lady,” Julian crooned into her ear, breathing in the scent of cinnamon and oranges from the black braided rope of her hair.

  “The women of Clan Sarazen disarm for no one,” she snarled. “I’ll take your eye myself, and give it to my lord. He comes now, accursed snake! Eshallavan, my husband! I’m here!”

  Running footsteps and the rasp of swords unsheathed heralded an imminent response to the scream, and as the Rook hauled his captive toward the windows, three guardsmen burst into the room. While each wore the duke’s livery of red and gold, only two had the pale complexions of Adalon men. The third was as dusky of skin as Her Grace, though only his eyes showed above the red korfi scarf wound round his face, and his blade curved in wicked contrast to the straight swords in his companions’ hands. Yet all three of them skidded to disconcerted halts as they beheld their duchess at knifepoint.

 
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