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By Mary Reed Mccall

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Giselle de Coeur . . The Crimson Lady . . Bringing herself to a halt in the center of the chamber, Fiona stood regal and silent. An answering quiet settled uneasily over the room, and she let her gaze drift to meet the glances of those around her, paying attention to the men in particular, noting the various expressions of sur- 40 MARY REED MCCALL prise, disapproval, suspicion, or interest on their faces. But most of all she saw hunger . . hot, unabashed lust. The certainty of it washed over her, leaving her feeling both shamed and oddly reckless.

They’d left her shop and traveled only a few hours before the rain had forced them to find shelter off the main road. Any latent fear of being accosted by bandits had dissipated long before that in the face of the foul weather unleashing itself all around them. The terse words they’d exchanged while making the decision to stop had been their only conversation since she’d first succumbed to his bullying tactics. In the end they’d rested for a few hours, wrapped in cloaks and tucked under the branches of a huge tree— completely separated from each other by their steeds and the small cart containing her trunk and a few provisions— until the worst of the rain had passed and he’d insisted that they push on.

But just before she drifted off into dreams writhing with painful shadows, Braedan’s image filled her mind, his gaze full of sincerity, his voice echoing with that husky, persistent entreaty that had somehow captured her attention from the first, even when she didn’t know the truth of his plight or his suffering at Draven’s hands. Aye, it was a fine predicament Braedan de Cantor had mired them in, she mused, frowning as she slid deeper into restless slumber. A mess that would require all of her skill if she was to free them of it with bodies and souls intact.

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