Awaking in the forest, a young maiden recalls naught—including her name. Equally conflicting is her desire to both slap and kiss Sir Galeron, the knight who claims to have protected her while she was unconscious. Much to her chagrin, he dubs her “Ruby of the Forest”, due to her red hair, and insists she find refuge at his home of Ramstone. Prickling at his demanding ways, but with no other option, she accepts his offer. And although his kiss flames her attraction even more, Galeron dashes it with a confession. The brute is trothed to another.
Ruby’s journey is filled with laughter and weeping, daydreams and discovered abilities. But never does she feel complete. Her heart longs for a future that her past may destroy. Evil lurks, treading on each tidbit of memory she recovers. Will Ruby ever recall her past? And after an attack in the village that sparks a horrific nightmare, does she even want to?
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“Ask me anything. Mayhap I can help.” His deep voice broke the silence.
How was he to help? “Pray tell, how did we come to share the forest?”
“I shall explain.” He bent and picked up a twig, then proceeded to peel the bark off. With each curl he tossed aside, she grew more frustrated.
‘Twas better to allow mistrust. Stand strong. She gasped. Unexpected, the thought rang with such clarity, it seemed someone else had spoken. “Perchance you should be honest. Did you drug me? Spell me?”
He tossed the twig aside. Though his eyes remained on her face, her whole body felt his scrutiny. “‘Twould do you well to hold your tongue.”
“I am beginning to dislike you,” she said, knowing full well the opposite was true. She truly wished her insides would cease…prickling? And her head. Damn, it ached so. Tingles and pain aside, she tried to focus. “Do you intend to explain or not?”
“I seek a means to tell you gently.”
With a slight shrug, she said, “No need for gentleness. You already tossed me about.” She grinned despite the truth in her statement.
He sighed. “It appears you are lost.”
“God’s eyes, knight!” She shook her head. “You must be a great sorcerer to possess such insight.”
“Your tongue shall be your undoing. Best you still it.”
Twice he attempted to stifle her. She clenched her teeth. “Still it?”
Galeron’s jaw twitched and she wondered if he were quelling a smile. “I found you here in the woodlands. I did not hold you captive, drug you, or harm you.” He blinked slowly. “Hold to that.”
She nodded. “Forgive—”
“Nay need. I understand. You now stand a day’s ride from Ramstone. Have you heard of it?”
He pushed off the tree and came to sit beside her, his thigh nearly touching her own. Nearly. It took a moment for her answer. “Nay, I do not recall Ramstone.” The fact she did not recall much of anything choked off the rest of her response.
“Odd,” he said, more to himself than her.
Sighing, she realized how badly her masquerade of bravery was faltering. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his hand come toward her. Surprised at the urge to lean into his touch, she remained still and allowed him to brush back the wisps of hair from her brow. His hand lowered in a fist, yet his voice was laced with tenderness.
“It pains me that I cannot give you answers.” His gaze strayed from her face, lowering to her neck.
Covering the neckline of her tunic with both hands, she glared at him. “Focus elsewhere.” He sees me as a woman after all. She dashed the thought away. Almost.
“I intend nay disrespect. The bruising on your neck concerns me.” Gently brushing her hand aside, he took a closer look. “Fingerprints.”
It took all she had not to cry out. Who harmed her?
“When we discovered you, there was nay sign of anyone else.”
She glanced around. “We?”
“I sent my men home.”
She blinked. Then blinked again. “Your men.”
“My brother, a healer, assured me your wounds were not serious, so I decided to wait—”
She put up her hand. “Why not leave me under the care of your healer? Or leave me in the nearest village?”
He swallowed hard. “It matters not! Are you always so…so…inquisitive?”
Ah, this man was not used to being questioned. She tried to ease his surly mood. “A shame your men were sent on their way. No one laid witness when I kicked you and bashed your comely face before you so unceremoniously dropped a maiden to the ground.”
He blew a long breath. “You insist on repeating that. Had you dressed appropriately, I would not have thought you a lad.” His chuckle made her grin. “Although you certainly fight like a maiden.”
She swiped her hand through the air. “Carry on.”
“Carry on,” he muttered. “I fear you shall interrupt again.” He looked up through the trees, ignoring her huff. “We still had several days before reaching our destination when we found you. With that in mind, I postponed the journey and sent my men back to Ramstone.”
“I see.” She studied the frayed edge of her tunic. “How long have I been here?”
“I watched over you a single night. How long you were here remains a mystery. I was only gone a short time for I needed to boil meat into a broth to sustain you. Had I known you were a maiden, I never would have left you alone.”
Her head snapped up. “Yet you would a lad? I am not defenseless simply because I am a female.”
Galeron’s eyes hardened. “Aye, ’tis so. I returned to find you brandishing a dagger. I left it in case you awoke and felt unsafe, not to use against me.”
She ran her hands through the leaves and shrugged a silent apology, too stubborn to utter it out loud.
Damnation, she hated when he addressed her with those words, and yet it awoke something in her, for he said it with tenderness. She glared at his smiling face. “Why are you calling me that?” To her chagrin, what she’d meant as snide came out as quite curious.
He splayed his hands in question, “Would you prefer I call you lad?” Two furrows appeared on his brow at her silent glare. “Because, you have yet to give your name.”
Disarmed, she swallowed her spiteful attitude. “If I only could.” She locked away her tears, her dismay, and did her best to keep her voice steady. “I hoped you would know…would say it by now. Sir Galeron, I…I recall naught before I saw you standing before me.”
Seeming to battle with her revelation, Galeron’s expression flitted from stunned to confused. Then his gaze bore into her with such tenderness it nearly undid her. “Nay memory?” he finally whispered.
She shook her head. He guided her head to his shoulder. Barely a moment passed before he released her, rose to his feet, and strode away. Unsure of why he left so abruptly, she frowned when he looked back.
“I regret I cannot ease your uncertainty.” He stooped to gather twigs. “However, I am able to ease your hunger. After breaking our fast, we shall take leave.”
She dabbed her impending tears as soon as his back was turned.
“We should arrive at Ramstone by nightfall.”
“I am to stay at your home? What shall your wife think?”
“There is nay wife.” He grabbed a branch and added it to his arms. “But there is plentiful family about.”
Holding the tree for support, she stood, waiting for the dizziness to subside before she followed. When he turned, she picked up a branch, embarrassed at how silly she looked traipsing on his heels. Gathering an armload of kindling, she stole glances at him, each time wondering how it would feel to remain in his arms. She piled the branches then watched him arrange them.
“Building a fire?” Hark, she was a fool.
“Nay, I am building an abode.” And he solidified the fact.
“I want my own chamber then.” Several paces away, she sat. Sunlight peeked through the forest canopy. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the warmth. Like a constant itch, she felt his gaze. She slowly peered through her lashes. Aye, he was staring—no—studying her face. Her gash. Her ugly face. She sighed and looked to the sky instead.
“God’s eyes,” he muttered.
She turned to him. Very well, if he finds a need to gawk, I shall give him a full view of my battered face. “Sir Galeron, what worries you so? Has my plight delayed your duties?”
“Nay.” He jammed the skinned carcasses on a sharpened branch.
“I heard your curse. Was it in frustration of not reaching your destination?” Oh, how she wished to smirk at his rudeness, but she kept her poise.
“I was not delayed from anything that could not wait.” Keeping his eyes shielded, he placed the meat across the spit before offering a weak smile. “I pray forgiveness for my curse reaching your ears.”
Wrapping her arms around her legs, she rested her unscathed cheek on her knees. “Curses are naught. I am simply thankful you helped me, Sir Galeron.” Apparently he was too kind to mention her affliction. She hated the pity.
Seemingly distracted, he arranged kindling then retrieved a piece of hammered steel and flint from a pouch on his belt.
“I pray you can forgive my initial rudeness.” When he didn’t respond, she added, “Ah, I gather forgiveness shall come with time.”
Galeron struck the steel with a bit of flint. “I never held ill will. I understood the reason you lashed out.” He blew on the kindling until it caught. “You are forgiven for bashing your head into mine as well.”
“Ha!” She rose and strode to the fire. Her gaze flitted over his body. He looked up, catching her stare, and alas, stared back. Heat crept up her neck, spreading to her face. Surely, ’twas the fire’s heat causing her flush—she hoped he believed the same lie.
Galeron grinned. His demeanor was infuriating. And endearing. And more confusing than her loss of memory.
“Sit.” He continued to tend the fire.
She paid no heed to his demand, and thrust her hands toward the fire. To her dismay, the sharp smell of the rabbit caused her stomach to roar with hunger.
Galeron’s blue eyes sparked with mischievousness. “I gather ’tis been some time since you ate?”
“Apparently.” She plunked down on a fallen log, certain her face turned countless shades of crimson.
Taking a seat beside her, Galeron chuckled and poked at the fire. He was so close she could smell the woodsy scent on his skin. She inhaled deeper, tucking the fragrance into her mind to savor when she was left to her own.
He cleared his throat. “Allow me to tend to that cut.”
Inwardly cringing, she changed the subject. “How long before we eat?”
With a quick wink, he leaned back and rummaged in his saddle pack. Taking her hand, he placed an apple in it, keeping one for himself. His smile highlighted the dimple in his chin and she found herself offering a genuine smile in return.
“Ah, glorious,” she said, grateful he didn’t see how his touch affected her. Waving his offer to use his dagger, she bit heartily into the fruit, and moaned, relishing the explosion of juice across her tongue. “Naught could taste sweeter in this moment.”
Oh, but she did know one thing that might. Tasting the nectar on his lips would certainly qualify. She sensed his tension when she took a bite. Mayhap he had the same thought? He grunted and crunched into the apple, mumbling something about a damn green-eyed mystery.
Were her eyes green? Damnation. Her mind was truly addled.
About the author:
J.M. Powers harbors an alter ego of a normal woman named Jeannie. (Her editor is still on the fence about the whole ‘normal’ thing.) Jeannie’s proficient at research, gluten-free cooking, and embarrassing her teenagers by wearing skinny jeans to the grocery store. J.M., the author-ego, plunges so deep into her writing; she forgets life outside her creations still goes on. More often than not, J.M. answers with a glassy stare when her family asks what’s for dinner. Despite the craziness between reality and the world of writing, life falls together without broken bones or hearts.