Gryff Donovan is on the run from the witch, Serepta, who had once enslaved him.
Marri, future Queen of Brynn Tor, is on the run, hiding from her brother, Artur, who intends to kill her, thereby removing his only obstacle to the throne.
A chance encounter brings Gryff and Marri together. Knowing there can be no future for the two of them doesn’t quench the attraction between them, or lessen the danger of discovery.
As days pass, attraction turns to affection, and affection to love. With her life on the line, and time running out, Marri’s only desire is to be Donovan’s Woman.
The woman with the long golden-blonde hair was still sitting at the end of the bar when the last sky pilot staggered out of the place. Gryff Donavon shook his head. He didn’t know who in blazes she was, but as sure as white tigers ran wild in the jungles of Brynn Tor, she didn’t belong in a dive like this. She was too quiet, too polite, and looked far too innocent. So, who in hell was she? And what in blue blazes was she doing in a slag heap like Ironntown?
Picking up a rag, Gryff began to wipe the bar top, hoping she would take the hint and get lost so he could close up. But she just continued to sit there, staring into her empty glass as if it held the answers to all the mysteries in the galaxy.
Damn and blast. He was going to have to throw her out.
Tossing the rag aside, he moved toward the end of the bar.
The woman didn’t stir, didn’t look up at his approach.
“We’re closing,” he said curtly. “That’ll be three credits for the drink.”
Lifting her head, she met his gaze.
Gryff swore softly. She had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. Large and almond-shaped, they were a brilliant blue-green, as clear as the Byrnn Sea at sunrise. Sad eyes bright with unshed tears. Damn and blast! The last thing he needed was to get involved with some lost soul.
Leaning forward, he crossed his arms on the scuffed bar top. “You want to talk about it?”
She stared at him blankly. “Excuse me?”
“Something’s troubling you. You want to talk about it before you go?” Listening came with the territory. He had lost track of the number of sob stories he had heard in the last five months.
“Go?” A single tear slipped down one pale cheek. “Where should I go?”
Gryff dragged a hand across his beard-roughened jaw. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, but what did it matter. “Home?” he suggested.
“I…” A second tear followed the first, promising a flood to come. “I don’t know where that is.”
“I guess I must be.”
He blew out a sigh. “You got a name?”
“Of course. Everyone has a name…” She hunched her shoulders as a sob racked her slender frame. “I just can’t remember what mine is.”
Damn and double damn. If he was smart, he’d throw her out on her curvy little butt and lock the door behind her. Too bad he had never been smart where pretty women were concerned. If he had been, he wouldn’t be holed up here now, in the arm pit of the galaxy, serving drinks to sky pirates and marauders.
“Come on,” he said, “you can spend the night at my place.”
If he’d been expecting an argument, he didn’t get one. Rising, she rounded the bar and followed him out the crooked back door and along the winding gravel path that led to the rundown shack he currently called home. It wasn’t much to look at, inside or out, but he could come and go as he pleased and that was a big plus.
Inside, he switched on the room’s single light, heard the familiar skittering as the roaches that shared the house with him scurried into the shadows.
He didn’t miss the look of revulsion on the woman’s face as she glanced at her surroundings. He didn’t know who she was, but he would have bet his last credit that she had never been in a dump like this in her life. And it was a dump, from the uneven dirt floor to the drooping ceiling. The amenities were scarce - a faded green divan, a rough-hewn, three-legged wooden table, and a chair. A single barred window looked out on the barren desert.
Well, he’d seen better places in his time, too. But he much preferred freedom in a roach-infested shack to the life he had known before, where every day had been a fight to survive. Hell, he had the scars to prove it.
He jerked a thumb toward the curtain that divided his living quarters from the bedroom. “You can have the bed.”
“Thank you.” She stared at him a moment, as if trying to decide if she knew him or not, then stepped behind the ragged brown curtain and disappeared from his sight.
She was a strange one, he mused as he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it over the back of the room’s only chair. Sitting down on the lumpy divan, he pulled off his boots and reached for a cigarette. He lit it, took a deep drag, and sighed with pleasure. With the price of imported cigarettes, he couldn’t afford more than one smoke a day. It was his one vice, and his one indulgence.
He took another drag, his mind wandering to the woman. She seemed disoriented, maybe a little muddled. Well, it didn’t matter. She could spend the night here and then she was on her own. He had enough to worry about, what with Serepta’s informers and guards scouring the western territory looking for him, though it seemed unlikely that anyone would look for him in this godforsaken place. Still, it paid to be cautious because he sure as hell wasn’t going back to being Serepta’s lap dog!
He smoked the cigarette down as far as he could, stubbed it out on the dirt floor, and stretched out on the lumpy couch, his thoughts turning toward the distant, snow-covered mountains of home. Some day, he thought as he drifted off to sleep, some day he would see them again.
She sat on the edge of the bed, her head cradled in her hands. What had made her agree to stay with this man? And yet, unless she wanted to sleep outside, what other choice did she have? And why, oh why, couldn’t she remember who she was?
Sometimes she could almost remember her name, but as soon as she tried to grasp it, it slipped through her fingers like smoke in the wind.
Why couldn’t she remember?
She ran her hand over the poorly woven material of her long brown skirt. It felt alien to her touch, as if some part of her knew that she were used to finer things. Had she truly chosen such a dreadful frock? And in such a dismal hue? But then, for all she knew, muddy brown might be her favorite color.
She glanced at her surroundings. How could anyone live like this? There were reddish-brown stains on the walls; she didn’t even want to think what might have left marks like that. The floor was dirt. No spread covered the bed, just a moth-eaten, gray wool blanket. No drapery at the single, narrow window, and only the stub of a candle for light.
Tears stung her eyes. She told herself it was useless to cry. It would solve nothing, change nothing, but still the tears came, rolling down her cheeks faster and faster, until she was sobbing uncontrollably. She was lost on a barren planet. She didn’t know who she was. And she was sitting in a room that was barely fit for human habitation.
“Here now, what’s wrong?”
She looked up, startled to see her benefactor staring down at her. He had a very nice voice, she thought absently, in spite of its gruff tone.
She tensed as he sat on the bed beside her. Stars above, was he expecting some intimacy from her in exchange for a place to spend the night?
“Take it easy,” he said in that same gruff tone. “I’m not gonna hurt you.” Pulling the black kerchief from around his neck, he wiped the tears from her cheeks. “What’s wrong, honey?”
She stared at him, startled by the unexpected endearment. What was wrong? She didn’t know who she was or where she was, couldn’t remember how she had come to be in his establishment, or what had possessed her to agree to stay in his house. What was wrong, she thought, teetering on the edge of hysteria. What wasn’t?
Muttering an oath, he drew her into his arms and patted her back as if she were a child.
For a moment, she remained rigid, then slowly relaxed against him. It felt good to be held. His hand, though callused and twice the size of hers, was gentle as it slid up and down her back. He smelled of tobacco and sweat. She was sure there had been a time when she would have found his odor distasteful but it was oddly comforting now, as was the steady beating of his heart and the feel of his broad chest beneath her cheek.
“I’m guessing you’ve got some form of amnesia,” he remarked after a time. “Either that or someone drugged you to make you forget who you are. Either way, your memory will probably come back in a few days.”
She didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He could be lying. For all she knew, he could have been the one who drugged her. Still, his words made her feel a little better.
“How about if I call you Cay?” he asked.
She repeated the name in her mind. Cay. It was pretty, but totally unfamiliar. She sniffed, then nodded her approval. “And what should I call you?”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Gryff.” He was a handsome man, with his long blue-black hair and tawny skin. A thin white scar bisected his left cheek. A second scar ran down the right side of his neck and disappeared beneath his shirt. Strangely, instead of marring his appearance, the slight disfigurements added a touch of rugged masculinity she found oddly appealing. It was hard to judge his age, but she guessed he was in his mid-thirties.
“Just Gryff,” he said.
He smiled at her and something warm and totally unfamiliar blossomed deep within her, making her feel as if she had swallowed a piece of the sun.
“Why don’t you try and get some sleep?” he said, rising.
She nodded. “Thank you for everything.”
She stared up at him, thinking there was something strange about his eyes. Earlier, in the tavern, she would have sworn they were dark brown but now they looked almost gold. She shook her head. It was bad enough she didn’t know who she was. Now she was imagining things.
He gazed down at her a moment, then glanced out the window. She followed his gaze, though she could see nothing through the dirty glass but the faint silvery light of the moon peeking though the clouds. She felt him tense a moment and then, without another word, he turned on his heel and left the room.
She stared after him, puzzled by his abrupt departure. With a sigh, she stood and went to the window. What had he seen out there? She glanced left and right, but saw only the rising moon. It played hide and seek with the drifting clouds. Here and there, a few stars were visible.
She was about to go back to bed when a movement from outside drew her attention. Leaning forward, she saw a large black wolf standing only a few feet away from the shack. It stared at her through golden eyes for a long moment, then turned and trotted away, disappearing into the scrub brush beyond.
Jerking away from the window, she hurried back to bed and pulled the covers up to her chin.
A moment later, a wolf’s mournful howl lifted the fine hairs along her nape