Excerpt: Twin Passions

Excerpt: Twin Passions

Book One: Captive Brides

“What is your name, lad?” Hakon spoke first, catching Gwendolyn off guard.

“Uh…Ga-Garric, my lord,” she stammered. God’s blood, she winced, how could she be convincing as a boy if she did not even know her own name? Hoping Hakon had not seen her confusion in the gathering dusk, she ran her hand through her short curls and rushed on boldly. “It is good of you to return us to our homeland, my lord. Our father will reward you greatly.”

Hakon sighed. If he had hoped earlier he might win their trust, he knew now that in the next few minutes he would earn only their hatred. “We sail for Norge, lad. There will be no turning back.”

Stunned, Gwendolyn could not speak. No turning back. The finality of those words echoed in her mind, and she shook her head in disbelief. Anora had also heard them. Whirling around, she stood numbly beside Gwendolyn. “But you said earlier…you said when we reach shore—”

“Yea, that I did, lad. But I did not mean your homeland.”

Wrenching pain lit Anora’s eyes, causing Hakon to swear softly. You are growing soft, man, he chided himself. Hardening his heart, he continued. “I am not usually in the habit of making excuses for myself, but in this situation I feel I must. I had no hand in your capture. My ship needed repairs, and we took refuge along the river these past three days.”

Nodding toward Svein and Torvald lying on the deck, he added, “Those men acted against my orders, and for this they have been punished. But I cannot return you to your homeland. We have almost a full day of sailing behind us already, and we must make haste to Norge on a matter of grave importance to me.” Feeling he had offered enough explanation, Hakon heard his voice grow hard. “The gods have brought you to me and you must accept your fate. I offer you my protection, and when we reach Norge you will remain with me as slaves in my household.”

Gwendolyn’s head snapped back, hatred and defiance burning in her eyes. Any hopes she had of fair treatment by this man had been cruelly dashed. “I know naught of your gods,” she said disdainfully. “But if it is slaves we shall be, then know this, Viking. You are no different from the two you punished earlier. Aye, even worse, if you hold us against our will!”

“Think what you must, lad, it makes no difference. Slaves you will be—you have no choice.” Sighing wearily, Hakon turned from them. “I will bring you furs to sleep on tonight, and some food.” He walked away slowly, feeling their eyes upon him. Yea, life could be cruel, he thought, understanding their feelings. Yet he also understood his own.

Anora. Whispering her name, Hakon stood alone at the prow of the ship, gazing into the darkened sky. He was drawn to her as he had never felt drawn to any woman. It was as if her emerald eyes had cast a spell upon him, and he could do nothing to dispel his attraction for her. Yea, even if he had wanted to, he knew now he could not let her go.

Gwendolyn allowed herself only a moment of self-pity before she turned to Anora. Her sister’s face was deadly pale in the moonlight, her eyes fixed and devoid of emotion.

“Anora, listen to me,” she whispered, suddenly afraid. She had never seen her sister like this before and it frightened her. Shaking her roughly by the shoulders, Gwendolyn forced her to meet her eyes. “Anora, I vow we will return to our homeland, and you to Wulfgar. You must trust me in this. I will find a way for us to escape!”

A flicker of response lighted Anora’s eyes. “Promise me, Gwendolyn?” she murmured plaintively, clutching her sister’s hand.

“Aye, on my life…I promise.”