While on a journey to collect his betrothed, Galeron comes upon a young maiden in the forest. She has no memory of who she is or why she's there. The gash on her cheek says she's suffered terrible abuse. He's instantly smitten and dubs her Ruby of the Forest. However, names do not matter as they discover magical passion beneath the forest canopy.
Ruby accepts his offer of a safe journey to his home, all the while wishing he could offer what she wants most--his heart. At Ramstone, Galeron and Ruby's passions grow day by day. Tidbits of her memory return a little at a time, and she realizes her life intersects with his--and not in a good way.
Will Ruby discover her past? Or will her past discover her when she least expects it?
“What was your destination? Most importantly, did anyone in your dream call out? A name mayhap? Furthermore, why would—”
She jumped up and raised her hand. “Wait! ’Tis quite a flurry of questions.”
He sat up. “Then answer one at a time.”
“Are all knights as daft as you?” She grinned. “Which of the countless queries shall I respond to first?” She tapped her finger on her bottom lip.
He’d nibbled that lip. Kissed that fingertip. He didn’t hear her words at first. Finally he tuned in to hear, “…thrown from a horse, and most disturbing, I believe someone wishes me dead. I have nay other answers. Even those are not clear.”
“I should keep my questions to myself.” And his unpure thoughts.
“Actually, your questions are the same ones I now ask myself.” She motioned the length of her body. “As well as to why I am wearing this garb.” She laughed.
He felt her laughter within him—and how badly he would miss it when they parted company. “’Twould be fitting for you to possess a name as well.” He ran a finger through the strand of hair that had been torturing him. It was as soft as he imagined. Then, he untwisted the cord beneath her chin.
Her breathing quickened as he removed the hood, but he could not stop. Transfixed, he watched the long, auburn locks spill from her hood and onto her shoulders.
He released a breath. “I shall dub you...Ruby.” Her jade eyes flickered with yellow specks in the sunlight. “Ruby of the Forest.” Galeron widened the mere shadow of space between them. The single step back seemed a chasm of eternity. “Ah, those red tresses are a jewel in themselves.”
“You are insufferable.” Clicking her tongue, she smiled and headed for his stallion. “Such a fool.”
He laughed. A fool for her, mayhap.
“Why did you leave?”
“The same reason I am asking you to do the same.” She pricked her finger on a dead stem and placed it in her mouth.
“I am not fond of riddles. Why did you leave Ramstone?”
“To remain…” She swung around. “Far from you.”
He closed the distance between them. Standing a breath away, she looked into his eyes. “I do not need you or anyone else to think for me. Fight your own battles, and leave me to mine.”
Galeron took Ruby by the arms. “Fair one, it takes all I have not to shake you. Bring the boy and his family along if you must, but return to Ramstone!”
Ruby shrugged from his grasp and shoved him. She was shouting now. “I am not one of your duties anymore. You are free of me. You have your betrothed and I belong to another.”
“I am not so easily convinced. I know there is naught between you and Palmer.”
“Not him, but someone. What other reason would I feel I have a child of my own? I must belong to another.”
He strode to her, pulling her into his arms. “If you have a child, we shall find the young one. As far as belonging to another, he is less than a man. If you were missing, I would not rest until I found you.”
Ruby clenched her jaw. “You say this as you set out to find your betrothed?” She leaned back as his gruff whisper brushed her cheek.
“If I have to carry you over my shoulder to do so, I shall bring you back to Ramstone.”
Ruby slapped him on the cheek. His head turned with the force of her blow. For a moment they faced each other, their breaths intermingling while they stared each other down.
She blew at the wayward lock falling in her eyes and jerked her head to the side when he reached to push it from her face. “I am not free and neither are you.” She shuddered when he cradled her chin in his hand and placed the tendril behind her ear. Her eyes met his when he wiped the tears on her cheek. “Damn you. You are about to be wed. I refuse to be your wench.”
“I would never ask you to be my wench. I simply wish to assure your safety while I am gone. However, I find...” He brushed his lips against hers. “I have missed you, Ruby.”
The torture of doubt ripped at her. Anger collided with warmth, sinful cravings with confusion and she spent all of her emotions on him.
The stubble of his beard scraped her chin. She grabbed his neck as he kissed her and hoisted herself, wrapping her legs around his waist. Galeron’s moan twisted around her heart while their tongues intertwined in a frantic dance. His broad hands roamed down her back and cradled her bottom. She pressed against him and reached into his tunic, feeling the warmth of his body. His chest rose and fell beneath her fingertips while she reeled in the darkness he brightened. She cried out at the sensation of his lips following the low neckline of her bodice. She felt him tremble when she pressed hard against him.
“Woman, refrain from doing that.”
“This?” She grinned and wrapped her legs tighter around his waist.
“You know not what you do, milady.” He slowly lowered her feet to the ground. Stilted breath flowed from his lips while he kissed her temple. “God in heaven,” he whispered. “I did not intend to…”
“Neither did I. Shhh.” Ruby closed her eyes and listened to his heartbeat pounding as hard as her own. Let this be. Allow the haunting reminders of her past to release its grasp. Would fate deem she belonged to another? Ruby wanted to believe fate would be kind for once.
Her eyes flew open at the nearby gasp and she shoved out of Galeron’s embrace.