Aveline de Bondeville is on the run. Determined to keep out of the hands of the cruel Raimbaut de Blois she will do whatever it takes to stay alive. And so when she finds herself in the company of Troy de Gysborne she must quickly decide if she can trust him. But can she confess to murder knowing it would mean her certain death?
Troy de Gysborne did the unthinkable; he tore the bonds of brotherhood and left a path of destruction in his wake. And now Troy must face those he betrayed, including the father who long ago renounced him. But to confess to the crime he committed will cost him everything. Including Aveline. But can he remain silent if it means losing the woman he loves?
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“You cannot escape me, you murderous whore!”
Aveline remained pressed against the tree, desperate to be at one with it. Her heart rammed against her ribs, and she did not dare move, nor did she dare breath, afraid he’d be able to hear her. She glanced at the sky and caught glimpses of the moon through the lattice of leaves and branches. The shadows around her thrashed and snapped as the wind tore through the forest. She rubbed her wrists, bruised and swollen from having been tied. Her lips throbbed, and when she licked them, she tasted the saltiness of blood. Her back, still raw from the flogging, stung as sweat snaked down her spine.
“You are a fool if you think you can escape me!”
The fine hairs on her arms stood on end. Her knees shook. Her belly tightened. And when a twig snapped from somewhere behind, she shoved a fist into her mouth to keep from crying out. She risked a glance over her shoulder. She was greeted with only the blackness of the forest.
She felt safe pressed against the tree but knew she wasn’t. It would only be a matter of time before Raimbaut found her. She inhaled deeply. The scent of rotting leaves filled her nose. Another twig snapped and she pushed herself away from the tree, and with her arms held out in front of her, she sprinted deeper into the woods. Her booted feet skidded on moss-covered rocks, and her bare hands pushed through low-lying tree branches. She stumbled over bumpy roots and shivered as wet leaves brushed against her cheeks.
“You will hang for what you have done!”
His cruel, hellish, voice sounded near. Her heart pounded. Sweat broke over her brow, and she fought to get air into her lungs. He was right. She could keep running, but she would never escape him.
Footsteps sounded behind her. She leapt into the thick scrub and bit back a cry as a sharp twig tore at the flesh on her arm. But the pain was nothing in comparison to what she had already suffered. And would suffer if she allowed Raimbaut to recapture her.
Her hunter stopped in front of her. She could smell his pungent scent on the wind. She could see his yellowed teeth in the dull moonlight. She carefully felt around her, and when her hand landed on the solidness of a fallen tree branch, she wrapped her fingers around it.
He placed his hands on his hips as he peered at the thick scrub that was her shelter. Could he see it move as her entire body shook? Could he see the whites of her eyes? Smell her fear? He took a step toward her, and her teeth sank into her lower lip. Then he turned on his heel and headed further into the woods.
Aveline sat back on her heels as the sound of her heartbeat thrashed in her ears. Her hand shook as she wiped cold sweat from her upper lip, black spots appeared in her vision. Her nostrils flared as she bit down a primal scream. She needed to keep fleeing.
She sensed him behind her seconds before his heavy hand landed on her shoulder.
“I told you I would find you, you whore!”
Her scream was wild. In one fluid movement, she stood and swung the branch and whacked him on the side of his skull. His eyes widened, and he dropped his torch. The flame hissed and sizzled, but did not extinguish itself, as it hit the damp ground. Then he fell to the ground with a loud thump. Aveline dropped her weapon. And when he groaned, she picked up her skirts and raced into the darkness.
She did not dare look behind her. She did not dare cry out as she slipped and fell on the wet, rotting forest floor. Her chest burned, her lungs gasped for air as she fought her way through the thick undergrowth. If the devil took a human form, then it was of the man who pursued her with single-minded determination.
She raced across a clearing and came to a skidding halt as she teetered on the edge of a rocky overhang. The moonlight was not bright enough to see the ravine below. She backed away from the crumbling edge and looked wildly around. A gust of wind whipped her hair into her eyes, but she did not need to see to know he’d found her. He sounded like a bear as he charged through the scrub. Above the howl of the wind, his roar echoed through her ears.
He took slow, purposeful steps toward her. His torch glared in her eyes, and that’s when she saw the blood. On her hands. On her dress. None of it belonged to her.
“You murdered my father.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise grew up in country Victoria, Australia, before moving to England, where for sixteen years she soaked up the vibrancy of London and the medieval history of England. She has since returned to Australia and now lives in Melbourne.
In 2013, Louise won first prize in the historical romance category of the Crested Butte Sandy Writing Contest for her story, The Promise, which has since been retitled and is now known as, Of Love & Vengeance.
When not writing, Louise can be found covered in mud, crawling under barbed wire and hoisting herself over twelve foot walls!