Cole’s heart is dark.
He’s a mystery, even to those closest to him in the Assassins Guild. All anyone really knows for sure is that he’s ruthless, grim, and cares little for his own life. So when he loses his memory during an attack and thinks himself a naive eighteen year-old again, no one can really believe the transformation. But as his memory returns, so do the nightmares and the dark reality of who he has become.
Lucy’s world is bright.
When gentle-natured Lucy falls in love with the damaged stranger, she thinks him a smiling, amiable gentleman. But rumors of a murder in the nearby village have her suspecting that her patient may be hiding a terrible secret.
Can opposites really attract?
What will happen when Cole regains his memory and his past catches up to him?
“Help Mr. Coleclough to sit up,” she told her brother Henry.
She gathered the other cushions and propped them behind him, then poured ale into the cup and handed it to her patient. He took it in both hands and drained it. She filled it again, but he didn’t drink.
“Hungry?” she asked.
“No, thank you.” Coleclough seemed surprised by that. “I’m almost always hungry. The maids tell me I eat more than anyone they’ve ever known. Perhaps I ate just before… ” He looked down at the cup then set it on the table near the bed.
“Perhaps you did,” she said quietly. She dipped the linen in the basin she’d filled with water from the ewer and cleaned around the head wound. He grunted but said nothing. “Tell me if it hurts too much, and I’ll stop.”
He didn’t speak as she gently washed away the blood, but he did wince often, and once she heard his teeth grinding. By the time she’d finished, the water in the basin was red. Matilda returned with the bandages and a small jar then left again. Lucy dabbed some of the ointment on a clean square of linen and gently applied it to the wound.
Coleclough tensed and hissed through his teeth.
“I know it stings,” she said, “but it’ll help seal the wound.” She folded a small cloth and placed it against the wound and directed him to hold it as she wrapped a bandage around his head.
“Thank you,” he said, when she stood back to admire her handiwork.
He was certainly a polite man. She’d give him that. Not at all ill-mannered like he’d been on their first meeting. “Mr. Coleclough, do you mind if we, uh, remove your jerkin and shirt. I need to see your other injuries.”
He glanced at Henry who had sat down on the chair near the table, his elbows on his knees, watching. “I don’t know if you ought to…”
“I need to see,” she said.
He blushed. Surely he couldn’t be embarrassed? Such a man would have revealed much more than his bare chest to a woman before.
“Better do as she says,” Henry said. “She may look meek, but she likes to get her own way.”
“Henry,” she snapped.
Her brother laughed. Coleclough’s blush deepened. She helped him out of his jerkin and when it came to his shirt, she wished she’d got him to remove it before she’d put the bandage on his head, but they managed to get it off without too much difficulty.
“Oh,” she murmured, his shirt bunched up in her hands. “Oh my.” She didn’t know where to look. He was covered in bruises. No cuts, thankfully, but the purple blemishes were everywhere—on his chest, shoulders, stomach. “You poor man,” she whispered.
Henry swore softly, shook his head.
Coleclough seemed surprised too. He looked down and studied himself.
“Are your, er, legs sore? Do you think they’re bruised?”
“They feel fine.” He spoke absently, as if his mind were elsewhere. He was gingerly inspecting the bruises on his chest, or so Lucy thought until he said, “Where did all these scars come from?”
Lucy peered closer. So did Henry. “They look old to me,” Henry said, sitting back in the chair again. “I’d say they’ve been there for years.”
“Years?” Coleclough shook his head. “Impossible. The only scars I have are on my back from… ” He cleared his throat but didn’t finish the sentence. He glanced up at Lucy through his thick lashes and pressed his lips together.
“From what, Mr. Coleclough?” She laid a hand on his arm. “I think you’d better tell us. It may shed some light on the mystery of what happened to you.”
“I doubt it.” He sighed and sat forward. “Take a look on my back. There should be four scars there from when my father’s man beat me once.” He frowned. “It was my fault,” he added quickly. “I disobeyed him.”
Lucy moved to where she could see his back. She gasped then covered her mouth with her hand. Her stomach rolled and bile rose to her throat. She caught hold of the bedpost and turned away, closed her eyes, only to open them when she felt Henry move up beside her. He rubbed his hand through his hair and his gaze locked with hers. He looked as sick as she felt.
Beneath the fresh bruises was a web of scars, all a similar length and width, as if the same long, narrow object had inflicted them, and the same hand. They were white and smooth and must have been there a long time.
“Your father’s servant did that to you?” Lucy whispered. How could a parent be so cruel as to order such a thing?
“There’s only four.” Coleclough spoke as if it were nothing… and as if there were really only four. There must have been ten times that many.
Henry put a hand on Lucy’s arm and shook his head. “When did you say you got these?” he asked Coleclough.
“About a month ago.”
Lucy blinked at Henry. There was no way he’d gotten those scars a mere month ago.
Henry frowned and chewed his bottom lip. Lucy was about to tell her patient that he must have been mistaken, when Henry said, “How old are you, Mr. Coleclough?”
“Call me Nicholas, or Nick. My father is called Mr. Coleclough. I’m eighteen, sir.”
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About the Author
C.J. Archer has loved history and books for as long as she can remember and feels fortunate that she found a way to combine the two with her writing. Under her other name of Carolyn Scott, she has published contemporary short stories in women’s magazines, and she also writes romantic mystery novels under this name.
She has at various times worked as a librarian, IT support person and technical writer but in her heart has always been a fiction writer. She has won and placed in romance writing contests including winning RWAustralia’s Emerald Award in 2008 for the manuscript that went on to be released under the title HONOR BOUND. C.J. spent her early childhood in the dramatic beauty of outback Queensland, Australia, but now lives in suburban Melbourne with her husband and two children.
To be notified when C.J. releases a new book, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. She only sends out the newsletter when she releases a new book, and never spams.
You can find out more about C.J. and her books at: Website: www.cjarcher.com, on Twitter: @cj_archer and on Facebook: CJArcherAuthorPage