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The Sirrus Orb
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-595-9
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Science Fiction
eBook Length: 343 Pages
Published: July 2008



From inside the flap

The Sirrus Orb - a mysterious artifact of unsure origin. Some say druids made it. Others claim it was crafted in the Abyss. Eric Carvon is the human warrior commissioned to retrieve the Orb for a powerful wizard. The raid Eric leads to capture the orb goes foul, and he is thrust into a world where he doesn’t belong. Searching for the wizard who tricked him into the disastrous raid that killed all his men, Eric learns of the true evil trying to drive the races apart. He must also put his trust in the very elves he had been trying to destroy.

Eric must face harsh truths, the worst being that everything he had fought for previously was a carefully plotted lie.

The Sirrus Orb (Excerpt)


Chapter 1

The well-kept manor, ringed by a tall stone defense wall, sat atop the long ridge of an ancient roadway, and looked down upon the village in chaos below. Hidden in brush near the elven manor’s curtain walls, Eric Carvon squinted through the smoke rising from the burning elven village below. Half of his men were fighting elves in the village, helping to draw out the soldiers guarding the manor. Many elves raced out to save the villagers, but not all.

Eric signaled the remaining half of his men to break cover. Rising out of the heavy brush, they swarmed the manor. A cry from above told them the elves were waiting. Three cobbled-together ladders were slammed against the rear twenty-foot manor wall. Caught in the crossfire of arrows between his men and the guards protecting the fortress above, they climbed like mad men. Gaining the top of the ladder, Eric peeked over into the compound.

An arrow whizzed by his head so close, its feathers grazed his red hair. A second arrow smacked into Eric’s chest plate. The thick mail-covered leather stopped it from penetrating. Eric jerked out the arrow and returned it with his bow. The elf to his right dropped like stone over the wall. His men hurtled themselves over the wall onto the rampart and hunkered down behind protective stone.

Eric signed his men closer. "You four work your way down into the compound and go help Jack get those damn gates shut. The rest come with me to kill off the elves on the walls. Let’s move!"

Pulling himself up, Eric ran a few steps and then stopped to shoot at an elf that had his bow drawn down on them. As soon as his arrow was on its way, he ran toward the next tower. Section by section, Eric and his men cleared the walls of elves. They had no more than done so, when peasants and elven soldiers began filling the courtyard to escape the slaughter in the village. Scrambling down into the fray, Eric’s men descended upon the harried elves.

The chaos of screaming peasants and fighters filled the air, as did the smell of sweat, fear and blood. Eric let go two more arrows, killing two more elves. His quiver empty, he drew his sword and waded into the battle. Although none of the elves wore armor, they gave stiff resistance due to their sheer numbers.

Eric and his men beat and slashed the desperate defenders as the gates slowly closed. Finally, the cross-timber fell into the slot, locking out the rest of the village fighters.

Having a chance, Eric dragged a sleeve over the sweat running into his eyes. Seeing a pack of elves still fighting in the courtyard, Eric commanded, "Spread out behind that hay wagon and pick off the last of those little rats. Make every arrow count."

The shock of an impacting arrow filled Eric’s mind as if it were a thunderclap. His arms recoiled under the force of it, burning pain swept up from his right thigh. Remaining motionless, he noted the elf’s shaft protruding from his leg. The arrow had found his flesh through a gap in his chain mail.

Eric turned to confront the enemy that had shot him. As he did, one of his men shot. The elf recoiled to sprawl on the ground not twenty feet away, an arrow through his head. The cries of anger died out, as did the sound of snapping bow strings. In the wake of the moans of the dying, came an eerie silence as the last clusters of fighting ground to a halt.

Gritting his teeth, Eric jerked out the arrow. Pain blazed in his leg as he watched the blood pool and run. For the first time in a good while he took a head count of his men lined up behind the wagon. He had started out with fifty men pouring over the back wall. Only four grim faces started back at him. Suddenly the pay for this job did not seem enough, and he began to wonder if the job had been a trap all along.

Slowly, Eric looked over the wagon. From one side to the other, the entire courtyard was a seething mass of wounded and dead. The odds had been terrible, perhaps five to one in the elves’ favor. Many of his men lay dead and dying by the gate, their brown leather and dull silver mail easy to pick out from the homespun of the elves. They had won the manor compound, but the cost had been heavy on both sides.

Hearing a pair of pounding feet behind him, Eric lifted his sword and spun to square off with another challenger.

His second in command, Ramon Hawker, came to a stop in front of him, pushing aside the offending sword. The man wore studded leather armor and a grim face with tangled black hair that reflected his dark demeanor. "By the Gods! It’s me, Eric!"

Letting his sword fall like it weighed a ton, Eric limped forward a step. "By the Gods is right. How many men do we have left?"

Ramon’s black eyes and grim face shone with pain as he spoke. "I have two men left."

Eric closed his eyes and shook his head against the pain. Six men left out of one hundred. It was almost more than he could bear.

"We have the five we left in back -"

Eric shook his head. "They’re dead. Elves coming out of the manor got them."

"We’re down to eight men?" Ramon asked with wide eyes.

"Six. Rufus and Jack are mortally wounded."

For a moment no one moved. Eric felt sick; he had known each man by name, knew where and when each man had joined his group. They were men desperately seeking to wipe the evil elven animals off the face of the land. Getting paid to do that was like getting paid to drink ale. Seeing so many of his men lying dead, it didn’t seem worth the pay, or the cost in lives. But still, he had a job to complete to collect the rest of his pay, and collect he would.

Taking a ragged breath, Eric looked at the stone three-story manor standing silent in the burning sun. The shutters were closed, and most likely barred. There was no sign of movement. If any elves lurked inside, they were hiding in ambush.

"Where are your men?" Eric asked.

Ramon wiped the sweat dripping off his bloody nose. "Brand is watching the back door. Jacob is guarding the front."

With a nod, Eric limped toward the front doors of the manor.

Ramon tried to open the massive double doors, but they were barred from the inside. Eric and Ramon battered the door with their swords as the other men stood back to cover them. Concentrating on a single board, they chopped until it gave way to the pounding, exploding in a rain of splinters. Ramon slipped a hand in and flipped off the cross bar.

Carefully, Eric cracked open the door and looked into the dim shadows for any elves ready to oppose him. A foyer of polished wood floors traveled into the dimness, broken only by a coat rack to his right and wall candles marching into the distance in puddles of light. Holding his shield before him, Eric shoved the door wide open and moved to the side so Jacob had a clear field to shoot.

There was no response from within. Only the endless hall, filled with the stench of smoke and overlaid by the smell of lemon and bee’s wax polish on the floor. One by one, they entered. Eric signaled silently to leave a guard at the door. Slowly they made their way down the hall and halted at the first opening.

"They’re hiding somewhere-waiting for us," Ramon whispered, as he peered into a large room that looked to be the great hall.

Eric nodded and limped in, motioning them to follow. A long table near one wall had been knocked over as if upset in haste. Other tables showed the remains of the noon meal, with silver goblets and silver plates. Rich tapestries hung on the walls, glittering in silver and gold threads. Thick rugs adorned the steps of the high table, where jeweled goblets winked in the dim light over crisp white tablecloths. The small scale of the furnishings seemed oddly out of place, making Eric feel like he was entering a place built for children.

Two of his men started for the goblets. Eric motioned them back, his eyes fixed on an open stairway leading to the second floor. Slowly, they climbed the stairway, which gave way to a hall vacant of life in both directions. The door straight ahead was open, showing empty weapons racks. All the doors were open, at least in part, except one at the end of the hall.

The dead quiet of the place suggested that they were alone. Eric didn’t believe it. Elves were like cockroaches; you never quite got them all.

Eric posted Jacob to watch the stairway entry. In a hushed voice he said, "Ramon, come with me. The rest of you search the top floor. That should be the servant quarters."

Using the railing for support, Eric limped his way down the hall, and let Ramon open doors, one by one. Bedchambers, sitting rooms, dressing rooms, and what looked like guest chambers and dressing maid rooms, opened before them. At each door Ramon threw open, Eric expected a hoard of elves to come charging out. Yet, the rooms yielded nothing but the sounds of their own feet and creaking leather as they moved.

Opening still another door, Ramon gave a snort of dismay. This room looked like a little girl’s bedroom. It was richly lined in pink silk, offset with a quilt embroidered with bright satin flowers on the bed. A dollhouse and several dolls were strewn about, as if the occupant had left in a hurry. It amazed Eric that elves went through so much trouble to give the impression that they were real people. Sickened by that insight, he shut the door quickly. He wanted to get the Orb and burn this place to the ground.

"Where do you think they would hide it?" Ramon asked, and opened still another door.

Eric motioned to the end of the hall. "My guess would be the chamber at the end of the hall. It would be the best defended room on this floor."

Ramon opened the last three doors quickly, finding nothing. Eric felt Ramon stop behind him as he faced the closed door at the end of the hall.

Slowly, Eric opened the door. Clearly, this was the bedchamber for someone of import. Royal blue silk wrapped the chamber in a shimmering cocoon of muted tones, setting off accents of delicate gold chairs padded in velvet. The large canopy bed was made of dark wood. Four posts carved with leaves and flowers, accented with gold leaf and inlaid jewels made Eric draw in a breath. Miles of silks and velvets lay over and above the bed-enough rich fabrics to clothe all of his men for a year.

Over by a dressing table, filled with crystal and gold vials in a rainbow of colors, Eric noted a small gold object on the floor by an inner door. He grabbed Ramon’s arm and pointed as he realized it was a slipper. The foot was still in it.

Together they advanced to find a female elf crumpled against the door. Her eyes stared sightlessly at the wall in front of her. The soft blue gown she wore was crusted with dry blood down the length of both sides from an arrow taken deep under the left arm.

Ramon motioned at the corpse. "That’s the one we saw running, the one I shot. She looked like she was trying to hide something."

Together they stripped the clothing off the body, searching for the Orb. They found nothing.

With a loud growl, Eric got to his feet, limped over to the bed and sat. His leg was a savage pain that throbbed with every beat of his heart. The exercise of stripping the elf woman had set the wound to bleeding freely again. He jerked a pillow off the bed and ripped the blue silk covering into two pieces. Making a pad and binder for his wound, he tied it around his thigh. He lifted his leg to lay it straight on the bed. That at least took the edge off the pain long enough for him to think.

Eric frowned at Ramon and asked, "This is the one you shot in back of the manor?"

"Yes. She was running through the walled garden," Ramon explained, pointing to her wound. "I saw the arrow go in."

Eric looked down at his newly made bandage. It was already wet with blood. "She could not have gone far. A mortal wound like that would bleed freely. I saw no blood in the hall. "

Ramon jerked off his helmet. "So how did she get here?"

Draping a hand over his raised knee, Eric held up two gauntlet encased fingers. "Two things. We know she could not have gotten here alone, not with that kind of wound. And, she did not come down the main hallway to this bed chamber."

Grinning like wolf, Ramon smacked a fist into his other palm. "Of course! There is a secret entry somewhere."

Eric nodded. "And she had help. Take that candle there and search the dressing room behind you. Walk carefully. Look for a blood trail," he said.

Ramon disappeared into the dressing chamber, following the spots of blood on the floor. His voice drifted back out, "There’s a trail here, a huge blood stain on the white carpet. Other drops lead to a dressing table." Eric eased his sore leg to the floor and got to his feet.

They tore the dressing chamber apart, pulling out every dresser drawer. Then they pulled the dresser away from the wall. They found gold and silver jewelry, and a string of white stones, but no Orb. Moving over to another table, Eric froze as he noticed the candle on the table dancing, like it was being disturbed by a draft.

A six-foot by three-foot mirror, framed in gold, stood behind the delicate dressing table that was filled with vials of oils and soaps. Eric stared at the man that filled the entire reflective surface. A sulking brow hooded his rich hazel eyes, locked with his image in an accusing gaze. His red hair looked like a dark wound where it was plastered to his head with sweat, blood and dirt. A nick under his nose bled into his encrusted beard. From his wide shoulders to his narrow waist, he was covered in the liquid gore of his trade. Even to his own eyes, he looked like a monster, the kind about which mothers spun frightening tales to their children.

Monsters such as elves were part of his world-evil things to be slaughtered on sight. All his life he had been taught that they were something to be eliminated, like rats in a barn. But an image came to him: the gentleness and detail of an elf child’s bedchamber. If elves were creations of evil, why did they fight like men? Why did they bleed like men? The frown deepened as he refused to think about such things. He drew his silver-encased sword and hefted it at his own image as if to defend himself from his thoughts, from asking too many questions. The anger rose inside him and he lashed out.

Eric smashed the mirror. Pieces of glass exploded all over the room, causing Ramon to duck behind his arms and swear savagely. "What in the hell?" he exclaimed.

In the empty frame of the mirror, Eric noticed a seam in the wall panel. A quick look under the dresser showed a pool of blood. He tossed the table out of his way to crash on the floor, spilling its contents into the mess. Glass crunching and popping under his booted feet, he inspected the wall.

A soft thump sounded behind a door disguised to look like a wall panel. Eric turned, waving Ramon to silence. Putting his ear to the door, he listened for any noise. He heard what sounded like a shuddered breath. Working his sword into the seam around the false door, he pushed and heard a latch give. The door popped opened.

Raising his sword, Eric accepted a candle from Ramon and ducked under the low doorway. The weak candlelight showed not a passageway, but a whole room appointed as a secret bedchamber. This one was draped in red silks. Using a silent signal, Eric motioned Ramon to follow the blood drops on the wood floor.

With the light of a second candle, Ramon scrutinized the trail of drops as they lead along one wall to a second low door. Ramon opened the door, and shook his head. He pantomimed a straight narrow staircase leading to the back of the manor. Closing the stairwell door, Ramon leaned against it and slid his sword free.

Eric nodded his understanding and swept the dark chamber with his keen eyes. The chamber was about twelve feet wide and a little longer. At the far end was four-poster bed, complete with canopy, two chairs and a small table. A silk screen painted with colorful birds stretched over one corner to hide the privy pot. Eric leaned forward to look under the bed and then under the screen. There, almost hidden totally in shadow, was a small pair of bare feet.

The mysterious helper of the dying elf had not disappeared or turned to dust, after all. Eric nodded at Ramon and pointed at the screen with his sword.

"We know you’re behind there. Come out now if you want to live," Eric announced.

A gasp sounded from behind the screen. The sound caused him to tighten his leg. Pain shot all the way up to his heart causing his hands to tremble and his temper to flare.

"Last chance!" he barked. "Come out now or I’ll split you open like a ripe melon!"

A shaking hand appeared from behind the screen, followed by a blonde head. The elf woman peeked out slowly out, gazing up at him with huge, pleading eyes. "Please don’t kill me," she said in a tiny voice.

Eric grabbed her arm and hauled her the rest of the way out. Her long dress was a maid’s outfit, done in royal blue and with a white apron sewn down the front that was dusty and bloody. She gazed at him with wide eyes as she trembled in his grasp.

"The Sirrus Orb," he demanded. "Where is it?"

"I don’t…I don’t know," she whispered with a shake of her head. Her bosom heaved with ragged breaths.

Eric had never seen an elf with breasts so large. Certainly the amount of cleavage spilling over the top of the low cut blue silk was leaving little to his imagination. It might be all her under that shimmer of silk. Then again she might be hiding the Orb. Misreading his intentions, she tried to cover herself and shook her head hard enough to send her blonde hair whipping about her face.

Eric tossed his sword to Ramon and slammed her against the wall. Her head bounced off the stone. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she went limp in his arms. Swearing under his breath, Eric gathered her up close to his body. He did not think he had been that rough with her. She must have fainted.

Her weight strained his wounded leg as he hauled her over to the bed. He eyed her carefully. Did she have the orb on her? There was only way to find out. With a single motion, he ripped her dress down the front to her navel. Pearly white breasts sprang free of the fabric, as if relieved to be free of their imprisonment. A second tear opened her chemise, baring the entire front of her flesh to him, but no orb rolled into his hands.

Eric tore her dress to the hem, and searched for hidden pockets or pouches. He found nothing hidden anywhere, but his eyes kept wandering back to her lush body. Unlike other elves he had seen, she didn’t look starvation thin. No, this elf was soft, smooth and well rounded, with the lush curves of a human woman.

A different kind of need arose inside Eric as he rolled her over. This elf had an hourglass figure and sweetly full bottom that shimmered in the candlelight. In the back of his mind, he knew he should not be drawn to her. It had been far too long since he’d had a woman, and her body was calling to him. Suddenly, he remembered Ramon was in the room with him. Swallowing hard, he drew his boot knife and sliced off a strip of her chemise to bind her hands.

"Go make sure we have guards on both doors. I want every room in this place checked," Eric said in a rough tone.

Ramon eyed him curiously. "Do you want someone outside this room?"

"Yes, you," he snapped. "Once she wakes up, we’re going to get information."

Ramon nodded and left.

Trying to ignore the elf’s body, Eric arranged her to lay flat on the bed. Ripping the bedding into strips, he spread her legs wide, tying each to a corner post. Next he took a long strip of sheet and tied one end around her neck, and the other to the delicately carved head rail to prevent her from moving.

Again, doubt lingered in his mind. The strip of sheet hid her pointed ear from view, making it look like he was doing this to a human woman. He focused on her face, her upturned eyebrows and almond shaped eyes, to help remind him what she really was.

Before Eric left, he stood the bed table against the inner door. He didn’t want to stop someone from entering, only to know if they did. He crunched through the glass in the dressing chamber and righted a chair outside the elf’s view. Easing his weight down, he made sure it was going to hold, then put his aching leg up on the edge of the overturned table.

As Eric waited for the elf to start screaming for help, his thoughts drifted to the men he’d lost. Every one was a good and decent man. He knew over half of them had some form of family to care for. Not all had their own women, but men like Russ Potter, Deke Cartwright, and Hans Smith, had aging mothers or siblings to watch out for. Sure, he would make certain the families of these men got their share of the gold, and he would probably carry an extra bag of booty to split up for them, but what would those old people and children do next season?

Their lot was a double-edged sword, and both sides cut deep. Honest work was hard to come by, as the land was poor from warring against the elves. His men were faced with two choices: either stay home and starve with your family, or become a mercenary and die in some god-forsaken elf village. Most would not even get a proper burial. The elves had done more than just fight soldiers. They had destroyed entire families.

"Esta belani?" came a small cry from the elf.

Eric kept silent and listened as she called out in an increasingly alarmed voice. Hearing her pitiful cry almost make him relent, and let her go. The elven words stopped him. That was an elf in there. The saying he’d heard many times, ran through his head: What you do to an elf doesn’t matter, so long as you kill it after you’re done.

"Wayla nieta, provo esta!" the elf wailed with a sob in her voice.

The pounding of running boots came to him as she cried out. Eric got up as Ramon appeared, brandishing his sword. Eric waved for him to put it away, and touched a finger to his lips for him to be quiet.

Eric peeked into the bedchamber. The elf was crying out, trying desperately to free herself. He motioned Ramon closer. "Do you remember that barkeep who tried to keep the ale and our money?" he asked quietly.

The corner of Ramon’s lip twitched up in a grin. "Sure do. I think we scared ten years off his life."

Eric returned his grin. "Same thing here. Be as mean as you can be."

Ramon glanced at the elf. "Right. I’ll be right in."

Ducking through the low doorway, Eric groaned to get her attention. Upon seeing him, she began to flail so hard, he wondered if she was going to choke herself. Eyeing her with the lust he felt, he sat by her. Grabbing her head in both hands, he made her look at him.

"Are you worth fifteen pounds of gold?" he asked.

Her face went vacant as she stared back at him. "What?"

"Are you worth fifteen pounds of gold? If you’re not, Ramon will want his money back," Eric explained.

Her jaw worked up and down. "I…don’t belong to anyone," she said weakly.

"I found you. You’re mine. I don’t think you will be a very good slave, so I am selling you."

"Dom Hur," she whispered as she tried to sink into the bed.

"And if you’re worth more," he prodded, "then I’ll buy you back just to whip you for lying to me."

"Iscatani!" she cried.

He slapped her hard enough to get her attention. "Talk so I can understand," he growled at her.

Her whole body was shaking as she stared up at him. "I don’t want to die," she whimpered.

Ramon came in and rubbed his hands together as he gazed greedily at her. "Ahh, yes. This is my prize?"

Eric kept his eyes fixed in the elf to note her reaction. "This is the one."

"Great, fifteen gold and she’s all mine, right?"

"That’s the deal."

Walking over to the foot of the bed, Ramon swept her with his eyes, settling his gaze on her chest. He pulled his boot knife and knelt between her legs. "Perfect, and such nice trophies, too."

The elf gasped and cried, "Dom Hur! Please, no!"

"Hey!" Eric snapped, jabbing a finger at Ramon. "Not until I get my gold!"

Sheathing the knife, Ramon gave a huff. "Fine, I’ll be right back." He got up and took a step to leave. Eyeing Eric, he asked, "You’re not going to sell her to Jacob, are you? He got the last one. There’s nothing left after he gets finished with them."

"She’s all yours. Right after I see the gold," Eric insisted.

Ramon eyed the elf with an evil grin, and said, "Don’t go away, my sweet little toy."

"You can’t do this!" the elf screamed.

Wincing from her piercing voice, Eric glared down at her. "You have become a piece of property. Get used to it."

Her shaking helped the tears run down to pool in the cup of her ear. "Please don’t sell me. Not to him!" she pleaded.

Eric shrugged. "You’re worth nothing to me if I keep you. That is, unless you have something I want."

She swallowed hard then gazed at him with eyes full of fear. "What do you want?" she asked, lips trembling.

Eric made a show of scanning the room to be sure no one else was present. "The Orb of Sirrus," he stated.

The elf’s face took on a look of understanding. Her face firmed up into a mask of defiance. "I don’t know where it is."

"Who was that woman you helped up the stairs?"

She hesitated a moment too long. "What woman?"

The elf’s ribs thrust out from her tied hands pushing against her back. Eric traced the bottom edge of her ribs with his fingers. "It would be a very bad idea to toy with me. You came up those stairs right there, and helped a woman in a light blue dress. She had an arrow in her. Who was she?"

Relaxing in defeat, she stared at the ceiling. Her tone became hollow. "My mistress, Lady Jenalisa."

"And where did you find her?"

"We were in the-" she clamped her mouth shut.

Eric traced a finger hard and fast from her ribs to her belly button, which made her suck in a breath and her eyes go wide.

"You will tell me," Eric said smoothly, "or else Ramon will not use a finger when he has his fun."

The elf turned her head, her jaw set as she swallowed hard. Tears slid over her reddening face.

Eric saw Ramon waiting in the doorway, and motioned him to stay back. Cupping her chin in his hand, he made the elf look at him. "If you don’t talk to me, I’ll sell you," he warned.

"You are going to kill me anyway!" she wailed.

Eric turned her face toward Ramon. Leaning down to speak into her ear, he asked, "Imagine what he will do. Why did she hide you?"

In a sudden fit of rage, she forced her head up at him with eyes that bore daggers as she wailed, "She knew she was dying, you murdering bastard! Lady Jenalisa was showing something you can never comprehend-compassion!"

"And she brought you up from the garden, just to hide you here."

"Yes! You killed the kindest, most noblewoman I ever knew, damn you!" the elf screamed.

Eric got up and left her to her wailing sobs. Scratching his ringing ear, he looked at Ramon. "We’ll go down these stairs and search the garden. Are we alone here?"

"As far as we can tell, but there are probably more of these secret rooms hidden in the cellars."

Feeling something on the corner of his lip, Eric wiped his mouth and discovered blood. Right. He’d seen the cut on his nose in the mirror. "Have the men look for food and some ale while they get their booty. I’ll carry an extra sack of gold for whoever finds the Orb. We’ll meet in the foyer."

Ramon eyed the crying elf, and spoke loudly. "I still get her for fifteen, right?"

"Maybe," Eric mused, eyeing her. "Depends on what she’s worth to me."

Eric waited until she had calmed down, and then freed her legs. He felt her cold gaze on him as he cut the cloth loose from the head rail. He expected her to attempt to flee, or start kicking him. She lay as if she were still tied down, her chest heaving with each breath.

Eric jerked on the length of sheet still tied to her neck. "Get up."

"Why?" she spat. "So you can kill me somewhere else?"

"Lead me to the Sirrus Orb, and I will not kill you."

Blasting out a sarcastic laugh, she sneered, "No, you’ll sell me to one who will. Just drive a sword through me and be done with it!"

"I thought you didn’t want to die?"

"I don’t, but that is better than letting some human slice me up for fun," she said with acid in her voice.

Eric pulled up on her cloth leash. She stayed limp, making her head nod forward. Becoming angry with her, he asked, "Do you enjoy lying there naked?"

"Why don’t you take advantage of me?" she snarled back at him.

Eric pulled up harder so her shoulders were now hanging free. "Don’t toy with me," he warned.

Red faced from the pressure on her neck, she maintained her glare. "I have nothing to lose; you’ve already taken away everything and everyone I hold dear."

Eric let out a snort. "Like elves are capable of love!"

"Don’t you want to see if I’m worth more than a handful of gold? Or maybe it’s true that human men aren’t really men at all," she spat.

Dropping the leash, he planted his hands on her small shoulders, pushing her down. "Do you really want me to show you?" he growled.

Fear returned to her eyes. Her voice however, retained its hard edge. "If it’ll pay for a clean death, yes."

Touching her, even in anger, was causing Eric’s passion to swell. Getting up, he moved to the foot of the bed. Grabbing her ankles, he forced her legs up and to the sides. "If that’s what you want, you’ll get it," he assured her.

Eric held her down with one hand as he used the other to remove his codpiece and armor, flinging them to the side. Then he worked his trousers free. Her eyes brimmed with fresh tears and she turned her stare to the ceiling.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a tiny voice reminded Eric that she was an elf. With her body before him and his need fueled by anger, he refused to listen. It wouldn’t matter now if his men were watching. He couldn’t stop himself. Not now, when the passion of battle had turned into another kind of passion. Gazing down on her, his heart pounded in his ears as he knelt on the bed.