Heart of the Betrayed

scroll down for excerpt                 Book 3 in the Heart & Soul series

***

Betrayed by the one man who should have protected her, the Reeka
warrior will entrust her heart to no man. Garret will risk everything
to win her love. Loyalty makes Dana follow her betrayer into a country
split by hate. Love will make the Daamen trader follow her – even
into chains.

 

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**

When Vearc entered the room four days later, Diago knew by the expression on his face that the news was bad. “My son?”
“Captured.”
Fists balled up at his sides. “How do you know?”
“This.” Vearc held up Rominac’s cloak in which a ragged ‘Z’ had been slashed. “We found it hanging in a tree.”
“Near the border?”
“Yes.”
“Damn it!” Whirling around, Diago paced furiously. “We have to retrieve him!”
“The Southlanders will be waiting for us.”
“I know. It’s a clever trap.”
“Who can we send in? There is nobody who can enter and not be known as a Northlander.”
Head bent, Diago thought for several minutes. When he raised his head, his eyes were hard and bleak. “I know the one to get, perfect for the job. Vearc, ready the travel craft. We leave at noon.”
“As you wish.”
“And send a message.”
“To whom?”
“An ex-outlaw and mercenary.”

**

Eight bounty hunters stood in various areas between the door and bar, their hard gazes scanning the room. Wearing varying styles of clothing, depending on which part of the galaxy they’d come from, the bullwhips and lasers they carried added to their dangerous air.
Dana knew instantly they were on the hunt for someone, recognizing it in their stance and their wariness.
Their hunger for the prey.
The leader of the pack stood at the bar, his pale grey eyes searching, piercing.
Cormac. The head bounty hunter. He’d once hunted the Reeka Warrior Women when they’d been outlaws with a price on their heads. He’d nearly succeeded in hanging her two cousins, Tenia and Reya.
Well, well, well, she mused, running one hand through the thick blonde hair that brushed her bare shoulders. Here she thought the wait would be boring, but she could now annoy Cormac—and in her view, that was a pleasant way to pass the time.
Pale grey eyes swept over and past her, paused, swung back and narrowed.
She couldn’t help it. The words fell out of her mouth happily, mockingly. “Sorry, Cormac, there’s no price on my head anymore. You’ll have to look elsewhere.”
Someone snickered in the silence but was quickly hushed.
“Ah, Dana.” He inclined his head. “So… nice… to see you again.”
“Shame I can’t say the same. My sentiments are not as fond as yours.”
Slowly he advanced across the room, his gaze never leaving his one-time enemy.
The patrons of the tavern watched in anticipation, hanging onto every word and expression that passed between them.
Without fear, Dana watched him. Leaning lazily back in the wooden chair, she laid one rawhide booted ankle atop the opposite knee, and rested her wrist on the raised knee. From there it was a short reach to the daggers secured in her boot-tops and the laser strapped to her thigh out of sight beneath the table.
He came to a stop on the opposite side of the wooden table. “By yourself, warrior?”
“Are we ever by ourselves? On a bit of a hunt, are we? Who is the poor bastard? Anyone I know?”
His smile was chilling. “Are there any outlaws you don’t know?”
“Let me see.” Drumming the fingers of her other hand on the tabletop, she thoughtfully contemplated the ceiling before lowering her eyes to the silent, cold hunter. “I can’t say, really. Tell me who you hunt and I’ll tell you if I know them.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Would you then go and warn them, Dana?”
“Why, that would be breaking the law, hunter. Do you think I would do that?”
“I have no doubt.”
“I’m deeply hurt. Don’t you know that I’m a law-abiding person now?”
“Ah, yes, I have heard of your talents as a bodyguard. You’ve become quite a heroine with officials. Saved a few lives.” Placing his hands on the rough surface of the table, he leaned forward, lips curling contemptuously. “But I know you, Dana. One day you’ll step back over that line and return to the outlaw life.”
Tension filled the room, the drinkers leaning forward eagerly. Was there to be a fight between the famed enemies after all? Behind Cormac, his hunters watched closely, hands hovering near their weapons.
“And you will be there to catch naughty little me?”
“Breathing down your neck, warrior.”
“That’s a little kinky. I didn’t know you cared so much.”
A muscle twitched in the clenched jaw. “One day…”
She leaned forward suddenly. “Why not today? Now?”
He was close to losing his temper, she could see the fury in his eyes, but he took a deep breath, clenched his hands and stood back abruptly.
“One day, warrior, I’ll be on your trail.”
“You haven’t a trusting bone in your body, Cormac. Until later, then.” She blew him a kiss.
Swinging around on his heel, he barked, “Are they here?”
“No,” one of the hunters replied.
“Continue the search.”
Conversation broke out once more as they left the tavern. Dana grinned in satisfaction.
“Honey, you tease a viper there.” A tavern whore stopped beside her table.
“We make fun where we can, Sal.”
“You’ll push that hunter too far.”
“Never far enough.”
Shaking her head, Sal moved on to another customer.
Stretching, Dana leaned back in the chair and folded her arms. Ah, the sweet taste of viper baiting.
“Sal’s right, lass. You’ll push the hunter too far one day.”
That surely couldn’t be… Head snapping around, she found herself staring at lean hips encased in tight pants. Her gaze travelled up past the flat, muscle-ribbed stomach and continued up until she met the amused grey eyes of the heavily-muscled giant.
Instantly her mood soured. “Just when I thought my day was improving.”
“I came along and made it better?” Garret sat opposite, the wooden chair creaking alarmingly beneath his weight.
“It took a turn for the worst. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Trading, of course. Why, were you hoping I’d come for you?” He smiled engagingly. “Pretty wench, anytime you’re ready to come to my bunk, just say the word and I’ll race you there!”
“You’re disgusting.”
“From you, my little strawberry, ‘tis a compliment.”
She regarded the Daamen trader in silence.
“Admiring my looks?” Eyes twinkling roguishly, he stroked one hand across his square jaw.
Her gaze fell on the long, shaggy brown hair that spilled haphazardly over the massive shoulders and when she glanced sideways, it was to note Sal watching him with dreamy eyes.
Her mood turned even more sour. The women adored the seven foot and more tall, giant traders. How many times had she seen them sigh over the hard swells of muscle in their chests and arms, shown to advantage by the sleeveless vests they wore hanging open, and coo over their roguish good looks? Their dangerous appeal was added to by the small silver hoop all the Daamen men wore in their left earlobes.
“It’s enough to ruin my appetite. Where are the rest of your motley friends?”
“A couple are upstairs. Wenching.” He winked.
“I can imagine.”
Catching the eye of the besotted Sal, Garret gestured for ale. “So, why are you here, Dana? I thought you’d be back on Daamen with your cousins, recovering after your last assignment.”
“I was, but I had a message to meet someone here, so I came.”
“New assignment?”
“Possibly. What business is it of yours?”
“Just interested.” As I always am in your movements.
Sal placed a mug of ale before him and simpered, but his smile was automatic, for his attention was on the warrior before him.
“You have recovered, then?”
“It was just a scratch.”
“You’d say that, anyway.”
“So don’t ask.” She stood up abruptly.
Disappointment flooded through him. “Going already? What about the messenger?”
“I’m to meet him tonight.”
“That’s hours away. Spend some time with me.”
One fine brow arched up questioningly. “I thought you were here to trade?”
“I am, but I always have time for you.”
The words crept through her senses like warm honey. Fool. He probably said that to all the wenches. “How sweet. Fortunately, I don’t have the time to stay.”
Garret watched her walk through the crowd that parted to allow her free passage. More than one covert, lustful look was cast at the long-legged blonde with the generous curves, but not one man dared touch her. Lucky for them, otherwise he’d have to break a few heads. If she didn’t beat him to it.
A red-haired trader plopped down in the vacated chair. “That expression indicates wench problems.”
“I’ve known Dana for three years, Red. All right, the first year after the Reekas were pardoned, they were busy rebuilding their settlement on Comll, and the second year she accompanied Reya on mercenary assignments in the Outlaw Sector, but this last year…”
“Aye?” Red ogled Sal while she set another mug of ale before his friend and caught her ‘come hither’ look. He was more than ready to hither anywhere she wanted.
“Her assignments as bodyguard have her all over the galaxy, in constant demand by royalty and dignitaries. How am I supposed to get her to like me when she’s never around?”
“The wench doesn’t want you around, in case you hadn’t noticed. In fact, unless he’s an assignment, she doesn’t want any male around.”

**

copyright Angela Verdenius