In my most recent Twelve Kingdoms book, I had the delicious fun of sending my very intense warrior heroine to the beach for a bit of downtime. If you haven't read THE TALON OF THE HAWK yet, this might be a bit spoilery as it happens pretty far down in the story. But there aren't huge plot reveals you wouldn't expect from the blurb. Fair warning!
Funny that he called it play—just as Andi had—because the afternoon felt that way. It took a while for me to banish the nagging sensation that I’d forgotten something, so rarely did I go without my sword. In the light gown, going barefoot because boots would not do, I also felt more free and unencumbered than—well, maybe ever.
We followed the road down the cliff face, discovering ladders here and there that let us cut through some of the endless loops. Harlan spotted them, seeing children clambering up and down and goading me to try it also, whooping in delight when he discovered a rope one that worked like a pulley system, dropping him quickly down an entire level.
No one bothered us. In fact, they gave us the studious inattention we’d encountered everywhere. A Tala version of privacy in close quarters, I suspected. The kids showed more open curiosity, tagging along behind us and then, once they grew bolder, showing us more of their shortcuts, including a final dripping series of tunnels that opened onto the shimmering sands of the beach.
It burned my feet some, having absorbed sun all day, and sucked at my leg muscles, forcing me to work harder just to walk. “I might not be doing much running,” I commented, feeling the burn already. “This is more of a workout than climbing that road.”
“Very good for leg strength, yes.” His powerful legs churned through the loose sand, thigh muscles working easily. “In Dasnaria we have beach running as part of our training program. It weeds out the…less committed.” He grinned and I nearly felt sorry for those soldiers. “However, we need not go through that today.”
Instead, he showed me how to run where the waves had wet and dampened the sand, at the edge of the gentle surf. It felt odd, with my breasts unbound, but they weren’t large, so they didn’t bother me overmuch. We jogged companionably for some distance, passing more and more of the extensive cliff city. The soft, moist air made for easy running, flowing gently in and out of my lungs, as nourishing as the sunshine on my skin. After a time, however, my feet grew sore.
Ruefully, I examined the reddening sole of one foot, holding my ankle in my hand as I looked over my shoulder. “Clearly I have worn boots too much—my feet need toughening.”
Harlan traced the arch, where my skin looked as pale and wrinkled as a fish, making me jump. “Ticklish? At last I’ve found a weakness, a chink in your formidable armor.”
“Don’t even think about it, or I will cut your throat as you sleep.”
“Is it any wonder I’ve fallen in love with you?” He took my hand and guided me into the shallow water. “The salt will help.”
The sun lowered toward the horizon, the sea darkening from that brilliant aquamarine to a deeper violet, as we walked back. Other people walked as we did, some holding hands. Others in family groups, chattering and enjoying the evening. A shouting group of kids cut directly in front of us, running at top speed for the water and shape-shifting in midair into brightly colored fish that plopped into the water, leaping and swimming.
Harlan shook his head in bemusement. “I wonder when I’ll become accustomed to such sights.”
“I’m sure I never shall.”
“If the enemy we chase possess similar abilities, they’ll pose quite a challenge. I’m envisioning trained fighters with your speed and flexibility, plus the ability to shift into a lethal predator.” He huffed out a breath. “I wish I had more men with me.”
I felt much the same, missing my Hawks and being able to count on them. “It sounds as if Andi and Rayfe plan to accompany us—and they’ll bring loyal fighters of their own.” I hoped.
“I’m sorry I said anything. You weren’t worrying for a while there.”
“Tomorrow will bring what it will. This has been a nice afternoon. Relaxing.” Something I’d never seen myself doing. “I’ve liked spending it with you.”
He stopped and tugged me into an embrace, smiling. “I’ve liked it, too. An unexpected treasure.” He kissed me, softly at first, then deeper when I wound my hands behind his thick neck and opened my mouth to him, to the deep, drugging sensations that swam through me. His hands roamed over me, carefully keeping to my back, my waist, the outside line of my hips, but in the thin fabric of the Tala dress, every caress penetrated to my skin as if I wore nothing at all.
Though people occasionally passed, talking softly, one man singing, their presence didn’t bother me. It seemed that Harlan and I existed in an amber bubble of sunshine and heat, untouched by the rest of the world.
The Talon of the Hawk
A HEAVY CROWN
Three daughters were born to High King Uorsin, in place of the son he wanted. The youngest, lovely and sweet. The middle, pretty and subtle, with an air of magic. And the eldest, the Heir. A girl grudgingly honed to leadership, not beauty, to bear the sword and honor of the king.
Ursula’s loyalty is as ingrained as her straight warrior’s spine. She protects the peace of the Twelve Kingdoms with sweat and blood, her sisters from threats far and near. And she protects her father to prove her worth. But she never imagined her loyalty would become an open question on palace grounds. That her father would receive her with a foreign witch at one side and a hireling captain at the other-that soldiers would look on her as a woman, not as a warrior. She also never expected to decide the destiny of her sisters, of her people, of the Twelve Kingdoms and the Thirteenth. Not with her father still on the throne and war in the air.
But the choice is before her. And the Heir must lead…