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The sound of a sniff stilled him. He turned to look at her, huddled on her side, her eyes squeezed closed, tears running down the bridge of her nose.
He had not had the heart to whip her till she broke, but now, when it was all through, she cried. The sound of it pained him more than the deep gash on his face. He drew near and crouched beside her, reaching his hand for her shoulder, but stopping before he touched her. He had a feeling she knew of his presence and did not relish it. He doubted she would accept comfort from him.
A silent sob wracked her body. He had to try. He laid his hand over her small shoulder.
She opened her large green eyes. “Crow,” she croaked.
He was surprised to hear his nickname on her lips and he responded by scooping her into his arms, settling himself on the pallet, with his back against the wall and the princess curled in his lap. It was a breach of etiquette, but then so was whipping her.
He could think of no words, so he said nothing, just rubbed her back with one hand as he held the cloth to his face.
“Crow,” she repeated, sounding sorrowful.
“Peace, princess. Peace,” he said.
He breathed in the smell of her hair, relished the softness of her small body against his. In that moment, they were not princess and knight, nor priestess and initiate, not even prisoner and guard. They were simply a man and woman who had both hurt each other and were sorry for it.
The intimacy shared with her kidnapper leaves Ariana wounded by the experience and his reappearance at the annual tournament only deepens her pain. When her brother foists him on her as a guardian and slave she must come to terms with her feelings for the dominant warrior. Will she send him away to his death, or will she realize her pain is only caused by living without him?