Title: Curse of the Healer
Author: Ashley York
Genre: Historical Romance
Fated to be a healer...
Aednat has spent her entire life training to be the Great healer and is more than willing to remain alone and untouched to attain that goal. When she meets Diarmuid, the intense attraction she feels toward him shakes her resolve to believe in such a legend. If she gives in to the passion he ignites in her, can she settle for being less?
Destined to be his...
Diarmuid of Clonascra is renowned for his bravery in battle. Only one thing daunts him: the prospect of taking a wife. The wisest course would be to keep his distance from Aednat, the bold, headstrong healer who's far too tempting for his peace of mind. But his overlord orders him to protect her from a group of craven warriors intent on kidnapping her to steal her power.
What starts as duty for Diarmuid quickly transforms into something more. Aednat's power might be at risk, but so is his closed-off heart.
“Mayhap I have the overking’s permission.”
The Meic Lochlainn had attained overking status, with several lesser kings under him. These men, the rig túaithe, were from the direct line of former kings, had proven themselves in battle, and had been properly anointed. This man could be one of the visiting rig túaithe, but Aednat sensed he was not.
She scoffed. “I do not believe ye.”
He stopped close enough for her to see the tiny lines at the corners of his bright blue eyes and the quirk of his heavy brow before he asked, “And why would ye not believe what I say to ye?”
“I do not know ye.” Arrogant! “And who are ye to say what the lad’s punishment should be?”
He had long, dark hair. Taller than most, he was probably seldom overlooked, and she had a notion his will was rarely denied. His broad shoulders and warrior’s stance were, no doubt, quite frightening… to some. Then he crossed his arms about his broad chest, tucking a hand under the intricately carved silver band clasping his bare upper arm. A wealthy man, then. Perhaps he was a ri túaithe.
“Mayhap ye do not recognize me, but ye should heed my warning.”
Any king could order that a little boy be punished with a strip of leather, if he were cruel enough, but it was not an accepted practice. Her grandfather had been a cruel ri. She’d witnessed one lad, Will, barely older than Lorccán, having his fingers sliced right off his hand for stealing food. Aodh Meic Lochlainn had thought it better that the boy starve to death than steal. Will had become her friend—a fellow outcast in the woods.
The stranger’s eyes narrowed and she nibbled her lower lip. She couldn’t back down now. “Well, then, ’tis a good thing ye do not get to decide.”
He closed the remaining distance between them in three strides, his face etched in angry lines. She instinctively backed away, half expecting him to grab her arm.
“Ye’re a lousy mother… or nurse maid… or shepherdess… or whatever ye are, if ye think ’tis all well and good for a child to put himself in harm’s way as long as he lives to tell the tale.”
She recoiled at the insult. Although she was well past marrying age at two and twenty, she was no one’s mother and never would be. With her limp, there would never be a husband or family. Too many fears of children with the same malady. Shepherdess? Did she still bear a resemblance to the folk who lived apart from the villagers? But he hadn’t finished his tirade.
“He must be taught to heed the warnings he’s been given if he’s to survive and become a man.”
The words stung, thrown at her like a venomous curse. She cared for Lorccán as if he were her own and would never do anything to hurt him. Squaring her shoulders, she refused to show her inner turmoil.
“The lad learned his lesson.” She spat the words right back at him.
“Ye said yerself he’d be doing it again.” Despite the even keel of his voice, his increasing anger was unmistakable. “Or am I so old and feeble that my hearing is failing me?”
Staring in the face of his obvious vitality and strength, she hesitated. A finer specimen of a well-honed man she’d not seen. “I do not really believe—”
“NO?” A sheer wall of exasperation now, he waited. His square jaw tensed beneath the shadow of dark stubble. “Mayhap the next time ye’ll find his young body impaled on a rock at the bottom of the cliff.”
The menacing declaration, delivered in a low, controlled manner, made her gasp. The image flashing through her mind caused it to reel. She slapped the man’s face so hard, his beard burned the palm of her hand.
Aednat froze, horrified at her own reaction. Striking a man was no small offense, and if this man was a ri, the consequences would be serious. His eyes widened right before he caught her arm and yanked her close. Her breath caught, though his grip was not overly firm. They stood that way for a long moment—his head lowered to hers so they stood nose to nose, his broad chest brushing against her forearm in time with his heavy breathing.
His gaze dropped, to slowly follow up her length before settling again on her face.
That he continued to study her kept her fully watchful. His features relaxed, but she sensed mounting tension in him. The many possibilities of what he might be thinking flitted through her mind like little mice avoiding a hungry hawk. Outrage. Indignation. Superiority.
“I forego the fine I have every right to demand for yer action. Instead, I demand a kiss.”
He delivered the words as a man in authority. And he did not look away.
A kiss? Heat poured off him, but it was no longer anger riding him. She forced down the lump in her throat, holding his intense gaze as her thoughts raced. She had never been kissed by a man. Or kissed a man, but it was not a high price to pay to dismiss the entire incident.
Refusing would certainly result in a steeper demand, and the last thing she wanted to do was to cause any problems for her ri túath and cousin. Sean acted as her father, so any honor price demanded or paid could be half his worth. A king held no special power outside his own túath, but at a gathering this size, ruffling any fine feathers was to be avoided.
Aednat glanced at the warrior’s lips. His eyes brightened, and she struggled to breath evenly as she held his gaze, anticipation making a mockery of her show of bravery. She wetted her lips, and his long nose flared ever so slightly.
“Aednat!” The sound of Sean’s voice had her exhaling in relief. Her reprieve.
One dark brow quirked as if to question her thought.
“Here,” she answered, irritated that she sounded desperate.
“A timely interruption.” The warrior spoke in a quiet voice, his teeth white against the thick brown beard when he smiled. A satisfied smile. “But I’m a patient man.”
She should have slapped him harder.
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People are not perfect, and romances shouldn't be all about perfect people. Aednat has challenges beyond her stubbornness and intelligence that challenge the standards of their culture that make it a satisfying than many HEA.
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Aside from two years spent in the wilds of the Colorado mountains, Ashley York is a proud life-long New Englander and a hardcore romantic. She has an MA in History which brings with it, through many years of research, a love for primary documents and the smell of musty old libraries. With her author's imagination, she likes to write about people who could have lived alongside those well-known giants from the past.
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