Authors: Sher Dillard
Copyright 2016 Sher Dillard
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof in any form. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means. This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Melody Simmons
Purple Herb Publishing
You can contact the author at
To my wonderful husband. I couldn’t have done this without him.
She entered the place like she owned it. As if she was simply stepping into a palace ball room. Pure poise, grace, and beauty. Girls like that shouldn’t come into taverns like this. It wasn’t good for their health.
Drake looked down at the rough hands holding his ale. It wasn’t any of his business. He had enough problems of his own. The last thing he needed was to get mixed up with some high born beauty slumming through the worst part of town.
Yet, he couldn’t look away for long. Something about her drew him in. Called to his inner beast.
Sighing to himself, he looked up.
She was dressed in a fine burgundy cloak. The kind that screamed wealth and too much refinement. She had pulled back the hood to reveal sun kissed blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. His stomach turned over. Pure trouble, that was what this was, pure trouble.
The woman was looking for something. Her eyes searching the room. A dozen eyes were examining her in return. Cataloging every curve. In fact, almost every man in the place was evaluating his options and opportunity. Drake well knew what they were thinking, knew what they wanted. The thought roused a part of him that had been dormant for too long. His protective instincts naturally grew as he grumbled in the back of his throat.
No! He reminded himself. This was not his problem. Do not get involved in their petty issues.
But still, something about the woman called to him.
As he watched, her eyes finally came to rest on him in the far corner. They opened wide in surprise, then narrowed as she inspected what she saw. He noticed a hint of disappointment mixed with a smidgen of interest.
Smiling to himself, he shook his head and focused on his ale. Maybe, if he ignored her, she would go away. And if she hurried, maybe she’d be allowed to leave.
But, no such luck.
The woman started walking towards him. Every man in the room followed every step. Their eyes devouring the subtle swing of her hips, the bounce of her golden hair, and the sparkle in her eyes.
She came to stop at his table, looking down at him. Her look dismissing him like a scullery maid late in her duties. The woman had no idea who she was dealing with.
“Mr. Drake?” she asked.
She was probably about five years younger than himself. Maybe twenty years old. But, her eyes held a maturity that surprised him a little. This woman may be young, but she knew what she wanted, and had a confidence well beyond her years.
“Just, Drake,” he answered.
She hesitated for a moment, obviously surprised he had not risen.
“May I join you?” she asked as she began to remove her kid gloves. Not hearing an answer, she sat on the wooden bench across from him, her eyes letting him know she was not amused.
Drake leaned back and studied her for a moment. The woman was beautiful, no doubt, but there was something more. An inner strength that surprised him. A strength that did not hide her femininity. He was impressed. Not an easy accomplishment in one so young.
Emily, the barmaid, approached hesitantly, as if afraid of waking a fearsome beast. She glanced at Drake, then back at this strange woman.
“Water please,” the woman said with a soft smile.
“You don’t drink the water in this place,” Drake said, as he shook his head. “Get her ale, and get me another.”
The beautiful woman stopped for a moment as she studied him. Then, nodded her head to the barmaid and finished removing her gloves, placing them neatly on the worn table between them. Touching them, probably afraid she might lose them.
What did she think? That he was going to steal her gloves and run out of the tavern? The safety of her gloves should be the least of her concerns at the moment.
She continued to look at him, most likely trying to decide whether she should continue, or change her mind and run. He well knew what she saw. A man, larger than most, with thick black hair and a scar that bisected his eyebrow. A man who only knew how to scowl.
Her eyes took in his forest green jacket, then lingered on his hands around the ale cup. His long fingers were rough and not as clean as they should have been. They would tell her of a man who used those hands to make his way in the world.
At last, she seemed to come to some kind of decision. Her back straightened, and her eyes narrowed on him.
“I am Elsbeth Beaumont,” she said.
“I know who you are, Princess. Every man in the place knows who you are,” Drake answered as he took a long pull on his ale.
She was nonplused for a moment. Obviously surprised. She didn’t get out much, he realized. Especially not to taverns such as this.
Pulling herself together, she said, “I need your help, Mr. Drake …”
“Just, Drake,” he said with a smirk. He knew that the fact that he insisted on using only his first name disturbed her. It gave him license to call her by her first name. Something that not many people in the Kingdom did. The fact that she found it disturbing pleased his soul for some reason. He liked making her uncomfortable. Heaven knew, it was probably a rare occurrence.
Dipping her head in acknowledgement, she continued, “Very well, Just Drake, I am in need of your assistance.”
“Isn’t that what your servants and advisers are for? What about the King’s Guard? From what I hear, they are very efficient in obtaining results. Regardless of what they have to do to get them. Your dungeons are full of men who failed to provide what was needed. Be it gold, or simply following instructions.”
Her back stiffened, he had touched a nerve.
“THE King’s Guard is why I need your assistance,” she said. - Drake noticed the absence of the word ‘My’ in reference to the Kings Guard – Interesting.
He chuckled as he leaned back. “What? You want me to destroy the King’s Guard for you?”
She studied him for a moment. “No, I want you to take me to a man who can.”
Now, it was his turn to be surprised. He hadn’t expected that. And, who was this man she needed?
“Why me?” he asked her. He thought it might be best to get as much information as possible before he turned her down. You never knew what might be valuable at a later date. Besides, he liked sitting across from a pretty woman. It made the ale taste better.
“I was told that you were the only man who could get me across the Forbidden Forest.”
He scoffed, “There’s a reason they call it forbidden.”
She smiled back at him, as if he were a little boy. “Surely, you don’t believe in dragons?” she said. “A man such as yourself? I heard that you regularly go into the forest. And so far, you seem to return unscathed.”
He shook his head, “And, why do you need to go into the forest?”
“I need to cross it to get to the Kingdom of Sinstra,” she said. Her expression let him know how important this was to her. A hint of fear crossed behind her eyes. His insides bunched together at the thought of anything causing this woman fear.
No, he reminded himself. He would not go down that path.
“There is a road that does that,” he said, “a perfectly good road. It goes around the forest. And, they have these thing called carriages with wheels and everything.”
Her eyes narrowed in anger, she didn’t like being teased. The thought made him smile back at her.
“I am perfectly aware of the road, Mr. Drake. But, it is too well guarded and will take too long.” She paused for a moment and gathered her gloves, “Now, will you help me or not?”
He studied her for a moment. “Why do you need to go to Sinstra?”
“You don’t need to know that,” she said with a haughty voice that seemed to end the matter.
He looked at her for a long moment. “Let me get this straight. You expect me to get up from here and leave this nice, warm tavern, and this semi-acceptable ale. Risk my life on a daily basis to spend the next five to seven days sharing a campfire with you. But, I don’t need to know the reason why?”
Shaking his head, he returned to finishing off his ale. The woman could leave, for all he cared. How dare she think that her problems were worse than his? That just because she was a princess, he should drop everything to help her, all the while, never knowing the reason why.
See, this was why he hated people, they were so, so ... Selfish, yes, that was the word, selfish.
She looked at him for a long minute, trying to decide what to say.
“I can pay you,” she said. “I have gold.”
“I don’t need gold,” he responded.
She drew back in surprise. He was sure that in her world, everyone needed gold. He bet that she rarely came across someone who had all that he needed. The idea that he couldn’t be bought had probably never crossed her mind.
At last, she let out a long sigh, “I need to reach Sinstra so that I might obtain Prince Julian’s assistance.”
“Assistance with what?” he asked.
Her eyes drew together. She didn’t like being pushed. There was a stubborn streak in this girl a mile wide, he realized, the thought pleased him for some reason.
“I need Prince Julian’s assistance to help me obtain my crown,” she said, as if admitting the worst secret imaginable. Drake wondered if she was more ashamed of the fact that she needed assistance or that she had to go outside her own kingdom to get it.
“My uncle, the Regent” she continued, “refuses to allow me to be coronated. He controls all the levers of power, the King’s Guard, the treasury, even my maids, and servants. Everyone is afraid of him.”
“For good reason, Princess. Your uncle is known to be a rather unpleasant person.”
“Don’t you see? That is why I must become Queen, only then can I stop him.”
Drake shook his head at her naiveté. The only way a man like her uncle could be stopped was with a sword through his heart.
“What makes you think Prince Julian wouldn’t be just as bad as your uncle? Might not you be changing one jailer for another?”
“Prince Julian isn’t like that. You don’t know him. He is good, sweet.”
Drake chuckled to himself. A good sweet man wasn’t going to defeat her uncle. Only a ruthless bastard could kill another ruthless bastard. Thankfully, it wasn’t his problem.
“So, let me see if I have this correct. You want me to guide you through the Forbidden Forest to the Kingdom of Sinstra, where you will beg Prince Julian to help you take back your land? All the time, avoiding the King’s Guard and any dragons that might be in the area.”
The princess relaxed and smiled. Obviously pleased that he understood. “Yes, that is it,” she said.
He studied her for a moment, then shook his head.
“No,” he said.
“What?” she replied. “But, you have to.”
He laughed gently, “Princess, this isn’t some fairy tale. This is real life. And, no I don’t have to help you. Let us not forget, to me, my life is more important than yours.”
Her face turned white at the realization of what he was saying. He would not help her. If he wouldn’t, then who would? His heart hitched a little. Not a lot, but a little. She did seem like a nice person. And heaven knew, she was as pretty as a pink sunrise. But, no. He had his instructions, he was to avoid the political issues of the area. He was only supposed to observe and learn. Not get involved.
His heart was already regretting it. He would have enjoyed a few days alone with her. He swallowed hard, most definitely, the beast inside of him begged to be set free. To take what it wanted and never let go.
Her eyes scrunched tight as the surprise was replaced by a healthy anger. Untying the knot at her throat, she pushed aside her cloak and stared at him. Ready to argue him into the ground, if necessary.
The determined look in her eyes made him smile. This was a woman to challenge a man’s soul. Leaning back, he folded his arms across his chest and made himself comfortable while he awaited her tirade.
She stared at him for several moments. Her hand drifted up to clasp the medallion around her neck.
“Please Mr. Drake, you have to. My uncle is ruining everything my father built. He is destroying any chance of happiness the people have. The dungeons are full of those that resist. I need to get to Sinstra.”
He watched her hand as she subconsciously played with the medallion. It was obviously a habit. Something she did when she was worried.
Staring at the gold coin, a cold shiver traveled up his spine. It couldn’t be. Not here, not now. He leaned forward to make sure. Yes, the double-headed dragon.
His insides turned to stone. Did she have any idea what she held? Her fingers absently caressed the coin almost like she was trying to draw out its power.
No, she didn’t know.
A coin, a simple metal circle of gold, had changed everything.