Anyway... *chuckle* Since I'm up and made mention of Valor's Warrior yesterday I thought that, rather than make you all toddle over to Facebook to check out the teaser, I'd post it here for you. What can I say? I'm a giver.
And so, without further delay, here is the Prologue for Valor's Warrior. Kayelle and I hope you enjoy it.
Cherry blossom petals fluttered down around her. They rustled around her feet with each step Nerine took in her circuit around Mars’ garden. She took a deep breath, the sweet scent of the blossoms soothing her as they always did when she visited.
Where is he? she wondered. The God of War had sent a messenger with instructions for her to wait at their usual spot and she’d come directly there.
A sandal scuffed on the cobblestones behind her and Nerine turned. Mars approached and, unable to help it, she smiled widely in welcome. “I was beginning to wonder if you’d come. What did you need to see me about?”
His chestnut colored tresses were pulled back from his face at the sides, two braids meeting at the back of his head. He smiled at her, the corners of his sea blue eyes crinkling. “That I did, mea dulcis Valor. We have things to discuss,” he said as held his hand out to her.
Nerine laid her palm in his, sighing as the heat of Mars’ skin warmed her to her toes. She hated the nervous chill that turned her skin to ice beneath the thin summer gown she’d worn. Something of importance was going on, he’d come to her as a God instead of his usual, casual self. Mars had dressed in his finest before coming to see her; the white and gold of his cloak and cuirass lending him an ethereal quality beneath the early afternoon sunlight. Of all the gods, she swore he was the most beautiful. Not even Apollo in all his glory compared to Mars in her estimation.
“What is it?” she asked as he led her toward a small bench beneath the cherry tree. This was nothing out of the ordinary, she told herself. They sat there all the time to talk and read together. “Are we planning another war against the humans?”
“No, not at the moment. We’ve suffered several losses as the humans have started to really unite together. And it was never about defeating them, just reining them in, trying to get them to stop the destruction they seem to be so hell bent on.” He sat next to her, reaching to tuck a strand of curls back from her face. Her heart gave a small flip at the sweet gesture. He could be tender, when he wished to be. “But if we have to it’s you I want at my side,” he said with a smile.
She nodded and turned her face slightly away. A blush from the unexpected and tender touch crept over her skin and heated her face. “Of course,” Nerine glanced up at him through the thick veil of her lashes. “Where else would I be? We fight together. We always have.”
“That we have and I would never imagine going to war without you,” he told her. “I just feel like we need to try something different, we need to try to quell the fighting and the wars. I know we can go down among the humans and if we die we return here but, the fact remains they are murdering one another, and it has to stop or there will be no need for us up here.”
“I agree,” she said. A dark cloud passed over her mood as she recalled the ever present wrench in the spokes of their relationship. A wrench with blond hair, blue eyes, sun kissed skin, and an air of superiority to rival Jupiter’s. “What about Enyo? She thirsts for bloodshed. You know she’ll push for a fight rather than peace as we would prefer.”
“Of course she will and I’ve figured out a way to handle her. Not what I had originally wanted to do but it will work,” he said then reached for her hand.
Nerine let him thread his fingers through hers, the gesture not entirely foreign in its familiarity. She studied his face, noting the tight lines around his mouth and eyes. “I don’t understand,” she frowned at him. “How are you going to handle her? And why isn’t it what you wanted?”
“I’m going to handle it,” he said with more assertion. “There are some things that I do that you don’t have to know and I would rather you didn’t.”
“Why?” she snorted softly and rose to pace among the petals. Her mind raced ahead of her, throwing out possibilities faster than she could asses them for plausibility. “You’ve never hidden anything else from me. The women, the parties, the fighting—I’ve seen it all, Mars.” Nerine turned to face him, light pink petals swishing in her wake. “Why start hiding things now?”
“Because there are things I will protect you from,” he said in a low voice. “There are things you don’t need to know. Just because you fight like a lion, doesn’t mean I don’t try and spare you some bullshit in your life.”
She laughed then, unable to stop herself. “You’ve spared me nothing.” Nerine motioned to the stone walls surrounding them. “Outside of this garden I’m ridiculed for being in love with you. The others look at me with pity in their eyes when they see you walk by me with another woman on your arm. Honor and strength, they mock. They call me weak because I can’t resist your charms. How is that sparing me anything, Mars?” She kicked at a pebble by her toes. “How is you not returning my feelings sparing me anything at all?”
“Whoa, whoa. When did this become about love? I never brought that up. I was talking about the wars and what I save you from there. This has nothing to do with love and...” He stood then, shaking his head. “What the hell, Nerine?”
“What are you talking about?” she tossed back at him, frustration heating her blood. How did he always manage to make her feel like the exact opposite of what she was, weak and without honor? As the Goddess of Valor, she represented strength and honor, but he stripped her of those at every turn. “You don’t save me from anything with the wars, Mars. I fight beside you as an equal while Enyo charges ahead slaughtering everything in her path.” She straightened, facing him eye to eye. “We are equals, Mars. Complements to each other and yet you continually treat me as beneath you. Why? Haven’t I proven that I’m strong enough?”
He sighed and closed the distance between them. “You know I think you are or it wouldn’t be you at my back. Why must you always take what I say and try to make it into me demeaning you? I try and spare you things I don’t want you to have to deal with.” He paced, pinching the bridge of the strong, aquiline nose she adored. “By the gods,” he muttered.
She arched a dark brow at him. “I don’t have to try to make it sound that way. It’s the truth of how things are between us.” Stepping close, she put a hand on his arm to stop Mars’ pacing. She squeezed gently to gain his attention. “Look at me. Can you see me as the woman I am and not the image you have of me?”
“Of course I do. Why would you even ask something like that?” he said as he gripped her arms. “Why does this always change to…?” he sighed, the sound carrying a note of sadness that pulled at her heart. “Nerine, this is not how I wanted this to go.”
“How you wanted what to go?” She frowned, struggling a bit as his grip pinched into her biceps. “I don’t understand.”
“I’ve come to a decision, about this, about us,” he said as he looked at her seriously. “I didn’t want to upset you. I’d wanted this to be a quiet moment between us, and yet it’s turned into the opposite.”
Her heart skipped a beat, the air in her lungs suddenly thick and unmoving. “A decision?” she coughed out. The seriousness of his expression and the way he’d been talking could only mean one thing. She leapt to the only conclusion she could and her heart sank into the bottom of her sandals. “You’ve chosen Enyo, haven’t you?”
He opened his mouth to speak but she put a hand to stop him. “Don’t. I should have known you’d do this. I’ve never been good enough for you and this—this is the last straw, Mars. I’m done being your groupie. Find another sucker to fight at your back.”
“Groupie? Are you kidding me?!” he snapped back. He threw his hands up in frustration, a whisper of power lashing at her. She rubbed her arms to wipe away the angry prickle marching from her fingertips to her elbows. “Fine! I’ll find another sucker since you don’t want to fight at my side. Maybe Enyo is a better choice since I never have to spend my time soothing her ego!”
“I knew it,” she hissed at him. “You did choose her.” Nerine sat down hard, the air rushing from her lungs with the force of her impact with the bench. Stars danced in front of her eyes and she brought her hands up to rub at them. “I can’t believe it.”
He sat beside her, his voice sharp with impatience when he spoke, “I didn’t say that Nerine. You’re putting words in my mouth yet again.”
She laughed bitterly and wiped at the tears coursing down her cheeks. “Of course, lay the blame at my feet. Be careful you don’t crush my heart while you’re doing it.” She snorted, “Oh wait. It’s too late for that.”
“I cannot believe you,” he growled as he stood and started to walk away. “Think what you want, Nerine. It doesn’t matter what I say or do. You insist on jumping to your own conclusions.”
“Where are you going?” She bolted up and ran to him, her fingers bunching in the thick wool of his cloak. “Don’t walk away from me, Mars. Say what you wanted to and then I’ll go.” Nerine looked around at the beautiful garden surrounding them. It didn’t feel like much of a sanctuary to her anymore. Her broken heart and crushed dreams lay scattered among the pale pink petals. “This is your home, after all.”
He jerked the cloak from her hands, his blue eyes blazing in anger. She let it go, stunned at the viciousness in his movements. “Forget it, Nerine. I’m not in the mood. Go tell everyone how I treat you like a little groupie! Oh wait, they’ll make fun of you.” He turned to walk away, so angry he vibrated with barely restrained violence.
She bit her lip, chastened by the ferocity of his anger and shamed that she’d accused him of treating her that way. “Please, wait?” Lifting her eyes to his, she gripped Mars’ arm in the hopes he’d stay and work things out. “I’m sorry. Please, let’s start over?”
“Not today, Nerine. I’ve had it,” he said, looking down at her. “It’s always the same, always all about how I’ve mistreated you. I’m done for now.” His anger was on edge and she could see he was trying hard not to lash out any more than he already had.
“I’m sorry,” she wept through the hot tears burning a path down her cheeks. The flash of his eyes and the barely leashed menace in his posture forced her to silence. She nodded and moved to walk out of his garden. “I’ll go.”
“I’m going. I’ll talk to you later,” he said and turned, folding his cloak over his arm as he walked away.
Nerine sank down onto the bench, cherry blossom petals falling around her in tandem with each tear that rolled down her cheek. She watched his back retreating from her, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach growing with each step Mars took away from her. “What have I done?” she cried out as the gate slammed shut. “What have I done?”
Copyright 2012 Danielle Gavan and Kayelle McClive