This week for Medieval Monday I have a special treat, because it is a special day! Fellow Medieval Romance Novelist Laurel O’Donnell’s latest, Angel’s Assassin releases tomorrow!
Damien is an assassin, a man with no home and a tortured past. Sold into slavery as a young boy, he is trained to kill with cold calculation, without remorse. As reward for his ruthless success, he is given a chance to earn his freedom from his cruel master. One last mission. One final person to slay…
Lady Aurora of Acquitaine is the epitome of purity and goodness, beloved by all her people. She lives her life trying to atone for her mother’s cruelty by being a fair and just ruler. Secretly she fears that one day her mother’s murderer will return for her.
When Damien enters Aurora’s life, tempting her with promises of dark passion and forbidden lust, he threatens to tear her peaceful world apart with shadowy secrets of his own.
Can Aurora’s light heal Damien’s dark spirit or will his evil consume her? The eternal battle of good versus evil, love versus hate, dark versus light, all come to a shattering climax in this historical romance.
I caught up with Laurel recently and asked her a few questions about the book….
What was the inspiration for Angel’s Assassin? What drew you to the story?
Damien was my inspiration. I liked that he was so dark, so evil and saw himself unworthy of saving. I was drawn to the idea of love saving him. I also liked the idea of having two opposites as hero and heroine, light and dark, good and evil….
The kingdom of Acquitaine has a fascinating history. What kind of research did you do to build your story? How much of the actual history of Acquitaine figures into the plot of Angel’s Assassin?
I tried to pick an era where the trade was growing and where the fighting was minimal. Even though the period when Angel’s Assassin takes place is during the Hundred Years War, it was a period in Acquitaine that was relatively quiet. My story and the castle in which Aurora lives are a fictional part of the historic Acquitaine.
What kind of interesting facts did you discover about the institution of slavery in the middle ages? How did it work?
I found that slavery ended in England around 1102. But I figured that, just like nowadays, it could have moved underground. So I took liberties and made a slave ship. Damien, my hero, and his brother were sold into slavery by their father.
Although the official release is tomorrow, you can already purchase Angel’s Assassin on Amazon starting today. I can’t wait to read it! Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Earn your freedom, the voice commanded. Complete your mission.
I can’t, Damien tried to answer.
You are not like her, the voice said in a velvety caress. You can never be like her. One day, she will see the ugliness you have in your soul and she will turn her back on you. Just like your father.
No, Damien replied. She would never do that.
You cannot lie to me, the voice answered. I know your greatest fears. I feel your worst pains. Do not love her.
I am incapable of love, Damien said.
Then finish it.
Damien bolted upright, reaching for his weapon. His fingers closed over leaves and twigs. His sword was not there!
Aurora! Where was she?
His gaze swept his surroundings. Moonlight bathed the leaf-cluttered ground in dark and light patches. Silhouettes of trees and brush circled him. He was still in the forest. Had Aurora run as he commanded her? Then he saw her nearby, in a pool of dappled moonlight, laying still.
Damien crawled across the small expanse to her side. Tentatively, he reached for her, stretching his fingers toward her slowly. He was afraid he was still locked in the throes of a nightmare, fearful that when he touched her she would disappear, vanish as if she had never really existed. His hand carefully stroked the luxurious strands of her hair, and when his angel did not vanish or turn into some horrible monster, Damien grew bolder. He lifted his hand to the curve of her cheek, smoothing a beautiful golden lock from her skin.
“She is unharmed.”
Tingles of warning flared in his body. How could he have missed his presence? Fighting dizziness, Damien stood and slowly turned.
The man materialized out of the darkness, looking every bit as confident as Damien remembered.
It had been years since he had last seen his brother. But he always knew he was lurking somewhere nearby. Following. Watching. Waiting. Damien’s jaw clenched until it hurt. “Gawyn, you bastard,” he snarled. “What did you do to her?”
Gawyn’s lip curled slightly. “Is that the thanks I get for saving your life?”
Damien took a menacing step forward. “What did you do to her?”
“She is asleep,” Gawyn said. “She would not leave your side, even under the threat of my dagger pointed at her belly.”
“You hurt her and I will kill you,” Damien promised.
“Hurt her?” Gawyn’s hand dipped to the handle of his dagger in his belt. “You were sent to kill her.”
“I was sent to kill her,” Damien affirmed. “Not you or anyone else.” He quickly closed his mouth and looked at Aurora, realizing what he had just declared openly. Much to his relief, she still slept. He lowered his voice. “My time is not over. I have two days left. You stay out of it.”
Gawyn shrugged. “I’m beginning to think you can’t do it.”
“I’m not concerned with what you think,” Damien said.
“After all these years of wanting your freedom, I find it difficult to believe you would falter.”
Damien clenched his jaw, his eyes narrowing. “Is that why you’re here?” Damien demanded. “To take my freedom from me?”
Gawyn chuckled and shook his head. “I want to help you.”
Damien turned his back on Gawyn, gritting his teeth. Help me, he mentally scoffed. Gawyn had never returned to free him from the Redemption when he had needed him the most. His fists balled into tight wads.
“You may fool Lady Aurora, but you can not fool me,” Gawyn said. “I know who you are. Who you’ve always been. Death. The Grim Reaper.” Gawyn jerked his chin at the beheaded killer. “You even killed that assassin in a hopeless attempt at honor. But Death has no honor. You can’t change who you are. Not even for her.”
Damien stood absolutely still for a moment. His stare found Aurora. Was that what he was trying to do? Change who he was? He liked to be with Aurora. She made him feel worthwhile. She made him feel… whole, like he had a soul worth saving. But did he want to change? “What do you want? Why are you following me?”
Gawyn’s jaw clenched tight and he shook his head. “You can’t pass up this chance to get your freedom. I won’t let you. Not after all these years. All these years of damning me for being too late. For cursing me for not returning! And here, here your freedom is laid at your feet and you just turn your back on it?”
Damien squeezed his fists tighter. He knew what was at stake. “I will do it when I am ready. Not when you tell me to do it.”
Gawyn snorted in disbelief. “Finish your mission before it’s too late. Do it before you can’t.”
Damien turned, but Gawyn had vanished. Damn him. Damn him for showing up here in Acquitaine. Damn him for not minding his own business. Damn him to hell for daring to threaten Aurora.
She had not left him, not even under the threat of harm. Damien shook his head. He had commanded her to run. Instead, she risked her life to remain at his side. That had been one of his rules, that she obey him without question. She could have been killed. Had it been another assassin, she would not be sleeping now. Damien fully planned to reprimand her when she woke.
But for now he could feast upon her beauty in the darkness and she would be none the wiser. Damien walked slowly to her. He stood above her, staring down at her small figure cushioned against the forest floor. She was enchanting and mesmerizing. He fought down the urge to touch her as she slept, to sweep his hand across her cheek, through her hair, over her lips… as if she belonged to him. She didn’t belong to him. She didn’t belong here. She belonged in a glorious bed of thick, warm furs and mountains of pillows. She belonged to her people.
Her eyes fluttered and opened. Damien stared down into her sleepy blue eyes. They held all the redemption his black heart longed for. His worries about Gawyn, about his freedom, and about his mission faded beneath the radiance in her orbs.
She was safe. And right now that was all that mattered.
He knelt beside her.
She moved to sit up, but he caught her cheek in his palm, stilling the movement.
For a moment, there was hesitancy in her eyes, wariness. Then, she closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against his hand, nuzzling it.
He was lost in those lips, in the feel of her warm skin against his palm and he wondered what it might be like to wake up with such a beauty in his arms every morning. He shook himself firmly of such thoughts, a dark scowl sweeping over his brow. Those thoughts were madness. He needed focus.
“There was a man,” Aurora said. “He stopped the poison.” She glanced around the clearing. “Is he still here?”
Damien shook his head. “He is gone.”
“Who was he?”
Damien did not answer.
“Did you see him?”
“There was no one here when I woke,” Damien told her.
“We must find him…”
Damien held up his hand, silencing her. He looked at her for a long moment. “Why didn’t you run?”
Aurora scanned his face in a silent caress. “I could not leave you.”
Damien growled low in his throat. She put herself in danger because of him, to save him. He was not worth saving. He could never hold even the tiniest of sparks to her radiance, to her goodness. And still, she stared at him with such wonder and kindness and relief. He could not resist her. Not a moment longer. He curved a hand at the nape of her neck and pulled her to him, fiercely claiming her lips, wanting… needing to touch her. He pressed his hot lips against hers, sliding over her wet coolness. God’s blood, even now, half poisoned and recovering his strength, he grew hard for her.
A whimper escaped her lips and Damien wasn’t sure whether it was desire or protest. He loosened his grip on her, not wanting to punish or hurt, only wanting to drink of her nectar, her kindness, to absorb some of it into his black soul. Maybe then… maybe then he would be worth saving.
She pulled back and there was a pout to her thoroughly kissed lips.
He saw the unease edging her eyes, the concern. He had frightened her, the one woman in the entire world he didn’t want to scare. The look on her face saddened him and he looked away.
The words from the darkness of his dream came to him. She will see you for the ugliness you have in your soul one day and she will turn her back on you. Did she remember what he had done to the assassin? The violence? The blood? Had it tainted her?
He did not want her to look at him with fear, but he had known one day she would. One day she must. But not so early. Not so soon.
Aurora climbed to her feet.
“Where is my sword?” Damien demanded, searching the forest floor. He could not look at her.
“Here.” It had been hidden beneath the flare of her dress when she was lying down.
Damien nodded in satisfaction. He picked it up, pausing as he looked into her eyes. They sparkled a pale blue in the moonlight.
Aurora stared at him for a long, pensive moment. Then, she dipped her head in thought. The furrows of her brow deepened as her gaze stopped at his thigh, lingering on his wound. “How do you feel?” she asked.
“Well enough to see you back to your castle.” He sheathed his weapon and took a step toward Acquitaine.
“Damien,” she called.
He hesitated. He didn’t want her to fear him. Would she condemn him now for his violence? The silence stretched. Finally, he turned to her and his breath caught in his throat.
She stood in middle of the forest, bathed in a pool of moonlight. Her blonde hair, loose from any constraints, fell to her waist in thick waves. Her back was straight, her tiny body alluring and curvy and delectable. But it was her eyes that captured his attention. He saw no fear in her eyes. It was concern. Had he mistaken fear for concern?
Damien had never felt such an overwhelming need for anything in his life. He trembled with his want of her.
A swirl of emotions played over her face. Concern, regret, helplessness.
It took all Damien’s willpower not to go to her and sweep her into his embrace. He didn’t want to scare her. He didn’t want to harm her. He didn’t want to taint her.
“I will never leave you,” she finally confessed and tears entered her eyes.
Damien came toward her then, like a tumultuous storm cloud. “You don’t know what you are saying,” he warned in a savage whisper.
Aurora did not run for cover; she did not shrink from his approach. She stared up into his face with those damned clear orbs. And for the briefest of moments, Damien saw himself reflected as she saw him. A hero, a good man. A man worthy of all he could attain.
He stood before her, stunned.
The sound of horses thundering through the clearing pounded a warning through the ground.
Damien grabbed Aurora’s hand in one hand, and drew his sword in the other. He watched the group of men approach through the forest, clumsily maneuvering their steeds through the tight trees. He pulled Aurora behind him.
These men were no brigands. They wore heraldry, and while Damien couldn’t be sure, he suspected they were from Acquitaine.
As they drew closer, his suspicions were confirmed. One of them called out, “Lady Aurora!”
Damien refused to relinquish her. For just one moment, she had been his. And it had been the most glorious moment of his life.
“Lady Aurora!” another called.
His time alone with her was over.
“I am here,” Aurora called out, a reluctance in her tone.
Four men came forward, three of whom wore red tunics with a white dove embroidered onto it, the symbol of Acquitaine. But the leader wore a different crest. A black lion on a white background. He reached them first, reining his horse to a stop before them. His blonde hair waved gently in the breeze. His dark eyes swept them. “Lady Aurora,” he gasped, dismounting. He brushed his blonde hair aside and knelt before her. Practiced, polished. Fake.
Damien hated him on sight.
Aurora stiffened. She released Damien’s hand and stepped toward the knight. “Count Ormand,” she greeted.
Ormand stood and his gaze shifted to Damien with just the right disdainful curl of his lip, then back to Aurora. “I came to rescue you as soon as I heard an attempt was made on your life. Imagine my surprise at finding you gone.”
“We were attacked by an assassin. Damien was struck by a poison arrow.”
One of Ormand’s eyebrows rose. “Another assassin?” He looked at Damien, then back at Aurora. “Were you hurt, m’lady?”
“No,” she said. “Damien saved me. Again.”
Ormand looked at Damien. “This must be the amazing Damien.”
Aurora nodded. “Ormand, this is Damien. Damien, this is Count Ormand.”
“I am Aurora’s betrothed,” Ormand stated with a slight lifting of his chin so he could stare down at Damien.
Betrothed. The word rang in Damien’s head like a thunderous bell and his teeth clenched. Betrothed. Betrothed. What did it matter? But the word did not stop clanging in his thoughts. Betrothed.
Ormand’s pompous stare swept Damien suspiciously from head to foot. “Why is he half naked? And what in heaven’s name were you doing out in the forest knowing that your life is in danger?”