Betrayal. Redemption. True love.
After witnessing her mother’s murder left her blind, Leta had to put away her sword and her dreams of becoming a bard. Now she is resigned to a calm life where the best she can hope for is a good marriage that will take the burden of her care from her father’s shoulders. When her father claims the gods have sent a man to be not just her husband, but perhaps her savior, Leta has to take a leap of faith…and hope she falls in love.
Torben is a bear shifter struggling to pass a test laid on him by his power-hungry stepmother. Bound into his beast form during the day, able to be human only at night when the darkness hides him, he must find a wife. She can know him only as a bear and a bodiless voice in the night. For one year, she must let him keep his secrets, trust him as a wife should trust her husband. But what woman will climb into bed with a bear and trust it is a man waiting for her?
A hand settled on her fingers. Heavy, and a little rough, it engulfed her entire hand. She swallowed hard, took in a slow breath, and raised her teacup with a shaking hand, trying not to spill it in her haste to take a sip. It smelled like the tea her aunt had concocted for her, and if the gods were kind, it would have the same effect. She just needed her body to calm down, to stop shaking, and blushing, and everything else. Then she could think. Then she could be logical.“How are you feeling?” Torben’s voice was gentle, his baritone soothing in its increasing familiarity. He gently lifted her hand from his shoulder and cradled it in his.
The warm liquid flowed down her throat, and a tingling rush of magic spread through her body, working into her muscles, seeking out tension and melting it away. She took another large sip, swallowed before taking a deep breath. Her hands stilled and the burning in her cheeks ebbed, leaving her clearheaded, calmer. “Better.” She allowed herself a moment to gather her thoughts, then turned her head in the direction her aunt’s mentor had spoken from. “Mother Strongoak?”
“I’m right here, child.”
“Could you hold my tea?”
She couldn’t tell for certain, but Leta thought she heard a smile in the witch’s voice. As Leta had asked, she took the teacup, freeing Leta’s other hand. Torben was close enough that his body heat pressed against her like a warm summer day, and she had no problem discerning his direction. “May I touch your face?”
A flicker of tension passed through him—surprise, perhaps. Then he took her other hand and put both of them on either side of his face. It was much higher than she’d expected, and the muscles in her arms pulled as she stretched to keep contact.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
He shifted beneath her hands, slouching so she could reach him more easily. His head was large, combining with everything else to paint the picture of a very big man. The tea in her belly held her in a protective bubble, letting her mind chew over that information without her body’s panicked input. She ran her thumbs over his cheekbones, appreciating his strong bone structure. His face was rough with the beginnings of a beard, and she smiled a little as it tickled her palms.
Her smile seemed to inspire one of his own, and the muscles of his cheeks flexed beneath her hands. She feathered a finger over velvety-soft lips, then slid her hands over his jaw, up the back of his head.
“Your hair is short.”
“Does that surprise you?”
“It does.” She furrowed her brow. “I’m not sure why. I suppose I just expected you to be more…”
“Shaggy?” he suggested dryly.
She cleared her throat. “Er, yes. I suppose.”
She toyed with the short strands of his hair a bit, then slid her hands back down the sides of his face. His neck was thick, and her hands barely made it halfway around. She’d just opened her mouth to comment on that when her hands fell to his shoulders. She froze. Seconds ticked by as a piece of information surfaced in her mind, conveniently forgotten until just now. The bare skin she’d touched. She suddenly knew with absolute clarity he was not wearing much, if any, clothing. Emotions battered against the wall of tea protecting her from physical reactions.
“Leta? Are you all right?”
“That wasn’t your hip I touched,” she croaked. “That was your shoulder, wasn’t it?”
A tiny laugh exploded into the air, followed by a snort from Mother Strongoak. Leta thought she heard Torben growl, but the sound stopped before she could be sure.
It took him a moment to respond, as if he were glaring at the room’s other occupants and was reluctant to stop. “Yes?”
“Exactly how…tall are you?”
There was silence then, thick with expectation. Her hands still rested where they’d frozen on his shoulders, and his muscles tightened beneath her fingertips.
“A little over seven feet,” he said finally.
There was hesitation in his voice, a sliver of doubt. Leta pressed her lips together and raised her hands to cradle his face, forcing him to look at her.
“How much is ‘a little over seven feet?’”
His jaw clenched, then relaxed. “Eight foot two.”
It was a tribute to the tea that her heart barely skipped a beat. “Eight foot two? As in…eight feet and two inches?”
“Give or take.”
“Give or take what?” She slowly lowered her hands into her lap and leaned back on the couch. Part of her burned to ask him why he was shirtless, probably pantless, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to make that a part of the conversation.
“Are you all right?”
Something in his voice pulled at her heartstrings. More hesitation, a little shade of fear. He’s waiting for you to be afraid of him.
The thought caught her by surprise, and she sat up straighter. “I’m not afraid of you.”
“I told you,” Mother Strongoak muttered.
Torben made a chuffing sound in his chest that might have been irritation, but she couldn’t be sure. She clenched her hands into fists.
“I know very well what I must seem like to you,” she said calmly. “Feeling about as I walk, shuffling along. Having panic attacks for no apparent reason. Leaping into marriage with a perfect stranger—a perfect non-human stranger.” A glimmer of her old flame burned to life inside her, and she jutted her chin out.
“This is not who I am. Before my mother died, I was going to be a bard. I was going to travel everywhere—alone. I trained for years with different weapons, learned how to survive in the wilderness if I had to. I was very independent.”
“Indeed,” Mother Strongoak agreed. “I did so enjoy seeing you perform competitively as well. Always worth it for a chance that some sore loser would get into a snit, and then lure you into one of those delightful duels.”
Leta waited for Torben to comment on the “duels,” ask if she’d really engaged in combat, but he didn’t. He probably hadn’t even entertained it as a possibility. “This is not who I am,” she said again.
This is a great read. I couldn’t put it down. I really like the characters and world that Jennifer has created. It has some great twists and turns. Readers will definitely want to add it to their TBR lists. I look forward to reading more of Jennifer’s books.