Cherished Protector – Chapter One

Cherished Protector by Laurel O'Donnell

Cherished Protector of Her Heart by Laurel O’Donnell

Chapter One


Damien of Acquitaine looked out over the Great Hall of Castle Acquitaine. The arched ceiling stretched high, sheltering the lords, ladies and many peasants who clustered inside, waiting for their chance to speak with Lady Aurora. Along the wall, placed at regular intervals, knights were stationed below the large stained glass windows. The line of people to see Aurora stretched to the back of the room.

Despite being in Acquitaine for almost a month now, Damien’s instincts to protect Aurora were as strong as ever. They were taking many precautions, not because Damien believed anyone would harm Aurora, but because she meant so much to him. And with their wedding approaching, he knew some people were not happy with Aurora’s choice for a husband, namely him. His gaze locked with Sir Rupert, who was now captain of the guard.
Rupert stood at the bottom of one of the three stairs leading to the judgment chair upon which Aurora sat. Rupert’s gaze moved back to the merchant approaching the dais.

Damien’s stare swung to Aurora. She sat in the judgment chair, her back straight, her long golden hair braided to perfection down her back. She was a beautiful woman and he cherished her with every breathing moment. So many people standing in such close proximity to her unsettled his stomach, but he forced himself to remain calm. These were her people and they loved her.

The heavyset merchant stopped before the steps, bowing to Aurora. The man sniffled as he looked up from his bent over position. “M’lady,” he said softly, reverently. “I bring a gift for your wedding. For all you have done for Acquitaine and for the trade. My business has increased…” he sniffed again. He held out a box to her.
Aurora stood.

Damien immediately stepped past her and took the box from the merchant who flinched back from him with a whispered, “M’lord.”

Damien opened the box and found a jeweled dagger inside. He inspected it, lifting it from the box and then presented it to Aurora.

“You frightened him,” Aurora whispered.

Damien lifted an eyebrow. “I told you not to accept gifts here. It could be dangerous.”

The ends of her lips lifted. “According to you everything is dangerous.”

Her smile was infectious and he couldn’t help responding in kind. How could he ever be angry with her? His gaze swept her face. She was stunning. Her skin was flawless, her eyes large and trusting and translucent. Her lips full and kissable; he knew the last from experience. And he wanted to taste her lips again. But he nodded and stepped aside. He had to remember his duty. To her.

She took the dagger. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

A small boy rushed up to Damien and he handed the empty box to the small boy.

The merchant wrung his hands and nodded. “I had it forged just for you. As a compliment to your beauty.”
Damien stiffened, his jaw clenched. He would never get used to other men speaking about her beauty before him. But it was meant as a compliment, so he grit his teeth and allowed the comment.

“Thank you,” Aurora said. “What is your name?”

“Alfonso of Dartmoor.”

“You’ve traveled a long way. You will attend the ceremony and celebration afterward, won’t you?”

Damien grinned to himself. Who could resist a personal invitation from Aurora?

“Of course!” the merchant agreed excitedly. “I wouldn’t miss it!”

“Thank you so much for your kindness.”

The merchant bowed and backed away, his pudgy face beaming with excitement.

Aurora held out the dagger to Damien. He eyed it with misgivings. “Don’t you want it?” she asked.

“What would I do with a dagger like that?” Damien wondered.

Aurora’s gaze shifted from his face to the beautiful dagger. “I suppose the same thing you would do with any other dagger.”

A plain dagger was far less conspicuous. The perfect weapon for an assassin. But as he had to remind himself again, he was no longer an assassin. Once he married Aurora, he would be a lord. She watched him as if she knew what he was thinking. He lowered his chin and gave her that intense look that she knew, the look that said he wanted to grab her and kiss her lips. But that would be inappropriate before her people… people that were also soon to be his people. He took her hand and pressed his lips to her knuckles. She was beautiful, soft, and everything he could ever want.

She rewarded him with a stunning smile. Perhaps for his reserve. Perhaps because out of all the men she could have chosen, she had chosen him. Perhaps for his love of her. He had not told her nearly enough that he loved her. He should tell her every day, every moment…

He turned to see a cloaked man walking forward. The hood covered his face completely. Tingles shot across the nape of Damien’s neck. The man approached. There was something in the way he walked that sent alarms off inside of Damien.

Aurora followed his gaze to the hooded man.

The man still moved toward them.

Damien’s eyes grew wide. God’s blood! He knew the man! “Rupert!” he hollered.

A swarm of guards rushed forward to surround the man as Damien stepped protectively before Aurora.

The guards seized the cloaked man, preventing him from moving. His arms were wrenched behind his back.

Rupert threw back the man’s hood.

Damien snarled. His face had aged, but Damien knew him immediately. Black eyes gazed at him through wrinkled lids. His jaw was grizzled. His black hair was speckled with gray.

“Who is he?” Aurora asked.

For a moment, Damien considered not telling her. He didn’t want her to know. He wanted to protect her. But Damien knew she would find out. “My father.”



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