Beneath a Midnight Moon - By Amanda Ashley

Chapter 1

She was walking through a deep green forest dappled by shimmering fingers of sunlight. The air was warm, fragrant with the aroma of a thousand exotic ferns and flowers. She heard the joyful songs of birds praising the birth of a new day, the distant whisper of a waterfall tumbling over stones.

Deeper and deeper she penetrated into the heart of the emerald forest, her footsteps muffled by a thick carpet of pine needles as she explored this strange new world that was so different from her own.

She saw a black-faced doe picking its graceful way along a narrow path, a pair of red-tailed squirrels chasing each other across the forest floor, a bird with bright yellow plumage flitting lightly from tree to tree.

And then she saw him, the man who lived only in her dreams. Her gaze moved over him with undisguised admiration. He was large of stature, his massive shoulders and well-muscled arms and legs accentuated by the gauzy white shirt and tight buff-colored breeches that he wore.

His eyes were gray, the color of clouds on a winter day; his hair fell to his waist, as deep and black as the Caves of Mouldour. His skin was the color of dark honey, smooth and unblemished. His nose was long and straight; his cheekbones prominent and well defined; his jaw strong and square.

His lips were firm, sensual; and when he smiled, as he was smiling now, it made her wish that he was a man of flesh and blood and not just an image conjured from the fathomless depths of sleep.

He came toward her, one hand out in a gesture of welcome; but still, in his eyes, she saw the same silent plea for help. And yet, how could she help him when she couldn’t help herself?

“Lady . . .” His voice was deep and rich, like chocolate velvet.

“I’m coming,” she called. “Wait for me.”

Yet even as she hurried toward him, his image faded, like an old painting left too long in the sun, and then he was gone from her sight.

“Your name,” she murmured sadly. “I don’t even know your name.”

A sob rose in her throat, waking her, returning her to the ugliness of her prison cell and a pillow soaked with her tears.

Chapter 2

She stood in the middle of the inquisition chamber, her wrists tightly lashed to a thick iron bar suspended above her head.

“You will tell us what we wish to know,” the Lord High Sovereign’s interrogator demanded brusquely. “You will tell us today, or you will die tomorrow.”

Kylene shook her head. She’d been imprisoned for almost a fortnight, and she still had no idea why they thought she could help them find the elusive Hardane.

“The lash is a crude weapon,” the Interrogator mused. “Crude, but effective.”

He nodded in the Executioner’s direction and Kylene’s body tensed as she waited for the lash to fall. The thick leather strap cracked through the air with the sound of thunder, biting deep into her skin, sizzling like summer lightning.

“Dying under the lash is a most unpleasant way to perish,” the Interrogator remarked. “A way that, if done with care, can take a very long time.”

It was an effort to hold her head up, to stay the words of pleading that rose in her throat. It was fortunate she didn’t know where Hardane was, she thought, for she feared she would tell the Interrogator everything he wished to know if it would spare her the pain of the lash. But she could tell him nothing.

“Where is he?”

The whip fell again, and then again. Tears stung her eyes and clogged her throat. The blood trickling down her back felt like sunfire. A red haze hovered before her face, making everything else seem distant and out of focus.

Trembling convulsively, Kylene closed her eyes, and he was there, standing before her, his slate gray eyes warm with compassion. His hand reached out to her, the touch of his fingertips as soft as fairy mist as he gently wiped away her tears.

“Lady, come to me . . .”

Startled by the sound of his voice, so near, so real, she opened her eyes.

And he was gone.

Mad, she thought. I must be going mad.

And yet his voice seemed to linger in the room, surrounding her with its strength, cocooning her in its warmth, lessening her fears, easing her pain.

“Where is he?”

The Interrogator’s voice cut through the silence, sharp as a blade.

Slowly, sadly, Kylene shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know who Hardane is. I don’t