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Anwen of Primewood: Chapter One

The Kindle edition of Anwen of Primewood releases in exactly two weeks! I’m very excited to share the first chapter with you today. I hope you enjoy it!

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Chapter One

It hurts a little to change form. It’s not as terrible changing features as it is changing into a dragon, but it still stings.
I blink my eyes and tilt my head up. Moisture gathers in my eyelashes, but I compose myself and slip into the darkness of the stables. Danver skitters after me. The only sign of him in the darkness is the occasional flash of his white-tipped tail.
My mare, a pretty little thing with dark, chocolate eyes and a haughty head, eyes me suspiciously, snorting.
“It’s me,” I say, holding my hand out to her.
Mara’s ears twitch. She paws the ground but stays still as I saddle her. As I work, I take cautious glances at the stable boy slouched in the corner under a low burning torch. He’s fast asleep, drunk on mead. He’ll wake with a splitting headache in the morning.
I’ll be long gone by then.
I scoop Danver’s furry body into my arms, tuck him under my cloak, and disappear into the night.

***

There’s a fork in the road about an hour’s ride to the west. Dimitri waits for me. My hands tremble as I draw closer.
Dimitri lowers his hood, revealing himself. “Who is it?” he calls, his voice uneasy.
With the changeling stone warm against my chest, I lower my hood as well. “It’s Anwen.”
He swings from his horse and strides to me, catching Mara by her halter. His eyebrows knit as he studies my face. Now that we’ve stopped, Danver jumps from my arms to explore the road. As soon as Dimitri recognizes the fox, his eyebrows shoot up.
He’s impressed. I flush with pride as I clasp the chain at my neck and draw it over my head. The transformation begins as soon as the stone leaves my skin. My hair—which has been long, sleek, and brown for the better part of the hour—draws up in blond curls that fall just past my shoulders. I grit my teeth as my face changes back to normal and blink as my eyes return to green.
“It’s amazing,” Dimitri whispers, his eyes on the stone. “Better than I had imagined.”
I accept his hand and dismount. With a quick flash of bright, white teeth in the dark, Dimitri wraps his hands around my waist. I settle against him and run my fingers over the ornate trim on his vest. He never ties his shirt at the neck, and the deep slit shows off his muscular chest and abdomen.
He nuzzles my neck first and then moves right behind my ear. My breath catches, and my stomach clenches at the nearness. He smells of spice and citrus, of excitement and danger.
“We can be together now?” I ask, my voice barely a whisper.
“Oh, yes.” His words tickle my ear. He turns his head and gives me a soft kiss. “You are my gypsy princess.”
His lips move, more insistent this time. I pull away, playing coy, and tease, “You promise?”
He pulls me back, running kisses along my jaw. “A thousand promises for you, Anwen.”
I push aside any lingering doubt and slide my father’s greatest treasure into Dimitri’s vest pocket.
He breaks our kiss and grins at me, his eyes dark and inviting. “We can meet the others in three hours if we hurry.”
I nod, feeling giddy.
Danver scurries back when I whistle for him. With the fox snug and secure against me, I mount Mara. We continue west, riding at a frantic pace that makes my back tight and my neck ache.
The shoulder of the road is thick with ancient evergreens. These woods are the only home I’ve ever known, but I may never see this stretch of Primewood again. I blink back a few tears and remember that I am giving it up for a future with Dimitri.
Dimitri slows when we near the glow of several fires in a cutout in the trees. Despite the midnight hour, laughter and music drift from the camp. Gypsy carts and tents surround the fires, and the smell of roast venison wafts through the air.
Danver struggles to be free. Once on the ground, he rushes to investigate the new smells.
Dozens of gypsies loiter about, and they call to Dimitri when we enter the clearing. There are cheers and more than a few drunken whistles that make my cheeks burn.
“Mara will be taken care of,” Dimitri says as I slide from the horse, my body weary from the taxing ride. “We will rest a few hours, and then we will ride again.”
My eyelids are heavy, but my mind is wide awake with the excitement. “I don’t think I could sleep.”
Dimitri leans in, and his hands caress my shoulders. The tension leaves at the warmth of his touch.
“Who says we’re going to sleep?” he whispers.
I laugh at his teasing, give him a playful shove, and then step away to scan the camp. I don’t move far. A group of several men—some young, some old—share a bottle of amber colored liquid. One of the men tosses a log onto the already hot fire, and sparks fly into the air. Their eyes are on us, and their voices are low. I can’t hear what they are saying.
A woman sweeps past us. As she walks, coins sewn to her shawl tinkle. She greets Dimitri over her shoulder and gives me a curious smile before she settles on the lap of one of the younger men by the fire. The man embraces her, and they meld into a kiss that is far less than chaste.
I gape at them, feeling the blush spread from my cheeks all the way to my toes, and then I look away.
Dimitri chuckles in my ear and wraps his arm around my waist. He eyes my gown. “Let’s find you something to change into.”
I open my mouth to argue—this gown is studded with rubies and is likely worth more than one of his gypsy carts—but then he laughs and kisses me just under my jaw. “You’re one of us now,” he whispers as he moves from my jaw to my neck. “You should look like one of us.”
My heart all but stops, but out of the corner of my eye, I notice people watching. I pull away slightly. “I don’t sound like you.” I try to keep my tone light. “Should I attempt an accent, as well?”
Instead of backing away, he pulls me closer. I nudge him back, hoping to put some distance between us while the others look on. He laughs again and glances at the fires, sensing the cause of my unease. “You’re adorably innocent.”
I frown, unsure how to answer.
Dimitri slides his hands down my shoulders and leads me to a large tent near the edge of the clearing. “There are clothes inside.” He nods me in. “Call me when you’ve changed.”
I narrow my eyes.
“Or I can come in now…”
I shake my head and laugh. “No.”
The tent is soft, and the fabric is unfamiliar. I brush past the tassels, making sure the flap closes behind me. A cluster of pillar candles flicker from atop a metal dish on a table. More candles burn on stands. Every surface is covered with colorful silks, furs, and embroidered blankets.
A cot sits in the middle of the tent, just large enough for two. On the bed lay a skirt and bodice—the beginning of my new life. I glance over my shoulder, making sure I am still alone, and then unlace the ties and slip my gown over my shoulders. I shiver in my underthings and don’t take time to admire the new gypsy-wear before I step into the patchwork skirt.
For a moment, I forget my haste. Bemused by the minuscule bells sewn at the hemline of the triangular fabric, I give the skirt a shake to hear their tiny chimes. I giggle, enchanted.
What am I doing? Who knows when Dimitri will stride through the tent. I must hurry.
I scowl at the white bodice after I pull it on. It sits low on my chest, showing more skin than I am comfortable with. I pull at the front ties, but the fabric draws up only a little higher. Unnerved, I tie on the corset belt.
“All right,” I call and then bite my lip as I wait. I fluff my hair, tug again at the bodice, and then shift from one foot to the other.
Dimitri enters the tent, and his eyebrows raise as he surveys me. His lips tip in a smile. He sets his hands on my bare shoulders, making me shiver. “You look almost perfect.”
“Almost?”
He reaches into the pouch at his side and pulls out a gold chain. It’s heavy with jewels and coins, and though at first it is cold against my skin, it soon warms. Dimitri trails his finger down the necklace. “Anwen,” he says, and then his lips are on mine.
I gasp, startled by the intensity of his kiss. I respond, but I’m hesitant, nervous. He guides me backwards. When the backs of my knees bump the cot, he pushes still, and I sit down. His hands at my waist, he lifts me and sets me back farther. Once again his mouth finds mine, his body pressing me into the furs.
I break the kiss, tilting my head away. He moves to my neck, but before he can continue lower, I take his face in my hands to stop him. “Dimitri, this is too much.”
An unfamiliar sensation coils in my stomach. I don’t like it.
Dimitri laughs and pushes his hair away from his eyes. “You are darling, Anwen.” Then his kisses continue.
I feel torn. I want to close my eyes and see where this leads, but I also want him to slow down.
I stop him again, this time with a firmer hand. “No. Not until we are married.”
He lifts his head and rests his chin on his hand. His eyebrows knit as he studies me. A ghost of a smile plays at his handsome lips. “When we are married?”
I sit up, pushing him aside. “Yes, of course.”
Something passes over his face, but it leaves so quickly I wonder if I imagined it. He smiles, sits up, and leans over to kiss the tip of my nose. “I will just have to wait, won’t I?”
“Dimitri?” My voice wavers. “We are going to be married, aren’t we?”
He laughs. “Of course we are, my darling, of course.” He kisses my lips, softly this time. “Get some sleep. We will ride soon.”
I shake my head. “I’ll never be able to sleep.”
He studies me, but now his eyes are warm and caring. “I’ll fetch you something that will help.”
When he leaves, I fall back on the cot, groaning. What have I gotten myself into?
It’s only a few minutes before he returns. He holds a pewter cup out to me; steam rises from the liquid it holds. I study him before I accept it, taking in his dark eyes and tall, acrobatic build.
He smirks. “Don’t look at me like I’m a snake, Anwen.” He sits next to me on the cot, and my eyes fall to my new patchwork skirt. He leans close and flicks a curl out of my eyes. “Forgive me?”
I study him. He’s sincere.
Wrinkling my nose at the fragrance, I accept the drink and take a sip. It doesn’t smell nearly as bad as it tastes. “What is this?” I hold the cup away from me.
Dimitri laughs and nudges the tea back. “It will help you sleep.”
I grimace and then drink the entire cup, taking it in gulps so I can be done with it as quickly as possible. Already, I feel hazy and warm. I stretch back on the furs and let sleep come.

***

I wake. A soft breeze blows through my hair. I don’t open my eyes; I lie here, enjoying the sensation. Maybe I’ll go back to sleep. The dappled sun is warm on my face, and Danver is cozy. I nestle against him, and he stretches. I begin to drift again.
Why is the sun on my face?
My eyes fly open. Around me, the forest is exactly as it should be. Pine trees reach toward the sky. Soft grass and little white wildflowers grow in patches of sunshine. Birds call to one another from the trees.
But I shouldn’t be in the forest.
Where is the tent? Where is the gypsy camp?
Where is Dimitri?
I sit up, setting my hand on the furs under me as I rise. The blankets are exactly as they were last night, but everything else—the cot, the furniture, everything—is gone.
“Dimitri?” I call out, hoping he’s sent the troupe on and he’s just beyond one of those trees, waiting for me.
Nothing.
“Dimitri?” I call again, louder this time.
The wind blows through the pines. As they move, their trunks groan like old doors. Danver hops off the furs and disappears into the brush to look for breakfast. My empty stomach growls with impatience. I’ve never missed a meal in my life.
I absently reach for the necklace Dimitri gave me, but my fingers brush skin. The necklace is gone. I jump up and pull the layers of bedding from the cot.
My ruby-studded dress is missing as well.
Little spots dot my vision, and I sit back before I pass out. Dimitri has not only left me, but he’s taken my horse and my dress with him.
And worse—I gave him the changeling stone.

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