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Knight's Curse -- Karen Duvall

Knight's Curse -- Out Now

A skilled knife fighter since the age of nine, Chalice knows what it's like to live life on the edge—precariously balanced between the dark and the light. But the time has come to choose. The evil sorcerer who kidnapped her over a decade ago requires her superhuman senses to steal a precious magical artifact…or she must suffer the consequences.

Desperate to break the curse that enslaves her, Chalice agrees. But it is only with the help of Aydin—her noble warrior-protector—that she will risk venturing beyond the veil to discover the origins of her power. Only for him will she dare to fully embrace her awesome talents. For a deadly duel is at hand, and Chalice alone will have to decide between freedom…and the love of her life.

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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I'd see them coming long before they hurt me. I would hear them, too. Maybe even smell them. My abilities came in handy at times.

But today they were more like a curse.

Through a cracked and filthy window, I watched two jeeps filled with soldiers carrying machine guns park on a hill above the monastery. They wore military camouflage that hardly camouflaged them at all. From the way they slouched off into the olive trees, I knew they believed themselves unseen, except that I had seen them quite well. I noted each stitch on their clothing, every whisker on their unshaven faces, even the color of their bootlaces.

I blinked behind thick sunglasses that shielded my sensitive eyes from the harsh midsummer sun. It was nearing dusk so my eyes didnt hurt as much. I had just turned thirteen and was now able to see better in the dark than in daylight. I preferred the night anyway. It was quieter after the sun went down.

My family of Maronite monks kept me away from the Lebanese villagers who stared and gossiped about the way I looked. The local kids who should have been my friends threw rocks at me, but I was quick on my feet and dodged each and every one. Even threw a few of my own. Let them whisper behind my back because I'd still hear them. I could hear a bee leave its hive from a mile away.

I should have told Brother Thomas about the soldiers, but I had trouble pulling myself from the window. I felt like a hooked fish, the bait my own insatiable curiosity. Just a few more minutes. What harm could there be in waiting a few minutes longer?

Two civilian-looking men stayed behind with the jeeps. My keen eyes zeroed in on the taller one, blond and blue-eyed, who stood beside a ruined pillar of an ancient structure that had once been part of a heathen temple. I saw the man's anger as he swatted at biting flies that buzzed too close to his face, his mouth moving with words I couldnt hear while wearing my earplugs. So I took them out.

"Damn vile country," he spat, his English carrying the cadence of a Brit like the monk who had taught me this language. Addressing the pudgy man beside him, he added, "The bitch will pay, I promise you that."

I winced at the words, but not because of their meaning, which made no sense to me. It was his loud voice that bit through my skull and vibrated painfully between my ears. I struggled to separate his voice from other noises nearby, like the buzzing flies, the rustling olive trees, the bleating goats in the courtyard. Head aching, I concentrated, focusing only on the words that took shape inside my mind.

"Faisal, radio the men. Make sure theyre in position."

The man he had called Faisal wore a striped hijab and when he nodded, the turban of fabric wobbled on his head like one of Cook's moghlie puddings.

Something wasn't right. A warning bell chimed inside my head, but I ignored it. I was too mesmerized by the Englishman walking down the rocky path toward our chapel. He held himself with confidence, not crouched in wariness like the men dressed as soldiers. This one didn't try to hide. Brother Thomas must be expecting him.

I replaced my earplugs and inhaled deeply through pinched nostrils, hoping to catch a muted whiff of the foreigner, but he was too far away. If I removed the swimmers noseclips I always wore, I'd be assaulted by the myriad smells outside. I'd wait for him to come closer so I could identify the scents on his clothes and body. That would tell me what I needed to know.

He stepped through groping fingers of long shadows and skirted the scaffolds that leaned against decaying chapel walls. He scowled up at a tent of heavy canvas that replaced large portions of the missing roof. A small goat trotted in front of him and he kicked at it, brushing at his crisply ironed slacks as if theyd become soiled.

I scrambled down off the crate I'd used to reach the window, and crept barefoot along the uneven floor of a hallway leading to the chapel. A thick wooden door stood slightly ajar and I knelt beside it, peering through a two-inch gap to watch.

On the opposite side of the room, the Englishman stuck his head inside and called, "Anyone here?"

Brother Thomas, a short middle-aged man in a tan robe that fluttered around his ankles, hobbled toward the voice. He stooped as he walked, as if to avoid hitting his head on a low ceiling, though he cleared it by a good six feet or more. "May I help you?"

The stranger stepped inside and folded his arms across his chest. "I believe you have something that belongs to me."

Copyright © 2011 by Karen Duvall. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.