Lake has gotten the life she never dared dreamed of—a safe haven, and the love of a good man, her husband, Hudson Land. But Lake’s hard-won happiness doesn’t last long when powerful Elders lay siege on Black Creek Manor in retaliation for her past defiance. As Lake watches everything she loves go up in flames, she sacrifices herself to keep her family alive, never imagining it’s not her life that is endanger, but the heart and soul of who she is.
Hudson wakes from a head wound to find his whole world is reduced to ashes. With no memory of why he’s sacrificed everything for a woman whose name is tattooed on his chest, Hudson is determined to make his heart match the emptiness of his mind, wiping out everything except the hatred for those who are to blame—the Elders and the wife he sought to protect.
As evil and fear spread across a war-torn land, can Hudson and Lake forgive each other’s betrayals and grab at their one chance at saving not only their lives… but their love as well?
She kneeled before her husband, taking a moment to imprint his scent in her memory, the one underneath the blood and sweat, the one that was uniquely him. Her palm cradled his cheek slicked with blood. They’d already said their good-byes. Already apologized, kissed, and whispered they loved each other. There was nothing left to say. Except…
“No, I’m not going to let it end like this. Not like this. There’s another way.”
Hudson turned his face and kissed her palm. The jam on the door splintered. It said a lot that no one jumped at the loud crack. How many more rams? One? Ten?
His brown eyes were warm. The same color as soft leaves in autumn. The color of the rich soil that had been their life, the color of safety and love. The color she’d hoped her unborn child would have.
“I don’t regret it, you know. I don’t regret the day I bought you from the auction. The day I unknowingly took home a Rebel spy and you tried to kill me.” He laughed at the memory. Funny what seemed amusing now. “I don’t regret any of it.”
She couldn’t cry. All her tears had dried up days ago. But she could regret. Wished she’d been beheaded on that auction block. Never met Hudson and caused him such pain. Never found a new purpose for her life. Maybe one could out-run fate, but not for long.
“I’m the one they want. Take Vonn. Hide under the bed. I’ll make them believe that you both are dead. But if I hide, they will kill you, and I’ll be captured anyways.”
Hudson laughed. He threw his head back and laughed. Red filled his mouth and colored his teeth. The sound chilled her more than the pounding on the door and the crackle of flames from above.
“After all this, you think I’m going to hide under the bed and watch them take you? After all this, you still don’t trust me to care for you until the end? I promised to protect you with my life, and just because the end came quicker than I’d liked doesn’t make my promise any less.”
He stood. Wiped his blade on his pant leg. “When I go, I plan on taking as many of those hooded cowards with me as possible.”
She knew Hudson would put up a fight. Expected nothing less. But now was not the time for bravery. She had to choose her words carefully. She had only one chance to convince him. One chance to keep him and Vonn alive.
She reached up, framed his face with her hands, and looked straight into his eyes. She needed him to see how sure she was. How right. “No, my love, this is not how this will go down. You’ve fought. You’ve fought bravely. But each of us has our own load and this one is not yours to bear—it’s mine. Do this for me. For Vonn. For a chance.”
She turned to Vonn. “Go under the bed. Find the false door and climb inside.”
“Are you coming?”
She shook her head, but couldn’t form the word. “Hudson will be right behind you. Hurry.”
She sighed with relief as she watched Vonn scramble under the huge four poster frame. When she’d first seen Hudson’s room, she remembered thinking the bed was fit for a king—she looked back at her husband—she’d no idea how right she’d been.
There was a hardening in Hudson’s features, and she knew he hadn’t been convinced yet. “What kind of man do you take me for? I am no coward to hide behind a woman or a little boy. You are my wife. Only when I’m dead will they be able to get to you.”
What she didn’t tell him was that death had been hanging over his head for a week. He’d lost so much blood and the wound to his head… She had no idea how he was still standing. She set her own jaw. Her heart found a pace she hadn’t felt for days. Fear flooded her system and with it the energy to drag him, if needed, to see reason.
“You brave fool.” She shook him as much as she dared. “Listen to me, this is the only way. They won’t stop until they have me. If I’m not found, they will run you through and search this room until they do. But if you hide—no, listen—if you hide with Vonn, maybe God will smile on us, and maybe they’ll believe you’re dead. And then…” She took a breath almost too afraid to speak the words. What she wanted was for him to hide, stay alive, forget about her, and go on with his life. What she wanted was for him to take care of Vonn, find happiness, and rebuild his life. But this was not the time to fight a battle she would lose. This time she had to win. “And then you can come after me.”
She let the words sink in and saw when they registered in his eyes. Her husband knew the count, just as she did. He’d seen all the death and destruction around them. He knew what followed when the bedroom door broke. This was their only hope.
His breath came in gasps, and he swallowed hard as honor got stuck on the way down. “I will find you.”
She nodded. Of course he would. She believed him. She wasn’t one to trust easily, but over the short time they’d been together he’d found a way into her heart. He’d painstakingly built her trust with soft spoken words and the steadfastness of promises kept.
Hudson tunneled his fingers through her hair and pulled her face a mere inch from his. His eyes burned with the same intensity as the flames above. “Don’t give up. Don’t you give up on us. This will work. Trust me, Lake. I will come for you.”
His lips came down on hers in a brutal kiss, making more of his promise than his words, then he dropped down and dragged himself under the bed.
There was a stilled moment where the crackle of flames and the long pause of the ramming log was all she could hear. A moment when her courage faltered, when fear threatened her resolve. I don’t want to die.
Then her time was up, and the massive door splintered apart.