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When Major Cole Raven rescues Honor O'Donnell from a rushing river in war-torn Spain, he knows he could find love with this brave, beautiful-unattainable-young woman. An oath to a dying soldier to protect Honor throws them together, and with the dangers of war all around them an irresistible passion flares.
The handsome major stirs Honor's spirit as never before, but responsibilities await as they return to England - family duties that will force Cole to deny what he most desires. Unless he can find a way of keeping his honor as well as the woman he loves ...
Raven's Honour is the first of two linked, but standalone books about the Raven brothers. Gifford's Lady follows it.
Blue Ribbon Rating 5 from RomanceJunkies.com
"...Claire Thornton has written an exciting historical unlike anything I've read this past year. She hooked me within the first few pages and kept me hanging on the edge throughout the rest of this beautifully written love story. Just when I thought I knew what would happen next, I was surprised again with the depth of the plot created in Raven's Honor. I felt compelled to cry over this pair's sorrows and anguish over their adversity, until I could not wait to see how these tortured lovers would finally be allowed to come together..."
'Come on, Belinda, don't give up on me now!' Honor urged.
The donkey balked, her ears flicking nervously at the sight of the angry, fast-flowing waters of the River Heubra. Ahead of them, soldiers of the 52nd Regiment of Foot were jumping down the steep banks of the river, then fording through almost shoulder-deep water. Many of the men were holding on to each other to save themselves from being swept away by the current.
Honor couldn't blame Belinda for her reluctance to plunge into the river, but the delay was dangerous. She could hear musket and rifle fire behind her as the rearguard of the Light Division skirmished with the advancing French. Honor gritted her teeth and urged the donkey forward. She'd always kept up with the column - ever since she'd first arrived in the Peninsula over three years ago - she wasn't about to become a French prisoner now.
'Come on, Belinda!'
The donkey still wouldn't budge. Honor was just wondering whether to slide off her back and lead her into the water when the decision was taken out of her hands.
Honor heard a dull thwack behind her - then Belinda bolted forward, half-jumping, half-falling into the rushing water. The shock of icy water knocked the breath from Honor's lungs. The current hammered and sucked at her legs, plastering her shabby skirt against Belinda's struggling body.
The little donkey was already losing the fight against the wild-tempered river. She could barely keep her head above the foaming water. Her eyes rolled with fear and panic.
Honor had no breath to reassure her. The river tossed the donkey like a dead leaf, dragging Honor beneath the surface of the water. Her skirt was caught. For long, desperate moments, she fought to free herself from Belinda's foundering body. Her lungs burned. She could hear nothing but the water roaring in her ears. The current pounded around her head, hard as a clenched fist, battering her bruised body. She forced her head up, sucked in a quick, painful breath, and finally found some leverage against Belinda's side. She tore her skirt free. Relief surged through her that she was no longer anchored to the failing donkey. She made one last effort to get to Belinda's head, to save the donkey and her possessions. It was too late. She was already too tired, and the donkey was too far gone. Just saving herself was going to take all her strength and determination.
She tried to ride the current, to use it to reach the river bank. She'd been swept too far down stream for any of the infantry crossing the river to help her. She was numbed by the heat-sapping cold. Blinded by the stinging water. Choking and drowning ....
She slammed up against something hard and unyielding. What little breath she had left in her body was knocked out of her. A strong arm plucked her unceremoniously from the water to lie across the high pommel of a hussar saddle. She was draped face down, like a sack of corn, her breasts pressed against a muscular leg.
She gasped and coughed uncontrollably. She tasted bile in her mouth and was suddenly afraid she might throw up in this undignified position. By an effort of sheer determination, she reasserted some control over her shivering, battered body. She blinked water from her eyes and turned her head to one side. She was aware of her hair hanging down towards the ground in sopping rats tails.
She was lying across a tall black horse, her body resting on the hard thighs of its rider. His body heat penetrated her sodden dress, warming her breasts in a shockingly intimate way. The virile, masculine strength of her rescuer stirred a response deep within her - but then she deliberately pushed aside her inappropriate awareness of him.
She focussed her attention on his mount instead. She knew this stallion. Even from her limited viewpoint the horse was unmistakable. But then she'd known from the first moment the identity of her rescuer - and the horse possessed the same fierce courage as his rider. She felt the stallion's hindquarters bunch as it thrust up the river bank. The wild current which had taken her poor Belinda troubled the black no more than a gurgling summer stream might have done.
'Corvinus,' she whispered hoarsely.
'As you say,' said a dry voice, from far above her.
The black stood patiently as strong hands lifted Honor and lowered her to the ground. Her legs were so weak she would have fallen if she hadn't grabbed the front of the saddle and hung on tight.
'Steady.' Her rescuer had released her, but now he caught her upper arm again, supporting her while she collected herself.
Honor shook her dripping hair out of her eyes and lifted her head to peer up at Major Cole Raven.
He was leaning over her, his face only inches from hers. She never been so close to him before. She gasped as she met his fiercely probing gaze, almost as shaken by his proximity as she had been by her plunge into the Heubra. Raven's ice-blue eyes were shockingly vivid in his wolfish, stubble-darkened face. Beneath his shako his tawny hair had been bleached by the sun until it resembled the brindled pelt of a wolf. He must have been born with those deep-set eyes, strong cheekbones and square jaw - but years of campaigning had intensified the dangerous edge to his personality.
He was a consummate soldier. His big, rangy body had been hardened by long marches in freezing snow or scorching heat, and tempered by the battles he'd survived. The men joked he had a bayonet for a backbone and ice-water for blood. Even now, after two days of forced retreat, most of it in the pouring rain, without food because the Commissariat had gone by a different route, Honor could see no sign of fatigue or distress in the Major's lean face. Only the thick stubble on his usually clean-shaven face gave any indication of his situation.
Honor normally tried to avoid the man. Whenever she was near him she could sense, beneath his controlled demeanour, currents as deep and wild as the river from which he'd just saved her. Her instincts warned her of danger, so she tried to keep her distance.
Right now her instincts were screaming - but his firm grip on her arm meant retreat was impossible.
She shivered slightly as she met his penetrating gaze. She was numb with cold and shock from her disaster in the river, but this quiver of nervousness was purely in response to Cole Raven's undivided attention.
'Thank you, sir,' she said, as steadily as she could.
He nodded a brief acknowledgement of her thanks. She tried to pull away, but his grip on her arm tightened. A shiver of alarm coursed through her.
'Have your legs stopped shaking yet?' he asked, his neutral tone belying the searing intensity of his gaze.
Her irrational panic receded as she realised he was simply concerned she might fall if he released her. Since she still had a death grip on his saddle with her other hand, it wasn't an unreasonable assumption.
'Yes, thank you, sir,' she said again.
She tried to prove her words by releasing the saddle and stepping away from him. He'd already wasted enough of his time rescuing her. Now she was safe he had more important duties awaiting his attention.
She was dimly aware of the constant sound of rifle fire as the 95th engaged with the French - but then the shock of what had nearly happened hit her like a wall of freezing flood water. Fear of recently-past danger temporarily overwhelmed her awareness of the imminently approaching threat. Instead of letting go she moved closer and clung tighter for a horrible, desperate, heart-stopping moment.
Corvinus swung his head around to sniff curiously at the bedraggled woman standing by his shoulder. Honor felt his velvet lips mumble against her wet, muddy hair. Then he snorted disapprovingly and straightened his neck, shaking his head vigorously.
Honor's mood broke. She laughed and stroked the stallion's smooth, glossy neck.
'Show off,' she said, unaware of the note of affection in her voice as she spoke to the horse. 'Just because your mane's in such fine, untangled condition ... I haven't got a lady's maid to pick the twigs out of my hair every -' she broke off, embarrassed to be caught talking like that to Corvinus in the presence of the stallion's master - particularly in the current, precarious circumstances.
From the book: Raven's Honour by Claire Thornton
Imprint and Series: Mills & Boon® Historical Romance™ and Harlequin Historicals®
Publication dates: 2002 and 2004. ISBN: 0-263-83121-3 and 0-373-30443-9
Copyright © 2002 by Claire Thornton
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books SA