Make Mine a Marine

By: Julie Miller

Make Mine a Marine: Boxed Set





For Gran.

Thanks to Mom and Dad for making me believe, and giving me the will to do it.

Thanks to Scott and Ryne for their support, and doing the male bonding thing so I could get this done.

And to the real Duke – you’ll always be my sweetheart.





Prologue



A remote corner of England, c. 1216

Flames ripped through the night as another timber fell from the ceiling to the dungeon floor, casting an eerie phantasm of light over the clanging swords and thrusting, twisting bodies of men in combat.

The rebels surged forward, sheer number giving them their only strength against their oppressors. The soldiers should have been easily taken, their cruel devices easily destroyed, but darker forces aided them. And the rebels had no such powers for themselves.

Simple peasants, the rebels knew nothing of war. Nothing of magic spells. Nothing of combating tyranny and oppression. They fought against the minions of a former counselor to the crown, a high priest of mysterious power bent on securing the loyalty and tribute of the remote villagers.

They faced an enemy, not of flesh and blood, but of shadows and evil. Soldiers could be gutted with a dagger or run through with a sword. But a sorcerer...

It seemed no weapon could defeat him.

Still, the peasants had a champion, an aging knight who had long stood against King John. He thought he had retired that day at Runnymede when he and other barons forced the king to sign the Magna Carta, putting into law the ideals of justice and honor he believed in.

But when he had passed through the peasant villages and seen how their spirits were abused, how their backs were broken, and how their hopes were shattered, the mighty warrior took up his sword once more. Weary of battle, but never of the cause of justice, he rallied the peasants and urged them onward through the sorcerer's dungeon.

He swung his heavy sword in a mighty arc, striking a guard in the neck and shoulder, felling him with the blow. Another uniformed opponent stepped out of the smoke. The warrior spun around, splitting the man in two with his knife.

He surged forward, his pale eyes cutting through the haze of smoke to spot the sorcerer. The evil man's silvery-white robe, with an odd arrangement of stars and half-moons embroidered with iridescent gold threads, glowed like a beacon in the dimness of the burning castle above them.

“Sorcerer!” he bellowed. The graying visage turned toward the challenge and the warrior strode onward. “These people are not yours to command and defile. Be gone from this place. Take your evil and suffering with you!”

He tucked his dagger beneath his tunic and clasped the sword in both hands. All the while, the sorcerer fixed his eyes on him. Those eyes burned into the warrior's memory. He would never forget them. Dark and mocking. Devoid of humanity.

“You threaten me?” The sorcerer laughed, not once flinching from the advancing warrior with his sword raised to kill. “Even now, your cowardly comrades flee. They run from what they cannot understand. They leave you to fight alone.”

“I would die before I'd run from an evil being like you.”

“If you wish.” The sorcerer flicked his hand into the air and the warrior's sword crashed to the stones at his feet. “Your puny rebellion does not amuse me. You shall pay the price.”

“I swear I'll kill you with my bare hands.” He reached out but felt himself pushing against an invisible wall. Rage swelled within him. “Damn you!”

“Father!” A third voice severed their duel. “Please, no more!”

The warrior stumbled forward as the unseen wall crumbled with the sorcerer's distraction. A torch flared to life, illuminating the aura of dust and smoke engulfing him. Instead of closing his hands about the sorcerer's throat, he, too, turned.

The maiden stood between two peasants, a captured prisoner. Her tearstained face trembled as one man clutched her tightly and held the point of his sword to her throat. A second spoke.

“Release our village and farms from your spells. Take away your soldiers and return to the place from whence you came. Or else we'll slit your daughter's throat.”

“No, she is an innocent!” The warrior's protest surprised them all.

“Do you not stand with us?” the peasant demanded. “Do you not see this is the only power we have over him? Look how his spells are broken when he fears for her safety.”

A shadow passed across the sorcerer's black eyes. “If you harm her, I will bring a wrath of destruction upon you that your descendants shall never forget.”

“Father, no. Please. No more.”

The girl's plea touched a chord in the warrior's heart. He'd seen too much killing in his time to stand by and watch the slaughter of an innocent, no matter where her allegiance lay. “Release her.”

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