FEATURE: Catherine LaCroix

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After spending time as a musician, baker, and wine connoisseur, Catherine returned to her true love in life- the written word. She adores painting worlds filled with lush environments, deep characters, and sensual romance. Whether it’s hundreds of years in the future or a thousand years in the past, Cat loves to take her readers on fantastic journeys that will leave them begging for more.

Excerpt from Whisper

“We’re here.” Adrien’s voice gently brought me back to awareness. I realized the sun had disappeared beneath the horizon and the moon served as our guiding light for some time. I felt refreshed and alert, and the gravity of my situation weighed heavily upon my heart.

Before I could consider what transpired, Adrien pointed out the window and I followed his hand. “Welcome home, Josselyn.”

I was speechless as I gazed at Adrien’s abode. It was larger than the Terryn’s estate, spanning nearly half an acre. Decorative lanterns hung from the hundreds of trees and plants that littered the front garden. Ivy wrapped around large columns that towered over the front doors. Four different pathways began near the road, leading to similar destinations after winding through the greenery. Alongside them, small water fountains bubbled merrily near stone benches.

“It’s beautiful.” I caught my breath. “Do you have a wife to share this with, Adrien?”

“No, my dear. I reside here alone with my servants.”

I looked over the estate from top to bottom. It was stunning, more than I ever could have imagined. Yet…my heart yearned for the place I called home for so many years.

Adrien’s words echoed back to me. I need you for something more.

“Lord Markov…do you understand what it means to be a Ring?”

He didn’t speak as the carriage brought us closer to the stables. I resolved to continue.

“I was as loyal to the Terryns as they were to each other. One becomes a Ring until death. I was to take no one else as a lover, husband, or wife. As you are aware, I was claimed and it’s not something I can remove–”

“Miss Thorn, excuse me by saying this but, what choice do you have left? Do you currently possess anything that would allow you to continue your life as their Ring?”

“The Temple took everything from me—”

“Except your life.”

It was my turn to hold my tongue.

“Josselyn, I don’t mean to be rude. But your loyalties can lie elsewhere. According to your own words, you’re free of your commitment. ‘Until death’, you said. Allow yourself the time to heal.”

“But the vows I took…” My words to Jeremi and Victoria were as set in stone as the ones they made to each other. I couldn’t betray them.

“You’re still young. Cutting yourself off from love is a rash decision that you’re making too quickly. You are not a prisoner here. What you must understand is the rest of the world sees you as a murderer. I believe you deserve a second chance. Don’t you?”

I couldn’t respond. The words wouldn’t come. He was right, he’d saved me from what was certain death and offered me almost everything I’d lost. I owed him my life and needed to consider his words before condemning myself.

The carriage finally pulled into the stables and Adrien exited first, opening the door for me and offering his hand.

“Can you walk?”

“Yes, thank you.” My joints and muscles ached from so many days in that cell. The chill evening air burned against the raw, chafed skin of my wrists and ankles. But walking on my own was liberating.

The smooth cobblestone kissed my feet with each step. Mist from the fountains drifted on the breeze, cleansing my skin and sending a shiver down my spine. The stars smiled down from the dark heavens, welcoming me back to the world above the Temple dungeons. I was free.

Adrien led me through a small section of his gardens to the front door. Three servants greeted us all wearing warm smiles and matching clothing; long, dark skirts and fitted bodices the color of deep red wine. Their hair was tied back into varying styles, but all away from their faces.

“Ladies, would you be so kind as to show Lady Thorn to her chambers and ready her bath?”

“Of course, m’lord.” They bowed in unison- a little disconcerting- before taking my arms and leading me through the many halls.

We arrived in a luxurious room that took me by surprise. A large bed was positioned against the wall with a canopy draped in silks, adjacent to a cheery, crackling fireplace. Near the door was an intricately carved vanity the color of ivory. A door against the far wall led into what I assumed was a large wardrobe, but the lamp lights didn’t illuminate that far. One servant stayed to help me undress from my prison rags while the other two drew hot water into an ebony tub.

“Remarkable…I’ve never seen a Whisper in person.” The woman undressing me admired my skin and touched my hair. Even though I was covered in prison grime, she viewed me as something extraordinary.

Accepting compliments was not my forte. I had grown accustomed to the constant admiration of gawkers as much as I had the slander. I remained silent as she led me to the bath.

The other two servants joined the first and went to work scrubbing every inch of my skin. The water was scalding hot, just as I’d always enjoyed it. One young girl set to brushing the many tangles out of my hair, which was a feat in itself. I bit my lip in an effort to stifle my protests when she caught the comb against a knotted mass. The wet floor of the Temple had not done me any favors. The Terryns had pleaded with me to never have my hair cut, leaving me with a waist length mane that fought back as if it had a mind of its own.

It felt amazing to be clean again, and the chill finally evaporated from my bones. After assisting me from the bath and toweling me dry, they dabbed my now shimmering hair and throat with oils that smelled of roses and lilacs. One servant brought in a container of salve that was spread around my wrists and ankles. The lotion soothed the fire of my shackle wounds. For the first time in days, I felt like I’d gained back one small piece of myself.

“Ladies, will you please excuse us?” Adrien entered without warning.

“Of course, m’lord.” The servant girls bowed and left me standing naked in the middle of the room. I cursed them silently for taking the towel with them. I swore I could hear one of them giggle as she took her leave.

“Please pardon my intrusion.” The look in his eyes said he was anything but sorry.

“Adrien…” I quickly turned away from his gaze, covering myself as best I could with my hands. I was terrified of disappointing him- it meant the difference between living in his luxury and returning to that horrible dungeon.

“Let me see you,” it was a command, not a question. Slowly, I turned to face him and let my arms fall to my sides.

“Beautiful.” He bridged the gap between us in a few large, deliberate steps. His warm hands caressed my face and hair, slowly moving to my shoulders.

“My lord-” I wasn’t mentally ready for what he wanted. Yet, my body yearned for him desperately.

“Jeremi and Victoria were very lucky indeed,” he purred as his hands wandered further south to stroke my breasts. His delicate touch sent a heat through my blood that had lain dormant for weeks. Standing there vulnerable in front of him felt… right. Almost familiar. Somewhere deep within my rational thoughts was a voice that screamed I stop. But it was buried deep beneath the cravings that overtook me with each stroke of his fingers.

With fire lighting his silver eyes and a devilish smile on his lips, Adrien bent to his knees and teased my breast with tiny bites. I moaned and found myself grabbing handfuls of his soft hair in an attempt to push his head closer into me. He laughed under his breath before his mouth encompassed my nipple and his tongue teased it furiously.

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