15 October 2015

Excerpt Thursday: CLAIMED BY THE ENEMY by Shauna Roberts

This week, we're pleased to welcome author SHAUNA ROBERTS with her latest release, CLAIMED BY THE ENEMY, set in ancient times. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy  of Claimed by the EnemyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Crown Princess Nindalla knows the terrifying power of Sargon of Akkad's army: Ten years ago, it destroyed her home city and killed her parents. Now the nightmare is happening again. The Akkadians conquer her new home, Susa; make her a widow; and strip her of her rank. Nindalla vows to protect her children from her enemies by any means necessary, including marrying whoever can shield them best. With plots swirling around her, can she trust her instincts to tell friends from foes?

Farm boy Ur-sag-enki was forced to become a soldier in the Akkadian army ten years ago after it destroyed his home and left him with nothing. When the Akkadians conquer Susa, he is awarded its governorship. He looks forward to settling down to the normal family life he craves. First, though, he must keep control of Susa despite enemies who exploit his inexperience, and he must gain legitimacy by persuading beautiful former princess Nindalla to marry him. But can he win her heart when it was his hand that struck down her husband? 

Winner of the 2014 National Readers Choice Award for "Novel with Romantic Elements."

Winner of the 2015 Romancing the Novel Published Author Contest in the "Ancient/Medieval/Renaissance" category.

**An Excerpt from Claimed by the Enemy**
Many breaths went by, and many more breaths. Nindalla counted the time between contractions. They were getting closer together. The world shrank to birthing hut, bricks, and belly. Time lost its meaning, just as it had during her previous births.
Still, it seemed a long time since Sagburru had left her.
She looked up and listened. The light filtering between the reeds of the walls had changed to the soft pinkish-purple of early evening. The sounds of battle had stopped, but the normal sounds of servants and slaves going about their tasks had not resumed. The quiet felt wrong.
She shivered, and her throat and mouth burned with a sour taste. Why was she still alone? “Sagburru! It is my time!” she shouted in Sumerian. “Come quickly!”
Neither the midwife nor anyone else answered her call. Her hand clutched her belly. The baby wanted out. Pain overcame all her training in self-discipline. She screamed like a calf being castrated. When the contraction released its grip, she shouted for help again, this time in Elamite.
Still no one came. Her breath sped up. I’m on my own.
Birth was risky enough with a midwife and an incantation priestess present. Her thoughts whirled in panic. Enki has deserted me. Nintu has deserted me. All the gods have left the birthing hut. My child will be born a monstrosity or dead.
Terror like a heavy cape of wolf fur enveloped her. She clawed her hands through her hair and moaned even as her pain dissipated under her worry for her child. She had never experienced such fear, not on her wedding night, not during her previous births, not ever. She eyed the door. Could I crawl that far? Could I crawl farther yet, across the courtyard and into the palace itself? She couldn’t move even a toe. Fear glued her to the birthing bricks as the new prince struggled to free himself.
The sun was descending for his nightly journey through the Underworld. It would be her time very soon now, midwife or not, witnesses or not. “It is my day. It is my month,” she chanted. She forced her arm to move. Balancing on her other three limbs, she stroked an amulet on which was scribed an incantation against demons. “It is my day. It is my month. It is my day. It is my month.”
“My lady, do you need help?”
She flinched at the deep voice and looked toward it. It belonged to a bulky man who, even though he stooped, filled the doorway, a dark silhouette against the dying pink light.
She wrapped her free arm protectively around her belly and squinted. The man wore the snug leather helmet of a soldier, but she had never seen the dust-smeared, sweat-streaked, blood-splattered face before. He carried a sickle-sword and a mace with a head of black stone.
She stared at the darkened mace head. How many skulls had it broken? Was hers next? She licked her lips, and her hands balled into fists. She had left her dagger in her quarters.
Her only weapon was her status. “How dare you enter the birthing hut? Leave at once.”
The man ignored her order. He stepped inside and let his weapons drop like a man weary of fighting. He tugged his helmet from his head, dropped it without looking where it fell, and raised his palms. “Peace, my lady.”
Only now did she notice his language. “You speak Sumerian!” Even his accent was familiar; he spoke the patois of the lower class of her home city. Her chest loosened, and she drew a deep breath despite the muscles squeezing her torso. “You’re from Eridu-that-was.”
“Yes, my lady. From the home of Enki, praise be to him.”
His black hair confirmed he was a Sumerian, one of the black-headed people. He was an ally, not one of Sargon of Akkad’s men. A tall and handsome ally, the breadth and brawniness of his shoulders obvious despite the short tunic he wore above his skirt. His dark eyes radiated compassion.
A sigh escaped her. “Your voice is honey to my ear. It has been years since I heard the speech of a loyal child of Eridu.”
The soldier winced and looked around the hut. “Where’s your midwife?”
“She left and never returned. But you must leave. No men—” She gasped and waited out the contraction, fighting her body’s almost overwhelming urge to push. “Men are forbidden in the birthing hut. Go, find the midwife. Or any woman. My child is ready.”
The man again disobeyed. He rinsed his hands in a bowl of cedar-scented water and hunkered down in front of her nakedness.
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