William Carr slammed the paperweight down onto the map before him. The stiff canvas snapped together, rolling tightly and tumbled to the floor as the red stone clacked to the table's edge. He snatched it up as it fell over the side. Pushing up and away from the table he rose, sending his chair clattering to the ground behind him.

Clenching the weight tightly, he stalked to the large window that overlooked Kael. The capital city of Lauria was alive with activity, its occupants relishing the warm sun after months of bitter cold and snow. He could not see clearly from such a distance, but they seemed…happy. Unburdened, unafraid as they called their wares from stalls and store fronts and haggled for the best deals.

He resented their ignorance as he glanced at the fallen map, kicked it and kicked the chair too.

A sharp knock sounded on his study door and he rounded on it. "I told you I was not to be disturbed," he growled and returned to the daunting piles of parchment on the desk.

When he heard the door click and swing open he whirled but stopped short. He was greeted by a flurry of green brocade, swaying as it came to a halt before the fireplace. Reluctantly his eyes moved from the gilt embroidered skirts to the slicing glass green eyes of Lady Deirdre aan 't Winter.

"Now William, is that anyway to great a lady?" she asked, one perfectly sculpted eyebrow arched. With a toss of her golden curls, she bent gracefully to retrieve the map at her feet and held it out to him, holding his gaze all the while.

He sighed and grabbed it from her, tossing it back to the table. His temper wanted to fling the paperweight in his hand at her head, but in reality he was relieved to see her. However reluctant he may be to admit it, he had always been able to rely on her council.

Her beauty still struck him, even after so many years. He took in her high angled brows, utterly kissable lips, and the sharp line of her cheekbones. While still a great deal shorter than him, she was of average height with a slender figure and soft curving breasts. Always though, it was those unnerving eyes of hers that held him.**

**Most of this chapter has been removed.