Beloved Protector (Heartsong Presents)

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9780373487042: Beloved Protector (Heartsong Presents)


Unexpectedly caught in a battle between Roman forces and Jewish zealots, Tapat seeks refuge in a cave. When soldiers discover her hiding place outside Jerusalem, she's terrified. Then she realizes that their leader is Andronicus, the man whose life she saved six years ago. 

Seeing Tapat again reminds Andronicus of all he has sacrificed for Rome. As a soldier, he is forbidden to marry, but he's never forgotten the lovely Jewess he yearns to make his own. Now she's in danger, and he'll risk everything to protect her. But can he truly give up the soldier's life for the love of a woman?

Le informazioni nella sezione "Riassunto" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.

About the Author:

Darlene Mindrup has always had a love of writing and an active imagination. Years of journalism classes and homeschooling her children gave her the tools to make her writing better and more professional (and with fewer errors). She has a love of history that comes through in her novels, especially Bible history and World War II.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Arabs called it khamsin. The Jews called it sharav. Andronicus didn't care what it was called; the effect was still the same. The fierce winds hit swiftly carrying a thick blanket of sand across Jerusalem and the surrounding vicinity. He pulled his cape around his face as the intense hot air blasted across his skin in rippling waves, threatening to peel the very skin from his flesh. Fortunately, he had made it as far as the caves in the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. Sliding his hands along the limestone walls, he eventually reached an opening and ducked inside.

He and his men had been on a scouting mission, searching out Jewish zealots and sicarii, when the storm had hit, separating him from the other members of his troop.

Sicarii were by far the most dangerous enemies he had encountered in his time here in Jerusalem. They were knife wielders who hid among the crowds and struck anyone they considered to be sympathetic to Rome. He had decided long ago that he was not going to be one of their victims and was ever vigilant. In this land, there were few who were not enemies of Rome.

After the violence of the tempest outside, the inside of the cave was eerily quiet except for the muted sound of the ongoing storm. As he continued deeper into the interior, he gave a sigh of relief at the cooler temperatures. Pulling off his helmet, he brushed the sand from the plume and tucked it under his arm. He glanced quickly around the dim interior and, seeing no imminent threat, began brushing the sand from his cape, his curling black hair and his clean-shaven face. Pulling his water flask from his belt, he swirled a mouthful of water to remove the grit clinging to his teeth and spat it on the ground.

As his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he took a more careful inspection of the interior of the cave, searching for possible hidden enemies, two legged or otherwise. The only light came from the opening behind him, leaving most of the cave in darkness and shadows. His soldier's instincts immediately went on alert, telling him that he was not alone; he could feel a presence just beyond his sight. The hair tingled on the back of his neck in warning. He placed the helmet back on his head, searching the small cave and noting two large boulders that could well hide a man. Every muscle in his body tensed in preparation for battle.

He slowly pulled his sword from its scabbard, metal scraping against metal in the silence.

"I know you're in here. Show yourself!" he commanded.

For the past several months, the besieged city of Jerusalem had shown its ability for terror. Even among the German barbarians he had never seen such viciousness. The zealots had wreaked havoc, especially against their own people inside the city. Rome had never fought an enemy so cruel, and Andronicus was in no mood for pity.

No movement or sound met his demand. Using the walls of the cave to protect his back, he advanced carefully toward the nearest boulder. With a quick thrust, he jabbed his sword behind the stone, the clang of the metal striking against the stone's surface and not a human body. Stirring from behind the other boulder warned him seconds before a figure darted toward the entrance.

Moving quickly, he slashed his sword across the entrance seconds before the figure reached it. With a yelp, the assailant skidded to a halt and, moving faster than Androni-cus thought possible, scurried back into the shadows. He hadn't even had time to get a look at the person.

Adrenaline pumped through his body, setting it on fire with the rage of battle flowing in his veins.

"Come out now, or I will kill you like the coward you are." He spoke in Aramaic, his voice dangerously low, but surprisingly the figure answered him from the shadows in Greek.

"I am no coward. Please, I want only to leave."

The dulcet tones could only belong to a woman. Surprise rendered him temporarily speechless.

"Please," the woman pleaded, "I mean you no harm."

Andronicus hesitantly lowered his sword, something in the woman's voice cooling his blood to where he could think more clearly. For weeks, people from inside Jerusalem had been led by starvation to sneak outside the city to search for sustenance in the surrounding shrubbery. Usually they were caught, and Titus had crucified them on crosses close to the walls of Jerusalem-where those behind the walls could see them. Those who made it back inside the walls were killed by the zealots for anything they had managed to pilfer. But someone had obviously made it through the legions of troops and to this cave.

And something was oddly familiar about the woman's voice. His heart started thrumming in a way it hadn't for a very long time.

"Come closer," he commanded.

The woman slowly, cautiously moved forward. She was ragged and unkempt, her size giving the impression of a child rather than a woman. Her dark, tangled hair almost covered her face. When he could finally see her features, shocked amazement froze the words on his tongue. He could tell the instant she recognized him, too.


Her voice came out in a breathless whisper that shivered through him like shards of ice and increased his heartbeat tenfold. He thought he had gotten over his infatuation with this woman long ago, but his heart was telling him otherwise.

"Tapat! What… Why are you here?"

He stared at her in utter amazement. He couldn't believe this was the same woman who had dressed in fine linen and moved with the grace of a gazelle. She looked more like something from the rat-infested sewers of Rome.

She glanced from him to the sword he still held tightly in his fist. Taken aback by her sudden appearance, he had completely forgotten that he was still brandishing the weapon. Recognizing her trepidation, he gave her a forced smile to reassure her while all kinds of questions swirled through his head, much like the swirling chaos outside. He sheathed his sword, never taking his eyes off her familiar face.


Her answer was interrupted by a dry, hacking cough. Her tongue darted out to lick parched, chapped lips. His narrowed gaze focused on this telltale sign of dehydration.

He unhooked his water flask and handed it to her. With a grateful look, she quickly upended the goatskin and took a long draft, the water trickling down her throat. With a long sigh of relief, she handed it back to him with shaking hands. Instead of taking it, he asked, "How long have you been without water?"

She dropped her eyes to the ground. "Two days."

Andronicus's lips thinned with displeasure. "Two days! Have you been in this cave that long?"

A person could die of thirst in three days, two in this heat. He could tell she didn't want to answer. She didn't trust him, not that he could blame her. He was a Roman, after all, and it was his people who now surrounded her city, embarking on a siege that would ultimately put an end to the world as she knew it.

He glanced out the entrance and realized that the sandstorm was not going to abate anytime soon, a fateful intervention he was suddenly thankful for. It would be madness for either of them to try and leave. He looked back at Tapat, a million questions churning through his mind. His hands clenched and unclenched several times as he firmly held back the desire to yank her into his arms.

"It looks like we're going to be here awhile. Why don't we sit down and talk?"

The suggestion was met with a look of pure dread. What was it she was so afraid of? They had known each other for years, and although not really friends, surely she knew that he would never hurt her. She hesitated only a moment before nodding her head in acceptance and dropping to the ground at her feet. He could see the trembling of her hands where they clutched the skirt of her dirty and torn tunic.

Andronicus leaned against the boulder, his arms crossed over his chest, willing himself to remain calm.

She again tried to hand him the water flask she was gripping nervously, but he shook his head.

"Go ahead. Drink some more."

She did as he suggested, sighing with relief from a throat that had to surely be parched from the intense desert heat. He studied her bent head for several seconds. Her hair was dull and matted; he had never seen it thus. Each time he had seen her she had been well-groomed. He could still remember the scent of the rose water she used.

Now that they were together, his brain was too rattled to know how to proceed. It had always been so whenever he was in her proximity. To begin their conversation, he asked her the least innocuous thing he could think of to set her mind at ease.

"Have you heard from Anna lately?"

She jerked her head up, narrowing her eyes suspiciously. He sighed heavily. Obviously, the question was not as inoffensive as he had hoped.

"Tapat, I'm not seeking information about Christians. I'm asking only as a friend."

She relaxed slightly, but he could tell her guard was still firmly in place.

"I have not heard from Anna for some time. Have you?"

Anna had married his friend Lucius several years ago. Tapat had been a servant in the home of Lucius's mother, Leah. Andronicus's contact with Tapat had been minimal, but she had left a lasting impression. His friend Lucius had accused him of being in love with her. He didn't think it was that, but he had definitely been enamored of her. The erratic beat of his heart told him that it hadn't forgotten despite his not having seen her in years. Not since the night six years ago when she had saved his life.

The memories came flooding back. He had just returned to Jerusalem, having been sent back by Nero, who wanted him to use his spies to search out those who were fighting against Rome. He had promised Lucius and Anna that he would find Tapat and make certain that she was all right.

It had surprised him that Tapat hadn't gone with Lucius and Anna when they left for Rome, but Lucius had told him that she had responsibilities in Jerusalem. The look his friend had given him had warned him to ask nothing else. That, of course, had only piqued his interest further.

It had taken him some time to find her. She was living in a small house in the lower quarter of the city where many of the other Christians lived. His appearance at her door hadn't exactly been the wisest thing he had ever done, but he had been set on seeing her as soon as possible. It hadn't really occurred to him that his arrival would throw suspicion on Tapat in an already volatile city.

He never had found out what Tapat's responsibilities were, but then he hadn't exactly had time. Things in Jerusalem had become intense, especially after General Ces-tius Gallus had laid siege to Yodfat and then marched on Jerusalem. No one knew why the general had turned back, but it had increased tensions in the region. The whole area was one hotbed of hatred. And now Titus had moved his troops to surround the city and finish what Gallus had not.

Tapat had come to him one night at the Antonia Fortress shortly after his arrival. Her courage surprised him; he never imagined that she would even come near the place. He and his soldiers were supposed to go out the next day and Tapat warned him of an ambush.

He had been sent back to Rome shortly after that incident and had only returned now with General Titus. He hadn't seen her again, until today.

He looked at Tapat now sitting on the ground at his feet. Face tilted upward, her dark brown eyes were luminous from the reflected light entering the cave's entrance. She was a tiny little thing, standing only as tall as his heart. Her looks were so ordinary she would easily be overlooked in a crowd; some would call her plain, yet he had never failed to notice her. Whenever she was around, his eyes attached to her like the magnetic stones he had brought back from Germania.


He snapped back to the present, one brow lifted in question.

"I asked if you had heard from Anna or Lucius."

He shook his head, not only to answer her question, but to clear it of the invading memories. "No. No, I have not. They left Rome when the persecution of Christians began."

Tapat's eyes darkened with anger. "I heard about the atrocities being perpetrated upon the Christians."

That would explain her reluctance to confide in him. He met her look squarely. "I helped them to leave."

He saw her shoulders relax. They studied each other for several seconds, each trying to think of something more to say. He had so many questions that he didn't know where to begin. Finally, Andronicus leaned forward, his eyes intent.

"Why did you disappear? I wanted to thank you for saving my life and the life of my men, but when I went back to your house, you were gone and you never returned. I know because I paid someone to watch for you."

Her eyes widened at this declaration. She stared into his eyes as though trying to see past them and into his mind. Whatever she was searching for eluded her. Sighing softly, she looked away. "I knew that they would come searching for me. The zealots have spies everywhere and they would have surely seen me at the Antonia."

"Where did you go?"

She looked up at him and smiled, though he could tell the smile was strained. "It's not important."

He wanted to argue with her, but one thing he knew about Tapat-she would tell him nothing that she didn't want to.

"Why are you still here in Jerusalem? I heard that the Christians had left some time ago. From what I gather, most of them have settled in Pella in the Decapolis region. Why did you not go with them?"

That look of panic was back in her eyes, making him go cold all over. What was she so afraid of? She couldn't possibly think that he would betray her. Or could she?

"I wasn't able to at the time," she told him reluctantly.

There it was again, that mystery that always seemed to surround her. Had other things not gotten in his way, he would have discovered her secret by now. Like a dog gnawing at a bone, he wouldn't give up until he finally knew what she had always kept hidden. He frowned, realizing just how ruthless that made him sound but, frankly, he didn't care.

"Why were you not able?"

She met his look of determination and, after several seconds, sighed in resignation.

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