Hers to Claim

By: Patricia A. Knight


Wow, where to begin? This was a hard year for me. I ran into some of life’s little bumps in the road, health-wise. I doubt Hers To Claim would have been finished, even six months late, without the continued support, input and, at times, merciless nagging, of my wonderful critique partners. So to Marilyn, Elizabeth, Stephanie, Brenda, and Travis, my heartfelt thanks. I love y’all. You’re the best. There is some of each of you in my books.

Thanks to my wonderful publisher, Troll River Publications, who extended my deadline six months. As always, I’m so grateful to be one of “your” authors. It’s writing heaven. And, thank you to my fabulous editors, Tracy and Josephine. I appreciate the fast turn-around and all those imaginative suggestions…even if I don’t use them…and all the commas…even if I don’t use them. LOL

And finally, to my sweetie, my “go-to-guy” for gut checks on the repartee between my two bickering alpha males and so much else. As my heroine says, “I am yours, my prince—beyond time.” Hel was born in your brain. I hope I did him justice.


Verdantia had no memory of Her own creation nor how long She had existed. She had always been. For millennia, She hung suspended in vast space, a sentience aware only of eons of solitude. Her tendrils of golden life and intelligence extended into the impenetrable dark, into the terrible aloneness, always seeking another—until them— until Her sons and daughters arrived.

They were ephemeral, these organic creatures who appeared out of the vastness of space and walked Her surface. Their life spans were fragile and fleeting but brilliant as a flash-burning supernova. They spoke with Her and for the first time in Her eternal existence, She had a name, Verdantia, Senzienza, Mother. At last, She was known by another. She delighted in their brief but wondrous interactions with Her energies. They brought Her great pleasure, Her family.

Her connection to Her sons and daughters ran soul-deep. She endowed each individual with vast powers borne of Her innate energies. They became entrusted guardians of the sphere that housed Her sentience, Her soul. She loved them as a mother loves her own.

Her surface glowed with hundreds of thousands of their brilliant stars—until the time of terror—until the time of great death. Now, when only a handful remained, She needed Her children as never before. The possibility She had foreseen in Her early days of innocence loomed with ominous portent. Drawn by the tendrils She cast ages ago in Her quest for another, an evil from the darkest reaches of the void had found Her.

Black corruption burrowed into Her with icy fingers of spreading darkness, desecrating and despoiling, but She had no defense. She had given those powers to Her children in the days of their beginning. She could only hope those beloved few of Her sons and daughters that still walked Her surface would feel the ravening blackness and act—before the spreading darkness consumed Her completely.

Chapter One

The nails in the worn heels of Prince DeHelios’ boots clicked against the stone as Hel climbed the stairs, and then softened to a rhythmic thud as he strode the carpeted hall to the small corner of the castle still maintained as a residence. He looked neither left nor right and ignored the signs of prosperity dimmed—room after room empty and dark, rooms where laughter and love once abided. He stared sightlessly past the shrouded portraits of his long-dead ancestors, the first kings and queens of Verdantia, now ghostly rectangles adorning a poorly lit hall. A melancholy sorrow pierced his heart when he passed the empty nursery—its fleeting pain as biting as the cold outside, but he shrugged it off with a grim discipline.

“Thank the Goddess, you are back.” A stooped, elderly man accosted Hel as he entered a cozy chamber where a fire radiated warmth and candles lifted the gloom. Heavy tapestry curtains covered the floor-to-ceiling windows and prevented any draft. From the bookcases lining the walls crammed full of leather-bound tomes, the room had served as a library or office in an earlier time. Now, the pale bodies on low pallets arranged about the room testified to another use—a sickroom.

“Bernard, give me a moment.” Hel shrugged his steward off and nodded at an older woman attending one of those ill. “Sara, how is Rolly?”

She shook her head. “He won’t last the night, my lord.”

Hel disguised his pain at the news. The man was a friend. “I’ll come sit with him. Give me a moment.” He turned to Bernard. “I got your message. I came directly.” Hel pulled one of the squat, upholstered stools close to the fire and sat holding his hands out to the warmth. The icicles in his heavy black beard dripped onto the floor as they began to thaw. Bernard hovered over him radiating anxiety.