Manor, the Vale of Casphairn
Galloway Hills, Scotland
December 1st, 1819
She'd never had a vision like it before.
Eyes--blue, blue--blue as the skies over Merrick's high head, blue as
the cornflowers dotting the vale's fields. They were the eyes of a thinker,
farsighted yet focused. Or the eyes of a warrior.
Catriona awoke, almost surprised to find herself alone. From the depths
of her big bed, she scanned her familiar surrounds, the thick velvet curtains
half shrouding the bed, their mates drawn tight across the windows beyond
which the wind murmured, telling tales of the coming winter to any still
awake. In the grate, embers gleamed, shedding a glow over polished wood,
the soft sheen of the floor, the lighter hues of chair and dresser. It
was deep night, the hour between one day and the next. All was reassuringly
normal; nothing had changed.
Yet it had.
Her heart slowing, Catriona tugged the covers about her, and considered
the vision that had visited her--the vision of a man's face. The details
remained strongly etched in her mind. Along with the conviction that this
man would mean something, impinge on her life in some vital way.
He might even be the one The Lady had chosen for her.
The thought was not unwelcome. She was, after all, twenty-two, long past
the age when girls invited lovers to their beds, when she might have expected
to play her part in that neverending rite. Not that she regreted that
her life had been otherwise, which was just as well, for her path had
been set from the instant of her birth. She was "the lady
of the vale."
The title, one of local custom, was hers and hers alone; none other could
claim it. As the only child of her parents, on their deaths, she'd inherited
Casphairn Manor, along with the vale and its attendant responsiblities.
Her mother had been the same, inheriting manor, lands and position from
her mother before her. Each of her direct female ancestors had been "the
lady of the vale."
Cocooned in warm down, Catriona smiled. Just what her title meant few
outsiders understood. Some thought her a witch--she'd even used the fiction
to scare away would-be suitors. Both church and state had little love
of witches, but the vale's isolation kept her safe; there were few who
knew of her existence, and none to question her authority or the doctrine
from which it sprang.
All the inhabitants of the vale knew what she was, what her position entailed.
With roots buried generations deep in the fertile soil, her tenants, all
those who lived and worked in the vale, viewed "their lady"
as the local representative of The Lady herself, older than time, spirit
of the earth that supported them, guardian of their past and their future.
They all, each in their own way, paid homage to The Lady, and, with absolute
and unquestioning confidence, relied on her earthly representative to
watch over them and the vale.
To guard, to protect, to nuture, nourish and heal--those were The Lady's
tenets, the only directives Catriona followed and to which she'd unstintingly
devoted her life. As had her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother
before her. She lived life simply, in accordance with The Lady's dictates,
which was usually an easy task.
Except in one arena.
Her gaze shifted to the parchment left unfolded on her dresser. A Perth
solicitor had written to inform her of the death of her guardian, Seamus
McEnery, and to bid her attend McEnery House for the reading of the will.
McEnery House stood on a bleak hillside in The Trossachs, north and west
of Perth; in her mind's eye, Catriona could see it clearly--it was the
one place outside the vale in which she'd spent more than a day.
When, six years ago, her parents had died, Seamus, her father's cousin,
had, by custom, become her legal guardian. A cold, hard man, he had insisted
she take up residence at McEnery House, so he could better find a suitor
for her hand--a man to take over her lands. With his rigid fist clamped
on her purse strings, she'd been forced to obey; she'd left the vale and
gone north to meet Seamus.
To do battle with Seamus--for her inheritance, her independence, her inalienable
right to remain the lady of the vale, to reside at Casphairn Manor and
care for her people. Three weeks of turmoil and drama later, she'd returned
to the vale; Seamus had spoken no more of suitors, nor of her calling.
And, Catriona was quite certain, he had never again taken The Lady's name
Now Seamus, the devil she'd conquered, was gone. His eldest son, Jamie,
would succeed him. Catriona knew Jamie; like all Seamus's children, he
was mild-mannered and weak-willed. Jamie was no Seamus. In considering
how best to respond to the solicitor's request, she'd been much inclined
to start as she meant to go on, and reply suggesting that, after the will
was read and Jamie formally appointed as her guardian, Jamie should call
on her here, at the manor. Although she foresaw no difficulty in handling
Jamie, she preferred to deal from a position of strength. The vale was
her home; within its arms, she reigned supreme. Yet...
She focused again on the parchment; after an instant, the outline blurred--once
more the vision swam before her mind's eye. For a full minute, she studied
it; she saw the face clearly--strong patriarchal nose, determindedly square
chin, features chiselled from rock in their angularity and hardness. His
brow was concealed by a lock of black hair; those piercing blue eyes were
deep-set beneath arched black brows and framed by black lashes. His lips,
held in a straight, uncompromising line, told her little--indeed, that
was her summation of his face--one meant to conceal his thoughts, his
emotions. From chance observers.
She wasn't a chance observer. Presentiment--nay, certainty--of
future contact compelled her; she focused her mind and slid beneath his
guard, behind his reserved facade, and tentatively opened her senses.
Hunger--hot, ravenous--a prowling, animalistic urge swept over her. It
caressed her with fingers of heat; its tug was even more physical. Beyond
it, in the deeper shadows, lay...restlessness. A soul-deep sense of drifting,
rudderless, upon life's sea.
Catriona blinked, and drew back, into her familiar chamber. And saw the
letter still lying on her desk. She grimaced. She was adept at intepreting
The Lady's messages--this one was crystal clear. She should go to McEnery
House and, at some point, she would meet the restless, hungry, reserved
stranger with the granite face and warrior's eyes.
A lost warrior--a warrior without a cause.
Catriona frowned, and wriggled deeper under the covers. When she'd first
seen that face, she'd felt, instinctively, deep inside, that, at long
last, The Lady was sending her a consort--the one who would stand by her
side, who would share the burden of the vale's protection--the man she
would take to her bed. At last. Now, however...
"His face is too strong. Far too strong."
As the lady of the vale, it was imperative that she be the dominant partner
in her marriage, as her mother had been in hers. It was written in stone
that no man could rule her. Not for her an arrogant, domineering husband--that
would never do. Which was, in this case, a pity. A real disappointment.
She'd immediately recognized the source of his restlessness, the restlessness
of those without purpose, but she'd never met anything like the hunger
that prowled within him. Alive, a tangible force, it had reached out and
touched her, and she'd felt a compulsion to sate it. A reactive urge to
soothe him, to bring him surcease. To...
Her frown deepened; she couldn't find the words, but there'd been a sense
of excitment, of daring, of challenge. Not elements she generally met
in her daily round of duties. Then again, perhaps it was simply her healer's
instincts prodding her? Catriona humphed. "Whatever, he can't
be the one The Lady means for me--not with a face like that."
Was The Lady sending her a wounded male, a lame duck for her to cure?
His eyes, those hard-edged features, hadn't looked lame.
Not that it mattered; she had her instructions. She would go to the highlands,
to McEnery House, and see what--or rather, who--came her way.
With another humph, Catriona slid deeper beneath the covers. Turning on
her side, she closed her eyes--and willed her mind away from, once again,
seeking the stranger's face.
Keltyburn, The Trossachs
December 5th, 1819
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
An artful arrangement of sleek, nubile, naked female limbs sprang to Richard
Cynster's mind. The innkeeper had finished clearing the remnants of his
dinner--the feminine limbs would satisfy that appetite still unappeased.
Richard shook his head. Not that he feared shocking his studiously correct
gentleman's gentleman, Worboys, standing poker-straight at his elbow.
Having been in his employ for eight years, Worboys was past being shocked.
He was, however, no magician, and Richard was of the firm opinion that
it would take magical powers to find a satisfying armful in Keltyburn.
They'd arrived in the hamlet as the last light left the leaden sky; night
had fallen swiftly, a black shroud. The thick mist that had lowered over
the mountains, hanging heavy across their path, obscuring the narrow,
winding road leading up Keltyhead to their destination, had made passing
the night in the dubious comfort of the Keltyburn Arms an attractive proposition.
Besides, he had a wish to have his first sight of his mother's last home
in daylight, and before he left Keltyburn, there was one thing he wished
Richard stirred. "I'll be retiring shortly. Go to bed--I won't need
you further tonight." Worboys hesitated; Richard knew he was thinking
of who would brush and hang his coat, who would take care of his boots.
He sighed. "Go to bed, Worboys."
Worboys stiffened. "Very well, sir--but I do wish we'd pressed on
to McEnery House. There, at least, I could have trusted the bootboys."
"Just be thankful we're here," Richard advised, "and not
run off the road or stuck in a drift halfway up that damned mountain."
Worboys sniffed eloquently, his clear intimation being that being stuck
in a snowdrift in weather cold enough to freeze the proverbial appendages
off brass monkeys was preferable to bad blacking. But he obediently took
his rotund self off, rolling away into the shadowy depths of the inn.
His lips twitching into a slight smile, Richard stretched his long legs
to the fire roaring in the grate. Whatever the state of the inn's blacking,
the landlord hadn't stinted in making them comfortable. Richard had seen
no other guests, but in such a quiet backwater, that was unsurprising.
The flames flared; Richard fixed his gaze on them--and wondered, not for
the first time, whether this expedition to the highlands, precipitated
by boredom and a very specific fear, hadn't been a trifle rash. But London's
entertainments had grown stale; the perfumed bodies so readily--too readily--offered
him no longer held any allure. While desire and lust were still there,
he'd become finicky, choosy, even more so than he'd already been. He wanted
more from a woman than her body and a few moments of earthly bliss.
He frowned and resettled his shoulders--and redirected his thoughts. It
was a letter that had brought him here, one from the executor of his long-dead
mother's husband, Seamus McEnery, who had recently departed this earth.
The uninformative legal missive had summoned him to the reading of the
will, to be held the day after tomorrow at McEnery House. If he wished
to claim a bequest his mother had made to him, and which Seamus had apparently
withheld for nearly thirty years, he had to attend in person.
From what little he'd learned of his late mother's husband, that sounded
like Seamus McEnery. The man had been a hothead, brash and vigorous, a
hard, determined, wily despot. Which was almost certainly why he'd been
born. His mother had not enjoyed being married to such a man; his father,
Sebastian Cynster, 5th Duke of St. Ives, sent to McEnery House to douse
Seamus's political fire, had taken pity on her and given her what joy
Which had resulted in Richard. The story was so old--thirty years old,
to be precise--he no longer felt anything over it, bar a distant regret.
For the mother he'd never known. She'd died of fever bare months after
his birth; Seamus had sent him post-haste to the Cynsters, the most merciful
thing he could have done. They'd claimed him and reared him as one of
their own, which, in all ways that mattered, he was. Cynsters bred true,
especially the males. He was a Cynster through and through.
And that was the other reason he'd left London. The only important social
event he was missing was his cousin Vane's belated wedding breakfast,
an occasion he'd viewed with misgiving. He wasn't blind--he'd seen the
gleam steadily glowing in the eyes of the older Cynster ladies. Like Helena,
the Dowager, his much-loved step-mother, not to mention his fleet of aunts.
If he'd attended Vane and Patience's celebration, they'd have set their
sights on him. He wasn't yet bored enough, restless enough, to offer himself
up, fodder for their matrimonial machinations. Not yet.
He knew himself well, perhaps too well. He wasn't an impulsive man. He
liked his life well-ordered, predictable--he liked to be in control. He'd
seen war in his time but he was a man of peace. Of passion. Of home and
The phrase raised images in his mind--of Vane and his new bride, of his
own half-brother, Devil, and his duchess, Honoria, and their son. Richard
shifted and settled, conscious, too conscious, of what his brother and
cousin now had. What he himself wanted. Yearned for. He was, after all,
a Cynster; he was starting to suspect such plaguey thoughts were ingrained,
an inherited suceptiblity. They got under a man's skin and made him...edgy.
A board creaked; Richard lifted his gaze, looking through the archway
into the hall beyond. A woman emerged from the shadows. Wrapped in a drab
cloak, she met his gaze directly, an older woman, her face heavily lined.
She measured him swiftly; her gaze turned frosty. Richard suppressed a
grin. Spine stiff, her pace unfaltering, the woman turned and climbed
Sinking back in his chair, Richard let his lips curve. He was safe from
temptation at the Keltyburn Arms.
He looked back at the flames; gradually, his smile died. He shifted once
more, easing his shoulders; a minute later, he fluidly rose and crossed
to the fogged window.
Rubbing a clear space, he looked out. A starry, moonlit scene met his
eyes, a light covering of snow crisping on the ground. Squinting sideways,
he could see the church. The kirk. Richard hesitated, then straightened.
Collecting his coat from the stand by the door, he went outside.
* * *
Abovestairs, Catriona sat at a small wooden table, its surface bare except
for a silver bowl, filled with pure spring water, into which she steadily
gazed. Distantly, she heard her companion, Algaria, pace along the corridor
and enter the room next door, but she was deep in the water, her senses
merging with its surface, locked upon it.
And the image formed--the same strong features, the same arrogant eyes.
The same aura of restlessness. She didn't probe further--she didn't dare.
The image was sharp--he was near.
Dragging in a swift breath, Catriona blinked, and pulled back. A knock
fell on the door; it opened--Algaria stepped inside. And instantly saw
what she'd been up to. She swiftly shut the door. "What did you see?"
Catriona shook her head. "It's confusing." The face was even
harder than she'd thought it; the essence of the man's strength was there,
clearly delineated for anyone to read. He was a man with no reason to
hide his character--he bore the signs openly, arrogantly, like a chieftain.
Like a warrior.
Catriona frowned. She kept stumbling across that word, but she didn't
need a warrior--she needed a tame, complaisant, preferably readily besotted
gentleman she could marry and so beget an heiress. This man fitted her
prescription in only one respect--he was indisputably male. The Lady,
She Who Knew All, couldn't possibly mean this man for her.
"But if not that, then what?" Pushing aside the silver bowl,
she leaned on the table and cupped her chin in one hand. "I must
be getting my messages crossed." But she hadn't done that since she
was fourteen. "Perhaps there are two of them?"
"Two of whom?" Algaria hovered near. "What was the vision?"
Catriona shook her head. The matter was too personal--too sensitive--to
divulge to anyone else, not even Algaria, her mentor since her mother's
death. Not until she'd got to the truth of the matter herself, and understood
Whatever it was she was supposed to understand.
"It's no use." Determinedly, she stood. "I must consult
The Lady directly."
"What? Now?" Algaria stared. "It's freezing outside."
"I'm only going to the circle at the end of the graveyard. I won't
be out long." She hated uncertainty, not being sure of her road.
And this time, uncertainty had brought an unusual tenseness, a sense of
expectation, an unsettling presentiment of excitement. Not the sort of
excitement she was accustomed to, either, but something more scintillating,
more enticing. Swinging her cloak about her, she looped the ribbons at
"There's a gentleman downstairs." Algaria's black eyes flashed.
"He's one you should avoid."
"Oh?" Catriona hesitated. Could her man be here, under the same
roof? The tension that gripped her hardened her resolve; she tied off
her ribbons. "I'll make sure he doesn't see me. And everyone in the
village knows me by sight--at least, this sight." She released her
knotted hair, letting it swish about her shoulders. "There's no danger
Algaria sighed. "Very well--but don't dally. I suppose you'll tell
me what this is all about when you can."
From the door, Catriona flashed her a smile. "I promise. Just as
soon as I'm sure."
Halfway down the stairs, she saw the gentleman, short, rotund, and fastidiously
dressed, checking the discarded news sheets in the inn's main parlor.
His face was as circular as his form; he was definitely not her warrior.
Catriona slipped silently down the hall. It was the work of a minute to
ease open the heavy door, not yet latched for the night.
And then she was outside.
Pausing on the inn's stone step, she breathed in the crisp, chilly air,
and felt the cold reach her head. Invigorated, she pulled her cloak close
and stepped out, watching her feet, careful not to slip on the icing snow.
* * *
In the graveyard, in the lee of one wall, Richard looked down at his mother's
grave. The inscription on the headstone was brief: Lady Eleanor McEnery,
wife of Seamus McEnery, Laird of Keltyhead. That, and nothing more.
No affectionate remembrance; no mention of the bastard son she'd left
Richard's expression didn't change; he'd come to terms with his status
long ago. When he'd been abandoned on his father's doorstep, Helena, Devil's
mother, had stunned everyone by claiming him as her own. In doing so,
she'd given him his place in the ton--no one, even now, would risk her
displeasure, or that of the entire Cynster clan, by so much as hinting
he was not who she claimed he was. His father's legitimate son. Instinctively
shrewd, ebulliently generous, Helena had secured for him his position
in society's elite, for which, in his heart, he never ceased to thank
The woman whose bones lay beneath this cold stone had, however, given
him life--and he could do nothing to thank her.
Except, perhaps, to live life fully.
His only knowledge of his mother had come from his father; when, in all
innocence, he'd asked if his father had loved his mother, Sebastian had
ruffled his hair and said: "She was very lovely and very lonely--she
deserved more than she got from her marriage." He'd paused, then
added: "I felt sorry for her." He'd looked at him, and his slow
smile had creased his face. "But I love you. I regret her death,
but I can't regret your birth."
He could understand how his father had felt--he was, after all, a Cynster
to the bone. Family, children, home and hearth--that was what mattered
to Cynsters. Those were their quintessential warrior goals, for them the
ultimate victories of life.
For long, silent minutes, he stood before the grave, until the cold finally
penetrated his boots. With a sigh, he shifted, then straightened and,
after one last, long look, turned and retraced his steps.
What was it his mother had left him? And why, having concealed her bequest
all these years, had Seamus summoned him back now, after his own death?
Richard rounded the kirk, his stride slow, the sound of his footfalls
subsumed by the breeze softly whistling through snow-laden branches. He
reached the main path and stepped onto it--and heard crisp, determined
footsteps approaching from beyond the kirk. Halting, he turned and beheld...
A creature of magic and moonlight.
A woman, her dark cloak billowing about her, her head bare. Over her shoulders
and down her back spread the most glorious mane of thick, rippling, silken
hair, sheening copper-bright in the moonlight, a beacon against the wintering
trees behind her. Her stride was definite, every footfall decisive; her
eyes were cast down, but he would have sworn she wasn't watching her steps.
She came on without pause, heading directly for him. He couldn't see her
face, or her figure beneath the full cloak, but well-honed instincts rarely
lied. His senses stirred, stretched, then focused powerfully--a clear
case of lust at first sight. Lips lifting in wolfish anticipation, Richard
silently turned and prepared to make the lady's acquaintance.
Catriona strode briskly up the path, lips compressed, a frown knitting
her brows. She'd been a disciple of The Lady too long not to know how
to couch her requests for clarification; the question she'd asked had
been succinct and to the point. She'd asked for the true significance
of the man whose face haunted her. The Lady's reply, the words that had
formed in her mind, had been brutally concise: He will father your
There were not, no matter how she twisted them, very many ways in which
to interpret those words.
Which left her with a very large problem. Unprecedented though it might
be, The Lady must have made a mistake. This man, whoever he was,
was arrogant, ruthless--dominant. She needed a sweet, simple soul,
one content to remain quietly supportive while she ruled their roost.
She didn't need strength--she needed weakness. There was absolutely no
point sending her a warrior without a cause.
Catriona humphed; her breath steamed before her face. Through the clearing
wisps, she spied--the very last thing she expected to see--a pair of large,
black, highly polished Hessians, directly in her path. She tried to stop;
her soles found no grip on the icy path--her momentum sent her skidding
on. She tried to flail her arms; they were trapped beneath her cloak.
On a gasp, she looked up, just as she collided with the owner of the boots.
The impact knocked the air from her lungs; for one instant, she was sure
she'd hit a tree. But her nose buried itself in a soft cravat, mid-chest,
just above the V of a silk waistcoat. His chin passed above her head;
her scalp prickled as long hairs were gently brushed. And arms like steel
slowly closed about her.
Instinct awoke in a flustered rush; raising her hands, she pushed against
Her feet slipped, then slid.
She gasped again--and clutched wildly instead of pushing. The steely arms
tightened, and suddenly only her toes touched the snow. Catriona dragged
in a breath--one too shallow to steady her whirling head. Her lungs had
seized; her senses skittered wildly, informing her, in breathless detail,
that she was pressed, breast to thigh, against a man.
Not just any man--one with a body like warm, flexing steel. She had to
lean back to look into his face.
Blue, blue eyes met hers.
Catriona stilled; she stared. Then she blinked. It took half a second
to check--arrogant mein, decisive chin--it was him.
Narrowing her eyes, she fixed them on his; if The Lady had made no mistake,
then it behoved her to begin as she meant to go on. "Put me down."
She'd learned the knack of commanding obedience at her mother's knee;
her simple words held echoes of authority, undertones of compulsion.
He heard them; he angled his head, one black brow rising, then the ends
of his long lips lifted. "In a minute."
It was her turn to listen, and hear the intent in his deep purr. Her eyes
If she'd been able to think, she would have screamed, but the shock of
his touch, the intimate warmth of his palm as he framed her face, distracted
her. His lips completed the conquest--they swooped, arrogantly confident,
and settled over hers.
The first contact stunned her; she ceased to breathe. The very concept
of breathing drifted from her mind as his lips moved lazily on hers. They
were neither warm nor cool, yet heat lingered in their touch. They pressed
close, then eased, sipped, supped, then returned. Firm and demanding,
they impinged on her senses, reaching deep, stirring her.
She stirred in his encirling arm; it locked tight about her. Heat surrounded
her--even through her thick cloak, it reached for her, enveloped her,
then sank into her flesh. And grew, built, a crescendo of warmth seeking
release. His hot hunger had infected her. Utterly distracted, she tried
to hold it back, tried to deny its existence, tried vainly to dampen it
And couldn't. She was facing ignominious defeat--with not a clue of what
followed--when the hard hand tilting her face shifted. He altered his
grip; one thumb pressed insistently in the centre of her chin.
Her jaw eased; her lips parted.
The shock of the first touch of tongue against tongue literally curled
her toes. She would have gasped, but that was impossible; all she could
do was feel. Feel and follow, and sense the reality of that hot hunger,
the surprisingly subtle, deeply evocative, seductively physical need.
And hold hard against the temptation that streaked through her.
Even while he took arrogance to new heights.
She hadn't thought it possible, but he gathered her more closely, imprinting
her soft flesh with the male hardness of his. Ruthlessly confident, he
angled his head, and tasted her--langorously, unhurriedly--as if he had
all the time in the world.
Then he settled to play.
To advance and retreat, to artfully entice her into joining the game.
The very idea shocked her to her toes--and sent shards of excitement flying
down her nerves. They stretched, tightened. His lips and tongue continued
their tantalizing dance.
She responded--tentatively; instead of the aggressive response she expected,
his lips softened fractionally, encouragingly. She dared more, returning
the pressure of his lips, the sensuous caress of his tongue.
Without even knowing it, she sank into the kiss.
Triumph streaked through Richard; he mentally crowed. He'd laid waste
her starchy resistance; she was soft and pliant, pure magic in his arms.
She tasted like the sweetest summer wine. The heady sensation went straight
to his head.
And straight to his loins.
Staving off the burgeoning ache, he feasted, careful not to startle her,
to let her wits surface enough to recognize his liberties. He wasn't fool
enough to think she wouldn't break away if he gave her sufficient cause.
She was no simple country miss, no naive maid--her three words, her attitude,
had reeked of authority. And she wasn't young; no young lady would have
had the confidence to command him, of all men, to "Put me down."
She was not girl, but woman--and she fitted very well, supple and curvaceous
in his arms.
How well she was fitting, how tempting her curves were, locked hard against
him, registered, and raised his lust to new heights. The soft, silken
sway of her heavy hair, a warm, living veil drifting over the backs of
his hands, and the perfume--wildflowers, the promise of spring and the
fecundity of growing things--that rose from the silky locks, converted
lust to pain.
It was he who pulled back and ended the kiss--it was that or suffer worse
agony. For he would have to let her go, untouched, unsampled, his lust
unsated; a snow-bound church yard in the depths of a winter's night was
a challenge even he balked at.
And, despite the intimate caresses they'd exchanged, he knew she wasn't
that sort of lady. He'd breached her walls by sheer brazen recklessness,
evoked by her haughty command to put her down. Right now, he'd like to
lay her down, but that, he knew, was not to be.
He raised his head.
Her eyes flew wide; she looked at him as if he was a ghost.
"Lady preserve me."
Her words were a fervent whisper; condensed by the cold, they misted the
air between them. She searched his face--for what, Richard could not guess;
with his customary arrogance, he raised one brow.
Lips, soft and rosy--much rosier now than before--firmed. "By the
Lady's veil! This is madness!"
She shook her head, and pushed against his chest; bemused, Richard set
her down carefully, then released her. Frowning absentmindedly, she stepped
around and past him, then whirled to face him. "Who are you?"
"Richard Cynster." He sketched her an elegant bow. Straightening,
he trapped her gaze. "Entirely at your service."
Her eyes snapped. "Do you make a habit of accosting innocent women
"Only when they walk into my arms."
"I requested you to put me down."
"You ordered me to put you down--and I did. Eventually."
"Yes. But..." Her tirade--he was sure it would have been a tirade--died
on her lips. She blinked at him. "You're English!"
An accusation rather than an observation. Richard arched a brow. "Cynsters
Eyes narrowing, she studied his face. "Norman descent?"
He smiled, proudly arrogant. "We came over with the Conqueror."
Smile deepening, he let his gaze sweep her. "We still like to dabble,
of course." Looking up, he trapped her gaze. "To keep our hand
in with the occasional conquest."
Even in the weak light, he saw her glare, saw the sparks that flared in
"I'll have you know this is all a very big mistake!"
With that, she whirled away. Snow crunched, louder than before as, in
a flurry of skirts and cloak, she stalked off. Brows rising, Richard watched
her storm through the lych gate, saw the quick, frowning glance she threw
him from the shadows beneath. Then, with a toss of her head, chin high,
she marched up the road.
Toward the inn.
The ends of Richard's lips lifted. His brows rose another, more considering,
He watched until she disappeared from sight, then stirred, straightened
his shoulders, and, lips curving in a wolfish smile, strolled unhurriedly
in her wake.
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