The Beltane Choice
by Nancy Jardine
Crooked Cat Publishing
eBook ASIN: B009372608
Print ISBN: 978-1908910486
AD 71-Celtic Britain. Nara, of the Selgovae, must find a suitable mate before Beltane but Lorcan, an enemy Brigante prince, captures her. When danger and death arrive in the form of the mighty Roman forces, will Nara be able to choose her Beltane lover?
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AD 71, Selgovae territory – Cheviot Hills
Nettle-sharp tears of frustration reduced Nara’s vision as she pressed her hand under her ribs to dull the pain, and ploughed her way through the pitted undergrowth. Wrenching aside jagged gorse bushes dotted with yellow blossoms, the thorns scraped blood-red lines on her arms.
“You have my spear and my sword, but you will not have my life.”
Gruelling breaths were snatched between curses. A glance over her shoulder caught the beast smashing on behind, scattering leaves and pinging twigs and branches. The folds of its hairy flesh quivered, its trotters pounding the earth, thudding minor tremors.
She scanned around for refuge. In the past, she had felled a boar, though never such a hefty beast, and this one exuded such vigour it would pursue her till she dropped if she could not climb out of its reach. The slight birch up ahead must suffice since the trees in the bush-strewn thicket were limited; all thin limbed.
At the bole of the slender tree she wheeled round, a glint behind the bobbing animal snaring her attention. Her spear lay there on the ground, torn out of the boar’s hide in its relentless drive through the spiny broom. Only paces away, yet how to reach it? The trickle of blood seeping from the animal’s wound made her cringe, her short sword still embedded in the beast’s flank. She had no hope of using that blade a second time, and fingering the hilt of the small knife tucked in her waist pouch was futile. Though sharp enough, it was useless against the tough flesh of the beast lumbering closer.
“Your tusks will not be my future.” Her hiss was stubborn. She may have been expunged from the nemeton, the island home of the priestesses where she’d lived for many years, and now discarded like a broken loom, but there was still a life for her.
“Nara of Tarras entreats you, Rhianna. I put myself in your hands.”
Startled by her outburst, the boar skittered to a halt, giving her time to use the flat of her foot. A mighty leap made, she grabbed the lowest branch, her legs swinging upwards as the frenzied boar thudded against the bark. Knees encircling the bough, she edged her way along to the trunk, her juddering thigh muscles clamping around it. Climbing higher, she selected the strongest join of bole and branch where she rested astride, hugging it tight. Exultant relief followed, her heartbeats ceased their frantic pump, and her breathing settled despite the boar continuing to hurtle its mass against the base.
“Sweet goddess, Rhianna, I thank you.” Her words whiffed against bark. Safety was not assured but her bodyguard, Cearnach, would no doubt come to her aid before the animal uprooted the tree.
A smirk broke free in spite of her predicament. Life had changed drastically these last two moons, but the changes did not all have to be bad.
Maybe a handsome stranger will rescue me from this fearsome creature of the forest? Her grin widened. It was due time something exciting happened.
“Cearnach? Where are you?”
Impatience mounted, the pummelling below continued, her repeated cry ringing out over the copse while the beast yowled and squealed, its energy infinite. Small disturbed creatures scurried off, the fluttering and cheeping bird cry alerting the forest floor to danger.
“Woman! Be ready.”
The rumbling holler came so suddenly Nara almost lost her grip on the trunk. It was not Cearnach; the tone was deeper, gruff and…disturbing. A search of the dense bush cover revealed no-one, yet a toying laugh reached her ears, its owner amused by her failure to spot him.
“Reveal yourself!” Nara’s request echoed around the shadowy thicket. Below her the boar scratched and pawed the ground in frustration, circling around, alerted to the new presence but uncertain of which way to charge.
“Woman, heed me. I will help you kill this beast since it will take more than one weapon, now you have raised its hackles, but you know that already from your bungling attempt.”
The implacable voice made Nara flinch in embarrassment, the burst of acerbic laughter that followed hurtful to her pride. Angry to be scorned in such a way, her resentment burned deep, yet the truth was his words were justifiable since she had been a poor huntress.
“I will distract it to reach your spear, but assure me only the boar will receive its death throw.”
“And if I do not pledge?” Nara’s words challenged, wondering why he set such terms.
The boar squealed, and the rumbling laugh rippled around. “You will be left with this creature, already livid enough to batter that immature tree down in a few more charges. Could you not have picked a stronger one?”
Indignation spewed from Nara. This was a greater insult than his chastisements. “Did I have a choice?”
“There is always a choice.”
She bit back a scathing reply since, so far in her life, personal choice had been limited. The warrior’s amusement incensed, but she was vulnerable. With no weapon at hand, the man’s help was essential, as the beast was unrelenting.
Then nothing moved except the faintest sough of the wind through the leaves above her. An unnatural stillness descended on the forest floor as the boar halted. Its snivelling snout twitched up, its ears tweaking before it emitted the eeriest of howls–something spooked the beast. A shiver of alarm rippled down Nara’s back, superstitious fear replacing anger.
“Rhianna? Do not desert me.”
“Woman, you invoke the help of Rhianna, but will the goddess save you from this creature baying for your life blood? Or…will I?”
Triumphant crowing made the hairs on Nara’s neck bristle with apprehension. Was it a man alarming the boar, or something else?
“Are you Cernunnos, god of the forest?”
Cloaking fear from her voice was not possible, yet she prayed she did not reveal the horror which would result from a confirmation. Unlike her gentle goddess Rhianna, Cernunnos was well known for sadistically toying with humans. A capricious god, he was a deity not always kind to the people who invaded his territory. Visions of disembowelment, and other ghastly deeds attributed to Cernunnos, swamped her. Near silence wreathed the copse. The boar stood rigid, its breathing agitated, furious pricking of its ears matching the flickering black beads of its eyes, glistening as they did in the rays of sunlight shafting down through the trees.
“Are you Cernunnos shape-shifting? Disguised as the animal attacking this tree where I take refuge?”
“Nay, woman. I am Lorcan of Garrigill. I am no shape-shifter. Undoubtedly, Cernunnos is here in this forest, but I am not he.”
Nara mulled over the reply. This had to be a real man. Relief flooded through her. The thought of it having been the fickle Celtic god of the forest was frightening.
“Woman? You tarry. Agree, or I leave.”
An ear-splitting crack echoed around when the protesting branch splintered beneath Nara’s thighs.
“By Rhianna, nay…” Her screech of dismay muffled into the bark. She plummeted down, her hands scrabbling for the nearest branch where she hung for long moments till she was able to grip her legs against the trunk. Chest heaving, she clung tight before resettling herself as the boar resumed its battering.
“My word is yours, Lorcan of Garrigill.”
The next howling cry came from neither Nara, nor the boar, but the animal was the target of the vehemence when a jagged stone slammed its rump. It whirled around, yowling in fury, and charged off in the direction the sling-shot had come from. Close to Nara’s tree, a lithe warrior surged from behind a dense clump of bushes to swoop up her spear.
The spear hurtled up. She grasped it while the irate beast squealed its return. Lorcan’s bloodthirsty cry boomed, and then his spear slashed through the air to spike the boar full in front, Nara’s thrust from above a powerful one to its head. The animal keeled over and lay twitching and groaning.
She jumped down from the tree as he plunged his sword into the beast; the boar’s writhing slowing to a halt. One foot balanced on the animal’s belly, he yanked out her spear then straightened up, the muscles of his powerful shoulders stretching the material of his orange and brown checked woollen tunic.
Ill-tempered eyes confronted her, black brows puckered tight. Absorbing the warrior’s dark scowl, Nara felt a strange rush of awareness sweep through her, despite that he looked angry. The exhilaration continued, causing her breath to falter, her heart an erratic beat inside her chest. The trembling of her leg muscles was in reaction to her drop to the ground, but such an act did not normally make her whole inside quiver.
The handsome, yet glowering, warrior in front of her caused it. She had endured two long lonely moons waiting for a response like this to happen, and now could not believe it had come to pass. Her mouth curved, delight widened her eyes, because this instinctive affinity with a man was what she needed to restore her spirit.
Her gaze lingered on the lime-spiked hair around the crown of his head, the rest of his black mane hanging free below his shoulders, a thin braid lying tight to each ear. Hazel eyes stared resentfully above a strong nose. A marked cleft in the chin shaved of hair sat invitingly below a full lower lip, the upper lip shrouded with full black whiskers that bearded down to his jaw line. It was an attractive countenance, virile and compelling. A tiny shiver of sensation beset her again. Her eyes dipped further…and she wished they had not.
“By Rhianna, nay.”
Any elation she had just felt shrivelled like a decaying autumn leaf. How can you be so cruel, Rhianna?
The blood-heat generated by his appeal turned to cool, the shiver that came to her spine now not one of exhilaration at all. A finely wrought gold torque, copper tipped at the terminals, encircled his throat. Wide bands of engraved gold and copper adorned the muscles of one arm, his decoration proclaiming him a warrior of high status. High ranking was admirable but not the sign that lay above the armbands.
Why had he rescued her? Killing her, or leaving her to the ravaging boar, would have been customary since the small star confirmed he was Brigante, her enemy. She was even more vulnerable now than she had been when confronted by the tusks of the beast, and too late to understand his terms regarding the use of her spear.
Conventions had to be followed, though. Tamping down her reaction to the physical aura of this enemy, Nara lifted her gaze to acknowledge his part in her rescue, even though her throat was dry as a parched field of emmer wheat in a summer drought.
“The deed was well done, warrior. I thank you for your intervention.”
Lorcan stared, some of the antagonism leeching from his appraisal when he nodded a terse acceptance. Not trusting his movements while he removed her short sword and his own spear from the animal, she avoided the blood-flow leaking from the wounds.
“You claim to be a branded warrior-woman?”
His tone was contemptuous when he stared at the spear brand decorating her upper arm, though she wore no armbands below it. It was Nara’s turn to scowl, exasperated by the aspersions he cast on her abilities. Though his glances were askance, the warrior considered her just as thoroughly as she did him. Two moons ago no man would have given her such frank assessment, but it was impossible to look away now. An instinctive tremor prickled her spine when the centre of his eyes darkened to cavernous black.
A conflict of sensations washed through her. She hated his superiority in the situation, detested his contempt, but could not deny his seductive stare made things happen inside her–which no man had ever managed to do before. Quelling the stimulation at her womanly core seemed impossible. Yet, try she must.
His silent survey continued, sliding over her body. A twitch came to his lips while his gaze lingered on her breasts heaving against the wool of her dun-coloured tunic, a heaving she could not seem to stop. Heat flared and rose up to her cheeks, a reaction she could not prevent but hoped was not visible to this supercilious warrior. A wry grin flashed when his gaze halted at her empty scabbard, hanging from the leather thong around her waist, then skated down to her legs covered by brown and green checked braccae, cross gartered with leather strips binding them firmly at the ankle. Her warrior clothes. When he had looked his fill, the arrogant Brigante held out her spear, angling the grip towards her.
Nara was not used to this scrutiny, or treatment. Men gave her a wide berth once they knew who she was.
“Your spear, warrior-woman. What name do you go by?”
The Brigante’s burr was infuriating.
Aware of his change of mood, Nara hastened for her weapon. Almost letting her grasp it, he tugged it from her reach, his chortle derisive. “Nay. I do not think so. Not yet, woman of the Selgovae, of the tribe who call themselves hunters.”
Stung by his sneering attitude, Nara bristled. “You have saved me from the boar, Lorcan of Garrigill, but you may not toy with me, whatever you desire.”
Half-hooded lids flickered, a dangerous gleam settling, before his brows lifted skywards. “You have no knowledge of what I desire.”
His amusement rippled deep into her very centre, creating a heightened swell of reaction to wash through her. He paced around her setting off another quiver of unease…and a surge of anticipation she did not understand. The confrontation in his gaze she despised, but in a contrary way felt a deep response to it.
“And how do you think to stop me?” Sardonic humour permeated his gaze, which Nara did not appreciate when his head bent towards her.
“There is always a choice.” Her body tensed as she challenged him, her tongue sharp. “Did you not just tell me that?”
The Brigante chuckled. His rugged face came closer, so close the drooping facial hair prickled her skin. She reached forward, though she would have sworn she had had no intention to move. Covering up her strange response to him, she spluttered, “Leave me be! My tribespeople lie close.”
Her words rasped when she reared back, her neck muscles strained her head out of his reach yet pressed her breasts forward as he leaned in, his focused gaze engrossed on her lips. Nara could not match his strength. Defensive manoeuvres she had learned on the mock battle-field were unlikely to do him harm; the odds of height and might were all on his side. Outrunning him was not a choice either. She had no sword or spear to aid her, but she would not give in without a struggle.
His beguiling body might stoke the fires of desire within her, but he was a Brigante. I have to get away from him.
“They are not far away.” A backwards stumble to stall his advance found her heels hitting tree roots, tripping her.
Her momentum halted, the warrior swooped. Brawny fingers clutched her upright, fingers that spread wide across the tunic covering her shoulder blade. Drawing her into him, he imprisoned her. Heat branded at every point of contact made, a sudden flaring that almost brought her to her knees, though his tight grip prevented it.
“I think not, woman of no name.”
The Brigante’s mocking laugh deafened her, so close the warmth of it fanned her cheeks as a summer breeze would. Stunned by his physical handling, Nara gasped into his neck.
“My fellow warriors will make you pay for this.”
His continued mockery affronted her. “You delude yourself, warrior-woman of the spear.”
Warm fingers slid from her shoulder and burrowed themselves into her braid, widening across her ear, the heel of his hand cradling her chin and lifting her head up to him as he whispered, “My hearing is excellent.”
Searching lips settled on her mouth, his whiskers a tickle while his delving fingers fanned their way through and loosened her tightly braided hair. A flare of undeniable excitement fluttered through her as he deepened the kiss, her shocked gasp tingling their joined lips when his thumb caressed her neck. Warmth glowed everywhere when Lorcan trapped her closer to his hard body. Only dimly did she register weapons tumbling to the ground behind her, his freed fingers clutching her properly. As his lips increased the pressure, an intense gleam widened his eyes to the blackness of night.
“Your man is dead.” The dispassionate declaration came after he broke free for a moment. His teasing lips feathered her cheek and neck, his words filling her with dread. “If he is the warrior down by the ford?”
The blood drained from her face, his casual announcement whipping her out of the thrall he held her in. Wrenching herself from his grasping hands, her reaction was frantic. “Cearnach is dead? Who gave you the right to kill without reason? What was the challenge given?”
Lorcan seized her close. Resentment sparked in the gaze that condemned her, but she could not mistake the flash of pain he promptly suppressed. “My tribe has good reason to hate your warriors. It may have been your man who came south and put my brother to the sword. My flesh and blood, do you hear?”
His strapping arms enclosed her making a tight bond not easily broken. He held her motionless for long moments, glaring down before he thrust her away. Tumbling back onto the fern-laden undergrowth, Nara grappled for a foothold and a more dignified position, confused by his actions.
The warrior’s brows puckered as his foot lifted towards her. “My older brother, Arian, was a doughty warrior–not lost in battle–but in a petty raid on our outer territory.”
She curled herself in tight, warding off the blow she felt sure was coming from his leather-swathed foot, but he merely tapped her leg, sidling her away from the pool of boar’s blood. His anger abraded her ears while his body bent towards her, his words a snarl. “It was an unprovoked incursion, and you say I have no reason to hate your tribe?”
One strong arm reached down, gathered her at the neck, and yanked her up with little effort. He shook her before clasping her tight against the length of his body, her feet dangling above ground.
“It could not have been Cearnach who killed your brother.” Nara struggled to free herself, striking with her feet since her arms were caged fast against his chest.
Lorcan’s gaze raked her, his hostility abating, the resentful glare no longer so stern. A smile flickered at the edge of his mouth. “You defend your man well. He picked a fierce mate in you, but it is too bad he was not warrior enough to prevent his attackers from creeping up on him.”
“Cearnach did not deserve your sword.” Nara’s hands beat an ineffective drum on his chest, her voice muffled against his tunic while she protested his treatment of her.
Derisive laughter burst from him, his breath whiffing her hair as his strong grip brought her face up on a level with his own. “You think I wasted my own energy on him? Not true. It was one of my warriors you did not even know was around. Your feeble hill fort is too complacent, too ill-guarded that Brigantes can come close to your stronghold so easily.”
“Raeden is not my hill fort. I assure you my own settlement has thorough defences against the likes of you. You would not sneak up on us unseen. You take too much for granted.”
Her scathing retort would not be held back when she spat at his face, her feet kicking out at his shins, but the warrior continued to berate, not yet done with his angry tirade.
“You need teaching, one and all. That is why we are here, and I will be more than happy to teach your wayward tongue a thing or two. Who are you?”
Strong arms squeezed Nara’s writhing body, the light of success and challenge glinting in his brown depths as he unhurriedly allowed her feet to slide to the ground. Given her sheer fury over his treatment, she could not understand at all why her body quivered from close contact with his rigid strength. Held loosely within his embrace, she stared at his mouth.
The glowing embers in Lorcan of Garrigill’s gaze deepened, the merest softening of his expression sending a swell of need to flood through her. She had never experienced the like before. His callused hands returned to bracket her face, long fingers spread wide over the braids covering her ears. Anticipation spiked somewhere deep inside Nara.
“We have already attacked the outskirts of Raeden, and now they round up their runaway animals. There is no one to come to your aid, woman of the harsh tongue. I have plenty of time for a little dalliance with you, but first I will know your name.”
“I’m Nara.” Her cry muffled when his mouth covered hers.
His lips slanted against her, exploring, changing the angle, his tongue a determined demand across her closed lips. Gripping fingers held her tight, his superior strength impossible for her to rally against. She was a whole head shorter than him and much weaker. With increasing confusion, Nara realised while she struggled her lips and body away, she excited herself even more. It can not be so. Gasping for breath, she arched her head back, breaking their lip contact.
“Leave me be, Lorcan of Garrigill!”
She wriggled away, willing her eyes not to show the bewilderment she felt swirling within her. The man made her wild, yet it was a perverse excitement she liked, though knew she should not like.
“Leave you be?” His flaring eyes scalded as he dived back to her mouth.
Nara almost cursed Rhianna. Why had the goddess put her into this invidious position? She did want to pick a mate who stirred her senses like this one, but that mate could not be a Brigante enemy. Never had she experienced the arousing pressure of another person’s body, yet, though unsure of what this man was doing, she was honest enough to acknowledge she liked his touch. “What do you…mmmmf?” Her protest was muffled by marauding lips when they continued to entice.
His large hands cradled her into a softer embrace, curving round her shoulder blades, soothing, wandering down her spine and stroking gently when they reached her bottom. Oh! She absorbed the subtle changes while the touch of his lips continued; now inviting her to reciprocate. Widening her eyes she looked straight into brown-black pools, the centres an irresistible draw. His unique male scent called to her, filling her nostrils.
Nara’s thoughts whirled. The first proper contact of their tongues startled her, a shock of the sweetest feeling coursing through her as she moaned. But how could she let this man do this to her? He was her enemy. Her fists pummelled his chest. Numbly registering the pleasurable sensations he awoke, she felt Lorcan continue his gentle nibble at her lips. By Rhianna, how does he make me feel like this? I must not like it. He is my foe. She ripped her lips away from him.
“Nay!” Her hands pushed at his shoulders.
Lorcan groaned when her fingers cradled him, easily regaining her lips. “Aye, Nara. Hold me like that.”
Her surprised gasp allowed his tongue to surge, rolling round hers, making her squirm against him. The more she squirmed, the more she grasped his shoulders. Her nails bit into the flesh beneath his tunic as she learned how to respond to this beguiling searching, the excitement confusing. It was irrational yet she took pleasure when he pressed her against the bark, urgent and seeking, his hips driving, making her stir all the more. Rhianna? You make me want him too much.
The thought was sobering.
“It cannot be,” she cried into his mouth. Now she struggled against herself too. Yet, his kisses sucked out her resistance as he dragged her down with him onto the leaf-laden earth. With a soft thud they contacted the ground, Lorcan bearing the brunt of the impact before he rolled on top of her.
His lips and hands coaxed, inciting further responses. Nara gasped for breath, horrified she wanted to touch him in the way he sought, she wanted to explore his hard body as much as he explored hers.
She could not let it happen, even when she desired it so much.
Pushing him away, she slapped at his shoulder, too close to cause any real harm yet just enough to draw away from his lips. His grip relaxed, a soft grunt at the interruption escaping.
“You little wildcat!” Though the warrior scolded her, his expression betrayed some measure of enjoyment.
“Leave me be. I take no pleasure in this.”
Rolling away from him she sidled herself upright, ready to reject him again. Unable to locate her weapons she used her feet, a swift kick that contacted his solid thigh. Lorcan’s amused rumble irritated her even more, because it had been a half-hearted kick from one who was warrior-trained.
“You lie.” He grinned, challenging her honesty before an expert spin took him out of her reach while she readied for another attack. Springing to his feet, he chided, “Admit it. Your body told me you pleasured yourself as much as you pleasured me.”
Incensed by the truth, Nara glared, a hot flush blistering her cheeks when he plucked her hands from the sword hilt she yanked up.
“Why should I leave you be? Did I not save you from the boar’s tusks?”
As he disposed of the sword Nara fought against frustration and confusion while she struggled. “I am beholden to you for that maybe, but that is all. Would you force me, Brigante?”
“You think I need to force you? Or any woman? As in your tribe, the women of mine mate when they like what they see.”
Arrogance dripped from him, confidence filling his gaze, though a glint of some humour twinkled there too.
“You have a high opinion of your prowess, but your fame as a fabled lover has not reached the Selgovae, yet. I have heard no tales of a Brigante unsurpassed in the arts of pleasure making, like our hammer god Succellus.”
Her words had the opposite effect from she intended since her bold scorn stimulated the warrior even more. His hands caressed a pathway down her back before they curved around and dragged her in tight, his lips a gentle tease at her mouth while his brag continued. “Maybe you are the one who needs to inform your worthy bard of my skills. Mmm. Time my prowess is tested?”
The sudden ripping startled Nara when his one tug burst open the leather strap around her waist, tumbling her pouches to the ground. Raising her tunic, the Brigante’s questing fingers tunnelled. Her response was immediate. The tightening and tingling at her chest drove her gaze skywards in confusion. A deep groan escaped while he whispered kisses at her neck, one hand reaching inside the gathered waist of her braccae to explore beneath, moulding her to him. The fingers of his other hand toyed with her breast as his lips revisited her mouth.
Nara was alarmed. Nay. Not alarmed. She had no words for the stimulation she felt.
“By the Lady Rhianna? What do you…?” Her gasp shared the warrior’s breath. Her head swam from a lack of breath and some other thrill she could not describe, her stomach dipping way below her feet. Sagging against him her legs could no longer support her weight when he plucked and teased.
“I cannot…” she mumbled, unable to think coherently. Something was amiss about her reaction to his caresses.
His lips whispered at her cheeks when she naively lifted her chin. One hand squeezed gently, his thumb flicking and teasing, while the other continued its attentions below. Nara’s shudder rippled over the warrior’s lips: she even felt them quiver. Heat spread over her whole body, created by the feelings inside and outside. Like a runt puppy she lapped up the scraps of his handling, totally oblivious to everything but the urgent need to be petted and pleasured. Seeking. Something. Yet, she did not know what she sought.
Her feeble cry was lost in his mouth, her body limp. The intense feelings created by his strong roughened hands were succour to her battered and dented pride: it seemed he wanted to pleasure her and bring forth all the passionate feelings swamping her. All she could think on was the elation created.
“Aye. Let go. Let the feelings take you, Nara,” Lorcan muffled more encouragement into her ear.
She met his urgency with a frenzy of her own when his fingers made her writhe in his light touch. He set her back against the tree his questing lips, tongue and hands continuing the bliss. His fingers explored through the soft wool of her tunic before he pulled it clear of her head, the cloth unbearable when it scratched past her sensitised skin.
The coarseness of the tree bark against her bare spine did not matter. His lips continued their torment while he loosened his sword belt and let it thud to the ground. Releasing the thong of his forest-green braccae he allowed them to glide to his knees. Nara felt the urgency in his movements.
“Your braccae…” He yanked her brown-green checked braccae to her knees, his loud grunt coming like a tickle at her skin. Unwinding the ankle-strapping with deft skill he slipped her breeches off completely. On a wave of pleasure she had no clue how to handle Nara clutched at his hair, bringing his lips even closer.
A probing finger made her wriggle and squirm, the sensations so surprising. Her eyes opened wide to the skies while her body slid up the tree bark, in retreat…yet, that was not what she really wanted.
“Relax,” he mumbled against her skin.
Nara struggled to answer. “I’m a…aahhh!” The words of explanation died in her throat as the warrior’s twisting search found spots Nara had not known existed. Lost to the passion gripping her, her heart thumped while she writhed against him, her gaze wild. The dark centres of his eyes were a wide black chasm she sank into as her breathing hitched unbearably. She could wait no longer; did not know what she waited for yet, inexplicably, she still struggled away from him.
Supporting her body against the tree, Lorcan wrapped her legs around his waist, his frustrated grumble trembling her mouth.
“What is wrong? Has it been such an age since your man took you?”
Wriggling away from him, she yelped against his mouth. “By Rhianna! I am yet a virgin.”
“What do you say? You are still unbroken?”
His astounded cry silenced against her lips. He held himself immobile before the breath rushed back into him; noisy inhalations through his nose. His eyes displayed great confusion when he stared at her, glazed with some enormous emotion Nara had no name for before they screwed tight shut for a few heartbeats. With a frightful force, Lorcan tore his mouth away, yanked himself free, and dropped his grip of her body as though scorched. Nara slumped to the ground, her hands flattening to bear her weight while she gawped up at him. His disbelieving eyes raked her, the veins in his neck pulsating, his laboured breathing matching his tortured appearance.
The precipitate end of the interlude was hugely painful to Nara, too. Massive shudders racked her body. She felt wildly distracted; the sense of a loss unknown too much to bear; her breathing still erratic.
But worst of all–dishonour flooded her–because he was her foe, and she had all but invited him into her body.
“You cannot possibly still be an untried woman? You appear like one, but how can you be unbroken?” Bewilderment shrouded Lorcan’s expression, but his fury was even more dominant. “At your age? You must be more than twenty summers? Your maidenhead still untouched?”
Humiliation engulfed her, the heat rushed from her face in reaction to the shock besetting her, his rejection a sting to her pride.
“Are you, yet, a virgin?”
She refused to answer Lorcan, whose resentment could not possibly be greater than her own. Her gaze slid sideward, since she could not face the man who now despised her.
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