Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
Date of Publication: July 23, 2020
Number of pages: 175
Word Count: 48K
She wrung out the cloth and turned back, doing her best not to show any reaction to his body. He was far more muscular than before, the hard ridges of his abdomen obvious. Having clearly swung many a sword, his biceps and forceps were larger, too. She cleared her throat and kept her mind to the task instead of focusing on his exceptional physique.
Rather, she eyed the various new scars riddling his upper body. There were so many. Too many. Which told her just how rough things had really been. The endless battles he had fought. The wounds he had suffered. Something she could not help alluding to as she began washing the slash he had received protecting Dougal.
“The battling seems never-ending, aye?” she said softly. “It has taken its toll.”
She had been relieved to hear he’d arrived home safely from France, then felt renewed dread when he went off to fight alongside King David II. It was too much for any one man. She could only imagine the horrors he’d seen. The men he had watched die.
“It hasnae been easy,” he confessed, saying more than she anticipated. But then the look on his face, as she stood close, was telling. He appeared lost as he gazed at her. As though her proximity somehow allowed him to speak freely. To confide.
“Nay.” She understood that he was not just talking about the battling but the illness that had swept through Scotland. Maybe even based on the sentiment she swore flashed in his too-tender gaze, the long years between seeing one another. “Many of my men fought, as well.” She met his gaze, overly aware of the heat coming off his strong body. “Verra few fought alongside both the French and King David, though.” While tempted to touch his cheek to soothe him, she held back. “’Tis a lot, Keenan…for any man.”
“’Twas what needed to be done,” he said softly, his gaze lingering on her.
For a moment, she thought he was going to reach out and touch her hair like he used to. Or brush his knuckles along her jaw. She nearly closed her eyes, remembering the sensation well.
Instead, she spoke unintended words. “Why did ye do it?”
“Because Da expected it of me…and because my country needed me.”
“Nay, not that,” she murmured, pouring a dab of whisky over his wound. She really should leave this be, but her curiosity had only been growing. With it, a sense of frustration she couldn’t quite place. “Why was my chamber at yer castle unchanged?” Her gaze returned to his face. “After all these years?”
“I dinnae know,” he said a little too quickly. “Ma left it that way.”
“Did she, God rest her soul,” she replied, not questioning but stating, because she knew he lied. She could see it in his eyes. “Why did ye not change it when ye returned then?”
“There was no reason to.” He shrugged, fibbing away. “Honestly, I didnae give it much thought until I knew ye were coming.”
“Ye mean until I was summoned.” She sighed and wrapped his shoulder with fresh cloth. “Dinnae mistake such for a civil invitation. One that came after so many years.” Her gaze lingered on his face again. She tried to keep emotion from her voice. “After nearly twelve years.”
His pupils flared, and emotion churned in his gaze, simmering just beneath the surface. He didn’t let them get the better of him any more than she did hers, though. Rather, instead of responding, he redirected the conversation.
“Tell me, Fionna.” He stood, no doubt on purpose. His sheer size a means to prove he was not vulnerable. “Tell me why Clan Cameron just attacked us.” His gaze narrowed. “And why, if I am not mistaken, they thought to take wee Dougal?”
“’Twas not Dougal they were after, but me.” She stood up a little straighter, not letting him intimidate answers out of her. “Their chieftain thought to take me as his wife, and I refused him.” She shrugged. “Now he thinks ‘tis his right to take me with or without my approval.”
“Is he not near yer late da’s age?” He frowned. “And those clansmen were after Dougal. I dinnae doubt that.”
“Their chieftain is younger than Da but still considerably older than I am.” She flinched at the idea of his meaty paws anywhere near her. “And if they thought to take Dougal, ‘twas merely to get me in the end.” She was careful to keep an even expression. “The Camerons know well enough that I take the welfare of my clan’s bairns verra seriously.”
“So, Laird Cameron thought to take Dougal as a bargaining chip?”
“Aye.” She nodded and started back toward the others only for him to grab her forearm in passing.
“That is all the more reason ye shouldnae let yer bairns do yer horse thieving,” he rumbled. “Because one of these days, the Camerons will catch one of them, and ye’ll find yerself wedded and bedded in no time.”
“I would attack before I agreed to that,” she assured.
“I dinnae know,” he mused. “Ye didnae attack me.”
“Ye’re not trying to wed me,” she reminded. Or bed me. At least not anymore.
“I amnae,” he agreed, surprising her with how tender he could be one moment, then callous the next. “But then, ye dinnae have something I need.”
“Nay.” She cursed the words—the taunt—the moment it rolled off her tongue. “Or so, ye think.”