An Excerpt From Chapter One: Our heroine manages to find herself stuck in a tree, wearing only a sark (shift), and about to be deserted by her younger brother, Brian.
Caitrina took a moment to catch her breath and steady her heartbeat, then started to work her way down.
“Thanks, Caiti,” he shouted, “you’re the best.”
She turned at the sound of his fading voice, but it was already too late.
“Wait, Brian, I need your . . .” Her voice dropped off. Help. She could just make out his back as he turned the corner out of earshot, running back toward the castle.
“Brothers,” she muttered. “Some thanks. When I get hold of him . . .”
She looked down, realizing she was still too far off the ground. A few more branches and she should be able to drop just like Brian. Carefully, she grasped a branch with her hands and lowered one foot and then the other—
The sound of a loud crack signaled disaster. For a moment her stomach rose to her chin, body weightless as she dropped. She grasped the branch above her head just as the one under her feet cracked at the trunk and bent at a perilous angle to the ground. Her brother’s weight must have weakened it. If she let go now, the branch would probably give way entirely and she’d go crashing to the ground. She wasn’t quite hanging by her fingertips, but almost.
She was also stuck. She looked down past her toes. The ground was at least fifteen feet below—still too far to attempt a drop.
She’d have to wait until Brian remembered. She groaned, realizing she might be here all night.
When I get hold of him . . .
“I think you already said that.”
Caitrina gasped at the sound of a deep voice—a deep male voice. She looked down and her eyes locked on the steely gaze of a stranger who stood a few feet away, watching her with an amused glint in his eyes. How long he’d been standing there she didn’t know, but it had been long enough for him to dismount from the massive destrier at his side.
She didn’t know whether to be relieved or embarrassed—probably a little of both. She had need of a rescuer but would have preferred him not to be so—she frowned, searching for the right word—masculine. Blatantly so.
From her current position hanging so far from the ground, it was difficult to gauge precisely, but she would guess he stood at least a handful of inches over six feet. A giant by any standard—even a Highland one.
If he was a Highlander.
He’d spoken in Scots and not in the Highland tongue, but she thought she’d detected a hint of brogue in his voice. It was difficult to tell from his clothing. He wasn’t wearing the breacan feile of the Highlands, but that wasn’t unusual for a man of wealth and position. And on that account she had no doubt. Even from a distance she could see that the black leather doublet and trews he wore were of exceptional quality.
But the fine clothing did little to camouflage the savage beauty of his broad chest and powerfully muscled arms and legs. His impressive build coupled with the enormous claidheamhmór sword he wore slung across his back left no doubt in her mind that he was a warrior. And she’d wager an impressive one at that.
But it was more than his size that bothered her. She would also have preferred a rescuer who wasn’t quite so dominating. It was everything about him: his wide commanding stance, the stamp of absolute authority on his face, and the bold way he looked at her. His manner unsettled her so much that it took her a moment to realize how handsome he was. Arrogantly so—as if his expertly chiseled features were a mere afterthought to the force of his overpowering masculinity.
She wasn’t alone in her perusal.
Her body prickled with awareness. Dear God, the way he was looking at her . . . at all of her. His gaze roamed her body from head to toe, lingering at her breasts long enough for a blush to rise in her cheeks. Suddenly she became very conscious of her nearly undressed state. The sark that had seemed a suitable covering a short while ago now felt as insubstantial as gossamer silk under his penetrating stare. It felt as though he could see right through the linen to her bare skin.
She’d always been protected by her father and brothers; no man had ever dared to look at her like this—as if she were a juicy plum ripe for the picking.
And Caitrina didn’t like it one bit. She might not be dressed as one right now, but any man of sense could see that she was a lady—even if he didn’t notice the fancy gown that was plain as day right under his nose.
Who was this bold warrior who held himself like a king?
She would swear she’d never seen him before. From his clothing and weaponry, he was obviously not an outlaw. He was probably a chief from distant lands come for the games—which meant he was owed the sacred obligation of Highland hospitality. But if he was a chief, where were his guardsmen?
Well, chief or not, he shouldn’t be looking at her that way. “Your name, my lord?” she demanded. “You are on Lamont lands.”
“Ah, then I have reached my destination.”
“You are here for the gathering?”
He gave her a long look, one that made her feel he knew something she did not. “Among other things.”
He hadn’t told her his name, but at the moment she didn’t care who he was. She would welcome the devil himself—or, God forbid, one of his Campbell minions—if he would help her down. Her arms were starting to ache from trying to hold most of her weight up as to not put too much weigh on the fragile branch. Her rescuer certainly was taking his time. “Well, are you just going to stand there watching me all day?” she asked impatiently.
His mouth lifted at one corner. “I might just do that. It’s not very often that a man happens upon a half-naked wood nymph climbing a tree.”
Caitrina’s cheeks flamed. “I’m not half-naked, and if you could spare a glance upward”—away from my chest—“you would see that I’m not climbing, but stuck and in need of some assistance.”
Her blustery response seemed only to increase his amusement. Though he wasn’t precisely smiling, his steely blue eyes twinkled as radiantly as the shards of sunlight streaming through the trees.
The wretched brute was laughing at her.
Caitrina narrowed her gaze, not used to being laughed at—particularly by a man. She supposed there was something amusing about the entire situation, but he should have the courtesy not to show it. It left her feeling at a distinct disadvantage, which was silly given her circumstances. She was at a disadvantage. But not for long. When he got her down from here, she would give him a piece of her mind.
She bristled and in her most haughty voice—the one she used with her brothers when she wanted them to do something—said, “Just hurry up and help me down . . . now!”
She realized immediately that issuing demands might not have been the best tactic when the smile that had temporarily lightened his hard expression vanished and his lips thinned into a straight line. He gave her a long stare, then crossed his arms over his broad chest. Her breath caught, confronted with the impressive bulge of muscle. Good gracious, he was strong.
“No,” he said lazily. “I don’t think I shall.”
End of Excerpt
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