Scotland, 1311 A.D.
One more life I was unable to save.
Another Wolf Warrior death radiated through Richard's body and plummeted into his consciousness.
He stared at his bloodied hands.
These were the same hands that had absorbed the dying breath of the Wolf Warrior that lay before him, that had captured the young man's pain while attempting to revive him as Richard had for so many who had gone before this one.
Richard's forehead fell against that of the dead warrior, while his tears ran unchecked down his face. The clear wetness of his agony joined with the warrior's red blood, carving a trench in the crimson.
I can no longer do this.
I can no longer absorb the pain of others.
It wasn't in him any longer to perform his task as the Realm healer. He staggered from his knees to his feet, swaying from the immense effort of his rising. His sole thought was that he had to get away.
I have to leave this place and my people.
They would never understand, of course, his need to abandon his appointed vocation, but he must depart before it destroyed him entirely.
* * * *
Richard stood in silence, leaning against the door as he watched the scene before him between his sister and her new husband, Roan.
He could not hear Roan's quietly spoken dialog, albeit the effect on his sister was unquestionable. He need not hear Roan's promises to know how deeply his words affected Serena as her hands desperately clung to Roan.
Richard ran his hand through his long, dark hair in frustration and sighed in longing as he watched the couple. He knew he should leave them to their peace, but alas, what he needed to confide would not wait for the right time.
He would leave immediately following their conversation.
Richard hesitated, uncertain if he should turn and grant them their privacy. He began to pivot when Serena's command stopped him.
He hated to spoil their moment.
He approached Serena, who lay upon the bed, and knelt beside a smiling Roan.
"She carries my child." There was a sense of wonderment in Roan's voice.
Richard laid his hand on Serena's stomach; taking deep breaths, he nodded.
"Indeed she does. A strong man lies within her womb. The child is well. Serena, you must commit to eat more and rest well in the coming months. Angus, my apprentice, will be here to help you with the birth and all will go well. Do not worry." Richard moved back several paces, distancing himself from his sister's emotions.
Roan rose off his knees to drop down next to Serena on their bed.
Richard was not outfitted in his traditional healer garb. He was dressed as a warrior, his great claymore strapped to his back, and his leather armor wrapped around his body. His leather gauntlet, courtesy of Robert the Bruce, adorned his arm. The gauntlet would assure his safety anywhere in Scotland.
Roan voiced the words. "I can sense the finality in this visit. You are leaving, Richard. Am I right?"
Richard was immediately grateful that he had not been required to say them himself.
"Yes." Richard sighed as Serena swiftly rose to her feet. He could sense the protest coming from her.
Roan followed and wrapped his arms around her from behind, restraining her.
"My path leads me to the Bruce's men where I will lend my sword to his cause. I have made a difficult decision in light of my feelings toward my profession. I am unsure how long I will be gone."
Roan held out his arm for a final farewell. "A'Dìon ar Cuideachd-ne." Roan spoke the Solarian vow. We protect our own.
Richard clasped his arm back. "A'Dìon ar Cuideachd-ne. Take care of my sister and nephew."
Serena surrounded him with her arms. "I sensed your displeasure. I had hoped it was a fleeting emotion. I was denying what I knew to be true. I should have helped you more." She shed more tears.
Richard shook his head at her guilt.
"Serena, I cannot even control my reaction to absorbing others; pain, the most essential element to my craft. I am disgusted at myself and the means that led me here." Serena opened her mouth to argue, but Richard stopped her. "No, I must do this. If I ever hope to survive this profession, I must do this."
"Take care, and return to us when you are ready. Take Caine and Greystar. Please." She lent him her support as she always had.
"I will, Serena, I will." Richard stepped back with determination and raised his hand.
He turned slowly and walked out of the protected Realm.
He didn't look back.
Scotland, 1312 A.D.
"Who is that man, Father? The one who stands apart from the others, back by the tree?" Megan inclined her head in the man's direction with a quizzical look. Her fiery wavy hair shifted and tumbled carelessly unrestrained down her shoulders to the small of her back.
"Ach, Megan, dinna set yer heart on the likes of that one," Megan father's responded, not fooled by the innocent expression on her face.
"Tell me about him, Father."
"Megan, I warn ye, I ken that look. He inna one of your sparrows or small animals to heal. He is a mon, and a troubled one at that."
"Father," Megan voiced her endearment with patience. Megan loved her father despite his constant harping about the injured animals she adopted.
He had always told her, Megan McKinney, you have a big heart, and someday you will be hurt.
She could never pass up an animal in need, or even a person, for that matter. Anyone who was hurt she was compelled to help; her father understood this about her.
Megan knew well the tone he was using on her. He was warning her, as he always did. But Megan was in need of information and, by God, she was determined to acquire it.
"Megan McKinney, I dinna like that look," her father grumbled.
"Tell me what you know of him, Father." Megan gifted him with her most beguiling and innocent dimpled smile—the smile she knew he could not resist and that would, at last, break him.
"Ach, Megan, you'll be the death of me, lass." He grunted and shifted his gaze to the dark-haired man leaning against the solitary tree, single-mindedly polishing his claymore. He seemed oblivious to the others around him, and for some reason they gave him a wide berth. No one spoke to him. No one stood near him. No one even approached him. He was alone amidst a sea of celebration, and he seemed content to be that way.
The McKinneys and the MacGregors, two age-old Scottish clans, had been feuding for so long that some had lost track of the story of how it had begun. Today, however, was different. The clans had gathered at a neutral location to witness the marriage of Megan's sister, Aimee McKinney, to Stephen MacGregor.
The marriage was a love match. And at the agreement of the clan lairds, a truce had been forged between them, calling a halt to the fighting that had plagued them for so many years. The two lovers had no idea how important their union was.
They were in love and only wished to be together.
Megan McKinney was Laird McKinney's youngest daughter, and her heart was much bigger than he wanted it to be.
She was a beautiful lass, and though small, she was strong and fierce. Her blinding red locks highlighted the freckles sprinkled across her nose and made her alabaster skin look as if she would break should she be touched. Her bright green eyes tended to crinkle at the corners when she laughed, which was often. And when she laughed, two dancing dimples graced Megan's cheeks, inviting people to laugh along with her. She was much loved by both clans. He sighed at her demand.
She is always seeking trouble.
"They call him the Raven," Megan's father explained.
"Why, Father?" Megan continued to stare at the lonely man leaning haphazardly against the tree.
"They say he is marked with the bird of death. I know not what they mean, and I dinna question it. He is said to be savage in battle, almost as if he can sense the enemy comin'. It is a disturbing feelin' just lookin' at him. He dinna talk to others.
"They know not where he came from. About one year past he joined the men of the Bruce and was given to the MacGregor clan as a peace offerin' to fight for them. They gladly took him in, his skills being above all others. He is a mystery."
Her father paused and then added ominously. "Most strangely, he dinna want people to touch him, and he dinna touch people … if it can be avoided. He stays to himself mostly, and the MacGregors respect that. That is why he stands apart from the others, lass, and that is why they stand apart from him."
* * * *
Megan pondered her father's answer, and her next words slipped out of her mouth unconsciously, "Ach, but he is beautiful."
At times of deep emotion, her brogue came out. Unlike her father, she tried hard to suppress it. She knew that it would serve her better to speak with more of an English accent.
The English, in their fight for superiority, despised the Scottish people for what they termed their barbaric ways. Some Highlanders had been persecuted, some even killed, for speaking their native Gaelic. Some were punished for simply speaking with a Scottish accent. The English used any means necessary in an attempt to break the Scottish culture and force them to surrender their lives to English rule. Megan shook her head at the thought. And they call the Scottish ways barbaric.
"MEGAN!" Megan's father spoke sternly. "I'm warnin' you, lass. Dinna attempt to take that one in."
The firm look he gave her left no room to question his order.
She crossed her arms to mimic the man who had finally sheathed his sword.
Despite her father's warning, Megan ran her hungry gaze over the warrior's entire body. He was a large man. His shoulders were so wide, she imagined they could block out the sun. His muscular chest, thighs, and legs showed firm through his leather breeches. She was surprised he wasn't wearing the clan tartan; it was an act of rebellion not to wear the plaid at a wedding.
Although the English had outlawed the tartan, they were worn illegally for special occasions, such as the current marriage. But this man wore no plaid, and it also seemed he had no family. His dark hair fell against his forehead and over his shoulders, unbound and reckless.
"Is that a wolf he has with him?" She eyed the gray bundle resting comfortably near the man's feet.
"Aye, the wolf follows him everywhere. Seems to be a protector of a sort for him. He even takes him to battle. Just another barrier I suppose, between him and other people. That wolf willna let anyone near the man." Her father rose at the call of the other laird to begin the wedding festivities.
"Ach, I must be off, lass." He kissed her on the cheek.
The dark-haired man intrigued her, drew her to him. It was true she was known for having a big heart, and she knew it. She would find an injured animal in the forest and feel a compulsion to help, to heal. She hated to see anything suffer. For some strange reason she had the same feeling about this man.
The man eyed the people around him, seemingly bored with the activities the others enjoyed. As her father had said, no one approached him; they left him to his solitude.
He looks so lonely.
There was something about the man that took her breath away. She didn't know if it was the way he crossed his arms in defiance. Or the way his leg lifted against the tree to brace himself, his muscles rippling. Or was it possibly the way he sheathed his sword or his forlorn gaze? She didn't know if it was these routine actions or just her big heart, but she was definitely attracted to him.
She replayed her father's words. Dinna like to be touched, huh?
She smiled and his eyes caught hers. She grinned at him. The man returned her smile with a frown. She inclined her head to him, her smile not dimming in the least. He did not return her nod, but rather dismissed her and turned his head as if he was trying not to acknowledge her greeting. Megan squared her shoulders and threw back her hair.
Humph. If there was one thing that Megan McKinney loved, it was a challenge, and this man had just thrown her one. The brooding man glanced at her again and continued to frown. Dinna like to be touched, she thought again. Well, I'll just see about that.
Suddenly the man's eyes alerted at the warning growl of his wolf. Quicker than Megan could blink, he brandished his sword in his hands. He eased it down when a stumbling drunk, Ewan MacGregor, approached him. His warning glance left no doubt in Megan's mind that he could kill Ewan instantly should he choose.
Ewan's loud obnoxious voice could be heard over the noisy celebration of the crowd. Ewan, her future brother-in-law's second cousin, was a troublemaker. That was the best way she could think to describe him.
"So, Raven." Ewan's sneer was slurred but boisterous. She shifted closer to observe the confrontation. "Hear yer nae amenable to people touchin' ya. Thought I'd just be checkin' that fact."
The man called the Raven slowly re-sheathed his sword as if Ewan were a pesky insect that posed no threat to him, but was one that he could simply bat away with a flick of his wrist.
Megan's mind drifted back to when she had seen him draw that sword. All brawn and bravery, in that second, when he had brandished his sword and faced the possible threat of Ewan, the expression on his face, the dangerous lowering of his eyes, the lifting of his mouth in an almost snarl, the hardening and tightening of his honed muscles.
Megan sighed when she relived it in her mind. It had been … her hand drifted to her rapidly beating heart … it had been arousing.
Megan was stunned by her reaction. She had never felt that way about a man before. Although he had acted almost feral, he had been all man, through and through, ready to fight and protect. It made her feel feminine; she longed to be under that fierce male protectiveness with a craving that alarmed her. She yearned to be his possession to protect. Megan shook her head to deny her troublesome notions and watched the drama unfold in front of her.
The attractive man pointed to Ewan with his gauntlet-clad arm. It was the arm of a trained warrior, veined and sculpted with flexing muscles. His finger did not waver as he warned Ewan.
"I would not advise you to do that, my friend. It could be your last move."
The threat was not given idly as he lowered his hand to the hilt of the sword he had just re-sheathed. The veins in his muscled arms stood out as he grasped the sword. His face was dark, intent, as if he could freeze Ewan with a simple glance. The man waved his hand, and his wolf stood directly between him and Ewan with an agitated growl, his teeth bared.
"Although I do not need this wolf to protect me, he is the only one that keeps you alive right now." The man's clearly enunciated words floated toward Megan.
She sucked in a breath at his threat. She prayed that Ewan would ease down. Although she somehow knew in her heart that the man would not kill Ewan in his stupid drunkenness, she nonetheless felt the stern warning in his words that she hoped Ewan would not ignore.
Megan let out a sigh of relief when Ewan stopped his progress. He realized, even in his drunken stupor, that he was treading on dangerous ground by playing with this man. He raised his hands in surrender and began backing away.
"I ken ye meaning, my man, I was just funning with ya. I'll just be on my way, then." Ewan stepped away, turned, and actually ran.
The Raven removed his hand from his sword and, with a wave, the wolf relaxed his stance. She heard him murmur "wise man" before he settled himself back against the tree and took out his sword to continue his meticulous polishing. Megan stayed where she was, hoping to catch his eye so she could gift him with another of her best smiles.
* * * *
Richard crossed his arms and leaned against a tree as he contemplated just how much he hated these celebrations, especially the drunken sots who imagined it great fun to play with him.
In the last year of his life, he had been dedicated to fighting. To killing, precisely. His new life was in direct contrast to his existence before he left the Realm. That life had been dedicated to healing, to absorbing the pain of others and making them well.
But he had given up that life and he was resigned to that fact now.
They called him the Raven, marked by death, and that was how he felt sometimes. Most respected his wishes not to be touched and because of his fighting skills, they left him alone.
He examined the area in boredom. The wedding of the McKinney to the MacGregor was an important event in these people's lives and although he had to be present for the celebration, he didn't have to like it.
As he glanced around, his eyes touched on the red-haired beauty that had been standing next to the McKinney clan chieftain.
She was stunning and full of life. She emitted an energy that Richard sensed immediately. More times than most, he only used his senses in battle, but this time he reached out and let them touch upon this woman. He stiffened at the purity that he felt.
Richard had not had intimate contact with a woman since he'd left the Realm, and his reactions to this striking woman told him his celibacy was finally catching up with him. He shook his head and looked away.
I just need a good tumble, that's all.
His eyes strayed back to her.
Jesu. She was spectacular in the simplicity of her beauty. Her dark red hair blanketed her shoulders and fell to the small of her back. Dimples danced in her cheeks when she smiled.
Her eyes had met his. She'd smiled and inclined her head. He had looked away, not wanting her to see the interest in his eyes. With her eyes alone, she had held Richard under a spell that he didn't like and yet was reluctant to break. He had no business involving himself with this woman or her clan. He wasn't about to open himself to anyone.
He peered back again momentarily. She was still studying him, smiling at him. Her shoulders were back, reminding him of a woman who was both confident and bold. He grunted and leaned back, raising his leg to brace himself against the tree.
God's Blood, she is gorgeous.
Maybe he needed to find himself a woman to screw. There were plenty who had offered.
He grumbled as he shifted his leg, repositioning it against his hardening cock. Getting involved with that one would definitely be a mistake.
Jesu, I will be happy when this week of wedding bliss is over!
Richard closed his eyes and leaned back against the tree, trying to tame his wandering mind.
* * * *
Realizing that he was not going to acknowledge her, Megan wove her way toward her lone man through the throng of men and women dancing, playing Scottish games, and celebrating. They were all so involved in the festivities that they paid her scant attention.
The handsome man had slipped down the tree, his arms crossed and his eyes half closed, as if in his boredom he elected to sleep through the merriment. The wolf lay at his feet, alert and on guard.
Megan crouched down low as she approached the man. The wolf lifted his nose, sniffing the air, very much aware of her approach. He raised his head in warning, displayed his teeth, his body beginning to rise off the ground. She was not concerned.
She had dealt with many wild animals and had never had problems taming them with her soft words and manner.
Megan lifted her hand and raised it in front of her. She gave a small signal to the wolf to approach her.
The man's eyes were closed and he hadn't noticed the departure of the wolf, probably so sure of its ability to protect him that he let his guard down when the wolf was near.
The wolf raised his head, then tilted it to the side as if he were trying to read her. She waved her hand, giving him permission to approach.
The wolf rose up on his legs and, head down, he slowly approached her hand. She didn't waver. She cleared her thoughts and attempted to project her positive energy toward the wolf. Bit by bit, he raised his head and closed his lips, sealing his mouth over his ferocious teeth. He daintily touched her hand with his nose. When she didn't move, the wolf came even closer.
Megan showed no reaction. Somehow she knew that he was testing her, to see if he could make her afraid. He didn't. Megan loved all animals, and if she were to get close to this man, she needed to win the heart of his protector.
He nudged her hand with his head as if giving her permission to pet him. She ran her hand over his velvety pelt as he edged closer, allowing her to place her arms around him.
"So we have reached an understanding, my friend?" In response to her question, she received one very large lick directly on her dimpled cheek. She chuckled, patting his back.
"Yes, I think we have," she acknowledged. Her gaze moved from the wolf to the man. He was still sitting, his back against the tree, his eyes closed. Megan moved closer to him, not too close, though, as she didn't want to frighten him. It was the same method she took when she approached a wounded animal. Crossing her legs, she sank down in front of him about three feet away. His wolf sat down next to her, facing the man.
"Good morning to you."
Sea-green eyes opened and made contact with her darker green ones. He started pushing up with both legs, reaching for his weapon as he pressed himself against the tree.
She saw apprehension in his eyes; then it was replaced by his usual complacency. He didn't say anything, but glared at the wolf next to her as he pulled his hand away from his weapon. The man gave a hand signal.
The wolf barked and then left her side to sink down next to him.
"May I join you?" Megan asked, watching the emotions cross the man's face. Annoyance was the primary sentiment among them.
"I prefer you did not."
She ignored him and held out her hand in introduction. "My name is Megan McKinney. And yours is…?" He paid no attention to her outstretched hand. Instead, he crossed his legs like hers and dropped his hands onto his thighs, showing her he had no intention of shaking her hand.
"Yours is?" She persisted in her question.
His voice penetrated her mind. Ach, she thought, it was as sensual as the man himself. It reminded her of all the comforting memories that warmed her. It touched Megan's heart.
"Raven, hmmm…" Megan dropped her hand. "And your real name?"
He is so spectacular.
Placing a hand to her chin, she stared. She could sit there and look at him all day and listen to the enchanting cadence of his voice.
"Raven," he said again, obstinate in his answer.
"And your real name, then?"
There was a flare of annoyance in his expression. "You are a persistent one, are you not?"
She looked at him dreamily.
Ohhhh, that voice has me mesmerized.
It had a strangely appealing accent followed by a low, deep timbre. She slanted her head and smiled, giving him the full impact of her dimples.
"And your real name?" she asked again, chuckling at his aggravation.
"If I tell you, will you leave?" He stroked the fur of his wolf. Megan watched his hand in its progression down the wolf's back and was momentarily distracted from his question. His stroke was so gentle … not the stroke of a warrior's hands. It was as if his hands were made for something other than swordplay.
"Hmm?" She tore her eyes from his hands.
"If I tell you my name, will you leave?" He enunciated each syllable as if she were simple.
"Oh—of course." She waited expectantly for him to give her the first victory. She watched him sigh while his eyes left hers and focused on his wolf.
"Ah, Richard." The name rolled off her tongue as she smiled.
"And your wolf?" she asked, holding his look again.
"I thought you said you would leave if I told you my name," he said, watching her warily.
"Oh, that." She waved her hand as if completely dismissing her promise. "I lied," she said happily.
First, he looked surprised, then angry; then, to her disbelief, he actually threw his head back and laughed. She sucked in a breath at the beauty of him. He looked so young when he laughed, as if ten years were taken off his face. He cleared his throat.
"Caine," he said, slowly stroking the wolf. "His name is Caine. He is my protector and obviously failing in his duty to let you by him."
It was almost a full sentence and Megan sighed at the intonation of it. He was so magnificent. She could so easily love this mysterious, intense man.
"You are so beautiful," she said softly. His head snapped up and his stunning green eyes meshed with hers. For a moment neither spoke. She held her breath and cursed the uncontrollable tendency she had to speak bluntly of what was in her heart.
But then Richard spoke. "God's Blood, you are bold, woman." He was clearly surprised.
"Yes, so I am told. Do you find it engaging?" she asked, playfully raising her eyebrows at him, just barely concealing her relief that he wasn't going to send her away. Or worse yet, just get up and walk away from her.
"I find it bothersome, as I find you." He picked at a rock on the ground and tossed it from hand to hand. She wasn't hurt by his insult. She knew he was purposely trying to push her away.
"I'd like to show you something. Will you come with me?" Megan shifted herself slightly on the ground.
"Must I?" His question was as lazy as his attitude.
"Well, I might show you a place where you can be alone in peace, as you seem not to enjoy the company of others." She swung her hand around, pointing to the people surrounding them. She was always amazed at the drunken stupor her people fell into when they celebrated.
To Megan's relief, no one had even noticed them talking. Of course, as the youngest daughter she had much more freedom than any of her siblings. At times they just lost track of her.
They expected her to go wandering into the woods wherever they were. Her father usually sent John to watch over her, but this week John had been distracted by a lovely blonde lass with whom he was clearly smitten. Megan had assisted the situation a little by pointing out the handsome John to the lass. She didn't mind his bewitched state. She enjoyed seeing him happy, so she had reassured him she wouldn't get into any trouble or leave the celebration alone.
Of course, she had lied then, as well.
Megan watched Richard as his eyes widened with expectation.
"Truly, you wouldn't be lying again now, would you?" Richard asked. "And once you show me this place," he waved his hand to mimic her, "where I might be alone, you will leave me as such, then?" He mimicked her brogue as if he were teasing her.
"Aye," she reassured him.
He lifted his hand, indicating for her to precede him. "Lead on, then."
Megan scanned the area again to ensure she wasn't noticed. She offered her hand so he could assist her in rising.
Helping her, of course, would be the gentlemanly action to take. However, he ignored her hand.
She finally rose of her own accord. Ah, she was beginning to see what her father spoke of. He didn't like to touch or be touched.
She led him through a stand of sparse trees that began to thicken as they walked. She noticed that he kept pace behind her without much effort, not even breaking a sweat. She plodded along, glancing back occasionally to see if he continued to follow.
* * * *
Richard watched the stunning girl in front of him with wonder. Her well-shaped ass combined with the flare of red hair was giving his equilibrium problems. He hadn't felt desire for a woman in so long that he had almost forgotten the sensation, but he was definitely feeling it with this one small, fiery female.
What possessed me to follow her alone into the woods?
And what is it about her that makes me want to confide my problems? That makes me want to touch her, to offer her my hand and pull her off the ground into my arms?
He shook his head in anger. He wasn't going to do this to himself; he refused to question the course he had set in his life.
No, I will not do this.
He halted for a moment. She stopped with him and slowly beckoned him with her hand and her smile. She was a wood nymph, that was what she was, and she was casting a spell on him with her fiery hair and beguiling smile.
When he had awakened to her lilting Scottish voice, he had been almost scared … which had surprised and annoyed him. He wasn't seeking to be close to anyone in his self-imposed exile. But her soft-spoken brashness had won him over, and at her quietly spoken confident assessment of herself, he couldn't help but laugh.
It had felt so good, that laugh, that he was addicted to her the minute she provoked that emotion in him. He hadn't been happy in so long, and hadn't smiled or sought activities that might make him happy in even longer. It was as if he continued to punish himself for his inability to save those last few Wolf Warriors in that battle a year ago. As if he could somehow honor their death in his own continued misery.
As a healer, his profession was the most revered in the Realm. But with his current feelings of failure, he wasn't interested in being honored. He was more engrossed in suffering alone in his own anguish.
But this woman, with her dimpled smile and honest candor, had drawn him almost unwillingly with her to her secret place. As much as he told himself not to go, he couldn't maintain his distance.
He wanted to go with her. To be with her.
* * * *
Megan halted to catch her breath. Richard stopped too, looking hesitant now, maybe not as confident in going with her any more. She smiled and gestured to him with her hand. She moved on and much to her relief, he followed.
The trees had thickened some as they wove their way between them. Megan led them on a trail that she had followed since she was a small girl, one that was not far from her village, where she would often sneak away. She had found the hot springs by accident one day when she was following a wounded rabbit. Since then, it had been her favorite secluded place. Few knew of it.
The trail widened when they came upon some thick bushes. After ensuring that Richard was following, she pushed her way in. The circle of bushes led the way to her much revered hot springs. Water gently bubbled from the earth, circulating and filling the large hole. Steam surrounded the area, making it appear almost dream-like in its entirety.
Cool water fell gently down a sloped rocklike face, flowing into the hot springs like a cool breeze on a warm day. Lush plants surrounded the springs, thriving in the moist environment, ladling the water toward themselves to sustain life. In reward for their lives, they offered privacy to the occupant of the springs.
She heard Richard's inhaled breath as he fell in next to her. She slowly lowered herself to the moss-covered ground at the edge of the water and plunged her hand into the springs, sighing and smiling as she swirled the water around.
Richard sank down kneeling next to her. He didn't move—just eyed her activity. She turned toward him and smiled, continuing to run her hand through the water. She watched his eyes run over her face and then dip down to the top of her dress where the whiteness of her breasts showed as she leaned over. She blushed at his scrutiny and pulled back her hand.
"Lovely, isn't it?" She truly loved the solitude this spring allowed her, and always had.
"No doubt about that, my beauty," was his only remark.
Megan's head snapped around. She flushed. It was almost as if he wasn't talking of the springs. It was almost as if he was speaking of her. She closed off that line of thinking.
She turned and sat in front of him, crossing her legs. She placed her elbows on her knees, cradling her face in her hands and stared at him.
She studied his face.
He had a golden tan, but she could tell that his usual coloring was light. She had to surmise that the sun of frequent battles had bronzed him. His sea-green eyes stood out from his face. They were truly incredible, like looking at a piece of the craggy isle waters. His hair was dark, although she saw a touch of red between his gently curving locks. His hair hung long and loose around his large shoulders. It fell forward when he moved and he made no move to right it when it dropped into his face.
Megan had situated herself so that she sat close to him, so close that she could smell his scent—musky, but not in a bad way—a unique fragrance of him that unconsciously drew her. As if of its own volition, her hand reached out to touch his face. He watched her. At first she recognized the longing in his expression; then he jerked away from her hand, rose and walked away to stand several feet away from her, almost in a huff.
"I thought you promised to leave once you brought me here." He didn't speak of the incident, but just retracted into himself—behavior with which she was beginning to become familiar.
Megan sighed in resignation. So it was true; he surely didn't enjoy being touched.
"Why do you not like others to touch you?" She had always been honest in her dealings with others. She saw no reason to be any different with him. He walked to the edge of the water.
"I have my reasons, Megan." He was silent. She waited and hoped he would tell her more.
"I am a very good listener, should you feel the need to talk." He turned, and the tortured look he gave her made her stand and step toward him. He put out a hand as if to ward her off. She stopped. The hand was telling her not to come any further, and she knew he was serious this time.
"I do not."
"Now I will ask you to fulfill your promise and leave me be." His voice had risen. She could tell he was agitated with her. She dipped her head down and frowned. Her cheerfulness faltered, causing tears to back up in her throat.
What am I thinking?
It was clear this man didn't want any company.
"Of course, I'm sorry, I dinna…" She stopped and twirled to make her exit before he saw the tears she finally released. She started to walk away when his command stopped her.
She didn't turn. She felt the wetness on her cheeks. She didn't want him to see what his bitterness had done to her. She heard his audible sigh.
"Thank you, for showing me this." There was an apology in his voice, but Megan still didn't turn. She heard him give a command to Caine, and then Caine was next to her, she assumed, to escort her home.
* * * *
Richard's heart squeezed in his chest as he watched Megan walk away. He closed his eyes in regret. He sensed the hurt he had genuinely caused her by his angry words, despite the fact she would not turn to acknowledge him. He ran a hand over his face.
Why does it have to be this way?
Why did he have to work so hard to push people away when he really wanted to pull them toward him? That's what he had wanted to do with Megan. He had wanted to draw her into his arms, slowly press his lips to hers and gently sip from the energy and goodness he sensed within her. It was very clear by her actions that she was enthralled with him. So why hadn't he let her touch him?
Because I don't want to absorb her pain.
He reminded himself what it felt like to touch another. The telepathic healing abilities he had been born with allowed him to sense others' pain and from that knowledge help heal them. But what others didn't understand was that every time he sensed another's pain, he took it and owned it. He couldn't handle that anymore.
He had been taking others' pain into his heart since he was six years old, and it was slowly killing him. It was sucking whatever joy and happiness he had in his life directly out of him.
So the only answer for him was not to let anyone close to him.
But oh, this woman tests me to the very edge of my limits.
When she raised her hand to touch him, he wanted to burrow his hands into the crimson of her hair and touch her back. He wanted to absorb every inch of happiness that she had ever experienced in her life, that she had ever worn on her face, into his heart and touch every inch of her soul. He wanted to do much more than that to her lovely body. He wanted to lick every drop of sweat from her skin and dip his tongue deep into her sweet wetness.
He looked down and frowned at his aching cock. He cursed the fact the stiff organ wouldn't comply with his wishes to settle down.
Christ, I'm going to have to do something about this.
Slowly, he stripped off every inch of his clothes. Richard licked the palm of his hand and let it fall to his veined hardness. He caressed his dick, picturing the red-haired beauty on her knees before him, taking his cock into her mouth. Stroking deeply, pumping his cock as he strove to alleviate the need that the woman had brought forth in him, getting lost in the fantasy. He grunted and his hand pumped faster. His cum rose, pearling on the tip. He used his pre-cum as lubrication, running his hand up and down himself. Focusing on bringing himself to completion, he stroked faster. His heart stuttered, anticipating the explosion; his head fell back; his body tensed; it was coming… His cum spurted out; Richard grunted, hoping this orgasm would help him find relief. He leaned into his pumping hand, pulling every last drop of moisture from his dick.
Unfortunately, it didn't help. He still yearned for her.
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