Wild Highland Magic (The Celtic Legends Series Book 3)(10)

There it was, a ghost of a smile, flittering across her face, causing her eyes to arc in something like humor.

A beginning.

He bent his head to dinner. The meat was sweet, roasted, and seasoned liberally with pepper. Somehow it didn’t surprise him that Conor of Inishmaan would have a supply of the rare spice. The food melted in his mouth and brought with it a blind hunger. When next he looked up, his fingers were greasy with oil and the bowl was empty.

She raised a finely-arched brow. “You’ll live, I think.”

“Your father says as much.”

“You’re pale as a fish’s belly.”

He suppressed a laugh, because laughing tensed the muscles of his ribs, and that pulled on the wound. “My skin was once a lot darker,” he said, “but it’s been years since I basked under the Roman sun.”

“Rome?” She perked up. “You’ve been there?”

“I studied there.” He probably shouldn’t have mentioned that, but she must have figured out by now he was no sheep’s herder. “The sun is so fierce it toasts a man brown. I prefer the kinder warmth of your island’s sun.”

“Well you’ve lost a lot of blood,” she said, once again finding interest in some far horizon. “My father advises rest—”

“—rest, ale, and no sudden movements that could tear the stitches.”

“He can be a tyrant.” Her voice went soft. “We all dreaded coming to the sick house when we were little, taken by ague, or a spotted disease, or if we broke a bone climbing the cliffs. I can still taste the bitter brews he forced down our throats. Not a twinkle of sympathy.”

“Nine children, all living. That’s the true testament to his skill.”

“He’s the best doctor in all of Ireland.”

“Spoken with a daughter’s pride.”

He liked her smile. It made a dimple deepen in her cheek. Her eyes gleamed, even if she cast her fair lashes down in an attempt to hide her humor.

She reached for the bowl. He didn’t want to give it to her. She was likely to take it back to the kitchens and leave him sitting here alone. Yet he didn’t want to be the man who frightened her, either, so he handed it over and this time made sure not to touch her fingers.

She shifted the bowl between one hand and the other and hesitated, casting her gaze to the kitchens and back.

“It’s a fine strong place you live in, so high on the island,” he said, with rising hopes that she’d stay a while longer. “Has your family always lived here?”

“My da built it before any of us were born.”

He eyed the well-hewn stones of the walls, the close fit of the thatch, and the patterned flagstones of the courtyard that reminded him of Moorish mosaics. “A man of many talents, your father.”

“He brought my mother here from France.” She wandered closer to the peat-pile like a skittish young mare, curious but wary. “From a place called Troyes. He’d been hired to tend to her because she was very sick. Eventually, he stole her away from her family and married her.”

She took a seat upon the peat logs, though at an arm’s distance. He felt a charge of excitement far stronger than was healthy for a man in his condition.

“Your home,” he said, smelling the brine of the sea and the sun-warmed stones, “it reminds me a little of my own.”

“My da says Scotland isn’t so far away. He’s been to many places.”

“I see why he settled here.” The Scotland he knew was grim and gray, colored by rising danger, but when he was a child it had seemed a brighter place. He supposed everyone remembered their childhood in such a way. “The light here is white and bright. It seems to come from the air rather than from the sun.”

“You’ll have to meet my brother, Niall. He’s a poet and says things like that all the time.”

“You’ve a brother who’s a poet?”

“A harpist, more like. But he tells the tales so well you think you’re living them.”

“So he’s the one who has to answer for putting this idea of selkies in your head?” She flushed a little and it was a glorious thing.

“I can’t blame him for that,” she said. “And that’s enough of your teasing, thank you very much.”

He traced her fine profile against the bright blue sky for so long that she turned to him in the stretching silence. She had green eyes like fresh hazel-shoots in the springtime, full of curiosity.

“I have a confession,” he said.

She dropped her gaze. “The priest comes to the village near the shore on Sundays—”

“My confession is only for you.”

Her throat flexed. “I tremble to hear it then.”

“I’ve been teasing you about thinking I’m a selkie,” he said, “but when I first laid eyes on you, I was sure you were an angel.”

In the silence that followed he watched the quickening rise and fall of her breasts under the fine wool of her gown.

“Lass,” he whispered. “Are you ever going to tell me your name?”



Her name tumbled off her lips and nothing could have stopped it. She was supposed to be finding a way through the walls in his mind, but instead here she sat on the peat-pile with her heart racing in her chest, snared in a trap of her own making.

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