A valley hidden by woodland came into view. A small brook bled into a dark lake surrounded by the most beautiful array of flowers to grace her eyes. Thousands of floral species: roses, lilies, wood violet, and some she didn’t recognize at this distance. Excitement gave her stamina. The click of her tongue and a pat on her horse’s backside set the stallion racing down the side of the knoll.
She could pick one of each, mayhap more, and take them to the abbey. She inhaled their powerful scent and decided to mix a unique fragrance for the prioress.
The stallion came to a sudden halt at the water’s edge, pulling Lizzy from her frivolous thoughts and sending her heart into her throat. Its front hooves rose off the ground and then splashed in unison. She eased him backward, not dare looking at the dark water. His tail thrashed side to side in agitation, slapping her like little whips.
More than anxious to get off the beast, Lizzy rose up in the stirrups, but her muscles quivered and pain raced up her spine. She plopped back atop the horse’s back with a thud and wiggled her toes inside her boots, then rotated her ankles. She flexed the muscles in her aching thighs and rocked side to side to get the blood flowing in her hips. Obviously unconcerned about the situation, the horse dipped low to drink and threw her slightly off balance. While managing to slip one boot from the stirrup, the rumble of hooves hummed behind her.
“God’s hooks, woman! Are ye touched in the head? Ye could have ran your mount straight into the damned loch. These animals are trained to follow instructions. They are war horses. Your gown would have pulled you under. Foolish, insufferable woman. What were ye thinking? Lizbeth, answer me! Why are ye not speaking?”
Though startled by the intensity of his tone, his concern touched her. “Because you have yet to stop yelling long enough for me to speak. Pray forgive me for stealing your years. I wanted to pick a few flowers before dark settled in.” She sounded like a pathetic little girl.
He slapped his hand over his eyes and rubbed his temples. “If ye were in such a haste, why are ye still astride your mount?”
“I’m taking in the view. ’Tis lovely,” she lied.
He snorted. “Ye cannae get off your horse, can ye?”
She shook her head, embarrassed by her frailty. Holding the reins, she focused on the moss bordering the lake. A frog winked at her with both eyes, then disappeared into the blackness.
Lord Maxwell snapped his neck, then dismounted with a grunt and flipped the leather straps over the ears of his horse. The beast immediately bent to drink. A slight limp troubled Lord Maxwell’s right leg as he approached her and eased her stallion’s hooves from the edge of the water. Encircling her waist with his hands, he pulled her from the horse and set her on the ground.
She grabbed hold of his forearms and stared at his chest. “Please do not let go yet.”
“Ye gave me a fright.” His pale shirt, loosely laced, rose and fell with his heavy breathing.
“’Twas not my intention.”
He lessened his hold. “Think ye can ye walk?”
She sagged. “I s’pose I will eventually.”
In one swift motion, he plucked her off the ground, one arm behind her back, the other beneath her knees. The movement caused a flutter in her stomach.
“Where are the others?”
He turned back toward the lake and squinted. “Looks like they are getting Celeste off her horse.”
Lizzy studied the scene, feeling only slightly frail now. “Why are they way over there?”
“The water is shallow on the other side.” He set her down on a bed of silky grasses beneath the canopy of a white willow. “I will get your legs working, then ye can pick your flowers, aye?”
“Thank you.” She laid back, not caring that her knees weren’t touching, and thinking they probably never would again. Nor did she protest when he removed her boots and stockings. He worked the same magic as he had the night before, rolling her muscles until the aches thawed and the tingles ceased, then she let him continue simply for enjoyment. She draped her arm over her eyes and hoped he couldn’t see how much he stirred her, how much her heart did a little dance when he looked at her, and how her skin pebbled when she thought of him.
’Twas a shame she would never know a man’s touch. There was so much inside her she wanted to share. Before she could wallow in self-pity, a little voice inside her suggested she let Lord Maxwell touch her. She smiled, knowing that voice belonged to Edlynn.
“Why are ye smiling?” He sprawled out beside her and propped up on one arm.
“Edlynn is talking to me.” She stared up at the weeping branches and inhaled the beauty of this place, curiously aware of the heat of his body beside her.
“And what is Edlynn saying to ye?” He plucked a foxtail and drew it across her collarbone.
She swished the tickle weed away, eager to play his game. “She is a lewd old woman. Your ears would turn to ash if you heard the things Edlynn says to me.”
“Now ye have my interests. What did she say?” The backs of his fingers hovered beside her face.
She wanted him to touch her. She near ached for it. Did she dare share her thoughts, her desires? Would he reject her? “Edlynn told me to laugh more. Play more.”
“Play? Mayhap your auld friend has a suggestion?”
Lizzy pulled her brows together, acting like there was someone in her head telling her secrets. She purposely widened her eyes and made an O shape with her mouth, over-dramatizing the scene in her head. “Oh, Edlynn. You are a very wicked woman. You should not say such things.”
He laughed at her theatrics. A booming belly laugh accompanied his comely smile and emphasized his dimples. “Ye are wowf.”
Lizzy crossed her eyes and made a funny face at him, enjoying his company more than his seduction. “I am. And you would be half mad, too, if there was an old woman in your head telling you to—”
“Telling ye to what, Lizbeth?” He leaned closer, and his fingers finally touched her cheek.
The tingle that teased her when he was near shot up her spine. She reached up to take his hand. He met her halfway and pinned it above her shoulder, bringing his weight along with him. Positioned over her, he propped his knee between her thighs.
She gasped and curled her fingers in his, waiting, wanting, desiring anything he might give her.
He bent to her ear. “Does Edlynn tell ye to laugh, and to feel, and to want? Or is the voice in your head your own? The same voice that yelled out my name in your dream.” He brushed his lips over hers. “The same voice that wants to ask me to kiss ye, but is afraid, as she is afraid of everything.”
Lizzy took offense. Her eyes snapped open and met his. “I am not afraid of you.”
“Care to wager, angel? If you’re not afraid, tell me what the voice inside your head wants me to do.”
He was goading her. She didn’t care. She would win either way. “I want you to kiss me, and touch me, and tell me I’m desirable.”
He descended on her mouth in one bold action. His tongue swept over hers and demanded she play with him.
She mimicked his actions, chasing his tongue, twirling in an erotic dance inside her mouth. When he sucked her top lip, she latched onto his bottom, nipping, biting, tasting. She was afraid to move, to breathe, terrified he would draw back and leave her wanting. Trapped within her was a caged desire demanding to be unleashed. Demanding more.
Her hand curled around his neck. Her fingertips pulled him closer.
Then as fierce as he had descended, he pulled away.
“Ach!” He jumped off her like a man escaping a fire, which was exactly how she felt.
A hot, carnal inferno.
“I think it best if we keep Edlynn out of your head. She does not play fair.”
Play fair? It may have started as a game, one she admitted to instigating, but certainly ’twas not how it ended. “How can you jest about what just happened?”
“I kissed ye. This is all. And ye kissed me back.” He sat up, wiping a fine mist of sweat from his thick neck, then he scowled at her. “Dinnae look at me as if I stole your virtue. ’Tis hardly the matter at all.”
Lizzy closed her mouth, wondering how long she’d sat there with it gaping open, and crawled to her feet. She ignored the pain shooting up her back, determined to distance herself from his rejection. Humiliation was no stranger to her, but never had it felt more like a poison than it did right now.
Stuffing her stockings in her boots, she picked them up and stomped through the grasses toward her mount.
“I thought ye were going to pick flowers,” he yelled from behind her.
“I changed my mind,” she spit back.
“Would that be your mind or Edlynn’s?”
“Arrogant, toad-sucking Scot.”