Camron of Clan Graham fell under Anna’s spell when he was a boy of ten. As fate would have it, Anna was five years older than him, and Camron watched her fall in love and heartbreak with another man. Untrusting now, Anna has sworn off men, but though he’s spent many years away, whenever Camron is near, he can’t help but watch the woman who bewitched him all those years ago. Now, with war about to break, Camron will no longer wait. This extract takes place during the day when Camron emerges from the river…utterly naked.
‘You have to see now,’ a tiny voice called out.
‘There’s no time. I’m leaving this morning and I have to—’
Suddenly in front of Camron, Anna’s little brother Lachie skidded to a halt, his balance off so he hit the tree. Without touching him, Camron reached out to make certain the boy didn’t fall when Anna, the possessor of the other voice, skidded around the other tree, and then stopped.
Truly stopped, one hand braced on the trunk, one foot in front of the other.
Body utterly still, but not her arrested expression. Brows high, a warm flush starting softly on her cheeks, but turning redder as it continued down her throat.
Just stood there, as her expression went from some soft bafflement to something infinitely more lively until there was a bright sheen to her eyes.
When had he last seen her look so…alive? So here? When had she ever looked at him like that?
She didn’t release him from those eyes of hers, and he wasn’t looking away. He wasn’t capable of it.
His thoughts had all been on her, and suddenly here she was. Her hair was one long plait today that swung over her shoulder, her gown well worn and thin in places, outlining the plumpness of her breasts, that fascinating curve of her thighs.
Her lips parted, a slight pant, and he swore he saw the tip of her tongue just there, but those lips closed again before he could be certain… When they parted once more he knew she wanted to say something to him.
He wanted, no needed, to hear it.
‘You’re…here,’ she gasped, her gaze dropping. Instantly, released from that startled brightness, that bewitching blue spark, Camron felt a light go out.
Felt…a cool breeze where there shouldn’t be.
He was naked!
Stumbling over, he snatched up his clean, dry braies he’d brought to change into and shoved them in front of him.
‘What…what are you…?’ she stuttered.
‘Merely waking up before we go,’ he said.
‘You’ve got to see this, Anna! You’ve got to see!’ Lachie swerved around them and ran to the pond’s edge.
Lachie’s childish glee skipped across the tension between them like a rock slicing on water.
‘What is it I have to see?’ Anna called out, not taking her eyes from Camron.
He liked that very much, as well as the slight hesitating crack in her lovely voice. Anna didn’t usually lose her composure, and the fact it may be unravelling because she’d spotted more of him than expected was heartening.
‘I can’t show you there, you have to come here!’ The boy laughed.
That would prove troubling. Camron couldn’t completely dress without revealing more of himself, and she couldn’t move forward…without seeing more of him. They were at a standstill.
He knew, instinctually, she’d have to break it for he couldn’t straighten his thoughts. Plagued with the bet and his brother’s words, he couldn’t quite quell the truth that she was here in front of him and looking at him.
She was…looking at him. And she wasn’t stopping.
Those eyes, still wide, didn’t close. She didn’t pivot away. Instead, they flickered from his slicked-back hair, over his bunched muscled arms still clenching the scrap of linen to his front. Running her gaze down his legs like the small rivulets of water.
She looked to his very toes, then back up again. He felt that look in the back of his heels…and other places.
More dangerous places.
‘Can you turn around, please,’ she said at last. Her voice lost any of that hesitancy, and part of him wanted to acknowledge the bit of strength she had there.
But she was still looking at him. Looking as a woman would at a man, and something inside him eased.
All his life, he had danced around this woman. When he was too young, he’d simply watched her from afar, felt some sort of loss when she didn’t join with his friends, but instead associated with others her age.
Others who’d mostly turned away when her heart was broken, and his clansmen had whispered behind her back or pitied her. This last year, since Alan left, he’d watched her retreat, then lash out at anyone who tried to help until he’d stepped further into the shadows so she wouldn’t lump him in with the rest of the crowd.
And in all those months of being reserved around her, being oh, so attentive to show her he was different than that brash cur she’d given her heart to…she’d never, not once, noticed him. Not as he needed her to.
He needed her to look at him this way.
Lachie was shuffling along the rocks by the pond’s edge behind him, and Camron knew it would be reasonable, sensible, to hide behind a tree and dress. But he wouldn’t do that. He wasn’t going to make it that easy for her to go back to ignoring him.
‘You turn around,’ he said.
‘You turn around,’ he repeated. ‘I was here first. Bathing, minding my own, when you burst in here.’
‘It’s morning,’ she said. ‘The whole clan is up and about doing their chores. Children are doing theirs.’
True. Never had he bathed at this spot at this particular moment of the day. There were days and times customary for all of that. But they were leaving shortly, and he’d had trouble waking up at this hour after a late night in the outer fields with Seoc and Hamilton last night. Since returning they’d all had trouble sleeping.
But Anna was before him and none of that mattered. ‘The whole clan isn’t here. Only you and Lachie. He doesn’t care about my state, but you seem to.’ And because that restlessness—or perhaps it was anticipation from the bet and Hamilton’s taunt about telling her that still beat through him—he added, ‘Why is it you care so much?’
She sputtered. ‘Can you put some clothes on!’
All she had to do was turn around, and she wasn’t.
Goose pimples raced across his skin, and he was losing the feeling in his toes that were flexing on the sandy dirt. His body was one shudder away from showing Anna his weaknesses, but there was no way whilst he was in a standoff like this that he was backing down.
‘You appear to care overly much, but still you don’t turn.’ He dropped his voice low. ‘Is there something you see that you like, my Anna?’