Read an Excerpt
Thunder crashed overhead. Anything that wasn’t tied down swirled wildly around them. A huge branch had already hit her. Matt hurried his pace as he carried an unconscious Kiya inside the small cabin, surprised to find it empty. Apparently, the men who guarded her father’s sheep were tending their flock lest the storm frighten the animals into dashing off the nearby cliffs.
A fire burned in the large, black stove, warming the little cabin against outside elements gone suddenly insane. A table, two chairs and a small bed filled the tiny shelter, leaving almost no floor space.
Matt placed her upon the rumpled bed. She was soaking wet, her lips blue. He hadn’t a doubt if left as such, despite the warmth of the room, she’d soon take chill. There was nothing to be done for it, and with no further thought on the matter, he set out to quickly dispose of the lady’s clothes. It took some effort, but he managed to keep his gaze mostly averted—mostly but not entirely.
His heart pounded, and his hands shook. His lips thinned to a tight grimace resembling pain and a fine sheen of sweat added to his already wet frame as he managed at last to tug a blanket over her, leaving her in her frilly drawers and lacy chemise, both of which were nearly as transparent as gauze when wet.
Granted, he’d known his share of women, but this one confirmed his previous imaginings and then some. She was even lovelier than he had supposed. The top of her head barely reached his shoulder. Her skin glowed with a delicate lustre as if cut from porcelain, while full pink lips almost exactly matched the soft colour of her cheeks.
Her hair when dry was a riot of yellow and silver curls. While riding she had lost most of her pins and curly confection swirled wildly behind her in the wind. Unrestrained, those wild locks reached to her waist.
Matt forced aside his reaction to the sight of her near nakedness. He hadn’t meant to look. Indeed, he had not looked as he might have liked.
Thankful for something that took his mind from the woman and her all too vulnerable state, he tore a piece of cotton from her petticoat, pumped water and applied the wet rag to the swelling on her forehead. The flying branch had not broken her skin but had left a small, red mark above a growing knot. She’d suffer some discolouration, perhaps even a black eye, but hopefully nothing more serious than that.
Matt hung her wet clothes over a chair near the stove. As he waited for the lady to awaken, he pumped more water into a kettle and set it upon the stove. Moments later, he washed out the tea pot and cups left on the table. Next he searched for towelling. Finding none, he took a pillow sheet, flipped it inside out and pressed the linen cloth to her wet hair, drying what he could. It was important that she not take a chill. Had he not been so absorbed in her and their earlier conversation, he would have noticed sooner the coming storm. He should have, and because he hadn’t, he felt some responsibility for her injury.
After a time, he coaxed, “Kiya, wake up,” and then repeated it again in a deep voice that allowed no option.
She moaned softly. “Go away.”
He grinned. “You need to wake up.”
“No, I don’t.”
She’d taken a blow to her head. She did need to wake up. “I’ve tea ready.”
For the first time, Kiya realised she was in bed, while talking to a man. She opened her eyes with a frown and was surprised to find herself in a strange cabin. “Where are we? What are we doing here?”
“We were caught in the storm, remember?”
“Oh,” she said as the memory came. Her head ached, and she reached a hand to the injury. “I got hit with—”
“A branch, I know. I saw it,” he interrupted as he looked at her eyes. “No real damage done, I think. You’ve a small lump over your eye. Does it hurt much?”
Kiya thought that question particularly ridiculous. She glared her annoyance and returned with, “Only when I breathe.”
Matt grinned. She was a sarcastic little brat but the most beautiful he’d ever come across. “Here. Hold this wet cloth to the swelling. I’ll get the tea.”
A moment later, he stripped off his soaked shirt and hung it near the stove beside clothes that looked just like hers.
Kiya’s heart began to beat far harder and faster than it should have, drastically hampering her ability to breathe. He’d taken off his shirt. Just what did he think he was doing?
“Excuse me,” she said then asked, “What are you doing?”
He glanced behind him and frowned. Was the blow taken harder than he’d first imagined? “Getting the tea, remember?”
“And you can only do that while half dressed?”
Matt glanced at his bare chest and grinned. “Our clothes are wet.”
Kiya stared at him a long moment before she mouthed the word ‘our’ and then slowly came to a sitting position just as she lowered her gaze to her own chest. Changing positions allowed the blanket to fall to her waist. She gasped at the sight. She might as well have been naked! Good God in heaven! She jerked the blanket tightly to her neck. “Are you insane? What have you done?”
“You couldn’t stay in those wet clothes without taking a chill. They had to come off.”
“Oh my God,” she moaned softly, unable to raise her gaze to his. Kiya had no doubt the man had had himself a good look while going about the business of disrobing her. She couldn’t meet his gaze. If the beast dared smile her way, she was apt to kill him on the spot. “And you took them off?” she asked her voice barely above a whisper, clearly aghast at the thought.
He didn’t bother to respond. Both of them knew what had happened. No one else was here.
She moaned softly her embarrassment.
“There’s no need to distress yourself. I covered you as quickly as I could.”
“Indeed?” she snapped and asked in disbelief, “And how quickly was that?”
Matt chuckled softly at her nasty comment, his eyes sparkling dark with something Kiya couldn’t name, something mysterious and frightening, something that caused a chill to race up her spine. “Shall I tell you I didn’t look?”
Kiya’s cheeks burned.
“I promise you I didn’t.” And the words were almost true. A glance couldn’t count as a look, could it?
His statement did little to ease her suffering. That combined with a god-awful headache left her in something less than a good mood. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d been half so mortified. Very softly and with hardly a tremor at all, she said, “My father has pistols in his library. When we get back, I’m going to shoot you.”
“Are you?” he smiled, knowing a stab of almost overwhelming tenderness at her obvious suffering. “I have pistols as well, you know?”
“I don’t care.” Her eyes suddenly and unexplainably filled with tears. Her head was killing her, and this beast was making it hurt all the more.
“Don’t cry, Kiya.” He crouched before her, taking her hand in his. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I couldn’t leave you wet.” His thumb wiped away a lone tear as it travelled down her cheek. “Your lips were blue, your skin as cold as ice. Suppose you took a chill and died? It would have been my fault.”
Matt never imagined his actions would have caused this lady such distress. Of course, he hadn’t undressed many true ladies, so he couldn’t have known how one might react at finding herself, all but for a meagre wisp of lace, naked before a man who was not her husband.
Kiya pulled her knees to her chest and pressed her face against them. She had a raging headache. No doubt that was the main cause of her unusual lack of self-control. No doubt, she was making far too much of this unseemly situation. It was his fault. Even though the man had done what he’d deemed to be right at the time, it was more than his actions. It was the man himself. It was the way he looked at a woman—in this case herself-as if he could see things no one else could, as if he knew her innermost secrets. His gaze most always left her jittery and oddly nervous. She’d never suffered these effects at another’s glance. Why so his? Kiya couldn’t imagine. She only knew she’d feel ever so much better if he would simply attach himself to another and leave her in peace.
She fought for control and, after a few minutes, raised her face from her knees and looked him in the eye. “First of all, I never cry,” she said, belying the tears that were only now drying. “Second, don’t call me Kiya. Third, thank you for your help.” She choked a bit on that one but managed the words just the same. “And fourth I’d like some tea, if you please.”