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Too Dangerous to Desire
The gray sea churned softly.
Adam stared at the rolling waves and listened to the surge of water rush in with the tide, then slowly ebb away.
The beach was deserted, the sand cool and moist between his toes. He looked away from the swell of the water to the letter in his hands. It was from his mother, the epistle. She wrote to him often, bringing him tidings about his ancestral home, his family . . . what was left of his family.
"It's your fault she's gone." The rage billowed inside Adam. He shook with repressed agony and hatred. "I had to sail home to drag you from your filthy existence. I had to wallow in muck for most of my life, lugging you out of whorehouses and gaming hells—and I lost Tess because of it. You." Adam pointed to his brother with the knife, the blade trembling in his shaky hand. "You've destroyed everything good in your life—and mine."
The steady rush of seawater slightly soothed Adam's tortured memory. He searched the horizon for further comfort.
But it was empty. When would he stop looking out to sea for Tess?
She was gone, the vast and restless ocean her tomb. And yet he could not bear to part from her. He owned a small cottage by the seashore. He never strayed too far from the ocean—from Tess.
Thunder resounded in the distance; the waves churned with greater passion. A summer tempest was about to ignite. It was time he returned to the cottage to seek shelter indoors.
Adam stuffed the letter into his shirt pocket. He reached for his leggings and boots, had the soft linen and leatherin his grip, when a peculiar figure intruded upon his barren and familiar surroundings.
He stared at the mountainous cliff some few hundred yards away.
It was a woman.
He could tell by the flicker of her skirt in the stormy breeze. She was alone atop the cliff; her long, dark hair loose and free in the mighty gale.
Adam watched her, curious. She brought her hands to her breasts as though in prayer . . . but not in prayer.
Her fingers moved toward her midriff, button by button. Soon she slipped out of the dress. Adam lifted a brow. Perhaps she was undressing for her lover? Adam should go before the other man arrived. But something compelled him to stay and admire the woman's artful movements. Piece by piece, she removed her clothing: shoes, shift, chemise. Stripped to the flesh, she approached the precipice.
The woman outstretched her hands; the pounding winds tried to push her back. But she let out a sorrowful sob—and threw herself off the cliff.
Adam dropped his boots and sprinted across the beach. He jumped into the sea, the water chilling despite the warm summer air. He did not feel the nip of the waves, though. Blood throbbed in his heart, driving him onward in a near bout of madness. In deft strokes he swam toward the base of the cliff, desperate to get to the woman. He was more robust, a skilled swimmer. He had practiced every summer since his late wife's demise. He would not let the sea beat him down. Not again.
Not the way it had on the night Tess had perished. He would not let the mysterious woman drown—the way Tess had drowned.
"Where are you?" Adam shouted, stroking across the water with fluidity. But there was no sign of the woman.
The angry sea swelled. He gasped for breath and dove under the swirling waves. It was dim beneath the surface: a soft, silvery light. Adam struggled against the current, kicking, searching. He touched rock, sand.
Where are you?
Adam groped along the rough seabed; there was nothing but sharp rock. No! You have to be here! He reached into the cold darkness—and grasped flesh. Icy flesh. Adam grabbed the lithe body and pressed it against him. He broke through the thrashing waves, thirsty for air.
The woman was limp, lifeless in his arms. "Wake up!"
Her head lolled to the side. Panicked, Adam started for shore, fighting the now battering storm, the hail of rain. He reached the beach and dropped to his knees, hugging the sea nymph in his arms. "Wake up," he coaxed, shaking her softly. "Please wake up."
The rain spit hard.
Adam pushed the dark locks from her eyes. Something flickered in the very depth of his soul. A familiar, yet long forgotten verve. A kinship with another being.
He touched her lips, blue from the frigid sea. Warm breath. Faint puffs of air, but she was alive. Adam struggled to his feet and hurried back to his cottage. The firelight flickered across the whitewashed cottage walls. A soft rain pattered overhead, the brunt of the storm over.
Adam observed the sea nymph from his wicker chair. She was asleep in his bed. He dared not fetch a physician and leave her unattended. He feared she'd recover while he was away and throw herself off the cliff once more. Instead he had built a small fire in the hearth to draw out the humidity in the air, and layered thick blankets over her to make her warm.
Wake up. He willed her survival. He was determined to see her well. The sea would not claim another life; he was adamant.
Adam abandoned his seat and moved closer to the bed. What hapless circumstance had urged her to try to take her own life? He couldn't fathom. The world was filled with so much tragedy. It would take very little to make an indigent lass desperate.
One so wont to hardship might think there was peace in death. Adam had once believed that, too. But being near the sea had soothed his troubled thoughts, put them to sleep.
There was a scrap of linen saturating in a nearby dish. He picked up the cloth and wrung the water, mixed with a dash of brandy. With gentle taps, he cooled her brow. So lovely, he thought.Too Dangerous to Desire. Copyright © by Alexandra Benedict. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.