Catriona has escaped from Camlin, nephew of the Faerie King and the male determined to marry her...
Since his fight with his cousin, Faeran, earlier in the day, Carrick had lurked in the inlet, hoping for some sign of Catriona. A Faerie. He should have known, and it was why he and Faeran had fought. His cousin had seen what she had done that morning and known instantly what she was.
“So she’s a Faerie.” Carrick downplayed it. “What does that matter?”
“There is no love lost between Silkie and Faerie at the moment. You would do well to steer clear.”
When he refused they’d fought, but in the end both had conceded it was a draw.
Now, as dusk descended, Carrick wondered exactly why he still waited. He had seen no sign of her since that morning. He sat on the narrow beach and shoved a hand back through his hair. He knew why he was still there. She hadn’t wanted to leave that morning. The fear in her eyes when her servant mentioned the one named Camlin had shown him that.
Carrick remembered Camlin from his surreptitious visit the day before. Pale-haired and pale-eyed, there was still something dark beneath all that fair coloring, something that repelled Catriona as much as it stirred a fierce protectiveness inside him.
He stood up. This was ridiculous. He should return home, find some pleasure in a willing human female because God knew there were few enough Silkie maids to be had, but he couldn’t get Catriona off his mind.
He clenched his fingers. His hand remembered the feel of her breast against his palm, the subtle and somewhat shy invitation in her eyes. Even as his body hardened at the memory, his senses vibrated.
Someone called to him. It was different than anything he’d experienced before. Unlike the internal clamoring of a human, this call was infinitely quiet and sad, as soft as a whisper breathed on the wind, but no less compelling. Carrick stood. What manner of creature plucked so softly and insistently?
And so nearby?
He walked cautiously along the narrow beach, toward the point where inlet and ocean merged. As he rounded a slight curve in the coastline, he saw her huddled near an outcropping of rock, her long hair tangled.
She started, edging back into the shadows of the rocks. “Who? Who is it?”
She slumped. As her legs started to give way, he rushed forward to catch her against him. Dirt smeared her face and gown, and a tear marred the bodice.
“Please don’t let him find me,” she whispered.
Anger tightened his face, colored his voice. “The pale one? The one you call Camlin?” When she nodded, he continued, “What did he do to you? Did he touch you?”
“I got away, but he followed. I’ve been hiding.”
His body clamored for him to fulfill his calling, but there was more at work here. He was to make her happy, and at the moment, physical passion was not what she needed. Her skin felt chilled, and the hollow look in her eyes made him wonder if she’d been hiding since this morning.
“Shall I return you to your father?”
“No!” Her panic wrapped around him like a sea snake. “I can’t go back. If I put my father in a position where he must defend me, he’ll lose everything.”
Hysteria shone in her eyes. Carrick wrapped his arms around her and whispered in her ear. “I’ll look after you, little fish. Will you trust me?”
She nodded. “I do. You’ve already saved my life once.”
“And I’ll take care of you now. I live on an island, so I cannot take you there until my boat arrives in the morning, but there is a cave not far from here. I’ve used it before when I have been here…fishing. It’s warm and dry. There are provisions there so I can give you food. Have you eaten today?”
“No. I came out to you before breakfast, and then…”
He set his arm around her waist. “Do not worry. In just a little while you will feel much better.”
Catriona didn’t doubt his word. She trusted him even though she knew nothing about him. He dressed like a beggar, but he was so well-spoken she knew deep in her heart there was far more to him than what she could see.
They reached an area where it was necessary to wade through shallow water, so he swung her easily into his arms as if she weighed nothing at all. As she rested her hands on him, she realized how thick and heavily muscled he was across his shoulders and chest—a contrast to most of the Faerie males. Though she had heard rumors of fierce warrior Faeries to the north, she had never seen the ones called the Caellum.
She looked into his strong face with his snapping, dark eyes and beard-shadowed jaw. “If you do not live here, why were you still sitting along the beach?”
He stopped in front of a wide cave entrance right at sea level. “I was waiting for a sight of you.”
His response surprised her, and if she were truthful, frightened her just a little. “Why?”
He started down into the cave entrance. As they continued into what should have been total darkness, Catriona noticed that the water running along the cave’s floor glowed.
“Is this magic?”
Carrick laughed. “No. Purely nature. It lasts for a few hours after sunset, but it wears off. Still, it is a pleasant way to light our path.”
“I could walk, you know.”
But he didn’t set her down, and strangely, Catriona wanted nothing more than to rest her head against his shoulder and close her eyes. Before she could prevent it, she yawned.
“Is my company so boring?”
“Oh no! It is just…I am tired and hungry.”
He stopped to gaze down at her. The shimmering luminescence of the water cast an eerie light over them. “There is a thermal spring where we are going. The water is warm and soothing. I will leave you to bathe there while I gather firewood.”
Tears welled in her eyes and she blinked them away hoping he would not see. She was never this fragile. Through the deaths of her mother and brother and even now through most of today’s ordeal, she had always been strong.
“Don’t cry. It was your tears just a while ago that called me to you. Now I am here, and I will only be happy if you shed no more of them.”
She smiled shakily at his fanciful words. She had wept only a little by the inlet, and she was certain she’d made no noise. She watched him wonderingly; his strong profile was even stronger than her father’s. She was overcome with the need to know more about him, but hesitant to probe his thoughts.
“Here we are, my beautiful Faerie. There are furs against the wall. The thermal spring is to your left. I’ll light a torch, then leave you to give you time to bathe.”
After he set her on her feet, she touched his arm. “Thank you.”
He smiled at her. “There is a trunk in the back as well. You’ll find a selection of clothing there. Help yourself.”
He lit a torch for her and placed it in a sconce high on the wall. She could see that while primitive, the cave had enough comforts for a night or two.
“Will you be all right?”
Carrick’s question startled her. She smiled a little shakily. “Yes. Thank you.”
He stroked her cheek with a lean, calloused finger. “You will be quite safe here. Bathe. It will soothe away the aches as well as the dirt.”
As the sound of him retreating toward the entrance of the cave faded, Catriona stripped off her torn and dirty gown. In the light from the torch, she saw the faint discoloration on her breasts and the darker bruises on her arms where Camlin had grabbed her. She swallowed and closed her eyes for a moment. Her father would be so nervous, but she dared not try to communicate with him.
“Oh Papa,” she whispered softly. “I wish I could tell you I was all right, but it is so much better for you not to know. Why could I not have been a boy? Then there would be no question of Camlin and his unwanted attentions.”
As soon as she stepped into the thermal pool, Catriona sighed in relief and wonder. It was amazing, warm and just a little bubbly. She sank down on a ledge beneath the surface and simply soaked up the heat. She ducked beneath the surface, scrubbed her hair and her scalp, rubbed gently on the areas where she was scraped and bruised and then simply tilted her head back and closed her eyes. She would rest here for just a moment and enjoy the feelings of peace and security.
The sound of his return woke her, and she realized he deliberately made noise to warn her. In a flash, she scrambled from the water, scampered to the trunk and flung open the lid. To her relief, a large, finely-woven sheet rested on top. Wrapping herself in it was the best she could do before he reached her. Straightening with as much dignity as she could muster, she turned and smiled at him.
He grinned and arched one dark brow. “Fell asleep?”
She sighed, shoulders slumping. “Yes.”
He set down the wood he brought with him and walked in her direction. As he drew close enough to really see her, she could tell from the sudden darkening of his expression when he saw the marks on her arms and shoulders. Dark eyes shifted from the bruises to her face. “He hurt you.”
“I was able to get away. It could have been worse.”
Carrick’s brows drew together. “Any mark he left on you is one mark too many.”
His fingers whispered over the bruises, making her skin tingle in awareness. His gaze followed his fingers, the frown still pulling his brows together, but when he met her gaze again, his expression cleared, and heat filled his dark eyes.
“There is women’s clothing in the chest.” His voice was husky, and Catriona heard the reluctance in it. She didn’t need to read his thoughts to know that at the moment, he was totally and completely aware of her as a woman. And she couldn’t help but respond, her breasts tingling and her lips parting, ready for his touch, his kiss.
But it didn’t come.
He turned away, going to another trunk. After opening the lid, he brought out several tins. She watched him from the corner of her eye as she looked through the trunk to find something that would fit. Finally, she located a thin underdress and a heavier long-sleeved gown to go over it.
“I’m going to change,” she said softly. “If you wouldn’t mind, please keep your back to me.”
“Couldn’t you just use magic?”
“I’m afraid if I do, it would reveal my location.”
“Ah. I know little of Faerie ways, though we are related.”
She glanced over her shoulder as she let the underdress fall so that it covered her to mid-thigh. “Humans and Faeries?”
When he said nothing else, she grabbed the gown and drew it around her, closing its loops and buttons and then using a belt to draw it tight around her waist.
When she finished, she draped the damp sheet over the lid of the trunk. “What do you mean no? No, you’re not human?”
Carrick stood. In the close surroundings of the cave, it finally occurred to her how tall and powerful he was.
“I have some dried fish, fruit and oat cakes. Will that be enough to satisfy your appetite? If not, I can catch some fish…”
“Carrick, are you human?”
He set his provisions on a smooth outcropping of stone.
She cast around in her mind, trying to remember all of the folklore her father and mother had told her when she was young. While she knew there were many creatures who lived outside of both human and Faerie existence, she had encountered only a few. Those were the creatures who shared their habitat like the brownies who sometimes helped around the house. There were also the wood sprites, and it was them she knew she must thank for the help she received in escaping Camlin.
She thought again of always seeing him around the inlet. Was he a merman? Her father had mentioned there were such creatures. She thought of the seals. “You are a Silkie. Papa has told me of them. He says we were once closely unified, that we are both angels from heaven, only the Silkie landed in the sea when we came to earth.”
“What makes you think I am a Silkie?” His gaze was steady and curious.
“I have only seen you near the sea. And this morning. One minute you were there and when I turned away for just a second, you were gone. I feared something had happened to you because you didn’t surface anywhere, but you didn’t need to, did you?”
“I cannot stay below forever.”
He shrugged. “Long enough.”
She bit her lip. “Why are you here now…with me?”
“Why don’t you eat, Catriona. We’ll talk after.”
She took the few steps it needed to reach him, picked up a dried fig and popped it in her mouth. After chewing and swallowing, she looked at him challengingly. “All right. I have eaten. Why are you here with me?”
Irritation flitted across his handsome face, a faint flush following right on its heels, as if he were embarrassed. “I have watched you for a long time.”
He raked a hand through his thick hair. “Years. Since we were children.”
“And yet you never spoke to me.”
“I hoped you would call me, but you never did.”
“But you saved me.”
“I could do nothing else. And now it no longer matters.”
“Why? What has changed?”
“Everything. This evening as you sat by the inlet, Catriona, did you cry?”
She nodded, unsure of where this was going. “Just an instant.”
“The Silkie respond to the tears of certain others. Most often it is humans, but it appears it applies to Faeries as well.” His dark eyes watched her intently. “At least it does with you and me. You’ve called me, and now I must attend you.”
She wrapped her arms across her waist and looked away from him uneasily. “You make it sound like you’re my slave.”
“In a sense, I am. Do you have any idea what it truly means for us if you call to me?”
She shook her head.
“I am bound to you physically and emotionally to make you happy.”
“What do you mean physically?” She glanced at his broad shoulders and narrow hips. With a nervous need to do something, she picked up an oatcake and munched the corner of it.
“I must mate with you.”
When she choked on a piece of the coarse cake, he rapped her on the back. As soon as she could speak again, she questioned. “Right now?”
His dark eyes flared with heat. “If that’s what you wish.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I can wait.”
She lifted her chin. “You could force it. You’re bigger than I am.”
Anger darkened his features. “A Silkie who must force a female doesn’t deserve to keep his pelt. If you are not ready, not willing, then I must wait.”
It was strange, but though he admitted he intended to couple with her, she felt calmed. “Will you eat with me?”
“I must build a fire first. After what you’ve been through, I don’t want you to become chilled.”
He turned to his task, leaving her time to study him. His movements were quick and efficient as if he had done this many times. He squatted to place the wood in a fire pit, his long hair falling forward to hide his face. Catriona swallowed as her gaze ran over the smooth muscles of his back.
“Don’t you feel the cold?”
He glanced her way as he located a box of wooden matches. “Not particularly. Why do you ask?”
She felt the heat in her cheeks. “You don’t seem to wear much in the way of clothing.”
His dark eyes twinkled. “Most Silkie wear only the minimum of clothing. It only gets in the way when we wish to transform.”
She thought of the few times she’d seen him. All he’d worn then were ragged pants. Now she wondered if they’d even been his. “What do you do if you have no clothing to put on?”
He rolled to his feet. As he did so, he brushed his ankle and suddenly was holding a sleek sealskin in his hand. Catriona gasped and he laughed.
“How did you do that?”
“The Faerie are not the only ones who possess magic. The Silkie have their own.”
“May I touch it?”
From the heat in his eyes, she suddenly got the feeling allowing her to touch his pelt meant a whole lot more than simply running her fingers over a hide like that of her horse.
“If you wish.” His tone was casual, but his body was tense. Catriona watched him carefully as she reached out and slid her fingers along the silky hide. When he shivered as if it was his own skin she touched, she snatched her hand back. Heat flooded from her toes to her cheeks. “It’s all right,” he murmured, his cheeks flushed. “I want you to know what I am.”
She swallowed. Once more she reached out and darted a quick look at him. “You feel my touch?”
He nodded, his gaze locked on her fingers where they hovered just above his pelt. “It feels amazing.”
More to come next Tuesday...