Authors: Deborah R Stigall
Jared reached across the table, placing his large warm hand over hers, “Kaitla, ye will have no trouble putting Ravon out of
misery.” Gently squeezing her hand, he turned it palm up within his own. He slowly traced the lines of her palm with his fingers, tickling her hand as well as her emotions, “When ye are faced with the evil one, your destiny and your soul will cry out to avenge your mother…your childhood…and your land.” Raising her palm to his lips, he planted a warm kiss in the center, causing Kaitla to gasp. She glanced with confusion at Etain, who merely nodded, confusing Kaitla even more with a barely perceptible smile.
Kaitla slowly walked into the ballroom, her steps echoing the pounding in her chest. Jared had suggested she change into some comfortable clothing for her first dhundare lesson, so, here she stood in a t-shirt, a pair of cut off shorts and a worn pair of sneakers.
Etain instructed Hobart to place one of the small settees nearby to perch upon as she observed the lesson. Sleepy Tobias was seated beside her, eyeing the proceedings with obvious boredom.
Jared handed Kaitla what she assumed must be a dhundare. She was rather disappointed. She had expected a menacing saber of some sort but this was just a little knife. The ivory handle, shaped and swirled to fit the grasp of fingers and hand was only approximately an inch or so in diameter. The hilt was silver with two tiny spikes protruding up each side of the narrow blade, which was only about four inches in length. The blade did have a wicked double edge but looked no more lethal then a common switchblade. Kaitla couldn’t believe this tiny blade was going to save her life.
Dinna be deceived by the appearance, lass.” Jared was cheating again, reading her thoughts and emotions. “The dhundare saber is verra effective for its size.” To demonstrate, he pointed the blade of his own dhundare at a vase full of lilies sitting on a table across the room. His sharp gray eyes narrowed, instantly the blade rapidly flicked across the room, beheading each of the lily stalks flush with the mouth of the vase! Kaitla stared at the knife in her own hand with a new understanding and respect.
How do you defend yourself against such a weapon?” Kaitla asked worriedly. If they were training her to fight with the dhundare blade, then Ravon must already know how to use one. From the speed with which the lilies were mown down, she couldn’t understand how anyone could survive such an onslaught.
Jared grinned at her with reassurance; “It’s all a matter of concentrating…reading your opponent. Attack me and I’ll show ye.”
Well, --I don’t know, Jared, what if I hurt you?” Kaitla had wanted to throttle him several times since meeting him, but she certainly didn’t wish him any permanent damage.
Cocking his dark head to one side, he winked at her, “Trust me, lass.” Slowly circling her body, he flashed her a lop-sided smile, “I can take care of m’self.”
Taking a deep breath, Kaitla tried to get a feel for the knife in her hand. It did seem to be warming to her touch. The longer she held it, the more it seemed to meld with her body. Concentrating intently on Jared’s chest, she half-heartedly pointed the blade at him…nothing happened.
Ye must think as though ye mean it, lassie. Come now, in Cuchailard, a child of six can wield a dhundare! Has the earth realm completely ruined ye?” Tauntingly, Jared began to swagger back and forth. Turning to address Etain, “It’s no use, Etain. The realm will be lost if it’s up ta’ this one ta’ save it. Are ye sure this Kaitla’s the bairn ye hid?”
Stinging her with his words, Kaitla thought, “Fine!” Immediately the blade of the dhundare leapt to the open collar of his silk shirt. If he hadn’t leapt to the side at the last minute, she would’ve happily slashed his throat. Still angry, she fired the blade again, this time slicing through the silk across his stomach. The tan muscles of his abdomen peeked through the ripped shirt enticingly, but she wasn’t finished yet. She neatly disengaged both sleeves and slashed through the trousers across the crotch.
Kaitla! I see ye ken the feel for it now!” Jared croaked as the slash across the crotch came close to dismembering him. “Calm down, lass, I dinna mean the things I said. But I had ta’ find some way to move ye.”
Rapid lunges such as those will surely defeat Ravon, for they willna’ give him time to attempt lunges of his own” Etain observed with pleasure. “If he is able to lunge at ye, ye must either meet him with your own blade or move out of harms way before his blade reaches ye,” she added critically.
Before she had the opportunity to prepare for the attack, Jared fired his own dhundare directly at Kaitla’s throat. An ancient instinct for survival emerged from deep within her. Dodging Jared’s blade, she raised her own dhundare to meet his, the clash of the blades echoing across the ballroom. Eyes narrowing, she quickly assumed the shape of a bobcat, leaping to Jared’s chest and latching on to his throat. Dropping his weapon as he tried to dislodge Kaitla’s sharp claws, Kaitla resumed her natural form as soon as she heard the dhundare hit the floor. Rolling to capture the blade before Jared, she leapt to her feet as she pressed the point of her blade to Jared’s throat. Raising both hands in submission, Jared grinned at Etain, “Perhaps the lass isna’ quite as helpless as we thought.”
Etain observed the demonstration in silence. Idly tapping her chin with her finger, she seemed lost in thought. “Ye move like yer father, child,” she commented quietly. Moving slowly across the room, she raised Jared’s chin, examining the scratches running down the length of his neck. Glancing in Kaitla’s direction, her voice quivered with emotion, “See to him, child. Heal him with yer touch.”
Jared stared with confusion first at Etain then at Kaitla. “What does she mean, Kaitla?” he asked, as he gingerly touched the scratches.
Frowning with concern at Etain’s troubled face; Kaitla gently placed her hands over the angry tears along Jared’s throat. As she looked deeply into the haunting gray eyes, her hands grew warm, tingling and glowing with a white healing aura. As she withdrew her hands, Jared reached up to touch the smooth unscarred skin of his throat, that just minutes ago had been raked open and bleeding.
Ye’re truly blessed,” he whispered in awe, as he looked up into Kaitla’s eyes.
Etain turned her back on the pair, slowly heading for the door. As she walked away, she quietly looked back over one shoulder, “Aye, if it is so destined, the lass is able to heal.” Her gaze dropping sadly to the floor, she shook her head, “But destiny also decrees she must take the life of my son.” Then she quietly disappeared down the hallway, the rustle of her gown echoing through the silent house.
Her gaze returning to Jared’s frowning face, Kaitla swallowed hard to curb the rising lump in her throat. “I guess I hadn’t realized before now, just how torn Etain must be about all this.”
Cradling Kaitla’s cheek in his warm comforting hand, Jared barely smiled, “She knows what must be done. She willna’ blame ye for the task destiny has assigned ye.”
Kaitla’s smile trembled with the fluttering of her heart. Backing slowly out of Jared’s reach, she quickly bent to retrieve Tobias from the settee. She couldn’t believe how just the touch of his hand could disturb her so. Remembering Etain’s words about Jared’s betrothal, Kaitla mentally shook herself, sternly commanding her emotions to cease-fire.
I think it’s time I turned in, Jared,” she smiled softly, hugging Tobias like a shield. “Thank you for everything.”
His eyes clouded with confusion, Jared returned her smile, “Good night, Kaitla. Ye know I’m here ta’ serve ye.”
Clutching Tobias tightly, Kaitla rushed down the hall to her room. Once inside, she exhaled with relief, as she settled him comfortably on the loveseat in the corner. As she started toward the bathroom door, she heard a light scratching at the veranda door. Pausing to listen closer for the source of the sound, Kaitla smiled as the second scratch was accompanied by a quiet “woof”. Opening the door just wide enough to admit him, Kaitla bent down and scratched the lopsided ears of the gentle black dog.
Decided you like sleeping indoors, have you?” she observed to the friendly beast as he thumped his tail in agreement. Hugging the dog gently, she patted him lightly on the side, “Well, I guess I kind of like the extra company too,” she admitted more to herself then to the dog. As the dog settled himself comfortably on the rug beside the bed, Kaitla patted him once more before undressing. “Goodnight my friend….I’ll see you in the morning.”
Turning from the dog, she quickly undressed, tossing her clothes on the back of the loveseat. In her weariness, she didn’t bother donning her nightgown, she just slid naked between the cool crisp sheets, quickly drifting off to sleep. The day had been totally exhausting.
Suddenly, she knew she wasn’t alone. Kaitla could hear ragged breathing in her ear. The stench of sweat and blood assaulted her senses. Her heart was pounding so hard; she could barely catch her breath. A cold raspy voice whispered, “I will see ye dead before my spirit departs!” She couldn’t see a face but the cold clammy hands were gripping her by her throat, choking the air from her body. She kicked and scratched at the unseen assailant. Ripping her nails down his face, the smell of fresh blood and stale breath nearly gagged her. She twisted and bit at the heavy arm across her body, loosening his hands enough from her throat to fill her lungs for a piercing scream. His hands moved from her throat to her shoulders, shaking her….
Kaitla! Kaitla! Wake up, lass! Break his hold, I’m here for ye!” Jared was shaking her body as Kaitla finally swam to the surface of consciousness, eyes staring wildly as she tried to focus on reality. Jared sat on the edge of the bed, his short dark hair disheveled. The muscles of his bare chest rippled in the moonlight, his dark eyes frantic as they searched her face. Kaitla reached out hesitantly to touch his arm, convincing herself she was truly awake and safe. Jared quickly gathered her into his strong embrace, cradling her body in his arms. She could feel his warm skin against her clammy flesh. Kaitla buried her face to his throat, inhaling the wonderful scent of him. She nestled closer to lose herself in the salty sweet aroma of woods and the inviting warmth of his body. She could feel his powerful arms encircling her body, pulling her closer until their hearts were nearly beating as one. Gently, he rearranged the pillows with one hand, easing her back against them. He smoothed the tangled hair away from her face whispering, “It was an evil dream, but he’s gone now. He willna’ return as long as I’m here.” He slowly stretched out on the bed along side her, continuing to cradle her against his body.
It was a clear night. The moonlight shining through the windows illuminated the bedroom in an eerie blue light. Jared’s eyes traveled the length of Kaitla’s trembling body, reveling in every delicate curve. “Lord, lass, ye’re beautiful.” His deep gentle voice hypnotized her as his free hand caressed her cheek and traced the outline of her lips. She hesitantly touched his chest, running her fingers through the wiry dark hairs covering the broad expanse, feeling the taut muscles beneath her fingertips sliding smoothly beneath his skin. Cautiously bending to taste her lips, Jared touched his mouth gently to hers, his mouth barely brushing across her slightly parted lips. Moving slowly, as though afraid to shatter the spell, he tenderly kissed her eyes, as he pulled her closer in his embrace.
Unwillingly, her conscience nudged her, her old defenses trying to protect her from future pain. “What about Elsbet?” she whispered softly, half hoping he wouldn’t hear her.
She felt him stiffen in her arms, inhaling raggedly as he pressed his mouth against her throat. “I’ve never met the Lady Elsbet. It’s but an arrangement Etain has made with Elsbet’s clan.” Pulling her closer, he hypnotically traced the path of her spine with his thumb. “I canna be unfaithful to someone I neither know nor love,” he whispered as his hand slowly moved lower. Gently stroking her hips and thighs, he turned her insides to molten fire as he barely brushed across the reddish hair where her thighs joined her body. Softly insistent, he teased the bud of her passion with his thumb as his fingers deftly explored her wet folds.
Breathless and aching, Kaitla knew she had to resolve this issue before she lost complete control, “I can’t be with you for just one night. I’ve been hurt too many times…and….I’ve never gone this far before.” Gently pushing away from him, she looked into his great dark eyes. “If you’re to marry Elsbet, leave my bed now. I’d rather suffer more nightmares before having my heart shattered again.” She reached down, shoving his delicious hands away from her body, retrieving the bedsheet and clutching it to her chest.
I’ve not agreed to the marriage plans Etain has prepared,” Jared explained patiently, his voice straining with passion. “I dinna ken how ta’ make ye understand. I’m drawn to ye, Kaitla, not just physically but more….ye’ve been calling ta’ me across the realms for ages. When I look upon ye….I know in m’heart ye were meant to be mine alone. Please dinna cast me away from ye. Let me show ye how wonderful it can be….to love…and be loved in return.”
Shaken by his words and the nearness of his body, Kaitla caressed his strong jaw, whispering softly, “I don’t think I could cast you away now….even if I wanted to.”
In response, Jared roughly tore aside the sheet, pulling her to his chest. Head bent; his mouth found hers, not hesitantly this time, but urgently seeking…greedy for her welcoming lips. She ran her hands down the length of his back, finding his breeches and tugging in vain. “Let me” he whispered as he nibbled at her throat. Not bothering to undo the stubborn buttons, he merely popped them from the threads, shucking the breeches off into the floor. Gathering her back up into his arms, he hoarsely murmured into her hair, “I’ve needed ye for ages, Kaitla.”