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Loved By a Warrior

By:Donna Fletcher

nd she halted, cautiously avoiding him.

“It is a clan—” He held up his hand when she opened her mouth to protest. “I will finish.”

She bit at her bottom lip to stop from speaking and folded her arms across her chest.

“This clan will take you in. There are a few empty cottages on the outskirts of the village. You can have your pick. You can make friends or not, the choice is yours. But at least you will have some modicum of protection.”

Tara almost objected, worried that the men might seek her out. Word would spread soon enough though, about whom she was, and then no man would dare even talk with her. And Reeve was right. She did need some degree of protection. While she was self-sufficient to a point, it would be unwise to think she could survive entirely on her own.

“These are good people. You will do well there,” he said, and turned to continue their journey.

She trudged behind him, his strong footfalls clearing a good path for her through several inches of snow that had fallen since yesterday. She tugged her cloak more closely around her, the cold air biting the flesh. And she glanced with worry at the sky. Sure enough, a heavy cloud covering had moved in swiftly, and she had no doubt it promised additional snow.

“We need to find shelter,” Reeve said.

“More snow,” she said.

He nodded. “Finding shelter is essential. There’s an abandoned croft a few miles to the west.”

“Will it take us out of our way?”

“Not much,” he said, and switched direction.

Tara followed, pulling up the hood of her cloak and keeping pace with Reeve. Traveling behind him, she couldn’t help but admire his tireless strides or the ease in which he vaulted over fallen and decaying trees. The good-sized boulders proved no hindrance to him as well. She, however, skirted around them before he could offer her help.

The sky grew darker, and it took from midmorning, when he had come upon her, until midafternoon for them to reach the croft. Snow started just as they spotted the empty cottage in the distance.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered, feeling quite ravenous, having not eaten since early morning.

“I’ll hunt after getting a fire going.”

Before they reached the cottage, the wind increased along with the falling snow, and Tara feared a substantial snowstorm. If so, they could be trapped alone for days.

The wind stung the flesh, and Tara kept her hood pulled down to protect her face though it hampered her vision and slowed her pace.

“Keep up,” Reeve yelled against the swirling wind and snow.

She raised her head to see that she had lagged behind him, and so she hurried her pace to catch up. With the snow heavy on the ground and it blurring her vision, it was no wonder that her foot got snagged by a snow-covered log, and she went tumbling headfirst.

Before she hit the ground, Reeve’s arm grabbed her around the middle, yanked her up on her feet, and planted her firmly against him.

“Hold on,” he shouted above the din of the storm.

“No!” She tried squirming out of his tight embrace.

“Stop!” he yelled near her ear, and pressed her hard against him.

She was stunned by the strength of his grip and his fearlessness. He had not given thought to his actions; he had simply reacted. He had saved her from falling face-first into the snow, and now he kept her tucked against him, safe from the harsh wind and the possibility of being separated in this wicked storm.

Surprisingly, she found herself complying with his command and burrowing her head against his chest. Once done, he wrapped his other arm around her, and they trudged through the swirling wind and snow to the cottage.

It had been forever since she had been held so tightly. It felt almost as if he never wanted to let her go, or perhaps she merely wished to believe it. It didn’t matter that a snowstorm swirled around them; her only thought at that moment was how utterly wonderful it felt to be held again.

She fought the tears and the memories of being loved and all it entailed. She hadn’t realized how very much she missed not only the intimate touches, but the simple ones, like now and how he held her so protectively against him, his warmth seeping into her and his strength wrapped around her. And kisses, Lord, it had been too long since she had been kissed. To feel a man’s lips again, to know his touch and to be able to touch him . . . no, she couldn’t think about it. It just wasn’t possible, at least not for her.

He hurried her inside and struggled to shut the wooden door against the storm while keeping her tucked in the crook of his arm.

A brief shiver took hold of her, more from her thoughts than the cold.

He yanked her hood back as he asked, “Are you all right?”

She tried to step away from him, but he refused to let her go. “I’m fine. You should release me now.”

“Why? You fit rather nicely,” he said with a teasing smile.

And she did; she had noticed the perfect fit herself. Her body’s contours seemed to meld precisely with his. It was what had churned her memories; for there had been another time she had felt the same. It was as if two missing halves had been reunited, but instead of the thought bringing joy as it once had, now it brought only sadness.

“Please, let me go,” she pleaded softly.

“I am not your intended; therefore, it is safe for me to touch you.”

“You must trust me on this,” she said with sorrow. “It is not safe for you, and I truly wish no harm to come to you.”

He slowly let his arm fall a