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Authors: Donna Fletcher

Loved By a Warrior

BOOK: Loved By a Warrior
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Loved By a Warrior

Donna Fletcher

Chapter 1

R
eeve stood hidden amongst the snow-laden pine trees. He didn't move a muscle and slowed his breathing. He didn't want to be detected as he watched the scene unfold before him with interest.

A lone woman stood circled by four men, thieves for sure, though not one of them approached her. She held no weapon, and though she was sturdy in weight and height, the men outnumbered her. They would surely have no problem capturing her.

He noticed she didn't appear upset with her dire situation. The men actually eyed her with more fear than she did them. Her features were common enough, not that one could refer to her as a beauty, but by no means was she unsightly. Perhaps it was her large eyes that dominated her round face that made one take notice and question her features. Even where he stood, a few feet away, he could see that the color of her eyes was uncommon. He had been with his share of women and had seen many lovely-colored eyes and some not so lovely, but never had he seen her eye color. It was deep lavender, though actually more purple, a royal color for sure. Add to that her raven-colored hair, which fell in ringlets around her face and down near to her waist, and one would wonder her heritage. Born of royalty or born of magic?

The men surrounding her apparently were thinking the same, for they did not approach her. She stood stock-still, her muted red, fur-lined cape hanging open revealing a velvet gown gathered high beneath her full breasts, which looked as if any moment they would spill forth.

Odd though, she was devoid of jewelry, unless, of course, the thieves had already confiscated it. Why then, though, did they continue to surround her?

The enclosed wagon she obviously had ridden in had been torn to shreds, pillows and blankets and chests lay strewn about the ground, along with the guards who apparently had tried unsuccessfully to protect her.

“She must have the wealth on her person,” one thin man said sharply.

“Then go fetch it,” said another heavier man in need of a good washing.

“You go fetch it,” the thin fellow shouted back at him.

“Is there not a one of you brave enough to confront me?” the woman asked, defiance shining in her strange-colored eyes.

Reeve had to admire her courage, or was it foolishness, goading them the way she did.

“She is no bride to any of us, so the hex won't work,” another said, and took a step back.

“Then you go wrench her
bride price
from her,” declared the heavy fellow.

Reeve furrowed his brow. Could it be so? He had believed a
death bride
was a mere myth.

“I'm not touching her,” spat the thin fellow.

The woman grew more defiant. “You are cowards, every one of you.”

The heavy man huffed and shook his head. “She knows she has the power to snuff the life out of us if we touch her.”

“But I thought it was only husbands she killed?” asked another

“You willing to take a chance?” queried another.

They all shook their heads vehemently.

“We have no choice,” the heavy man said. “She must die.”

Reeve grinned. He had no intentions of letting the woman die even if she was a
death bride
. Besides, you would need to wed her for the curse to work, and if that was the case, then he would free her to go wed whatever desperate man had been unwise enough to agree to such a foolish arrangement.

One brave soul stepped forward though it was not the thin or heavy one; they remained where they were while urging the courageous, or idiotic, man forward.

“Get her and be done with it,” one shouted.

The sole man approached the woman cautiously, sword in hand, and Reeve almost laughed aloud when he saw how the man's hand trembled violently.

What surprised him, though, was the way the woman defiantly tilted her head and squared her shoulders as if she defied him to approach her, and with not a weapon in hand to defend herself. She was either boldly courageous or bloody stupid.

There was no thought of leaving her to her own foolish devices even though Reeve wished to be on his way home. He had partially succeeded in carrying out his mission and wanted to return to his family to see how his brothers had fared with theirs and to continue on course to make certain that the true king of Scotland took the throne.

The reminder that his mission took priority over everything else made him realize that he would need to see this done and be on his way. Time was precious, and he did not wish to waste a moment of it.

With a few cautious steps, he left his hiding spot and stopped just behind the four men.

“I think you should leave the lady alone,” Reeve said calmly though firmly.

The men jumped, swinging their raised swords as they turned in unison. They remained where they were, no doubt assuming one man presented no danger.

One spoke. “She's a killer of men.”

Reeve looked from one to another. “None of you appear dead. Of course, I could be wrong, since you all
stink
like rotting corpses.”

The woman smiled though she made no comment.

“There are four of us and one of you,” the thin man pointed out.

Reeve rubbed his chin and frowned. “A shame it isn't more evenly balanced. But if you wish, I'll wait while you get more help.”

“Are you stupid?” the heavy one asked with a snort, stepped forward, and threw his arms out wide. “I am three maybe four times your weight. I could crush you with one blow.”

Reeve was used to men underestimating his strength. He was tall and lean with muscle, whereas most Scotsmen were thick and of average height. Their misconception gave Reeve an advantage since most thought him no threat though it never took long for the poor blokes to realize their mistake.

Reeve's hand struck out so fast that the heavy man was on the ground flat on his back with Reeve's booted foot at his throat before he realized what had happened. Reeve kept his foot firm at the man's throat even though he flopped around like a fish out of water, as Reeve spoke to the other three.

“Leave now, and I won't hurt a one of you,” he told them. “Think otherwise, and your already offending stench will join that of the rotting dead.”

“We'll split the wealth with you,” one offered, and the others nodded agreeably.

“I'll give it all to you if you'll help me.”

The three men turned to glare at the woman, while Reeve slipped his boot off the man's throat, leaving him gagging for air as he stepped over him and walked to the woman's side.

Reeve was no fool. People didn't part with wealth that easily. He didn't for one moment believe that if he disposed of these men, that would be the extent of it. He knew it. He could feel in his gut that she wanted more from him.

And he was curious.

“We got to her first,” the bolder of the men shouted. “She's our prisoner, and the booty belongs to us.”

Reeve drew his sword and pointed it at the man. “The booty belongs to whoever is the strongest to take it. Are you strong enough to take it from me?”

The men huddled together, the one on the ground having finally gotten to his feet and joined them. They mumbled amongst themselves until they finally separated.

The bolder one spoke again. “How about you give us a bit of the booty, and we leave you alone.”

Reeve grinned and brandished his sword. “How about I run my sword through every one of you and leave you to rot.” With a quick step and a jab, he nicked the one fellow's ear with the tip of his sword.

The other men stumbled back, knowing it took a skilled swordsman to perform such a feat. Most would have just lopped off the whole ear.

“Be gone with you, or I'll cut you open and leave the animals to feast on your innards,” Reeve warned, and jutted forward, scaring the men so badly that they turned running into each other and tripping over their own feet as they scrambled to run away.

“Won't they follow us?”

Reeve turned to the woman, her eyes steady on where the thieves had disappeared into the woods. He realized that while her voice had turned soft, her violet eyes held a hint of apprehension. “Not if they know what's good for them.”

“But they could follow and attack—”

“Let me worry about that,” he advised, sheathing his sword. “That is, if you still wish me to help you.”

“I hope that you can help me.”

It sounded as if she pleaded, yet with courage, and Reeve admired her bravery since she truly wasn't in any position to haggle. He could easily take what wealth she carried and be rid of her.

And so he had to ask, “Why trust me?”

“You didn't join forces with the thieves.”

“Perhaps I wanted the wealth for myself,” he suggested.

“Then I would be dead by now.”

He stepped closer to her. “What if I wanted something else from you?”

Her soft voice turned as hard as solid stone. “Kiss me or touch me, and you'll die.”

“What if I don't believe the tale of a
death bride
?”

“If you know that I am one,” she said, “then you truly would be a fool to take the chance.”

Her eyes turned a deeper shade of purple and filled with such heavy sorrow that Reeve couldn't help himself. He reached out and was about to touch her when she stumbled back, in a rush to avoid him.

He drew his hand away. “You are not my bride, so therefore I have nothing to fear.”

“There is more to the tale than you know.”

Her blunt tone warned she would say no more, but that wasn't what stopped him from satisfying his curiosity. It was the utter despair so visible in the slump of her shoulders, the slight drop of her head, but mostly the way she hugged herself, her arms tight around her middle.

How long had it been since someone had embraced her?

He knew she wouldn't let him near her, so he offered comfort the only way he could. “How can I help you?”

“I don't wish to bring death to any more men.”

Reeve wondered just how many times she had been a widow.

“I wish to find a safe place where I may live in peace and harm none. In return for helping me find this haven, I will give you my substantial bride price.”

He certainly had no intentions of leaving her on her own. He also couldn't help but think how her offer would benefit his mission. His three brothers, not by blood, though as close as if they were, would surely agree. They had been working hard in gathering forces to help bring the true king to the throne when the time was right. This offer could help bring that to fruition.

“Agreed,” he said firmly.

“I'll have your word on it as a Highlander warrior.”

He saw no reason not to give his word since he intended to see her safe. “You have my word.”

“Let me gather a few of my things, and we can be on our way,” she said.

“First, call me curious, but I would like to know your name and the name of your intended,” he said.

“Does it matter?” she asked, a bit startled.

“Well, I could call you lass, bonnie, darling,” he shrugged. “Take your pick.”

“Tara,” she said quickly. “My name is Tara. As for my intended, I prefer not to share his name. I wish only to slip away into oblivion and let everyone assume what they may.”

“More than likely they will assume you dead, your bride price stolen.”

“That would be best . . . for all.”

Reeve could not imagine slipping away from his family, leaving them to believe him dead. Besides, if there was no body to be found, his parents and his brothers Duncan, Trey, and Bryce would search until they found him and then bury him on MacAlpin soil where he belonged. Was there no one who loved her enough to make certain of her fate? Or would her family be relieved that they were finally rid of her?

He watched her gather a few of her belongings and some clothing, rolling them up in a dark green wool blanket and tying it with gold cord that she stripped from one of the garments she was leaving behind.

He was surprised that no servant maid had been sent along with her. That she worked without complaint and not asked for help made him wonder if she was accustomed to tending to herself.

Reeve had to smile. She was certainly sturdy enough to handle chores, not petite like his brother Duncan's wife, Mercy. Mercy could stand behind her husband and not be seen; that was how tiny she was, or perhaps that was how big Duncan was.

Tara was no wee woman. He was a good two inches over six feet, and her head reached past his chin. She wasn't slim and certainly not weighty, though there was solidness to her. Her red dress displayed her plentiful bosoms nicely though it failed to distinguish her other curves. So, naturally, he couldn't help but wonder what lay beneath all that red velvet. Narrow waist, full hips? He loved full hips, loved the feel of thick flesh in his hand when a woman rode him.

Why?

The question echoed in his head. Why was he thinking about this now? He almost laughed since the answer was simple. He was a man, and men enjoyed drinking in the beauty of women. Yet Tara wasn't a beauty, attractive, but he'd seen far more beautiful woman. Duncan's wife being one of them. Why, then, did he find her enjoyable to gaze upon?

“I'm ready,” she said.

Reeve reached out to take her bundle from her, but she ignored his offer and slipped the cord over her head so the rolled blanket could rest against her back. She certainly was an independent lass. Another trait he admired.

“The bride price?” Reeve asked, not having seen her retrieve any coins or jewels.

“I have it. And you'll receive it when I am safely ensconced in my new home.”

BOOK: Loved By a Warrior
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