Eithne awoke to a fumbling sound at her window.

Eithne awoke to a fumbling sound at her window and a thump onto her bedroom floor. Her eyes ached at the moonlight that jammed itself up beneath her lids, but she dared not blink; she had to see. She could move no more than her eyes.

“Whisht!” the shadow whispered hoarsely. “It’s only my own self!”

It was not much to go on, but she recognized the shaggy accent of a Highlander. At the same moment he moved away from the window, and her eyes no longer burned merely to look upon him.

Her eyes no longer burned merely to look upon him.

He was only a man. Her paralysis had only been panic.

She threw off the blankets and hurried to rise. She did not want to be lying in the bed when he arrived at the bedside.

“Cormac…” she whispered. “I didn’t think…”

'I didn't think...'

“It’s a madman I am,” he whispered, “to be coming to you by the light of the moon. And not quite full – I cannot be claiming the excuse of moon-​​madness.”

“I didn’t think you would come…”

“I thought we decided!”

“Aye, but… so late, I’m meaning…”

“I don’t know your father’s habits,” he smiled. “Every father in Scotland is abed at this hour.”

'I don't know your father's habits.'

He had not touched her while she was in the bed, but as soon as she stood, he passed an arm around her waist and pulled her against him.

Her heart was already pounding. Once again she felt his strength, and she tried to make herself feel that it was wrapping itself around her, sheltering her. Still she could not. She wanted to cower beneath her bed until he had gone. He would simply roll over her like a storm.

He bent her back and kissed her as he had kissed her that afternoon behind the kitchen: raining kisses over her mouth and cheeks and brows, never allowing her, who had no experience with kissing, to kiss him in return.

He bent her back and kissed her.

She opened her mouth to gasp or cry out, and then he kissed it deeply, as he had behind the kitchen.

When she slid a foot back to balance herself, she felt her calf bump against the bed. She was falling, and only his strength was holding her up. Holding her up, but not holding her.

She turned her head away and whispered, “You’ll take me with you when you go?”

'You'll take me with you when you go?'

“Aye!” He pursued her mouth with his.

“You’ll ask my father?” she begged.

She did not truly believe he would, but she wanted to believe she believed.

She wanted to have an excuse to offer her father in case she proved to be pregnant. She wanted to have a shred of hope of her own through those nine months: that the baby was merely Cormac’s, and not some hideous, black-​​skinned fairy child.

She would rather be a fool and a whore and all the other things that her father said of Flann than be the daughter who brought the curse of the Sidhe upon her house.

'You'll ask him for my hand?'

“You’ll ask him for my hand?” she pleaded.


She allowed his lips to find hers again, but almost at once he pulled his head away.

“Have you not done this before?” he asked.

'Have you not done this before?'

“Of course!” she gasped. “Or…” She did not want to be a fool and a whore. “It’s little choice the man was giving me,” she whimpered.

“Ach!” He stroked a hand down her cheek and neck. “Some man has been hurting you, my lovely. Tell me the name of him.”

'I... don't even know it.'

“I… don’t even know it.”

He pulled her into a hug and laid his cheek against hers. He sighed, and his breath was warm in her hair. He was merely a man.

He sighed, and his breath was warm in her hair.

“We don’t have to do this,” he whispered.

“I… want to…” Her whisper was so soft that it was merely a movement of air over her lips. But he seemed to have heard.

“We shall make you forget all about that man,” he whispered firmly, like one who had made up his mind.

He had made up her mind for her, as well.

He had made up her mind for her, as well, and she was grateful.

He began to touch her again, to kiss her, to stroke her body with his hands. It was not like that afternoon behind the kitchen now. Through his gestures there shone a certain tenderness, concern, a kind of love. She felt it wrapping her round like wings.

She felt it wrapping her round like wings.