Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE
April 1317, Loch Coire Fionnaraich

"Now that is a man," Adanel murmured to herself, brushing a stray lock of her wet, unruly, embarrassingly red hair out of her eyes to get a better look.

Sitting astride his horse, the handsome figure had light brown hair, a strong jawline, and an upper body that would make even the most devout nun go weak in the knees. Whoever this mystery man was, he was as close to visual perfection as Adanel had ever seen. Her large dark brown eyes widened as he stretched his arms high over his head and then out and behind his back. The effort pulled his léine tightly across his chest, leaving no doubt to what it hid—corded muscles, beckoning deliciousness, and most of all trouble. For that was what she would be in if he were to discover her in her current undressed status.

Adanel took one last look at the tempting morsel across the little loch and was about to surreptitiously return to the shore where she had hidden her clothes, quickly slip them on, and sneak back the way she came when a glint of silver caught her eye. A very large sword.

Adanel bit back a groan. Of course, he would not simply be a well-built farmer out for a curious stroll. The Lord's sense of humor would not be satisfied if he were only a scrumptious temptation for her to fantasize about at night. No, the man was a saighdear. Her one weakness.

"A soldier? Not fair, God," Adanel whispered. And then with a little more bite, she added, "If I get caught staring, it's your fault for bringing him here, let alone creating such an attraction." Besides, she thought to herself, any Highlander who could wield that large weapon and fill out his léine the way this man did deserved to be ogled.

She had been around would-be soldiers all her life for most of the men in her father's army did look the part. They were large, brawny, and trounced around carrying scary-looking swords and halberds, but she had spied on them during one of the rare times they had mustered together to train with the handful of mercenaries her father had hired. The sight only proved what she had suspected. They were just large men who could do little more than wave their weapons around in a showy but uncoordinated fashion.

The man across from her, however, was nothing like the ones in her father's army. He had not even touched his sword, yet Adanel suspected that when he did, it was not to boast or to pretend he knew what he was doing. It was to shed blood. Sword, dagger, halberd, or poleax—whatever this man used, he would be deadly.

She had nothing definitive to substantiate her guess, but Adanel's instincts all screamed that she was right. There was something in the way he sat in his saddle, gripped his reins, and studied the area around him. He reminded her of the mercenaries her father often hired. Like them, this saighdear was in complete control of his every move. Even the simple stretching of his arms was unconsciously calculated. Such control was perfected only after years of practice, honed and engraved into even the smallest and inconsequential of actions.

Adanel watched spellbound as he adjusted his seat and then swung his leg over to slide off his horse. Without thought, she rested her cheek upon a nearby, partially submerged boulder and sighed. The soldier, whoever he was, was not just incredibly good looking, he was tall—even for a Highlander. She wondered just where her own lanky form would come up to him. His chin? His shoulder? Probably the latter. She could just imagine fitting perfectly against his warmth as he held her tightly to his side.

It had been a long time since she had been held by a man, but that did not mean she had completely forgotten what it was like. Nothing was better at making her long-legged, curvy body feel feminine and attractive than lying against something large and hard. And next to that man...Adanel blew out the breath she had been holding. Lying next to him she would feel practically dainty. Unfortunately, that was something she would never know. Lord, why did he have to be the best-looking soldier she had seen in years? Perhaps ever.

Movement across the loch snapped her thoughts from daydreams back to reality. The soldier was bringing his horse closer to the water...and therefore closer to her. Worse, she was unable to see where he was going without revealing her current position. Adanel knew she should take the opportunity to sneak away to the shoreline on her side of the loch, but instead she stretched her neck, hoping to continue her gawking.
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