To start at the beginning, click here for the prologue
Kira hadn’t met Darren like she had half-promised that night at the river. Fear of upsetting her brother kept her from following through with the plan. But, she had passed by the well on her way home.
“Have you ever heard the legend of this well, Briana?” Kira heard her brother ask.
“No, never. Would you tell me?”
“If you walk with me.”
“Don’t even think about it, Kira,” she had mimicked into the darkness. “We’re outsiders, Kira. Villagers are off-limits, Kira.” What a hypocrite he was! If he had his way, Colin would keep her locked up in camp while he went gallivanting across the countryside, cavorting with every lass that wasn’t tied down!
She should have just met him. She should have just gone, brother be damned. She hadn’t expected the night before at the river. She’d seen Darren from afar, of course. It’s just that usually he was flashing angry looks of hatred their way. But, the way he had looked at her that night… that had been different. His eyes had burned and she hadn’t been able to look away. It had taken her breath and she’d felt warm. Kira had wanted so badly to cross the river when he’d asked her to, but Colin would have been a moody nuisance if she hadn’t returned when she was expected.
But what if she had?
Kira imagined what it would be like to feel Darren’s arms slide around her waist and draw her to him. The wind blew and she let it be his breath on her neck and his hands in her hair. Music from the wedding party in the village floated on the wind, and she moved in time with it, locked in Phantom Darren’s embrace. She pictured him spinning her through turns and holding her close.
With her eyes closed, she twirled around and around the clearing. Her hair blowing back from her face and her skirts swirling around her long legs, she was the picture of a wild sprite in the moon’s light. She imagined the way her small hand would fit into his larger one, the strength that would be in his arms, the heat in his body.
She looked up, her chest rising with the breath of her exertion. She wasn’t alone. Darren stood at the edge of the clearing, watching her. Was he real? Or was this appearance just more of her imagination?
She moved closer to the apparition and placed her hand against his chest. His very solid chest.
He grabbed her hand. “What are you doing?”
“Oh, you’re real. Shhh,” Kira admonished. “You’ll ruin it.” She spun around, set his hands at her hips, and moved against him to the music. She smiled when she heard his intake of breath and felt his hands tighten at her waist. She tilted her head back until it rested on Darren’s shoulder, and he lowered his to taste her skin.
“You’re a gypsy,” he murmured in argument, though whether it was with himself or with her, Kira didn’t know.
“You’re a villager,” she returned, throatily. “I don’t see your point.” She gasped when he caught her earlobe between his teeth.
Darren pushed her hair away from her neck and trailed wet kisses along it, sending shivers down her spine. “You’ve stolen half of our village.”
She laughed softly and twisted in his grasp. Running her hands along his chest, she tossed the ruffly adornment from his shirt over her shoulder. “You’ve stolen from every nobleman in a 50-kilometer radius. You’re hardly one to talk, Highwayman.” She leaned forward to run her tongue over the saltiness of his skin.
A nearby oak tree was hard against her back as he leaned into her against it. “How do you know about that?” he growled as he kissed her, his mouth open against hers.
She slid her hands under his shirt and clasped her hands at his back, pressing his body against hers. “You might be surprised at what I know,” she teased.
Darren trailed his tongue down her throat and kissed at the rounded skin above her bodice. “You’re his sister.”
Kira ran her hands along his rough unshaven skin and made him look her in the eyes. “He may be my brother,” she said, breathlessly. “But I am not him.” She entwined one leg around his and drew his lips to hers once more.
A sharp crack sounded and Kira suddenly found herself in a heap on the ground, Darren holding his head not far away. Confused and addled, she looked up to see her brother standing over them both, his face full of anger. “Dammit Colin,” she swore.
But, Colin ignored her to glower at Darren. “It’s taken me 20 years to find the chance to pay you back, Village Boy. Now…” he continued icily, “just what are you doing touching MY sister?”
Darren scrambled to his feet, intent on repaying the blow that had just been given. The two men circled around each other, hands balled into fists. As they both lunged for each other, Kira yelled in frustration. “Oh would you stop?? Stupid idiot men…” Both men paused to stare at her, and she bodily dragged Colin away. “Just give me a minute!”
A private distance away, Colin began the interrogation. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing, Kira?”
“Don’t you dare take that tone with me, Brother.” She practically spit the words in his face. Colin’s eyes widened in surprise. Kira had always been feisty, but he’d never seen her so angry, and certainly not with him. “I don’t know why you’re HERE right now, Colin, but don’t think that I don’t know WHO you’ve been with lately. How dare you play the high and mighty with me?!”
Colin started. He certainly hadn’t thought he’d been seen by anyone. “Kira, it’s not the same…”
“Like hell it isn’t. Colin, go back. You be happy. I’ll be happy. We can both be happy.”
“You’re my sister,” he argued. “I can’t just—“
Kira shook her head. “You’re not understanding me. I’m not asking your permission. I’m not taking your orders. I’m not one of your men that you can just order around. I’m your sister, like you said. This,” she gestured behind her, “is what I want, and it’s what I intend to have, with or without your blessing.”
Colin’s expression grew stony. “Don’t bother coming home, then.” With that, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the clearing.
“I wasn’t planning on it,” she whispered to his retreating back. She felt strong arms slide around her waist from behind.
“Is everything alright?” Darren nuzzled at her neck.
Kira turned and rubbed her cheek against his chest, kissing his skin lightly. “I think so.”
Darren leaned down and pressed his lips to hers, far more tender this time, before picking her up in his arms. He laid her gently on the soft grass before joining her.
“More than alright,” she whispered as she drew his face down to hers once more.