Kieran MacArthur, a hardened eleventh-century warrior, has only days to save humankind from final darkness -- and his heart from the modern woman he was destined to love since time began.
Tess smiled and dug for a pack of crackers in her purse. With a victorious “Aha!” she pulled out two packs, crushed them between her fingers, and leaned down to offer the feast to her new best friend. As the little duck ate, she crooned softly to it, telling it to never be bullied by bigger, badder ducks that thought they ruled the pond.
A sudden movement to her left caught her attention. Something stirred in the bushes, and it was big. Really big, judging by the way the branches thrashed about. Her heart leapt into her throat. Looking about, she noticed she was alone now, and twilight was fast descending. Bears had been known to venture into the city, but…
Don’t be ridiculous, Tess, there are no bears in the middle of the city!
She rose on unsteady feet, trying to remember if she had anything resembling a weapon on her. The bush moved again and this time she heard a noise like someone moaning. Her fear increased a hundredfold.
It sounded like a man, and probably a drunk one. Great. Just great. Couldn’t a girl feel sorry for herself in peace any more?
For a split-second, she considered running off and foregoing the investigation of the sound, but as usual, her inquisitive nature won out. Her fingers returned to her purse, rifling through its contents for something sharp, until they settled on her lucky pink flamingo pen. A weapon to strike fear into the heart of anyone. She quelled the thought and moved toward the bush again, pen clutched in her trembling hand, poised to stab whatever lurked in the shadows.
She prayed no one was watching her. She probably looked like a complete moron.
In the fading light, Tess saw it was indeed a man laying beneath the bush, and he was considerably bigger than she was comfortable with. He stirred and one leg shot out from under a thick, leafy branch, exposing a bare leg encased to the knee in some kind of dirty boot.
Wonderful. A half-naked drunk.
She squinted to see better. At least his leg was nice. Tanned and well muscled, with just the right amount of hair. Whoever he was, he wasn’t a bum. Bums didn’t usually work out, did they?
Tess crouched and scooted closer. “Hello? Um, are you ok? Sir?”
She rolled her eyes at the squeaky tone of her own voice. You’re such a wimp, Theresa Shank. A total wimp!
The guy, she reasoned, was obviously wasted...or hurt. From the looks of things, he wasn’t in a position to do her much harm--unless it was all a ploy and she was about to pay a dear price for her nosiness.
She pushed the latter thought aside and hazarded another waddling step closer. “Er, Sir? Do you need some help?”
The man did not respond, only moaned again.
The drunkard theory went down the hill when she failed to detect the scent of alcohol. That left option B—wounded. Her nurturing side took over and she squatted beside him. When her fingers came into contact with his skin, it felt cold. In fact....
She frowned. Were those ice crystals clinging to the hair on his body? At the beginning of October? Impossible. This was New Mexico. Fifty-five degrees easy, even with dark clouds swallowing up the final remnants of day.
Yet, as she drew her fingers away, she felt moisture far too cold to be sweat. She frowned again. What the hell?
That’s when it happened. One second she balanced on her heels, staring in disbelief at her fingers, the next she was on her back with the weight of the giant crushing her into the ground.
The scream she was about to let loose died on her lips with a pathetic yelp as a very real, very lethal blade came to rest at the base of her throat. She clenched her eyes shut so hard beneath the hand he’d slammed down over them, she felt her eyeballs protesting against the pressure.
Blood pounded in her ears until she thought her eardrums would burst. Not a muscle in her body obeyed her command to struggle, to try and throw off her attacker. Instead, she just lay there, whispering, “Please, please, please don’t hurt me,” until the words melted into each other and became one continuous prayer.
The man moved, shifted his weight. The dagger returned to its sheath. She clearly heard the slide of steel against leather. Warm, rapid breaths fanned her cheek.
Oh God, he was going to rape her, right here, in plain sight of the apartment complex across the river. She mentally applauded herself for wearing all tans and browns today, considering that they blended in so damn well with the sand and dirt. From far away, only he would be visi—wait a minute!
Was he wearing a skirt?
Her leg twitched against his. She chanced a feel around one of his massive, straining arms. No, not a skirt. A kilt. Thick, genuine wool, too.
She was going to be raped by a hardcore SCA geek. Peachy. Of all the people in the world who committed crimes, she had to be brutalized by a weirdo who traipsed about sporting his nerd-gear on a Wednesday evening.
Her mind worked frantically for something to say. “Can you please take your hand off my eyes so I can see you?” she asked, not believing he would comply so she could identify him in a police line-up.
To her surprise, however, he did.
The impact of what she saw hit her twice as hard as his tackle. Bright green eyes burned down into hers from beneath arrogantly arched brows, sparking with dangerous intent. One eye, she noted, was far darker in color than the other, and it lent him a disturbing air that left her profoundly shaken.
She studied his features, intent in remembering every detail she could, just in case she made it out of this alive. His mouth was full and sensual, but hard beneath a strong, straight nose, and his hair fell around his face like the wings of a raven. A thin braid adorned each side of his face, and she thought she detected the lines of badly removed tattoos on both of his temples. His cheeks and jaw were ridiculously defined, and some insane part of her at once envied him his immaculate bone structure. He looked like one of the models from the covers of her romances.
She would have giggled at the sheer odds of being attacked by someone this hot, thinking some women wouldn’t mind being in her predicament one bit, but the lump in her throat damned near choked her, so instead she just quivered, and then, knowing full well the laughable nature of the attempt, raised the hand still clutching the flamingo pen.
His gaze shot to her hand. “What are you going to do with that? Tickle me to death, madam?”
Tess’ brows shot up. He actually had the Scottish accent down perfectly. Not bad for a nerd. A slight smirk played around his mouth in mockery of her efforts. Tess fought the urge to stare at him, torn between terror and fascination.
His smirk spread into a sexy grin. “Well? Are you going to battle me with your bird?”
Maybe he would have scoffed and preened longer if she hadn’t stabbed the pen into the side of his butt right then. Howling with pain, he rolled and brought her to sit atop him, never releasing even an ounce of his hold on her body.
Tess knew she had made a lethal mistake by the forbidding look in his emerald eyes, a look that promised violence. His fingers dug into her bare arms until she squirmed in discomfort, but still...the hit she expected never came.
She watched, frozen, as the muscles in his arms bunched and corded with the evidence of his strength. Beneath a rough linen tunic. A very medieval-looking tunic. Weirdo. Weird. Weirdness.
“Bloody hell, woman, are you insane?” Her assailant’s mouth thinned with indignant anger.
She saw his Adam’s apple bob up and down convulsively as he swallowed past the pain in his ass. “Pull it out. Now.” The deep, commanding timbre of his voice crashed through her bones like a sensual earthquake.
Now it was her turn to be indignant. “You’re the insane one! I’m not going to help you. I’m going to sit here and wait until you pass out from blood loss and then call for help!”
He merely laughed, an enjoyable sound, rich and low and masculine as hell. “Not bloody likely, wench. Pull it out or I will make you regret your rashness. I say it once more, and once more only. Do it. Right now. And then, if I don’t feel like beating you first, you will sit where I tell you to and tell me everything I need to know.”
Tess gaped. She twisted one arm out of his grip and placed her hand on her hip, jabbing a finger into his chest to punctuate her annoyance. “Don’t ‘wench’ me, loser. I had a bad friggin’ day and I’m about fed up with your Billy Badass, Bow-To-Me-I’m-The-Lord-Here attitude. Your geeky friends have all gone home to brew mead and pretend to be powerful and cool and ever so wicked so they can have an excuse to dry-hump each other, and the game is over. Next week, you can all meet again, but for now, the meeting is adjourned. Let me go.”
“Or what?” the stranger scoffed.
“Or I’ll scratch your eyes out!”
“I give you leave to try, wench, but if you so much as nick my flesh again, I’ll pull your pretty little claws from your fingers one by one and tame your vicious tongue with my belt. ‘Tis obvious you need a man’s tempering touch.”
“Let...me...go.” Each word rasped from Tess’ throat laced with pure contempt.
Tess could feel her blood boiling. “Yes.”
“No. And as long as I wish it, you will remain exactly where you are.”
The nerve! She struggled against his hold, forcing him to move beneath her. From the feel of things, he was well made everywhere. Shut up, mind! “Get your grubby hands off of me right this goddamn minute!”
“Not until you pull your weapon from my arse.”
The word weapon dripped with sarcasm. His jaw set as if on steel hinges as he fixed her with a fierce stare probably meant to cow her into submission. It wasn’t going to work.
“I’m more likely to shove it up there than yank it free,” she spat.