Carys held her breath as her secret lover entered the sparkling waterfall, buried deep within the leafy shadows of the forest.
She pressed her fingers against the rough bark of the tree, and inched a little farther along the branch where she lay hidden from his sight.
From this angle she had a perfect view of his magnificent naked body. Even from this distance she could see the numerous battle scars that marred his tawny skin, but they marked him as a warrior. A hero who faced death without reservation and emerged triumphant.
He was the enemy of her people. And yet she couldn’t tear her fascinated gaze from him.
They had never met. They would never meet. Such a catastrophe didn’t bear thinking about. Yet she thought of this tough, brutal warrior constantly. Ever since she had first stumbled across his irregular bathing ritual three moons ago.
He turned within the shimmering rainbows of the waterfall, fingers raking through his short black hair. Carys released her breath in a shaky gasp and her body moved restlessly against her perilous ledge. The men of Cymru had long, flowing hair. How would it feel to touch such severely cropped hair? Sharp, like the points of reeds? Or—not? She couldn’t imagine. And yet she imagined endlessly.
His hands massaged his broad shoulders, and Carys’ fingers dug into woody crevices as she fantasized rubbing her own fingers over his knotted muscles. It had been fifteen days since he had last been to the waterfall. She knew because she had waited here, each morning.
But the wait had been worth it, and her imagination hadn’t enhanced his powerful muscles, his commanding height or his dark, exotic beauty. Her breath shortened as her heart rate accelerated, and her thighs tightened around the branch in reaction.
Slowly his hands slid over wet skin, fingers trailing through the sprinkling of dark hair that dusted his impressive chest. Lightning flickered in the pit of her stomach, and instinctively she rubbed her pussy against the abrasive bark.
Her only lover, whose possessive grip she had finally escaped three years ago, possessed no body hair aside from on his head. How would it feel to press against a masculine form so unlike any she had previously seen?
The tip of her tongue slid over her lips as her secret lover sluiced water over his rigid stomach. And then his fingers curled around his semi-aroused cock.
Carys stretched to the very edge of her branch, risking safety and the threat of discovery, but temptation was too great. She had seen naked men without number in her life, knew how insanely proud males were of their treasures, but she had never been impressed by that part of the human body before.
Not even her ex-lover’s. Especially not her ex-lover’s. And yet this man’s cock, this man who would murder her without compunction if he knew who she was, held fascination beyond reason.
His fingers slid over his cock, squeezing the dark head, and without conscious thought Carys’ hand slipped between her thighs. Sweet Cerridwen, she had never wanted a man so much as she wanted this one. But she knew better than to ask her goddess to intervene, for intervention would cause untold suffering to her people.
But still, she wanted this man. With all that she was.
Even through the soft wool of her gown, her throbbing clit reacted instantly to the pressure of her finger. She sighed, and her eyelashes flickered as her hips ground against her finger, against the roughness of the tree. She imagined her Roman conqueror touching her there, spearing his finger into her wet slit, and tremors burned through her, tightening her muscles and spiraling through her innermost channel.
She rubbed her breasts, heavy with arousal, against the bark, and imagined his hands cupped her. Squeezed her. Pinched her nipples between his calloused fingers. Rough, battle-forged fingers. How different would they feel from the smooth hands of her previous lover?
She imagined him ripping her gown from her body, until she was naked before him. Could feel the heat of him as he loomed over her. See his eyes—she longed to see the color of his eyes—and if she lifted her hand, she could run her fingers through his short, military hair.
Her heart pummeled against her crushed ribs, blood pounded against her throbbing temples, and her wet clit ached for release against her massaging finger.
He would spread her legs. And then surge into her with his magnificent, massive cock, and she would come, as the great goddess decreed, until the stars in the heavens cascaded through her sated soul, leaving a shimmering waterfall of rainbow lights forevermore.
Hot, liquid heat flooded her pussy, and she bit down hard on her lower lip to stop from crying out. Her fantasy lover satisfied her in ways she had barely before envisaged. As her heart gradually eased its frantic beat and her breath slowed, she knew it was best he remained merely a fantasy. Reality could never compare to the joy she experienced in his arms, while safely cocooned within her mind. In her fantasy, she could orgasm. In reality, with a man, she never could.
She became aware of the sharp edges of the bark scratching her face and struggled to raise her head. A stab of disappointment, as sharp as a Druid’s blade, sliced through her heart.
Her secret lover had vanished from beneath the waterfall.
She inched back along the branch until she was once again safely against the trunk of the tree. It was of no matter. Perhaps he would bathe again tomorrow, and she would be here waiting for him. Or perhaps she would have to wait another moon. There was no method to his visits as far as she could discern, and for all she knew he might never pass this way again. But she didn’t want to think about that.
She was simply going to enjoy every illicit moment she could.
Carefully she climbed back to the ground, her limbs still shaky and filled with remnants of desire. But as her feet touched the leaf-strewn ground, trepidation raced along her spine, crawled across the back of her neck, and sent shivers coursing along her arms.
She was no longer alone.
The trepidation mutated into stark terror. She had trespassed into occupied territory, and the enemy had found her. Stealthily she wrapped her fingers around the dagger strapped to her waist.
She might be imagining it. But she wasn’t an acolyte of the wise goddess Cerridwen for nothing. The Roman stood behind her, and was moments from slaughtering her.
And it was her own fault for not being more careful.
But she wouldn’t show any fear. Wouldn’t divulge any information, no matter how he tortured her. And besides, it was always possible her dagger would pierce his corrupt heart with her first thrust. She knew she wouldn’t be given the chance of a second.
She drew in a breath—her last?—gathered her fleeing courage, and turned to face the conqueror.
* * *
Tiberius Valerius Maximus stopped dead in his tracks as the woman slowly turned toward him. The adrenaline pumping through him in anticipation of the chase spiked into raw sexual energy, as he stared at the one who had been spying on him for Mars knew how long.
Pure reflex kept his gladius raised, and his soldier’s senses remained alert for others hidden among the trees. But his gut told him she was alone. Vulnerable. At his mercy.
He took a step toward her, emerging from the shadows into the dappled sunlight. He expected her to flee, but she remained where she was, looking directly at him as if she had every right to be there and he, none.
Slowly he lowered his gladius. He’d not imagined the spy would be so small or slender or without apparent means of defense. He flicked a glance at the gem-encrusted dagger she clutched to her side, and dismissed it. She possessed neither the strength nor ability to injure him.
Her pale lemon gown, with its square neckline, skimmed the tops of her breasts and hugged her tiny waist before falling in soft folds to just below her knee. The sunlight bathed her in a radiant glow, but her hair needed no such enhancement. Loosely pulled back from her face, it was braided into a long golden plait that trailed over her shoulder to her waist.
He took another step, barely aware he did so. Many of the local girls tied their hair in such a fashion. But threaded through this golden rope were tiny clusters of amethyst and jade, their polished edges glittering, momentarily dazzling him.
And then she moved from the sunlight into the shade. But not away from him. Toward him. And for the first time he saw her face.
For one eternal heartbeat he remained transfixed by her delicate, ethereal beauty. Golden tendrils escaped her braid and caressed her pale cheeks, yet not a hint of fear emanated.
Her serenity unnerved him. And then he looked into her wide, beautiful eyes, and primal panic whipped through him, knotting his guts and tightening his muscles. Instinctively he raised his gladius, but still he couldn’t tear his gaze from her strange, unnatural eyes. One amethyst, one jade. Was she one of the Celts’ barbaric goddesses, come to take vengeance for her people?
She flinched. Barely discernible, but his trained eye saw. Saw how she tried to hide her reaction. Saw, suddenly, the uneven rise and fall of her breasts beneath her woolen gown, a certain sign that despite the calm she displayed, in truth she feared him.
He didn’t want her to fear him. He was a soldier, not a tyrant. Her conqueror and master, but he didn’t need another slave.
With deliberation he once again lowered his gladius and pressed its tip against his thigh. Bizarrely, relief streaked through him at his foresight in wrapping a length of linen around his waist before hunting the spy. He cared not who saw his body, but conversely didn’t want her to see how much she affected him.
And she did affect him. Despite his early-morning ritual of self-gratification, already another erection caused discomfort. He sucked in a deep breath and struggled to articulate the Celtic tongue.
“I mean you no harm.”
Her glance flashed to his gladius, then back to him. He didn’t need an oracle to decipher that response. Without conscious thought he took another step toward her. “What’s your name?”
She pressed her lips together and tilted her head very slightly.
Maximus gave a reluctant smile. Her courage was strangely fascinating, since she had to know he could snap her slender neck with one hand if he so desired.
“So you’re giving me the silent treatment?” He lapsed into the familiarity of his own language. “That makes a change, a beautiful woman holding her tongue.”
Again she tilted her head and this time he laughed at the haughty glare she directed his way. “Although I’m sure there are plenty of things you’d like to say to me, if only we could understand each other.” With his free hand he reached out and gently brushed a strand of golden hair from her face. The silk of her hair and the unexpected heat from her soft skin sent molten darts of animal lust from the tips of his fingers directly to his throbbing cock.
Gods. His fingers stilled against her face. She didn’t try to escape. His breath burned his lungs and closed his windpipe. Why didn’t she try to escape?
“You haven’t been seen in any of the villages.” He’d seen countless girls and women as the legionaries had vanquished one primitive village after another. Had even sampled a few of the prettiest himself, those who were willing to fraternize with their enemy.
Had this golden-haired vision been found, she would have been brought to him personally. The best prizes always were.
“You’re no peasant.” His gaze raked over her, only now recognizing the fine weave to the woolen gown, the intricate, vibrant embroidery that decorated its neckline, sleeves and hem. And the semiprecious jewels threaded through her hair were repeated in her long earrings that brushed her shoulders, the delicate necklace that clasped the base of her throat and the bracelets around her fragile-looking wrists.
Another step and he was close enough to breathe in her evocative scent of spring flowers and summer breezes. A clean, pure scent, one infinitely elevated from the stink of the masses or the claw of poverty. Or the mindless slaughter of the blood-soaked quagmires.
“Where do you come from?” He used her language although he didn’t expect her to answer. This girl, whose air of fragility reminded him of a wood nymph, was from the chieftain class. Of that much he was certain. He trailed his knuckles across her cheek and gently grasped her jaw between thumb and forefinger, forcing her to look at him although she had shown no sign of dropping her gaze. “Where is your father’s settlement?”
Her eyes darkened, dilated pupils almost obliterating her mystical, bicolored irises. Lust burned deep in his groin. Hot. Painful. He traced his thumb across her soft lower lip and felt the heat of her breath scorch his flesh. “Your husband’s?” His voice rasped, as if he had been lost in the desert for days without liquid sustenance. As if the thought of this girl belonging to another man grazed his soul.
It made no difference if she were married or not. If he wanted her, he would have her, and to Tartarus with her entire family if they attempted to deny his desire.
The tip of her tongue moistened the seam of her lips, and he imagined that tongue slipping between his own lips, invading his mouth, and his fingers tightened around her jaw.
“I belong to no man.” Her words were low, breathless, yet clear and melodic to his ears.
“You belong to me.”
Her eyes never left his. “Do you take everything by force, Roman?” Her words were slow, deliberate, as if she wanted him to understand everything she said. She made an expressive gesture with her hand, encompassing the virgin forest. “My land. My people.” She paused for a heartbeat. “Me?”
He rammed his gladius into the ground and cradled her face with both hands. “I don’t need to take you by force, my lady. But I’ll use force against any who try to keep you from me.”
Her hand came between them, and the tips of her fingers touched his naked skin over the heavy beat of his heart. Her pressure was so slight he could scarcely feel her at all, and yet her touch branded him, reached deep inside and twisted his gut.
He didn’t know her name. Didn’t know which noble claimed her. But none of that mattered. Because he had conquered their land for the mighty Caesar and everything and everyone was now owned by Rome.
And here, he was Rome.
Her fingers grazed over his chest, as if the texture of his flesh and hair fascinated her. His hands slid from her face to her throat, and the rapid beat of her pulse against his fingers sank into his blood, an erotic echo.
“Aren’t you going to kill me?” Her whisper flickered through his brain, making no sense. Had he misunderstood? His grasp of her language was far from comprehensive. An oversight he intended to remedy forthwith.
“Were you sent to spy on me?” Inconceivable anyone should send this fragile female on such an assignment, especially with only an ornamental dagger for defense. And yet the Celts were not Roman. Their women were rumored to be as ruthless as their men in battle.
He’d witnessed such himself, from those villages whose inhabitants hadn’t surrendered voluntarily beneath the might of the Eagle.
She looked up at him, fearless and silent. While he couldn’t imagine her engaged in bloody battle, she still had the courage of a warrior to stand up to him.
He lowered his head as his hands slid over her shoulders. “If you weren’t sent to spy on me, then why should I kill you?”
Her hand flattened against his chest, as if she meant to push him away but the touch became an irresistible caress as her palm rubbed over his erect nipple. His cock throbbed at her gentle touch, and the soft linen did nothing to hide the extent of his erection. Curling his fingers around her upper arms, he pulled her against his hard body, wanting her to feel how much she aroused him, wanting to feel the softness of her skin against him.
Her lips parted in a startled gasp as he ground his shaft against her stomach. Sliding one hand down her back, he cupped her round buttock and anchored her securely against his rigid heat.
He wanted more. But for now, this sufficed.
“My beautiful, fearless Celt,” he said in his own language. He squeezed her firm buttock, and she sucked in a shocked breath, even as she squirmed against him. “Would you look at me with such misplaced trust if you knew how much I wanted to rip this gown from your body?” He slid a finger between the crease of her tight little bottom, and her fingernails dug into his chest as she jerked toward him.
He wound his arm around her waist to keep her from any thought of retreat. His finger delved deeper into her hot crevice and she gave a low moan. “Do you know how much I want you, my little Celtic lady? How I want to bury my cock inside your body until I feel you writhe around my shaft? Would you let me, if I asked?”
She pulled, perhaps unconsciously, at his chest hair, and the stabbing pain shot straight to his straining erection. Gods, he needed to fuck her. But every word of her barbaric language had fled his mind, to be replaced by images of her naked beneath him as he filled every tight channel she possessed with his hot seed.
Amethyst and jade eyes stared up at him, dark with passion, devoid of fear. A man could lose his mind and soul looking into such mystical eyes. “Thank the gods you don’t speak my tongue.” He abandoned her tempting buttocks and his palm molded the curve of her hip. “You’d spit in my face.”
Her fingers stilled in their tentative exploration of his battle-scarred chest. “Roman barbarian.” The words were whispered in Celtic, yet he understood them perfectly.
His arm tightened around her slender waist, and he wound the end of her plait around his other hand. Silken strands caressed his palm and he barely noticed the sharp edges of the jewelry embedding into his skin. “Rome can teach you much, my lady.” And he would start the lessons here. Now. And when his lust was sated he would take her back to the settlement so she was always readily available.
“Rome is barbaric.” Her voice was breathless and she shifted against him, rubbing herself over his engorged cock. Again her language failed him, but that was of no consequence. He would show her how much Rome could teach her, and, by the time he finished, she would never wish to return to her primitive life.
He brushed his mouth against hers. She was so soft. So sweet. His tongue traced the seam of her lips, teasing for entry, pressing against the barrier of her teeth. When she finally opened to him he plunged inside, invading her heat, exploring every secret corner, and tangling his tongue around hers, stroking and stoking the scorching embers.
She moaned inside his mouth, and the sound vibrated against his flesh, sizzled along his blood and sent waves of fire coursing through his agonized shaft. Still bound by her braid he clasped her head, holding her still for his pleasure as he plundered her mouth as a ravenous man plundered the fields of Elysian.
Crushed against him he could feel the firm muscles of her thighs, and the exquisite damp heat of her pussy burned through her gown, through his linen robe, and tortured his last remnants of restraint.
Maximus tore his mouth from her and captured her bottom lip between his teeth. She panted into his face, her eyes glazed with passion, and with a growl of possession he released her lip and nibbled kisses with his lips and teeth across her face before sucking her earlobe into his searching mouth.
Her nails dug into his chest, and her earring scraped along his tongue. His hand slid up from her waist and cupped her breast, and he curled his fingers around the tempting fullness and imagined suckling her erect, rosy nipple until she screamed for release.
He flicked the tip of his tongue into the hollow of her ear, felt her shudder in his embrace, and slid his hand between their tightly meshed bodies. Her arousal shimmered all around, tantalizing and frustrating, edging his lust to unbearable heights.
He needed to touch her feminine folds, her swollen clitoris, the wet heat of her slit. As his finger grazed over her through the cursed barrier of her gown, he rasped in Latin, “You deserve more than a quick fuck in the forest, my lady. I promise once we’re back at the settlement I’ll see to your every comfort.”
She tensed, as if his touch had shocked. Surely he hadn’t hurt her? He stilled his finger, although every impulse urged him to explore further, to seek her hidden treasures. “Don’t fear me, lady.” His voice was husky, but he couldn’t help that. She knew he wanted her. “I won’t allow any other to touch you but me.”
The very thought of another man touching her boiled his brain. She was his. She would always be his. If a husband came searching for her, the choice was plain. Surrender his wife to Maximus or die.
Her hand flattened against his chest and this time there was no pretense in the way she pushed him. “Please.” Her voice was low, yet he clearly detected the panic clinging to that one word.
He dragged his hand from the apex of her thighs, although the action went against every screaming nerve in his body. Frustrated desire shredded his mind and wiped every word of her language into oblivion.
“Come with me.” If only she understood him. “You know that sooner or later we’ll find your kinsfolk. With me, you’ll be safe.” They had obviously fled to the hills to escape the invasion, but that act of cowardice had gained them, at most, only a few months of extended freedom.
And this girl was no coward. She didn’t deserve to be hunted down like a rabid dog and either slaughtered in the rage of battle or taken as a spoil of war.
But she couldn’t understand him and his words didn’t soothe. Instead she pulled from his arms and her braid slithered around his hand before escaping.
She stood before him. It would take no physical effort to simply sweep her into his arms, toss her over his horse and take her back to the settlement. Once there, he could imprison her as an insurgent. Could have her whenever the urge gripped him.
The image churned his stomach and made bile rise in his throat. He wanted this golden wood nymph, but not at any cost. What pleasure would he derive from her total subjugation?
The fear that had previously been absent now clouded her fantastical eyes. Incomprehension tore through him, melding with fiery frustration and creating a maelstrom of fury against a foe unknown. Why did she fear him now? What had he done to make her so afraid?
He fisted his hands but still she didn’t move. Why didn’t she run from him, if that was what she wanted? He wouldn’t follow. Wouldn’t take her captive. While he’d have no compunction in slaughtering anyone who attempted to take her from him, she had to go with him willingly.
“You shouldn’t wander the countryside unattended.” His throat was raw. His voice didn’t sound like his own. He searched for the right words to tell her to be careful, to remain safe. To avoid the scouting parties systematically searching the hills for renegades.
But her Celtic eluded him. “Stay with your menfolk,” he said instead. Perhaps they would be able to protect her. But no man could protect her as he could.
Maybe he should take her with him despite her reluctance. She would come around to his way of thinking eventually, when she saw the futility of resisting the might that was Rome.
He searched her face, unwittingly memorizing the proud angle of her jaw, her high cheekbones and her strange, captivating eyes. If he was Rome, she was Cambria, and if he took her against her will, everything that she was would die.
“Farewell, my Celtic lady.” His voice was hollow, an echo of the void filling his chest and seeping through his heavy limbs. He pulled his gladius from the earth, took two backward paces, then turned and marched from her.
* * *
Carys watched the Roman disappear into the forest. Her breath stuttered in her chest and she curled her hand around her throat, the erratic pound of her pulse against her fingers echoing along every traumatized nerve.
Moths fluttered within the hollowness of her legs and she stumbled against a tree for support. What had just happened?
The Roman had left her. She had seen it with her own eyes and still could scarcely believe it.
She closed her eyes and sucked in long, calming breaths, attempting to regulate her heartbeat, center her psyche. Her fingers ached around the handle of her dagger and she loosened her grip, horrifically aware that not once during the encounter had she even thought to gut her sworn enemy.
Finally her pulse slowed and, with a shiver, she glanced around but he had long gone from sight. She pressed her fingers against her throbbing pussy, trying to alleviate the maddening throb of her swollen clit, but the pressure only increased the sensation, and wet heat dampened her.
She leaned back against the tree, sheathed her dagger at her waist and gazed into the leafy canopy above. Her Roman was more magnificent up close than anything her imagination had conjured. Her finger teased her clit as she remembered his sapphire blue eyes. She had never before encountered anyone with eyes as blue as the clearest summer day.
He had told her exactly what he wanted to do with her. And when she had resisted, he had left her. Perhaps, after all, Romans did have a sense of honor.
A low cry escaped and she grasped her head, digging her fingers into her scalp. She had expected death at his hands. Perhaps brutal violation. But she hadn’t expected to be kissed the way he had kissed her. Hadn’t expected the touch of his hands to ignite flames in her blood or send tremors through her limbs.
He affected her more profoundly than she had dared dream. And instead of fulfilling every fantasy she harbored, fantasies she knew he shared by the dark passion in his eyes, his erratic breath and the hard, glorious erection she had felt beneath his scrap of linen, he had left her.
She forced herself upright. Her selfish desires had almost cost her people everything. If the Roman enslaved her, the blood shed in her rescue would haunt her forever. He had set her free and, while she knew if he’d had the slightest inkling she was a Druid—or whose blood she shared—he would have slit her throat, releasing her elevated his status from barbarian to her equal.
Did she dare spy on him again? It was a dangerous game. And yet one that sent dark thrills of excitement spinning through her senses despite, or perhaps because of, the risk of recapture.
But she wouldn’t be recaptured. And even if she was, and they shared another breath-stealing kiss, she would still somehow retain her freedom.
Because this Roman possessed honor.
She retrieved her tightly woven bag from the tangled tree roots and turned and hastened through the forest, taking hidden paths known only to a select few, her sense of direction unerring as she delved deeper into the untamed wilds. Every few moments she paused, ears attuned to the slightest crack of a twig or misplaced scurry of woodland creatures. But aside from the beat of her heart, the breeze shivering through the leaves and the expected rustlings from the undergrowth, the forest was silent. She wasn’t being followed, either by Roman or random villager.
Finally reassured she was truly alone, she doubled back on herself and took the direct route to the enchanted enclave of the Druids. The sacred spiral, a magical veil created by the combined power of all their gods and goddesses that pulsed from the spiritual core of the hallowed bluestones, had been their haven and hidden them from the enemy for these last seven moons.
* * *
Aeron dy Ehangwen, High Druid, stood in the centre of the holy cromlech, at the heart of the protective spiral invoked during the Feast of the Dead. The fingers of his right hand drummed impatiently on the polished stone altar. Yet again, Carys had disobeyed his decree and left the security of the sanctified circle.
Rage bubbled through his veins, pounded against his temples and threatened to incinerate his brain. Did she have so little regard for her own safety? For the safety of her people? Did she not realize that if caught by the enemy, the barbarous Romans would rape her senseless before ripping her limb from bloodied limb?
Through a gap in the outer ring of the immense bluestones, he saw her emerge from the forest into the sacred oak glade. Relief tempered his anger, but not enough to quell the fire in his blood. But then, nothing could ever quell the fire in his blood when he saw Carys.
She paused beyond the inner circle of megaliths and looked his way. He doubted she could see him, deep in the shadows cast by the flat capstone roof, but he had learned years ago never to underestimate his little Carys. She had formidable powers, powers she was scarcely aware existed, but that didn’t excuse her behavior.
When it became clear she wasn’t going to enter the heart of the cromlech, Aeron fought against the compunction to go to her. His fist clenched on the altar, and flames licked through his chest. She never came to him.
He grasped the hazel rod with his left hand and stepped from the inner sanctum into the sunlight. Carys neither moved nor looked surprised to see him suddenly appear.
“So you’ve returned.” He allowed an ember of emotion to heat his words, to show his condemnation.
“Yes.” Just that one word. No hint of apology or attempt at denial. The hazel rod burned his palm, such was the pressure he exerted.
“Which village?” It didn’t matter which village she had visited. They were all occupied by Roman scum. Only here, where the sacred spiral pulsed, were they safe from the invasion.
She took a step toward him. “I don’t go to the villages, Aeron. I’m not that much of a fool.”
She wasn’t a fool at all. Except for the way she denied him.
But she wouldn’t deny him for much longer. Destiny shimmered on the precipice and soon all their futures would alter irreversibly.
He held the knowledge close. She had no reason to know what he planned. None of them had reason to know.
“Then where have you been?” Against his will he strode toward her and then stopped dead as the scent of her arousal, as heady and intoxicating as the most potent of hallucinatory elixirs, drifted on a sensual breeze.
Disbelief ripped through his brain as betrayal thundered through his blood and collided with brutal force along the length of his cock. Desire and disgust warred for supremacy, but desire always simmered beneath the surface whenever Carys was near. Disgust simply fed his hunger and gave it an ugly, jagged edge.
His fingers ached to grip her shoulders, shake her till her hair tumbled free of its restraints. How dare she fuck another? For one incandescent moment a haze of red mist clouded his view, clouded his mind. Clouded his entire purpose. Carys had opened her thighs to another man.
Before he could stop himself he grabbed her wrist and jerked her toward him. Her feminine scent washed through him, musky, mysterious. Unfulfilled.
His senses expanded, explored. And could detect no corresponding scent of rutting male, no obscene stink of lingering masculine seed.
“You’re hurting me.” Her voice was calm, as if she knew he would never truly hurt her. And fuck the bitch for being right. No matter how much she insulted him, he could never raise his hand to her.
He loosened his fingers from her tender flesh. She had not been with a man. Only with herself. The thought of Carys caressing her own nipples, rubbing her own clit and spreading her juices over her pussy caused his engorged cock to throb with painful frustration.
Still holding her wrist, he pulled her hand to his mouth and drew in a deep breath. Knowledge flared in her magical eyes, but she didn’t look away.
“Is there anything you want from me, Carys?” His voice betrayed his need. If he pulled her just a little closer, she would feel how great that need was.
The single word enraged him more than if she had given him a rambling, obscure monologue as to why she no longer allowed him access to her luscious body.
No. Was that all the explanation he deserved? When he could smell the evidence of her denied desires with every breath he took?
He pulled her close despite it all. “The world is changing. To defeat the Romans we must survive and prosper, Carys.” He released her wrist, and curled his fingers around her vulnerable neck. Her pulse beat against the palm of his hand. “Now, more than ever before, it’s essential you allow my seed to grow within your womb.”
She sighed, and her fingers clasped his wrist as, gently but with firm purpose, she removed his hand from her throat. “I’m not ready for any man’s seed to grow within me, Aeron. Please, let’s not have this conversation again. My answer remains the same as it has for these last three years.”
He inclined his head in a show of acceptance. But only so she didn’t see the fury burn in his eyes. Any other woman would weep with gratitude for the honor he wished to bestow upon Carys. Any woman but Carys herself.
“I respect your decision.” The fuck he did. But the time was not yet ripe to take what rightfully belonged to him. “But remember this. When you are ready, be sure to choose your mate wisely. Our future depends upon it.”
* * *
Carys only half listened to Aeron’s lecture. She had met only one man who enticed her to consider the possibility of pregnancy, and she didn’t even know his name.
Would a child of her body mixed with the blood of a certain Roman warrior possess his enchanting blue eyes?
It was an intoxicating notion, outrageous. Yet strangely thrilling. Had her mother, upon first seeing her father, known instantly he was the man she wished to sire her daughter?
A stab of regret pierced her. It had been an age since she’d last had the chance to talk with her mother. How much longer would they be kept separated by the cursed Roman occupation?
“Carys,” Aeron said, and she blinked away the image of one particular cursed Roman to frown up into Aeron’s strange silver eyes. “I fear I must expressly forbid you to set foot outside the sacred spiral.”
She stiffened. “You forbid me?”
Aeron smiled but as always the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “These are barbaric times. I know you wish to help the unfortunates held captive by the Romans, but the fate of the villagers is nothing compared to what the enemy would do to you, Carys.”
“The enemy would never capture me.” But the enemy had captured her earlier. Yet that had been her own fault, for losing concentration. Indulging her lust. Had she been fully alert, the Roman would never have been able to discover her hiding place. “I won’t abandon my people. If they come to Cerridwen’s Cauldron, then I’m duty bound to assist.”
But for the first time in almost seven moons, she hadn’t made it to the sacred spring this morning. She had become distracted. Suppose someone had risked great personal danger in order to see her today? Suppose, by her actions, someone didn’t receive essential medicines and died?
Aeron gave a dismissive wave of his hand, as if the suffering of their people was of no consequence. How could he turn his back on them? She understood the need for the Druids to escape the occupation, for the invaders would never allow them to live. Proof of that, bloodied and personal, had soaked into Carys’ existence long ago.
But did that mean they turned their back on the general populace? Allowed them to struggle without any recourse to their spiritual and medical advisors? Why else had they fled, if not to remain free to assist their people?
“Your duty lies here,” Aeron said. “What good will you be to our people if you allow yourself to be sacrificed as an example to all?” He paused for one telling heartbeat. “Don’t forget how the Romans execute their enemies, Carys.”
Despite the heat from the sun, a shiver chilled her. Rumors from Britain of brutal crucifixions had circulated for years before the invasion of Cymru. And then reports reached them of the horrifying slaughter of their fellow Druids just inside their borders. The invaders had massacred them without mercy.
She thought of her Roman warrior, tried to envisage him sanctioning such callousness. And knew, without knowing how, that when it came to Rome, he would do whatever was required.
Another shiver rippled through her, this time chilling her heart.
Her Roman possessed honor. But if confronted with the choice between saving her and serving his country, she knew where his loyalties would lie.
It pained her heart to admit Aeron was right. The people of Cymru were strong and proud, and had been vanquished only because of the superior strength of the invaders. But if the Romans publicly executed a Druid of her standing, she knew only too well the devastating effect that would have on the morale of her beloved people.
She inclined her head. “I understand.” She would still visit the Cauldron. Before fleeing, she had given her solemn vow to continue aiding those in need.
But she would no longer pass by the waterfall. To do so would only invite danger of the most reckless kind. Regret speared her soul and caused a strange aching desolation deep in the most hidden recesses of her spirit.
At least she’d experienced the sensation of her Roman’s large, roughened hands on her body. The feel of his sensual lips on hers. And now she knew, beyond doubt, that with the right man she could feel lust and pleasure as the great goddess, the Morrigan, required from her children. All she had to do was find another such man.
A man who wasn’t the sworn enemy of her people.
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