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The Rose and the Warrior

"You are an enemy here," she protested, desperate to keep the lines between them clean and deeply cut."A MacTier."

"That is true," he agreed, moving toward her.

"You came to crush my band, and if you'd been able, you would have killed me that day we fought in the woods," she continued, backing away from him. The cool stones of the wall pressed into her, arresting her retreat.

"You were every bit as determined to kill me." He reached out and gently brushed a dark strand of her hair away from her face. "Remember?"

His fingers were warm against her skin, warm and filled with gentle strength. It was wrong to stand there and endure his touch, and yet she found she couldn't move, could scarcely even draw a breath as he held her steady with nothing more than the raw desire emanating from him.

"Why?" she whispered. A single, anguished tear trickled down the pale softness of her cheek. "Why did you save my brother, knowing you might die yourself?"

He captured the tear with his thumb, then brushed a tender kiss on her cheek where he had found it. "I did it for Matthew," he murmured, his voice rough. "And I did it for you," he added, grazing his lips across her other tearstained cheek. "And believe it or not, Melantha, I did it for me. Because somewhere deep inside this weary warrior's soul of mine, I like to believe I still know the difference between right and wrong." He held her by her shoulders and searched the glimmering depths of her eyes, knowing he had exposed a fragment of his soul to her, yet wanting to have this moment of honesty between them. "Do you find that so impossible to believe?"

His gaze was pleading, even tormented. The air hung frozen between them as he waited for her response. Yesterday it would have been easy for her to answer his question, for she had believed she knew exactly who and what he was. But that was before he had bravely dangled fifty feet above the ground, his body straining as he lunged toward the earth and pulled her beloved brother from certain death. In that moment he had shown himself for what he really was. A warrior who would risk everything for a child he barely knew.

Because he had a compassionate heart.

Her tears began to fall in hot, pain-filled streams. She bowed her head, vainly trying to hide her anguish from him.

Her distress cut him to the bone. He could only imagine the depths of her suffering, although he knew what it was to lose those one loved. But he had tried to escape the ruins of his domestic life, while Melantha had been forced to stay and assume responsibility for those left behind. Not only for her brothers but for everyone in her clan, whom she desperately tried to feed and clothe with every scrap of cloth and morsel of food she procured as the Falcon. It was an awesome, daunting task, and one that she performed with steely courage and uncomplaining resolve. He was suddenly filled with a desire to tell her how fine she was, how brave and strong and rare. But he feared the words would sound meager and hollow coming from him. After all, he was a MacTier. If not for the actions of his clan, she would never have suffered the atrocities she and her people had endured. But for his people, her father would still be alive, her clan would be well fed and well clothed, and she would not bear the jagged scars of fear and deprivation and hatred. He had not been part of that fateful raid on her clan, but it did not matter, he realized harshly. He had lived his life as a warrior, and had raided and ruined countless lives as his legacy.

Self-loathing poured through him, making him feel sick.

"I'm sorry, Melantha," he murmured, releasing his hands from her shoulders. "Forgive me." He began to turn away.

Melantha thought she was falling, so acute was the sudden void swirling around her. She did not understand the emotions gripping her, except that she suddenly felt tiny and fragile and alone, and she couldn't bear it. She threw her arms around the solid expanse of Roarke's shoulders and buried her face into his chest, letting a sob escape her throat. Stay, she pleaded silently, feeling as if she were being crushed from within. Please stay.

Roarke froze, uncertain.

And then he closed his arms around her and ground his lips savagely against hers.

© Karyn Monk.
All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction is permitted without express consent of the author.

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