Nature of the Beast

By: Hannah Howell

“I thank ye for helping me and my brother.”

“’Twas my pleasure.” He noticed her surreptitiously glancing around his cave. “Is there anything ye need?”

“Do ye need a pot, Evie?” asked David.

Evie did not need the fleeting grin that passed over Berawald MacNachton’s too handsome face to tell her she was blushing over David’s question. She could feel the heat of it on her face. David was too young to understand how badly a woman needed to preserve some scrap of modesty before a grown man, especially when that man was such a handsome stranger. She doubted it was a lesson she would be able to teach him for quite a while, either. Before she could make any response, however, Berawald picked her up off the bed, blanket and all.

“If ye would just show me where to go,” she began.

“Ye would stagger there yourself?” Berawald asked. “Ye have been abed for three days, even lost a lot of blood ere I stitched ye closed. Ye might make it to where ye need to go, but ye would use up your entire strength to do so. I might then have to come and get ye because ye are too weak to rise up from where ye are squatting.”

That was blunt, Evie thought, feeling her face heat up with yet another blush. It was also true, but she wished he had spoken with a little more concern for her modesty. She also wished she had the strength to get down and walk, for being held in his strong arms, her cheek resting against his broad, hard chest, was making her feel decidedly twitchy.

He set her down and Evie realized they had reached their destination. She looked around in amazement. The room resembled a garderobe, one that might be found in a very fine castle. A wooden boxlike bench with two holes in the top was against one of the stone walls. Stone slabs covered most of the floor and a thick sheepskin was laid out on the floor directly in front of the bench. Evie turned to say something to Berawald only to find him gone, and that made her frown. Surely she had not been so caught up in her thoughts that she had missed hearing him leave.

Shrugging her shoulders and softly cursing the pain the movement caused, she moved toward the bench. She was already weak, her knees trembling with each step, but she felt sure she could manage to do what she needed to do without his help. As she settled herself on the bench she began to pray that she would not need to call for help to get off it. Noticing a bucket of lime next to where she sat as well as a bucket of water to clean herself with, Evie decided her savior was a very meticulous man. It was even more reason to avoid needing his help. A meticulous man would not be one who would allow her to keep her secrets.

After she was done, had washed up, and then thrown some lime into the hole, Evie leaned against the cool stone wall of the small room to catch her breath. It annoyed her beyond words that doing so little could make her feel so weak. She finally looked at the room she was in more carefully and frowned. It resembled a cave, yet that made no sense. People did not usually make their homes in caves.

“Do ye need help?”

That deep voice echoing down the small passage leading to her pulled Evie out of her confusing thoughts. “Nay, I can come to you.” Keeping one hand on the wall and clutching the blanket around her shoulders, she started to walk down the passage, praying with every step she took that she was not mouthing an empty boast.

Berawald picked her up as soon as she inched her way out into the main room. He ignored her muttered protests as he carried her back to bed. She was pale and covered in a light sheen of sweat, her slender body trembling with the effort of walking only a few feet. He knew she did not need to be told that she would never have made it back to her bed on her own. Tempting though it was to say it, it would be a little like rubbing salt into her wounds.

Once she was settled back in her bed, he helped her drink some cider that he had mixed a few herbs into. He ignored her grimaces and silently pressed her to drink it all down. Just carrying her that short distance had stirred him so much, and so fiercely, that he was very eager to put some distance between them.

“Herbs to strengthen my blood?” she asked after she finished the cider and settled her aching body more comfortably on the bed.

“Aye.” Berawald moved to stir the pot of broth he was brewing for her. “Are ye a healer, then?”

“I have done some healing work.” She sighed as she saw what he was doing. “’Tis broth, aye?”

He had to bite back a laugh over the heavy tone of disgust in her voice, and that surprised him, for he rarely laughed. “’Tis indeed broth for you. David and I shall dine on something much heartier later.”

“Cruel mon. I shall try to be asleep by then, I think.”

“Sleep is the best medicine.”

Her voice was soft, a little husky, and Berawald felt as though it caressed him each time she spoke. He had long ago accepted that he was not a passionate man, not like so many others in his clan. He was no virgin, doubted any man who had lived as long as he had could be, but he had never felt any true craving for a woman. He felt one for this woman and it worried him. His kinsmen would undoubtedly urge him to seduce her, to satisfy the need knotting his insides, but his every instinct told him that would only make the craving worse. He needed to get her healed and strong as quickly as possible and send her far, far away.

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