Nature of the Beast

By: Hannah Howell



That thought had barely finished passing through his mind when he cursed himself for a heartless bastard. She and David were in danger. He had not pressed the boy too hard for information about that danger, but he was certain that some dire threat was dogging the heels of the pair. It was the only explanation for why they were in his woods; in the midst of MacNachton lands — lands most other people avoided — and for why she had been so badly wounded. As soon as she had the strength for a long interrogation, he intended to get some answers. Only then could he make any real decision about her and her brother. And he would not let those big green eyes of hers make him falter in getting the information he needed. For now, however, he would simply work hard to help her regain her strength.

Evie looked around the large chamber. The man’s home definitely looked like a cave. That made no sense to her, for he was clean, well spoken, and handsome enough to make a woman’s heart skip. He was the sort of man one expected to find living in a fine manor house or even a castle.

Before she could stop herself, she asked, “Are we in a cave?” She knew it was probably rude to ask such a question and felt herself blush, but she did not apologize.

Berawald looked at her and smiled faintly. “Aye, we are.”

Since she had already crossed the line into rudeness, she decided she would keep right on walking. “Ye live in a cave?”

He heard only curiosity and a touch of surprise in her voice. “Aye. ’Tis spacious. As I told young David, ’tis also never too warm or too cold.”

“It can be damp.”

“I dinnae think there are verra many abodes in this land that arenae a wee bit damp.”

She smiled faintly. “True, but I have ne’er heard of any but hermits or outlaws who lived in such places.”

“None live in ones as comfortable as this. Hermits prefer ones that are nay more than niches in a hillside. This place wouldnae allow them to enjoy the suffering they often crave. And, I am nay an outlaw. Nay, I found this place several years ago and decided to make it my home. My clan owns the land and the keep was getting rather crowded. So I worked to make this cave more comfortable and moved into it this past spring. ’Tis safe here,” he added quietly. “The entrance is nay easy to find, I can hear if anyone approaches, and since the path into this place is long and narrow, ’tis easy to defend.”

“Is it easy to flee from if ye are attacked?” she asked, unable to bury her fear of being trapped by her enemies.

“Aye, and the ways out are even harder to find than the way we came in.”

Evie tried to hide her relief, but the sharp look in his dark eyes told her that he had noticed it. He asked her no questions, however, and that pleased her. She was not sure yet if she could trust him with the answers. If only her life was at stake, Evie had the lowering feeling she would need only one long, soulful look from his beautiful dark eyes to tell him all he wished to know. The fact that David’s life was also at risk was all that gave her the strength to keep silent.

“Good. ’Tis always best to have a way out.”

“Time for your broth.”

“How delightful,” she muttered.

“Tis good broth, Evie,” said David as he knelt by her bedside.

She smiled at her brother and then dutifully consumed the broth Berawald fed her. It was good and, in truth, it was probably a great deal heartier than many another meal she had had in her life. By the time she was done she felt pleasantly full, warm, and very tired.

“Are ye going to sleep again, Evie?” asked David.

“Aye, I believe I am,” she replied even as she closed her eyes and had to smile when David proceeded to tell her a bedtime story.

Beneath the shelter of her lashes, however, she watched Berawald MacNachton, her savior, her mysterious healer, and a man who lived in a cave. He was — without question — an astonishingly handsome man. Tall, leanly muscular, and graceful as only a skilled warrior could be. His features were cut in clear precise lines, barely escaping a look of frightening harshness. A well-shaped, slightly full mouth helped soften those sharply cut lines as well. His nose was straight, neither too long nor too wide, his chin was strong, his ears well shaped. Even his eyebrows were perfect, nicely arched and not too thick. Worse, he had long thick lashes she envied and admired so much that she might need to go to confession. He had long black hair that hung down to the middle of his broad back and was tied back with a strip of leather.

Much too fine a man for her, she thought sadly as she let the need for sleep start to conquer her. She would regain her strength and leave as soon as possible. Not only could she bring danger to his door, but she could all too easily bring it to her own heart. A man like Berawald MacNachton was one who could sorely tempt a woman, and she had no time to deal with temptation. She and David were being hunted and they had to keep moving. Her last thought was to wonder why the thought of leaving should cause her heart to twist painfully in her chest.





Three




Seated by her bed, Berawald waited patiently for Evanna Massey to finish waking up. It had been a week since he had found her and her brother. It was past time for him to get some answers to all the questions he had. During his hunt last night he had come across signs that indicated men were tracking along the border to the MacNachton lands. He strongly suspected they were the men David and Evanna were running from. It was time to tell his clan about his guests and that they could well be bringing a threat their way, one that was approaching all too swiftly. When he did speak to his kinsmen he wanted to be able to tell them why the threat was drawing so close, why it sought out two apparent innocents, or even that his guests were not so innocent and that he had sent them on their way.

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