Nature of the Beast

By: Hannah Howell



“Weel, ye and David will be safe here,” he said, deciding it was time to seek some advice on how to proceed now that she had healed. “I believe I will remove your stitches now.”

Evanna grimaced. “I hate the feeling of that.”

Carefully arranging the hem of the shirt she wore and the top of her blanket so that only the bandaged wound showed, Berawald gently removed that bandage. “I ken. I have always thought it just felt odd, that there really wasnae any word to describe it.” Not that he had had stitches more than once, for his own ability to heal quickly meant there was little need for them.

“Aye, odd is a verra good word for how it feels.” When he just frowned down at her uncovered wound, Evanna began to feel a little uneasy. “Is it all right? It hasnae putrefied or the like, has it?”

“Nay, ’tis completely healed and verra clean.”

“Weel, then best to get the stitches out.” She was pleased that he had not made any comment on how unusual that was and closed her eyes tightly. “I am ready.”

Berawald had to smile, for she looked like a small child about to be forced to swallow a particularly revolting potion. Each time he tugged a stitch free, she grimaced. He would have felt bad about that except that he knew he was not really hurting her. It was amusing, however, that the woman who had remained strong through so much thus far would now whine and complain over something so simple and relatively painless.

“There, ’tis done,” he said, and smiled when she opened one eye to peek down at the reddened scar that marred her fair skin. “The redness will fade soon.”

At the same moment that Berawald finished tugging her shirt back into place, Evanna reached down to pull the blanket up higher. That movement brought her face close to his, her mouth within inches of his sinfully tempting lips. She met his gaze and saw a flare of interest in their dark depths. Her whole body responded with a keen interest of its own. Her lips tingled as if he had already touched them, the heat in his gaze enough to warm them.

Berawald was not sure which one of them moved first, but suddenly his mouth was on hers. He trembled faintly as the warmth of her full, soft lips soaked into his body, raising a heat he had never felt before. When her small, soft hand touched the back of his neck, he felt that light caress fly straight to his groin. That heedless part of him rose in full salute and demanded that he take more of what she seemed so willing to give. The gentle, closemouthed kiss they were sharing was no longer enough; he needed to taste her.

Nipping gently at her lower lip, he took quick advantage of her soft gasp that caused her mouth to open slightly. The taste of her, the sweet heat of her mouth, killed all rational thought and control. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her with all the hunger he could no longer hide, from her or from himself.

Evanna was briefly shocked when Berawald thrust his tongue into her mouth. No man had ever done that to her before. The way he stroked the inside of her mouth with his tongue and the feel of his strong body pressed close to her as he pulled her into his arms quickly dimmed that shock. Desire throbbed inside her with each stroke of his tongue. She reveled in the taste of him, in the way he made her feel. She wanted to wrap her whole body around his and never let him go.

It was not until the warmth of his hand curled around her breast that she was able to regain any of her senses except for need and desire. Her surprise over such an intimate touch, the slight tensing of her body, passed quickly beneath the heat of that caress, but he had noticed her brief withdrawal. A heartbeat later she found herself freed from his embrace and she nearly cried out in protest.

He stared at her in horror for a moment and then muttered an apology. Before Evanna could say a word, he fled the room and disappeared down a deeply shadowed passage. For a moment all Evanna could do was stare after him in stunned amazement before uncertainty began to taint the wonderful feelings he had left her with. She huddled beneath the blanket as a chill quickly replaced the heat his kiss had filled her with.

Despite her efforts to just forget his odd behavior, her mind began to sort through all the possible reasons for his sudden abandonment and none of them made her feel very good. Had she been such a terrible kisser? she wondered. Had her total lack of skill turned him away? Perhaps he had suddenly recalled what few truths she had just told him and realized he could not abide them.

Evanna shook her head, trying to force such thoughts from her mind. She did not know Berawald well enough to guess at his reasons for his actions. Perhaps when he returned she could find out what had sent him running off into the night. She could only pray that when he returned, she would either hear an explanation that soothed her doubts and hurts or see by the look in his eyes that he had not fled her arms because he had suddenly realized he was kissing a demon.





Four




Berawald cursed himself with every step he took toward Cambrun, his kinsmen’s home. He had given in to temptation, something his body still ached for, and nearly devoured an innocent maid. And there was little doubt in his mind that she was innocent. Her kiss had been one of a woman who had rarely, if ever, been kissed. That should have gentled him. Instead, for some inexplicable reason, it had stirred his lust to new heights. What was even more alarming was that, with every beat of his pounding heart, the word mine had echoed in his head.

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