“You are a beauty.” His words were a hoarse whisper.
The rise and fall of her chest betrayed a deep inhalation of breath. A flicker of reproach lit her eyes. “I dinna think ye took heed of me at all.”
He winced at the well-deserved jab. “About before, I’m sorry I left you so suddenly. But there’s no earthly way I could fail to notice you. I’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind and even then…”
The tension in her face eased and then the hurt returned. “Oh, aye? How could ye forget all ye knew?”
He remained as he was, threading that wealth of hair through his fingers. Again, the rational part of him argued, “Is it possible you’re imagining you knew me before?”
She balked, a mutinous glint in her eyes. “Nae.”
He muted any outward response to the thrill running through him. The scooped neckline of her nightgown revealed the tops of white breasts sprinkled with freckles. Above this heart-hammering sight hung the crucifix. “I gave this to you?” he managed to ask without betraying the swell of emotion surging inside him.
“At our betrothal.”
How in the name of— Stunned beyond oaths, Neil gaped down at the slender young woman dressed in an outlandish Scottish costume. Hair the color of a flaming sunset spilled down over the red and blue tartan plaid draped around her like a shawl. A circular brass brooch heavily engraved by some skilled craftsman held the edges together. A full green skirt covered the rest of her, a hint of petticoats beneath.
Good God. She looked straight out of the Old Country. In profound disbelief, he knelt beside her and laid his hand on her shoulder. He wasn’t hallucinating. She was real enough, warm against his hand. Stranger still, the peaty scent of turf smoke emanated from her. And some perfume he couldn’t place, but inherently knew.
She turned toward him, fluttering a dark fringe of auburn lashes. Another moan issued from between what surely were petal soft lips. He frowned at the ugly bruise marring her forehead. Had that maniac done this to her?
The rest of her smooth skin was pale except for the sprinkle of freckles on her nose—not too long with a pert tilt, Neil noted, along with an absence of any other immediate injuries. Thank God he hadn’t been too late to help this young woman. Perhaps he’d frightened off her attacker, the coward. Although he had no idea where the killer had gone.
Neil remained on his guard. He mustn’t take anything for granted. The only certainty—a violent criminal was on the loose. Difficult to keep watching over his shoulder, though, with the inexplicable stranger commanding his attention.
Intrigued, despite the gruesome circumstances of their meeting, Neil locked his gaze on her once again. Vivid blue eyes, cast with a purplish hue, opened wide. Unusual color and deeply stirring. She blinked and stared up at him as if he’d materialized out of the mist. But it was she who’d mysteriously come upon him with such wonder and beauty.
His already pounding heart skipped a beat for an entirely different reason now. He looked long into her eyes…for a moment he forgot the grisly murder, forgot everything. There was a timeless quality in those violet depths; the term “window to the soul” took on a whole new meaning. And it seemed to him that he’d seen these eyes before… Impossible.
He came back to himself. Mastering the tremor threatening his speech, he said, “You were knocked out, but you’ll be all right.”
She shook her head, wincing. “None of us will. The MacDonald comes,” she warned in a Scottish brogue.
The hair on the back of Neil’s neck bristled. And so it begins, a voice inside him said.
SOMEWHERE MY LASS is coming to The Wild Rose Press May 26th, 2010. After a time there, it will travel on to other online booksellers including Amazon as a kindle.