That evening, as evening fell around the Grey Loch keep, Nakkole quietly closed the door to Geraldine’s chamber, confidant the woman would sleep soundly throughout Rufous’s funeral. Geraldine hadn’t so much as twitched in her slumber when Nakkole had checked in on her, thereby allowing Nakkole the freedom to seek out Gavin and see how he was feeling after the cow incident.
She suspected he’d been using some of his powers throughout his life, but likely never considered them magical. It was very easy for non-believers to dismiss such things as coincidence or lucky chance. How was she to make Gavin believe differently?
As soon as Bessie had finished giving milk, he’d set about his day, working with his men and making plans for Rufous’s burial. She hadn’t had a chance to speak with him since.
She found Gavin just outside the keep, his head bent over a large barrel of water, rinsing the day’s grime and sweat from his face and hands. His chest was bare and glistening, his plaid wrapped tightly at his waist. When he ran his wet hands through his hair and dampened the dark strands of black, her belly twisted in a peculiar manner. She stepped forward so that he might see her face in the fading light.
“I checked in on Geraldine,” she said, suddenly unsure what to say to the glorious man in front of her. “She sleeps.”
He nodded and offered a small grunt of acknowledgment, then snatched his tunic from the barrel’s edge and slid his arms into the sleeves. He fastened the loose ends of his plaid over his shoulder and used the hem to dry his hands as he watched her in silence.
Why did he not speak?
Her throat dry, Nakkole barely managed to say, “I wanted to see how you fared, as well. I know today was not an easy one, and tonight will be even more difficult for you. Is there aught you need?”
His gaze never left hers, and for a long, horrid moment, she thought he would do nothing more than stare at her. Finally, however, he shook his head. “You’re here to care for my mother. Not me. Save whatever drafts and concoctions you make for her.”
Gavin could hear the gruffness in his own voice and grimaced. The expression on Nakkole’s lovely face was one of concern and curiosity. She certainly didn’t deserve to be the object on which he took out his frustrations. Although. . . He could think of many ways on her he’d like to take out those frustrations. But, it wasn’t her fault that he felt the weight of Scotland on his shoulders.
“I’m fine,” he said, forcing a slight smile. “I’ve just a lot on my mind at the moment.”
She nodded, her bottom lip disappearing briefly inside her mouth, then reappearing slightly plumper than it had been before. His gaze focused on her lips, he said without thinking, “Why aren’t you married, Lady Nakkole?”
His question took even him aback. What did he care about her marital status? Aye, she was a comely lady, but certainly not the sort he was meant to marry. His wife would be of Scottish blood, likely born of a clan whose alliance would help his own prosper. But as he thought on it, he did begin to wonder about his query. Such a bonnie lass with no man to claim her? Certainly she’d had many offers of marriage.
“Married, laird?” Her light accent drifted quietly on the wind to settle in his ears. Norman, aye, but something else tinted that voice. An accent he couldn’t quite place.
It wasn’t until he felt the soft flesh of her cheek against his palm that he realized he’d reached out to touch her. Startled, he flinched, but did not remove his hand. His thumb stretched to brush her bottom lip, remembering how it had felt against his mouth. She was speaking, moving those lips, her tongue darting out to moisten them, but he heard not a word.
“Laird?” Nakkole’s whisper was so quiet, he barely heard it. She pulled her cheek away, brought a hand up to cover the place his own had held.
He cleared his throat. “My apologies. You were saying?”
Her blink was slow and lazy. “Only that. . . The opportunity to wed has not yet been given to me.” She took a step back. “I should leave you to finish readying for the funeral.” Nakkole glanced up at the sky, her long, ivory neck stretching and all but calling for a kiss. Gavin was quite proud of his restraint.
“It’s getting quite dark. Perhaps we should both go inside.”
Wiping the sleeve of his tunic across his brow to dry the remnants of his washing, he nodded, at a loss for anything else to say – a state in which he seemed to find himself whenever Nakkole was around.
“Do you plan to attend Rufous’s burial?” He asked, following her toward the keep. The raspiness had returned to his voice, but this time it was born of desire, he suspected, rather than irritation.
“If it pleases you.”
“I have a peculiar feeling there is little about you that wouldn’t please me, Lady Nakkole.”
She stopped walking, turned to face him “I would say the same of you, Laird, but I’m certain it wouldn’t be appropriate.” She closed her eyes. “Whatever it was that made us kiss at Beltane. . . it shouldn’t have happened. If I have encouraged your advances, then I should try to remedy that. ‘Tis the truth I’m not accustomed to being around men such as you.”
Curious, Gavin raised his brow. “Men such as me?”
Her bottom lip had disappeared again, her gaze drifting aways from his. “Aye. You’re not at all like the men I’ve encountered in Normandy. At least, I mean to say, I never felt compelled to kiss them as I did you. Perhaps it’s best to declare now that I never mean to do so again.” Her words tumbled out like an overflowing pitcher of ale. She took a deep breath and returned her gaze to his. “I have a duty here that I mean to perform to tbe best of my capabilities. Whatever this attraction is, I won’t be falling prey to it again.”
Gavin couldn’t help the smile he felt tugging on his lips. “Then you admit to being attracted to me?”
Her hands clasped onto the folds of her poorly wrapped plaid, wringing the fabric with white knuckles. “I admit that there is something about you that appeals to me, and I only admit as much in order to plea to whatever mercy you might possess. When you. . . touch me, as you did a moment ago, it’s highly unfair given the short-term nature of our relationship. I would ask that you not do so in the future, for it leaves me quite. . . disturbed.”
“Disturbed?” For the first time in several days, Gavin chuckled. He watched Nakkole stride to the door, turn and wait for him to follow, and never quite look him in the eye. Well, he was damned pleased to know their encounters were disturbing her because they were sure as hell disturbing him.
She was right about the unfairness of his advances, however. He had no intentions of a future with a strange woman from Normandy, and he wasn’t in the habit of bedding virgins and ruining their standing in the eyes of society and the church.
But, as he walked past her into the keep and the smell of sunshine enveloped him yet again, he couldn’t bring himself to promise never to touch her again, either. Such would be like promising to spend the winter bare-arsed naked – both left him feeling cold and irritated.