Excerpt from Savage Destiny
Accustomed to waking early, Alanna's late night vigil did not prevent her from following her usual routine and going out to the stable shortly after dawn. She swung open the door and nearly tripped over Hunter, who lay asleep in the straw piled just inside. She hesitated a moment, thinking the sudden burst of light would awaken him, but he continued to sleep undisturbed.
He had impressed her as being a proud man, and she wasn't surprised that he hadn't wanted to sleep in the house. Melissa had undoubtedly dismissed him with a remorseless vigor that had to have left him feeling both abused and bitter. His happiness wasn't her responsibility, anymore than Melissa's probable cruelty, but she could not help but feel sorry for him.
She knelt in the straw and reached out to touch his shoulder. "Hunter, it's morning, wake up," she urged.
Exhausted, Hunter came awake slowly, and because it suited his dreams, he mistook the blond woman silhouetted against the open doorway for Melissa. He reached out to grab her arm, pulling her off balance and into the straw beside him. He closed his eyes as he kissed her and her initial reluctance to respond inspired rather than discouraged him. Peeling away her cap, he wound his fingers in her curls so she'd not escape his eager kisses, and he tried with a tenderness he'd not shown her at midnight to rekindle the passion they had shared all too briefly.
Taken completely by surprise, Alanna was so shocked by the Indian's sudden passion for her that she didn't have the presence of mind to struggle. Instead, she placed her hands on his chest and pushed against him with such a light touch it went unnoticed. Whenever Graham leaned down to kiss her, she turned her cheek, and therefore she was unprepared for a man who lacked such elegant manners, and instead took what he wanted. His insistent kisses weren't in the least bit unpleasant though, and her initial dismay gradually turned to a ready appreciation of what Melissa must have liked about him.
She savored the sweetness of his adoring kisses until she realized he had transferred his affections from Melissa to her with unseemly haste, and, unwilling to be a substitute for her cousin, she summoned the anger to shove him aside. "Yesterday it was Melissa you wanted, and now it's me? I had no idea men could be so fickle."
Finally realizing his mistake, Hunter let out an anguished moan. He sat up quickly and handed Alanna her cap. "You must forgive me," he begged. "I didn't see you clearly, and I thought you were Melissa."
For a few magical moments, Alanna had believed Hunter's enthusiastic affection was real. To learn that they were both victims of a silly mistake filled her with a sickening sense of disappointment. That the love which had flavored Hunter's kiss had been meant for her cousin, hurt far more than what she had interpreted as mere fickleness had.
"If I'm supposed to be flattered by that, I'm not," she blurted out as she struggled to stuff her hair under her cap.
Hunter watched her beautiful green eyes fill with tears and gestured helplessly. "What should I have said? Most people say my English is good, but there are times when I choose the wrong words."
"Or the wrong woman?"
"Please, don't laugh at me."
It was Hunter who now looked ready to cry, and Alanna feared she was treating him as badly as Melissa had. "I'm not laughing at you, certainly not. But even if I had been Melissa, you ought not to have grabbed me like that. What if she had come to tell you goodbye and brought Ian with her? At the very least he would have yanked out a handful of your hair, pulling you off her. I shudder to think what he would have done next. It's too dangerous for you here, Hunter. You've got to go."
They were both kneeling in the straw, but when she made no move to rise, neither did he. As before, her concern seemed real, and he longed to confide in her, to make her understand he had every right to be there, but he hadn't forgotten Melissa's threatened accusation of rape. He had not the slightest doubt that she would tell such a damaging lie either. It would not only be Ian he would have to fight then, but Byron and Elliott as well. If by some miracle he did survive the combined fury of their anger, he knew his claims that Melissa had willingly lain with him would never be believed in court. He did not know what the punishment for rape might be, but he was positive he didn't want to risk finding out.
"Melissa married the wrong man," he said instead.
"You were here only a few days in April. How could you have thought she might marry you?"
Again, Hunter dared not speak the truth, but despite the fact that neither he nor Melissa had made any promises, he had believed in the unspoken vows of her love. Now all Melissa displayed toward him was contempt, but in April, he would have sworn she loved him. He sighed unhappily. "I have money to pay for the bateau. Will you give it to your uncle?"
"No, you needn't pay for a boat. We have several, and one more or less won't be missed."
"I forgot how rich you are."
Alanna recoiled at the resentment in his tone. "My uncle has worked hard for everything he owns, and he's known for his generosity to others. Won't you need some food to take along? Come with me. Let's go to the kitchen and see what provisions we can find."
"You won't take my money?"
"No, of course not. You're Byron and Elliott's friend."
Hunter rose to his feet, and with a graceful tug pulled her up beside him. "Have I ruined things with you, so that we can't be friends?"
That his passionate kisses had been meant for Melissa no longer seemed important in light of his obvious pain, and she responded with a smile. "Yes, I'd be proud to be your friend. Elliott has nothing but praise for you, and I believe it's well deserved."
"Byron thinks I have a wild streak, and had he seen us a few minutes ago, he would know he was right."
He flashed a charming grin but there was definitely a wildness about Hunter that went far beyond his buckskins and long flowing hair.