She struggled with all her might. The man atop her laughed, then leaned in, his chapped lips aiming for hers. She squeezed her eyes shut, twisting her neck away from him until her cheek scraped against the forest floor.
The kiss she thought she would have to endure did not come. The monster’s weight lifted from her in blessed relief. She pushed herself to her feet, darting a look at the two other tormenters, who stood with their mouths agape at the sight before them.
An avenging angel had come to her rescue.
A wide leather thong tied back shoulder length blond hair. Slightly darker whiskers hugged a strong, determined face. He was tall and lean, and his fists pummeled the man until he collapsed into an unmoving mass on the forest floor.
Sabrina hugged herself, unable to take her eyes off her rescuer, whose violet eyes shown with a fierceness which should have terrified her, yet didn’t.
His gaze swung to the other two men, and, with a start, they both shot a panicked look to their fallen comrade.
Two words, softly spoken, sent a shiver up her spine.
His command startled them into motion. They tripped over themselves getting to their cohort. Grabbing him under his arms they hoisted him to his feet. With looks of stunned disbelief to her rescuer they fled into the forest as fast as they could with their senseless burden.
Sabrina sat up and leaned against a tree. The adrenalin that had sustained her through this latest ordeal began to seep out of her, leaving her weak and trembling. She sucked in air to her lungs, then blew it out, doing her best to fight back tears.
The danger was over, her first kiss had not been stolen from her against her will, and there was no reason for tears now.
Her champion’s eyes met hers and her breath caught in her throat.
He really was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. The beast he’d rescued her from had not landed even a single blow to him, and his perfect face was one that must surely make angels weep with envy.
And those eyes.
They were stunning and unique, a violet that would rival the most spectacular sunset, generously fringed with thick dark lashes.
Something, a vague familiarity, tugged at her mind and she shook the sensation away.
Sabrina pushed to her feet and moved away from the tree on legs not quite steady to stand before the man. “Thank you.”
Piercing eyes met hers, a flash of what could have been regret crossed his face to be replaced with a resigned set of his lips. “Are you harmed?”
His voice was deep, the tone soothing and oddly unsettling at the same time. Her pulse raced and heat rose to her cheeks. Knowing she must look a fright, she put a self-conscious hand to her hair and nodded. “Just some bruises and scrapes, nothing broken.” She dropped her gaze, then glanced at him through her lashes. “And nothing taken from me that should nay have been, thanks to you.”
He nodded, clearly understanding the meaning of her words and the intent of her assailants.
“It’s good I happened by when I did,” he said under his breath.
She nodded. “Aye, it is.” She glanced through the trees where the men had disappeared. “Do you think they’ll come back?”
His lips compressed. “Aye, I imagine so, likely with reinforcements.”
She bit her lip. “I was afraid you’d say that.”
Sabrina looked around, realizing although she was relatively safe at this moment, if her original captors knew she had escaped, they could be searching for her.
“What is it?”
She bit her bottom lip. “Um, well, I thank you for your assistance.” Sabrina could not meet his eyes, so instead stared at the dusty tops of his boots. “But, um, I really have to get going now. There may be, er, others searching for me, and I would rather not be found again.”
Miserable, she nodded. “Aye, others.”
He took hold of her shoulders, ducked his head down a little so he could catch her eyes with his. “You were assaulted twice?”
She nodded, wishing he were not so upset on her behalf. “Four times, all told, in less than a fortnight.”
The grip on her shoulders tightened. His features hardened and he narrowed his eyes.
She gave him a small smile. “Then rescued by a stranger.”
Sabrina’s heart lurched and she slapped both hands over her mouth. Her father’s dying words drifted through her mind like a gentle breeze.
She stared at the man, her eyes so wide the cold air stung them. “It’s you.”
Dark brows made a v of puzzlement. “Pardon?”
She scanned the forest floor. “I have to give you something.”
Thank goodness her attackers hadn’t noticed when the dagger slipped from the strap on her thigh. She spotted her dagger and shrugged out of his hold to retrieve the small weapon.
She held the Sgian Dybh in both palms, savoring the significance of what she was about to do.
She prayed he would also.
Sabrina cleared her throat. “My name is Sabrina Bridges.” She met his gaze fully. “I’m a miss, nay a lady.”
It was important he know that, least he feel ill at ease in her presence.
His simple clothing, clean, yet many times mended if the patches were any indication, marked him the same social status as she herself. She let out a sigh of relief that there’d be no social restrictions to hinder their relationship and smiled up at him.
He returned her smile, his eyes wary. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Bridges.” He said. “I’m-“ He cleared his throat and his eyes shifted somewhere over her left shoulder. “I’m Nick.”
A small smile tugged at her lips. “Just Nick?”
Color touched his cheeks through what looked like a few days growth of whiskers and he shrugged a broad shoulder. “Aye, just Nick.”
She smiled to herself. He must be very shy.
She met his eyes and held her palms toward him. The amethyst jewel at the center of the bone handle seemed to shimmer and warmed her hands. “Nick, this Sgian Dybh belongs to you.”
He gave her a little smile. “No, Miss Bridges, it isn’t mine. Perhaps one of the other fellows dropped it?”
“No, it used to be mine. I mean it is yours now.” Her hands, still extended with the gift, began to tremble.
He shook his head and took a step back. “Miss Bridges, I cannot take your dagger. I can, however, teach you how to use it to protect yourself.”
Confused by the change of topic she fought back a flutter of panic his rejection brought on and took a step toward him, grasping his hands.
With the reverence deserving of this moment she placed the dagger into them. “It was my father’s, but now it’s yours, Nick.” She curled her hands around his, tightening his hold on the dagger. “Don’t you see? You saved me. You’re the deserving one.”