What could be worse than being left alone in a cave twenty feet in the air from the ocean’s surface at high tide with nothing but a few crates of dried goods to sustain a lass?
A fearsome Highlander.
Rosamond stared at the approaching longboat rowed by a man who made the small vessel look like a babe’s bathtub.
Dark tendrils of hair had come loose from the tie holding it in place behind his head, waving in front of his face, as though they meant to hide his eyes from her. A square jaw lined with the shadow of stubble gave him a hardened look, or perhaps that was the frown marring his brow and flattening his lips. Either way, he made a terrifying sight, and suddenly the bleakness of the cave seemed trivial compared to his impending arrival.
As he drew closer, her throat tightened. She gripped the side of the cave wall, unable to move from her spot, where she clutched at the dusty stones. Unable to sleep, she’d risen before dawn, only to come face to face with a ship looming in the moonlight. Her hopes had soared thinking perhaps her father had returned. That his punishment was only for a short time, meant to scare her into submission. But as the purple haze of pre-dawn lightened into a pink and orange, it had become clear the white-flagged ship was not her father, but someone else entirely. A fear that tripled when she’d seen the large man rowing her way.
His white shirt was in stark contrast to his dark hair, and he wore a belted plaid of deep green and yellow that fell back to reveal his knees and strong calves as he rowed. Leather boots were laced halfway up those calves. Boots that could squash any bug—or lady.
When he reached the base of the cliff, she leaned out to stare down at him, her eyes meeting his darkened gaze. He dropped a small, iron anchor into the sea, the splash making only the slightest sound, most of which was drowned out by the pounding of her heart.
The Highlander glanced up at her, his jaw set, and eyes hard. “Step back.”
“What?” she whispered, confused.
“Step back, else ye want a hook in your skull.” His voice was deep, gravelly, and thick with a Scottish brogue. At once, she was terrified and intrigued.
And then she saw what he meant. In his hand, he held a grappling hook, edges as sharp as daggers, and attached to it was a long, thick rope.
Rosamond held back a squeal. Who was this man? He had the look of a warrior. Hard and powerful. Shoulders as broad as his ship, and limbs longer than oars. A veritable giant passing himself off as a man.
’Haps her original idea of tossing herself to the sea would mete her out a better fate than this. She’d rather trust her future to the fishes than to this wild-eyed warrior.
Drawing in a strengthening breath, rather than move, as he’d demanded, she shouted, “Nay! Turn your skiff around. You are not welcome here.”
“Lass…” His voice softened some, and he glanced up at her with eyes filled with sorrow, though the hardness had not left his mouth. “Allow me to help ye.”
“I…” She chewed her lip. He was probably her only hope, if she were being honest with herself. Her father was not coming back anytime soon, and the next man to threaten a grappling hook hurtling toward her skull was likely wanting to put it there. Something about his eyes, the sorrow she’d seen there made her want to trust him. But she just couldn’t. She didn’t know him. Couldn’t trust him. “I don’t need help.”
He let out a sigh, moving to untwine ropes. That was exactly the opposite of what he should be doing. He tested the weight, swinging it slightly. The Highlander was going to come up.
“Please go away. Leave me,” she called down, and then thinking twice, she added, “My father will be back any moment. He will not look kindly on you climbing up without consent.”
The warrior crossed his arms over his chest, standing in the skiff as if he were on dry land. The rope dangled over one arm, the hook swinging ominously near his knees. “Why are ye up there?” The calmness in his tone was startling, as if he asked her simply about the weather.
Well, the truth wouldn’t do as an answer. Might only have him climbing up faster than she could blink. Remaining steady and stern would be the only way to discourage his determination.
“Enjoying the view,” she said, managing to keep most hints of sarcasm from her words. “’Tis quite lovely, and that is not an invitation.”