I knew how my maids would’ve warned me against bathing in the creek. Knew they’d be upset I’d wandered so far into the woods by myself. But I enjoyed the slight sense of adventure. My father had even taught me to hunt, which had only fed my desire to always be out here.
There’s something mystical about the peace of the woods.
I caught another handful of the sun-kissed water and let it drizzle coolly over my skin. Washing away the heat and sweat of the morning spent entertaining other ladies in the gardens of Millen Manor.
I felt the cool touch of the water dancing around my ribs and occasionally sloshing up to brush the underside of my breasts which hovered just above the surface when I stood in the water. My small, hard nipples tightened against the breeze that wafted through the trees, teasing them.
I heard a branch crack and I ducked into the water. Peering at the border of the trees, I glimpsed the shadowy cloak of someone standing just beyond the dense branches at the border of the far side of the creek. I saw brown eyes looking back at me from between a few lower branches. I made long eye contact with the stranger.
A man who was watching me bathe.
“What are you doing here?” I queried in the boldest voice I could muster. Wondering if he’d soon be dragging me out onto the bank to force his way into me. Holding me down while he rode me. I’d seen it happen to the maids often enough. Though they didn’t object, the act itself seemed unduly violent.
“What are you doing in my woods?” He moved further along the trees.
“This is Millen Land, Sir.”
“Not hardly.” There was a low chuckle. And I could feel his eyes roving over me as if he touched me. Though I could only see the shadow of the top of his head. “I’ve owned this land since long before any of your kind existed here.”
“Who are you?”
“Who are you to intrude in my woods, in my water?”
“It is none of your affair who I am. As I said, my family owns this land.”
“You’re a Millen gel then?” His voice was husky. Feeling almost like velvet across my skin. In a way it made me yearn to throw back my head and feel that voice rumble along my vulnerable flesh.
“I am a bathing woman, and you have no place here.”
“I could haul you out of that water.”
I grimaced, his threat hitting far too close to where my own fears had lain just a short moment ago.
“And I’d scream loud enough to rouse the house out to your pretty woods.” I threatened venomously.
He laughed. “Full of fire, aren’t you, Sweet Thing?”
“You’ve no idea.”
“I plan to though.”
“Oh, and how might you manage that?”
“I’m a hard man to resist.” He said simply.
Then I heard leaves and branches cracking. Sensing he was leaving.
I slipped from the water and caught my nightdress from the branch dangling over the water. Where it let the hem just brush the swaying surface. I tossed the billowing garment over my head. Cinching the laces that tightened the waist as I rose from the water.
I looked down and saw where a bare foot had stood on the grass watching me. His foot.
I couldn’t resist following the trail a little ways. Seeing his tracks marking the path he’d taken. I put one of my bare feet into the mud where his had been and saw a flash of a dark castle. Festively lit by endless candles. Cheerful laughter filling the room and the most delicious scent of roasted duck billowing around me like a foggy cloud.
His words echoed in my head.
I’m a hard man to resist.
I brought my feet to a screeching halt. I envisioned my Jason’s face.
My precious fiancé.
The man who loved me no matter what.
I’ll not betray him by wandering into the woods after another man.
But turning around was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Every fiber of my being was screeching for me to follow the man’s footsteps.
Discover where he’s gone…Who he is.
But I didn’t. I began walking back toward the creek. Toward where I knew there was a small crossing bridge that lifted over it.
But just as I reached the fragmented land bridge, I heard the pounding of thudding hooves. I glanced sideways in time to catch sight of a giant stag lurching from the trees.