“No!” Brigid gasped, rolling from the bed and onto her feet, lurching to the window as fear gripped her chest.
“No no no no no!” she hissed, wiping her hands along her flushed cheeks. Nothing. Nothing for miles and miles, except the ocean that would carry them to their new home. The day was bright and clear, but panic and anger flashed through her. She’d been hoping to wake early, to witness their departure and also—God willing—sneak off this blasted vessel. After the events of last night, all she yearned to do was run—as fast and as far away from Erik as possible. He was dangerous, she knew, for he held a power over her that she had never before known.
As it were, she now seemed rather stuck in her predicament, a twinge in her lower abdomen a reminder of her evening, the tendons in her thighs aching from being stretched taut by his wide hips. She felt the blood drain from her face, and without thinking, she fled the confines of their cabin, the sight of their marriage bed too much for her to bear.
Down the dim hall she thundered, cheeks a blazing, cherry red, her bare feet sliding across the smooth wood. She tugged at her ears, her hair, and fisted her eyes, her breathing increasing in speed as anxiety overwhelmed her. She’d allowed him into her bed. She’d married the damn man, and she knew nothing about him, and worst of all, she’d dreamt about him all night, and when she’d awoke, she’d been craving his touch.
She stumbled out into the open, the blustering wind off the ocean whipping her dark hair into a frenzy, the smell of the sea refreshing. Blinded by the brightness, she was dazed and confused, shouts from sailors issuing from haggard men on every side of her. The ship heaved, and she could barely catch her feet, before her mind forced her to focus on her mistake.
Every man in the near vicinity stopped and stared, for a woman on a ship was certainly rare in the first place, but one wearing nothing but a thin white shift in the dazzling sunlight was even rarer, and her striking beauty added to the shock of her presence. She hugged herself against their ogling, their jaws slack, a tremble erupting over her as their lusty eyes lit up at the prize they now knew was stuck on this ship, no longer hidden away like a gem. She tottered back, feeling faint.
In the distance, a pair of icy blue eyes caught sight of a flash of dark hair woven with deep auburn, and his gut wrenched.
Erik tied off the rope to the sail with haste, leaving his post as he jostled his way to Brigid. She stood in the middle of the main deck, completely lost, wavering as though she were in a trance and surrounded by the crew. His blood boiled as they stared and snickered at her. It wasn’t uncommon for men to treat women in such an objective way, and Anna had had to deal with similar jests on their journey down from Norway, but Erik had known that crew better.
Here, and now, he knew both their lives were in danger if they couldn’t keep a low profile. He shoved a few men aside who had formed a circle around her, and his face reddened now in embarrassment for his new wife. Standing in her shift, trembling in the wind with wild eyes, she hugged herself, but his attentions were focused instead on the dark red blotch that stained the back of her clothing.
“Got ourselves a beaut, lads!”
“Aye, shame she’s broken already.”
He reached for her, hand encircling her arm as he pulled her to the shelter of his side, walking them briskly back to their cabin. They were met with whistles and laughs and jeers, to which Erik paid no mind, but Brigid kept glancing over her shoulder, in either fear or anger, he wasn’t sure.
“Keep a better eye on yer woman, Norsky!”
“Aye, or we’ll be forced to do it ourselves!”
“She’s already strayin’ from his bed!”
Erik gnawed on the inside of his cheek, worried if the captain had seen this little slip up, quite frustrated with Brigid’s carelessness, but above all utterly confused. Had she not told him just hours before that she was not a virgin? Yet there seemed proof enough that she was…unless it was her cycle. Or, worst of all—he thought—he’d hurt her.
He released her into the cabin, slamming the door and leaning against it, shutting his eyes for a moment to gather his thoughts. When he opened them, Brigid stood before him, still trembling and wringing her pale hands together.
“You were a virgin?” he asked, to which she gazed back in confusion, giving a slight shake of her head. He nodded down, and she followed his eyes, reaching behind to pull up the fabric and examine it. Her face paled as she released the stained cloth, her deep blue eyes wide with a frightened sort of innocence and embarrassment.
“No…I…” she stuttered, cheeks and neck now flushing crimson as she shook her head. His heart clenched, the truth settling over the both of them.
“I harmed you, then,” he said, voice lowering in anguish. She clamped her mouth shut, her eyes searing into his soul, bright and wild and fervent. He took two steps across the space in quick succession, to which Brigid backed up and bumped into the vanity before stilling. He knelt before her, eyes cast to the floor.
“I pray, in time, you may forgive me for being so reckless with you,” he said, icy eyes traveling to her face. Brigid was utterly confused. He was…apologizing, to her? He hadn’t hurt her, in all honesty. But the difference in size between her late husband and her current one was easily identified as the culprit. That was hardly anything to blame him for, though.
“I…” he stuttered, the bare skin above his beard reddening. “I’ve not had much experience, in such instances. None, actually.”
Erik felt his chest tighten at his confession. He knew not why he was sharing this detail with her, other than he hoped she would understand he’d not intentionally been rough with her. He’d simply listened to her body’s responsiveness and gone from there, and to tame himself on the very first time was damn near impossible.
Brigid was now shocked. This man—this mysterious new husband of hers—had been a virgin? And he’d not told her? It made more sense to her, then, as to why he seemed out of sorts during the final act, but he’d done a decent enough job of consummating their marriage. She crossed her arms over her chest, looking away from his pleading form. It was uncomfortable, to have a man be on his knees in front of her, seeking her forgiveness. Had it been Brian O’Sullivan, she’d have been beaten senseless for running out in not but her shift.
“I…I forgive you,” she whispered, feeling so small in his consuming presence. He’d forced her to relive last night’s events, and she hadn’t wanted to, for now her body was betraying her once more, reaching to him, yearning for his gentle touch. She eyed him, stumped, for he was certainly not what she had expected, and this enigma was stifling her. She wondered what it would be like to lay her head on his broad chest, to feel the heat of his body next to hers, and at that moment, the soreness she felt only made her want him more.
Erik stood with a small smile, sensing he shouldn’t cross her boundaries by reaching out to her, as he so wished to. Instead, he turned for the trunk, throwing it open and digging around. The ship groaned and swayed beneath them, and he relished the feeling of once more being on the open water, needing no time to find his sea legs.
“Keep in the cabin, liten, I’d brought you breakfast if that was what you were seeking,” he said, back to her as he fished out a small knife. It may have been short, but it was deadly—he knew from experience as he held the weapon in his grasp once more. Ridding himself of hellish thoughts of the past—of the lives he’d taken—he turned back and presented Brigid with the knife, motioning her to take it as confusion swept over her features.
She grasped it, though her hold was tenuous. With a chuckle, he wrapped his hand around hers, curling her fingers over the bony hilt.
“I trust no one, and you shouldn’t, either,” he said, voice ominous. He motioned up with the point of the knife, aiming for under his ribs to demonstrate what she should do, had she any need. His face fell, hearing Anna’s cries forever echo in his ears. Brigid gave him a curious look, and he knew she saw the sorrow on his face.
“Not even you?” she said, staring him down. He threw a dark look her way and released her hand. His self hatred writhed deep within his soul like a festering wound.
“Especially not me.”
He turned and stalked out of the room, but not before Brigid shivered at his haunting words.