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Warrior's Secret excerpt


SOME MEN KNEW exactly what to say to women. They understood the right words to make them smile, the way to approach a shy lass or to impress a cold one. Muin mac Galan reflected that he was not one such individual—although his cousin was.

He watched Talor move through the crowd, flirting with one woman before catching hold of another’s hand and drawing her into the dancing.

The girl turned, her forehead furrowing at having her conversation so rudely interrupted. However, her mouth curved in delight when she saw that ‘The Battle Eagle’s’ handsome son wanted to dance.

Muin resisted the urge to snort. Typical. He knew it was a bit uncharitable, but a part of him sometimes wished that one of these lasses would rebuff his cocky cousin’s advances, or better yet slap his face.

But they never did.

Muin shifted his attention from the dancing and went to retrieve himself a fresh cup of mead. He was standing on the edge of the crowd, sipping the sweet, pungent drink, when Talor extricated himself from the group of eager lasses who now swirled around him and made his way across to his cousin.

“I’ve got a warrior’s thirst,” Talor announced. He helped himself to Muin’s cup and took a long draft before wiping his mouth with the back of his arm. “That’s better.”

Muin snatched the cup back from him, before he could drain it. “Get your own drink.”

Talor grinned at him. “I wish you could see your face, cousin. You look like you just stepped in a turd.”

“And you’re grinning like a lackwit.”

Talor laughed. “Gods, you’re in a sour mood tonight.” He paused then, his blue eyes gleaming. “Why don’t you do us all a favor and ask her to dance?”

Muin tensed, scowling. “Excuse me?”

Talor raised his eyebrows, smirking. “Every time I’ve looked your way tonight, you’ve been staring at her. I’m surprised you haven’t burned a hole in her back.”

Muin’s scowl deepened to a glower. Times like now, he wished he had never confided in Talor. He had let it slip one night just over a year earlier after one too many horns of mead. His cousin had been sympathetic then—but he was not tonight.

“Leave it,” Muin growled.

Talor’s grin turned wicked. “For the love of the Gods, ask the lass to dance.”

Muin stiffened, his gaze shifting to where a tall, shapely woman with sky-blue eyes and wavy dark hair chatted with Fina, another of his cousins.

Ailene, the bandruí—seer—of Dun Ringill.

The only woman he had ever loved.

Fina was recounting a tale, her hands moving expressively. The light of the Gateway bonfire that burned behind them caught the golden highlights in her hair as she talked, and gleamed off the bronzed skin of her arms. His cousin glowed like the sun, while next to her, Ailene’s beauty was of a different kind—dark and mysterious, like someone had tamed the night.

Her dark hair gleamed. In daylight it was the color of peat, yet in the firelight it appeared pitch-black, making her fair skin look even paler by contrast.

As Muin watched, Ailene threw back her head and laughed, exposing a long, swanlike neck.

Muin’s chest tightened. How many times had he imagined trailing kisses down that beautiful throat? He had wasted countless nights imagining what her skin would taste like.

“You’d better get in quick.” Talor was back, his tone changing from teasing to warning. “Fingal is headed her way.”

Muin tensed, his attention snapping to where a tall, rangy warrior swaggered through the dancers. Talor was right—he was making for Ailene.

Muin clenched his jaw. He had no claim on Ailene, to her he was nothing more than a good friend.  Yet the sight of Fingal Mac Diarmid made him want to rip that man’s head off.

Fingal was a warrior of The Wolf and had shadowed Ailene’s step since The Ceremony of the Dead three months earlier. The ceremony had followed a hard-won victory for the united tribes against the invading Cruthini. Despite the victory, they had lost many warriors and had honored them by lighting torches around the perimeter of the camp—one for each of the fallen.

Ailene had been upset that night. Fingal had comforted her, and then later Muin had gone to check on Ailene and had seen her lead Fingal into her tent.

Muin’s gaze narrowed as he stared daggers into Fingal’s back. They were lovers—or had been—and the knowledge twisted like a blade in Muin’s guts.

He had not known what jealousy was till that night.

“Too late,” Talor said, keeping up his commentary. “You’ll never get the girl if you let other men ask her to dance.”

Fingal had stopped before Ailene. Head bowed, he asked her something. She looked up at him, her lovely face solemn, before nodding.

“Ally only sees me as a friend,” Muin replied biting the words out with effort. “Sometimes I don’t even think she realizes I’m a man.”

Talor snorted, and Muin swung his gaze back to find his cousin watching him, brow furrowed. “Bitterness doesn’t suit you,” Talor said. “If Ailene sees you like a brother, it’s up to you to change her mind.”

Muin glared at him. It was easy for Talor to say that, Talor who could charm any woman he wanted into the furs. Talor who changed loves with the passing of a new moon.

Muin was not like him. He had long ago given his heart away to Ailene, and yet the thought of telling her how he felt filled him with cold dread. He would rather face a horde of howling Cruthini than this one woman.

“What if she laughs in my face?” He was not sure he would ever recover from that.

Talor shot him a frustrated look. “Ailene would never do that … she’s too soft-hearted.”

“What if she rejects me?”

“Then you work to win her heart.”

“And if she says she could never love me?”

Talor huffed. “Then you’d know at least and you could get on with your life.” He regarded Muin then with a long, hard stare. “You can’t continue this way, Muin … pining for the lass. It’ll do you no good. Talk to her … before it eats you up inside.”

Muin dragged in a deep breath, looking away. The Hag curse him, Talor was right.

Yards away, Fingal and Ailene were dancing. She swung around him, her dark hair flying behind her like a cloak.

Muin’s breathing hitched. She had never looked so lovely. The glowing fire behind her highlighted her tall, shapely figure, the swell of her full breasts in the sleeveless leather vest she wore, and the curve of her hips accentuated by the flare of her long plaid skirt.

Fingal noticed it too. Muin saw the hunger gleam in the Wolf warrior’s gaze, and the sight made Muin’s hackles rise.

Aye, Talor had a point. He had to act before it was too late.

 

“Is that cup of mead for me?”

Ailene was out of breath as she hurried toward him, her cheeks flushed from exertion.

Muin plastered a tolerant smile to his face and nodded, holding out the fresh cup he had not yet touched. Unlike Talor, Ailene had the grace to ask. “Aye … drink up.”

Ailene took the mead with a smile. “Why aren’t you dancing, Muin?” she asked before winking. “There are plenty of comely lasses out there dying for you to ask them.”

Muin clenched his jaw. It was an effort not to frown, yet he quelled the urge. “I don’t want to dance.” The words sounded surly, and he immediately regretted them. However, Ailene merely grinned, digging him in the ribs with an elbow. “Well you’re missing out … look how much fun Talor is having.”

Muin did not need another reminder of Talor’s success with women. His cousin was now dancing with two lasses around the fire, twirling each in turn as they laughed and squealed in delight. Talor was wearing a self-satisfied smile as he reveled in the attention.

“He’s welcome to it.”

Ailene made an exasperated sound in her throat before taking a gulp of mead. “Sometimes you’re such an old woman, Muin,” she chided, her eyes gleaming with affection. “How will you ever find a lass to wed, if you stand glowering on the sidelines?”

An old woman.

That was one of Ailene’s favorite insults for him when Muin became socially awkward.

Muin’s belly clenched, although he covered up his reaction with an affable shrug. He did not like that Ailene thought him unadventurous, or that she encouraged him to find a woman to marry. “I’m a terrible dancer anyway,” he muttered. “I think I’ll save the lasses from having their feet crushed.”

In response, Ailene merely laughed.

The sound wrapped around Muin like a lover’s embrace, and he watched her, wishing she saw him in a different light.


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