Ariel Cameron touched him like no other woman ever had. He felt her needs and her fears. He understood her desperate struggle with her disability because in a strange way he was crippled too.
Even while he kept his distance, watching her, she’d burrowed a deep path into his heart. His gut tightened into a hard knot of pain and anger.
Until tonight, he’d never kissed her, never held her hand in his. Until a few hours ago, he’d stayed away from her, sensing the danger in coming too close.
Too late he knew the threat to him was real. The kiss they shared had kindled a fire inside, an inferno he could not smother. Unknowingly, she toyed with him, played with his emotions and like a starving man, he begged for more.
He felt ripped apart, torn, battered, and confused. He didn’t like the feeling.
Birds floated on wind currents overhead. Sea gulls, he supposed, perhaps cormorants. He’d never learned what to call them but he’d heard people talking. Ariel knew the names of all the birds in these parts and the flowers too. She spent a lot of time reading and baking. Her oatmeal raisin cookies melted in his mouth.
He threw his head back and laughed at himself and the way he vacillated from one extreme to the other. When he wanted to push her from his thoughts, he remembered her cookies. He laughed again. The wind and the waves ate his laughter and left an empty hollow in the pit of his stomach.
He was a man in agony. His decision to pursue a union with this woman might well open a path to hell. All he had was gut reaction. In the darkest hour of the night, when his mind wandered to thoughts of her, he felt a foreboding sense of doom.
He turned and looked at the boardinghouse. "Bloody hell," he muttered and retraced his path. Men slipped in and out of the back of her house. But he was too late. The men disappeared in the grayness of the dawn.
He paused. Rain drizzled from the iron gray clouds above, ran in rivulets down his face and neck to pool beneath his collar. He should have grabbed his coat on the way out the door, but he’d been in too great a hurry to escape the stifling confines of her house, to escape the haunting memories of his past and the turbulent emotions of the present he now faced.