They floated off, the old man watching them, until the
tall grasses swallowed him up, and the only thing to be seen
was the blue bowl of sky overhead and the long,
stretched-out wings of a dark, silent cormorant that flew
"Ye gave him coin?
At Finianâ€™s sharp tone, Senna looked down and nodded.
He snorted. "Ye bribed him. Thatâ€™s something ye English
like to do."
She smiled loftily. "And something you Irish like to do
is assume you understand the meaning of things. â€™Twasnâ€™t a
bribe. And if you cannot see that, then I am at a loss for
He snorted again. "Thatâ€™ll be a rare day in hell."
"You snort a lot," she pointed out.
He stared at her. "Lie down."
"An Irishman in an Irish curaigh floating down an Irish
river with a sack of skins is unremarkable. You,
remarkable. Lie down."
"How am I remarkable?" she asked, already lowering herself.
He just looked at her.
She did insist on disrobing somewhat, rather than lying
in wet leather, to be baked like a cod in the sun. He
grumbled but she was resolute, and in the end, he relented.
A brief, disagreeable delay ensued, wherein she hitched
and yanked at various wet clothes, disrobing down to a thin
linen shift. Then she lay down in the bottom of the boat.
The sacks of skins were not down here with her, she
realized irritably, although they would have made perfect
bedding. But they were perched on one of the benches,
sunning themselves. Finianâ€™s sword and bow were down here
with her, of course, out of sight but within easy reach.
They were also poking her.
She shuffled around, trying to fit into the small cramped
hull of the boat, which really was not where she wished to
be, not even for a moment. She was squished, her arms tight
up against her sides. It smelled. It was mucky. It was
wet. Wet, as if a small pond held a secret life down in the
basin of the curmudgeonâ€™s curaigh, or whatever Finian had
"Mmm?" He didnâ€™t look down. His powerful arms kept up a
powerful paddling. She could almost feel the river skiffing
away not an inch below her body.
"I think thereâ€™s fish down here."
"Aye. This river has many fish."
"No. I mean this boat. Swimming around me. Little tiny
His lips twitched.
"If you laugh, Iâ€™m getting up," she warned.
"Hush." His voice went low, his lips hardly moved.
Senna barely had time to feel a tingle of concern before she
heard the shouts of men at the shoreline. The rush of panic
came flying for her. English men. Soldiers.
Theyâ€™d been found.
"Heave to, Irishman," one of the soldiers called.
Finian shoved the paddle deep into the mud of the
riverbed, keeping the boat from sailing any further, which
would have sent the soldiers shouting for whatever others
were billeted the people and patrolling the lands. It also
kept the curragh from going any closer to the shore.
"That looks like Oâ€™Malleryâ€™s nubbinâ€™ boat," one of them
"Thatâ€™s so," agreed Finian easily. "He let me use it."
"Not bloody likely," muttered the shorter one. They two
stared at each other a moment, then the taller one snapped
"Oâ€™Mallery donâ€™t let his wife use his pecker," he
growled. "Come over here, boy."
Senna could almost feel Finian rise up in the boat, like
a huge wave uncoiling itself close to shore. She grabbed
his boot. His steely gaze snapped down. With her free
hand and an open palm, she mimed going softly down. Sit
down, calm down.
"For me," she whispered.
He fired his gaze up again. "Thereâ€™s only two of them,"
he said, not moving his lips.
"Now thereâ€™s only two," she whispered. "You said you
enjoy traveling with me. I enjoy traveling with you, too.
Let it be."
"Iâ€™ve let a lot of things be," he said in a calm voice.
That worried her. He was still squinting towards the
shoreline, locked, she supposed, in mortal eye combat with
one of the English soldiers.
"Iâ€™ll make it up to you," she whispered urgently.
The faintest trace of a smile lifted his lips.
"Boy, git over here."
It was the whisky that made her do it. She was fairly
certain of that. The hot, uninhibiting flush the drink had
sent coursing through her limbs simply floated into her
brain and melted her wits. She took a deep breath, gave her
tunic a harsh tug so it tore further, exposing an immodest
curve of her breasts and the valley between. Then she sat
up. Unraveled, really. Or so she hoped.
Finianâ€™s jaw dropped, but not so far as the English boysâ€™
did on the shore.
"Jay-sus!" one of them shouted, jumping back as if she
was one of the fey.
She smiled as lustily as she could and draped her arms
over Finianâ€™s thighs, her face close to his groin, implying
sheâ€™d only just lifted her mouth away.
"Hello lads," she said in a confident, husky tone. Or
did it sound like she was sick? She didnâ€™t quite know how
to sound seductive, and hoped this would do. "Are we
She tried to sound as much like Finian as possible, the
rocking cadence of his speech, the slow, seductive dropping
off of the sharp-pointed ends of words, as if he couldnâ€™t be
bothered to stab so at a thought.
The soldiers gaped. Finian adapted immediately. He put
his palm lightly but possessively around her back of her
head, exerting the slightest pressure downward, bringing her
lips just slightly closer to what was now, partially, an
erection. He was obviously familiar with the move. A
fiery rush shot through her body, down to her womb.
The young soldiers turned their gapes to Finian, then
burst out laughing, smacking each other on the arms, as if
theyâ€™d accomplished something great and worthy. All
pretense of being on opposing sides fell away in the face of
getting a woman to suck theirâ€”.
Holding her stiff smile, Senna said through unmoving
lips, "You may attack them now."
Finian didnâ€™t remove his gaze either. "Shall I? And
yet, we like traveling together."
"Letâ€™s try this, then." She lifted her voice. "Have a
good day, lads," she sang out, lifting one hand to wave. "I
know we will."
Finian yanked his paddle up and the boat began slipping
downstream. One of the soldiers stepped forward, a
concerned look on his face. He raised a hand, half roused
from his voyeuristic stupor.
Again, it was the whisky that gave her the idea. She
was quite certain this time.
She bent her head and brushed her lips over Finianâ€™s
The soldiersâ€™ jaws dropped, then they exploded into
whoops and hollers, jumping up and down like they were
standing on a beehive. Nothing about Finian changed, except
that his hand tightened almost imperceptibly around the back
of her head.
The river sluiced away beneath the boat, but Senna, to
her own dim surprise, did not move. The bottom of the boat
was hard and wet, with a rib bone-like wooden beam jutting
into her as she knelt between Finianâ€™s legs. But she didnâ€™t
feel a thing.
All she was aware of was Finianâ€™s hard thighs beneath her
arms, the heat of him engulfing her chin and cheeks, the hot
sun on her top of her head, and the powerful rising up of
his chest. His was looking down, his face shadowed, his
dark eyes unreadable but watching her. And his hand was
still on the back of her head.
She must never drink whisky again.