Trust not the horse, O Trojans. Be it what it may, I fear
the Grecians even when they offer gifts.
â€” Virgil (70-19 B.C.), Roman poet.
LaocoÃ¶n, from Aeneid, Book 2
Grampian Highlands, northwestern coast of Scotland,
She was not utterly naked. But she was damnably close.
He did not know why he chose to ride along the narrow
strip of beach that day, for he usually took the winding
track that curled through the rugged granite peaks nearby.
Perhaps it was the working of divine providence that sent
him cantering over the sand, then caused his horse to rear
suddenly and turn sharply away.
Otherwise, he might have ridden right over the woman lying
Who was she? he wondered. Some mythological figure escaped
from a Renaissance painting â€” one of the three Horae,
perhaps? Clad only in a thin, wet shift, she lay in a
cradle of rocks and sand, imbued with melancholic beauty,
her body provoking, and yet chastely invisible. Still and
pale, she reminded him of an ancient statue â€” for her
beauty could have inspired some venerable sculptor to
immortalize her in marble.
Tavish Graham dismounted and walked toward her, puzzled by
this mysterious woman. How did she get here?
She had no name and nothing to identify her, nor was there
any clue as to where she had come from â€” nothing, save the
shift she wore and the pure lambent reality of cold, naked
flesh. Incredibly young, and fair of face, she was slender
as a reed, with a body to arouse envy in the female heart,
and lust in her counterpart.
She did not move, even when he dropped down on his knees
beside her. He put his head to her chest and listened, for
he hoped to hear the beating assurance of a heart that
said she lived.
He heard nothing.
He dusted the sand away and was about to listen again,
when the exquisiteness of her face distracted him. She had
a pureness of beauty quite unlike anyone he had seen. It
brought to mind the dim, smoky light of taverns, where
nudes reclined on canvas, and licentious thoughts were
given free rein â€” to look, to touch, to make advances, or
simply to toss the woman over the shoulder and carry her
She was far too lovely to die, he thought, as he lifted a
bit of seaweed clinging to her pale lips. He inhaled
sharply when he saw she was staring at him, as if just
awakening from a deep sleep.
Her skin was like ice when he laid a palm along her
cheek. "Who are you?" he asked. It was as if she came
vividly to life before his eyes, and with elegant hands
and masses of chestnut hair she modestly tried to cover
"Have no fear, lass. Ye are safe. I have come to help ye."
He saw a tear roll from her eye. She whispered something
inaudible and closed her eyes.
She was not dead, thanks be to God, but she would be soon
if he did not get her dry and warm.
He looked around him, but saw no signs of anyone having
been here, nor did he see any bits of wreckage that could
have come from the ship that went aground the night before.
He knew not where she came from, this nameless beauty
shrouded in mystery. He only knew she had not been in the
water long, or she would be dead.
Which she would be soon enough, if he did not get her warm.
He was puffing vigorously by the time he wrapped her in
his plaid and carried her to his horse and placed her in
the saddle. He mounted behind her and pulled her close
against him, so the heat from his own body could offset
the icy chill in hers.
He turned his horse, ready to continue on his way, when a
moment of indecision furrowed his brow.
Where should he take her?
He feared it was too far to take her to his home at
Monleigh Castle. With her so wet and cold, he doubted she
would make it that far. His only hope was to make it to
DanegÃ¦ld Lodge. His brother Jamie had gone there two days
ago to have peace and quiet.
Tavish did not stop to think how Jamie would react to
having a half-drowned lass interrupt his quiet retreat, or
left in his care. But then, Tavish rarely thought of such
things for he was the youngest brother, and the one to use
his charm to manipulate others â€” the one who saw his way
as the right way.
Tavish turned his horse toward DanegÃ¦ld and rode at a
gallop, for he knew that soon the cold, dampening fog from
the North Sea would begin to creep inland, and it would
carry with it a cold chill.
As he rode, he thought about the woman in his arms, and
the inexplicable aura that surrounded her. That he did not
know her captivated him. He had been away at the
university in Edinburgh for most of the past three years,
so it was possible a lass or two could have escaped his
attention â€” even one as bonnie as she.
Night descended upon them and the weather turned colder.
Tavish pulled the plaid more tightly around her, until
only her face and a few wet curls were visible.
"Clkâ€¦clkâ€¦" He urged his horse forward and kept up a steady
pace, riding toward the dark edging of trees in the
distance where a stingy moon hid behind the clouds,
throwing everything below into deep shadow.
Soon, they began to climb the flanks of the mountains that
rose like a buttress against the powerful North Sea, as if
commanding the churning waters to come no farther.
The woman stirred and moaned something inaudible. He knew
her position was not a comfortable one, but Tavish did not
let a thing like pity slow him down. She needed a warm
place more than she needed comfort.
Still, the knowledge that she might need soothing did not
prevent him from offering a few sparse words of comfort in
that awkwardly tender way men sometimes have â€” gentle
words, gruffly spoken. "You are safe now, lass."
Her cold hand fell limply against his and he slowed long
enough to tuck it beneath the plaid. Overhead, the moon
outran the clouds to illuminate her blue lips, and fell
with lifeless color upon a face as pale as ashes.
He could feel the cold numbness of her body reaching out
to him through the plaid, and could only hope that some of
his own body's warmth would pass into hers, before they
both froze. He urged his horse into a faster pace.
The trail was uneven and rough, strewn with large
boulders, some so close together there was barely enough
room for a horse to pass through.
It slowed their progress, and his horse pricked his ears
forward and stepped gingerly over the rocks, made slippery
by a heavy mist that descended upon them.
Ahead of them, Tavish saw where the trail took a sharp
turn and dropped steeply toward the river. Once they were
around that, it would curve away and upward and they would
begin to climb again.
"Hold on, lass. "Tis no' so far now."
A soft mist began to scatter droplets about, and he cursed
his luck. She was wet enough. Saints above, the last thing
she needed was more water.
The track dipped into a narrow ravine, and they rode along
the river until they came to a shallow ford. He slowed his
horse to cross with the hope no water would splash upon
her, adding to her discomfort.
He paused a moment on the other side, hearing only the
sound of the harsh breathing of his horse as he watched
the steam rising from his wet hide. Tavish felt almost
apologetic when he resumed his pace and urged his horse
into a gallop along the narrow trail. He was thankful the
lass in front of him slept on, for he knew if awake she
would be complaining mightily.
Gradually he could feel the warmth beginning to gather
between them, and he felt relieved that at least the part
where their bodies touched was losing its chill. He tried
to shift his position, but the lass was all dead weight.
"Och, yer a hard one to budge," he said, not really
realizing he had spoken aloud until he heard her reply.
"Where are you taking me?"
Her voice was soft, and her accent went straight to his
groin. Seductive as hell, it was. He glanced down at her,
almost too astonished to answer.
"What difference does it make? You should be glad to go
anywhere, as long as it is dry."