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"You don't understand what you do to me."
His whole life, Gunnar has felt unworthy of love. Then one unforgettable night, his childhood sweetheart Kadlin offers herself to him. Knowing he will never truly deserve her, he leaves the next morning... The memories will have to last a lifetime.
Kadlin was devastated when Gunnar left. Now, two years later, he returns, wounded from his battles across the sea. And Kadlin must decide whether to trust him again, and tell him about the true consequence of their one night together!
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Harper St. George was raised in rural Alabama and along the tranquil coast of northwest Florida. It was a setting filled with stories of the old days that instilled in her a love of history, romance, and adventure. By high school, she had discovered the romance novel which combined all of those elements into one perfect package.
She lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and two young children. Visit her website: www.harperstgeorge.com.
She was the only woman he had ever loved.
The realisation washed over him in a single instant, a tingling chill that started at his fingertips and worked its way up his arms and on to the rest of his body. If he'd seen her even once in the past few years, he might have recognised that love sooner. Or if he had allowed himself to even dream that such a sentiment was possible, he would have attributed it to her. But he'd tried to make himself forget her. It was easier to pretend she didn't exist. If he didn't think about being with her, he wouldn't long for her. If he didn't remember how it felt to hold her, he wouldn't have to face the reality that she wasn't meant to be his. That he would never hold her again and his hands wouldn't ache from the emptiness.
Only Gunnar had never really stopped imagining her face. Every woman he'd ever touched had become her in the black of night.
From his hidden niche in the forest, he watched Kad-lin follow the path from her home to the stream, her cheeks pink with the cold and her long-limbed stride graceful and swaying. She leapt a snowdrift and her younger brothers followed suit, both of them squealing and laughing as one of them tripped and fell into the icy snow bank. Her mongrel barked and joined the fray, bouncing in merriment. Gunnar found himself smiling as he quickly stepped back to hide behind a tree when she turned abruptly to join in their laughter. The precious sound of it reached him where he hid in the forest and dislodged the weight he carried in his chest. It had been years since he'd heard her laugh. He'd forgotten how good it felt to hear it.
The sound brought back memories of their childhood frolics through this very forest. He stood for a moment with his eyes closed as he let the images come to him: Kadlin pelting him with a snowball, Kadlin lying in wait for him on a low-hanging branch as he looked for her and then tackling him to the ground, Kadlin boxing his ears when he'd called her a girl. But then their happy voices began to fade, so he followed to keep them within sight.
If not for the presence of her younger brothers, he would have approached her at the stream. But he remembered the last time he'd visited her and the harsh words her father had said to him, so he kept his distance. There would be time to visit her later that night when everyone slept. He'd made that trip often enough in the past and knew just how to gain entry without being seen. He kept his place in the seclusion of the forest and watched them.
Twin braids hung down to her waist. He'd been fascinated with her hair for as long he could remember. It was a rare silvery blonde he'd never seen on another. As a child, he'd sneak into her bedchamber on the nights he'd been too bruised and dispirited to find solace in his own bed, unravel her long braids and let the waterfall of silk cascade over him. And he could vividly recall her startling clear blue eyes watching him as he did it. The acceptance he saw reflected there was the only refuge he'd known. Rejected by his father, who was a bitter and spiteful man, and then by his mother when she had abandoned her bastard child to marry, he'd never known tenderness and approval, except from Kadlin.
He'd been a fool to not recognise the depths of his feelings for her back then. But he'd also been a child and what did children know of love? He only knew that he had gone to her when his own life had become unbearable and she had offered him comfort. He didn't quite understand what had compelled him to push her away. Perhaps it was because she had been meant for his half-brother and he didn't want to face the inevitable pain that would follow when she chose Eirik over him. But he recognised now that she filled some place in him that had been empty without her and his life would be infinitely better with her in it.
It was unfortunate that his life was taking him across the sea in mere days. Yet even as the thought crossed his mind, he recognised that going away was the best thing for her. She deserved someone as honourable and good as she was. Someone who would be able to do more than take from her. Someone who could return a modicum of all that she had to give a man. He wasn't that man and he knew that he could never aspire to be. He was darkness to her light. He would only take from her. But he would see her tonight, talk to her one last time, hold her in his arms. It would have to be enough to keep him for the rest of his life.
Kadlin awoke to the disturbing knowledge that she was not alone in her bedchamber. She lay perfectly still, listening for some sound that would betray the intruder, but she failed to hear anything past the pounding of her heart. The fire had reduced to only a smoulder, so she blinked, urging her eyes to adjust to the absence of light. There was a heaviness in the room, a presence that wasn't her own. She was certain that it wasn't a trick of her imagination. The presence prickled her skin and sucked out the air in the small chamber.
Where was her dog? The realisation that her faithful companion had abandoned her set off a cold flare of terror and her heart froze in her chest. If someone had been able to take Freyja, then—
'It's only me, Kadlin. Don't be afraid.'
Gunnar! She would have known his voice anywhere. The deep cadence was followed by a spark of orange as the fire flamed back to life. Its warmth caressed his beloved features, making his wolfish amber eyes appear to glow at her from across the small distance. The flickering flames highlighted the deep red of his hair and drew her attention to the angular planes of his face as they played hide-and-seek with the light. He was the fire god come to life.
But he was Gunnar, decidedly flesh-and-blood male. Her heart resumed its pounding, but for an entirely different reason. She'd not laid eyes on him in well over two years; he'd been gone, fighting across the sea. Even before that, her knowledge of him had become sparse and relegated to stolen glimpses and awkward meals when their fathers met. They had still been children the last time he had made the long trek, alone through the forest, from his home to her bed.
Now, he had the broad shoulders of a seasoned warrior, made even wider by the fur cloak draped across them. She could barely tear her gaze from their solid strength, but he prodded the fire and she noticed how large and strong his hands had become. Much different than the hands that had held her so many years ago. A trembling began somewhere deep within her.
'I didn't know if I would see you again.' Her words came out a bit breathless so she forced herself to take a deep breath as she sat up in bed. She wanted to touch him, to reassure herself that he was really there and this wasn't some dream, to know the feel of his shoulders beneath her hands so she could compare it to her dreams. She wanted to reach out and hold on to him before he left and she never saw him again. To shake him for taking himself away from her.
But it had been so long since they'd enjoyed the easy camaraderie of their youth and he seemed so fierce and remote from the boy she had known. 'You returned with Eirik in the autumn.' They could have had the whole winter to know each other again. She didn't give voice to the words, but the accusation hung silently in the air between them. 'Why have you stayed away?' A shadow moved in the corner behind him and she realised that her dog had been given a large hank of dried meat to chew. Gunnar had come prepared, it seemed.
He took a deep breath and seemed to come to some decision, because when his gaze lit on hers, he looked at her so directly that she was left speechless. There was no jesting there, no artifice, or even a veneer of civility. There was just a restless energy that he seemed determined to harness so that it focused completely on her. When he finally spoke, his voice was textured with longing. 'You were betrothed to my brother. If I saw you again, I knew that I would have challenged him for you.'
He finally released her from the captivity of his stare, his intense gaze flicking over her tousled hair and down to her breasts, making warmth bloom in her chest. He dropped one last piece of wood on the fire and rose to his full height so that he seemed to take up most of the space in the room.
Her skin prickled from the intensity of his attention. She'd imagined this very scenario many times over the years, awakening to him in her room, but the reality of his presence was nearly overwhelming. His acknowledgement of his desire for her, coupled with the intensity of his stare, set her body to life in a way she'd been unable to imagine. Heat prickled her skin, so that every part of her was aware of him. When he took a step in her direction, her belly fluttered in anticipation. To rein herself in, she offered a challenge to his words. 'You would have allowed your brother to marry me? Knowing that you wanted me for yourself?'
There was no mistaking that heated look in his eyes. She'd seen it enough in other men who had come to ask her father for her hand, though she'd never once welcomed it. But from him, it was like the light of the spring sun warming her skin after a particularly brutal winter. He was the only one she had ever imagined herself marrying.
'I believed that he was your choice.' He came to a stop at the edge of the bed next to her.
She rose to her knees before him, leaving her blanket to pool on the bed, and fought her desire to touch him. Apparently he had harboured some affection for her all of these years, but she found it difficult to believe, when he could have had any woman he wanted. Or perhaps she was afraid to believe it, afraid that even knowing that, it would change nothing. That he still wouldn't be hers. 'You must know that Eirik never owned my heart. He is a dear friend, but...not in the way that I would require for marriage.'
'I passed the winter away from home, in places that would make you shudder with revulsion.' He shook his head. 'With horrible people...because I didn't want to return to my father's home and see you as Eirik's wife. Every night I imagined you in his arms and it was torture. When I returned home to find that you hadn't married him, I came to you as soon as I could.' He paused, his lips curving in an attractive smile. It lit his eyes, giving her a glimpse of the boy she had loved. His strong hand reached out to catch the end of one of her braids and curl it around his finger. They both watched as the light caught it and turned the blonde strands to silver. 'Leave it to you to thwart the wishes of not one but two jarls, your father and mine.'
Her lips curved in a slight smile at his jest, but she was reluctant to get away from the confrontation. 'He was not the man I wanted.' His breath hitched, but he didn't shift his attention from the strand of hair he caressed. 'Why have you ignored me all these years, Gunnar?' she whispered.
'Nay, Kadlin, you were never ignored. There was never a moment when I wasn't aware of you. Any time you were near, I felt it even without seeing you. My body knew you were there and I couldn't help but hear you, smell you.' He brought the strand of hair to his lips and closed his eyes as he breathed in her scent. 'I could never forget the way you smelled and the way it felt to sleep with my face buried in your hair when we were children.'
'But you've stayed away. Why?'
He groaned and pulled back only enough to look at her. 'The boy you knew died a long time ago, Kadlin. I am not what you need.'
She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. This man, this warrior standing before her, so forbidding and brutal, was not the boy she remembered. But he was no less attractive for the change that his harsh life had wrought. To the contrary, he carried an edge that somehow served to make him desirable with that mystical allure taken on by all things forbidden. Despite that, he still seemed so familiar to her. Unable to avoid touching him any longer, she let her palms rest on the backs of his hands. Did he feel the magic that happened when their flesh touched, the invisible flame that sparked between them?
Her hands moved restlessly up and down the length of his forearms, unable to stay still when the urge to touch him was so powerful. They were as solid as iron beneath her palms. Taking in the broad expanse of his chest, she suspected that all of him would feel that way. A jolt of unexpected excitement moved from her fingertips to her belly. 'I don't care, Gunnar. You are what I want.' Truer words had never passed her lips. In the few minutes he had been there, she felt like a part of her had come back to itself. There was no more aching where her heart had been. He was meant for her and she knew it now more than she had ever known it before. Only now, she knew that deep in his heart he felt the same way.
His eyes glowed with a sudden fierceness that might have frightened her only moments earlier. 'You should be careful of the things you say to me.'
'Why?' she challenged.
He grinned, but it was wicked and full of all of the dark things that she very much wanted to experience with him. A wolf's grin. His fingers loosened their grasp on her hair so that his hands could settle gently at her hips, clenching the light fabric of her nightdress in a show of restraint that caused a strange pulse to begin between her thighs. 'Because I've spent every moment in this chamber trying to convince myself that I came only to bid you goodbye.'
'You didn't truly think that I would let you go so easily?' Her body warming beneath his touch, she allowed her hands to finally settle on the solid expanse of his chest. He was so hard and strong. Her fingertips tingled as she touched him, tracing over the dips and planes. But that wasn't enough, so she let them delve beneath the edges of the fur cloak to be closer to his heat. His words had started a throbbing deep within her and it begged to be closer to him.
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Book Description Harlequin, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373307306
Book Description Harlequin, 2015. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373307306