Right before entering the next clearing, Caleb caught a flash of color contrasting against the green. He paused, moving aside a few leaves so he could peer through the opening. His attention caught on a tantalizing sight.
A woman moved in a dance of lethal grace with her eyes closed. She swung her blade with the skill of someone long trained. Challenging only the air around her, it was clear she strived to improve her form.
Her beauty was only enhanced by her bare, capable arms. The sleeveless shirt and pants she wore were nothing like the robes of the Shadow Shifters’ traditions. Her biceps and triceps flexed, illuminating well-formed muscles.
Amusement slid through him. This was the first time he’d ever seen a woman with a blade. And he couldn’t help but admire her. Part of him knew he should admire no female other than his aroha, his fated mate. But the other part of him was intrigued by this display of warrior patience.
The women of his people had never been trained in battle. It was Caleb who had failed to protect them. The female in front of him didn’t look like she needed protection, and the concept baffled him.
A man should always stand between a woman and a fight. And if they failed to protect as Caleb had his own people, then the man should carry that weight around forever, and the guilt, just as he did.
Need for redemption soaked into his veins. Perhaps he could help this female improve her form to make up for his other failures.
“You’re dropping your left side,” he said, moving out from behind his cover.
Her head whipped around, her sword following with force. The very tip aimed toward his heart. Five feet separated him from the lethal point. He was not yet in danger so his gaze trailed from the sharp blade to connect with her gaze.
Honey-colored eyes clashed with his. Awareness shot through him. He did his best to hide his response. His entire world shifted, the foundation reforming in the blink of a second. The change. The moment every man of the Varner desired. The finding. Of the one woman meant to be his mate.
How many times had he imagined this moment?
The warrior woman was his aroha. His body pulsed to life. For the first time his lust awakened in response to another, just as the old tales stated. His muscles tensed, everything inside him urging him to act, urging him to brand. He was ready to make her his.
The fire in her eyes held him back. As well as the vivid distinction that this woman with a sword was far from a delicate female of the Varner. From his experience the past two years and the difficulty of fumbling his way through foreign cultures for the same length of time, he knew it was better to keep his revelation to himself. For now. She might not sense the connection like he could, like the women of the Varner had been able to.
His fascination overwhelmed the new ache in his groin. She was extraordinary. He’d never seen another woman like her. Fierce and strong with steel in her gaze. Beautiful, mighty . . . his. The core of him roared that this miraculous creature belonged to him.
“Who are you?” She jabbed her blade forward an inch.
He barely kept from smiling at her demand. “You’re dropping your left side when you turn.”
Her chin jutted up. “Are you such a fine warrior that you feel yourself worthy of dispensing unsought advice?”
“Some would say.” He moved closer to her.
She tensed, but didn’t attack. Perhaps it was the foot and inches of his height advantage that stalled her.
The sun shining through the trees bestowed a glow off her light brown hair, giving her an ethereal aura. Strong features curved with womanhood invited him to touch.
His hand almost reached toward her before he stopped himself.
Every inch of him yearned to claim his woman, his destined mate, his aroha.
His fingers ached to touch her and make sure she was real. Even if it was only to correct her sword form. Could he really have found the woman he’d searched for all of his adulthood after thirty-three years of living? He needed to brush her skin and make sure he wasn’t fantasizing. Although he knew this must be real because he had never imagined a woman like her.
He closed the distance between them.
“What are you doing?”
“Showing you how to keep your side up.”
After hesitating, she finally lowered her blade. “They say we aren’t supposed to speak with men from the Varner. The villagers call you giants.”
“We aren’t much different from you. And I’ve never seen a female Shadow Shifter train with a sword. I don’t think you’re a woman who abides by the rules.”
Was that a flush in her cheeks? He moved around to direct her arm. When he hovered near her, his front almost touching her back, she glanced over her shoulder warily. He kept himself far enough away so she couldn’t feel the press of his male interest. He ignored the flustered feeling inching up his spine. He’d never been snared by a woman’s scent.
He wanted to inhale her natural fragrance and brand it to his memory. In this open area near the forest where so many aromas mingled, hers stood out—a citrus blend of foreign fruit mixed with the spicy scent of flesh dampened from exertion.
His fingers closed over her grip on the blade. He showed her how to turn without dropping her side.
“Perfect,” he said, unsure if he meant the improvement in her form or the feel of her soft flesh against his roughened palm. He freed her with reluctance.
With a little space between them, she tried again, flawlessly turning.
She frowned. “Thank you.”
“I am impressed by your skill.”
“It’s not enough.”
About the Author:
Kinley Baker is the author of the fantasy romance series, Shadowed Love. She read her first romance at the age of thirteen and immediately fell in love with the hero and the genre.
She lives with her husband, Benjamin, and her dog, Joker, in the Pacific Northwest. Ruined, Denied, and Freed are all available now from Crescent Moon Press.
Look for a new paranormal romance series in 2013. As a firm supporter of all supernatural lifestyles, she writes fantasy, paranormal, and futuristic romances.
You can find Kinley at www.kinleybaker.com