The Highlander’s Unexpected Proposal

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A lady’s shoe sat on top of the leaf litter below a thick, branched tree. Adam nudged it with his boot and glanced upward, spying the match balanced on a limb high above. The lass’s other foot was bare, her toes curled to hold her in place. Blue skirts were rucked upward, twisted around her legs. Adam moved side to side to see past the leaves. Dark lashes framed wide eyes set in a heart-shaped face. Reddish hair hung to one side in a thick braid.

“Her father says he will not take her home, so she has to wed tonight.” A man’s voice broke the stillness of the wood. “She has no choice but to wed me.”

“Perhaps we could share her,” the other man said with a bark of laughter, hitting the other man’s arm.

“She could say no to us both.”

“Roylin was half in the bag last night with whisky and said he’d sell her off tomorrow if she did not wed. With four other girls and no dowries, Lark must marry at this festival. Tonight.”

The two men stepped into the shade of the forest. “Oh Lark,” one called, extending the name like a song. “Where are ye, lass? Fergus and I have something to ask ye.”

Adam bent to retrieve the lost slipper, sliding it into the drape of his plaid and stepping away from the tree. “Ho there,” he called, making the men stop, their hands moving to their short swords. “Finding a bit of shade,” Adam said with what he hoped was a smile. He didn’t smile often, so it felt tight.

One fellow frowned but the other raised a hand in greeting. “Have ye seen a lass with wavy red hair come through here?”

Adam looked off in another direction. “Nay, but I heard someone up that way. Twigs snapping, that sort of noise.”

They hiked off in the direction Adam had indicated. After a long minute, he leaned back against the tree. “Would ye like assistance?” he asked without looking up.

“Go away,” she said, her words in a forceful whisper.

Adam pushed away from the tree. He would not press upon a reluctant lass. His brother, Beck, would find a bride elsewhere.

“Blast,” the woman whispered. Perhaps she was too stubborn to ask for help. Stubborn determination was something Adam knew well. It was what kept people alive, kept them moving forward when all seemed lost.

The leaves shook as the woman moved in the boughs of the tree. Adam walked under the branch where bare toes reached down, flexing and pointing, as she felt around blindly. Her toes were tiny appendages, the nails neat and without dirt. The lass’s skirts billowed out as she squatted. “God’s teeth,” she murmured.

Dodging the wildly circling kick, he reached up. “I will guide your foot to the branch,” he said. Her toes flexed. Glancing up, he saw a pale face with large blue eyes tipped down toward him. A thick braid hung over one shoulder, and her lips looked soft and lush. A sprinkling of freckles sat along her high cheekbones and the bridge of her nose.

She blinked at him, her mouth closing into a tight line. “I need no help.”

“Your cursing makes me think ye lie.” Her toes dangled in the air an inch above the branch that she could not see due to the petticoats. She gasped as he caught her foot, tugging until the ball of it touched the branch, her perfectly formed, little toes curling around to help her balance.

“Move back, and I can jump down,” she said, narrowing her eyes.

She had the longest eyelashes, and some red curls had escaped her braid to slide forward along her smooth cheeks. “A leap from that high could break your ankle.” He reached for her waist.

Shuffling sideways she said, “I do not need any man to—” Her denial cut off as she lost her balance, falling forward, her hands grasping at the weak twigs with leaves, making the tree shudder. Adam caught her, his hands wrapping around her cinched waist to pull her toward him.

Her skirts caught on the branch, lifting them high as she descended. “Bloody hell.” She slapped her petticoat off the fingerlike branches that seemed intent on exposing the secrets she kept beneath.

Her lush form slid down his, and he inhaled at the contact, as if the pressure of her plucked along every muscle in his body. She smelled of some type of flower and spice, making him suck in another breath as he held her form against him. She felt as soft as he was hard. For several heartbeats they stared at one another, her face mere inches from his. What does she taste like?