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He reached out, sliding his hand past her neck and into the mass of dark hair that hung above her shoulders, grasping it to bring her closer, his breath upon her lips. “You are correct in saying that desires often come from things we cannot easily gain—mine, being that of your love. By all accounts, I do wish I could steal it. But I am not that sort of man. I will wait. Forever and a day…I will wait.”
Dægan touched his cheek where the sting of her hand still tingled. “Conceivably, that was ill. Forgive me. But I still believe she wanted something more than just a passing moment at the water’s edge. And I know there is a large part of you, no matter how much you deny it, that longs for the same. I saw it in your eyes. And I can give you that. I want to give you that. If you like the river as much as you say you do, then you will love the sea. You will love seeing your homeland from the distant bows of a ship where the meadow’s flowery arms wave in polite parting and the hills stand up to bid you farewell. ‘Tis like nothing you have ever seen. Come with me. Let me take you on the sea and show you what true freedom is.”
This time, he pulled her face toward his, prohibited her from anymore wayward glances. “Look not upon them. Your eyes needn’t see what wickedness I have done.” He drew her closer and cradled her head into his shoulder. “When the rain dies down, I shall remove them from here. Just sleep. I will stay awake and keep watch. By my guess, they will not be back without the help of reinforcements and by that time, we shall be long gone. At first light, rain or shine, we will be gone.”
He took her hand and placed her open palm firmly on his chest, interlacing her fingers with his own. “What I say to you is not easy, for I am a warrior of Thor and a son of Odin. In my youth I gave an oath, an oath that is stronger than a bond between men, and to break it, means I will not have a share in their glory upon my death. But hear me now, Mara. I would rather die in your arms, than die a courageous death for Odin’s approval or for Thor’s immense pride. I want to be as we are now, together in peaceful arms, waiting for the start of each day. I want to wake every morning to the sight of your blessed face, to the feel of your body against mine, and your kiss on my lips. I want to be with you forever…in this life and the next! What glory you give my heart is beyond a war god’s understanding. I need not Odin or Thor anymore. I could die right now—right here—and be a happy man. Marry me and make me a jubilant man!”
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“I heard you,” Breandán replied, adoring those words. “But ‘tis not something you should say to me. Do you not know how hard I am trying to stand here and look at you, and not greedily take what is rightfully another man’s?”
“Fine. I love her. But what good does it do to proclaim it? My heart’s longing will never be satisfied. At the least you might find consolation in that, Northman. Be that as it may, I will protect her with every beat of my heart and there is naught you can do about it.”
“You have always known where I stood when it came to you,” he said in a low whisper. “Naught has changed in my heart since we last saw each other. And it never will.”
“Because I know ‘twould make you happy. Your happiness is all I have ever cared about.”
Breandán dipped his head lower to meet her eyes. “What I said about Dægan was not a lie. He was a good man and I am honored to have known him. No doubt, we had our differences, but we also shared a common ground—your welfare. Even between the many years that have separated us, I still care for you as much now as I did then. It pains me to know you have been alone all this time. But rest assured,” he proclaimed, lifting her chin with his hand. “You are no longer alone. As a friend, I will be here for you…for as long as you allow me.”
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