“I know that look,” Elliandra said suddenly. “I’ve seen it on Augustus’ face more than once. There’s a girl, isn’t there? You had your mind on a lass!” She sounded both amused and disgusted.
Shadowdancer could not bring himself to look at her. She’d hit it right the first try but how close to the mark she’d come, he could not show her. Not since his heart had been broken, so long ago, had a woman affected him the way Elliandra did. The other had been a redhead too, only it was a rusty red like fallen leaves. How appropriate, for her name had been Autumn. She’d broken his heart, driven him to drink, and made him the man he was—for good or ill.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” Elliandra spoke with confidence.
“Aye, that you are,” he admitted grudgingly. “She’s beautiful, intelligent, witty and strong. In short, Elliandra,” he chanced a look at her. “She’s magnificent in every way and more woman than would ever be interested in a bleary eyed sot like me.”
Nothing moved but her hair. Caught by the breeze, it whipped around her head, escaping her scarf like snakes of flame. The setting sun made it a golden red halo around her head. Tears formed in her emerald eyes, tinged with gold from the afternoon sun.
“How do you know she’s not interested?”
Shadow’s voice caught in his throat. Could he speak? Dared he say what was in his heart? For once he had to speak up for himself. He’d spent so many years hating himself, what he’d become after Autumn had left him, he could hardly bring himself to look in her eyes. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he squared his narrow shoulders, stood up straight and looked at her—his dark gray eyes locked onto her vivid green ones.
“Why would you want a man like me, Elli? I’m old and weak. I can’t even give you a roof over your head, for I’ve none as belongs to me. I’ve nothing to offer you but the love in my heart, the skill of my hands and the clothes on my back, but those I give you freely.”
His nerve left him and his head dropped again as he stared at his feet. Suddenly tired, he sighed heavily and let his pack fall to the ground. The precious golden fabric spilled out, catching the light of the fading sun.
Elliandra’s breath caught sharply and she stooped to grab it before it fell into the dirt. Shadow reached for it at the same time and their hands brushed as they caught at the fabric, fingers meeting in the folds of cool cloth. He felt a spark jump from the tips of his fingers to hers and back again.
The cloth forgotten, he leaned forward, his lips meeting hers. Their kiss was electrifying, lingering, warm and tender. He’d never kissed anyone the way he kissed her and he could tell she’d never had a kiss like his.
“Oh, Elli, I’ve loved you since we met. Each time I see you, it sets my soul on fire.”
“Why have you never told me before?”
“Oh, bother Augustus anyway! What’s he to do with us?”
“He’d kill me if I ever made a move toward you. You are his little sister, sheltered and nurtured by him. God help me, Elli, I love you more than my own life, but I say again, what have I to offer you?”
Elliandra took his hands gently in hers, pulling him toward her. “You said it already, the love in your heart. That’s all I ask, Shadow, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. As for my brother, I know we’d have his blessing, for there is no man he regards as highly as you. Now shut up, you fool, and kiss me.”