In this scene, our intrepid heroine Pamela Darby confronts Connor Kincaid, the Highland rogue who has just waylaid her carriage...
"What a fine profession you've chosen for yourself, sir! Assaulting old men and frightening helpless women."
The highwayman took a step forward, bringing them so close she could feel the heat radiating from his body through the fabric of his shirt. "You don't seem very frightened, lass. Or very helpless."
In truth, Pamela was terrified. But she hid her terror behind a disgruntled sniff. "I've simply never been able to abide a bully."
"And what makes you think I chose this 'profession'?" His voice was a mocking caress that made the delicate hairs at her nape shiver with reaction. "What if it was thrust upon me by cruel fate?"
"We all have choices to make if we want to be masters—or mistresses—of our own fate."
"And are you mistress of yours?"
His gently barbed words struck an unexpectedly tender target. After her mother's death, she had quickly discovered that without means or a male protector, a woman was at the mercy of this world. All she could do was sit back and watch her choices vanish one by one along with her dreams.
"Not at the moment," she admitted. "But then I'm not the one with the gun in my hand."
"What if you were? Would you be willin' to surrender it to the first man—or woman—who branded you a bully? Maybe I made my choice a long time ago when I decided I didn't want to go hungry and barefoot while the English and their coffers grew fat on riches that rightly belonged to the Scots."
"But surely you must see that it's only a matter of time before you're brought to justice."
"When an Englishman robs a Scot of his land and his dignity, it's his God-given right. But when a Scot nabs an Englishman's purse, he's a dirty, thievin' criminal." The outlaw's snort came out of the darkness. "Where's the justice in that?"
Pamela brought her hands together in a round of dry applause. "Bravo, sir! I was wrong about you. Your passion adds a stirring note of conviction to your dialogue. If your weapon didn't happen to be pointed at my heart, I might even be tempted to cheer on your noble effort to relieve me of my purse."
He surprised her by slowly lowering the pistol to his side. Oddly enough, the gesture didn't make him look any less threatening. Her heart began to beat faster. Perhaps he'd decided to punish her for her scorn by strangling her with his bare hands.
She couldn't see his eyes but she could still feel his gaze against her skin—as forceful as a touch. With all of his fine talk about the oppression of the Scots, she would have expected him to be wearing a kilt and carrying a shiny claymore or a set of bagpipes. But he was garbed all in black—the midnight shade of his shirt, breeches and boots making him nearly indistinguishable from the night.
She took an experimental step backward, then another. He followed, shadowing her every move. She continued to back away from him, wondering if there was some way to use their dangerous dance to her advantage. If she could lure him away from the carriage door, perhaps Sophie would be clever enough to slip out and run for help.
Or for her life.
Pamela stole a glance over her shoulder at the sweeping arms of the towering Caledonian pines bordering the rocky trail. There was only one sure way to distract him. One chance for Sophie to make her escape.
Knowing she might very well earn a pistol ball in the back for her efforts, Pamela spun around to run.
She had barely taken two steps when the highwayman seized her wrist and roughly jerked her around to face him. She stumbled over a rock and right into his broad, unyielding chest. She shook her hair out of her eyes and tipped back her head to glare at him, anger once again foolishly displacing her fear.
For the first time, the moonlight shone full upon his face. Pamela froze, all of her schemes for escape forgotten.
The narrow slits in his black leather half-mask revealed eyes as luminous and silvery gray as the light of the moon. Pamela was close enough to count each of the thick lashes that framed their striking depths. His nose was strong but slightly crooked, as if he'd started more than his share of tavern brawls.
Although it was no struggle for him to subdue her with just one hand, he was breathing hard and his jaw was clenched as if he was doing battle with some enemy neither of them could see.
It was a rugged jaw with an unlikely dimple set deep in his right cheek. At the moment his mouth was set in a stern line, but it wasn't difficult for Pamela to imagine the devastating effect that dimple might have on a woman's heart should he smile.
Her breath caught in her throat. She was just as powerless to resist its charm as she had been when gazing upon the broadsheet in the village. Some might argue that the crudely drawn sketch could have been any one of a dozen men, but Pamela would have recognized its subject anywhere.
He held himself as still as a granite statue as she lifted one trembling hand and lightly brushed her fingertips over his cheek. The broadsheet had been cool to the touch; his cheek was warm and rough with a day's growth of stubble.
His indrawn breath was both sharp and audible.
"I saw the broadsheet in the village," she confessed, lifting her gaze shyly to his eyes. "If they catch you, they have every intention of hanging you."
"Then perhaps it's time I stole somethin' worth bein' hanged for," he replied, his voice a husky rumble she felt all the way to the tips of her toes.
"Such as?" she whispered.
He lowered his gaze to her lips, giving her the answer she both feared and longed for.
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