Kirsten was well aware that she had trespassed beyond the boundaries of friendship. She was torn between wanting to shore up the walls around her feelings and wanting something more. Jorund was watching her, his blue eyes searing with heat. Her mouth had gone dry, and she rested her hands upon his chest.
"I'm going to kiss you again," he said in a low voice. "Try to get away from me."
His hands moved to her waist, and she felt her breath catch in her lungs. In a low voice, she murmured, "What if I don't want to get away?"
His answer was to claim her mouth again in a desperate kiss. He threaded his hands through her hair, claiming her like a starving man. Her own needs rushed through her, and she felt herself falling hard. Never had she imagined she could crave something as deeply as she wanted this man. It made little sense, for she barely knew him.
And yet, he seemed to understand her in a way no one else did. When she had asked for help, he hadn't hesitated.
"Push me away, Kirsten," he commanded.
She found it difficult to breathe, but she forced herself to concentrate. With a hard lunge, she used her forearm against his throat, pushing him backward. He coughed a moment, but complimented her, "Good."
In the dim firelight, she stood apart from him, wondering what was happening between them. She knew he intended to leave, but she wanted to understand more.
She pulled her pallet close to the fire and lay down on her side. He did the same, facing her. "Thank you for teaching me to defend myself."
"I hope you never have to use it," he said, "but it's good to know."
For a moment, a quiet tension descended between them. She waited before she asked, "When will you return north?"
"Just after the wedding," he answered. "Then I mean to defeat my enemies."
"And will you return after you have your vengeance?" She kept her gaze fixed upon his, wondering if he intended to leave for always.
"I had not intended to," Jorund admitted. "Unless there is a reason to come back."
Kirsten didn't know what to say, for she felt so vulnerable just now. She didn't know what Jorund thought of her, beyond the few kisses they had shared. And the last time she had voiced her interest for a man, Alarr had chosen someone else.
He was staring at her, waiting for an answer. It was such a risk, for she didn't know what she wanted right now. All she knew was that Jorund made her feel safe, and she had always been able to speak her thoughts openly.
"I would want you to come back," she answered honestly. "And I want to know you better."
His expression turned intense, as if her words had evoked something else. "Then I will return. If I can defeat my enemies."
"You will," she said. But even as she spoke the words, she understood the risks. If Jorund was fighting alone, they could outnumber him. But she didn't want to think of that now.
He moved his pallet closer to hers and reached out for her hand. She took it, grateful for the warmth and comfort he offered. "Thank you for staying with me, Jorund."
He squeezed her palm, holding it a moment in reassurance. But as she lay near him, trying to fall asleep, she could not help but think of the northern raiders he would soon face.
And she wished he would stay.
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