Kirsten froze, watching the men. Jorund's temper flared at Danr's taunt. He seemed to draw upon a deeper reserve of strength, striking blow after blow. She recognized the moment he let himself fall into the fight, time blurring into motion and speed. Everything shifted, and his movements grew more natural.
There was no doubting his skills. Danr lured him closer and nicked his shoulder. Jorund didn't flinch, and he ducked, just in time to avoid a harder blow. With his shield, he struck hard, disarming Danr in one swift motion.
"Very good," Alarr praised him. "You've learned well."
"He has," Danr admitted. "And I think he deserves a kiss, don't you, Kirsten?"
Her face flushed crimson, and she couldn't bring herself to move. Why would he say such a thing? It humiliated her to be treated like a prize, and she wished she were anywhere but here.
Jorund turned and reassured her, "I would not ask that of you."
But then she saw the amused expression on Alarr's face. It hurt her pride to realize that she could kiss either man, and it meant nothing to him. She had given Alarr her interest, but he held none in return.
Alarr was never going to want her. He didn't even see her as a woman—only a nuisance.
It's your own fault, she told herself. You should have seen the truth from the first.
Kirsten strode away from the men, feeling like an utter fool. Why had she believed she could train alongside the men? None of them took her efforts seriously. Danr had offered her as a prize, and oh, how it had stung.
Her legs ached from walking, but she continued toward the coastline. She needed to stand and watch over the sea. Perhaps her brother would return soon. She was starting to feel so alone. The aching emptiness filled her up inside, making her wish she could leave this place and sail away.
She chose a place among the rocks, staring out at the horizon. The autumn air was windy, and several strands whipped free from her braid.
In time, she knew Jorund had come to watch over her. He was like the water, calmly sliding over her defenses. She wanted to command him to go, for she didn't need his help.
But as she heard his footsteps drawing nearer, the hair stood up on the back of her neck. She waited for him to speak, but there was only silence.
When she turned, she saw the same quiet strength in his gaze. His blue eyes held an intensity that unnerved her. Slowly, he moved closer, and he set his shield and sword beside one of the rocks.
"What is it?" she murmured, needing to break the stillness.
He said nothing at all but closed the distance between them. Without asking permission, he lowered his mouth to hers and claimed a kiss. Shock roared through her as his mouth took hers. He cupped her face between his hands, and she felt an unexpected heat.
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