Connor MacEgan is a fighter; it's in his blood. But when his hands are crushed in a brutal attack, he finds he may never wield a sword, or touch a woman, ever again.
He becomes reliant on Aileen �" Duinne, whose determination matches his, for Aileen can no more ignore a person in pain than Connor can stop being a warrior.
But she also holds a secret, one of passion and deception that could break their hearts, long after she has mended his hands....
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August 31, 2007
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Excerpt from The Warrior's Touch by Michelle Willingham
"Aileen! There's a dead man in the fields!" Lorcan dashed inside the stone hut, shifting his weight from one foot to the other with excitement.
A dead man? Aileen ? Duinne dropped the garlic bulbs she had picked that morning and stood. 'Are you sure he is dead?"Anticipation rippled through her with the faint hope that the man was still alive.
Lorcan shrugged. 'He wasn't moving. And there's blood everywhere."
Likely the boy was correct. Aileen tried not to get her hopes up. But if he wasn't dead, she might be able to save him.
"Where did you find him?" 'I'll show you." Lorcan thought for a moment, his brown eyes growing worried. 'Will I get into trouble for telling you? He's already dead."
Aileen shook her head. 'Do not worry. You did right to come to me."
It is forbidden, her mind warned her. If her chieftain Seamus ? Duinne found out, he would punish her. She was not allowed to heal any of the tribe members.
But there was no time to worry about that now. Belisama, please let him be alive.
Lorcan followed her inside the hut while she piled her basket with fresh linen bandages, comfrey and yarrow. Turning, she regarded Lorcan. 'Take me to him."
The boy scampered off in the direction of the north pasture. Aileen ran behind him, past several of the neighbouring stone huts. One of the men stopped his work in the fields, staring at her with distaste. Aileen tore her gaze away from him.
Don't worry about what he thinks, she told herself. You did nothing wrong. Even still, her cheeks burned with humiliation. The villagers hadn't forgotten the bad luck that followed her.
The morning dew dampened the hem of her gown as she followed Lorcan. The boy raced on ahead, pointing toward the lee side of the hill.
Ragged summer grasses swayed in the wind. A small awkward position of his limbs suggested a fall from a horse. His blood stained the grass, and Aileen's hands shook as she reached out to touch him.
A low moan escaped body. Sweet saints. He was alive.
Thank the gods. They had granted her a second chance to prove herself, and she intended to make the most of it. 'Go and fetch Riordan,"Aileen ordered Lorcan. 'I'll need help moving the man. Tell him to bring one of his horses."
She would not let this man die. No matter what anyone else thought of her skills, she would heal him.
After Lorcan had gone, she turned the man over. His swollen face stopped her heart. Despite his injuries, she would recognise him anywhere. Connor MacEgan. She had never thought to see him again.
Fear and reckless longing pulled at her, shredding her composure. Of all the men for Fate to leave in her hands, why did it have to be him?
His face, the face of one of God's angels, had haunted her dreams ever since she was a young girl. With firm lips, a straight nose and a strong jaw, the traces of Viking ancestry on his grandfather's side were evident. Blood matted his dark golden hair and seeped from a gash at his temple.
She had loved him once. Pain arced through her at the memory, but she forced it away. Her hands trembled as she unlaced his tunic. With her dagger, she sliced the duncoloured wool to reveal a warrior's hardened chest. He had been stabbed several times, but the cuts were shallow. Almost like torture...
She shook the terrible thought away. How long had he been here? From his grey pallor, she wondered how much blood he had lost. It might be too late to heal him.
Do not think of it. She swabbed his chest, and then turned her attention to his head. She held pressure upon his temple to stanch the bleeding. It was then that she noticed the dark swelling upon his hands and wrists. The broken bones would need to be splinted.
He must not die. She needed to bring him back to the sick hut to treat his hands and to stitch the deeper wounds, but she couldn't do it without help. Where was Riordan?
The horizon stretched into emptiness with not a sign of either of them. She couldn't rely on anyone else to come to her aid. Most of the villagers believed she was cursed.
She withdrew several garlic cloves from her basket, pressing them gently against Connor's chest. She bound the wound tightly and prayed that the garlic would ward off the demons of fever.
At last, she heard the sound of a horse approaching. It made her breathe a little easier. She waved to Riordan and he dismounted. A sturdy man, accustomed to working in the fields, Riordan stood a head taller than most men. His cheeks were ruddy, and he was easily recognisable with his bright red hair.
From the obvious look of pleasure upon his face, he was glad she'd summoned him. He found excuses to be near her, now that she was widowed. And he was the one man whom she could trust to help her.
"Is the man alive?" he called. 'Barely. I'll need your help bringing him back to the sick position. Throughout the awkward motions he did not stir.