by Elise Hepner
September 14, 2011
“What in Christ’s name…”
I must be hearing echoes from the town nearby, where Mother sells her herbs and braided goods. No one ventures this far toward my tower because Mother’s gone to great lengths to see that they don’t—bear traps are her new favorite method of discouragement. Once one life is claimed, I imagine word spreads fairly quickly to stay away from the area. Why then are there hoof beats that make my head pulse with a slight pain?
There’s no understandable excuse I can delude myself with any longer. Before I can focus on the consequences, I swing my head out the window into the oppressive, humid summer air. Just the very top of his head is visible, his hair brushing past his cheekbones, glowing from the sunshine and shot through with gold. Never have I seen a color so close to my own before—not that I see many people.
For a few moments I can’t quite come to terms with his presence and it’s not for a lack of staring that my pulse inevitably echoes inside my head like an overbeaten drum. This is my chance. Mother won’t be back for quite some time with her wares. He’s circling the tower, slouched over a horse who looks a bit like a nag. Certainly not a proper horse for a man with such fine clothes in gorgeous colors and sumptuous fabrics.
There’s no going back from this moment. It’s a certainty that makes my teeth chatter in a wash of cold fear, despite the heat, and my hands clasp around my middle as I try to hold myself together. He hasn’t looked up yet, more intent on studying the free-standing structure than noticing my shadow plastered across the grass. My mind is desperately working out what I’ll cry out to him. Even as my throat closes with an infusion of happiness that makes me rock on my feet.
“Excuse me?” A tentative question I’m not sure he will hear because it can’t be any louder than a frightened whisper. “Sir, you’re really not supposed to be here.”
Somehow, I’ve managed to make this part louder because he glances up—and his slack-jawed expression is a blow to my chest. He possesses the most gorgeous cobalt blue eyes. Underneath my ribs, the pain grows until taking a full breath is hard. Mother is right, he hasn’t even overcome his shock as my heavy plait of hair rests down the stone side of my prison. He’s not to be trusted.
What am I thinking? He won’t even come near me to aid my escape and his eyes are swamped in confusion—and there’s a flash of unreadable emotion that I refuse to question. He must leave here now and I must somehow convince him to bring no one back with him. I won’t be paraded around for anyone’s amusement. This man has made a mistake coming here.
Yet, there’s still a part of me that grips the windowsill until my palms are numb and that clings to the hope that he will at least acknowledge me. So long since I’ve had any kind of normal conversation. One that didn’t revolve around my hair, my rules or my mother’s day. Won’t he say anything? I’m as trapped by his thick silence as I am by the beauty of his face.
“Please, you must go and tell no one about what you’ve seen. You shouldn’t have ignored the traps. They are there for a reason.”
I don’t know how I’ve gotten that all out because my main focus lies on the foreign stirrings of heat in my cheeks as the pulsing sensation twists lower in my abdomen. What is happening to me? With a certainty that surprises me, I find myself clenching my thighs together, only to have the subtle touch of flesh-on-flesh be more than I can bear. He has yet to take his gaze from mine and a shudder slips up my spine.
“How long have you been here?” His voice carries the strain I hold back and I’m slightly put at ease that at least we are on similar ground. “Who did this to you?”
“For a man who is about to leave, I don’t believe it matters.”
The words barely tumble out of my mouth before I clamp my hand over my lips. I hadn’t meant to be so harsh and instantly regret it. He is so handsome—and these sudden urges, they are overwhelming and confusing to the point where I wish to completely remove the problem. My lips part in an apology and I watch a jovial grin span from ear to ear as he laughs at me until I can’t hear anything but the frantic beat of my heart.
Who is this man? Now he stares at me with a playfulness that washes a wave of goose bumps across my flesh. He doesn’t seem offended, merely amused at my suggestion that he leave. To further that fact, he quickly dismounts and ties his horse to a nearby tree branch. While I can only stare at the way his tight riding boots and breeches hug his muscular body from his calves all the way up to his perfectly rounded buttocks.
Though I’d learned of desire from my mother—and all its wicked principles—I never expected it to rear its head in my lonely, simple world.
However, now my life spirals out of control quickly enough that I tilt back against the wall to my left and watch with trembling hands. This mysterious man climbs the wall of my tower as if it had been built to be climbed so easily—without any aid from my hair. One strong, sun-kissed hand and booted foot at a time. When he offers up his hand to me to pull him over the side, what choice do I have? Even a man that strong would eventually grow tired and plummet to his death—and I want him tucked close to my body, not on the ground.
“I was beginning to wonder what it took to get some assistance.”
He softly grunts and clasps my hand hard enough that I gasp as I shift my weight to pull him over the side. Muscles I didn’t know existed inside me burn with sharp pain from disuse because of my isolation. His touch radiates heat all along my arm. If it wasn’t for his precarious situation, I would fight to pull away on instinct—but as it is, he manages to throw himself into my home with as much grace as a charging boar—and he trips, falling on top of me and sending us to the hard, stone floor.
His surprisingly soft hand brushes the hair out of my face and lingers, gently stroking, down my cheek. Should I be frightened? Probably. At the moment I can’t bear the thought that my first sincerely gentle touch from a man would be anything but special. His sharp leather scent surrounds my tingling skin.
“Isn’t this a day for surprises?” His gaze cuts through all the fear inside me and his mouth holds the subtle curve of a half smile. “I should move myself off you, this isn’t proper at all when we’ve barely been introduced.”
Yet he doesn’t move an inch.
A realization whips through my mind and would have left me on the floor if I wasn’t already pinned there by a gorgeous man who touches me with such reverence I might weep. When will this happen again? After this twisted, meandering path of fate, there is no doubt I will be alone again—and I want a loving memory to cling to at night when my old fears tighten my chest until I can’t breathe. This is a choice I can make for myself. And I won’t live the rest of my ordinary, sheltered life not knowing true passion when it burns across my skin.
“They call me Rapunzel.”
His inviting smile lights up my whole world.