Flann O'Conall, the gruff, redheaded son of a king in ancient Ireland, has for the past twenty years preferred the wilderness to the company of a woman. Then, one rainy night, he reluctantly opens his rainproof blanket to the innocent yet disdainful and taunting Mariana de la Castra del Oro.
What happens under his blanket? The encounter of his fire with her silk creates a maelstrom of conflict and raw passion that changes both their lives.
First, he teaches her some survival skills, while she tries to teach him the meaning of love. Finally, when Flann flees back to the security of his waterfall in the mountains, he is caught in a perilous trap and only Mariana can track him and save his life.
Flann is torn at last between the lonely but secure life on his chosen mountain—his symbolic mistress—and the torment of letting go of the willful, passionate Mariana, who he believes will sail back to Iberia when she grows weary of him.
What really happened under that blanket, on that rainy night?
The slight shift in wind told Flann that the rain would begin in a matter of minutes. He eyed the corner of the tarred cloth as he continued to play his bone whistle—more to confound and anger the woman than to extend the improvised melody. When he felt the first fine spray of rain on his face, he seized the corner of waterproof cloth nearest him and, in one sweeping motion, wrapped it around himself. Then he lay waiting for the real rain to fall.
He saw by the dancing fingers of fire that the woman was defenseless against the cold night—not a shawl, not a cloak or brat or any kind of wrap that might have kept her warm or dry. And yet she merely stepped closer to the fire, as though defying the heavens. Except for her last commanding words, she had apparently decided to stand there, soaked to the very bone, even after the rain had drowned his fire, cursing him and his peasant attitude.
Good! Tá go maith. Let her feel the cold arms of night and the loveless kiss of an autumn thunderstorm. He wrapped the cover tighter and pulled it over his head just as the rain began in earnest. From under the cloth, he clearly heard her anguished cry. “Oh, help me! ¡Ayúdame! Do something!”
Flann felt himself grinning in spite of his resolve to ignore her. He lifted the cloth and opened it wide like an eagle’s wing, inviting her inside.
The woman, to her credit, did not hesitate coyly, drawing back from touching the body of a stranger. She dived for him and the protective covering, and as soon as he felt her all along the length of his body, he closed the cloth around both of them, one wing-like arm drawing her against him. They lay there cocooned while he breathed evenly and she gasped in a kind of throaty cough. Shush, shush, he crooned to her in his mind, and after a while her spasms of cold ceased and she was silent.
They were lying face-to-face, close as lovers. In the darkness, he could not see her face, but he felt her uneven breath on his cheeks and mouth. And then, unbidden, his body betrayed the fact that he had not been near a woman in several months.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, and in spite of the tightness of the cloth around them, she tried to turn away from his adamantine groin.
Deeply amused, Flann spoke for the first time. “Volo vobis vesperum, O great lady. As ye can see, there is scant room to roll about like a cork in a barrel. Lie still.”
“You…you are a cad and a scoundrel! Touch me not!”
Flann lapsed again into silence, still grinning, his urgent groin pressing into her silken dress—not by design but by necessity of their unusual encounter. Completely encased by the tarred cloth, he could feel the insistent rain pummeling them, almost laughing at them, daring them to change position. And so, he merely lay stretched out, one arm around her shoulders, enjoying this last night under the vast sky of his beloved Éire.
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