Bess watched the slanted moonlight slide across the floor as she waited for the familiar sound of an approaching rider. The inn was silent, empty, like a tomb. Her father was asleep in the back. A heavy sleeper, she didn't have to worry about him stirring. Now if he would only come. Her nightly vigils often ended in disappointment and she struggled to accept the inevitable absences, the unheeded danger, and the uncertainty of his life even as she longed to embrace him.
Bess fingered the soft material of her shift, letting the hem brush against the floor. In anticipation for his arrival, she wore nothing beneath. Since the night of his first visit, when he stood beneath her window, pledging himself to her, she always dressed for him. Despite the landlord's efforts to keep Bess hidden from sight, the highwayman spotted her, sought her, called to her and wooed her from his horse, beneath her window as the moon drifted overhead.
The torrent of wind abated and she heard it; first the clatter of his horse over the cobblestones, followed by the light touch of his whip against the shutters. A familiar signal, so delicate, one could mistake it for the wind or a bird. He whistled a tune that carried through the crisp air. Her heart leapt to her throat. She didn't hesitate to open the window to him. Her breath caught as she studied him in the moonlight. He sat high on the horse, proud in his smart clothes. His guns and knife twinkled, a jeweled reminder of how dangerous her man was.
"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize tonight..." he said, his voice as dark as the clouds above them.
Bess put her hand out and wrapped her delicate fingers around his. He wore soft leather gloves to protect his fine hands, but they were strong, steady and sure. She knew from experience how gentle and clever they could be. "Don't go. Not yet."
"I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light." She understood the implied promise in his words. He would be back to carry her away, as prized as the gold he stole. But a part of her never truly believed he would return--a part of her always feared that each moment they spent together would be their last. She couldn't be content to let him go.
Bess leaned as far out the window as she dared, her breasts straining against the thin material of her dress. She unbraided her hair, allowing the dark tresses to cascade down. He wouldn't be able to resist her, she knew. He lifted her hair to his mouth and inhaled deeply. "Tarry with me awhile," she whispered. "Everybody is asleep and the road is quiet."
He threaded his fingers through her hair and seemed to be weighing his options. The clouds parted, revealing his face in the light. Sharp, handsome and thoughtful. A face that could charm, a face that could mask cruelty and evil intent with a suave smile. He looked at her with half-closed, smoky eyes. "Come down to me, my love."
Bess closed the shutters of her high window and slipped out of the room, moving like a shadow down the stairs to the backdoor. She had taken this route a thousand times before. She quietly navigated past her father's room and descended the stairs. He met her there, lifting her onto his horse without a word. Ebony pranced as she settled her weight in front of the saddle, but didn't make a sound. He tossed his head toward the sky and Bess caught the horse's silky mane, holding it tightly.
He held her against his body, his arm resting just below her breast, his free hand tangled in her hair again. He guided his stallion along a thin trail, deep into the purple moor. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, reveling in the night. Above the intoxicating smell of heather and the night, she caught the familiar and haunting smell of him, his journeys and his adventures. She relaxed against his solid chest, the warmth of his skin radiating through their clothes, heating her flesh.
He kicked the stallion into a gallop and her hair flared out behind her, trailing wildly in the wind. She clutched the arm around her waist, but she wasn't afraid. He wouldn't let her fall and the horse's feet were sure on the moor. The horse knew every rock and hole, every twist and turn in the trail. Her body vibrated with every beat of Ebony's hooves against the ground, her blood pounded in her ears and her skin felt impossibly warm in the cool night. Even the fresh gust of wind couldn't cool her face. Every second made her achingly aware of the man behind her, of his body, his warmth, the beat of his heart.
When the inn was only a dot on the murky horizon, he dismounted. Holding his hand out, he helped her to the ground. As soon as her feet touched the soft heather, his mouth found hers. She tilted her head up to meet the kiss. The clouds parted above them as she closed her eyes with relief and elation. The first touch of his lips was always charged, like the air before a violent thunderstorm. He always made her a little tipsy. She almost couldn't stand the intensity of her need and his hunger as the two forces of nature clashed with a single kiss. Heat flared in her breast as she wrapped her arms around him, clinging to his body as he ripped at her dress.