Dawson gave the horse a good prod with his heels, and she took off. The wind whipped through his hair and the moonlight illuminated his way through the lush forest across the road from his home, down the embankment to the edge of the beach. Even in the dark, guided by the pale moonlight, his horse knew the way. This was not their first midnight ride.
As they reached the clearing, Dawson gave another prod. Gypsy opened up and flew across the sand. She sensed her master’s troubled heart and in turn mirrored his desire for freedom and wild abandon. Dawson let her run, her thunderous hooves muffled by the gritty sand beneath.
The horse galloped across the sand for a good quarter mile before Dawson gave her a nudge and pulled back on the reins to slow her to a halt. He stared out at the sea, the moon, the stars, and found he felt small, petty, and irritated still.
Aggravation crept into his heart as he looked out into the bay. Nathaniel knew what Dawson went through in his youth and yet his foolish little brother still wanted to take a bride.
Dawson threw a glance over his shoulder to the cliff-side home of Captain and Mrs. Barrett. The building housed the one idea he never imagined he could want.
Don’t dwell on this waif. She’s not yours to want after or worry about.
His brother was another story. Nathaniel had a great mind for sailing, but he had always been bohemian, never content to stay still for long.
A riotous slosh sounded in an alcove to his left and captured his attention. Inch by inch, he guided Gypsy closer to the rocky cliff, afraid of what he might find there. He thought perhaps a fish or some other sea creature had washed ashore, unable to make its way back out to sea.
As he stole closer, he made out the form, but it was not a fish or any other animal he had ever seen wash up on the beach before.
Wrapped in wispy white fabric that rippled in the wind, a ghostly female figure began to solidify in his sight. Dawson pulled Gypsy to a standstill. It reminded him of mermaid stories he had heard as a child, but this was no mermaid. This was an apparition, floating along on the breeze.
The fabric she wore was so thin he could make out the supple curves of her breasts, his eyes traveling down over her full hips, and the long slender legs that carried her to the water’s edge.
Dawson rubbed his eyes with his fists. Surely, the moonlight had deceived him.
When he looked back the image before him remained and his body responded to the nearly bare-skinned specter, so pale in the night. Dawson stared in silence, her body dancing, gyrating beneath the pale moon. The unwelcome tightening of his breeches made him well aware that this ghost was far more than a figment of his imagination. Her lengthy dark tresses trailed behind her, making him think of a mermaid’s tail. But her thin cotton nightgown revealed no signs of transformation as it clung to her shapely thighs. As she waded further into the water, a sharp gust of wind caught the top of her gown, billowing the wide neckline over her flesh. The moonlight caught her profile for a moment. The dainty nose and pouty lips seemed suddenly familiar, but they slipped into the shadows as his eyes fell to the rise and fall of her breasts again.
That’s when it hit him.
Gone was the prim and proper young woman from earlier in the evening. The stiffness in her before had given way to a sensuality so fluid he could feel it in the air and her movements. Her body tempted him like a waking dream, as she blew in on the breeze, wild and free. It reminded him of desires he had not visited in years.
In the moon’s glow, milky skinned and delicate, Catherine was oblivious that anyone watched her dance of free-spirited joy.
Dawson’s blood pounded in his veins the longer he spied on the young minx.
Those supple curves had crossed his mind earlier in the evening, those swells and dips along her edges made his fingers itch and his manhood betray him in the most uncomfortable way.
His brother’s words taunted him. He might find someone else…it flickered through his mind in disdainful amusement.
Gall burned through him—for his body betrayed him in that instance.
He caught his breath and turned one last hungry gaze toward her before he rode off in the other direction.
Then he gave Gypsy full rein to slice through the night as she carried him away from a temptation that would burn him if he didn’t get as far away as possible.