“What is it wi' ye? Why do ye sneak around behind me all the time, watchin'? Why can ye no' be yerself anymore?”
He shrugged. “I've no idea.”
“Ye'd best just say it,” she demanded. “For if ye dinna speak yer mind this will never ease between us an' it will end badly.”
“I canna say what I am thinkin', because I dinna ken what it is.”
She shoved his shoulder and he stepped obligingly back. She came closer and pushed him again, harder this time. He frowned and his backward movement was less.
“That's right,” she said. Her eyes glittered with anger. “I'm askin' ye to be the man ye were. The man ye are now isna worth a pot to piss in. Ye dinna speak of anythin' worthwhile, ye dinna laugh, ye dinna do anythin'! Ye're dull as a stone!” She shoved him hard again. This time he tripped back, then stepped forward and grabbed her wrist, holding it in place.
“Don't do this,” he said, almost pleading.
In response, she slapped his face with the hand he wasn't holding. He shook his head to clear the sting, then grabbed that wrist as well. She leaned toward him, trying to put her face in front of his, but he was a foot taller. She hissed up at him through bared teeth.
“Do somethin', Dougal MacDonnell. Dinna turn into some ninny. Do somethin'.”
“I dinna have to do anythin'. I've no need to prove myself.”
“Oh no? Then why is it ye're spendin’ so much time talkin' of things that dinna matter? Why do ye try to do more than ye did before? Because I'm so small an' weak an' helpless? Ye need to show me what a big man ye are? Is that it?”
“No …” he said, but his voice lacked conviction.
She pressed even closer to him. Her voice lowered to a dangerous level, almost a whisper. Almost the sound he’d heard her make in her sleep. “Do ye think I canna take care o' myself anymore? Is that why ye came out here jus' now? Well, I can do jus' fine on my own, sir. I heard ye comin', an' I'd hear that lot if they came within a mile o' me.”
Dougal felt the air buzzing between them, felt the pulse hammering in her wrists beneath his fingertips. Her eyes were furious, glowering at him like blue flames, challenging him.
“What do ye want?” he demanded. “What do ye want me to do?”
“Anythin’! Just be the Dougal ye were, man. Dinna tend to me as if I were a child. I’m still me. Why aren’t you still you? Do something, Dougal. Do something!”
So he kissed her. He dropped her wrists and seized the sides of her face, bringing her lips to his. She pulled instinctively away, but he held on, kissing her mouth, slightly open with surprise. He touched the skin he had longed to touch ever since he'd first found out the truth about her. It was warm, hot even, because she was angry. He felt his own face warm as he sank into the kiss.
She was so small, just like she'd said. Despite what she claimed, the bones he held between his hands were so wee, so delicate, fitting into the palms of his hands like she was made to be there. He slid one hand down her back so it rested on her waist and pulled her snug against him. He felt her body adjust, felt her muscles bunch up in response. Yes! Yes, this was what he'd been wanting. His blood sang, tingling his fingers, dancing in his lips—
And she bit him. He yelped and stepped back, rubbing his lower lip.
“What—” he cried, but she was there first.
“What was that?” she shrieked, sounding out of breath. Now it was her own hands clutching her face, her fingertips digging into bright red cheeks. “Ye jus' think ye can … Ye grab me an' … I canna believe ye'd—” She exhaled quickly and spun away, heading back toward her trapline.
“Oh no, ye don't,” Dougal said, finally roused. A ninny? She’d see he was no ninny. “Ye canna dare me as such, then spurn me. I'll no' have it.”
“Spurn ye? Spurn ye?” she hissed at him. “Is that what ye think this is? Ye think ye can—Och!” Her fingers went to her hair, gripping the roots of it so the long blonde locks popped out from between her fingers. She held her head tight, as if afraid it might explode. Even standing like this, angrier than he’d ever seen her, he admired her. Maybe even more. Her hair was smooth and golden, shining with sunlight since she’d washed it that morning. He had traded for some lye soap in the nearby village, and she'd been ecstatic after she’d cleaned her hair with it. He had thought she was beautiful before, but now, furious and flushed, he thought he'd never seen anything quite so magnificent. “I said for ye to do somethin', but I didna mean—”
“Aye, ye did,” he said, his mouth quirking up in a smile. She tightened her lips and shook her head slowly, but without much conviction. Her eyes darted to the right, then the left, like she was thinking, looking for words.
But Dougal now knew. What he wanted more than anything in the world was to repeat his performance, hold her and kiss her until neither could breathe. But he held back. It was up to her now. She'd asked for him to do something, and he had.
“Right. I'm goin' for a swim,” he said, and walked away.