Gille drew his own mount to a halt and turned in the saddle to frown at him as he asked, "Ye're no' going to swim, are ye?"
Calan glanced around the small, secluded bay they were stopped in. "'Twill wake me up to face the day."
Gille shook his head. "Ye're a mad bastard, cousin. The loch is bitter cold fer swimming."
"Aye, 'tis," Calan agreed mildly. "But I'll no' go out deep or stay long. Just a quick dip and I'll follow ye back."
Gille did not look reassured. "Mayhap I should join ye fer the swim. Just in case ye—"
"Nay," Calan interrupted with a snap, and then took a deep breath to regain control of his sudden temper. Letting it out slowly, he forced a smile. "I appreciate yer concern, cousin, but I'm fine. And I'd rather ye stop fussing o'er me."
"I'm no' fussing," Gille argued at once.
"Aye, ye are," Calan countered dryly. "Ye're worse than me mother in playing the nursemaid. Next ye'll be trying to shove a teat in me mouth."
"Well since I do no' have teats, that's unlikely," Gille snapped, and then sighed and said solemnly, "Ye can hardly blame us fer worrying, cousin. We near to lost ye just two weeks past. Ye're still recovering and are no' the sort to rest and allow yer body to heal like ye should. And frankly ye could do with a nursemaid," he added, getting testy now as well. "A big mean one who'll make ye stay abed so ye can recuperate properly."
"Ye'd ha'e better luck keeping me abed did ye find a sweet young thing with lots o' curves," Cal told him with amusement. "And if ye're looking, keep in mind I prefer blondes."
"A fat lot o' rest ye'd get that way," Gille groused, and then shook his head with resignation. "Fine, go swimming then. But do no' blame me if yer wound becomes infected and ye end up abed with a fever."
"I promise to no' blame ye," Calan said mildly. "Now ride back and when me mother rises, let her ken all is well and I'm fine so she does no' send a search party to hunt me down."
"'Tis no' a joke. She'll probably do exactly that if she gets up and finds ye absent," Gille said sharply. "What am I supposed to say when she asks where ye are?"
"If she rises before I get there, just tell her no' to worry and I should be back directly."
Gille scowled at the words, but then huffed out a breath and said, "Fine. But ye ken as well as I do that if ye get yerself drown in this godforsaken loch, yer mother'll blame me. She'll make me life a misery. And if that happens, I shall curse ye every day to hell fer it."
"Understood," Calan said dryly.
Giving a "harrumph," Gille shook his head, tightened his hands on his horse's reins, and finally rode out of the clearing.
Calan watched until the other man was swallowed up by the trees, and then turned to survey the shoreline. Finally, he dismounted, tied the reins of his horse to the branch of the nearest tree, and ran his hand down the beast's side before walking toward the water. Once on the sand and shingle beach, he stripped off his plaid and shirt, let both drop to the ground, and then waded, naked, into the water.
It was warmer in the shallows, retaining the last bits of heat from the sunny day before. But the shallows didn't last long. Calan waded out until the water reached his thighs and then with the next step it was like walking off a cliff. If he hadn't grown up here and known this loch, he might have been in trouble. But he was prepared for the sudden drop and was fanning his arms through the water to stay at the surface even as it happened. He was also ready for the bone-deep cold that enveloped him.
Loch Awe was approximately twenty-five miles long, little more than half a mile wide, but one hundred to three hundred feet deep depending where you were in the lake. It made for very cold water. Drop too deep in this loch and the sudden plummet in temperature could be enough of a shock to the body that it could be fatal. Over the years, Calan had seen more than one or two corpses float up after such an encounter. But he wouldn't be one himself.
He swam briefly in the deeper, colder section, allowing the brisk water to wash his exhaustion away, and then struck out again back toward the shallows. He'd just reached it and stood upright when movement onshore caught his attention. Stopping, he glanced around and spotted a pale figure racing away into the woods in the gray morning light. Calan stared blankly at the naked lad until he recognized the dark patch of cloth hanging over his shoulder as his own plaid, and then he began to move.
The water slowed him down as Calan waded out, but once free of the hampering liquid, he burst into a run. He quickly closed the distance between himself and the young thief, taking no more than a dozen long strides into the woods before he was able to tackle the smaller figure to the ground.
This excerpt ends on page 19 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book Two Wrongs Make a Right by Chloe Liese.