Margaret Moore - [Warrior 13], page 9
Anne saw the sincerity in the young woman’s eyes, and believed her.
Then she thought of Reece’s lips on hers. They had been soft and yielding, and Reece might prove to be an even better lover than he was a warrior, if his kisses were anything to go by—but she would not tell Lisette about that.
“That doesn’t mean they will not be the perfect lovers for somebody else, my lady,” Lisette continued. “Especially for a woman who, I think, wants a warrior in her bed.”
Lisette was, perhaps, a bit too shrewd.
“Now you are ready, my lady.”
For bed. Anne flushed and warmed as she imagined Reece in her bed, naked save for the silken coverlet over his body.
Fighting a surge of desire, she stood up and turned in a circle, her long, unbound hair to her waist.
“How do I look?” she asked, trying to sound amused and not quite succeeding as Lisette studied her as if she were a work of art, and she the artist. “Like an angel, my lady.”
“Then why are you frowning?”
“Because a man wishes to find a passionate woman in his bed, not an angel.”
No doubt Sir Reece would prefer it if she were a preternatural creature. Then he could have the marriage annulled on supernatural grounds.
However, this maid was not to be privy to their plans, for it was a fact that all maids gossiped, and Reece would not want his plan to get to the queen, or the king. “All my shifts are white.”
“Your skin is not.”
Anne didn’t think it was possible to blush more than she already had, but she discovered she was wrong. “I…I cannot be naked,” she protested.
“You do not have to reveal all,” Lisette said with a cunning smile. “A shoulder will do. Indeed, I have heard that the curve of a shoulder can be more exciting than a breast.”
Anne stared at her maidservant. “Where did you hear such a thing?”
“A lady’s maid hears many such things.” Lisette frowned. “Do I shock you, my lady?”
“Not really. I just never gave such matters much thought.”
At the sound of footsteps, Lisette gasped and giggled at the same time, her hazel eyes bright with an excitement that was nothing to Anne’s. “The groom—he comes!”
Could one forget how to breathe? How to think? How to walk? It seemed as if her body was totally benumbed, except for a sort of gnawing hunger deep inside.
“To the bed, quick!” Lisette ordered as she frantically began to tidy the dressing table. “And your shoulder, my lady.” When Anne didn’t move, she gestured wildly, as if trying to shoo a gaggle of geese. “To the bed, my lady! And your shoulder!”
Jolted out of her momentary numbness, Anne scurried to the bed and scrambled under the coverlet. She scooted backward until she was sitting with her back against the headboard. Once there, she swiftly tugged the knot in the drawstring at her neck until it came undone, then shoved the garment off her right shoulder.
“Your hair, my lady!”
She put her hand to her head. “What about it?” she cried, an edge of panic in her voice.
“It should be like a curtain, spread upon the pillows.”
Without pausing to ask why, anxious and excited in equal measure, Anne fluffed out her hair. Then, her throat dry, her whole body tense as that of a startled doe when it first hears the beaters in the bush, she swallowed hard and smoothed the coverlet over her lap. She couldn’t be more tense and anxious if Reece really was going to make love with her that night.
The door burst open and a horde of men crowded into the room, the king among them. Very conscious of her exposed shoulder only half hidden by her hair, she realized Piers and her half brothers were not with Henry. Thank God. They were the last people she wanted to see tonight.
As the king came to a skittering, laughing halt, he stared as if taken aback, but what else did he expect? He had made her a bride.
Anne suddenly wanted to pull the coverlet up over her breasts, or slouch down beneath them. Instead she sat as still as a stone, unable to do anything except stare herself as Reece came to stand at the foot of the bed.
How handsome he looked in his dark garments, despite his bruised cheek and reddened eye. His intense, enigmatic gaze raked her and her stomach clenched and her body hummed with a primitive response to his burning scrutiny. Despite his plan and the reasons for it, she wanted to sink into the feather bed with his body settled between her hips, her legs and arms holding him tightly to her.
She wet her dry lips and forced the image away as she tried to control the response of her body.
That proved to be impossible.
“We bring the bridegroom, my lady,” Henry finally—and unnecessarily—declared.
Still staring at her, Reece bowed with great formality.
Clearly the sight of her, bare shoulder and all, was not affecting him. Or maybe there was something wrong with her, that she felt so much while he felt so little.
Looking like the young man he was, the king chortled drunkenly, snapping her mind to attention.
“God’s wounds, man, what are you doing?” he demanded, slapping Reece so hard on the back, Anne winced. “You’re standing there like a damn eunuch and I know full well you’re not. If she’s not a sight to warm a man’s blood, I don’t know what is!”
Anne pressed her lips together and tried not to take umbrage, even if the king spoke as if she were an inanimate object, like the stool or the table. She was used to that, but that didn’t mean she liked it.
Henry frowned at Reece, who could have been made of marble, so still was he. “Are you dead? A corpse? Don’t just stand there, man!”
Reece flinched. When he spoke, he stopped staring at her and glanced at the king—with a look a soldier would hate to encounter from an opponent on the battlefield. His voice was very calm and steady, though, despite that swift, acrimonious look that was just as quickly gone. “I assure you, sire, I am very much alive.”
The king roared a laugh. “Only stunned by her beauty, eh, like the rest of us? Some men would kill for a woman like that. My God, Reece, you should be down on your knees thanking me.”
“Thank you, sire,” Reece said with another bow to his king.
“You’re most welcome!”
Anne wanted to squirm. Or tell them to go, all except Reece.
Henry’s gaze swept over the other men, including Reece’s brothers and his Welsh friends, who were studying her as keenly as he had. “But now,” he cried, “let us depart and leave the merry couple to their rest.”
The king laughed merrily at his own joke as he led the way.
As the men crowded out the door, Reece’s gaze flicked from her face to her bare shoulder, which seemed to burn hotter than the rest of her warm body.
What was going to happen now? Would he speak, or should she?
Finally, as the silence stretched taut as a drawn bowstring, Reece cleared his throat and said, “You make a very beautiful bride, my lady. I am the envy of the court today.”
She swallowed, wetting her throat as best she could. “So am I.”
His gaze seemed to grow even more intense as he regarded her, and his eyes darkened. Her body knew what that meant before her mind did. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears, erratic and wild. Her nipples puckered beneath the silkiness of her shift.
“If only they knew,” he muttered.
This was to be expected, yet a silent wail of dismay and disappointment keened inside her nonetheless, until a movement behind him stole her attention.
Lisette, who had been at the back of the mob, sidled toward the door.
“Bonsoir, my lady,” she whispered when she realized Anne had seen her.
Reece abruptly turned on his heel. “Who the devil are you?”
“M-my lady’s maid,” Lisette stammered, wringing her hands and more subdued than Anne would have believed it was possible for the vivacious French girl to be. “I will go now—”
“No. You stay. I shall leave.”
Reece strode past a flabbergasted Lisette and the door banged shut behind him. Openmouthed, Lisette stared at the closed door, then slowly wheeled around to look at Anne.
“I do not understand, my lady,” Lisette said, her eyes wide as a cart wheel. “I was leaving. Why did he not stay?”
The words were barely out of her mouth before Lisette gasped and covered her bow-shaped mouth with her hand. “But of course! He is in pain from his injuries! The poor man! And you, my poor mistress! To have to wait until he is better.”
Despite the emotions roiling through her, disappointment most of all, Anne couldn’t help but be impressed with Lisette’s conclusion. It made sense, and hopefully other people would think that, too. They would not automatically guess what Reece had in mind, and need not assume there was something wrong with her.
Lisette grinned, and lascivious mischief danced in her merry eyes. “But when he is better, oh la, my lady! He will be the beast uncaged!”
Merciful God, what images that provoked!
“I thought he was not the sort of man for you,” Anne replied, sounding much more calm than she felt.
“To make love with?” Lisette shook her head decisively. “Non, he is not to my taste. But that is not to say I cannot appreciate such a man from a distance.”
Suddenly very weary, Anne burrowed down beneath her coverlet. “We leave at first light, so I bid you good night, Lisette.”
“Bonsoir, my lady.”
When her maid had gone, Anne closed her eyes and tried to sleep. It had been a busy day, and tomorrow would be even busier.
But as she lay alone beneath the silken coverlet, all she could think of was a passionately, primitively aroused Reece Fitzroy making love with her. The beast uncaged, indeed!
The next morning, a disgruntled, frustrated Reece watched the last of his wife’s baggage being loaded onto the cart.
He might have been in a better humor if he had not had to endure watching his brothers and his friends dance with his wife.
He might have been in a genial frame of mind if he had managed to sleep.
He would certainly have been in a much better mood if his wife were not one of the cursed Delasaines. Then he could have made love to her last night. And dear God, how he would have! With that bare shoulder she seemed at once innocent and yet worldly, and the contrast had struck him like a wild gale in the mountains.
He had tossed and turned thinking about loving her. What he would do. How he would begin. Remembering the taste of her soft mouth on his, the feel of her slender, shapely body in his arms, the astonishing sight of her bare shoulder visible through the drapery of her lovely hair. Looking at Anne in bed, so soft and vulnerable, he had been robbed of every feeling save passionate, incredible desire, and so immobilized he could barely move or think. If the king hadn’t spoken, he might be standing there staring at her yet.
More than once since, he had wished he was a eunuch, just so he could rid his mind of his wild, impossible desire, and sleep.
“Good morning, Sir Reece.”
He started and turned to find Anne close beside him.
In the dim light of dawn, wearing a soft green cloak the color of chestnut leaves, the hood surrounding her lovely face, she looked like a nymph or sylph, some delicate mystical creature from when the world was new. A few wisps of her blond hair hid her forehead and curled about her ears, giving him the incredibly arousing impression that she had just that moment arisen from her bed. A downward glance revealed the white hem of another garment beneath her cloak, and his body instantly responded to the notion that she might be wearing nothing more than that thin shift beneath it.
Swallowing hard, he clenched his jaw, mentally stuck his head in a water trough and raised his eyes to her face.
That was not a particularly wise thing to do, for as he looked into her brilliant eyes, he saw again that fascinating contrast between innocence and worldly wisdom. Despite his powerful yearnings, he forced his voice into some semblance of calm normality. “Good morning, my lady.”
“It looks to be a fine day for traveling,” she offered.
He glanced up at the eastern sky, where the deep blue of night had already given way to the pink, orange and yellow streaks of morning. There were no clouds, and the breeze was slight. “Yes.” He shifted his feet, like a horse refooting—or an awkward lad. “You are attired for the journey?”
She nodded. “I awakened early and finished packing my things. When that was done, I looked out of my window and saw you here. I realized that I had forgotten to ask you some things at the feast yesterday.”
“Such as?” he prompted, determined not to betray his bashfulness.
“How far is it to Bridgeford Wells?”
“About five days journey to the north and west.”
“Ah. And the roads? Are they good?”
“We will stay at inns, or do you have friends who will offer us hospitality along the way?”
God save him, he must sound like a tongue-tied fool—or rude. “I would prefer not to take a long time to get home, and if we stay with friends, that will add a few days.”
“You have many friends between here and your home?”
She looked down at the ground, and he once more wished he had Blaidd’s glib ease of speaking. “Would you prefer to ride, or would you rather travel in the cart?” he asked.
Her smile blossomed and his heart seemed to twist in his chest. He would have said it was not possible for her to be more attractive, but that wide and honest smile informed him otherwise.
“I would dearly love to ride,” she replied. “When I was a girl, I had a pony I rode all the time, as long as it wasn’t lashing rain. My half brothers have not allowed me that pleasure for a very long time, though, so I should have a placid beast.”
He could imagine her as a petite blond girl galloping about the countryside on a sturdy pony, her hair streaming behind her.
“Perhaps they fear for your safety.”
Skepticism flashed across her face. The look quickly disappeared, but it had already spoken volumes about how her family treated her. That made him even more determined to see that she suffered as little as possible from the unfortunate turn of fate his hasty act had caused.
“I have the perfect mount, a mare named Esmerelda,” he continued without waiting for her to answer. “She was supposed to be Trevelyan’s mount for the squires’ melee, but that was my mother’s idea. Before we left, my father took us aside and said Trev was to use my horse, or Gervais’s, for no man of pride would ever want to appear in a tournament mounted on poor old Esmerelda.”
Anne laughed softly, and he was delighted to think he had caused it. He also wished Blaidd was there to see that a man didn’t have to debase himself to make a woman laugh.
“Poor old Esmerelda sounds about right for me, then,” she acknowledged, her eyes sparkling like dew on the meadow in the summer’s sun.
His gaze drifted to her parted lips. A primitive impulse urged him to cover them with his own and kiss her thoroughly and completely, until neither one of them had breath left in their lungs. Fortunately, he had the strength to ignore it.
“Piers has his own horse,” she remarked, nodding toward the stables across the courtyard.
Tearing his attention from her mouth, he followed her gesture and saw a younger, thinner and undeniably better looking version of Damon Delasaine saddling a dark brown horse.
He had nearly forgotten about her petition to the king. “That’s good.” He slid Anne a glance. “How does he feel about coming with us?”
“He is pleased to have the opportunity to learn from your father.”
He caught an undercurrent in her voice and suspected Piers Delasaine was not particularly overjoyed with the opportunity. While she might be free of prejudice against those of lesser birth, her younger brother might not share that view. Well, he would not be t
Anne glanced around the courtyard. “Where are your brothers? Are they traveling with us, too?”
“Just Trevelyan,” he replied. “Gervais will stay at court.”
“Ah, to let us know when Henry seems of a more compliant humor.”
He hadn’t thought of that—not exactly, anyway. “Yes.”
“Then where is your younger brother?” She nodded toward the youth still fiddling with his saddle. “Piers is nearly ready.”
He realized they were looking at him. Anne gestured for him to join them and he did, ambling across the courtyard in a way that set Reece’s teeth on edge.
It seemed a common failing of boys on the edge of manhood, for Trev also ambled as if everyone had all the time in the world.
Piers finally reached them. He came to a halt beside Anne, his attitude wary yet full of protective bravado.
Good for him. It showed he had a proper brotherly regard for Anne that their siblings obviously lacked.
Kynan, Blaidd and Gervais appeared at another door. Kynan and Blaidd seemed surprisingly and astonishingly refreshed, despite their late hours last night. Gervais looked as exhausted as Reece felt.
“So, here they are, the happy couple,” Blaidd declared as he joined them. He ran an insolent gaze over Reece that he did not appreciate. “You look like a dog’s breakfast.”
“So do you,” he shot back. It wasn’t true, but he didn’t care. What a thing to say in front of Anne!
“Well, I’ve been more rested in my life, I agree,” Blaidd replied jovially. He winked at Anne in a familiar way that made Reece’s blood boil.
Even if she was his wife in name only, that didn’t give Blaidd leave to flirt with her.
“Ready to go?” Gervais asked, breaking the sudden tension.
“We will be, if Trevelyan ever deigns to get here.”