Vow of Deception, page 35
“Edward was disappointed I broke my oath of fealty. But breaking an accused felon from gaol was a blatant defiance of his authority.” She stiffened in his arms, about to refute the king’s erroneous conjecture. “’Tis true you were not really culpable for Bertram’s death, but appearances made you guilty all the same. So Edward wished to make an example of me. He may have planned to pardon me all along, but now that the main body of the army is to advance along the north coast of Wales into Llewelyn’s territory of Gwynedd, the king pardoned me on condition I fight without remuneration in this or any other Welsh wars in the future.”
“When must you leave?”
“We have three days together before Edward and the fighting force move out from Chester.”
Her heart plummeted. “Three days! ’Tis not enough time. You have only just returned to us.” She searched his pale, thin face. “And you are much too thin. I know what sort of swill they serve in prison. Surely you need time to recup—”
At the top of the stairs, he reached for the door latch and pushed the door open with his knee, spun around, and slammed it shut with his back. He let her legs down and still holding her placed his finger over her lips to still her words.
Her legs quivered at his touch, while her breath hitched.
Rand said, his own voice breathless, “You are right. We do not have much time. And I intend to make the most of every waking hour we have till I must part from you and Jason again. I am grateful for the time I do have, because I know once the war is over, I am coming back to you, to home, to family. No war, or enemy, or king shall keep me from you!”
Rose’s eyes welled with tears. “Aye, Rand, we are a family. Can you forgive me for lying to you about Jason? For not telling you he was your son?”
Rand spun away, pacing to the large canopy bed draped in dark blue velvet curtains. “Why did you keep such a secret, Rose?” Despite how much he loved her, that still hurt terribly. He’d wondered every day in gaol if Rose just did not believe him capable of being a good father to Jason. He rubbed the pain in his chest. “Why did you lie to me? You had so many opportunities to tell me the truth. Good God, that day at the wharf—that is what your strange behavior was about. You could have told me then.”
“I have no excuse, Rand. I was afraid—” She stopped abruptly, slow tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Afraid of what? Go ahead and say it. You are afraid that I shall make a terrible father, that I cannot even prevent my son from being abducted in my own dwelling.”
“Nay, Rand,” she cried out. “I have never believed such of you. How can you think that of me? Unless…surely you do not fear you cannot protect Jason? You saved Jason and me from the fire.”
“What of my mother and sister? They are dead because of me.”
“Nay, you were not responsible. Sometimes accidents happen. There is naught we can do about it.”
Rand’s vision blurred. He felt his sister’s arms slip from his neck, saw her floating down into the depths of the river, her eyes staring at him with reproach.
“Rand.” Rose’s gentle touch upon his arm, her soft plea recalled him from his memories.
“I had Juliana in my arms, Rose, but I released her so I could live.”
“You were just a boy, Rand. You tried to save her. If you had not let her go, you would have died too. I would never have met you, and Jason would never have been born. Nor would you ever have protected me from marriage to Golan.
“And as far as your mother, do not belittle her sacrifice.”
“Aye. Your mother chose to run into a burning building to save you. She risked her life because she loved you. Did you not do the same when we rescued Jason from Golan and Lydia and escaped from the hospital fire? Would you not do so again?” Her hands were alive as she talked, reminding him of the animated girl he knew before her first marriage. “Would you not risk any fear, any punishment, any torment to save Jason, or our baby who lies protected within my womb?”
Rand dropped his gaze to where her hands cradled their baby. Her red silk surcoate was smudged with Jason’s muddy handprints. Without volition, he reached out and touched her rounded stomach, marveling that inside her belly was his child, a child they’d conceived as man and wife.
Rand raised his eyes back to her face. The last barrier around his heart shattered. Wonder filled him and his heart expanded. He’d discovered a renewed hope in the future and belief that their love for each other was strong enough to overcome their fears. Their love was forged in a cataclysm of fire, making them as strong and durable as steel. “You are right. Just moments before she died, Mother made me swear to never give up hope. She never gave up hope, and I am here, alive, about to be blessed with another child.”
Rose’s chest expanded and contracted. His gaze skimmed over her perfectly shaped breasts, which were plumper than he remembered, up her slender, graceful neck, where her pulse throbbed in the hollow of her collar, and stopped on her succulent reddened lips. Her hands came up between them and covered his chest muscles, squeezing and releasing in a massaging motion.
He dipped his head, blood raging through his veins. She lifted her lips toward his in anticipation. His breath grew ragged. The moment their mouths touched, it was as if a fire sparked an inexhaustible hunger. Their tongues melded, entwining in a sensual dance.
Rand groaned, marveling at the delectable, velvety softness of her lips, sweetness of her breath, and boldness of her caressing tongue. Lurching forward, he wrapped his arms around her and pressed his hips against her mons pubis. Wanting to get closer, to be absorbed by her, he trailed his hand down her back and then clutched her buttocks. He pulled her flush against his hardened flesh; his hips found a slow, stroking rhythm against her heated delta. She met him stroke for stroke, a mewling cry upon her lips.
Someone rapped on the door. Rose jumped and stepped away from him. She rubbed the jumping pulse in her throat. They stared at one another, breathing heavily. Rand swallowed, and then gathering his senses, he bid whoever was at the door to enter.
Several scullions brought in buckets of water and began pouring the contents into a tub in the corner of the chamber. Another carried soap and towels and laid them down on a stool nearby.
“I did not order a bath yet,” she mused, her voice yet thick with desire.
He cleared his throat. “I ordered it when I arrived. I’d thought to bathe before I saw you, but Jason’s laughter drew me to the garden.”
When the last servant left, Rand began stripping off his stinky raiment. As he kicked off his boots, Rose boldly began unknotting the tie at the waist of his braies. Her silky fingers brushed his skin in teasing strokes. A rush of hot blood surged into his cock, making him throb with pleasure and pain. She shoved his braies and attached hose down to his ankles, and gazed up at him brazenly through her lashes, her mouth inches from his erection.
He hissed through his teeth. “You tease, are you trying to make me lose control?”
“Why, is it working?” Her heated breath puffed over his bulbous head.
He groaned in agonized pleasure, quivering with the need to delve deep into her slick sheath and glory in her loving embrace. Instead, he spun away and plunged into the hot water.
Rose smiled as Rand spun away from her in obvious arousal. His back to her, she gasped upon seeing the red-welted skin on his lower back and buttocks. It was an old healed scar from a burn. With his braies on, only a few inches of the rippled flesh would be visible. He must have received it in the stable fire when he was a youth.
Then why had she not seen his scar before? She thought back. The few times she’d seen Rand unclothed, either it had been dark or he’d always kept his back turned away from her. But surely she would have felt the scar while making love to him? Nay, then too. The first time he’d made love to her he’d worn a robe, and more recently, he’d lain on his back and pulled her atop him. She did remember feeling some rough skin on his back when she’d warmed him with
Now, Rose knelt behind him and ran her fingers delicately over the rough welts. He stiffened.
“Oh, my darling, how it must have pained you.” Her voice was thick with tears.
Rand reached for a linen cloth on the stool. “’Twas long ago, my love. Do not distress yourself.”
Rose plucked the towel from his hands and lathered it with soap and water. “Pray, take your ease. I shall bathe you.” She skimmed the cloth over the back of his shoulders. “’Tis a wifely duty, is it not?”
A deep groan was her only answer.
She kissed his neck tenderly, her attempt to give him some small gesture to comfort him from awful, painful memories. The scar was a constant reminder of all he lost.
Next, she ran the linen down his back and buttocks. He released a sigh, then quivered when she ran the cloth between the crease of his bottom cheeks. She took pleasure in this domestic task. She moved around to the side of the tub and washed his muscular chest and ribbed stomach. Still on her knees, she bumped the back of her hand on the head of his upstanding phallus. She watched, transfixed, as the thick veined shaft bobbed in the water. With a guttural groan, Rand reached out, cupped her left breast, and massaged her with firm strokes.
She gasped as her nipple swelled with tingling heat against his palm. With his other hand, he cupped her head and pulled her so close their breaths mingled.
His voice rumbled like a caress. “If you must torment me, ’tis only fair I do the same to you.”
His gaze dipped to her lips. The sensitive flesh tingled in readiness. His lips molded to hers like warm marble; his tongue stabbed between her lips. She moaned. Torment her, would he?
She pulled back. “Sounds like a challenge to me,” she purred, then delved her hand into the water and took his shaft in a firm grasp. “A challenge I gladly take up.” A long, shuddering groan escaped him. She chuckled seductively. “Hmm, I wonder who shall cry craven first?”
She punctuated her boast by stroking her hand up and down his splendid manhood, the water easing the slippery glide of her taunting grip. His eyes snared hers, glittering with a mixture of feral promise and need.
“Very well, but you are dressed and I am as bare as a babe in the womb. Hardly seems fair.” He grinned teasingly, even as his eyes taunted her to strip off her garments.
She smiled, giving his manhood one last sensuous caress. If he expected her to be too shy and timid to disrobe before him in the light of day, he was going to be thoroughly shocked. She pushed up from the tub, leaning toward him, her lips inches from his, and kissed him. She slid her tongue between his lips, exploring, savoring, enticing him to lose all control. But soon she was ensnared in her own game. She pulled away breathless, heart drumming erratically and feminine muscles quivering with need.
But Rand was not unaffected either. His lids drooped languidly and desire blazed in his eyes, while his whitened knuckles clutched the tub edge.
She nodded to the no doubt cooling water. “Pray, do not let my undressing preclude you from finishing your bath while the water is hot. You’ll find the soap for washing your hair on the stool.”
“’Tis very generous of you,” he said ironically.
When he dipped his head under water, she removed the broach that held the split bodice together, put it in her jewel coffer, and began brushing her hair in long, smooth strokes.
Moments of companionable silence passed, the carnal tension thickening as he stared transfixed upon her languorous movements.
“Your hair is so shiny, ’tis like gold leaf is sprinkled in your mane,” Rand said, lathering his hair and scrubbing his scalp vigorously a second time.
“’Tis a special oil I put in my soap to make it shine.”
He dipped his head back and rinsed the lather from his hair.
He surged up, squeezing the excess water from his mane. Suddenly, a look of horror crossed his face. He picked up the soap from the stool and stared at it, his expression aghast. “Is this—”
Rose giggled. “Aye, ’tis the soap I use.” She tugged the surcoate and undertunic she wore over her head, leaving her in a nearly transparent chemise.
“A man is not supposed to have shiny hair.”
Rose arched one eyebrow. “Why not?”
He surged up out of the tub, his hands fisted on his hips. “Because, well, ’tis just not manly.”
Rose gazed hungrily over him, appreciating the liquid sluicing down his muscled chest and stomach into his curly, light brown groin hair. His magnificent erection, long and thick and roped with purplish veins, stood straight up in the air.
“Well, do you have aught to say, woman?”
Having unlaced the ties at the neck of her chemise, she shimmied out of the garment and stood naked before him. Rand still had not said he loved her. She opened herself up to be vulnerable, believing in her heart he did. She prayed her newfound courage would show him that he had nothing to fear by confessing his love.
Rose dropped her gaze to his groin. She licked her suddenly parched lips. “You appear more than manly enough for me,” she said pointedly. Then she shot her gaze up to his. “Of course, in order to be certain, I shall need some physical proof before I can render a final judgment as to your manliness or nay. Are you up to the test?”
Rand, gaze enthralled by the bold, brazen seductress before him, felt a deep ripple in his gut that emerged from his mouth like the aroused roar of a lion as it seeks its mate.
He dipped his shoulder and lifted her up into his arms. Her breasts cushioned against his chest. “Are you casting aspersions upon my manhood? Because if you are, I shall have to vigorously prove my worth as a man.”
She nodded as if extremely serious. “Aye, vigor is a very manly trait also. I await your proof of vigor with enthusiasm.”
In three long, swift strides, he carried her to the bed and laid her gently on the mattress. Her arms eagerly clutched him to her, drawing his body over hers. She raised her thighs, cradling his hips. With a groan, he kissed her thoroughly, then licked a hot trail down her throat to one delicious peaked nipple. He drew the swollen nub between his lips and sucked. She moaned.
With a light, teasing caress, her hand skimmed down his stomach and took his cock in her hand. He groaned against her breast, the hard ridge of flesh throbbing with an overwhelming urge to plunder her honey-slickened sheath. But it was more than lust raging inside him. His heart contracted with an incredible feeling of love and tenderness for Rose that for so long he’d denied or suppressed.
Rand reached down and slid two fingers inside her sheath, caressing her, stroking her inner walls, while the rasp of his tongue lathed her nipple. When he tugged the hardened point deep into his mouth, her hips lurched up. He teased her with the graze of his teeth. The exquisite taste of her was like honeyed mead.
Panting, undulating, Rose clung to Rand. A sudden blaze of fire shot to her core. Prickling heat sparked a ripple of explosions and she released a breathy moan. Her inner muscles throbbed and pulsed. Her body shuddered, Rand’s strong arms cradling her tenderly.
When her heart slowed, she opened her eyes. Rand hovered above her, his arms supporting him. She stared into his eyes, the most amazing expression of love she’d ever seen bright within his gaze.
“I love you, Rose.” His voice was husky with emotion. “I think I fell a little in love with you that day you stumbled at my feet with pig dung covering your face, your impish grin shining full of life. After you married, my feelings only deepened, but I denied it to myself. You are so strong and compassionate and courageous, I could not help but fall in love with you. But I love you most of all for your consuming love and selfless defense of our son.”
Tears filling the back of her throat, Rose croaked, “I love you, Rand. Your patience, and kindness, and generous heart humble me. I trust you with my life and Jason’s life. Never doubt it. I shall love you forever.”
He quickened the pace, thrusting harder, deeper. Her heart pounded. The exquisite sensation of him inside her was unlike anything she’d ever felt. With every deep stroke of his shaft, the tingling heat between her thighs coiled tighter, higher.
She clung to him tightly, about to spin apart. Then Rand gave one last deep thrust. A sharp stab of pleasure throbbed deep inside her, and her inner muscles quivered.
“Rose!” he shouted, spasms shaking him.
As they soared together, an incredible feeling of being one body, one soul consumed her.
Rand, breathless, collapsed beside Rose and pulled her into his arms. Warm tears bathed his chest. His gut clenched. He leaned up on his elbow and searched her face. “Rose, why are you crying? Did I hurt you or the babe?”
She smiled. “Nay, these are tears of joy and relief. For so long I thought you were going to die. I’m just so happy.”
“I never thought I could be this content either. I no longer fear what may come. I know our love is strong enough that together we can face any foe, or any trouble that besets us.”
Rose’s hand cupped his cheek. “I love you, Rand. And I know your mother and sister are at peace at last.”
Rand sighed, not with misery or sadness or despair. For the first time in his life, he was at peace. Though he never realized it, all along he was blessed. Every day, from this day forward, he would thank God for bringing Rose and Jason back into his life.
Rand pulled the covers up over them. As if they had been sleeping together for years, they curled up on their sides, her back to his chest.
Propping his head with his right arm, Rand draped his left arm over her waist and caressed her extended belly. As he was about to drift asleep, he asked, “Have you thought about what we shall call the babe?”
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