Valentine's Day Anthology: Hearts and Handcuffs, page 9
“And I was forced to marry you for fear of war with Wales.” He snorted.
“What of his wife? The Queen?” Edwyn asked very gently.
“I’m sure she fears war too.”
He grinned, tucking the cover tight around her. “Does she know of your love for her husband?”
Meredith shook her head, the misery overwhelmed her and now his judgement. “Do you think me sinful to lie with another woman’s husband on this day when we pray for the sanctity of marriage?”
He was silent a moment longer, shifting on the bed next to her.
“As you said, the heart cannot help where it finds love.”
“He used to come to me once a week when the queen spent the night in prayer.” She’d longed to tell someone for months and Edwyn seemed kind. “He came to me in my rooms. Late at night. And I was happy.” Her voice wavered on the last words. “I would not change it. I wish I could be with him again,.”
Edwyn took her hand. “But Meredith, my dear, you cannot lie with him in your old rooms or his, or anywhere else in the castle, for such things do not stay secret. Believe me I have some knowledge of secret loving.”
“Although.” Edwyn said slowly, thinking. “King Gawain can come for you here. In our apartment. People will think he comes to discuss serious matters of the kingdom with me.”
“You would do this? For me?”
“Yes dear wife. Because I would have my advisor with us.” Then he must have heard his own words and laughed. “Not with us all. But we would be in another chamber.” He squeezed her hand. “If you will hold my secret.”
For some strange reason, she no longer felt tired and there was a silly smile stretching her mouth.
“My dearest husband.” She threw her arms around him, the fur coverlet falling off her, but she didn’t care. “I told you we should do very well together. I love you with all my heart.” She rained more kisses all over his face.
“Thank you my dear, but save your kisses for him.” He disengaged from her and with a finger to his lips, he rose from their bridal bed.
Edwyn crossed to the door of their room and out into the anti-chamber. His footsteps echoed in the passage then he shouted down the stairs. “You Bryn. Go to the great hall and fetch the King. Tell him my wife and I wish to drink a flask with him to celebrate. And Bryn. No one else, only you and him.”
The sky shaded to pearly grey, promising the end of the night and the near dawning of a new day.
It found Meredith and the King in each other’s arms on the bridal bed. There were crushed flowers under and around them that testified to a happy night.
“Gawain?” her voice was lazy, half sleepy.
“Yes, my merry heart.”
“Does the Queen know of our love?”
“The Queen thinks only of her power schemes. After our near crisis this morning, she has taken over the planning of the new taxes with your father and the bishop. She has a new mission to keep her happy.”
Gawain pulled Meredith to lie atop him. Her copper hair around them both, he kissed her one more time. “My merry heart, I have a thought.”
“I know. Me,” she said pressing her thigh between his legs.
Laughter rumbled in his chest. “Indeed. But I have another thought.”
Smoothing his large warm strong hands over her back, making her warm and tingly. “I will declare a new law today.”
She rested her head on his chest and let him talk.
“I will take this feast from the churches and their marriages and misery. I will declare the new day of Saint Valentine a feast to love."
I hope you enjoyed reading The Invention of St Valentine's day. This is part of a series of short stories following the loves and adventures of this ancient royal family. If you would like to read more follow me on Facebook and Twitter for a free copy of the next story.
Val ’n Tiny
Renee Grace Thompson
I'd like to thank the wonderful ladies who share their names
with me on the front of this book. What an amazing ride it's been!
Also, my family. My husband and kids who received very little of
my attention as I worked long hours through this process.
They never complained, and always supported.
The arrow soared through the air, stealthy and silent toward its target. Tiny beamed with excitement, barely able to contain his enthusiasm at adding another notch on his already impressive list of success stories. He stood on his toes, peering over the bush as he waited for just the right moment to move in.
With a soft thud, the fuzzy rubber tipped arrow bounced off the back of the target’s cell phone, then dropped to the ground.
Tiny’s face fell and he turned toward his son. “What just happened here?”
Giggling, the baby shoved his little fist in his mouth.
Tiny sighed. “Never mind. We’ll have to improvise. It’ll just take a little longer than necessary.”
He pushed the stroller out from behind the bushes and approached the target, a thirty-one-year-old brown haired man, who was looking all around trying to figure out where the small red arrow had come from. Tiny chuckled, much louder than necessary. “I’m so sorry, sir. Forgive us. My baby…well, he gets a little wild with his toys sometimes.”
“No problem.” The man picked up the arrow and held it out to Tiny.
Tiny stood there looking at the man’s bare hand holding the arrow, counting the seconds as they ticked by. The more time that passed, the more pleased Tiny was. Bare skin was almost as good as getting hit.
Clearing his throat, the man shook the arrow to get Tiny’s attention. “Seems like an awfully little guy to be shooting arrows.” With a goofy smile, the target leaned down and made googly sounds at the baby. Tiny took the arrow and the man promptly stood, turning away with his phone back up in front of his face. “Have a good day,” he said over his shoulder as he hurried on his way.
“Wait!” Tiny rushed to catch up to him. The stroller hampered his progress, but he was on a mission and wouldn’t be deterred. “You can’t go yet. I need to talk to you. Ben, stop. Just for a minute.”
The man whipped around and stared down at the four foot nothing man, his head bobbling over the stroller as he hurried along. “How do you know my name?”
Tiny scratched at his blond buzz-cut hair and squinted his emerald eyes. “I, um…good guess? Am I right? I mean, you look like a Ben. What’s that stand for, anyway? Bernard? Benjamin? Do people call you Benji?”
The baby flung his toy out of the stroller and started crying.
Ben picked up the toy and handed it to the baby. “Just Ben. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m in a hurry.”
“Not yet! This is important. More important than your meeting.”
Ben narrowed his eyes. “You know I have a meeting?”
“Damn,” Tiny whispered. He examined the business suit of the tall man. Of course, everyone was tall to him. Ben was actually about five foot ten. Average height. Average weight. Average looks. He was an all-around average guy. “Well, because, um, who doesn’t have meetings in the middle of the day, right? You look like you’re going to a meeting, just like everyone else out here.”
Ben looked around the deserted city park. There was nothing but trees and winter-dormant flower gardens. A few winding paths for nature walks or jogs. Not many people hung out in the middle of winter, especially on a day like today with the uncomfortable bite of the cool, crisp air. Across the grassy field were a few joggers and a guy playing frisbee with his dog. A woman in the far corner, sitting on a bench wrapped in her coat and scarf with a book in her lap. But no one heading for any meetings. He’d merely been passing through
Tiny cocked his brow. “Do you know what today is?”
“Yes, and I also know what time it is. I need to go.”
Tiny’s shoulders fell. “Look, Ben, you’re on schedule to be ten minutes early. I’m only asking for one of those minutes. Now will you just cooperate and listen to me?” Tiny patted the baby on the head. “Go ahead, son, shoot him again. I don’t think he got the full dose. Damn phone got in the way.”
The baby pulled a bow out from under his blanket, then another little red fuzzy arrow, set it in place, pulled the bowstring and released.
Ben’s eyes crossed as he watched the arrow fly to his face, hit and bounce off the center of his forehead. The hit was so light, if he hadn’t seen it, he wouldn’t even have known it happened. Annoyance bristled in Ben’s chest. “What the heck’s going on?”
Tiny picked the arrow up and handed it back to the baby, then nudged Ben with a goofy grin. “See that lovely woman over there?”
With a furrowed brow, Ben looked in the direction of the little man’s pointing finger. A generously proportioned woman wearing a full length dress with ruffles of alternating shades of pink was standing at a vendor’s cart waving at them. Her bleach blond hair was piled high on her head, and her lipstick was a bright bubble gum pink. She reminded him of a wand of fluffy cotton candy. Ben looked down at the little man who was gazing adoringly at the woman. “Yeah, what about her?”
Tiny snapped out of his. “That’s my wife, Valerie, but you can call her Val. And I’m Tiny. We own that little cart there. And this is our son, Cupid.”
Ben gawked at the cart. A red umbrella with pink fringe and hearts dangling off the rim was propped over top. The front of the cart held a sign in glittering pink letters that read Val ’n Tiny’s. Chocolates, flowers, trinkets, and all kinds of other sparkly things were spread across the shelves. He looked back at Tiny. “Cupid?”
“Yeah, he was born on Valentine’s Day, so it seemed fitting.”
Ben nodded and stepped away. “Um, yeah, of course.”
Tiny started toward the vendor cart. “Come on over here and get a rose for your lady.”
“I don’t have a lady, but thank you.” Ben looked around at the lack of potential customers. “Good luck with your business.”
Tiny stopped pushing and turned to face Ben, propping a hand on his hip and tapping a foot. “Ben, you’re not getting it, are you? It’s Valentine’s Day. You were shot with an arrow by Cupid? Duh. You’re going to fall in love here shortly and you need to be prepared. Now stop being an ass and get over there to get a rose for the lady.”
“I’m not gonna fall in love, Tiny. This is all…” Ben pondered his words. He looked at the tiny man, the hearty woman, the impossibly beautiful blue-eyed child with the bow and arrows, and decided the truth was the best way to go. “Okay, I’m just gonna say it. This is weird. Weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me. Thanks, but I really need to go.” Ben turned and took off down the sidewalk, hoping for a quick getaway.
Ben knew who it was without turning around. Val. Her high-pitched, sing-songy voice matched her appearance. He stopped and turned slowly.
“Mr. Ben, sir! Please, take these with you.” Val scurried toward him, carrying a small white bag and a single red rose. “Chocolate covered strawberries. And if you decide you want more romantic things, we have all kinds of other gifts too. Of course, we can’t have the, um, you know, inappropriate items out here in the public park, but we can get you anything you need. We’ll be here all day.”
Ben stared at the woman, waiting for words to form, but nothing intelligible came to mind. “I already said I don’t have a lady friend.”
“Dagummit, Ben.” Tiny pushed the stroller alongside his wife and stopped in front of Ben. “Trust us on this. You’ll know it when it happens.”
“I’ll know what?”
“You’ll get a…a feeling.”
A bell jingled from the cart. Val waved at the lady standing there, then quickly looked back at Ben. “It’s so exciting, isn’t it?” She blew a kiss at Ben and giggled as she fled toward the cart.
A red fuzzy arrow soared high through the air in the opposite direction Ben was headed.
“Cupid!” Tiny, eyes wide in disbelief, stared at the projectile as it seemed to move in slow motion. It hit a young man’s hand just as he flipped his arm out to release a frisbee. The arrow would have missed within a fraction of a second had it been earlier or later.
Cupid giggled and kicked his feet in delight.
Tiny rubbed his temples and paced back and forth. “This is bad. Really, really bad.” He stood in front of the baby and pointed his finger. “What do you think you’re doing, young man? You know those arrows aren’t toys.”
Ben saw his opportunity to finally make his break. He backed away, turning as he went.
Tiny clenched the handle of the stroller and began his trek across the park toward the man who shouldn’t have been a target, hollering over his shoulder at Ben as he went. “Be sure to give her the rose. And please stop back by and let us know how it went. We’re suckers for romance.”
That much was obvious. Ben gave him a half-hearted smile and waved. “You’ll be the first to hear about it…” you crazy loons.
Tiny hollered over his other shoulder toward his wife. “Honey, mix up some anti-love potion. Seems Cupid’s losing his touch.”
“Coming right up, dear.”
Tiny huffed as he pushed the stroller through the winter-deadened grass while Cupid babbled happily. “Cupid, son, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but we’re gonna have a talk. This is entirely unacceptable behavior and it absolutely must stop.”
The frisbee guy was standing there watching the oncoming stroller one minute, and on the ground covered by a happy waggling dog the next. “You big furball. Get off me.” He clambered to his feet, laughing as he continued to wrestle with his dog. He glanced at Tiny. “Can’t take your eyes off him while he’s excited or you’ll get mauled over.”
Tiny nodded and smiled. “Cute little thing.”
The man’s forehead furrowed as he looked from Tiny to his hundred pound mutt. “Yeah, uh, I like him.”
Tiny made a show of searching the ground. “Have you seen a little red arrow? Fuzzy. Rubber tip. My kid here lost it a minute ago and I thought it ended up in this direction.”
The guy pulled it from his back pocket and held it out. “Your kid shot this? From that far away?”
Tiny groaned and dropped his head back. “Oh, this is even worse than I thought.” He took a deep breath and straightened, looking the man in the eyes. “Please tell me you haven’t had this in your pocket since it hit you.”
The guy nodded. “Didn’t want Nugget to pick it up.”
Tiny shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut, then hollered toward Val. “Better make it a doozy of a dose, love.”
The guy frowned. “Something wrong?”
Tiny pursed his lips. “Well, uh, you see…um…” Tiny scratched his head. “Not wrong, no. It’s just, well, I feel bad for my son’s toy hitting you, so, uh, we’re gonna treat you with a special drink. On the house. Do you like hot chocolate? It’s the best hot chocolate ever.”
“You want to give me a drink because this little twig hit my hand?”
Tiny nodded, thankful for his quick wit.
“Not worth apologizing for. You don’t owe me anything.”
“Of course we do. It would look bad for our business otherwise. I’ll go get that for you right now. Don’t go anywhere.”
The guy scrunched his face.
Tiny took that as a yes. He started to scamper away, but Cupid bawled out and stretched his little arms toward the man.
Cupid bawled harder.
Tiny pushed him toward the guy and Cupid quietened, pulled him away and Cupid cried. It was the perfect opportunity to force the guy to stay put. “Seems he wants to hang out with you. Can he stay here with you while I go get your drink?”
The guy stepped away. “Uh, you don’t even know me. You sure you want to leave your kid with me?”
Cupid glanced at his father and wailed.
Tiny narrowed his eyes, then nodded. “He’ll be fine, and I’m just going right over there. He’ll never be out of my sight. The wife’s busy with a customer or I’d have her bring the drink to us.” Without waiting for an answer, Tiny ran off to the cart.
The guy squatted in front of the stroller as he petted his dog. “Hey there, little guy. What’s your name?”
Cupid grinned. “Cupid, and you’re—”
“What the…” The guy fell backward, scrambling to get away.
The manly voice of a twenty-year-old softened. “Calm down, Adam, it’s okay.”
Adam breathed heavily as he eyed the baby. “I… You… What…”
“Pull it together, Adam. I need to tell you something before the old man gets back.”
Adam stopped and clutched his arms around his dog. “What… How… Who…”
“Yeah, yeah, just listen. We don’t have time for explanations. I’m Cupid. The real deal. Those are my parents, Valerie and Tiny. I’m not allowed to talk in front of people, so let’s make this quick.
“The love of your life is right here in this very park, but you’re too distracted to notice her, so I shot you with my arrow. The old man doesn’t think it’s your day. He’s trying to prevent the effects of the arrow by making you drink the anti-love potion.”
Adam’s brows rose. “Anti-love potion?”
Cupid rolled his eyes and snorted. “I know. Crazy, right?”