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Lion's Bride

Lion's Bride

Lion s Bride 10


  It was a good plan. “Very clever.”

  “Because I am clever. But even brilliant men must have knowledge to bring their plans to fruition. I cannot ask for your sister by name. What does she look like? Is she fair like you?”

  She shook her head. “She has dark-red hair and green eyes.” She frowned. “And she won’t like being bought. She’ll want to stay at the House of Nicholas where I can find her.”

  “Do not worry. I can handle one small child.”

  “When you were ten, were you a child?”

  He shook his head.

  “Neither is Selene.”

  He nodded. “I understand. I am not to be over confident.”

  “Impossible,” Ware said dryly from the door. “You think you can move the world.”

  “It’s not true,” Kadar responded. “But sometimes it’s possible to persuade others to do it for you.” He moved toward Ware. “Like you, my friend. I have high hopes for you.”

  “Save your hopes for yourself.” He opened the door and preceded them down the stairs toward Kadar’s horse. “You’ve hidden the pouch?”

  Kadar nodded. “No one will know I’m a wealthy merchant until I reach Constantinople. Until then I’m only a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land.” He mounted and smiled down at Ware. “Don’t worry, I’m in no danger.”

  “I’m not worried.” He gazed at Kadar a moment and then said gruffly, “Go with God.”

  “Of course. God will not have it any other way. He has excellent taste in traveling companions.” Kadar looked at Thea. “Now you must bid me my proper farewell. Will you lead my horse to the gates as if I were a great knight going to fight a dragon?”

  “If you wish,” she said, startled. She grasped the reins and moved across the courtyard.

  “I do you a service,” Kadar said in a low voice.

  “A great service.”

  “I ask a service in return.”

  She looked over her shoulder at him. His expression was uncharacteristically solemn. “Anything. What service?”

  “I leave a possession that must be cared for.”

  “Your falcons? If you will tell me how to—”

  “Not my falcons. The servants know how to care for them.” He nodded toward Ware. “He won’t let them care for him.”

  She stiffened. “I’ve noticed he makes his demands known. You need not worry about Lord Ware.”

  “I do worry. He’s my responsibility.” He shook his head. “And this is a bad time for me to leave. He grieves and has need of me.”

  He grieves.

  She had a sudden memory of Ware’s agonized expression. Perhaps he did need Kadar but he would allow no one else close enough to comfort him. “I cannot help him. He wouldn’t let me.”

  “You must care for my possession.” Kadar’s tone was gentle but firm. “Promise me. So that my mind is free to attend my task.”

  She gazed at him in exasperation. “The only care he wants is a woman for his bed, and he has no problem asking for that.”

  “But what he wants is not always what he needs. He’s the loneliest man I’ve ever known. He needs company to ward off that loneliness. He will not accept it readily, but you must battle him until he accepts what is good for him.”

  She glanced beyond him to Ware, who was standing in the courtyard. She was to do battle with this formidable titan who had known nothing but wars all his life? “I cannot do it.”

  “You like children. Pretend he is a child like Haroun or Selene whom you must nurture and protect.”

  Her gaze swung back to Kadar in astonishment.

  He burst out laughing. “Ah, your face. But we are all children, Thea.”

  “Not him,” she said flatly.

  “You will see.” He waved his hand for the guard to lower the drawbridge. “You will care for my possession and I will care for yours. Pact?”

  He was going to journey a long distance and bring her Selene. Who knew what dangers he might encounter? “I will try.”

  “But you’re a kind and determined woman, and to try is to succeed. I feel better already.”

  “I’m not kind. I’m very selfish and I’ve no desire to do this.”

  “You try to be selfish because you’re afraid of letting anyone too near. To guard themselves is the way of people whose instinct is to nurture and protect.” He gave her a brilliant smile and lifted his hand in farewell. The next moment he was galloping over the drawbridge.

  “Safe journey,” she called.

  He waved again as he reached the other side of the moat. He was lost to view as the guards lifted the drawbridge.

  She slowly turned and moved across the courtyard. Ware was gone. He had vanished within the castle. Even with his closest friend he would not allow himself sentiment.

  And Kadar expected her to soothe and comfort this man?

  Impossible.

  “Go to my chamber and sleep there. Tasza and I will care for the boy.” The order came from Jasmine, who had suddenly appeared at her side as she sat next to Haroun’s bed. “I think it best I take him to my room tomorrow. He’ll be better with me. He’s not accustomed to rich surroundings and it will make him uneasy.”

  Thea was too tired to argue. “We’ll talk about it later.” She rose to her feet and arched her back to rid it of stiffness. “I don’t want him to think I’m abandoning him.”

  “He will not think that of you,” Jasmine said gruffly. “Haroun is not a fool.”

  From Jasmine that came close to praise, Thea thought wearily. “Wake me if I’m needed.”

  “You won’t be needed. I will have Tasza. Lord Ware doesn’t want her tonight.” Jasmine’s tone was almost indifferent.

  “You don’t seem upset.”

  “Lord Ware called the servants into the Great Hall tonight and told us all that our home was here now. We don’t have to fear being sent away, and he will keep us safe behind these walls.”

  I will start with you.

  Apparently Ware had moved quickly to see that the other inhabitants of Dundragon were also safe from the Knights Templar. A flicker of uneasiness rippled through her, and then she impatiently dismissed it. For once Ware was demonstrating a kindness and protectiveness that should be applauded, not met with distrust.

  “I’m happy for you.”

  “It feels…strange,” Jasmine said. “All our lives Tasza and I have had to fight every day to make our way. It will seem odd not to have to worry about tomorrow.” She shrugged. “But I’m sure we will become accustomed to it.”

  “Good night.” Thea softly closed the door behind her, then moved through the hall and down the stairs. Everything had changed. It seemed terrible that because of the horrible tragedy at Jedha, Thea was to get what she wanted most in the world and Jasmine and Tasza were to be safe at last. It was as if God had tried to balance the scales in some manner.

  She would not feel guilty. Surely she couldn’t be blamed for wanting Selene to be happy and free. She would not let the massacre at Jedha poison her joy that Selene would be with her soon. She would do all she could for the survivors of Jedha, but she could not make the—

  Ware was still in the Great Hall.

  She stopped at the bottom of the stairs. He was sitting in the high-backed chair before the fire, his legs sprawled in front of him, gazing into the flames.

  He’s the loneliest man I’ve ever known, Kadar had said.

  If he was lonely, she could not help it. She was not Kadar, who could amuse and venture where others feared to tread.

  She turned toward the door that led to the scullery and servants’ quarters.

  You will care for my possession and I will care for yours.

  But not tonight, when she was so tired she could barely think. Tomorrow would do as well.

  He grieves.

  By what sorcery had Kadar planted those words in her mind? she thought with exasperation. She would pay no attention to—

  “By all the saints,” she muttered as she marched into the G
reat Hall to stand before Ware. “Go to bed.”

  He slowly lifted his head. “What?”

  “You heard me. You look foolish sitting here brooding. Go to your bed and go to sleep.”

  “Foolish,” he repeated, glowering at her.

  “Foolish and stubborn and without sense.”

  “Then leave my presence so that you don’t have to look at me.”

  “Do you think I don’t want to do that? Kadar won’t let me. He says I must take care of you.”

  “Oh, my God.”

  “But I’m too tired to be bothered with this tonight, so go to your bed and let me worry about it tomorrow.”

  “I’m sorry to inconvenience you,” he said silkily. “But I appreciate the tender thought.”

  “You don’t want tenderness, and it is an inconvenience. I don’t even know how to go about this.”

  “Then don’t go about it. I don’t need either your care or your concern.”

  “That’s what I told Kadar. He wouldn’t listen.”

  “He seldom does, one must just ignore him.”

  “I can’t ignore him. He’s doing me a great service and must be repaid.”

  “Then repay him some other way. I’ll not have another clucking hen at my heels.” He poured more wine into his goblet. “Leave me.”

  “Are you drunk yet?”

  “No.” He lifted the goblet. “But soon.”

  “Good, then maybe you’ll fall asleep and I can have the servants take you to your bed.” She sat down on the hearth and leaned back against the stones. “I’ll wait.”

  He scowled. “I don’t want you to wait. Leave me.”

  “Drink your wine. These stones are hard.”

  He crashed the goblet down on the table. “I’ll drink when I please.”

  “I said the wrong thing.” She yawned. “I should have realized you’d be contrary. All right, don’t drink your wine.”

  He picked up the goblet and then stopped, frowning as he realized the dilemma. “Christ, now what am I supposed to do?”

  “I don’t care. Whatever you like.”

  He smiled sensually. “Then take off your gown and come here.”

  She was too weary to feel anything but impatience. “Why? The wine will do as well as a woman for your needs now. Besides, that’s not what Kadar wanted of me.”

  His smile vanished. “I’m growing bored hearing what Kadar wanted.”

  “Then drink your wine and go to sleep.”

  He muttered an obscenity and then was silent. The only sound in the Great Hall was the crackle of the logs in the fireplace.

  “What did he want of you?” Ware growled.

  “I’m not sure. He was a little vague,” she said drowsily. “I’ll have to think about it.”

  Another silence.

  “Go to bed,” he said harshly. “You’re going to fall asleep any minute and tumble into that fire.”

  She shook her head.

  “I don’t need Kadar and I don’t need you.”

  “I know.”

  “Then leave me.”

  She shook her head. She wished he would be quiet. Talking was too much effort. “Drink your wine.”

  “I will not drink my wine.”

  “Very well.” Her lids were so heavy, she could barely keep them open. “Whatever you…”

  “Christ.”

  He was picking her up, carrying her.

  Climbing the stairs.

  No, that was wrong….

  “Where are you going?”

  “I’m taking you to your bed, where you belong.”

  “Haroun is in my bed. I’m sleeping in Jasmine’s bed.”

  He stopped at the top of the stairs and then was moving down the corridor. “I’m not carrying you down again. You’ve been bother enough tonight. You can have my bed. I won’t be using it.”

  Something soft beneath her…

  He was turning away and striding toward the door.

  That was wrong, too…. She couldn’t allow him to go.

  “No.” She struggled to an upright position and swung her legs to the floor. “You shouldn’t go back to the hall. Stay here….” She pulled herself up by the bedpost. “I’ll go to Jasmine’s—”

  He whirled on her. “By the saints, why won’t you give up?”

  She was too weary to argue. She could only shake her head.

  His hands clenched into fists at his side as he glared at her. Was he going to strike her? She almost hoped he would. Then she could go to sleep without breaking her vow to Kadar. He was striding toward her, his blue eyes glittering. He was going to strike her.

  He pushed her down on the bed.

  She looked up at him, startled, as he threw himself into the cushioned chair next to the bed. “Go to sleep,” he growled. “I’ll stay.”

  “You’ll try to sleep?”

  “I said I’d stay. I didn’t say I’d sleep.”

  It was victory enough. Kadar couldn’t expect more from her tonight. “You might as well.” She turned over on her side and closed her eyes. “There’s nothing else to do….”

  There’s nothing else to do.

  Ware rested his head on the back of the chair. He could think of any number of things to do at the moment, and none of them concerned sleeping. He hadn’t thought he wanted a woman until he saw her lying in his bed.

  Now there was no doubt at all what he wanted to do.

  So why wasn’t he inside her? Why was he sitting there watching her sleep like one of those foolish gallants in a troubadour’s tale? She had angered him, forced him to her will, and he was still not reaching out to take what he wanted.

  His gaze slowly traveled over her. She was curled up like an exhausted child, but she was no child. She was old enough to take a man and bear a child. She would have fine sons; she would give them her strength and courage and protect them as she had Haroun.

  The thought brought a violent surge of heat to his loins. Christ, what was happening to him? Now he was not only lusting after the woman, but her children. He wanted those sons to be his, wanted to see her belly swell with his seed and her breasts grow large with milk.

  His hands clenched on the arms of the chair. Not for him. Never for him. If he conceived a child, he would probably never live to see it born.

  Yet he suddenly wanted that child with an overwhelming passion. He didn’t want to let them banish every trace of him from the earth. Something should live on, someone…

  Oh, yes, he thought with self-disgust, get the woman with child and let the Grand Master murder them both as he had the villagers.

  Or hold them both hostage to make sure of Ware’s death.

  Why was he even considering the possibility? He had known this danger for years and had been careful to draw out of the women he used to slake himself. That it mattered so much now was unreasonable.

  The destruction of the village must be the source of this sense of urgency. It could not be the woman. He admired her courage and endurance, but she was far too independent and bold. Never had a woman defied and ordered him about. Yet if she had not been bold, could she have survived? Gentleness would not have served her on that long trek to Damascus. Meekness would have made her stay in that silken prison in Constantinople.

  He could not condemn her for surviving and wishing to live in freedom. He had been driven by that same wish when he’d left Scotland those many years ago.

  But he could condemn her for being a constant irritant since he had brought her to Dundragon.

  No, in fairness, she had tried to avoid him. It was his own lust that had been at fault. Damnation, was there no way to escape guilt? he thought wearily. Every way he turned, he bore responsibility for some new sin. He should have gone back to the Great Hall and the wine that blurred the guilt and made life a little more bearable.

  She murmured something incomprehensible and turned over on her side. She was restless. It was turning cool….

  He reached down and carefully drew over her the wool blan
ket at the bottom of the bed.

  A chill rippled through him; the motion had been done without thought, purely instinctive.

  He could not let it be the woman.

  When Thea opened her eyes, it was after dawn. One moment she was asleep and the next fully awake as if she had been called.

  He was still sitting in the chair beside the bed, his head tilted back. He appeared…different in sleep. Not helpless; even in slumber the tension and wariness were still present. She studied him curiously as she never could when he was awake. She had not noticed before what long black lashes he had. When his eyes were open, one paid heed only to that searing blue. His mouth was well shaped and actually quite beautiful….

  “Stop looking at me.”

  Her gaze flew up to meet that glittering blue glance.

  “I meant no—I was half-asleep.” Why was she stammering? She had done nothing wrong. She sat up and swung her feet to the floor. “It’s dawn. I must go to Haroun. You should go to your bed. You cannot be comfortable there.”

  He grimaced. “Comfortable? I can’t move, and I’m sure this crick in my neck will never go away.”

  She started to get up. “Then lie down as I told you and all will be—”

  “Stay where you are,” he snapped.

  She froze and then deliberately got to her feet. “I cannot help that you’ve drunk too deep and have a bad head. I’ll not be ordered about.”

  “Because you’re a free woman,” he said mockingly. “There is no such thing. A woman is only as free as her husband permits her to be.”

  “But I have no husband. Nor will I ever.” She added harshly, “Do you think I’d risk joining myself to a man? No man, no country, not even the Church gives fairness to women. We are nothing to any of you. My mother told me of a council once held at Nantes where great nobles and churchmen gathered to decide whether women were human or beasts. I’m convinced the only reason they decided we were human was to avoid being put to death for the crime of bestiality.”

  “You could be right. It would certainly give me pause.” He went back to the original subject. “You have such a hatred for slavery?”

  “There’s no use talking to you. You cannot understand.”

  “Then make me understand.”