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Lion s Bride 18
“Sweet Mary, what is it you’ve just shown me? You do everything with passion. Now, if you cannot speak cheerfully, be silent.” She glimpsed his expression of astonishment before she lay back down and put her head in the hollow of his shoulder.
“I am guilty. You cannot change that by—ouch! You bit me.”
“I said, be silent.”
He was silent and then began stroking her hair again. “Silence doesn’t alter truth.” He stiffened warily, then relaxed when she made no motion to bury her teeth in him again. “A man must admit his sins and seek to correct them.”
“I’ve not seen any sign that you wish to right this sin with other women.”
“I spilled my seed in you. I tried to stop, but I could not—” He buried his face in her hair. His voice was muffled. “And I’ll do it again and again. For I will not send you away from my bed.”
“Then accept it.” She yawned. “As I have.”
“You accept it because you don’t know what—”
Her patience was at an end. She reached down and grabbed him, tight. “Accept it or I’ll—”
“I’ll accept it,” he said, alarmed.
Her grasp loosened.
He drew a sigh of relief. “You’re a woman with neither shyness nor delicacy. A lady should not touch that part of a man without invitation and certainly not with roughness.”
“You’re a stubborn brute, and delicacy would not have stopped you.”
He chuckled. “True enough. You certainly got my attention.” He drew her close. “But don’t do it again.”
She did not answer. She had no intention of consenting to behave in a manner foreign to her nature, but she was in no mood for conflict.
He did not speak for a long time. “We…fit.”
“I didn’t think you would at first.”
“No, I mean…” He released her and turned on his side away from her. “I don’t know what I mean. Nothing, I suppose. Go to sleep.”
She wanted him to hold her again. She didn’t move for a moment and then rolled closer and slid her arms about his middle, pressing her breasts to his back. That was better, not as good as before, but better.
“What are you doing?”
“I like this, and since you already know I have no delicacy…” She rubbed her cheek back and forth along his shoulder blade as if to soften the edge. “But don’t roll over. You’ll crush me.”
“Nothing could crush you.” He hesitated, then turned around again and drew her back into his arms. “Now will you go to sleep?”
“Yes.” She was already half-asleep as she curled closer to him. “I feel safer now…I don’t like being alone.”
I feel safer now.
But she was not safe. She would never be safe again, and he knew it was his fault. He had taken what she offered with only token resistance, and now she was more at risk than before.
Christ, what else could he have done? He had wanted her from the beginning. But he had put lust behind him a hundred times in the last weeks. He could have done it one more time. He could have picked her up and carried her to her own chamber and locked the door. She was only a woman, with a woman’s strength. He forgot that truth sometimes when she matched him word for word and will for will. Now, sleeping in his arms, she seemed as small and fragile as a child.
But it had been a woman he had taken earlier. She had been full of lust, vigorous passion stronger than any he had known before.
He wanted it again. He could feel himself harden as he remembered the way she had met him thrust for thrust, her cries as he had—
He deliberately blanked out the memory. Not now. Let her rest. She had been a virgin and—
Jesus, he had not treated her as a virgin. She had deserved better than to be glared at and blamed with rough words. What did he know of virgins? It was her fault. She should have stayed away from him.
He was blaming her again, he realized. Blaming her because it was too painful to blame himself for taking what he wanted.
It might not be too late. It could be she was not with child. He could behave with knightly honor and tell her he would stay safely at Dundragon and she need no longer come to his bed.
But it would be a lie, he thought bitterly. It seemed he had no honor at all where she was concerned. Only desire and obsession and the compulsion to seize every moment he could before she was taken away from him. Oh, no, there was no question he would couple with her as frequently as she would let him.
But there must be some way of protecting her. She was his now. She must live, even if he did not. He would find a way to make her safe.
Thea stirred and murmured something beneath her breath. Was she dreaming? He prayed the dreams were good and not the nightmares he endured each night. He drew her possessively closer.
She must live.
WARE WAS FROWNING, his brow furrowed in a fierce scowl.
Something had displeased him, Thea realized without concern. On a day this beautiful it would have taken more than a frown to destroy her contentment. She sat back on her heels and watched him as he strode toward her across the green. She enjoyed seeing him move, she thought idly, enjoyed seeing the flex of corded muscle, the grace that came from superb physical fitness and a lifetime of training.
“You left me while I was sleeping,” Ware said. “I woke and you weren’t there.”
“I haven’t left your chamber in four days.” She smiled up at him as she watered the trunk of the mulberry tree. “The trees needed tending. Isn’t it a fine morning?”
“You suppose? The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and the trees are growing very well in spite of my neglect. Jasmine must have been taking care of them.”
“I missed…you. I was worried.”
“That wasn’t reasonable. What could happen to me here at Dundragon?”
“I was worried. I never said I was reasonable. I don’t have to be reasonable.”
“How arrogant of you.”
“I never said I wasn’t arrogant either.” He watched her for a moment. “Don’t go away again without telling me.”
“I won’t be with you every minute of the day. Am I to go in search of you to tell you every time I move from room to room?”
She threw back her head and laughed. “You cannot be serious.” She stopped as she saw his expression. “Are you?”
“You frightened me.”
“For nothing. I’ll not be bound by your foolish fancies.”
He said nothing for a moment, and then a forced smile touched his lips. “You’re right, of course. I’m not accustomed to worrying about others. My response was…exaggerated.”
She snorted with derision. “You do nothing but worry about everyone at Dundragon and beyond.”
“Not like this.” He pulled her to her feet. “And it was not only worry but fear.” He whispered, “Do you know what happens to me when I’m frightened?”
“You become surly and unreasonable.”
“No.” He drew her closer, holding her against him. “I become hard and heavy as a bull.”
The evidence of that arousal was pressed against her and was igniting a response in her. Bull, indeed. She tried to make her tone light to mask her breathlessness. “Then you must have been in terror for the past four days. One wonders what you did when you were in the midst of battle. Surely it must have been most uncomfortable for you when mounted to feel such—” She broke off as his hand pressed against her womanhood and then began rubbing slowly back and forth. “That is…not—” She had to stop as a ripple of heat shuddered through her. She tried again. “Stop.”
“Why?” His other hand fumbled at the closure of her gown, and the next moment he pushed the bodice off her shoulders and around her waist.
The sun was warm on her naked breasts, the breeze touched her nipples in a teasing caress. She could feel them swell, harden. What had he asked? “We can be seen from the castle.”
“I don’t ca
re,” he muttered. Still, he pushed her a few steps deeper into the grove. “Better?”
“No.” The stand of trees was too sparse to hide them. “We could go back to your chamber.”
“Too far.” He pressed her back against an oak tree and lifted the skirt of her gown. “I wouldn’t get farther than the stairs.”
She wasn’t sure she would either. The feel of his chest against her bare breasts was causing her heart to beat painfully hard. “We…could try.”
He adjusted his tunic. “Now.” He cupped her buttocks in his hands and lifted her.
He plunged deep.
She cried out and clutched at his shoulders. She could feel the hard bark against her back and his hardness within her. Her legs curled around his hips, holding him as he bucked and drove.
“Ware, it’s…” She trailed off as she felt the tension mount. He was savage and rough, and she would not have him any other way. It had never been this wild before. He was like an animal and made her feel like an animal.
“Come…to me,” he muttered. His hips lifted and fell with deep force. “I need it. I need you.”
His need vibrated between them, so intense she could feel his pain. “It’s all right. You don’t have to wait….”
“Yes, I do.” He reached between them and pressed and rotated. “Come.”
She was panting and tears stung her eyes as she tried to give him what he wanted. Her hips moved forward but she could do little but take. So she took and took and took again.
When the climax came, she felt as if she were flying apart. An instant later she felt him flex within her as he uttered a low groan.
His head sank against hers and he stayed there, chest heaving, shuddering as he tried to regain control. “I think…it was much easier when I thought only of my own pleasure. This…may kill me.”
She was too breathless to speak. She could only hold him and wait until strength returned.
He eased her to the ground and lay down beside her. He said nothing for a long time. “You’re right. It’s a very fine morning.”
She chuckled. “I’m happy you finally noticed.”
He unbound her braid and loosened her hair. “I was thinking of other things.”
“Yes, you were.”
He covered his lips with her hair. “I tried not to spend within you,” he whispered. “Each time I swear I’ll not give you my seed, and then I cannot—Forgive me.”
“It’s a little late for restraint,” she said. “When I came to you, I told you that I was prepared to let God decide the matter. I knew what you wanted of me.”
“I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want a child. Not if it means—You must help me. Make me leave your body before it’s too late.”
He had not changed his mind. He talked no more about a child, but at times, in his sleep, he would reach out and yearningly rub her belly as if she already held the prize he wanted within her. “Let God decide.”
He shook his head. “God sometimes seems unconcerned with our troubles. You must help me.”
“The decision may already be out of our hands. I may already be with child. We will talk of this again after I have my flux. Now, be silent and let me enjoy the sunshine.”
She supposed she should make some attempt to cover herself, but she felt wonderfully languid and didn’t want to move. The day was bright, their surroundings beautiful and peaceful, and she felt no shame in what they had just done. It had been as natural and beautiful as the sky overhead.
Perhaps too beautiful. No, she would not worry and take this lovely moment apart. She would accept and enjoy as long as it lasted.
As long as it lasted. Her gaze drifted toward the mountain where the man dwelt who might well put an end to this contentment. “Who is Vaden?”
At first she thought he was not going to answer her. “You know who he is. He’s the man who wants to kill me.” He paused. “And you.”
“But he didn’t kill us when he had the opportunity.”
“It was not the time. He has no desire to die himself.”
“Vaden of where? Where does he come from?”
He turned on his side to look at her. “Why are you so curious about Vaden?”
Because she sensed a bond between the two men that she could not comprehend. Even though this Vaden was a threat, Ware would not condemn him. “Surely, it’s understandable I’d want to know everything I could about a man you say may kill me.”
“Only if he could see no other way out,” he said quickly.
There it was again. He was defending Vaden. “Was he your friend?”
He gazed out at the mountains. “Closer than friends, he was my brother at the Temple.”
“Then why didn’t he help you escape?”
“He was away on a mission in Italy.”
“Would he have helped you?”
“I don’t know. I never knew what Vaden would do. Perhaps. He’s always torn between impulse and calculation. He’s a complicated man.”
Incredibly, there was no derision in his tone. “Loyalty isn’t complicated. It’s very simple.”
“You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t understand friends who try to butcher you.”
“There are higher loyalties. The Order was everything to Vaden. I used to joke with him about it.”
“Did it anger him?”
He shook his head. “But he believed in the Order. He needed it.”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps because he had no other roots. I think he’s illegitimate.”
“You don’t know?”
“He didn’t talk about it.” He brushed his lips on her shoulder. “And after he was accepted in the Order, the Grand Master forbade anyone to ask him. He was just Vaden from nowhere.”
“Yes, particularly since two of the qualifications for entry into the Order are legitimacy and knighthood. I don’t think Vaden was either.”
“It makes no sense. Then why was he accepted?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea. He was a great warrior. Perhaps they wanted his sword.”
“Weren’t you curious? And don’t tell me curiosity was forbidden. I wouldn’t think you’d cavil at disobeying the order about asking him questions.”
“We all had our reasons for being there. It would have been an intrusion to ask him.”
She did not understand such reasoning. “If he was your friend, then knowing why he was there might have been a way of helping him.”
He shook his head and his expression became shuttered. “To share some secrets is to do irreparable damage.”
He was no longer speaking of Vaden but what he had seen in the Temple. “No secret is worth what happened at Jedha.”
“The Temple thought it was.”
“What do you think?”
He bent his head and blew in her ear. “I think you have divine breasts and the most beautiful hair that I’ve ever seen. When we were playing chess, I used to watch it shine in the firelight and wonder how it would feel against me. I wanted to wrap it around my body and drown in you.”
He was avoiding the question and trying to distract her. “What do you think?” she repeated.
“No.” He buried his head in her shoulder. “God, no.” His voice was muffled. “Sometimes I feel as if I’m choking on their secrets. When I first discovered what was in the caves, I was racked with guilt and then anger. They were my brothers, my family. Why couldn’t they trust me? I would never reveal—” He lifted his head, and she was shocked at the torment in his expression. “I’m no fool. I knew what telling others would mean. Why wouldn’t they trust me?”
He may have felt anger, but it was overshadowed by hurt and desolation. He had lost one family and then found another in the Templars. He had given them unbounded loyalty only to be cast out once again. “Because they’re blind fools.” She drew him close and held him in a fierce embrace. “And you should think no more about them.”
sp; He was silent a moment and then he chuckled. “I shall do my utmost, but under the circumstances it’s difficult not to give them thought.” He sat up and pulled her bodice up over her breasts. “But I assure you that they’re never in my mind when I’m in your body. Let’s go to my chamber. We will bathe and then banish thought for the rest of the day.”
“Now you wish to go to your chamber.” She slipped her arms into the sleeves of the gown, then tried to straighten her hair. No need to rebraid it yet; the first thing Ware always did when they were alone was loosen it. It made no difference if she appeared tousled; everyone in the castle must know she was coupling with Ware anyway, since these last days they had seldom left his bed except to bathe and eat. She was not concerned about anyone’s reaction except for Jasmine. Tasza no longer needed the security offered by being Ware’s leman, but Jasmine was fiercely protective of her daughter and might regard Thea as a threat. Well, she would worry about Jasmine’s response later. She was too full of joy and contentment now.
“And I would not need a bath so desperately if you hadn’t chosen to wallow with me in the dirt,” she told Ware. But he would probably have ordered a bath anyway. She had discovered that Ware was nearly fanatic regarding his personal cleanliness.
It must be the sheepskin drawers.
The words popped into her head. She had almost forgotten Kadar’s teasing comment the first night she had arrived at Dundragon. “Sheepskin drawers.”
“Kadar said the reason you were so devoted to cleanliness was the sheepskin drawers. What did he mean?”
Ware made a face. “In order to encourage chastity all Knights Templar are required to wear two sets of sheepskin drawers and never take them off.”
“Not even when they bathe?”
“We were not permitted to bathe either.”
She blinked. “Well, that would certainly encourage chastity. No wonder you became close to your brother monks. I cannot imagine anyone else wanting to be within a yard of such stench.”
“We became accustomed to it.” He frowned. “I don’t feel like talking any longer. Will you come?”
“Perhaps I don’t wish to go to bed. I have more tending here to do.”