Lion's Bride

Lion's Bride

Lion s Bride 19

  “I have more need of tending than your trees.” He took her hand and brought it to him. “Don’t I?”

  She inhaled sharply as she felt the unyielding hardness. Soon it would be inside her again. His lips would be on her breast, and he would be plunging wildly in and out. A ripple of heat seared through her as she realized she was ready for him again. “You’re a very lustful man, Ware of Dundragon. Do you never get enough?”

  “No,” he said thickly. “Not with you. The minute you’re out of my sight, I want you again.” He stood up and reached down to pull her to her feet. “You will come with me?”

  This delirium should end. She had not imagined that the mere act of coupling could bring the kind of fever that could never be satisfied. She wanted to touch him, caress him, even when they were across the room from each other. She found herself watching his expressions, waiting for the moment when he would reach out for her. She had called him lustful, but she herself was as filled with lust.

  His big hand was holding hers tightly, possessively, as his thumb stroked her wrist. “Will you come?”

  It was happening again, the liquid flowing, the tension, the breathless heat.

  She nodded jerkily. “I’ll come.” She started across the green. She whispered, “Hurry.”

  “My lord, I regret to disturb you, but riders approach.” Abdul kept his gaze fixed on a point somewhere on the wall above the bed.

  Thea’s heart leaped in panic as she scrambled upright in bed. Riders. The Templars?

  Ware was already out of bed and donning his tunic. “How many riders?”

  “Two men.” With relief Abdul fixed his gaze on Ware. “We believe there are only two. But it’s night and there could be others farther down the road.”

  “Dress.” Ware tossed over his shoulder to Thea, “Hurry.” He strode out of the chamber.

  Thea wasted no time. Within a few minutes she was dressed and running out into the courtyard.

  They were lowering the drawbridge, she saw with relief. Surely they would not do that if it was a foe.

  It was Kadar.

  Her gaze flew to the small figure on the horse behind him.

  Selene. Dressed in a young Arab boy’s tunic, robe, and cloak, it was still undeniably, blessedly, Selene.

  “Thea!” Selene slipped from the saddle and ran toward her. The turban slipped from her head and her red hair tumbled down her back, reminding Thea of that moment when they had said good-bye at the gates of Constantinople. “I’m here.”

  “I see you are.” She hugged her tightly. Selene. Free. Safe. Here with her at last. “I see…you are.”

  “Stop crying.” Selene pulled back and stared at her with sternness. “I won’t have it. Why are you being so foolish? Everything is fine now.”

  “I know.” Thea wiped the tears from her cheeks. “See, I’ve stopped.” She hugged her again and released her. “How are you?”

  “Better than me,” Kadar said as he dismounted. “Your sister is a very willful creature.”

  “I’m well,” Selene said, ignoring him. “Why should I not be?”

  “They didn’t find out you’d helped me?”

  “Of course not.” She looked down at her cloak and dusted off a speck of dirt. “It’s like you to fret over nothing. I was not the one in danger’s path. But I also worried about you.” She gazed at Thea searchingly. “I see I had no need. There’s a…bloom about you.”

  “Why were you so long?” Ware asked Kadar. “Did you have problems with Nicholas?”

  “No more than I expected,” Kadar said. “But then, after the barter was struck, Selene decided she would not be bought and ran away. It took me three weeks to find her in that vast city.”

  “It was your fault entirely,” Selene said. “If you’d told me of Thea’s plan, we would have been here long ago.”

  “I intended telling you after I took you from Nicholas’s house. It wasn’t safe to do so until then.” He added teasingly, “I couldn’t be sure that you could keep the secret.”

  “Am I an idiot that I’d reveal a secret that would bring me my freedom?”

  “Not an idiot, but you are a child.” Kadar grimaced. “At least I thought you were. I should have heeded Thea’s warning.” He held up his hand as she opened her lips to speak. “Very well, it wasn’t your youth that kept me from telling you, but that dragon that listened in on every word I spoke.”

  “She was alone on the streets of Constantinople for three weeks?” Thea asked, horrified. “Anything could have happened to her.”

  “Perhaps you don’t know her any more than I did,” Kadar said. “When I found her, she was living in the bazaar with a family of bedouins, learning how to make camel bells. In another month’s time she would have been ordering them about as she has me during this excruciating journey.”

  In spite of his mocking tone Thea could discern an odd note of possessive pride in Kadar’s voice.

  “Don’t be foolish,” Selene said. “It would have taken me at least six months. The woman was reasonable but the old man was stubborn.” She turned back to Thea. “And then after Kadar finally told me it was you who had sent him, I had to send him back to Nicholas to get the silk.”

  “Silk?” Ware asked.

  Selene studied him. “You must be Lord Ware. Kadar told me about you.”

  “I’m sure he did,” Ware said dryly. “What silk?”

  “Well, since Kadar clearly had money enough to buy me, I thought he must have some left over. He actually handled the negotiations quite cleverly.”

  Kadar bowed slightly. “Thank you.”

  Selene waved an impatient hand. “But he was going to leave without buying silk, Thea. We won’t be able to make our own cloth for some time, and Nicholas’s is the best-woven silk in the world. I thought if you could embroider the silk and we could sell it, the profits would help us to open our house.”

  “By the saints,” Thea whispered, excitement growing by the minute. She had not thought past rescuing Selene. “How many bolts?”

  “Twelve,” Kadar said. “She beggared me.”

  “Since it was my money, I’d say she beggared me,” Ware corrected.

  Thea scarcely heard them. Twelve bolts. She couldn’t believe it. “I’ll return the money he spent. My embroideries bring a fine price. Far more than the silk itself.”

  “Kadar arranged to have a wagon bring the other bolts next week, but I brought with me a length of white silk,” Selene said. “We cannot start too soon.”

  “No.” Thea could hardly wait to begin. She had not realized how much she had missed her work. “Tomorrow. As soon as the light is good.”

  Kadar chuckled, his gaze on Selene’s intent face. “Now that you’ve arranged things to suit yourself, may I suggest you retire for the night? I’d wager you’re going to be as sore tomorrow as you were this morning.”

  “I wasn’t sore. Well, perhaps a little. He wanted to put me on a mule, Thea.”

  “As is fitting for women and children,” Kadar said. “The latter which you are, the former which you will become.”

  “I’m sure men put women on mules only so they can look down upon them from their horses.” She yawned. “But I am weary. It was a long journey from Acre.”

  “Come along.” Thea slipped her arm about Selene’s waist and urged her toward the steps. “You can sleep with me in my chamber tonight. Tomorrow we will find you your own place.”

  “My own place.” Selene looked up at the vast castle, and for a moment her boldness faltered. “It’s very different from Nicholas’s house, isn’t it?”

  Kadar answered from behind them, “As different as the bazaar where I found you. You must promise not to change quite everything to suit yourself. Ware would be most upset.”

  Selene’s moment of uncertainty immediately disappeared. “Thea and I won’t be here long enough to make changes worthwhile.”

  Clever Kadar, Thea thought. He had eased Selene away from that moment of fear without damaging her pride by
expressing sympathy. He must have got to know Selene very well on their journey from Constantinople.

  Selene stopped suddenly on the top step and turned to face Ware. “I thank you for caring for my sister, Lord Ware.”

  Thea smiled at the child’s solemn formality. It was almost as if Selene were the elder. She had changed since Thea had left her. She seemed freer, bolder. It was clear that surviving life on the streets had given her both more confidence and more knowledge.

  Ware did not smile. He nodded with equal gravity.

  “And I thank you for sending Kadar to fetch me. We owe you a great debt.”

  “Then I shall certainly collect,” Ware said. “But in the meantime, welcome to Dundragon.”

  Selene turned and went into the castle.

  Thea started to follow her.

  “Thea,” Ware said.

  She stopped at his call. She had been so happy at Selene’s arrival, she had not realized this would be the first time she would sleep apart from Ware since they had come together. Would he let her go? She looked at him. His expression was impassive, but she knew he was trying to tell her something.

  She moistened her lips. “Everything is different now.” Their time of halcyon intimacy was over; it was time to get on with life. She supposed she had known Selene’s arrival would signal the end of her stay at Dundragon, but she had not let herself realize it until she put it in words.

  He held her gaze for another moment before saying, “Yes, it is. Sleep well, Thea.”

  “Good night,” she muttered, and fled into the castle.

  “They’re very much alike,” Ware said as he watched Thea follow her sister into the castle. Selene had come, a new door had opened, and Thea had eagerly walked through it. Christ, he was hurting. “She’s like Thea.”

  Kadar shook her head. “Selene is like no one on this earth. She’s half sage, half imp, and all determination. Trying to keep her under control has been an interesting experience. She has a good heart, but she fights hard to make sure no one sees it. Thea is much softer.”

  Yet Thea had struggled to give him neither trust nor affection, Ware thought. Even when she had decided she must allow him to come close, she had been defiant. He remembered the night she had come to him and told him he was her friend whether or not it pleased him. “You’re wrong. They are alike.”

  Kadar turned to look at him. “You seem very certain. You’ve come to know Thea?”

  “How could I help it?” Ware said dryly. “You gave me into her charge.”

  Kadar smiled. “But one never knows how such forays will succeed.”

  Ware changed the subject. “What news in Acre?”

  “Nothing of import. Minor skirmishes between Saladin and the Franks. Has there been trouble here?”

  “Yes, Vaden came.” He started up the steps. “I don’t know how long it will be safe for Thea to remain here. I thought—but everything has changed. We might have to find them a haven.”

  “Damascus? That’s where she wants to go. A city held by Saladin would be safer for her than one held by Christians.”

  Ware looked over his shoulder at the third mountain. “No, not Damascus.”

  “Are you hungry? Have you supped?” Thea asked as she led Selene through the hall toward the staircase.

  “Yes, I was so excited I wanted to go on, but Kadar insisted we stop at sundown to eat.” She frowned. “He’s very stubborn.”

  And Selene was not? Thea smothered a smile as she thought of the battles that must have occurred between them on the journey. “But very kind.”

  “When he wishes to be,” Selene acceded grudgingly. “But he is like Lord Ware. There’s a darkness about him.”

  “You’ve just met Lord Ware. You cannot know his character.”

  Selene shrugged. “One would have to be blind not to see the darkness. Kadar’s darkness is not as evident, but it may be deeper because it lies hidden.” She changed the subject. “Kadar was very careful after we reached Acre. Is there something to fear here?”

  “He did not tell you?”

  “He said you would tell me.” She grimaced. “I think he did not wish me to worry on the journey. As if not knowing of danger would keep me from worrying. Kadar is more clever than most, but he sometimes still thinks like a man.”

  “A grievous fault,” Thea agreed. “You admit he’s clever, then?”

  “I hid myself very well in the bazaar and he still found me. He stalked me, set a trap, and then he caught me.” There was a hint in Selene’s voice of the same pride Thea had heard in Kadar’s. “Yes, Kadar is clever.” She scowled. “Even if he always does wish his own way.”

  “Well, you need not be bothered with him any longer now that you’ve reached Dundragon.” She started up the stairs. “And we shall be leaving soon.”

  “Well, actually, he’s not bad company when he’s not ordering me about,” Selene admitted as she followed her. “And he promised to show me his falcons. Are they very beautiful?”

  “Yes, though I’ve never seen them in flight.”

  “Then how can you judge? I would have made him—”

  “I had other things on my mind,” Thea interrupted. “And Kadar responds more to requests than orders.”

  Selene nodded reluctantly. “I’ve found that also.” She went back to her original question. “What danger lies here?”

  “Lord Ware has powerful enemies. I will tell you about it tomorrow. You need rest now.”

  To Thea’s surprise Selene did not argue. “I’m dirty and smell of horse.” She yawned. “I’ll not be a pleasant bed companion.”

  “I can bear it.” She stopped at the top of the stairs and hugged the girl. “I can bear anything now that you’re here and safe. Did I tell you how much I’ve missed you?”

  “Yes.” Selene grinned. “Though you seem to have kept yourself very busy.”

  Heat flooded Thea’s cheeks as she recalled how she had been busying herself only an hour ago. Did Selene mean—

  “You found us friends in this new land and even mulberry leaves to keep the silkworms alive. Kadar said Lord Ware found a grove of white mulberry trees.”

  Of course, that was what she meant, Thea realized with relief. The child had an uncanny perception, but she would never think of Thea in any carnal connection. “Yes, we transplanted five young trees on the green at the rear of the castle. Lord Ware is thinking of going into the silk trade. I promised to show him how to use the trees.”

  “Are they doing well?”

  “I think they’ll survive.”

  “Then we’ll be able to leave soon. Since you owe him a debt, I can see how you’d feel obliged to stay until you gave him what he needed.”

  The heat deepened in Thea’s cheeks. She had not given him what he needed. She had yielded to him her body, but she had not bestowed on him a child.

  Selene nodded with satisfaction. “If the trees are flourishing, you won’t have to stay.”

  “No, I won’t have to stay.” The thought brought a deep, wrenching pain. She had told Ware everything was different, and he had accepted it. She must do the same. She must forget about him. Selene and she would get on with their plans and their lives. They would be free, doing work they loved. It was what she had always wanted, the goal for which she had worked all her life. She should be soaring with happiness.

  “What’s wrong?” Selene’s gaze was on her face.

  “Nothing.” She gave her sister another quick hug before she set off down the hall. “It’s just that one becomes accustomed to a place, and Lord Ware has treated me with kindness.”

  “He doesn’t look like a kind man—but, then, people are often not what they seem.”

  Ware looked rough and hard and as dark as Selene had judged him. But he was also generous, protective, and intelligent. “He can be kind.”

  “You like him.”

  “We’ve grown accustomed to each other.” She would not evade the question; he deserved better from her. “Yes, I like him very much.?

  “Perhaps he can visit us in Damascus.”

  “No, that’s not possible.” Once she left Dundragon, she must cut the bond that had grown between them. Ware was safe at Dundragon; she would not see him endangered for her sake. The pain within her was growing deeper with each passing moment. She should have realized this would happen. She should have stopped the coupling; perhaps that would have lessened the bond. Too late now. Too late for anything but farewells.

  “I’ve opened the windows and freshened up your chamber.” Jasmine was coming down the hall toward them. “You’ll be sleeping in your own room tonight?”

  “Yes.” Thea gestured to Selene. “This is my sister, Selene. Jasmine has been helping me care for the trees.”

  Jasmine nodded. “It’s good she is here. When do you leave for Damascus?”

  Jasmine was as eager for her to leave Dundragon as was Selene. “Soon. But there’s no hurry. Selene has just arrived from one journey. We’re expecting a wagon of silk to arrive from Acre. We must be here to accept it.”

  Jasmine nodded reluctantly. “But you must not tarry too long.” She moved past them toward the staircase.

  Selene watched her before turning back to Thea. “She wishes you to go?”

  “I’ve promised her a place once we have our own house. You’ll grow to like Jasmine.”

  As Thea herself had grown to like her. She had developed a fondness for all these strange inhabitants of Dundragon. Jasmine, Abdul, even Tasza. And there was Haroun….

  The pain was returning and it must be banished. Her life here was over. She must stop thinking of anything but her hope for the future. She opened the door of her chamber. The shutters were still open, and the room smelled fresh and cool and familiar.

  “It is very grand, isn’t it?” Selene whispered, her eyes wide as her gaze traveled around the room. “This is all your own?”

  “None of this is ours. It’s pleasant enough, but we don’t belong in castles.” She moved brusquely forward to close the window. “We’ll find a place far less grand for our own in Damascus.” She paused, looking down at the green where she had joined with Ware in passion earlier that day. How long would it be before she could subdue this aching regret?