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Lion s Bride 32
She tugged at his hand. “Lie with me.”
He was on the bed but lying apart from her. “I cannot go with you to Scotland. Your danger would increase tenfold if I—”
“And your child will have no father to protect him if you do not come.” She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed the palm. “Shh, don’t think of Scotland. Is this not pleasant?”
“No. Yes.” He did not look at her. “If one likes excruciating pain. I’ve heard some take pleasure in it.”
She kissed his palm again. “They must be very peculiar folk. I promise you there will be no pain for you in my body.”
A great sigh racked his body. “You’re a cruel, cruel woman.”
“Because I must have my way in this? It’s taken us too long and the path has been too painful.” She whispered, “I love you and I will love no other. I don’t wish to spend my life alone. We must give ourselves a chance. Do you think this is easy for me? My body craves you, not a babe. It’s been a long time since you—”
He gave an explosive sound and was suddenly over her, parting her thighs. “Too long,” he muttered as he tore off his tunic and threw it aside. “I cannot stand—”
He plunged deep.
She gasped and reached out and grasped his shoulders.
The sensation lasted only an instant, replaced by heat and need as he thrust wildly, deeply. “Take…,” he muttered. He lifted her buttocks to meet each savage thrust. It wasn’t enough. It was as if he were starved and could not get deep enough, move fast enough, hard enough. He lifted her legs and put them over his shoulders, leaving her open and vulnerable. “Look—at us.”
She dazedly looked down at their joining and another surge of dark excitement rippled through her. It seemed impossible she could take him, and yet she was. Over and over. Deeper, deeper.
She bit her lower lip to suppress a groan as the tension built to unbearable heights.
His hands were on her, smoothing her, plucking at her.
Her back arched as a spasm shook her.
She was panting, her nails digging into his shoulders.
“Yes.” His lips were drawn back from his teeth in a contorted grin. “Too—long. It—hurts. I can’t be—” He gave a low groan as he plunged to the hilt.
He collapsed on top of her as his release tore through him. His heart was beating so hard, she could nearly hear its thunder.
“I didn’t want—” He gasped. “You see what—I am? I cannot even be gentle. I nearly tore you apart.”
She couldn’t answer until she got her breath. “I seem to be in one piece.” She brushed her lips along his cheek. “But this position is not—natural to me. Not that I minded it when we—”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t think—” He was moving off her, his arms enfolding her. “I had to have more of you.”
“You didn’t hurt me. I don’t remember complaining.” Not that she had been able to think at all during those wild moments. “You gave me exactly what I wanted.”
“Too much.” His palm rubbed her belly. “If you’re not with child tonight, it will be a miracle.”
“No, if I’m with child tonight, it will be a miracle. A child is always a miracle.” She smiled. “You did very well. However, I believe we will do it again soon. It’s very convenient that we have little else to do while we wait for Kadar to smooth the way for us. I find I’ve missed this very much.”
He chuckled. “It will be my pleasure. I’m relieved it’s not just my seed you wish.”
“A babe would not be necessary so soon if you weren’t such a stubborn man. I must tie you to me in every way I can, or you’ll start having qualms about doing what must be done.”
“Wedding you and getting you with child?”
“And living with me for many, many years.”
“Years…,” he repeated wistfully. “You seem so certain. I cannot believe. I can only hope.”
“At least you hope. I was beginning to think you’d remain lost in gloom forever. I was growing very weary of it.” She said with emphasis, “But I believe. That is enough.”
“It appears it will have to be.” He kissed her on the tip of the nose. “For you have me too muddled and bedazzled to put two thoughts together.”
“Do I?” Her arms tightened around him. “Good. For that was my purpose. When you think, I have only trouble with you.”
His expression clouded. “I should think. I should not let you—”
“Hush.” She followed the command with a quick, hard kiss. “You see? Nothing but disturbance. We deserve this and I’ll not permit you to spoil it.” She pushed him back on the bed and rolled on top of him. “Though after El Sunan you must prove to me that you deserve me.”
“I don’t deserve you. And I cannot prove what isn’t true.”
She could feel tears sting her eyes. She swallowed hard. “I’ll endeavor to keep you firmly of that belief. You’re a proud, arrogant man, and it’s taken me much too long to convince you of my worth.”
“You didn’t convince me, I always knew it. You are sunlight and strength and joy.” He added simply, “And that’s why I will love you to my last breath.”
Dear God, it was dangerous to love a man this much. This was what she had feared, that love would leave her vulnerable. She could not be flippant or raise any barriers against him when he moved her like this.
His index finger traced her jawbone. “I would like to give you a gift. Women like gifts, don’t they?”
“I suppose everyone likes gifts.”
“What can I give you?”
He might already have given her the gift she had demanded of him. But she would not speak of the babe until they were safely away from this land.
“Only one thing,” she whispered.
“Smile. You are too grim. You must smile more.” She smiled herself, but she knew it to be a poor, tremulous one. “A husband should look happy, or everyone will think you’ve taken a terrible shrew for a wife.”
It was close to dawn when Kadar returned to the chamber.
Selene watched him move like a shadow toward his pallet. She would not feel this overwhelming relief. He had been foolish not to heed her plea.
“Say it,” Kadar said as he lay down. “Or you will surely burst.”
“Then you don’t deserve to be alive.”
“The deserving don’t always get their just rewards.” He rolled over and pulled up his cover. “If you’re finished, I’d like to go to sleep.”
“I’m finished.” She lay there a minute longer. “Kemal’s men would have butchered us if given the opportunity. They almost killed Lord Ware.”
“Then you should feel no guilt.”
“I feel no guilt.”
“I think you do.”
“You’re wrong. Once the decision to kill is made, I feel nothing. I’ve been well trained.”
She was suddenly aware of an aura of remote hardness surrounding him that frightened her. “By that foul Old Man. You’re not like him.”
“He thinks I am.” He paused. “I don’t really want to argue with you anymore tonight. Do you suppose you could restrain yourself and go back to sleep?”
His voice was heavy with unutterable weariness, and for some reason that exhaustion only made her angrier. “You won’t sleep.”
“Of course I will.”
The certainty in his tone increased her uneasiness. She sat up and lit the candle on the table next to the bed.
He turned his face to look at her. “Blow out the candle.”
The flame was reflected in his dark eyes, but they mirrored no warmth. Cold. Cold and yet as burning as the eyes of the Old Man of the Mountain.
She stared at him as stunned as if she had been pierced with a sword. Panic tore through her.
No, by the Saints, she would not permit this
She threw aside the cover, ran across the room, and dropped to her knees beside him. “You must not do this again. It’s bad for you.”
“I assure you, it was far worse for Kemal’s men.”
“I don’t care about them.” She took his hands in her own. How strange that they were warm when he seemed so remote and cold. “I don’t like to see you like this. Do you hear me?”
“I could hardly help it.” He paused. “Aren’t you afraid to touch my hands? There’s blood on them, you know. Only figuratively speaking. I was careful to wash when I reached the courtyard.”
He was trying to jar her, push her away, so that he could retain that hard, hollow core. Her hands tightened on his. “Stop trying to make me afraid of you. I’m not going to let you go.”
“Because you’re—” She stopped. There might be only one way to reach him, but it was the most difficult for her. She said haltingly, “I need you the way you were.”
“Need?” He arched a brow. “You?”
“Stop mocking me. Thea’s going away from me. I need someone to be there.”
“So you choose my unworthy self.”
“I won’t be alone. It…hurts.”
“Does it?” He gazed up at her face. “Poor Selene. It must hurt very much to bring you to me.”
“You’re the only one I can go to. You know me. You’ve always known me.” She paused. “And I know you.”
He shook his head.
“I do. I’ve always known what you are. I don’t care.”
He studied her for a long time before saying slowly, “I believe you. Extraordinary.”
“So you must come back to me. I won’t be alone again.” Her eyes met his, demanding, fierce, compelling, before she threw herself down beside him and buried her face in the hollow of his shoulder. “I won’t have you leave me and become like that man.”
He stiffened in surprise. “Get up and go to your bed, child.”
“So that you won’t rape me as the Old Man would?”
“Don’t be stupid. I would never—” He broke off and chuckled. “Very clever. Strike where you know there is no armor.”
She didn’t feel clever, she felt desperate and afraid, but the darkness around him was lessening a little. “It’s hard for me to lie here. I don’t like to touch people.”
“It makes you uneasy to lower your guard.”
Were the muscles of his body loosening? He seemed less stiff and resisting. “See, I told you that you knew me. You don’t touch people either.” She amended, “Except when you rut with the women at Dundragon, and that doesn’t count.”
“You knew about that?”
She ignored the question. “All men rut, but lust is different from affection. Affection makes one hurt when people go away. My mother went away, and now Thea is going too.”
“Thea would never leave you.”
“But she’ll never belong to me in the same way again. You’ll probably go away too, but I won’t have you go like this. There’s no reason why you can’t stay with me now.” She paused. “Is there?”
She held her breath, waiting.
He did not reply.
She tried to keep the panic from her voice. “Answer me.”
His hand hovered over her hair like the delicate brush of the wings of a butterfly, scarcely a touch at all.
“You’re not going to give up, are you?”
“You’d really be much better off without me, you know.”
She was almost limp with relief. He was hers.
He sat up and gathered her in his arms. “And I’d be much better off with a few hours’ rest.” He stood up and carried her to the bed. He covered her with the blanket with great care and stood looking down at her. “Will you go to sleep now?”
“Of course. Do you think I’d lie awake and dwell on this nonsense if there was no need?”
He chuckled. “Not you, Selene.” His smile faded. “What would you have done if I hadn’t decided—”
“Anything,” she answered simply. “My first thought was to hit you on the head, sling you over your horse, and ride out of here.”
He said solemnly, “How fortunate for me that you didn’t have to resort to such measures.”
“I thought so too.” She closed her eyes. “And I don’t want to worry anymore about your going to Kemal’s camp. Think of something else.”
“Yes, my lady.”
She yawned. “And we must find a way to retrieve those boxes of embroidery from the grove.”
“Yes.” She said haltingly, “It seems fitting that you hold my hand until I go to sleep…if you don’t mind. Only for tonight, you understand.”
“I don’t mind.” He sat down on the bed. “I agree. It’s entirely fitting.”
His hand enfolded hers. Comfort. Warmth. Safety. She could feel him hovering over her, extending his protection like the dark wings of a falcon.
A falcon. She fought off slumber long enough to murmur, “Eleanor and Henry. We’ll have to get your falcons….”
Dawn poured through the narrow window, painting a strip of brilliant light on the coverlet.
Kadar shifted a few inches on the bed to block it from Selene’s face. The child was sleeping deeply, trustingly, her hand holding his even in slumber, refusing to let him go.
So much fire and determination. He had never dreamed anyone would ever care enough to venture into the darkness to pull him into the light. He felt bewildered and awkward and filled with a strange sense of wonder.
And a stranger sense of grace.
“Selene informs me that my way of ridding ourselves of Kemal is without merit,” Kadar said when Ware opened the door to his knock. “It seems we will have to decide on a new plan of action.” His gaze went beyond Ware to Thea, who was clutching the blankets to her breasts. “Good afternoon, Thea. You look very…rested.”
Heat flushed her cheeks. “Where is Selene?”
“Still sleeping. She had a troubled night.” He entered the chamber. “Put on your tunic, Ware. We must talk, and it’s clear Thea is not comfortable with your nakedness.”
Ware bent down, retrieved the garment from the floor, and pulled it over his head. “What plan?”
Kadar dropped down into the chair and stretched his legs out before him. “I hoped you would have an idea. After all, you’re the warrior. Whatever it is, it must be soon. Sinan may lose patience, since I’ve chosen not to amuse him any longer. He’s most unpredictable when he doesn’t get what he wants.”
“How much time do we have?”
“I can stave him off a few days, perhaps.”
“Will you be safe long enough for me to bring Abdul and my troops here from the border?”
Kadar tilted his head, considering. “Three days there, three days back. It’s possible.”
“Don’t tell me it’s possible. I have to know.”
“I can do it.” His lips curved ruefully. “Though Selene may not be pleased with my methods. You will leave at once?”
“As soon as darkness falls.”
“No,” Thea said. “I won’t have it. How will you get past Kemal?”
“With extreme care,” Kadar answered. “One rider might be able to do it if there is a distraction.” He shrugged. “And I’ll provide the distraction. It should not be difficult. Kemal’s men should be very nervous right now.” He snapped his fingers. “The death drums. They terrified them before. I’ll take a few of Sinan’s men and—”
“It’s too dangerous.” Neither of them were listening to her, she realized. She wrapped the coverlet around herself and stood up. “Even if you get past Kemal, what of the Templars? The whole countryside may be a battleground by now.”
“If it is, we’ll be helpless without an army.” Ware went to the washstand and splashed water onto his face. “It’s our only hope.”
“You’re too weak. You were lying almost dead a few days ago.”
He smiled. “Have I not proved my vigor?”
“Stop crowing like a rooster and listen to me. A ride like that could kill you.”
“It was my head, not my body that was hurt. My endurance is not harmed.” He crossed to stand before her. “Now, stop arguing and think. I’m a warrior. I can do this. My men will follow only me into battle, so I’m the only one who can do it. You know it.”
She did not want him to be right, but she could not deny it. “I don’t want—” She stopped and then said fiercely, “You will come back to me. And it won’t be with your stupid head crunched or a sword through your belly. Do you hear?”
“I hear you.” He tenderly brushed her cheek with his hand. “Did you ever hear such sweet words of parting, Kadar?”
“I’ve said all the sweet words you’ll hear from me until you return.” She had to steady her voice. “And this is the last time I’ll be put aside. Next time you go into battle, I go with you.”
“When we reach Scotland,” he promised. He brushed her cheek with his lips. “I’ll do the embroidering and you can wage war. You see, I’m jesting, and you’re the one who isn’t smiling.”
“This is not funny.” She gazed at him, outraged as she saw the eagerness in his expression. “You like this. You want to go.”
“What can I say? I am what I am. I’m tired of being helpless and glad to have something to do that may help us.” He turned away. “Come, Kadar, we must make sure my horse has rested enough to be able to make the journey.”
“You can switch horses when you reach the camp.” Kadar gave Thea a wary glance as he stood and followed Ware.
Ware had already forgotten her. No, not forgotten, but put her aside, she realized. Last night the power had been hers, but now he was in control.
And would she have really wanted it any other way? She wanted a strong man, not one who could be ruled by her.
Well, perhaps a man sometimes ruled by her. It would not hurt to take turns.
She just wished his turn had not come in a fashion that would put him in danger and make her feel this helpless.
But she was not helpless, and she would not accept that niggardly farewell. She dropped the cover and moved toward the washstand. She would dress and go to the stables and garner every bit of his company she could before he left Maysef.