Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
Her anxiety mounted as she scrutinized the contents for
signs of bubbling, expecting Guy to walk into the room at any moment and
discover her furtive plot.
"Please . . . please boil," she begged
desperately, beginning to think the potent brew would not be ready before he
She could not believe it when at last there
a hissing sound as the boiling liquid splashed inside
the cup. Using a fold of her
to cover her
hand, she grabbed the small vessel just as footsteps sounded outside the door.
She had barely set the cup beneath the bed and straightened up, busying herself
with closing the velvet curtains, when Guy entered, carrying a pair of
saddlebags. He regarded her curiously.
"I expected to find you at your bath, my lady. The
servants came back downstairs almost ten minutes ago."
Leila's heart was pounding so hard she could swear he
would hear it. "I—I did not feel safe. There are so many men in this
tavern, and the door was unlocked. I couldn't bolt it for fear you might think
I had locked it against you . . . so I decided to wait."
"Ah." Guy turned and bolted the door. His
expression was somber as he faced her again, his eyes bright with an emotion
she could not place. "There. You are safe. No need to hesitate any longer."
Clearing his throat, he strode to the other side of the bed and pulled the
curtains shut, blocking him from her view. "As for
she heard him say as the saddlebags hit the floor with a loud thud, followed by
his hauberk, "I'm going to enjoy this bath while the water is still hot."
Leila winced as the sounds coming from beyond the
curtains told her that he was swiftly undressing. Courage, courage, she
She heard bare footfalls and almost jumped out of her
skin when Guy rounded the corner post. Her astonished gaze skipped to his
, the only garment he was still wearing, and a scanty
one at that, and back to his face again.
"Your things, my lady." He tossed a saddlebag
near her feet. "I bought you some rose-scented soap. It's what you like,
She gave a small nod.
"Good. You'll find it in the front of the bag."
He disappeared around the bed, and Leila chewed her
lower lip, becoming angry with herself. She would never succeed unless she took
charge of her emotions! Everything she did from this moment on would have to
seem guileless or her plan would fail.
She heard a splash and squared her shoulders, taking
several deep and steadying breaths. Quickly she shed her clothing until she had
on nothing but her linen
, which she guessed
might please him because of the way the thin fabric clung to her body. Stifling
a sudden twinge of apprehension, she moved to the table where a half dozen wine
bottles stood, silent reminders of her plot.
"Some wine, Lord de
she asked, and was not surprised when the sounds of his bathing ceased. No
doubt he was stunned that she would even think to inquire after his needs. She
hastened with a feasible explanation. "If you'd like I could bring it to
you, otherwise you will have to wait until I finish my bath."
There was a long pause,
he said quietly, "As you wish."
Her heart battering against her breast, Leila opened a
bottle and filled one of the pewter mugs the serving girl had left on the
table. Then she knelt beside the bed and very carefully, very quietly, added
some of the liquid from the tin cup, taking care that no sediment from the
poppies flowed into the wine. After stirring the drink, she took a tiny sip.
She detected no bitterness at all.
Leila rose and walked around the bed, biting her lips
to make them lush and red. Her eyes widened as she cleared the opposite
and she gasped, her breath frozen in her throat.
She was not prepared for the heart-stopping sight that greeted her.
Guy was standing in the water, his long hair slicked
back from his forehead, his heavily muscled body lathered with soap. Too late
she realized he was much, much too large for the tub.
Had he no sense of decency? Why hadn't he wrapped a
towel around himself if he knew she would find him like this? "Your—your
wine," she barely managed, her hands trembling as she offered him the
He took the mug, and she started as his wet fingers
brushed hers. She nervously inched a few steps backward.
She had seen him naked in prison, and partially clad
many times during the past weeks in their shared lodgings, but this time was
different. From the smoldering heat in Guy's eyes, she knew he sensed it, too.
Now that she was this close to him, she didn't dare take her eyes from his face.
She was afraid of what she might see, even though it was her intent to arouse
"Thank you, Leila." He took a long draft,
lowered the mug. His gaze trailed slowly up her body
from her bare toes to her breasts swelling against the
lingered there, then moved to her parted lips.
Leila unconsciously licked them, feeling that same
strange sensation of inner melting. When he stared into her eyes, his desire
written plainly for her to see, she wanted to run. But her feet seemed to be
rooted to the floor.
"Your bath grows cold, my lady."
Leila blinked, his husky voice releasing her. "Yes.
Yes, you're right. Excuse me."
She spun and fled, her face burning, supremely grateful
for the shelter of the curtains. She had anticipated his reaction to her
appearance, but she had hardly expected her own flustered response. She fought
to still her trembling and pressed her hands to her flushed cheeks.
Her plan was working well, almost too well. How easy it
was to deceive a man! She heard Guy resume his bathing, and she quickly decided
to do one last thing before she began her own ablutions.
Taking the pitcher front table, she quietly emptied the
water into the tub,
refilled it with wine. Lastly
she added the opiate, pouring the remainder of the cup's steeped contents into
the pitcher except for the sediment, which she tossed out the open window.
Since she had no idea how she would manage to drug his wine once the curtains
were opened, it was better to do so now.
Leila set the tin cup on the table and then wrenched
her shift over her head. Her nipples hardened from the cool breeze wafting in
the window. She eased herself into the tub, amazed that the water still held
warmth. She splashed her face and throat. Rivulets trickled between her
breasts. How wonderful the water felt after weeks of sponge bathing!
And how wonderful it would be when she was home again
and could enjoy a proper bath under the ministrations of her odalisques, she
mused, glancing down at the ebony triangle between her thighs. Those short
curls were indecent, and she couldn't wait to be rid of them, but there wasn't
anything to be done about it until she returned to Damascus. The way this night
was progressing, that hope seemed brighter than ever.
Eagerly Leila unbraided her hair, for the moment
thinking more about the pleasure of her bath than her plot of escape. Holding
on to the rim, she lowered her head back in the water to wet her long, rippling
tresses. Only then did she remember the soap in the saddlebag.
Rising up on her knees, Leila reached over the rim and
grabbed one end of the saddlebag, dragged it toward her, and flipped it open.
She fumbled for the soap, found it, and was twisting around to settle in the
water once more when she cried out in pain, her scalp tingling. Some of her
hair was caught between two wooden staves on the other side of the tub.
Guy's concerned query. "Nothing . . . I'm fine," she lied, tugging at
her hair and wincing. It would not come loose!
How terribly awkward, she thought, lowering herself as
far as possible into the tub even though the water was barely deep enough to
cover her breasts. Now she would have to ask Guy . . .
Her lips curved into a slow smile as she realized how
perfectly this clumsy situation could further her plan. If Guy saw her like
this, his lust could not help but he aroused. No doubt he would
her hair and then immediately seek solace from the
pitcher of wine while she continued to bathe. If he drank it down to the dregs,
and quickly, he would be out cold within the hour.
She shivered, not knowing if she did so from anxiety or
excitement at the thought that she might soon escape Guy de
forever. Gulping a deep breath, she called out, "My lord, could you please
help me? My hair is caught in this tub and I can't move."
Guy froze, a wool towel pressed so tightly against his
chest he could feel his rampant heartbeat right through it. The rhythm seemed
to match exactly the thundering pulsation in his loins. He was so hard, it
He groaned, cursing under his breath. God help him, he
had known that bathing together, even on opposite sides of the room, would be a
bad mistake. He should never have agreed. Surely he hadn't heard her correctly.
He exhaled sharply and stepped from the tub. Now he
knew he hadn't imagined her request. But still he hesitated.
Was Leila out of her mind? Could it be possible she was
oblivious to her maddening effect on him? When she had brought him the wine, it
was all he could do not to sweep her into the tub with him. She might as well
have been standing there naked for all the covering the flimsy shift had
provided her, her dark woman's hair a taunting shadow beneath the white fabric.
By heaven, why was he being so sorely tested, and less than four days' journey
"Damn," Guy muttered, fastening a towel
securely around his hips. He knew it
his turgid and increasingly uncomfortable condition, but his
wouldn't do any better. No amount of willpower could
make this erection go away. As soon as he helped her, he would have to take
care of it himself.
Draining his mug, Guy decided he would rather endure a
trial by ordeal—carrying a red-hot iron bar three paces or picking a stone from
a vat of boiling water—then walk around this bed. If there had ever been a sure
test of his self-control, it was this one.
He swallowed hard as he approached the tub. Leila's
slender back was to him, and he saw the problem immediately. Somehow her wet
hair had snagged in the opposite staves. He would have to walk around . . .
"What took you so long, my lord?" Leila
asked, trying to keep the nervousness from her voice as she sensed him behind
her. She made no move to cover herself, yet she felt extremely vulnerable as
she heard him draw closer. "Do you see what has happened?"
"Yes, I can see well enough," Guy answered
thickly, his gaze raking over her as he walked around the tub. "How did
you manage to do this anyway?"
"Reaching for the saddlebag. I was trying to get
my soap . . ." She faltered, gasping slightly as she noticed the obvious
swelling beneath the towel slung low around his hips. She quickly averted her
At least he was wearing a towel this time, she thought
gratefully, though from the way he was looking at her, she wished she had one
with which to cover herself, too. She decided he was aroused enough. She didn't
need to help him along in that direction. She slowly crossed her arms over her
breasts and drew her knees up to hide her lower body, her movements causing
another sharp tug to her scalp.
"Ouch!" she exclaimed softly, sucking in her
breath. "Please, my lord. It hurts."
Guy smiled grimly at her remark. Surely her pain had to
be slight compared to his discomfort.
Leila was as bewitching a water nymph as he had
imagined she would be, even more so. He could almost feel the devil breathing
down his neck, for if there had ever been a time he was tempted to break an
oath . . .
Guy clenched his teeth, attempting to concentrate on
his task as he knelt and began to work at the two staves.
To his relief, her hair came free in seconds, and he
rose to his feet, trying not to stare at her lithe white limbs and her
glistening wet breasts, but finding it impossible. When had he ever seen
another woman so fair?
"Thank you, my lord," she murmured, her eyes
glittering like amethyst gems in the soft lamplight. "There is wine in
that pitcher . . . perhaps you might pour yourself some while I finish my bath."
He glanced at the table, thinking he could use another
drink. Anything to kill the desire in him that was threatening to rage out of
Guy poured himself a brimming
and promptly drank it; he was downing his third when he staggered slightly into
the table. Several tin cups clattered to the floor, sounding strangely loud and
ringing in his ears.
What was the matter with him?
wondered, setting down the mug as he bent to pick up the cups. It usually took
much more than three glasses of wine for him to feel any adverse effects. More
like three bottles.
Guy stacked the cups together and was about to rise
when he spied something stuck to the bottom of one of them. "The serving
women didn't clean out these cups," he muttered with mild disgust. The
encrusted matter was a dull brownish-red color and shaped oddly like flower
What the devil? If he did not know better, he would say
it was . . .
He sniffed inside the cup, and the faint, disagreeable
smell confirmed his niggling suspicion even as he heard Leila rise abruptly
from the tub behind him, water splashing onto him. The chilling realization
sweeping over him was like a knife in his back.