Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
"Hold a minute!" he called out, climbing from
the bed. As he stood up, he grabbed a torn curtain to steady
against a sudden wave of dizziness and waited on unsteady legs until it passed.
"Damn," he muttered.
How long would it be before he was free of the drug's
unpleasant aftereffects? He saw Leila glance furtively at him from the bench
where she was sitting, then she lowered her lashes and quickly resumed braiding
her hair, her exquisite
set obstinately as if
she was damned and determined to ignore him.
"Those men outside the door are my own knights,"
he sought to explain as he snatched a towel from the floor and slung it around
his hips. "Remember? I told you about them last night."
"They'll be traveling with us to Westminster. I
you were my wife, and he has
obviously informed them of that, but I'll set them straight when I introduce
Guy swallowed hard, acutely aware of what she must be
thinking about him. If she had hated him before, he could well imagine how much
she hated him now. He wanted to try and explain what had come over him last
night, but she probably didn't care to hear any explanations. Maybe an apology
. . .
"Leila, I'm sorry about—"
cut him off, meeting his eyes fully for the first time. "There is nothing
more to be said about it, Lord de
Ah, but there was more to be said about it, Guy
thought, seeing the hurt and defiance reflected in her unswerving gaze. Much
Everything was different between them now, whether she
realized it or not. He had reached a decision last night before the drug
overcame him. He had almost told her then; he certainly couldn't tell her now.
Not with his knights pacing restlessly outside the door. It was a delicate
matter, one that would have to wait until they were not pressed for time or
likely to be disturbed.
He could already imagine her indignant protests. But
when she heard everything he had to say, his argument would sway her. He was
certain of it. Just as he was certain he did not want to live his life without
her. She had become a part of him. He could not let her go.
"You might want to do something about that
," she continued tersely, glancing behind him
at the mattress. "I doubt you will want your knights to see what has
recently transpired in this room, especially when they discover that I am not
Guy's eyes riveted on the bright red splotches staining
the white linen.
Sharp regret shot through him for her lost innocence,
and even more so because he had taken it from her in such a ruthless manner.
But in the next instant he forced away his guilt and any niggling
self-reproach, convinced that what had happened unexpectedly between them had
freed him from an impossible dilemma.
He was in love with Leila.
He had known it since that afternoon on the Rhone, and
every mile they had traveled after that had driven home his realization with
astounding force. Yet he had tried to tell himself over and over that his was
an impossible love. Leila hated him too much and, even if she didn't, Roger
would never give his suit the time of day. Now that much at least had changed.
As soon as they reached London he would confront Roger
with the bloodied sheet and demand Leila's hand in marriage. By taking her
virginity, he had made his inviolable claim upon her.
A claim Roger
not be able to ignore, no matter the fierce hatred between them.
That grim truth had been his final conscious thought
before the drug enveloped him last night.
He turned back to Leila and gave voice to the question still
troubling him. Could he dare to hope her hate was not so strong toward him
"When I blacked out, Leila, you stayed. Why?"
Her beautiful eyes flared angrily at him, giving him a
heated answer before she even spoke. "You collapsed upon me, my lord. I
could barely breathe, let alone escape. If you had not done so" —she
jutted her chin defiantly— "believe me, I would not be here this morning
but many, many miles away."
Oddly, her bitter words did not discourage him or douse
his hope. He knew there was great pain and anger behind them. If anything, they
only heightened his resolve.
Once they were married, somehow he would make amends.
He was determined that one day she would grow to love him as much as he loved
her. She already desired him. Her unbridled response to his lovemaking had
proved it once and for all. Surely such passion could lead to affection and then
love. Yes, it was a start.
"Believe me, my lady," he replied with quiet
certainty, "if you had fled, I would not have rested until I found you."
The air seemed to crackle with tense silence until
another sharp rap came upon the door.
"My lord! How long will you leave us standing in
this drafty hall? From your delay, I can guess your lady must be very beautiful
"Your impatience is as strong as ever, Langton,"
Guy called out, leaving Leila to glare after him while he strode around the bed
and pulled another pair of
from his saddlebag.
As he yanked on the short trousers, he glanced at the
telltale bloodstains and quickly decided his knights should see them. It was
best he had witnesses to counter any of Roger's expected and vehement
objections. He tied the drawstring at his waist as he walked to the door.
, my lord!"
Leila hissed, jumping up from the bench. Her cheeks colored as Guy ignored her
and flung open the door.
What could he possibly be thinking?
raged silently as two mailed knights entered the room, neither man as tall or
as broad as Guy but both forbidding in their glinting armor.
She clasped her hands together tightly, mortally
embarrassed. Guy hadn't even bothered to dress. It was almost as if he was
flaunting her disgrace before their very eyes!
"By God, de
this is certainly a grand surprise!" the knight with long, reddish-blond
hair exclaimed as he embraced Guy heartily, clapping his bare back. "We
didn't expect to see you until long after Lord Edward's coronation. Are
Reginald and the others in
"We'll talk of that later, Henry," Guy said,
greeting the other knight, a robust, swarthy man, with a firm handclasp. "Robert.
From a man who is usually so serious, your grin tells me that the wenches here
have been treating you well."
"Aye, my lord, well indeed. But a fighting man can
stand only so much frivolity. Langton and I were planning to ride out tomorrow,
but a day earlier suits me just fine."
Henry said without waiting for Guy's introduction, his green eyes sparkling
with good humor as he strode toward her.
This freckled knight wasn't forbidding at all now that
he was up close, Leila decided, offering him a small smile because he seemed so
genuinely friendly. Yet her warmth faded quickly when Guy approached with the
other man close behind him. She drew herself up proudly, saying to Langton, "You
have been misinformed, my lord. I am not—"
"Sir Henry Langton, Sir Robert
Allow me to introduce Lady Leila
interrupted smoothly, his eyes fixed warmly on her face. "I am escorting
her to her brother, Roger."
Henry asked, glancing uncertainly from Guy to Leila.
"Yes. Lady Leila and I became acquainted" —he
put an odd stress on the word— "in the Holy Land. We're not husband and
wife, as the
claimed. I have been saying so
to protect the lady during our long
"Ah. I see," Henry said, clearly confounded.
Nonetheless, he bowed gallantly. "
, my lady, it matters naught. I am most pleased to
"As am I," Robert stated, staring at her
Apparently his knight's frank admiration was too
blatant for Guy's liking. He abruptly moved behind her and rested his hands on
her shoulders, his fingers idly playing with her braid. "We have much to
discuss, my lords, but first Leila and I must finish packing. We can talk
further on the road to Paris."
Bristling at his nearness, yet also crazily unsettled
by it, Leila fought to restrain an urge to give Guy a sharp elbow in the ribs.
It was clear from the subdued expressions of the knights that they had taken
full note of Guy's infuriatingly possessive stance.
"Yes. Yes, of course, my lord," Henry said in
a much less effusive tone. "Lady Leila. We are honored to share your
Leila watched in mute horror as Henry turned to go and
stopped abruptly, his broad shoulders tensing as his gaze fell on the bed. Yet
he said nothing and neither did
, who was also
staring at the bloodied sheet. As the two men glanced at the torn curtains and
the mess of food, wine, and broken pottery splattered beneath the overturned
table, she lowered her eyes, wishing that the floor would simply open up
beneath her and swallow her whole.
"Find us some breakfast that we can eat on the
road, hire three swift horses, and meet us in front of the tavern in fifteen
minutes," Guy commanded as the two knights left the room, Henry looking
troubled as he shut the door behind them.
Leila could restrain herself no longer. Trembling with
anger, she whirled on Guy. "Do you mind telling me why you have chosen to
humiliate me in this manner? I cannot believe—"
She was stunned into breathless silence when he stroked
her cheek very, very gently with his knuckle and stared into her eyes. For a
dizzying moment she forgot all else but her inexplicable attraction to him,
which was turning her insides into liquid cascades of warmth.
"Not now, Leila. In due time."
As he walked away she could only gape at him, feeling
so flustered and furious she did not trust herself to speak. And she had been
doing so well, too, until he had touched her! When he turned his back to her
and began to dress, she wheeled around and went in a huff to the open window,
clasping her arms tightly over her breasts.
No, you must fight these feelings! You must, you must!
charged herself. This barbarian means nothing to you.
Nothing at all! Remember that!
Though painfully aware of his every movement, his every
breath, she ignored him until she heard a loud ripping sound. She whirled to
find him tearing the offensive
pieces, then folding the bloodied portion and stuffing it into his saddlebag!
what are you doing?"
"I take it you are ready to leave?" he
queried, dodging her shrill question. His eyes held a strange, disconcerting
light as he perused her appearance from head to toe in a most intimate fashion,
causing her to shiver. "Your saddlebag is packed?"
"Of course it is packed!" Leila blurted, her
cheeks burning. "I never had a chance to pull out my
if you recall, only that . . . that cursed bar of soap!"
He gave no reply, only smiled at her as he strode
and picked up the saddlebag. "Then
let us go, my lady. My men
"No!" she cried, her racing emotions making
her reckless. "I won't go until you explain why you are taking that
wretched piece of linen with you. Tell me, Lord de
Is it merely a barbaric custom among English knights to keep a bloody memento
of each unfortunate maiden they deflower, or is the
for some darker purpose known only to your black and treacherous heart?"
"As I said a few moments ago, all will be revealed
to you in good time," Guy stated very softly, his smile gone. "Now,
my lady, my shoulders can easily bear both the weight of these saddlebags and
you. Make your choice and make it quick. Either walk downstairs or I shall
Suddenly fearful, Leila snapped her mouth shut. His
forbidding expression told her he meant exactly what he said. Without another
word she whisked her hooded cloak around her shoulders and stormed out the
"My lord, may I have leave to speak frankly?"
wiping the cold salt spray from his
reddened face as another choppy wave broke against the prow of the Channel
Guy did not immediately answer, his eyes trained on the
distant cliffs of Dover. Stark and silent, the chalk precipices rose like
welcoming sentinels beneath the cloudy autumn sky.
England. There had been a time while in that Damascus
prison when he thought he would never see those familiar cliffs again. Never
Castle or his son Nicholas, or Philip,
his half brother and one of his most trusted counselors. Now they were within
an hour of making shore, the worst of the journey behind them. The wild exhilaration
he had experienced upon boarding the barge in Calais with Leila at his side had
been indescribable and it lingered still hours later.
"I heard you, Langton." Guy's exhilaration
was tempered by the somber note in Henry's usually animated voice. He already
had a good idea what was weighing on his loyal knight's mind. "You may
speak." Guy heard him take a deep breath and he took one as well, filling
his lungs with the bracing sea air.