Authors: Kinley MacGregor
At the mention of the baron and what he'd done, all the anger drained from his body.
“I didn't mean to strike him,” Draven whispered as horror whipped through him. “I was just so angry that I acted without thinking.”
He looked to Emily, who was again speaking with the nun and Joanne.
He clenched his hand as fear swept through him. “Had it been Emily I struck, the blow would have killed her.”
Simon gave an exasperated sigh. “You wouldn't have hit Emily.”
Draven couldn't take his gaze off of her. He had lost complete control of himself with Niles.
Dear God, what if it had been
What if one dayâ¦
He looked at Simon and remembered the time when they were children. The one time he had struck out at his brother.
They had been fighting verbally over something he no longer remembered when Simon had unexpectedly punched him in the jaw.
Angered by it, Draven had returned the blow. The strength of it caused Simon to reel backward and fall down the stairs.
Even now, he could see it in his mind as if it were happening right before him. Simon, his baby brother who had always meant more to him than his own life, falling to his rage. Draven had spent most of his childhood accepting his father's blows in Simon's stead.
How many times had he protected him?
Yet that day,
had been the one who had hurt Simon, his anger so great that he had struck out without any thought. If he lived to be a thousand years old, he would never forget the sight of his brother falling, the sound of Simon's body hitting the stairs, or the image of Simon's broken arm as he lay at the bottom of the stairs crying in pain.
Nay, he was his father's son, and though he might have a better rein on his temper than his father, Draven knew that once his rage took hold of him he was powerless against it.
If he could hit Simon, he could hit anyone.
His heart heavy, Draven rubbed a tired hand over his face. “'Tis only a matter of her making me angry enough.”
“Draven, you are notâ”
“Nay, brother. 'Tis a chance I can never take. Like my father, my rage is too intense when unleashed. My strength too great.”
He gave Simon a hard look. “Can you honestly say with perfect certainty that I would never harm her? Indeed, how many times have you yourself fled my presence when I lose my temper?”
Simon looked away, and Draven had his answer.
Even Simon knew it was a possibility. His own brother feared him.
With one last look at Emily, Draven felt the longing in his heart more profoundly than ever before.
But he could never take such a chance with her life. Never.
ater that night, Emily sat upstairs with her sisters Joanne and Judith in Joanne's bower. Everyone had retired long ago, and the three of them remained awake, whispering late into the night as they had done when they were little girls. Back then, they would spend hours upon hours together until the sun would rise or their father would hear their chattering and chastise them into their beds.
Judith had taken off her nun's habit, but her shorn brown hair was a stark contrast to their long blond braids. Even so, 'twas good to be sisters again, if only for the night.
She and Judith rested on the bed while Joanne took her usual seat in her chair before the window.
“Did you see the look of shock on Niles's face when Lord Draven struck him?” Joanne asked in a glee-filled voice.
Aghast, Emily and Judith exchanged puzzled looks. Joanne had never been one to condone violence of any sort.
How could she take such enjoyment from seeing her betrothed humiliated before their wedding guests?
Joanne sobered as she looked to Emily. “Lord Draven has never struck
, has he?”
“Nay,” Emily said quickly. “He is normally so well controlled that I cannot imagine what possessed him to strike out at Niles.”
Joanne stared out the window as if she pondered Emily's words.
Silence fell for several minutes while Emily and Judith watched Joanne's pensive face. Something wasn't right. Judith had confirmed her suspicions by telling Emily earlier she had noted the same peculiarities in Joanne.
“Tell me of your plans for Lord Draven,” Joanne said, her voice startling in the quiet. “How goes it?”
Emily squirmed uneasily. She loved Judith, but speaking about seducing a man she wasn't married to in front of her religious sibling was not something she relished.
Judith patted her hand. “Judge not, lest ye be judged. Have no fear of my censure, little sister. I am here tonight as your blood confidante. Tomorrow you may confess your sins to Father Richard.”
Emily smiled at Judith, grateful for her reprieve. Indeed, it hadn't been
long ago since Judith too had giggled with them about the prospect of marriage.
“There isn't much to report,” Emily said with a sigh. “In truth, Draven has proven to be most stubborn. He seems determined to remain unmarried.”
“Perhaps you should leave the matter be then,” Joanne whispered, her brow troubled.
Emily frowned. This wasn't the sister she knew.
“How does Lord Draven behave when you are alone with him?” Judith asked.
“He's courteous and kind, but part of the problem is that I am so very seldom alone with him, and while others are near, he won't come within three feet of me.” Emily looked at Joanne. “How did you get Niles alone?”
“I didn't,” Joanne said sheepishly. “Remember the night Father went to Cromby?”
“Niles came looking for him. You were abed with a headache, and he plied me with wine while we waited for Father to return.”
Judith gasped. “Joanneâ”
“Shh,” Joanne said. She looked away as a dark regret settled in her eyes. “I never told either of you the whole truth. I was too afraid you would tell Father and trap me here forever. You two have no idea how much I hate this place. I want my own hall where I may come and go at my leisure.” Her look turned hard. “I would say or do
to leave Warwick.”
A wave of apprehension went through Emily. She'd never heard such rancor from Joanne before. “I don't understand.”
Joanne leaned her head back in the chair and looked up at the ceiling as if blinking away tears. “I didn't know what I was doing that night. All I could think was that Niles was interested in me and if I did what he said, mayhap he would take me away from here forever.”
Joanne's voice shook from pent-up tears. “Niles led me to the pantry in the main hall. My head was spinning from the wine, and his kisses were unbelievably wondrous. I'd never been kissed before.”
Emily swallowed at the memory of Draven's lips on hers. If Niles's kiss had been anything like that, she could imagine how her sister's head had been turned.
Joanne rubbed her brow with her hand. “And then he started touching me. Oh Em, Jude, I was scared and confused and I didn't know what to do. I told him nay, but he kept on, and I was too terrified to call out lest someone find us there and blame me for it.”
“What are you saying, Joanne?” Judith asked.
“Did he force you?” Emily demanded.
Tears streamed down her face, but she wiped them away. “Not exactly. I was curious too, butâ¦”
“But?” they asked in unison.
Joanne sobbed. “It hurts so much when a man takes you. It felt as though he was cleaving me in twain. At first I thought 'twas because I was a virgin, but since then he has taken me three more times and it hurt every bit as much. Now all I can think of is how many more times I shall have to tolerate that awful pain.”
Judith leaned forward. “But you saidâ”
“I know what I said. I was afraid to tell you the truth.”
Emily left the bed and gathered Joanne into a tight hug. For several minutes she held on to her, letting her sob until she was spent.
Judith wet a cloth and brought it to them, then helped dry Joanne's tears.
When Joanne had regained some of her composure, she grabbed Emily's hand. “Please, Em,” she whispered. “Don't make my mistake. I'm no longer sure if life with Niles would be better than life here with Father.”
Emily squeezed her hand back.
“It's just jitters, isn't it?” Judith asked. “You're just afraid of leaving here tomorrow?”
Joanne swallowed. “Perhaps.”
Emily knelt before her chair. “You don't have to marry him, Joanne. You know that.”
“But the guestsâ”
“Won't care,” Emily interrupted. “They came for free food and drink and they've been served amply.”
“Emily!” Judith chastised. “How discourteous of you. I've never heard you say such before.”
Emily inclined her head sharply to Joanne to let Judith know what she had said she had said for the benefit of their older sister.
Joanne pulled back and stared into Emily's eyes. “Promise me you won't let Lord Draven take your virginity.”
“I don't want him to hurt you, Em. You can't imagine what it feels like when a man buries himself in you. And they don't stop until they're well sated, not even when you cry from the pain of it.”
Emily sat stunned as Joanne's words sank into her. Surely if Joanne were right Christina and Alys would have told her?
And there certainly had been no pain when Draven had touched her in Lincoln. But then again, he hadn't finished the deed.
Not that any of that mattered at the moment. Something needed to be done about the coming wedding. “I don't want you to marry Niles.”
Joanne looked at her aghast. “Butâ”
“Nay,” Emily said firmly, “we shall go to Father andâ”
“Em, I'm with child.”
Emily closed her eyes and held her sister's hand tightly.
“Then let us pray,” Judith whispered. “Surely God knows what is best.”
Draven leaned against the crenelated wall and stared at the moonlight-dappled moat far below. The late-night wind blew a chill through the air, but he didn't feel it.
His thoughts were on a winsome maid, with hair of gold and eyes of dark green.
He heard footsteps to his right.
Glancing, he did a double-take as he saw Emily approach. “Emily?”
She offered him a timid smile as she paused by his side and imitated his pose by folding her hands and leaning on her arms against the stone wall. “I thought I would find you here.”
Draven didn't bother making an excuse. She had learned weeks ago that he haunted the parapets at night like a troubled spirit seeking redemption.
“I fear I couldn't sleep if I had to,” he said quietly. “Simon snores like a charging boar.”
She laughed, but he noted the hint of sadness in her eyes.
“What troubles you, milady?”
“I need someone to talk to and there's no other I can trust.”
Her words surprised him. “You trust me?”
“Aye, I do.”
For the first time in his life he actually felt gallant as a swell of pride beat through him. “What do you need?”
“Why did you hit Niles?”
The tenderness fled as anger took root in his heart. So, she didn't trust him after all. She would yet question his actions.
“Don't be angry,” she said. “I am not fault-finding. My sister has told me things that make me doubt his character. From what I know of you, 'tis not like you to strike for no cause.”
“Your father swears otherwise.”
She gave him a peeved glare, the likes of which he'd not received since he lived with his own father, and he almost swore he could hear her call him beetle brain.
“I am not my father,” she said coldly. “I have spent several months with you now and I think I can judge your mettle on my own. Now, tell me why you struck him.”
Draven clenched his teeth. His first instinct was to remain silent, but somehow he found the truth coming out. “Montclef insulted your family.”
“My family?” she asked in disbelief. “I find it hard to imagine you would defend my father.”
She paused, then looked at him. “Niles insulted
, didn't he?”
Draven didn't answer.
She reached out and touched his right hand where a large bruise marred his knuckles. A tremor shook him as her warm hand enclosed around his.
“Montclef has a hard head.”
She gave a short laugh. And then he made the mistake of looking at her. Gentleness, warmth and concern met his gaze. He felt as though someone had just struck him in the gullet.
What would it be like to see that look for the rest of his life?
And then he noted her troubled brow. There was still something on her mind.
“Is there another matter?” he asked.
Releasing his hand, she looked away. “Can I ask you something that is awkward and embarrassing, but 'tis something I really need to know?”
Alarms went off in his head. He felt like a hare trapped by a pack of wolves. “If you mustâ¦”
She nodded. “Before I ask, I want you to know that this is not part of my attempt to get you to marry me. This is simply one friend to another.”
He cocked his head. That voice was back in his head telling him to run as fast as his legs could carry him.
Like a fool, he didn't move.
“One friend to another. Very well, milady, ask away.”
“Does it hurt whenâ¦”
Draven waited expectantly, but she said nothing more. Instead, she looked as if she might be blushing and she refused to look at him.
Draven tilted his head to catch her gaze, but she tucked her chin to her chest and studied her folded hands.
“Does it hurt when what?” he prompted.
She met his gaze for only an instant, then she looked up at the star-filled sky.
“Does it hurt when youâ” and then her words were lost behind the hand she rubbed over her lips.
“I didn't understand that last bit.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then blurted out, “Does it hurt when a man enters a woman?”
He couldn't have been more stunned had she reached out and slapped him. Worse was the image in his mind of him taking her in several different ways as he showed her the answer rather than told her.
“I think I liked the hand gibberish better.”
“Draven, please,” she begged, finally looking at him. “I am embarrassed enough. Please don't make it any worse. I didn't know whom else to ask. Alys is off doing who knows what, and this is not something one goes around asking strangers.”
“I should say not.”
“Well?” she asked.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I can't say, but it is important.”
He rubbed his hand over his face. If he didn't know better, he'd swear she was after him again, but the concern in her eyes was proof she really needed an honest answer.
Disregarding the painful burning in his groin as his body strained against his tight laces, he shook his head. “Nay, milady. It doesn't hurt. 'Tis most pleasurable, point of fact.”
And if it wasn't for his fear she would readily agree, he would offer to show her just
“Have you ever had a woman cry when youâ¦nay, wait,” she said stopping herself. “I don't want you to answer that. I don't want to know of any women you've been with.”
She looked up at him and smiled a smile that made him weak in the knees. “Thank you for your honesty. I knew I could count on you.”
“You give me far too much credit.”
“Have you ever thought that you give yourself too little?”
Draven couldn't answer, and at the moment he wasn't sure if he should.
“Oh, Draven,” she breathed. “I wish you could see yourself through my eyes for just one instant.”
He scoffed at her words. “You said yourself that you are a dreamer, milady. When you look at me, you see what you wish to see. And you think of me as some hero the likes of which foolish minstrels sing of in their chansons. I am not Accusain to prove my love by walking naked”â
why did that word keep coming up every time they spoke?
â“through the gates to prove my love to you. I am a man, Emily. 'Tis all I am.”
“Aye, you are a man. In every sense of the word. And I am a woman who can feel every part of you when you're near me. Indeed, I can smell the warm manly scent of you and feel your presence with every sense and pore of my body.”
His groin even hotter and harder than before, Draven's head swam with visions of kissing her in the moonlight, of stripping her kirtle from her shoulders and taking her there on the narrow walkway.