Authors: Kinley MacGregor
Alone in her chambers, Emily sat at the small table before the open window, picking at her food. In truth, she was scared to eat any of it. Given how filthy the hall was, she could only imagine how much worse the kitchens must be.
Edmond, an older youth in his late teens, had changed the straw in her mattress and given her new linens. Her maid, Alys, had swept the old rushes from the room and cleaned the soot from the fireplace. It was still a dismal room lit only by a wall sconce of two tallow candles, but at least it was clean. For that reason she had told Alys to make a pallet for herself in this room until they could see to the rest of the donjon.
As she took a sip of her bitter wine, the door to her room swung open.
“Draven, Iâ¦” Simon's voice trailed off as he saw her sitting by the window.
Emily frowned at his intrusion and set her goblet back on the table.
His brows knitted, he looked about. “Where's Draven?”
“I know not, milord. Why would you seek him here?”
“This is his room.”
Emily felt her jaw slacken at his news. With renewed interest, she glanced around the plain bed and austere wooden chairs. Why would Draven give her his bower?
“He told me I was to stay here.”
Simon looked even more puzzled. “Forgive me, milady, for the intrusion.”
And then he was gone. Emily stared at the closed door. Why on earth would Draven have done such a thing? If she didn't know better, she'd think he had a more lascivious reason for his charity, but the man seemed oblivious of her.
Nay, his actions made no sense whatsoever.
Sighing, she pushed those thoughts out of her mind and prepared a mental list of what she needed to do on the morrow to make this place suitable to live in.
An hour later Alys rejoined her and told her all her belongings had been unloaded and would be brought upstairs on the morrow. The two of them made ready for bed, then went to sleep with the candles still burning lest something more frightening than bedbugs were waiting to scavenge in the dark.
Emily spent a fretful night tossing and turning. Her body wasn't used to such a hard, unscented mattress, and since she'd never spent a night outside her own room, she couldn't quite adjust to the new sounds and smells of the donjon.
And if that wasn't bad enough, what little sleep she managed was haunted by dreams of a darkly handsome, enigmatic man. A man both beguiling and terrifying.
She'd never met anyone like Draven, and she was at a loss as to how to deal with him. An aura of danger and strength clung to him, warning her that if he chose, he could be truly terrifying.
If he choseâ¦
He had been kind thus far, but so many people feared him, including her father, that it gave her pause.
Her thoughts turned to Niles and Joanne. Niles appeared to treat Joanne respectfully, but Emily had caught him beating his horse over a broken spur. And when his squire had accidentally dropped his sword, she had seen the extreme backhand Niles had dealt the boy.
If her father could respect such a man and call him ally and son, then what of the man her father called enemy?
Was the earl of Ravenswood the ogre of legend?
How would she ever know?
When morning came, Emily welcomed it and the release it gave her from those haunting thoughts. She dressed with Alys's help in her light blue kirtle and white veil, then went below to break her fast.
Emily paused in the doorway as she surveyed the empty hall. Where was everyone?
Surely she hadn't missed the meal? Had she?
Puzzled, she walked out the front door of the donjon. Draven's men were already training in the list. And from the look of them, they had been at it for some time.
Off to the side of the field, Simon sat on the ground, leaning back against an apple tree in repose while he urged two of the knights on in their swordplay.
She saw Draven nowhere. Gathering her skirts, she descended the steps and headed across the yard to where the men trained.
As she rounded the side of the keep, she spotted Draven easily enough. The tallest of the men, he seemed to be training much more seriously than the others. The early morning light dappled against the black-colored mail and flashed across his black shield.
A group of four men surrounded him and he was doing a remarkable job of fending them off as they attacked him almost simultaneously. Never before had she witnessed such agility or speed. No wonder people sang his praises, she thought as he twirled his sword from one attacker to meet the blow of the man behind him.
Why, she hadn't known a man so large could move with such grace and ease. She doubted if even Mars or Ares could fight better.
In awe, she watched as he deflected each blow with astounding precision while whirling in a macabre dance to meet the next assault and drive his assailant back on his heels.
And in that instant she knew he could easily defeat her father in battle. In spite of her father's incredible strength, she had seen him train enough times to know he was no equal for Lord Draven's skill.
The thought made her nauseated.
“Good day, fair Emily!” Simon called in greeting to her.
At her name, Draven turned in her direction and paused in his fighting. As soon as he stopped, one of his men hit him across the head from the side.
Draven cursed loudly as he whirled on the man and raised his sword.
Emily, who had rushed toward him when he'd been hit, hesitated at the fierce battle cry. Never had she heard such rage. She couldn't imagine having to face the brunt of Draven's sword.
The man who had hit Draven dropped his sword, fell to his knees in terror, and raised his shield over his head in expectation of the oncoming blow. The other three knights hurriedly withdrew from the exercise.
Draven's sword arced toward the cowering man, and just as she was certain he would have the man's head, he stopped the blade a fraction of an inch from the man's raised shield.
Everything seemed frozen in time as the sword just hung there. So close, and yet not quite touching.
Draven stood as still as a statue. She had no idea how he had managed to bring the massive blow under control before he shattered the poor knight's shield and arm.
After a pregnant pause, Draven planted his sword in the ground before the cowering knight.
Emily approached them at a slower pace, amazed that Draven wasn't even breathing heavily from the exercise.
“On your feet, Geoffrey,” he said in a calm voice. “I realize you are new to my company, but you should know I would never strike you for a wellplaced blow just because I was distracted. I turned on you only because I thought you would strike again.”
The knight lowered his shield, then removed his helm. He wiped his arm over his sweat-covered brow. “Forgive me, milord. My last trainer was not so understanding.”
Draven extended his arm and helped him to his feet. “Go on and break your fast.”
Geoffrey quickly did as he bade.
Emily frowned as Simon paused by her side. Lord Draven didn't appear harmed and yet the force of the blow had been significant.
“Are you all right, milord?” she asked.
“I fear the worst of it is the ringing in my ears,” Draven said as he pulled his helm from his head.
Emily gasped as she saw the blood trailing down his temple. “Nay, milord, I fear the worst of it is the gash upon your brow.”
Her father's enemy or not, she wasn't about to stand still in the face of an open wound and do nothing. She turned to Simon. “My maid is upstairs in my chambers. Please ask her to fetch my sewing kit and a cup of wine.”
With a nod, Simon obeyed.
Emily took Lord Draven's hand to lead him toward a shaded spot, but when she stepped forward, he didn't budge.
Confused, she turned back to face him.
He gave her a suspicious frown. “Why do you touch me?” he asked.
Emily looked down at their joined hands in surprise. She immediately let go. “I didn't mean to offend you, milord. I was only thinking that I could better tend your wound if you were seated.”
“My squire can tend my wound.”
She lifted her brow at him. “Milord, if the scar on your neck is a testament of the boy's handiwork, then I beg you please allow me to stitch your forehead. I shudder to think of the scar he would leave there.”
As if hearing his name, his squire appeared from the side of the donjon. He had a stool in his right hand, a bowl in his left, and a linen towel draped over his shoulder.
“Lord Simon told me to fetch this for you, milord,” he said to Draven. “I also brought a cloth and water.”
Lord Draven stood a moment as if debating with himself, then he finally spoke. “Where would milady like the stool placed?”
For some reason Emily felt as though she'd won a skirmish with him.
“Over there, please,” she said, pointing to the spot where Simon had been resting earlier.
The boy ran to obey her.
She led the way with Draven no more than a step behind. As she walked, she could feel his gaze on her like a gentle caress. She sensed that he wanted to touch her and yet the very idea seemed ridiculous, especially given the tone of his voice when he asked why she'd touched him to begin with.
His squire placed the stool where she told him, then quickly ran off to fetch his master's sword and helm from the training field.
Draven settled himself on the stool while Emily dipped one corner of the towel in water.
No sooner had he removed his mail gauntlets and balanced them on his thigh than Alys came with her basket and wine.
“Thank you, Alys,” she said, taking them from her and placing them on the ground next to the bowl of water.
To her consternation, Alys, who stood directly behind Draven, looked at the back of his head, then met Emily's gaze and patted her chest to indicate her heart raced the way Emily's did. If that wasn't bad enough, Alys balled her hand into a fist and bit her forefinger as her lustful, hungry stare followed the length of his body.
Heat stung Emily's cheeks at her maid's pantomimed expressions.
At that moment, Draven looked up at Emily, and seeing where her gaze was directed, he turned about to catch Alys still biting her hand.
Alys's smile faded and she took her hand out of her mouth and shook it. “Darn fleas. Bit me something silly last night.”
Lord Draven looked less than convinced as he turned back to Emily.
Alys locked gazes with her and lifted her brows several times. “Milady has all she requires?” Alys asked in a tone that meant
I'll gladly leave the two of you alone.
“Aye, Alys, thank you.”
“Should milady have any further need of me for
”âEmily cringed at the way Alys stressed the wordâ“please don't hesitate to call.”
“I won't, Alys.” Emily gave her a pointed glare. “Thank you.”
Alys made one last kissing face at Lord Draven, then rushed off to the keep.
Embarrassed to the core of her soul, Emily opened her sewing basket.
“Tell me, milady, is your maid possessed of some strange demon that makes her dance about so?”
Smiling, Emily threaded a needle, then set it aside and retrieved her wet towel. “If the demon has a name, milord, I fear we must call it mischievousness.”
She bathed Lord Draven's wound. His brow was warm to her touch, and unlike her father, Lord Draven didn't hiss as the cloth scraped his skin. He merely watched her with an intensity that seared her flesh.
“Most ladies would beat their maids for such insolence.”
“Well, I am not hypocrite enough to punish her for a sin that is so dear to my own heart.”
His gaze softened. “Aye, I have a feeling you could well tutor her on the subject.”
“Comparatively speaking, she is but a novice and I a master craftsman.”
As she brushed her hand through his ebony locks to hold them away from his wound, she was struck by their softness. His hair was like fine silk sifting between her fingers. Never before had she felt anything like it or the heat that his presence stirred within her. Her body felt vibrant and warm, and was possessed of a terrible throbbing.
“You smell like apples and cinnamon,” he said gruffly.
Emily paused and held the cloth to his brow. “'Tis a perfume my sister wears,” she said softly. “I always told her she would attract more flies and bees with it than men.”
He frowned. “Then why are you wearing it?”
“I miss her, and wearing it comforts me.”
He looked away.
Licking her dry lips, she dipped the needle and thread in the cup of wine.
He sat with his legs wide apart and his hands on his knees. Emily tried not to notice the way he surrounded her as she stepped between his legs to stitch the wound. Nor how her breasts, which drew strangely taut and felt suddenly heavy, were level with his gaze.
And when he chanced to glance at them, she felt a peculiar, powerful ache between her legs.
Emily swallowed against the strangeness of her body as she prepared to stitch his brow. “I'm afraid this will sting a bit.”
“I assure you, milady, I have been stitched enough times not to notice.”
A point he proved well as she completed the first stitch. He remained as still as a statue. Her father would have cursed and jerked, as had any man she'd ever stitched. But Lord Draven just sat, his gaze on the ground behind her, as she made three tiny stitches to close the wound.
Stepping away, she retrieved her silver scissors from the basket.
“You have a gentle touch,” he said, his voice deep and strange to her ears.
“Thank you, milord. 'Tis not in my nature to hurt people.”
She cut the thread, then reached for the bag of herbs she kept in her basket. While she prepared a poultice to keep the swelling down and reduce the chance for infection, she felt him again watching her every move.