Authors: Liliana Hart
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Fantasy, #Historical, #Paranormal
Who’s Riding Red?
Who’s Riding Red?
An Erotic Fairytale
By Liliana Hart
Copyright 2011 by Liliana Hart
Erotic Novellas By Liliana Hart
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Romance and Mystery Novels by Liliana Hart
All About Eve
Catch Me if You Can
Dirty Little Secrets
In The Year of Our Lord, 1492, influenza swept through England like a violent storm. The sobs of the dying echoed through the ravaged streets and the tears of loved ones disappeared in the rain-drenched filth of the alleyways. The village of Hampstead was no exception to such devastation. Even King Henry had escaped to the country for clean air.
For Phillipa Redmond, death had become all too familiar. It had haunted her for the past year, taking her parents within a week of each other. Then her five siblings one after the next. She’d shed the last of her tears when her youngest brother, Peter, had finally succumbed to the terrible sickness. Peter’s body was still upstairs, covered in the white linen sheet she’d pulled over him, and locked behind his bedroom door as if that would keep the sickness from permeating the rest of the house. But one had to follow the law in times like these.
The meat wagon hadn’t been around to collect Peter’s body, even though she’d sent word two days before. She’d received a missive back that the dead by far outnumbered those who were working to bury them properly. Peter would have to wait.
Phillipa cast one last glance at her home, memorizing the way the stair banister curved in a smooth arc of mahogany and the way her mother’s prized vase from France sat in a position of importance in the entryway, the flowers long since wilted. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them back rapidly. She could no longer afford the indulgence of tears. She had to think. And think quickly. The orders to evacuate had already been given. She had a grandmother in Scotland, though she’d only met her once when she was quite young. There was really no choice in the matter. Her grandmother was her only hope.
She took a deep breath and wrapped her dark red cloak around her tightly, lifting the hood so it covered her head. The cloak was lined with white rabbit fur, and the fabric was a wool so smooth and unblemished it felt almost like skin. It had been a gift from her parents for her eighteenth birthday, the last birthday she’d gotten to share with them.
The echo of footsteps shuffling from the village streets below her family estate could be heard through the thick English oak of her front door. The survivors were already fleeing Hampstead.
She said a quick prayer for courage and walked out of her home, down the tree-lined dirt road, and into the streets of Hampstead with the others. The crowd was bedraggled and unkempt men, women and children she’d never seen before without so much as a hair out of place. No one spoke. Everyone’s eyes were cast downward, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.
Phillipa glanced one last time at the home she’d grown up in. There was a red slash of paint across her front doorway that could be seen even from a great distance, signifying to all who walked by that the house was contaminated. She’d see that slash of red in her dreams for eternity.
She looked at the cottages of her father’s charges as they continued to shuffle to the outskirts of the village. The wind had turned chilly and a light drizzle fell and clung to her lashes, so she pulled her cloak tighter. The doors of the cottages held similar red marks. It had been so long since she’d left her home she hadn’t realized the extent of the devastation that had wreaked havoc through her village over the past weeks.
The palace had sent knights to all the villages to make sure the laws were followed. They sat rigidly atop their horses, their heads uncovered and water dripping from the steel plates of their armor, as they herded the survivors out of Hampstead. No one was allowed to bring any possessions, no animals or food, no carriages or clothing only what they could carry as they fled for their lives. Phillipa had a small, painted likeness of her family, dried fruit, a thin volume of poems, a few coins, and a hair ribbon tucked away in a pocket that had been sewn inside her cloak.
They made it to the outskirts of the village just as dusk was setting in. Small groups of people set up camps under a thick copse of trees, shielding themselves from the wind and rain. Leaves were gathered for beds and animals were hunted for food.
Phillipa stood in shock, alone and separated from the others. She was eighteen years old and had never stepped outside without her maid or a proper escort. But now she had no one. There wasn’t anyone to bring her food or lay out her clothes. No one to dress her hair.
Screams shook her from her stupor. Her reactions were slow; her senses weighed down so everything seemed as if it were in slow motion. She didn’t realize what the orange glow was until the others started weeping and pointing. Hampstead was burning. The knights had set fire to all the homes and bodies that carried the disease. And now she didn’t have anywhere to call home.
Black smoke filled the sky as the sun finally set behind the trees. The soldiers kept anyone who dared from trying to return to town, herding them further into the forest like chattel. No one spoke, though weeping could still be heard. Small fires were made and the smell of roasting meat couldn’t drown out the stench of the thick smoke that filled the sky.
Phillipa made her way to a large tree and sat at its base, huddling into her cloak as the wind picked up. Howls rent the air and she tried to keep from jumping with fright. The people around her began to whisper, and her teeth started to chatter as Sir Harry Waldrop, an acquaintance of her father began to tell the stories she’d never believed as a child. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
“It’s said the woods are filled with savage beasts,” Sir Harry began. The crowd moved closer to him and he lowered his voice further. “Those who have seen them say they’ve been cursed by the devil himself. They can walk as humans in the day, but when the night falls, their skin rips and their bones break until they stand in the form of a wolf. Their teeth are sharp and as long as sabers, and their claws can slice a man in two.”
Women in the group gasped, while the few children who remained tried to hide their faces. Phillipa herself was scooting farther away from the group, shaking her head in denial at Sir Harry’s words.
“If you see one,” he continued, “You are as good as dead. You can’t outrun them. And you can’t reason with them, for they have the minds of animals. They won’t show mercy. And they say their leader is the worst of them all.”
A man spoke up from the back of the group, and Phillipa thought she recognized the voice of Mr. Gillingham. “How can their leader be any worse, if what you’ve said of these beasts is true?”
“Their leader is said to be soulless. The only one of their kind who was never actually human to begin with. He was spawned by the devil, and he is the cruelest, most vile creature in all of England. Maybe even the world. They call him Wulf.”
Murmurs of sound rushed around her and Phillipa kept scooting farther and farther away from the people, not caring that leaves were getting tangled in her cloak and that dirt covered her hands.
“The stories aren’t true, you know,” a deep voice said from over her shoulder.
Phillipa drew in a breath to scream, but before a sound could escape, a hand clamped over her mouth and an arm tightened around her middle.
Phillipa’s eyes grew wide, and she found that drawing a breath was almost impossible. Her lungs tightened and she began to fight against her captor, though it was obvious very quickly that she was no match for his strength.
“Easy, easy,” the voice said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
His voice was soothing and gentle, and a part of Phillipa’s mind was instantly eased by his assurance.
“I’m going to take my hand away. Please don’t scream. Everyone has enough to worry about this eve. I swear to you, I mean you no harm.”
Phillipa nodded her head once sharply, and felt the sigh of relief he gave against her back. When his hand moved and his grip loosened, she scooted away from him as quickly as possible so her back was to another tree. Her pulse calmed as she saw one of the knights who’d escorted them from town. His armor was gone and he only wore his underclothes and boots. A sword was strapped to his back and a dagger tied at his waist.
“I beg your pardon, Sir. You frightened me,” she said.
“It is I who should beg your pardon. I shouldn’t have come up behind you that way.”
The light was dim from the surrounding camp fires, but there was enough to make out his features. The first thing she noticed was his size. Even kneeling he was a large man. His hands were unscarred and she felt heat rush to her cheeks as her gaze moved up and she saw the thin smattering of dark hair at the open V of his shirt.
Phillipa finally found the courage to lift her eyes to the soldier’s face, but she found quickly that it didn’t help to relieve the pressure in her lungs. His eyes were the purest blue she’d ever seen, and she found it impossible to break from his gaze. They were filled with kindness and compassion. He was a handsome man, yes, but there was something about his eyes that made him beautiful, even with the scar at his chin. He let her look her fill, and as he stared at her with quiet patience, she felt the urge to throw herself into his arms and weep uncontrollably.
He was at least ten years, maybe fifteen, her senior. His dark hair was graying slightly at the temples, but he was obviously in excellent health. His shoulders were broad and there was no bulge of fat around his middle like many men had as they grew in age.
“Are you here alone?” he asked. “Where is your family?”
“They are dead, Sir. I am on the way to my grandmother’s house in Edinburgh. She is the only family I have left.”
“Where is your escort? You cannot mean to travel to Scotland by yourself.”
Phillipa stood and shook the leaves from her cloak, feeling like herself once more as her pride and stubbornness warred with her common sense. He mirrored her move, and she found she’d made a mistake since she had to look up several inches now to stare into his eyes. She lifted her chin and felt her eyes narrow as his lips tilted up in amusement.
“I’m perfectly capable of doing exactly as I wish. As long as I stay with the group, I’m sure I’ll be perfectly safe. Many people here are headed to Scotland, I’m sure.”
“Maybe so, but as a gentleman I can hardly let you wander through wooded, and sometimes dangerous, territory without seeing to your safety. I will be your escort and see you to your grandmother’s house.”
Phillipa felt her anger rise as he began to make plans as if the decision had already been made. Just like her brothers had always tried to do. She had a mind of her own, not that anyone in all of England would appreciate her intelligence. The last weeks had been hell, but she and all of her brothers and sisters had been blessed with a strong mind, and an oftentimes sharp tongue. She’d been reprimanded often enough to know. Her mother had despaired she’d ever find a suitable husband unless she learned to curb her tongue. Now that her family was gone, she didn’t see why she should bother trying any longer. Marriage was the last thing on her mind.
“That’s quite all right, Sir. I appreciate your offer, but I’ll be fine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll make my way back to the others.”
“My name is Richard,” he said. “What is yours?”
“I am Miss Redmond. My father was Baron Redmond.”
“Ahh,” Richard said. “I heard of your parents’ passing many weeks ago. I’m sorry for your loss. He was a good man.”
“You knew my father?”
“Yes. My father and he were friends. I’m the youngest son of the Earl of Milfordshire. Your brother, Colin, and I were at school together.”
Phillipa stared at Richard in shock. The Earl of Milfordshire was quite old, and Phillipa couldn’t see any family resemblance whatsoever. The Earl had sired four sons, but only two of them were still living. The eldest and heir had died in a riding accident when he was still young, and the second oldest had perished around the same time as her parents had from influenza.
“Of course, Colin spoke of you often,” she said, ignoring the pang of loss speaking her eldest brother’s name brought her.
“Now that you see the connection between our families, it wouldn’t be prudent for you to turn down the offer of my escorting you to Scotland.”
“Perhaps not, but it’s quite rude of you to point out that it’s not prudent of me.”
Richard stifled his laughter with a cough, but his eyes crinkled at the corners as he looked at her. They held her captive
intense as they seemed to search all the way to her soul. Something fluttered low inside her stomach as his gaze dropped to her lips. Nothing before had ever made her feel this way. She knew it was wrongmladies were known for their rather icy demeanor in all things deemed proper in society. But she was feeling anything but cold. Or proper. Heat rushed to her cheeks and she looked away quickly, hoping he hadn’t noticed how he’d affected her.
Branches snapped from deeper in the forest and she gasped, automatically moving closer to Richard for protection. He took her elbow to steady her and the touch of his fingers, though there was cloth between them, made her feel as if tiny bolts of lightning were shooting through her body. She jerked out of his grasp and her breath came in labored pants. What was wrong with her? Confusion clouded her mind, warring with the grief, fear and yearning?
“You must be famished,” Richard said softly. “I have rabbit roasting over a fire where I’ve set up camp. Will you join me?”
She nodded, for she didn’t think words could escape past the tightness in her throat.
They walked a good distance away from the others, further into the trees, until they reached a small clearing. The air was clearer here, not polluted by the burning village, the scent of roasting meat making her stomach growl and cramp with hunger. She had no idea when she’d last had a meal. She’d been living off the same soups and broths she’d been feeding her brother.
“Where are the other knights?” she asked, assuming they’d all be camped together.
“We are spread out, circled around the town folk so as to keep them contained to one area. It is for their safety until daylight arrives. It’s easy to get lost in these woods if you aren’t familiar with them. And there are dangers in the forest if one wanders too far. Come, sit by the fire.”
He held his hand to assist her, but this time she was prepared for the effect his touch brought, and she was able to make her way to the fire without embarrassing herself.
She took the hood of her cloak in her hands and pushed it back so her flaxen hair was uncovered. It had fallen out of the loose chignon she’d had it in and fell in waves down her back. She untied the string at her throat, aware of Richard watching her every movement. It was too warm to wear the cloak next to the fire, and it would give her something soft to sit upon. She laid it on the ground neatly, then arranged her overskirt as she knelt. She met his gaze once she’d settled herself and calmed her nerves. She had the oddest reaction to his stares.
“You’re beautiful, Phillipa. Why are you not married?”
“My father was in the process of arranging a match when he fell ill. And then when my siblings. It hardly seemed important to continue the negotiations. And I believe my affianced succumbed to the fever as well. I’m quite glad the negotiations didn’t go through, and my father didn’t hurry the engagement as he could have when he fell ill.”
“Yes, I would imagine so.”
“I’ll go and stay with my grandmother, and then” She paused, trying to think what the future might hold for her. It was all so uncertain. She didn’t even know if her grandmother would take her in, though she couldn’t imagine the woman would turn her into the street. Her own mother had never suggested she’d been sired by a cruel woman.
He let her sentence go unfinished and they ate in silence. As her stomach was sated, she became more aware of her surroundings. More aware of Richard. The way he shifted his body when he heard a noise come from the trees. The way he watched her from hooded eyes, causing heat to flare through her body and tighten at the tips of her breasts. She licked the bottom of her lip nervously and tried to slow her breathing. She had no idea what had come over her whether she was drawn to him because he was taking care of her, or whether she should heed caution and run back to the others.
“Come here, Phillipa,” he said, though his voice was barely a whisper.
The tone of his voice left no room for argument, and she found she didn’t really want to deny his request in any case. She dusted off her skirts as she stood and walked to him. He held out his hand and she took it automatically, gasping as he pulled her closer, so their bodies barely touched.
“You feel it, don’t you, Phillipa? The connection between our bodies?” His breath whispered against her ear and she shuddered at the unusual feel. “You’ve been locked away for a year, taking care of your family, just as your body was beginning to bloom. And now it’s catching up with you. I can see the confusion on your face. And I can see your desire every time I glance at you.”
His fingers skimmed from the shoulder of her gown to the crook of her elbow. And then he did the unthinkable. His thumb brushed the side of her breast and skimmed across her rigid nipple. Her breath caught and she brought her hand up automatically to stop his hand, but she saw the challenge in his eyes.
“You must stop, Sir. I am a lady.”
“But you have the soul of a wanton. And I wish for you to call me by my given name. Let me hear you say it.”
Phillipa shook her head even as her lips moved to obey him. “Richard.” Her voice was husky, and his pupils flared as she gave into his demand.
“Please don’t do this to me,” she said. “Though I have no desire to be married soon, I do wish for it some day. You know as well as I do that girls of marriageable age only have one thing of value. I don’t know why, but you are a temptation for me.”
“As you are for me, Phillipa. Look at yourself through my eyes and deny that you’re not a temptation as well. Your hair slips like silk through my fingers and is the color of moonlight. Your skin is translucent like the rarest opal and your face was clearly kissed by the angels. But your eyes are that of a seductress. So dark they are almost black in color and heavily lashed.”
“Temptations are meant to be a struggle against our own self. You see me as something I’m not a young woman who no longer has the protection of her family or name. And you’re taking advantage of what I’m feeling when you touch me. Unless you are offering marriage, I must ask that you cease this.”
She felt his smile against the hollow of her neck where he’d been kissing and nibbling while she made her fervent speech.
“Let me kiss you,” he said. “Just once.”
He didn’t give her time to accept or deny his proposal. His lips found hers with startling ease. She’d not been kissed before, so she had nothing with which to compare, but never in her wildest imagination would it have felt like this.
His lips were smooth and warm against hers. He pressed against her chin with his thumb, forcing her mouth open, and it was then she remembered to breathe. Her lungs were tight and strange things were happening low in her body. Her breasts ached, and she wished desperately he would do something to make it stop. And then his tongue slipped inside her mouth and all thought left her head. There was only a terrible need as he staked his claim. The rhythm of his tongue was foreign, but she assumed she was kissing him back correctly when he growled low in his throat.
She practically sat upon his lap, her thigh thrown across his hip and her heavy breasts pressed against his chest. His hands molded her bottom, pressing her against the hardness in his lap that left her wanting to scream in frustration. He pulled away from her, but she followed his movement, not wanting to give up the pleasure his kiss had brought her.
“Phillipa,” he said, just as breathless as she. “We must stop for a moment.”
Her frustration was mounting, as if there were something explosive somewhere inside her ready to detonate. She couldn’t describe the feeling any other way. She just knew that he couldn’t stop, or she would surely perish.
“Phillipa, stop. I must be honest with you.”
He shook her gently until her gaze cleared and she was focused on the intensity of his words.
“What do you mean?”
“I do not wish to marry you. Or anyone for that matter. I am a fourth son, and could not possibly support a wife or family. But I can still give you pleasure. Give both of us pleasure.”
Phillipa shook her head. The urge to scream was the most prevalent thing in her mind. That or simply to murder him. Tears filled her eyes and her breath hitched painfully.