Read Love's Magic Online

Authors: Traci E. Hall

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Western

Love's Magic (6 page)

BOOK: Love's Magic
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The heat from their joined hands was not unpleasant, as she’d feared. In fact, it was more like a low-energy version of how her hands tingled when she healed. The warmth traveled from her fingertips to her wrist, to her elbow, then her shoulders and her breasts, and finally landed in the pit of her belly, robbing her of breath. Surprised, she glanced up and met his dark, dark gaze.

Innocent, yes. Naïve? No. Celestia knew this was desire.

Father Jonas announced heartily and loudly, “You may now join in the kiss of peace, and may God bless this union with love.”

The sound of cheers and clapping could be heard, but Celestia froze in place. Kiss him? Nay!

He must have read the look of bewilderment on her face, because she watched as he tried to think of a way around it.

There wasn’t one. He gave her a shrug.

Swallowing hard, Celestia leaned forward, her chin tilted up in defiance. Nicholas bent down, his lips parted slightly. Celestia didn’t dare breathe as his firm mouth covered hers. She kept her lips still beneath his, her eyes wide. Would the flesh-to-flesh contact send images through her head? Celestia felt scared and exhilarated at the same time.

They touched.

Nicholas’s eyes darkened, and she didn’t trust the way her heart was fluttering in her chest. His lips captured hers, softly, as if he had planned on making the kiss a light melding to satisfy the people who watched, and yet he lingered. His breath tasted of mint and wine, and she carefully pressed back. Her stomach was on fire, and her legs trembled. She felt faint, and tension hummed through her veins.

He was nothing like Lord Riddleton.

With a great effort, they broke apart like naughty children, much to the enjoyment of their audience.

Celestia brushed away Nicholas’s steadying hand and stood on her own two feet. Nobody needed to know that her knees were shaking like a newborn lamb’s.

She was Lady Celestia Montehue … er, she swallowed sickly and straightened her shoulders … Le Blanc? Peregrine. It didn’t matter, as she hadn’t chosen the title. She sent the spectators, along with her family, a wobbly smile. A lady did not collapse like a melted beeswax candle on her wedding day, and that was that.

“Ye’ll be packed and ready to leave first thing in the morning,” Lady Deirdre cried. “I hate the baron, I hate him, and I do not care who tells him I said so,” she ranted, looking more beautiful and warrior-like than any painting of Queen Boadicea. The outdoor setting, the dusky night, and the bonfire all added to the pagan allure.

Sighing with all of her might, Celestia knew her family needed her to be strong, even stronger than before. “It was wonderful of him to give us the keep in which Nicholas was born.” Sending a pleading look toward her sister, who was playing the flirt with Sir Petyr, Celestia said, “I just do not understand why we have to go immediately. What is the rush?”

“Something to do with protecting the keep, I think. Your father questioned Sir Petyr about the knights already there. You will be fine.” Her mother blinked quickly. “Very well protected. Petyr claimed his toast this evening will be good news, for once.” Lady Deirdre glared at the knight, who buried his face in a mug of ale.

Gali appeared at her side, handing her a goblet of honeyed mead. “Drink, sister dearest, for tonight is your wedding night.”

Nicholas coughed, and Petyr slapped his back, laughing like a boy.

Galiana slid a glance to where Sir Petyr and Nicholas were talking, dark head bent toward blond head. “He is certainly handsome.”

Surprised, Celestia giggled softly and whispered, “Aye, he is handsome. And with good food and no more bouts of fever, he shall only get more so. I especially like that he has on a
of shoes this eve.” She watched to see if Nicholas returned her sister’s admiration, but Nicholas seemed oblivious to everything around them. It warmed her spirit to see that he hadn’t fallen to Galiana’s charms.

“Hmm? Oh,” Galiana laughed and lightly smacked Celestia’s arm. “I was talking about Sir Petyr.”

Celestia closed her eyes briefly in relief. Not that her sister would take a man from her side on purpose, but men seemed to gravitate toward Galiana like a horse to water. Her sister’s beauty was as legendary in their county as her own healing powers.

Their mother pulled them back into the men’s conversation. “It will be Galiana’s turn next, and I vow we shall find someone suitable. With land of their own,” she added pointedly to Sir Petyr.

Celestia felt a stab of guilt. Galiana had turned down more offers of marriage than there were eligible men in the county. She said that she did not have any desire to wed, but Celestia knew that her sister had waited, longing for a man to sweep her off her feet like a minstrel’s romance. “I will keep my eye out for any stray gentry in the woods of Scotland,” she promised, a touch tipsy.

“Nothing less than an earl, if ye please,” Galiana laughed and curtsied.

Celestia sometimes envied her sister’s lack of healing ability. Gali could be beautiful and witty and fun without worrying over the world. Her creams and lotions were much-wanted gifts, and her perfumes were nothing short of heavenly. Men wrote sonnets and laid them at her feet, and she didn’t have to fret over sickness and health, life or death.

Nicholas chuckled at a jest she couldn’t hear, but Celestia sensed his underlying unease. Was it caused by being with crowds of people? People he did not know? Or being with a family he’d been forced to marry into? Truly, he looked the knight gallant in the loose-fitting tunic, leggings, and calf boots. His hair was as dark as a raven’s wing, and his mouth … she licked her lips and turned away.

Being married, sharing that magical kiss as the priest blessed them, had caused a yearning within her breast for something more. It gave her hope to try for more.

She shouldn’t want to feel his mouth pressed to hers. Nor should she wonder what it would be like to share a bed with someone other than her sisters. A man. Her husband. Celestia’s stomach knotted, and she blamed the warmth in her blood on the wine.

He captured her gaze, and slipped his hand beneath her elbow. “Shall we walk?” he asked easily, taking her from the others.

“Aye,” she blushed, grateful that the night was dimming so he would not see her face. He would think her new interest in him foolish, especially after he’d told her that he was not staying. She planned to show him that she had a heart that could be his, if he would but use it gently. They were each honorable people, attracted to one another—surely love could grow from that?

If Gram was right, it might be a start. Heart pounding with anticipation, she leaned into his warmth, wanting him to want her, too.

“We’ll get an annulment.”

She tripped. “What?”

“I have been thinking on your earlier suggestion and I believe it sound. It would be a wise choice for us to abstain from our marital rights until we arrive at Falcon Keep, and then I’ll go on to Peregrine Castle.”

Celestia didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Nicholas was going to ruin her with his honor. At least his rejection of her wasn’t public, she thought, although it was hard to be grateful. It was difficult, but she kept walking. “So you think we should try for the annulment after all?”

“I do not trust the baron. Aye, I know everybody says I am his, by nose alone they would know it,” he sighed tiredly. “I have been trying to puzzle out why he would go to such great lengths to see the two of us, specifically in all of England, wed. It is suspect.”

Remembering Nicholas’s dark, hidden pain, Celestia tamped down her own hurt at his easy dismissal of her. “‘Tis obvious that he wants me to heal you, but I would have done that without marriage. My family already swears fealty to him, so he didn’t need a political ally. You have no family.”

He stopped in the night, and she heard him grinding his teeth in frustration. She would not be surprised if he had worn them down to nubs.

“That is all true. So if my,” he stumbled over the word
“suddenly wants me healthy, I need to know why. He does not seem the sort to do a deed out of kindness.”

She empathized with the ache she heard in his voice, and cautiously reached out to put her hand on his sleeve. If she touched his skin now, his pain would overwhelm her. “Does Petyr not know?”

“He could be a spy for the king, he is so close-lipped. All I know is that he has promised a gift during the bridal toast. Considering what else he’s given on behalf of my … er, the baron, I admit to fearing this ‘gift.'”

She laughed before realizing it, and he smiled in return. Celestia had thought to spark the beginnings of a relationship on her wedding night, but he’d push her away if she got too close. Her husband, she shivered though there was no wind, was not one for emotional ties.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“No,” Celestia answered, taken back by his concern. God help her, but she had accidentally married the most noble man in all of England. “Simply a chill.” Now was not the time for one of her hunches. “Let us go make Petyr tell his gift, eh?”

Jaw tight, he nodded. “Aye, and Celestia, we are agreed that we will have to fake our joining tonight, are we not? I know that there should be,” he stammered, which only made him more endearing to her, “blood. I will cut my thumb, so that you won’t be shamed.”

Not sure what to say to that, she pulled away before she grabbed his hand and begged him to reconsider their future together. He was honorable, kind, handsome and wounded. If only his pain wasn’t somehow magnified, if only she didn’t care. But the chinks in his noble armor were killing her.

Nicholas felt as if he’d been running forever. His chest was tight, his body tense and his muscles sore. He’d been married for half a day, and he was beat.

When would she realize that he was a fraud? When would she look at him like the bastard he’d always thought he was? But she gazed at him with those angel-witch eyes like he was a damn hero instead of a murdering, gutless sod. Celestia had more courage in her petite frame than he would ever know.

She was warm, and God’s bones, he was so tired of being cold. She was light and he was filled with darkness. He could not touch her, for fear of dousing her goodness. He had never been around a family like the Montehues. Close-knit, they argued as loud as they yelled their adoration for one another.

He’d been threatened by each of them, from Lord Robert down to ten-year-old Ela. Even a waddling peasant woman gave him the evil eye, warning him to treat their lady right. What would it be like to be, no—he shied away from finishing that thought. Love was not for the likes of him.

“There you two are!” Petyr said loudly, clapping a heavy hand on Nicholas’s shoulder. “It is time for the toast, before I get tossed into the fire.”

Nicholas would have liked to offer comfort to Celestia, but did not dare. He had let her get too close already, which was dangerous.

Lord Robert bellowed, “Get on with it, eh? What gift was so grand that you had to wait until everyone was drunk?” He laughed loudly, as did everybody else, even Celestia.

“He has a good point,” she whispered up at him with a wink.

Nicholas saw her heart-shaped face in shadow, and the refracted brightness of her eyes. He had to stop being such an infant. He grunted for an answer, as if that would put up a barrier between them. At least, once he had exacted his revenge from his “father,” Celestia would be left with property. The thought eased his guilt over knowing he would leave her—by death, or pilgrimage, either way.

“Here, here,” Sir Petyr shouted, getting everybody’s attention. “I have a gift for Sir Nicholas and the Lady Celestia, from the baron himself. For years I have been the baron’s man, but starting tonight, I am, along with the five men with me, swearing my loyalty to
Nicholas of Falcon Keep!”

The crowd cheered, and Nicholas realized that his value had just risen. He had a beautiful wife, a keep with land, and now he had his own men.

For a fellow who only wanted revenge and the honor of dying with his soul intact, he was doomed.

“We leave at first light,” Sir Petyr said, grinning proudly. “Your new home awaits ye.”

BOOK: Love's Magic
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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