Authors: Karin Tabke
“’Tis not fair!” she continued to rail. “My betrothed is dead. My dowry taken by bloodthirsty—” she stopped, realizing she was about to insult her host. “By invaders. We have nothing but the few meager possessions we brought with us.”
Rohan shrugged. “Your cry is heard across this land. ’Tis the way of war. Had Harold held to his oath, I would no doubt be playing dice with these wretches in a garrison in Westminster.”
“Have you no kin?” Warner solicitously asked Deidre. Ioan snorted, and Thorin rolled his eyes.
“My cousin Arlys Lord of Dunsworth has been displaced,” she answered angrily.
At the mention of Arlys, Rohan’s body tightened. Isabel watched several of his men look to him.
“Is that not your be—” Warner stopped. He had the decency to look properly chastened. “My pardon, Lady Isabel.”
“Isabel, have you word of Arlys?” Willingham asked.
Now every eye in the hall focused on Isabel. Her cheeks flushed at the attention. She raised her eyes to the man who would have been her uncle-in-law. “Nay, but I hear he lives to see the return of Dunsworth.”
Rohan laughed. “Henri will see to it there is nothing left of Dunsworth.”
Willingham shook his head. “’Tis a tragedy what that devil has done.”
Rohan nodded and chewed another bite of meat. “Aye, my brother has a way about him.”
Deidre gasped. “That devil is your brother?”
“Aye, we share the same sire, and little else.”
Deidre wrinkled her lovely brow. “But I thought you were a bastard.”
Isabel stiffened. Rohan seemed unaffected by her statement.
“If you look closely enough, Lady Deidre,” Wulfson said, “you will see every one of us Blood Swords sports the horns and pointed tail of a bastard.”
Deidre knew she had pushed. Isabel watched the wheels turn in her head. Aye, she was regrouping and would cast her net far and see what she could land.
“You all are knights of William?” she asked demurely.
Isabel rolled her eyes and picked at her meat. When none jumped to answer her, Warner the gallant spoke for them all. “Aye, Lady Deidre, we are all Blood Swords in our own right and known as
William’s elite death squad.”
“The deaths?” She shivered delicately. “That seems so—” She dropped her eyes before raising them and smiling coquettishly at Warner. “Barbaric. Surely you are chivalrous.”
Thorin choked on his ale, and Stefan nodded. “Aye, Lady Deidre, we wrote the code of chivalry. I wouldst be most happy to demonstrate all of its properties for you.”
“Sir knight,” Willingham interjected, “my daughter is a maid of virtue.”
Stefan’s dark eyes simmered as he caught the coy maid’s darker eyes. “Of course she is. I beg your pardon.”
Deidre continued to play the coquette, this time setting her dark eyes on Rohan. Isabel pushed the trencher away from her, suddenly losing her appetite.
“Sir Rohan, does William promise you this shire?”
“Deidre!” Willingham hissed. “Mind your manners.”
Deidre ignored her father’s plea. Rohan held her gaze. Isabel watched the small tic of his jaw flare. The sign did not bode well for the inquisitive Deidre.
“’Tis no concern of yours,” Rohan boorishly answered.
Isabel hid her smile, and Deidre blinked as if she did not believe her wiles had been rebuffed. Just as Deidre opened her mouth to continue her questioning, Lyn leaned between Deidre and Warner with a bowl of steaming water and lost her footing. The bowl poured directly onto Deidre’s lap. The women screeched. “Churl!” Then she slapped Lyn hard across the face. Wulfson rose, as did Ioan and Stefan, so abruptly their chairs scraped hard across the stone floor.
Lyn howled. Isabel rose and came around to the maid, and as Deidre raised her hand to slap her again, Isabel grabbed it. “Lay a hand on her again, and I will see you cast from this hall.”
“How dare you?” Deidre railed. The lady’s dark beauty morphed into something very ugly.
As she placed a comforting hand on Lyn’s shoulder, Isabel moved directly into Deidre’s space. “I would dare anything I like.”
“Because you service the Norman?” Deidre spat.
If the hall had been silent at Deidre’s eruption, now it was as if they all stood in a tomb.
“Nay, Deidre, I dare because ’tis my right as lady of the manor.” She poked a finger into Deidre’s chest. “Do not forget whose daughter I am. I am not above taking arms against anyone who would damage my people.”
Lord Willingham took his daughter’s arm. His old blue eyes beseeched her to acquiesce.
Deidre took a big breath and slowly exhaled. She smiled first to Rohan, who stood silent, allowing Isabel to handle the affairs of women. Then she turned to Isabel. “I beg your pardon, Isabel. I fear I am not at my best these days.” She turned to Rohan. “I beg your leave, sir.”
Rohan nodded. Isabel moved aside as Deidre collected what dignity she could and hurried from the hall up the stairway to the solar. Her father followed on her heels.
The hall breathed a collective sigh of relief with the guests’ departure.
Isabel caught Rohan’s gaze across the table. He seemed unperturbed by the incident. Miraculously, Lyn recovered and bustled about the table and the knights as if nothing had happened. It was then that Isabel realized the bowl of hot water in Deidre’s lap was no accident. She smiled as she looked up to catch the wily Lyn’s eyes.
“Your servants are a vindictive lot,” Rohan commented.
Isabel turned a wicked smile up to the knight. “As is their lady, and do not forget it.”
Rohan rubbed his chest and smiled just as wickedly. For her ears only, he said, “I am counting on it. Come, let us retire now.”
Isabel trembled, partly in fear but mostly in excitement. “I must see to the wounded in the hospital hut. Would you escort me?”
Rohan nodded and called for Enid to fetch the lady’s cape. “I do not possess one, Rohan. I will brave the chill.”
“I find that hard to digest, Isabel. A lady of your rank should have ten of the finest fur-lined cloaks in the land.”
“Aye, and I did, but another needed it more. I have a wool one in the solar but will not intrude on Deidre. Indeed, she may gouge my eyes out.”
Rohan smiled. “Aye, she is full of vinegar.” He cocked a brow. “Much like you.”
Isabel slapped his hand. “I may possess vinegar, as you say, but at least I only use it on you Normans and not my own people!”
Rohan extended his arm, and when Isabel took it, he pushed her hand snugly into the crook of his elbow. “I do not know what magic you possess, damsel, but your wish is my command.”
Isabel smiled as they started for the door. “I wish you to rescind my oath to you.”
Without missing a step, he replied, “Impossible.”
Isabel stiffened. “Your chivalry only extends to those things you choose.”
“Chivalry is for poets and swains, Isabel. I am neither. Never mistake me for one or the other.”
“You disappoint me, Rohan.”
He squeezed her hand to his side. “You will take those words back this eve. For I will show you just how undisappointing I can be.”
For the tenth time that night, Isabel shivered, knowing the morning would no longer find her so innocent, and also knowing that unless she could command herself to die, there was nothing she could do to prevent Rohan from touching her in the most intimate ways a man could touch a woman. For she had given her oath that he could.
Isabel sucked in a deep breath and held it. The price, she told herself, was not too high. Each time she saw Russell’s smiling blue eyes, she knew she made the right choice.
So be it.
sabel took as much time as she thought she could get away with. But she had misjudged Rohan’s patience. As she was refastening a bandage, he strode into the makeshift hospital, grabbed her arm, and pulled her away and out of the dwelling.
“Rohan!” she cried, but he did not heed her. She resisted, and he swept her up into his arms. As if she were but a sack of turnips, he slung her over his shoulder.
Isabel shrieked indignation at his action. “Put me down!” she demanded.
Rohan slapped his hand across her bottom. “Nay.”
She could not bear the embarrassment of having his men or her people see her in such an undignified position. Luckily for her, the hall was quiet and most of the torches doused when they entered.
Rohan moved with great, powerful strides up the stairway and kicked open the door to the lord’s chamber.
He kicked the door closed and with his free hand threw the heavy bolt.
Rohan pulled Isabel down, pressing her body against his. His passion was clearly on the rise. His arms locked around her waist, and he lowered his head to her lips. Isabel turned her face from his.
Clasping her to him with one hand, he grasped her chin and forced her to look up at him. “I am weary of your games, Isabel. ’Tis time to pay.”
Wide-eyed, she shook her head. Her time had come. There were no more chances, no more distractions, no more outs. Isabel stepped back, and he moved against her.
He dropped his arm from around her waist and softly said, “Go stand before the fire.”
She hurried from him, wanting as much space as possible between them.
When she reached the fire, he said, “Now, turn around.”
When she did, he was seated in her father’s great chair near the small table several paces from where she stood. The fire burned brightly behind her, warming her. It reflected off Rohan’s tawny eyes, casting a molten sheen. He unstrapped his sword belt and hung it from the high back of the chair. He removed his tunic and then his linen chemise. When he sat back down, the planes of his muscular chest glowed in the firelight. Isabel didn’t dare look lower than his waist, afraid she would see his erection. She sucked in a desperate breath, knowing he would not break his oath to her but unsure just how far he would go this night. For while she knew of the act of procreation, she was sorely ignorant of what other means a man had of pleasuring a woman.
“Take your circlet off,” he said hoarsely.
Startled by his command, Isabel slowly removed it and set it on the cabinet.
“Remove your girdle.”
Isabel caught his gaze. She felt for the clasp and unhooked the belt. She let it fall to the carpeted floor.
“Now your shoes.”
Isabel kicked them from her feet.
Rohan was seated back in the chair, his hands on the edge of the arms. “Now, remove your clothes, one layer at a time.”
Unhurried and feeling oddly in control, Isabel lifted her kirtle and let it fall to the floor. Her nipples hardened under his hot gaze.
“Now the other.”
Just as slowly, she raised the undergown up her legs, to her hips, then up to her breasts. Rohan’s breath hissed, and as she pulled it over her shoulders and let it fall in a heap at her feet, she glanced at his lap. He rose mightily against the fabric of his braies. Isabel stood bathed in the firelight, the only thing separating his eyes from her nakedness a soft silk and linen shift.
Her body was fully outlined, and despite the warmth of the room and the heat of his gaze, Isabel shivered.
“Remove the shift,” Rohan said hoarsely.
With trembling hands, Isabel raised the fabric up and over her shoulders.
“Jesu!” Rohan whispered.
She stood proud and unflinching before him. Yet in her excitement, her breasts trembled. As Rohan’s gaze caressed her, Isabel’s breathing came faster, and her heart thudded harder against her chest.
Rohan stood, and as if she were an apparition, he moved slowly toward her, afraid the vision would disappear. In his twenty-five years on the earth and through all of the lands he had traveled, he could not remember ever seeing anything so lovely as the vision before him. When she shook her long golden hair and it shimmered about her, he caught his breath. For the first time in his life, Rohan questioned his self-control. If he touched her, he would take her. And if he did, she would hate him.
“Touch your breast, Isabel,” he whispered.
Her lips parted in shock; her eyes widened.
“Do it now.”
With a trembling hand, she pressed her fingers to her right breast. He watched her nipple pucker and wished it were his hand that caused the change. “Harder,” he said.
Isabel closed her eyes and squeezed her breast. Rohan groaned and stepped closer still. Isabel moved her head back, exposing her neck to him. Her scent swirled around him. Rohan’s body throbbed, his cock straining against his clothing. His hand reached out and touched her hair. Its silky smoothness mesmerized him. He knew her skin to be as soft.
“Touch the other,” he softly commanded.
Isabel’s free hand moved up to cup her other breast. On her own, she squeezed them both and pressed the full mounds together. She moaned, and so did Rohan. He moved closer to her still, fighting the overwhelming urge to lay her down on the floor and seek refuge deep within her.
“Rohan?” Isabel whispered, her eyes still closed, her breathing almost as heavy as his. “Touch me.”
He groaned. “Isa,” he breathed, “I cannot.”
She opened her eyes, and he nearly lost himself in their amethyst depths. “Why not?”
“Because I will break my oath to you.”
Isabel took his hand and pressed it to her breast. “Nay, you will not. I will not let you.”
Rohan trembled. The heat and velvety smoothness of her against his callused hand amazed him. He slipped his left arm around her waist, drawing her to him. His lips crashed down on hers, and Isabel felt her world tilt.
She’d pressed Rohan, she told herself, to get it over and done with, but if she told the truth, it was because her desire nearly matched his, and her curiosity overrode them both.
Though he told her he would break his oath to her if he touched her, she did not believe him.
Ravenously, Rohan kissed her, his hand caressed her breast, he rubbed her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Isabel arched toward him. Heat and moisture welled between her thighs. Rohan’s hand around her waist slid to her bottom, and his hand on her breast slid down her belly. Isabel stiffened. Rohan moved her backward to the wall. The cold of the stones shocked her, but Rohan pressed her harder. His lips clung to hers.
Isabel’s head spun. She was caught up in a heated sexual frenzy. Rohan surrounded her. His hands, his lips, his shoulders, his hips, and his legs. His erection pressed hard against her belly. She could feel the heat of it.
Isabel tore her lips from his, gasping for breath. He trailed his teeth down her throat, to her shoulder, where he nipped at her skin. His hand on her belly traveled lower. In a bold move, Rohan pressed his lips to a nipple and suckled her like a hungry babe. His hand cupped her mons, and Isabel lost her balance. Rohan held her against him. His fingertip touched her hardened nub and slid slowly back and forth against it. Isabel cried out, the sensations his touch elicited unlike any she had ever experienced. Like a wanton, she found herself spreading her thighs for him and pressing her breasts harder against his mouth.
The pressure between her thighs increased, and Isabel had no idea how to make it better. But she knew Rohan was the answer. “Rohan,” she whispered, “I ache with a fever. Make it go away.”
Rohan moaned, and if it were possible, he pulled her tighter against him. What he did next shocked her. He slid his finger along the wetness of her opening. And as nature intended, Isabel moved against him. When he slid the finger into her, she cried out and clasped her thighs tightly around him. She closed her eyes as tight as she could and knew she had crossed a line with him she should not have. Yet he had become an addiction in such a short amount of time. Her body craved him. He was the only one to ease her ache.
“Jesu, Isa, you are so tight and so warm.”
Isabel clung to his shoulders, writhing against the movement of his hand. He moved his finger in a slow slide in and out of her, pressing the heel of his palm against her hardened nub. Her body glazed in sudden perspiration. Her hips bucked in an uncontrollable tempo against his hand. Waves of desire swelled between her thighs. Her skin heated almost unbearably. Rohan’s body, slick with desire, slid up and down against hers.
A sudden storm gathered between her thighs, taking Isabel by surprise. It swelled hot and wet, with the velocity of a summer squall. And just as suddenly, it crested and crashed deep inside her. The tempest in her swirled out of control, taking her high up before dropping her in an out-of-control dive back to earth. “Rohan!” she cried. He silenced her with his lips, as her body jerked and spasmed. The shock of what had just happened numbed her brain. Rohan slid his finger from her, and Isabel cried out again. Her body undulated toward him, and even though the feral ache in her had subsided, she wanted more from him.
He pulled back just enough to look into her eyes. His blazed. She licked her lips, and, still panting she asked, “What just happened?”
“’Tis the right of passage for all women.”
Isabel contemplated his answer. “What of men? Do you—?”
Rohan pressed his erection against her belly. “Aye, ’tis the only way to take the stiffness from me.”
Isabel reached out and pressed her fingertips to him. He sucked in his breath and trembled from her touch. “Isabel, you play with fire.”
She pressed her palm against him. “Does it ache as I ached?”
“Would you like me to release you?”
Rohan groaned and pulled down his garters. Isabel looked innocently up at him. “Tell me what to do.”
“Jesu, Isabel, you would tempt a saint. Push down my clothing.”
She did, and when she moved the fabric over his erection and down his thighs, Isabel could not help but admire the smooth, thick length of him.
“Touch me, Isa.”
Tentatively, she touched the wide head. In the firelight, she could see it glistened. The warmth of him surprised her. She gasped, pulling her hand away. Rohan grabbed it back and pressed it to him. He groaned and undulated against her hand as she had against his. “Wrap your fingers around me, Isa. God, yes, like that.”
He surged in her hand. He wrapped his hand around hers, and in a slow up-and-down motion, he showed her the way. Isabel was a quick study. Rohan dropped his hand from hers, and she added her other hand. Wrapping it around him, she squeezed, and Rohan nearly spilled into her hand that moment.
Fervently, he thrust into her hands, and Isabel squeezed him tighter. She boldly maneuvered him around so that now his back was against the cold stone. He grinned down at her. A saucy wench she was. Rohan grabbed her breasts with his hands, and as she pumped him, he massaged her mounds. Rohan closed his eyes, pressed his head back against the stone wall, and let the wild, hot rush of their play take him to paradise.
He sucked in a harsh breath and gritted his teeth, erupting with a force he had never experienced. He grasped her tightly against his chest as his hips slowed. Isabel kept at her slow, rhythmic milking of him until he was depleted of every drop of his seed.
Finally, he relaxed back against the wall, not feeling the hard cold of the stone. Indeed, all he felt was hot and sated. For the moment. Isabel wiped her hand across his belly. Rohan laughed, coming down slowly from the storm Isabel had created, and slipped his arm around her waist, drawing her to him.
Once their breathing resumed a normal cadence, Isabel moved away from him and grabbed a linen towel from the cabinet. She dipped it into the pitcher by the hearth, and with care she cleaned him. And damn if he didn’t rise beneath her ministrations. She looked him boldly in the eye. “Your hunger is voracious, Rohan. Is this normal to want again so quickly?”
“My desire for you, Isabel, is insatiable.”
She leaned against him and touched his erection. In a slow trail, she traced the full head of it. “I will admit, I have a hunger for you as well.”
He looked down at her, wanting her to grasp him tighter. And God, put her lips to him. The vision of her doing just that swelled him.
“Rohan, I cannot stay in this chamber with you indefinitely.”
Rohan swooped her up into his arms and tossed her onto the bed. “Do not talk to me of tomorrow.”
“It will come whether we wish it or not.”
“Aye, ’twill come, and with it”—he plopped down onto the bed beside her, sweeping his hand down her belly and cupping her damp mound as she closed her eyes and pressed against him—“we shall come together.”
“Rohan,” Isabel breathed. “Take me there again.”
She pressed her hand to his and cried out. Her slick, swollen folds teased his fingers. “Do not deny me.”
He pressed his lips to hers and slid a finger deep into her. She arched and moaned. Rohan’s head reeled, overwhelmed by her passion for him. He had known the minute he saw her up on the rampart, the icy November air ripping at her hair, that she was a tigress. The vision of her soft and yielding beneath him flashed in his mind at that moment as it did now.
Rohan knew that if she gave him the slightest signal, he would be buried to the hilt in her. Not trusting himself, he withdrew his finger. Isabel cried out, “No!”
“Isabel, I cannot watch your face as I touch you and not want to fulfill my desire in you.” He kneeled and flipped her over, pulling her hips up with his left arm. The vision of her firm creamy derriere and what he wanted to do to it caused him a moment’s pause. Rohan sucked in a deep breath, wondering if he had made a mistake turning her over. His rod swelled against her cheeks. He could so easily…
Groaning, he slid his middle finger deep into her hot, wet opening. Isabel sucked in a deep breath. “Oh, God, Rohan,” she breathed. He closed his eyes, steeling himself. She moved back against him, and he hissed.