Ria Cantrell - Celtic Storm 03 (4 page)

BOOK: Ria Cantrell - Celtic Storm 03
6.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“That’s right, Monty. You see, you are starting to remember.”

He frowned. His memory of even the last few days was fleeting at times. The woman, the one he called Janelle, had said he had suffered some sort of trauma to his skull and while he could not recall just what had happened to him, he was left with a constant ache in his head. Sometimes it even hurt to think.

Monty; the maid called him Monty
, but he knew that wasn’t exactly right. The woman had found a crest on a chain that he wore about his neck and Janelle was able to determine the words du Montefort. He supposed that was his surname, but even as he played the words on his tongue, they felt foreign to him. It made him feel crazy and angry. Curbing his ire down so as to not frighten the woman, he forced himself to smile at her. Seeing her beautiful face made the smile easier to form on his lips. She was like a magical creature who had rescued him from God knows what. She was wearing a soft wool gown made in a lavender color that was tapered over her slight wrists. The gown hugged her slender but amply curved form perfectly. Her eyes mirrored the lavender in the dress and were fringed by thick dark lashes. These were in direct contrast to her beautiful softer tinged locks. Her hair hung loose and unbound in fat curls down her back. She did not wear a wimple. She was young, perhaps younger than his own age, whatever age that may have been, because he certainly could not remember that either. He was glad he could see her face unhampered by a wimple. Her features were delicate, with perfect heart-shaped lips amid a flawless complexion. She was one of the most beautiful women he had known, even though he could scarce remember any others at the moment.

She leaned over him and he could smell her fresh clean scent, which was a mixture of washing soap and lilacs. She applied a cooling cloth to his face and she said, “How are you feeling this morn?”

How indeed?
His head still ached and his limbs felt heavy from the remnants of the fever which he must have succumbed to when he first showed up and promptly collapsed at her doorstep. He said quietly, “I am better.”

He did not want to worry this kind and beautiful creature more than he had already done. Still dabbing the cloth over his brow, she said, “I know you do not feel well, but you are really greatly improved since first you arrived. You are no longer feverish and you remember more things. Patience, Monty. It has only been a handful of days.” 

He nodded and sighed. She was right, but the memories of things he could not recall pulled at him. Someone he cared about was in great danger, but he did not remember who or what that danger was. Try as he might, he could not pull those memories out of the darkened recesses of his mind. Setting aside the cloth, Janelle said, “I brought you something to break your fast. Are you hungry?”

Strangely, he was. Despite his pitiful state, he suddenly felt famished. He said, “Aye. Have you eaten, yet?”

She shook her head and shyly said, “Nay, I thought perhaps I could break my fast with you.”

That statement brought an unforced smile to his lips. He cleared his throat and said, “Well then, I think I shall enjoy the meal all the more.”

He did not know a lot about his life, but he knew he loved being able just to look at this beautiful woman who had become his saving angel.

After their breakfast was finished, Janelle brought a pitcher and basin to tend to his morning toilet. She took a sharpened blade and lathering his face, she carefully shaved the thick growth of beard that had formed around his sculpted jaw. Clearly, she had done this before. She must have been used to tending to a man.
…she must have had a husband, he thought. He felt his heart sink at the thought. Yes, she had cared for him in his injured and unwell state. Perhaps she was just being kind. Perhaps she was just an angel of mercy after all. Except, she seemed to enjoy his presence even though it had been forced upon her after he had so
collapsed at her feet. He did not relish the idea of his beautiful Janelle tending a husband. He did not know why he should even feel such things. He knew nothing about her and he knew he had no right to feel anything but gratitude for her help and care. She was just being kind. Besides he couldn’t even recall if he had a wife of his own.

Still, as she cleared the last of his beard away, he smiled and said, “You undoubtedly have done this before. I hope your husband will not be upset that you have done this for me.”

Blush stained her cheeks and she said quietly, “I imagine he would certainly mind, I think, if he knew I had done it.”

His heart plummeted for the second time at those words. Janelle met his eyes and she said, “But he is not here.”

“Surely when he returns, he will be.…”

“Monty, I am--I am a widow. My husband was a soldier. He was killed in a campaign last winter. It has been nearly a year now.”

A combination of relief and sadness washed over him. He reached out and took her fingers gently between his own and he said sincerely, “I am so sorry for your loss.”

But to himself, he felt the day before him brighten. She was no longer married. If he could, he would have jumped for joy.

Janelle felt the strength returning to the man who had days ago seemed near to death. There was something very comforting in that returning strength. She had been so lonely since she had learned of her husband’s death. While her mourning time had not yet ended, this stranger had pricked at the wall she had carefully built around her heart. His words of sympathy sent the bricks of protection crashing down and she felt exposed and vulnerable. She did not ever want to feel that way again, but here she was; bared and unprotected with this stranger looking into her eyes with pity and something else.
No, not pity, exactly
. Compassion! This man; this injured and damaged man offered compassion for her plight and Janelle felt the remnant of the walls breaking free from her heart. She suspected that, could he remember, he would recall that he was a man who cared and had not let battle and warring touch the part that hardens men and makes them callous. For like her husband, this man was a soldier; a warrior. There was no mistaking it. Despite his weakened condition, he bore the signs of long hours training in a list field. Warrior or not, memory or not, he was a man with a kind heart.

Janelle slid her fingers from his comforting grasp and she said, “Thank you for your words. I am fine…really.”
More so since you have come here
, she thought.

After her husband’s death, she wanted everything to be fine, but the truth of the matter was that she was not fine. She felt responsible for her husband’s death and she carried a secret she was sure that she could never tell. It was one that plagued her with guilt. Besides the guilt, she felt so lost and alone. Her brother had his own family and her parents’ home seemed less than welcoming. Anyway, she liked the home she had lived in since she married, even though now she lived in it mostly alone. Except for a few house maids, Janelle had to roam the halls of the manor house in solitude.

There was something comforting about having this man in her home now, even though his present state was less than stalwart at the moment. She knew she should not allow herself to think thoughts such as those but somehow this man was working his way into her heart; a place her husband had never managed to find. It was madness. She knew nothing about him. The fact was that he knew even less about himself at the moment. She could not allow fanciful thoughts to tug at her so. No. In truth, she had one responsibility and that was to care for him until he could care for himself properly. It was her Christian duty to help him get well and to help him remember who he was.

He watched her as wavering emotions flickered in her lovely eyes. He was truly sorry for her loss and for having upset her. Still, hope burgeoned inside of him. She was no longer tied to a husband. She was going to make him a whole man again. He was certain of it. He did not want to think that he might not ever gain the memories of his past. Instead, he wanted to hope for a future. Perhaps, even a future that held the possibility of including this beautiful and gentle woman in it. Perhaps the bad luck that had caused his injury was in truth good fortune sent just to lead him to Janelle’s door.



The next day, his condition was even better. When Janelle came to check on him, she was happy to see him awake and sitting beside the fire. He was wrapped in the bedding and when he saw her blush, he smiled and said, “It would seem I have lost my clothes.”

Stain deepened in her face and she lowered her eyes shyly. “I had to launder them. They were terribly soiled and I.…”

He grinned at her and said, “I don’t remember bathing, but I must have, for I am well cleaned.”

He heard an involuntary gasp and she actually stammered, “I---I bathed you but I took care not to…I mean I did not…I tried not to….”

His soft brown eyes blazed with amusement and he said, “T’is alright, lovely Janelle. I am grateful. Even when a man can’t remember his own name, he doesn’t relish lying in his own filth.”

Her beautiful long lashes lowered, brushing her blushing cheekbones and she said, “Old habits are hard to put aside. I oft bathed my husband after battle or after long hours of training with his men. It just seemed like the right thing to do for you.”

“I have already said I am thankful. Besides, it is not often that a man can say that a beautiful woman saw to his comforts.”

“You were completely asleep.”

He did not relish her embarrassment but he teased, “Pity that.”

When she saw him wink at her, her mouth dropped open. The man was positively a rake! Tipping his head to the side, he asked, “Would it be possible to garner my clothes now that they are clean?”

A frown swept over her delicious lips and she said, “I had to burn them. They were caked in blood and soil. They were really no more than rags.”

“Well surely, you did not intend for me to stay as I was born,” he said with a smile.

“Nay, in truth, I did not think far enough ahead. I had been so concerned with your wellness, I did not think about clothing for you. I have some of my husband’s things but I daresay you are a bigger man than he. Perhaps I can let out some of his breeches and find a larger tunic for you in the meanwhile.”

Raising one eyebrow at her assessment of him, he smiled all the more and said, “Anything you do will be fine, Janelle. I did not mean to embarrass you.”

The fact was he was glad she had noticed he was a bigger man. That wicked thought gave him a fair bit of amusement and pleasure.

Her smile lit her face and she said, “In truth, Monty, I am happy to see you up and about. I will bring you something to eat and then try to find something suitable for you to wear.”

With a teasing little grin of her own, she added, “Don’t go anywhere.”

As if he could; wrapped in nothing more than sheeting from the bed. Not to mention he had no memory of where to go or where he had been. Still, he did feel better and it was because of her. The attentive way she had seen to his care was helping him heal, he was certain of that. He wanted to get better for her, as well. He wanted her to not look upon him with the pity given to an invalid. He wanted her to see him as a man; whole and hale, so he fought for wellness. Or at the very least, he fought for the appearance of it. His skull ached less. It was more like a dull throbbing now. If only he could remember something about his life before he had come here. He kept having fleeting thoughts of a woman; someone who was important to him, but he could not remember anything about her. He did not know if she was a lover, a sibling, or a spouse. He hoped like hell it was not a spouse, because he was pretty certain he was falling in love with the beautiful Janelle, his angel. He knew it was wrong and too soon to make such a claim, but his heart was filled and he could not keep thoughts of her from his mind. He also was thankful that he had been too ill to be aware that she had bathed and undressed him. Although, even as he imagined it, he felt a familiar tightening in his loins at the wonderful thought of it.
Ahhh, at least his body remembered how to react to thoughts of a beautiful temptress.
He wondered if that would be enough should the memories of his past never return. Thinking about his gentle, beautiful angel he almost thought nothing else would matter.




~Chapter Six~


Erik tossed and turned fitfully as dreams seemed to plague his sleep. The riding party had made camp for the night and he had settled in his cloak near the fire. He thought he would pass the night in dreamless oblivion because they had ridden hard through the day. He had been bone achingly tired and as the warmth of the fire pervaded his clothes, drowsy calm came upon him and he soon was sleeping. Only his sleep was not the sweet oblivion he craved.


~He seemed to be plunged into a dark, churning water. The brine coated his throat and choked his lungs. Still he knew he had to save her, for she was just a child. Her ebony hair floated around her like a dark cloud and though the frigid water seemed to be suffocating him, he heard his voice clear and true call out to her.

“Grab hold,” he said, extending his strong hand to the girl who had seemed to be slipping further to the bottom of the black depths. As she continued to fall deeper beneath him, she looked up one final time. She was not a child, after all, but a beautiful woman with eyes the shades of crystal emeralds. He felt the last of his air escape as her gaze met his through the gloom. Propelling himself downward, he clasped her hand in his mighty fist and he pulled her toward the surface in what appeared to be an endless and all-consuming depth. His ascent was slow and labored like she wished to pull them both to the cold bottom of the sea. It felt as if he was pushing through thick syrup instead of water. He was going to die there in the water with her. No, he had to save her. He had to save them both. With a final kick, he breached the surface. His lungs burned in his chest. As he gasped for air, she gazed upon him and she said, “There, you have saved me. Your destiny and mine are set.”

BOOK: Ria Cantrell - Celtic Storm 03
6.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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