Authors: Knight Storm
Erik could not believe the vision coming down the stairs toward him. A lovely woman with sleek dark hair framing a delicate face with deep-set almond shaped eyes seemed to be floating down toward him in graceful and purposeful movements. It was
…the girl who had infiltrated his dreams; the very same urchin that dripped mud on his boots just a day past. How could this beautiful woman be the same person? As she continued down the steps, she lowered her dark lashes demurely. Erik took her hand as she stepped off the last and he kissed it. With a bow that was no longer mocking her, he said, “My lady Rhianna. Sir Erik Ragnorsen, at your service.”
Rhianna snatched her hand away from his as if she had been burned and she said, “Yes, I am not so slow witted to not remember who you are.”
It sounded more curt than she meant it to and she regretted her words as they left her lips. Erik was not put out by her terse answer. He was thinking of their kiss and he smiled and said, “Yes I would imagine you did remember our brief first encounter. I wanted to apologize for my behavior. It was most untoward. I think we got off on a very wrong foot. I would like to begin anew, if that would be alright with you.”
Rhianna said softly, “What has been done cannot be undone.” And then she added, “By either of us.”
With a teasing grin, Erik replied, “No. I suppose not. I would like to try to set off on a better path from here on in.”
Rhianna raised her eyes to his and searching his face for what, she did not know. She simply nodded. She was not certain if he was toying with her or not. While he wore a playful smile, she thought mayhap he meant what he said.
Erik had been more than a little stunned when he saw her coming down the stairs. She had missed vespers and the morning meal. He was starting to think she was truly rudely avoiding him, but he could see she was not and that she was just late in rising. She still had the contented look of sleep about her. He remembered Andarra’s words. The lady had tirelessly worked with a sick baby. Erik actually felt a sense of pity for her and something changed from that moment inside of him as he imagined her caring for sick villagers. When he saw her coming toward him, he actually found it hard to swallow.
Drew was right, damn him!
She was a true beauty. While she seemed a little shy with him, Erik could see she was a self-assured woman who was comfortable as much in a beautiful gown as she was in a mud bath. He almost chuckled at the thought, but he held back, lest she think he was mad…again!
Her lovely gown mirrored the deep green of her large eyes. It hugged her beautiful curvaceous form perfectly, showing a shape that not only appealed to him, but that actually enticed him. The tight sleeves pointed over each delicate wrist. Her skin was not white but touched with the sun. She looked like a Celtic goddess in that green gown adorned with knot work at the hem, neckline and sleeves.
This was not the coddled woman he thought her to be. She was used to work, else she would have been fair as alabaster. Instead, she had a golden cast to her skin from time spent outdoors. Even the hand he had kissed bore slight calluses on her palm from the toting of buckets and the like. Clearly, this was not a woman used to being waited on hand and foot. While Erik prided himself on fancying a genteel woman of good breeding, there was something quite appealing about a woman who worked hard and was not afraid to do just that. This was a woman who could be depended upon.
She was also not the hag he had so vehemently wanted to avoid marrying. Clearing his throat, Erik said, “I was hoping to visit the captain of your guard and to view the list field. Then, if you would be so good to show me, I would like to see the remainder of the keep. Would you be kind enough to show me around your home?”
Rhianna’s defenses instantly were raised. She wondered if he would find her home lacking and she straightened her spine at his request. Erik was a man who could learn a good deal from opponents just on the positions of their bodies. Rhianna’s stance did not go unmissed by his warrior’s eye. How had what he said raised her hackles again? She tried to move past him and she said, “I am afraid that I do not have time to show you
keep today. I am on my way to the village to see to a sick child. Now if you would excuse me, Sir Erik, perhaps one of the servants can give you a guided tour of
Just like that, she was going to dismiss him. Erik did not miss her possessive use of the word “my” as she described du Montefort Keep. He was undaunted by her defensive demeanor and as she began to brush past him, his hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. She turned on him and gave him a look that could surely frost hell. He momentarily wondered how it was possible for someone as beautiful as she was to look so murderous in just a matter of seconds. He smiled still, despite the daggers shooting from those beautiful green pools.
“Well then, I should like to escort you to the village. Perhaps I can be of help.”
“More likely, you will be in the way. The cottage is small and you are.…” She let the words ‘very big’ die on her lips as blush rushed to her face. Erik raised an eyebrow at her assessment of him. He suddenly and wickedly wanted to show her just how big he could get. It was the damnedest thing. Something in her tart words and her lovely face actually made him want to kiss her again. Not a punishing brusque kiss, but a slow deep exploring kiss. Hell, she was proving to be quite a handful, but Erik was no longer sure he minded. He was rather up to the challenge. He could feel her straining against his grip, but he did not loosen it just yet. Instead he said, “Perhaps I may be in the way as you say, but I should still like to come along and start making my acquaintances with the people who occupy these lands.”
He added with a perverse pleasure, “Besides, they will need to meet your future husband and it may as well be sooner than later.”
Rhianna felt hot color deepen in her face, but this time it was not because of maiden shyness or embarrassment. She was outraged. She lifted her chin in defiance and she said, “I am not marrying you, so my people need not ever make your acquaintance.”
Erik really wanted to school Rhianna in proper etiquette befitting a lady, but first he really wanted to kiss her again. Pulling her closer to him, he gripped her gently about her waist, which to his delight was narrow. She gasped at the contact and Erik said, “Oh, but you are going to marry me. You do not have a choice in the matter, nor do I. So you may as well accept it. We can make it easy on each other or we can fight; but either way, we are bound to marry.”
She wanted to say that she would never accept it and she would never accept him. Instead, she clamped her mouth shut and did not say another word. Her eyes were locked to his in a silent battle and she wished she could slap that grin off his handsome face. She could feel his strength as his hand rested on the small of her back. His thighs were massive and she had the strange feeling like she was being pinned between two trees. His Nordic gaze mirrored the cold depths of the North Sea, turning almost navy as he silently challenged her to defy him again. Putting both hands on his chest, Rhianna pushed out of his hold, breaking the unnerving contact. She stepped from his grasp and she said, “I am afraid precious time has been wasted. I need to see to the child.”
“I am coming with you, Rhianna.”
Rhianna shrugged and said, “As you wish. Now if you would excuse me, I must gather my supplies.”
Rhianna hurried away, relieved to not be touching him any longer. Something about the physical contact with the man rattled her. It also made her not able to think clearly. It looked like he was going to try to kiss her again and when he was that close, Rhianna almost could not resist the unholy lure of him. As she went to gather the needed items to take to the village, Rhianna was still shaken from the encounter. Why did he have to look like that? By God, why did he have to smell the way he did? He wore a leather mantle over his dark blue jerkin and he smelled like he had just bathed. Between the earthy scent of the leather and the masculine fragrance of the soap he had used, Rhianna found the combination intoxicating. It was like his scent was weaving a spell around her and forcing rational thought from her mind. It was all she could do to not resist being pulled into his embrace. Then there was the small matter of his appearance.
Sweet Mother of Mercy, he truly looked like the Norse god, Thor.
His dark blond hair hung straight to his broad shoulders, like those heathen Viking barbarians of long ago, but on him, it seemed natural. He exuded strength and Rhianna supposed if he truly wanted to restrain her, he would need only to flex that strength in his muscled arms. No amount of struggling against him would have allowed her to break free of his hold had he willed it. His face was handsome; almost ridiculously so…like he was created so no woman could resist him with his sensual mouth, straight white teeth, and sculpted jaw that already had the indication of the growth of a daily beard.
His clothing had not gone unnoticed either. This was not a man who was without means. He wore tight fitting trews of matching black leather. His jerkin was dark blue woven wool with short sleeves that strained over his muscular arms. His under tunic was a pale gold and it hugged his arms to his wrists. His black leather mantle formed a cowl just beneath the strong column of his neck. A cape flared from underneath the mantle, draping from his massive shoulders. A low hanging belt was slung over his narrow hips and a sword was set in it. Despite his pretty looks, this man was a warrior first and foremost. It was something Rhianna had best not forget. Erik Ragnorsen was not a man gone soft, but one of power. Though he was not dressed for battle, the presence of his sword was a constant reminder of his station in life. He was a soldier under the king’s employ. He was a force not be reckoned with. It was not something that bothered Rhianna, for if she did not loath the idea of their arranged betrothal, Rhianna knew that Sir Erik would be a valuable ally in the defense of her home.
Rhianna had to shake herself from the musings of Sir Erik Ragnorsen. There was work to be done and she could not allow herself to ponder the man another moment. Already she was late in the business of the day. When she had collected all the items she needed, she made her way through the main hall to the outer bailey. As he had promised, Sir Erik was waiting there to escort her to the village. She did not know why his presence unnerved her; but unnerve her it surely did as well as pique her. His handsome guard was beside him and the two men approached her when they saw her. Rhianna wished she could dodge them and run back into the keep because she had a sudden horrible feeling likened to a hare being caught in a trap. Instead, she smiled politely. Sir Erik’s deep voice almost startled her when he said, “May I present the captain of my Elite Guard, Sir Andrew Brandham.”
Sir Andrew bowed and drawing her hand to his lips, said, “My lady, I am ever at your service.”
His eyes twinkled with a jovial mirth. Rhianna smiled in earnest at the infectious ease exuded by this man.
“I am glad to meet you, Sir Andrew.”
“Please, my lady, just call me Drew.”
Kissing her fingers again, Rhianna could not miss the differences in the two men before her. Both men were big and powerful. Both were trained knights and warriors. Both were handsome and imposing, but besides their coloring of light and dark, one was formal and the other was not. One was the leader and the other was not.
One had an unholy pull to her and the other did not
Oh for goodness sake, there should be no reason that one had any pull on her at all.
For that reason, when Sir Erik offered to carry her basket and Sir Drew offered to take her arm, Rhianna did not refuse. She did not want to make physical contact with the Viking beast, for it addled her and made her loose her sense of purpose. Rhianna walked between the two men as they made their way to the village. She noticed that Erik was silent mostly, while Drew engaged her in polite conversation. She should have felt like she was being heavily guarded, but instead it seemed as if they were off on a pleasant outing for the day. Drew spoke easily with her and tried to include Erik in the conversation, but Erik just listened and observed. There seemed to be an ease instantly with Drew that did not exist between Rhianna and himself. It did not sit well with the blond giant. He had a fleeting thought that perhaps the Lady Rhianna and Drew would have been better suited to each other. He glanced over at the two and heard gentle laughter coming from his betrothed. The sound warmed his heart.
So, there was a softer side to this thorny rose after all. Her guard was down with Drew but with Erik, she was defensive and curt. Erik was not a man prone to bouts of jealousy, but when Rhianna laughed for a second time and Erik saw Drew wink at her, it was all he could do to not punch Drew square in the nose. As they approached the humble dwelling of the ill child, Erik once again noticed the change in Rhianna’s demeanor. Her facial expressions and body language were quite telling. A look of pure concern and compassionate tenderness reached her eyes as she knocked on the cottage door.
A woman, heavy with child, opened the door. She looked tired and strained, but upon seeing Rhianna, the woman’s face lit up and she took Rhianna’s hands within both of her own.
“Oh my Lady Rhianna. I am so happy to see you.”
“How is our little Alys this day?”