Authors: Scottie Barrett
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Erotica, #Historical, #General, #Romance/Historical
The Heat of the Knight
Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © 2006, Scottie Barrett. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Liquid Silver Books
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
Beckett stacked his hands behind his head and sunk his aching body into the straw. Below, he could hear Jane cursing as she tugged on the warped door. Abruptly her rough tongue softened. Light, girlish banter echoed through the abandoned mill. With effort, Beckett moved his heavy limbs and yanked up his breeches. The only person who ever turned Jane into a simpering maiden was his cousin. Sure enough, Colin was soon testing the limits of the rotting ladder as he clambered up to the loft.
Colin flopped down on the stale straw. “Tupping the kitchen wench and 'tis barely dawn.”
“I've been tramping through the forest for hours while you, you laggard, have just lifted your head from the pillow.”
“I assume you felled that great beast trussed in the kitchen yard. There'll be no shortage of venison at table this week.” Colin reached over and snatched the mug set upon the windowsill. He poured the remainder of the ale down his throat, then swept the back of his hand across his mouth. “You should have roused me.”
“Lest you forget, you dozed in the saddle and tumbled into the dirt on last week's hunt,” Beckett reminded him.
Colin tossed the mug from hand to hand. “I have yet to forgive you for leaving me sleeping where I fell. I awoke to find myself staring straight into the feral eyes of a wolf.”
“A hedgehog, more like,” Beckett said with a lazy chuckle.
“Speaking of beasties, how can you let Jane touch you?” Colin asked with a theatrical shudder. “I go limp just thinking how ruthlessly she wrings those chickens' necks. Tell me, Beck, have you ever tried a virgin?”
“If you want a virgin beneath you, you'd best hie to a distant village. In every cottage from here to St. George's Channel parents warn their daughters of you.”
Beckett's eyes drifted shut only to feel Colin's insistent tapping on his forearm. “I can assure you, I am not the fiend they warn about. Never forget, you've been marked with an S. For sinner, seducer, satyr. Rather snakelike actually—though I can't tell which is the head and which the tail.” Colin roughly traced the pigmented skin with his finger.
“It's a bloody birthmark, you fool. If you don't stop fondling my arm, I'm going to send you down to the threshing floor headfirst.”
Colin dropped his hand and moved with haste to a far corner of the loft. “I'll wager I can enjoy the charms of one of our very own chaste damsels.”
“And I eagerly accept that wager. I'll be celebrating when her father drags you to the altar.” Beckett yawned loudly. “Now be off, you nuisance. I'm trying to sleep.”
Colin lingered. “You would find it amusing to see me tied to a penniless wench. While you, betrothed from the cradle to an heiress, look forward to a future rich with coin and land.”
“God's blood, are you still here?” Beckett slurred the words. Sleep was weighing his lids down again.
“Keep your place, cousin, and soon you will marvel at my skill,” Colin said and finally left him in peace.
* * * *
Feminine laughter drifted into Beckett's dream. He jerked awake, and instantly got into a defensive crouch, his chest heaving, and sweat breaking out on his brow. A strong wind outside made the roof timbers creak eerily as he watched her whirl around, her silver-white hair shimmering in the pale light filtering through the tiny barred window.
“I'll snap his damned neck,” he muttered. Reeling, Beckett sat back against the wooden hopper and shut his eyes.
He held his breath, waiting anxiously to hear Colin receive a hard, well-deserved smack across the face, but, instead, he heard her sweet laughter again. All this time he'd believed he had the upper hand in the rivalry for Tiana's affection. Just the deluded thoughts of a man desperately in love, he reproached himself. Of course, she would prefer his cousin's golden looks and gladsome temperament to his own demon's night coloring and dark, heavy moods.
Beckett recalled the moment when she became his world. Tiana had watched wideeyed from a shadowed corner of his room like a pale angel, cringing at his shouts of pain as the physician set his leg. Shamed at his own weakness, he'd bitten back the curses.
Once the room had emptied of suffocating attendants, he'd beckoned to Tiana.
Wordlessly, she'd slipped into bed with him. They'd clung together through the night, his shirt a sponge for her tears. In the morning, the burly nurse had had to pry them apart.
They'd never spoken of it since, but the exquisite feeling of her frail body tucked tightly in his arms through the entire night of agony was etched in his memory forever.
He was being a jealous knave. Tiana would never allow Colin the favors he was seeking. Beckett willed himself to crawl to the edge of the loft and peered down.
Tightening his grip on the loft's railing, he felt the splintered wood stabbing into the flesh of his palm. Colin had purposely positioned himself so that Beckett was forced to witness everything. Tiana's shoulders and milky white breasts were already exposed. Her eyes were closed, and her head lolled back on her graceful neck. Colin's greedy mouth was on one of her delicious, rose-colored nipples. Nipples Beckett had only glimpsed through a clinging, rain-soaked tunic. And now, he saw the breasts, breasts he had only ever dreamed of, being suckled by his traitorous cousin. Worst of all, Tiana was responding with soft, moaning sounds.
The blood thundered in Beckett's ears, yet he kept watching. His treacherous body reacted. His cock grew hard as she arched her back, pushing her breast further into Colin's mouth. Beckett had the sudden urge to climb through the wide hole in the thatched roof and hurl himself into the rock bed of the dried river below. But the idea only held interest for him if he could haul his wretched cousin along with him. Beckett reached around in the straw for his knife. Intentionally, he ran his thumb along the blade testing its sharpness, slicing open his skin. Blood splattered the straw as he shook the red drops away and sheathed the weapon.
Just as the anguish became unbearable, Beckett's squire, Simon, came crashing into the mill. His face was flushed, and he was struggling for breath. Tiana gasped and immediately yanked on her tunic. Colin turned on the boy, his fist raised as if he were ready to throttle the lad.
“Master Colin, where is your cousin?”
Colin glanced briefly up to where Beckett was perched, but did not give away his location.
“How the devil should I know? Do I look like his damned nursemaid? Take your leave, or I may very well take your life.”
Simon worked his fingers through his curly brown hair, a nervous habit Beckett was far too familiar with. But Colin's threat failed to scare him off. Something grave was afoot. Beckett instantly thought of his ailing father.
“It is crucial that I find him,” Simon said.
Deciding he could hesitate no longer, Beckett started down the ladder. Near the bottom, a step gave way under him, and he crashed through the last couple of rungs before dropping to his feet with a jarring thud. He pressed his hand against the shooting pain in his thigh.
Tiana blinked up at him, then her knees buckled. Colin caught her before she collapsed.
With a cry, she wrenched herself from his possessive grasp. Her eyes brimming with tears, she glared at each of them in turn. Then she seemed to concentrate her fury on Beckett. “How dare you spy on me?”
His worry for his father was forgotten for a moment as he unleashed the bitterness in his heart. “Believe me, I'd far rather have been in Colin's position. I wish I'd known how easily you'd lift your skirt. To think of all the time I've wasted.”
She delivered a stinging slap.
“Bloody hell,” he said, rubbing his jaw. “My cousin gets a delicious mouthful of those forbidden nipples, and I receive a harsh blow to the face. Hardly seems fair. Normally, 'tis the seducer that deserves punishing.”
Tiana hastily tied shut her kirtle. “To think only this morning, I considered you both my dearest friends.”
“Still friends, just in a different, far more satisfying way.” Colin's attempt to placate her was met with a choking sob.
Furiously swiping away her tears, she fled the mill.
“My lord.” Simon asserted himself, clutching at Beckett's arm.
With a shake, Beckett dislodged his squire's grasp, and, bending at the waist, he used his shoulder to drive his cousin against the wall. There was a hollow sound as Colin's head met wood.
“Like a bloody bull,” Colin said, taking fistfuls of Beckett's hair and forcing him upright.
For the first time, Beckett glimpsed fear in his cousin's eyes and took a step back.
“Christiana was not for the taking,” he roared.
“Not for me, eh, Beckett? She wasn't really
silver-haired angel, she was
Beckett flexed his fingers. “I fear your understanding comes too late.”
Colin shrugged, but it resembled a shudder more than a gesture of indifference.
“Why did you not tell me? Had I known, I certainly would have quelled my lustful cravings.”
“'Tis a wonder you do not choke on your lying tongue.” The need to pummel the hell out of his cousin reasserted itself.
Armed with a shovel, Simon pushed between them. Sweat moistened his brow.
“Your father has had another attack. I believe he is dying, my lord.”
“What, dying again?” Colin drew his trembling fingers through his hair. “Though if it is true, 'tis a pity you will not have Christiana's tender ministrations to soften the blow. It seems you are the major villain of this piece.” Colin offered a sheepish smile that begged to be wiped away. Beckett obliged, knocking Colin on his ass before setting out for the castle.
Through the netting she'd wrapped around her face, Christiana watched the approach of the massive destrier, a gleaming black steed with a snow-white blaze. She set the smoking pot down and waited until the horse had been reined in.
“I was going to bring the rent today.” She stared straight at the horse's quivering muzzle as she spoke. One thing she'd learned living alone was not to give a man any encouragement. Sometimes a mere glance could be misconstrued. “As you can see, I'm getting ready to collect the honey. I will have those filled by noon.” She swept her hand in an arc to show the pots, which stood beneath the shade of the eaves.
Though the steed seemed to twitch with unspent energy, it held its stance. Curiosity getting the better of her, Christiana craned her neck to peer up at the man who maintained such control over the spirited beast. She swallowed hard. In the years since she and her father had moved out of the castle, his long, youthful frame had filled out with solid, dangerous muscle.
She had seen Beckett close-up only once in the intervening years, when he'd paid respects at her father's burial. She had been so distraught that the only thing she remembered was the fierceness of his dark eyes, and how they had been riveted on her through the entire ceremony.
“Can you find no man capable? Are you forced to collect your own rents nowadays, my lord?” Her legs trembled as she curtsied.
His bold black eyes seemed to take her measure. “Actually, I've come to collect you.” With fondness, she recalled his boyhood trait of dropping his gaze, his dark lashes fluttering shyly. But, of course, she'd lost his esteem long ago, the day he'd seen her stripped naked to the waist with his cousin.
“I owe it to your father to see you better situated.” Beckett swung out of the saddle and tethered his horse to a hedge. Christiana could swear that the ground shook as he walked past her. Ducking under the lintel, he forced his way into her little hut.
With a sneer, he picked up the remaining chunk of maslin bread, her breakfast and supper for the morrow. “'Tis not enough for a bird.” He lifted the tankard of ale and took a whiff, his handsome nose wrinkling. “Sour stuff.”
He stomped across the room, his big, booted feet kicking up dust from the dirt floor.
Several mice scurried out from under her straw mattress. “My dogs live better. You are coming to live at the castle. Do not gainsay me.”