Emily met Draven’s gaze. “And what of you?”
“Do you not crave a family?”
“I have my sword, my shield and my horse. ‘Tis all the family I require.”
She frowned. “What of Simon?”
“Unlike your father, milady, I don’ cling to people. For the most part, I enjoy my brother’s company. But I know the time will come when he will leave. ‘Tis expected.”
“Are you not afraid of being alone?”
“I came into the world that way, and ’tis the way I shall surely leave it. Why should I expect the years in between to be anything else?”
Emily just stared at him as she digested his words. The calm acceptance amazed her. “Do you not wish it otherwise?”
“If you don’ wish for something, then you can’ be disappointed.”
His words sent a shiver over her. How could he live with such a reality?
“‘Tis a cold place where you live, milord. And the fact that you seem to like it so well makes me pity you.”
“You pity me?” he asked incredulously.
“‘Deed I do.”
Emily sighed. There was no need to further this discussion. He was a stubborn man and it would take some thinking to get past those prickly defenses of his. But she would succeed.
One way or another.
“Come, milord,” she said, taking his hand again. “Let us not dwell on such serious matters while we are in the midst of merriment. I can see them getting ready for a wrestling match and something tells me that you would much rather watch that than hear another minstrel’s tale.”
And so the rest of the afternoon went. Though Lord Draven never really took part in any of it, he seemed content enough to watch her as she enjoyed herself fully.
Emily tried time and again to get him to loosen up a bit, but it was futile.
“Come, Lord Draven,” she chided at the maypole. “Would you not like to kick up your heels and dance?”
“Should I do that, milady, the world would surely know just how uncoordinated I am, and being a knight of the crown and not a fool, I would shudder to make them laugh at me.” He gently urged her toward the pole with a light nudge. “Go participate if you must.”
“Very well,” she said as she left his side and went to take one of the red ribbons.
Draven crossed his arms over his chest as he watched Emily dance around the pole. She was truly breathtaking. Her hair and skirt flared around her as she turned in circles, laughing.
How he wished he could live up to the words he had given her about his life. But in truth he did wish for something.
That something was her.
And there was nothing more than mere words standing between them.
And a curse.
Aye, the curse. Grinding his teeth, he tried to blot the image of his mother’s pale face from his mind. The blankness of her lifeless stare.
No matter his feelings, he would never forsake his word to Henry. Emily’s safety would take precedence over his needs. His wants.
After the dance, she returned to his side, her eyes sparkling. “You should have joined us,” she said breathlessly. “‘Twas most marvelously fun.”
Impulsively, Draven brushed a stray piece of hair from her cheek. He lingered his fingertips over the softness of her skin before he trailed them just a bit through her hair.
So subtle a gesture and yet it sent heated waves of desire through his entire body, rocking his equilibrium. He dropped his hand back to his side, but still the warmth of her skin clung to him.
“I hate to take you away from the fun, milady. But ’twill be dark within the hour and I fear we must be getting back.”
“Very well.” She reached out and tucked her arm into the crook of his elbow.
Draven stiffened, knowing he should withdraw and yet he liked the feeling of her by his side.
Relaxing, he led her back through the merchants and their wares.
As they passed a goldsmith’s booth, he noted the way Emily slowed down, her gaze drawn by it. Draven stopped and reluctantly withdrew his arm from her.
“Here,” he said, pulling a gold mark from his purse. “Go buy yourself a trinket to remember the day.”
“I can’ take this,” she said, handing it back to him. “‘Tis too much to spend.”
“Go ahead,” he said gently as he pressed it into her hand. “I assure you there is nothing at this fair that would bankrupt me.”
She looked at him skeptically as she rubbed the coin between her thumb and forefinger. “Are you sure?”
“It would please me for you to spend it.”
He watched as she crossed the way to look over the bracelets scattered about the top of the table.
“Here, milady,” the merchant said, holding up an intricately set emerald necklace. “This necklace would be a perfect match for your eyes.” The merchant’s female assistant draped the piece around Emily’s throat.
Her long graceful fingers stroked the gold braid as she lifted up the large tear-shaped emerald to study it. “‘Tis very beautiful,” she breathed.
“Aye, milady does it justice,” the girl said.
Taking a deep breath, he looked away. He knew it did no good to lust after that which he couldn’ have. He’d learned long ago not to stare at the sun lest it blind him.
And so he forced himself to watch the people around him as they moved through the crowd.
Several minutes later, Emily was back at his side.
“Did you get the necklace?” he asked.
She shook her head and before he could move, she seized his cloak. Draven frowned as he watched her hands gather the black fabric under his plain brooch, then unpin it. She placed his brooch between her teeth and in its place, she pinned an elaborate gold piece inlaid with a black enameled raven that was surrounded by dark red rubies.
She pulled his old brooch out of her mouth and smiled. “It reminded me of your emblem,” she said, smoothing his cloak. “And I thought you might have more need of a happy memory than me.” Her hands lingered on his chest as she tilted her head to look up at him.
Overwhelmed, he didn’ know what pleased him most. Her smile, the feel of her hands against his chest, or the fact that she had thought of him.
“Thank you, Emily, I will treasure it always.”
Her smile widened. “Do you realize that is the first time you have used my name while addressing me? I had begun to wonder if you even remembered it.”
She took his arm again and started back to where they’d left the horses.
“Thank you for the day,” she said. “It was one of the best ones I’ve ever had.”
He swallowed. It was without a doubt the best day of his life. He covered her hand with his and reveled at the feel of her fingers beneath his own. He gave a gentle squeeze and led her to their mounts.
She wasn’ nearly as talkative on the way back and about half way there, Draven turned to see why. She had her eyes closed and looked as if she were trying to sleep. She jumped as if startled and then blinked her eyes as if to clear them. And then she covered her mouth with her hand and gave a wide yawn.
Draven reined his horse to a stop and caught her reins. She looked at him with a puzzled frown.
“You’d best ride with me before you fall from your horse and break your neck.”
Before she could protest, he lifted her from her saddle and set her down across his lap. Heat seared him as her hips contacted with his loins.
She said nothing as she wrapped her arms about his waist and settled herself against his chest like a small child. The top of her head brushed his chin and he could feel her heat the length of his entire body. Her breath fell softly against his throat raising chills all over him.
For a moment he couldn’ move as he fought against the urge to kick his horse into the woods and lay her down upon the grass and take her. Over and over, he could imagine her sighs of pleasure in his ear as he rocked himself between her milky thighs as he took possession of her both body and soul.
He tightened his grip on the reins. He would not touch her. By all that was holy, he would not!
Forcing himself, he tied the reins of her horse to his saddle and continued on toward Orrick’s home. His horse had barely gone three yards before he felt her body relax as she drifted off to sleep. It was only then he allowed himself to relax.
Impulsively, he tilted his head down to rest his cheek against the top of her head where he could inhale the sweet honeysuckle scent of her and feel the soft strands on his skin, his lips.
“Ogres can be fun,” she mumbled under her breath, never waking from her sleep.
“Even in slumber you speak,” he said, amused by the knowledge, and even more by the fact that no other man knew that about her.
Draven tilted her head and stared into her face. He rested her cheek against his shoulder and gently cupped her chin in his hand. Her lips were parted ever so lightly and it would be so easy to lean forward and take possession of them.
If only he hadn’ given his word.
All his life, his word had been his bond. He’d never once broken it. But never before had keeping it been so torturous.
“Lilacs,” she whispered. “There are lilacs afoot.”
Whatever was she dreaming of? He couldn’ imagine.
Tenderly, he ran the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip, remembering the sugar that had been there earlier. She poked her tongue back out, touching it lightly to his thumb.
Draven drew his hand back as if she had scalded him, and indeed it felt as if she had.
Upbraiding himself for his foolishness, he spurred the horse to get them back before he yielded to his lust.
Once he was within sight of Orrick’s walls, he gently shook her awake. She stretched languidly against him like a soft kitten. When she opened her eyes and saw his face, she jumped ever so slightly.
“My goodness,” she breathed, “I forgot you were holding me.”
If only he could have forgotten. “I thought it best you be back on your own horse before we entered the outer bailey.
Stifling yawn, she nodded.
Draven dismounted with her, then placed her on her own horse. Her warmth clung to him for a full minute before it evaporated and left him longing for it again.
Mounting his horse, he led her into the castle.
When they entered the hall, there was a banquet fare spread out that would rival one of the king’s feasts. Servants bustled about in haste as they brought food from the kitchens and decorated the tables.
“At last you return,” Orrick said in greeting as he approached them.
“What is all this?” Draven asked.
“Simon said you would leave in the morning, so I thought we’d have a farewell for your journey.”
“It smells wonderful,” Emily said, crossing the few feet that separated her from Christina.
Draven eyed the dias draped with red cloth and filled to overflowing with hatred. In truth, he preferred his meals in private. But there was no way to decline the offer lest he offend his host.
“I tried to tell him not to,” Simon said in a low voice as he came up behind him. “He wouldn’ listen.”
Draven noted Simon’s obvious limp as he paused next to him. “How’s your ankle this evening?”
“So I see.”
“What do you mean?”
“This afternoon when I left, ’twas the other foot you favored. Perhaps it wasn’ your feet you injured, but rather your head.”
A wide smile split Simon’s face. “You caught me. “Well, at least I no longer have to worry about hobbling about.” His gaze dropped to Draven’s chest. “Nice cloak pin. Did some demon possess you that you would buy it?”
Draven glanced to where Emily talked with Christina. Pain stabbed his heart and he sighed. “‘Twas but a bit of foolishness. If you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with my squire.”