Sword for His Lady(6)

By: Mary Wine



She pointed once again at the baskets the feathers were carefully stored in.

“Rats steal goose eggs. Hawks eat rats. My flock of geese is large because I fly Griffin over the marshes to hunt the rats. It keeps the vermin out of the stores as well.”

His eyes narrowed as he contemplated her. Her belly fluttered again, which was preposterous because there was no reason she should worry about pleasing him.

And yet…that sense of heat shifted between them again, and she noticed just how black his hair was. Like the deepest winter midnight.

Enough!

“Clever lady. You use reasoning well. Interesting.”

His lips twitched. Something flashed in his eyes that sent her back a step in spite of her resolve to remain unmoved by him. There was a sense of command in him that seemed woven into the very fiber of his soul. She could have sworn she felt it, like heat radiating off coals.

He turned his attention from her and looked at the baskets. Isabel was grateful for the moment of privacy because she was sure her face betrayed how unsettled she was.

She wanted him and his army gone. The sooner the better.

Maybe needed was a better word.

You shall not think in such a manner…

Her poise was crumbling, deserting her in a fashion that she had never experienced. It was so unsettling, she was nearly breathless.

“I hear the king leaves soon on his Crusade, and that he has even taken to wearing the cross on his robe.”

“He has.” Ramon de Segrave stared back at her. This time he lingered over her features, his gaze slipping down her body with a slow, sweeping motion that sent heat to her cheeks. It was unseemly for any knight to look at a lady in such a way, but it suited his nature.

Excitement twisted through her like too much wine during a winter feast.

“Enough.” Her mouth had gone dry. “Your gaze is overly bold for a knight embarking on the Crusade, my lord.”

His lips twitched. “When you greet me with your head uncovered, you should expect such.”

His chastisement stoked her temper. “The day is fine and warm. Whilst working inside, I had no need of a veil. This is not court, where efforts are devoted to vanity instead of the work necessary to begin planting. I dress to suit my duties.”

She raised her chin and refused to lower her head with shame. He pressed his lips into a firm line, but she could see him weighing her words. Judging her.

Wasn’t that the way of men?

“I bid you good travels.” She lowered herself in one swift motion that erased the amusement from his expression. The baron quickly moved into her path, almost too fast for how much armor he wore, blocking the doorway with his large body.

“His majesty has bestowed the title of baron upon me for service by his side, and given me the duty of making sure his kingdom is secure while he is away. Specifically, this borderland. I am also your neighbor now; the land to the south of your estate is mine.” His expression became impossible to read, drawing her closer as she sought some understanding of what he intended. There was something brewing in his eyes, something that twisted her insides with anticipation.

She stepped back from him and his eyes narrowed.

“That land has been deserted for two generations. There is not even a manor house still standing, for the Welsh burned it.”

“Which is why the king has seen fit to suggest I wed you. Together, our land will become an estate the Welsh will find they cannot raid.”

Her throat tightened until she couldn’t squeeze even a breath through it. Her temper flared up. She had held these lands countless days and toiled long hours to provide for their inhabitants. Everything was a credit to her own dedication. Yet to Ramon de Segrave, it might all so easily become part of the spoils.

“When hellfire rains down from heaven, and not one moment before, shall I stand at the church door to wed you.”

She hurried down the length of the store house and out another doorway, every muscle in her body quivering.

From her anger, no doubt.

You lie…

She ground her teeth together.

Perhaps, yet it was only a small dishonesty, for she was angry too.

Aye, a tiny dishonesty, for she would be damned to hellfire before admitting she quivered for Ramon de Segrave.

Or any man.

* * *

“She has spirit, that one. And pride,” Ambrose St. Martin remarked from beside him. Ramon reached up and pulled his helmet off his head before answering his second in command.

“Yet it is earned. So not completely misplaced.”

“Earned or not, she’ll not take easily to being bridled.”

Ramon offered his friend a shrug that sent his shoulder armor clanking against his breast and back plate. The sound echoed inside the storeroom, so he stepped outside.

“My first wife played the part of a submissive spouse very well. I discover myself wondering if I do not prefer Isabel’s honesty. However misplaced it may be. She does not veil her lies with flutters of her eyelashes.”

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