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Authors: Rayne Forrest

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BOOK: A Hero's Bargain
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He’d
worry on that bone tomorrow. Tonight, he needed something to eat and then
sleep. That he’d sleep in Saba’s bed, holding her, wasn’t in doubt.

They
reached her hut and he stepped ahead of her to open her door. She smiled
slightly and walked past him. He moved to follow her inside, pausing just long
enough to meet Tyree’s gaze across the village yard before closing the door for
the night.

Chapter 15

 

Years of
having patients sleeping in front of her fireplace had trained Saba to sleep
lightly. She was surprised when she woke at dawn and realized she’d slept
through the night without waking once. Perhaps being nestled warmly in Ryder’s strong
arms all night made the difference.

By some
sort of unspoken agreement they had settled together in the center of the bed.
He’d turned her to face away from him then fitted his larger frame around hers.
Then he’d draped his arm over her and cupped her breast, not with intent, but
as if that was where his hand belonged. His breath warmed the back of her neck
as he kissed her there and told her to sleep. It must not have taken her long
to obey him.

Saba
stretched cautiously, not wanting to wake him. He slept on, his breathing deep
and steady. She was pleased he didn’t wake. Sleep was what he needed most to
regain his strength. Slipping from the bed, she filled her kettle as quietly as
possible and set it on the hearth to warm.

Coals
still smoldered in the fireplace, warm enough so she’d have no trouble
rekindling the flames. She placed a few pieces of wood in a careful
arrangement, and they immediately began to burn. That accomplished she pondered
what to fix them for the morning meal. He would need more than a piece of fruit
and a few bits of cheese.

The water
in the kettle was almost boiling. She prepared
ynoteb
tea. She’d had a
cup with dinner last night, which should be sufficient for her needs, but the
brew had a pleasant, minty flavor. And being honest, she didn’t mind a little
extra insurance.

Ryder had
watched silently as she’d prepared the tea last evening. When she’d only
prepared enough for herself, he’d questioned her softly, nodding in what she
took to be agreement with her wishes. It wasn’t until he nodded that she realized
she’d been holding her breath.

Not all
the men of the village were accepting of a woman’s use of the
ynoteb
.
She didn’t hold those individuals in very high esteem. It was the women who
paid the price of their egos with unwanted pregnancies and the pain of childbirth.

She
wasn’t too pleased with herself that she had allowed worry over what he might
say to affect her, either. She generally considered herself more independent in
her thinking.

Saba
poured the steaming water over the tealeaves and set the kettle back on the
coals. A small rustling noise behind her made her turn. Her gaze met with
Ryder’s. He patted the bed beside him. “You can bring your tea over here,
angel.”

He still
looked tired, as if he should sleep the day away, but his blue eyes were bright
and alert, gleaming at her with the inner fire he possessed.

“Would
you like tea as well?”

He shook
his head. “Didn’t we discuss what that tea does last night?”

She gave
him a loud, long-suffering sigh of feigned disgust. The tea wouldn’t do
anything to or for him except taste pleasant and warm his belly unless he drank
huge quantities of it. It was sometimes used in massive doses as a purgative.

“We did.
I would brew yours from different leaves.”

He smiled
at her and patted the bed again. “Tea would be nice, but I’d rather have you
snuggled up to me than drink tea.”

She
couldn’t resist him for long. She didn’t want to resist him at all. Climbing
back into a warm bed and the comfort of his embrace was an invitation she couldn’t
refuse. Still, she’d fix him a cup of tea first.

He swung
his long legs from under the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. She
finished pouring water over his tealeaves and pointed at the mug.

“What are
you doing? I thought you wanted me to come over there?” Her eyes trailed down
his body to his turgid manhood. She really wanted to go over there now. Her nipples
tingled and peaked. He saw.

“I do
want you to come over here. I told you that.” He pointed at the back door. “I
need to slip out there first.”

She shook
her head and pointed at the bucket. “Use that.”

“I don’t
think so.”

“Do not
argue with me. If there is still blood, I need to know.” Stubborn man. Like all
her patients, he felt better, so he argued with her.

He stood,
groaning and stretching. “This is the last time I humor you on this one, Saba.”

She could
agree with him with a clear conscience even knowing she may well have to
renege. Healers often had to fib to their patients to achieve the desired
results.

“Very
well. Now be about it. Your tea is ready.” She carried both mugs past him to
the bed.

“I don’t
even get a kiss on your way by?” Amusement was evident in his voice. She
sniffed and lifted her nose skyward. He chuckled, a low wicked sound that sent
her pulse racing and made her suspect he had more than a mug of tea on his
mind.

He set
about completing his mission, returning from outside with alacrity. His skin
was chilled as he slipped back under the covers and accepted his mug.

“It was
all clear, angel. I wouldn’t kid you about it since you’re taking such good
care of me.” Ryder blew on the hot liquid then sipped cautiously. “This is
pretty good. It doesn’t taste like flowers.” He draped his arm around her
shoulders and inched closer.

“I’m glad
you like it. Your tea will help cleanse the internal organs.” She leaned
against him, soaking up his presence.

Last
night had been more than she’d ever hoped for, but now it was daylight and the
time for some reckoning. She’d glimpsed Tyree sitting outside his hut last
evening as they’d crossed the yard and refused to meet his gaze. He had to have
surmised what had happened in the bathing chamber. They’d been in there long
enough to take seven baths. Then they’d gone into her hut and closed the door
and covered the windows. There was no way Tyree could not know.

Tyree
would visit her this morning and she would be firm with him, standing her
ground. What was done was done. It had been her decision, and she didn’t regret
making it or acting upon it.

“I’m
going to check my weapons this morning.” Ryder sipped his tea. “I’m not going
to go
errol
hunting with them yet, so don’t get excited and run and tell
Tyree.”

Her heart
stopped then began beating faster. Did he think to avoid Tyree this morning?
Surely he knew that wouldn’t be possible.

“Tyree
will present himself here this morning. Do not doubt it. He will question you
closely as to just when you are going to see if your weapons will help us.”

“And
he’ll just have to be patient.”

“While
others die?” she snapped at him. Ryder fixed her with a cool blue stare.

“I’ve
seen no one die, Saba. No one. I’ve not seen this creature. I’ve not even seen
evidence of this creature. I’ve only got your word it exists.”

Anger
welled up in her, fed on desperation. How could she convince him, once and for
all, the direness of their situation? Acid churned in her stomach.

He had
used her and she dare not let him know she knew it. While there was still the
slightest chance he’d help them, she had to play her part and play it well. She
swallowed the lump in her throat and made herself appear interested in her tea.

Ryder’s
arm tightened around her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ve got a
lot of unanswered questions. I’ve still got a lot of weakness in my legs and
stiffness in my back. The time hasn’t come, angel. You need to accept that.”
His lips brushed her hair.

The fact
he spoke logically didn’t ease the pain around her heart. She gulped the last
of her tea and slipped from the bed before he could finish his and suggest
other activities. She could feel his gaze boring into her back as she sliced a
few hunks of cheese off the round for their breakfast. Perhaps the hens would
lay well today and she could fix eggs tomorrow.

She
placed the cheese, along with some bread and fruit, on a tray and carried it
back to the bed, placing it between them. He picked up a slice of bread and
tore it in half, offering her a piece. She reached for a hunk of cheese. His
fingers closed around her wrist.

“What’s
wrong? What did I say?” His voice was soft but there was iron in it. She met
his gaze.

“There is
nothing wrong. Eat. Then we’ll dress and open the door so Tyree can come and be
angry with us.” She bit into her
elppa
and the juice dribbled down her
chin.

His eyes
took on an angry glint. “Now you would lie to me, angel? All right. We’ll play
it whatever way you like.”

Ryder
rose from the bed and pulled on his trousers. Before she could make her mouth
move to say anything, he snatched up his pack and went out the door. She hopped
up and quickly pulled on her pants and tunic, knowing Tyree watched for some
sign that they were up and about for the day. She hastily smoothed the blankets
on the bed then put on more water to heat in case Tyree would accept hot tea.

She
didn’t have long to wonder about Tyree. The sound of male voices drifted in
through her open door. Tyree suggested he and Ryder walk to his hut. Ryder
agreed and she was left to wonder about their conversation.

* * * *

Ryder
fell into step beside Tyree, their strides well matched.

“I’ve
boots that may fit you,” Tyree offered him.

“My
thanks. If they don’t, I’m sure you can introduce me to the person capable of
making me a pair.”

“In time.
My men are hunting for
acapla,
the beast whose hides we cure for
leather.” He clapped Ryder on the back. “Be glad it’s the season of Wae and the
ground is warming.”

Ryder
snorted. “I’ll be glad to get boots. I can’t go
errol
hunting without
boots.”

“I would
not expect you to. I assume your weapons are in your pack?”

“They
are. We need to get a few things straight, Tyree.”

They
reached Tyree’s hut, and he pointed at the pair of carved chairs sitting beside
the front door.

“Sit,
Ryder Vaughan, and tell me what I should know.”

Ryder
eased down into the chair, setting his pack on the ground and away from his
host. There wasn’t any point in being too trusting, was there?

“Here’s
some truth for you, then. Saba tells me the
errol
kills. I’ve not seen
anyone killed, or even maimed. I want proof this creature exists.”

“Is my
word not good enough?” There was no censure in Tyree’s voice. The headman was intelligent,
and Ryder suspected whatever questions he posed would be anticipated, and the
answers well thought out.

“I don’t
know you, or your people. For all I know, you’re making this up to get me to
commit murder for you. That I won’t do.” Baiting Tyree was dangerous, but Ryder
needed to see how far the headman could be pushed.

“You know
Saba Duer. I think you know her very well.” Tyree leaned toward him, a cold
glint in his clear gray eyes. “You have trespassed with Saba. I let you live
and I do regret it.”

Ryder
wasn’t surprised his host felt that way. “Have you heard Saba say I’ve
trespassed? When she tells me what we did was something she didn’t want, I’ll
listen. But I’ll tell you that if she does say it, she’d be lying.”

Tyree
bristled. “Saba doesn’t lie. You dishonor her by suggesting she would. You do
not deserve her.”

That
struck a nerve. Ryder knew he didn’t deserve her, and never would. But he’d
never deliberately do anything to dishonor her. She’d wanted his bed. He’d not
forced her.

“And you
do? If she wanted you, she’d have already been with you, and I know I was the
first man to have her.”

It was a
step too far with the headman. The anger rolled off him in waves so thick,
Ryder could feel it crackling in the air around them. Tyree leaned forward and
spoke with deadly calm.

“You will
not touch her again. The price of your life is that you kill the
errol
.
How you accomplish this I do not care. The
errol
is coming this way. If
it stays on the path it’s on, it will be in the woods in three days. Then you
will see for yourself, Ryder Vaughan.”

Ryder
matched Tyree’s pose. “You are correct on one thing, Tyree. I will see the
errol
for myself. Then I, and I alone, will decide if I murder for you. And you’re
mistaken if you think I’ll stay away from Saba unless and until
she
tells me to.”

“I am
headman here. My word is law.”

It was
time to play a card. “I am not Ramalho. I live by a different law. A law that
says to kill when your life isn’t in danger is wrong.”

“Your
life is in danger, my friend.”

“Is that
a threat, Tyree? If it’s, I urge you to reconsider.”

Tyree’s
jaw tightened. “It’s not a threat. It’s a warning. I won’t hesitate to kill you
if I deem it in the best interest of my people.”

“I was
told the Ramalho do not murder.”

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