Authors: T. J. Bennett
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
“You had no control over whether Martin lived or died. Only God decides those things.”
“Not I,” she said, her voice hushed, “but the curse.”
“The curse?” he repeated slowly. A cold wind feathered across the nape of his neck, making the fine hairs stand on end.
killed him. He should have been safe. He should have lived!” she insisted. She stared intently past him, as though she searched for the answer to a riddle in the air itself.
Günter feared to look over his shoulder, afraid of what he might find.
Afraid? Him? Enough of this. He shook her. “Speak clearly. You make no sense.”
She looked at him again. “You think me mad.”
It had crossed his mind, but he denied it now. “Nay, just crazed with grief. You loved him. It’s to be expect—”
She jumped up, trembling with rage. “No! Never accuse me of that accursed emotion again!”
Günter sat stunned. Mayhap insanity
touched her. “But he was your betrothed … You bathed his wounds, cried at his death, dressed his body for burial. Even now you’re filled with grief at his passing.”
“Because I killed him!”
She stabbed a finger to her breast. “I
him by my affection. He was kind, and good … I should have run from him, saved him while I could.” She put a hand to her throat. “But I permitted my—my selfishness, my loneliness to rule me. I thought to outwit it, but it took Martin as the price!”
Alonsa sank down onto her knees, slapping the ground with an open hand repeatedly. “Again!
She broke off into a stream of rapid Spanish, but even he understood that she railed against the Fates.
he called, rising and grasping her from behind. He lifted her, afraid she would injure herself. “Alonsa, stop!”
She thrashed in his arms, and he turned her swiftly around. He shook her again, but she ignored him, and he feared she would lose hold of her senses in her grief. He realized he had two choices. He could either slap her in order to shock her back to sanity, or kiss her. As he had never raised a hand to a woman in his life, he chose the easier of the two.
Günter gripped her head and pressed his hard mouth to hers.
Alonsa could see, through a blur of tears, Günter’s open eyes. He was not even
and still he made her heart pound in reaction, her knees go weak with desire. His mouth barely moved, yet she felt the lightning heat of his kiss streak through her. She went limp against him from the effect, and his arms encircled her. The moment she stopped moving, he drew back.
She gazed up at him stupidly.
“Forgive me,” he murmured, and the warm spice of his breath fanned across her lips. “You were upset. I was losing you. I didn’t know what else to do.”
He stared down at her, and she felt a subtle tightening in the tension of his arms. His eyes drifted to her mouth, and he frowned. He slowly reached up and traced a callused finger across her bottom lip.
“Was I too rough?” he whispered.
Her breath caught in her throat. The feel of his finger sent little shivers across her skin. It sent mysterious messages throughout her body to hidden places long restrained. It unlocked doors chained shut for far too many years. And it was just a finger, just a stroke upon her lips. What could he do with that hand elsewhere?
“Was I?” he repeated, and absently trailed the finger across her chin, down her jaw, and up the sensitive skin of her cheek.
He tilted his head as he stroked the shell of her ear. She could see his eyes following its progress. He barely touched her, and yet she trembled. He must have felt the tremors, for his gaze returned to hers.
He moved to release her. “Are you cold? I’ll get you a blanket—”
Instinct made her clutch at him, though reason screamed a warning in her head.
Please kiss me again.
She gazed up at him in unbearable anticipation.
His eyes narrowed. He looked at her mouth, stared at it for so long she could count the time with the beat of the blood flowing through her body. Then slowly he lowered his head to hers once more. A scant hairsbreadth from her lips, he stopped.
She made a sound like a whimper. She could not help it. She should be ashamed, but she was not. She tilted her face, closed the last little distance between them, and pressed her lips to his.
She shuddered when Günter growled deep in his throat and wrapped his arms around her. He flicked his tongue across her lips in silent command, and she obeyed, opening to him. He plunged inside, conquered her with his mouth while she clung to him in desperation.
She slid her hands into his hair and gripped hard, drawing him closer, pressing into him, sensing only he could fill the ache of loneliness she had endured for so long. His hands felt right against her, his mouth belonged on hers. This is what she had denied herself, what she had missed through years of private desolation.
She wanted to drown in him, to forget everything: her fear, the curse, everything. To permit the passion in her soul to take its mate, and to be taken once and for all. She ran her palms over his solid back, returned his kisses with ferocious intensity.
His hands traveled down, gripped her buttocks; he pulled her against him with a groan. He bent his knees, fitting his hardness into the valley of her thighs, and her passion flared out of control. The thrill of him, the utter maleness of him, drove her beyond sanity.
,”she gasped. “Oh, please …”
“I’ve waited so long,” he muttered.
He lifted her skirts while he slowly rubbed himself against her. The warmth of his palm traveled up her thigh. She moaned and groped at him, driven to a fever pitch of lust.
The sound of metal pots clanging outside the tent reached her like a distant alarm. Abruptly, Günter’s face changed. Shock slackened his features as he looked down at his hands on her, her hands on him. He released her as though burned, and her skirts slid back into place.
She felt bereft at his withdrawal, and took a step toward him. He threw his hands up between them, and she saw that they shook.
“Nay,” he rasped, gesturing to the tent flap. “Inés.”
He seemed incapable of more than one word at a time. His chest heaved; his forehead gleamed with sweat.
Slowly, she became aware of her surroundings. She
forgotten everything: her honor, her virtue …
Martin! Her hand flew to her mouth, and shame seeped through her bones. She had forgotten even him.
“Martin.” He said the name first. A look of self-loathing crossed his face. “The day we buried him … the very
He gazed around the tent and shook his head. “Not even an hour.” He let his head fall forward. “I’ve dishonored my friend.”
“We,” she whispered, “have dishonored him.”
She more so than he. Günter would hate her, not want her like this, if he knew how she had caused Martin’s death. Yet, if Günter were to reach for her again, she would be unable to deny him. What she had felt, what they had done confirmed even more the vow she had sworn.
Her fear returned twice fold. She must leave. She must. For she knew with all the certainty of the heat still pounding through her body Günter would not survive if she stayed.
With a sob, she turned away. “Go,” she begged.
“Alonsa, wait.” She felt his hand on her shoulder. “It isn’t as bad as it seems. Martin would have understood—”
She jerked away.
He sighed from behind her.
“This is not how I would have wished it, true. I would like to have let you mourn a bit. I would like to have honored his memory for a time before …” He stopped.
When he spoke again, she heard the wry tone in his voice.
“Before leaping on you like some wild animal. Still. It is obvious to me now that he understood something I did not.” He circled around to face her and lifted her chin so he looked into her eyes. “Alonsa, you must listen to me now. I have something important to ask you.”
She looked up at him and the intensity of his expression made her heart pound with anxiety.
Please do not…
“Will you be my wife?” he asked softly. “When the time is right? Say yes, and you will fulfill the wishes of two men.”
She backed away from him, panicked at the thought. “No! How can you ask such a thing of me? I could
He flinched, and she could tell she had hurt him. She had not intended to wound him, only to warn him.
His features settled into a cold mask, his tone icy when he spoke again. “Why not? What is wrong with me? It cannot be that I am a soldier. Martin was a soldier. He seemed good enough for you.”
His eyes narrowed into points of emerald fire. He reached for her, wrapped a warm hand around the nape of her neck beneath the loose braid lying damp against her skin.
“You have someone else in mind, mayhap?” His words cut into her. “Has some rich old merchant in the baggage train offered his jewels for your pretty neck? Has some young noble dazzled you with his shiny, untried armor?”
His thumb traced hot circles in the shallow dip just below her ear. His eyes flashed fire at her, and at their depths lay a passionate yearning that nearly undid her. “Tell him you’ve changed your mind. You belong to
His possessiveness frightened her, and yet it excited her as well. Goose bumps rose along her skin in response to both his touch and his intensity.
She broke away. “Do not be ridiculous. When would I have made such plans?” She clasped her hands around her arms and tried to erase the shivers he had caused, turning her back on him. “I have no man in mind. I think now only of God.” She turned to him, straightened her back. “I have decided to consign myself to a convent. I intend to become a nun.”
His eyebrows flew up. “What?” he roared.
“Shhh! You will arouse the entire camp with your bellowing.” She glanced anxiously over his shoulder at the open tent flap.
“No more than you did with your moaning,
Alonsa,” he observed.
She felt the heat of a blush cover her entire body. “You confused me! You—”
“Do not say I forced you,” he softly interrupted, but she did not miss the steel in his voice. “We both know the truth.”
Her eyes locked with his. Tension vibrated between them.
She sighed and looked away. “Yes. To say otherwise would be a falsehood.” She stared at him then, willed him to understand. “It is not my intent to injure your pride or your feelings, Günter. I simply do not wish to marry you. Nor any man. It is for your sake that I refuse, not my own. Please do not ask me to explain further.” Because if he had thought her mad before, he would certainly think so if she told him the truth.
He stared at her for a long moment. He stepped closer, then, towering over her. She drew back.
“Don’t be afraid.” He spoke in a soft voice, as though he sought to gentle a trapped but injured animal he wished to aid.
Do not be afraid?
From Alonsa’s vantage point, Günter seemed as imposing as a mountainside. She noted the sharp planes of his face, from the sensual slash of his mouth to the ruffled dark-blond hair she had tangled in her fingers just moments ago. She could not look away. She clenched her trembling hands behind her, stared at his mouth, and cursed her own weakness.
“I do not fear you,” she denied feebly.
Just your kisses and your touch …
“I have always known you belonged to me.” His eyes roamed over her face. He moved closer still, until his chest brushed her breasts. “Always. Mayhap before we ever met.”
“Now who speaks as one insane?” Her voice sounded husky, as though she had just arisen from his bed after a night of ardent lovemaking.
He smiled slowly. “I want you to speak to me that way after the first time I take you,” he said in a gravelly whisper. “Low and soft, like a woman well-pleasured. Which you will be.”
Her hand moved of its own accord. The slap rang out in the quietness of the tent, her palm stinging from the force of it. Though it left a red welt across his cheek, he did not react.
He stared at her, his proud nose flaring, his green eyes narrowing to slits. He slid his hand once more around her waist and pulled her to him. She resisted the draw, pushed with her palms against his chest. His other hand skimmed down to the swell of her buttocks, and he pressed her hips into his, watching for her reaction. She bit back a moan at the feel of him, at the rush of desire that made her knees go weak.
He leaned into her, and she thought he would kiss her again. Instead—to her surprise—he buried his face in her hair and inhaled deeply. His hand rose and fisted there for a moment, but he released her. She almost fell backward from the sudden loss of his strong arms encircling her.
Günter’s jaw clenched. Then the corner of his mouth lifted in a provocative smile. He made a loose fist with one hand and gave her chin a light tap.
“Fight me, then. Run, if you must. Hide—if you can. But you will not escape your fate.” He pinned her with the heat of his gaze.
“I am your fate,”
he vowed and, turning on his heel, walked out of the tent.
ÜNTER STOPPED JUST BEYOND THE TENT FLAP AND
took a steadying breath. He needed one, lest he turn around, march back into the tent, and show Alonsa just how much she already belonged to him.
He heard the “lovely flower,” as Martin had once called her, curse like a soldier and smash something breakable inside the tent. He shook his head in amused empathy and strode a few more paces away from temptation.
Frustration tugged at him, demanding he go to her, coax her to surrender to him and become his wife
so that he could spend the rest of the day indulging his raging desire—and hers. However, the small amount of reason still left within him admitted such a plan would be unlikely to succeed, not to mention unseemly, given the timing.