The More I See You (de Piaget #7)
A hint of a smile crossed Robins features and he took Jessicas hand. Well met, then, lady. I vow I despaired of this one ever finding a woman strong enough to face him. You must be accustomed to holding your ground. The tales I could tell you, Richard muttered. But I wont, he added at Robins pursed lips. Trust me, my lord, she holds her own very well. Im sure the lady Anne will find her much to her liking.
A man does not come at what is mine, harm it, and walk away unscathed.
Arent we as good as married now? Richards gaze flicked to the bed, then back at her. Jessica blushed in spite of herself. That was part of my question, she acknowledged. Aye, were wed. Well, she said, nodding, thats good to know. Richard looked at her side, then frowned. We will wait, he announced. We will? Until your side is healed. He paused. If that suits. It might be best, she agreed. You dont mind waiting? he asked. No, I dont mind. I dont either, Warren said loudly. And I want a niece, not a nephew. Richard gritted his teeth and put Jessica to bed before he walked away. Jessica heard a yelp, then the sound of a protesting Warren being escorted to the door. Jessica said I could stay Jessica is not lord here! The door shut with a slam.
Aye, he had relented and allowed himself to believe her. Where else would she have latched onto such foolish notions about men and women? And where else could she have learned to heal as she had? If it were true, then that also meant that she had left behind her a life that she likely longed for a great deal. And, quite possibly, a man. Richard unclenched his jaw and turned his thoughts away from that. If she wanted to try to return to her time, she would tell him. Until then, he would keep her close, protect her with his life, and pray his heart didnt crumble to dust at the very sight of her.
Besides, as much as she loved Bruckners symphonies, he just couldnt touch a man who had painted his bedroom walls with views of the sea to please her, who gave his precious smiles to her alone, who wept when he watched his daughter sleep.
Come, he said, holding out his hand for her. She shook her head. Richard paused, then frowned. I said, come. And I said, no. He frowned again. The cold has numbed your thinking, lady. Tis your duty to obey me. Im not your trained dog to come when you call. You forget your place. My place, buster, is not at your feet, licking your boots! There are many who would beg for the chance to do just that!
Eventually, after listening to a good deal of grumbling and muttering, Jessica felt the bed dip. A calloused hand reached for hers. It is late? she asked. Late enough. Hold me? How gentle were those powerful arms as they gathered her close. Jessica pressed her face against Richards neck and sighed at the pleasure of the warmth. His hint of a beard was rough against her forehead but she didnt mind that either. She put her hands on the hard wall of his chest and let the heat of his body seep into hers. Richards hand trembled as he brushed her hair back from her face and she knew it was because he was trying to be gentle. She snuggled closer to him and felt herself drifting off to sleep.
Good morrow to you, Jessie, Kendrick called. Jessica, Richard said, giving Kendrick another jerk. Her name is Jessica!
He stopped halfway up the first flight of stairs, backed his lady up against the curved wall, and looked down at her. Ill take my leave of you properly now, he announced. Im not sure Im still He cut off her words with his lips. He very carefully held her captive against the wall, making a great effort not to crush her. Even so, she winced. He came to himself immediately, then realized his fingers had somehow come to rest all the way around her back and over her side. Oh, Jessica, he whispered quickly, forgive me Its all right, she said, kissing him again. Your hand has been there the whole time. I just now noticed it. You, too? he asked with a half laugh. Jessica pulled back so fast, she struck her head against the wall. He set her down and rubbed the back of her head, shaking his head at her. Youre dangerous, Jessica. You laughed. I did not. She wagged a finger at him. Dont give me that, de Galtres. I heard it. Did anyone else hear it? Nay, lady, several male voices answered her. Richard vowed to kill all the men farther up the stairs. He glared down at Jessica. They arent supposed to be noticing us. You ordered them to watch me at all times. Ill change my orders, he growled.
He then transferred the potency of those dusty green eyes on Jessica, took her hand, and made a low bow over it. At least he hadnt kissed it, Richard noted. Kendrick had spared himself being run through. Jessica, Kendrick purred. A lovely name for an even more beautiful woman. Jessica laughed as she pulled her hand away. Thats pretty good. Would it be rude to label you a womanizer right now? Richard almost gasped at her cheek but Kendrick laughed. Astute and beautiful. Tell me, Lady Jessica. Whence do you hail? Tis on no map youll ever see, Richard interrupted with a grumble. Jessica smiled serenely. It is rather far away. Then it will obviously require a great deal of time to explain where it is, Kendrick said delightedly, as if hed just come up with a brilliant scheme. Richard, fetch some weak wine and join us in your solar. Im sure being out in this sun cannot be good for this sweet maid. Richard took Jessicas hand and pulled her away. This sweet maid, as you call her, has work to do. Go finish my floor, Jessica. Im sure Kendrick will survive without your attentions for the next little while. How possessive you are, my lord, Kendrick said, his eyes twinkling. This is a new side of you, Richard. Its charming, truly.
He threw open the shutters and was silent. There, he said, pointing to a shooting star. Wish to stay together. Hurry. She watched the stars arc fade and wished, secure in her loves embrace. I wish that well be together forever, she whispered. He pressed his lips against her ear. I wish that well be together forever, he echoed. Now it cant help but come to pass.
I cant tell you how nice it is to hear someone talking like the voices in my head, Abigail said, linking arms with Jessica and heading toward the battlement door. Youll have to come visita lot. Miles will love it. Did you tell him about me? He guessed. He didnt! Not much gets past the man.
If Jessica had been pleased with his work, that was enough. He had bent to his work and poured his entire soul, black as it might have been, into fashioning something beautiful for his lady. His lady. He could no longer think of her as anything else. And that was the thought that left him standing in the lists, useless and fair blinded by the thought of his poor heart being so exposed.
If Richard trusted anyone with his life, it would have been Kendrick of Artane. But trust Kendrick with his woman? Not a chance in hell. He strode across the lists, intent on intercepting Artanes lad before he spotted Jessica.
I love you, she said. What brought that on? She smiled. Its like a fever. It comes and goes. I think your smiles bring it on. Then remind me to give you more of them. She rested her head against his chest and couldnt help but marvel over how changed he was. He soaked up every expression of love she gave him. She watched him as he listened to her laugh or watched her smile. It broke her heart a little to see how hungry he was for such simple things, so she did her best to give them to him in abundance. Shed been repaid a hundredfold just by seeing his own smile and hearing his laugh.
Im so happy, she whispered. I never thought I would ever be this happy. Richard put his arms around her and held her to him. He rested his cheek against her hair and let her words sink deep into his heart. Any reason why? he asked, trying to sound casual. You, of course, she said. How . . . She pulled her head back and looked up at him. Because you are a sweet, tender, passionate man and you treat me like you might just love me. He smiled weakly. Indeed. She reached up and touched his mouth. Theres that smile again. A poor one. Its better than no smile at all. Dont grin, though. I have to be sitting down for that. She brushed past him and started down the steps. Have a nice day, dear. Dear? How mean you that? he asked.
Is it safe? John asked, hovering by the doorway. Safe? Richard asked. What mean you by that? John entered the chamber slowly. Richard blinked at the enormous discoloration on Johns face. Saints, man, have you and Jessica been brawling? Jessica? Richard, you fool, twas you who struck me! And twice, no less! Me? Have you gone daft? Why would I do such a thing? John shrugged. You were out of your head with fever. Jessica was the fortunate one. You only nicked her. I took the full brunt of your blows.
I want a bath. Only if Im there to give it to you, he said, then heard his words and wondered where theyd come from. Oh, aye, he was trying to keep her safe. It would be a poor thing indeed if all his fine tending was ruined by a foolish bath. Richard! Her face was scarlet. Richard suppressed the urge to pull his suddenly stifling tunic away from his neck. Youll require aid, he said defensively. Would you rather have Warren help you? Id rather have that little girl that helps Cook. Shes a child. She isnt strong enough to hold you up should you faint. I dont want you to do it, Jessica insisted. Richard set his jaw. This wasnt the time or the place hed wanted to discuss their betrothal, but Jessica was being ridiculous and likely only because she didnt understand their situation. I have every right to do it, he growled. Her gaze flew to his. She looked startled. I beg your pardon? Those words we spoke, he said, gesturing in the direction of the bed. You remember which ones. She ducked her head so quickly he didnt have a chance to see the effect of his words. The betrothal? Her voice was barely audible. He cleared his throat roughly. Aye, he answered. The betrothal.
Jessica, he began. Just leave me alone! He turned her around. That she only hesitated briefly before she allowed it was a very good sign, to his mind. He pulled her close, then ran his blood-caked hand over her hair as gently as he knew how. She liked that. He would have walked from Hadrians wall to London on his hands if shed liked that, too. Saints, what a fool love made of a normally sane man. He rested his bruised cheek against her hair. Jess, he whispered, it was talk you shouldnt have heard. She tried to pull away, but he tightened his arms around her. I said things I didnt mean. You creep, then you dont care about me at all! I care, he said, forcing the words from between suddenly parched lips. He was so terrified, he was shaking. If she turned and walked away now, he wasnt sure he would survive.
Jessica jumped up, avoided Richards hand when he tried to grab her, and strode to the door. She jerked it open, slammed it behind her, and fled up the stairs. She heard the door bang not five seconds later and heavy footsteps come running up behind her. She hadnt made it to the roof before Richard had caught her and spun her around. Just leave me alone, she spat. You rude, arrogant jerk! Me? he thundered. Why, you stubborn, arrogant shrew! I am not arrogant! Aye, you are! She turned her face away, hoping she wouldnt make a fool of herself by crying. Please, she said quietly. Please, just leave me alone. He was silent so long that she finally had to look at him. By the light of the torch, she saw the expression she hadnt seen since the first night hed kissed her. Intensity. He backed her up against the wall, set her bodily on the step above him, and rested his foot on the step above her. She was trapped. Happily. I cant, he whispered. I want to and Ill be damned for it, Im sure, but I cant leave you be. And then he kissed her. His kiss was painful. Jessica managed to move her head from beneath his only by scraping the back of it against the stone. Youre hurting me, she gasped.
Richard nodded, then fumbled around in the purse at his belt. He took her hand and slid a ring onto her finger. I meant to give you this, he said. Before, ah, the tidings came . . . Oh, she said, looking down, Richard, its beautiful Aye, and so are you. And with that and a firm brush of his lips across hers, he was gone. Jessica stood in the inner bailey of Robin of Artanes courtyard and stared down at what she assumed was her wedding ring.
Richard opened the door, then stood back. After you, my lady. Jessica walked into the room and gasped. She turned around and around, trying to take in the entire view. He had painted the bedroom walls. Talk about an unobstructed ocean view. It was more magnificent than she ever could have imagined. She laughed and threw herself at him. Youre amazing, she said breathlessly. Its beautiful! Nay, he said, shutting the door and bolting it. You are the beautiful one.
She didnt turn around. She put her foot on the bottom step, then felt herself being whirled around. She shrieked as her world tilted. Richards shoulder in her stomach robbed her of any air and her forehead bumping against his lower back made her slightly sick. It was Archies hoisting trick all over again, only Richard seemed to be more adept at taking circular stairs. She thought she just might barf. Put me down, you jerk! she gasped. He ignored her. She saw, grudgingly, how he might have become a little annoyed by the practice. He slammed the bedroom door behind them and dumped her to her feet. He took her by the arms and held her immobile. She had the feeling that he wanted to shake her. His hands were trembling. I am finished with your silence, he bellowed. Damn you, woman, speak! Fine, she snapped, jerking away from him. Ive had a bellyful of you, too, buddy. Im not your servant, Im not your squire, and Im not your damned horse to just take orders and swallow them. Im sick to death of being treated like a second-class citizen. Im just as smart as you are and Ive had it with you treating me like Im not! He blinked. Of course you arent. Youre a wo Dont say it, she said, through gritted teeth. If you tell me one more time that Im inferior to you because Im a woman, Im going to haul off and deck you! Deck me? he echoed. Take my fist and slam it into your face! Richard took a step back and folded his arms over his chest. Youre powerfully outspoken. Are all the maids so in your time?
The blush started at her toes and worked its way up. She threw her right arm over her face. Go dry your hair, she said, mortified. Please. Richard gently pulled her arm away and peered down at her, his expression grave. Are you in pain? Saints, but the fever has begun again. Youre flushed. Im embarrassed! He blinked. Why? Jessica ignored the fact that Warren was standing not a handful of feet away from them, listening as if being able to repeat every word was imperative to his survival. If you dont know, she said tartly, Im not about to tell you. Realization dawned. She saw it in his eyes. And in the color that leaped to his cheeks. He lowered her arm to her side carefully and frowned. No one else saw, he muttered. You did! What was I to do? he countered defensively. Leave you be? No, she moaned. He took her chin in his hand and forced her to look at him. I tended you as best I knew how, he said roughly. I wasnt about to leave you to some addle-witted leech.
The more I see you, he said quietly, the more I want you.
Though at the moment, with the bleak emptiness of the rest of his mortal journey facing him, he couldnt help but wonder if he might have been better off never to have known her, never to have loved her, and never to have lost her. He closed his eyes and wept.
Whats he doing? Richard asked unnecessarily. Composing a heroic ballad based on your adventures, John supplied. I daresay. Well, I dont want to hear it, Richard said, swinging up into the saddle. The saints preserve us from any more of his Court of Love ideals.
Whats the matter? Arent you interested in my strong, manly arms? he said, giving her a squeeze to show just how strong and manly his arms were. Not when theyre squeezing the life from me, she gasped. Archie, let me go!
You, he said distinctly, are, I am quite certain, going to be more trouble than you are worth.
Youre very difficult. He only flashed her the slightest of smiles. Likely why you wed me. It wouldnt have done for you to have found a man simply and won him without effort.