The Damned

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 41 (v.1)

Submitted: October 14, 2013

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Submitted: October 14, 2013

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41

 

Glencaer, Welsh Marches, Shropshire, 18th April 1231

 

He was waiting in the doorway to the stable block as Isabel arrived back from her ride, flirting and batting her eyelashes coquettishly at Merek, the young squire who escorted her. Feeling Conor’s black stare fixed on her, Isabel made a point of reciprocating Merek’s flirtatiousness. She had to. She needed to see the hunger in Conor’s eyes. He prowled the stables like a leopard among domestic cats, stalking, hunting, just waiting to pounce. He fixed her with a hunter’s gaze, his great dark eyes warning her of the death he would deliver. The strength of feeling in his loaded stare was so tangible that she could almost reach out and touch it, almost feel it for herself. It was like standing before a great, roaring fire - too close, much too close - the heat of the flames beating against her, warming her skin, making her cheeks flush.

It was not the first time she had flirted with another man. Once, she had loved to see the jealousy it provoked in Conor’s face when she would ride out with them. He was the only one she had ever cared about; everything she had done was an attempt to remind him of how much he loved her. Had been, once. Once, before her brother had died. Before she had stopped feeling anything at all.

Her soul had rotted, faded to grey. The transition was like growing up. When she was a little girl, she had been endlessly entertained by the adventures of her dolls. Some days they married princes; other days they set sail for undiscovered lands or ruled over magical kingdoms. She didn’t understand why it was enjoyable. It just was. But as she grew older, it became harder and harder to bring those dolls to life. She had looked at them one day and not understood why they no longer lived and breathed and talked inside of her head. She played out all of the same storylines that had been so magical before, but the meaning had disappeared. They could no longer do all of the things that she couldn’t. They were limited, like her. They were just dolls: straw and wool and smiling mouths. She could no longer connect with them in a way which allowed her to participate in their imaginary lives.

The all-encompassing grief was the same, except that she felt that way about everything and everyone. Yet still she needed someone to care, as though the craving were reflexive, a habit that she could not break. Sometimes, when she stopped to think, she could not help but wonder why she seemed so determined to drive Conor away, to risk destroying everything they had once had. It wasn’t that she wanted to hurt him, but that, even in the midst of her indifference, she seemed driven to make him feel as if he were always on the verge of losing her. Maybe it was because he was. Or maybe there was method to her madness; it seemed absurd, yet her mother and Felicia both loved their husbands beyond reason, despite their volatile affections, and the countess had only loved Will after she had lost him. Or maybe she wanted to hurt him so badly that she felt guilt, or pain, or any emotion at all.

Her companion, Merek, clicked his fingers at Conor, his manner imperious. “Groom, take our horses.”

Conor’s tall, dark form vibrated with a wild, savage energy that seemed barely restrained. He raised his head and stared at the man, though her companion seemed oblivious to his insolence. A cruel part of her wanted to draw Merek’s attention to it, to remind Conor of her power over him, as though even now the habit were so deeply ingrained that she could not rid herself of it. She could see the tightness in his arms as he moved closer to Merek. He’s going to throttle him, she thought, with what must once have been a thrill of anxiety. It would be the end for them both. Everybody would know. A part of her urged him on, not to see Merek hurt, but only so that she would be forced to confess. To feel fear again. Or joy. Or relief. But Conor only grimaced and took the horse from the squire.

Isabel could not help but draw in a sharp intake of breath as he turned to her, for she was acutely, uncomfortably aware of his exquisite air of danger, of how easily she could provoke him. His bow was perfunctory and his face blazed with anger as he snatched the reins from her fingers. Once she had loved seeing his rage, the passion she could so effortlessly arouse in him.

“May I escort you back to the hall, my lady?” Merek inquired.

Conor shook his head almost imperceptibly, his anger turning to pleading as he caught her gaze. His eyes glittered with the very intensity that had once goaded her to folly.

Isabel remembered how he had held her in his arms the day she had arrived back after Will’s funeral. Her return to Glencaer had been swift. Will had been like a magnet, drawing their family together after her father’s death. Katerina had no such talent. With Sophia and Felicia married and running their own households, and her mother mad with grief, Katerina became Hugh’s puppet master. Her first move was to re-strengthen their old alliances, and that had meant sending Isabel back.

She had begun to do such stupid, reckless things. She couldn’t truly explain her rationale, except that she wanted to feel something. The grief had deadened her senses. A gloom followed the pain. A gloom came when the pain could not be sustained. It covered every object she beheld, and concepts such as warmth and love seemed unreal to her, forever beyond reach, as she sat in the midst of the ugliness and ruin. At first, though, the invulnerability that accompanied the detachment was exhilarating. At least, as exhilarating as something could be without involving real emotions. In the aftermath of her loss, there had been nothing but feelings. The emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief. She had always wished that she could simply choose not to care. She was a Devereux; feelings were a weakness, annoying obstacles in her quest for total power over herself. And finally she didn’t have to feel them anymore.

Her mind had been in such tumult, and the danger, the rush of adrenaline through her veins, meant that for a brief moment she could forget her sadness. On the wild moors, with Conor by her side, she had come to life. For a little while, she could feel something again: a rush of adrenaline through her veins; heady exhilaration; fear enough to make her knees tremble. She had no sense of caution, and though he found her abandon irresistible, even her dark lover would hesitate to follow her at times. They were a perfect pair because he held his life in as little regard as she viewed hers. They had both loved and lost, and so he recognised the dragging grey grief which threatened to pull her under. Perhaps he understood, if it could be understood.

Isabel had thrown herself into the pageantry of Glencaer. She drank until her head reeled, then galloped drunkenly across the moors on Strega, the mare’s eyes rolling in excitement. She would join in the card games, doubling her fortune and then losing everything, all in one night. Her abandon was liberating. Those around her found it tantalizing.

They had grown up together, so very quickly, as if the touch of death had reminded them that their lives were passing in a dazzling blur, already fading, slipping through their fingers. They lived in a cocoon of wild uninhibitedness which only they occupied, and suddenly months had passed in their little world, and the pain in her heart had faded to a dull ache, ever present but less debilitating than before.

Everything had lessened. All of her emotions. She had become invincible. A long time ago, Isabel had realised that she loved Conor, just as passionately as her mother and Felicia loved, and the thought had terrified her. She had had a mortal fear of following the family tradition. She had been desperate to spare herself their fate; she would not be another generation lost at the hands of love. Now, she felt nothing. Only a muted echo remained. There was nothing left to fear. No weakness left inside of her.

“Of course, my lord.” Isabel linked her arm through Merek’s, watching Conor’s face the whole time. She placed her hand intimately in the crook of her companion’s elbow, looking for his jealousy. When she saw it, only then would she concede some of her power to him. She smiled as his face blackened, and turned to her companion. “Actually, I might remain here for a short while.”

It didn’t hurt her now to see the pain in Conor’s eyes. It amused her, in the way that a mummer’s show amused her – it was naught but spectacle, something she was removed from. Something quickly forgotten. Nothing hurt her anymore. She felt as if a hard splinter had entered her heart. Was this how Katerina felt? Was this how it began, before gradually everything rotted as the splinter worked its way inwards, corrupting the tender flesh of her heart, the soft, vital core of her spirit? She felt as though she was turning into her sister, no longer caring for anyone. There was no one that she loved anymore. No one that she would not hurt.

 “Would you like me to stay with you?” The squire looked at her intently. Short and stocky, plain-faced, he was a decent boy, sober, sensible, dutiful… but not the sort to make her heart beat faster. Not Conor. As much as she had despised the weakness inside of her, she had wanted fire. She had yearned for poetry and passion and hunger. She had yearned for him. She had known that fire would consume her, but the cool inside of her had ached to feel the flames licking at her cold skin. Conor was all the boy was not: tall and lean and comely, dangerous and dark and frightening. Once that had meant something to her.

“No thank you, my lord. You must wait until dinner to enjoy the pleasure of my company, or else you shall grow spoilt.”

“You are a cruel mistress, Lady Isabel, yet I fear the wrath you will rain down on any man who does not heed your commands, so you must have it as you wish, my lady.” Merek swept her a deep, flourishing bow, before turning and walking away.

Isabel strolled lazily back into the cool of the stable block, checking that no-one was around except Conor. The old head groom was leaning against the outside wall of the building, the warm spring sun lulling him to sleep, but the stable block itself was deserted, save for the two of them. Her steps were light and quiet as she approached him, the way he had taught her to move when they had hunted for rabbits on the moors.

Conor stood with his back towards her, grooming Strega, his strokes quick and firm. His shoulders were hunched, and she could tell from the tilt of his head that he was upset. She knew him so well that she did not need to see his face in order to gauge his emotions.  She slipped into the stall quietly. As she walked up, she wrapped her arms around his broad chest and rested her cheek against his back. She liked to be close to him, even now.

“Don’t.” His voice was hard and angry, his tone unfamiliar. He shrugged off her embrace. When he turned towards her, his face was livid.

Isabel tried to understand how he felt. Failed. There was nothing now but grey, aching boredom. She reached across to Conor, tracing a line down his broad chest with her finger, her eyes suggestive. She wanted to feel something. Her spirit was numb, but still she remembered the time before: feverishly exchanged kisses; cold hands on hot cheeks; his fingers in her hair. She was perfect and poised and frozen. But how would she feel when she was flushed and dishevelled? Would she still burn to feel his hands on her bare skin?  “Have I ever told you how handsome you are when you’re angry?”

Conor grabbed her wrists, holding her away from him as if she repulsed him. He had been jealous before, but his passion had been easily assuaged. This time it was different. The size and power of his frame were there before her, and there was something, now, as if the spark of wild, untempered emotion in his eyes darted across to her, caught, lit.

“Is this simply a game for a rich young girl to play?” he spat.

The feeling slipped away, elusive and nigh on impossible to catch, like a silver fish darting below the surface of a black lake. Isabel looked at her nails disinterestedly, already bored of his anger. “Haven’t I taught you anything? Life is a game, Conor, and we are all pieces to be moved around according to the whims of others.”

He seized her by the shoulders, his lips against her ear as he struggled not to shout at her, not to let them be overheard. His voice was low and deep, distinctly accented. “But why must we always play by your rules?”

“Because I am a Devereux and you are a stable boy, my love.”

Conor exhaled sharply, his hands falling from her shoulders, his fingers twining themselves around hers. He was silent for a time, his beautiful mouth slightly pursed. When he spoke, his voice was hard. “I’m tired of waiting.”

“Waiting?”

Conor dropped Isabel’s hands as if he had been scalded. The look in his eyes was fierce, and she stepped back involuntarily, trying to escape his fury. “For you to make up your mind. I’m not some toy that you can just cast aside when something newer and shinier comes along. I’ve been patient, God knows I have, but you’re impossible.”

“Why is it that Ayleth loved my father enough to understand that he could not love as others do, but you cannot love me the same? You expect too much of me, always.”

“Don’t compare me to your father’s whore,” Conor growled.

Anger flickered, flared. A memory of anger, at least. “Don’t ever talk of her like that,” Isabel snarled, raising her hand to slap him as if she still cared.

Conor grabbed her wrist, his reflexes sharp, stilling the blow. His eyes burned as he met Isabel’s gaze. He threw her from him, stepping away in the same motion, distancing himself from her. “I’m not playing your game. I don’t like the rules, for there is one set for ordinary mortals, and another for the Devereuxs. I won’t do it anymore.”

Isabel had been staring straight at him, trying to look as though she felt something, anything. Trying to remember how to react. Then, through the nothingness, she felt it. His words hit her like a physical blow. Her eyes widened.

“Don’t look so shocked. How many times do you think you can hurt someone before they walk away?”

“You can’t do this to me.” Her voice sounded small and confused. She frowned and glanced away, trying to gather her thoughts into coherent words, but the miasma of feelings rioted inside of her. There was nothing but chaos in her head. Logic deserted her, swept away by the sweeping tidal wave of feeling. She knew only that she didn’t want to lose him. She had been so desperate not to need him, for if he did not betray her, he would master her, and she did not know which of those she feared most. But the want was still there, in her head and in her heart, betraying her.

“Why? Because you’re Lady Isabel Devereux and I’m some lowly stable boy?”

For the longest time, she hadn’t been able to care, or feel, or even try to. She felt angry, terribly angry. But anger was a feeling, and her brain latched on to it like a child learning a new word. “Stop it! If you leave me now, I swear I’ll never forgive you,” she threatened.

“What do I care for your forgiveness?” Conor snarled.

Isabel felt off-kilter, confused. She knew only that she wanted him. That he made her feel something. Something had snapped. A black ribbon had wound itself around her heart on the day that her brother had died, pulling tighter and tighter, trapping everything inside. But the ribbon had snapped. Blood had started to flow again. Slowly, the numbness faded, and she began to feel. Her cold, calculating brain was flooded with emotion. Dangerous, illogical emotion. Her tone grew softer. She reached for him, beseeching. “I need you.”

Conor shrugged her away. “But you don’t love me. I can’t spend my whole life waiting for you to decide whether or not it’s me that you want. I have nothing, Isabel, and nothing will never be enough for you.”

“Don’t you understand? No one will ever be enough to make me love them. No one’s worth will ever be high enough to make me sacrifice all that I possess. I can’t let you turn me into them, Con. I don’t want anybody at all. I’ve seen what love does – it makes you weak. You don’t know what you’re asking me to do,” she hissed.

“You’re right, Issy, I don’t. Enlighten me. Where was my fault in loving you with my whole heart?”

“You made me love you back,” she screamed, her composure abandoned. “And I hate myself for it.”

“Then maybe you’re not worthy of me. Who would want a woman who loathes herself for loving?”

Tears blurred Isabel’s vision. She turned to storm away from him, but Conor’s strong arms caught her before she could escape them.

“Damn you, Isabel. Damn you to hell. I never thought myself unworthy of anyone before I met you. I never harboured such feelings of inferiority. Love isn’t supposed to feel so wretched.”

Suddenly, she felt so very old and tired. “And damn you, Conor. Damn you for making me weak. I love you. I have always loved you, even though I know it will be my downfall.”

He pulled her closer, crushing her, showering her face with kisses, pressing the full length of his heated body to hers. She could not resist him. It was a weakness she hated, loved. Her mouth opened for his, and she wondered whether he could taste her pain and her sorrow, her bitterness and anger.

Conor caught her hand and held it over his heart. “See how strongly it beats? How desperately? Because of you. For you. I love you. I have always loved you.”

“Stop…” she murmured, broken. “Don’t you understand, Conor? I’ve seen what love does. I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t want to rely on you to make me feel as if I’m worth something.”

He took her face in his large hands, forcing her to look into his terrible, mesmerising eyes. “I will never let that happen, and nor will you. Some people imagine every path beset with lions. You’re not one of them, Isabel Devereux. Don’t let the fear of being hurt stop you from living each day to its fullest. You should feel. And you should care. You’re human. You were made to experience such emotions.”

He was so beautifully earnest. She looked into his alluring eyes - and she felt love. Sweet, glorious love. It was a delicate, precious little emotion, as vulnerable and easily maimed as a spider web, dew-dropped, freshly spun and glistening in the dawn light, just waiting for someone to sweep aside its silken strands. But for a little while, she could appreciate the beauty of something so helpless and frail. She could let herself believe him, foolish as it was. She could pretend to herself that she imagined he would never hurt her. “I love you,” she repeated. She kissed him passionately, feeling the heat rising in her body as his arms embraced her, and he crushed her against him.

“I want you, only you, forever,” he murmured.

But forever was a luxury which would never be theirs.

He pressed his temple to hers, kissed her nose. “I am yours, Issy.”

She couldn’t give him a future, a forever, but there was something more that she wanted from him, that she could give to him. “Let me show you how much I love you,” she whispered.

“I see it now, in your eyes. I can taste it on your lips.”

Isabel shook her head, her hand cupping his cheek, her fingers tracing a soft line across his beautifully sculpted face. “I have so much more to give to you. Take me, Con. Make me yours.”

“Ask me again on our wedding night,” he said lightly, his mouth kissing the delicate skin behind her ear.

But she couldn’t give him a wedding night, only this night. Isabel raised his head, looking into his black eyes. “I can’t wait that long. I need you now.” She kissed his lovely face, twining his long black curls around her fingers, her body trembling. His strong arms held her tightly, and she knew that tonight he would not let her fall. Tonight, he would be hers and she would let herself belong to him. For tonight, she would love him. She would give him what he needed, for as long as she could, for he meant everything to her. But this night was all she had, because she must lose him, as she had always known. She couldn’t love him too deeply, for truly she was not afraid of love, but loss - and she had lost too much already. Conor would leave her, too, but for tonight she would love him, and he would love her back. “I need you to help me. Please. Will you help me, Con?”

“I would help you with anything, in any way I could, only tell me how.”

“Help me with life. Looking alive. Feeling alive. Everything.”

“You’re beautifully broken, Isabel Devereux, and so I am. We’ll help each other. We always have.”

Isabel broke away, pressing her cheek against his. “Tonight, Con,” she whispered. “Meet me tonight. Show me Elfhame, my love. Show me paradise, and all of the other things which they would seek to deny us.”

Venus and Mars stared down at them, their gazes faraway. Their cold, stone eyes looked longingly into the darkened garden. The night was cool but clear, the pale light of the moon illuminating an empty waste of scattered stones and ruinous splendour. Against the star-spangled sky, a marble likeness of Suadela, Roman goddess of seduction, graced an ornate fountain surrounded by a half-moon bench. The statue was partially crumbled, worn, weathered. But still the goddess watched, standing sentinel at the entrance to their palace.

 Beneath the gazes of those three icons of passion, Isabel pulled off Conor’s shirt, revealing the sculpted musculature beneath, and kissed his broad chest. Her hands slid down to his waist, but he gently grabbed her wrists.

“We shouldn’t be here. We grow too bold.”

I grow too bold. You are a coward. Will you run from me now? Has the danger grown too great for you?”

His beautiful mouth pursed slightly. “I am no coward, only a fool. I should have ceased wanting you long ago. Would have ceased, if such a thing were possible.”

“You lie. You enjoy wanting me.”

His mouth curved. He studied her closely, his gaze caressing the length of her body, from the top of her elaborately styled hair down to her dainty leather shoes. “It is you who pursues me now. You who desires me. Myself, I would enjoy having you more than hungering for you, Lady Isabel. But is that what you want, truly?”

“I only ever do what I want.”

He raised his eyebrow suggestively. “And what do you want? Say it.”

Isabel swallowed convulsively, the enormity of what she was about to do assailing her. Her body shivered, though he cradled her in his familiar embrace. Her breathing was swift and shallow with fear, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Conor held her against him, his hands on her back. He smelled of horses and hay, the well-known scent comforting, intoxicating. Her skin was hot beneath his fingers. She wrapped her arms more tightly around him and pressed her lips to his. Her tongue stroked across his. “I want you,” she breathed.

“Look at me, Issy,” he said gently, exerting a light pressure beneath her chin. His voice had lowered, grown softer, the accent more pronounced. It was a lover’s tone, or a seducer’s. She felt it move over her skin like a tactile caress.

Her eyes met his. “You look at me as a man looks at his mistress.”

“Don’t fear me,” he whispered, his familiar face tender, hungry. “I place your worth far higher.”

Isabel moved closer to him, her lips once more inviting his kiss. His mouth met hers, his caress soft. His lips brushed over her temple, across her cheek, down to the corner of her mouth. He followed the line of her jaw, his lips pausing at the sensitive hollow behind her earlobe, teasing her with a deluge of sensation. She gasped and pressed closer to him. Her body felt as if it were dissolving. Her fingers dug into his bare shoulders. He paused in his ministrations, his face anxious, hesitant.

Isabel nuzzled his throat, goading him to continue, leaving a line of kisses down his torso. She tasted salt on his skin as she ran her tongue over the firm ridges of his stomach. His body shone like satin where she had licked him. A hot, melting sensation burned in her pelvis.

Conor’s hand reached for her waist, pulling her against him. He pushed his hand inside of her gown, and she stiffened, surprised. He stopped, following her cues, making as if to withdraw, but her fingers dug into the delicate nape of his neck, urging him on. He raised his face to hers, his eyes filled with doubt. A feral tension burned inside of her. She broke the gaze, pressing against his body, taking command.

Isabel stood on tiptoe, pressing her lips to the hollow behind his collarbone, the muscle hard beneath her kiss. She felt the tremor of his body vibrating through her mouth as he responded to her touch. He drew a sharp breath, placed his hands on her waist, pulled her against him, his mouth crushing hers with a bruising force.

His hand moved up her side, his touch feather-light, to softly caress the small curve of her breast. Her skin tingled beneath his touch. His expert thumb sought inwards, moving in light circles over her areola, her nipple. She turned her head to the side, breaking the kiss to gasp at the torrent of sensation.

He turned them around then, pressing her back against the wall, lifting her onto his strong thighs. Passion coursed through her as she kissed him with increasing urgency. Her hips grinded against his loins, his breathing quickening in response.

Conor pulled away, set her down. He unlaced her gown, letting it drop to the floor, eyeing her appreciatively. She stood before him, exposed in her thin linen shift, every curve of her body revealed. He bared one of her shoulders, kissing it gently, his touch thrilling her. Their eyes met, her lust mirrored in his dark gaze, as she stepped out of her thin undershirt and walked into his open arms. She felt safe there.

“You’re so beautiful,” Conor whispered, nuzzling at her ear.

But there was no beauty which could compare to his: the luscious shape of his lips; the quiescent strength of his arms; inky curls which gleamed like a raven’s wing. Isabel reached for his belt, her hand brushing against the swollen bulge of his breeches, and his breath caught in his throat. He arched his hips, moving his body away from the wall so that she could slide the belt from beneath him. His eyes were bright as he watched her, her desire heightened by the knowledge of her effect on him. She felt powerful, invincible.

He swiftly removed his breeches, revealing a body more perfect than a sculpture, unbelievably lovely as he stood before her. They looked at each other, hesitant for a moment, and then he closed the gap between them. Their bare skin came into contact, and a dangerous thrill pulsed between them, electric, exhilarating, throbbing so violently that Isabel felt its vibrations in her chest.

He tenderly laid her down on the soft pile made by their clothes, kissing her gently on the lips. “I love you,” Conor whispered, and she smiled at his words.

His lips replaced the stirring caress of his fingers on her breasts, increasing the intensity of feeling. Isabel wriggled beneath him, writhing against him, seeking to ease the excruciating pressure between her thighs.

“Wait,” Conor said breathlessly, pushing himself onto his forearms.

Isabel’s eyes hungrily admired the lean, toned musculature of his chest and shoulders, the strength in his arms. He pulled her over, seating her astride him. They were face to face, her swift breathing loud in the quiet of their sanctuary, no longer a sign of fear. He lowered his head, tracing the line of her neck with his lips, her body arching at the delicious sensation. His face moved to the white valley between her breasts, his large hands cupping her neat, round buttocks, pulling her against him.

Isabel rubbed her body on his, the action entirely wanton, all sense of decorum swept away by the flood of desire which overwhelmed her. Conor threw back his head in response, and she placed her lips against his arched neck. Her fingers traced the line of dark hair which ran across his chest, down his naval and covered his loins. He moaned, his fingers tightening on her buttocks. Her sense of power increased, redoubling her lust.

Gasping as her fingers sought lower, he rolled her beneath him in a sudden, strong movement, lightning swift. There was a hint of unfamiliar savagery in his eyes as he dominated her, frightening and thrilling. The movement of Isabel’s hips faltered.

Sensing her sudden reticence, Conor drew away from her. He gently stroked her face, the familiar, boyish softness returning to his features. “Never fear me, Issy. I would never hurt you,” he murmured, tenderly brushing a strand of hair behind her ears.  “Do you trust me?”

She looked into his eyes, nodded, pulled him against her, burying her face in his shoulder. The smell of him was earth and horses. Virile, strong, life-affirming. Like the man himself. He bent his head to kiss her eyelids, her mouth. His fingers moved down between her thighs, playing and teasing, stroking and tantalising, until her body once more rocked against his.

“This is what you want?”

“Yes,” she whispered, nuzzling his throat.

His fingers stroked her inner thighs, her body seeking his teasing, knowledgeable touch. She arched her back, pushing against his hand.

He grasped her hips, his loins covering hers. Carefully, his brow furrowed with concentration, he eased inside of her, her body, aching with desire, eagerly moving to aid him. The pain, as he thrust in to her, made tears sting Isabel’s eyes, but he kissed them away with soft lips. He was still, letting her body settle around his, the feeling of him inside of her strange and unfamiliar. She could feel his gaze on her face. She opened her eyes, met his anxious stare. She could see sweat gleaming on his chest, his body trembling with hard-held restraint.

Isabel kissed him desperately, urging him on. Her hand stroked his cheek. She shifted her hips, raising her pelvis to ease the pressure, the movement pulling him more deeply inside of her. Her muscles tightened involuntarily, sending a delicious flicker of sensation daggering through her loins. Her body moved again, easily, naturally, the timeless dance familiar. Conor moaned, his head thrown back. His face was contorted, his body trembling. She thrust again, and his battle was lost. His restraint disappeared, his hips involuntarily moving in counterpoint.

It was like galloping Strega for the first time – terrifying, and exhilarating, and wild. Her sense of risk was sharpened by the mighty presence of Glencaer on the other side of the wall, so full of intrigues and danger, and the knowledge that soon the feast would be over, and people would begin to dissipate, to walk, to wander. The pace increased in tandem with her sense of urgency, her fear of discovery.

Her need grew as Conor thrust within her, the discomfort of the intrusion forgotten. She dug her fingers into his shoulders, trying to postpone the end, but the pleasure dulled his awareness of pain. She clung to him desperately, dizzied by the ferocity of her lust, the sensation so strong that it was almost unbearable. Her mouth demanded his touch, crying out to feel every inch of his skin pressed against hers. And then she did not think at all.

Her body writhed and bucked like storm-tossed flotsam, wild and savage and feral. Conor seized her hips, and she arched her spine and thrust against him. She felt her body convulse, and he shuddered inside of her. The exquisite pulses of climax rippled through her.

Conor collapsed against her, his breathing heavy. His weight was crushing, but she was oblivious to all but the gentle flickers of dying passion which still quivered through her.

He raised his head slowly, his gaze anxious. “Did I hurt you?”

Isabel shifted uncomfortably beneath the weight of his body, though her hands gently caressed the sweat-damp ridges of his ribcage. She kissed him lazily, a slow smile spreading across her face. “I’ll live,” she murmured, rubbing her nose against his.

They lay together afterwards, his words sweet and caressing as crimson stained her virgin legs, signing their love in blood. Conor’s gentle mouth showered her with silken kisses. His heart beat beneath her ear, strong and rhythmic, as he rubbed a strand of long, red hair between his thumb and index finger. “You do realise you just agreed to marry me?” he murmured.

“Did I? I don’t remember hearing you propose,” she teased, allowing herself to play his game for a little longer. It seemed as though her brain had stored every unfelt scrap of happiness from the last few months, and impulsively decided to unleash them all at once in a giddy, hedonistic act of vengeance. She felt so very much, all of it directed at him.

Isabel pushed herself upright, only to make a study of his beautiful form. His broad, well-muscled shoulders were loose and relaxed, but there was undeniable power in those arms, and that chest, so that he brought to mind a quiescent lion.

Conor raised his eyes, returning her scrutiny, his long, thick lashes casting delicate shadows on his cheeks. They were beautiful eyes: exotic, knowing, and so very dark, as if they were blackened by the shadows within him. “I have a sin to confess,” he murmured, a thousand sins hidden in those inky depths.

“Then you must see a priest, my love,” she whispered, her lips against his shoulder. She ran light fingers across his arm, his chest, drinking in the beauty of muscles hard and gleaming.

“A priest could not absolve me. You must be my confessor.” His lips curved teasingly, betraying the hint of a smile, though he could never set it free completely.

Isabel laughed, her fingers burying themselves in the glossy dark curls at the nape of his neck. “And if I entice you to further sins?”

“Then I will be lost.”

“Confess, then.”

He canted his body towards his, his hand seeking her cheek. “I confess that I have loved you all my life. I confess that I have desired you since the first time my lips met yours. I confess that I hungered for you even as I knew that you were as far beyond me as the stars. And now I have you, and I am terrified, Issy. How many men wish for the stars and have their wish granted? You shine, and I am dazzled.”

Isabel placed the softest kiss on his lips. “I absolve you. And I love you.” Now she understood Felicia’s slavish loyalty to Oliver. Now she understood the wide-eyed adoration of Sophia for Robert. Now she even understood her mother’s heartbreak at the loss of the man she had loved for all of the years they had spent together. She felt shaken, touched, adored.

The folly of it, the deliberate despair and resentful emptiness of her life, struck her full force. She wanted this. She wanted him. “I could die right now, Con. I’m happy, truly. I’ve never felt that before. Here, now, I’m exactly where I want to be.”

Conor’s face was serious. A flicker of apprehension flashed in his eyes, and his heart leapt beneath her palm, dancing a wild, staccato rhythm. “Isabel Devereux, my heart only beats for you. I want you beside me always. Will you marry me?”

The evening was heavenly. To be that in love, to know that frenzy of the heart, was breathtakingly lovely – but, young as she was, even as she lived it, she knew that she would look back on the night as something that was part of the innocence of childhood. She remembered a dream, a thousand dreams. A blue-eyed man and a golden ring. A red rose tearing into the flesh of her black-haired lover. And she knew that it was impossible. That such a night, and such a feeling, could come again was impossible. It was a thin emotion, her happiness, drawn like a gossamer sheet over the lingering melancholy of her brother’s death. She wanted to be happy, but she didn’t dare to trust in anything. She couldn’t. She would only be disappointed. “You know that I can’t say yes. You know that I will marry Tris. He spoke of our marriage again, Con. He presses Katerina incessantly.”

His breathing faltered, his hand falling from her cheek. “When will it be?”

“Soon.”

He swallowed hard. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Because it didn’t matter to me. Nothing mattered except that Will was gone.”

Conor looked up at her. “Does it matter now?”

Isabel threw her arms around him with sudden fierceness. “It matters. You matter. Marrying Tris isn’t what I want. He’s not what I want.”

He set his fingers around the tops of her arms, his grasp strong, desperate. “I will leave, Issy, if you marry him. You know that, don’t you? I’ll have to.”

“No, I want you to stay. You must.”

He nodded, wouldn’t meet her eyes.

Isabel’s throat tightened. “Please. I have to know that you’re close. I have to be able to see you.”

Conor’s beautifully sculpted lips pressed against hers, hard and hungry. “So we’re to become thwarted lovers. Terrible, tragic, thwarted lovers.”

She nodded, her gaze locked to his. Watching. Waiting. “Yes.”

He lowered his head, taking her mouth in a long, luxurious kiss. “Will they sing songs about us, Issy? Will we play the same game as Guinevere and Lancelot? We’ll sneak around in the night, pretend not to know each other during the day?” he queried, his lips moving against hers.

“Yes,” she whispered, turning her head away.

He looked at her with knowing eyes. “That’s not enough.”

“I know.”

“We have to get married, Issy. We have to be together, you and I. We’ll only be lonely if we marry other people.”

“Stop talking about our wedding as if it’s something that’s going to happen, Con. I’m going to marry Tris. I have to marry Tris,” she said helplessly.

His dark eyes shone wickedly. “I hate Tristan FitzAlan. Maybe I’ll kill him and take the choice from you.”

“Don’t talk like that. Don’t talk like them.”

He placed his hand on her head, pulling her towards him. “Isabel, we have to be together, always,” he said hoarsely, his hot cheek pressed to hers. “Who else will ever love me the way you can?”

“Don’t be a fool, Con. You’re tall and beautiful and brilliant. Every woman who lays eyes on you falls a little bit in love with you.”

“Marry me, Issy. I’m serious. You have to,” he pleaded, his voice rough, broken.

“How can I say yes?”

“Marry me,” he repeated.

Her face was pressed against his shoulder, every breath she took filled with the scent of him, so hot and wild and heady. “So I must lose you or marry you?”

“Yes.”

Isabel did not think about what she was saying then; in that moment, she would have gone to the ends of the earth for him, to thank him for loving her, for showing her such beauty. She wanted their game to go on forever. “Then I must marry you,” she whispered.

He drew away from her, looking at her wonderingly. His lips sought hers, hungry, confused, intoxicated. “This is madness,” he said incredulously, his hands on her cheeks, his fingers in her hair.

She raised her eyes, studying him, drinking him in, revelling in the loveliness of his beautiful, foolish face. “Glorious madness,” she acceded, wishing that her insanity could endure for eternity. “For a pair of glorious fools.”

“I fear I am dreaming.”

She clutched his forearms with both hands, her fingers digging into his flesh, anchoring him to her, her forehead pressed to his. “Then we dream in tandem. We will be together, Con, I promise.” And in that moment she believed it. Love was like that: insistent, sure, persuasive. It silenced easily all whispers of misgiving; blinded her to every memory of a blue-eyed man, and a golden ring biting into her tender flesh.


© Copyright 2017 Jordana J Sacks. All rights reserved.

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