“My horse is well hidden.”
“Good, then get on it and ride northwest for one hour then stop. I will meet you there.”
“You cannot go back in there. You must return to the Irials and—”
“Go!” he commanded. “Someone comes and I’m not finished here.”
Jura slipped into the darkness, found her horse, and began to ride. It was against her better judgment to leave him alone back there but she knew within her heart how much fear she had felt when the men had touched her. And, also, she had been surprised at Rowan’s disguise and the way he had blended into the crowd. In an hour she reached a bend in the river and she knew this was where she was to meet him.
She fed her horse, tethered it in a dark growth of bush, and pulled off the stinking Ulten gown, then climbed a tree and waited for Rowan. He didn’t take long in getting there. She watched him dismount then stand still and look around. He turned and looked up at the tree although she knew he couldn’t see her.
“Come down,” he said.
Jura swung down a branch and dropped right in front of him.
The patch over his eye was flipped up to his forehead. “All right, what are you doing here?”
“I told you, I came to take you to safety.”
“You? Take me to safety? Tomorrow morning you are to return to the Irials.”
“And what do you plan to do?”
“I am going to find Brita and talk to her.”
“And how do you plan to find her?” Jura asked.
“If you hadn’t interfered tonight, I might have found out where she was. Those two guards were drunk enough and might have been ready after their fight but I had to leave to save your dirty neck. You still stink even without that thing you were wearing.”
Jura leaned against the tree and began to unlace her boots. “If the Irials had guessed you rode alone into Vatell land, they would have attacked.”
“What are you doing?”
“Undressing. I’m going to take a bath. Your solitary mission could have started a war.” She slipped out of the trousers.
Rowan stared at her with eyes so wide she could see the whites of them in the moonlight. “I wanted no argument,” he said tightly. “I did what I had to do. Oh God.” He said this last as Jura removed the last of her clothes and stood nude in the moonlight, her high-breasted figure gleaming and magnificently structured. “Jura, you torture me,” he whispered, his hands going behind his back to grope for the tree to support himself.
“I am your wife,” she said softly, then cocked her head. “Someone comes,” she said, and flung her body against his. “Hide me from their sight.”
Rowan, holding her, was stupefied and didn’t wrap his coarse, raggedy cloak about her as he should have. He just stood there with his body pressed against hers, his hands lightly on her back.
She was eye level with him and she waited for him to kiss her but he made no movement, so Jura touched her lips to his. It was all he needed to speed him into action. To Jura’s great pleasure, Rowan’s hands were all over her at once and he seemed to have a hundred mouths. He kissed her, caressed her, and oh, how deliciously beautiful he made her feel. How wonderful to feel womanly and desirable and adored and wanted and pursued. She kissed him back with all the wanting she felt.
“Beg me, Jura,” he said, his voice pleading.
She didn’t hear him at first.
“Please beg me,” he repeated.
Jura began to hear him and pushed him away. He was limp with desire and malleable in her hands. “Not in your lifetime, Englishman, will an Irial beg,” she spat at him. She turned away from him and walked to the river, glad for the cold water to cool her hot skin. She cursed the man with every word she knew. What kind of animal was he that he took pleasure in making a woman beg for his favors? He should be locked away before he harmed someone—and Thal thought this idiot was fit to be king!
When she emerged from the river, dried and dressed, Rowan had a small fire going and two rabbits skinned, speared, and roasting.
“I have supper,” he said softly.
“And what must I do to earn it? Go on my knees and plead? Or is begging reserved for the marriage bed? Perhaps to receive food I must bray like a donkey. Pardon me if I do not know your English rules of marriage conduct.”
“Jura,” he said, his voice heavy, “please do not be bitter. Let me explain that I am a kn