She looked up at him and her smile broadened. “You have done what you said. The Irials and Vatells are married and Brita has only a prince in her bed. Perhaps there is hope for you as king.”
Rowan laughed. “I have had to risk much to earn that compliment.” He walked toward the little table where the food waited. “Ma
y I pour you a glass of wine? This looks to be some that I brought with me from the Frankish lands.”
She accepted a tall, golden mug set with rough-cut rubies from him. She tried not to gape at the mug and to act as an Englishwoman might. “Nothing went wrong at the ceremonies?” she asked.
“No.” He grinned. “Though I think there was some bedding done before the vows, thanks to you and Lora sending couples off alone.” He sat on a carpet on the floor and leaned against the foot of the bed. There wasn’t much room in the tent and of necessity everything was very close.
Jura took a deep breath. She didn’t know how to be friendly with this man. They had done nothing but fight since they had met. “When we guardswomen have trained very hard, we rub each other’s shoulders. Perhaps I can do the same for you,” she said tentatively, afraid he might reject her.
Rowan smiled at her with great warmth, and there was gratitude in his eyes. He leaned back and held out his hand to her as she went to him.
She knelt beside him for a moment, still holding his hand, and looked into the deep blue of his eyes. For the first time in a long while, she felt herself drawn to him. Right now Lanconia, Daire, Cilean, her brother’s right to the throne, all of it seemed a faraway dream. When she moved, the velvet undulated about her body, and now the candlelight was gleaming on Rowan’s golden hair.
“You must remove your tunic and lie facedown,” she said, trying to keep the tremor from her voice.
His eyes turned hot and the lids lowered as he looked at her eyes then her lips. He set his wine aside then unbuckled his belt and pulled his tunic over his head. He wore nothing beneath and the candlelight shadowed and highlighted the heavy muscles of his chest. There was a scar across one shoulder and she lightly put her fingertips on it.
Rowan smiled at her. “I wasn’t giving Feilan my full attention and he thought he’d teach me a lesson.” He clasped her fingertips, then brought them to his lips. “You are beautiful, Jura,” he said as he kissed her fingers, then put her thumb inside his warm, wet mouth and ran his tongue over it. He made little nibbling kisses to the inside of her wrist and began to work his way down the inside of her forearm, pushing her sleeve back as he went. “I thought you were beautiful the first day I saw you but now…”
“As pretty as your Englishwomen?” she whispered, watching him. “As pretty as the woman you should have married?”
He laughed deep in his throat. “There is no Englishwoman to compare with you.” He put her arm down in her lap and looked at her. “If you are to rub my shoulders, perhaps you should remove some of your own clothing.”
Jura could feel the blood rushing to her face. She had undressed before him repeatedly, but somehow, now, in the soft candlelight, it seemed different. And, too, she knew that if she undressed now it would lead to another painful episode like the last time. But, somehow, she wasn’t afraid. There was just that feeling of excitement that she always felt before a battle.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she slipped the outer layer of velvet over her head and she was left wearing only the very tight silk garment. Years of exercise had given her layers of muscle that molded her hips and made her waist tiny and her breasts high and proud.
Rowan, looking up at her, gave a groan that was so heartfelt that Jura smiled. It was frivolous the way this Englishman valued physical beauty but it did feel good to have him look at her so. It was almost as if her skill with a lance didn’t matter.
“Jura,” he whispered, and held out his arms to her.
It was the most natural thing in the world for her to go to him. To deny him would have been to deny a drink to a man dying of thirst.
He kissed her lips tenderly, not hard or fiercely, but as if he had all the time there was. He played with her lips and touched them with the tip of his tongue. By the time he finished, Jura’s body was so fluid he could have tied her in knots. She lounged against his arms, her entire weight supported by him, her eyes closed.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked at him. His lids were lowered slightly and his lips were softened from their kiss. She had never seen a man look like this before and certainly not this Englishman who usually frowned in displeasure. But now there was desire in his eyes but gentleness too, and a kind of contentment, as if he wanted to be nowhere else on the earth but here with her. Jura’s heart began to beat a little faster. This Englishman said he loved her. Could that be true? Could this expression on his face be love?
He caressed her face with his fingertips, then with his whole hand, his palm against her cheek, his fingers entwined in her hair, then kissed the corner of her mouth, then her eyelids. Jura lay still in his arms, accepting his gentle caresses, but her heart was beginning to beat faster with each second. Who would have thought that this big man who cursed and fought and raged could touch a woman so softly?
He kissed her lips again but this time she kissed him back. She put her arms about his neck and pressed her silk-clad breasts tight against the warm, bare skin of his chest.
“Jura, my love,” he whispered against her neck, his lips hot against her skin.
Her pounding heart was beginning to rise in her chest, making its way toward her throat until she wondered if she might suffocate. His fingers touched the laces at the side of her gown, and as skillfully as he might play a stringed instrument, he untied the knots and loosened their hold.
She gasped when his big, warm, callused hands slipped inside the silk and clutched her bare waist. He squeezed her as a playful boy would, and to Jura’s disbelief, she laughed in delight like one of the empty-headed girls who aspired to be a guardswoman—one of the girls who was always turned down. But Rowan wasn’t disgusted by Jura’s giggle as a Lanconian warrior most assuredly would be. Instead, he grinned, his blue eyes twinkling with merriment. “Jura ticklish?” he said. “The great warrior Jura ticklish?”
She tried to get away from him, but she couldn’t move from his hands that held her so firmly about the waist. His fingers began to move, and try as she would, Jura could not control her laughter. She pushed at him but she may as well have tried to push an oak tree down. Torturously, his fingers began to move inside her dress and Jura kept laughing. Helplessly, she fell backward onto the carpet.
When she heard the dress tear, she cried out in protest, but it didn’t sound like a serious protest and Rowan’s hands kept making her laugh.
Suddenly, he stopped tickling her and looked down at her. Somehow, Jura was nude, or at least nearly so, for the gown was split from neck to knees. Her breasts, even as she lay on her back, stood up high in excitement and pleasure as Rowan, on his knees, straddled her thighs.
His face changed from teasing to serious as he looked at her, his blue eyes almost black, a vein at his temple extended and pounding, the muscles of his chest rigid and pronounced. His nostrils flared slightly as he looked down at her. Then, smoothly, he picked her up into his arms, tearing the last of her dress and hose away, and carried her to the bed.
Jura’s body felt alive as it never had before, but she was also a little afraid. “Your sister will not like her gown being torn,” she whispered.