Friday, December 5, 2008

What A Scoundrel Wants

Chapter Thirty One - Robin and Marian

In his lifetime, Robin of Loxley had seen two angels.
Once, on the plains above Jerusalem, he looked across the barren wastes of the Holy Land. An apparition took flight against a severe blue sky, fleeing the chaos of armies’ violence in the valley below. Whether a messenger from God or a faithful soul newly departed, peace washed over him at the sight. Gone were the hard winds and stinging sands, the endless blood and brutality. He understood that although he was as far from home as a man was from heaven, he would return to the place he loved, to his England.
The second angel flew at him across the dells of the Loxley estate. Atop a steed, she could not have been a mortal woman. With the falling sun at her back, her face silhouetted, she rode with reckless skill. Dark hair raced behind her in fat plaits. Animal and angel galloped ever closer, never touching the ground. They dared to fly.
But unlike the sensation of peace he had tasted in Jerusalem, he felt only anticipation at the sight of this unearthly creature. He wondered why he would be blessed with such a vision now. When he arrived at the manor, he would have to ask Marian if all was well—
Marian.
The angel materialized into a woman, his woman. She raced with the impulsive abandon of a girl, one without worries or heavy years. A grin as broad as the valley animated her features.
“Robin!”
Never had a more glorious sound touched the world.
To his second he called, “Ride on, Hargrave. We shall arrive shortly.”
The riders in his entourage continued their steady, tired trek to the manor, passing their mistress with courteous nods. Her eyes never left his, barreling closer. Robin vaulted from his steed. Marian soared into his arms. They collapsed in a commotion of limbs and laughter.
She kissed him. Like a blessing, his angel kissed him. And he could only say her name, a chant, a plea to God to make his dream real.
Victory, hardship, and long, long years melted into the grass. She stretched across him, hands frenzied with the need to touch. Her curves and sighs hardened him with a quickness to leave him gasping. His armor kept her distant. He wanted to pull her to him, tight, flesh to flesh.
“My love,” she said, at once breathy, at once laughing. “My love, you are home.”
Joy trampled him. He dropped his head to the soft earth and sighed. “Our Lord be praised, yes—I am home.”
His joy reflected in her eyes, eyes bright with tears. She petted his face. “I don’t trust
what I see.”
“I’m here,” he said, pulling her to his mouth again. Tasting her made her real. In his dreams, he had never been able to taste her, no matter his desperation. “And for wont of a few more trees, I would claim you.”
She grinned, a sinful tease. “You are considerate of my virtue, husband.”
“Until we’re indoors.”
“Then let’s away.”
A horse neighed. Robin glanced at the pair and laughed. “By the way you rode that animal, I would have sworn it was a champion steed to carry the finest warrior into battle.”
She tossed a quick look to the bareback plow horse and shrugged. “Once I saw you from atop the lookout, waiting for my own horse to be saddled seemed a torture. I climbed atop the nearest I could find.”
“You’re not the angel I imagined,” he said. “You’re a wicked fiend.”
“Let me prove it to you.”
She caught his lower lip between her teeth, pushed her hips to his. The groan he heard must have been his, but his conscious mind seemed far removed from the man whose wife straddled him in an open field.
“Marian,” he gasped. “Enough, please.”
Her breasts pushed against the ornate embroidery at her bodice. With a last kiss, a gentle good-bye and a promise for more, she sat up. The cold wind frosted her cheeks to a ruddy pink.
She smoothed wayward curls from her face. “Just as well,” she said, calming. “Your armor is a nuisance to lovemaking.”
“You may help me remove it.”
He climbed behind her on his steed and pulled his fur mantle across their bodies. Marian
nestled into his arms. The second horse loped behind.
“Robin?”
“Yes, my love?”
She hesitated. “Will has come home.”
Cold invaded the mantle. “Will Scarlet?”
“Yes.”
“He’s come back?”
“Yes,” she said. “Some days thence.”
“I did not expect that.” Emotion thickened his words. Sudden, sharp pain sliced at his contentment. A conflicting sense of disappointment and failure poisoned those tiny cuts.
Will Scarlet. God protect him and damn him.
“Why? What does he need?”
“You’re right to suspect that he would not return without strong motivations.” She straightened but did not meet his eyes. “He is married.”
“What?”
“I was surprised as well,” she said. “Of late, there has been trouble in Nottingham from the newest sheriff. Soldiers attacked them at Meg’s cabin. She was badly injured, and Will came here for aid.”
“You admitted him.”
She fixed him with a prickly stare. “Of course I did.”
“And he offered no explanation for why he left?”
“Do you think I required an explanation before offering care?” Holding her was like holding a tree branch.
“No, but answers from him would be courteous.”
“Robin, his wife lay unconscious in his arms. He came for her sake. I thought nothing of your grudges, nor did I behave to spite you.”
“Where is he now?”
“Probably with Meg.” She hesitated again, the wind teasing strands of hair from her plait.
“She is blind.”
“Because of the fire?”
“No. She has been for many years.”
The horse took them nearer to the manor, toward the stables, but Robin held the reins carelessly. He shook his head. “Will returned and married a blind woman. I’ve missed a lifetime.”
She wove cold fingers into his hair, massaging the tight muscles of his neck. “It feels that way.”
“I suppose I’ll have to speak with him tonight.”
“’Tis evening,” she said. “Let them rest. You, come and rest. We’ll have time enough for reunions tomorrow.”