Twilight Vows

Chapter 12


The door stood open. in invitation, I thought. Her clothes lay tattered on the floor, and I recalled the hounds surrounding her. The fear in her eyes. The courage that surged in spite of it. My fingers fumbled with the trousers I wore, and I stepped out of them, and into the bathroom. Nothing between us now but the flimsy shower curtain.
Her naked on one side, beneath the pounding spray. Me naked on the other.
Suddenly the water stopped flowing. Her fingers curled around the edge of the curtain, and it slid open. And then she stood there, still, silent.
Wide eyes sliding up and down my body, before finally meeting mine, holding them.
She stepped out, one foot lifting over the edge of the tub, lowering to the floor, then the other. She didn't reach for the towels stacked nearby.
Instead she merely stood there, head tilted back, eyes dark and stormy.
I stared back at her, drinking her in with my eyes. Water beaded on her skin, her shoulders and arms. Her tight belly. Rivulets formed, trickling from her long, wet hair down over slick, perfect breasts. She waited. Up to me, I knew. But did she really think I could turn away now?
Reaching out, I touched her. Ran one hand slowly over her hair, and followed the water downward, absorbing it into my palm as I skimmed her delicate throat, her tender breast, her narrow waist and rounded hip. I tugged her closer. And she came so easily, at the merest nudge of my hand. She pressed her body to mine with a soft sigh, twining her arms around my neck and tilting her head back for my kiss. I shuddered in reaction to the feel of her in my arms, wet and so warm, as I touched my mouth to hers. My arms closed tight around her, one hand cupping her buttocks while the other cradled her head. When her lips parted, I tasted heaven, and the fire inside me flared hotter.
With my tongue, I delved inside, to touch and stroke hers. I felt her shaking. Warming until her flesh was hot against my hands. Feverish.
I arched hard against her, and she pushed back. No hesitation, no shyness.
My hands slid up and down her shower-damp body, unable to get enough of the feel of her as I fed from her mouth. She was sweet.
And my mind floated away, until all that remained was sensation.
Desire. And the taste of her. I moved my lips away, licking the moisture from her jaw, and her throat. She arched backward, and I slid lower, drinking every droplet from her skin, from her breast.
Taking the hard little nipple into my mouth and suckling, gently at first, but harder when her hands tangled in my hair. Scraping and nipping with my teeth, making her whimper in need, a sound that added fuel to the fire.
I wanted her. all of her, everywhere. Lower, I moved, dropping to my knees and kissing the wet path down her belly, nuzzling my face in the nest of damp curls, and then pushing deeper. Parting her secret folds with my tongue, I tasted her, and she cried out, fists clenching in my hair and tugging it.
Hurting me so deliciously that my knees nearly buckled. Then she stepped back, just a little, urging me upward again, until I was standing. Her arms encircled my neck, and she lifted herself. I helped her, clasping the backs of her thighs and lifting them, positioning them around my waist. I felt her, warm and ready, teasing at the very tip of me, and closed my eyes at the flash of desire that nearly blinded me. And then she lowered her body over mine, took me slowly, so slowly inside her. Deeper. and deeper still, and when I felt the resistance, wondered at it, she pushed harder. A soft gasp, a small sound of pain.
I went still. Throbbing inside her, feeling her body's tightness pressing around me, holding me, I closed my eyes and knew the secret she hadn't told me. The gift she'd just given me.
"Rachel..." "Shh,"
she whispered, and then she moved over me, lifting away, lowering again.
Slowly, excruciatingly, her breasts sliding against my chest as she did, taut nipples caressing my skin. Slowly, I told myself.
She nestled her head in the crook of my neck, kissed me there, suckled me there. Moved faster. Her breaths hot and quick on my skin.
I pushed her back to the wall, gripped her buttocks and held her there, thrusting into her deeply, again and again.
She gasped, and clung to me, head thrown back, mouth open. I kissed her, took her mouth as I took her body, but the need wasn't sated.
Even as my passion neared release, I knew it wouldn't be. And it was as if she knew, sensed it somehow, because she clasped my head and drew it lower, pressed my face to her neck, tilted her chin upward, so the tender skin pressed to my lips. I felt the pulse pounding there, tasted the warmth and salt of her skin, knew it would be as good for her as for me, told myself there was no reason to deny what she offered. "Take me, Donovan," she whispered.
"Taste me..."
I shivered. I hungered. I neared release more with every thrust, and craved as I'd never craved before.
With a trembling sigh, I parted my lips, closed them over her thudding pulse and, quickly, pierced her throat. She drew a harsh breath, but her hands pushed my head closer, clung to me and she pressed her neck to my greedy mouth. And I fed. Suckled, devoured the very essence of her, and heard her short staccato cries as she neared climax. And then I heard nothing but the thunder of my own heart beating in time with hers as I exploded inside her.
She screamed my name, shuddered around me, and slowly went limp in my arms.
I lifted my head, kissed the wound I'd left in her neck, and then her cheek, and her hair, and her lips.
She opened heavy-lidded eyes, and stared up at me. And something about that look made me realize the enormity of my mistake. It wasn't simple desire I felt for her. Not need, not physical longing. I felt something for her.
Something powerful and older than time. I always had.
I'd done it, then. I'd put the power to destroy me squarely into her hands.
All that remained was to see what she would do with it. But not now. Not yet.
As I lowered her gently to her feet, she stared up at me, and her deep green eyes gleamed like emeralds in moonlight. She whispered, "Come," and she took my hand. Drawing me with her back into the shower, turning on the water.
Standing with me beneath the spray. She wrapped herself in my arms and kissed me. Lingeringly. almost. lovingly.
She couldn't tell him how she felt, wasn't sure there were words for it even if she tried. Completed, somehow. As if a goal she'd been striving for all her life had finally come within reach. As if the very essence of her had been touched, shared, poured out into another soul. She was happy, truly happy for the first time in her memory. He didn't feel the same. Couldn't love her. Wouldn't trust her. But she refused to dwell on those things right now. There would be time. So much time.
She'd get her wish, her dream. The man she'd loved all her life. She lowered her eyes, tried to believe he would return that love.
"What is it?" he whispered, stroking her hair as he held her.
They'd moved from the shower to the bed, where they snuggled now like lovers.
Tough to believe he felt nothing for her. Impossible, in fact.
She shook her head.
"Nothing, Donovan. I was just thinking..."
"Thinking about what?"
Shrugging, she brushed away her doubts.
"I'd like to walk outside,"
she told him.
"In the moonlight."
"Were you always such a night person, Rachel?"
She smiled at him, ignoring the wariness, the uncertainty in his eyes. '"Tis growing on me." She sat up, sensing his growing discomfort with the intimacy of holding her in bed this way, now that the desire was spent. For her part, she'd have just as soon remained like that through the night, but. She walked to the closet, pawed the clothes and chose carefully. A dress of white, so he couldn't help but focus on her out there in the darkness. With a full, soft skirt that would dance in the slightest breeze, and a plunging neckline to remind him of how much he still wanted her. She hoped.
"I've always wondered what lies beyond this fence of yours," she said as we walked side by side in the moonlit night. Her hair, dried during lovemaking and untouched by a comb, hung in natural, careless curls, giving her the look of a wild thing of the forests. A fairy, or a nymph. She enchanted me.
I should never have made love to her. Never.
"I can show you," I heard myself tell her. "But... there's no gate."
Frowning, I tilted my head, watching her study the tall, sturdy fence.
"And how do you know that, Rachel?"
She looked at me quickly, then averted her eyes.
"I... used to come here. As a child."
Meeting my gaze, her own hooded, she shrugged.
"As often as I could slip away. I knew 'twas you, even then, you see. My secret protector."
I lowered my head to hide my reaction to her words. My stomach clenched tight, twisted and pulled.
"Do you still want to see inside?"
She nodded.
"Come here, then."
Frowning, she came closer. I scooped her up into my arms, bent at the knees, and leapt the tall fence. I heard her delighted squeak as I came down on the other side. And then she went silent, seemingly content to remain in my arms as she scanned the woods to her left, and the rolling meadow in which we stood. Well-worn paths meandered among the lush sweet grasses, and into the wood lot "Look," I whispered, turning with her, pointing.
In the distance a doe lifted her head to glance our way briefly. Then she went back to nibbling.
"Donovan, there. Beyond the doe," Rachel whispered.
"Yes," I said, "I see them." Twin fawns frolicked in the deep grasses. Gently, I set Rachel on her feet.
"The fence keeps hunters--men like Mamey Neal and his hounds--away. The deer can leap the fence easily though. Come and go as they please. Most of them seem content to stay here."
"So you've made a haven for the deer." She continued watching, laughing softly, a sound more disturbingly beautiful than a night bird's song, at the twins' antics.
"Not only the deer." I turned toward the fence, crouching low and pushing the deep grasses aside.
"There are hidden places like this one, where the smaller creatures can get underneath. And the game birds fly over to find safety. Come," I said, extending my hand. Her delight in this place so pleased me, I couldn't resist showing her more.
When she closed her hand around mine, a feeling of warmth suffused me. And for a moment, it seemed perfect, natural. Until I reminded myself that it was fleeting. She'd leave here, one day soon. I led her over the meadow, to the place where wildflowers spread like a patchwork carpet in every direction. And beyond that, to the pond, fed by two streams. It glittered in the moonlight. Geese swam on the silvery water, undisturbed by our intrusion. Rachel sank into the grass on the pond's bank, and in spite of myself, I sat down beside her. Closer than I needed to, and yet not close enough. "It's as if they know you're no threat to them."
"They should," I told her.
"They've been safe here for generations."
I felt her eyes on me.
"Why, Donovan?"
I shrugged.
"Why not?"
"Tell me."
I looked at her, half reclining now. Like a goddess in her paradise.
"All right," I said softly.
"I created this haven for the animals because I understand them." I looked again at the geese, who swam further from shore as a fox came slinking slowly to the water's edge for a sip.
"I know how it feels to be hunted," I told her.
I met her eyes. She nodded as if she understood. But she couldn't.
Or. I refused to believe she could.
"You're truly a special man, Donovan O'Roark."
I shook my head slowly, but as she curled into the cradle of my arm and rested her head upon my shoulder, I felt special. Cherished. God, I was a fool to feel the things she made me feel.
We stayed there, in my own private paradise for most of the night.
Walking hand in hand, spotting and observing the wildlife. Like young mortals in love. Like some idealistic fantasy. And I relished every moment of it, in spite of the knowledge that doing so was a fool's dream. I only suggested we return to the castle when I knew dawn was on the rise, and Rachel still hadn't eaten.
But when we entered through the library doors, it was to the sound of urgent pounding, and shouts from the front. And even before I went to the great hall to answer the noisy summons, I sensed my brief time in paradise was coming to an end.
Mary O'Mallory stood at the door, breathless, red in the face. Her frantic gaze slid from me to Rachel, then relaxed slightly in relief.
"Rachel," she sighed.
"Lordy, girl, what took you so long?"
Rachel frowned, ushering her inside, one arm supporting the woman, and I knew she cared for Mary. Genuinely cared. I saw the worry in her eyes.
"We were outside," Rachel explained.
"Come, sit down before you faint dead away. Whatever is the matter?"
Mary sat, though on the edge of the set tee As if ready to spring and run should the need arise.
"I need to speak with you, Rachel. Alone."
She slid a sideways glance toward me, and I knew what she thought of me.
That I was a monster. They all believed that.
All. except for Rachel. She'd never seen me that way, had she?
"There's nothing you can't say to me in front of Donovan." Mary pursed her lips.
"He's my friend, Mary."
"Never mind. I'll give you your privacy," I offered. But I slanted a long look Rachel's way. Would she run now? Should I lock the door?
No. No need sending Mary into a panic. They wouldn't be long. "I'll call you when we've finished," Rachel said. And I knew it was her way of promising she wouldn't run off. But she would, eventually. It was inevitable. And it was going to hurt.
I only nodded and left the two alone.
Rachel sat beside Mary and clasped the older woman's hands.
"Now tell me, what's wrong?"
"The very fact that yer here, with that... that" -- "He's a man, Mary.
Just a man. And he's been nothing but kind to me. " " Lordy, child, tell me you're not in love with him! " Rachel only lowered her eyes.
"Why don't you simply tell me why you've come."
"" Tis the villagers, girl. Mamey Neal, above all. He's stirred them up until I fear history is about to repeat itself. An' I want you safe away from this place before it does. "
A bird of panic took wing in Rachel's chest.
"What are you saying?"
"Mamey claims the beast has you under some sort of spell, child. That you're his prisoner, but too enchanted to realize it. He's convinced them you're in need of rescue, Rachel, and even now the men are gathering at the pub.
"Twas all I could do to slip away unnoticed, to warn you."
Rachel lowered her head, closed her eyes.
"So they'll come here."
"Aye," Mary said.
"An' I fear violence will be done this night, child. Ye must come away with me now."
Facing her squarely, Rachel nodded.
"I'll come. But I'll speak with Donovan first."
"Rachel, you mustn' t" -- "I must. I can't leave him here, unprepared.
Unwarned. I can't go without telling him goodbye or explaining... No, you go on. I'll be along shortly, I promise."
Mary looked as if she were about to argue, but when she met Rachel's eyes, she seemed to change her mind.
"I can see you're determined.
What's between you two, Rachel? "
"Nothing that need concern you. Go, now. Try to hold the men off until I get there."
Sighing, Mary left. Rachel stood at the door, watching her go. Then she turned, wandered back to the hall that led to the library, and called Donovan's name. She heard his steps coming toward her, felt his essence touching her even before he came into sight. He only looked into her eyes, standing very still, then nodded.
"You're leaving tonight, aren't you Rachel?"
"I must. You have to let me go, Donovan. It's" -- He held up a hand.
"I won't stop you. My... arrangements are in place, for the most part. I can leave here right after you do." She tilted her head, frowning hard at him.
"My God, Donovan, do you still believe that's necessary? After what we've shared? The way we've talked ... you really think I'd leave here only to tell your secrets to the world?"
He lowered his head.
"What I believe," he whispered, "is that I'm as big a fool as Dante was. But I've no wish to suffer the same fate."
She looked up at him, stared deeply into his eyes, and what she saw there was pain.
"If you leave... I'll never be able to find you again. Will I?"
He averted his eyes.
"That's the entire point." "No," she said softly.
"It's not even close to the point." "Then what is?"
She stepped closer, gripped the front of his shirt in trembling fists.
"Must I throw my heart at your feet and wait for you to kick it aside? I will then. You mean more to me than my pride." I "Don't, " I love you, Donovan O'Roark. I've loved you all my life, and I will until I die. "
His face seemed to crumple in pain.
"I'm leavin' you tonight, yes. Because I must. But only tonight. I'd have come back. I'd have come back here, for you."
"You'd do well to leave, too, Donovan, for there's danger to you here tonight. But it's up to you where you go. Far away, where I can never set eyes on you again. Or close by... close enough so that I can find you... or you can find me."
Slowly, he shook his head.
"You don't understand. It's the curse of my kind to live our lives alone, Rachel. It's how it has to be."
"Tis how you've made it. You have a choice now, Donovan. But it's up to you." Tears choked her. God, she didn't want to leave him. To lose him.
To never see him again. But if she didn't, she might lose him anyway. To an angry mob, just the way he'd lost Dante. Impulsively, tears streaming over her cheeks, she pressed her lips to his, clung to his neck for a brief, passionate kiss. Then she turned and fled, through the front door and into the waning night.