By almost midnight, she knew the hall would be empty and she felt free to move about undetected. Her feet carried her quietly through the corridor and down the long winding stone stairs. Twas chilly in the castle at night without all the fires tended and she felt a small shiver race down her spine. She should have worn a heavier gown. She wrapped her arms around herself and hurried to the table to relieve herself of her burden.
“You are up late, Lady Arianna,” a low voice called from the darkness, making her jump.
She whipped around and searched the vicinity. “Who is there?”
“Tis Alaric,” came the reply.
Arianna felt a mixture of excitement and unease assail her. She really did not want to get into an argument, but she was not going to allow him to put her down again either.
“What business have you down here so late?” he questioned her, his voice sounding more mellow, more pleasant than usual.
Her eyes adjusted slightly to the lack of light and she made out his vague outline, still lounging in the chair before the now dying fire. Walking toward him, she took a deep breath. “I was going to leave this for you.”
“For me? What is it?” he asked, and then drank slowly from his goblet.
Arianna moved to get in close enough for him to see her gift, but rapidly became aware that he would then see her too; and she was not dressed appropriately for that. Her feet slowed, “I cannot come any closer.”
Alaric heard the hesitation in her voice and he frowned into his cup. “Are you afraid of me?”
She could not help her small laugh. “No. I, well—I am not entirely dressed,” she admitted, embarrassed before him yet again.
Alaric began to wonder if he was having an alcohol induced dream. He had imbibed quite freely all evening. “Really?” he murmured lowly, slowly coming to a standing position.
“If you would come over where tis dark, I will hand this to you. Or, I will simply put it on your seat as I had planned to do,” she started to turn away.
“Stay put,” he commanded gruffly. In seconds he was within feet of her, his eyes straining blindly for a glimpse of her.
“I just wanted to say that I am sorry for barging in on your practice. Here,” she held out a dark material. As he took it, she clasped her hands. “Tis a tunic. I know you cannot see it, but it is the green of Rothlan.”
He was stunned. “My thanks.” He had yelled at her and in turn she hand made him a gift? He recalled his conversation with Erik and ran a hand through his thick inky hair. “You know, Lady St. James, I do not—dislike you.”
Surprised by his statement, she paused, unsure what to say.
“You young people still up?” Hatty’s deep voice crackled to them. “God’s teeth, tis freezing in here,” The woman’s path was clearly illuminated by the candle she held and as she approached, Arianna bit her lip.
“Do you need a fire built up, or mayhap some candles?” she offered.
“Yes, a candle.”
They answered simultaneously. Hatty took a sconce from the wall as she passed, lit the wick and put it on the table behind them. “Anything else?”
“No, thank you,” Arianna answered, glad she had not handed the light directly to Alaric!
“Good morrow then,” the housekeeper smiled and nodded as she wandered off.
“Well, I should get—” Arianna stopped as her eyes returned to him and caught the direction of his gaze. Apparently the flame was not far enough away…
Alaric was unable to tear his eyes from her as he viewed her sweet body hugged by light blue satin. She was curvier than he had expected, much more womanly than Jeanine, with her young breasts pressing provocatively against the fabric of her nightdress. He swallowed, immediately aroused. Her skin looked pale and smooth like the unblemished surface of a pearl and he wanted to reach out and touch her… Run his fingers over her full pillowy lips, drag them down her throat to tease at her bewitching cleavage before claiming one heavy globe for himself. He knew she likely would not fight him and the knowledge was torturous.
Arianna did not breathe for the length of his inspection, frozen by the waves of new, stimulating sensations rushing her body. She had never been in her nightgown in the company of a grown man before and she was sure she had never been ogled quite so openly in all her life. She felt hot and tingly, wired with excitement and yet lazy and heavy.
His eyes finally rose to hers and she thought she could almost feel the heat coming from them.
“You should return to your bed,” he said in a hushed tone.
It took her a minute to comprehend his words and then she frowned lightly. She did not want to go to bed. She wanted him to come closer and look at her with that scandalous heat.
His eyes dropped pointedly to her lips, “Arianna, go to bed—now.”
Mayhap it was the use of her given name, or the firm but intimate tone he used, but for some reason, she listened. Taking a deep breath, she stuttered, “G-Good morrow then.”
He only nodded in response, his eyes raking her body one last time before she turned and fled.
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