Arianna stared up at the vast cloud filled sky and sighed softly. She felt very unlike herself —tired and bored and filled with sadness. She had known everyone would notice and had not wanted the added attention. Tis why she had chosen to ride out to the edge of the property to be alone.
She had been so reckless and unwise with Alaric and she did not need her parents to know about it; or to see his smug mocking face. He did not deserve to know how horribly he had hurt her and no one else need know of it either. She bit her lip. The clouds were getting darker, blocking out the sun and she knew she would have to head back to the castle soon. Her absence would not be tolerated for the evening meal and she had no way of knowing just how late it truly was.
Her fingers absently weaved the weeds in her hands. She would wait just a little longer…try to talk herself into a better mood. Or at least attempt one that others would believe was content enough.
The last round had ended and the troops were swarming the castle when Stefan finally spotted his surly brother again. “Alaric! What happened to you? I was waiting by the stable.”
Alaric’s eyes were both blank and hostile. “No one told you to wait for me.”
Stefan frowned, his blue eyes discerning. “Sleep well last night, did you?” He attempted a grin, but stopped when his brother almost growled at him.
“Do not start with me, Stefan—not this day,” he warned deeply.
The younger man continued to stare at him as they collected their meal and went to sit at a crowded bench. “Bad match this afternoon?” He tried again, but received only a glare. “I heard you were rather brutal in the One on One event—actually broke the arm of a man from Frankfort,” he continued.
Alaric bared his teeth. “Tis enough!” He looked down at his plate with a murderous expression. “I was but a little overzealous.”
Stefan leaned back in his chair. “Who were you with last night, brother?”
The bigger man pierced him with steely eyes. “What?” He growled.
“What wench did you meet in your room?” Stefan clarified. “I saw you leave early.”
Alaric clenched his teeth a moment. “Regina.”
The younger man chuckled. “Liar. Regina was in the kitchens,” he waited, but when Alaric offered nothing further, he shook his head. “You were with her, were you not?”
Alaric’s grip on his goblet tightened until his knuckles turned white and his gaze dropped. “Tis nothing between her and I and there never will be.”
His brother nodded, disturbed by the hint of melancholy he saw in Alaric’s eyes before he looked away. “Then I shall say no more.”
The pair fell into a tense silence and then disaster struck. Henry approached the table and tapped Alaric on the shoulder. “Blackheart! Come, honor my table and entertain us with stories of your victories!”
Trapped, the darker man nodded and forced a tight half smile as he stood. “Of course, M’Lord.”
“Call me Henry, please,” he clapped his back heartily.
Arianna spotted him as he drew near and he could see her stiffen in her seat before she averted her gaze. Trying to tamp down the rushing heat in his body at seeing her again, he took the empty seat across from her and waited silently.
She looked glorious snuggled into a white woolen gown with a matching ribbon weaved artfully through her long golden tresses. Like the night previous, the style showed little of her flesh—this one even less with its long fitted sleeves and high collar. His eyes roamed over the gently stretched fabric across her magnificent breasts and he remembered the smooth soft feel of them, their heady taste. He swallowed harshly and forced his eyes to his plate. Twas over; thinking on it would only torture him needlessly.
Arianna’s whole body began to tingle uncomfortably when he appeared and she felt the back of her neck heat with humiliation. He must be laughing in his boots at her! She had been so forward and ignorantly eager to please… My God he had seen her fully nude! She ran a discreet hand over her hot cheek, trying to block the memory. She only wished she could block it from his mind as well! Her eyes strayed across the room to where his brother sat staring toward them and she clenched her eyes. He would not have told him, would he?
She worried her bottom lip between her teeth, daring a quick glance at him and almost gasped aloud when they made startling direct eye contact. Quickly tearing her gaze away, she pushed her plate back and stood. Twas simply too much too soon. Her chest felt heavy and sore, like she was being punched each time she thought of what had happened and being near him made it worse.
He watched her as she moved to bid her parents an early goodnight and felt his own body become leaden. Mayhap he should just retire as well, because as his attempt late the night previous had proven to him, other women would no longer suffice now that he knew what perfection was available.
Not half an hour passed before he too pushed his plate away and excused himself. Twas the last day of the official games on the morrow and he needed to make a good showing to guarantee his qualification in the Gauntlet only days nigh. He owed Henry at least that, especially now.
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