Authors: Em Petrova
Tags: #Steampunk/Medieval Fantasy
Her chest worked with her anger and against her tears. “I ask that ye don’t treat me like a princess. Ye cannot deliver the kiss of a man and then bow yer head like a subject. My mind cannot keep up with that.”
Complete understanding washed over him, and he smoothed her hair. With the slightest pressure on the base of her neck, he brought her lips to his. A whisper of a kiss played between their mouths, a gentle inhaling of sweet breath, an acknowledgment of the attraction that flowed between them.
“Isolde, I will take ye safely to the castle, and then I must never see ye again.” He rubbed his forehead against hers, staring into her glowing eyes.
When she nodded, their noses brushed. She moved to free herself from his arms, but he held her. Just one minute longer. Just one more kiss. Just one more taste of fire.
The blast of hunting horns rent the air. A flock of birds launched screaming into the sky. Their chatter grew deafening, and Isolde convulsed against Sadler. He ignored her frantic clawing at his chest and the clatter of his heart, and centered his senses on the outside world. Beneath the din of the forest, he detected the march of men and the thunder of hooves, but no creak of a zeppelgonger.
Focusing on the panicked face of Princess Isolde, he gripped her delicate jaw. “Isolde, they’re hunting ye, woman. Are ye prepared to run?”
* * *
Sadler brought Isolde into the shadow between the stable and a small hay-fuel shed. She was soaked to the knee with mud and lamenting the loss of her golden slipper. She limped into the space before him with her head held high.
He braced his hands against the rough, wooden shed wall, trapping her with his body. Their eyes met like steam to an airship. He wondered if he’d ever forget their blue-green fire. Fairy fire.
“I’ll peek out and tell ye when it’s clear to run for the keep.”
She nodded. A quiet moment passed while they struggled to let each other go. “I’ll never see ye again.”
“Good luck to ye, Sadler. Keep yer neck free of the guillotine.”
“Ah, that I will. Now the hangman’s noose, I do not know.” His jest fell flat.
A harsh cry tore from her, and she hurled her arms about his neck. He held her head against his shoulder and kissed the shell of her ear. His heart thudded in his ears. “Go now, woman, and don’t look back.”
Wrenching from him, she then ducked beneath the barricade of his arms and dodged across the yard. Sadler let his forehead drop against the wall and rubbed it over the splintery wood. Cries of the castle guards reached his ears.
“She’s here. We’ve found her!”
He dared not watch her sprint through the great entry. Another moment passed while he collected his wits, and he stole into the stable. He blinked against the enveloping darkness. Through a high window streamed ribbons of light. Dust motes swirled in the air.
As he edged deeper into the stable, the familiar oily scents of hay and horseflesh filled his head, resurrecting memories of his father. In his mind’s eye, Sadler could nearly see the curves of Isolde’s mother locked in the arms of his father, and finally he understood how the passion had gone before the sense.
The noon hour approached, and the stable was empty of workers, so Sadler was able to climb into the loft and rifle the stable boys’ possessions. The bed of hay looked so inviting—more comfort than he’d seen in weeks of drifting. He hesitated and then scooped the leather pants and clean tunic from the foot of the bed. Such finery for a stable lad, he thought. Never had he, in his days as stable boy, possessed garments of such high quality.
After stealing back down the ladder, he hid himself in an empty stall and shucked off his filthy pants in exchange for the fine, cool leather. It molded to his skin—a good fit. The tunic was snug around his chest, but he was still able to move freely.
He abandoned his clothing in the stall and crept along the inner wall of the paddock to an opening in the stone. Here the kitchen garden tempted him with treats as he hadn’t known in months. Tomatoes and cabbages, turnips and beets. He plucked a cabbage and cradled it beneath his arm like a human head while filling his hands with root vegetables. Throwing a look over his shoulder, he stole away to the small orchard, where he leaned against an apple tree and gorged.
The castle grounds were silent as he ate, but soon sounds of life reached him. Pots and pans rattled in the kitchen, and the thud of hooves filled his ears as the horses galloped into the paddock, ridden by the men-at-arms.
“The princess is requesting her dinner now,” said a loud, coarse female voice. “The king says to hold the tart so that Princess Isolde might eat.”
Renewing his resolve, Sadler stuffed the last of the turnips into his mouth and chewed the strong, tough vegetable. If the king lingered over his noon meal in the great hall, then Sadler was free to search the castle.
Through the side door he shot, grabbing a basket filled with freshly pressed white linens, then striding purposefully past the groups of castle workers. No one spared him a glance, dressed as he was and carrying the basket.
To his right he heard the clank of pewter mugs and mapped the great hall in his mind. The corridors were damp and dim, with torches placed high on the walls, guiding him by their flickering lights. Into the belly of the castle he wound, until he discovered a set of double doors decorated with ornate ironwork.
Sadler’s muscles trembled with adrenaline. Beyond those doors lay the chambers of the king. Sadler could lie in wait for him, slit his throat, and hurl the body from the narrow window before King Adlard could blink.
The ring of metal-soled boots on stone jerked him to life, and Sadler slithered into the adjoining corridor, finding it led back toward the roar of the men in the great hall. He burned to look in on Isolde, to see her seated at her father’s right hand, delicately eating a bite of meat from the point of her knife. She would have changed her gown and bound her hair.
Hugging the wall, Sadler poked his head around the stone and searched the great hall for the woman. Two long tables formed an L shape, with the king seated in a high chair at the center. Sure enough, to his right sat Isolde.
Honey blonde head lowered so Sadler clearly glimpsed the network of braids on the top of her head, she picked at her food. Her father spoke to the man on her opposite side, leaning across her as he did. Adlard himself was a great man, tall and well built, with thick white hair and all his teeth. Isolde bristled at something they said, and her father put a ringed hand over hers.
At that moment, Isolde’s head lifted, and she fixed Sadler in her fiery stare. Blood pulsed to her face. She dropped her linen cloth to her trencher and said to the men surrounding her, “Excuse me.”
Sadler popped his head behind the wall, torn between running and waiting for her. His heart was a hammer in his chest.
“What are ye doing here?” she asked in a heated whisper, rounding the corner.
“Waiting for ye,” he lied. Or half lied.
Princess Isolde of Weligbyr was in all her glory. Face scrubbed so clean, her nose shone, and her hair a mass of twisting strands interwoven with fragile white blossoms. She wore a gown of pale green, turning her eyes to seawater, and when she released her lip from her teeth, it was brilliant red.
With a growl Sadler slammed her against the wall. Their mouths collided, and they grappled at each other, bodies writhing to get closer, hands fumbling, seeking more. The inside of her mouth was silken, her long lashes ticklish on his cheek as he kissed her. He ground his cock into her belly, and she locked her arms around him and ground back.
And then he was lifting her skirts, slipping his fingers over the round thighs to the very pulsing heat of her. Isolde shuddered in his hold, head arching and exposing her throat to his kisses. He stroked the crease of her sex with two fingers, groaning at the slick juices he found and wanting to taste them. She thrust her hips into his hand as little moans escaped her lips.
“Not so loud, my beauty.” With a laugh, he covered her cries with his mouth.
When one finger sank into the deep honey hole, she bucked and bit his lip. But when he circled the stiff little pleasure nub with his thumb, her knees buckled.
Sadler supported her against the wall, his fingers buried deep in her sex, his rod straining against the stolen leather pants. Her mouth was wild and consuming. Her braids loosened, and the mass tumbled over her shoulders. He felt her stiffen and knew she teetered on the brink of release, when suddenly voices neared the doorway through which Isolde had come.
Isolde and Sadler sprang apart. Her pale green skirts swished back into place, and she pressed her spine into the cold stone wall. With her fists knotted at her sides, she looked too delicious for her own good.
Sadler gave her a dark look. “Why did ye let me touch ye?”
“Why are ye here?” she asked in turn.
The voices closed in. Sadler’s heart rattled the cage of his ribs. He took in her pink cheeks, swollen, parted lips, and shining eyes. He must have been suffering a mental lapse. She was royalty, and he a rogue. Yet his heart told him he had to try. “For ye, Isolde.”
Hot and cold whips of sensation snapped over Isolde’s body. The stone wall dug into her back, and her fingers grew numb from being clenched tightly into fists. Sadler stood mere inches away in a pair of skintight tan leather breeches, the bulge at the front as unmistakable as his heavy breathing. His blond hair fell loose about his shoulders—a sharp contrast to the wanted posters placed about the perimeter of the castle.
He flashed his eyes at her, and even if the color hadn’t reminded her of their long kisses shared in the forest that morn, her body remembered. Her mouth felt his sudden neglect. Her sex craved more of his touch.
She watched as he lifted his fingers—still glistening with her moisture—and trailed them beneath his nose, inhaling her. Her breath left her, and an image of his ecstatic expression when he smelled her intimate scent stamped itself on her brain.
No creeping blush tinged her face pink. It instantly scalded as though dropped into boiling water.
“Isolde, it’s not safe for me here,” he whispered roughly, pressing her into the stone. The scents of garden and male musk permeated her head, making her dizzy.
They had scant seconds to say their good-byes, and never again would she set eyes on this rugged, beautiful man. Worse, never again would he lay hands on her.
“Meet me in the rose garden at midnight.” She tossed a glance at the entrance and simultaneously tossed her sense away. She shoved against Sadler’s shoulder. “Now go before ye’re caught.”
His face split into a grin, his full mouth quirking up at one corner. His gaze raked over her, and like a striking snake, he slammed his mouth into hers, tasting, nibbling, sucking. Before she could fully respond, his heat vanished, leaving her hot and cold once again.
Her eyelids fluttered shut, and she fought to control her reaction to Sadler’s touch. Her nipples tightened, pulsing beneath the silky bodice of her spring green gown. And lower, her bare sex swelled and wept for more of that maddening touch. The things he’d done to her, made her feel, and the way his eyelids had grown heavy when he brought his glistening fingers to his nose—
“Princess, are ye quite all right?”
Startled by the voice, she opened her eyes and nearly groaned. The Earl of Millvale stood in the place Sadler had just vacated. Too close, in Isolde’s opinion.
“I’m fine.” She hated her breathless voice. She hoped he didn’t mistake her tone for emotion at his nearness.
His oily hand clutched her knuckles, and she stared in dread as he dropped a kiss to them. The small fringe of mustache bristled against her skin, and she resisted the urge to jerk away. The heat that had pooled between her thighs at Sadler’s touch now fled.
She slipped farther down the stone wall, toward the entrance of the great hall.
“Princess, wait.” The earl stopped her with a hand on her arm.
When she blinked at him in shock, he removed his hand and bowed his head.
“Ye might wish me to escort ye to yer chamber, where ye can tidy yer hair.”
Hot blood rushed into her face, and she shook her head, stuttering, “Nay, nay. I have no need of yer services. Please excuse me.”
She shot past him, ignoring his bow and the feel of his eyes on her retreating back. Once she turned the corner, she prodded her hair, the memory of Sadler’s thumbs toying with the loose tendrils prominent in her mind.
How had he breached the castle walls? Slipped past the guards? His picture graced every corner of the property. Surely he would have been recognized. Yet he’d come back for her.
The stone steps leading to Isolde’s chamber corkscrewed tightly upward, and she grew impatient with the mincing little steps she had to take. She couldn’t wait to reach her chamber, to be alone.
When she swung the door inward, Isolde was faced with one of her maids, Corliss. At her entrance, Corliss jumped to her feet and sank into a hasty curtsy. “My lady.”
Isolde waved a hand. “’Tis nothing, Corliss. My hair came unbound, and Father never would allow me to be seen.”
At once Corliss’s nimble fingers began to rework the crown of braids. Isolde stared across the chamber at her reflection in the looking glass. Above the leaf green bodice of her gown, her face glowed. Her blush had faded, but her lips were bright and swollen.
“Are ye well, my lady?” Corliss asked, twisting a wisp of hair at Isolde’s temple about her index finger.
Isolde avoided her eyes. Corliss had been with her since childhood. She’d known when her tummy hurt, known when she’d suffered a sprained shoulder that she’d really been in the boxing ring with her brother John, and known when she’d received her first kiss by the milkmaid’s son.
“Fine,” she said faintly, rubbing a finger between her aching eyes. “I’m tired from my adventures this morn.” Isolde had confided to Corliss that she’d been chased by the boar and had a wild run through the woods to escape it, but she’d left out the part about stumbling upon a naked man on the shore of the loch. And letting him kiss her mindless. Not to mention the touch he’d dealt the secret part of her.