Lady Thief
Author:Rizzo Rosko

Chapter Sixteen



The snow ceased its assault on the land that night and was replaced with extreme cold. Holton, still prancing with happiness, insisted William and his entire party stay until the roads were safe for travel.

Marianne knew William would not speak with Holton regarding the theft of his property. She knew because he told her so. He also told her that ‘twas only because of the amount of food it took to feed the army he brought with him would compensate for his losses, though William did insist on taking back the stolen horses.

Though three days was hardly anything to worry over, long they became, and Marianne found herself suffering from the same illness that took hold of her when she arrived at Graystone for the first time.

Her body chilled, food did not taste as she knew it should, and only while lying in her husband’s arms could she sleep peacefully.

Even in sleep he held her near to him, and when the moonlight disappeared she allowed herself to rest her head on his naked chest and wish she were as at ease as he.

She dreamed that he loved her, told her so with his own words. Despite the number of times they made love and slept in each other’s arms in those three days, she had yet to have that dream again.

Relief came in the form of finally taking leave of Holton House and riding towards Graystone, watching its looming towers appear in the distance a second time had been wonderful and exhilarating compared to the first. With these emotions running rampant, Marianne could not deny that Graystone was her home.

Though, Marianne had trouble consenting to call it her true home as she was still not loved as she would like to be by the lord.

As promised Lord John and Lady Anne came to visit immediately after. Marianne was delighted to have a conversation partner whom she could speak with freely and who could gossip with her.

Marianne hoped Anne’s presence could take her thoughts away from the one last piece of unhappiness she still carried with her. And upon discovering that Marianne never had a nurse, Lady Anne took it upon herself to teach her the fine arts of embroidery, drawing, and music.

“I told you the day I first met you we would become friends.” Anne giggled over Marianne’s shoulders as she pointed out the flaw in her stitching.

Marianne grumbled and adjusted her shawl, wishing she had not seemed so eager to learn in the beginning as she now wished to send her needle to the devil. Lady Anne would accept nothing less than perfection and would allow Marianne no room to play. If there was an error in her stitching and Anne found it, she would have Marianne go back and do it again.

Lady Anne laughed and took the embroidery from her hands, setting it on the nearby table. “I see ‘tis not working. We shall try again on the morrow.”

Marianne scowled and flicked her crooked work. “You may try again. If my son is to have a blanket then I shall hire someone to make it for him as nothing fine will come from me.”

Anne sat next to her, paying no mind to Marianne’s insistence that she was carrying a boy when her body gave hardly a hint to her condition. “Oh, I shall have to convince John to let me visit every week if I am to be satisfied with your education until the child is born. I have never seen William so happy.”

“Aye,” Marianne had to agree. William looked at her differently since her confession of her condition, and when confirmed by a midwife his cheer doubled. Hers did not.

“What saddens you?”

Marianne blinked. She had not meant to show her worries on her face. “Hmm?”

Anne took her hand, another small thing Marianne had to get used to with the lady so near to her. Lady Anne insisted on holding her hand, hugging, and planting kisses upon her cheeks. Since Marianne only recently began to receive these things from her husband and had only once been hugged by her father in years, Marianne hardly knew what to do with it all.

Anne turned away, as though deciding not to say anything at all, but Marianne squeezed her hand. “Go on.”

Anne sighed. “My lady, I hope you will not be insulted with my blunt nature, but since coming here I have seen that you are not quite as happy as my cousin.”

Marianne paled. Anne clasped both her hands.

“Have I said something upsetting? Forgive me, you should rest.”

Marianne shook her head and gripped Anne’s hands tightly before she could rise to bustle about and fluff her pillows.

“Nay, I am well. Your question did startle me, however.”

Anne looked pained. “Forgive me, ‘twas not my concern.”

And it was not. Marianne knew this, but keeping the secret only caused her to suffer more as the days passed. William only stared at her with those adoring blue eyes because she was carrying his child, completely oblivious to the misery she suffered.

Even Blaise ceased his bantering and began treating her with respect, though whether ‘twas because he spent most of his time training with Bryce, or due to his happiness at still being William’s heir, Marianne did not know.

Regardless, having no one to speak to about her concerns had drained her.

Marianne straightened herself. “May I tell you something, and have your word that you will say nothing of it to William?”

Anne looked into her friend’s eyes. “Of course.”

With a deep breath Marianne told Anne of her forceful abduction and wedding to William, how he rescued Molly and Hawisa and how she had slowly fallen in love with her caring husband. Wishing to spare her father’s dignity, she left out the details of his theft, though she did divulge Robert’s abduction of her and his plan to sell her to sir Ferdinand.

Lady Anne’s mouth was agape when she finished. She sputtered, still clutching Marianne’s hand, only much tighter. “To think, you could have been killed by that awful man!”

“Aye,” Marianne nodded, the reminder of Robert’s gruesome murder bringing a shiver to her.

“I have heard rumors of how horrible he could have been, but never suspected him capable of such things.”

“Aye,” Marianne agreed again. How sheltered could Lady Anne be to not have believed Ferdinand to be capable of such evils? Granted, she had also been unaware of them until William told her, but she knew enough about Ferdinand to know she would rather stage a kidnapping than marry him.

Anne leaned closer, and Marianne could see her interest heightening with each question she eagerly asked. “And you are quite certain the grooms here are not dangerous?”

Marianne eagerly shook her head. “No, nay, Archer is the kindest of men, and he will see to it that the stables only have good men in them from now on.”

Though Lady Anne knew ‘twas not proper to be asking so many questions, she could hardly contain herself. “Is that what has your spirits so low? Those experiences would certainly ruin any of my happiness.”

Marianne shook her head. “‘Tis not that.”

Anne waited silently.

Marianne had to explain further, she could not bottle the rest in now that she was nearly finished with her tale. She wet her lips and trudged forward. “While I have been blessed to wed the most noble and generous of men, he still does not love me.”

***

“Of course I love her! What sort of question is this?” William was more shocked than angered, and John could only shrug his shoulders and turn to his wife helplessly.

Lady Anne blew air from her mouth and whispered into John’s ear again. Nicholas watched the spectacle eagerly, lifting his goblet to his lips and enjoying the entertainment.

William felt a pounding begin in his head with the odd behavior she insisted on carrying out. He sighed and rubbed his temple, working to contain his building apprehension. “Cousin you may speak with me without putting your poor husband through all of this.”

John listened to Anne’s whispers some more, and then sighed in a manner equal to William’s. “‘Twould seem she cannot. She gave Marianne her word not to speak of this to you.”

“She is speaking it to me now.”

“Nay, cousin. My husband is speaking of it to you. Marianne had me promise not to speak to you about her troubles, but she mentioned nothing of telling John.” Anne grinned proudly, and William knew she was congratulating herself for the wit of her scheme.

Nicholas chuckled and drained his drink. “Women enjoy devious play but I never would have suspected your innocent cousin.”

“Keep silent, Nicholas.” William could hardly believe it himself, and he rubbed his temples to will away the headache. “Pray, tell me why my wife believes I hold no love for her.”

Anne whispered into her husband’s ear again, and when John’s face colored William prayed she was not divulging anything inappropriate.

When she finished her whispering, John stared down at his wife curiously before facing William, a helpless air about him. “‘Twould seem the lady believes this is so because you have yet to tell her.”

Nicholas’s face dropped, he clutched his chest dramatically. “You have not told your wife of your love?”

“Yet to tell her? I have told her! I have told her with my actions when I rode after her when she was taken, and have said so with my words when—” He had to stop himself before he was the one to mention something inappropriate. “I have told her.” He grumbled, folding his arms.

Remembering Nicholas, he growled at him. “And just because you spout out love to every maiden who will have ye does not mean every man can say it so lightly!”

Anne brows came together thoughtfully. “‘Tis not what she has told me. She believes you have never mentioned this love for her. Are you quite sure you have told her?”

John took his wife’s hand and squeezed imploringly. “Do not pester him. Even if he does hold no love for her ‘twould be no business of yours.”

It bothered William because he did, and she should know that he did. She smiled at him when he told her before drifting off to sleep.

He stopped at the thought. That was right. He did tell her, and she did not say anything to him in return. Was feminine protocol not clear in allowing him the right to anger and not her? Surely even Nicholas would agree with him.

Lady Anne would not be silenced by her husband. “How many times have you told her?”

William blinked out of his thoughts. “I beg your pardon?”

Despite John’s shushing, Anne continued to speak. “How many times have you mentioned your love for her?”

Nicholas grinned, lazily trailing the rim of his glass. “Aye, friend, how many times?”

“Once is not enough?”

“Nay, of course not!” Anne glowered disapprovingly at him. William could see how mad she believed him to be with the way her face twisted in near disgust at his claim.

William looked at John, who had given up on trying to silence his wife and shook his head apologetically. “Women enjoy hearing these things over and over.”

William sputtered. “And do they always forget them if the words are not spoken enough?”

John shrugged dejectedly, gesturing to his wife. “‘Twould seem so, Aye.”

Nicholas nodded his head as well. “At least every day.”

William threw his hands up and swore a blue streak, circling his entire solar twice before remembering that his little cousin was still in the room. He looked at her and found her eyes open comically wide. John shook his head, muttering: “Should not have allowed myself to become involved.”

William decided that if he wanted to rage around like he was he had best do it to his wife and not in front of his friends and relatives. He left to find his red haired imp and do just that.

Anne and John followed quickly behind, fearful he would be rash with her, Nicholas did not.

Anne’s voice shrieked with panic behind him. “Please do not tell her I told! I gave my word and she would not forgive me!”

John’s pace equaled that of his wife but he remained behind William, his voice much calmer than Anne’s had been. “Do not be rough with her. You know how severely women can take matters of the heart.”

William stopped his hunt and turned to Anne, though there was no ice in his stare. “My lady you cannot for one moment believe that Marianne does not know what you have just done. She is the lady of this castle and you her guest. Being out of her company for so long there is only one place you would surely be.”

Anne’s face twisted in horror and she turned towards John. “She could not know!”

He pinched the bridge between his eyes and sighed for the tenth time since Anne dragged him into the Solar with her. William pitied him but knew well enough not to let it show.

“Your cousin is correct. Logic would state to anyone that you have run off only to shout whatever secrets you hold to anyone who will listen.”

“I did no shouting! And certainly not to anyone who will listen!”

William clasped her shoulders, the wild panic in her eyes proof that she had been punished enough for breaking her word. “Aye, and Marianne will know that you innocently made mention of this to your husband before he told me when I speak with her. She shall hold no grudge against you.”

The moisture in Anne’s eyes disappeared.

William did not release her shoulders. “But you must learn to hold your tongue when secrets pass your ears and not turn them into gossip.”

Panic twisted her face again.

William smiled and released her. “Now, where did you leave her?”

***

Marianne was leaving the stables, having completed her daily visit with Mare and Archer, an act she found much more pleasing and peaceful now that she no longer had to fear that Robert would be there. James was no longer trailing her like a lost dog since tonight he was spending the night in the chapel for his knighting ceremony the next morning.

After surviving his attack from Robert and telling his lord what happened, William decided that the event could not wait for spring. And when Lady Anne excused herself Marianne gave Olma leave to sit outside the chapel to pray for him.

Food was being prepared for the occasion and minstrels were hired. William made a special plan of presenting him with a horse since James’s father could not afford one.

‘Twas more proof of his large heart, and while preparing to disappoint herself with thoughts of how it was not large enough for her, she looked up and sighted William casually strolling towards her. He quickened to a trot when he spotted her.

She sighed. Her stomach had been doing clumsy flops when Lady Anne excused herself from her company. When she did not return fifteen minutes later Marianne knew what she had gone and done, and also knew that she should have known better than to trust a woman who loved to gossip.

‘Twas only a matter of time before her husband came to set her straight, to tell her to stop moping and accept what she could have rather than what she could not. Now was that time it seemed.

He came to her, his face betraying nothing of his emotions though his eyes did dart behind her to the stables. “If you continue to spend all of your time there you will smell like a horse.”

She stood straighter. ‘Twas not what she had expected him to say. “I thought I smelled like the autumn leaves.”

He shook his head, a grin touching his lips as he refused to answer her question. His next words were straight to the point. “I have heard some unsettling things just now,” He crossed his arms behind his back. “Perhaps we can put them to rest.”

Bitterness swelled inside of her, and she folded her arms and looked away. “From your dear cousin, no doubt.”

He took her arms and unfolded them. “Nay, this particular news came from her husband.”

Marianne opened her mouth but he cut her off.

“She told him and he told me, do not be cross with her.”

Despite his words, Marianne found it difficult not to be. “I suppose you will now tell me I am foolish.”

“Aye.”

She looked away from him, unable to let him see her own eyes lest it become apparent that they burned with moisture. Treacherous things that they were. She imagined this moment coming for weeks, and in none of her reenactments had her eyes swam so.

He gave her no choice but to look at him and lifted her chin, inspecting her dripping eyes so closely that his nose was inches from her own.

Abruptly he released her and stepped back, shaking his head and blinking at her. “You truly believe that I hold no love for you?”

The question dried her eyes. “Don’t you?”

He clasped her shoulders and gave her one hard shake. “Of course I do! I have told you as much with my actions as well as my words!”

Marianne lashed back, anger raging inside of her at his blatant lie. “Said as much? You have said how much you love Alice! Never me!”

William’s face dropped. “You can find it within yourself to be bitter over my love for my first wife?”

“No!” She turned away from him, out of his arms, circled and tried to regain what she had meant to say to him. “No.” She said again, wishing she had chosen to her words more carefully. “I am not bitter. I am glad.”

William’s arms were the ones to fold now. “Glad?”

Marianne nodded, picking at her nails for there was no other occupation for her hands, or place for her eyes to look. “Aye, glad that such a thing could be the cause for all your years of kindness, that your love for her has shaped you into the man that I love now.”

Both brows shot up. “Love?”

She nodded again, dropped her hands and looked at him, hardly able to keep herself from looking away now that her eyes were on him. “Aye.”

A lazy smile radiated his face, he stepped closer. “You love me?”

Marianne frowned. She could not tell if he was playing at her expense, but it had quickened her breath and sharpened the beating of her heart with a new hope. “Aye.”

His hands found her shoulders and rested there comfortably, as though he felt no need to shake her again. “Why have you never told me? For how long?”

An unbelievable smile lifted her cheeks. “Since the day you brought home Hawisa and Molly, but I think ‘twas sometime before that and I simply had yet to notice.”

She did notice that despite how she could see her own breath in the chilled air, she could only feel the warmth wafting from his chest that was so close to hers, and the comforting touch of his hands as they rubbed up and down her arms, traveling upward once more before resting on her shoulders and pulling tingling sensations with them, his thumbs lifting to caress her cheeks.

His voice was gentle, the smile never wavering as he sought her secrets. “But why have you never told me of this, my dear?”

The familiar endearment strengthened her courage, though she still swallowed roughly. “I had thought, at first, that ‘twould be impossible to expect you to feel the same, because of the circumstances in which you married me,”

He chuckled as though she had spoken a fond old joke.

She did not understand this but pressed on quickly. “And, I would not have you believe that I am bitter of Alice, I am not. ‘Tis just that you spoke so sweetly of her, and then told me of the acts you performed because of her,” Now she had to look away. “I…simply thought myself unable to compare.”

His eyes sparkled with the same amusement as when she reminded him of their wedding. “And how do you explain away on the night of our lovemaking, in your old home, when I confessed my love to you?”

Marianne’s bulging eyes whipped back to his, her mouth dropped. Half formed words sputtered from her mouth and died on her lips as she desperately tried to determine whether he was being truthful, or simply was the cruelest man in the land.

Finally, the heated words came. “‘Tis untrue! I would have remembered if you had said such a thing!”

“Well, remember when I say it now. I love you.”

The tirade he knew was coming immediately stopped. Marianne blinked wide disbelieving eyes at him. “What?”

He leaned closer, ensuring that his voice was clear and, this time, heard. “I said that I love you.”

She shook her head.

He cocked his head. “You do not believe me? And here I thought we had grown to trust one another.”

“But, how can you—”

“While ‘tis not the most easy of occupations, I can love you because you have brought my servants, my castle, my son, and myself to life like we have not been in so long. This place, our home, would never have known the happiness it knows now had you not been so rash and kidnapped a husband for yourself.”

She blushed at the reminder, but his words lifted her heart out of her chest. Marianne thought that it might sprout wings and fly away.

Because she enjoyed hearing him speak so endearing of her, she pressed him. “And had Blaise accepted me?”

William’s brow came together stubbornly. “I imagine the two of you would have continued to make each other miserable, spoken only when necessary, and even then only in hateful increments. And as you both have only reconciled due to my own words of wisdom with you regarding your temper, such a thing would have been impossible had you not married me.”

He looked at her pleased smile, waiting for her to speak, but she grabbed his ears and pulled his face down for a kiss instead.

William was only beginning to enjoy himself when she pushed him away, the same victorious grin on her face. “And had I married him, our hatred for each other would have naturally prevented our copulating, and I would not currently be with your child.”

William rubbed the area where his child grew lovingly, his other hand reaching around to her back and pulling her closer. “Aye. ‘Tis better for you to have forced me to wed you, and then have your own child to look forward to, than to let yourself be married to a man who would not give you any.”

He looked at her, the small joy leaving his eyes. “You truly have no memory of my claim to love?”

Marianne looked away from him, her cheeks heating. “I thought I had been dreaming.”

“Dreaming!”

She nodded. “Aye.”

He laughed, a full hearty thing that made Marianne’s heart beat faster. “And here I was coming to see you, thinking of throttling you, for claiming to Anne that I had no love for you when you had never returned my love at all.”

The smile abruptly left her face in replacement of bewildered laughter. She touched his cheeks, kissed them, his eyes, his strong jaw, and his lips.

He smiled through their chaste kiss and still did so when she released his mouth. “You wish to heal away my broken heart with your mouth?”

“I wish to apologize for my judgmental behavior. I had been so happy when I thought I dreamed your words that I never bothered to say them, to risk my heart like you had yours, only to be rewarded when I fell asleep.”

The smile would not leave his face. “You do tend to provoke me with your strange actions. ‘Tis apart of your spirit that I love, truly love, and admire.”

She rewarded him with an impish smile, he cut her off before she could speak. “I know you do it purposely. If I had gone through with my plans of making your life hell when you came here you would have only ensure that you made mine doubly hell as well.”

Her eyes widened. “You planned on seeking vengeance on me?”

“Aye.”

“Why did you not?”

He shrugged. “I had meant to, but when you leapt across the bed so dramatically like you did the need for revenge left me with the thought of how my vengeance could possibly destroy you. I could not do it.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, a sinful smirk pressing her lips, knowing what form of revenge he would have used but needing to hear him say it. “What would you have done to me?”

His grin was lecherous, and he pulled her closer and planted kisses on her neck before whispering into her ear.

“You swine!” She shrieked, laughing and slapping his shoulders.

“I see ‘tis not a thing that would bother you much now.”

She took his hand, matching his lusty grin with one of her own. “Nay, but I think we should seek the warmth of our chamber now. ‘Tis too cold to be making love in the snow.”

He nodded, pulling her body to his for the walk back to their chamber when a thought came to him. “Blaise was correct when he called you a thief.”

Knowing better than to be insulted, she eyed him curiously. “Why say that?”

“Because you have stolen my heart.”


THE END