Lady Thief
Author:Rizzo Rosko

Chapter Five





William slammed his goblet down and poured himself another drink. The celebration of his union had officially ended after only a few more guests needed a gentle push out of his castle gates, apart from Sir Holton, who had slipped away without notice.

Lord Seacliffe and Lady Anne were the only ones to leave early. A disappointment since they were among the few people that William enjoyed having for guests, though, admittedly apart of what made them so enjoyable was that they knew when to leave.

Naturally, other close friends remained and continued celebrating in the now calm great hall.

The grand room had been cleared and only William and his three guests drank at the one long table that had not been removed. The fire burned evenly in the middle of the floor while sewing maids pretended to ignore their conversation as they worked on the spinning wheel and repaired torn clothes.

William paid the sewing maids no mind as he contemplated whether he should reveal his growing displeasure with the topic of his guests conversation.

“Did ye get her with child?” Hugh kept a straight face and looked William in the eyes when he asked his question.

“Of course not, fool!” William clenched his fist around the goblet and struggled to keep from throttling the man with it.

He would gladly have admitted to having yet to touch her, but did not want to give them that information to use against him in this conspiracy of theirs.

Bryce, a man who carried huge muscle on his body, laughed in an open mouthed boom that vibrated the walls. “I’ll wager he went to her father’s and demanded to have her fer himself,” he nudged William suggestively with his overly large elbow. “Didn’t want the boy to have all the fun, did ye?”

William relaxed his hands, sat straighter, but could not keep the ire out of his voice. “Blaise refused her by his own will. I did not have to go around him.”

“I still cannot believe you let him refuse her,” Hugh shook his head and drank from his cup.

William shrugged, he also did not want them knowing that he was unaware of Blaise’s refusal until after it happened, after Marianne wed William instead. “He will marry eventually, it matters not to me.”

As long as Blaise chose someone who could bring some happiness into his angry heart.

Nicholas danced his fingers around the rim of his half full goblet while resting his head on his fist, dark hair fanning his shoulders. He had a look in his equally dark eyes that William recognized. He had women on his mind.

“She is a beautiful lady. I certainly could not blame ye for snatching her like ye did. I would have. Her lovely hair dances around her pale face like fire. Is she a wild thing?”

William’s brows flew to his hairline. “This conversation will end immediately if you are speaking of her skills in the bed.”

Nicholas released his cup and raised his hands, a somber expression on his face. “Nay, do not think so little of me. I was referring to her spirit.”

William said nothing.

She had been a wild thing on the morning he met her, but lately he was not certain of her at all. Then he remembered what Nicholas said before.

“You think Marianne to be beautiful?”

There was no doubt in his mind that he had come to notice her more and more with every day that passed, which made the nights more difficult to bear when he could not bring himself to sleep in the solar. It had not occurred to him that others would notice her as well. William was unsure of how to handle his spurting jealousy.

Nicholas downed the last of his drink and helped himself to another from the jeweled pitcher. The early morning sun shone through the windows, catching the sparkles in the jewels as well as in Nicholas’s eyes. “Ye do not often find a woman with that particular color of hair. I have seen women with hair similar to your son’s, but never blood red like that. It reminds me of the roses from my lady’s garden, an open flame, a—”

William shoved him. “Stop being an idiot. Romantic fool,”

Nicholas ignored the feeble attack and laughed. “‘Tis true! I would wager that should she have been born in time for it, she could have convinced King Edward to never look at Eleanor again.”

“And have his son cease his bed games with Gaveston.” Bryce muttered.

Hugh leaned back in his seat. “There is no proof of that.”

Bryce ignored him. “‘Tis a relief to see you’ve finally wedded again. We worried ye’d die without anymore sons to safeguard your bloodline.”

William nearly sputtered his drink across the table when all three nodded their agreement. He drank some more to disguise it. “My line is perfectly safe! Marianne will have my other sons, there is nothing to fear.”

And she would have them, he told himself, when he managed to woo her into his bed. Despite this happy thought he could not help the twinge of irritability that overcame him with the conversation of bearing children.

He could still remember overhearing his grandfather lecturing his father for not having more sons. When the old man finally left the world William was the one to be spoken to and eyed harshly for not producing any sons quickly enough.

Thank the Lord the man had died before Blaise was born.

Regardless of his words to the contrary, Bryce had to speak up again. “Not safe enough, especially with no battles to go to. Your sword wielding reminds me of a boy swinging a stick. Improvement is what ye need. How will ye defend yer lands and family without it? Sending the boy to do it when you are still capable would not look well.”

William hated the topic of his battle skills even worse than the topic of children, and while it was true he had not picked up his sword in years, he knew perfectly well that he looked better than a boy wielding a stick. “My skills are hardly so poor, and I would never send him to defend land he had yet to inherit.”

Hugh scratched his chin. “Blaise is eighteen already, and he has not married or produced any sons of his own. I would say you were in trouble as well, my friend.”

William poured himself another drink, and wagered he would be good and drunk very soon with the way this conversation kept going in circles. “And what of your son? He is over fifteen and his wife has yet to bare a child.”

Hugh shrugged, unfazed by the attack. It made William want to throw him out of his seat. “The girl is thirteen, I suspect they have yet to consummate the marriage with the way she continues to play with her dolls. Idiot boy plays with her on occasion as well. When they do consummate the marriage they shall have many children. Even if they do not, I have other sons.”

“And this conversation is over.” William said, irritated with himself for not stopping the curious questions of his friends sooner.

Hugh looked pained at the sound of his voice. “Forgive us, we meant no insult.”

William groaned and let his head flop onto the table despite the audience. He was spared from forgiving them of their nosiness when Adam burst through the double doors. Panting like an over-exercised horse.

William stood, but Adam spoke first.

“Milord, yer wife has just had the pleasure of meeting yer son.”

The jaws of all three men fell open when William fled from the room at unnatural speed. The pitcher of wine wobbled when the door slammed behind them. Bryce caught it before it could tilt over.

Not one man stood to follow.

“Should we go with ‘im?” Bryce topped off his goblet and made himself comfortable on the bench.

“I doubt that will be necessary.”

“Aye, he has been struck by a woman of beauty and does not want to share her with the man who would have been her husband. I do not believe our assistance will be appreciated.”

Bryce clenched his large fist. “Ye can quit talking like such a long winded dog. If ye wanted to stay and drink ‘tis all the explanation I’ll be needin’.”

Hugh raised his goblet. “I’ll drink to that.”

***

Marianne stood with her back straight and stared up at Blaise with clenched fists, resisting the need to slap his face.

Blaise was tall, taller than William, but the smirk on his face vanished when he realized his size would do nothing in his favor by way of intimidation.

He turned up his nose at her, a slight shake of his head as he turned his back. “Old pest.”

Marianne saw red. She lunged to claw out the eyes of the person she most hated when arms reached around her belly and pulled her back.

Blaise turned and laughed at her, an open mouthed, loud taunt. Robert smirked from behind his master while pretending to look elsewhere. All reason left her mind as she struggled madly to free herself.

“I will kill you!”

“Then come and kill me, my lady! I am standing right here.” He mocked. As she had mocked William on the morn of their wedding. Blaise stood just beyond the reach of her fingers, fingers that itched to rip his eyes from his skull.

But Marianne could not move one step forward. A large hand covered her mouth and she found herself slammed so roughly onto her feet that her knees gave out and she collapsed on her bottom, knees up and spread apart beneath her gown.

She looked up, expecting to see Archer and intending to reprimand him for treating her so roughly. William’s upside down face glared at her from above.

He bore his teeth at her, his fists clenched and body shaking. “What is the meaning of this savage behavior?”

Marianne’s mouth fell open, horrified that she had been caught. Adam stood behind his master, a sheepish look on his face. She immediately knew that he had gone to fetch her husband to put an end to the brawl that would have occurred while she had been too angry to notice. Archer returned to cleaning out horseshoes without another word from anyone, ignoring everything around him, including Marianne.

“I…I…He insulted me!” She pointed her finger at Blaise’s hateful face, but her eyes did not leave William’s.

To her surprise, William turned, a single brow raised at his son, and the smile melted from Blaise’s lips. “Is that so? What did he say?”

Marianne’s face colored. She could not tell him such things, he would never understand her position, and to mention the comments would only spark more questions. Questions she would be unable to answer.

Her silence prompted his scowl to return. “Enough! You will tell me of this nonsense that has you behaving like an animal or I shall beat it out of you.”

“You cannot even discipline your own servants!” Marianne regretted saying it the moment the words left her lips. She did not wish to test him but her insides still burned from Blaise’s taunts, from today as well as all those months ago in his letters.

Taunts that were much more hurtful than simply, ‘old pest.’

William’s jaw tightened, and his face became the same color as her hair. Without another word he stormed to his son, grabbed a fistful of orange hair on the back of his head and forced Blaise to stand on his toes when his father yanked him upward, which essentially only made Blaise that much taller than William, though he did not retaliate.

“You cannot be taking her side!” Blaise yelled, his eyes comically wide as he stood on his toes with his hands behind his head, as though trying to keep William from pulling out the hairs he held.

Marianne could hardly believe her eyes, but she stamped down any happiness that threatened to rise. She would surely receive her punishment when Blaise was not around to gloat, so she held her tongue.

“I take no one’s side! Your behavior towards my wife is unacceptable and you’ll practice your swordsmanship until sundown for it!”

William released his son and shoved him away. Blaise stumbled but did not disgrace himself like Marianne did when she fell over. Robert went to assist his young lord, the smirk no longer present on his face. Blaise righted himself on his own and glared at his father, the taunting image of his former self a shadow compared to how he stood now.

“Why do you defend her? After what she did to you? She is an embarrassment. I can only be so glad to have prevented my own downfall in tying myself to her as you let her do to you!” Spittle flew from his mouth as he roared Marianne’s disgrace.

Marianne let out a tiny shriek, afraid Blaise would let out more than what William would want Adam or Robert to hear.

She had not known Blaise was made aware of her plot to force him into the marriage, only to capture his father instead. Her humiliation intensified.

Adam cocked his head curiously at Blaise’s angry speech, but Marianne waved her hands and shook her head at him. The topic was not to be discussed. Archer loyally ignored everything around him but his work.

Good man. He would get into William’s good graces soon if he kept it up.

Blaise stormed away and took a new horse, pulling himself into the saddle and riding off. William stood still with a fist clenched, like he wished to strike something. Marianne shrank into herself, hoping not to be noticed.

Instead of lashing out at her, he turned and snatched her wrist, yanking her up and dragging her along. She dreaded their coming confrontation. Even if he did not beat his servants, after her behavior towards him what was to stop him from harming her?

Then a different horror came to her. What if he demanded his marital rights tonight? He graciously allowed her the freedom of denying him the first time, but after the scene she caused what would stop him from doing as he pleased to vent his anger? And what could she do but let him?

Marianne’s face heated. Several servants had probably seen her trying to lunge for their young master. Many more heard it no doubt. What would they say about her on the morn when the gossip spread throughout the entire castle? She promised William a wife, not an animal.

William’s grip on her wrist tightened, bringing her out of her pitiful thoughts.

“He is not to show his face to me unless he comes with an apology for myself and you.”

Marianne’s breath hitched, and though she wished to ask him she could not speak. He was defending her, truly defending her. He did not even know what it was he defended her from.

She looked at him and felt happiness swirling through her, more so than since before she came to his castle. Then he stopped and turned his hard gaze upon her and she felt her blood freeze. They were alone. She raised her nose, ready for whatever he might say or do.

When he smiled at her, a real smile instead of some vicious little grin, she could not decide whether or not she should be more or less frightened.

His grip on her hand softened, and when pulled her forth, she jerked back.

“Where are we going?”

His grip tightened. “Just leave here with me.”

Surprised, she let him lead her into the castle and soon they arrived in their bedchamber. Then she was against the wall.

“You are to never humiliate me like that again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

Her temper flared. Back and forth he was with his emotions. She could never read him. “So the next time he decides to provoke me I am to stay as silent as the wind, is that it?”

William raised a brow, and Marianne felt herself falling into his gray eyes. With a start, she realized that she had become accustomed to him, his sharp eyes that cut through her and even the few little silver hairs on his head. She still thought of him as a handsome man, but now he seemed to have more of an effect upon her. She had expected this to happen but certainly not so soon.

She blinked and pinched her wrist, shaking the distracting thoughts from her head. His appeal to the eye made no difference to her circumstances. He would hardly care to know it so she would keep it to herself.

“You and I both know that the wind can hardly be so silent, especially during a storm. So expecting you to stay as ‘silent as the wind’ as you put it, is not expecting much.”

Marianne turned away from him, her face hot. “I suppose not.” But then she did not intend to stay silent. “For a moment, I thought you would strike him,” Although her father had never laid a hand on her for discipline, he held no such restraint regarding her brothers when they were still alive.

William’s kindness shocked her. He could have easily used his power as lord of the castle over his son, and Blaise would have naught to say about it. But he did not.

She wished her brothers had been so lucky.

He ignored her statement and pressed his body closer to hers. Her breath quickened as the heat radiating from him enveloped her as he held her shoulders and lowered his already deep voice. “Pray tell, now that you are calm, what did my son say to evoke such wrath?”

William’s voice slid over her body and wrapped her in a thick blanket. Damn him and damn her useless virgin lust. In the same house with her husband for no more than a fortnight and already she was having thoughts of lying with him, naked in the bed they shared. And where had these thoughts come from? Had she not been frightened of punishment only moments ago?

Virgin or not, she knew what took place between lovers after she accidentally walked in on her servants in the act of love at Holton. The thought of herself and William in such an awkward looking position made her blush, but it also filled her with impatient fire. The servant girl certainly did not seem to mind the attention her lover bestowed upon her.

“I see, he made you a proposition, is that it? You wanted him as your husband once, perhaps he offered to aid you in convincing me to allow you to petition for an annulment in exchange for taking you to his bed, is that it?”

At first she didn’t hear him, but when he finished speaking all good thoughts of him evaporated.

She raised her hand and slapped him. The snap of her hand across his cheek horrified her, and she clenched her hand into a fist to make the tingling disappear, but it only worsened.

She refused to look away from him, to lower her eyes or apologize. Even if she had been seeking an annulment, she would never hope to get it from Blaise. But then, William did not know that.

He looked at her with cold eyes, but did not raise his hand to her like she did to him. “Am I correct?”

She tried to shove him away but he would not be moved. “Of course not!”

“Then what did he say that has you turning red?” He pointed his finger at her nose, as if to show her, her own face, and when her eyes crossed to follow the tip of his finger, he couldn’t help but laugh.

Her eyes uncrossed. “You dare to laugh at me? After you accuse me of having…of having relations with another?”

Blaise had said inappropriate things to her, William was correct in that assumption. But there were many more hurtful things Blaise had said other than the ‘old pest’ comment, and it had naught to do with helping her get the annulment.

William promptly ceased his laughter, but there was a fresh sparkle in his eyes that Marianne found much safer than the angered stare he had presented her with earlier.

“You have said that you are not the lover of my son,” and his eyes turned serious once more, “but are you in love with him?”

“No.” Her answer had been immediate and free of doubt. If he did not believe her she did not know what she would do.

He exhaled deeply. Marianne sensed genuine relief in his sigh. He did not ask her if she was having an affair to be cruel.

Then, without reason she thought of Blaise and his face that was so similar to Robert’s.

She would not ask any questions just now, not while he was warming towards her.

“Good.” He said. “From now on I want you to stay away from him. You two are not to be near each other without an escort.”

“He lives here, am I to have an escort at all times?”

“If that’s what it takes, my dear wife.”

Marianne flinched. He made the word sound like an insult, and her stubborn nature reared its head again. “If you cannot trust me then perhaps we really should petition for an annulment.” She folded her arms.

His fingers grabbed her chin and pulled her forward. He smiled at her now. “I think it very endearing when you thrust that nose of yours in the air.”

Marianne’s whole body heated, and the flesh on her chin where his fingers held her seemed much more sensitive than usual. She rarely received sincere compliments and when she did they went to her head. “Do you truly?”

He nodded. “Truly. ‘Tis endearing how much you think you can intimidate others with that foolish act.”

She pulled her face away and touched her heated cheek with her hand. Willing the flesh to cool, she felt stung. The gleam in his eyes made it clear he was not laughing at her expense.

He stepped away from her, and suddenly he was her lord and not her husband. “Adam will be your escort. I trust him most of all my servants.”

“You would have to. He is the only one of your servants that actually works every day.”

William’s eyes narrowed, and she smirked when he had naught to say, so she continued. “I was making plans for your servants before I was rudely interrupted—”

“Before you decided to brawl with a man like a wild animal after its dinner.”

She clenched her teeth. “But now that we are both here and speaking, I might as well say that your order to keep the servants from obeying me is—”

“Choose your words carefully!”

“Unorthodox, I was going to say. And I wanted to suggest that when I give them orders to stop their miserable slacking, for the good of this castle, you do not go against what I tell them strictly for the sake of your revenge.”

He eyed her carefully. “And which commands would you bestow upon them?”

She shrugged, she was not sure what her exact words would be, but the orders would be clear.

Do your jobs or get out.

“I promised you a wife who can govern your household, I will deliver on that promise, as I always deliver on my promises. ‘Tis simple as that.”

He smiled at her again, that same smile that let her know just how foolish he thought she was.

Marianne inwardly cursed. Would staying the wife of William Gray doom her to be forever at battle with him?

He shook his head, his teeth showing through his grin. “I can see into your mind as you scowl like that, and while I do not think the notion of having one’s servants perform their normal duties daily to be nonsensical, you must bear in mind that they have all had years of practice at being lazy. What makes you think they will obey you?”

Marianne realized too late that she had raised her nose, but she refused to lower it out of embarrassment should he make another mention of it. “They will do as they are told unless they wish to receive a lash.”

His eyes blinked wide and mouth dropped as he swayed under the venom in her threat. She finally got the chance to enjoy a good smirking at his expense.

“However, that can only be done if you do not go against my orders when they come to you.”

William was impressed. Traditional marriage this may not be, it could still hold advantages. “And they will eventually come to me because they will not wish to do as you say. Very well, you may have your way with the servants. Adam will keep me informed of your progress, and should I catch any man or woman not obeying your orders I shall threaten them with your lash as well.”

“My lash?”

He nodded. “Aye. ‘Twould make for quicker results if you and I both threatened the same punishment for not working, yet the servants here already know I have trouble with lashing them, mostly the women. So if you are the one cruel enough to send them to their fates and they believe you capable of it, they should develop better habits soon.”

Should she be grateful for this or not? She should have known by now, he would have to rely on her seeing to the discipline of the castle since none of the servants expected their lord to raise a finger to them.

Again she had to remind herself that she was the lady of the castle. If it had to be done then she would do it. She would get everything back in order even if all the servants despised her by month’s end.

“Very well, but I do not want Adam.”

He cocked a brow and crossed his arms. “And why would that be? You said yourself that he is the only servant capable of working in my house.”

“If I am to have an escort then I want more than a shadow. I would like a woman. ‘Tis lonely here and I would like another woman to speak with.” ‘Twas a flimsy excuse, but ‘twas also true.

“You would resort to mingling with the servants just to satisfy your lack of gossip?”

She straightened her back. “I want someone to talk to.”

“I am your husband, you can talk with me.”

Marianne sighed. He didn’t understand. He pulled her against him before she could say anything to him.

“You forced me to wed you on the belief that I am was son, whom you have never been introduced until today, all just to escape Ferdinand. And you will have me believe that all you wish for is a conversation partner?”

Her heart fluttered when his hands clasped her arms, and she hated her weakness.

He leaned closer and she tensed. Assuming he would kiss her mouth, she fluttered between disappointment and glee when he settled for her jaw instead.

She clasped his shoulders with the intent to push him away, but they stayed where they were, and she allowed him to kiss her.

“How—how did you know about Ferdinand?” Good God her voice cracked.

He spoke between kisses and did not lighten his assault. “Do you take me for a fool? I could see the way that lecher stared at you, at your face.” He kissed her cheek. “At your mouth.” He kissed her mouth, touching her lips with his tongue but not plunging it inside, and Marianne groaned helplessly. “And at your breasts.” He finished by squeezing her breast in his hand. It tingled through her gown, through her breasts, and shot down between her legs.

Whatever it was she was sure it was sinful, but she gasped and leaned into his touch. God save her she liked it.

“I saw all of that,” William kissed her cheek and smirked again, “and your father told me of him.”

“You swine!” Marianne pushed hard and stumbled away from him, humiliated and angry with herself.

He stared as though what he had done had not caused his blood to rush like hers did, still did. She could barely believe her beating heart. How was that possible?

Unexpectedly, he chuckled, and it unnerved her.

She fisted her hands on her hips and prayed he would not notice how she had reacted to him. “Now what is amusing you?”

“‘Tis amusing to know that I truly am an old fool, no matter how I try to deny it.”

“What?”

“Why else would you stage a kidnapping for Blaise? You did not want an old man creating a chill in your bed, and here I am, doing just that. No, you are young and wish to feel the fires of passion, am I correct?”

Marianne swallowed and tried to ignore the pooling heat in her belly. How could he have been so right? Weakly, she nodded her head, and William did the same, bringing his hand up to his chin in thought.

“Very well,” he approached her as he spoke, and she tried to back up only to realize she was still against the wall. “If you want passion I shall give you passion. I shall take you to my bed and ravish you until you were unable to leave. I will give you heated kisses and promises and children.” He stood before her but refrained from touching her. “Is that what you would like?”

She scowled, pushing at him with such a force that this time she succeeded in heaving him away. “No! I do not want your false promises or your body if all you will think of is mindless pleasure! I am not your plaything and never will I be!” She brought her fist down on his shoulder, and he barely flinched under the attack.

***

He grinned a predatory grin. Success! This was the fiery spirit he had met in the church, this was the woman who convinced him with the help of a blade that marriage to her was the correct choice.

Very well. He would play along with her wishes, for now, but soon the time would come when she would not only be willing, but she would leap into his embrace at his call.

“I apologize for the assumption, my dear.”

She bristled at the name and his grin became wider. “But regardless, I shall become more attentive to your needs.”

She eyed him suspiciously, and he got the feeling she believed he was saying one thing but meaning another. “Thank you, milord.”

“Call me by my given name or naught at all, Marianne.”

“Thank you, William.” She said, and he was surprised that there was no venom in her voice.

***

“You may go now. Off to show me what you can do with the servants whom I am incapable of controlling. I shall see to finding you a female escort on the morrow.”

Thinking of how lonely she had been over the last week in William’s castle, Marianne nodded her head gratefully.

He stepped aside for her to leave and she scurried out of the room.Like a frightened child, she admonished herself.

She wondered why she felt like such a fool for turning down his offer to attend to her needs.