Lady Thief
Author:Rizzo Rosko

Chapter Six





Early the next morn, Marianne shivered awake in her chilly bedchamber, ate another cold breakfast, and felt her anger rising.

This was the end of this nonsense. She would show William that she could deliver on her claim and that she could do it in a timely manner.

She found the serving girl William promised her. Instead of a plump, middle aged woman like she expected, Olma turned out to be a shy little thing, not yet twenty, who could barely stand the sight of her own shadow.

Marianne circled the girl who was to be her companion, tapping her chin thoughtfully when Olma did not so much as look up at her.

What strange behavior in a serving girl. If she were to break such poor habits in the rest of the servants she would have to start with Olma.

“Stand up straight and watch where you are going. You do not wish to walk into a wall, do you?”

“Nay, Milady.”

Olma trembled under Marianne’s hard stare and stern voice.

Be gentle, she reminded herself. She wanted Olma to do her work properly, not scare her half to death.

Marianne lifted the girl’s chin. “You may smile. I am sure you have a pretty smile and it will help me to feel better knowing that my companion is actually listening to what I’m saying.”

Olma’s lips lifted, though she still had trouble keeping her eyes away from her feet. With her pale complexion and light hair the smile did add beauty to her face that no one would otherwise be able to see had Olma continued to point her nose at the floor.

Good, she was getting through to her already. With any luck Mariane would find more maids eager to please and they would help her train the rest of the castle.

Since asking politely did not help with the servants, Marianne loudly made her demands known. She set about to her task with a ferocity she had not known she possessed.

“This pheasant is cold! Send it back up and tell the cooks that if they try to serve their lord one more frozen meal they will be sleeping outside come winter!”

“I want the gardens lush before the month ends or I’ll have someone’s hide! There’s still time to have herbs before the first snow!”

“Look at this! There is so much dirt on this shelf that I can make pictures on it with my finger!”

Marianne expected the servants would attempt to escape the tasks she set out for them. To stall her efforts most moved at the pace of slugs. There were some who were willing to jump at the high pitched screech of their lady, and Marianne worked them first.

She received polite smiles when in the same room as them, but she had Olma to tell her what they really thought of her.

“I do not wish to upset ye, milady, but the others do not like having ye here or the rules ye set out for them. Some of the women say,” she paused to brace herself. “That ye are a…a red haired demoness.”

Olma bobbed quickly and averted her eyes under her headdress as if she thought Marianne would be taking her anger out on her.

Marianne felt her eye twitch, and she reminded herself that she had pressed Olma for this information. “And the men?”

Olma ducked her head further until her chin touched her chest. “I do not speak to the men, milady.”

She forced a gentle smile for the girl. “No, of course not. Thank you. I do appreciate your efforts.”

Along with the cleaning of the rooms and kitchen, hot meals and hard work, Marianne made a habit of ordering daily baths since she first arrived at William’s castle, but she would no longer take cold water from the lake.

The fires were lit, the castle warm and the evening meals were served hot and on time.

She sighed and sank into her haven. She could never bathe every day while in her father’s care, he wanted the servants at his disposal, not hers, but now that she was a lady she could do as she pleased and enjoy the water. Provided she remained near the fire when she got out.

“I must say that I am impressed, Marianne,”

She tensed in the tub when William’s silky voice called to her but did not look up. Olma and the other servant girls scrubbed her back and prepared her gown for the laundress as though he were not there.

And why wouldn’t they? She thought. He was the lord of the castle and she his wife. He had every right to be there if he wished it.

Still, despite his promise to become more attentive to her, he spent most of his nights off doing whatever he did to occupy himself, and she had not been expecting him.

William stepped closer, and when she did face him his glittering eyes matched the smirk on his face. “All of you, leave us.”

The girls scuttled from the room like mice. Marianne was suddenly alone with him, naked in her tub and wishing that at least Olma had stayed. Marianne had been with the girl for barely three days and her desperate need for female companionship had made her love Olma already despite the lack of equal conversation.

Marianne’s muscles twitched as she struggled to keep from covering her chest with her hands. They were visible to him, so close to the water’s surface that her nipples peaked above the water just so. Pretending he could not see them made her feel only a little better, and she dared not adjust how she sat lest he see right through her calm facade.

“Impressed with what, my lo—William?” She quickly corrected herself, swallowing hard and trying to calm her labored breathing.

He stepped closer and knelt next to the tub. The setting sun shone in through the small windows and highlighted his easy posture and expectant smile. The firelight, so close to the tub, made everything seem so much warmer and clearer, including her naked body.

Marianne desperately wished she could throw her robe around herself, but ‘twas across the room on a chair. And suddenly having the tub placed so close to the fireplace did not seem a particularly good idea as she began to feel overheated.

“Why, I am pleased with you, my dear.” He casually dipped his fingers into her bath water, creating tiny ripples when he swirled them close to her exposed breast.

Her face heated, not because of their closeness, but because she was no longer certain if she wanted to deny him what was rightfully his. She had certainly stopped thinking of an annulment.

That reminded her. “I have been meaning to thank you. For not forcing my hand the night I came here. I am thankful for your patience with me. It recently occurred to me that I had yet to make my gratitude known.”

She looked at him. His brows were drawn together. “You believed I would have forced you?”

“You said it yourself that night. ‘Twould have been your right.”

He made a noncommittal sound and looked away.

While he was distracted, Marianne admired his face. No longer did she see the single hairs of silver in his sand colored hair or the small wrinkles under his eyes as a sign of his age, but as distinguished features she began to enjoy, features that would never be found in a man closer to her age, like Blaise.

He would likely look ridiculous when he aged and silver weeded through that orange mop of his.

“Today is Tuesday, do you know what that means?”

Marianne shook her head.

“Tuesday is the day I usually spend with Blaise, supervising his training. I have been out of practice with handling swords and blades as of late, so I tend to let Bryce work with him as long as I am there.”

She nodded. That certainly explained where he went every Tuesday, but did not explain his absence during the nights. The rest of his words came to her, and she puzzled over them.

As lord he should never be out of practice with his weapons. What could bring that about?

William continued, unaware of the question in her head. “Usually I do a little swordplay with the two of them, but today I sent Blaise off for his training alone,”

Marianne lifted a brow and completely forgot about their positions. William was a creature of habit; it was how she managed to track him so easily since he rode the same route every Sunday after church. “Alone?”

He smirked and nodded, like a boy confessing to a sin he did not particularly care about, his fingers still in her bath water. “Aye. As odd as it would seem I went against my normal routine to keep an eye on you.”

She glared and turned away, though the gesture was half-hearted. “I thought I felt someone’s eyes on my back. Olma had me nearly convinced I was going mad.”

His wet finger flitted over her raised nose. “Always in the air.”

Marianne hurriedly lowered her nose, mortified that she had been caught again. This time she could not stop herself from covering her breasts with her arms. She was shocked to find that her nipples had hardened themselves and a spark of sizzling fire lit up under the skin when she touched them.

She shifted her legs and noted that there was a spot that felt swollen somehow, pulsing, in the place where they met in the middle and inside. How was he able to do this to her?

She was desperate to put her mind on other things. “I shall assume that next week you will not be following me around then?”

He nodded and resumed swirling his fingers in her water. “Aye, next week I will train with him.”

“With him? You mean to help him improve.”

William shook his head. His face colored and he forced himself to look her in the eyes. “Nay, you misunderstand. My skills are not what you imagined them to be. I am sorry to tell you that you entered into a marriage with a man with little skill with a sword, or any blade, or any weapon.”

She blinked. To be slightly clumsy with a weapon was one thing, but to have very little skill was another.

From the moment they met, while she had not pictured him furiously wielding swords around, he held an air of power over her, even when on his knees, that made his claim difficult to swallow. Not for the first time she wondered what it had been that made him ignore his studies with a blade.

Just looking at him brought her back to her former state in that church. He held her, pressed her to him, and she felt his strong arms and chest consuming her. While he warned her that his skills were lacking, she had no doubt that his strength left naught to be desired.

Except now she truly desired him. She had for some time if she was to be honest with herself.

They were silent for so long that the sun finished tucking itself away, and the only light and warmth in the room came flickering and crackling from the fireplace. Marianne’s hot bath turned cool, and William was the one who broke their spell. “I realize I have not made good on my promise and would like to rectify the situation.”

She cocked her head. Surely he could not be scheming to get her into his bed? He said it himself that he wanted to give her passion, would she not have to be wild with wanton emotions for that to happen?

Granted, she did want to be in his bed, but at the same time she did not. She was going mad, because no other woman in the land could be subject to such conflicting thoughts.

She put her hands to her forehead to still the spinning.Stop it, stop it, stop it!

“Marianne?”

The water splashed as she lowered her arms, catching his sleeves. “Aye, I apologize my—William, I was lost in thought.”

He gave the dripping material a glance before turning his attention back to her. She recognized the mischievous grin right away. “Your William? I enjoy the sound of that.”

He caressed her jaw and she shivered. That feeling in her breasts and between her legs intensified, the pulsing quickened and she could not calm her breathing. She jerked away from his touch to stop it. But he continued to stare and the pulsing did not vanish.

“You know ‘tis not what I meant.”

“Yes, but I enjoy it nonetheless. Now, to my original topic…”

She cleared her throat, gripped the sides of the tub and stood. Paying no mind to her nudity or the chilling air as she walked, dripping to the chair where her robe lay. She tugged it on and tied it tight. She heard William groan and felt a bubbling satisfaction rise within her.

There was no sin in showing her body to her husband, but was it sinful to enjoy the torment she caused him?

Most likely, but God would forgive her. She had a valid excuse, she was curious about how she affected him and wanted a little revenge for the way he affected her.

“Yes, you should be ashamed for deceiving the lady of the house.” She teased and faced him.

He shifted as though he were uncomfortable and his jaw clenched harder than a stone.

Well, well, well. It seemed she affected him just as much as he did her. The knowledge was an empowering comfort.

He coughed and rubbed his nose. He was trying to prevent her from seeing the flush in his cheeks. “Aye, I have, forgive me. As I said I wish to make amends for my behavior.”

She folded her arms and walked across the room to where her comb lay next to the basin of water. She sat and, as William had sent everyone away, set to work combing her hair. “That sounds promising. You may start by telling me where you go every night that you do not spend in our bed.”

She spared him a glance. He blinked before the confusion in his eyes flashed. “Where I go? My dear, I would almost believe ‘twas jealousy I heard in your voice.”

She looked away, combing her hair with more vigor. “Jealousy? Pray, is there someone I should be jealous of?”

His barking laughter made her turn to him. He nearly doubled over, his face red with delight.

She saw red herself and slammed her hand on the table. “There is someone else!”

Marianne could not explain why she was so angered. ‘Twas not uncommon for the lord of the house to keep a mistress under his roof, and she had barely allowed William to touch her, why would he not seek companionship elsewhere?

She should have predicted it, have prepared herself for the inevitable time when a mistress was confirmed. Instead she flew at him, pounding against his chest, wishing with all her might that she had a weapon to wield against him since he was admittedly so untalented with them.

***

William allowed her to throw her tantrum, though he doubted his laughter eased her wrath. Finally, he wiped the moisture from his eyes before capturing her flailing fists and putting a stop to her petty attacks.

This was not supposed to happen. What had once been thoughts of taking her into his bed and having her with no concern to her own pleasure turned into thoughts of mutual desire. He had no visions that she could love him, but he did have vivid dreams of having her make love to him with her entire body and soul, willingly coming into their bed and giving herself to him while he showed her how to please a man and how he could please her in return.

He was not certain when it happened, but he knew that the need to humiliate and hurt her began causing an ache in his chest that reminded him of what it was like to truly care for a woman’s wellbeing. Something he had not felt in many years. He no longer wished to emotionally harm her for his own pride, but that wish also made him see that he did not wish unhappiness upon her either.

But young women did not love old men like him—he was nearing thirty-seven already—but he remained confident Marianne could become affectionate to him. Perhaps this spectacle of hers was proof of that.

“Nay my dear, as much as your fury amuses me I cannot say that I have been keeping a mistress since your arrival.”

Her eye twitched and fists remained clenched, she tried to pull away but he refused to release her, an act that angered her further.

She yanked her wrists with more strength and he let her free. “So you do have a former lover in this household.” ‘Twas not a question.

William sighed. “Whether or not I have kept a mistress is none of your concern. But I am no longer entertaining her.”

“What is her name?”

“Why?”

“I wish to drown her.”

William laughed again.

Marianne stamped her foot again. “There is nothing amusing about this!”

She tried to strike him again but again he captured her wrists and, despite her struggles, continued to laugh.

Marianne could only fight and fume until he abruptly pulled her chest to his. “This is why I agreed to wed you,”

Her eyes searched his for some island of sense in the sea of her confusion. “What are you speaking of? You agreed to wed me because I had Archer put a blade to your throat.”

“Nay, I agreed to take you as my wife because I love your spirit.”

Her body went lax at his claim, then, just as quickly, she tried to push away from him, her fury returning full force. “You’re mad!”

“Be that as it may,” he released one of her wrists and slid his arm around her waist, pulling her hips closer to his. “I enjoy it.”

He also enjoyed touching her and could feel her through the clinging fabric of her damp robe. ‘Twould be easy to remove it, and while he would not do anything harmful to her, ‘twould also be a simple matter of making her want him. She was young and inexperienced, a little patience on his part and she would beg him to take her.

As if suddenly aware of how loose her robe was becoming with their strange dance, her hair dripping onto his dry clothes, Marianne tensed.

“You are getting wet.” She said.

He dipped his mouth to her ear. “I hardly care.”

“Why?” She asked, swallowing as the hot breath brought a shiver and gooseflesh to every inch of her skin.

His mouth did not leave her ear, and she could scarcely stand while his roaming hands discovered every mound on her body. “Why do I not care for my clothes?”

“No! Why are you behaving like this?”

He removed his mouth from her tingling ear but his face remained close to hers, and even though he loosened his grip on her she made no attempt to escape.

“I seemed to have taken a liking to brash women,” He released her other wrist and trailed a finger down the opening of her robe, exposing her breast to the chill air.

He doubted the cold air had anything to do with its pleasing peak.

She could have lifted her hand to slap his fingers away, but he knew she wanted to see where those roaming fingers would lead her. ‘Twould not take much to show her.

Apparently satisfied that she would put up no fight, he slid a finger under, over, and around her bare breast before teasing the nub peaking at the center with his thumb.

Her feet swayed and breath hitched, and William smiled.

Her eyes drifted shut, there was not a thought in her head now.

He stepped closer, his other hand sliding across the smooth skin hidden beneath her robe. For a moment he was so focused on the sensation of her against his fingertips that her rambling words did not reach his ears.

When they did he covered her mouth with his, because she was not speaking at all, but was moaning under his touch.

***

Marianne did not know what was happening to her but she liked it and did not wish it to stop. The swelling between her legs returned and the pulsing became the throbbing heartbeat that kept her breathing, kept her alive.

All she wanted was for him to continue inflicting this wonderful torture on her. When she felt this good she could not find blame to place on him for wishing her to his bed if he would feel only a fraction of what he was causing her to feel.

Blindly she threw her arms around his neck and welcomed his tongue into her mouth when he kissed her.

It felt different from the last time his tongue visited her in that church, and not in the unpleasant surprise way it had been before either. ‘Twas soft and warm and wet, and she found herself enjoying having it touch her own tongue and moving against hers.

When he pulled his mouth away she was coherent enough to open her eyes and feel the hand that had once been teasing, now gripping the whole of her breast.

“Is this what you meant when you wanted to apologize for not seeing to your promise?” She asked, a hint of a smile at her lips.

“Not quite, but it will do for me if it will for you.” He pressed himself closer to her, and she felt the hardness at his thigh.

Like the crack of a whip her body, which was once so full of wanting and lust she thought she would overflow, suddenly became tense with fear.

She could not do this.

William saw the look on her face and he too was pulled from the lusty fantasy. “You do not approve?”

She tried to back away but could not, and he refused to move and give her any space.

Marianne clutched his shoulders. She could not look him in the eye. He was her husband and she his wife. ‘Twas nothing wrong with what he wished to do to her, what she had nearly wanted him to do to her, yet she could not bring herself to allow it. “You do not love me,”

He professed to love not her but her brash spirit and reckless behavior. The very thing her father had been trying to stamp out of her for as long as she could remember. ‘Twas not good enough.

William opened his mouth to reply, then shut it just as quickly. He said nothing.

Marianne pushed away from him, righting her robe as she moved as far away from him as possible before she grabbed the comb and returned to furiously combing out her knotted wet hair.

His words, especially the words not said, were like a blow. She could not bring herself to look at him. And even while she sat on the other side of the room, pretending to focus solely on her hair, he still would not speak, and somehow the silence was worse than if he had decided to rage around the room for her teasing treatment of him.

She enjoyed his touch, and she enjoyed his voice when he took the time to speak to her, but if he did not love her then what would their act of loving each other really be but emotionless fornication?

She was lonely, but not that lonely.

She tensed when his hands found her shoulders, she had not realized that he was nearing her. Unlike their first night under the same roof, she did not scream and leap away when he kissed her neck. The act was so tender she could almost trick herself into believing that he did hold feelings for her.

“We will share a bed, but tonight will be the last night that I do not make you mine. Tomorrow we shall eat our breakfast together, and after I see to my own responsibilities we can talk privately if you wish.”

She swallowed. One day to try to make him love her? ‘Twas impossible.

“Talk. About what?”

He rubbed her shoulders. “It matters not to me. We can discuss anything you like.”

Marianne put away her comb and thought it over. It was an opportunity to get to know him as more than just the Earl of Graystone and the husband she occasionally saw, but as the man who defended her against her father and kept his promise when he did not have to.

She would at least know who would bed her tomorrow night. Perhaps that man would even be her friend. He was being generous with her, he could have offered her much less. He could give her nothing but misery. He could take her right now.

“Very well, that sounds acceptable.” She nearly winced with her words. How formal she sounded to her own husband.

“Good,” He replied.

Marianne heard the shuffling of clothes and turned around, only to cover her eyes and spin in the other direction.

“You’re naked!”

“Yes, I am preparing for bed.”

“But, but—”

“We are husband and wife, and I am growing weary of sleeping in my night clothes. Stop being cowardly and look at me.”

With a spine so stiff she thought it would crack, Marianne turned around and did look. She would not allow him to call her a coward.

She refused to look below his neck and kept her eyes on his face, however. The swine was smirking again, but he didn’t move.

He was waiting.

Without meaning to or with her consent, her eyes traveled downwards.

The light of the fire, the only source of light, danced across his body and bathed him in an orange glow. She could see every ripple of muscle and every light colored hair curling on his chest. Thin, faded scars from past battles and training games crisscrossed in random places along his naked skin, and the water that seeped through his clothes now glistened against his chest in the firelight.

The sight made her smile with the simplicity of it. ‘Twas nothing horrifying hidden under his clothes, nothing that should cause her to fear.

Aside from the organ between his legs—which she refused to look at—and the lack of large breasts, he was rather similar to herself. Arms, legs, knees, and toes. Nothing frightening.

Marianne relaxed her body. There was no sin in this. She was simply looking at the chest of a man who happened to be her husband. No sin at all.

The golden hair on his chest circled his dark nipples before traveling down into a fine trail that led to his—

Marianne looked away again, heat flooding her face to the point that she thought she would sweat blood. At his amused chuckle she returned her eyes to their former position, though the heat still assaulted her face.

Not a coward. She was not a coward.

The blond hairs became darker, though not as dark as she was down there, and within them nestled his … Marianne was unsure of how to describe it. It was simply there. Never before had she seen that area of a man, or any naked area of a man. Even when she walked in on the servants loving they were always fully clothed, and while her inexperience prevented her from deciding whether or not she liked what she saw, she knew that she would have to get used to that part of him as well, and soon.

The hair became light again as it traveled down his legs, legs that were so much larger than hers, skin stretched with muscle, his feet alone were frightening in their size.

Her eyes traveled over him again, quicker this time, and suddenly she felt as though she were not getting the entire portrait.

“Turn around,”

He raised a brow. “You wish me to bare my back to you?”

“Aye,”

“May I ask why?”

The heat that had fled her face when she accustomed herself to his body returned with fever. She could not explain why she wanted to see his other side, but ‘twas an urge that would not be ignored.

Her spine stiffened as she fought back the irritation that threatened to bubble to the surface. If he was so eager for her to see him naked then what was his business in making her feel awkward for wishing to see all of him?

She was at a loss for words when William shook his head and did as she bid. “Very well, I never knew women to be interested in that part of a man’s anatomy.”

“Perhaps you have as much to learn as I.”

She meant naught by the words, but his curt reply awoke her curiosity.

“Perhaps,”

She ignored him. The sight of his bare back and bottom made her salivate and forget any previous indignation. Oh yes, she enjoyed this part of his anatomy very much.

“Do you like it?”

“Aye,” She immediately said, unable to keep herself from staring.

“Good,” abruptly he turned and Marianne was unable to fight back her gasp of horror. She had yet to finish with him!

“Because ‘tis now my turn to see you,”

She clutched her robe tighter to herself. “Me? But you have already seen all there is to see.”

He shook his head, invaded her by standing so close for what seemed to be the one hundredth time that day and pulled her close. “Nay, I have only felt you, and not all of you at that. I would like to see what I have been touching under your robe and through your gown all this time.”