Eve's head felt thick and heavy as she made her way to the kitchen. Dawn had barely begun to push back the night and lamp light was still necessary. Marcus had already been up and out doing chores. His coat and boots were gone.
The kitchen was warm, a strong fire burning in the cook stove. Eve set about to fix Marcus some breakfast so when he came back in, he would have a warm meal waiting for him. She often wondered why he wasn't married by now. He was certainly popular enough with the young women in town. She had a nagging notion that he didn't seek a wife because of her. He didn't want to leave her alone. Ever since the loss of their parents, he had been extremely protective of her. He would never just go away and leave her top fend for herself, although she could if she had to.
She placed some potatoes in a bowl, grabbed a small knife and began peeling them at the table. She had a deep set fear of losing Marcus to the life he deserved, the wife he deserved. And she felt guilty for that. She knew she was extremely particular when it came to men, and often turned away perfectly acceptable suitors. If she were married and settled, Marcus would be free to make a life of his own. When the next viable candidate came along...perhaps she should just accept him and be done with it.
Sudden, unbidden images of Rhonan rose behind her eyes. Marcus had said she needed a man like Rhonan. But she didn't believe that was case. She knew Marcus wanted her to be with a man who could protect her and fight for her, and perhaps that was why he opted for someone like Rhonan. But though Rhonan might make an amazing lover, the man was hardly husband material. After a few nights with her, he would be gone, seeking other fresh young women to pleasure him.
Eve's chest tightened at the thought. Something for which she immediately berated herself. Why should she care if he wanted other women? She didn't even want him, and she certainly didn't love him.
"Why is Rhonan's horse in the barn?" Marcus entered the house suddenly, banging open the door.
Eve gasped sharply and nearly jumped out of her chair. She met her brother's puzzled eyes. "Uh...I...rode him home last night."
Marcus cocked his head as his eyes narrowed slightly. "You rode Rhonan's horse home? You?"
Eve shrugged and lowered her eyes to the potatoes in the bowl. "It's...a long story. He's going to send someone to get the horse."
Taking a seat at the table directly across from Eve, Marcus just stared at her in silence.
Eve shifted uncomfortably. "What?"
"When I asked you about your evening with Rhonan...I'm guessing you left out a lot."
Eve didn't answer, and continued to peel the potatoes.
"What's going on, Eve?" Marcus asked low. "Did you and Rhonan..."
Her head snapping up, Eve stared at him in shock. "No!" She shot back too quickly.
Marcus chuckled and leaned back a bit. "Are you sure about that?"
Eve's jaw dropped. "I think I would know if I..." She cut herself off and shook her head. "I do not desire the man."
"Yeah." Marcus smirked and stood up. "Regardless of what you think of the man, his horse needs tending to. Why don't you take him out some oats?"
"I'm fixing breakfast." Eve pointed out.
"Breakfast can wait." Marcus said. "I have some things I have to get finished before breakfast anyway."
Eve placed the knife in the bowl and pushed the bowl back. "Fine. I'll tend to the horse."
Heading for the door, Marcus nodded and grinned then slipped outside.
The sky was lightening a bit outside, but inside the barn, the shadows of night still held on. The lantern lit Eve's way through the lingering darkness. She cradled a bowl of oats and cut up apples in the crook of her arm. She had dribbled in a bit of molasses and mixed it with the oats and apple pieces for an added treat. Strange, she thought, how less than two days ago the large horse had terrified her as it catapulted down the stone street with her. And now, she felt the urge to pamper and spoil the animal.
Something she would never say to Marcus. He would immediately transfer her change in emotions towards the horse, to Rhonan. Which was ridiculous. Her feelings towards that man had not changed. Especially after the way he had treated his horse, showing no regard for the animal's comfort.
Her thoughts were silenced as she turned the corner and noticed a glow emanating from the horse's stall. She frowned. Marcus wouldn't have been so foolish as to leave a lantern lit and unattended in the barn.
Thinking Marcus may have returned to the barn, she started to call out to him when a deep, strong, masculine voice reached her. It was low, with a sliver of remorse in it. Eve crept up to the stall slowly, quietly, extinguishing her own lantern. She peered around the door of the stall and felt her heart shudder in her chest, nearly stop, then speed up so quickly it stole her breath.
Rhonan stood beside the horse, running his hand carefully over the animal's side where she had applied the salve. He reached up and stroked the horse's muscular neck. "Forgive me, my friend." He murmured with clear remorse.
The horse nickered and brought its head up suddenly, pricking its ears forward, looking straight at Eve. Rhonan's head snapped around, his troubled eyes grabbing hers and holding on. A sensation not unlike a bolt of lightning shot through her, making her flinch then tremble. When he released her eyes and returned his attention to the horse, she opened the stall and stepped inside.
"You should...put more salve on that." She reached into her pocket and withdrew a small contained then tentatively handed it to him. "It's a homemade remedy. It works well on animals." She shrugged and glanced away. "And people."
Rhonan's gaze was heavy as he looked at her and nodded, opened the container and smeared a dab of the salve on the small wound then moved to the other side and doctored that one as well. Eve remained silent as she held the bowl and let the horse eat from it. She could feel Rhonan watching her but didn't trust another look in his eyes. She didn't understand the power of that first glance and was afraid to explore it deeper.
"Thank you." He said suddenly. "For looking after him. Tending to his...needs."
Eve cleared her throat anxiously and simply nodded, her eyes on the horse's face as it dipped its head into the bowl and grabbed a mouthful of oats and apples.
"I didn't mean to...do this." Rhonan spoke low, tight.
Eve chanced a quick glance at him. To her relief, he was looking at the horse's side. But he turned suddenly and caught her stare before she could escape him.
"Do you think he forgives me for this?" His penetrating gaze pulled at her with force.
Eve swallowed thickly and tore her eyes from his. "I'm...I'm sure he does." She whispered unevenly.
She felt Rhonan standing closer before she realized he had moved. His hand rested on the horse's pull as he stared down at her, a storm of emotions in his dark eyes. "Do you forgive me?"
Eve shifted nervously and gripped the bowl more tightly in her arms. She didn't know how to answer, wasn't entirely certain what he was asking. Suddenly, his fingers were on her face, tilting her chin up to him. Her first thought was that he was going to kiss her and her pulse quickened immensely. But he simply looked at her.
"Do you forgive me?" He asked again, quietly. "For the way I acted with you?"
Pulling her chin away from his touch, Eve trembled. "I-I suppose."
Rhonan stepped back and shook his head slowly. "No. You don't." He reached for his saddle and began tacking up the horse. A sudden tension gripped him. His muscular arms flexed as he cinched up the saddle, his face hard as stone.
Confusion swarmed over Eve. What had just happened? She stared at his stony face.
"Why did you come here today?" She asked low. "You said you were going to send someone for your horse."
Rhonan reefed up on the cinch strap and tied it securely. He tested the saddle to make sure it was tight. When he looked at her, Eve took a step back from the fierceness in his eyes.
"I apologize for the intrusion, My Lady." He bit back. "But this time, I assure you, I won't come back."
Eve frowned, both puzzled and somewhat annoyed by his sudden change in attitude. What had she done this time? When he started shove past her and lead the horse from the stall, she grabbed his arm without thinking.
"Rhonan, wait." She insisted tersely. "Why are you-"
Eve was suddenly pinned against the stall, Rhonan's hot, hungry mouth crushing hers. His strong body held her in place as his probing tongue explored the inside of her mouth. When her initial shock subsided, she felt the heat and passion in the man pulling her in, drowning her.
Her hands touched his chest tentatively then slowly clutched his shirt as a soft moan rose in her throat.
Rhonan's fierce kiss eased a little as he sucked and tugged at her full lips, an almost anguished groan swelling inside him. An unyielding hardness pressed against her from between his legs. His mouth moved from her lips, along her jaw and down her neck. Her head spun wildly as he bit and sucked at her tender flesh. She moaned again, more deeply. She could feel the wetness forming between her thighs and wondered if he could smell her intense heat.
She felt Rhonan drawing her down onto the straw but she had lost the will to resist the man. Her dream came back full force, igniting her body and consuming her with a need unlike anything she had ever felt before.
What was he doing?
He shuddered as the moans rose in her throat beneath his lips. Her body was alive underneath him and arching to him. He had grabbed her and kissed her before he even knew what he was doing. And once his lips touched hers and his tongue entered her sweet, warm mouth, he knew there was no going back, no stopping.
His hands moved with a will of their own, tugging at her dress, peeling it off her body, exposing her soft, supple breasts, her silky skin. Her firm, plump nipple was in his mouth, his hands cupping her beautiful breasts. His cock throbbed and his balls ached, and the only thing on his mind was getting inside her hot, tight body. He knew he was going too fast, his hands and body too urgent and demanding, but his intense hunger for the woman was pushing him over the edge and he didn't know how to pull himself back.
Eve's hands were tugging at his shirt and he ripped it off over his head, then hurriedly worked her dress off the rest of her delicious body. He flattened his hands on her thighs and opened her legs, burying her face in her hot, wet core. A trembling groan shuddered up his throat as he tasted her sweetness, licked through her silky center. Eve gasped and clutched his head in her hands, lifting her hips to his hungry mouth.
"Yes..." She trembled.
He spread her open with his fingertips and sucked at her firm, protruding nub until she was crying out sharply and releasing a flood of hot, sweet juices. He lapped up her nectar, his cock so hard it felt on the verge of bursting.
"Rhonan..." Eve was shaking and he could hear the tears in her voice. Her hands trembled as she pulled at him, struggling desperately to draw him up over her aching body.
He shed his pants in one swift movement, his cockhead leaking and throbbing. He lowered himself over the top of her - when suddenly her hands were pushing him away, resisting his advance. His breath exploded out of him as his mind began to spin. Eve's hand clutched his arm, her palm pressed against the brand in his flesh. Her eyes were wide as she stared at Nero's seal.
"No..." She cried unsteadily as she shoved at him. "Get...get off me. Get off me!"
Rhonan hesitated, his body momentarily unable to retreat.
"Get Off!" She screamed suddenly, tears streaming from her eyes.
Rhonan forced himself to draw back. His whole body ached so bad he wanted to scream and punch the wall.
Eve grabbed at her dress and covered herself, scooting up against the stall. "You're...you're one of Nero's men?" Eve choked out, mortified. "You lied to me...you said you were free...but you're not. You vowed your life to him? To fight for him?"
"Eve, you don't understand." Rhonan reached for her but she pulled away.
"Go." She trembled, her face twisted with anger and despair. "Get out of here. And don't come back."
A pressure swelled in Rhonan's chest like a ball slowly inflating. His head throbbed violently as he stood and dressed. What the fuck had he been thinking? How had he expected her to react?
Rhonan grabbed the horse's reins and left the barn without a backwards glance.