When Gabriel announced he would be marrying Lady Natalya Huntington, the castle erupted into celebratory chaos. The cook immediately went to work on the menu. Prominent households from the surrounding towns were sent invitations. It was to be a grand affair before the winter season.
Gabriel wanted as many witnesses to this marriage as possible. Cole was still in London, but James was there to make sure the castle was secure. Gabriel knew that once he announced who Natalya was, word would get back to London and back to Peter. He wanted to be prepared for anything the man would plan.
Sinclair was pleased with the progress his son made, claiming Natalya as his own. No one could legally lay rights to her now. He didn’t meet Natalya the following day as he planned, but rather the day after when she was more composed.
When he laid eyes on the Russian-English beauty he was momentarily taken back by how strong she appeared to be! Her eyes met his, betraying not a flicker of fragility. She greeted him with a pleasant smile and a curtsy. He extended his arm to her and she took it. They walked together through the halls of the castle getting to know each other.
“Lord Devall, your son has been very good to me considering all that’s amid this union.”
Sinclair looked at her without a hint of a smile. When he spoke his tone was hard and emotionless. “My son desires you. Enough to make you his wife. Don’t betray him.”
Natalya was surprised that he even thought she would. “Gabriel saved my life. It is now his and I will not betray him.”
Her tone was as strong as her words. Sinclair believed her. “Do you think that you’re strong enough to be his wife?”
Stopping, Natalya wondered the same thing. She wanted to impress Gabriel’s father, show him she wasn’t a feeble woman, but one that would compliment. She was burdened with the misfortunes that had fallen upon her and her family. Those things did not make her weak. No, never weak. They made her damaged. Yet, she was still strong enough to move forward and not retreat to her inner most self.
Looking at Sinclair, a display of raw masculine power, she held her chin up and gave him an answer. “Yes. I am strong enough to be his wife and wise enough to know exactly what that means. He gave me a second chance at life and for that I am forever in his debt. Whatever he asks of me I will do.”
“You speak as though you are a slave. Has my son treated you that way?”
“Never,” Natalya said appalled. “He’s been nothing but honorable through this whole ordeal!”
Sinclair found it interesting the way her temper flared up when he questioned Gabriel’s integrity. Perhaps his son’s feelings were reciprocated by her as well.
“I tell you now that Gabriel is the best man I have ever met!” Natalya took a deep breath to calm herself. She didn’t want him to think her rude. “I’m sorry for raising my voice,” she apologized.
Sinclair began to walk again and she fell in step with him. “It is reassuring to know my son is cared for.”
Yes she cared for him. More than she knew. No one had ever shown her such devotion. She would always remember how he treated her through her emotional trials.
And the way he kissed you.
The thought came from nowhere to make her blush deeply. His kiss had left a permanent impression on her mouth. The feeling he stirred in her warmed her at just a thought! She wanted him to kiss her again!
Clear your thoughts, she told herself. If he began kissing you he’d want more than you could give.
Their walk ended at the library. He looked at her, satisfied with the answers she’d given him. She would indeed make a good wife for Gabriel. “I will see you again.”
Natalya curtsied again and he left her there at the door. That was quite an experience! They did more walking than they did talking! She hoped that she answered all that he needed to know. At least now she understood Gabriel’s stern personality. He got it honestly from his father!
Walking into the library, Natalya found her favorite chair and sank into it. This was going to be an exhausting week. She could already tell. Yesterday she didn’t leave her room. She stayed in bed and Gabriel had announced their upcoming nuptials.
Clara had been ecstatic about the whole thing when she rushed into the room to congratulate her. The girl kept going on and on about how beautiful Natalya would be as a bride. And how everyone would be envious when she walked down the aisle in her wedding dress. It was so contagious that Natalya found herself getting just as equally excited!
She smiled at the thought of Gabriel, her handsome, strong soon to be husband. The idea excited her and she knew that she would be happy being his wife.
You thought the same thing with Robert, she thought suddenly. This is your second engagement in one year! Anything could go wrong.
Worry began to fill her as she thought about the memory that came to her in a dream.
“Don’t worry. I’ll teach you something you can take to your wedding bed.”
Natalya shuddered, despite how warm it was with the fire place going.
“There you are!”
Natalya looked up at Maria and her chambermaid as they entered the room. She was glowing and beautiful as always. She made her way to the foot of the chaise lounge and sat. “Hello Maria.”
“Hello… Natalya,” Maria smiled. “I have to admit I was a bit jealous when I heard the announcement, but Gabriel seemed so happy when he made it.”
Natalya was surprised. “Really?”
“Of course. He sung nothing but praises about you at breakfast.” Maria reached for Natalya’s hands. She gave them. “We are to be sisters in this family. Gabriel told me arrangements have been made for me to marry his brother Wolfin.”
This was all so much to take in. Natalya’s eyebrows drew together slightly as she asked. “And you’re okay with that?”
Maria sighed, still smiling. “I’ve accepted that that’s my… uh… how it shall be. And I’m happy with that. But enough about me. You’re wedding is in four days! You must be..” She gestured around her breast. “Measured!” She looked at her chambermaid. “Did you take the gowns to her chambers as I asked?” she asked in Spanish.
“Si,” the woman replied.
Maria rose to her feet, pulling Natalya up as well. “Come. We must make sure everything is perfect!”
Smiling, Natalya walked arm and arm with Maria. She described in great detail the few weddings she had attended back home in Spain. Natalya began to fear her quick wedding wouldn’t compare to the glorious ones Maria spoke of.
“Worry not. Those brides will not be as beautiful as you,” Maria assured her. “I think you’ll be the most beautiful bride that I’ve ever seen.”
When they entered the chambers, Natalya was surprised to see Eleanor instructing other chambermaids on where to place the gowns and which ones would be tried on first. Clara was there too, standing back waiting for further instructions.
All the women smiled and giggled with excitement when they saw her. Eyes wide, Natalya laughed. Never had she truly had ladies to call friends and talk with. Her history was taboo. But here, where no one knew her past, she felt nothing but openness and joy from these women.
“I can’t believe this is for me!” Natalya exclaimed.
Eleanor smiled at her. “You will be married in less than a week. It’s only fair that you are pampered and spoiled.”
“Come! Stand here at the mirror,” one of the women said.
Natalya moved to the full length mirror in the center of the room. The women swarmed her, helping her remove her gown. Then brought the first of many dresses for her to try on. Her thin petticoat remained as she tried on one gown after another. She hoped the intended to help her choose. She could never do it on her own!
“You look so beautiful in all of them,” Eleanor said, tapping her chin with a slim finger. “What do you think Maria?”
Maria tilted her head to the side as she circled Natalya. “Not this dress. It’s lovely, but you want a dress that will take Gabriel’s breath away.” She gestured to the bed where her own wedding dress laid. She never got to wear it and she wanted Natalya to have it now. “That is the dress.”
Natalya was helped out of her dress and into the dress Maria picked. The silk and lace dress was a stunning array of fabric common with the Spanish style in which it was created. It hugged the curves of her waist and hips. Lifted her breast even higher than they already were. The skirt fell in soft layers down her legs and around her feet.
It would be quite a task just to walk down the aisle!
Natalya wasn’t complaining, however, the dress was absolutely breath taking. Staring at her reflection, she thought she looked like a princess. She wanted to be a beautiful bride and this dress made her just that.
The room fell silent as everyone waited for her response. At the moment she couldn’t speak. Standing there in her wedding gown, she felt the butterflies in her belly. It was a marriage of convenience, she knew, but she wanted it to be the marriage of her dreams! She wanted Gabriel to see her as the woman he desired above all others. Not the damsel in distress he had to marry in order to protect.
She wanted to be loved and it didn’t appear that it was going to be that way.
Her hands trembled as they ran down the front of her gown. You want Gabriel to love you now? She thought anxiously. Hasn’t he already done enough?
They were waiting for her to speak while she gawked at herself in the mirror. Why can’t I have his love, she wondered. She tried to rationalize the feelings she was having. If we are to be together for the rest of our lives, why is it too much to expect?
Because you are damaged, she reminded herself.
Sighing, her face fell into a frown.
“What is it dear?” Eleanor asked.
“Do you think Gabriel will like me in this gown?” Natalya asked honestly.
Maria giggled. “He’ll love you in this gown. Trust me when I say he won’t be able to take his eyes off of you!”
The rest of the ladies giggled too.
“He will love you in this gown almost as much as he will love you in your wedding night attire.”
Natalya looked at Maria alarmed. “Wedding night attire?”
Nodding, Maria took her hand. “Oh yes! It’s made from the finest sheer fabric. He won’t be able to keep his hands off of you!”
Natalya forced herself to smile. Of course they planned for the wedding night. They didn’t know about the arrangement she had with Gabriel. She held Maria’s eyes for just a moment longer before turning back to the mirror. “I do want to make him happy.”
“He will be,” Eleanor assured her. Hers was the voice of comfort. She took Natalya’s other hand and squeezed it.
Nodding, a smile slowly spread across Natalya’s face. Yes, he would be happy. She would make sure of that. The excitement started to build again.
After they decided on the dress, they went to the boudoir for lunch. They ate sweet pastries and sipped on mead while telling stories and laughing. Maria even sung a few songs in Spanish to keep the mood pleasant. She had a beautiful voice. So light and delicate. It reminded Natalya of when she was a child and her mother use to sing to her. She would sit at her mother’s feet and listen for hours. Just like she was listening to Maria now.
The cool morning didn’t put a damper on the time they were sharing. Eleanor told them stories about Gabriel when he was a child. How he use to hide in the castle with his brother Wolfin so they wouldn’t have to do their studies.
Gabriel was an intelligent child, but he lacked attention. It wasn’t until he joined the knighthood that he became the serious man they knew today. After his first battle, experiencing the bloodshed and death, it changed his view of the world. The first man he killed was a young man his age.
Eleanor went on to explain how Gabriel went on to build his own army and found favor with King Henry III, who gave him land in Winchester.
It was fascinating hearing all these things about Gabriel. Natalya was finally getting to learn about his past. He didn’t care to talk about it. Especially his childhood. She had a hard time imagining him as anything other than a sullen boy. It was nice to know he had a humorous side.
“What is going on in here?” Gabriel walked into the room to find his fiancé stretched across the chaise. He made a mental note that she liked that kind of chair and to have one brought to their bed chambers.
When Natalya saw him she smiled. “Hello Gabriel. We were just enjoying lunch.”
Her eyes looked sensual in the afternoon light. “I will see you tonight at dinner then. James, father and I are riding into town.” He smiled at her. He was excited that she was going to be his wife!
The corner of her mouth lifted as she found the playful spark in his eyes. “Godspeed to you then.”
Gabriel left the women to finish their lunch.
The ride through town was something Gabriel like to do regularly. He was Lord over these people. Showing his face allowed his presence to be felt that much more. The people loved him. He ruled them justly. There weren’t many feuds that needed his intervention, but the ones that did worked out amicably for both parties involved.
“Your people are doing well,” Sinclair said proudly.
Gabriel nodded. “What did you expect? Failure?” His breath appeared as fog when he spoke. “Because I promise you there will not be failure in anything I do.”
James rode silently beside Gabriel.
“I don’t expect failure from my sons. Just the opposite,” Sinclair frowned. “Devalls do not fail.”
They continued to survey the remaining two towns. People were fed, sheltered and warm. The winters were hard sometimes. It was best to make sure they were prepared. Gabriel knew that one day these lands and responsibilities would become his sons. It was an honor to govern these people. To earn their loyalty and respect.
Once they finished, they made their way back to the castle to get ready for dinner. It would be the first time Natalya ate with them in the hall. Gabriel wanted this engagement to be special for her. Unlike her last one. And so far it seemed that she was enjoying herself. Eleanor told him that the ladies had some things planned for her. To help her relax. She seemed relaxed today when he saw her.
Dinner was ready when they got back to the castle. Each of them went to their respectable places at the table and waited for the women to join them. Natalya would sit next to him at the head of the table, Sinclair with Eleanor. Maria would sit beside Eleanor and James on the side of Sinclair.
It wasn’t long before the women came and took their seats.
“How did your day go?” Natalya asked.
Gabriel smiled at her. She had no idea the affect she had on him. He wanted to reach out and touch her. She looked beautiful in her lavender dress. It brought out the ice blue color in her eyes. “It went well. And how was your day?”
His voice vibrated through her, tickling her almost. “I’ve had a pleasant day. Eleanor and Maria helped me pick out a wedding gown.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “I can’t wait to see you in it.”
“She’s going to be the most beautiful bride England has ever seen,” Maria smiled.
“I agree,” Eleanor added. She looked at Sinclair who wore his usual expression. A cross between annoyance and amusement. He wasn’t an easy man to read. She was sure he was enjoying himself though.
Clara and a few other servants brought out dinner and then quietly left them alone.
Conversation flowed freely. They were in such good spirits that evening. Eleanor talked about the antics of her grandchildren, while Sinclair and James exchanged battle stories. Natalya and Maria hung on their every word. Commenting here and there.
Gabriel listened, but couldn’t focus on anything that was being said. His loins ached for his fiancé. He hadn’t been with a woman since he brought her home. He meant to get lost in the arms of a whore while he was in London. Thoughts of her kept that from happening. He knew he should be patient and let her come to him when she was ready. Given the circumstances, however, she may never be ready.
No, he couldn’t wait for her fears to just go away. He was going to have to show her what it felt like to be touched by a man that desired to please her. Up until that moment he thought he could ignore his own urges. Now he realized he couldn’t. He had to satiate his lust and he only wanted to do that with her.
Tonight he would give her, her first lesson in sensual touch.
Dinner carried on till the late hours of the night. They were all warm with wine when they retired to their chambers.
“Your mother is so funny,” Natalya smiled, removing her shoes and hose. She should be in a separate chamber from him. That would have been proper, but they’d shared a chamber this long. What would one more week hurt? “And Maria is delightful.”
Gabriel stood back, watching as she undressed, while slowly undressing himself. “That they are,” he said absent mindedly.
“We had the best time today. I’m so glad you arranged this.” Natalya stood now in her thin chemise.
The swell of her breast were enticing. He slowly walked over to her. His hands cupped her face. “You are so beautiful.” He kissed her. Softly at first. Then deeper as his hunger grew. Her hands lightly gripped his forearms and she moaned. He broke the kiss and looked into her eyes.
Natalya felt the heat from his kiss still on her mouth. She wanted him to kiss her again, but he just stared at her!
“Tell me Natalya. Tell me what he did to you.”
“No,” she groaned. She didn’t want to go there! Especially now when she felt so open to him!
“Tell me so I can erase those memories from your body.” He bent down and sucked her bottom lip into his mouth. Then he kissed her again. This time his tongue slowly moved with hers. His arms fell around her waist. Easing her body to his.
She felt the rush of blood go through her as her breast pressed against his chest. The alarms went off in her head. She shouldn’t be this close to him. Yet, she didn’t want to push him away. She wanted him to hold her and kiss her and make her feel something other than dirty!
She didn’t know what to do with her hands so she kept them on his arms. She swooned as he kissed her.
Then Peter’s face flashed in her mind’s eye.
“Don’t worry. I’ll teach you something you can take to your wedding bed.”
Natalya pulled back. “No. I… I can’t.”
He didn’t release her. “Tell me what he did to you.”
She shook her head. “No. I… can’t”
He kissed her neck. The sensation sent chills down her spine. “Oh!” she gasped. Her hands instinctively moved to his shoulders. Her knees felt weak. She knew he was holding her up.
With one swift move he lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bed. She stiffened as he laid her down. “I can’t do this!”
“You don’t have to,” Gabriel whispered against her neck. “You don’t have to do anything but let me please you.” He kissed her again until she moaned. Then he moved to her chin. Then to the sensitive skin below it, kissing and nibbling.
Natalya did as he said and laid there while he made a hot trail from her neck down with his mouth. Her breath quickened as his mouth found a taut nipple through the fabric a sucked. She cried out in pleasure. She gripped his shoulders, desperately trying to control herself.
“Did he kiss your breast like this” Gabriel asked. “Or did he grope you?”
He had to be delirious! Why would he even bring up such a thing? “He groped me,” Natalya heard herself saying.
“And it hurt?”
“Did it scare you?”
Gabriel moved to the other breast and began suckling while his thumb caressed her free nipple. Again she gasped, arching against him. “Am I hurting you?”
“No,” she whispered.
“Are you scared?”
She opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling. “No.” She wasn’t afraid of him at all.
“This is how it should feel,” Gabriel whispered. He reached down and grabbed the hem of her chemise. Then slowly pushed it up over her hips, breast and then her head. She laid there naked beneath him. He’d seen her naked before. She was bruised and beaten. This image of her now would be the one he carried forever. He took one large breast in his hand and bestowed kisses upon it.
Sighing, gasping, spiraling out of control, Natalya closed her eyes and fell into the world of pleasure he created. Never had she felt so utterly safe, excited and free! He lavished her breast with kisses, caressed her and stroked her until her skin was hot and flushed.
Her body tingled with the anticipation of something she didn’t understand. And as she began to writhe on that bed she longed for a release from the frustrating ache!
Gabriel slid down the length of her supple body, enjoying the view. She was a fire with passion and yearning for more. His lips caressed her thighs, down to her slim ankles and back up. She giggled. He must be tickling her.
“You like that Natalya? You like when I kiss you all over?”
She reached down, tousling the top of his hair. “Yes.”
Gabriel chuckled. “I have one more place to kiss you tonight.” Slowly he parted her thighs and lowered his head. She tensed. “I won’t hurt you,” he promised.
The fear quickly vanished as she felt the heat of his mouth close around that sensitive bud. His tongue caressed it, played with it and then he suckled until the pleasure/pain swirled into an uncontrollable pool she found herself drowning in.
She had no idea anything could feel so good! Her body ached and arched against his mouth as she sought that feeling that eluded her!
Then it happened. The tingling that began with that sensitive bud consumed her from the inside out as she shattered into a hundred pieces, crying out as she did. Her breath was rapid as she clung to the bed.
Gabriel breathed against her and she shuddered. “This is how you should always feel. You should be worshipped and I intend to do just that.” He rested his head on her flat belly. She caressed his head.
Natalya didn’t know what to say. Her body still tingled, but she felt satiated. How things have changed in such a short time! She didn’t think she’d be able to have such intimacy. She thought he would have to take a mistress, but now she was hopefully that she could please him herself!
Was this the sweet secret between man and woman? This battle ground of tender play and pleasure? She wanted more, even though she wasn’t sure what more was.
“Are you okay?” Gabriel asked after a long silence.
“Yes,” Natalya whispered. Thankfully it was dark so he couldn’t see the embarrassment on her face. She would never be okay after what they just shared!
“You body is a field I enjoy exploring.” He began stroking her hip lightly. “You are a creature to marvel at.”
His praises made her burn red. “How can you say that when I’ve done nothing but lay here?”
He chuckled. “After the way you writhed and arched against me, how can you say you’ve done nothing but lay there?”
“You know what I mean. Where did you find pleasure?”
“In tasting you.” Gabriel repositioned himself to where he was laying beside her. He could see her face in the dimly lit room. The fire was burning low. He needed to add more wood. He pulled the blanket over them and held her in his arms.
“Why did you do this?” Natalya had to know. “We agreed that you would take a mistress. What changed your mind?”
“Tonight you looked so beautiful. I wanted to show you that a man’s touch didn’t have to hurt. That it could please you.” He kissed her temple. “I want to erase the pain that he caused you. And I know one night won’t change what you went through, but it’s a start.”
Natalya fell completely in love with him in that moment. “Thank you for trying.”
The next morning Natalya woke alone, but there were flowers left on the pillow beside her. She sat up and stretched, remembering the night before with a satisfied smile. There was a knock at the door. Clara entered with towels and oils for the bath Gabriel has brought in earlier. There were a couple of kettles over the fireplace filled with water ready to reheat the water. Clara didn’t say a word. She headed straight to the tub and began pouring oil in the water.
Natalya was curious. Clara never poured oils in her bath before. Why was she doing it now?
“Its lavender oil,” Clara said smiling when she looked at Natalya. “It will help sooth you for your wedding day. You will bathe every morning in it.”
“And it will sooth me?” Natalya asked skeptically.
“And it will make your skin soft and smooth like silk!”
Natalya laughed. “Whose idea was this?”
“Maria. She has a whole chest full of blended oils for many different purposes. Headaches, menstrual cramps, almost anything you can think of!”
Sitting up, Natalya wrapped the blanket around herself. Maria would come up with a wedding ritual for her to follow. “What is the plan for today?”
“I’m not exactly sure. Eleanor wants to go riding through the lands, but Maria says she’s not good on horseback.” Clara went to the fireplace to retrieve one of the kettles. She went back to the tub and poured the water in. She dipped her fingers in to test the temperature. “It’s ready.”
Natalya got out of the bed and went to the tub, getting in. Yes, it was steaming. Just the way she liked it. “I think a horseback ride would be fun. My father use to take me riding when I was a child. Let the ladies know that’s what I want to do.”
“Will you be riding side-saddle?”
“Of course not! That would take all the fun out of it!”
Clara laughed. “Oh Nat, that might be considered scandalous.”
Natalya sunk deeper into the water, inhaling the pleasant aroma. “So what if it is?”
Clara stopped laughing. “I didn’t mean to offend you,” she said quickly.
“You didn’t.” Natalya assured her. “I just want to have a little fun regardless of what people may think.”
“In all honesty, no one will probably say a word. People here respect Gabriel’s privacy.” Clara went to the tub and helped Natalya wash her hair. “Gabriel cares a lot about you. I knew it the first time I saw him look at you.”
Natalya let her head fall back. “I care about him too.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what happened? Why did he bring you here?”
Natalya closed her eyes, picturing Peter over her, kissing and groping her. She shuddered, wishing she never remembered anything he did to her. Gabriel had made her feel so wonderful and she only wanted to remember his touch. She wouldn’t discuss what happened. Not even with Clara.
“It doesn’t matter,” Natalya whispered.
Clara knew not to ask again.
After her bath, Natalya dressed in a heavy wool dress and thick stockings opting not to wear her full length chemise or petticoat. It would be easier to ride straddled that way.
She met the ladies for breakfast. Then the chambermaids brought their mistress’ hooded capes to help keep them warm.
All three women mounted their horses. Though it was clearly harder for Maria who wasn’t accustomed to riding. She didn’t ride too fast for fear she would lose control of her horse, but she kept up with them. Together they rode to the edge of Gabriel’s land.
Natalya loved the cool air rushing over her face. The smell of it fresh and crisp. Her hood had fallen back off her head and her hair was caught up in the wind. They rounded trees in the forest, speed down sloping hills and galloped over the flat fields. No one was training. There was no one to disturb. It was just them and open space. She could have gone hours, but Eleanor and Maria begged for a rest. They slowed their run to an easy walk.
“I love this place,” Natalya inhaled deeply, trying to catch her breath. “So much more than I ever liked London.”
“Natalya, you ride like a man!” Maria giggled.
“What’s that have to do with London?” Natalya asked smiling and frowning at the same time.
Maria shook her head. “Absolutely nothing!” Both women laughed. “I’m just amazed by the way you ride!”
“It is impressive,” Eleanor added. She was tired and cold and ready to go back to the castle. Natalya had many of the same interest as her Gabriel. The more time Eleanor spent with her future daughter in-law, the more she saw how much the young woman had in common with him.
“I used to ride with my father a lot,” Natalya said, slipping the hood of her cape back over her head.
“He taught you well,” Maria complemented. “But please, can we go back? I’m so cold!”
Natalya hadn’t given a thought to how well – or poorly- they were handling the weather. “Yes! Let’s go get warmed up!”
They made their way back to the castle at an easier pace, conversing happily about the ride they just had. This camaraderie among women was what Natalya had been missing and now loved. Things wouldn’t be the same when they left. She would miss them and the new found friendship that they had.
Once at the castle they retired to their chambers to change and next meet for lunch. Eleanor stayed in her chambers. Claiming that the ride had tired her out.
Maria met her at their now favorite place, the library, where a tray with warm rolls, pastries and tea awaited them. Natalya stretched out on the chaise while Maria sunk into an equally comfortable chair.
“It’s a… uh… amazing how life makes these unexpected changes,” Maria said tearing a piece off the roll she held before popping it into her mouth. “I thought I’d come here and marry Gabriel and now I find myself friends with his fiancé.”
Natalya looked at Maria, eyebrows drawn slightly together. “Are you okay with all of this?”
Smiling, Maria nodded. “Si. I’ve never had a friend like you. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
Relieved, Natalya smiled. “I’ve never had a friend like you either.”
“Promise that you write me. And I’ll write you.”
“Promise.” Natalya grabbed a roll from the tray that was sitting on the table between their two chairs.
“What do you think Wolfin is like?” Maria asked.
“I don’t know. Gabriel hasn’t spoken much about his family to me.”
“I hope he’s not a hard man like their father.”
Natalya giggled. “He is quite intimidating.”
“Si! And so… What is the word?”
“Si! Dismissive! I don’t know how Eleanor can bear it!”
“Nor can I.” Natalya paused. “Are you worried?”
Sighing, Maria nodded her head. “What if he rejects the engagement? What will I do then?”
Natalya sat up. “I’ve heard of your problems. Surely Wolfin would let no harm come to you. Especially if he’s anything like Gabriel.”
Maria laughed half-heartedly. “What a mess, hunh? I’m begging for a man to marry me so I won’t become a whore for my father’s debtors.”
“There’s no judgment here. I know what it’s like to become a whore for your father’s enemy.”
Wide eyed Maria sat up. “No,” she whispered horrified. Natalya lowered her eyes. “Oh Natalya!” She reached across the table, leaned forward and grabbed her hands. “Bless your heart. And curse the bastard who hurt you!”
Slowly Natalya looked up. “I’m under Gabriel’s protection. That’s why he’s marrying me. So you see, we have quite a lot in common.”
Maria wasn’t sure that was the only reason he was marrying Natalya. She was a beautiful woman. Smart and resilient. By the way he looked at her, it was obvious that he was taken with her. “I think he may have other reasons. He’s a good man and I can tell he cares a great deal for you.”
“Maybe. Wolfin will be the same for you.”
Maria laughed nervously. “One can only hope!”
They finished their lunch and retired to their chambers to rest. Natalya had to admit she was feeling a bit fatigued. It wouldn’t hurt to get some sleep. When she awoke she would possibly spend some time with Gabriel.
The hall was already decorated for the wedding. Gabriel stood there, examining every detail. He wanted this to be the most romantic thing Natalya ever experienced. He wanted her dazzled by the ceremony, the entertainment and most of all by him. On their wedding night he hoped to know her in the biblical sense.
He was going to take advantage of the desire he awoke in her. The memory of tasting her, holding her, made his loins ache. The image of her naked body, flushed with passion, was one he couldn’t get out of his mind.
They had three days left before they were married. He planned to make love to her every night with his mouth. By the time their wedding night came she would be ripe with anticipation.
He sat down in one of the chairs and thought about the long winter ahead. He planned to go back to London and announce Natalya as his bride. That would draw Peter out. He wouldn’t be able to resist the bait. And when Gabriel revealed what Peter did to do to Natalya and her parents, the authorities would either arrest him or Gabriel would kill him.
Taking Natalya back to London also meant running into Robert, her betrothed. And when that happened the truth would come out. By then she would legally be his wife. Still, he didn’t look forward to that day. Knowing full well what the extent of her anger would be.
He was beginning to feel guilty for betraying her trust, but he wanted her and Robert couldn’t protect her.
“What are you doing in here?” James asked, approaching his friend.
“Making sure things are perfect for Natalya. It’s the least she deserves from me.” The aggravated tone in his voice didn’t go unnoticed.
“What’s happened now?” James brows came together, his mouth went straight.
Gabriel looked up at him. “It’s what I’ve already done.”
“You mean tricking her into marrying you?”
Gabriel’s eyes darkened. “Yes. A better man would have been honest.”
James laughed. “No. A better man wouldn’t have. Trust me, other men have done worse things to get the women they wanted.”
And this Gabriel knew to be true. Yet, he knew trust was a major concern with his soon to be bride. He was working hard to get her to open up to him in every way. It felt hypocritical to deceive her into his life.
“Just remember that fate brought you two together,” James pointed out. “It wasn’t Robert Thurman that found her. And it wasn’t him that she called for either.”
“It was me,” Gabriel said, feeling possessive and defensive.
“Aye, it was you.”
Nodding, Gabriel pushed the guilt away. It didn’t matter how he got her, she was his now and no man had better dare to interfere with that.
“I actually came to give you this,” James said, handing Gabriel a letter.
Gabriel took it and read it. It was from Estelle.
My husband’s resources have located Natalya. I’m thankful that you are keeping her safe. Please keep her there until her attacker is found and brought to justice. Tell her I love her.
Gabriel read the letter several times before he looked at James. “When did this arrive?”
“Moments ago. Why? What does it say?”
“It’s a letter from Natalya’s aunt. She says she’s thankful. And that Natalya should stay until her attacker is brought to justice.”
James frowned. “How did her aunt know she was here?”
“Peter’s ‘resources’. It appears we have a spy amongst us.”
“Do you think he is on his way here?”
Gabriel wasn’t sure. Obviously he knew where she was. Coming here, however, would most certainly mean his death. And he didn’t seem like a man that wanted to die. “No. But it still can’t be good that he knows where she is.”
Gabriel stood up, grabbing James by the shoulder. “Make sure the men know to look out for anyone suspicious. He may send someone else to do his killing. And find our spy.”
James nodded his agreement. “I’ll make sure Natalya has a guard at all time.” He turned to leave, then paused. “I also wanted to warn you that it may be in your best interest to have a catholic ceremony. Queen Mary is beheading anyone who doesn’t convert.”
What a horrific woman, Gabriel thought. England had been protestant for generations and now she wanted to forcefully convert the people over to Catholicism? Was she mad?
“It will not be a catholic ceremony,” Gabriel told him. “And I dare anyone to try to take my head.”
James grinned. Then turned and left the room.
So Peter knew where Natalya was. It was just a matter of time before all of London knew. With the announcement of the wedding, word of the engagement would travel fast.
Gabriel decided to see Natalya and inform her of what was going on. He went to the library first. Finding that room empty he went to their bed chambers. She was their sleeping peacefully on the over large bed. She had removed her clothes and rested on top of the blanket in her thin pink chemise.
He closed the door behind him, gently, carefully not to wake her. Her breast strained against the fabric, lifting and falling with each breath. One arm rested across her slim waist, while the other was up over her head. Her legs were bent slightly at the knees in front of her. She looked as if she were posing for an exotic painting!
He went to the bed, staring down at her, mesmerized. He sat beside her. “You have bewitched me completely,” he whispered, smiling.
He leaned down and kissed her lips lightly, coaxing a response out of her. She moaned and he suckled her bottom lip. Her mouth was sweet. She moaned again and his hand slid down her waist to cup her buttocks. Gently he squeezed. Her legs shifted apart. Slowly, he pulled the chemise up to her waist. His lips moved from her mouth to nibble on her earlobe.
She moaned a third time.
It was maddening!
His fingers found their way between her thighs and carefully caressed the sensitive bud between those precious lips.
She gasped, moving against him and he let one finger sink inside of her.
Her eyes snapped open. She grabbed his waist and slid her hands up his torso. She arched her neck back as his fingers danced inside of her. Filling her with that sweet sensation yet again!
Like before she spiraled and shattered into pieces! Then laid there satiated. “Why do you do this to me?” she asked breathlessly.
Gabriel looked down at her. “You didn’t like it?”
Natalya looked away, blushing. “You know I did.”
“Then that is why I do this to you.” He kissed her forehead. “I want to make you happy.”
She swallowed, nervously. “I believe that is possible now.”
“Da. I trust you Gabriel. I know you’ll never abuse that.” She felt his body tense. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” He thought about the untruth he let her believe about Robert.
His sudden detachment worried her. Had she done something wrong? “Have I upset you?” She looked him in the eyes.
A gentle smile appeared on his face. “No. I’m just thinking about the reason I came to you in the first place.”
She smiled playfully back at him. “It wasn’t to please me?”
“That was impulse,” he chuckled. Then sighed and pushed himself into an upright position. She sat up too. “A letter from your aunt arrived.”
“Estelle?” Natalya asked alarmed. She paled at the thought of her uncle knowing her whereabouts. “They know where I am,” she said more as a verbal thought than a question.
“I have to get out of here.” Natalya moved to get off the bed. Gabriel placed a hand on her shoulder stopping her. That gesture would have caused her to recoil a few days ago. Now she simply looked at him with panicked eyes. “I have to leave.”
Gabriel shook his head. “No. We’ll be married soon and then there’s nothing they can do. Besides, I have a higher rank than them.”
“He doesn’t want to take me back Gabriel. He wants to kill me!”
Cupping her face, Gabriel stared into her eyes. “No one will hurt you again. Do you believe me?”
Natalya nodded quickly. “Da.”
Gabriel released her face. “Estelle says she wants you to stay here until your attacker is caught. She also thanked me for keeping you safe.”
Natalya frowned. “Keeping me safe?”
“She doesn’t know that Peter was the one who attacked you. It was his ‘resources’ that found you here.”
“How did they find me?”
Gabriel’s eyes darkened. “Apparently there is a spy amongst us.”
“What are we going to do?” Natalya was fighting to control the fear she felt.
“We’ll get married and go back to London. Your aunt would be in danger if we tried to warn her by letter.”
“Peter would find it.”
“Aye. So we have to go and stir things up ourselves. You can identify Peter as your attacker. Cole is still working on putting together the connection between your uncle and the death of your parents.”
Natalya wanted to vomit. The thought of her aunt being with Peter, not knowing all the crimes he’d committed terrified her! “We need to get to London as soon as we can. I can’t lose my aunt to this mad man too.”
Gabriel caressed her cheek. “You won’t. We’ll stop him before he causes anymore pain to your family. Do you trust me?”
Nodding, Natalya answered him. “Da.”