He felt Brigid’s eyes on him as he trimmed his beard, cursing as foam dripped onto his shirt again. He’d take the damn thing off, if he wasn’t so afraid of her seeing his brands. He’d eaten and washed in silence as she watched, eyes holding much caution within them. Her skin glowed in the candlelight, her dark hair wavy and even more shiny after she’d washed it. She was the most alluring woman he’d had the pleasure of seeing, and he felt himself stiffen every time his thoughts wandered to her.
The problem, though, was how best to approach this situation.
Satisfied with the cleanliness of his face and short-trimmed beard, he patted himself dry and stood, searching his trunk once more for nothing in particular.
“Where in Ireland do you hail from?” he asked to the pile of clothes. He heard her small intake of breath, smirking at her timidity. It took a moment, but she answered, much to his surprise.
“Galway,” she said, voice wavering. He straightened and turned, nodding as he considered.
“Never been myself, but I’ve sailed with many Irishmen,” he offered, gauging her reaction. She sat, austere and stoic as stone. He eased onto the chair once more, small whittling knife and chunk of wood in his hand. It was the least threatening thing he could think to do while he attempted conversation with his new bride. She still eyed him like a doe in the forest, ready to flee the moment she sensed danger.
“Erin go Bragh,” he said, throwing a smirk her way. Her face blanched.
“Did I say it wrong?” he asked, nervous under that deep blue gaze. She shook her head, seated on the edge of the bed with her hands in her lap. He chuckled.
“They used to say that more and more the drunker they got,” he said, reminiscing. “Good men, the lot of them.”
Brigid turned away, cheeks reddening. So, there was the trail to follow.
“How did you end up in Paris?” he continued, wood shavings littering the floor by his feet. The ship groaned around them as the tide rolled in. The captain had set their departure for tomorrow at dawn.
After a moment of no answer, Erik glanced up. Brigid sat, spine stiff and face turned to the small window. He paused his work, forearms resting on his knees, the candles offering a decent amount of orange light in the space, but no warmth. He didn’t need to know every answer, but he needed something, somewhere to begin. Perhaps, if he offered himself to her, shared a bit of his life, she would be more willing to reciprocate.
“I left home at fifteen, traveling to Iceland to stay with my uncle. After that, I roamed much of the world, but in Paris I apprenticed as a blacksmith…” he trailed off, watching the small knife shimmer and glint as he worked. Brigid shifted on the bed, and he took it as a good sign—an indication she was listening. He glanced at her, catching those enchanting eyes before she could look away.
He saw a rather fleeting curiosity mingled with attraction. He knew by now how to read women, how to gauge their reactions to him, and though Brigid was giving him certain positive signs, she was also giving him very contrasting ones. It stumped him for the first time in his life, but he felt ready for the challenge.
“My husband died,” she said, voice low and monotonous. Erik sat up, shock gripping him. Her eyes found his, a smug look crossing her features. So, not a virgin, then, but he wasn’t deterred in the slightest. He offered her a sad smile. His tactic had worked, in some minor way.
“I am sorry to hear that,” he said, watching as she now glared. He laughed inwardly. She’d been hoping that her lack of maidenhead would deter him. In truth, that detail meant little to him. Leaning onto his knees once more, he whittled away, the shape of a wing taking form beneath the sharp blade.
Another thought struck him as he worked, making him feel sick.
“How old were you when you married, then?” he said.
“Seventeen,” she answered, bitterness coating her tone. His stomach clenched. She’d been young, but it wasn’t uncommon. Before he could muster another question, she spoke again.
“He was in his forties. He quite enjoyed my company in bed,” she said, blue eyes brimming with hatred and fury. Stunned, Erik could only stare back. She was being so very blunt with him, but in a backhanded sort of way. He knew not what to say to that, for he understood what she was conveying; her late husband had been the one doling out abuse. Again, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, but in his own culture, women were given more power in marriage than in others.
Unable to meet her eyes, he spoke to the floor, voice low and deep.
“I’ll not be the one to hurt you in that way, liten,” he said. He felt her gaze again, and glanced up, face sober and serious. She was glaring at him, untrusting his words.
“Stop callin’ me that,” she glowered, crossing her arms. He chuckled at her petulance.
“My apologies. Force of habit,” he said, shrugging it off as though it meant nothing to him. His heart clenched, though, in memory of Anna once again. Sighing, he set aside his work, bringing his hands together. It felt good to understand his young bride on a deeper level, but there was still a task at hand, and the heat that tore through him was a constant reminder.
Sighing, he stood, and she cowered in his presence.
“After tonight, if you wish me to never touch you again, I will honor that,” he said, gauging her reaction. She stared at his chest for a moment before she nodded. He reached for one of the candles, blowing it out and leaving them in semidarkness, before he pulled off his shirt, praying she wouldn’t be able to decipher the letters on his shoulder.
She stared at his smooth chest, at his stomach and his arms and every line of his muscles. He was the definition of masculinity, his presence consuming her. She’d thought her words of her past would shun him, but he seemed not to care. And what of that promise he made her, to not be the one to harm her? How could she ever trust that? She hardly knew this man.
He reached up, his motions slow as he gazed at her, his fingers tugging at the tether in his hair until those thick locks fell loose about his face. Brigid began to tremble, her knees knocking together. She’d not lay with a man in many months, and her memories of the act were hellish, at best.
She could recall pain, humiliation, sorrow, anger—but never safety, never love. After a while she supposed that was just how it was, but something always gnawed at her, told her there was more to life than suffering.
She gulped as he brought his hand to her face, his skin rough and warm as he cupped her cheek. As frightened as she may have been, there was a curiosity that pulled at her. What would he be like?
With a sudden realization, judging by his sheer size, she worried he’d crush her, or at the very least be endowed enough to inflict a certain degree of pain. She backed up, her calves bumping the bed frame as he followed, eyes locked on her bright red face.
He leaned down, his lips nearing hers, and with a jolt she twisted her face away, her breathing erratic, her body trembling. With a sigh, he pulled back, tilting her cheek up until she looked at him.
“Is she dead, then?” Brigid whispered, wondering at his past, his apparent sorrow so plain in his eyes. His brow furrowed in shock for a moment.
“W-who?” he stuttered, taken aback as he released her.
After a moment, a small smile graced his lips, and his cheeks turned a bright pink.
“I’ve never been married,” he admitted. Brigid was shocked into silence. He was handsome, strong, and seemed to have a healthy work ethic. Any woman would chomp at the bit to marry a man such as him. Of course, there was the problem of him being imprisoned, and for what, she still did not know—a notion that should have worried her more than it did.
He must have had mistresses, then, judging by how other women eyed him with such apparent lust. That thought worried her as well, for it would mean he had a voracious sexual appetite.
“You’re deep in thought,” he said as she picked at her nail beds. She shook her head, feeling faint as the walls seemed to close in around her. He frowned down at her.
“I’m fine,” she whispered, voice tight. The sooner they finished this, the sooner she could be left alone. At that, his warm hand found her cheek again, so gentle she wondered if it was really there. No man had ever been so slow, so cautious before, as though she’d break under his fingertips.
He leaned his forehead against hers, their noses touching.
“May I kiss you?” he asked, voice low and husky.