A Knight’s Persuasion
Knight’s Series: Book 4
This scene takes place when Juliana, who has lost her memory, and Edouard are held prisoner in a castle tower.
Juliana lay on her right side, head pillowed on her bent arm, staring into the darkness. She saw the same inkiness when she shut her eyes. Yet for some reason, the pervasive blackness made her all the more aware of Edouard lying a short distance away.
We are not lovers. We never can be, for I am betrothed to your sister.
His words whirled through her exhausted mind. His admission that he was committed to another had shocked the breath from her and left her numb. Shame, too, welled inside her. She might not remember his betrothal to her sister he’d told her was named Nara, but harboring such strong emotions toward him was surely improper.
“I am very happy for you and Nara.” She’d bravely forced out the words, while hating the way her voice wobbled.
He must have noticed, for his lips pressed into a line. Before she could ask when the wedding would take place, he’d turned away to attack the wall with the stone. His ferocious assault suggested he didn’t want to talk about the matter any more, so she’d let him to work in silence. He’d toiled until twilight, without saying another word. While he’d made some headway, he hadn’t yet managed to loosen the bolts, and his brooding silence had left her unsettled and unbearably lonely.
Odd, how intensely she felt Edouard’s presence reaching out of the blackness to her. She sensed his body warmth, heard his rhythmic breathing and the occasional clink of chains, and sensed he, too, was awake and trying to deal with the thoughts racing around in his mind.
Why did she feel this way toward a man who wasn’t her lover?
A breeze slipped over her, coming from the open window. Shivering, she drew the thin blanket about her shoulders. Hoping for sleep. Wanting to escape this cell. Longing to finally recall all there was to know about herself, Lady Juliana de Greyne.
He sighed. Fighting a pinch of guilt, she imagined the broad muscles of his chest expanding and contracting. The parting of his lips—so beautifully sculpted—as air rushed from them.
“Juliana.” His voice rumbled through the darkness.
She started. Had he sensed her thinking about him? “A-aye, Edouard?”
“I knew you were awake.”
She curled her fingers against the pallet. How unseemly of her, but she found pleasure in the rich timbre of his voice; it roused within her a comforting blend of reassurance and trust. A thrill raced through her, too, to know that he, somehow, had been so aware of her. Smiling, she asked, “How did you know I was not asleep?”
“A feeling. A kind of . . . sensing.” Metal scraped and she imagined him shifting on his pallet. “’Tis difficult to put into words.”
She knew, though, exactly what he meant. If only she understood what had forged a connection this strong between them.
Another gust swept across the floor, and Juliana shuddered before tugging the blanket all the way up to her chin. The night wind was strengthening.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“A bit cold.” Remorse poked at her, for while she was a captive, she didn’t have iron bands clamped around her wrists and could move about as she wished. He must be uncomfortable, trying to sleep while chained. “You must be chilled, too,” she murmured. “You are close to the window.”
He grunted. “I will manage.”
How nonchalant he sounded; she imagined his shoulder rising in a careless shrug. If she pressed him, he’d probably say he’d spent colder nights sleeping on the ground in midwinter, as part of his warrior training. Yet she discerned he was, indeed, uncomfortable; he likely didn’t want to admit such because that would give Veronique a small victory, and he was a proud man who didn’t yield easily.
“It must be near midnight,” he said.
“We should try and sleep. When dawn breaks, I will work again on my chains. Mayhap I will have better luck on the morrow.”
“There must be another way to escape,” she said.
“For you, mayhap. I am here till I break my fetters from the wall or they are unlocked.” He growled a sigh. “If only you knew how much I want to be free.”
“I can hear it in your voice,” she said softly. “I feel your rage and frustration, as if they were my own.”
“We are one then, in our discontent.”
We are one. Three little words that sounded wondrous strung together. Juliana closed her eyes and savored the heady glimmer inside her, ignoring her conscience that insisted she shouldn’t indulge such thoughts.
How curious, that she wasn’t as cold as moments ago, or as unsettled. She breathed in and slowly exhaled, allowing her muscles to relax for a moment; the constant ache in her head to dim; her mind to calm . . .
Ooooo . . .
Her limbs jerked with the abruptness of her waking. Her heart pounded.
That cry . . . So haunting.
With a shaking hand, she pushed aside hair that had fallen over her cheek while she dozed. Was Edouard moaning because he was in pain? Mayhap he was asleep, enduring a nightmare. Or had she dreamt the noise?
Ooooo . . .
The sound was akin to someone wailing. Not Edouard, though; the noise emanated from outside.
A chill crawled over her skin and she drew the blanket tighter about her. Might she be hearing a spirit? The ghostly presence of a prisoner who’d died in this chamber?
Chains rattled from the darkness. “Juliana?”
When her mind registered Edouard’s voice, she also heard short, ragged breaths. Her own.
“What is wrong?” he asked.
“That n-noise.” Her voice emerged no more than a croak.
“’Tis the wind blowing past the tower walls.”
“It sounds like a person c-crying. A baby’s wail . . .” Her teeth chattered. She became aware of cooling wetness on her cheeks: tears.
“’Tis only the wind.” His gentle words were no doubt meant to console her. Somehow, though, the anxiety inside her furrowed deeper.
Ooooo . . .
Edouard was right; the night gusts caused the eerie wail. However, the noise tapped into a place inside her that hurt. Oh, how she ached. Why? What had happened in her past to rouse such a devastating sense of loss?
She squeezed her eyes shut. If only she remembered! She must remember, for the anguish threatened to tear her apart.
A sob wrenched from her.
“You are crying.” Surprise, and a hint of dismay, echoed in his voice.
She dried her eyes on the edge of her blanket. “I d-do not know why.” She sniffled. “That s-sound . . .”
Ooooo . . .
Straw crackled in the near darkness. “Come here.”
Blinking hard, she glanced in his direction. Foolish. In the inkiness, she couldn’t see him. Yet the thought of being close to him during this grim night was very tempting.
“Come to me, Juliana.” How tenderly he spoke. “I cannot cross to you.”
A shudder rippled its way through her lower body, while she stifled another sob. “I do n-not think . . . You are b-betrothed.”
“Aye,” he said, tone strained, “but I can still comfort you.”
What would it be like, to be in his embrace? Part of her yearned for it; part of her shrilled she’d be wiser avoid temptation and stay where she was.
“Edouard . . . ”
“I understand your reluctance, but ’tis a cold night. In your weakened state, ’twould be easy for you to succumb to a chill and fall deathly ill.”
“T-true.” She didn’t want to die in this miserable cell.
“You must stay well, Juliana, and heal, so your memories will return. Our fate—indeed that of all of Moydenshire— may depend upon what you remember.”
He was right. Her qualms were nowhere near as important as her survival. “A-all right. I w-will come to you.” She pushed to a seated position, letting her blanket slide down to her waist. Then she gathered up the blanket and tucked it under one arm.
“Follow my voice,” he said.
Ooooo . . .
Stretching out her hand, she touched the floor. The planks felt as cold as a frozen lake against her palm. Shivering, she tugged her chemise up around her thighs so it wouldn’t hinder her progress—he wouldn’t see her bared legs in the darkness—then crawled forward on her hands and knees. Listening.
“I am here,” Edouard said.
His voice seemed to wash over her, coaxing her on. An unusual excitement flickered within her. How tantalizing, to approach him in this manner. To be in total darkness, but for his voice.
Her chemise bunched at her knees. Pushing the fabric aside again, she said, “Speak again.”
“I am here, Juliana.” His tone was huskier than before. She imagined him talking to her that way while his lips brushed her cheek, and she fought a wicked tremor.
Stop it, Juliana. He is to marry Nara, remember?
Another crawl forward. Another. Her fingers bumped the edge of his pallet.
“Almost here,” he murmured.
She sensed him very near. He didn’t reach for her, or make the slightest move, but his earthy, male scent came from the blackness ahead. Her palms started to sweat. Part of her—the rational, sensible part—screamed, Turn back, while you still can.
Nay. She wouldn’t retreat. She wanted to survive.
Her fingers slipped onto the pallet. As she edged forward, her hand shifted. Touched warm cloth.
“My left leg,” he said.
“Oh.” She drew a steadying breath. “Then the rest of you is—”
Metal clanked. His limb shifted beneath her hand; taut muscles and tendons slid beneath the fabric. Icy fingers nudged her, and then his broad hand settled atop hers.
His touch, while cold, sent warmth coursing through her body. Strength, reassurance, the promise of companionship was as inviting as a steaming mug of mulled wine on a winter’s eve.
She sighed. His fingers squeezed; heat spread from where their hands touched. Oh, God, even that small contact was wonderful.
“I cannot move any closer,” he said gently. “You will have to move nearer to me.”
Nearer. Her heart fluttered, as though she were a sparrow perched outside a window, looking in.
“Why do you hesitate?” Edouard’s chains rattled again, and she sensed him leaning closer, seeking her out in the darkness.
A thrill hastened down her spine. How breathless, lightheaded, she felt, and not from her head wound. “I am . . . a bit unsettled,” she admitted.
She rubbed her lips together. Him, aye. The odd feelings he roused in her. The fact she felt as she did, when he belonged to her sister . . . The wind moaned again, sending frigid air over her, and she shivered.
“You will no longer be cold,” he said softly, “when you are with me.”
His hand shifted. With gentle pressure, he slid his palm underneath hers to entwine their fingers, and then pulled her toward him.
Her stomach swooped. “Edouard—”
“Come to me, Juliana.”
Her arm stretched taut, drawing her torso toward him. Losing her balance, she began to fall toward the pallet. For one panicked moment, she thought to pull away.
With a swift tug, he levered her forward. The breath rushed from her lips as she collided with the broad, solid heat of his chest.
His breath stirred her hair. “You are here,” he said. “At last.”