Brìghde knocked on his door, but he didn’t answer. She opened it softly, and crept into his chambers to find him fast asleep on his bed, still in his filthy clothes. He had refused to stay for supper, though Grimme commanded that the others do so. Pierce had not eaten from the tray Brìghde had had sent up.
She sighed and turned to creep out quietly again.
“Lady Brìghde?” he said softly.
“Aye,” she said, rushing to the bed and sitting upon it, stroking his hair and battered face.
“I know. I’m verra proud of you.”
He turned his head and looked at her as if she were mad. “You are?”
“I’ve a hot bath awaiting you in my chambers, and you can tell me all about it. Every detail.”
His eyes flew open wide. “Do you mean that?”
“I do. I don’t know if your father told you, but I have six brothers. We used to get into scraps like this all the time. Once ’tis over, all the anger is gone and you can be friends.”
“I’m still angry,” he muttered.
“Sometimes it takes two scraps,” she conceded. “Mayhap three. Come, come! I will bring your food. And I have a surprise for you, but you must not tell your brothers.”
He was curious enough that he climbed off the bed, moving like his grandfather, and left, Brìghde following with his tray. She bumped the door of her room open with her hip and set the tray down, then pointed to the bath. “I shall turn my back so you can get undressed and hop in.” Once the water stopped splashing, she gave him a glass. “Mead.” And willow bark.
He grimaced at the bitterness of the willow bark, but drank it anyway. She filled his cup again, drew up a stool and put the pitcher on it. Then she went to her parcels and found his treat.
“Look,” she said, placing it on the stool. “A cake.”
He gasped softly, a small smile forming, but then fading likely because it hurt.
“Now,” she said breathlessly as she lay on her bed, “tell me everything.”
He started with excitement, but after an interminable number of And then Is, he had run down, the water was cold, and he was almost asleep. She ran across the hall and asked Hamond if he would fetch his mother to tend him.
“All pardons, my lady, but I believe Lord Kyneward would rather do that himself.”
“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Fetch him, then.”
Grimme, rumpled, barely dressed, gave her only the slightest glance when he entered her chambers and shook the boy awake. “Time for the conqueror to go to bed,” he said gently, taking him out of the tub, drying him off, and dressing him. The boy was so tired and sore he could barely stand.
“Papa, I won.”
“Well done, my son.”
“In any battle, there can be only one conqueror, and today you are it.”
With that, Grimme swept his conqueror son up in his arms and left.
Brìghde heaved a sigh of relief. Laddies.
Soon enough, Avis had her chamber put to rights again and Brìghde was in the middle of changing when Grimme trudged in and softly closed the door.
She was naked, holding her sleeping kirtle in her hand, and gaping at him. “Grimme!”
He looked at her oddly and said, “Stand up straight.”
She did, slowly, her heart beginning to race, her breath coming faster, her lower body tingling and swirling, then settling between her legs.
“You’re my wife,” he said harshly. “Turn around.”
She did, slowly, dropping her kirtle to hold her arms out so he could see all of her.
She approached him and he swept his hand down her body a hair’s breadth away from her skin, never touching her.
He cupped her breast, her nipple hardening with delicious pain, and it was all she could do to hide her sudden and intense longing for him to do more.
He thumbed her rock-hard nipple, seeming to over-concentrate.
His gaze went to her right arm, then stopped. His hand left her breast and lifted a lock of her hair. He rubbed it in his fingers, studied it, clenched his jaw.
He looked very, very unhappy.
His mouth twisted, he dropped her hair, turned around, and walked out.
• • •
Grimme stopped as soon as he reached his chamber and thunked his head back on the door.
“Is there … something that can make a man rise when his mind is eager, but his cod refuses to cooperate?”
Hamond hesitated. “There … might be … someone I could ask.”
“Find it,” he said, frustrated beyond belief. “Find it before I am driven to lunacy.”