She entered the bedchamber to find it empty. Ileana frowned a moment before a sound in the garden drew her attention. A smile came to her face as she looked out the window. Keffer and Thomas were both stripped to loinclothes, sparring with quarterstaves. Keffer was fey, stronger and faster than a mortal man, and he had a greater reach than Thomas.
And yet it was Keffer who was losing the match. Thomas caught the satyr’s ankle with the staff, taking Keffer off his feet. The butt end of Thomas’s staff stopped a couple inches above the satyr’s throat. A killing blow, had Thomas intended it as such. Her husband tossed the staff aside before offering her lover a hand back to his feet.
“Ileana.” Keffer caught sight of her watching them. “My apologies, I took the liberty of untying your pet when I realized he was awake.” Thomas glared at him. “I also fed him, watered him, and took him for a walk.”
“Then I beat him with a stick.” Thomas rolled his eyes.
“Thrice.” Keffer nodded, smiling. “I thought I’d save bathing him for when you returned.”
“Hmmm…” She extended a hand, running it down Thomas’s chest. His body had just a trace of sweat, and there were a few bruises starting to form from the duel to add to the ones she’d left on him the previous evening. Ileana gestured for them to follow her to the bath chamber.
Inside the steaming room, she directed Thomas to sit in one of the shallow pools. Then she stripped off her robe before selecting a soap. He smiled when she joined him in the pool, a smile that only widened when she sat down atop him, straddling his lap. His arms went around her, caressing her as she began to wash him. “You taste of woodsmoke.” His voice was soft.
Ileana hesitated, then nodded. “In two week’s time we will travel to my father’s castle.”
Thomas was silent for a moment before meeting her eyes. “Where Nicolas dwells.”
“I hope that Nicolas will see reason, and speak with me.” She ran a hand down his chest. “Since you are…” She shrugged.
“You intend to use me as a hostage.” Thomas raised an eyebrow at her.
“If it stops Nicolas from engaging in hostilities, yes.” She brushed his hair back. “If he resists my reclamation of the castle, I will be forced to imprison him.”
“Let me speak with him.” Thomas leaned back a little.
“I intend to. But first, we must actually get inside the castle itself. Otherwise Nicolas could hold it against us.” She smiled at him. “I’ve arranged a place of safety for his family. Whatever does happen, they will not come to harm.”
“Thank you.” He returned her smile. “Nicolas is a good man, and a wise man. He will listen.”
“I…” Strange, how much had changed in just the past few days. “I remember him fondly.” She settled back a little in his lap. “He visited our library, a few months before you and I were wed.”
“He brought you the silk.” Thomas nodded.
“It…” Her eyes widened. “Then it really was from you?”
“Of course it was.” Thomas blinked. “Who did you…” He tilted his head at her.
“I…” She leaned in to kiss him again. “After everything, I told myself you probably had some servant handle the letters. But they were you. It was always you.”
“There was never another, Ileana.” His voice was soft. “Even after…” He bowed his head.
“Who could compare to the daughter of the wind?” He ran his fingers through her hair.
Her own fingers tangled in his hair as she pulled him to her for another kiss.
Continue reading The Woods: Chapter 9