Centuries Ago . . .
The vampire hunters had been swift, their numbers consider- able. Despite their foolish decision to launch their attack just before dusk, their commitment had bordered on fanatical, making them dangerous. The day might not have gone in Lady Lyssa's favor, but a knight had charged out of the golden desert sands still shim- mering with the day's heat, his bloodcurdling battle cry reminding her of the wildness of the Irish moors. When the clash of weapons and the spilling of blood were over, he'd turned the tide against the attack. "I wish to thank him, " she commanded her retainers. "Bring him to me. " They'd obeyed her quickly, as they always did. The knight hadn't seen her at first when the lackey guided him just inside the flap of her tent. The first notes of his voice had curled pleasantly in her stomach like warm blood. "I am not presentable for your Mistress. I should prepare myself first. " "But I desire the audience now. " He turned as she materialized out of the shadows. The servant retreated. She noted that the knight's tunic and mail still bore the blood of those he'd vanquished. So did the gauntlets he pulled off to reveal callused, capable hands. Sweat had dampened the hair on his head, but there were hints of true red in the brown. When he found her, those blue, blue eyes and the pale lashes with the same hint of auburn on the tips gave her steps a pause. The power of his gaze washed over her like a familiar embrace. She'd thought she'd share a goblet of wine with him. Perhaps even hypnotize him into being her dinner tonight and then send him to a bed with several of her maidservants to reward him for his trouble on her behalf. Only two hundred years old, she nevertheless wasn't impetuous. But the idea of dismissing him melted away as she sent a mental compulsion to her staff to bring the precious bathwater to her tent instead of setting up a guest quarters. He bowed. "My lady. " "Sir Knight. " Composure reclaimed, she stepped to the carafe of wine and began to pour her best vintage into a goblet. "I find myself in your debt. " "The chance to rescue a lady of such fair countenance suggests just the opposite. " She turned, raised a brow. "A deft tongue. Far more appealing than my countenance. " Particularly if he was equally deft with it in other ways. Her gaze lingered, apparently communicating her thought well enough that the first hint of desire rose in his eyes. However, some- thing else was in his expression as well. Speculative awareness. "It was an odd attack,my lady. These men seemed to be seeking your death specifically. Not a ransom. " "Men fear what they do not understand. " She finished pouring the wine. "I have enemies. That is my business, not yours. I'm simply grateful you were willing to put your sword into my ser vice. " "Mmm. " As he made the noncommittal noise, she offered the goblet, cupping the bowl with both hands. When he reached for it, she didn't relinquish it. He studied her, then put his hands over hers, lifting the goblet to his lips, allowing her to move two steps closer, the tips of her slippers just inside the span of his boots. As he drank deeply, she watched his throat work. He was not mannerless.
While he thirsted, he showed restraint. He didn't spill it on himself or the rug beneath his feet. She almost wished for one red rivulet to run from the corner of his mouth down the side of his throat to give the lust in her belly more to stir it. Though in truth, watching him drink seemed to be enough. He paused, pressing his moistened lips to- gether, distracting her. "When the battle was over, I'd killed many. But not as many as were lying on the ground. " "My servants are not untrained, " she said, wondering how he would taste if she lifted on her toes and pressed her lips over his wine-stained ones. "While they are not all warriors, I would have been ashamed if they hadn't been some assistance to you. " "They were. With pike and sword. Even your cook wields a pot well. " A light smile touched his firm mouth, but didn't reach his eyes. "As stout of heart as they all were, I didn't see any of them who looked strong enough to break the neck of a full-grown warrior, or snap his back like a rotted branch. " When he lowered the goblet, she was aware his grip had tight- ened perceptibly on her hands, keeping them overlaid with his own. "One man . . . I pulled my sword out of his gut just as his comrade came upon my back. He would have run me through; I've no doubt of it. There was a wind like a passing spirit, on what has been a cursedly breezeless dusk. I felt a softness, much like the brush of a maiden's hair on my face. " His gaze traveled to her raven tresses, tied loosely back on her shoulders with a twisted trio of ribbons. "The man spun away from me, so violently his feet left the ground. When he landed, his back was broken, his head wrenched back. " "I think you have been out in the sun far too long, Sir Knight. " "Perhaps you've never been in the sun at all, my lady. Your skin, like the palest cream, " he murmured. "What manner of creature are you? Should I fear you as well?" He looked more curious than apprehensive. Almost . . . Amused. Disturbed, she drew her hands from beneath his and stepped away, reclaiming her haughty reserve. "Do you fear me?" Her retainers slipped in, bearing a washtub and full water buckets.
Rather than answering, he noted them, his brow raised. "You are pre- paring to bathe, my lady. I should leave you your privacy. " "I am preparing to bathe you, Sir Knight. " At his surprised look, she tilted her head. "A traditional courtesy, is it not? The lady of the house attending to her guest's bath?" She saw the significance of that flash through his expression and wondered if he could imagine it in as great detail as she could. His muscular, naked body glistening with water, the beads of it tempting her to suck on his tanned, sun-soaked skin. He shifted, swallowing. "My lady . . . " "Do you intend to insult my hospitality, Sir Knight?" She could almost hear the snick of the trap, and from the charm- ing amusement in his gaze, she knew he could as well. "No, my lady. " "Then please remove your weapons and clothing and I will have my servants see to their cleaning. " That gave him pause for different reasons. She stepped toward him. "You may certainly keep the weapons with you here, if it reas- sures you. Or perhaps it's just that you've been wearing them for so long you've forgotten how to remove them. " Another step, and she was right in front of him again. The way those piercing blue eyes seemed to be contemplating her mystery roused things in her. It seemed as if he understood her fully, even as she played with him in this way. She reached out and fingered the trailing end of his sword belt, beginning to work it out of its loop, very conscious of what other delights waited under the skirt of the tunic. While he didn't move, his expression maintained an intriguing blend of curiosity, desire warring with caution. He was obviously no fool. Since he held the goblet, only one hand was free, but she sus- pected he was capable of putting up a good defense to stop her if he wished to do so. When she freed the weapon, she stepped closer to pull the belt away and bring it around to one hand, letting the tunic fall loose at his waist. She handed the sword, dagger and belt to a retainer.