|Subject: Honor on the Field 726
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Date Posted: Monday, November 07, 02:49:28pm
In reply to:
's message, "Honor on the Field" on Tuesday, November 01, 08:53:54pm
Unsatisfied that that Rouen would not make any overtures to her father, but without any means of stopping him if he chose to do so despite her wishes, Nikita threw herself into her duties for the rest of the day, letting the details absorb her mind and the work drain her nervous energy. Knowing she wasnít up to encountering either of them without a display of emotions she did not want made public, she also avoided her father and Rouen at all costs.
About the time the touring players were finishing their very funny, if highly scatological show, it occurred to Nikita that the encounter with Rouen actually had some positive elements. That such a man would find her interesting, even desirable was extremely flattering; remembering the heat in his eyes as he looked at her sent a chill of excitement skittering across her skin. At her memory of his encouragement, no, his assumption that she would succeed in her desire to find a husband a warm flush of pride and satisfaction crawled up her neck, and made her embarrassment seem a small thing by comparison.
The crowd called for dancing after the actors took their final bows and since the musicians from London were still present, the tables were moved, the stage was struck, and dancers filled the floor. The Hall was much more crowded that the previous evenings because Nikita had extended the final feast and entertainment to include all the menials who accompanied the knights and so almost two hundred guests filled the room.
As the dancing wore on, Nikita found herself alternately hoping and fearing that she might find herself dancing with Rouen. Then, when he suddenly stood before her, his eyes the exact shade of green flame, she knew she had been right to be afraid. She could not meet him with indifference; not when the sight of him made her heart pound and her breath hitch in her chest. Not when she found she craved his touch more than anything else in her life. When he held out his hands for hers, she was suddenly trembling from heat and cold, and when she placed her fingers in his, she was sure that he would know all she was feeling, just as her fingertips conducted the rapid beating of his heart from his hands to hers.
When his arm slipped around her waist as they whirled to the sound of the pipes and the drum, she felt like her blood was on fire and her skin would burst from holding all she felt inside.
And then he was gone, swinging away with another partner as the dance moved on.
Where she had felt like she might burn to a crisp from contact, she now felt cold, so cold and alone, despite being in the rather sweaty embrace of a cheerful fellow whose name she could not, for the life of her, recall.
So now she knew, she told herself. She knew what it felt like to be touched by desire. She had wondered. You couldn't reach nearly twenty years in a busy manor household without wondering what drove the urge to mate, for animals and humans alike. Oh there were many, especially women, who rolled their eyes about it, swore it was nothing for women like it was for men, for whom it sometimes appeared it was a life or death matter, but Nikita had always noticed the other women, quiet, on the fringes, who would get these little smiles on their lips as their eyes turned inward on some secret satisfaction. She suspected that maybe it was more the same than not, at least for some.
So she had wondered what would be her fate - hoping in her innermost heart, that the man strong and sure enough to take her as she was, would offer pleasure as well.
Fate had indeed shown her that a man strong and sure enough to respect and encourage her dreams would offer pleasure, pleasure so intense that it was almost pain.
Unfortunately, he was not the man who would make her dreams come true. It did not matter at all that he had a wife, though she allowed herself to feel touched and flattered that he had wanted to be beforehand with her about it. No French Duke, no French Count would ever marry the daughter of a minor English Baron, bastard or legitimate. For Dukes - especially in France where they were stronger and more powerful than their poor imprisoned king, where they were independent lords of their own domains whose wealth and reach were as great, if not greater than the King of England himself - marriage was a matter of alliances, of land and title and power, and no English woman of less than royal blood herself could possibly be an acceptable choice.
Rouen, whatever he might regret or envy, was not for her.
Making her way at last to her room after all the guests had finally settled for the night and the preparations for breakfast were well in hand, Nikita knew that as exhausted as she was in body by the demands of the manor and her father's party, she was exhausted even more in spirit by the knowledge that for the first time in her life, she wanted something that she knew lay beyond her grasp.
It was all she could do to strip off her gown before she fell into bed and a deep, dreamless sleep.
It was just barely dawn when she was shaken lightly from her slumber, and opened her eyes to Belindaís worried face. Groggy and confused, she nonetheless sat right up. Reaching for her dress, she asked in a voice thick with sleep, "What is it Belinda - what has happened? Have the fires gone out?"
"No, child, the kitchen is in good shape. It's Rouen. He wishes to speak with you before he leaves with the Prince." Belinda's worried frown spoke volumes of her disapproval.
"Speak with me?" Nikita's voice came out on a dry cough as she suddenly lost her voice.
Even as she asked the question, she knew. She knew he was going to ask her leave with him. She knew that despite everything she had told him, he was going to ask. Because he felt it to, the thing between them that made the very air crackle when they stood too close.
Belinda's mouth thinned briefly in some emotion Nikita couldn't identify. "That's not for me to say, child."
Nikita knew her first impulse to refuse to see the Duke this last time was foolish. He was the Duke, and she was the bastard, and if she didnít come he could very well force her to face him. She also discovered that it was very important that he not think her a coward.
She looked up at her old nurse, a woman she loved all her life, and who had guided her through an uncertain childhood with a seemingly infinite supply of good humor and wisdom. "What should I do, Belinda?"
Belinda looked down at her mistress, and her heart was torn between her instincts and her hopes. Finally, she said. "I'll be within sight the whole time, and so will his man. I think you might as well see him this way, because he might very well try another if this fails."
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