Only a few changes here, but some big changes coming next...
Later that afternoon as he woke, he sensed a presence in the room. He smiled slightly and mumbled, his voice still sleepy.
“You could not stay away, could you?”
He rolled over to face her, feeling a stirring in his senses…and he might as well have been doused with cold water. Matilda was standing over him, a strange little smile on her face. He scowled at her.
“What do you want?”
She stood with her hands on her hips as she looked at him.
“Hello, you scrawny, smelly little booby.” She wrinkled her nose at him, looking quite displeased. “No wonder Cassia wants naught to do with you in this state. She’s beseeched me to clean you up proper. And seeing how she saved me and mine from a grave sickness last spring, I believe I must return the favor. So come on now. Up with you.”
She reached for him, but he smacked her hand away.
“Crone! Do not lay a finger on me!”
His hope of scaring her off was useless. He knew it by the way she rolled her eyes dismissively.
“Oh belay your bellowing. My husband was hands taller than you and twice as strong, and I handled him many a time. You smell like a pig in its pen. So it might be proper to hog tie you if the occasion calls for it. Or you can consent peacefully. Make up your mind, and fast.”
He stared up at her. And while he considered what his course of action should be, he thought to himself…
Cassia will pay the price for this humiliation.
Of that, he vowed, he would be certain. But at the moment, it was this hideous old witch he had to contend with. She was standing there, hands on hips. And he knew he could either consent, or be trussed up like a Christmas goose.
At the foot of the bed was a small empty tub, with towels spread on the floor around it. A large bucket of water sat beside it, and a stool. Using his crutches, he hobbled over to the stool and sank onto it, and he hardly had time to sit before she pushed his head down so he was leaning over the tub. Scooping up a gourd full of water from a bucket, she doused his head thoroughly. It reminded him of another dunking he had received…a deliberate, dirty trick that had been played on him.
Wait until I get my hands on that woman, he thought.
Rough fingers lathered soap through his hair and harshly worked his scalp, which in all honesty, was rather pleasing to feel. Not that he would dare admit that to the old woman who was doing the work. She doused his head again with the water, rinsing away the soap, and he had to admit that it felt quite good to have the grime washed away.
“Remove your clothes now, so we can wash the rest of you. And do not be telling me of how you cannot be seen in the flesh. I have had a husband and sons, and my eyes have seen many a grown man’s naked rump. You have nothing to impress me with.”
He pulled his shirt over his head and removed his trousers, tossing them aside. He felt his face growing red with shame under her gaze, but she didn’t seem to take notice of it. She continued ordering him to action.
“Put your good foot in the tub and stand up.”
He gave her an odd look, but felt it best not to argue with her. She came to him, helping him to stand.
“Standing so will catch the water.” She gave him one of his crutches to lean on for support while she doused him with water, and handed him a soapy rag. Allowing him a small bit of privacy, she turned her back to let him scrub himself.
“Wash yourself good,” she instructed. “Unless you want me to come and do it for you.”
He did as she said and fast, wanting to be done with this humiliation as quickly as possible.
Grumbling at her that he had finished, she turned and doused him with water a final time. Then she came to him with a towel. He felt a bit like a child as she vigorously rubbed his hair dry and wrapped another towel around his waist. Helping him back to the bed, she threw a clean shirt and a pair of breeches at him.
“Dress yourself with these until your others are washed. At least the smell has been taken off of you.”
She left him at last. He was glad to be clean…but it was the least of his thoughts.
When he saw Cassia again, she wasn’t going to get away. She would get what she deserved for this trickery. And he was going to enjoy every moment of it.
Peeking around the corner, covered in shadow, Cassia watched the scene unfold. She had known that Guy would be no match for one as headstrong as Matilda. The thought that she would knock him about a bit, figuratively speaking, was too much to resist. He deserved this, after all the trouble he had made for her of late. Besides, he needed a good scrubbing – but she did not trust herself to be the one to do it. She was certain he would plot some kind of revenge against her, but if he tried, she could simply hide in the loft. He had no way of reaching her there.
Watching, she had to place her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle as Matilda ordered Guy about as if he were one of her sons. Only she would have had the nerve to do such a thing. Cassia smiled at the sour expression on Gisborne’s face as he submitted to having his head scrubbed and washed. He looked like a fussing child as he was tended to.
Serves him right, she thought with glee. Arrogant fool.
Clearly, he did not enjoy Matilda’s company or her attentions, but what choice did he have but to endure them? If she could trust that he would behave himself, she would have gladly been the one to assist him. Particularly, when she saw what occurred next…and her smirk slowly changed to an expression of awe and wonder.
He removed his clothes, and as he cautiously stood, she looked upon his full male splendor for the first time. Though her face flushed crimson, she could not look away. The time that he’d spent lying sedentary had obviously not done him much harm. He was such a picture of masculine beauty, lean and muscular from head to foot. And with the water sluicing down his body, he was temptation incarnate. She could only recall glimpses of her husband’s nudity, as she’d hardly had time to commit him to memory. They had lain together only a few times, for he had been more concerned with preparing himself for the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He had spent most nights out in the fields, working and training, leaving her alone in a lonely bed. Now, looking at Guy, it was hard to recall much of anything regarding her husband, particularly when Guy turned just slightly, giving her a good view of him from behind. Good God, what a fine thing it was to behold, especially with the water dripping off of it. Taking a slight step back, closing her eyes, she had to take a breath to calm her beating heart. But in a moment her eye was back to where it had been, and she was slightly disappointed to see he now had a towel wrapped around his waist. But all the same, the view of his well-chiseled abdomen and toned arms was a good feast for the eyes.
Matilda suddenly came into view, and Cassia took a step back. The interruption of her line of sight brought her back to her senses a bit, and she realized it was probably not wise to remain where she was. What if her father caught her watching? Worse, what if Guy caught her spying? Oh good Lord, he would never let her hear the end of it. Her face burned with shame at the thought of what he might do, and she quickly slipped away before anyone could see her there.
“You should have let the beast drown.”
Cassia looked up from the kneading of her bread dough to see Matilda coming out of the room. To her aunt’s comment, she just shook her head and smiled.
“T’would not have been right, even if he is the most difficult of men.”
Matilda balked loudly. “Difficult hardly describes the likes of him. You would find a wolf more agreeable than that one. He says he wants no one to disturb him. He sulks like a child, and if I were you I would leave him to it for as long as possible.”
Cassia couldn’t help but smile at the suggestion, nodding her head in agreement.
“I will. And father will be home from Nottingham soon, so I do not fear being alone for long.”
They talked for some time, exchanging smiles and laughs, until the sudden noise of the geese squawking alerted them to a presence outside. Cassia glanced towards the sound, then back to Matilda.
“That must be father. Dearest Aunt, I am so glad you happened to stop by. I think you served him with a proper bit of humiliation, just as he deserves. Smug devil.”
“A fine looking devil, though,” Matilda replied. “From every angle.”
“Aunt Matilda!” Cassia’s face went crimson, but she couldn’t help smiling and laughing. As she walked her to the door, Robert came in with two wine jugs. He looked at Cassia with slight concern.
“Was there any trouble to be had whilst I was away?”
Cassia shook her head. “Nothing to fear. Matilda saw to my guardianship while you were gone. And I daresay she took good care of our guest.”
Robert nodded, his expression calmer now. Matilda nodded in return, making her farewell.
“I must be on my way. Good day to you both. And if you shall require my help again soon, you know where I can be found.”
They watched her go. Then Cassia turned to her father.
“It was well I thought to bring her here this morning. Sir Guy is not at all pleased by his encounter with her, but it will serve us both well, for he is adamant now about being left alone. So you will not need to remain with him all day.”
He shook his head in approval. “That is fine for me. I have much to do in the yard.”
“See to it then. I will be well here, making bread. If I have need of you, I shall let you know.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, sending him on his way. Then she turned back to the table where her flour dough waited. As she pressed her knuckles into the dough, her thoughts turned to what Matilda had said.
A fine looking devil, from any angle.
It made her smile to think of that declaration. He was very fine, and he certainly could be a devil. But he had his rare moments of pleasantness, as was proved by the few small compliments he’d given her, and the slight smiles he somehow managed. If only he was that way more often, he would be near perfection, at least in her eyes. Thinking of him, remembering the sight of his beautiful male figure, she felt her face flush a little. And for some strange reason, she had a momentary thought of Marian, if only to shake her head in dismay.
You were a fool to let such a splendid piece of manhood get away. Even if his temper is not always so agreeable, I am certain he could make up for it in many ways. Delightful, sinful ways.
Shaking her head at her shameful thoughts, she turned to fetch a pitcher of water…and cried out in great surprise to see Guy standing beside her. She took a step back, her hand held over her heart.
“Sir Guy! You frightened me!” She took a small step back, taking a deep breath as she tried to compose herself. Glancing at him, she tried to sound braver than she felt at that moment. “What are you doing up? Matilda said you wished to be alone.”
Looking up at him, she saw the familiar upward curl in the corner of his mouth. But there was something more there. Something that troubled her, making her take another step back, for his look was that of a wolf eying its prey. That was when she noticed that he wasn’t using his crutches.
“You should not be putting all of your weight on that foot. It is too soon.” It was not concern for his health that prompted her question. It was the intent she saw in his eyes, in his very movement. Even as she clearly saw that his foot caused him pain, it was evident that he didn’t care if he injured himself further. He moved closer, his movements predatory.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you speak too much? You are a woman. You should be seen and not heard. Maybe I can find a better use for such a bold mouth.”
Her eyes grew wide as she realized his intention, and she made a futile attempt to warn him off. “Stay away.”
She took another step back, but he moved towards her. Going around him was impossible, for the table stood to one side of him and the wall was to his other side…and the door was behind him. Her only means of escape was to take a few more steps back and get around the other side of the table. She made a dash to put the piece of furniture between them.
But he reached out with a fast hand and got a hold of her apron strings. She squealed as he yanked her back, and a moment later she was pressed against the wall, her heart beating madly as he put his hands on both sides of her head.
“Sending that old haridan after me…that was not pleasant. But I have come to expect such wickedness from you.”
She glared at him, trying her best to put up a brave and angry front…even as her heart increased its beats because of his closeness.
“It serves you right, Guy of Gisborne. You are sorely lacking in humility, and I am glad she humbled your pride.”
He suddenly dipped his head towards her neck, and she closed her eyes, waiting for the assault. But she felt a strange sensation as he brushed his nose against her ear. The sensation took her breath away. She felt her knees weakening. His voice was low and dangerously sensual.
“The scent is lavender, is it not? I have come to enjoy that fragrance very much.”
Her breath grew short. Her heart was pounding. He spoke of her scent. But his was so intoxicating, so masculine, clean and fresh from the bath he’d been forced to take. And he was so warm. He wasn’t touching her, but the heat coming off of him was intense. Bringing his eyes to meet hers, she saw how their color had darkened slightly, shaded with the potency of lust. His lips were so close, so tempting…and only a grain of her sense kept her from quickly giving in. She had to resist until the last possible moment, so he would know she had fought her hardest. He might have had her cornered, but he would know she was no easy conquest. When he tried to brush his lips to hers, she turned her head away.
“I will not be your whore.”
Reaching out, he took her chin between his finger and thumb, making her look at him. “I do not wish you to be. You are far too clever, too proud to be a common trollop.”
“Then what would you have me be?”
She looked into his eyes as they searched hers, and now she found she had not the power to look away.
“You will be my lover. It has a much more pleasant connotation, does it not?” He grazed her ear with a brush of his lips, sending a sharp wave of pleasure through her body as he whispered softly to her.
“We are so very similar, Cassia. Cast-offs, the both of us. We have no real place in the world, no one to return to at the end of a weary day. You and I have suffered such loss in our lives. Why should we not think of finding pleasure with one another?”
Her eyes closed for a moment. When she opened them again, his burning gaze was on her again. She felt herself weakening, powerless against him. Yet still she managed to speak one last time.
“You think far too much of yourself already.”
He grinned in that sly way of his. Then his mouth met hers, his lips firm and demanding. It had been so long since she had known a man’s kiss. It was an incredible sensation that had been long forgotten…until now.
Years of repressed emotions and bodily sensations came flooding back to life, a powerful force she could not deny, and with a whimper of defeat she brought her hands up to travel through his hair. Clasping his head firmly, she pressed his mouth closer, relishing the taste of him…wanting more. When his lips urged hers to part she could not resist, letting her tongue dance madly with his. His hands wandered down her back to her waist, then to her hips, and gripping her firmly he pulled her body tightly against his, and she could feel his hardness against her belly. She knew it was wrong to want him so badly. She knew that he would probably use her a few times and grow bored. But at that moment, she did not care what happened after. She only knew she did not want him to stop.
But a noise from outside penetrated the fog in her brain. The geese were squawking loud. Someone was coming to the house.
Father. Oh good Lord!
She pushed at Guy’s shoulders, but he would not budge, clinging to her as his mouth still plundered hers. It wasn’t until his lips sought her neck that she was able to speak, and with his hot, damp mouth ravaging her skin, words were not easy to form. But if she did not speak, disaster would soon fall on them both.
“Guy, we must stop. If my father finds us, the consequences will be dire.”
For a moment she feared the worst, certain he would not listen. But his movements stilled, his breath heaving hotly against her neck. She carefully disengaged herself from his arms, unable to look at him, for to look at him again was to face temptation…and in that moment temptation was too great a danger. She moved on shaky limbs back to the table, and from the corner of her eye she saw Guy sink into a nearby chair. Just as he did, the front door opened.
Robert walked in, but Cassia could not look at him. It was well enough that she managed to keep on her feet, for the encounter with Guy had shaken her to the core. And she knew that nothing would ever be the same again.