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.Whatever emotion had seized him before had vanished like mist burned off by the morning sun.“We wait for word from de Lacy, as planned.”Liam was stonewalling.Niall sensed it.Everything had changed.How, he wasn’t entirely certain.He only knew he didn’t like it.A bit gruffly, he said, “You’d best go back an’ see the colleen is all right.I saw her in the abbey an’ she seemed upset, lad.”It wasn’t what Liam needed to hear, but he knew he’d have to face Alianor sooner or later.The fact he’d slipped off while she slept was bad enough.At the time, he thought it might be easier on Alianor — not having to face him afterward.Now he wondered if he had done it because it was easier for him, not her.The thought disturbed Liam.He wasn’t a cowardly man; he’d faced death many times in his life.Yet, this mere slip of a woman made him slink off under the cover of darkness rather than face her.God’s blood, he’d not do it again.Renewed determination filled Liam’s mind.He’d not let any woman get under his skin.Alianor was no different from other wenches he’d bedded over the years.No different at all.When he returned to his room and found his bed empty, he went to her cell.He paused at the closed door.Instead of knocking this time, he entered unannounced.Alianor sat on the bed one leg tucked beneath her, replaiting her hair.The meager light of the single candle made the silver locks shimmer and shine.Her hair seemed alive, like pale strands of lightning pulled from the sky.When she saw him there she rose, leaving her hair half done.He read uncertainty on her face.She started to speak, but thought better of it.The awkward moment passed, but emotion still bubbled high within Liam.She was too damned irresistible, and it didn’t help his temper any.He was angry at himself, and at her, at the whole situation.Damme, what now? What had even led them there, into a forbidden encounter in an old ruined abbey in the midst of chaos? He didn’t know and he didn’t dare wonder.“Are you all right?” Liam asked, a bit sharper than intended.He did not know how else to begin.Alianor stiffened at his tone and her shoulders straightened.“Of course I am.Why wouldn’t I be?”So, they were back to the cool civility of strangers.Liam took a deep breath and spoke as calmly as he could.“Niall said you looked — upset.”Alianor shrugged.“It’s true, I came a bit undone when he looked at me, as if, if …” Her words faded away, her sentence unfinished.“Why should it matter to you what Niall or anyone else thinks?”“You’re right, it shouldn’t matter.But I am not used to being regarded as a fallen woman.” She watched Liam as she spoke, awaiting his reaction.He couldn’t tell if she was teasing or not, but looked uncomfortable.“Fallen woman?” he asked, confused.“Aye,” she whispered, glancing away.“You see, I-I have never —”“By the rood, Alianor,” Liam exclaimed, as what she was trying to tell him finally focused in his muddled mind.“You were a virgin.”ALIANOR NODDED.“VIRGIN, AYE.Virginal by nature, it seems I am not.”Liam stepped closer.His expression reflected his shock, confusion, even anguish, and his eyes darkened with emotion as he studied her.“I’m sorry, I had no idea.After all, you’re a widow.How —?”“How is it possible because I was married for so many years?”“Aye.It does not seem natural a man would ignore his wife physically, especially when she was — is — so beautiful.”He raised his hand as if to caress her cheek, but Alianor took a step backwards, chin raised, hurt reflected in her voice.“Not all men are rutting boars.”She regretted the words the moment they left her lips.Liam’s expression hardened and his eyes darkened even more.She hadn’t meant it as a personal insult, but quick defense of her late husband made it seem so.She had always been protective of Walter.Their relationship had been unique, true, but she was content in the comfortable life they had shared.Walter made her feel safe, unlike Liam, who made her feel rash and brazen.This handsome Irishman brought out a reckless streak in her she feared endangered them both.“What I meant to say is the physical side of marriage never existed for us,” she said, unsure whether she could again broach the wall between them.She avoided his gaze, both embarrassed by the delicacy of the subject and distressed at how she had lashed out so cruelly.“We had, there wasn’t …” Tears clogged her throat.She swallowed hard and forged on, but the tremor in her voice made her distress clear.“Walter considered me a daughter, and I thought of him a father in many ways.He was chivalrous and devoted to me.But intimate, lovers, it was never something we …” She drew a deep, shaky breath as she glanced at Liam’s stony countenance.“I do not expect you to understand.”“Aye, what would a rutting boar know of chivalry or devotion?”His retort stung, but Alianor realized she deserved it.“I am sorry.I did not mean you.” She longed for him to reach out to her again, but he remained rigid, his hands at his sides.She wrung her hands in frustration, wanting and needing him to understand.“Walter was special, that’s all I meant to say.Our marriage may not have been normal in most people’s eyes, but I-I adored him.”“And love, Alianor? What of love?” Liam’s green eyes burned into hers, and she nearly succumbed to tears.“Love?”“Aye, surely you have heard the minstrels sing of it.Something mysterious and powerful and a wee bit mischievous, for it makes sane people do things they normally would not.If Love ruled a country, ’twould surely be Eire.”She laughed a little shakily.“Doubtlessly true, William.” She hoped by using the name he so disliked, he might be drawn away from an uncomfortable topic.What she and Liam had done, however rash and ill-advised, felt sacred and beautiful, she had to admit.Yet she did not delude herself into believing he loved her, nor would she let him imply it, merely to salve his own conscience or make her feel better.“It’s true enough Ireland is the abode of dreamers, of bards, and winsome tale-weavers.Those who use a command of language, their gifts, to ensorcell the simpler souls.”It worked.Liam shook his head.“You’re a hard-hearted woman, Alianor.” He stepped away as if to leave her, and despite her determination to remain silent, she lashed out again.“I must harden my heart against the likes of those who would use me for their own benefit and gain.”“You had only to say no.I would not have forced you.”His calm statement shattered the last of her poise.“You misunderstand me again.I do not speak of our — physical union.I wanted it as much as you did and I’ll not deny it.I’ll not play the victim.I accept full consequence for my actions [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]