The solar of Raby Castle was larger than the hall of most manors and far more pleasant, what with ell upon ell of heavy tapestries lining the walls and what looked to be acres of thick rugs upon the floor. Enough candles lit the chamber to make it glow like a clear dawn, but as they entered, a servant, apparently stationed there for no other purpose, hurried to light more. As he worked, they stood silently, Eleanor rocking up and down on her toes in a way that belied the bland look on her face, until at last the man finished and vanished with his lighting rush, leaving them suddenly and unexpectedly alone.
“Your woman is not here yet,” said Gunnar.
“No.” She lifted her chin to look directly into his eyes, challenging him with the slightest curve of a smile. “My lord father will not be pleased.”
His pulse pounded in his skull, silencing everything but the voice that urged him toward her.
“Then we will not tell him,” he murmured, and then somehow she was in his arms, her lips sweet and hot on his. With a groan, he lifted her against him, and her body melded perfectly to his, as he’d known it would.
“I dreamed of you,” she whispered against his mouth. “So many nights, I wished you would come. Wished you would take me—” Muffled voices in the passageway made her stop short. “Ah, curse it. She is too quick.”
She pushed out of his arms, whirling to face the hearth just as Lucy came in, followed by two maids whose arms were laden with clothes.
Gunnar stood there half stupefied, Eleanor’s taste lingering on his lips, her words ringing in his skull. Wished you would take me. Oh, yes, he would happily do that. But the sane part of him, the part not in rut, said she hadn’t finished the thought. Surely she hadn’t been so boldly asking him to take her. Trying to regain control, he stalked over to the table and poured himself a cup of wine.
Eleanor turned to Lucy with an easy smile, the roses in her cheeks looking like they might well come from the heat of the fire. “You were quick.”
“I knew you were anxious, my lady.”
“Aye, I am. And so, Sir Gunnar, I may at last give you your gifts.” Eleanor motioned one of the maids forward, her cool manner giving no sign of the heat they’d shared, a fair measure of which still clung to Gunnar like cobwebs. “First these. I began them when I heard that you had left without waiting for new clothes from the duchess. I knew yours were burned and that you would need something warm for your travels. However, I did not know it would take so long to give them to you.”
Garment by garment, she showed him a heavy winter traveling cloak and a full set of clothes to go with it, draping each piece in turn over the high-backed chair that Lucy pulled near. Then the other maid stepped forward, and Eleanor showed a second set of clothing, finer this time, cut from velvet and figured silk rich enough for a great lord. Together, they made up more clothing than Gunnar had owned at one time since he’d left home. They must represent months of work. Perhaps years. His lust faded away as he absorbed it all.
“You sewed all this?” he asked, stunned, when she had finished. “For me?”
“For no one else.”
“Every stitch by her own hand, monsire,” added Lucy. “She would not accept even my help, beyond the measuring and cutting.”
“My lady,” said Gunnar, and then could say no more. She’d sewn for him. No one had sewn for him except for pay since before he’d sailed. He swallowed hard, trying to clear the lump that clogged his throat, but it only thickened.
She rescued him by taking the wine cup from his hand. “Come. I had to guess at the size from what I remembered and what Lucy could add. Let us see if I came close, or if I must make changes.”
“Try them, monsire,” urged Lucy, and Gunnar found himself shedding his worn gown. Lady Eleanor stepped forward holding his new chemise. Ever aware of his scars, he kept his back to the wall while he stripped off his old one and pulled on the new in a single motion.
He smoothed and tested it and nodded in approval. “If you guessed as well with the other things, they will fit very well.”
“I used ties rather than hooks or buttons, as they are more forgiving if I guessed poorly,” explained Eleanor as he reached for the long-sleeved doublet that Lucy held out. “And everything fastens in front, to make it easier for you in your travels.”
“It will be that,” he assured her. With each tie he tied, the doublet formed itself to his body, until it fitted more closely than any garment he’d ever worn. It was time, he supposed. He’d been avoiding the new style of clothes in the fear they would bind, but the old, loose gowns were more and more the mark of cottars and not knights. When he flexed his arms and shoulders, testing, he found more than enough ease. “It is comfortable.”
“You sound surprised. Have you no faith in my skills? Let me see.” She stepped around behind him and ran her hands over his shoulders to check the fit of what she’d made, a common gesture made uncommon by the way her hands lingered. Gunnar closed his eyes and let his imagination play for a moment.
“It will do, I think. Lucy, the cote-hardie, if you please. I tried to leave enough room for a second doublet beneath for winter, but it was difficult to be sure without having you there. I had to mark your height and the width of your shoulders against the frame of the door where you stood beside the duchess. I had Lucy do the same, and we had nearly the same marks, so I chose the larger of each.” As she chattered, she helped him into the cote-hardie, then came around to tie the ties, deftly working her way down his chest. “Do I hear my father coming?”
Lucy went to peer through the grillwork that overlooked the hall. “Not yet, my lady. He has called for the chessboard.”
“Keep watch and tell me when he starts up. You two fold everything.” Eleanor smiled up at Gunnar. “See if the cote pulls across the shoulders, monsire.”
Ah. Grinning, he obliged, thrusting his arms forward. “An excellent fit, my lady. You guessed very well.”
“Test it fully, sir.” She glanced to his arms on either side of her and stepped closer to take hold of the hem of the cote-hardie and tug it down.
The gesture put her hands parlous close to his crotch, and a fresh wave of desire washed over Gunnar. Wishing you would take me, she’d said. Perhaps the thought had been complete after all. A glance over his shoulder told him that the maids were busy and that Lucy was still at the grill, watching. None of the three paid them any heed.
A slight shift put his back fully to Lucy, blocking her view of her mistress. Thus shielded, he crossed his arms midair behind Eleanor, enfolding her, embracing her without actually touching her. She tilted her head back to meet his eyes, and a slow smile curved her lips. She laid one hand on his chest, exactly over his heart. Her lips parted, ready for another kiss. Take me . . .
“Aye,” he murmured. “A very comfortable fit indeed.”