A/N: Sometimes I forget, but that does not mean that I am not grateful. I really do need to give Cincoflex her props. She is an amazing beta and an amazing friend.
"There is Something Haunting Me"
Every prayer I could be praying, every promise I'm betraying
Every price that I am paying, is like a ghost inside of me
Every road I could be taking, every dream I am forsaking
Every heart that's out there breaking, is like a ghost inside of me
Sara stood before the window gazing out upon the moonlit snow as she brushed her hair and prepared for bed. The weight of Grissom's brooding stare tingled along her spine and tickled the fine curling wisps at the nape of her neck. She knew he was watching her, following her movements about the room with glowing intensity. The heat of his piercing gaze burned brighter than the dancing fire, searing along her nerves and settling sweetly between her thighs with a heady, sensual glow.
Huffing a frustrated sigh, she laid her forehead against the frosty window and squeezed her legs together in an effort to ease the growing ache churning deep within her woman's body. A glance over her shoulder affirmed Grissom's continued perusal and Sara turned from the window slowly, adding a sway to her hips as she made her way to towards the fireplace, dropping her brush on the low work table before kneeling on the hearth. Confident of his attention, she purposely bent lower than necessary while reaching for a kettle, her breasts swelling dangerously against the low neckline of nightgown. A small knowing grin crossed her lips as Grissom softly cleared his throat and shifted restlessly on the mattress.
As she went through the now familiar motions of preparing tea, she thought back on all that happened since her father and Heather had departed, the turbulent eddy and flow of emotion that had crashed between the two of them throughout the day. Sara paused to brush a lock of hair out of her eyes as she waited for the kettle to boil, allowing herself to recall the various joys and sorrows of the afternoon.
Perhaps she had been expecting too much from Grissom after he had woken from his nap. He was still weak from his life or death battle with the fever and the morning conversation with her father had seemed to sap his strength. But the look in his eyes as he gazed upon her, the depth of warmth of feeling he showed had given her cause to hope.
Grissom roused from slumber before she and Sara opened her eyes to find him rolled on his side, head propped on hand; his expression both tender and curious as he watched her doze in her wooden chair beside the bed.
"How do you feel?" she yawned, indulging in a leisurely stretch to loosen her cramped muscles. "Did you sleep well?"
She smiled brightly in response to his wordless nod and moved to perch on the mattress beside him. Grissom hesitantly reached up a single trembling finger to trace the happiness and relief shining upon her face.
"You did not leave."
Sara grinned and dropped her eyes, suddenly shy.
"Father said it was my choice."
"And you chose to stay here...with me?" Incredulous as if he could not fathom why she would do such a thing.
"I did." Her reply was swift and confident.
"Because ..." Grissom struggled, needing an answer but not knowing how to ask.
Sara heart clenched, stung by the implications of his unspoken question. She knew that his fear of being regarded as only a knight and not a man ran deep and that he might actually believe that she had remained out of pity or because she felt some sort of obligation. Plus, she had been warned that Grissom might not remember their wedding ceremony. Even if he did, he might discount the memories as nothing more than remnants of the fever dreams and never speak of them. Still, it hurt that he continued to harbor doubts with regard to her affection, her overwhelming love for him.
Drawing a calming breath, Sara squared her shoulders and brushed aside the pain. She unlaced her fingers from his and laid her hands upon his cheeks, thumbs stroking softly along the edge of his beard as she regarded him with a solemn expression.
"What do I have to say to convince you?" she questioned with quiet sincerity. "I am here because I choose to be here...with you. I want to be here...with you. I need to be here...with you. I did not remain to assuage some misplaced sense of guilt or duty but because my heart binds me to you and refuses to let me go." She paused, giving him time to digest the sincerity of her declaration before continuing. "Sir Gilbert the Black Monk will always be my fabled hero but Gris, my Gris, the man beneath the gleaming armor, will always be my true hero and my true love."
Grissom's confusion slowly morphed from disbelief to amazement as he pondered her words. Finally, his eyes cleared and a small cautious smile appeared.
He nodded his agreement. "I am."
She beamed at him, leaning down to nuzzle his beard. They shared a gentle kiss, one soft peck leading to another before the rumble of Grissom's stomach shattered the mood. Sara placed her forehead on his, chuckling softly as he flushed with embarrassment. She dropped a light kiss on his nose and rose from the bed.
"I'm just going down to see if Myria will prepare us a tray. You need to eat as much as you need to sleep. You need to regain the strength that the fever stole from you."
Sara poured the tea from the kettle and added a dollop of honey to each mug. She rose and smiled as she made her way to the bed, remembering with humor Grissom's reaction to their meal of pottage, smoked fish, bread, cheese and milk. While pleased with the pottage and bread, she could not help but laugh softly as she recalled the way his nose scrunched in distaste over the fish and how he had unceremoniously tried to shove it all over to her side of the trencher.
"Myria warned me you would do that," she said, her eyes sparkling, grinning widely at Grissom's look of feigned innocence. "But she said you need to eat it. She would have preferred to feed you some roasted pork but thought since you have not had such fare for close to thirty years it might cause more harm than good." Sara rolled her eyes at his scowl, placing a warm hand on his arm while he fiddled with the fish on his plate. "She is just concerned about you as well."
He grumbled but ate, shooting her a dark look with every bite and washing each mouthful down with a gulp of cold milk.
Now, as she lay propped against the headboard sipping tea in silent companionship with her quiet knight, Sara mulled over the course of action she was about to take. They needed to talk about their marriage but there were other matters that required resolution, shadows from the past that needed to be brought forth and put to rest before they could move forward.
"I need to ask you about something," she began hesitantly, "and I need you to answer me truthfully."
She felt him stiffen a bit beneath her and she slipped her hand beneath his sleeveless black undershirt to rub his torso in long soothing strokes, smoothing away his anxiety. Sara propped her chin on his broad chest and watched him carefully. "What happened after your dubben to cause you to be exiled?"
A flash of pain, or perhaps sorrow crossed his face before he wiped all trace of emotion from his features. "Where," he growled, his voice low and harsh, "did you hear that?"
Grissom grunted but made no other effort to reply.
"And then, in your delirium, you apologized over and over for my mother's death. You pleaded with either my father or my grandfather to not send you away." He winced and closed his eyes against the memories she was bringing back to the surface. "I have asked Heather and Father Ralph about those days and they refuse to answer, saying I must talk to you or father.
"Will you tell me, Gris?"
"Remember when I told you that some memories are best left buried lest they fester anew. This is one of those."
"I need to know," she stated simply, easing away from him to lie on her side. She knew he would need some distance for this.
He remained silent, staring at the ceiling for a long time before speaking. "The easy answer and simple truth is what I told you not so long ago. Shortly after my dubben I was sent by your grandfather to the Holy Land to train with the Knights Hospitaller." Rolls his head on the pillow to look at her. "But, you're right, there's much more to the story."
Look around, around, look around
Every time I turn around
I'm not who I ought to be
Down, down, it gets me down
If every time I look around
There is something haunting me
"Your grandfather presented me with Grissomshire as a reward for attaining my knighthood and as a gift for my twenty-first birthday," he began, his eyes clouding over as the distant memories came rushing back. "I traveled to my new home shortly after my dubben to acquaint myself with the duties and responsibilities of being a landowner. Up until that point, I had never possessed anything of my own. I also spent much time making various journeys on your grandfather's behalf and acting in his stead to settle minor disputes. I was two days ride from the keep when news of your mother's death reached me ..."
Grissom raced through the inner bailey and reined his mount to a skidding halt with a hard jerk of the bridle. He vaulted from the saddle and looked about, surprised that Dickie had not emerged from the large stable to assist with his charger. The normally bustling courtyard was quiet and still, the silence broken only by an eerie wail crying out from the depths of the black-shrouded keep.
He led his horse inside the darkened stable and tended to the lathered stallion himself. Removing his sword, dagger and belt, the young knight hung them carefully on a nearby armor stand before quickly stripping off his heavy maille, gambeson and padded leggings. Gil quickly washed the road grime and sweat from his face, neck and hands in the horse trough. He re-fastened his thick belt back around his slim waist, untangling the rawhide laces holding his Prayer Beads as he strode swiftly towards the keep.
Pausing in the center of the bailey, Grissom slowly turned in a small circle, overwhelmed by the changes that had occurred in the previous two days. The King's Royal Banners that normally hung from tall windows had been replaced by ones of pure black, magnificent twin wreaths fashioned from evergreens and red roses graced the massive twin doors. The standards that normally flew high above the keep had been replaced as well and nearly every available surface now wore some ebon-hued robe, as if the entire Royal Castle had been completely enshrouded in mourning.
Grissom shouldered open one of the large oaken doors and moved hesitantly inside. For the first time in memory, the vast hall, site of so many celebrations and gatherings, was empty. All of the normal tapestries depicting the important triumphs in the reign of King Radulfus had been overhung with heavy black drapes and the fireplaces, despite the chill in the air, remained unlit. Gil's leather boots echoed loudly on the stone floor, the clanging of his golden spurs piercing the silence as he approached the center of the room the ornate mahogany platform resting in the center of the room.
The Hall had been laid out for the funeral. Grissom ran his hands over the ornate carvings on the platform, his touch reverent as he traced the smooth likenesses of the saints and the risen Christ, remembering it had last been used to hold the casket of James' mother, Marianna not so long ago. Low rough-hewn benches had been laid out neatly in rows, the King's massive throne and padded chairs for Prince James and Princess Sara sitting at the forefront, directly before the catafalque. An enormous crucifix of olive wood, one Grissom himself had shipped home to Radulfus from his pilgrimages to the Holy Land hung from the wall behind a dais from which Father Matthias would speak. The young man, who was yet half monk and half knight, knelt before the simple crucifix and crossed himself, offering a brief prayer for James and Sara.
Grissom mumbled one last Psalm and turned to make his way up the stairs. Little Sara was waiting for him on the last step and flung herself into his waiting arms, hiding her face in his neck as she wept, her tears dampening his travel-soiled tunic. He rubbed her back and wiped away her tears, murmuring how sorry he was and how everything would be better tomorrow. Gil carried her to her room and sat her gently on the bed as he stooped to stir the fire to chase away the chill that had settled in her lonely chamber.
"Sara, Lemman, where is your father?" he asked, his tone gentle.
"He is in the chapel. Everyone is afraid of him right now because he is so angry. Grandfather is the only one brave enough to talk to him." The child looked up at him with huge, pleading eyes. "You'll talk to him, won't you? And make him quit being so mean to everyone?"
"I remember," Sara murmured, her voice wistful and eyes wet with unshed tears. She gripped Grissom's hand tightly and pulled him closer until she could lay her head on his shoulder. "You sat down on the bed with me and I crawled onto your lap. You told me stories of brave knights and beautiful princesses until I fell asleep." He nodded, rubbing a calloused thumb over her delicate knuckles. "And when I woke up the next morning and went to find you for breakfast, you were gone."
Grissom held the young Princess tightly against his chest, rocking and comforting her until Sara's breathing deepened and she relaxed fully against him. He rose slowly, taking care not to wake her, and placed her tenderly on the bed. As he tucked the blankets around her shoulders and smoothed the dark hair from her brow, the young knight marveled at the innocence of her slumbering face. He stoked a gentle finger along her silky cheek and pressed a soft kiss on her forehead, allowing a small, sad smile in response to her sleep-filled sigh. Gil walked towards the door and cast a last glance over his shoulder, not knowing that seven long, lonely years would pass before seeing her again.
"I finally found your father in the chapel. He was just sitting beside your mother, holding her lifeless hand between both of his. I tried to talk to him but he was unreachable. He railed at me, screamed at me, pounded on me. He said that I was responsible for your mother's death. Had I not been trying to curry favor with your grandfather and seeing to the King's affairs, the accident would never have happened. Had I truly been a good and loyal friend, I would have been at the keep to serve as your mother's escort that day and Rivka would have not died."
Grissom looked at Sara and wiped away a lone tear as it slid down her cheek. "Your father was not himself, Leof-mon, there was no reasoning with him. In his madness he beat me half to death. Had your grandfather not called in the Household Guard to pull him off of me, he would most likely have killed me. Grissom sighed, resting his head on Sara's shoulder as he finished his tale. "James demanded that your grandfather punish me and I was sent away. I think Radulfus agreed to the exile in order to protect me, but it was many years before your father allowed me to return home."
"And the mark above your brow?" she questioned. "How did you get that? You spoke of it in your madness."
"'Tis from your father's mourning ring." Gris flashed her a bleak look. "'Twas my poor luck the goldsmith presented it to him right before my arrival." He rubbed a finger over the small divot. "He scarred me so I would never forget."
Grissom levered up on one elbow and leaned over Sara's prone form to rummage through the drawer of the small bedside table. He retrieved a small leather pouch and dropped it on her stomach as he lay back down. Sara upended the pouch and scooped up the lone object it contained, turning it over and over in her hand as her eyes brimmed with tears. She gazed at the golden ring and ran a trembling finger over the single jet-black stone.
"Where did you get this?" she asked, carefully lifting the stone to stroke the lock of her mother's hair hidden beneath.
"Your father gave it to me when we spoke earlier."
"He had it with him?" She glanced up at him, her surprise clearly written on her face. "I have not seen him wear it in years, not since Heather became a fixture at the castle."
"He kept it in a small pouch attached to his belt."
"But why did he give it to you?"
"To give up the past and make amends. I was not allowed to pay your mother my final respects, offer a prayer or attend the funeral. He gave me this so I might finally mourn and bury a few of my own ghosts."
"And have you?"
Sara watched him shrug with pretended indifference, knowing full well that despite her father's apology and attempt to return some of what he had taken, Gil would never be able to completely forget those dark times. Like the blemish above his brow, the memories, the sorrow and the persistent melancholy would never fully fade.
"I was only five when Moder died. I understood that she was gone for good and would never return. That was the easy part, I suppose. The harder matter was having Daddy so enmeshed in his own grief and anger that he ceased to be a parent. I thought blamed ME for Mama's death. Days and even weeks at a time would pass where I would not see him at all. It was if he could not bear to be in the same room or even look at me."
"You look just like your Mother, Sara," he murmured softly, coiling a strand of her dark brown hair around his finger. "You reminded him of everything he had lost. He loved your mother, deeply. Her death wounded a part of him that has finally begun to heal."
"It was a very unhappy time for all of us it seems."
Grissom nodded his head in agreement.
"My mother died, my father was inconsolable and my favorite person in the whole world vanished. I thought you had died as well until you suddenly returned several years later," she said, stroking a gentle finger along his cheek, "with this beard and the saddest, loneliest eyes I had ever seen."
"You still have that look, you know," she murmured, smoothing over the eyebrow he had arched in question. "Every time you have tried to tell me why I mustn't love you and why we cannot marry or be together as man and woman, your eyes are just as lonely and sad as they were when you returned from exile."
Every friend I am deserting, with every danger I am flirting
Every word that ends up hurting, is like a ghost inside of me
Every heart that I could be cheering, every love that I am fearing
Every cry that I am hearing, is like a ghost inside of me
"Given what you have now told me," Sara said, returning to the bed with two more steaming cups of tea, "nothing Tarek said makes sense." She handed Grissom both mugs and slid beneath the blankets, noting his curious expression as she reached for her mug. "He said that HE caused you to be exiled. I don't remember him being about the keep at the time of my mother's death and I know with certainty that you weren't there, either."
A curious lift of his eyebrow had Sara glancing into her mug, a delightful blush coloring her cheeks. "Even as a small girl," she said shyly, "I was very aware of when you were and weren't in the castle."
Grissom's breath caught, warmth spreading through his chest. He graced her with a rare boyish grin before turning his thoughts back towards his brother.
"Sara, as far as I know, Tarek was not…" His eyes narrowed as he thought back, trying to piece together everything he knew about the circumstances surrounding Rivka's death.
"He lied to you," Grissom finally said, his tone flat and void of emotion as he scrubbed a hand through his beard. "He did not directly cause my exile, but, looking back at all that has transpired these past fifteen years, I can state with some certainty that he did bring about your mother's death. My banishment was something he could not have foreseen although he probably crowed like a preening cock throughout my prolonged absence."
"Gris, Moder was thrown from her horse. It was an accident. How could Tarek have made that happen, especially if he wasn't there?"
"Geoffrey and his brother Rayner were her escorts that day. She wanted your father to go riding with her but his duties kept him chained to the keep." Grissom smirked beautifully at the look of puzzlement in Sara's eyes. He huffed a quiet chuckle as he explained. "In his younger years, your father wanted nothing to do with the duties and responsibilities inherent with his position as heir to the throne. Radulfus feared he would be leaving his kingdom to the village idiot as opposed to a capable ruler. He ordered your father to attend some land negotiations with Frederick of Bavaria and Geoffrey and Rayner were sent to serve as your mother's escorts."
"I am obviously missing something," Sara said, "because I don't understand how Geoffrey and Rayner serving as escorts make Tarek responsible."
"Geoffrey, and Rayner, were my brother's puppets," Grissom intoned flatly. "You know Geoffrey gave me these," he said, pointing to the thin white blemish on his cheek before yanking up his sleeveless undershirt shirt to reveal the long, thick scar running the length of his chest, "and that I killed him." He waited for her nod before pulling his shirt back down and continuing in the same, dull monotone. "Tarek paid him to murder me."
The wind was harsh, the cool desert night filled with blowing sand and the sound of rippling canvas. A thin ginger haired man, pointed features concealed beneath a woolen cowl, crouched beside a large tent. He glanced over his shoulder, looking left and right, listening carefully for any signal that his hurried passage through the sleeping camp had been detected. A horse snorted and stamped restlessly, the sentries talked quietly among themselves around a small fire. All was as it should be; no one was the wiser.
Drawing a long-bladed knife from the leather scabbard on his belt, the hashshashin gingerly placed the cold metal between his teeth, freeing his gloved hands to fumble with the stiff leather straps securing the tent flap. He eased the oiled cover open just enough to slip inside amidst a gritty cloud of swirling sand and quickly pulled it closed.
The interior of the tent was far darker than the sand-swept desert and the hashshashin stood quietly, years of training compelling him to remain still while patiently waiting for his eyes to adjust. He could just barely make out the sleeping form of his prey stretched out upon a thin pallet of straw. A hurried glance towards the corner of the tent assured him that the troublesome lad his prey had adopted as a squire was sleeping soundly. He waited until the boy snuffled a loud snore to strike, striding forward to swiftly plunge the dagger into the chest of the sleeping man.
Grissom shot upright, his eyes wide open in panic as the icy steel blade pierced his skin and sliced downward, freezing his flesh with a chilling burn. He turned quickly, the bright coppery stench of his own blood flooding his nostrils, gagging him as he threw up his left hand in a desperate attempt to defend himself. He managed to deflect the next blow, a sweeping arc headed for his throat and trembling against the pain coursing through his body, managed to raise his right arm and pull the heavy cowl from his attacker's face.
"Geoffrey," he whispered, stunned and bewildered, shocked that one of his own knights had so savagely turned on him. He did not have time to dwell on the betrayal. Geoffrey freed his arm and thrust the dagger with murderous intent. Grissom managed to turn his head at the last minute, the blow glancing down his right cheek. A thin trail of blood welled up from the small slash and trickled down into his beard.
The Black Monk quickly recovered, years of training overriding emotion. A detached calmness settled about him, instinct replacing thought. Gritting his teeth against the burning agony of his wounds, Grissom rolled away from the tent wall. His whirling momentum propelled him directly into Geoffrey's legs and the slighter knight crashed to the ground in a cursing heap. Grissom risked a glance to the corner of the tent to check on Sandre. He breathed a sigh of relief that Geoffrey had not harmed the boy before barking a sharp order at the petrified lad.
"Sandre, run! Go fetch Nikolai and Varrick!"
The boy scurried from the tent and Geoffrey lunged full against Grissom once again, angling his body so that the force of his full weight would strike his opponent against the gaping wound splitting his bare chest. Gil grunted, ignoring the searing pain, concentrating on survival, victory.
The two warriors grappled, each trying to gain the upper hand. Geoffrey thrust with his knife, Grissom parried with his bare forearms and palms, his hands slick with free-flowing gore. Sand scuffed and billowed in agitated clouds around the two knights as they fought, the desert grit mingling harshly with blood and sweat upon their lips and tongues as they clashed in a grunting, pounding battle.
When the dust settled, the silt drifting heavily to the floor of the tent, both knights were seated on the ground, Geoffrey's back to Grissom's chest. The Black Monk had his left arm twined tightly around Geoffrey's forehead to hold him still as his right hand held the dagger to Geoffrey's throat. Grissom wrapped his legs around Geoffrey's torso, pinning his arms to his sides; the more Geoffrey struggled, the more Grissom tightened the constricting pressure of his legs and pressed the blade into his foe's throat. The finely honed steel broke the skin beneath the man's quivering Adam's apple with ease and Geoffrey shuddered as a small trickle of blood ran down his neck to stain the collar of his grimy tunic.
"Yield, Geoffrey, it is done. You have wounded me but I have the upper hand," he growled, pressing deeper, opening the thin gash on Geoffrey's neck a little wider. "I don't want to kill you."
"You must," the defeated man croaked, his terror and humiliation evident as his bladder released and the acrid stench of urine filled the air. "It has to end this way, Grissom. I haven't your courage," his voice cracking on a half-swallowed sob. " I can't face the executioner or your brother."
His brother? The Black Monk closed his eyes, reeling beneath the weight of Geoffrey's revelations. He knew Tarek despised him but never imagined that his own brother would pay to see him killed. Grissom reopened his eyes, struggling to refocus as the edges of his vision began to fade. He tightened his grip around Geoffrey's neck, demanding answers with one harshly barked, "Why?"
Geoffrey shook his head as best he could. "I don't know why, I swear I don't!" he squeaked as the knife bit deeper into his throat. "Tarek wanted to be rid of you once and for all and paid me handsomely to make the attempt."
"Money? You were going to kill me for a few pieces of gold?" The Black Monk's voice was dangerously flat and Geoffrey shivered.
"You don't understand, Grissom. Tarek has owned me for years now. He knows about something, something Rayner and I did a long time ago and he has held it over us ever since. But, it doesn't matter now. I'm … sick … I have leprosy. I need money so I can pack up my family and move far, far away where no one knows me. The stigma, Grissom, of having to wear special clothing, ring a bell to let others know I am approaching, having to walk or ride on a certain side of the road depending on which way the wind is blowing … I can't do it."
Geoffrey abruptly ceased struggling to free himself from his captor's grasp and relaxed, slumping against Grissom as he bared his soul. He had come to terms with defeat and accepted his fate. Deep down he knew the Black Monk, despite his fearsome reputation as a hellhound upon the plain of war and the fact that he had tried to kill him, would be merciful and end things quickly. He would not suffer and would be spared further pain and indignity. Grissom would see to it that he was given a proper burial and would even say a few words over his grave.
"The only hope I had of taking you was while you slept or running you through while your back was turned in battle. Either way, I chose a cowardly path. I haven't even the courage to end things myself," the disgraced knight whimpered on a broken sob.
Grissom was quiet, absorbing the fallen knight's confession before finally clearing his throat to respond in a gentle whisper. "Suicide is the ultimate form of selfishness, Geoffrey. No man cowardly enough to take his own life has the courage to face his own death." He paused a moment, letting his words sink in. "A single cowardly act does not a coward make nor does it erase a courageous life."
Before he could question his actions, Grissom summoned his flagging strength and tightened his grip around Geoffrey's head. A swift, savage pull of the Black Monk's arm sank the blade deep into Geoffrey's flesh and neatly sliced his would-be hashshashin's throat from ear to ear in a macabre death grin.
Retching violently against what he had done and the heated spray of Geoffrey's blood dripping from his hands and arms, Grissom dropped the knife and shoved Geoffrey's wide-eyed corpse to one side. The Black Monk fell back with a graceless thud, his own blood pooling thickly on the sand beneath him as his eyes closed and he surrendered to the blessed darkness.
"Geoffrey was your friend, wasn't he?" Sara sniffed, her voice tight. She slipped a hand beneath his undershirt, gently stroking the long raised scar that was Geoffrey's hateful legacy.
"I thought so," he sighed, curling a strong arm about her waist to pull her closer. "We served together for many years and saved each other more than once." He shot her a pained glance before turning away to regard the shadows flickering upon the far wall. His voice, when he finally spoke, was so soft and strained Sara had to practically climb atop him to hear his words. "I'm not sure which struck the cruelest blow – his blade or his betrayal."
Look around, around, look around
Every time I turn around
I'm not who I ought to be
Down, down, it gets me down
If every time I look around
There is something haunting me
Grissom folded an arm beneath his head, deep in thought as he stared at the shadows from the fireplace shifting and melding upon the ceiling. Sara's eyes caressed his form, the hunger within growing as she boldly looked, allowing her gaze to linger on the scarred ropy sinew of his forearms, the battle-toned biceps, the fine tuft of dark silky hair beneath his arm. She marveled at the latent strength hiding beneath his relaxed demeanor and, unable to resist, smiled softly as she reached out an elegant, fine-boned hand to smooth his sleep-rumpled curls. She watched with fascination as his tongue peeked through his lips as he studied the ceiling, wriggling and clenching her thighs together as she remembered the delicious sensation of that same tongue slipping past her lips to dance with her own.
"What are you thinking?" Sara cleared her throat and shook her head in an attempt to dispel the memories of Grissom's lovemaking, the hot, possessive intensity in his eyes as he stroked against her.
"I'm trying to figure out what Tarek hoped to gain from your mother's death. He had no way of knowing how your father would react; that my pending betrothal would be declared void and that I would be banished. He had to have some other goal in mind, something …"
"Wait," Sara commanded holding up a hand to silence him. "You were betrothed."
"Sofia." He frowned and shook his head. "She has been as much a pawn as Geoffrey."
Sara rose on one elbow and eyed him sharply. "Did you love her?"
"Sofia?" His voice rose to nearly a squeak as he turned his head quickly to look at her.
"No," he said, his tone blunt and final. "The betrothal was a conspiracy on the part of your Grandfather and your Mother. They thought it would be good for me," he stated while rolling his eyes.
"You are friends, though," Sara persisted. "I have watched you and you are comfortable with her."
Grissom nodded in confirmation. "We have been friends for many years."
"Did you...share yourself with her?"
"Are you jealous?" Grissom asked with an arched brow, receiving a piercing glare in response.
"Leof-mon," he breathed, his expression softening as he reached for her hand and watched the play of fingers as they twined and grasped. "There was never anything of that nature between us. I have never truly kissed her, not like I have kissed you." He paused, his next statement a husky admission laced with an undercurrent of desire. "I never kissed anyone the way I kissed you."
Reassured by his answer, Sara stole a kiss and snuggled against him once more, caressing the skin over his heart while mulling over everything she had learned. "Father married Sofia very quickly after Mother's death. He doesn't love her so I always assumed he did so to provide me a step-mother." She waited for some sort of reaction from Grissom but his face revealed nothing. "Now, knowing how father blamed you and how badly he treated you, I tend to believe he did it to hurt you. He stole from you what he felt you took from him."
"Grief is a strange bedfellow, Leof-mon. It makes people do things they might not otherwise consider."
Sara drew a shaky breath, finally ready to broach the subject that had been weighing heavily upon her throughout the day. "Do you regret not being able to marry?"
"I wouldn't call it regret," he said, his expression thoughtful. "Had things progressed as planned so many years ago, the events of the past few weeks most likely would never have happened."
"That's not what I asked."
The look he gave her was curious, head cocked to the side as he attempted to discern precisely what she needed to hear. "I am saddened that I have never been able to marry and have a family of my own, but have no regrets where Sofia is concerned," he ventured in a halting voice, watching Sara carefully as he spoke. "She was never my choice and ours would have been a marriage of convenience."
Sara held her breath. For just a moment Grissom looked as if he was going to say something but then backed off. She knew deep down that he would not be displeased about their marriage but it would probably be a bit of a shock to him if his memories were incomplete. He had taken ill as a bachelor and awakened as a married man. She fought to stifle a nervous giggle. Even a man who returned her love, as Grissom most assuredly did, would be extraordinarily surprised to find himself thusly wed. Still, the confusion in his eyes as he fiddled with her smaller pendant resting on his chest… something was there, just below the surface. She could see it in the way he repeatedly glanced at her ring finger and how he absently rubbed a thumb along the underside of his own.
Yes, soon they would address this matter of their marriage, but first it was time to finish laying Tarek to rest once and for all.
"Tarek has ruined so many lives. I just wish … I want to know why he killed my mother."
"I am afraid the answer died with him, Lemman." Gris closed his eyes and heaved a weary sigh. "I shouldn't have taken him on. Had I … "
"No!" Sara scrambled to her knees, her tone as fierce as her expression. "Don't." Grissom pressed back more firmly into the pillows as she leaned closer to look him in the eye, angry brown clashing with startled blue. "Don't you dare apologize or feel guilty about what happened at the inn. Tarek was evil and deserved to die." Her voice dropped and she brushed a hand along his injured thigh. "I'm saddened that you were forced to battle your own brother for I know his death weighs heavily upon you but in all truth, I'm glad you killed him. I'm just disappointed that we may never know the full truth of the matter."
"All is not lost, Sara," he soothed, running a hand through her hair. "Rayner still serves your father in the Household Guard. The threat of the executioner's axe or the revelation of a long-buried secret can oftentimes persuade even the most reticent to sing."
Grissom laid a gentle finger against her lips, stilling her words. "Sara, no more, not tonight." He pulled her back into his arms and kissed her gently. "Let it go."
Every tear that I'm not crying, every pain I am denying
Every lie I'm justifying, is like a ghost inside of me
Like a ghost inside of me
Like a ghost inside of me*
* John Stewart, "Ghost inside of Me," Escape to Arizona, by John Stewart, Homecoming, 1993.