Liam frowned, staring at Elias. The man was alone, groaning under the weight of a tent pole as he sunk it into the ground. The Irishman had expected to see Captain Benoit aiding his friend. He had maneuvered the Musketeers closer to the Lady Cabot to make it easier to keep his eye on them and to keep Lady Cabot off balance. The more focused she was on her lover, the less she would notice the rest of the cogs turning and the pieces falling into place. Losing the Musketeer had not been his intention, though.
It had presented him with a unique opportunity – Captain Benoit was largely a closed book to him, which could soon prove to be problematic as Velez's plan unfolded; however the Captain's close companion might unwittingly shed some light on the situation. He stepped around the corner, heading toward the laboring Musketeer and offered to help. Elias smiled guilelessly and gratefully accepted the assistance.
Alexandra pressed her lips to the back of Olivia's neck, tasting her cooling sweat on her silky skin. She knew intellectually that she should release the other woman, that she should straighten up and let her pull her pants up. She knew that someone could walk in at any moment and find them in a compromising position she could never hope to come up with an adequate explanation for. What she wanted was something else entirely. She wanted to peel off her restrictive dress, tear off the rest of Olivia's clothes and throw her onto the floor. She wanted more Olivia.
A groan from beneath her refocused her on the Olivia currently beneath her, and not the one she was still ravaging inside of her head. She reluctantly slid her hands out from under the Musketeer, pulling up her pants as far as she could before straightening. The urge to kiss the still exposed expanse of Olivia's lower back overwhelmed her and she gladly gave in. Olivia murmured something unintelligible at the lingering contact. Then the feel of skin against skin was stolen as Alexandra stepped back, trying to recompose herself.
With the delicious weight lifted from her, Olivia pushed herself off the chest. She reached down, fumbling to pull her pants up over her hips and finish lacing them. There was a growing silence settling between them, and somehow after the wrenching admissions that she had given Alexandra, the empty air devoid of words was more terrifying. "Alexandra –" As she turned to face her lover, she folded her arms protectively over her chest, holding in the expanding emotions that were threatening to escape. The way that Alexandra had touched her, the truth that she had drawn out of her – Olivia felt marked by it. How could she go back? How could she let Alexandra marry someone else?
The blonde took a tentative step back toward Olivia. She reached out, brushing the palms of her hands down Olivia's biceps to settle on her elbows and draw her forward. "Olivia, I…" she murmured, pausing to try to draw the words out, "I love you."
Alexandra's words rocked Olivia to the core, nearly staggering her physically. She caught Alexandra's face between her hands and kissed her softly, allowing her lips to linger. The words bubbled up at the back of her mouth, trying to push their way out, but still she hesitated. Alexandra's blue eyes visibly searched hers. For each second that passed, the blue became cloudier.
"That means the world to me," Olivia finally muttered as she pulled away from Alexandra's grasp. She knew that she was kicking it all to pieces again – but there she was, stuck behind her walls and separated from the woman she loved. She winced in preparation for the emotional storm that was surely about to break.
"No," Alexandra's voice was firm as she closed the gap between herself and Olivia. "That is not an acceptable answer." Her brow furrowed. "You love me too. Just say it. Whatever is holding you back isn't as important as the way we feel about each other, what we have together." Her tone dropped, becoming a breathy plea, "I know you feel it too. I know you love me."
Alexandra wouldn't let Olivia hide – it was frightening. She fought down the urge to flee, but her muscles remained tense, straining against her self-control. Alexandra's blue gaze pinned her, like a bug under glass, drawing the words out of her.
"I love you too, Alexandra." Her voice shook. "I have to go." And she spun on her heels, retreating.
Alexandra would have been annoyed at her flight if it hadn't been so auspiciously timed. Before the blonde could even make it to the tent flap, the cloth was pushed aside to allow Liam Connors to enter. Her mind spun with the implications if he had arrived mere minutes earlier. To cover her deep blush and suddenly flustered state, she backed away from the entrance and turned quickly to open the chest and rummage through it.
"Where have you been? Captain Benoit had to set up my tent all by himself," she asked coldly over her shoulder.
Olivia crawled onto her sleeping roll, trying to be quiet and avoid waking up Elias. He had positioned his bed across the tent from her's, but he was a light sleeper. She rolled onto her side back to her friend, drawing the covers up over her shoulder. Just as she was about to drift off to sleep, Elias' voice startled her, "Where have you been?"
"Helping pitch the Lady Cabot's tent," Olivia replied softly without rolling over.
"Or was she helping you pitch a tent?" Elias growled. His annoyance was palpable.
"Fuck you," Olivia snapped, flopping onto her back so that she could roll her head to the side and glare at him.
"If you get caught with your dick in her nethers, you'll get strung up by your neck," he hissed. "And some of us will have our careers sunk. Are your sinful pleasures worth all that?"
"There hasn't been any sinful pleasuring, Elias. Just shut up and go to sleep!" Olivia wished she had something she could grab and throw at him. Luckily, he seemed to have decided to drop the issue and the two of them finally lapsed into sleep.
The next day Olivia couldn't focus on her duty. Every waking moment was consumed by Alexandra, though the blonde remained physically distant. As she brushed her horse and saddled it, she considered the logistics of whisking the Duc's daughter away. Should she try to sneak them both out while they were camped or during the day while the party was marching? Which would draw less attention? Unable to come to a satisfactory decision, she let her mind move on to what would come after.
Alexandra was accustomed to a particular lifestyle, and Olivia would need to find a way to provide some approximation of that. Perhaps she could present herself to her uncle and assume control of her family's estates. The idea had appeal; she would have to send a letter to her uncle to explore that path soon.
In a haze of speculation and planning, she didn't even notice that the column of horses and carriages had come to a halt. She glanced around and then frowned deeply – they were stopped at the border to the Spanish kingdom. Intellectually she had known they would be leaving France soon, but that would greatly complicate the extraction of Alexandra from her nuptials and the fact had little penetrated her preoccupation. She would now have to add the extra concern of recrossing the frontier after she rescued Alexandra.
She studied the guard post as they rode past it, memorizing the fortifications and the lay of the land around it. Admittedly, the borders were rather porous, certainly the Spanish did not have sufficient men to patrol every square mile of land, but the closer they stayed to the rode on their way back the more comfortable Alexandra would be. The guards lounged about their posts, feigning boredom at the impressive display of French power that rolled past.
"Two more days," Elias slapped his reins against his gloved palm. "Two more days and we can be free of this whole mess."
Olivia didn't respond. She wasn't certain of Elias was simply trying to make small talk or goading her again. His displeasure at her continued interaction with the Lady Cabot had not abated – if anything, it had grown as he had time to brood on it. She felt bad – guilty even – knowing that when she stole away with Alexandra, Elias' career would be ruined. Amongst the Palace's Musketeers, there was no secret to how close Elias and Olivier were. As Captain Benoit had risen through the ranks, he had matched it by seeing to the steady promotion of his good friend. The disgrace of their association would certainly sink any hope of Elias becoming a Captain and with it, his ability to support a wife of appropriate rank.
"Two more days and we'll be in the middle of a new mess – a society mess." Olivia finally grumbled in response.
"Another palace full of pretty maids at least," Elias chuckled. His thoughts were almost audible – maybe a pretty maid or two would distract Captain Benoit from his ill-fated romance.
"Another palace full of pompous aristocrats," Olivia replied, no humor in her own voice. "And the maids in Spain are famous for the oozing sores between their legs."
"Right," Elias sighed. "Of course, its going to be horrible."
Liam ran the tips of his forefinger and thumb together contemplatively. Elias had provided some useful information to be sure, but none of it sufficient to explain some of the eccentricities of manner that Liam had noted recently as he skulked around the Musketeers camp. The Captain never bathed with the other men, instead he insisted on washing from a bowl in his tent – while this wasn't strange for an officer of higher rank it was an odd affectation for the Captain to assume. The Captain never used the common latrine either, but Liam had been unwilling to follow him to find out what exactly he did about that issue. The possibility that Captain Benoit was some sort of strange stickler for hygiene had occurred to Liam, but there didn't seem to be any other indication of such a malady – he allowed his clothes to be washed by the cleaning women, he worked hard and did not seem to bathe overmuch. The information he had learned from Elias also did little to illuminate the Musketeer's appeal to the well-bred Lady.
Elias had unwittingly provided the key to destroying the Musketeer, should he get in the way of Velez's machinations however – which caused Liam to chuckle softly. Alexandra glanced over at the sound suddenly breaking the quiet of the carriage, arching one elegant brow. He fought down the urge to sneer – he would be rid of her haughty presence soon enough.