Chapter 10: Forging New Pathways

After the feast ended, Father visited me and yelled at me for hours; never growing hoarse. I lied and said I was unwell, and then Mother came in to scold him for endangering my health.

I smiled all that night as I went about making preparations for travel.

Isabella will be surprised. Oh yes. This will be a way to corner her; I will gain command of the situation and clip her wings so she cannot flit away.

Nicklom and Grayson are well fed and pawing at the ground. They anticipate our departure.

"You cannot wait to see her either, can you?" I ask Nicklom, brushing him with long strokes. "How did she feel with her legs around you? Was it nice? Did she wrap her skirts around her slender legs so she didn't get rubbed raw by you? Did she dig in her bare heels? I wager she did; like a wild banshee in the night. Did she smell likes apples, and you loved it? Did you think her a big basket of food for you?" I smile as he huffs, ready to leave. "Well, she is mine to partake of, not yours. So when you see her, you do willingly step aside, but first . . . Teach me how I can make her like me the way she likes you. Do you think she might like to take a ride with me?"

Grayson brushes his nuzzle up against my arm impatiently.

I pull an apple out of my satchel for both of them.

"She has a lot of apples. Plenty for all of us, and we need not worry about sharing. But she is mine. You do not have any claim to her," I say, teasing.

More scratching of hooves to the earth, and I cannot judge them for it. I can barely contain my excitement as well.

She is truly that delectable.

"Do you remember the way?" I ask Nicklom, and set aside the brush.

I mount him without another word, make sure the reins for Grayson are secured, and we ride away.

Taking the long route is prudent, so that I do not have to pass by Masen Manor and be questioned about my journey.

This means it will take me four hours, instead of three, but it will be well worth it.

The day is pleasant enough, but my insides are hot, filled with rankness. One moment I envision kissing her and using soft hands, and in the next, I am yelling, pushing her out of my sight for making me so desperate for her.

As it happens, I can barely keep from running my horses into the ground, so I arrive in just under three hours. The horses are not friendly to me as I keep denying them a moment to rest or water.

Soon enough they will be at the stream by her home and they can graze, laze about and recuperate.

Perhaps I will stay the night, and they can stay in the stalls where she cared for them before?

The scent of apples illuminate the senses, and I sigh. "Mmmm . . . very pleasant," I mutter to myself.

I lean forward, pat Nicklom's neck and whisper, "Run, my friend. Take me to her as swiftly as you can!"

My heels dig in.

Nicklom does not falter, nor weary, and within moments, I am pulling up to the edge of the orchard.

The horses are whinnying, hoping for a nibble.

I dismount and pluck a few for both of them.

They are most satisfied with their treat as I lead them down to the water.

I turn to gaze on the backside of the property. It is quaint and in need of some repair, but it looks like a cozy place to dwell.

When I turn back to the water, contemplating maybe washing a little before attempting a visit, I see her.

She is a ways off, sitting on the bank with her skirts pulled up around her knees, her slender, pale legs, digging in the water.

Ohhhhh . . . that shoulder was an indicator of what the rest of her body will beā€”fair, flawless and full of dips and curves.

Without any preamble whatsoever, I am marching straight along the edge of the waterline to her.

Her mouth hangs open in shock when she sees me, and she makes no move to cover herself up.

She is wearing another shirt that is overly-large on her petite body, and her shoulders are bare.

I should look away. This is not befitting of a knight to gaze on a woman in a state of undress, but I do not care.

I came to see her, and see her I shall.

And the more I see of her, the better for me.

"Good morrow to you, Isabella," I call out.

"What the devil do you mean by coming here?" she asks, suddenly standing and backing deeper into the water.

Her skirts are too big and they droop into the stream, sopping her to the knees. She gathers the fabric up as best she can.

"I mean to find out the state of your affairs on this property," I reply.

Her legs sparkle in the late-morning sun, and she glows like an unearthly, powdered creature.

I lick my lips as I stare at her legs. Never have I seen a woman's lower-half before. Or at least not any legs I wanted to see.

"You do not need to vex yourself in traveling here," she says, moving ever-further into the water.

How does she always escape me?

"Does it trouble you to see me?" I ask. My heart stops.

She is afrighted. You are no gentleman.

"Yes. I am out here to bathe, and it is not right of you to be here," she scolds.

"By all means, wash, and I shall turn away," I say, smirking.

"You do not think I am feeble in the brain enough to believe that, do you? For if you think that, you most definitely should not be the owner of any land other than your own," she says, her tongue sharp as ever.

She tries not to fall as her feet clumsily feel around the creek bed for safe spots to walk on.

I laugh. "My little bird, you do like to scratch with those talons and mean to cut me with your sharp beak. But I have a little secret to share. Birds do not fly well when wet," I say, and then without further ado, I race out in the water after her, and toss her in.

She screams when she comes up, but it's not in anger.

My little bird is as adept in the water as she is in the air, and swims away, laughing so loudly, and gregariously, that I have no choice to stroke after her.

"And my mother says I do not know how to greet guests who come to visit me!" I howl with laughter.

I swish my hands through the water, grasping for anything of her.

"Lest you forget, I do not have visitors, so I do not have to hold to any conventional behaviors," she states.

To my delight, I clamp my large hand around her ankle and drag her through the water back to me.

"Come back little bird, I need you to show me the way of the wild," I tease.

"You are wilder than the wolves, as I have said before. Let me be," she says, swatting at my hand, and flailing around.

I run my other hand up her curvy calf, and this slightly frigid water, does not matter any longer.

I am warm. Very warm.

She gasps, "Unhand me! That is vile and wrong! You may be used to having your pick of the women in the stands after a jousting tournament, but I am not one of those for your taking!"


She slaps my face, and suddenly I am not warm, I am hot.

I am hot for her, and the pursuit has just burned me like a jousting match, where I win at all costs.

"I do not care for those ladies, and I do not know what I have done to offend you, little bird, but let me right the wrong," I plead, swimming after her.

My God, she is fast, but I have the breadth of shoulders and expanse of chest she does not possess.

"Stop! Please! Don't hurt me!" she cries in anguish, truly frightened.

I watch her run out of the water and directly to the house.

The door slams shut behind her, and I am left dumbfounded.

"What did I do?" I ask myself.

Not one to take a loss with ease, I drag my soggy self out of the water and go after her to find out the matter she takes with me.

Surely, she did not think I would force myself upon her?

If that was the intent, I would have done that in my chambers the last time I held her captive.

I do not understand her fierce reaction to our lighthearted play.

"You will explain yourself to me," I say aloud, determined to have answers.

I will stay all day and night and knock down her door, if that is what it requires.


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