Chapter 17

Edward's hands were always on her. He fed her himself, fawned all over her and always had love filled eyes for her.

"Love, eat more, you must gain your strength back so you can fight him if he tries to take you against your will," he said.

She yawned and stretched out on his lap. "He has not been here yet, and it has been three days. They leave us food and pay us no heed. The guards do not even seem to mind I am out of that hellish spiky prison," she replied.

She reached up and scratched lightly at his jaw. His beard was coming in, and damn him, he was even more beautiful when rugged like this.

She desired him more than ever, and they did not hesitate to make love on the seed-soaked mattress.

It did not matter if anyone heard them.

Though they had never heard any noises from other prisoners, so they were unsure if anyone else was being held here in this place.

"Why would he leave us here like this?" he asked.

"To torture our addled brains. He means to break us down by making us go mad, trying to figure out his evil designs." She nuzzled her head into his lap. "I will not succumb to his wiles—none of them. I am here with you, and that is all I care about. I will cherish each moment I can touch you unfettered and free."

"His design is to make me glut on you so when he takes you away again, I break in the first instant. He is more cunning than the devil." His jaw flexed and his chest tensed.

"Peace, dear heart. Stop this. Let us think of ways we can keep our love alive even if our bodies fail us." She stroked his jaw, and it relaxed at her touch.

He kissed her palm and held it to his lips. His eyes slid closed and he hummed then exhaled like he was releasing a great burden from off his shoulders.

"Though he may beat my carcass into bloody meat, I will never let go of my love for you." His eyes were bright but the water in them reflected from the low level of light.

They both cried frequently.

"Tell me what you imagine our children will be like," she said, her voice far off and dreamy.

"They will be strong like you, and vibr—"

"I am weak. These muscles fail me," she said, settling her palm on his naked chest.

"I refer to your soul, your inner strength. It is unmatched, and that is why he will never break you. You brayed at him like a wolf, screaming in the night. There was no fear in your eyes held for yourself when his men took you and bound you—only fear for me. It was astounding how wholly you love me. That was when I knew I would never let go of you." Tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes. "That is what I would wish for our children to have. They could be thin, portly, have brown or red hair, freckles or pale skin, and it will mean nothing to me. I only want to know their hearts are pure like yours. I love you, and I desire greatly to have a family with you—wonderful woman."

She sat up, kissed his tears away. "You break my heart with these tender words. If they have a magnificent, unbreakable heart, it will be because of you." She brushed her lips across his and rubbed noses with him. "You love with the ferocity of a lion, and the softness of an angel's wings, grazing the clouds in the sky. It is so easy to love you and adore everything about you." She bared her bosom to him, offering her body to show him how devoted she was to him.

His warm hands cupped her breasts, and he massaged lightly, but he simply stared at her and did nothing more.

"Beautiful. So innocent and undefiled by the grittiness of this shitty world. How do you shield yourself this way? I am jaded and cynical until I am with you. You wash it all away." He shifted closer to her. "Not one soul in this world can do it the way you do."

"I can say the same about you. I was ready to give in, marry the king because I did not want to be burdened with fighting him off, but once I knew you returned feelings for me, I had to fight to have you."

"Isabella . . . When I touch you, do you feel it in your bones as I do? Please say it pulls at your core and you feel you will burst apart."

"Yes, my dearest—it is exactly like that every moment."

They held each other, breathed deep and took it all in.

In this den of Hell, they were whole—at one.

Henry had failed before he even began to punish them.

.

.

.

A fortnight had passed. Still no word from the king.

They sat in their filth, given occasional water and rags to clean off, but they were forbidden fresh clothes to change into.

She was still attired in the remnants of the torn, bedraggled wedding dress she wore with Henry.

The one ray of sunshine, other than being together, was Edward's leg seemed much better.

He was able to put more weight on it and walk around as long as he was cautious and she helped him.

His pride dissipated, and he was happy to have her be his crutch. He kissed the side of her head and told her she was impossible to resist.

"The king!" a voice boomed.

Edward immediately rammed his shirt over her head.

She was in her dress, but it was indecent as it hung off her body.

Plus, she had been nauseous lately and failed to eat much. Edward fretted and said she was losing weight. Unacceptable to her loyal husband.

Clunk, clunk, clunk, splaaack.

The sound of the king's angry feet as he teetered through the corridor sent a chill down her spine.

What would he do? What could she say?

She wrapped her body around Edward. "Kiss me, and do not let go until he forces us apart."

"Yes," he replied, his lips finding hers. "Never letting go."

His arms were a pillar of strength around her. He shifted his weight to his good leg.

Smart man.

He kissed her and she parted her lips to accept his tongue inside.

"Move out of my way," Henry barked.

The door creaked open.

Edward ended the kiss and pushed her behind him a little, tensing as if ready to break into crushing blows with his fists.

There Henry stood, fatter than ever, his face ruddy and his eyes tortured.

"Isabella," he said, staring at only her, disregarding his brother completely.

"Majesty, thank you for allowing us to remain together." She curtsied then went right back to being chained to Edward's body. His muscles twitched and stiffened.

The tighter he held her, the louder his breathing became.

"I did it all for you," Henry told her.

Edward snorted. "Do not listen to him," he admonished her.

"We have little options. It is best we all communicate openly." She squeezed her husband's bones to her. He was precious, and she would die to keep at his side. Going to Henry's bed was no longer an option.

"I see you are standing, brother," Henry said. "I credit it to your lady for finding a way to nurse you back to health in the most adverse circumstances."

Edward leaned forward. "You of all people know of her healing influence with her golden heart and inspiring ideas. I cannot help but be exorcised of my demons when I am near her."

"You speak boldly for a man incarcerated," Henry replied.

"And you speak like a desperate man, still clinging to the hope he can win a woman who cannot be won." Edward's jaw clicked closed.

"Whatever anger you possess toward me, it does not help you." Henry pointed at her. "She is to be released and come to my side. You will stay here as was my original agreement with my bride."

"My bride!" Edward yelled.

"I married her in the sight of God, and it was legal. And since you lie in sin with her, I have the law on my side to slaughter you if I so choose," the king said, spit spraying everywhere.

"Henry, you know it was not right. I am Edward's, and you forced me into your arms." She bowed her head and whimpered, "Besides, you would not remove a breeding woman, would you?"

Both Henry and Edward gasped, and then Edward twisted her around, shielded her from his brother completely.

"You are with child?" the king cried.

She moved around Edward to face the king. "'Tis true," she said softly. "Edward and I . . . Our seed found God's light, and culminated our love into a baby."

"You are certain?" Henry gaped.

"My body told me a few days ago, but I chose to ignore it. There is little I can do in this cell to manage a pregnancy in a healthy way, but it is nothing compared to lying, deceiving you and acting as if I want you as anything more than a friend. I do not love you, Henry. Not the way you wish."

Edward moved to stand in front of her again.

She let him and rested her cheek on Edward's back; her hands went to his shoulders.

"This is my child, and it is of royal blood. You would kill an innocent baby?" Edward placed his hands over hers.

It was comforting. She sighed low and heavy.

"I already said I would release her. You stay here." Henry's voice shook and his eyes twitched with doubt.

"My baby will not survive if I cannot eat due to grief—that is most assuredly what will transpire if you leave my husband here to languish without me." Isabella's voice broke.

"You cut me—pierce my heart, woman." Henry dropped his cane and moved toward her.

Edward back up, keeping a protective stance and continuing to hide her from the king.

"You will not touch my wife," Edward snarled.

"I will do anything I damn well please!" Henry stepped closer.

"God help me, I will break every bone in both your legs if you take one more step." Edward moved back once more.

"Christ almighty! Ahhhhhhrr!" Henry's fists clawed at his doublet and ripped it off, flinging it on the floor. "Let me touch her womb—see for myself that she speaks true. If I know she carries your babe, then I release you both, but you come to court and stay nearby. Both of you—indentured servants for life." He blinked with a wild look in his eyes. A caged animal would most certainly appear docile compared to him.

"You may touch her just this once and then never again. Swear it, and I will step aside," Edward said, his hands gripping hers into his shoulders harder.

Was he trying to anchor her to him?

"Will you be my nursemaid when I am ill?" Henry asked her, leaning to the side to catch her eye.

"Aye, Majesty. I can do that if Edward will be allowed to assist me." She sighed and leaned into Edward, inhaling his scent.

"Fine." Henry's nostrils flared and his face pinked.

"Fine?" Edward echoed.

"I said it, did I not? And my word is law?" Henry clapped his hands to his hips.

"Your cock is law, too. Should I be afraid that law will override the spoken one?" Edward stared at him, unblinking.

"Edward—your mouth is what will determine your death, not me. You never stop speaking and saying vile things. I detest the way you speak to her; I abhor the things you say to me, your sovereign lord. You have no respect for God or his holy servants." Henry paused.

"And that is what I love about him. There is no pretense, Sire, and it is a rare quality he possesses that I cherish. Please, never shame him for it," she said, her voice soft. She slipped her hands out from under Edward's and moved around him.

She lifted the shirt enough to expose her belly.

It was flat as always.

She approached the king, the trust evident on her face.

"I will not harm you or this . . . child," Henry bit out, his face going grave at his final word.

Sorrow lanced through her, wedged its way into her heart. "I am sorry you did not have a whole house full of sons. You did not deserve to suffer this way." She cupped his cheek then dropped her hand when he gasped at her touch.

"I will touch you back now. Please do not cringe," Henry pleaded, his voice shaky with thick emotions.

"Please do feel the firmness of my womb. Press hard so you can feel how hard and swollen the organ is," she told him.

Edward's breathing escalated behind her and he was shifting about restlessly.

The king's warm, big hand alighted on her lower abdomen.

She smiled and her eyes softened.

"You will not feel it if you are this light of touch," she said then she put her hands over his and pressed really hard toward her spine.

"Is this painful?" Henry leaned away.

"No more than lying on the hard ground, Your Grace." She smirked.

"Forever the witty girl," he replied, smiling. "And I can feel it like a firm boulder in your belly. This is Edward's baby?"

"Yes, Sire. I do not lie." She blinked and pushed her belly further into his hand. "A life beats inside me, and it is because of Edward's pure unselfish love for me. If you love me like you profess you do, then you will support me, and him to keep me happy. That is what true love is." She released his hand and stepped away. "If Edward told me he had a change of heart and no longer desired me, I would let him go—not hound him. It would shred my heart and demons would gnaw at my soul, but I would pray for his happiness, that he would find a good woman to pamper him and keep his days filled with endless bliss."

Henry's face contorted in anguish and tears flooded his eyes. He turned away. "Isabella . . . I know you love me."

"I wish that were true so you could have some measure of peace, but I was merely being kind. There is a difference between being kind and loving you. I love Edward, not you."

He groaned and clutched at his chest. "You ruin me!"

"Were you any worse before you knew me? You poor, wretched man. You have been tromped on by abusive women, and I sorrow for your grief and heartache, truly." She joined Edward at his side and took his hand. "But I cannot fix you, contrary to both yours and Edward's belief. I hold no special elixir or power. Wish to God I did." She exhaled and her shoulders curled forward in relief. "Find happiness in your family, your children, your friends. And I hope you will count both Edward and I amongst those you enjoy and trust most. We will always be loyal to you and true. You can depend on us to support you and your queen."

Henry's head fell forward and he groaned.

"Very well. Come to court as I have said. We will find a way to live in harmony, but I want Edward out of my sight for now. I need time to . . ."

"Of course, brother. I will keep at a respectable distance at all times." Edward rushed forward and handed the king his cane.

"You are pardoned both if you keep under my watchful care, serve me and cause no trouble." Henry walked toward the exit, tapped on the door with his cane and left the second it was opened.

"Oh my God!" she shouted in an exultant praise of joy.

Edward picked her up for a second, grunted at the weight of it and set her down.

"No magic? I beg to differ. I do not know how you managed to soften a stone heart into a puddle, but you did. He melted under your presence, and now we are both free, will be well taken care of, and our babe will want for nothing!" He lowered himself down, kissed her belly repeatedly and rubbed his hands across it. "My child. My son—Edward!"

"A striking name for a strong little child." She beamed at him.

"And with a heart of gold to rival the heroes of the ages."

"A nephew to make the king proud, who does not need to bear the king's name like we had said many moons ago." Tears glistened in his eyes, and she adored this man more than ever. "I love you, and if you ever stop loving me, I may have to hound you ten times worse than Henry did me."

"God help me," he teased, chuckling. "Let us be happy that will never happen. It is an impossibility as assuredly as the sun will stop shining on you and your radiant perfection."

January 28, 1547

So many blessings had befallen Isabella Cullen in the three years they had been at court.

She suckled a new babe—a strong, vibrant girl, Abigail, and their son, Edward, was a terror, all but swinging from tapestry to tapestry, to the king's wicked delight.

Though she was daily surprised at how they all managed to co-exist in peace, the king would still sometimes shun Edward and have to escape his brother's presence.

She did not fault him for this, and respected his preference, but he understood, if he dismissed Edward it meant he effectively dismissed her as well. She went wherever her husband traversed, and neither her eyes nor Edward's, ever strayed from their spouse, unlike the other players at court.

They were an odd couple to be certain, and they were pleased to be so.

She sighed as she wandered down the corridor.

It was time to tell the King, but he was so sick—had been for three weeks now.

It tore her heart apart. Only four weeks ago they were laughing, walking the grounds together as friends, and she was helping him gain an appreciation for his own children. Never had she been talked about more than when she helped Henry get on the ground to play a game of cards with his youngest child on the rug.

It was considered cruel to indulge him in this manner, but she knew his days were limited as it was, so she allowed him to do it.

Harry would be upset with her, but there was the possibility having a reason to argue would help him get better?

Edward should already be in the king's private chambers, so she quickened her pace.

When she rapped at the door, her husband answered.

As her body was wont to do, it heated as she took in Edward's handsome face. Was there anyone as ethereal as him?

Not even Henry could have ever been this breathtaking.

"How is he faring?" She cupped his jaw and kissed the corner of his mouth.

"Cantankerous and bickering like an old woman, but I am certain it will cease now that his favorite person is here." He motioned his head at her.

"Oh, please do flatter, dear sir. I have nothing but time and ego to waste." She batted her lashes at him.

He hugged her. "Stop being so tempting, wife. I have a mind to take you back to our bed right now and he can wait many hours for your visit."

She smacked his chest. "You were in me this morning, lest you forget, and I think you are determined to get me with child again as quickly as possible."

"A man can never have too many sons, as the king will attest. You would do well to heed his counsel in this regard." He pinched her ass.

She jumped and laughed.

He followed after her as she made her way back to the king.

"There she is. How long did I wait? It was agonizing," Henry teased. He smiled and then coughed, his face going pale.

"You are not well," she said, stepping forth and placing her palm on his forehead.

He gripped her wrist and this ominous look flashed in his eyes.

"You have something to say, then do it, but I do not want to be patronized and nursed as if I am at death's door." Henry's eyes narrowed at her.

Was he blaming her for something?

She sighed. "Very well." She pointed to his desk. "Did you get the papers I sent?"

The king nodded.

"And they have been gone through each with painstaking detail?" She set her hands on her waist.

"Aye, madame. Desist with your pragmatism. I know how to handle my affairs." He lunged forward in his chair.

She immediately went to his aid, and Edward did, too.

She knew that pained look meant his leg was aching and needed to be propped up.

Edward grabbed a bigger, more comfortable chair and she a pillow.

They situated him and instead of thanking them, Henry glowered.

"Do not dote!"

"I recall being told we were to serve you with our whole hearts until our dying day," she reminded him, her tone lighthearted.

"And I recall saying that because I was desperate to have any little bit of you I could. It is over. I do not want either of you here anymore." Henry gazed at the fire, his eyes glazed over and his face all tense and unmoving.

"You shut us out because you know what I do." She knelt before him. "Please, Majesty. Make sure all these wills are in order so the succession can take place smoothly if anything should happen to you. Promise us my Scottish relatives will never take power and force me in as well. If they do, they might rally and try to force Edward to be on the throne. And that would be the worst torture ever. As you love me as a loyal brother, you do not wish that for either of us. Take care of your own, as we have done for you." She stood, loomed over him and blinked.

Henry huffed. "Wicked woman, you never stop exerting control over me." He smirked and reached for her. "Hug me then leave. I will do all that is required for the good of my kingdom. You need never fear I would do that to either of you. My pride would not suffer it. I am not nearly as righteous as either of you, and I envy you that, too." He hiccuped a laugh. "My wickedness never ends." He patted his stomach. "Pride, envy, gluttony." He laughed harder for a moment then went melancholy. "Murder. I will be thrust to hell, and all my wives who have gone before me will drag me there by the hair. And I have nice red hair." He patted his head.

Edward chuckled. "God knows what is in your heart, and he loves you."

"Aye, my lord. Fear not. The good shepherd will be there to usher you into Heaven." She smiled.

"Thank you." Henry looked at them both in turn. "But I must be alone now."

He shooed them out the door.

That night, he was not present for dinner.

They both carried in his meal, and once in his chambers, they found him at the foot of his desk rolled onto his side. He looked pale and was covered with sweat.

"Henry," she said, her voice soft and barely audible.

Edward dropped to his side and felt his forehead.

"Henry," she repeated, setting aside the tray of food.

There was no answer.

Edward shook him.

Still. He was unmoving.

She leaned over and touched his hand. It was damp and cool to the touch.

"Harry?" her voice cracked.

Something was wrong.

Edward turned him over and she noticed the king's lips were blue, and he lacked breath.

"Harry!" she screamed.

He was unresponsive and his pupils dilated so large the blue of his irises were eclipsed by nothing but black.

She pounded on his chest. "No! You are the king of England, you cannot leave! You bring peace to this realm!"

There was shuffling of feet outside the door, and they tried to get in but she had locked it as her habit always made her do.

"Isabella!" Edward clutched her to his chest and dragged her away from the corpse next to them.

She wept onto his chest, gripped his vest.

"Call for the physician!" she howled.

"It is too late," Edward answered. "He is gone."

Footsteps retreated and nobody came for what seemed like an eternity.

When she thought she could cry no longer, the door opened and in walked the current laundress, keys in hand, and the physician at her side.

Two of Harry's most loyal servants moved Isabella out of the way. Edward took her back in arms.

She watched in horror as the physician finished his examination and pronounced the king to be gone.

She ran out of the room and went to her own chambers, unsure of what to do now.

Would they be cast out of court?

What of their children?

Did she even want to stay with the great Harry gone?

Her mind warred over the idea of finally being free and having a choice of where to live and the notion of staying, to honor a great man that swallowed the dregs of bitterness all because he had no choice but to be king.

It was thrust upon him when his brother died.

That could have been her beloved Edward. It could have been her.

She ground her teeth and a whiny, shrill sound lifted out of her and filled the air.

Her brain worked at an impressive rate. She had to leave. They had to go.

Who knew if Henry proclaimed her son as a possible legitimate heir after Henry's son, Edward.

She grabbed armfuls of sumptuous clothes out of the closet and heaved them onto the bed.

"Darling, what the devil are you doing?" Edward approached her.

"We are unsafe here. We no longer have his protection," she said, bustling about, refusing to look at him.

"We are safer than ever. Did you not care to know his will?"

"No!" she shouted and stormed about the room, throwing items at the bed.

"Stop." He gripped her by the shoulders and sat her down on the mattress.

She stared at the floor.

He tilted her head up.

"My brother loved you. He cared about me as well."

"I know this," she whimpered, tears drifting down her cheeks.

"And he knew you were honest when you pleaded for him to leave us out of his will."

She nodded and bit her lip.

"We are free to go. I want to, but not like this."

"How then?"

"With you happy. With you at peace. We are not mentioned at all. And my lands are now restored to me along with title. They were to be held until his death." He kissed her.

"Truly, husband?"

"Truly, wife," he said.

He grabbed one of the clothes brushes off the bed, ran it across her collarbone and purred, "And you will no longer work for anyone but me and my pleasure."

"I am yours and yours alone?" Her voice was breakable like fine porcelain.

"Aye, that you are." He ran the brush across her right breast.

She fought off a shiver.

"By God and my right, you were ever my first wife, not my seventh like Henry would have made you. I did not have to hide you away or make a farce of your good name."

She tipped her head back as he rolled the brush over her neck.

"Because you were all I have wanted. I gave you anything I had, and though most of the time, it was never enough, I could never give you what he could in terms of untold wealth, you have been loved by my entire heart, soul, and body."

"You are the reason I could love the king as a devoted servant. All for you and your happiness," she said.

"He will always be your king, but I will always be in here." He kissed her heart and she melted into him, never the same again.

"God and my right—you are mine—and no one can take that away—ever!" she breathed and pushed him onto the bed as she prepared to worship his body, thanking God Henry allowed her to have this perfect man. She did not deserve him, but she would try to be worthy.

God made it her right.

A/N:

Thank you so much to all of you for reading, reviewing and rec'ing this story. It really meant a lot to me.

I can't believe this story is over, but the good news is I'm already halfway done writing another story I'll begin posting very soon.

Here's the longer version of the summary for my new story and I'll post a teaser for chapter 1 on my blog if you're interested in knowing a little more:

Breaking Blood on Alabaster:

AH ExB It's 1899 in New York City, and a young widow has bills and responsibilities to attend to. What will she do to the owner of New York Times when he refuses to sign for her bank note on her weekly wages she simply must have? Will she drag him to the lower east side and teach him a lesson, or tease him with her body until he can't take anymore? All good ideas… only she hadn't planned on this man knowing how to take absolute control of her mind and her senses regardless of how hard she tries to resist him. BDSM themes, blood lust and fisticuffs ensue. Hold on to your bowler hats and knickers—this is one clash of the classes that produces more than sparks.

Chanse