Twin Passions(6)

By: Miriam Minger

"I will wake you if there is need, my lady," Leah murmured.

"Very well. Good night, Leah and my thanks." She looked gratefully at her maid, unspoken words of comfort passing between them.

Turning toward the door, she was not surprised to see the shadowed figure of Earl Godric standing inside the threshold. She walked over to him and took his proffered arm, the look in her luminous eyes telling him all he needed to know. Relief surged through his body, and with a last backward glance at their sleeping daughter, they descended the stairs together.

Chapter 3

"Will there be anything else, my lady?" the maid questioned softly as she poured a generous amount of perfumed lavender oil into the steaming bath water.

"Nay, everything is fine," Anora murmured contentedly, settling deeper into the large brass tub. Reaching for a small cake of lavender-scented soap, she began to hum softly.

What a luxury! she thought, soaping a silky leg. The perfumed soaps and oils, gifts from the household of the king, delighted her beyond measure. Breathing in the fragrant steam, she giggled as she flicked scented droplets of water at the gray kitten curled up asleep on the soft towel at the foot of the tub. The kitten stretched, its little pink mouth yawning widely, then snuggled deeper into the towel.

Anora leaned her head against the rim of the tub, the smile fading from her lips as her thoughts drifted back to the night before. A troubled look crossed her brow, startling the maid, who was laying out fresh garments on the bed.

"My lady, are you not feeling well?" the maid asked, voicing her concern. With only two more days until the wedding, she could think of nothing worse than Anora's becoming ill.

"Have you any news of Gwendolyn this morning?"

Taken aback, the maid realized Anora had not even heard her question. "Aye, she is fine, but still sleeping," she replied, clucking her tongue and shaking her head. "She had a fitful night, Leah says, tossing and turning and mumbling about dragons, demons, and such." She would have continued to recite what she had heard earlier that morning in the kitchen, but thought better of it at the sight of Anora's stricken face. "Don't you worry now, my lady, she'll be just fine," she soothed, seeking to allay any needless fears. "I'll be back shortly to help you dress." With a reassuring glance, she left the room.

Hardly feeling reassured, Anora sighed as she recalled the frantic scene in the great hall the night before. It had been like a bad dream. When Gwendolyn had not returned with her guards in time for the evening meal, their father sent half his men out into the raging storm to search for them. He had then called loudly for a stable hand to saddle his own mighty steed, but had been stayed by the shouts from outside the hall. A drenched thane entered with the news that Gwendolyn had been found.

Anora shuddered. She remembered all too painfully her feelings of dread when Gwendolyn was carried into the hall, shivering and bedraggled. Her own body had felt chilled at the sight of her sister, and a feeling of helplessness had welled up deep within her. Shivering in empathy, she had experienced a strange sense of sharing in a frightening vision, but the feeling had quickly passed. Only later, after visiting Gwendolyn's chamber, had she felt reassured. Her mother's presence had lent an air of calm, and she returned to her own chamber much relieved.

But what was this talk of dragons and nightmares? Anora wondered. A shiver suddenly ran through her body, recalling her sense of foreboding from the night before. Feeling the water in her bath growing tepid, she realized she had lingered overlong. She stepped out of the tub so quickly that water sloshed onto the sleeping kitten. With a startled yowl it streaked from the room, leaving wet paw prints across the floor. Smiling once again, Anora took a towel from the table near the tub and dried herself quickly.

Wulfgar. She could hardly believe her future husband was now within the stronghold. She had heard the commotion of his arrival earlier that morning. The thought of him made her senses reel with excitement and longing. Do all young women feel this way, she wondered, on the eve of their marriage? Her fingers trembled as she loosened the ivory pins from the thick coil of hair at her nape. It tumbled about her shoulders and down her back in a riot of silvery-blond waves. Standing in a stream of sunshine from the window, she luxuriated for a moment in the golden warmth.

Returning from the kitchen with a light breakfast, the maid paused just inside the door. Aye, here is one that was made for the love of a man, she thought approvingly, proud of her mistress's beauty.

An air of innocence surrounded Anora as she stood lost in some private thought, a smile playing about her lips. Her lustrous hair framed her long, graceful throat and delicate shoulders, falling like a gossamer cloud about her narrow waist. Her breasts, high and firm, were small, yet perfectly rounded, the nipples pale roseates that peeked out from beneath her long tresses. Walking over to the bed, she picked up a white silken camise and drew it up over the slender curve of her hips, then slipped her slim arms through the embroidered straps.

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