Lady Thief Page 51

“Do you care to tell me where you were this afternoon?” he asked, not turning to me.

“A healer checked my hand.” Which did feel much duller, now.

“The earl’s healer.”


“And how did you come by that?”

I sighed. “I reckon you know just where I were, Gisbourne.”

The whetstone stopped. “Yes.”

Pushing from the bed were awkward with one hand, but I struggled free of it and went for the other chair by the fire. “Did you win the melee?”

He tossed his sword down so it clattered loud. It were meant to intimidate me, I think, but I were far beyond such. “Does this marriage mean nothing to you, Marian?”

I frowned at him. “Of course it doesn’t. You knew that from the first.”

“Then why come here at all?” he growled.

“Did you hit your head?” I demanded. “The annulment. All I’ve ever wanted were the annulment.”

“And to make a fool of me!” he roared, throwing himself back in the chair.

“I never lied about what and who I am. You knew that. You brought me here. If I make you a fool, it ain’t my fault.” I tucked my legs up, cold and simmering with anger. “Fool indeed. But what the hell is wrong with you, that you defy the prince to protect me in one moment—what, so your honor remains intact?—and then help him cut off my damn fingers the next?”

He stood, scooping up the sword and slamming it into its scabbard and throwing it on the bed. “Because there is one line I won’t cross—and that’s the whole reason I agreed to this exercise in idiocy to start with. You think you were my first choice, Marian? You think I was desperate to marry Leaford’s younger, uppity daughter? With an unmarried, beautiful older sister hanging about?”

This stole my breath. “You wanted Joanna?”

“Wanted? No. Hell no. But why would I take you over her, hmm? She was stunning, graceful, sweet—she would have bent very well to my hand. So why you?”

My lip curled at the thought of him raising a hand to Joanna. “You never wanted either of us from the start. You wanted Isabel. It’s obvious every time you look at her, Gisbourne—”

“Use my given name!” he screamed. He stepped over to me, catching my throat, but not squeezing, not hurting me. “Say it,” he said. “Say my given name. You are my wife, Marian. Use my given name.”

With unblinking eyes, I stared at him. I had lost fingers to his master; his threats seemed hollow and idle now.

He shook his head with a sad, helpless laugh. His hand left my throat to catch my cheek, looking at the fading bruises there. His rough, calloused thumb ran over the cut by my lip. “You won’t, will you? I can beg you and break you and you won’t do a damn thing I ask.”

It seemed wise not to answer that.

His thumb went to the scar, testing it, feeling its depth and the odd jumble of skin and scar under the surface. “You are the most unnatural, vexing woman, Marian.” He tilted my chin farther up. “You didn’t scream once last night.”

“I told you,” I said quiet. “I’m not afraid of your pain. Or his.”

His thumb ran over my mouth, and I went tense. “I am,” he admitted. “But it’s his bribes that are so much darker and alluring.”

“Is that why you married me, Gisbourne?” I asked. “He bribed you?”

He nodded, and my breath left me.

“Why?” I asked. “Why would he ever? How would he know of me at all?”

His hand left my face. “You’re like a wild horse, Marian. Utterly untamable, unassailably noble. No—not a horse.” He chuckled and looked at me. “A lion,” he said. “And you are the fool in truth if you don’t know what that means. Why it is the one thing that means the prince can’t kill you and the one reason he will always want to. Why you are dangerous to him.”

“Eleanor said he can’t kill me because he has royal blood. Godly blood.”

His grin was wicked and dark. “I can’t kill you, Marian, and I have no royal blood. Hell, I barely count as noble. But to kill you would be to defy God himself—not to mention Eleanor.”

“I don’t understand.”

He laughed, and I stood.

“Tell me! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” My voice raised dangerous close to a shriek.

He began stripping off his clothing, not answering me.

“Gisbourne!” I yelled again.

“Your parents have come to the castle,” he said after a moment, stripping off his tunic. “They expect an audience with you tomorrow morning.”

“My …” I dropped into the chair. My parents. I had been so long gone from them it seemed easy not to think of them at all. A thousand thoughts twisted through my mind. Did they hate me? Were it all forgotten and forgiven now I had done what they first asked? How would I explain leaving them at the first?

Christ, how would I explain Joanna?

He chuckled. “I thought that might shut you up.”

Chapter Nineteen

When I woke up, Gisbourne were sleeping and there were early, gray sun in the room. I called for Mary and when she set about pulling fabric round the bandaged hand, she stopped but didn’t say nothing. Gisbourne grunted and sat up in bed, watching me and yelling for Eadric.

My head were running fast, thinking on my parents. What would I say? How could I possibly say anything? What if my parents wanted to know—anything. Everything.

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