The Maiden (Montgomery/Taggert 12) - Page 51

“She will have a new husband now,” Rowan said coolly, “and a lusty one will drive away her memories of a dead one.”

“If she does not displease you and you make no vows to God,” Jura said. “You brag of your vigor but I have seen none of it. Perhaps I should pity Brita, but I am more concerned with what you will do to our country. Too many people trust you. And now you are fool enough to trust her.”

“Perhaps you are merely jealous,” he said.

“Of what? I have been married to you and I know the loneliness of that marriage. Perhaps I should warn Brita that you are without substance.” She swung into the saddle of her horse and looked down at him. “You are useful to her now, so you are safe, but watch your back for her blade when she thinks you are of no more use to her.”

Jura rode to the edge of the clearing and turned and watched the Vatells as they also watched her. Brita, this time in a gown of yellow wool with a circlet set with rubies about her head, emerged from the peasant’s hut and mounted her horse. Rowan rode to her side and Brita threw a look of triumph toward Jura as she extended her hand and Rowan kissed it.

Jura turned away and urged her horse forward. She dreaded the long journey home and she dreaded the looks on people’s faces when Rowan announced he was setting her aside. It would be easy for him to do. All he had to do was say she was unpleasing to him, and if Jura were examined and found to be a maiden, he would have no problem in having the marriage dissolved.

But Jura knew that if Rowan set her aside Daire would not be able to marry her. She could marry a lesser man but not a prince like Daire, for she would be tainted goods. But she would not tell Rowan that. Better that she had some pride, and if he did not want her, let him think another man did.

Rowan rode beside Brita while Jura rode behind them surrounded by Vatell guardsmen, the quiet, subdued Vatell people in the rear.

Brita was looking at Rowan as if she were starving and he were a royal banquet, and he found her stares unnerving.

“How did ugly old Thal breed something like you?” she said seductively, looking at his hair as if it were gold.

“My mother’s people were quite fair,” he said quickly. “Your son, Daire, will no doubt come to the wedding festivities. You must be looking forward to seeing him.”

“I am looking forward to seeing all of you. That will be our wedding night also.”

“And Jura’s to Daire,” Rowan said under his breath.

Brita laughed. “She will not be allowed to marry my son. My son is a prince. Perhaps, if he is strong enough, he will succeed me. He will not put a woman on the throne beside him who has been once rejected by a king. Why, the girl is so undesirable she cannot get a lusty man like you to bed her. She is a useless female.”

Rowan opened his mouth to defend Jura but he thought better of it. He smiled at Brita. “But Daire loves her and she him. They were children together and I think they mean to have each other.” He tried to keep the resentment out of his voice.

Brita gave him a calculating look. “Do you care for this woman who you refuse to bed? It is Irial law as well as the law of all Lanconia that if a woman is set aside because she is not pleasing to her husband then she cannot marry a man of the highest rank. My son is a prince and has never been married. Jura cannot become his wife.”

“Jura does not know this,” Rowan said.

Brita laughed. “Of course she does.” Her face changed. “Do you mean to go back on our bargain?” She halted her horse, and there was much noise and confusion as the people behind them also stopped. “If you mean to keep this woman, tell me now,” she said, her eyes sparkling hatred. “I do not mean to surrender my people to some English king and his Irial bride. Either I am to be queen of all Lanconia or I return now to my own city.”

In that instant, Rowan knew Jura was right: Brita meant to rule all of Lanconia and she meant to do it alone. A woman who left her own son in the hands of the enemy would have no qualms about killing a husband who stood in the way of her goal.

He smiled radiantly at her and reached out to take her hand and kiss the palm. He looked at her through his lashes and lowered his voice. “Have a child when I can have a woman?” he asked. He watched as Brita calmed and he realized how great her vanity was. Jura was half Brita’s age and, to Rowan’s eyes, twice her beauty, but Brita was ready to believe that a man would choose her over Jura. Perhaps Brita’s experience and power would appeal to some men, but Rowan did not want to compete with his wife.

Brita smiled and urged her horse forward. “We will make a good pair, you and I. Perhaps we will not wait until the wedding night to taste of each other.”

Rowan smiled at her but the smile did not extend to his eyes. “Tell me how a woman as beautiful as you came to command the Vatells.” He guessed right in thinking that the woman would love to talk about herself. She droned on with a hundred, “And then I’s” and gave Rowan time to think.

So! Jura could not marry Daire and she well knew it.

“Magnificent,” he murmured to Brita.

If Jura could not marry Daire, then she wanted out of her marriage to Rowan for another reason, either to give Rowan his freedom or because she truly hated him. But Rowan could not believe she hated him. She could not react to his touch as she did if she hated him.

“You are as intelligent as you are beautiful,” he said to Brita.

Was it his vow to God? Rowan thought. Surely she understood knightly vows. Every Englishwoman understood them. Englishwomen wanted knights to make vows to them.

But Jura was not English.

Rowan almost halted his horse when he thought of this. If Jura did not understand his vows, why did she think he did not bed her?

Brita put her hand on Rowan’s arm. “So strong,” she murmured. “We will do well in bed together. There is nothing…wrong with you, is there? You can pleasure a woman in bed, can you not? It is just that wife of yours who displeases you and not all women?”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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