ARROW TO THE HEART
Fletcher St. Giles has always felt alone. But being a bastard rarely troubles his mind…until Lady Geljon Seacrest comes to the mighty fortress of Coinnleir Wood. Though Geljon is betrothed to another, she vexes him at every turn, following him like a shadow. With little to offer a woman of her station, Fletcher keeps his distance. Only, denied love becomes an arrow to the heart.
In the season of Yuletide, all things are possible…and even wishes of the heart can be granted.
Fletcher stood watching the moody weather. Off and on all day it had rained, alternating with soggy big snowflakes in the mix. As the gloaming embraced the hills ringing Coinnleir Wood, Mother Earth had summoned up a storm to match his pensive emotions. A torrent of rain so hard you could not see out into the bailey, now shifted to freezing rain and snow, to where it appeared a waterfall of white ran off the edge of the castle.
He stood, enjoying being alone, away from the noise and ribaldry of the Great Hall. As he had his whole life, he felt the outsider. The castle workers and soldiery, whilst polite and welcoming since his coming to Coinnleir Wood, made it known they considered him part of Damian’s world, and not one of them.
Oddly, they little seemed to care he was English, nor that he was a bastard. Few missed the meaning of the bar sinister upon his shield. They treated him with respect and deference, but not in friendship. On the other hand, he felt ill-at-ease with his position above the salt. Damian made it clear to the serfs and his men they were to view Fletcher as his brother, and reinforced that impression at each opportunity. It was clear Damian worked to keep the men’s minds to accept Fletcher’s command, and discourage a bond of friendship.
Thus, after a meal, when the people broke into groups for evening talk, to jest or listen to the bard, the comradery, which he was not a part of, left him restless. ‘Twas fine, he had little need of such closeness of fellowship. He preferred the quietude of his own company, or now that Eiry was his, the time alone with the horse. Even so, it was hard to find such moments whilst living in a fortress. Someone was always coming or going.
Now, Geljon trailed after him and refused to stop. The corner of his mouth tugged up reluctantly, summoning her image in his mind.
“I would give a coin for your thoughts, but I dunna think I have even a silver penny.”
Fletcher turned to find Geljon, standing just paces away. For a heartbeat he thought her a vision, conjured from his yearnings. He had not heard the door open or close. She wore a brown mantle, the hood edged with grey wolf’s fur, covered her head. Surely, she was naught more than a figment of his deep and growing love for her? He blinked thrice before believing she was truly there.
It alarmed him that he had allowed anyone to approach without his awareness. Such laxness could see a knife shoved into his back. Mayhap, at ten and a score years he had grown weary of war and fighting.
“I will not remind you ‘tis unwise for you to be out here with me. Methinks you a simpleton or hard of hearing.” In spite of coming out here to find that peace of silence that made him at one with himself, he was oddly pleased she had come.
“Truly? You believe such of me?” She came to stand beside him. “I hear you, Fletcher. I just dunna obey you. You are not my lord husband.”
His lower jaw set against his upper teeth, nearly grinding. “Nor ever will be, eh? Your betrothed arrives on the morrow, I hear.”
“I hear the same.” She spoke of the messenger that arrived with the noontide meal, bringing word that David Leslie and his party would reach Coinnleir Wood by the gloaming on the following day. Geljon’s hand took hold of the edge of the mantle, and began rocking from side-to-side. “Or perchance the Lady of Winter sends this strengthening storm to block the passes into Glen Shane.”
Fletcher turned to look at her, trying to judge her mood. She seemed calm, mayhap touched with a bit of mischief. “You do not seem upset that possibility might come to pass.”
Her rocking continued. “I have told you I accept my lot. That does no’ mean I am the simpleton you might think me, nor does accepting mean embracing.” Her hazel eyes stared out into the storm, though there was little to see. “I met the Leslie Tanist this October past.”
Something dark and hot unfurled in the pit of his stomach. “And?”
“Aye. We traveled to the Leslie stronghold of Glendower for the Samhaine festival.” She gave a playful grin. “Are you no’ going to ask me what he is like?”
Her playful spirit both intrigued and irritated him in the same breath. “’Tis not a driving concern.” Yet, in a perverse way it was. He did not want to put a face to the man who would spend his life with Geljon. Jealousy was a burning, breathing demon within his mind. He did not want to see them together, building a future. Most especial––he wanted no clear images of them. When he closed his eyes at night and sought to find sleep, he didn’t want sharp visions of Leslie kissing her, holding her . . .touching her. It would be much easier to see in his mind’s eye a faceless being. Somehow, it would make it less real, see it easier to live with the fact he could never be that man.
“You will see him––if he comes on the morrow.” A faint frown bracketed her small mouth. “He is not as tall as you. Scots seldom have the long legs you Sasunnach do. And typically, he has the red hair that comes from blood of old Dálriada. Women would say he was handsome. His men seem to like him. But. . .” Her words faltered.
Some thread in her voice caused him concern. He reached out and took hold of her upper arms and turned her to face him. “What is it, lass?”
Geljon gave him a faint smile. Her lower lip quivered betraying the effort. “I wish I knew. I think if I could have told my áithair why I did no’ wish to marry Leslie he might have listened to my fears. Instead, when I could offer nothing he said it was only my maidenly fears, and said ‘tis what happens when a woman waits too late to marry.”
Fletcher was hurting inside, yet he put those jumbled feelings aside, because he sensed how troubled she was. “Mayhap your sire is right.”
She shook her head, lowering her vision and leaned into him. His hands tried to keep her a step away, concern for her, but more frightened if he permitted her to take that last step he would be lost, no control over his deep need for this woman. She glanced up to meet his eyes. “I ken this to be a lie. I would not hesitate to lie with you, Fletcher St. Giles. I would give myself willingly, asking aught in return.”
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