Daring in a blue dress, p.11
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       Daring In a Blue Dress, p.11

           Katie MacAlister
 
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  “Alden,” I snarled, glaring at him down the length of my needy, desperate, deprived body. “Too. Much. Talking!”

  He laughed, and gently nipped my hip. “All right, my demanding one, I shall stop talking, and give you the pleasure you so obviously want.”

  I collapsed back onto the bed, my body buzzing with anticipation as his warm breath approached the parts that were so desperately awaiting him. Just as I was grabbing the sheets to brace myself for what was sure to be a hell of a sexual experience, there was a creak outside Alden’s door, a brief tap, and the door opened.

  I had just enough time to grab the duvet and fling it over us, leaving my shoulders and head exposed.

  “Alden? Just wanted to let you know—” Vandal stopped at the sight of me, frowning as he looked around the room. “This is Alden’s room, isn’t it? Where is he?”

  Alden, who had stiffened at the noise, jerked upright. Vandal’s eyebrows rose when the bottom half of the duvet moved apparently of its own accord.

  “Ah. Just so. Well, when he’s done, would you tell him the kitchen is on fire? Fenice has it confined to the pantry area, but she thought he’d like to know.” Vandal closed the door before I could do more than clutch the duvet to my chest.

  “It’s on fire?” Alden emerged from beneath the duvet, his hair ruffled, his face furious. “Bloody house! It’s gone too far this time!”

  “What?” I asked stupidly, trying to understand what was happening other than Alden had been interrupted during a moment I would have preferred to have been allowed to continue. “What is going too far? Should I call the fire department? Alden! You can’t go out like that!”

  He paused at the door, glanced down at himself (still aroused, I was pleased to note, although why, I didn’t know—it wasn’t likely I was going to see any action now), and with a tsk of annoyance grabbed his jeans, and pulled them on while hopping his way to the door.

  I sighed, looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds, and mentally apologized to all my girly bits for getting them worked up over nothing. “Next time I won’t let there be any interruptions,” I promised them, and with a muttered oath grabbed my nightgown, Alden’s shirt, and my slippers, and donned them all while making my way downstairs to the kitchen.

  “Ah. There you are. I was looking for you.” Lady Sybilla emerged from a door once I’d made it downstairs, causing me to jump and clutch Alden’s shirt, which I’d put on over my nightie. She eyed me with a critical look. “That garment is inappropriate.”

  “Yes, I know it is, I’m sorry, but—”

  “You will get chilblains in the library dressed like that,” she continued, just as if I hadn’t spoken. Waving an imperious hand, she added, “Adams! Bring me the coat Sir James bought in Saint Petersburg.”

  The equally ancient old woman who I suspected was more of a friend than an actual servant to Lady Sybilla sucked her teeth at me, then disappeared into the gloom of their shared sitting room.

  “That’s really sweet of you, but it’s not necessary,” I explained, trying to do up the buttons on Alden’s shirt. “I just threw this on when Vandal said the kitchen was on fire. If you don’t mind—”

  “Here it is, your ladyship.” Adams’s voice came from beneath a mountain of fur the size and approximate texture of an Irish wolfhound. The fur was projected toward me, and with Lady Sybilla watching me, disapproval dripping off every wrinkle, I took the horrible coat.

  “You would be unable to do your work if you were to take ill. Put it on, gel.”

  I sighed to myself and, with a disgusted wrinkle of my nose, slid into the beastly thing. It smelled of long-dead animal (what was it? badger? plagued wolf? yeti?), mothballs, and something vaguely skunky, and I swore to myself as I tottered under the weight of it that I was going to ditch it as soon as I was out of sight.

  Unfortunately, that wasn’t until I reached the kitchen door. With a little wave down the long hall to Lady Sybilla and Adams, silently watching me, I pushed open the kitchen door and entered what I figured would be a room full of smoke.

  It wasn’t. But that was only because the pantry door had been closed, so only a bit of smoke had leaked out.

  “Is the fire . . . ack.” I stopped to hack and wheeze. Although the small window a good six feet up the wall had been opened, the room was still hazy with smoke. I coughed a couple of times, and asked hoarsely, “Is the fire out?”

  “Yes. We’re just checking the wall to see if the fire reached it.” A shirtless Alden, his chest glistening with sweat, and black with soot, pulled out a bin of what looked like potatoes, and stacked it with a collection of assorted kitchen paraphernalia. He knelt and felt the wall. On the other side of the pantry, Fenice, clad in what I thought of as Renaissance Faire wear of black leggings, ankle boots, and some sort of leather jerkin, was one-handedly trying to toss foam-laden items into a large black trash bin.

  “Here, let me do that,” I said, hurrying forward. “Your shoulder must be hurting like hell if you were trying to put out the fire on your own.”

  “It wasn’t that bad, and I had an extinguisher,” she said, nodding to where a home fire extinguisher sat in a stack of blackened cardboard and charred wood. “It was just the flour bin, although how that caught on fire is beyond my understanding.”

  “It’s the house,” Alden said, sliding his hands along the wall. “It hates me, and would rather self-destruct than have me repair it.”

  “Heh.” Fenice shoved a soot-stained wad of wet paper towels into the trash can. “Still, I wouldn’t mind if you—goddess above and below! What are you wearing?”

  “I think it’s part of a Russian wolf,” I said, struggling out of the monstrous coat.

  Alden glanced over to me, his expression turning to one of horror. “That looks like a dead musk ox. Where did you get it?”

  “It’s not mine, if that’s what’s worrying you. I don’t do fur. Lady Sybilla forced it upon me because she was under the impression I was dashing off to work in the library clad in nothing but my nightgown and your shirt.” I dragged the coat over to the wall where pegs held various gray and faded aprons, and hung it on one of them. The peg promptly fell off the wall, taking the coat with it. I pretended I didn’t notice. “What can I do to help?”

  An hour later Alden and I dragged ourselves up the stairs to our rooms. I paused at the door of mine. “I think I’ll take a shower, since I’m supposed to start work soon. I’d ask you if you want to join me, but the shower is small, my skin itches like crazy because I think that musk ox had mange, and I never really did get into the idea of sex in a shower. I mean, it’s slippery in there. Someone could fall.”

  Alden gave a short bark of laughter, but didn’t meet my gaze, a sure sign he was feeling awkward again. I thought about just letting him cope with that—after all, it really was not my problem to constantly be fixing. But then the memory of what a nice time we’d had before the flour bin caught on fire returned, and I strode over to him, grabbed his head with both hands, and kissed the living daylights out of him.

  His mouth was as hot as I remembered, and spicy, due to the package of cinnamon candies that Fenice had offered us (evidently she was addicted to them) while we were cleaning.

  “You taste like gingerbread,” I said into his mouth, growling a little when he dug his fingers into my hips and pulled me up tight against his groin.

  “Are you sure you don’t want to shower together?” he asked, his eyes changing from shy to passion-filled in an instant. It made me warm just seeing how much he wanted to continue our previous activities. “We could pick up where we left off.”

  “Tempting, very tempting, but it is my first day on the job, and I hate to be late because I was having mind-blowing sex. I mean, that’s a pretty good excuse for being late for most things, but Fenice and Vandal already think we’re a couple, and I don’t think we need to reinforce that. Because this is just
. . .” I made a vague gesture.

  “Consenting adults indulging themselves?” he said, releasing my hips.

  I bit the end of his nose. “Exactly. We’re just scratching a mutual itch. Right?”

  “Right,” he said, nodding.

  “Tonight, however, is another matter.” I waggled my eyebrows at him. “Assuming you’re up to it.”

  “I suspect I’ll be aroused to the point of engorgement,” he answered. “Assuming the house doesn’t self-destruct around my ears while I’m trying to renovate it.”

  “You could always come out to the garden and play medieval knight,” I told him, forcing myself away from his tempting self. “I’d be happy to teach you archery.”

  “Another time, perhaps,” he said, squaring his sooty shoulders. “I’m not going to let the house beat me. I’m going to renovate it if it kills me!”

  “So dashing!” I said, giving him one last little nose nibble. “I’ll see you later, then. Happy painting and building and whatever-else-ing you are doing.”

  A half hour later I was present at the garden when the clock struck nine. I met Alec, the man who handled the armor and took care of the weapons, and was briefed on the day’s schedule.

  “The combat classes will be ongoing throughout the day,” Vandal told me as he handed me a sheet of paper showing the day’s schedule. “Your classes will be held five times a day for an hour each session.”

  “Gotcha,” I said, tucking away the paper in the pocket of my jeans.

  He frowned at the gesture. “You’ll be expected to help out Fenice with the clothing booth when you are not giving classes. There may be some drop-ins, but we are limiting those to the times between the first and second scheduled classes. Is that what you plan on wearing?”

  I glanced down. My T-shirt was a size too large, which I preferred since it gave my arms unobstructed movement. “Yes. I’m not very medieval, but it’s comfy.”

  Vandal’s outfit was about as authentic as you could make it—leggings complete with cross-garters going up his calves, a long tunic, and a flat-topped wide-brimmed hat that curled upward at the ends. A little smile played along his lips as he leaned close to say, “It may be comfortable, but it also offers anyone who cares to look a view of your lovely breasts.”

  I glanced down and realized he was right—the shirt was baggy enough that when I moved, it was fairly easy to see down it. “Oh, crap.”

  “Nothing of the sort. I quite enjoy the view.” He leaned in a little closer, and I was reminded of Fenice’s warning about the flirty nature of her brother. “If I told you that you had lovely eyes, would you consider that inappropriate?”

  I looked at him, puzzled. “You like my eyes?”

  “I do.” His smile grew. “I find them irresistible.”

  “Oh, so it was you who wrote that note?” I felt oddly deflated. I’d assumed that it was Alden who had slipped the sweet note under my door, but now . . . I rubbed my arms. The note didn’t seem nearly so nice now.

  “Note?” He frowned, then suddenly his expression cleared. “Ah, the note. You enjoyed it?”

  “Well, of course I did,” I said lightly. “It was very flattering, but really, Vandal, I have to say—”

  “Good, good.” He bustled past me when Fenice appeared and beckoned him. “We can talk more later about how it made you feel, and what you’d like to do about it, but right now, I must go heed my sister’s call. She looks frazzled.”

  I stood for a few minutes, bothered by the idea of Vandal sending me little notes of admiration. It seemed all right with Alden, since he wasn’t a flirty soul, but Vandal . . . I shook my head. He was handsome and all, but I wasn’t particularly interested in him.

  “Patrick, two cars just pulled up, full of what looks like a rugby team.”

  “That would be the morning session,” he said, and hurried off to greet them.

  Fenice fussed with the registration papers at the small desk that served as our administrative center, before eyeing me. “You should get dressed.”

  “Well, I thought I’d wear this—”

  “That’s not the Hard Day’s Knights way. People expect us to be in some sort of costume, or else they feel cheated. Go pick out something from the wardrobe bins to serve as your official on-duty ensemble. Oh, and I’d advise you to make it something practical,” Fenice warned as the first of the attendees strolled around the side of the house from the designated parking area. “Not only are you going to be in it all day, but you have to be able to shoot in it. So don’t go for anything tight or too revealing.”

  “Gotcha.” I dashed to the section of a small storage building where Fenice had hung a long metal rod, from which a variety of Faire clothing hung in a number of sizes and colors. Most of it was laceable, which she had told me allowed them to cover a wide range of sizes by cinching it down to whatever circumference was needed.

  “Let’s see . . . full-on lady of the manor?” I shook my head at a lovely rose velvet kirtle. “Nope, not at all what an archer would wear. How about standard Robin Hood?” I held out a forest green leather jerkin that was likely the twin of Fenice’s. “Naw, not me. Oooh, pretty blue . . . oh. It’s torn.”

  A lovely summer-sky blue gauze chemise peeked out of a rattan basket that I vaguely remember Fenice telling me was for items that needed repairing. I held the chemise up, admiring the simple sleeveless scoop-neck design, but knowing there was no way I could wear it with half the skirt torn off and muddied. It looked like it had been chewed up by a lawn mower. I set it down again, unhappy that I would have to wear something that didn’t appeal to me as much, but after browsing through the remainder of the items, I returned to the chemise.

  Two minutes later, I emerged into the sunshine of a lovely late summer morning, pleased with the resulting outfit of chemise topped with a black under-bust corset. I’d cut off the mangled part of the chemise, leaving it at a very nontraditional above-the-knee length, which didn’t scream Medieval Faire wear, but neither was it a T-shirt and jeans. “Plus, I like the blue,” I said aloud to myself as I hurried over to where three people were waiting at the archery butts. “It’s my lucky color, and if there’s any day I need luck on my side, it’s today. . . . Hello! I’m Mercy, your instructor for the day. Are you all ready to rumble?”

  Three pairs of startled eyes turned to me. I gave them a bright smile. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d first thought. “In an archery sense, that is. You know, nailing the bull right in his eye.”

  The three people—two women and a man—just stared at me.

  I made a little jabbing motion toward the archery butts. “Bull’s-eye? Anyone?” I gave a mental sigh, and upped the wattage in my smile. “Right, enough levity. Shall we get started?”

  The morning flew by faster than I had thought it would. The year I’d spent instructing high school students was enough to get me over the hump of how to explain the art of the bow and arrow to newcomers. The first three sessions whipped past, after which I trotted to the shed to relieve Fenice from her dress-up duties.

  There I found a gaggle of older ladies, a handful of teenage girls, and a couple of kids who were pulling everything out of tubs that Fenice had set aside for when other items had become worn or damaged. I directed the ladies to the section of lockers that Vandal had bought from some salvage yard, got the older women into full-length dresses, the teens into skirts and peasant tops, and the kids into tunics and hats, along with their plastic replica weapon of choice.

  “Is there jousting?” the mom of one of the more obnoxious boys asked. The kid whacked me on the shin with his plastic sword, and ran screaming bloody murder out of the shed. “Tibby does love jousting. We saw it last year, and he was just crazy for us to get him a horse.”

  “Samantha wants to shoot a bow and arrow. Do you teach that?” the second mom asked, nodding toward her daughter, who was wearing a tia
ra and a gauzy, Princess Elsa from Frozen rip-off dress while galloping after her sword-wielding buddy.

  “I am the archery instructor, yes, but we do not allow children to participate for insurance reasons,” I said, sending thanks to Fenice that she had nixed Vandal’s idea to include kids in the lessons. “Adults only, I’m afraid.”

  “What a shame,” the woman said, and hurried off to collect her child when she got in an argument about an antler battle horn that was meant to be an accessory for another outfit.

  Fenice returned not long after that. “The caterer is here. It’s your choice of egg and tomato sandwich, or salmon paste sandwich.”

  “Ah. Both sound delightful,” I lied, “but you know, I think I’ll just trot up to the house and grab a quick something if you don’t mind.”

  She shrugged. “It makes no difference to me. Just be back in half an hour. You have another class at two, and then if you could help Patrick with the arming, that would be lovely.”

  “Arming?” I asked, handing over the cashbox used to store the rental fees.

  “Helping pull off the armor that’s been damaged, and replace it with fresh stuff. Alec is already busy repairing the damaged plate, and Patrick said he could use a hand since today’s melee group are a bit mace-happy.”

  “Not a problem,” I said, and trotted off to the house, my mind divided between wondering what Alden was up to and what I could scrounge up for lunch in my allotted time.

  “Lunch first, then Alden . . . Oh, hello.” I stopped at the entrance of the kitchen, pleased to see Alden standing on a chair, a screwdriver in one hand, and a light fixture in another. He was clad in a black T-shirt and a knee-length pair of walking shorts. I admired his calves (slightly hairy with nice bulgy muscles) before asking, “Decided to start here, did you?”

 
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