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Nunc Scio Quid Sit Amor

An Erotic Tale from the Dark Heart of Sherwood

Sir Guy of Gisborne's long fingers searched in the darkness and silently pressed the hidden catch that would open the door to the chamber. The wood creaked but the door opened smoothly and he slipped through the gap into the room beyond, securing the door behind him.

His keen eyes looked into the darkness, making out the shape of the huge bed. Against the dark wood of its frame, the ivory shimmer of the girl's naked body shone out, and his eyes gleamed as he looked upon her.

He licked his lips hungrily as his eyes adjusted to the dim light and the girl's pale skin came more clearly into focus. Delicious, he thought with an approving nod. Edmund Slade had surpassed himself this time. Connoisseur as he was, Gisborne once more had reason to thank his faithful servant, and admirable pander, Slade. The man's ability to hunt out fresh new flesh for his master was astounding, and Gisborne could see in the first glance that this night he had found something truly remarkable.

The girl's white skin, smooth and flawless, glowed in the darkness, and the dark tresses of her hair tumbled pleasingly against the pallid flesh, producing a contrast that made Gisborne's blood itch in his veins.

As he stepped closer to the bed his eyes roved over the nude form thereon, the sleeping girl as yet unaware of his presence. He trod silently, keen to watch her while she slept, enjoying the sly pleasure of observing her unawares.

Her face in repose was charming, the skin perfect and soft, the brows dark and finely arched, lips dark pink, a plump Cupid's bow. Great ringlets of blue-black hair tumbled over her brow and curled about her throat, and he reached down gently to touch it, twining his fingers thoughtfully through the silken threads. He bent down closer to her, his nostrils flaring at the scent that met them. How did a servant girl come to have essence of roses in her hair? Intrigued, he pondered again the ingenuity of Edmund Slade, and wondered where on earth he'd found the girl.

She wasn't from Nottingham, Gisborne was sure of that. In the four years he'd been living here, he felt sure he'd have been given this girl before if she was a local. Slade must have travelled far and wide in the shire by now to satisfy his master's tastes. There was barely a serving woman of any beauty or interest in Nottingham who hadn't made the trip – voluntarily in some cases, less so in others – to Gisborne's secret bedchamber since he'd discovered Slade's capacity for discretion and his surprising good taste.

It was widely suspected that Sir Guy of Gisborne had a lecherous streak, but few people apart from Slade and the women who had been his partners in lust had any idea of the depth of his depravity, or the scope of his hunger. Outwardly he was respectable enough, and he was careful to keep his attention focussed on those who could not speak up for themselves if they happened to object to his interest. The only woman of any nobility with whom his name had ever been linked was the Lady Marian Fitzwalter, and nobody would suspect for a moment that she had been subject to his lustful desires.

But while the castle slept, the dark hidden chamber behind his official suite of rooms kept its secrets well, and if some of the women transported there were less than eager when they arrived, there were few who left dissatisfied as dawn streaked the sky and he finally let them go.

Whatever else he was, Gisborne was a generous lover, and if he chose to be he could be gentle with the young ones who wept for their lost chastity, considerate to the married ones who were offended at the assault on their honour, and even managed to convince a few of them that he loved them, for a space of time, at least.

If, as had happened on three occasions to the best of his knowledge, the natural result of his passion should occur, he knew he could trust Slade to handle that too. He didn't choose to think about what happened to those women, nor their children. He could be cold and hard-hearted when he had to be, and he had no time for the complication of a clinging mistress and a brood of hungry bastards.

All in all, it was a good arrangement that worked well for Sir Guy. He got to pretend to nobility and decency in public – for despite the suspicious glances and the rumours, he knew there was nothing that could be proven against him by anyone whose word would be taken remotely seriously – and in private he got to indulge his darkest passions and pleasures, safe in the chamber nobody knew about but those who were brought there.

He knelt at the side of the bed, his fingers still twining in the girl's raven hair. From the depth of her breathing he suspected she had come unwillingly and Slade had been obliged to administer a draught to make her more agreeable. Gisborne knew his servant well enough to know that his dosage would be perfect, and the girl would be awake soon enough.

As if to prove him correct, the girl stirred in her sleep and her lips parted in a soft sigh. Her eyes were still closed, her breathing still slow and deep, but the drug was loosening its grip on her. Would she fight him, he wondered, with a pleasurable shudder of anticipation? Sometimes he liked it when they struggled, when they pitted their feeble strength against his, in so vain an attempt to fight him off that he knew it was merely offended dignity that spoke through them. He had yet to meet any woman who did not resign herself to her fate once she realised where she was, and once she realised the strength of her assailant's arms and recognised the glitter of promise in his eyes.

The girl's eyes opened suddenly and were instantly wakeful as they saw a pair of deep, emerald green eyes glittering down into hers. She struggled and realised with a shock that she was both bound and naked, and fear and outrage battled for supremacy in her face.

The man looming over her smiled, and though there was a sneering arrogance in the gesture, there was a shimmer of warmth in it too. "It's best if you don't struggle," he advised. He recognised the sudden defiant look in her eyes and clamped a huge hand over her mouth. "Or scream." His lips curled more confidently than ever. "You'd be wasting your breath, and only give us both a headache," he said sardonically.

She looked up at him from behind the warm prison of his fingers. As her eyes focussed in the darkness she took stock of her situation and almost immediately reconciled herself to it. She was tied to the bed, she was naked, she had no idea where she was or how she had come to be there, and she did not know who this man was but she recognised that he had her at his mercy. The mere fact that he had left her ungagged implied that his words were correct, and she was somewhere she could not be heard if she cried for help.

She looked up at him as he leaned closer over her. His face was pale, handsome in a way that immediately struck the eye: his forehead broad and deep, his nose long and proud, those thin lips still sneering as he came close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin. His eyes glittered wetly as they held hers and she was struck by how vividly alive they were in his still, watchful face. His amusement, his pleasure, his victory over her, were all reflected in those emerald depths, and though it was shocking to her to feel herself naked beneath his gaze, she was drawn to him by the warmth and intensity of his eyes.

"Good girl," said Gisborne softly, his breath playing on the girl's face. A tiny spasm of regret passed through him that she wasn't going to fight him – it seemed far too long since someone with real spirit had been in this bed – but he was experienced enough with women to recognise the possibilities running through this girl's head as she looked at him, and he knew that her fear and her reluctance would not last long. He knew she was drawn to him, drawn by that sparkle in his eyes that promised so much, and – he modestly admitted to himself – delivered generously on their promise.

He slipped his hand off her mouth, knowing she now had no intention of screaming and wondering what her first question would be.

"What do you want of me?" she whispered fearfully, already guessing at the answer as she saw the vein in his forehead pump with purposeful blood and the dilated shimmer in his eyes.

Gisborne laughed mirthlessly. "I should have thought that was obvious," he said dryly, "even to an innocent like you."

She lowered her eyes and felt sticky heat crawling up the back of her neck and flooding her cheeks.

"Charming," murmured Gisborne, tracing the line of her flushed cheekbone with one long finger. "You really are a virgin," he marvelled. He had begun to think there weren't any left, certainly not any of age, and she was certainly no child.

"Of course I'm..." she began hotly, then bit her lip as she realised he was laughing at her, his thin lips twisted wryly again as he ran his eyes over her entire body with a hungry gloating expectation.

"Do you have no more sensible questions?" he teased. "Before we begin," he added with a deeper, more urgent throb in his voice. God, I want to begin, he thought suddenly, his eyes sweeping over the ivory swell of her breasts, rising and falling rapidly with her sense of indignation, and wanting to take them in his great hands and suckle on her dark, full nipples. God, he wanted to finish, never mind begin!

His eyes swivelled back to her face, realising she had spoken again, but utterly oblivious to her words.

She looked up at him, unable to quite stop her lips twitching in amusement as she saw how easily distracted he was by the sight of her body. She had heard it was so with men, but hadn't believed it was possible. "I asked where I was," she said again.

"Is that in any way important?" countered Gisborne, angry with himself for letting her see how distracting he found her. Damn all women, he thought, not for the first time in his life. He was more than man enough to control any one of them, yet all too often they realised their power over him and then he always felt they were laughing at him, whatever he did to take command of them after that moment.

"I suppose not," said the girl softly, continuing to look into her captor's eyes as steadily as she could manage. "But might I not at least know who holds me here?"

He smirked down at her. Better. Once she knew that, maybe she wouldn't be so quick to mock him. He had a reputation for secret vices, it was true, but that was just rumour. What was known for certain of him, his public reputation, was his blood-lust, his violence, the terrible things that happened in his dungeons and at his behest. He told her his name proudly.

Her gaze flickered for a moment as she digested this news, but she looked up at him again a moment later, her jaw set firm and her eyes steady. So this was he! The much feared Sir Guy of Gisborne, whose name was whispered in the villages of the shire in tones of mingled hatred and fear. How many of her own village's sons had he killed? How many of her own kin perhaps? She tried to remember the stories but nothing definite came to mind, and if it did, she found it hard to reconcile with the pale, intense face leering over her, with the brilliant eyes that searched hers. This man, a violent killer? She looked at the elegant curve of his nose, the soft tendrils of hair that curled about his temples, the impossibly beautiful eyes. The smooth, tender flesh of his wry, curving mouth. A killer? Perhaps, by necessity. But at heart something much more primal, she sensed, a man of passions much more basic and earthy.

Gisborne watched her face and marvelled at the fleeting expressions that crossed it. This was not the usual pattern of terror, numb resignation, fear and sometimes loathing with which he was familiar. If anything, being told who held her captive seemed to have calmed her, which was hardly the reaction he had expected. "Do you not know me?" he wondered aloud.

"I know you, my lord." Her tone was even and noncommittal, her eyes veiled as she allowed her mind the luxury of wondering why he had wanted her, why she of all people was here. She remembered a woman from her village, who had mysteriously disappeared one night, and returned the next morning with wild stories to tell. Wild stories nobody quite believed. Not that they were unbelievable in themselves, but the glitter in her eyes had made her declarations of being an unwilling party to the night's events ring hollow in most ears. A husband had been found for her, eventually, but the look in her eyes had spoken volumes then, and it did now as it returned to memory. 'His servant came, drugged me, took me to his master, he did unspeakable things to me...' Oh, but how her eyes had softened and crept into the middle distance of memory as she had said that, and how she had sighed to think of those 'unspeakable things'!

Gisborne watched her still. Damn all women, he thought, not for the first time tonight. If he didn't do something drastic, he was in serious danger of losing any advantage he had over this girl. Bound she might be, naked and doubtless cautious of her virtue, but the calm tone of her voice as she said 'I know you, my lord' bothered him. What did she know of him? Was his reputation not one of unutterable cruelty? Why should that be any comfort to her in her current position?

He twined one hand in her luxuriant hair and pulled it tight enough to make her cry out in pain. Better. He grunted with satisfaction at the fear in her eyes now, the hammering pulse in her throat. The tension in her face pleased that part of him that enjoyed the misery of others, and the momentary struggle of her naked body in its bounds sent tremors of lust through him. He felt the familiar rush of blood that made him hard and he smiled indulgently, knowing all too well what would happen next, his mind racing ahead through the next few moments of struggle, the hurried, necessary coercion, the surrender of her flesh, and the blinding pleasure of release.

He kept his grip in her hair to stop her wriggling and hungrily covered her mouth with his, growling as he felt her lips defencelessly fall apart beneath his. Much better. Her breath was sweet and ragged in his mouth, and the soft cry of outraged virginity that sounded in her throat piqued his lust delightfully.

She tried to close her eyes against him, as though to shut out the sight of his face so close to hers would somehow negate the fact of his violation, but she could still feel his lips burning on hers, his tongue hungrily seeking hers. She could still feel the soft, tumbling curls of his hair falling against her cheek as he kissed her. His fist in her hair and the lean weight of his chest against hers stubbornly refused to go away.

She opened her eyes and looked again, saw the pale skin of his face, flushed now with desire across his cheekbones, the vein in his forehead thumping, his eyelids veiled as he concentrated on the taste of her mouth and nothing else. He seemed to sense her eyes upon him, and his own flickered open and met hers suddenly, and they glittered fiercely with a light that didn't seem entirely human. She would have gasped if she had had breath to do so, but all her breath was in his mouth so she merely whimpered softly.

It seemed an eternity, but at length his mouth released hers, and to her shame she found herself breathless, and not a little aroused by his violence.

Gisborne looked down at her, noting with an experienced eye the flush in her skin, the loose trembling of her lips, the unseeing lack of focus in her eyes. He could smell the animal heat of arousal in this dark room, and it wasn't just coming from his own body any more. "Good girl," he breathed, letting go his grip in her hair and gently disentangling his fingers from her black, rose-scented tresses. He stroked the side of her face speculatively, and smiled as he felt her lean unconsciously into his fingers, her eyelids downcast and her eyelashes fluttering as he slid his fingers under her chin to touch the sensitive skin of her throat.

"Oh, very good girl," he murmured as she cried out involuntarily, a breathless moan of unbidden pleasure as his practised fingertips found the nerve endings at the top of her spine. He knew, from the spontaneous arching of her back, that his fingers had found their spot, and the tremors of pleasure were almost visible to his experienced eyes as they travelled down her back and into the furthest reaches of her.

Her eyes snapped open, and the look in them momentarily stopped his fingers in their tracks. Such a delicious combination of hope and baffled fear, of desperate yearning and yet terror of what more could be felt, was familiar to him, and it always aroused him. But there was something more in her eyes, something unsettling and curious. Something that could almost – if he allowed himself to wonder at it – put him completely off his stride. He would not wonder, he would not ask... at least not until this night was over. Then, perhaps, when his desire was fully satisfied, would he satisfy his curiosity.

"If you promise to behave yourself," said Gisborne coaxingly, "do you think we could continue without these bonds?"

A brief flare of hope lit her eyes, and then the helplessness of her position sank in again. What difference would it make if he released her? She could still not escape from him, and he knew it. He only meant to untie the ropes that bound her wrists and ankles, not to let her go. She looked at him, at the arousal in his face and the amusement in his eyes, and some deep part of her realised she didn't want him to let her go any longer. She was here, she had no choice, and the memory of that other woman's wistful, far-away look of obviously enjoyable memories would not leave her head. She would not have chosen to be here, but perhaps it was time to make the best of the situation.

"Good," said Gisborne, seeing the rebellion die in her eyes and the curiosity flicker back. He leaned down close to her and his lips tickled her ear. "It's so much more pleasurable with a willing partner," he confided, his voice throbbing with promise. He had to admit to himself that that was true. For all that a little spirit helped things along in the beginning, there was little of pleasure to be had from a girl who lay stiff and frigid and reluctant beneath him when the raging hunger took over. Oh, he'd still have her, he'd proven that on enough occasions to be satisfied that it could be done, however unwilling the partner, but somehow it never finished quite so agreeably for him when he knew it had been little better than a rape. Much better to bring the woman into it, however hesitant she was at first, to open her up to her own pleasure and watch her flounder in it as he scrambled after his own release. Idly he wondered how responsive this one would prove to be, and the speculation made him vigorously hard and determined not to waste much more time before finding out.

Her eyes followed his hands as they deftly untied the ropes about her wrists. His fingers were long and slender, elegant fingers on hands large enough to be capable of great violence if he chose them to be. Her arms ached, and she wondered how long she had been tied like that to the bed frame. Her wrists felt sore, but she suspected that was only because she'd tried to resist at first.

He unpicked the knots swiftly and cast the ropes aside, then looked down at her as she drew her arms into her chest and rubbed at the aching muscles and the chafed skin. Damn Slade if he'd hurt her, he thought suddenly, seeing the discomfort in her face. The man knew a thing or two about soporific drugs, but he could be a little over-zealous when it came to restraints. He smiled wryly at the irony of that thought.

"I trust you are not badly hurt," said Gisborne smoothly, taking her hands in his and examining her wrists. "My servant is a brute, for which I apologise."

Then he serves the right master, she thought bitterly, but she said nothing.

Gisborne sensed the flare of resentment in her, but equally said nothing. The abrasions to her wrists were superficial. By the end of this night, a few rope burns on her arms would be the least of her complaints. Ah, but would she complain? He had already felt her respond to him, however reluctantly. "Some gratitude might be nice," he remarked arrogantly, "for freeing you of your restraints."

She almost strangled the outrage in her voice but not quite. "Would it, my lord?"

"Yes, lady, it would," he said coldly. He took his fist to her hair again and yanked her head back. "As would some appreciation of your position."

Her eyes glittered up at him, partly fearful, partly angry, partly – though she hated to admit it – aroused by the sudden ferocity in him. "I think I understand my position well enough, my lord," she said through tight lips. She took a deep breath and looked up at him, her eyes hopefully calmer, her mouth curving unwillingly into a smile she felt sure he would realise was forced.

"And the gratitude?" He enjoyed watching the outrage and the humiliation battle it out in her eyes, the flush of anger steal across her face as she first of all determined to defy him, and then realised she had little choice but to indulge him.

"What does my lord wish?" she asked thinly, her heart pounding in her chest.

He smiled grimly. "I think you know well enough what my lord wishes," he said. He glanced behind him as though to untie her ankles and then thought better of it, settling his body within the arc of her spread thighs and pressing his knees firmly against the inside edges of that arc. He could not help but enjoy the look of sudden terror that flooded her eyes, though even she must have realised he was still fully dressed and was of no immediate threat to her like this. "Kiss me," he whispered.

The sense of grateful anti-climax that washed off her as she realised that was all he had asked of her was gratifying and made him smile. Sometimes he could really enjoy these little mind-games almost more than the physical act itself. By the time it came to the moment she currently feared so profoundly, he was reasonably confident she would be almost as eager for it as he was. There was promise in this girl, and it was worth taking the time to prove it to her before he gave in to the more obvious pleasure of proving it to himself.

"Kiss me," he said again when she failed to do so. He leaned down over her and helped her by resting his lips gently against hers. It took all of his resolve not to take her then, to thrust his tongue into her mouth as he had before and force her to that breathless little cry that had so enchanted him earlier. But no, he wanted her to come to him this time. And she would. They all did.

It is inevitable, she thought, I have no choice. She felt his smooth, soft lips on hers and though her mind rebelled, her body caved in, and she leaned up against his lips and kissed him.

"Now do it like you mean it," he said darkly, when she shrank back from him a moment later. It was all part of the game, and by God he was glad she was seemingly playing it now, but he didn't want to spend all night on the preliminaries!

He leaned in closer to her and she had nowhere to turn now, but pressed her lips against his, coolly at first, and then her lips parted beneath his and her tongue hesitantly sought his. He was remote, trying to affect disinterest, determined not to respond to her until she had done whatever he wanted her first to do.

She considered this moment dispassionately for a second, the absurdity of it, the ridiculous inevitability of her surrender, the pointlessness of trying to resist what must be, and then she reached up and took his face between her hands, pulling him down onto her and hungrily opening her mouth to his.

His eyes snapped open at the suddenness of her capitulation, the shock of her hands on his face. Her eyes were closed, tightly, deliberately closed, as though by refusing to look at him she could deny the desire that coursed through her, but he could sense it in every movement of her lips on his, every tremor of her fingers on his skin. She knotted her fingers in his hair and pulled him closer still, and he was happy to surrender to her.

He pulled back at last, laughing with pleasure, victory and the expectation of further developments. "Much better," he breathed, when he had breath to spare for speaking. "That wasn't so very terrible, now, was it?"

She attempted to glower at him, but she was too lost in her own unexpected sensations of pleasure, and all she could manage was a faintly petulant moue, which only induced more laughter from him, so she gave up and smiled with him.

"I told you it would be more enjoyable if you entered into the spirit of it," he mocked gently, his fingers tracing her face and playing softly over her trembling lips.

"You expect me to be grateful for my deflowering, my lord," she said weakly, trying to speak with asperity and loathing, but finding her voice trembling too much for her anger to sound in any way convincing.

He grinned down at her, his eyes glittering hungrily. "A girl must be deflowered, it seems to me," he mused, "for the woman to come fully into bloom." He tilted her head back and buried his face in her throat, sliding his lips and tongue vigorously over her skin and tasting the salt of her arousal. From what felt like miles away he heard her moan, and he nipped his teeth gently at the pulsing vein beneath her skin. He felt her hands close in his hair once more, felt her breasts push against his chest as her spine contracted upwards.

He laughed again, not unkindly. "You're more than ripe, lady, and don't try to deny it."

"I..."

He looked up from her throat and waved one hand airily in her face. "Enough," he said sternly. "I know, you didn't choose to be here, you'd rather you weren't." He looked shrewdly at her from under half-closed eyelids and smiled to himself when she didn't seek to contradict him. That time had evidently passed. "I accept your protest against the theft of your virginity," he continued sarcastically, "and you may consider it duly noted." He coiled his fingers in her hair once more and jerked it so that she was forced to look at him. "However," he said more fiercely, his voice thickening with lust, "the time for such protests is long gone, and I would appreciate it if we could now stop flirting around the inevitable conclusion to this night's adventures, and just get on with it."

She opened her mouth to argue, and then closed it without a word. The determined glitter in his eyes, the resolute set of his jaw, the unanticipated fire raging in her own body, all conspired against her, and she knew she could do nothing more to defend herself.

"Good," said Gisborne patiently. He reached behind him and fumbled for the ropes about the girl's ankles. He didn't quite trust her yet not to make one final break for freedom, so he kept eye contact and worked on the knots by touch alone. The girl watched him steadily, and as he looked back at her along the length of her own naked body he grinned with amusement. Slade, he thought appreciatively, remind me to give you a bonus this year.

Once free, the girl bent her knees and drew her ankles towards her, so she could rub them where the rope had also chafed there. She did not seem to realise for quite a few moments the unexpectedly graphic view she then presented to her captor, and it was only as he broke eye contact with her and seemed incapable of regaining it that she followed the direction of his gaze. She drew herself up into a sitting position, bunched her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around herself, trying to disguise what he had already seen, her face scarlet with shame.

Gisborne smiled, his eyes fiery with desire. "Come now," he said hungrily, "enough of your modesty."

She looked at him, and her hair fell around her body like a veil, but it was too late. He had seen more than enough already, there was no escaping this room, and an increasingly large part of her didn't altogether want to. Honour had to be surrendered at some point in life. Why not now, to a man who had given her every reason to hope he would be considerate if she would only obey him? To a man whose hands made her tremble, whose lips tasted far sweeter than she felt any man's really ought...

Gisborne started to unbuckle his leather jerkin, watching her all the while. She might sit there frozen and silent, like some last impenetrable rampart of a castle under siege, but her eyes were wide with interest as they looked at him, and she could no more disguise her arousal now than he could. As he shrugged the jerkin off his broad shoulders, she watched him. As he unbuttoned his shirt, she watched him and her lips parted softly. As he slipped his powerful arms out of his shirt, she watched him and her tongue flicked out to moisten her lower lip.

He smirked at her. "Perhaps you'd like to see to the rest yourself," he suggested.

The fiery colour filled her face again but she did not look away this time. Her eyes widened and she again licked her lips, nervously this time, self-consciously, but she said nothing.

"Come." He unfolded himself off the bed, and stood looking down at her, holding out one hand towards her that she hesitated just a few seconds before taking. He drew her closer, sweeping the great tumbling tresses of her hair behind her shoulders to expose her naked body to his view. She looked down for a moment and then up into his face again, defiant and fierce. That look again, he thought, that look that would raise awkward questions if he let it. He banished it from his mind by pulling her against him and kissing her roughly on the mouth.

This time she surrendered instantly, without thought or hesitation, and since to avoid doing so was to be balanced precariously and awkwardly, her back uncomfortably twisted, she pressed herself against him, and felt the strong, smooth muscles of his stomach against her chest. She slid her arms about his waist, noting as her fingers travelled how smooth his skin was, how warm, and how incredibly tight and firm the muscles under the skin felt as he moved against her. He held her close and she trembled at the intimacy between them, this warm pressure of skin on skin that she had never known before with any man. Her heart thumped, but she could feel that his was beating even faster as she slipped her hands up his back and found the angular curves of his shoulder blades.

He broke away from her mouth, his lips travelling possessively over her cheeks, her throat, lifting her body a little to nuzzle at her milky breasts. His teeth grazed her nipple and she cried out, throwing her head back and moaning aloud as he lifted her clean off her feet to feast more deeply on so succulent a fruit. He transferred his attention to the other breast, the second tender nipple, and provoked another cry from her, wilder than the first.

He dropped her to her feet, grabbed her shoulders and thrust her from him with a grunt of impatience. "Undress me," he commanded, and there was something in his eyes that convinced her the time for showing reluctance was well and truly over.

Her hands were shaking as they worked at the buckle at his waist, and as she loosened that and reached the knotted laces of his trousers the trembling in her fingers was so great that she could barely separate one thong from the other.

She could feel the heat of him before she ever saw the source of it, and she could see the source of it before she had struggled and untied the laces of his trousers, for he was proud and arrogant there as in everything else, and it was the fear of what she would shortly uncover that made her fingers tremble so. She had never been this close to any man before, and the fierce animal heat of him frightened her. No matter how gentle he could be if he chose, this was going to hurt, and he showed few signs at present of being able to restrain himself enough to be gentle.

Gisborne saw the fear in her eyes as he tilted her face up. He did not want to see fear at this point in the proceedings; it dampened his ardour. He had seen fear before, sometimes in the faces of the ones who knew nothing and were merely terrified at any prospect ahead of them, sometimes in the faces of those who knew enough to realise he was more generously endowed than most and were afraid of the pain. And then there were the ones who saw, who knew a moment's trepidation, then awe, then the slow, greedy smile would cross their faces as they realised what he was offering them. No, he did not want to see fear now.

He kissed her again, not knowing what else to do to distract her mind from the anxiety she now felt. It was understandable, he thought smugly, knowing well enough that she had reason to be nervous. "Be good to me," he whispered, his mouth tickling the sensitive flesh of her throat and nibbling her ear, "and I'll be good to you," he promised earnestly.

"Be gentle with me," she begged softly, forgetting her respectful address in the intensity of the moment. Her hand still lingered on the soft leather of his trousers, her fingers twitching as she felt the swollen heat of him straining at the fabric.

Gisborne smiled warmly, and his eyes twinkled with hunger and pleasure as he felt her fingers tentatively exploring the unfamiliar length of him through the leather. His whole face lit up with the sincerity of his wish to please her suddenly. "Be good to me," he began again, his voice soft and persuasive.

The girl's fingers traced the shape of his manhood through the leather and smiled warmly back at him, her eyes still nervous, but her face determined. "I'll try, my lord," she murmured, lowering her eyes to follow the tracing of her fingers for a moment.

"Good girl," approved Gisborne heartily.

She watched him closely, her fingers moving hesitantly across the swollen leather, and noticed that his eyelids fluttered, his eyes half closing, as she did so. "Do you like that, my lord?" she asked in a whisper.

He looked at her, his eyes dilated to great shimmering pools, and he licked his lips, biting down on his lip as her fingers moved more purposefully and a spasm of desire burned up his spine. "Dear God, yes," he breathed heavily. He twinkled a roguish smile at her. "I'm sure I'd enjoy it even more if you actually undressed me, as I'd asked."

She bowed her head, and her eyes fell inexorably to her hand, sliding smoothly back and forth along the distended length of him, still encased in leather. She did not dare look up at him as she unlaced the remaining thong and began to peel the leather away from him. The scent of him was stronger now, and she was afraid of what she would discover, but she slid the leather trousers away from his trim waist and over his slender hips. His thighs were almost hairless, smooth and pale as the rest of him, and were it not for the fiery tumescence that rose shamelessly between them, she would have thought them womanly, fleshy and shapely as they were.

Gisborne watched her as she undressed him, but her head was bowed, and it was impossible to read her face. He could see the blush of colour in her cheeks, could see the trembling in her hands as she bent to unroll the legs of his trousers and free him from the last of his clothing, but her eyes were a mystery to him. He lifted his feet obediently to her touch, liking the gentleness of her hands, and wondering what he would not give for a maidservant to undress him so tenderly. Perhaps after tonight he might keep her for a while...?

She rose gracefully to her feet and stood before him, head still bowed, hands hesitantly – chastely almost, he thought incongruously – resting either side of his waist. He could feel the heat of her fingers, so close to where he wanted them that his skin twitched with anticipation, and a shiver of goose bumps ran across his stomach. But what really made him throb with renewed hunger was when he heard her voice, thin, trembling but quietly resolute: "Take me to bed, my lord," she said softly, and finally looked up at him.

Sir Guy of Gisborne was not a man to need telling twice, and certainly not by a woman with such a light in her eyes. He took her hand and led her back to the bed, laid her down gently and slid onto the cool sheet next to her. Resting up on one elbow, he traced the smooth curves of her body with his free hand, purposefully cupping her breasts and caressing the smooth panel of her stomach, watching as she writhed beneath his touch, her body awakening to the fire within it. He could barely wait to be inside her, but knew if he took his time with her now he would be better rewarded for it later, so determined to be patient. For all the girl's sudden acquiescence, she was still clearly afraid, and he had no wish to unduly alarm her.

More slowly he caressed her, his fingers warm on her pale skin as they slid lower, skirting over the angular bones of her narrow hips and stroking her thighs. She had closed her legs together, the instinctive response of the virgin, and though he longed to open them now and take her, he fought down the hunger and allowed her to savour her last moments of innocence. She would, he knew well, open up to him honestly enough when the time was right.

She felt his hands on her skin, his long elegant fingers stroking her, tickling her, caressing and coaxing her, and everywhere his fingers travelled a delicious warmth erupted deep inside her. She did not know how suddenly she had reached this state, this yearning in her that turned towards him for guidance, that clung to him and wanted his hands upon her, but she knew she was not merely now surrendering to the inevitable. This was inevitable, it was true, but she was no mere victim now, but a willing partner. Or at least, she wanted to be willing, if only she knew what he actually wanted of her. She wished then that she was no virgin, that she knew how to respond to him as he must have known so many women respond to him before this night.

She recalled the look of pleasure in his face a few moments earlier, and darted a glance down his trim, naked body at that part of him, so dark in contrast to his pale skin, that so alarmed her. She knew that if she were to touch him, especially there, she would please him, would perhaps show her willingness to him, in a way she had not the words to do.

He was lost in contemplation of her body and did not notice the look she gave him, and he gasped as her fingers reached out suddenly and touched his smooth chest. She was hesitant at first in her caresses, as he would have expected of one so clearly a maiden, but he could sense her mind working, recalling the pleasurable sensation of his hands on her breasts, so tracing her fingertips about his own nipples, remembering the flickering fire that smouldered in her belly as he caressed that, so allowing her hand to travel lower across his navel. Would she dare? So soon?

Her fingers reached his swollen manhood and she gasped aloud, recoiling at the heat and firmness of it for a thoughtful moment, and then returning, her fingers palpating uncertainly along the length of it. This, she thought, this is the core of a man, and it is a strange and wonderful thing. So firm, so hot, so unlike the rest of his body with its restless, pulsing vitality. It fit smoothly in her hand, the flesh silky though threaded with rich veins that throbbed beneath her touch.

She looked up at him, and found him gazing at her, his eyes glazed with pleasure, yet curious despite his passion. "Does this not please you, my lord?" she asked softly, though she felt sure it must.

Gisborne smiled warmly, his eyes shimmering. "It does," he breathed, trying to still the urgency of desire that threatened to engulf him. He would not surrender so soon, he wanted too much to finish inside her, to feel those hot, willing, virginal thighs close around his hips and urge him deeper. Oh but her hand was persuasive, insistent, demanding tribute in its unknowing way, and he so wanted to give it!

He put his hand over hers, forcing it to stop its delicious, tormenting movement. "Not yet," he said simply.

She blushed prettily, and he knew she was anxious she might be at fault. "But if it pleases..."

In answer he slipped his free hand between her thighs, a little too roughly, but they parted readily enough for him now. He found that secret little nubbin of flesh – wondering abstractly if she knew of its gifts already – and ruthlessly tweaked it between his fingers. She cried out, her eyes wide with surprise and not a little panic. He withdrew his hand swiftly and laid it on her trembling thigh. "There can be too intense a pleasure," he said sagely, enjoying the role of teacher to this charming, willing pupil, and pleased that the summer night would be a long one. "Too much too soon can be..." He struggled to find the word.

She nodded mutely. She understood. The savagery of that moment, the violence of her body's reaction to him, shocked her beyond words. 'Too intense a pleasure': was that the meaning of that wistful look in the eyes of the woman who had been in this place before her, who had known this man's fierce, passionate eyes and warm, stimulating hands? She trembled to think of what else he might do, what else he could do... She let him remove her hand from the fiery, rigid core of his body and place it more safely on his waist.

Gisborne's mind reeled. She had not known what she was doing, he was sure of that, but the instinct in her was strong, and she had very nearly unmanned him before they had really started. He hadn't felt a response that immediate, that potent, in a very long time, and though her hand was now softly caressing his hip he could still feel her fingers burning around his length and it sent shivers of unbearable longing through him. There isn't reward enough in my coffers for Slade, he thought, for bringing me this girl tonight.

He looked at her, and though he knew his eyes were bright with lust, there was tenderness behind them, he could feel it nagging at his core, and it bewildered him. He asked a question of her that he had rarely asked of his partners: "What is your name, girl?"

She looked at him, surprised by the softness of his voice. The liquid beauty of his eyes, the warm, caressing smile, caught her off guard, as did his question. "Eleanor," she replied, equally softly. The intimacy they had shared so far paled into insignificance behind the look they shared now, the palpable sweetness of his expression as he looked at her and smiled gently.

"Eleanor." He rolled the name on his tongue as though tasting it. A noble name for a servant girl to own: given in honour of the king's mother, doubtless, he thought with a smirk. "Well, Eleanor," he said warmly, his eyes kindling as they roamed across her white flesh once more, "I must be gentle with you, I know, but it seems I must ask the same of you."

She looked at him boldly, all fear of him gone now in the realisation that he was overwhelmed by his own passion for her. She knew it somehow, and though she could not imagine what he had stopped her from doing, she knew it had merely been delayed, that it was something he wanted to savour. Her body trembled with the memory of his fingers in that secret place, the memory of it sending shocks of expectation and ripples of longing through her. She wanted him to touch her there again, gently, slowly, sensing that that way lay the deeper pleasure, something more sustaining than the ferocious spasm that had shaken her moments before.

She understands, thought Gisborne, seeing in her face a compassion, a familiarity and a gentleness he had scarcely expected. She understands and she wants me as potently as I want her, though she doesn't fully understand what it means to want a man. He had tasted this moment so many times before – that sudden realisation of shared desire, that unbidden offering up a woman could give just moments after she had refused him – but it had never touched him so profoundly before.

Though he ached for the physical release as keenly as he always did when this close to it, a deeper, more resonant part of him, ached to delay it indefinitely. To taste over and over, in sweet, deep draughts, every spasm of her body, every sigh, every gasp, every cry. To feel the pleasure not just in that part of him that responded so readily in the presence of a beautiful woman, but throughout his whole body and soul.

"Communion," he whispered.

"My lord?"

He hadn't realised he had spoken aloud until she responded, her voice tremulous, her eyes anxious. He looked at her, not as another woman in the endless adventure of amatory conquest suddenly, but truly seeing her. Seeing the physical beauty of her, yes, but seeing something invisible, something intangible beneath the skin. He could see her, feel her, yearning towards him, her body naked to his gaze, yet containing a mystery he longed to taste. A mystery he feared he might never understand if he did...

She lay back on the bed, her hand still hesitantly on his waist, fingers idly stroking his skin, feeling the sharp bone of his hip and the elastic flesh of his thigh, moving slowly and gently, as though handling an icon she feared to damage. So gentle her hands, so soft. And then he felt her fingers dig in deeper, burning into his flesh and pulling him – weak as she was, nervous as she was – towards her.

He moved again into the arc of her thighs, only vaguely aware that she must have parted them for him as she lay back, only dimly conscious of the submission and the gift of that movement on her part. He lay above her, within her almost, and he could feel the heat of her rising up to meet his heat. Warm, moist, eager. Yet still, patient, waiting for his guidance, he realised suddenly. She knew nothing, she only sensed that he had wanted her to lie that way because that was how she had been bound to the bed.

He shook his head, momentarily ashamed of his own cupidity, his own insatiable need of sexual adventure. What would he not give for a woman who could come to him without being drugged first, without being bound? A woman who would give herself to him in trust, completely to him, body and soul; a woman, he realised, shivering at the unbidden thought, who would love him.

Her fingers burned in the flesh of his thighs, slipping around him as he surrendered to the inevitable posture and sinking into the flesh of his buttocks. She moaned softly, aware of the roaring heat between her thighs, that monstrous, swollen part of him that would find its way inside her soon enough, and hurt, oh how it must hurt! Her eyes filled with tears at the fear of it, but she blinked them away. Stupid to cry when he offered a pleasure she had barely begun to imagine. A moment or two of pain was worth that, surely.

"Be gentle with me," she breathed again, looking up into his face, her eyes pleading and afraid.

"God damn me forever if I am aught else," he said fiercely as her face swam in a chaos of white and black beneath his gaze. What was this feeling? Why should it come now, with this girl, this beautiful but otherwise unremarkable girl out of hundreds who had lain on this bed and looked up at him in that way? No, not quite in that way, never that... 'Communion', he thought again, looking at her more tenderly than he had ever looked at a woman.

"My lord..." She reached up one hand to touch his face, alarmed by the look in his eyes. Something tender and fragile in him touched her suddenly, some unquiet hunger that had nothing to do with the naked, supple twining of their bodies. Something even more raw than that intimacy, something that made her heart lurch and want to hold him close, not in passion, but in simple affection.

"Guy," he corrected gently, returning her caress and smiling softly as her eyelids fluttered closed beneath the touch of his fingertips. Yes, he thought, startled by the realisation, I want this intimacy, I want her to acknowledge me, I want to be a man to her, a man only and not a captor. Not for this girl the rushed, blind frenzy of desire. Not, heaven forbid, coercion or force. Rape. The word was sour even in the privacy of his thoughts, and he shook his head to clear his mind of it. Nothing should sully this moment between them.

"Guy." She spoke softly, almost in a whisper, her hand still on the smooth panel of his cheek, her fingertips grazing the delicate contour of his cheekbone. She smiled up at him. She wanted him. Wanted him with a sudden fever, an ache so deep inside her that she knew she could never soothe it herself. She felt the heat and strength of his body between her legs, the sinewy muscles in his back, the unexpectedly soft flesh of his buttocks, his sculpted thighs. She dared not think of that other part of him, but she wanted whatever it was, whatever it would do to her. At that moment she could even welcome the pain, knowing it was necessary, seeing it for the threshold to something miraculous, something unspeakable...

He felt the reaching in her, felt it in her fingertips that touched his face, felt it in her trembling thighs that were open to him now, enclosing him, drawing him in towards her. He felt the need in her, shared it and smiled. "Do not fear it," he begged, his lips in her hair suddenly, on her ear, on her cheek, on her trembling lips. "Do not fear me." He was shocked to hear himself say it – he, who had thrived on the struggle of women who did just that, enjoyed taking them by force, against their will, against their judgement, and subduing every qualm by sheer force of his own will, his own desire.

She tangled her fingers in his hair and held his mouth on hers, her lips clinging and coaxing, her tongue coiling about his, a ragged, breathless moan in her throat as she felt his hands, those great, tender, terrifying hands, slide blindly over the contours of her body. Soon, she knew, soon would come the moment that filled her with dread, with apprehension, with irrational panic. The fear of it, the expectation of pain… but the wondrous, unimagined hope of pleasure, which scared her as much as the thought of pain. Pain she understood, pleasure she realised had passed her by until this night, and to be on the verge of it now, to be circling the lip of the abyss under the sensual, roaming ardour of his hands, terrified her almost as profoundly.

He pulled her closer still, smothering her face in urgent kisses, sensing her anxiety and knowing no other way of reassuring her. She responded hungrily now, and as the passion swelled between them he felt her tilt back her hips and lift her knees, twining her legs about him and unconsciously easing his passage. He sank into her with a moan that echoed in her own cry, a gasp of momentary pain but nothing as terrible as she had probably been imagining. She was wet, she was eager; he was resolute and firm and sought sanctuary in her body, and they met in a greedy penetration that was at once slow and fast, tender and brutal.

Deep, deep inside her! Guy closed his eyes in ecstasy and allowed all sensation to drift into that part of him that knew her completely, that felt the soft, yielding flesh surround his, compliant, accommodating, clinging. He did not dare move after the first, delirious descent into her, but lay waiting, holding his breath, trembling in her arms. He wanted to brutalise her, to lay familiar hands on her and plunge headlong into the inevitable conclusion as he had done so many times before to other girls, other women, in this secret room. And yet he dared not move for fear he had hurt her too much already, that she might not forgive him if he stirred within her and brought her more pain. He lay inside her, buried deep, holding her body against his, his face buried in her fragrant hair, ashamed of the rush of love and tenderness that filled him.

Deep, deep inside her! Eleanor closed her eyes in ecstasy and allowed all sensation to drift into that part of her that knew him completely, that felt the hard, surging flesh fill hers, determined, purposeful, searching. He lay within her, still and silent, only the trembling of his body evidence of the intensity of his desire. There had been pain, oh so brief a moment of pain, but he had come into her quickly, resolutely, and it had perhaps been better than to come into her too gently, prolonging the agony. This way, the sweetness of feeling his flesh in hers, of feeling her own flesh enclose him with grateful awareness of its own need, beyond all thought, could begin all the sooner. She felt his lips in her hair, on her throat, and a rush of love and tenderness engulfed her.

He looked up and found her eyes open, gazing at him silently. She coiled her arms about his neck and drew him back to kiss him once more, and as she did so she again lifted her hips and he sank deeper yet into her. God, the intimacy was too much, too potent! He cried out her name and tried to resist the need to push still deeper into her. Failed, and cried out again as she thrust up her hips to reach his, twining her legs around his and locking her feet behind his back in a gesture that did nothing to decrease the insistence of his lust.

He thrust into her, every muscle tense and frantic, every nerve urgently dragging him on, even as every impulse of head and heart was to draw back. Oh, to suspend this sensation forever! To delay indefinitely the moment that had always before been goal enough in itself. To feel so close, so utterly, familiarly close to another living being was unknown to him, and he wished the physical need might be transcended, that he might lie here – still, complete, at peace – inside her body without wanting to desecrate the moment with mere desire.

But now she was burning too, her body alive and clamorous, her mouth demanding more kisses of him, her heels pushing him deeper, deeper, insistent and urgent. Her body trembled in his trembling arms and she could not stop it any more than he could. She laughed as he bent his head to her breasts, laughed and held him against her, laughed in pure joy and moaned and cried out softly as he moved again inside her.

She pushed back her head into the pillows, arching her back and thrusting her breasts up into his eager hands, into his mouth, feeling his tongue hungrily lash her nipples into stiff, sensitive peaks. She sighed softly as he kissed her again, his mouth clinging to hers in wordless hunger, his hands trailing endlessly over the soft curves of her body. Oh, the heat of him inside her! The deep, deep connection between their two bodies was seamless, all boundaries dissolved as he strived in her, and she reached up to draw him closer, deeper, every fibre of her reaching out for every fibre of him, and finding it, clinging to it, moulding herself around him that they might become one flesh, one soul, one aching pulse. Communion!

She looked up at him and saw in his eyes a reflection of her own realisation. His thin lips were smiling at her, a smile that dimpled his cheeks and wrinkled his eyes and made him seem older than his years, but oh, infinitely more beautiful than she had ever realised a man could be beautiful. She smiled back at him, her body throbbing with desire for this man, this beautiful, beautiful man, with his charming smile and his impossible eyes and his smooth skin and sculpted thighs and indecently hard, pulsating core that was beautiful too, in its perverse, shocking way.

She held him close and he let himself be held, still trying to fight the desire, still trying to restrain the inevitable. Oh, but the feeling was too much, the connection between them too potent, too powerful, to resist! He wanted to give in to it, wanted to surrender all of himself to her, to the lust, to the need. To the supplication in her, he realised, feeling her encircling thighs, her embracing arms, about him. She wanted him as he wanted her. That was the difference, he knew now; that she had come to him afraid and unwilling, and now wanted him as keenly, as desperately, as he wanted her. This was no submission, no surrender. She had met him in a place few women had dared to face him, and she was no longer afraid. Oh, what was this! To feel so lost in her, to want to be lost in her, to lose everything, all sense, all reason, all pride. To humble himself in her arms. Ah yes, yes!

The first spasm caught him unawares, lost in thought, in reflection, and it was only as she cried out again, her voice frantic with unfamiliar yearning, her fingers digging into the flesh of his back, her body tense and tight and grasping around his, that he realised. He laughed joyfully, drawing her body into his arms and holding her as she contracted and cried out and wept. He had never before realised how wonderful it could be to bring a woman to this pleasure, to that point of irrational, thoughtless, heedless rapture. He had done it before, but never before realised quite what it meant.

She was afraid of it, overwhelmed by the force of it, and he knew she had never known this before. He swelled with pride and thrust again into her, deeply, slowly, feeling the muscles of her body clasping around the root of him, delicious contractions that almost sent him beyond all control. He kissed her upturned face, her closed, fluttering eyelids, the tremulous mouth.

Oh, but he loved her in that moment! Not in the detached, cynical way he had confessed love to others – to bring them closer to the pinnacle she had already reached without his lies, to gain their trust – but in a way that only his mother would have recognised in him. Blind, trusting, all-consuming love that asked no condition or quarter, that simply loved because to do aught else was to deny an undeniable truth.

He had never known such a moment, never known such perfect peace in the midst of such extreme passion, and he swept her body into his arms and held her against him, his hands tender on her face, in her hair, his lips soft and caressing, worshipping. He could not look at her, could not open his eyes for fear she would see the tears in them, would see his weakness and despise him for it, when he most adored her.

Eleanor clung to him, the violent tremors rippling away through her body, her skin alive beneath his touch, trembling from his kisses. She felt him move again inside her, so slowly, so deeply that it felt like something beyond mere physical contact. Her mind threw out that word again – communion – and she moaned, whether in the ecstasy of knowing it, or the agony of feeling the moment slip away, she could not tell. She wound herself about him, her arms about his neck, fingers in his hair, her legs about his waist, heels pressing into the smooth flesh of his buttocks, feeling the wiry strength of him as he moved within her and his muscles rippled in his back and his thighs. Oh, this was sinful, surely, but she knew now why sin was so feared. Not because it was wrong, but because it felt so right!

He lifted his head from her shoulder and looked at her, his eyes wet and glimmering, sparkling, but there was no victory there now, no sense of conquest, no amusement at her corruption, no pleasure in her pollution. Only joy – pure, sensual yet sexless, as it must have been in Eden before the Fall, or in Heaven amongst the angels who knew no guilt, no vice. "Who are you?" he demanded, his voice thick with wonder, stroking the flesh of her face as though expecting it to disappear into gossamer.

Eleanor did not understand his question, but her voice responded to his without her bidding. "I am one who comes to show you the way," she murmured, though she knew not what she said. "Another will come, and when she does you will know her for the twin of your own soul." She put her hands to either side of his face and kissed his lips with infinite tenderness, tears falling from her eyes. "I am the gateway to this knowledge, but I am not the one you seek."

Guy stared at her, accepting the words that tumbled from her but scarcely understanding them. He could see she was bewildered, that she was speaking prophetically, as though possessed. If he had been a religious man, he might have been alarmed, fearful, to be in the presence of one uttering unknown words from who knew what realm or entity, but he could feel her body beneath his, her flesh cleaving to his, and he knew only wonder that such a thing could be. A physical act transcended beyond the flesh, opening a channel to revelation. He shuddered deliciously, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck and all along his arms rise in sudden appreciation of the supernatural power of woman.

She was herself again, and she was afraid of what had just happened to her. She clung to him as the only security she knew in this place, clung to him and demanded more, seeking to drive out the eerie sense of the otherworldly in an all too corporeal oblivion. She remembered the words she had spoken, but they made no sense. As being brought here made no sense, as the sudden, ravening desire for him made no sense. But him inside her, the slow, deep, shuddering movements of him inside her, that made sense, that was real.

Their mouths met softly once more, bodies moulded together now as though nothing could untangle them. In the heat of physical union, in the pleasure and rapture of it, the unearthly could be forgotten, could be dismissed as a moment of madness, a shared delusion. That had not happened. This, this was happening, and it was more than enough.

The ending drew sharply, suddenly, closer, and though Guy sought to delay it again, this time it would not be deferred. He knew his body well enough to know that he had denied it for the last time tonight, that this time it would seek its gratification whether he willed it or not. "Forgive me," he whispered.

She looked up at him and smiled, aware of the change in him, feeling the smooth, slow thrusts of his hips become sharper, fiercer, feeling his control fleeing him. She knew now, knew what that loss of control meant. She had experienced it already, and with the generosity of love she wanted him to feel it now too. With the memory of it fresh in her mind, she could feel the fever rising again in her, recognised that she might reach that peak again, and ached to find it, but knew that if it was greedy to ask for such a joy twice she would be content to enjoy his pleasure this time. "Finish what you started, my lord," she laughed, not knowing the words to use, knowing only that he sought an ending that he had delayed long enough, that had nearly come too soon. Oh, thank God that he had stopped her hand from ending this before he had entered her body! Thank God that she had known such intimacy, such connection, with him first!

He laughed hungrily, drawing her close, lifting her into his arms and kissing her. He would lose all tenderness when the final moment came, it was blind and ruthless and full of rage for him, and he did not want to frighten her with it. But it was determined, more in control of him now than he was, and it would not be denied. He thrust into her, his hips meeting hers, sinking so deeply inside her that even after all there had been before, it seemed he found more of her, and she opened up before him with a deep, contented sigh that he had finally reached a part of her that had been silently crying out for him.

She locked her arms and legs tighter about his body as though she sensed his crisis approaching. She clung to him as he thrust harder, his thighs slippery with sweat, his hips jerking spastically now as the desire took control. He plunged into her, deeper, deeper, and then rose up, for one agonising, blissful moment slipping right out of her, and then plunged back in, groaning with the new fresh pleasure of re-entering her body. She was so wet now, her flesh feverish for his, and she moaned as he came into her again, moaned and tightened her grip on him, defying him to try and leave her again.

He closed his eyes tightly, sank his teeth into his lip, and tried once more to deny himself, but it was too late, and it was too close, and with a raw cry of satisfaction he let go with one last, scrambling thrust and emptied himself into her. Oh God! Her hips rose up to meet his again and she cried out, and he knew from the clutching spasm of her hidden flesh on his erupting sex that she had reached the peak with him. Oh bliss, oh rapture, to feel her body shuddering its pleasure beneath his, even as the seed spurted richly from his body into hers! Communion...

He opened his eyes, and her face swam beneath his as though he had gone blind, and it took her fingers on his cheeks, softly stroking away his tears for him to realise he had wept to reach the crisis with her. Never, never before – and never again, he vowed – had he shown such weakness to a woman! Ah, but as her fingers gently touched his face she was not smiling at her conquest of him, but with a lover's tenderness, a lover's forgiveness, and she was weeping too, overwhelmed by the rush of passion and love that had her in its coils.

He lay down upon her, his full weight resting for a moment on her slender frame, and then he rolled over onto his back, drawing her with him, still joined at hip and thigh though the moment of delirium was gone and he knew he could not stay hard for much longer. Could not stay inside her much longer... He could have wept again to think of leaving the warm, fragrant sanctity of her body, and she did weep as she felt his flesh soften and leave hers, her voice a soft moan of lost communion.

He held her closer, smiling with simple pleasure when she nestled against him, her hands seeking the warmth of his body even though the frenzy had passed, wanting him still, he thought with a thrill of warm satisfaction. Her head rested in the hollow of his shoulder, her rose-scented hair sprawling on the pillow behind her, her lips gently grazing his throat. She laced one leg between his and he could feel the wet heat of her against his thigh, sticky and wet from her own climax as well as from his. The smell of her, of their mutual passion, threatened to make him hard again, and he knew – permitting himself a proud little smile of triumph at his own virility – that he would have her again before the dawn came. Once more, maybe twice, but would it feel as it had felt this time? Could it?

"Is it always this way?" she whispered, her voice soft and awestruck, the unknowing child again now the passion had receded. "So..." She shrugged her shoulders eloquently and sighed.

"No," he replied, and his voice resonated with sadness that it should be so.

"Then it is just the first time?" she asked sadly, her mind rebelling against the very idea that something so sweet, so precious, could be tasted only once.

He closed his arms about her body and held her gently. "That has nothing to do with it," he assured her. "I do not know why sometimes..." No, he thought, I do not know why sometimes, because I have never felt like this before. I can no more explain it to her than she can to me. "When you said what you did," he mused thoughtfully, "did you know...?"

"No," she finished, in a voice as sad as his had been.

"It is the same mystery perhaps," he murmured softly, stroking her hair and breathing in the scent of roses that still clung to it, stronger still than the scent of their animal rut, the scent of sweat and wet flesh and the pungent tributes they both had offered up. The mystery he feared to find in her, knowing he would never understand it, he had found, and it bewildered him. Who was she? What was that strange pronouncement that had tumbled from her lips in the midst of their union? 'Another will come, the twin of your soul,' she had said. 'I am not the one you seek,' she had said, but oh, how he wished that she was the one, how he wished she could be!

"Perhaps," she agreed gently, and clung all the closer to the strength of his enclosing arms, wishing that she need not be the gateway to anything, the precedent to anyone, even his soul mate. The twin of his soul was coming, the body she inhabited now was close at hand, in this castle, and it only awaited a chance encounter – if Eleanor was inclined to believe in chance, which in her more prophetic and enlightened moments, she most certainly was not – to bring these two lost parts of a soul back together.

Ah but at least for tonight, she had this beautiful man all to herself, and the spirit within her stirred restlessly, contented with its host body's work so far this night, but far from satisfied that it was all done yet.

"Do you think, my lord, that we might do that again tonight?" asked the spirit through Eleanor's gentle, hopeful voice.

Sir Guy of Gisborne chuckled and ran his large hands confidently over the shimmering white flesh of the beautiful woman in his bed. "Sooner than you might imagine, lady," he said, taking her hand and leading it back to his resurgent manhood.

[31st May 2009]

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