The Legacy

By TJ Bennett

When secrets destroy, can love live on?

[Excerpt]

“Well,” Wolf said, arching a brow.  “I suppose this means no wedding feast.”

A soft groan escaped Lady Sabina.  Her gown fluttered like a conquered flag in the wind, and she closed her eyes.

Wolf felt her weight press against him.

“Are you ailing?” he asked with some concern, reaching out a hand.  She withdrew, and Wolf would not have been surprised to hear an audible crack as she stiffened her spine.

“I am fine.  The day has been long.”

He squinted at her.  “The cock has barely crowed.”

“My life has been long, then.”  She looked away.

He refrained from saying he was several years older than she.  The weary set of her shoulders made him agree with her conclusion.

He found the horse her father had left, a skinny palfrey with a swayed back.  While the ancient beast creaked when it walked, it would last long enough to get them home.

Sanctuary.

He felt his spirits lift a little in spite of his foul mood.  He retrieved his own horse and walked both up the path, noting the gathering storm clouds.  If they weren’t quick about it, they would be caught in a downpour.  He went to the girl and motioned her towards the horse.

“Up,” he said.

She straightened her back, her steady blue gaze trapping his.  “Are you speaking to me or to the horse?”

He lifted an eyebrow.  “Why you, of course, unless you intend for the horse to ride.”

The girl clasped shaking hands in front of her, but when she spoke again her voice was steady.  “Master Behaim.  It is customary to use a form of address when engaging another in polite conversation.  My name is Sabina.  You have my permission to use it.  If you prefer, you may call me ‘Baronesse’ or ‘my lady.’  In a pinch, I suppose, ‘Frau Behaim’ will do.  But ‘you,’ implied or otherwise, is not an acceptable alternative, particularly when speaking to one of noble descent.”

His jaw dropped open at her speech.

She pointed at his mouth.  “You will catch flies with that.”

His jaw snapped shut, and he regarded her with genuine interest.  A fire crackled in her eyes that hadn’t been there before.  He knew few men with the fortitude to talk back to him, let alone women.  He stepped back and sketched a sweeping bow.

“If it would please Your Majesty, your steed awaits,” he said with a mocking flourish.

“That, too, would be an inappropriate form of address, given my station.”

He was no longer amused.  “Get on the cursed horse—”

She trembled at his forbidding tone, but she did not comply.

“—my lady,” he finally ground out.

She tilted her head.  “It would be my pleasure.”

She reached for the pommel, but when she tried to pull up, she rose only half way and slid down again.  She looked at him in consternation.

“May I?” he said stiffly, his desire to aid her in conflict with his desire to abandon her to her own devices.

She nodded.  When he lifted her up to place her in the sidesaddle, her small breasts brushed against his chest.  A curl of long black hair feathered across his cheek.  Determinedly ignoring her nearness, he deposited her in the saddle and reached to steady her.  His hands lingered for a moment longer than necessary, and it occurred to him that if he wrapped them around her tiny waist, his fingers would almost touch at the tips.  Heat spiraled through him.  Surprised, he released her as though burned.  She swayed atop the horse.

“What the—!”  He caught her before she fell to the ground, and stood her up again.  Her knees buckled and, out of necessity, he pressed her between him and the horse, which looked back and regarded them both without blinking.

He could feel the girl’s heart pounding against his.  He stared down at her for a moment and for some reason her mouth again drew his gaze.

Dear God, that mouth—it gave a man ideas.  She may be plain in every other respect, but that mouth was sin itself.  His hands were still around her waist where he had caught her.  He had been right.  His fingers did nearly touch.

By the saints and stars, what was he doing?

He stepped back, releasing her.

“Can’t you sit a horse?” he snapped, irritated to find himself susceptible to such an obvious female ploy as falling into a man’s arms.

“Yes—nay—that is, the saddle slipped,” she stammered.

With a raised brow, he knelt down to check the palfrey’s girth and the girl jumped aside, more skittish than the horse.  She must have been holding her breath because it suddenly came out in a rush.  He skewed her a wry glance, then returned to examining the girth.

It was worn and had nearly snapped when the girl—dammit, Lady Sabina’s—weight had been added to it.  It barely held together.  Of course von Ziegler would give his daughter an old horse with a useless saddle, adding final insult to injury.

Wolf eyed her over his shoulder.  “I don’t suppose you can ride bareback, Your Worship?”

Her plump mouth drew into a thin line.  “Nay, I do not suppose I can.”

He had no pillion handy, either.  He considered their other alternatives, coming up with only one, and stood up.  “You’ll have to ride double with me, then.”

Her eyes widened in alarm.  “I—I am sure that will not be necessary.  If it is not too far, I can walk.”

“I’d hardly ride while you walked, and I am not walking.”  He stifled an exasperated sound when he saw her draw up at his harsh tone.  “Pardon me.  Sanctuary is nearly half a league away.  If you haven’t noticed, it’s about to storm.  We’d catch our death of cold before we got halfway there.  It’s my horse for the both of us, or you can return home with your father—if you can catch him.”

That alternative didn’t sit well with her either, it appeared.  She glanced doubtfully over at his powerfully built horse, which stood seventeen hands high at the withers, and pursed her lips.

“What is his name?” she finally asked.

“What difference does it—Suleiman, his name is Suleiman,” he said, trying to unclench his teeth.

She blinked.  “You named your horse after a marauding infidel?”

“He was a little difficult to train.  I thought the name fit well at the time.  Now, of course, he is as tame as a kitten,” he dryly assured her while Suleiman pawed at the ground and snorted.  “Would you like to look at his bite and check his hooves, too?  Or may we ride?”

She huffed prettily.  “Master Behaim, I only wished to know his name so that we would not be strangers.  If someone intended to ride me, I would certainly prefer to be introduced first.”

A slow, masculine smile spread across his face.  He couldn’t help it.  “Well, that’s good to know.  Call me Wolf.”

 Coming from Medallion Press April 2008

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