Freedom’s Heart Part 5.

 

Chapter 17.

The sun was a low ball of fire hanging a handspan above the horizon when Jessica reluctantly allowed herself to part with her dreams. Opening fuzzy green eyes, the young woman groaned as she shifted against the warm body she was wrapped around. Her muscles were stiff after yesterday’s unusually vigorous sparring, and she stretched painfully under the blankets.

Yawning languidly, Jess scratched at her neck and smiled. Sitting up a little and musing just how much she enjoyed waking up like this, the young blonde studied her still sleeping bed-mate. Kaleah’s face looked so beautiful as she rested; the gentle, innocent expression warmed Jessica’s heart and reminded her again that the dark woman was only a few years older than she was. The hard lines carved by slavery’s heavy chisel were gone, revealing Kaleah’s true youth.

Jessica had woke twice during the night when she heard her companion muttering in her sleep. At first, the young blonde thought Kaleah was having a nightmare, but that thought was dispelled by the slight smile on the sleeping woman’s face. Whatever dreams Kaleah was experiencing appeared to be anything but unpleasant.

Watching now, Jessica couldn’t stop her hand as it reached out to gently stroke Kaleah’s smiling lips, drawn by a force far greater than her will. Kaleah’s smile widened and she sighed happily, leaning into the caress. Sleepy blue eyes fluttered open and looked up, meeting Jessica’s dancing emerald gaze.

"Mornin’," Kaleah greeted as Jessica removed her hand.

"Good morning. Did you sleep well?"

Kaleah stretched, and Jessica felt her powerful, long body coil and tense against her. The sensation of such animal force so close sent a shiver over her skin. "I slept great, thank you." Kaleah groaned. "I think I might want to take things easy today, though. My body feels like it’s been run over by a cart."

Jessica grinned. "Mine, too. Remember, you promised a massage later tonight, right?"

Kaleah nodded, her eyes growing hooded as she remembered last night’s ponderings. "Absolutely," she agreed, already looking forward to it. Rolling her neck to loosen the muscles a bit, she sighed happily.

Jessica watched her friend stretch herself awake. "Did you know you talk in your sleep?" she asked.

Kaleah stopped her activities and raised an eyebrow at her. "Really?"

"Uh huh." Jess nodded sincerely. "You woke me up a few times."

"Oh. I’m sorry." Kaleah returned to trying to ease the stiffness in her joints. "Wh-what was I saying?" she asked, wondering if she wanted to know. A flash of memory from a dream came to mind, and she hoped she hadn’t said anything too revealing.

But Jessica just shrugged. "I don’t know. You weren’t speaking English or French, and it didn’t sound Spanish. I couldn’t understand the words . . . but it sounded kinda nice."

"Really." Kaleah thought for a moment. "Did it sound like this . . ." She rattled off a quick sentence in a guttural, throaty dialect.

"Yeah, that’s it!" Jessica grinned. "What language is that?"

Kaleah shrugged. "It’s the language of my people . . . from before the slavers came," she explained simply. "I may have forgotten most everything else about that time. . . but I never forgot the language. I guess there are some things you never really forget, huh?"

Jessica nodded. "I like it," she said after a moment. "I’ve never heard it before though."

"That’s not surprising. I’ve never met anyone who knew where it came from." Kaleah finished her stretching and lay back. "I guess it’s probably not a common tongue . . . maybe my people were tribal, I don’t know."

A soft knock at the door interrupted the conversation, and Jessica smiled. "Time to get up, I guess." Struggling out of the warm blankets – which Kaleah quickly pulled back around her – the young blonde shuffled over and unlocked the door before opening it. She was greeted by a serving girl a few years younger than herself.

"Yes?"

The girl bobbed her head. "Milady . . . Lord Charles asked me to deliver this . . ." She held out a neatly capped redwood scroll case.

Jessica smiled warmly. She’d never met this girl before, and assumed she was new to Da’Gran. Servants came and went in the castle, though they generally stayed for many years. "You can call me Jessica, please," she said kindly. "What was your name?"

The girl blushed deeply. "Um . . . it’s Heather."

"Thank you, Heather." Jessica took the scroll-case and gave the young girl a friendly nod of gratitude. "Please thank Charles for me, and tell him his assistance is greatly appreciated."

The girl bowed shyly and nodded. "I will, mil-. . . Jessica."

Thanking her again, Jessica closed the door and turned back to find Kaleah regarding her curiously.

"What’s that?" the dark woman asked, pointing to the cylindrical wooden case.

Jessica grinned and opened the case, drawing out the worn piece of parchment it contained. "This?" She inspected the flowing script that covered the paper and nodded in satisfaction. "This is a weapon."

A dark brow raised dubiously. "A weapon?"

"Mmmhmm. A very powerful weapon that will insure your protection from my mothers interference." Her smile turned unpleasant. "If you don’t mind, I have to go have a little chat with her for a while."

Kaleah shook her head. "No, I don’t mind at all." She smiled, a plan forming in her mind. "How long will it take?"

Jess shrugged, walking over to the blood-soaked bundle of cloth wrappings that sat on the nearby table. "Hard to say. It depends on how much of a fight she wants to put up. It could take an hour or so."

Kaleah considered that, and nodded with a satisfied smile. "Fine." She watched as her friend rummaged around till she found a small, finely decorated jewelry box which was, of course, empty. With a look of disgust, the young blonde unwrapped the gristly items and laid them in the box, snapping it shut quickly.

"I’ll be as quick as I can, Kaleah, but I want to make sure she gets the message."

"Well, that’ll do it." Kaleah gestured to the box, figuring she had a fair idea what her friend had in mind, but wondering how the mysterious piece of paper figured into the plan. "I’ll wait here for you, okay?"

"Sure." Jessica dragged a brush quickly through her disheveled blonde hair, managing to bring it to at least a temporary state of order. Grimacing at her clothes, she shrugged. "I’ll bring us back some breakfast . . . I’m starving."

Kaleah nodded agreeably and watched the young woman open the door and leave. As the heavy oak door closed firmly, the dark woman grinned fully, her dazzling eyes wandering instantly to the stone fireplace . . . and the secret passages beyond.

"Well," she stated happily, clapping her hands and tossing off the blankets regretfully, "I’m not going to argue with this kind of good luck."

Searching quickly on one of the tables, Kaleah located a piece of charcoal her friend had been using to draw with. Then, wandering over to the fireplace, she searched for and quickly found the hidden catch. Pressing down on the lever behind the angel’s sword, Kaleah stepped back as the whole thing shifted, rolling on the concealed pinion and opening into the darkness beyond. Kaleah’s eyes twinkled and her grin turned feral.

"Time to do a little exploring, I think," she whispered, before ducking her head and slipping into the hidden corridor.

 

Jessica found her mother in one of the more luxuriously appointed rooms of the castle, sitting with her brother Steven. The two were obviously engaged in some deep conversation, but that ended as soon as she entered the room. Her brother glared at her, but she just glared right back.

"Jessica." Her mother smiled a little, but didn’t seem particularly surprised to see her. Standing, the woman regarded her first-born child somewhat condescendingly, frowning at her simple clothes. "How nice to see you."

"I doubt that," Jessica said politely, standing stiffly. Her lip curled as she saw Steven sniff at her presence. "I was wondering if I might have a word with you, mother." Her green eyes bore into her brother with unrelenting malice. "In private."

Steven was about to say something, but the Lady Rose silenced him with a calm look. "Now, Steven. What have I told you about base insults? The true gentleman does not resort to such things." Her eyes returned to her daughter. "Even Jessica here can understand common manners." She smiled thinly, and gestured for Steven to leave. "I’m sure this won’t take long."

As soon as the boy was gone, Lady Rose waved Jessica forward. "Would you care to sit?"

"Thank you." Jessica sat stiffly but with an undeniable grace, folding her hands primly in her lap. Her mother took the seat opposite her and smiled.

"I so rarely see you of late," she remarked, and Jessica thought she heard genuine regret in her mother’s tone. "I’ve missed the time we spent together. I wanted to tell you I was proud of you on Monday. You presented yourself as a true lady for Sir William."

Jessica accepted the praise with a nod. "Kaleah and I did our best."

Lady Rose’s smile faltered. "Yesss. Your ‘friend’ made quite an impression." She was silent in thought for a moment, then regarded her daughter pleasantly. "So . . . what brings you here?"

"I thought it was time we had a little discussion," Jessica said simply, ". . . about Kaleah."

Rose frowned and cocked her head. "I see." She shook her head. "I don’t know what there is to say, really. You know how I feel about your association with that . . . woman."

"And you know I don’t much care how you feel about Kaleah . . . at least I don’t so long as you leave us alone." Jessica placed the small jewelry box on the table between them and pushed it towards her mother. "It has been brought to my attention that such is not the case, however."

Lady Rose reached out and took the box, opening it. Her features paled when she realized what the contents were, and she glanced at her daughter somewhat uneasily. Jessica just smiled coldly.

"Captain Brian and his lackey’s decided to move on from Da’Gran last night," the young woman said quietly. "After the . . . discussion I had with them regarding their recent actions, they seemed quite anxious to be gone." She cocked her head and nodded to the box. "I think the fact that they were missing their thumbs might have had something to do with their hasty departure."

Lady Rose swallowed a lump in her throat at the icy tone in her daughter’s voice. Calmly returning the box to the table, she shifted uncomfortably under Jessica’s unwavering gaze. "What has this to do with me."

Jessica didn’t answer for a long moment, but just continued to regard her mother coldly. "I’m not a fool, mother," she said finally. "I don’t expect you to take responsibility, but we both know full well who directed the attack against Kaleah." Green eyes narrowed dangerously. "I’m here to tell you that it all stops now. Leave . . . Kaleah . . . alone."

Lady Rose smiled weakly. "You always did have the subtlety of a sledge-hammer, Jessica," she said, sitting back and studying her daughter curiously. "Do you really expect me to sit back and do nothing?" she asked after a long contemplation. "You are my daughter, Jessica. It’s my duty to protect you."

"Protect me? From what?"

"From yourself! From this . . . Godless savage you’ve become so attached too!" The lady’s eyes flared angrily for the first time. "You are a child of the nobility, Jessica! You should associate with people of your own class. This heathen has no place at your side! No matter how nicely you dress her up, or how well you teach her the social graces, you can’t hide the fact that Kaleah is nothing more than a barbarian!"

Jessica leaned forward suddenly, her presence filling the room with suppressed rage. "I’ve never tried to hide Kaleah’s heritage, mother!" she hissed. "She may not worship any god, and she may be a savage, yes. But she has more loyalty and nobility in her big toe than you’ll ever have in your whole life!"

"Loyalty!?" Lady Rose rolled her eyes. "She’s an escaped slave, Jessica! A creature like her cares only for itself. Trust me . . . she’d leave you in a heartbeat and think nothing of it if she thought for one second she’d gain something by deserting you."

Jessica smiled and settled back, reining in her temper. "That sounds very much like what she tells me you told her about me, mother," she observed. "Believe me . . . you don’t know anything about Kaleah. She’s here to stay for as long as she chooses . . . it’s time you accepted that."

"Never!" Lady Rose gestured sharply with her hand. "Nothing you can do will ever make me stop trying to rid this castle of that demon who has bewitched you!" She glared at her daughter angrily. "Maybe one day, you’ll realize I’m doing this for your own good, Jessica. I love you . . . and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe from the influence of that woman."

Jessica considered that a long moment, holding her mother’s eyes and seeing the determined conviction there. Apparently, her mother wasn’t going to make this easy. So be it. She had anticipated such would be the case . . . and had come prepared. A slow, self-assured smile tugged at her lips and she nodded.

"Very well then. I can see you’re not prepared to play this game my way." Reaching into belt, she pulled out the redwood scroll-case and offered it to her mother. "I guess we’ll have to play it yours."

Lady Rose eyes the scroll-case skeptically. "What’s this?"

"Take it."

She did so, albeit reluctantly. Jessica watched her mother open the case and remove the parchment from within. When she gave her a curious look, the young blonde just smiled and gestured for her to read. Intelligent eyes scanned the writing swiftly, then narrowed in confusion.

Lady Rose looked at her daughter sharply. "What is this?"

Jessica shrugged. "It is exactly what it appears to be," she said softly. "A letter from Lord Patrick Terrace to my father, dated, as you can see, a few months before you married him." The smile held a sense of quiet triumph as she sat back and studied her mother. "The details are a little vague, of course . . . but the general message is quite clear. Lord Terrace writes of his concern for my father’s betrothal . . . it seems he doesn’t approve of his friend’s plan to marry a common whore."

Lady Rose had turned very pale, but she looked again at the letter. "This is ridiculous!" she breathed. "Lord Terrace never wrote this. This letter is a complete lie!"

"Yes, it is," Jess agreed easily. "I dictated the letter myself and had it copied into quite a believable forgery. But you were the one who taught me, mother, that a lie can be the most effective weapon on earth . . . if properly used." Jessica saw a hint of comprehension dawn in her mother’s eyes.

"No-one will believe this," Lady Rose said.

"Won’t they?" Jessica reached forward and took the letter from her mother’s limp hand. She reread a part of it and shook her head. "I would think that the servant who conveniently finds this letter will be only too happy to believe such a juicy story. And what’s more . . . I’d bet my right foot that the first thing they’d want to do is share the information with a friend."

Jessica leaned forward and grinned fully. "Imagine it, mother," she whispered. "The rumors would spread faster than wildfire, faster than you could ever hope to stop. I’m sure you could present the people with the truth . . . but would they listen? You were the one who taught me the first rule of court intrigue is that people will always believe an interesting lie rather than the boring truth. If word gets out that Sir Richard Da’Gran’s noble wife is little more than a whore who blackmailed him into marriage, well . . ." She shrugged dramatically. "You’re reputation would be shattered beyond your capacity to repair."

Lady Rose listened in silence, her breathing noticeably shallow. She looked from her daughter’s intense green eyes to the fraudulent letter, then back. "You wouldn’t dare release such information," she said softly after a moment. "Your father-"

"My father is a fighting man," Jessica interrupted. "He cares nothing for court intrigue or rumor, so long as his people are protected." She waved the letter. "This does him no harm . . . only you."

Rose scowled darkly. "And you would do this to your own mother?"

Jessica shrugged. "You attacked that which I care deepest for," she said simply. "Don’t think for a second I’d hesitate to do the same in return." Carefully, she rerolled the letter and replaced it in the scroll-case. Standing, she gave her mother a triumphant look. "Kaleah will be left in peace . . . and in return, so will your reputation and dignity. Do we understand one another?"

Lady Rose was silent, then she nodded. "You leave me little choice."

Jess smiled coldly. "That’s the idea."

Turning to leave, Jessica was almost out the door when her mother called out to her. She turned back, arching an eyebrow.

"Yes?"

Lady Rose hesitated, then offered a strange smile. "Well done," she said quietly.

Jessica was confused. "Huh?"

"I’m pleased to see all the time I put into trying to teach you about court life hasn’t been for nothing," her mother said. "Strange as it may sound . . . it makes me proud that you could outmaneuver me so easily." She shrugged. "You were always so busy pursuing your foolish swordplay . . . I never thought you were paying any attention to the things I said."

Jessica regarded her mother silently, wondering what to say. She had never particularly liked the time she’d been forced to endure with her mother, always preferring the lessons with Sir Miles and even Eric Grace. There’d never been much in common between the two women . . . and Jessica had always resented the way Rose kept her from befriending any of the servants. Still . . . she had won for now. She supposed she could be gracious.

Smiling a little at her mother, Jess shrugged. "You shouldn’t mistake disinterest for inability," she said quietly. "I learned everything you ever taught me . . . I just chose not to use it."

Then she turned and left, shutting the door behind her and heading for the kitchen. The unpleasantness of the meeting couldn’t quell her hunger, and she was glad the whole thing was settled. All in all, with her most pressing chore taken care of, the day was looking to be a good one. Kaleah’s safety was assured . . . and she had a massage to look forward to later on that night.

With a spring in her step, the young blonde quickened her pace as she headed through the stone hallway deeper into the keep.

 

While Jessica was busy dealing with the problem of her mother, Kaleah was off on a mission of her own.

The secret passages were a confusing labyrinth to Kaleah, who’d never been good in such directionless places. Without her friend’s guiding presence the dark woman was nervous in the stale, musty darkness. Taking extreme precautions, however, she used the charcoal stick she’d taken to mark every turn she took, and didn’t rush her search. The former slave knew it would cost her time if she got herself lost.

The bathing chamber was located not terribly far from Jessica’s room, down a few hallways and around a few corners. As Kaleah neared the area she figured must be fairly close to the chamber, she slowed even further. Casting the light from the torch she carried over the walls, her sharp eyes began to search for anything out of the ordinary in the stonework.

It only took a minute for her to find what she was looking for; the hole was small, but it’s smooth gold edges stood out clearly from the rough-hewn granite. Grinning in triumph, Kaleah put her eye to the peep-hole and found herself looking into the bathing chamber . . . just as she had suspected.

"My, oh my," she whispered to herself. "Jessica, my friend . . . it would seem you’re not quite the innocent you appear to be."

The spy hole gave a surprisingly unrestricted view of most of the room beyond, considering how small it was. From here, Kaleah realized a person would be able to see just about everything that went on in the bathing chamber – realized Jessica had had the perfect view of her as she washed up.

"It’s not nice to spy on people, Jessica," she admonished to her absent friend softly, remembering the way Jessica had blushed when she’d admitted to using the secrets of Da’Gran to watch the servants and soldiers. "How long have you been doing this?"

Her suspicion confirmed, Kaleah smiled and decided she’d best get back to Jessica’s room before the girl returned and found her missing. As she drew away from the secret hole and started back along the narrow passage, the former slave pondered the ramifications of her discovery.

There was little doubt in her mind but that Jessica had been watching her through the spy-hole as she bathed. It was the best – and pretty much only – explanation for how the young woman had known she was in danger last night. And to Kaleah’s mind, there was only one possible reason why Jessica would be indulging in such voyeurism: she was interested in more than just friendship.

With the bond between the two of them growing markedly stronger every day, Kaleah had been noticing Jessica’s shy looks more and more. The stolen glances . . . the constant blushes . . . the lingering touches and increasing affection. Kaleah grinned. It all told her Jessica felt the same way she did – told her the young woman felt an attraction as strong as her own. And the fact that the young woman had been watching Kaleah bathe indicated she was not only comfortable with being attracted to another woman . . . she was embracing it wholeheartedly.

But even as her heart leapt with desperate joy at the knowledge her love did not go unrequited, Kaleah forced herself to be rational. She reveled for a moment in the intense emotions that flooded her brain, then set her mind to figuring out the next step. She knew Jessica had deeper feelings for her . . . but what was she supposed to do with this information now?

Kaleah had no idea what was normal or appropriate in this type of situation. Sure, she’d had a lot of experience providing sexual pleasure for her masters and their clients . . . but this love she felt was so far removed from anything in the sordid world of slavery she could scarcely draw inspiration from that well. Not that she didn’t want to use her knowledge of physical pleasure as well; she most certainly did. But there was a lot she had to do beforehand. This was the woman she loved, not some callous stranger to be dealt with as quickly as possible and then escaped. She wanted to do this right . . . take things slowly. But what did normal people do?

Kaleah had a vague understanding that perhaps she was supposed to court Jessica somehow, but she had no idea how to go about such an endeavor. According to a few of the romantic stories Jessica had told her, flowers were often considered a suitable gift. But considering the idea, she scoffed.

"Winter only just ended . . . there aren’t any flowers around yet. And somehow, I doubt such a gift would get the message across."

Okay, so that was out. Maybe she should try the truth.

"Oh, yeah. I can just see that. ‘Hey, Jess, I found your little spy-hole and I know you’ve been watching me get naked and wet . . . Maybe you could join me next time, huh?’" Kaleah laughed to herself and shook her head. Then she smiled wickedly and cocked her head. "On the other hand . . . maybe she’d agree . . ."

Shaking away the licentious thoughts for the moment, she tried to come up with something else. Thinking of what she knew of Jessica’s personality didn’t help much. She knew the girl was a romantic; she loved stories of handsome knights rescuing helpless maidens and such . . . but at the same time, there was a core of calm pragmatism to her as well. A sense of economy and grounded wisdom that clashed with her idealism.

"Maybe Charles could help me," she pondered aloud as she finally reached the entrance back to Jess’s room and opened it. She liked the young nobleman; he had always been friendly and seemed worthy of trust. She knew he wouldn’t tell Jessica a secret like this, and he could very well have some good advice on matters of courtship. She grinned at the twisted irony of that plan.

"Go to the man Jess is supposed to marry and ask his advice on how I should tell his betrothed that I’m in love with her." She sighed and slipped into the bedroom, dusting herself off and closing the fireplace behind her. "I wonder how many people have ever thought that would be a good idea."

Kicking off her boots, the dark-haired woman scrambled back into bed, propping herself against the bedboard and closing her eyes. There had to be something she could do to let Jessica know of her interest. Courtship was all well and good, but from what little she understood of the process, it seemed awfully complicated. Her love was simple; she had faith in it’s power and she knew now that it was reciprocated. Surely there was a more direct way to get the ball rolling.

Suddenly, her eyes snapped open and a slow grin twisted the scar on her lips. There was indeed a more direct approach than courtship, she realized . . . and it’s name was seduction.

Admittedly, Kaleah acknowledged, she had almost the same level of experience with the art of seduction as she had with courtship . . . but the principle idea was much more to her liking. All she really had to do, she figured, was let her desires closer to the surface where her companion could see them. The basic foundation of a good seduction seemed largely composed of a conscious display of one’s attraction. Plus, she thought with a grin, it meant she got to tease the young woman to frustration. She’d never really put a lot of thought into flirting with anyone before, but she very much liked the idea of flirting with her friend.

Confidant that Jessica had been entertaining lustful thoughts of her, the dark-haired woman wasn’t afraid she’d make a fool of herself. And, as she considered the mechanics of her plan, she realized with some surprise that a lot of useful foundations had already been laid. The massage she had promised Jessica came quickly to mind.

Chuckling to herself gleefully, Kaleah crossed her arms over her chest and settled back to wait for her friend’s return. She was already looking forward to the next few days.

 

Juggling a tray bearing two bowls of honeyed oatmeal, a stack of buttered toast and some gently steaming eggs, Jessica struggled a moment but eventually managed to work the door-handle. Kicking the door open, she entered her bedroom, smiling quickly at Kaleah who was still sitting in bed.

"Hey," she said, pushing the door closed behind her with a hip thrust. "You planning on staying like that all day?"

"Maybe," the dark woman replied with a strange grin. "You bringing me breakfast in bed isn’t exactly making me want to get up."

Jessica handed her the tray and, after removing her boots, joined her on the huge, comfortable, and still warm mattress. "Well . . . I ran into Charles and Damon on the way to the kitchen," she told her friend, taking one of the bowls and stirring the sweet honey into the oatmeal with a spoon. "They were wondering if we might like to join them for a walk. It’s a little cloudy outside, but not too bad. What d’ya think?"

"Sure. Sounds good."

"Great." Jessica started eating with enthusiasm, feeling very happy. She was half-way through the oatmeal and had finished off two pieces of toast before she realized that Kaleah hadn’t taken her eyes off her even while she ate her own breakfast. Stopping mid-chew, she looked at her friend curiously. "What’s wrong?"

Kaleah just smiled at her in a rather mysterious way and said, "Nothing." But her intense blue eyes didn’t stop staring.

"Do I have something on my face?" She wiped at her chin, thinking perhaps she’d smeared honey on herself.

Kaleah’s smile grew a fraction wider. "No." She slowly devoured a spoonful of honeyed porridge, her eyes never breaking their magnetic contact. Jessica swallowed as her friend very deliberately licked the spoon clean, the smile never wavering.

Feeling a flush rise in her face for some reason she couldn’t identify, Jessica pulled away from the intense regard of those eyes and tried to concentrate on eating. When she quickly glanced back at Kaleah, the dark woman was still watching her, smiling her strange, quiet smile.

There was something about the expression on Kaleah’s face – something in her smile – that was sending shivers across Jessica’s skin. The look was partly like the one Kaleah wore when she was in a playful mood . . . but there was some new, mysterious ingredient Jessica had never seen before. Something that hadn’t been there when she’d left to confront her mother.

"Did you sort everything out?"

"Huh?" Kaleah’s question snapped her out of her contemplation.

"With your mother," the dark woman clarified. "Is everything alright?"

"What? Oh, right. My mother." Jessica blushed. "Yeah . . . it’s all fine now. Well . . . maybe fine’s too strong a word, but . . . I don’t think we’ll have any more trouble from her."

"Good." Kaleah chewed very slowly on a bite of toasted bread, licking her fingers when she’d finished. "Where are we going to go for our walk?"

Jessica felt butterflies start to flutter in her stomach and for some reason felt very unbalanced. "Um . . . I don’t know. Maybe just out to the woods or somewhere like that. Not too far."

Kaleah nodded agreeably. "Great. After yesterday, my muscles could use a good stretch." Jessica watched the woman flex her whole body with a sensuous, feline grace. She looked away a little nervously.

"Me too."

Jess suddenly realized that something had changed in Kaleah’s voice. The dark woman was talking very softly . . . much lower and throatier than she usually did. The exotic accent that Jessica had grown accustomed too had become huskier, more noticeable. In fact, her whole body language was different. Watching from the corner of her eyes, Jessica noticed the primal, animal tension that usually gripped Kaleah’s body was largely gone . . . replaced with an almost languid, supine relaxation that seemed strangely . . . inviting.

"When did you want to leave?"

Kaleah almost purred the words, and suddenly Jessica’s eyes widened in shock. She felt a moment of pure panic and stared into her friend’s hooded eyes, momentarily struck dumb. The deep, husky tones her friend was using . . . the peculiar expression and body language . . . She had seen them before.

The barmaid in the village had behaved just like this.

Jessica’s brain put everything together and suddenly, she realized what was going on.

Kaleah was flirting with her!

A deliciously raised brow called attention to the fact that she’d been asked a question, but for a long, frightening moment Jessica couldn’t get her mouth to work. It opened and closed, but no words came out. Feeling heat in Kaleah’s playfully amused regard, she flushed and cleared her throat. Thankfully, she managed to get out a strangled reply.

"Um . . . I-I guess . . . anytime would be fine." She saw the smile on Kaleah’s face turn into a flashing grin. A fever ran through her body and she hastily broke away from the intensity of the dark woman’s gaze. "Maybe after breakfast . . ." she added.

"Great."

OH MY GOD!! Jessica’s mind recovered enough to start working again. She’s flirting with you!! Is it possible!? Maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe she’s just catching a cold or something and it’s making her voice go all husky. Maybe the stress from last night’s doing weird things to her mind. Maybe . . .

"Are you feeling alright?"

Kaleah’s voice intruded; she sounded very pleased with herself. Jessica looked up and saw those blue eyes sparkling playfully . . . saw an open, very clear invitation for her to join the game.

Maybe she’s flirting with you, her mind admitted in awe. I don’t know what the hell happened while you were gone, but something clearly did. God-damn it . . . look at her eyes! They could melt lead!.

Jessica managed a somewhat shaky smile, and nodded. "I’m fine . . . thanks." Her voice sounded strange in her ears, but Kaleah grinned.

"Good." The dark woman finally released Jessica from her magnetic gaze and focused on finishing off the rest of the food that Jessica had apparently abandoned. The young blonde breathed a silent sigh of relief, understanding that her friend was giving her a little space to figure this out . . . to grow comfortable with what was happening.

Taking the opportunity to calm her racing heart, Jessica wondered what she was supposed to do now. What had started out as just another, entirely pleasant day had suddenly taken an almost dreamlike turn into uncharted territory. She’d known the last few days had brought her closer to the dark woman . . . had even started to entertain serious thoughts that Kaleah might possibly be romantically interested in her. Certainly, she’d been aware of things getting stronger. . . more binding between them. But this still seemed surprisingly sudden.

Perhaps she just decided she didn’t want to wait any longer, her mind suggested. You’ve been getting pretty damn frustrated lately. If she feels the same – which it’s pretty clear she does – things can’t have been much better for her. Maybe she just figured it was time to make the first move.

That made sense, she knew. Kaleah had probably realized Jessica wasn’t likely to feel comfortable initiating a deeper, more physical relationship . . . which, from the heat in those scorching blue eyes, it certainly seemed was what Kaleah was bucking for. Whatever had prompted the sudden shift, Jessica wasn’t going to argue with it.

She felt her breath catch in her throat as the information finally sunk in; Kaleah desired her. And as she let herself get caught for a heartbeat once more in the magnetic depths of the dark woman’s eyes, she recognized the gentle, patient affection that lay behind the desire . . . Kaleah’s love was the mirror of her own.

A delighted, excited rush flooded through her blood, generating in her heart and spreading outward till even her fingertips tingled. In the split second before she broke the eye-contact, Jessica felt that same intense sensation of recognition, of soul-shattering destiny that had not occurred since the day they’d met. The crooked, roguish smile that tugged at Kaleah’s lips told her the dark woman experienced the same thing, before they mutually looked away.

Suddenly, Jessica was sorry she’d promised Charles they would join him for the walk. She wanted nothing more than to stay here and revel in this exquisite new feeling; to bask in the warm rush and giddy joy she now felt as her heart and soul wrapped themselves in the knowledge that the love they’d nurtured and cared for the past few weeks was not in vain.

Oh well, she thought with a little grin as Kaleah scrapped up the last of the breakfast she’d brought. There was always tonight . . . and the massage she’d been promised.

 

Chapter 18.

Later that afternoon, as the sun sank ever closer to the distant horizon, Kaleah stood watching her friend from the castle wall, her back braced comfortably against the battlements. Jessica sat in the courtyard below, close enough that Kaleah could make out every detail of her expression as she chatted animatedly with Charles. The former slave knew her friend was aware she was being watched; every now and then, shy green eyes would glance in her direction and a slight flush would color her fair skin. Kaleah was happy to give Jess her space for now, knowing the innocent girl was in need of a little time to adjust.

Grinning quietly to herself, Kaleah sighed contentedly, reflecting on how the day had gone so far.

After breakfast, she and Jessica had found Charles and Damon outside the keep with Sir Miles. Though they had invited him to join them, Miles had begged off, saying he had duties to attend to. So, wishing him a pleasant day, the four friends had hiked out a few miles to the woods, where they spent several hours just exploring through the thick undergrowth. As they wandered about, Kaleah had taken every opportunity to brush up against the young blonde . . . and after a while, Jessica had started to timidly return the contact.

Kaleah had enjoyed Jessica’s reaction to her gentle flirtations. At breakfast, she’d clearly been surprised . . . but that had soon changed to an almost dazed comprehension which, as the young woman grew more comfortable as the day wore on, changed again into a hesitant reciprocation which Kaleah encouraged with warm smiles.

In the company of Charles and Damon, Kaleah had decided not to be too suggestive about her advances. Still, the heated looks she threw Jessica from time to time, and the quiet, inviting smile she adopted proved more than effective. Jessica had spent so much time blushing and stumbling distractedly over every fallen branch that crossed her path that eventually Charles had asked her if she was feeling okay. Jessica’s mumbled, embarrassed response to that had been followed by a warning glare at Kaleah, who had simply smirked and shrugged slightly.

On the return trip, Kaleah had allowed herself to drift back a few paces, falling into stride just behind and a little to the left of her blonde friend. In that position, she’d been free to let her admiring eyes wander further over the young woman’s body. At one point, Jessica had turned just in time to ‘catch’ Kaleah with her eyes fixed firmly on her backside. Kaleah had grinned at Jessica’s expression, and at the subtle ‘not now’ gesture she’d thrown with a nod at Charles and his body-guard. Still, the former slave hadn’t missed the sudden, enticing swagger Jessica’s stride developed for the rest of the walk.

Once back at the castle, Damon had left them to join Sir Miles, who was training with the soldiers on the jousting field, but Jessica asked Charles to remain with them. Kaleah had frowned at this . . . before she caught the sly, teasing smile the girl threw her. Apparently, Jess had decided to play the game, too.

They had just finished a light lunch together in the courtyard, watching the bustle of soldiers, servants and commoners as they went about their business; or at least, Charles had watched the bustle, while Jessica watched with extremely wide eyes as Kaleah set about finding the most suggestive way possible to devour a chicken drumstick. Then, deciding it was probably time to give her companion a break, Kaleah had made up an excuse and left the two alone, coming up here where she could continue to watch her friend . . . but where she was far enough away that the young woman had the privacy to talk with Charles.

All in all, Kaleah judged the day to be a good start. And of course, there was still more to come. She wondered if Jessica would start to feel uneasy once they were alone again. The young blonde had started to return the looks Kaleah gave with ones of her own . . . had shyly encouraged the dark woman’s advances. Kaleah hoped that would continue later on.

"Ye found a comfy roost here, I see."

The voice startled her, and she spun about to find Sir Miles standing calmly not ten feet away. "Oh . . . it’s you." Her body released some of it’s surprised tension . . . but not all. She suppressed a frown of displeasure. "I thought you were at the jousting field."

The old knight shrugged. "Damon took over," he explained. He watched her with knowing eyes, seeing the wary posture. "Ye have a nice walk?"

"Fine, thank you." She stared at him a moment longer, then turned back to watching her friend, dousing the fires in her eyes. She hoped Sir Miles would take the hint and leave, but instead he stepped closer and joined her observation.

She had not really spoken to Miles since their fight when she’d first come to Da’Gran. While he sometimes watched her sparring sessions with Jessica, the elder knight had not approached her directly since that day. In truth, Kaleah felt a little embarrassed about her behavior . . . about the way she’d reacted to him at first. But it was hard for her to offer an apology, so she’d just avoided him. As he joined her now on the wall, she wondered if he was going to take the first step for her.

"Been watching you," he said after a long period of very awkward silence. He nodded towards Jessica. "Ye look at that girl with fire in your eyes."

The words took Kaleah by surprise. Her head snapped around and she stared at him. "What’s that supposed to mean?" she demanded angrily.

He just smiled into his beard and raised a bushy eyebrow. "Ah think ye know what I mean, lass," he said softly. "The way ye been watchin’ Jess these last few weeks . . . ain’t hard to tell what ye been thinkin’ about her."

She stared at him for several seconds, seeing calm, unwavering certainty in his eyes. Then, knowing he wasn’t going to look away first, she shrugged and went back to watching Jessica. "So what?"

Miles folded his arms over his broad chest, cupping the stump of his right arm with his left hand. "I ain’t one to pass judgement," he said after a moment of silence. He picked his words carefully. "But I care a lot fer that girl."

"So do I."

"Aye . . . I kin see that. And I’m sure you prob’ly know I want only what’s good fer Jessica."

Kaleah’s eyes narrowed dangerously, and she turned their force against him. "Are you suggesting that I’m not good for Jessica?" she asked, her voice very soft. "Because if that’s why you’re here, you’re wasting your breath."

Miles held his hand up in peace. "I’m not here to suggest any such thing, lass," he assured her. "Since you came to Da’Gran, Jess’s been happier than I’ve ever seen ‘er in her whole life."

Kaleah heard the sincerity in his tone, and felt her anger evaporate quickly. "Really?"

"Aye, really. And I know her better than most folk ‘round here." He gave Kaleah a warm smile. "Ye been very good for ‘er, lass."

Kaleah’s mind stumbled for a moment, then she returned the smile with one of her own. "Then . . . what’s your point?"

Miles regarded her seriously. "Ye got a mind to be tellin’ Jess how ye feel?" he asked.

She nodded. "She deserves to know."

"Aye . . . that she does." He looked at the young woman below them fondly, then back to Kaleah. "But from the way you was lookin’ at her just now . . . I’d say yer thoughts were takin’ a pretty serious path."

Kaleah frowned. "I love Jessica," she stated firmly. "There’s nothing wrong with the way I think about her. I’d never force my desires on anyone . . . and certainly not on her." She paused. "I’ve been on the receiving end of that too many times myself."

Miles heard the quiet sadness in her voice and nodded in understanding. "Aye . . . I’ve no doubt if Jess said she weren’t interested, you’d leave the matter to rest. But it’s what happens if she is interested that brings me up here."

Something in his tone set off bells in Kaleah’s mind. She studied Miles’ face carefully. "Has she . . . said anything to you?"

Miles laughed and stroked his beard. "If’n she had . . . d’ya think I’d be betrayin’ her words to you?"

Kaleah considered that and smiled. "I guess not." It didn’t really matter, she supposed. It was clear to her now that Jessica returned her feelings. But still, it was nice to think the young woman had been sure of her heart enough to share things with another person. "Regardless . . . I’m letting her know how I feel."

"Aye, I kin see. Yer eyes looked like hot coals just now when ye was lookin’ at her." His face became serious again. "I don’t want to be seein’ Jess get burned by those coals . . . if ye understand me?"

Kaleah frowned. "You think I’d hurt her?"

"Nay . . . at least not knowingly." Miles took a second to phrase his concerns, wanting Kaleah to understand, but not wanting to aggravate her volatile defenses. "But ye have to understand that Jessica’s . . . just a child in a lot of ways," he said carefully. "She may talk and think and fight like a veteran soldier . . . and in a lot of ways she’s older than most. But in other ways – in the ways ye’ve clearly been thinkin’ of her – she’s still just a child."

Kaleah listened carefully, and realized what Miles was getting at. "I know Jessica’s a virgin," she said bluntly. "I’m not stupid. And I know she’s probably got only a vague idea of . . . what goes on in the bedroom. But with all due respect, Sir Miles . . ." she grinned, "just because she’s inexperienced doesn’t mean she’s innocent of desire. Believe me . . . I’m sure she’s had thoughts that are anything but those of a child."

"Oh, aye?" Miles sensed Kaleah spoke from some kind of secret knowledge, and he wondered what it was. "So ye think to be winnin’ her over, eh?"

Kaleah smiled confidently, and nodded. "I can feel her inside my soul," she said with absolute certainty. "I know she can feel me in hers." Her expression grew serious as she looked at Miles, and she appreciated that he had come to her with his concern. "You needn’t fear my desire for Jessica, Sir Miles," she assured him. "I’ve never known anyone as special as she is . . . and I’m not taking this situation lightly. There’s no way I’m going to rush into anything or do anything that she might regret afterwards." She smiled. "Slow and easy . . . that’s my plan."

Miles nodded slowly, remembering what Jessica had said about feeling Kaleah in her soul. Those words almost matched the ones he heard now, and he thought maybe Jessica was right afterall; perhaps they were meant to be together.

"Well . . . Good then." He smiled at her and cast a last fond glance at Jessica. "I hope ye realize just how great a gift that girl’s love is," he said softly.

Kaleah watched her friend as she sat, talking with Charles. "I do."

Giving Kaleah a final, gruff pat on the arm, Miles grunted and headed back along the wall towards the stairs. Kaleah bit her lip, unsure for a moment, then rolled her eyes at herself. What the hell.

"Miles?"

The knight stopped and half-turned. "Aye?"

"Maybe next time Jess and I are training . . . if you’re not busy, you could . . . you know, join us. I mean, if you wanted to." Kaleah winced at how awkward she sounded, even to her own ears. But Miles just smiled warmly at her, nodding slightly.

"Aye . . . that’d be nice." He gave her a quick once over and winked. "You’ve been gettin’ better with yer temper, I’ve noticed. Be interestin’ to see just how far ye’ve come." Then he turned and left her alone with her thoughts again, disappearing back in the direction of the jousting field.

Kaleah returned her attention back to Jessica, who gave her a curious look. Obviously, she’d noticed the exchange, and was wondering what it had been about. The dark woman gave her a reassuring smile to let her know everything was okay, then let her regard turn sultry again. Jessica instantly turned back to her conversation with Charles, her blush visible even from the battlement.

Kaleah grinned. This seduction thing was definitely the way to go.

 

"So . . ." Kaleah folded her hands behind her head and leaned back against the headboard on Jessica’s bed, wriggling her toes. "Did you enjoy today?"

Jessica shut the door behind her and nodded. "Yeah. I-it was great. Charles told me my father’s not sure about Sir William’s sincerity, just like we figured . . . and apparently Damon’s joining a group of soldiers heading to the village tomorrow. It seems there was a fire there the other night; the commoners asked for help doing some rebuilding. I thought maybe I’d go with them." She smiled a little shyly. "You feel like coming with me?"

Kaleah shook her head regretfully. "I’d love to, but I already promised Sutton I’d help him at the forge." She hadn’t been putting in much time at the anvil lately, and the blacksmith had been asking for a little assistance with a new cache of swords Sir Richard wanted. "I think he could really use another pair of hands, and besides . . ." Her voice took on a husky tone. ". . . I’m a big believer in keeping important skills . . . . fresh in ones mind."

Jessica flushed, marveling how the dark woman could make even the simplest statement sound incredibly erotic. It’s gotta be the accent, her mind decided. Still, she was disappointed.

"That’s too bad," she said, kicking off one boot, then struggling with the other. "I was looking forward to spending the day with you. I’ve never gone on one of these volunteer things before . . . I thought it would be interesting."

Kaleah watched her friend eventually wrestle the stubborn boot off her foot, then toss it next to its mate. "Sounds like we’ll both be working hard tomorrow, huh?"

Jessica grunted, hesitating a moment before she joined the dark woman on the bed. For Gods sake, her mind chuckled. You’ve been dreaming of this kind of situation for weeks, and now all of a sudden you get nervous? It’s not like she’s gonna jump on you . . . she’s just flirting! Relax and enjoy it.

Deciding that was good advice, Jessica let go of the nervous excitement that had plagued her all day and allowed her body to sink into the soft blankets with a sigh.

She really had enjoyed her companions not-so-subtle advances. The way Kaleah had been looking at her all day – the way her eyes had roamed across her body – made her feel giddy and almost light-headed. She’d always found the dark woman mesmerisingly beautiful and sexually alluring . . . but now that Kaleah was deliberately working at being seductive, the young blonde was discovering a whole new level of arousal; one that had settled over the day into a delicious ache that pulled low in her gut, and made her whole body amazingly responsive to even the slightest contact.

It seemed strange how suddenly things had changed. When she’d woken up this morning, everything had been normal; her feelings had been under control . . . her love growing steadily but still safely hidden. Now, just a few hours later, her relationship with Kaleah had changed in the most wonderful way. The changes had occurred on a subtle level, too, without the need for words. Kaleah had made her affection and desire obvious in her looks and her body language . . . nothing had been said directly.

It was a little weird trying to adjust to the new dimension . . . to the idea that she could be a bit more obvious in her own attraction and not have to fear being discovered. And it was strange having Kaleah suddenly looking at her with uninhibited appreciation and desire. Strange, she thought, but rather flattering, too.

Considering things as she closed her eyes and felt Kaleah’s eyes roaming again down her body, Jess acknowledged that even though the relationship was changing, the most important things remained just as they’d always been. Kaleah was the still the same person she’d been last night when they’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms. Maybe she was behaving a little differently . . . but it was a good difference. When she thought about it that way, Jessica realized there was no real reason to be nervous – or even shy – about this stuff. Kaleah was still her friend . . . still the same woman she’d always been. And even though the circumstances were new, Jessica trusted the woman not to push things.

There was nothing to fear.

Opening her eyes, she glanced up at Kaleah. "Are you hungry?" Her own stomach was growling a little.

Kaleah eyes grew hooded, their cerulean depths darkening visibly. "Oh, I’m very hungry . . ." she purred, waggling her eyebrows.

Jessica felt her face start to blush again, but she forced her rising blood down. It was about time she gave Kaleah a little of her own medicine, she figured, so instead of looking away, she just raised an eyebrow and assumed a look of perfect innocence. "I could get us some dinner, if you like."

Kaleah smiled. "Yeah . . . dinner’d be nice, too." She paused, then added, "Nothing too heavy, though. I’m still pretty full from lunch."

Jessica grinned. "You certainly did seem to enjoy the chicken," she said wryly, remembering the dark woman’s erotic lunch-time display.

Kaleah’s voice dropped a full octave. "Well . . . there’s nothing like a nice, succulent, tender drumstick to satisfy ones appetite." She licked her lips enticingly, but Jessica didn’t even flinch now. She just smiled her best na´ve-young-maiden smile.

"I thought it was a little oily, myself." A raised eyebrow invited Kaleah to take the bait, which she happy did.

"It wasn’t oily, Jessica . . . it was juicy." Kaleah leaned forward. "And there’s nothing quite so tasty as fresh young meat cooked in it’s own sweet juices . . ."

They looked at each other a moment, sparks flying between them, before Jessica couldn’t help herself and broke into a grin, which quickly turned into laughter. The sexually charged tension broke, and Kaleah joined her mirth.

When the chuckles subsided, Jessica wiped her eyes and rolled off the bed. "Wait here," she smiled, tugging her boots back on. "I’ll be back in a minute. I think soup should be pretty safe."

Kaleah grinned wickedly. "Wanna bet?"

 

Twenty minutes later, Jessica was feeling very relieved she hadn’t accepted the wager.

Kaleah set her empty bowl back on the tray Jessica had brought, and sat back with a very contented sigh. From under half-closed lids, she watched her friend hastily finish off her own soup, pleased at how successful she’d been at distracting the young woman . . . though it had been a challenge to figure out a suggestive way to consume soup.

"That was nice," she said throatily as Jessica set her bowl on the tray and set the tray on the table just next to the bed. With her hands folded over a satisfyingly full belly, Kaleah muffled a belch and let her body recline lower against the headboard.

"Yeah." Jessica smiled, thinking ‘nice’ wasn’t exactly the way she’d choose to describe her companions eating style. I never thought eating soup could pass as a method of seduction, she thought as she lay across the length of her bed. I guess maybe Kaleah’s just more creative than most. She wondered with a shiver if the dark woman’s creativity would extend beyond this playful teasing . . .

Probably.

Glancing at the window, Jessica frowned. "It’s getting dark," she observed. She’d lit a few candles when she returned with their meal, but the chill was rising as the sun disappeared. "Should I light a fire?"

"If you like." The dark woman’s voice took on a very sexy tone that caused a tightening in Jessica’s stomach. "But if you’re cold . . . I’m sure I could warm you up . . ."

Jess repressed the part of her that wanted to ask Kaleah just how she planned to do that; she wasn’t ready to call the dark woman on that step just yet. So she settled on a mildly amused but coy look, and a half smile. "Another time, maybe."

Kaleah grinned at that, and sat back contentedly to watch as her blonde counterpart got up and set about the task of building the fire. Already hooded lids dropped lower still as she let desire-soaked eyes roam at will across Jessica’s body. Kaleah admired the firm, toned muscle that was evident even under the simple shirt, and let herself grow lost in the young woman’s enticing curves. When Jessica sat up a little straighter and froze for a second, she smiled, knowing the girl could feel the heat of her appraisal without even having to turn around.

Bent over the fireplace, feeling the force of her companions eyes on her body, Jessica gave a mental shrug and very deliberately leant over her work further than was really necessary. As the daughter of a lord knight, Jessica was used to being put on display. But as she tensed her body and arched her back a little, giving her audience a better view of her more interesting attributes, the young woman couldn’t help but blush a little at her own behavior.

For someone who’s lived a chaste and modest existence, her mind grinned, you sure can act like a hussy when you’ve got the right incentive.

Sneaking a glance behind her, seeing Kaleah’s amused but very attentive regard, Jessica grinned. She was really starting to enjoy this teasing game . . . especially now that she was loosening up a little.

Quickly finishing her task, Jessica expertly struck flint to striker and coaxed the resulting spark into a small flame. Blowing gently, she managed to get the light wood burning nicely, and spent a few minutes making sure the fire was okay before standing up. Aware of the eyes still watching her, she gave a slow, languorous stretch, groaning dramatically.

"Urgh . . . I’m still a little stiff from yesterday," she groaned, turning around and fixing emerald eyes on her friend. She rubbed her neck. "I hope I’m not too sore tomorrow . . . the work in the village’ll probably be pretty strenuous."

Kaleah grinned, knowing full well what the young woman was driving at. She sat up a fraction, more than happy to play along. "Well, we don’t want the princess to be sore, now do we?"

"Uh uh."

"And I believe I promised you a massage tonight, didn’t I?"

Jessica cocked her head thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I do seem to recall something like that being offered, yeah." She smiled what she hoped was a sexy smile. "Does it still stand?"

"Of course . . . anything you want." Kaleah sat up and got off the bed. "I want you to be happy, Jessica," she said in silky tones as she stepped closer to the young woman. When she was only a foot or two away, she stopped and gazed down into the suddenly shy eyes of her friend. "Would a massage make you happy?"

Jessica swallowed the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat, but managed a nod.

"Fine." Kaleah broke the eye contact and stepped past the young woman. "Take your shirt off and lie down on your stomach." She started sifting through the items on one of the dresser drawers, searching for something.

Jessica shook her head to clear it of the fuzziness it had developed, then glanced back a little nervously. Her fingers toyed with the edges of the shirt, but she hesitated to remove it. She’d been topless around Kaleah before . . . but things were different now. Touches that had been innocent before that morning took on a greater depth and significance in light of the new sexual chemistry that had developed.

Kaleah continued to rummage through the vials of perfume and oils on the dresser, her back turned. Jessica realized the dark woman was giving her the time and privacy to undress and get on the bed, and the simple gesture brought a measure of reassurance. Kaleah wasn’t going any faster than Jessica could handle . . . and the innocent blonde appreciated that.

Turning, she quickly pulled the shirt over her head and tossed it on the bed, running her fingers through her hair to settle it. Half-turning, she silently thanked Kaleah for being so considerate . . . only to blush deeply and hastily lie down on the mattress when she saw that the dark woman was watching her with great interest in the mirrors, which gave her a very clear view of everything.

"That was low," she mumbled as she settled herself and tried to get her face to stop glowing. Kaleah had excellent hearing . . . Jess knew she heard the comment and could almost see the cheeky grin that flashed across the dark woman’s face. Turning a little, keeping her breasts covered, she glanced back her friend. "What are you looking for?"

Kaleah finished her rummaging and held up a clear glass vial filled with a thick, slightly purple liquid. "This."

Jessica recognized the vial and her eyes narrowed. "That’s scented burning oil," she said. "Why would you want that?"

Kaleah smiled mysteriously. "For your massage, of course. You don’t have any proper oils . . . but this’ll do fine."

Jess’s eyes widened. "You’re going to rub that into my skin? Kaleah, that stuff came from France! It cost a fortune!"

"So?" The dark woman removed the small stopper and took a sniff. She smiled. "Do you ever use it?"

Jessica’s eyes flickered and dropped. "Sometimes."

"Uh huh . . . like when?" When the young blonde didn’t answer, Kaleah just nodded. From what she’d seen of Jessica, it was clear the girl collected things like the oil – things that other nobles would consider essential – but rarely ever actually used them. She seemed to just like having them around for display; if something wasn’t actually useful, she tended to ignore it. "Trust me . . you’ll get your money’s worth better this way than you ever will from burning it."

Jessica regarded her skeptically for a moment, then turned back so she was lying flat. "Fine."

Kaleah grinned and stepped up onto the bed. Very slowly, making sure the young woman understood what she was doing, Kaleah stood over the horizontal body and lowered herself gently until she was straddling the girl’s buttocks. Keeping her thigh muscles tense to absorb most of her weight, she settled herself lightly onto the young blonde.

"Is this okay?"

Jessica swallowed audibly, but managed to croak out a "Yes."

Kaleah gathered up the blonde hair into a tail and pushed it over the girls shoulders. Settling her hands reassuringly on tense shoulders, she admired the exposed flesh, noticing every tiny scar and freckle. "I’m not too heavy for you, am I?"

"No . . . th-that’s fine."

Jessica could feel Kaleah’s primal strength radiating outward, felt it surround and embrace her half-naked body in a way that was not smothering or forceful . . . but rather, gentle and protective. The hands on her shoulders squeezed slightly, then disappeared. She sensed motion above her, then felt their warmth return and begin to move over her back. Powerful fingers slid with sensual, liquid ease over tight muscle, slowly but with profound intensity. The sharp smell of jasmine reached her nostrils, and she detected an erotic friction between her body and those magic hands. With a throaty moan of surprised pleasure, she realized the dark woman was spreading the scented oil over her skin.

After a few minutes spent just soaking in the sensations Kaleah’s touch inspired, Jessica had to admit the idea of using the oil was a good one. She’d never cared enough to burn the expensive oils . . . but she was gaining a new appreciation for their use as they allowed Kaleah’s hands to glide with silken, smooth motions over her body.

"Feel good?" She heard the smile in the low voice above her, and realized little sounds of pleasure were escaping her throat.

"It . . ." She cleared her throat. "It’s very nice. Thank you." The hands slid in perfect accord along her rib-cage, running with teasing patience ever lower. Jessica couldn’t hold back the gasp that escaped her as she felt the electric light touch of fingers against the sides of her breasts.

"Ooops . . . Sorry about that." The hands retreated to the safer region of her shoulders and neck, their movements slow and very attentive.

Jessica didn’t trust herself to speak; if she opened her mouth, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to stop herself from asking that the hands continue the tantalizing journey they’d only just hinted at.

Although it wasn’t the first time Kaleah had given her a massage, Jessica knew this was different to the experience of weeks before. Then, Kaleah’s hands had been firm and strong, searching out and relieving the tension in her muscles. Now, however, the touch was softer and more sensuous. Kaleah wasn’t trying to ease discomfort, Jessica realized . . . she was seeking to arouse . . . to stimulate.

And, the young blonde thought with a flush, she was succeeding admirably.

Jessica’s body felt like it was on fire; every nerve ending was alive and eagerly receptive to the hands that slid over her sensitive skin. Her heart was racing; she felt lightheaded . . . probably because most of the blood in her body was going to more needful places than her brain. The coiling tension in her gut was overwhelmed by the steady, pulsing pressure that settled between her legs, it’s relentless ache crying out to be satisfied. And although Jessica was innocent to the demands of such sexual arousal, her body knew enough to want to start pushing those sensitive areas into the mattress beneath her.

With the gentle weight of Kaleah’s body settled squarely on her butt, Jessica could feel the wetness starting to build. And thinking about exactly what part of Kaleah’s body was pressing the hardest against her didn’t help to stem the flow of her desire.

Jessica whimpered quietly. She had never in her whole life felt so stimulated. Had never in her life wanted anything so badly as she now wanted to just roll over and beg Kaleah to let her hands finish the job.

The young woman was so wrapped up in her own twisting, intense arousal that she was completely unaware of the fire building slowly in the woman providing this pleasure.

Kaleah’s eyes feasted with fixed, unblinking awe on the subtle shift and motion of her beloved’s back. Her hands moved with a will of their own over Jessica’s skin, spreading the liquid oil over every inch, making the young woman’s body glow like rich gold in the dancing light of the candles and fire. Her brain struggled to comprehend the intimate contact . . . to accept the emotions caused by the depth of her love and desire.

In all her life, the former slave had never wanted anything with this kind of passionate intensity. She couldn’t even remember wanting her freedom as much as she now wanted simply to be allowed to love Jessica. It was hard to get used to these new, incredibly powerful feelings; the need to protect and care for this wonderful young woman . . . the trust she now gave without effort or will. Everything was all so new . . . but in some strange way Kaleah couldn’t explain, it was also as ancient and timeless as the earth itself.

On some deep, intangible level . . . Kaleah knew she had always felt this way.

And knew she always would.

When she let her hands roam down and caress the outer curve of Jessica’s breasts, Kaleah smiled at the young woman’s swift response. As a slave, she had been taught the art of sensual massage and the body’s natural pleasure centers . . . and it wasn’t long before the effect of using those skills on the woman she loved started to take it’s inevitable toll on her own hyper-sensitive body.

While her hands applied a slow, gentle pressure to every sensitive part of the young woman’s back, Kaleah felt her breathing grow shallow and strained. Sapphire eyes darkened to the color of the midnight sky, and a light sweat broke out across her forehead. But it was only when she realized that her hips had started to slowly and erotically grind her center against Jessica’s backside that Kaleah took a deep, shaky breath and realized she needed to slow down; not just for Jessica’s sake, but for her own.

Shaking her head a little, trying to regain control of a desire so strong it was frightening, Kaleah focused her attention and managed to stop the rocking of her hips. She couldn’t tell if Jessica had noticed, but thought it unlikely. The young woman was very quietly whimpering, seemingly lost in the sensations Kaleah suspected were very new to her. The scent of the jasmine oil thankfully overwhelmed the musky scent of her arousal, and Kaleah gave herself a stern reprimand for getting carried away.

Take it slowly, remember, she told herself. She likes what you’re doing to her . . . don’t spoil that by giving more than she’s ready to take. So much of your life has been awful and cruel. You want this one thing to be perfect . . . for both of you.

Calm again, though her body still screamed for satisfaction, Kaleah smiled as she felt more than heard the soft, pleasured sounds coming from the body moving slightly under her fingertips. Knowing the effect she was having on the young woman almost made her start that slow grind once more. Her sex was heated and slick with arousal . . . she had never wanted release more in her whole life! And the knowledge that she wasn’t going to get it just made the ache more intense.

But at the same time . . . it also made her want to drag this sweet torture out for as long as she possibly could.

Sweeping her hands down very low over Jessica’s back, Kaleah let her thumbs press into the young woman’s tail-bone. The action earned her a deep moan, and she smiled. Leaning down carefully, the dark woman brought her lips closer to Jess’s ear.

"I like the way you sound," she breathed softly. Another whimper. "Are you enjoying this?"

Jessica struggled visibly with herself, but words seemed beyond her. Kaleah’s smile grew wider.

"Would you like me to stop?" Her hands stilled their movements.

Instantly, Jessica shook her head violently. "N-no . ." she pleaded. "Please . . . keep going."

Kaleah’s hands resumed their explorations, dipping down several times to wander teasingly close to Jessica’s breasts. When the young woman lifted herself slightly, inviting them to roam further, the former slave pulled them back to more familiar ground. Jessica groaned quietly, but settled back down.

"You know," Kaleah said conversationally, "when I was a slave, I was taught every possible way there is to arouse a person . . . every way to give pleasure."

Jessica closed her eyes and tried very hard not to concentrate on the feel of the dark woman’s body pressing her deeper into the mattress. She had a feeling she was pushing the limits of her endurance with this glorious torment . . . but she didn’t want it to stop just yet. Kaleah’s voice continued.

"I always hated the lessons they gave me . . . and I hated even more having to use the skills I acquired. But right now . . ." Her fingertips caressed the faint scars that marred the perfect body under her. ". . . Right now . . . I’m almost grateful for everything I was taught." She leaned down again and breathed into Jessica’s left ear. "You’ve given me back my life, Jessica. It feels good knowing that I can thank you like this . . . Knowing that I can give you this pleasure."

Jessica’s body was starting to tremble, the overwhelming strain of suppressing her desire becoming too much for the inexperienced girl. Kaleah felt her own need reaching a dangerous level, and decided it was time to end the massage. If it went on any longer, she feared she might not be able to stop herself from taking it too far.

Letting her hands slow, Kaleah finally withdrew them from Jessica’s back. She heard the young woman stop breathing, anticipating their return, but regretfully, she lifted a leg and rolled off her friend. Her heated center cried out at the lost contact, but she ignored it. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm the fire in her blood.

"I think that’s enough . . ."

Green eyes dark with desire pinned her instantly as a hand shot out in desperation, latching onto her arm. Jessica sat up a little, forgetting her modesty in the quest to get those hands to resume their delicious stimulation.

"Please," she begged, her eyes imploring. "C-can you keep going . . . just for a few minutes?"

Kaleah looked away, knowing if Jessica insisted she could never deny her. "I . . . really think we should stop," she whispered.

"Why?"

Gently taking the hand that clutched at her, Kaleah gazed into the desperate eyes of her friend. She didn’t want to hurt Jessica, but she had to make the girl understand. Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, the dark woman held her friend’s hand.

"I want to make you happy-"

"You were!" Tears of frustration appeared in Jessica’s eyes, and Kaleah scolded herself.

"I shouldn’t have taken it so far-"

"I liked it . . . Please? Don’t stop . . ."

Kaleah was tempted, but only for a moment. She shook her head. "I’m sorry. But if I keep going . . . I don’t know if I could . . ." She trailed off, searching for a sign of understanding in Jessica’s eyes.

After a moment, she found it. Jessica reluctantly let go her death-grip and nodded slightly. "Okay," she said very softly. Reaching out, the young woman grabbed her shirt and held it to her chest as she sat up. Taking a shaky, tremulous breath, she couldn’t help but grin a little sheepishly. "Guess I got a little carried away, huh?"

Kaleah returned her smile, glad that her friend could understand. "I think we both did."

A blonde brow raised hopefully. "You want me to . . . return the favor?"

Kaleah shook her head, and Jessica’s expression turned from hopeful to disappointed.

"Why not? It’s only fair, after all."

Kaleah’s face turned a darker shade of bronze as she blushed. "Maybe tomorrow, huh? I don’t think now’s a very good time."

Jessica’s brow furrowed in confusion. "It’s not?"

"No." Kaleah gave her friend a roguish smile and tried to find the words that would explain her situation to the sweetly na´ve girl. "I’m kinda . . . on the edge, if you know what I mean . . ?" She wasn’t sure how much Jessica knew about sex.

When the green eyes suddenly widened and the young woman gasped, however, Kaleah was grateful to whatever God had saved her from having to explain her situation more fully.

Jessica stared at Kaleah for a long moment, just absorbing the information. "You mean . . . you . . ."

Kaleah nodded.

Jessica’s mouth hung open. "Oh."

You never even touched her . . . Her mind struggled to figure out the mechanics of an act she had only a very vague comprehension of, and she eventually concluded that there was obviously more to this sex thing than she was aware.

A slow smile appeared on her face. "I guess that means you . . . enjoyed the massage as well, huh?"

Kaleah grinned bashfully. "You could say that," she admitted. "But I’m not forgetting this. You owe me, alright?"

"Sure. Anytime you want." Jessica hesitated, letting her head fall forward so her long hair hid the color in her cheeks "I . . . really enjoyed myself, too." Her undergarments were soaked, but thankfully all she could smell was the scented oil. Tomorrow, you’re gonna need to take a bath before you leave the castle, her mind noted for her. To bad you can’t make it a cold one.

The fire crackled loudly just then, and Jessica glanced at the dying flames. "Should I put more wood on that?"

Kaleah shook her head. "I think the fire’s burned hot enough for tonight . . . don’t you?"

Jessica nodded, understanding the real message. "Yeah . . . I guess so." She yawned suddenly, and grinned. "I don’t know how much sleep I’m gonna get after that massage . . . but I’m kind of tired."

"Mmm." Kaleah was feeling the effects of a very busy day herself. "We’ll both be working hard tomorrow. We should probably get what rest we can." A dark brow lifted. "You mind if I . . . ?" She pulled back the covers.

Jessica shook her head. "Not at all. You’re probably still a little nervous after the attack, naturally."

Kaleah grinned and got under the blankets. "Right . . . The attack."

Jessica considered a moment, wondering if she should be going to bed without washing off the oil. Did she want to be sleeping with the smell of jasmine for the next week?

Kaleah read her hesitation and said, "Don’t worry about it. Just put the shirt on and leave it till tomorrow." A pause. "I think it smells nice, anyway."

That clinched it. Jessica turned away while she quickly dragged the simple tunic over her head, tugging her hair free and ruffling it into messy order before getting up to snuff the few candles that lit the room. When all was dark again, she joined her companion in the warm bed.

At first, Jess was unsure if she should initiate the same level of contact as she had the night before. In light of the new dimension to their relationship, was it appropriate to get that close? How would her touch affect Kaleah? Or maybe more importantly, how might it affect her?

Her uncertainly was made redundant, however, when Kaleah swiftly wrapped long arms and legs about her body and pulled her close into an embrace. She felt the entire length of the tall woman’s body curl about her, trapping her in a soft cocoon of comfort and safety. She sighed.

"Just relax," said the deep voice, Kaleah’s breath tickling her ear. "I just want to hold you . . . okay?"

"Sure." Jessica snuggled back, enjoying the contact that was no longer trying to stimulate, but seemed only loving and affectionate. Still, her body wasn’t going to forget the massage so soon, and the teasing ache was still strong.

Not going to get a lot of rest tonight, I’m afraid, her mind told her.

Wrapped in the darkness, feeling frustrated but very happy, Jessica’s mind turned it’s consideration quite naturally to the amazing new developments the day had brought.

It was sudden, she thought . . . but somehow felt perfectly right. The love she had worked so hard to hide was now free to shine in the company of the dark woman, and the knowledge that Kaleah returned her feelings made her feel like she was caught up in one of the romantic stories she so loved to read. Only this was all real . . . even if it was strange.

That thought reminded her of something, and she decided now was as good a time as any to ask the question that had plagued her all day.

"Kaleah?"

"Hmm?"

"Can I ask you a question?"

A moment of amused silence. "If I say no . . . will you ask it anyway?"

She grinned. "Probably."

"I guess you might as well go ahead then. What’s the question?"

She considered a moment, then asked, "Did something happen this morning that I don’t know about?"

There was no answer for a long time, and she felt Kaleah’s body shift. "Why do you ask?"

"Well . . . I’m just trying to figure some stuff out, that’s all," she explained. "When I got back from talking to my mother, you started acting . . ." She searched for an appropriate word. ". . . strangely."

"Did I?"

"Yes . . . And you can wipe that grin off your face, Kaleah. You know what I’m talking about."

"You can’t see me grinning."

"No, but I can hear it."

A pause. "It’s not bothering you, is it? The way I’m acting?" The smile was gone in the voice, and Jessica knew Kaleah was asking seriously. "I mean . . . I didn’t think you minded."

"No," she said quickly.

"If it’s making you uncomfortable . . . you can just tell me. I’ll stop if you want."

"No . . . I don’t mind the way you’re acting at all."

Jessica realized suddenly that this was the first time they had actually talked about what was going on. She had accepted the playful flirting and the lust-filled looks that had grown more serious as the day wore on, and she knew Kaleah wouldn’t have continued them if she had discouraged her. But still, the dark woman was ready to stop if she said the word. It made Jessica feel more in control . . . reassured her that she really was safe.

The arms wrapped around her squeezed a little, hugging her to the body behind. "I didn’t think so. You know . . . I’d never do anything you didn’t want me to, Jessica." The words were spoken very softly, very sincerely.

She smiled. "I know you wouldn’t," she whispered. "And you know I’d never hurt you . . . or leave you."

A long stretch of silence. "I know."

"So . . ?"

"So . . . what?"

"Answer the question."

"What was the question again?"

Jessica growled and felt a chuckle vibrate through her bed-mate. "You think you’re funny?"

"No. I think you sound cute when you get frustrated and make that noise."

"’Frustrated’ is a polite word for what I am, Kaleah . . . thanks to you."

She heard the grin again. "Glad to do whatever I can." The voice turned sultry. "But you know, Jess . . . there’s nothing wrong with being frustrated."

She snorted. "Tell that to my . . ." She blushed and stopped. "Nevermind."

She felt the chuckle again. "Frustration’s just your body’s way of saying it want’s more," the low, sensuous voice said. "And the greater the frustration . . . the more enjoyable it is when you eventually get what you want."

Jessica considered this seriously. "I hope you don’t expect this frustration to get too much worse then," she said after a moment. A hand went to her hair and caressed her cheek slowly.

"We’re only just getting started," promised the dark voice.

She groaned. "Can you at least answer the question? Did something happen this morning that I’m not aware of?"

There was no answer for several seconds, then one word. "Maybe."

"Does that mean yes?"

"Maybe." This time with a definite grin.

Jessica considered, certain now that something had happened that had somehow given Kaleah the confidence to initiate the seductive advances. "Will you tell me what it was?"

The hand stroked her hair lightly. "Not tonight."

Jessica sighed. "Tomorrow?"

"Maybe." Silence. "Does it really matter though?"

Jess shrugged as much as she could. "It . . . doesn’t change things, if that’s what you’re asking. But I’d like to know, that’s all."

"Alright. I promise I’ll let you know when I’m ready to tell you. Okay?"

"Okay."

Jessica closed her eyes and relaxed into the warmth of her friend’s embrace. Having spent her whole life sleeping alone in the big bed, it was amazing how wonderful it felt to have someone holding her close; to know that someone loved her with a purity and strength that would last forever. They hadn’t had any declarations of love as yet, true . . . but then again, at this point they didn’t need them. This love was so obvious and so deeply ingrained it needed no words to make it real. Her soul bore the dark woman’s brand clearly . . . and she knew Kaleah’s bore hers.

Once her body had let go it’s coiled tension, Jessica felt her heartbeat start to even out and concentrated on matching her breathing to Kaleah’s. Soon, they were perfectly harmonized, and the young woman smiled.

"Jess?"

"Hmm?"

"Sweet dreams."

She grinned. "After that massage, they’d damn well better be."

Kaleah chuckled and planted a soft kiss on the back of her head. "’Night."

"Mmm."

Sleep came to Jessica surprisingly quickly . . . and her dreams were just as enjoyable as she expected them to be.

Continued

 

 


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