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.


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.


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.


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.


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 naïve-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 . . .


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.


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 naïve 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.



"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?"


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.



"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."


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


Chapter 19.

Jessica finished hammering the roughly-cut board onto the solid frame and stepped back, breathing heavily. The front of her simple tunic was soaked with sweat, and the coarse material scratched her neck and chest. She wiped at her forehead with the back of her arm, knowing she looked like a mess and not minding in the slightest. A sharp ache had developed in her biceps from the hours of hard labor, but it was a satisfying discomfort. The young woman had tied her long hair back into a loose tail to stop it getting in her face, but a few damp, golden strands had pulled free. She flicked them away, patting them down absently as she surveyed the half-completed house in front of her.

Living in a castle with all the luxuries of nobility, Jessica had never actually seen much of the dwellings used by the common-folk. Of course, she knew they were simple structures, designed to be cheap and easy to build; in a land where an attack could come at any time, few things were built to be permanent. The house that Jessica was helping to build was replacing one that had been lost to fire just the other night; constructed from highly combustible materials, peasant houses were often destroyed during winter, when a kitchen fire could easily turn into a blazing inferno.

Consisting of a single room for living, a single room for sleeping, and another smaller room for cooking, Jessica couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could stand such cramped accommodations. She had always thought she could live without all the trappings of her noble blood . . . but realized now just how accustomed she had grown to living in the vast, secure castle of Da’Gran.

She knew the villagers here lived good lives. From stories Sir Miles had told her, some peasants in other vassals were treated by their lords as little more than slaves or playthings. The lands of Da’Gran were wealthy, and Jessica’s father made sure everyone under his protection benefited from that fact, never hoarding his riches away like many lords did. Sir Richard offered the services of his own men to assist his people when things got hard for them, doing all he could to make their lives a little bit easier. The people in the village had asked for aid to rebuild the destroyed house, and the volunteer’s had left Da’Gran that morning when the sun was still low on the horizon, led by Damon Cook.

Jessica had never been allowed to join such an expedition before; Lady Rose had always insisted her daughter stay away from such demeaning manual labor. But with the changes she had made to her life recently, Jessica figured her mother wouldn’t be able to stop her this time. And since Damon was in charge, she at least had a friend to keep her company.

Stepping back now to study the progress that had been made, Jessica smiled, feeling rather proud that she had played a part in the project. The house was about half-way to completion. It had taken most of the morning to build the frame-work, which was now raised and secured. Under the supervision of the village headman, the small army of volunteer’s from Da’Gran were now working on cutting and then nailing long, rough-edged boards to the structure. After that would come the thatching on the roof, and the house would be largely completed. The final touches would be done by the villagers themselves. The building was nothing fancy, but to Jessica’s eyes, it looked as majestic as the great fortress that was her home.

Hands on her hips, the young woman nodded to herself, pleased with her efforts. It was hard work. Even Jessica, who was extremely fit from endless hours of training, found the work exhausting. Exhausting, but very satisfying. It felt damn good to know that she was really helping the common people, to know that they could actually see her trying to make a difference.

Though she was dressed in the same manner as the other volunteers, Jessica had never entertained thoughts that she might be able to blend in. For starters, everyone else was a lot taller than she was, and with her long, flowing golden-blonde hair and delicate features, it was impossible to hide herself among the rugged, mostly bearded men. No woman in Da’Gran looked even remotely like she did . . . her nobility was stamped on her face clearly, and no amount of sweat and grime could hope to mask it. Even the giant Damon wasn’t getting as many stares as she was. Jessica knew the villagers standing nearby watching, and the ones who were working side by side with the soldiers, knew exactly who it was that walked among them. Thankfully, no-one seemed to recognise her from the night she’d spent at the tavern with Kaleah.

In truth, Jessica found all the awed attention rather amusing. The village headman who was given command of the men from the castle hadn’t known what to make of the situation, and had obviously been extremely nervous about ordering Sir Richard’s own daughter around. At first, he offered her small, token jobs, figuring such a delicate flower wouldn’t be willing to get her hands dirty with real work. As the day wore on, however, Jessica pitched in more and more, proving herself to be just as tough and hard a worker as any of the men. When she’d hit her thumb with a hammer and let loose a string of colorful curses, the headman realized he was mistaken in his thoughts of her. After that, Jessica was given more challenging, physical tasks which she threw herself into happily. Now, most of the villagers were accustomed to her presence and treated her no differently than the other soldiers . . . although they still seemed hesitant about getting too close to her.

The sound of a horse approaching drew the young woman’s attention from the house. Turning, Jessica smiled when she recognized Charles’ elegantly-appointed stead cantering toward her with graceful, considered strides. She waved as her friend drew the dark-brown gelding to a halt next to her.

"Morning, Charles," she greeted happily, before gesturing grandly towards the house. "What d’ya think?"

Charles tilted his head thoughtfully and surveyed the work. "Looks good. Not that I know much about building a house, of course, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to fall down anytime soon. That’s certainly a good start."

Jess grinned. "What brings you out here? Planning on getting off your horse and joining the fun?"

He grimaced and eyed her sweaty form with distaste. "I’d say you were enjoying the fun enough for both of us, Jess. No, I just came out to see how you were doing. Things were a bit dull at the castle." He looked around. "I see Kaleah decided not to come, huh?"

Jess flushed a little, the memory of last night still fresh in her mind. "No, she, uh, decided to stay back at Da’Gran. She had some work to do."


"Yeah. She’s working at the smithy all day, I think. Sutton asked for some help."

"From Kaleah?"

Jess shrugged. "Sure. She was trained as a weaponsmith by her last master. I don’t know one end of an anvil from the other, but to hear Sutton talk about her, you’d think she had steel in her veins instead of blood."

"Really?" Charles cocked an eyebrow. "I never pictured her doing something like that. Smith’s are usually so big and muscular . . . like Sutton, you know? Kaleah’s more . . . athletic."

"Yeah, she is, isn’t she. But you know, she’s also a lot stronger than she looks." Jessica tried to sound casual, telling herself not to think of how that ‘athletic’ body had pressed against her own last night. She almost succeeded.

Charles grinned and dismounted. "I’ve seen that." Stepping closer, he gave her a serious look for a moment. "So . . . you two are still okay then?"

Jessica raised an eyebrow at the question. "Of course we are." She shuffled a little, thinking of just how very okay they were. "Why would you ask that?"

He shrugged a little. "Well . . . it’s just that yesterday you seemed a little out of sorts, that’s all. I thought I felt some tension going on between the two of you." He smiled when she blushed and nervously glanced away. "What’s going on?"


"Uh huh." Charles’ put his hands on his hips sternly, but his tone became playful. "Then why are you turning such a lovely shade of crimson? You were doing that a lot yesterday, too, if I recall correctly."

Jessica stammered for an explanation for a few seconds, then looked up at her friend shyly. "She was, uh . . . she was . . . kinda . . flirting with me, that’s all."

Both Charles’ eyebrow’s shot up at that, and his mouth fell open a little. "She was what!?"

The young blonde shrugged. "She was flirting with me. Just since yesterday morning." Jessica turned away, wishing she could hide behind her hair like she usually did. She felt embarrassed talking about this stuff when she was still getting used to it herself.

Charles took her arm gently and turned her back to face him. "Hey . . . it’s okay. I knew you liked her. Isn’t this good news?"

She cocked her head. "Yeah, it is. It’s just . . . a little new, that’s all."

Charles tilted her face up gently, forcing her to meet his eyes. "You know you can talk to me about it, Jess. Just because we’re engaged doesn’t mean I don’t want you to be happy."

Jessica couldn’t help but grin at that. "Thanks." She chuckled shortly. "Frankly I’m surprised you didn’t spot it yesterday. She was being pretty damn obvious about it."

"Well . . . I just thought she was still shaken up about the attack, that’s all. I didn’t want to read anything into the way she was acting." He regarded her seriously a moment. He knew the young blonde had no experience in this kind of arena, and he also knew she was prone to idealism and romantic flights of fancy. He had to ask. "Are you sure she was really flirting with you? I mean, maybe you’re just seeing what you want to see."

She grinned fully, her eyes dancing in the sunlight. "Oh, I’m sure, alright. Believe me, Charles." She remembered the feel of Kaleah’s hands as they flitted tantalizingly close to her breasts, and was unable to repress a shiver at the memory. "We haven’t really talked about it too much yet, but she’s made her feelings very clear!"

Charles held her eyes a long moment, seeing the conviction there. "I see. So, you think this is going to be getting . . . serious, huh?"

Her eyes glinted with shy mischief and she smiled coyly. "I certainly hope so."

The young lord nodded slowly, considering this development gravely. "Well, if that happens — if she likes you the same as you like her — where does that leave us?" The question was asked very quietly and gently, and Jessica had to take a few seconds to think.

"I don’t really know," she admitted after a pause. "You . . . know how I feel-"

"And you know I feel the same way. You’re my friend, and I want you to be happy. If Kaleah’s the one you’ve been waiting for these last four years, than I’m glad you’ve finally found her. But we’ve both been trying to find some way to call off this wedding for a long time now . . ." He hesitated, but knew they’d have to deal with the problems this could cause sooner or later. "I don’t think the fact that you’ve fallen in love with another woman is going to be an acceptable excuse, Jess." he told her gently.

Jessica considered this, realizing she’d been so swept up in the glorious knowledge that her love was returned to even think about the ramifications. After a second, however, she shrugged. "I don’t care," she said, jutting her chin out stubbornly. "If people can’t deal with it, that’s their problem."

"And the treaty?"

"The treaty’s already firm. Let them ratify it some other way!"

"Jessica . . ." Charles put his hand on the young woman’s shoulder to calm her. His soft eyes locked with hers and refused to let go. "We both live our lives for the betterment of others . . . that’s what you’ve always told me, anyway. We have to make sacrifices-"

"I’m not giving this up, Charles!" Jessica snapped angrily, suppressing the urge to pull away when she felt the eyes of the villagers watching them with interest. With an effort, she calmed herself. "If they won’t accept that I’m in love with Kaleah, then we’ll just have to make up some other excuse." Her emerald eyes flashed defiantly. "I’ve sacrificed a lot already, and you know it!"

"You’ve been given a lot, too, Jess," Charles pointed out softly.

She nodded. "And every gift I was given was used to help others. I’ve taken little for myself, Charles . . . but I’m keeping this one thing, and nobody’s going to stop me!"

Charles had rarely seen Jessica look so fierce, and against the look in her flashing eyes he knew he had no recourse but to admit defeat. With a sigh, he turned away a little, running a hand through his wavy hair. "Fine," he conceded. "I guess we’ll think of something." He turned back to face her. "Is this . . . situation . . likely to get more serious any time soon?"

Jessica glared at him. "The ‘situation’, as you put it, could very well get more serious pretty damn soon if I have any choice in it!"

"Hey!" Charles raised his hands defensively. "I’m on your side, remember? But if you want to make everything work out without loosing a whole lot, you’re going to have to be a bit careful!"

The young blonde took a steadying breath. She didn’t like being angry, especially at Charles. Everything was so out of control, and it was a scary feeling for someone so accustomed to discipline and order. "I’m sorry," she apologized. "It’s just . . . I hadn’t even thought of all that stuff yet."

"I know, but you better start thinking about it soon." Charles lowered his voice and stepped closer. "Your mother already hates Kaleah — imagine if she finds out what’s really going on?" He saw that sink in when Jessica’s eyes darkened. "She’d crucify you both, and the Church would support her all the way, no matter how much everyone loves you."

Jess nodded slowly. "You’re right."

"That’s why you have to be careful. The people watch you a lot, Jessica, and they can’t help but watch Kaleah, too. A public display could mean a whole world of trouble for both of you."

"The Church could try her for treason . . . or even condemn her as a witch!" she thought out loud in growing horror.

"It’s not going to come to that. At least it won’t if you’re smart." He patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. "Just don’t let things get out of hand, Jess. Please?" She nodded. "We’ll think of some viable reason to call off the marriage . . . and then we’ll deal with everything else." A sudden shout from Damon ended the conversation, the huge warrior calling out to his lord to join him. Charles gave her a swift hug. "Be careful, okay?"

She sighed. "I will." They parted and she gave him a dour look. "I’m not saying I’m going to stop things from moving at all with Kaleah, because I can’t do that. But I’ll be sure to keep it in private."

Charles patted her shoulder and smiled teasingly. "Do you even know what you’re doing with her?"

She blushed a little, but her eyes sparkled. "I’m sure I’ll figure it out. And besides . . ." She winked saucily, ". . . I’ll bet she’d be happy to give me instructions if I get lost."

He laughed. "I daresay she will be." Damon called again, and he waved to him. "I’ll see you later, huh, Jess? We’ll talk more about this."


The young lord turned away, heading over to where Damon and most of the workers were gathered to eat a quick meal. Left alone again, Jessica stepped away from the house and considered these problems.

Having waited all her life to find true love, Jessica wasn’t prepared to loose it now that it had come along. And there was no doubt in her mind that Kaleah was the one she was meant to be with. She had felt it the moment they’d laid eyes on one another . . . although it had taken her a while to figure out the true meaning of those strange sensations and feelings that had been sparked by their meeting. All her life, Jess had never considered that falling in love would raise so many damned problems; she’d always kind of assumed it would work itself out.

Apparently, she mused, that wasn’t going to be the case.

The biggest problem, of course, was the fact that Kaleah was a woman. The Church condemned all such relationships — if her mother found out, the best Kaleah could hope for would be banishment. Then there was the fact that the former slave was a heathen savage. Jessica knew there were a lot of ways to sugar-coat that fact — Kaleah was noble and courageous and loyal — but when all was said and done, she couldn’t deny her own heritage. For Jessica, it wasn’t a problem; in fact, she found the savage, animal aura Kaleah radiated exciting, and rather sexy. But among the nobility, such qualities were scorned. It wasn’t likely that Jessica could ever openly reveal her relationship with the dark woman . . . but she didn’t mind that too much. The difficulty was going to be finding a way to get out of her betrothal to Charles.

In the last four years, she had connoted and discarded dozens of plans to achieve this, and Charles had done the same. So far, the best they’d been able to do was delay the actual wedding. But after four years, the ideas were running out, and it was growing clear that a permanent solution was required. But what?

Sighing, Jessica sat down on a thick log that was waiting to be cut into wooden boards and started idly tearing up pieces of bark. The grim realities of this whole affair were starting to sink in with Charles’ words. She felt the elation of last night and this morning dwindle, replaced by a niggling depression.

You can’t let it worry you, her mind advised. Kaleah loves you, and you said yourself that if you ever found out she felt that way, it wouldn’t matter what everyone else thinks. If you let a few problems stop you from enjoying one of the greatest experiences of your life, then you don’t deserve her love!

Jess scowled. She was just about to reply when she heard someone approaching. Looking up, expecting it to be Charles or Damon, she was a little surprised to find an elderly woman coming closer, carrying a wooden mug and a chunk of bread. Immediately, the young blonde let go her thoughts and smiled in welcome.

The old woman seemed hesitant about interrupting Jessica’s thoughts, but the smile gave her courage and she stepped nearer. "My Lady . . . I was thinking you might be likin’ somethin’ to eat." She held out the bread and cup shyly.

Jessica flashed her a dazzling grin. "Thank you. You’re most kind." She accepted the offering happily, only now remembering that she’d skipped breakfast that morning in favor of staying wrapped in the embrace of her still-sleeping bed-mate. There had been little time to talk once Kaleah did wake up, since Damon had summoned his volunteers early, impatient to get started on the work.

The peasant woman flushed a little. "It’s not much, I’m afraid, my Lady . . . but it’s freshly baked . . ."

"It’s fine. And you can call me Jessica, if you like." She bit into the bread hungrily, finding it soft and still warm from the oven. She chewed happily a moment, then turned her green eyes back to the woman. "What was your name?"

"Um . . . it’s Mary."

"Mary. What a lovely name."

The woman’s flush grew deeper with pleasure. "Thank you."

Jessica glanced over at the group of gathered workers, who were watching her curiously. "They seem a little nervous with me here, don’t they Mary?"

"Well . . . we don’t get too many young women like you turnin’ a hand to common work, my La . . " Jessica raised a brow, and the peasant blushed. ". . . Jessica."

Jess smiled and nodded. She didn’t like her noble title . . . it seemed to separate her from everyone else, and being alone so much, she had come to detest things that made her feel even more isolated like that. "I’m happy to be able to help."

The woman stepped closer shyly. "I-I’ve seen you a few times, you know," she said, "when you was . . riding out to some battle or other. And a few time when I went to the castle for the Spring festival. If I may say so, Lady Jessica, it’s a real honor to be able to meet you in person."

Jessica flashed her eyes at the woman and saw her smile almost on reflex. "Thank you. You’re very kind." She nodded to the other villagers and saw them all look away hastily. "They look at me as though I had a second head or something," she chuckled in amusement.

"They’re . . . just a little surprised, is all."

"Of what? Of the fact that Sir Richard’s daughter would get down in the mud with them and let herself be seen as a normal person?" She saw Mary flush and glance away. "I thought I had a reputation better than that."

"Aye, you do," the grey-haired old woman said hastily. "But . . . it’s one thing fer you to be off soldierin’ and the like. It’s quite another fer you to be workin’ right beside us."

Jessica tore another mouthful from the bread and chewed thoughtfully. "Well," she said when she’d swallowed, "maybe after today, you’ll be seeing me around here more often."

Mary smiled and nodded. "That’d be real nice, Lady Jessica. I’m sure we’d all like to see more of you than we gets to now." She bobbed her head. "Enjoy your lunch."

Jessica nodded. "Thank you, Mary. It was nice to meet you." She watched the woman return to her fellow peasants, shaking her head a little in amusement when several other women flocked about her, clearly asking excited questions. "Guess I know who’s gonna be the topic of conversation tonight around here," she chuckled, before returning her attention back to feeding her impatient stomach.


It was dusk, and the sun was vanished from the sky leaving behind only a last fading light by the time Jessica returned to the castle. She went immediately to the open shelter that made up the blacksmith’s workshop, her steps slowing and a smile forming on her lips when she made out the distinctive form of her dark-haired friend pounding away with measured blows at a red-hot length of blackened steel. Kaleah was wearing a light tunic and trousers covered by a protective leather apron, and her back was facing Jessica as she approached. Coming closer, the young blonde let her eyes run up and down Kaleah’s tall, slender figure, stopping to appreciate the rippling muscles across her sweat-slicked shoulders and back. With her midnight-black hair tied in a loose tail, every inch of glistening, bronzed skin was exposed, even the intricate lines of the strange tattoo which twisted with every flex. Jessica licked her lips unconsciously.

By God, she’s magnificent! Her eyes narrowed. And she’s all mine!

When she got close enough, Kaleah sensed her presence and turned around, a smile already on her face. "Hey," the dark woman greeted, thrusting the length of metal into a trough of water, where it hissed and let off a cloud of steam. Turning back to Jessica, she wiped her hands on her apron. "How’d it go with the building?"

"Fine. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it." She smiled at Kaleah’s face, which was dripping with sweat from the heat of the forges. "You look hot."

"Thanks." Kaleah’s eyes darkened and her smile took on an instantly seductive twist. "You’re not so bad yourself."

Jessica couldn’t help but blush. She’d let herself forget the true effect of those sparkling sapphire eyes when they turned on her in desire. "Thank you."

Kaleah grinned, pleased at the response. She turned away a second to dunk her head in the trough, letting the cool water take the edge off the heat in her skin. Surfacing, she shook herself, splattering Jessica.

"Hey!" The young blonde shielded her face from the water. "You’re getting me all wet!"

Kaleah waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "I didn’t hear you complaining about it last night." Her voice was very throaty, and it took Jess’ innocent mind a moment to realize what Kaleah meant. When she did, however, she flushed and glanced away.

"You . . . had a busy day, huh?" Jessica observed when she’d got her face to assume it’s normal coloring. She pointed to a rack of rough, still unfinished blades sitting off to the side. "Bet you’re tired."

"Yeah." Kaleah flexed her arms and shoulders, grimacing slightly. "Hard work."

"Doesn’t help when you don’t be takin’ a break, either," came a deep voice from behind the still-glowing forge pit. Sutton stepped out and nodded in greeting to Jessica. Then he glared good-naturedly at Kaleah. "Told ye to take a rest, girl. Ye’re gonna feel like you been run down by a wagon tomorrow, I promise ye that."

Jessica stared at Kaleah. "You’ve been doing this all day without a rest!? Kaleah, you must be exhausted! This is . . .You should . . ."

Kaleah shrugged and gave her a mischievous wink. "I guess I had a little extra energy to burn off after last night," she said. "That’s not my fault. And I did take several breaks, thank you, Sutton." She glared at the master smith. "They just weren’t very long ones, that’s all."

"Aye, maybe so," he allowed. "But I still don’t know how ye be lifting that hammer all day with those skinny arms a’ yours." He flexed his own fire-scarred, bulging muscles. "Got me enough trouble doing it with these."

Jessica grinned and poked Kaleah’s arm playfully. "Yeah. I couldn’t do this work for more than an hour before I’d collapse, and you’re not as strong as I am."

Kaleah shooed her away. "How can you possibly know that until you’ve tried it." She offered the hammer, but Jessica backed away. "Come on . . . give it a try. It’s fun."

"Uh uh. No way. I don’t consider getting hot and sweaty to be ‘fun’, unless I’m holding a sword."

"Oh really?" Kaleah’s voice grew low and husky, and she took a step closer. "I know a few extremely pleasurable activities that chiefly involve getting quite . . . hot and sweaty." Her smile was rakish as she arched an eyebrow. "I’d be happy to show you . . . if you’re interested . . ?"

Jessica swallowed, fearing for a moment her brain was going to just melt out of her ears under the heated assault of those dark gems. Eventually, she managed to get control of her rebellious voice. "Um . . . sh-sure." She cleared her throat and glanced at Sutton, reassured when she saw the huge smith inspecting some piece of rather dangerous looking equipment. Standing straighter, she managed to meet Kaleah’s gaze without faltering and smiled playfully. "Maybe we can discuss these . . . activities . . . later on tonight?"

"Maybe we could." Kaleah smiled seductively. "But if I recall correctly, you have a family dinner to go too right about now, don’t you?"

Jessica rolled her eyes and cursed herself for forgetting. "God, you’re right. I’m gonna be late if I don’t move it." She scowled, then gave Kaleah a hopeful look. "You wanna come keep me company?"

Kaleah shook her head, seeing the hopeful look turn to a disappointed pout. "Sorry . . . but I really want to finish up here first." Her voice raised. "Another hour or two and we’ll be done, right Sutton?"

"Aye, another hour should do it."


"But . . . can’t you put it off?" Green eyes pleaded soulfully in a look Kaleah knew the young woman had cultivated just for these situations. Still, she shook her head.

"If I get this done today, then I’ll have a lot of free time on my hands tomorrow." Her voice lowered again. "Free time I was thinking maybe we could fill in together . . ."

Jessica absorbed the meaning there and reluctantly dropped the pleading look. "Okay . . . I guess. So . . . I’ll see you back in my room when you’re done?"

"Sure. I’ll grab something to eat from the kitchen and be up there after that. But I think I should probably take a bath first." She scowled at her arms, which were covered in steaks of black grime . . . except her hands, which were protected by thick leather gloves. "I doubt you want me getting dust on everything." Kaleah didn’t miss the quickly masked expression of delighted interest that flitted across her friend’s face at the mention of a bath, and she smiled.

"Sure. I’d, uh . . . better be getting cleaned up myself before dinner. And Kaleah . . ." Jessica gave the dark woman a last enticing grin. ". . . You really do look hot."

Kaleah just rolled her eyes and watched Jess saunter off, her hips swaying a little more than was normal. She grinned.

"Hey!" Sutton’s voice called her back to the task at hand as he lefted a piece of red-hot steel from the forge fire. "You ready fer this?"

"Sure . . hand it here." Kaleah took the metal rod in her gloved hands and laid it on the solid surface of the anvil. While Sutton returned to the bellows, she lifted a heavy hammer and struck with rhythmic, practiced blows, further flattening the steel length and slowly tapering the end into a point. When the red glow faded, she thrust it back into the embers of the forge and waited for it to gather heat again.

As she worked, Kaleah’s mind drifted, lulled into a state of relaxation by the repetitive ringing of the hammer blows. Her lips bowed into a quiet smile as she considered the night that lay ahead . . . particularly, her thoughts focused on the bath she planned to take. Her smile grew wider even as her arms ached from the day of constant work.

Yeah, she thought idly as she formed the steel into the shape of a sword. A nice long bath . . . and maybe a massage to follow it. Her eyes glinted happily. I’m sure Jess’d enjoy that as much as I would!


Jessica’s heart skipped a beat in anticipation at the knock from the door to Kaleah’s room. She smiled when the door opened, admitting her tall, dark-haired friend. Kaleah closed the door behind her and smiled.

"How was dinner?"

Jess waved her hand in a ‘so-so’ motion. "Mixed bag, really. On the one hand, I had to listen to my mother’s snarky disapproval of what I was off doing today, as well as a few insinuations about the wedding. But on the other hand, she didn’t say anything about you, and my father said something about the number of bandits in the area dropping off. Apparently, the patrols are turning up nothing, so . . . maybe they all decided to move on."

"That’s good news." Kaleah hesitated a long moment, her eyes nervous. "Wh-what did you tell your mother . . . about the wedding?"

Jessica smiled, hearing more than idle curiosity in the question. "I told her what I usually tell her; that it’s not a good time right now. My father backed me up on that one . . . the treaty with Sir William’s making him a bit nervous, I think." Her verdant eyes held Kaleah’s. "Charles and I are trying to think of a way to end the betrothal more permanently."

Kaleah nodded slowly. "I see. So . . . does this mean that you and I can . . ." She trailed off, but Jessica read the question clearly enough.

"It sure does," she nodded. "But Charles reminded me that we should be a bit careful about things, you know?"

"Charles? Does he . . . know about . . ." Kaleah waved between them. ". . . this?"

"He asked me, so I told him," Jess said simply, watching her reaction carefully and hoping she didn’t mind. "We don’t keep secrets from each other . . . and besides, he figured most of it out all by himself when he first got here." She grinned. "I guess he’s just good at reading people."

"Yeah." Kaleah smiled to show she was okay with Charles knowing about them. "Well . . . I just finished eating and was looking forward to a good long soak after working so long." She held up a bundle of clean clothes she was holding. "I’ll be back in a while, okay?"

"Sure. Take your time. Relax." Jessica’s tone was carefully casual, but her eyes were lit from within by an unmistakable excitement. Kaleah grinned fully, her teeth flashing, before she retreated back into her own room, heading for the bathing chamber.

As soon as the door closed behind the dark woman, Jessica let her eyes drift shut as her imagination ran a quick but extremely heated picture show across her mind. Since yesterday, the young woman’s thoughts of being intimate with Kaleah had taken on a much more serious aspect. She already had a fairly good idea of how two women might make love just from reading so many stories on the subject . . . but now her young body was growing ever more eager to explore the full depth of this love that burned in her blood. When her eyes finally opened, Jessica’s attention went instantly to the secret entrance.

"You probably shouldn’t go and watch her," she told herself. Already she could feel arousal washing through her body, and she suspected Kaleah would only fan the flames of her desire when she returned. "If you see her getting all wet and naked in the bathing room, you’ll only make things worse for yourself."

Oh, come on! her mind mocked. How can you even think about not watching her!?! She got to see you topless last night, remember? Looking in the mirrors? If she gets to see you, it’s only fair you get to see her, right?

Jessica felt her breathing start to quicken, and her mouth grow dry. She swallowed. "It’s nothing you haven’t already seen," she argued. "Watching her now’ll just make you even more frustrated when she’s wrapped around you tonight."

Unless . . .


. . . Well . . . maybe when she gets back, she’ll want to do more than just talk, her mind suggested hopefully. She did say she’d like to show you . . . more, didn’t she?

"Yeeessss . . . but last night she didn’t sound like she wanted to move too fast."

Her mind considered that and sighed metaphorically. You’re right. It was silent a moment. Let’s face it, though . . . you’re going to be restless tonight whether you watch her or not. And you know how much you like to watch her, right?

Jessica smiled as her ever-helpful imagination provided a picture of Kaleah’s naked figure. "Yeah . . ."

So why not do it?

Jessica hesitated.

Okay, let me put it another way, her mind pressed. Would you prefer to watch her bathe and be done with it . . . or watch whatever your imagination can come up with later on? A few images of sweat-soaked, naked bodies twisting together in an erotic display flashed across her mind, and Jessica knew her rebellious senses had won.

"Fine . . . I’ll go." Heaving a sigh, she rolled off the bed and stepped quickly over to the fireplace where she opened the doorway to the passages beyond. "Just don’t bitch to me about all this later on tonight when you feel like you’ll burst into flames if she doesn’t touch you, okay?"

Her mind refused to agree to any such thing.


Chapter 20.

Kaleah stripped down quickly and waded out into the deeper parts of the great pool, letting the warm water ease the aches from her joints and muscles. With her senses on full alert, the dark woman knew she would be able to feel Jessica’s presence if it was there . . . but she didn’t feel anything. Ducking her head under the water a moment and slicking her long, sable hair back from her face, Kaleah felt a moment of disappointment.

Maybe she’s not coming, she worried. Maybe she doesn’t want to tempt herself. She must be getting pretty damned frustrated by now . . . could she have decided to avoid making it worse?

Kaleah puzzled on that a moment, then shook her head. No . . . the desire in Jessica’s eyes had been from anticipation. She would come to watch, no matter how much worse it would be for her. Taking the wash cloth she’d collected from the side-room, Kaleah began to slowly wash her arms and chest, every nerve alive as she waited.

It wasn’t long before a sudden delicious wave of awareness swept through Kaleah’s body, her senses screaming that someone was watching her. An instinct buried bone-deep recognized Jessica’s presence, and the former slave wondered for a moment how she’d not sensed the young woman’s voyeurism earlier. Probably because I was so busy trying to convince myself she didn’t like me that way, I guess.

Kaleah smiled to herself and turned a little so she half-faced the well-concealed peep-hole, setting her body to a better angle for her admirer. She could feel the heat of emerald eyes as they burned into her naked body . . . could feel them even as they moved up and down to take in every part of her. Unable to resist, she stepped into a shallower section of water, exposing herself down to the waist. With gentle, slow movements, she brought the wash-cloth up to her breasts and caressed them slowly, more interested in teasing the young woman watching her than in actually getting clean. Her nipples hardened under her attentive actions, and Kaleah groaned throatily at the pleasure that raced straight to her groin, lighting fires along the way.

For several minutes, the dark woman continued to slowly wash herself. Trying not to be too obvious, she made sure her young voyeur got the best possible view of all her activities. It was hard for Kaleah not to look directly at the peep-hole itself, but with new restraint she managed to avoid the temptation. It was amazing, but she could swear she could sense Jessica’s rising excitement . . . could tell exactly where the young woman’s eyes were fixed. Before long, the combination of her own caresses and the heated appraisal from beyond the wall took their inevitable toll on Kaleah’s body. Without really intending for it to happen, the dark woman had managed to work her body into a start of extreme arousal. Her breathing was growing shallow, her skin more sensitized. A pressure had built between her legs . . . and it started to pulse maddeningly, demanding satisfaction. When Kaleah moved the cloth down her body and ran it lightly over the apex of her thighs, the pleasure zinged through her center and caused her legs to almost buckle. Unable to resist, she stroked herself again, groaning deeply at the incredible sensations.

With an effort, the dark woman stopped and took a deep breath, trying to clear her head. It was no good. The build-up of the last few weeks — and particularly the last few days — was just too powerful, her need too great. Kaleah could never hope to quell the storm that raged within her. There was no way she could return to Jessica in this condition . . . and she knew there was only one way to deal with this situation.

She needed release . . . and she needed it now!

Considering the matter quickly, her body thrumming with excitement and anticipation as it sensed victory, Kaleah felt the emerald eyes boring into her and wondered how this might affect Jessica. Would she be disgusted? Kaleah grinned a little. Not likely.

This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said I’d be happy to show her some pleasurable activities, she thought, but it works well, just the same. In fact . . . this works very well indeed!

Kaleah grinned. She could satisfy her own raging desires . . . and bring Jessica to an even greater level of need at the same time.

Quickly pulling herself out of the water onto the central stone island in the middle of the pool, Kaleah found a smooth, polished area that would be perfect for her plan. The rock had been carved into a gentle, curving slope that Kaleah lay back into, letting the rock support her in a semi-reclined position. Checking her position, the former slave smiled, satisfied that her hidden admirer had an unobstructed, direct view of everything she was about to do.

Well, Jessica . . . I hope you’re ready for this! She grinned as her hands began to slowly slide up her taut, dripping body, teasing the edges of her ribcage with feathery touches. You’re about to get an education!

From the other side of the wall, Jessica watched with unblinking eyes and open mouth as Kaleah lay back on the island and began to run her hands along her bronzed skin. The young woman swallowed hard and stared as her dark friend finally cupped her own breasts and let her head fall back, eyes closed in obvious pleasure.

"What the hell is she doing?" Jess breathed, her eyes widening. She almost stopped breathing when Kaleah’s fingers sought out hardened nipples and began to pinch and roll them lightly. The young woman felt dizzy and her mouth went suddenly dry as all the moisture in her body headed south. When Kaleah’s legs drifted apart and exposed glistening pink folds to her heated appraisal, Jessica gasped as understanding dawned. "Sh-she’s not going to . . ." She struggled to get the thought to form properly, her mind unable to process the notion it wanted to. When Kaleah’s right hand slowly wandered down her tight stomach to between her own legs and gently began to stroke back and forth, Jessica thought for sure she was going to burst into flames right then and there. "She can’t . . . can she!?"

Her mind was too stunned by what was happening to give an answer, however. Awed, her senses reeling at the erotic vision unfolding in the next room, Jessica watched the show, unable and unwilling to tear herself away.

Kaleah sighed deeply as her fingers parted smooth, slippery folds and began to stroke gently. With her left hand, she continued to fondle her breasts while her fingertips slid with fluid ease along the length of her highly sensitized sex. Oh God, but she needed this! Never in her life had she felt this level of need . . . this strong an arousal! The fingers working between her legs were instantly soaked in the sweet juices that flowed from her desire, and with a groan she let them drift a little higher to find the hardened bundle of nerves that screamed for attention. At first contact, her hips thrust forward, desperately seeking greater pressure, but Kaleah forced herself to slow down. If she wasn’t careful, this would all be over too soon . . . and she wanted to give Jessica a good show!

With great restraint, Kaleah spread her legs wider and ran two fingers teasingly across her swollen clitoris, drawing out the pleasure slowly, determined to make it last. Her sex was dripping with true wetness as she dragged her fingernails through the neatly trimmed hairs above her most sensitive area, reveling in the delicious sparks that shot through her groin. Her left hand started to squeeze harder on the nipple it was tending to, and she groaned in ecstasy. Unable to resist any longer, she ran her flat palm down and pressed against herself, gasping for air at the tremendous pleasure. She could feel the burning emerald eyes of her unseen admirer following her every move, and the knowledge that she was being watched only served to heighten her arousal further. Her hips began thrusting against the pressure of her palm, and she slowly increased the pace until her need grew too strong. When she could stand it no longer, Kaleah finally drew back and, making absolutely certain her audience could see everything she was doing, she very slowly speared two fingers and pushed them into her molten depths.

Jessica watched, lightheaded and hardly breathing, as Kaleah penetrated herself. No story she had ever read had detailed the actions she was now witnessing. . . and even though a small part of her knew that she shouldn’t be spying on such a private moment, it was drowned out by the pulsing emanating from between her legs. Her breeches were soaked through with her arousal, and even just the pressure of the coarse material against her sensitive folds made her yearn for something more solid to grind against. Squeezing her legs together brought a sharp stab of blissful pleasure . . . but it couldn’t satisfy this fire, could only make her more aware of how great her need had become. Her brain was still frozen, lost somewhere as it struggled to comprehend the fact that she was watching her friend make love to herself.

Kaleah’s head shot forward as her fingers gradually pushed deeper, feeling her inner walls tighten in delight against the welcome invasion. What started as a slow, steady rhythm quickly sped up as her heart beat faster in her chest and her body thrust against her fingers. Gasping for breath, Kaleah’s left hand abandoned the breast it was working on to join it’s mate between her legs. With long-practiced ease, two fingers parted over her clit and started to stroke and lightly pinch the engorged nub. When she pushed a third finger into her dripping core, Kaleah’s hips bucked hard and she couldn’t suppress a slight scream of joy. Tears crept into her tightly shut eyes as her pace increased, bringing stars to her vision. She was rapidly loosing control.

"Oh, God . . . yesssss," she hissed as her fingers found a sensitive spot inside and pressed against it repeatedly on every thrust. The combined stimulation was bringing her to the peak faster than she might have liked, but there was nothing she could do to slow down. This had been building too long, and for a moment, the dark woman almost feared her rapidly approaching climax, wondering if she could survive its intensity. She had never experienced this level of pleasure — by her own hand, or any other. Just knowing that Jessica was watching her made everything seem so much more real . . . so much more fulfilling.

Her arms were getting cramped, but they continued to move at a blinding speed both inside and against her clit. Kaleah felt her legs shaking, but focused on the wave that was building to a crest inside her. "Yes! Oh, God, please . . ." Her inner walls began to spasm as her wrist strained to keep up the pace. It started slow, but as she thrust deeper still, orgasm ripped through her body in pulsing, blinding white waves of ecstasy, so strong she thought for sure they would tear her apart. "Jeess-i-caaaa!!!" The name burst from her throat, and a part of her dimly realized she was trying to share the intense feelings with the woman at the heart of their creation. Her fingers continued their movements, dragging out the climax for as long as possible as her essence flooded out of her, dripping down her wrist. Eventually, however, she slowed down and opened her eyes. Her chest rose and fell quickly, trying to draw needed air into her lungs. Breathing heavily, Kaleah collapsed back onto the slick rock surface and let the last few pulses wash over her.

After a moment, her strength returned and Kaleah smiled lazily. A pleasant lethargy settled over her body in the afterglow of pleasure, and she exhaled. "Wow!" Slowly, the dark woman drew her fingers from their wet, tight glove, her inner walls pulsing a little in memory, desire stirring again. Ignoring the temptation to just start the ride a second time, she brought her soaked hand up to her lips without thought. Licking absently at the sweet, tangy honey, Kaleah grinned when she realized what she was doing . . . and remembered her audience. Feeling Jessica’s eyes still fixed on her, she deliberately ran her tongue up her wrist, collecting the juices there before sucking seductively on each finger in turn, humming happily to herself.

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did! She wondered what must be going on in her young friend’s head. Sighing as she swallowed the last of her flavor, contented for the moment, Kaleah closed her eyes and relaxed fully, just enjoying the warmth that filled her soul and the wonderful tingles that still ran up and down her body. She decided to wait a while before she finished washing up and returned to the bedroom. Jessica would probably need a little time to collect herself . . . and to deal with her own arousal. Kaleah smiled, feeling very pleased with herself.

Maybe it’s time we talked about this stuff seriously, huh Jess? She frowned, thinking for the first time of how this whole situation might affect her young friend and would-be lover. With her lust sated — at least for now — her mind was clear to comprehend some things she’d not considered before.

If Jessica wanted to be with her, Kaleah was more than happy to give her everything she wanted; but she didn’t want to young, innocent girl to rush into a situation like this without being fully aware of what the consequences of her actions might be. Jessica deserved to be treated right; if things went badly down the track, the young girl could easily be hurt. As Kaleah lay back and let her mind drift, she realized it was time for her to make sure the young woman fully understood what she was getting into . . . and to give her a way out, if she needed it.


On the other side of the wall, Jessica crouched with her legs locked in position, unable to move as she watched her friend recover. She had read enough about sex to know what had just happened . . . recognized her friend’s climax for what it was. Though the thick walls prevented her from hearing Kaleah’s cries, she recognized her own name as it was formed on the older woman’s lips just as her body was apparently overwhelmed by her self-induced pleasuring. Realizing that Kaleah’s thoughts were centered on her at such a moment made Jessica’s heart ache. When she saw the dark woman begin to lick herself clean, Jessica’s mouth hung open and she would have drooled in envy were it not for the fact that every drop of moisture in her body had congregated in a lower portion of her body. She had never seen such a display of sheer eroticism . . . and the effect of the vision on her inexperienced body was stunning. It took several minutes for her mind to start working again . . . and several more before she could finally tear herself away from the spy-hole.

Sitting back on very shaky legs, Jessica concentrated on just taking slow, deep breaths, trying to get the blood flowing back to her limbs again. The smell of her arousal was thick in the air, and she could feel that her undergarments were completely soaked through. Swallowing, the young blonde ran a trembling hand through her hair, trying to collect her thoughts.

"She just . . . made love to herself." Somehow, saying it out loud made the idea seem clearer, easier to grasp. "She just made love to herself . . . and she was thinking about me while she did it!"

Taking a quick peek back into the room, she saw that Kaleah had settled back against the rock and was apparently resting. It looked like she was going to stay there for a while. Reassured that she had time, Jessica struggled for a second but managed to get to her feet.

She’ll be coming back to your room when she recovers, her mind observed when it recovered a little. You’re going to have to get yourself cleaned up, or she’s gonna know something strange is going on just from the way you smell!

Carefully, with shaky steps, Jess made her way through the passage back towards her room, trusting long years of walking these paths not to get her lost as her memory replayed the images of Kaleah pleasuring herself. She was still in shock, her mind fuzzy and dazed, but she navigated her way back to her room as quickly as she could.

Once back in the familiar, candle-lit warmth, Jessica turned her mind to setting things right so Kaleah wouldn’t suspect what had happened. Stripping out of her trousers and underwear, noting with a deep blush that her essence had soaked both articles of clothing, she hid them behind a large bookshelf in the back of the room. "Clean those tomorrow," she told herself sternly.

Next, Jessica filled a wide bowl with water from a pitcher and found a clean rag. Wetting the rag, she ran it between her legs, gasping when the cool contact brought an instant rush of pure pleasure to her heated center. Curious, the image of Kaleah’s somewhat frenzied activities still in mind, Jessica used the cloth to gently clean away the dew that slicked her inner thighs. When she applied cautious pressure to her swollen sex, her eyes shot wide open in amazement at the sensations the touch produced. She felt the urge to press more firmly against herself, but, remembering a few of the things her mother had told her about a woman’s ‘first time’, she reluctantly backed away. Still extremely sensitive, Jessica dried herself off as best she could and washed her hands, then found a clean set of clothes and hastily pulled them on.

Still operating largely without conscious thought, Jessica sat back on her bed and stared at the walls, not really seeing anything but the memory of what Kaleah had just done.

"How the hell am I supposed to act when Kaleah gets back?" she asked herself. "I won’t even be able to look at her without seeing . . ." She waved vaguely. ". . . all that stuff she just did!" Frustrated and worried, Jess lay back and groaned, covering her face with her arms. "The way I feel right now, if she doesn’t take the initiative with this relationship soon, I’ll bloody well do it myself!"

L-let’s not be rash here, her mind stammered, trying to regain a little equilibrium again. You can’t very well just . . . pounce on the woman and demand her to . . . to . . .

"To ravish me right here, right now? You wanna bet?" Jessica’s passion was growing to ridiculous levels, and her inexperience gave her no idea of how to deal with a hunger like this. She had imagined falling in love before, and had accepted her attraction to the dark woman with relative ease. She knew she wanted a physical relationship with the former slave . . . but this raw desire for Kaleah’s touch was so much stronger and more intense than she could ever have anticipated! Jessica had never thought herself capable of feeling this kind of animal lust . . . and it was only her innocence and shy nature that made her reluctant to make the first move. But now she was getting desperate.

"I want her . . . and I know she wants me. She screamed my name when she . . ." Jessica groaned and slammed her fists into the mattress in frustration. "Why couldn’t she have just asked me to do that for her!?! I’d have been more than happy to touch her like that . . . if she’d just show me how!" Her eyes grew hooded, and her voice deepened. "And then she could touch me . . . and I could touch her again . . ."

Snap out of it! For God’s sake, you’re a chaste, innocent virgin who’s never even been kissed before!! When Kaleah’s ready to take that step with you — and she will be in good time — then she’ll come to you on her own. Remember what she’s been through . . . You jump her, and you could easily scare her off for who knows how long!

Jessica considered this, and realized her mind was right. Kaleah had been a slave all her life; had been abused in so many ways it hurt Jessica just to think about. She might be hesitant about starting a sexual relationship that was based on an emotional connection like this.

"Maybe that’s why she did that then," Jess mused thoughtfully. "Maybe she just needed some relief. . . but she wants to take it slowly. ." She sighed. "I guess I have to go slowly too, then, don’t I?"

Just . . . don’t push her, that’s all, her mind counseled. She’s made it very clear she wants you . . . let her go at her own pace.

"Okay." Jess pouted. "But what am I supposed to do when she comes back? How can . . . I’m not gonna be able to look at her without blushing! What do I say to her!?"

How about . . . ‘Did you enjoy your bath?’

Jessica groaned.


Kaleah waited some time in the bathing chamber, wanting to give Jess plenty of time to get her head on straight and taking a moment to relax and think about her next course of action. Once she’d settled on a plan, the former slave quickly finished her wash and left the pool, returning to her friend’s room with a spring in her steps.

When she opened the door, Kaleah found her young friend sitting rather stiffly on the bed. Her eyes roamed down Jessica’s body quickly, taking in the tension that was apparent in her posture and not missing the fact that she’d changed clothes. She saw the girl swallow, and her eyes flit away. It was clear to her that Jess was still highly charged with excitement after her display. "Hey."

"Hey." A pause. "So . . . did you . . enjoy your bath?" Jessica almost rolled her eyes at herself. Just seeing Kaleah brought her blood right back to the boil. The dark woman’s posture was so languid and sensuous, her eyes so dark and hooded, Jessica wanted more than anything to just tear off her clothes and beg for a relief she knew only her friend could give her.

Kaleah just smiled at the question. "It was wonderful, thank you." She hugged herself a little. "Very . . . relaxing."

Jessica swallowed even harder, and managed to squeak "Great."

Kaleah stepped closer. "Could I get you to do me a favor? My hair was getting to me today. Could you maybe, I don’t know . . . tie it into a plait or something? Nothing fancy, just to keep it out of my face."

"Umm . . sure, I guess."

"Thanks." Kaleah handed the young blonde a soft hairbrush she found on a dresser and sat down on the bed, turning away so her friend could get to her still-wet sable tresses. There was a long moment of hesitation before she felt Jessica tentatively reach out and run the brush through her tangles. She smiled a quiet smile, enjoying her secret knowledge. She could detect a slight musky scent still clinging to Jessica, and it made her mouth water as the girl gently brushed her hair. "You have very gentle hands," she said softly.

There was a long pause before Jessica whispered, "Thank you."

"I thought about you a lot today." She felt the hands holding the brush tremble slightly, then continue. "While I was working, I just looked forward to tonight . . . when I’d be able to relax with you."

"Are-" Jessica cleared her throat. "Are you sore? You must be after smithing all day."

"I was, yeah. Especially across the shoulders."

"Well . . . you know I do owe you a massage, so if you wanted, I could. . ."

Kaleah grinned at the excited, hopeful expression in the young woman’s voice. "That’s alright. My bath really took the edge off the ache." She could almost sense her friend’s disappointment. "Maybe tomorrow."

A very quiet "Okay," before Jess fell silent.

Kaleah let the quiet continue for a while, closing her eyes and feeling Jessica patiently begin to divide her hair into sections and tie it into a simple braid. After a while, she finally asked, "Is there something wrong?" The hands behind her froze instantly.

"Of course not." Jessica’s voice trembled a little. "W-why would you think there was something wrong?"

"You’re just acting kind of nervous, that’s all." Kaleah turned around and faced her friend, letting her hair go unfinished. When she looked Jessica in the eye, the girl couldn’t meet her gaze and glanced away. She smiled, knowing exactly what the problem was. "I was worried maybe I’d. . . done something you didn’t like . . ."

Jessica’s eyes instantly widened and she shook her head. "No! You . . . you haven’t done anything wrong! It’s not that, it’s just . . ." She trailed off, her eyes dropping.

Kaleah smiled. Her voice became very soft and gentle. "Is it because of what you saw me doing in the bathing room?"

The look on Jessica’s face was such a twisted mix of shock, fear and surprise that Kaleah couldn’t help but laugh. The young girl’s mouth opened and closed several times before she managed to start stammering. "How did . . I didn’t . . .y-you-" Kaleah placed two fingers over Jessica’s lips and stopped her babbling.

"Ssshhh. It’s alright." She smiled reassuringly, then took a deep breath. "You wanted to know if something happened yesterday morning, right? Well, after the attack, I started wondering how you’d known I was in trouble."

"I told you-"

"Uh uh." Kaleah pressed her fingers more firmly against the soft lips. "Just hear me out. What you told me was a lie, I could tell. It was very convincing, but it didn’t fool me. And the only other way I could think of for you to have known what was happening was for you to have been watching me. So, while you were busy dealing with your mother yesterday, I did a little exploring." She smiled. "When I found the spy-hole, well. . . it answered a lot of the questions I’d been asking myself for a long time now." She took her fingers away slowly. "It told me I wasn’t crazy to hope that what I saw in your eyes was more than just friendship. And it gave me the courage to start showing you just how much I really care for you."

Jessica just stared at Kaleah for a long moment, trying to process this. It wasn’t easy . . . especially when she remembered what the fingers pressed against her lips had just been doing. Her nostrils flared when she caught the hint of a musky aroma still clinging to the digits, and her mind went blank for a frightening moment. But the warmth in her friend’s sapphire gaze quickly banished her fears and concerns, and she gave a tentative smile.

"So . . . that’s why you started . . . flirting with me, huh?"

Kaleah nodded. "Once I knew you were okay with the idea, I wanted to let you know that I was interested in you. Really interested, I mean." She cocked her head to the side, her eyes glinting playfully. "I was wondering, though, just how long you’ve been playing this little ‘spy-on-Kaleah-while-she’s-taking-a-bath’ game?"

Jessica saw the look and smiled coquettishly. "A while," she said evasively.

"Uh huh. Would that be ‘a while’ as in a week or so, or ‘a while’ as in just once or twice?"

Jess shrugged. "Actually, it’s ‘a while’ as in since that morning when I had a hangover after we went out to the village," she admitted with a blush. "And I was thinking about it even before that."

A dark eyebrow rose curiously. "So . . . that means you’ve been having these kind of thoughts about me for a while then, doesn’t it?"

The young blonde nodded, feeling a little shy suddenly. "H-have you?"

Kaleah considered a moment, then nodded. "From the moment I met you, you made me feel things I’ve never felt before. For as far back as I can remember, all I ever felt was pain, hatred and anger . . . and it scared me at first; all these new emotions I didn’t know how to deal with." She smiled and let her hand caress Jessica’s cheek. "It took a while to get used to everything, but when I did, I quickly figured out I was attracted to you as more than just a friend. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to frighten you . . . and I could feel things growing more . . intense between us everyday."

Jessica nodded, letting her eyes slip away shyly. Her hands fidgeted a moment. "So . . .does this mean you’re not mad at me? For spying on you, I mean."

Kaleah grinned fully and she waggled her eyebrows. "If I was mad at you, do you think I would have done what I just did?"

Jessica blushed deep crimson, her eyes widening. "Wait! You knew all along, didn’t you!?" Kaleah nodded. "You mean you did . . . that, even though you knew I was watching you!?"

"Not exactly." Kaleah’s voice dropped lower. "I did it largely because I knew you were watching." Jessica just stared at her, mouth gaping. "I could feel your eyes on me the whole time I was washing myself and I guess . . . knowing you were there got me a little too hot. I needed release . . . and I didn’t think you’d mind the show, so I decided to make the best of things." Her blue eyes turned violet with desire. "Did you . . . like what you saw me doing?"

Jessica looked down at her nervously twisting hands, letting her hair fall forward to hide her furious blush. "Yes," she admitted very softly.

Kaleah smiled, and her voice became throaty as she leaned closer. "Did it . . . excite you?"

Verdant eyes glanced up through the blonde curtain of hair, then quickly looked away. "Yes."

"I thought so." Kaleah’s voice was just a breath that whispered close to Jessica’s ear. "I can tell how excited you are just from the way you smell . . . and from the way you’re breathing." A fingertip gently drew a lock of golden hair behind Jessica’s ear. "I imagined it was your hands touching me, Jessica. Knowing you were there made everything feel sooo much better." Kaleah almost purred. "I screamed your name when I climaxed."

Jessica whimpered, the low voice assaulting her highly-charged senses. "I-I know. I saw you." Her voice trembled with the strength of her re-ignited arousal. She swallowed, soaking in the incredible sexual aura that surrounded her dark friend, knowing she was going to die if the woman didn’t take her right now!

Kaleah could feel the energy thrumming through the young girl’s body, and she licked her lips as she felt her own passion begin to tighten in her groin. "Did you even know that what I did to myself was possible?" she asked softly. Jessica’s head shook very slightly. Kaleah grinned. "Have you ever thought about touching me like that?" Jessica could only groan. "Is that a yes?"

"Yesss." Jessica’s head snapped up suddenly, and Kaleah drew back a little when she felt the intense heat in the young girl’s emerald gaze, surprised at the raw lust revealed in her friend’s eyes. Uh oh. Jessica leaned forward, her hands surging up to pull Kaleah closer. "I want to do that to you! Please!"

"Wait!" Kaleah realized her seduction plan had worked a little too well; the predator had become the prey.

"I don’t want to wait, Kaleah! Please!! I need you!" Jessica pressed nearer, her lips descending, but Kaleah grabbed her by the shoulders and held her back, amazed at the passion she’d unleashed. Jessica moaned, her pupils dilated and barely focused but burning with need. She pressed against Kaleah, but the dark woman was firm.

"We can’t."

"Why not?" With courage born of desperation, Jessica grabbed Kaleah’s right hand and forced it to release her shoulder. She slid her friend’s hand down her body and guided it to her breast, groaning at the delicious contact.

Kaleah struggled to regain control of the situation. She had wanted to tease Jessica, yes, but only so the girl understood the gravity of her actions. She wasn’t expecting this sudden turn of events, but the feel of Jessica’s firm breast pressing into her palm was making it hard to concentrate. She could feel the young woman’s rock-hard nipple through the thin material of her simple shirt, and she couldn’t stop herself from massaging the ripe flesh being offered. Sensing victory, Jessica pressed forward again, her lips seeking Kaleah’s. The dark woman felt her move, and shook her head to dispel the desire to just let this happen.

No! You need to slow down, or Jessica’s going to get hurt!

Kaleah tore her hand away from her friend’s chest and pushed her back. "Jessica . . . please, stop."

"Why?" The green eyes pleaded. "I . . . I want you to touch me."

"I know, and I want that too."

Jessica’s breathing was ragged, but she finally quit fighting. "Then why do we have to stop? I’m ready-"

"Jessica, I-" Kaleah took her hands off Jessica’s shoulders when she saw the girl relax a little, and she sat back on the bed, putting some distance between herself and the amorous blonde.

"You’re not ready?"

Kaleah sighed, the speech she’d figured out in the bathing chamber flying from her head under the emerald assault of her friend’s eyes. "It’s not that. I just. . ." She considered her words carefully, wanting Jessica to understand. "I need to be sure that . . . this is really what you want."

Relief flooded through Jessica’s face and she smiled. "It is, Kaleah. This . . . you . . . I want us to be together." She started to move forward again, but Kaleah stopped her with a raised hand.

"No! Just . . . listen." Jessica sat back with a slight pout. Kaleah shook her head. "Jessica, I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. You. . . you fill all the empty places inside me that I never even knew were there before we met. You make me feel complete for the first time in my life. Nothing would make me happier than to make love with you—I’m not finished!" Jessica froze as she’d been about to launch herself bodily at Kaleah. "I do want to be with you, believe me! But I don’t want you to regret later what we do in a moment of passion. I don’t want you to get hurt by this."

Jessica listened, realizing she was going to have to come up with a way to reassure Kaleah before she could get what she wanted. The dark woman’s insistence on making sure she was comfortable with everything was only making her love burn stronger. "I know you won’t hurt me, Kaleah. And I know you’re taking this seriously. So am I."

"I know. But I want you to consider — and I mean really consider — how this is going to affect your life." She stared at her friend and would-be lover seriously until she finally saw a glimmer of understanding dispel some of the fuzziness in the young woman’s eyes. She sighed in relief. "You’re an important person in this land, Jessica. You told me yourself how your life is dedicated to helping to protect others. If we do this — if we become lovers — it’s going to affect your reputation and your life."

"It doesn’t have to," Jessica argued, sitting back on her legs and struggling to bring her raging desire back under control. "Charles and I will figure out a way to call off the wedding . . and we don’t need to let anyone else know about us-"

"And how long will that work for? A week? A month? Maybe we can keep it a secret for a year, even. But you know better than I do that in a castle like this, nothing stays hidden forever. It would only be a matter of time before a servant or a guard catches us in an embrace . . . or sees us looking at each other with more than just friendship. Hell, the rumors could start even without that much!" She saw Jessica look away and knew she understood. "Sooner or later, everyone would know about us."

"I don’t care!" Jessica snapped.

"Don’t you?" Kaleah shook her head sadly, knowing she was making Jessica frustrated but needing to be sure. "Maybe you don’t care what your mother thinks of you . . . or your brother. And maybe some people won’t care about what our relationship is. But what about your father?" Jessica’s face dropped. "You’re his only daughter. How will he feel if he learns you’ve taken a barbarian woman as a lover?"

Jessica fidgeted. "My father loves me," she said quietly. "He’s never judged me for anything I’ve ever done, and he’s always respected my right to make my own decisions. If this is what I want, he’ll understand."

Kaleah considered that and nodded slowly. "Okay, maybe he will. But what about the soldiers? The commoners? All the people who love you and respect what you do? Will they be so understanding?" She saw Jessica swallow nervously. "You know they won’t be. The religion in this land would condemn us both. If we go forward with this, your faith will cast you out."

Tears crept into Jessica’s eyes and she gazed imploringly at Kaleah. "Are you saying we can’t do this? Is that it?" She sniffled. "This was just a big tease-"

"NO! That’s not what I’m saying at all! I just need you to be aware of all the things that this could cost you, Jessica. Because if you come to regret anything I do to you . . . I couldn’t live with myself knowing I might have prevented it." She smiled a little. "If you want me . . . it’s forever, Jess."

Jessica nodded vigorously. "That’s what I want to! Please . . . I need you."

Kaleah closed her eyes and wiped her face with her hands. "And I need you to think about this carefully."

Jessica watched, stunned, as Kaleah got off the bed and stepped back, suddenly realizing the dark woman was going to leave. "What- Where are you going!?"

"I’m taking the night watch in the look-out," Kaleah said gently.

"Y-you’re leaving me!?! But-"

"Jessica, you need time to settle down and consider this alone."

"But . . .I know I want you!"

"Your heart says this is what you want because of how you feel for me," Kaleah said, "and your body says the same thing because you’re aroused. But I need you to stop listening to them . . . and listen instead to your head." She pulled her boots on and grabbed her sword. "Consider this logically; consider how this could change things not just for you, but for those around you. For those who need you to serve them. This decision will affect the rest of your life, Jessica. You can’t make it with me around to distract you."

"I see." Jessica swallowed her tears, trying to repress her emotions but finding it hard. "And what if tomorrow, I still want to be with you?"

Kaleah smiled warmly. "If you think about everything carefully tonight, and you decide that you’re willing to continue . . . then we will." Light lit the wet emerald eyes of the young blonde, and she quickly continued. "But you have to be sure, Jess! This is too important to just breeze past, okay?" She stepped closer and reached out a hand, letting her fingertips trace the curve of her friend’s cheek and along her full lips. When Jessica shuddered, she pulled away. "I’m serious. Do you promise you’ll think about it carefully?"

Jessica smiled up at her. "I promise . . . but only if you promise that if I decide it’s what I want, you won’t argue with me. Okay?

Kaleah nodded, then turned around. "Come find me in the morning," she said as she opened the door. "I’ll be in the look-out." Her piercing eyes locked onto Jessica’s. "This is your last chance to stop this thing. Don’t waste it."

"I won’t."

Kaleah was about to step through the door when Jessica called her name. She glanced back. The young woman grinned.

"Try to get at least some sleep, won’t you?"

She just smirked and winked. "I’ll have a better chance of sleeping then you will, Jess. G’night." She stepping out into the hall and closed the door gently behind her with a sigh.

It was going to be a long night.


Continued in Part 6 (Conclusion)

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