It was nearly midnight and Hugh sat in the corner of his favourite inn, an empty wine jug in front of him, the noise and bustle failing to raise his mood. He had gone from the cells to his rooms where he bathed and changed then tried to deal with the issues concerning his lands that had arisen in his absence. After reading the same document three times without seeing the content, then pacing for an hour he had stormed off into the citadel to find something to occupy him. Now he planned to drink enough to help him on the way to sleep. He rummaged in the money pouch at his belt to discover whether he could afford another jug and his fingers closed around something unfamiliar. He pulled it out and recognised it as the necklace Aline had left in the woods that he had never returned after taunting her with it. He rubbed the gem between his finger and thumb, wondering if he would get the opportunity to pass it back then slipped it into his pouch. His wound was starting to ease now, more of an irritation than pain and he pulled at his collar to loosen it, remembering the feeling of Aline's hands moving across his neck and shoulder and the concern in her eyes as each stab of the needle made him flinch. For a brief moment he had felt that flash of attraction between them, which, had they met under different circumstances, he would have pursued eagerly. His mind drifted back to the sensation of her body above his as she treated his injuries then further back to fighting her into submission on the forest floor and he allowed himself to daydream that she had not been fighting to escape, that she had not wanted or needed to but was uniting with him in desire. But this was no good! He knew that he was in danger of becoming more than infatuated with her. None of the women he had bedded so far had managed to get inside his head to this extent and this one was so far beyond his reach. There was nothing to be gained in dwelling on her, he had delivered her to the Duke as ordered and his part in the matter was done. His lip curled as he thought how he had failed to protect her and he cursed himself for his cowardice. He reached for his cup and realising it was empty signalled across the room for another.
One of the serving girls who he vaguely recognised brought him over a new jug of wine, straddled his lap and leaned down to kiss his neck. Usually he would welcome this sort of distraction but impatiently he brushed her off. His mind kept drifting unwillingly back to Aline and the look of entreaty she had given him as he had led her to the cell. Her voice echoed in his mind taunting him, 'Please don't do this'.
The memory of her lying asleep next to him that morning (and how long ago that seemed) brought an unexpected flush of heat to his neck and bewilderingly he felt himself harden causing the girl on his lap to giggle and move in again to kiss him. Abruptly he pushed her away, stood up and stormed out into the dark.
Aline opens her eyes as she hears the door opening and is unsurprised to see Hugh enter. He is clean-shaven now, his hair curling about his jaw and instead of his familiar leathers he wears a soft woollen tunic, open at the neck. Handsome in the candlelight he smiles at her and moves over to where she lies. He gently peels back the cloak from around her body and lowers himself onto the bed. His eyes remain fixed on hers as he undoes the ribbon at the neck of her thin shift and pushes it down over her shoulders exposing her body. He strokes his hand up from her belly to her neck then lifts her arms above her head and with his fingers interlaced with hers firmly begins to move his mouth over hers. The scent of him is warm and musky and she closes her eyes, tilting her head back in pleasure at the sensation his lips create. She gasps as his mouth starts to work downwards, alternately planting soft kisses and nipping at her neck and shoulders. By the time his lips brush her breast she can barely draw breath and she arches her back to come up to meet his touch.
Then suddenly he bites down hard and the pain makes her cry out. Her eyes fly open to see him looking down at her coldly. Then his features morph into those of the Duke, who opens his mouth to reveal wolfs teeth. He snarls and tears at her throat, ripping wildly as her blood flows out.
Aline woke with a cry, shivering yet flushed, hungry and thirsty. The dream was so vivid in her mind and she felt at once repulsed and aroused by the sensations she felt. She reached for Hugh's cloak, which had fallen off and wrapped it around her shoulders, conscious of the scent on it of the man who had invaded her dreams in such an intimate manner.
The sound of the bolt scraping back and the door opening woke Aline next. She had thought that after such a disturbing dream she would never sleep again but exhaustion had eventually overcome her and she curled in the corner unable to fight sleep any longer. Now she had lost track of time and only a nagging ache in her stomach told her that much time had passed. The jailor walked into the cell and pushed a bowl at her with a grunt then stuck a bucket in the corner of the room and left again, leaving her in near blackness. She sniffed the contents of the bowl, a soup of some sort and the smell turned her stomach but she hadn't eaten in so long she forced the greasy liquid down and made grateful use of the bucket. Now that she was no longer so hungry and felt rested her mind began to wander and she closed her eyes, trying to conjure the image of her rooms at home, her friends and grandfather but this led her into dark thoughts about how distressed they must all be and she forced the visions from her mind. Feeling stiff from the inactivity she passed some time by pacing from end to end of the small room and in practicing the sword moves she could remember then stood on her tiptoes to try peer through the grille in the door. Outside her cell the passageway was empty with the only light coming from a brazier by which the jailor snored. She could hear the sounds of cries and screams coming from nearby and began to question how long she would be able to remain there before she broke down and agreed to any condition the duke cared to name.
More time had passed, how much she wasn't sure exactly though her stomach was starting to ache from hunger again when she heard footsteps in the passageway. She moved towards the back wall as she heard the bolts drawn back and two guards walked in and ordered her to follow.
She was taken back through the dungeons and out across the courtyard, grateful to be breathing fresh air after the oppressive atmosphere of the cell and blinking in the unaccustomed light. She was amazed to see that it was dusk, and that almost a day had passed since she had been taken to the cells. The guards marched her to the keep setting a pace that she struggled to keep up with and through the building to the same stateroom she had been in the previous day. The Duke was again waiting for her, a couple of empty wine bottles on the table indicating he was probably not in the mood to be defied. He gave an exaggerated bow as she entered and indicated a velvet-covered chair at the side of the table. Glad of some comfort for the first time that day she sank into it, anxiously waiting to see what would happen.
"I hope a day in the dungeon has made you see some sense and fully appreciate my offer of remaining as my guest." he slurred.
She looked at him defiantly. Her body ached, she was cold and hungry and needed sleep but at that moment she would have denied it absolutely rather than admit it to this man.
If Stephen was taken aback by her lack of emotion he did not show it but instead came and stood next to her and laid a piece of parchment and a quill on the table in front of her
"You will write to your grandfather and tell him I will return you unharmed if he surrenders to me the seal of the High Lord. You will be freed in exchange for that and a guarantee that there will be no acts of vengeance nor attempts to regain that power. He shall continue to rule Leamere and we shall not discuss marriage again at this point, though of course if you were to choose to accept that of your own volition it would make things much easier all round."
"And if I refuse to write?" Aline asked.
Stephen leaned in close to her and spoke slowly and she could smell the wine on his breath.
"Then I'll throw you back into the dungeons until you change your mind, though this time into the condemned cell. I'm sure the lowlifes there would appreciate a plaything in their final days."
Aline closed her eyes. The Duke was quite clearly insane and she had no doubt that he was prepared to carry out his threat.
Reluctantly she picked up the quill and wrote what he instructed.
"Well now, that wasn't too painful was it?" the Duke observed. "Now as I said before you will have a comfortable room and even a degree of freedom, with an escort of course."
He moved to the wall and pulled a rope. The door opened and two servants appeared. The Duke instructed them to prepare quarters and they left. He turned back to Aline then stopped and scrutinised her then smiled nastily as a thought struck him. He walked over to her and drew the cloak back from her shoulders, ignoring the way she flinched at his touch.
"This is an interesting addition to your wardrobe," he remarked. "I wonder what possessed my cousin to give it to you? Is there something I should know about your journey?"
Aline tried to think how best to respond, aware that the wrong answer could prove bad for the captain as well as herself.
"Nothing My Lord." she said.
"If you tried to turn his head you'll have failed," Stephen laughed, "No woman has managed to snare him yet and his loyalty to me is without equal."
Aline said nothing but looked away quickly which caused Stephen to laugh wildly. He was still laughing when the servants returned and led Aline away.