Read A Hero's Bargain Online

Authors: Forrest, Rayne

A Hero's Bargain (7 page)

“I’ll
rest, angel. I anticipate a long nigh.”

Chapter 9

 

Saba
watched as Ryder settled in her bed. By the goodness of Wae but he was well
formed. Her belly drew strangely tight and full as her legs grew heavy and her
knees trembled. He reclined on the bed, grinning, which made her breasts ache
oddly and her nipples grow hard.

Suddenly
off balance, she grabbed the table to keep from keeling over. This was truly
desire, then. It had to be. It was far beyond what she’d felt as a young girl
and sneaked a few cautious kisses with the boys of the village. She lifted her
chin. Let him laugh at her.

They
needed his weapons and she meant to make sure he would give them up. That it
would not be something she suffered through shouldn’t matter. And yet if she
were truthful with herself, she was glad for the fluttering nerves in her stomach
and the ache in her belly. Letting him take her would not be a hardship.

She
plucked her gathering basket from its hook and retrieved her hat from the
window ledge. She stole a glance at him. His eyelids snapped closed. Best she ignore
him and just go about her tasks. His voice reached her just as she eased the
door closed.

“Be
careful, angel.”

Oh, she
would be careful—of him. The first thing she would gather was green
ynoteb
.
She’d brew a tea from the boiled leaves to drink and then squeeze the moisture
from the leaves and slip them inside her woman’s sheath in the morning,
afterwards. The tea was likely enough to do what she needed on its own but she
wasn’t willing to take undue risks. Ryder may be a handsome man but she did not
want to find herself carrying his child.

She
called to Jennica to join her in her gathering. Her aunt came willingly with
her own basket, followed by a few more of the women. Tyree was with a small
hunting party just outside the gate. He nodded when she informed him the women
were going north, and told her the men would hunt to the south and west. It was
almost like old times, before the
errol
came. They could pretend it so,
at least for the rest of this day.

The women
reached the shelter of the woods and disbursed. Each had something in
particular they wanted. Saba wanted mainly medicinal plants and Jennica would
gather with her. At the end of the day, some of what was gathered would be
shared.

Saba knew
one of the others, Feya, searched for a tuber that was boiled, mashed and
allowed to ferment. When the liquid was strained from the mash it became
akdov
,
a wonderfully potent liquor then flavored with whatever fruit the drinker preferred.
Saba hoped Feya had success so she could trade some of her wine for the more
powerful
akdov
.

Jennica
stilled and looked at her queerly as she harvested the
ynoteb
. Saba was
not surprised. Her aunt often knew things without being told. Jennica had seen
the
errol
in a dream and told Saba of an approaching danger months before
the fireball ripped through their skies. And yet, she’d sensed nothing about
this stranger who fell from the sky.

“What are
you planning, Saba? Is this wise?”

“Do we
need to discuss this, Aunt? You know as well as any what this plant is used
for.”

“Have you
and Tyree discussed this?”

Saba
dropped to her knees and kept cutting the tough stalks off near the ground.
They would regrow in a matter of days.

“This has
nothing to do with Tyree. He has no voice in whom I take to my bed.”

“Saba,
this man could be dangerous. He likely
is
dangerous. Do not put yourself
at risk.”

Saba
glanced around. She and Jennica were far enough away from the others that she
could talk freely.

“Ryder
has weapons that may be powerful enough to kill the
errol
. The only coin
I have is my body. I will use it. No!” She held up her hand to stop her aunt’s
protests. “I do this for me as well. He…he intrigues me.”

Jennica
shook her head sadly. “Saba, this will lead to heartache. Surely there is another
way. What will Tyree think when he learns of your actions?”

“I don’t
care what Tyree will think. We’re not for each other, Aunt. We never will be.
And yet none of the men of the village will approach me for fear of angering
him. Ryder doesn’t fear Tyree’s anger.”

Jennica’s
fingers closed around her wrist. “Perhaps he should. Saba, you cannot do this.”

Saba
pulled away. “I’ve already agreed and made the pact. I must honor it.”

“Then be
sure and use at least six leaves for the tea. And you will need to drink it
every morning until you have the cleansing bleeding.”

Saba
squeezed her aunt’s hand. “I know, Jennica, but thank you for reminding me.”

“You know
what else you should do with the boiled leaves?”

“Yes,”
Saba replied dryly. “I know.”

“He can
always do it for you.”

Saba’s
eyebrows drifted up under her bangs. Surely she’d heard that wrong. Jennica
ducked her head, smiling.

“Just ask
him to put them in. He’ll do it without hesitation. Trust me on this.”

“I
suppose I’ll have to.” Saba quickly cut a few more stalks. “This should be
enough for several weeks.” She glanced sideways at Jennica. “For everyone.”

Jennica
laughed, the first truly gay laughter Saba had heard in such a long time it
brought tears to her eyes. She leaned closer to Jennica and spoke in
conspiratorial tones.

“He’s a
very handsome man underneath the bruises.”

Jennica
leaned over, touching her forehead to Saba’s. “They are all very handsome in
the dark.”

“Should I
leave a candle burning?”

“The
light from the hearth will be more than you want.”

“Perhaps
I’ll allow the fire to burn out. He would be very, very handsome then.” They
both laughed, then, enjoying the shared humor of all women.

“Ah,
Saba. I hope you know what you’re doing. He is not one of us. I hope he does
not disappoint you.” Jennica hugged her tightly. “And I hope he does not hurt
you. Be careful of him.”

“I don’t
think he will hurt me. He had that chance this morning.”

Jennica
pulled away. “What do you mean? What did he do?” Her eyes widened as Saba
blushed. “What did
you
do?”

Saba
patted her blazing cheeks. “He kissed me. I enjoyed it very much. Then he let
me go in favor of more sleep. That does not seem the type of thing a male with
a mind to hurt a female would do.”

“Listen
to me. It may be different when he is with you. Men often lose control in the
midst of passion. They can forget how strong they are.”

Saba
nodded. She’d tended a few bruises, and even bites, for a few of the village
women.

“I will
heed your advice. Truly. But I don’t fear him overmuch.”

Jennica
rose and held her hand out to Saba. “Come on, then. We still have much to do
and we won’t get finished sitting here talking.”

Saba took
her hand and allowed Jennica to pull her to her feet. Her aunt was right. Time
free from fear of the
errol
was precious. They shouldn’t waste it
discussing males.

Even if
males were the most interesting topic they knew.

* * * *

Saba
returned to her little hut to find her door cracked open allowing the afternoon
sun to spill across her table. Ryder sat in a shaft of sunlight, loosely
wrapped in a blanket and sipping at a crock of ale. A pair of trousers and a
tunic were lying neatly folded on the table. He was staring past the hearth,
his eyes fixed at some spot she would never see. He looked so sad, her eyes
flooded with tears.

Why shouldn’t
he look sad? He was stranded here. She understood that as well as he did. They
had no vessel in which to send him back to his home among the stars. It was all
lost to him unless another of his kind searched for him. Her gut instincts said
no one would.

This man
might have family, might have had acquaintances, might even have been a man of
importance within his sphere, but she doubted it. The man before her was, by nature,
a loner. She didn’t know how she knew that, she just did, and she didn’t question
it.

The truth
was he needed the Ramalho as much as they needed him.

She
needed him.

She’d
spoken truly to Jennica. The men of the village did not woo her. They assumed
she and Tyree would mate and he didn’t do a thing to discourage them from
thinking that. The women thought she was simply being difficult and would eventually
see the logic of selecting Tyree as a mate, but she wanted more.

She
wanted what she felt standing here looking at Ryder. She wanted to look forward
to returning home and being swept up in a man’s arms. She wanted to see her
mate look at her and have that special light come into his eyes. She wanted to
know that even in a group of people there was one she had a special language
with.

She’d
seen her parents together and seen the love, the laughter, the longing for each
other when they weren’t side-by-side. She’d not settle for less. Not yet.

Ryder
turned his head, spying her.

The
healer narrowed her eyes. The patient grinned.

Ryder
lifted the mug. “Tyree stopped by.”

“Obviously.”
He’d brought the clothing, too. Only a few of the men of the village would have
clothing that would fit Ryder, Tyree being the most notable.

“He brews
this beer himself.”

It was a
word new to Saba. She was sure it was his word for the dark amber malt Tyree
made every year. His ale was traded for as heavily as her wine. Saba set her
heavy basket on the table.

“I know
he makes it. I’ve helped him upon occasion.” She reached for the crock, lifting
it to her lips and tasting. “This is from last year’s brewing. It’s one of the
best he ever did. It’s a wonder he had any left.”

And he’d
shared it with the stranger in their midst. The one who may or may not be able
to help them rid themselves of the
errol
. Ryder was smart enough to
attach the correct conclusion to that, she was sure. His eyes told her he did.

“He tells
me the village boasts a warm spring that is used for bathing. He’s made
arrangements for me to go there. Will you come with me?”

Her belly
did a strange little flip. Her skin prickled as if his fingertips traveled
lightly across it. If she went with him, would he bathe her, too?

“I will
go with you. The heat of the water might make you dizzy. It would not do for
you to pass out and drown.”

“It
wouldn’t, huh? Yeah, well, I wouldn’t like that too much myself.” He took
another sip of the ale. “What’s in the basket, angel?”

“Wooly
bark.” She bit her lower lip to keep from smiling. It didn’t work. She grinned.
“You won’t like it much.”

Distrusting
blue eyes scowled at her. “What’s that mean? You’re going to try and make me
drink something else nasty?”

“It will
help soothe the organs that filter the blood. You only need one dosing of it.”

“And if I
say ‘no’?”

“Then you
say no. I cannot force you to do what is good for you.”

He sighed
and shook his head. “Uncle. You win, angel. I’ll drink it. How long do I have
before I give it up for science?”

“What?”
The man made no sense at all. She suspected that was his point and he was
trying to tease her. She cautiously eased past him and checked her kettle. It
needed refilled so she busied her hands with that task.

“Never
mind, Saba. I’m not being very nice. I apologize.”

Oh, he
did, did he? She handed him the filled kettle. “Good. Set this on the coals.
I’ll gather what you need for your bath.”

“What
we
need for a bath, angel. I think you’re getting in with me.”

Her heart
leaped into her throat, fluttering like little bird wings. The image of his
hands on her breasts, covered with soapy lather, flashed through her mind.

“That is
not necessary. I am only going to make sure you do not drown.”

His gaze
locked with hers. “It’s necessary, Saba. Completely necessary. We have a deal,
after all.”

Saba
imagined his weight, stretched out upon her body, pressing her down into the
bed. Her knees threatened to give way as her pulse deafened her. She took a
deep, steadying breath, but it didn’t help much.

“Finish
your ale while I tend to my basket and gather what we need.” She grabbed the
basket and darted into her little drying lean-to just outside her back door.
His voice, soft and low, carried to her.

“This is
just a short reprieve, angel. Don’t be long.”

Chapter 10

 

Ryder
stared blankly into the fire and nursed the last of his ale. His conversation
with Tyree had been short and to the point. Several points, actually.

Point
one—if he refused to hand over his weapons, Tyree would simply take them. And,
point two—the annoying one—was Saba was off-limits.

His host
was in for a few disappointments.

He’d
managed to convince Tyree that he would, in fact, use his weapons to combat the
errol
. Eventually. He’d need to regain his full strength and see this
creature to gauge what he was up against before taking on the battle. The
warning about Saba was subtler, and not something he could address openly
without tipping his hand. It was clear Tyree knew nothing of the deal she’d
struck.

There was
a small crash, quickly followed by one sharp word, from out back. Ryder grinned
and swallowed the last of his beer. That word must be the Ramalho equivalent of
‘fuck.’ He’d be a gentleman and pretend he’d not heard it.

He eased
to his feet, gathering his blanket around him, and slowly straightened his
spine. He felt tender, bruised even, but there was no pain. Nonetheless, he
kept a hand on the table to brace himself as he peeked around the edge of the
door. Saba was on her knees picking up pieces of crockery. He didn’t even try
not to stare at the view it afforded him of her cleavage.

“Need
help?”

She
glanced up at him. “Yes. I need you to go sit down.”

“I’m
tired of sitting.” He stepped around the corner, sniffing the tangy, herbal
fragrance of the lean-to. It was quite pleasant, reminding him of lazy autumn
afternoons when time stretched out in front of a young man with infinite
possibilities. Gods, that was all gone.

“You’re
in my way.” She finished stacking the shards and handed them to him. He took
them without comment and laid the broken pieces on her workbench. She rose,
graceful as a doe, and bent over to brush off her knees. Goosebumps prickled
across his back as her tunic gapped and gave him another tantalizing glimpse of
her ivory breasts.

“Forget
this, angel. It’ll wait. I’m ready to go bathe.” He was ready for everything.
Lust had a serious hold on him, its claws sunk deep in his belly.

“Some of
it can’t wait.” Her hands were busy at their tasks, her moves practiced and
sure. She sorted out a few reddish-brown stalks that sported redder leaves. “If
these are not hung quickly the sap will drain from them and their potency will
be reduced.”

“What can
I do to help you?”

“Are you
that eager?”

“Oh, I’m
eager, angel, but my offer to lend a hand is not to hurry you along. I think I
can reach some of those hooks without climbing up on the bench.” He pointed
toward the ceiling. She ducked her head then looked up at him.

“Here.
Hang this, then. And thank you.” She handed him the tied bundle.

Ryder
reached up and slipped the cord over the hook. He was going to ask her why the
hooks were so high but realized she could move about the space without brushing
any of the hanging plants and getting leaves in her hair. She handed him
another bundle. His hand closed over hers. In that moment, time ceased to flow.

She met
his gaze openly but he saw the shadows lurking. Beneath her curiosity and
desire was fear of him. He reached for her and pulled her to him, aware of the
open space behind them and the chance of prying eyes watching.

He should
do the decent thing and tell her the deal was off, only he didn’t think he
could. He knew he wasn’t going to. He didn’t want to let her out of it. The
touch of her hands on his skin burned in his memory hotter than the fire the
toxin had unleashed in his blood. It didn’t make any sense and he didn’t want
it to.

“I
haven’t properly thanked you for saving my life. Sometimes I’m a little too
obnoxious for my own good. I am grateful, Saba. I understand what risk your
people took by bringing a stranger into the village. I understand the risk you
took by bringing me into your home.”

She
licked her lips to stop them from trembling. “You’re stranded here. I’m sorry
for that.”

He lifted
her hand to his lips. He smiled at her, the corner of his mouth twitching. “I’m
stranded here and I need a bath.”

Ah, she
was anxious. Her pupils flared, darkening her lovely eyes. “I’m finished here,
for now. We can go.”

“All
right.” He gathered the blanket around him. Her eyes dropped below his waist.
He snorted rudely. “Wanna see all of me again, angel?”

She
didn’t answer. Hell, she didn’t even move. He lifted her chin with his index
finger. His mouth went dry at the look in her eyes. Gods, would they all look
at him like that? With such hope?

“Saba, do
you know all the tales of other worlds? The legends of your people?”

She
jerked in surprise. “Of course.”

Worse and
worse. “Where do you think I came from?”

She bit
her lip. “I don’t know,” she whispered, stepping into the circle of his arm.
“It matters not. You’re here. That is all I know.”

“I’m not
the fulfillment of old legends. I’m not the conquering hero landing on the
Norse shores in my longship, sails billowing. I’m just a man, Saba.” A man
trying to get his arms around her and not drop his blanket and show his ass off
to the general population. He gave up and let it slip. Holding her was more
important. She saved him, though, grabbing the blanket and keeping it at his
waistline.

“You will
help us.”

Such
trust. It filled him with dread. He’d let these people down just like he had
everyone else he’d ever come into contact with. Ryder Vaughan was not hero
material. Nor was he a killer and therein lie the problem. They expected him to
kill as payment for their hospitality.

Ryder
slipped his fingers into her silky hair, tipped her head back, and lowered his
mouth to hers. She jerked in that way women had in that first moment of touch,
of connection, when their instincts screamed flight, then she melted against
him. He deepened the kiss and she was suddenly with him, giving to him what he
offered to her. He hardened in a rush.

Saba’s
lips opened sweetly, inviting what he delayed. She was pliant in his arms,
yielding. Ryder clamped down on his baser urges. He would lure her to passion
gently, softly, especially this first time. And after his talk with Tyree, he
was sure it was her first time.

How he
was going to manage slow and gentle when his body screamed for a fast taking
and quick release he didn’t know for sure. He just knew he would manage it.
She’d placed her trust in him to make it so. That trust was on her lips for him
to taste as he kissed her.

Her
tongue darted to his, a shy, quick touch and even quicker withdrawal. He
followed her, sweeping into her mouth and teasing her. He stroked the roof of
her mouth and she rose on her tiptoes. He held her tighter, not allowing her to
get away. She swayed in his arms when he sucked on her upper lip. A soft,
breathy moan flowed out of her. He cupped one firm breast and she almost slid
bonelessly from his embrace.

The bath
would have to wait.

Ryder
backed up, never taking his mouth from hers. She made a low sound of protest
and stepped toward him, plastering her body to his. Reluctantly, he broke off
the kiss, trailing his lips across her cheek to whisper hoarsely in her ear,
“The bed, Saba. Let’s go to the bed.”

She made
a strangled sound and clutched at him. Gods, what he’d give to know a woman’s
mind at such a time as this. He took another step backwards, and then another.
She moved with him, with some hesitation, but not to the degree that it would
stop her from bedding him.

They
stumbled through the door. Saba tried to steady him.

“I’m
fine, angel. Just close that door. Can you latch it?” He took the blanket from
her, tossing it onto the bed. She licked her lips as her gaze slid down his
body, her eyes widening as she came to his erection.

Ryder’s
knees went weak. Would she? Did she even know about it? He could just imagine
her asking the other women of the village if they ever went down on their man.
Hell, they’d probably label him a deviant and toss him out for the
errol
to eat. It’d be worth it if she’d just take him in her mouth.

Saba
moved to secure the doors and windows, her eyes black against the paleness of
her face. She fumbled the hooks on the last shutter. When she turned back to
him, she didn’t look at him. In that instant, he knew he could back away if she
needed him to.

In that
instant, he started to suspect he was in a world of trouble where she was
concerned. It was big trouble, too, and of a kind he was unfamiliar with.

“Do you
want a glass of wine, angel?”

“Do you?”
Her voice was a whisper.

“I think
you should have one.” He took a few cautious steps away from the table. The
strong, slender hands of the healer reached to steady him should he need it. He
took one, lifting it, admiring the tools of her trade, well skilled in their
work.

“You have
lovely hands, Saba.”

Her gaze
flew to his. He smiled at her. “I owe my life to these hands. I suspect a lot
of people in this village do, too. Why did you become a healer?”

She
swallowed twice before she answered. “It felt like it was what I should do to
help people. Why is that of interest to you?”

“I’m
curious about you, too, you know.” He pointed to the floorboards the wine was
hidden beneath. Her eyes took on a determined light.

“I do not
want wine. Do you like to imbibe?”

“My
imbibing is in direct correlation to the amount of nagging I’m on the receiving
end of.”

He
watched her mull that over. Her eyes narrowed as her chin lifted. He grinned at
her. He had to say the words to her even though he knew he was going to regret
it. Really regret it.

“Listen,
angel. The deal with the weapons? Let’s just call it off. I told Tyree I’d see
what my hand weapons could do against the
errol
just as soon as I
regained my strength. What happens between us is outside of all that. Okay?”

She
looked…alarmed. “Do you not want me now? Have I been too bold?”

Ryder
shook his head. “I don’t…that’s not what I meant. I want you, just for
yourself. And if we…” He tilted his head toward the bed. “I want you to come to
me because you want to. Not because you think you have to so I’ll fight the
errol
.”

She was
looking at his manhood again, eyeing it up the way a cat did a bowl of cream.
The stiffness in his back and the weakness in his legs were forgotten. The
residual pain vanished.

Saba
suddenly turned away.
Damn, damn, damn.
She had the wrong idea about what he said. He should have just kept his mouth
shut and let the chips fall where they may—afterwards. But no, for once in his
life he had to try to be a nice guy. And where did it get him? He stared at the
embers in the fireplace.

Not in
bed with his angel, that was for sure. He was a fucking idiot. No doubt about
it.

“Ryder.”

His gaze
snapped back to her at the sound of her voice. She was beautiful standing there
in the dusky light.

Very
slowly she pulled her tunic over her head to reveal pale ivory skin. She laid
the tunic on a chair, then her trousers slipped from her hips. She stepped out
of them and placed them neatly with her shirt before she turned to face him.

His gaze
swept her. She was slender, and strong, her hips gently flaring and rounding
down to long, muscled legs. Her breasts were high and firm, her nipples brown
against the paleness of her skin. His skin prickled as heat coiled in his
belly. She was lovely. Her eyes met his. She took a deep breath and spoke so
low Ryder had to strain to hear her.

“And if I
want you for myself? What will you do then?”

He held
out his hand to her.

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