The Crusader: Daughter's ReturnbyBelle_in_south©
Her reception at her father's house had been less than welcoming. Her father's anger at her past sins still burned in his eyes. Everything about Travor de Witte revealed the hatred and disgust he still possessed toward his two children for their indiscretions. As a child, Cayden had been his princess and as a youth his prodigy, but now, she was his disgrace. She had chosen her twin brother over the Baron Otto von Streit. In a world that believed that women were the source of all evil, the Lord de Witte believed that his perfect daughter had been the source of his perfect son's downfall. When she rode back into the walled courtyard of his estate, her father had for the briefest of instants looked happy to see her, betraying his love of his child, before narrowing his eyes and hardening his expression.
Reluctantly, he had allowed her to stay. She had been sent to her former room and had not seen her brother all night. The evening meal had arrived on a tray carried by a skinny servant she did not recognize. She didn't sleep well in her own bed. She hadn't expected her father to still be so cold toward her. Hayden had married a girl from a noble family. She had brought a large dowry to the de Witte family. Cayden's relationship with Hayden had not ruined him forever, so her father had no reason to harbor his wrath. If his fury was so strong, would he listen when she explained the Pope's call for an army to reclaim Jerusalem? Would he be sympathetic to Otto's need for manpower? The Baron needed her father to send loyal troops to the Udden Plain. She had six months to convince her father and Hayden to respond to Otto's plea.
The thunder of horses' hooves interrupted her morning reverie. She was seated in the center of her bed, her eyes closed, and her lips moving in prayer. She unfolded from her position and looked out the window into the courtyard below. A hunting party was returning to the estate. Her twin brother was riding at the head of the column. The hunters were quiet, which was unusual for a group of men who should be celebrating success. The hour of their return was also unusual. Cayden de Witte watched as her brother lifted his familiar eyes to her bedroom window. Their eyes locked before she could step into the shadows. She had seen her father's love for an instant at first glimpse. At first glimpse of her brother, she saw that the lust he felt for her still burned brightly.
She pulled away from the window with a frown. She would have to handle Hayden very carefully. She had to re-earn her father's trust and spiraling back into her affair with Hayden would not be the successful route. She was also aware that she felt no physical desire for her twin. She had been unable to think about anything but the next time he would touch her when she had left the de Witte estate. Seeing him from a distance, she had felt a fondness for him, but no urge to run into his arms. She would have to find ways to reject him without hurting him.
Cayden slipped into a pair of boy's trousers and a green tunic decorated with a rose-shaped crest. She adjusted a belt and scabbard around her hips and sheathed the sword her father had given her. She slipped down the back steps in hopes that path would avoid Hayden's entrance. She reached the exercise yard where her father had trained countless young men to be the best fighters in the kingdom without being seen by anyone in the household.
She reached the center of the exercise yard and took a deep breath. She stretched her body, focusing her energy for battle. She moved through a series of elaborate moves, practiced moves that worked the body through every motion needed for hand-to-hand combat. Her father had never allowed her to wrestle with the other students. She only knew the training exercises. When she had worked her way through the fighting techniques, she pulled the sword from the scabbard and began moving through preparation drills with the heavy weapon.
Despite her intense focus on her training, she was prepared when her attacker swung the first blow. She blocked the assault, spun, and knocked away the second. She easily countered the attacks but when she tried to switch to the offensive, she found that her opponent was equally skilled. She increased the voracity of her attack, pressing toward her enemy with a vicious snarl. Her hands tightly gripped the shaft on the rapier, swinging in graceful arcs, followed by a spin or a swoop of her body.
Looking into the eyes of her opponent was like looking into her own soul. She had always been able to anticipate his every move. As youth training under their father's watchful eye, their pairings had often lasted nearly half an hour with neither seeming to gain ground. It was on the training ground that their lust for each other had first surfaced. Initially, it had given her an advantage. Hayden understood the true desire motivating him to defeat his sister, and that had made him weak. Even though she didn't understand why her brother trembled during their battles, she had manipulated it and utilized it to her advantage.
When her twin had finally introduced her body to pleasure, their sword play had taken on new dimensions. They had pushed each other harder in combat in hopes the exhaustion or error would put their lust to sleep permanently. As their swords clanged against each other, echoing loudly across the courtyard and off the walls of the fortress, the familiar blood lust began to rise. Their mutual hunger burned in their eyes as they exerted themselves in an effort to be the victor. Their eyes never broke contact. They were familiar enough with the terrain and each other's ability that their peripheral vision was sufficient for maneuvering across the exercise yard.
Two years apart had not diminished their ability to anticipate each other's moves. She saw the familiar lust that had driven them to distraction burning in his eyes as he swung violently. She parried every thrust and answered every feint, her own desire well under control. For the first time since deciding to return home, she knew she was going to be able to control her body. He did not seem to be having the same luck. He was panting heavily, his face flushed as he pressed toward her, using his height and strength as an advantage. He finally pinned her against a wall and thrust forward with his hips, allowing her to feel the length of his hard manhood against her stomach.
They stood in that position, both struggling to catch their breath, his expectation obvious in his expression. She surprised him when she knocked aside his sword and spun away from the intimate prison created by his body. Their battle resumed. The echo of the swords clanging against each other rattled across the hills. They grunted and cried out with each parry and thrust, neither willing to lose to the other. She pushed him harder, hoping to exhaust him to the point that he lost interest in pursing her physically. Instead, her counter offensive brought his anger to a boil. His rage increased his strength and he used powerful arching sweeps of his longsword to push her into a corner. He stopped with the sharp edge of the sword pressed to her throat. She dropped her weapon to the ground with a clatter as she focused on the fire of hatred burning in his eyes.
He used his height to push her down, not moving the sword from the pulse beat pounding in her delicate neck. With his free hand, he untied the laces of his britches, pulling his manhood free and waving it in front of her. She tried to look away, but he dug his fingers into her hair and forced her head back. The movement opened her mouth and he plunged inside her throat. Afraid of his anger for the first time in her life, she had no choice but to close her lips around his thick root and suck. She wanted to protest. She wanted to refuse, but she was afraid he would plunge the sword into her if she refused to allow him to finish. He was thrusting his hips, sliding his root in and out of her lips, using her mouth with a violence he had never displayed before.
Her warm mouth and his eager, uncontrolled lust worked against him. He dropped his sword to grip her head in both of his hands, guiding her mouth on him as he drove in and out of her throat. She used his distraction to reach for the handle of his weapon. She pulled free of his hold as she swung the sword into a ready position. He stumbled back in surprise and she knocked him from his feet. He landed on his back in a cloud of dust, his glistening manhood still standing at attention.
She placed her booted foot on his shoulder and pressed the tip of the sword against his heart. "You should never go into battle without your mail, Brother," she snarled as she threw the weapon out of reach and released him.
"Finish your job, Cayden," he growled. "Let me split you in two with the only weapon that has ever dominated us. Bend over and let me remind you that your body will always belong to me."
She shook her head. "I've learned to control my lust," she answered. "I have been exiled once because of it. Father still looks at me with disgust. I will not surrender to it again."
"Then why are you here?" he demanded as he struggled to his feet.
"I am here as an emissary for Baron Otto von Streit. He has sent me with a message for Father," she replied.
"You have taken a lover," he declared, ignoring her words. He could only focus on the desire throbbing between his legs and in his soul. "Otto has finally seduced you."
"My lover is neither the Baron nor his brother, but yes, I have a lover. Hayden, I will always love you, but we cannot surrender to the yearning we feel for each other." She wanted to stroke his hair and offer him a kiss of affection, but she knew even the slightest touch could be potentially explosive. Instead, she backed away, keeping her eyes on his as she searched for understanding. He tucked himself into his pants and stormed toward the stables.
Her shoulders slumped with relief. She doubted that Hayden would surrender so easily. Cayden retrieved her weapon and tucked it into the scabbard as she slowly walked up the steps leading to her Father's house. She stopped at the kitchen, peering into the dark, warm room. A servant was bent over the fire, stirring a pot that was beginning to boil. Cayden smiled as she enjoyed the form of the tall, slender woman. Her dress flowed over her hips, accentuating their fullness. The woman stood, using her wrist to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and Cayden allowed her eyes to roam over the large breasts straining at the bodice of the apron.
A noise in the corner distracted the young noblewoman from enjoying the view created by the cook. A toddler sat in the floor playing with scraps of wooden blocks. Cayden watched him stack the blocks and then knock them down with laughter. He clapped his hands and began rebuilding. He had familiar sandy brown hair and eyes.
"Lady de Witte," the servant said, pulling Cayden's attention back to the tall vision. "I had heard you had returned. May I get you something?"
Cayden placed a smile on her face and glided into the room. "That's not necessary, Ava," she answered, recognizing the woman who had served as Hayden's distraction from his incestuous lust. Cayden's first experience with sex had been watching around the corner as Hayden bent Ava over the serving table. The noblewoman took a piece of fruit from the basket on the table and took a bite, her eyes on the child playing nearby. "Is that your son?"
Ava glanced over her shoulder without interrupting her work. There was no fondness in her eyes as she studied him. "Yes."
Cayden leaned against the table as she finished the apple. She was close enough to Ava that the servant's arm brushed hers each time she flipped the dough she was kneading. The gentle motion created friction that threatened to light a spark in Cayden's body. Even though she had been able to resist her twin brother's advances, fighting with Hayden had still increased her body's senses. She couldn't stay at her father's estate for long without some sort of physical outlet.
"Your brother still thinks about you too much," Ava said in a soft voice, glancing toward the entrance to the room. "Have you returned to finish destroying him?"
Cayden took another bite of the fruit and thoughtfully chewed. "Does the whelp in the corner belong to my brother?"
Ava looked at him again. "His name is James," she answered.
"He has a nobleman's nose," Cayden replied casually. She dropped her eyes to Ava's throat, and then allowed them to travel along the neckline of the dress. She lingered at the shadow of the valley created by the dress and her pert breasts. "My interests have changed," she announced in a low voice.
Ava shifted her eyes to Cayden with a puzzled frown, the change in conversation keeping her off balance. Her eyes followed Cayden's intense gaze and she blushed, turning away. "I see."
Cayden tossed the apple core on the rubbish pile. She pressed her body to Ava's back, lifting her head to direct her voice to the tall woman's ear. "Marriage has not settled my brother's many lusts?"
"Your brother's interests have expanded, as well. When you left, he couldn't find an outlet big enough. He's probably in the barn riding one or both of the stable boys since you turned him down."
"And then he'll come offer to ride you?" Cayden asked, placing her lips against Ava's shoulder. She kissed a line across the woman's back.
"He ruined me. He's all that will have me now unless I sell myself at the tavern."
"Oh, I doubt that. You may not find anyone willing to marry you with your bastard child, but I'm sure there are plenty who would like to sample you." Cayden glided her fingertips over the outside of Ava's round globe as she spoke, her voice a soft, warm whisper. When Ava did not pull away immediately, Cayden allowed the tips of her digits to inch forward, brushing lightly against the woman's nipples.
Ava glanced over her shoulder at the smaller woman. Cayden met the woman's eyes with an expression that she hoped made her intent clear. "I see you have many things in common with your brother."
"An attraction to beautiful women?" Cayden answered, her breath warm against the back of Ava's neck. "My twin and I are alike in many ways. We are evenly matched on the battlefield, but in some activities, I am able to out perform him."
The warrior touched her lips to Ava's neck as her fingers rolled over the swelling nipple. Ava had a breathless tone when she replied. "What kinds of activities are those?"
Cayden chuckled softly as she squeezed the extended bud between her forefinger and thumb. She tugged gently on it. "I'll leave the answer to that to your imagination."
"Am I expected to give myself to you as I was expected to give myself to Hayden so long ago?" Ava demanded. Her voice was tight as she struggled with the sensations that Cayden's insistent hands were creating in her body.
Cayden's hand left Ava's warm breast and moved to the woman's ribcage. Her fingers were spread wide against the wench's stomach. "The only expectation I have is that you would not deny what your body desires." Her palm glided over Ava's hip before falling away. "But I would never force you to come to my bed."
The young noblewoman disappeared from the room without giving Ava an opportunity to respond. She walked away from the kitchen with a smile on her lips. Even if Ava did not respond to her advances, she had successfully found an activity to distract her from Hayden's presence. She squared her shoulders as she walked through the house, a new confidence bubbling through her as she prepared to face her father. She would not have to worry about giving in to her brother's desires. Over time, she hoped she could earn her father's forgiveness.
She was lost in thought, so she did not see the woman at the end of the hall immediately. Sensing eyes on her, Cayden stopped short, her body crouching into a defensive position, her right hand moving across her body to grip the hilt of her sword. The woman was staring at Cayden with dark, angry eyes. Cayden's quick eyes and sharp mind sized up her opponent in seconds.
The woman was not tall. Her build was slender and her cheeks were gaunt. Her features were angular. Her dark hair was pulled away from her face, making her skin appear even tighter. Her lips were thin and pinched together in a disapproving frown directed toward Cayden.
Cayden relaxed, releasing her sword and standing up straight without moving her eyes from the stranger. The woman was wearing an elegant gown that was trimmed with dark velvet. It billowed at the tiny waist and flowed to the floor. As the woman walked away, Cayden could hear the soft rustling of the gown on the stone floor.
Cayden scowled and resumed her walk, careful to keep her attention focused on the world around her. She had forgotten that she had enemies in her father's house. When she reached the crossing hallway, she turned the direction the mystery woman had headed. There was an intruder in her father's house and Cayden was determined to know the identity of the woman.
She moved stealthily down the long, narrow hallway, her body staying close to the wall and her eyes forward. All of her senses were involved in the hunt. Her body was on alert as she crept forward, relishing the opportunity to practice her warrior skills. As a female, she rarely had he opportunity to use them except in the exercise yards. The sound of voices finally stopped her progress. She inched close enough to listen, recognizing her brother's voice as one of the participtants in the conversation. The feminine voice was speaking in a harsh tone. ". . . your sister?"
"Yes, that was Cayden. She came home yesterday," Hayden answered casually.
"Well, at least that explains why you rushed home from your hunting party," the woman snarled. "I guess you couldn't wait to see her again."
"Cayden was my dearest confidant when we were young. I've missed her very much while she has been serving the Baroness."
"Has she served you yet this morning?"
Cayden flinched as the sound of a slap echoed into the corridor. "Remember who you are," Hayden snapped in response. "You are my wife. Do not talk to me in this manner."
"Why must you be so cruel? I have done everything you have asked of me, and I still have to share you with the kitchen whore downstairs. I have to see the little bastard you created with her."
"If you had produced an heir for me then perhaps Ava's child would not trouble you so much."
"How can I produce an heir when you only come to my bed after drinking too much to perform?"
"Perhaps you should be doing your job as wife better so that I will want to come to you."
"You say her name when you come to me," Hayden's spouse growled. "I'm nothing but a substitute for her. My only comfort is that so is your whore. Neither one of us can dream of replacing her." The echo of hand against skin radiated into the hall again and Cayden tensed, prepared to go to the woman's defense. She still adored her brother, but she could not tolerate him treating his wife no better than a common prostitute. Before she stepped into the room, her sister-in-law responded. "Does hearing the truth anger you that much?"
A smug smile crossed Cayden's face. It was obvious that her brother's wife did not cower in the face of his mistreatment. The woman had fire. Cayden stepped into the shadows as Hayden strode from the room. She watched his retreating back, observing the stiff line of his spine and the tension in his shoulders. She thought he might go to Ava and wondered how the wench would respond to him.
As soon as he had disappeared, she stepped into the room, her arms folded across her small chest. She fixed a steady gaze on her sister-in-law, prepared to see the hatred in the dark eyes. "Why do you let him treat you that way?" Cayden demanded.