“What is your name?”
He stared at her as he paused mid-bite. Withdrawing the bread, he shifted uncomfortably.
“My name is of no import, my lady.”
“I would know the name of my rescuer.”
He looked to the floor. “I am no rescuer, just a lowly knight doing his duty.”
“Your modesty becomes you, Sir Knight, but I would still know your name.”
Annabel awaited his response, the air between them growing uncomfortably thick.
He heaved a sigh, wondering how it was that a diminutive woman had got the better of him.
“Nicholas,” he grated out reluctantly.
“Nicholas,” she repeated softly. “And I am Annabel.”
“I know, my lady.”
“Nay, Annabel. Not ‘my lady’. You have surely earned the right to address me as such.”
He shook his head, dropping his gaze to the ground once more. He could not bring himself to utter her name, not when he knew what was to come. “Nay, my lady, I am your servant and I will address you as a servant should.”
Annabel must have sensed she was fighting a losing battle as she protested no more and fell silent. Nicholas risked sideways glances at her as her as she nibbled delicately on the hardened bread, and he realised he took far too much pleasure in the sight of her ample lips moving with each bite.
Brushing the crumbs from her skirts, Nicholas watched, mesmerised, as she twisted her long braid over her shoulder. Tugging on the red ribbon that tied the end of the braid, it loosened, sending the length of her hair shimmering across her shoulders. It brushed the dirt and Nicholas felt his mouth dry as she touched a finger to his arm. Surrounded by a halo of hair, she glanced up at him, her mouth curling. Without a word, she tied the ribbon about his large arm and fussed with it until she was satisfied.
Nicholas touched tentatively at the ribbon and gave her a perplexed look.
“You saved my life, Nicholas. ‘Tis a favour from a lady to a knight.” She grinned at his confusion. “You have received favours before, surely? I would expect a knight of your valour to have championed many a lady.”
He wondered if she was teasing him but her expression was completely guileless. He groaned inwardly. This woman probably believed wholeheartedly in courtly love. From his little experience he had come to conclude that it did not exist.
“For fear of disappointing you, my lady, I am sorry to admit that there you are mistaken. I have championed no ladies.”
“Well, ‘tis no matter,” she told him with a tender smile, “For you have championed me.”
Unable to bare her dazzling eyes any longer, he stood abruptly. Champion? He laughed inwardly. She had no idea of the kind of man he was, and he was thoroughly aware that he was far removed from the heroic knights that minstrels and poets spoke of.
He felt a pang of something, an uncomfortable sensation settling in his gut. Nicholas couldn’t name it but he didn’t like its implications. For all her naivety and gentle manners, this woman was going to be trouble. He felt threatened by her somehow, as if she had directly challenged him rather than quietly accepting his every word without question.
“Are you ready to continue on, my lady?”
Annabel sighed and stood, in spite of her obvious weariness. “I am in your hands, Nicholas. I will do whatever you command.”
Nicholas tried to tamp down on the desire stirring in his loins at her words and failed. Instead, he grunted and turned away, stomping off without checking if she was following. The sooner this job was over, the better.
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