She pushed the drink back into his possession. Her colour remained high. ‘My father was a Welshman,’ she said in a gentler tone than she had used thus far. ‘He came over with Duke Robert, took up with my mother after the siege of Antioch, and stayed. He died when I was eleven.’ Abruptly she tossed back her hair and narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re clever, aren’t you?’

‘If I was clever,’ Renard grimaced, ‘I would not be about to place half a mark on this table.’

‘You can afford it.’ The contemptuous expression returned to her face as she perused his rich silk tunic and gilded belt.

‘I am not sure that I can,’ he contradicted with a pained smile. ‘I’d certainly never buy a horse this way.’

‘You wouldn’t take a horse to your bed.’

His lips twitched. ‘I wouldn’t take a knife-wielding virago either … not unless she promised to behave.’

She stared at him with suspicious eyes. They were a deep, ocean sapphire and he could have drowned in them.

‘To behave,’ he added softly, ‘as befits the circumstances, Olwen fy anghariad.’ And he watched her through his lashes to determine the effect that using Welsh would have on her. She reminded him of a lioness, was quite likely to maul him, and his blood was surging with a rough heat he had not experienced since the early days of discovering the pleasures of bed-sport.

‘Don’t call me that!’ she snapped. ‘I am not your beloved!’

‘Not even for one night of pretence?’ Fishing out the coins he arranged them before her on the table, saw with a rueful glance Madam FitzUrse advancing on them, and wondered at his own folly.

‘Changed your mind then?’ the landlady smirked.

‘Lost it more likely,’ he retorted as she scooped up her share of the money and secreted it in her ample bosom.

A fight broke out across the room. Renard instinctively turned towards it. Shouts and flying fists, an overturned bench and splattered wine. A woman screaming. Madam FitzUrse hitched her breasts, gestured to two brawny serving men, employed for just such occasions, and waded in to separate and evict the culprits.

Renard grinned and looked back at the girl only to discover that both she and the money had disappeared. With an oath, he shot to his feet and, having cast a rapid eye around the room, shouldered a path through the other drinkers to the back entrance and out into the courtyard where chance had first shown her to him. It was silent and dark, apart from an unsteady drunk attempting to urinate in the gutter and splashing his boots instead. Cursing, he swung round to search elsewhere … and dis covered that she was blocking his way.

‘I went to fetch my robe and other things.’ She held up a small tied bundle. Tilting her head, she considered him. ‘Did you think I had run with your money?’

Renard breathed out hard. ‘It had crossed my mind.’

‘It crossed mine too,’ she half smiled. ‘I suppose you are familiar with the way to the rooms?’ Husky scorn edged the question.

Renard held out his hand. ‘Your knife,’ he said.

Her eyes flashed with anger. Faster than a pouncing cat, Renard caught her wrists and with his free hand sought out the weapon from its neatly stitched sheath inside her robe. Gasping with effort, she writhed in his grasp. He dropped the knife, stood on the flat of the blade to keep it safe and dragged her against him, body to body, their faces bare inches apart.

‘A knife is not part of the bargain,’ he said, his mouth hovering over hers. ‘And neither for half a mark is a room in this place. I have a house; it isn’t far.’

‘Not without my dagger,’ she mouthed back at him, and raised herself on tiptoe to stroke herself against him in a slow, enticing friction.


The space closed between them and they duelled in a long, silent kiss. She leaned in towards him, moving with her dancer’s grace, a small whimper rising in her throat as he palmed the tip of her breast. She clutched him, parting her thighs as the caress moved downwards, rubbing herself upon his fingers; then suddenly, like a viper striking a lulled prey, she snatched his own dagger from his belt and thrust herself out of his arms.

‘Yes!’ she panted triumphantly.

Breathing hard, assailed by anger, irritation and pure, hot lust, Renard fought for control and assessed his chances of disarming her. Probable but not certain, and if he gave in to his temper, he was lost. ‘All right,’ he said indifferently and stooped to retrieve her dagger from beneath his boot. ‘We’ll exchange these as lovers’ tokens in the morning, shall we?’ He stuffed the weapon in his belt.

She studied him warily.

He held out his hand. ‘Are you coming, or are you going to give me back my money?’

Despite the raucous noise from within the Scimitar, a silence hung around them, heavy as a cloak. The tension mounted, but as Renard began to think he would snap, his dagger disappeared into the voluminous folds of her robe and she stepped up to him again. Setting her palms to his chest, she looked up through her spiky black lashes. ‘Well then,’ she said ‘you had better show me the way.’

The words were loaded with double entendre and spoken coyly like any common dancing girl’s. His sense of humour returned, tempering his lust.

‘I don’t know if I can,’ he said as he led her into the street. ‘We’ll never get any further than the stable yard if we keep on fighting over who is going to be the rider and who is going to be the horse.’

Unexpectedly, she laughed.

Chapter 2

It was early dawn and the man beside her breathed evenly in sleep. Knees drawn up to her chin, hands laced in their bend, Olwen studied him thoughtfully.

His bones were too angular and strong for him to approach being handsome, but that very strength was arresting and indicative of the steel in his character. He was a challenge. The better men always were. First you brought them to their knees, then you drove the knife into their heart and twisted.

The morning light gave his dark hair a reddish tint and his skin where it had not been exposed to the sun was Frankish-fair. The lashes lining his lids were a dense black, but his eyes when open were a dark flint-grey lit by vivid flecks of quartz.

Superficially he looked as though he belonged to Outremer, but beneath the surface lay his heritage, which was also in part her own.

Her Welsh father and his brother had taken the Cross and sailed for the Holy Land with Duke Robert’s Norman and English contingents. Following the capture of Antioch from the Saracen, they had remained in the city as members of the garrison. Her father had married a native Armenian Christian, and having begotten four daughters and a son in rapid succession, had died untimely of the bloody flux. The boy had died too, then two of the girls, and lastly Olwen’s mother, weakened by exhaustion and a broken spirit.

It had been left to her feckless Uncle Gwylim to keep bread in their mouths and a roof over their heads, neither of which he could do for himself, let alone two orphaned girls of ten and eleven. Olwen had been forced to grow up fast. She had learned to survive by her wits and her knife, and she soon realised the power of her striking looks and how she could obtain money from the men for whom she danced and lay down. Sometimes, as last night, Gwylim would seek her out, begging like one of the creatures at the city gates, his affliction that of the permanent obsessed drunkard. He had been thrown out of Prince Raymond’s guard for his drinking. One day it would kill him.

She refocused on the sleeping man. The scar of a recent wound puckered his smooth biceps. Her gaze travelled over his lean ribs and hard, flat stomach; flickered briefly lower and returned to his face, dwelling on his mouth while she remembered his kisses, the feel of them on her body, the dark hours spent in passion and the passion spent.

It had been surprisingly good for a business arrangement. He knew women’s bodies, she thought, and caught her lower lip in her teeth. The first time he took her, he had been a little rough with lust and several weeks

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