of abstinence, and she had scornfully judged him the same as every other man who had paid money to lie with her. Coldly unmoved she had clasped her legs around him and gasped and threshed like a landed fish, acting the role to its sordid conclusion. He had been too near the edge to do anything but mutter indistinctly into her shoulder as he shuddered in climax, but afterwards, raising his head, he had looked down into her face and said, ‘At least do me the courtesy of not pretending. I know the difference.’

And so he had. Her limbs weakened and dissolved as she remembered the later pleasure, the way he hung over her, the sweat trickling down his chest, gluing their bodies together; the alternating swift and slow rhythms. ‘And all rivers run to the sea,’ he had murmured to her in Welsh. ‘And all tides beat on a shore.’ Ebb and flow, the sound of his voice speaking to her in her native tongue.

Disturbed, she left the bed to find her clothes. She needed to be alone for a while, to settle her mind. As she was pulling her gown straight, he stirred and turned over, arm reaching across the space that was still warm from her body. Olwen held her breath, not daring even to put on her shoes lest the slight sound should bring him fully aware. He sighed, clenched his hand and thrust it beneath the pillow, and settled back into sleep. She let out a relieved breath, picked up her shoes and, easing out of the door into the cool morning air, went in search of something to quench her thirst and also a little information about the man in whose bed she had passed the night.

In the kitchens she found a woman preparing food — leavened bread, goat’s cheese and fruit. She was one of the soldiers’ wives, a middle-aged Armenian and eager to gossip. Manipulated by Olwen, she soon warmed to her enquiries.

By the time Olwen returned to Renard, bringing him a cup of watered wine, she had discovered that aside from having the royal Welsh blood of Hywel Dda in his veins, he was also the grandson of the recently deceased King of England and heir to substantial estates on the Welsh borders.

He was awake when she entered the room, hands clasped behind his head, eyes on the sun streaks dancing on the ceiling. A small lizard clung there, as vividly green as a carving in emerald. ‘ Salaam,’ he said, diverting his attention. ‘I did not know if you would stay.’

She gave him the wine and sat down on the coverlet. ‘You still have my dagger, and besides, your bed was comfortable.’

‘Comfortable?’ A quick smile lit his face as he perused her from crown to toe. ‘That is not the word I had in mind. No, don’t bristle at me; I did but tease.’ He reached out his free hand and lightly touched her cheek. ‘Last night will keep me warm for a long time to come.’

She raised her lashes. Without the cosmetics she had now washed off, they were a thick, dark gold, darker than the sun-bleached hair cloaking her shoulders but a match for the curly triangle between her thighs. The thought initiated a fresh surge of desire. Renard put the cup down and reached for her. When he fumbled at her gown, she pushed his hand aside and dragged it off herself, then pulling him down on top of her, spread her thighs, and guided him desperately into her body.

Her complete lack of inhibition both surprised and aroused him. Abandoning control, he gave himself up to the violent, driving pleasure, as brief but powerful as a storm wave crashing on a rock. Her nails scored his flesh and her cry of release was wild and high with triumph as she brought him with her, stranded to the shore.

‘Christ Jesu!’ Renard panted when he could speak. ‘Are you trying to kill me!’

She raised heavy lids to reveal blue, pleasure-glazed eyes. A smile parted her lips. ‘Didn’t you like it?’

He gave a flesh-muffled laugh and lifted his head. ‘It is what Ancelin would call “good honest futtering” — yes, I liked it, but I would not make it my daily diet.’ He slid out of her and pillowed his head on his bent forearms.

‘What would you make your daily diet?’ she stretched luxuriously.

Renard half smiled and ran an idle forefinger between her breasts and over the smooth curve of her belly. ‘I am not sure I want to give you the power of knowing.’

Olwen closed her eyes to his searching grey stare. Aloud, but half to herself she said, ‘It is the first time I have stayed with any man until dawn.’ She moved her body away from the delicate play of his fingers.

‘Is that what you told all the others?’

‘I told them what they wished to hear.’ She lifted a scornful shoulder. ‘If they believed it, that was their folly.’

‘And am I foolish too?’

‘That depends on what you believe.’ She opened her eyes again. ‘Madam FitzUrse asked me to seek you out. She said you had been away all winter and she wanted to welcome you home in a fitting style.’

‘And charged me half a mark for the privilege!’ he said indignantly.

‘The more you pay, the more it is worth.’

He shot her a dubious glance and leaving the bed began to dress. ‘Being as you have stayed beyond cockcrow, you might as well break fast with me too,’ he said. ‘After a night like last night I’m starving, and if you are not, you ought to be!’

‘Ravenous,’ she said demurely.

His grin became outright laughter.

She cocked her head. ‘Do you have a wife or a mistress?’

Renard hesitated, belt half buckled. ‘Why, are you angling to fill the position?’

She shrugged. ‘I hazard that others have angled many times before and had their bait refused. I was merely curious.’

He finished fastening the belt in silence. ‘I have a betrothed,’ he said at length, ‘but it is a business arrangement. Pleasure is my own to organise.’ Inclining his head, he left the room.

Olwen picked up her rumpled gown and slowly put it back on, an absent expression in her eyes and her thoughts deep.

They were in the midst of breaking bread when Johad led a tall, travel-stained stranger into the room and unobtrusively began arranging another place at the board.

‘Adam!’ Renard stepped over the trestle to heartily hug and clasp the older man. ‘What in God’s name are you doing here!’ The surprised delight at seeing his brother-by-marriage was suddenly overriden by anxiety. ‘What’s happened at home?’

Adam de Lacey returned the embrace with a similar enthusiasm before standing back.

‘Nothing as yet,’ he reassured Renard. ‘Have you got a drink? The stuff they served on that galley was straight out of the bilges!’ His gaze flickered to Olwen.

Clearing his throat, Renard made a brief introduction as Johad poured wine.

‘Olwen?’ Adam gave a quizzical smile. ‘That’s a name from home if ever I heard one.’

‘My father was Welsh.’ Olwen studied him as keenly as he did her and saw a man past youth but only just into his middle years. The lines on his face were, she judged, graven by weariness rather than time. Fanned by new creases caused by staring into a salty wind, his eyes were a light, amber-brown and disconcertingly shrewd as they took in the rumpled state of her silk gown.

He drank the wine and she saw him take note of the red bite marks on Renard’s throat. ‘Home comforts too,’ he said drily.

‘Some of them,’ Renard qualified. ‘How’s Heulwen?’

‘Very well, if a little annoyed at being made a widow for the better part of a year. She sends you her love and bids you not to do anything she would not.’

Renard chuckled. ‘That gives me plenty of leeway.’

Adam grinned, but quickly sobered. ‘Miles is still at home with her because it isn’t safe to send him anywhere to train, and I dare not consider betrothing either of the girls. I have had offers from both camps, Matilda’s and Stephen’s. I suppose I ought to give one to each.’ He broke a piece off one of the flat loaves and put it in his mouth. ‘It is the still before the storm, Renard, and you’re needed.’

‘When did you set out?’

‘January, from Anjou, with letters from Count Geoffrey to his father. Nothing too secret or treasonous, just greetings and news. My main purpose is to bring you home.’

‘Letters for King Fulke? You’ve to travel down to Jerusalem too?’

Adam nodded and washed down the bread with a mouthful of wine. ‘I’ll probably sail down the coast. It’s quicker and I want to be home by the autumn myself. A pilgrim’s lands might be sacrosanct in theory, but it does

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