"...a beautifully depicted love story...5 Hearts." ~Laurel Letherby, TheMysticCastle.com
The smithy door was open. Intent on his drawing, Marcus was not aware of Gwen's presence until she stood almost at his elbow. He jerked, his head whipping around. The back of his hand smacked the ink jar, knocking it over.
"Hades!" He righted the jar, but not before the ink spattered across the table.
"Oh! I'm sorry."
"No matter," Marcus mumbled, grabbing a rag he kept nearby just for this purpose. He sopped up the mess, scrubbing across his work table as Gwen snatched several drawings out of the spreading path of ink. "You can tell from the stains on the table I've spilled ink before."
He was a bumbling fool. And he'd proven it by nearly assaulting Gwen in the forest the day before, insulting her with the insinuation that she was needy enough to fall into his bed. Even if she were inclined to take a lover before sacrificing her life to her grandfather's choice of mate, what possessed him to think she would choose him? She hadn't even appeared at dinner afterward, pleading a headache. It had been plain enough to discern what that meant. He'd disgusted her with his crudity. He'd retreated to his smithy and spent half the night trying not to think about it.
But he'd known sooner or later he would have to face her. She needed him to forge her sword.
"Did ye not hear me enter?" she asked, laying his drawings on a clean spot on the table.
He straightened and looked at her. Her front teeth worried her lower lip, and her eyes avoided his gaze. Her cheeks were pink. She was nervous, he realized. Perhaps even as nervous as he.
His mood abruptly improved. "I get very absorbed in my work. Breena knows to bang loudly on the door."
"I'll remember that trick in the future."
Marcus felt her eyes on him as he crossed the room to dispose of the soiled rag in the barrel by the door. He was a disheveled mess, he knew. He'd slept in his clothes, and he had ink stains on his sleeves. He'd meant to bathe at dawn...
He glanced out the door. "Why it must be near noon," he said with some surprise.
"Past midday." Reluctant amusement threaded her voice. "Do not tell me ye were up all night again."
"No, I dropped like a stone right after dinner. I woke just after midnight, with a dream of a sword vivid in my mind. I started drawing..." he spread his hands. "It's often like this for me. I don't keep regular hours. Sometimes I get days and night completely switched around, arriving at dinner as if it were the morning meal. Other times I forget to eat at all." For the first time, he noticed the basket on her arm. His stomach rumbled in sudden hope. "Is that food?"
She laughed. The sound went right to his groin. He took the basket and half-turned to the table, not wanting her to notice.
"When ye did not appear to break your fast, nor to eat the midday meal, Rhiannon asked me to bring ye a bite," she said. "Meat and bread, and some cheese and apples."
Marcus had already uncovered the food and downed his first mouthful. "Thank you. I'm half-starved." He finished off a hunk of cheese and rooted around for an apple. He eyed her. "You look a little tired. Did you spend the night with Breena? Did she have another one of her dreams?"
"I stayed with Breena, but she had no dreams."
"Because of a spell you taught her?"
"Nay. She had no cause to try it. No vision came. She slept peacefully 'till morn."
"But you didn't?"
She blushed and looked away. "'Tis nothing new. I told ye, I often have difficulty sleeping."
He set his half-eaten apple aside.
"I could help with that," he said softly.