THE GREAT WOODEN door creaked on its hinges and flung wide; Lionel de Barre stepped into the room with an exaggerated sweep of his cloak. Catching sight of the young lovers entwined in each other’s arms, Lionel slammed the heavy door, his proud face flushed with displeasure.
Ciaran and Evaine quickly separated, hearts pounding.
“A chaperone will escort the lady to her bower,” declared Lionel in a deceptively soft, yet imperious, tone.
Ciaran leaned toward her. “Where is it?” he whispered.
“At the end of the corridor,” Evaine answered under her breath. “Take the tower stair to the floor above. It’s the first door at the top of the landing.”
“Get up,” commanded Lionel the moment Evaine left the room.
I’ll get up when I feel like getting up, you overweening whore-son, Ciaran thought. He stubbornly clung to the bedclothes, glaring defiantly at his host. Lionel countered his insolence with a sinister, angry stare that burned to the core.
Grudgingly hugging himself to protect his rib cage, Ciaran slipped his long legs from under the coverlets and swung them over the edge of the bed, bare feet dangling an inch above the floorboards. So much for Lionel’s alleged sympathy, he thought. Christ, this is brutal. Each breath brought crushing pain accompanied by swirling dizziness.
The moment his feet touched the floor, Lionel backed him up against the nearest wall. He moved in intrusively, resting a forearm on the masonry next to Ciaran’s head, and restraining Ciaran’s chest with the outstretched fingers of his other hand. Sweat moistened his forehead and he trembled slightly, his breath hot against Ciaran’s temple. “Boy,” he said, tapping Ciaran’s chest with an accusing finger, “you have worked some kind of Devil-magic on me.”
“Begging your pardon sir, but I swear I have not.”
“You have,” Lionel insisted, the vivid blue eyes quivering. “Nothing else can account for the Hell you’ve put me in.”
Caught off guard by this sudden revelation, Ciaran could find no ready reply. He drew back in alarm at Lionel’s stricken expression. Slowly, the gravity of his predicament began to sink in. The implication that he was to blame for this man’s disintegration left him profoundly disturbed. “My lord, your charges against me are completely baseless,” he stated firmly. “I’ve done nothing to induce the affliction that plagues you. Your suffering is solely your own doing.”
“Don’t lie to me, boy!” Lionel roared. He inched closer, his rugged, handsome face a mere fraction from Ciaran’s. “You have some kind of perverse hold on me. I’m tormented day and night by unholy cravings. If you don’t remove this curse you’ll leave me no choice but to destroy you.”
“You think obliterating me will free you?” Ciaran reasoned. He saw the rage and despair in the furrowed brow, the crumpled cheeks, the clenched jaw. Grasping at whatever fragments of logic he could summon, he continued. “Imposing violence upon me will never deliver your soul from bondage.” He reached up and laid a hand on Lionel’s shoulder, nudging him back ever so subtly, praying the gesture would not invite further unwanted groping. Instead, Lionel raised his agitated face to meet Ciaran’s gaze, his eyes threatening, then pleading. In the interest of self-preservation, Ciaran forced himself to look directly into the haunted blue eyes.
Without warning, Lionel pressed his lips against Ciaran’s cheek, groaning as if in agony. Ciaran’s heart leaped like a spider; for the span of a heartbeat, the room went black. For countless seconds Time stopped. The two men stood motionless, locked together in fear and hatred. Ciaran became sickeningly aware of Lionel’s compulsive need to both possess and extinguish him. His body went into a reflexive spasm. Anxiety surged in him again, inciting him to lash out, but his every breath reminded him of his fractured ribs and the folly of any precipitous movement.
Abruptly, the golden head dropped, the broad shoulders and muscular arms sagged. The malignant glare evaporated and Lionel’s face turned to stone. He pushed Ciaran roughly aside, discarding him like so much refuse, and quit the chamber, leaving him to endure a fretful, fevered night alone.