Twelfth Night: Excerpt

Parting at Morning…

Margaret was still half-asleep when Gervase gently disengaged himself from her embrace. But she roused enough to utter a drowsy sound of protest as he folded back the blankets and swung his feet to the floor.

“Hush, ma belle. Go back to sleep.”

“Must you go?” Her voice, morning-husky, stroked his ear like warm velvet.

He stooped to press his lips to her brow, brushing back the tousled waves of chestnut hair. “If I’m to preserve both our reputations a while longer, then yes, I must.”

But not for always. Not forever. Someday soon, they would greet every morning together, lax-limbed in each other’s arms. The thought warmed him all the way through, a bonfire at his heart’s core.

Margaret sighed, reaching out to caress his arm, her slim fingers gleaming white in the shadowed gloom. Fingers that bore no rings, a lack that Gervase was determined to redress at the earliest opportunity. There were several fine jewelers in York; he could arrange to go there later this morning…

“Seriously, my darling, I must be away.” He gave her hand a brief squeeze. “Night’s candles might not be wholly burned out, but they’re sputtering in their wicks. The maid will come to light the fire any moment now, I suspect.”

Margaret sighed again, this time in reluctant agreement, and subsided against the pillows, watching through half-lidded eyes as he pulled on his dressing gown, shoved his feet into slippers. “In this light, I can hardly see the bruises.”

“Mm.” Gervase spared a brief glance for the hoof-shaped discolorations—legacy of a hunting accident on St. Stephen’s Day—scattered over his torso. “Those marks appear to be fading. The love bite on my shoulder, however…”

She gave that low, summery blackbird’s chuckle that never failed to entice him. “My mark, you mean!”

“Just so. I shall offer you my other shoulder tonight—for symmetry’s sake.”

Her dark eyes gleamed at him. “Come back to bed, and I’ll tend to that now.”

“Tempting, but duty calls.” He stole a decorous kiss before heading towards the door. “Until later, belle amie.”

“Until later, you aggravating boy.”