When Arabel flew into David's chamber late that night like she had the hounds of hell on her heels, David snapped awake and automatically reached for his claymore. Of course it wasn't there. With the light of the tallow candle, the maiden seemed more apparition than human, but he only had to hear her panicked breathing to know she was real.
"David, you have to come with me," she said.
"Just what are your plans for me in the dead of night?"
"Sir Hugh is thinking to take your life. I've kept his beaker full all night hoping the drink will make him sleepy, but I swear it has only fuelled his determination for murder."
David pushed himself to his feet glad that he hadn't shrugged off his borrowed clothes for the wedding. His leg throbbed with vicious intensity as he shoved his feet into boots. "Is your brother's security so unruly that his men do not obey him?"
"Sir Hugh is not a vassal. He rules the lands west of our border. My brother knows nothing of this and I canna disturb him on his wedding night."
"I'll not hide behind the skirts of a woman. Give me a sword and I'll hold my own."
Arabel lunged towards him and grabbed his arm, the candle spluttering with her movement. "Foolish knight, I've spent too much time on healing you to have my work undone. Come to my solar. Sir Hugh will not dare enter there without permission."
"You want to keep me in your chamber?" A bolt of desire hit him at her outrageous suggestion. Unmarried men did not enter a lady's private rooms unless they expected a liaison.
"Dammit, David. Hurry." Her fingers dug into him.
"Will you be unclothed?"
"This is no time to joke."
"I've never been more serious. I've never seen a maiden full naked."
"How can you think of getting me naked at a time like this? Now move."
"You don't know what you're asking of me. I won't be able to keep my hands off you." In the distance he could hear the clink of boots on flagstone and the raucous calls of drunken men. He knew he could handle himself against Sir Hugh or die trying, but he was lost to her.
Arabel's eyes widened and she looked behind her. "That whisky made me wild. A whore. I'm ashamed. T'was wicked."
"Never a whore. T'was special. Lovely." He'd loved the fragrance of her on his face and hands. It was almost as if the scent of her had entered his body and now flowed in his bloodstream. He wanted to marry her, this wonderful maiden, this gifted healer, this lady who would ruin herself to save his life.
"David, please," she urged, the tone of her voice desperate as she tugged at him to make him walk toward the door. "When the men discover you've gone, they'll ransack the castle looking for you. My rooms are the only safe place." Her gaze moved to his thigh. "When my lady mother passed, Sir James allowed me to use her rooms. My solar is not too far and has a good bolt and lock on the door."
He put his arm around her, gripping her shoulder to keep the weight off his leg. "Do you realize what you're asking? If I am found in your chamber, your reputation will be destroyed. You'll be finished, branded as a whore and cast out. Not even the nuns will have you back. Worse, your brother could have you killed if he has the mind to do so."
"You'll no be there long. When you are strong enough to ride, you can get back to your lands."
"And I'll take you with me, Arabel."
"No!" She stopped outside his chamber, looked left and right, then ushered him before her. She pulled the door closed and locked it.
Her blunt refusal was a punch to the gut. "Do you not care for me?"
"You make me want what I've never wished for; marriage and children. Of course I care."
"Then come with me the moment I'm healed."
"Don't argue with me here. I have to get you to safety." She wrapped her arm around his waist and urged him forward along the stone corridor away from his room and the great hall. "Sir James will take vengeance and I'll not have your blood on my conscience, nor that of my brothers who'll ride with him."
He stopped and turned her to him. "I canna leave without you."
"Do you wish to break my heart? I told you, my brothers will hunt you down and kill you."
Leaving her would break his. He'd never met a maid like her. She might have the body of a woman but her soul held the bravery of a man.
Arabel led him to a set of stone stairs. "Lean on my shoulder, it is some way up to my rooms in the turret. Try not to put weight on your wounded leg."