Late Evening, Upper Hallway:
Damn! It was late.
Caleb had meant to be in bed early tonight for he would have to be up at dawn. He'd been so caught up in his thoughts that he had ignored the frequent chiming of the clock in the great hall.
It was only when the clock chimed once that he realized how late the night had grown. He had duties in the fields early the next morning and he needed to be fully alert. With uncommon haste he climbed the numerous flights of stairs that led to his bedchamber.
As he passed by the hall that led down to his guest's rooms, he slowed to a more respectable pace. He didn't want to disturb anyone's sleep. Just as he would have headed for the next flight of stairs, a strangled noise emanated from within one of the rooms. The sound of it halted his movements. Cocking his head to listen closely, he couldn't quite decide where the noise had come from. Silence now weighed heavy in the air. Only another moment passed before he shrugged it off and began to walk back to the stairs.
Just as his foot hit the first step the crash of a ceramic vase hitting the floor shot through the air. He returned to the hallway and placed an ear against the door of the second room. It sounded as if someone was struggling. Caleb held his hand in midair, refusing to open the door prematurely. There was a possibility that it was only a young couple playing roughly in a lover's tryst.
With that thought a shiver raced down his spine. He realized that this was the door to Kyra's room. It irritated him to think she would give herself to anyone in that way. She was young after all, but it was possible that she could have taken a lover in the short time she'd been in his charge. With a short laugh, it dawned on him that he knew almost nothing about her.
Conflicting emotions ran through his mind as he hesitated in opening the door. By rule he knew that any man who took the innocence of a girl not his bride deserved to be lynched. Yet he couldn't help remembering the feel of her in his own arms just that afternoon. True, he had been rough with her, but he'd had the presence of mind to feel her softness. He'd been sane enough to know how beautiful she was. And in one insane moment he had known the reasons a man could be capable of breaking every rule of moral decency. It was the same reason he'd been kissing her when every fiber of his being warned against it. It hadn't mattered how young she was or how innocent. Bowing to his baser needs, he'd only wanted to throw her to the ground and bury himself deep inside her. It was the vice of all men, their one true weakness.
If he had fallen victim to such a powerful need, how could he expect another man to feel differently? He should know their hunger and let them have her if she chose to be with them. Why should he care, he wondered with a sigh.
Those thoughts were disrupted when an ear-piercing scream penetrated the air and another object was brought crashing to the floor. Without a second thought for the consequence, he wrenched the door open and sent it slamming into the wall as he rushed into the room.
Light from the hall bathed the shadows of the room. Caleb's alert senses took in every detail at once. There was only one person in the room. It was Kyra. She stood at the far wall pounding it with her fists in an obvious attempt at escape. He saw she was having a nightmare and relief washed over him. There was no immediate danger waiting.
Watching her bare feet edge toward the jagged shards of ceramic scattered along the floor, his alarm was raised once more. He was forced to move closer. When he neared her she stopped hitting the wall and turned to face him. She stared as though she could see him now. Thinking she must be awake, he stopped a few feet away from her and asked, "Kyra, are you all right?"
He knew in an instant that she wasn't yet awake. Her eyes darted frantically from him to the door. He could see she was getting ready to bolt. She was still caught up in the vision of a waking dream.
One large step took him over the worst of the mess on the floor, but he realized his mistake too late. Her eyes grew as wide as a rabbit's. Before he managed to catch his balance, she lunged past him.
With quick reflexes he reached out an arm and caught her around the waist. It was difficult to get a firm hold as she fought against him. He was forced to step back and nearly lost his footing on the floor. At last he was able to catch both of her wrists, but she twisted and turned in his arms until she almost broke free.
Angry in a moment of sheer frustration he twisted one of his legs behind hers and toppled her to the ground.
"No!" She screamed, panic-stricken. She looked utterly defenseless.
Pinning her flat on her back, he sat on top of her hips, letting his weight hold her down. He caught her hands in his, pressing them to the floor to keep her still. Soon she was quiet in his arms, but her eyes wandered aimlessly around the room. Hoarse little cries were coming from her throat and he found himself desperate to awaken her from the tormenting dream.
Grasping her chin firmly, he forced her to look up into his face. Bending down, he furiously whispered, "Kyra'"
Her eyes turned to look up at him, but he could see that she wasn't really focusing on him at all. She was seeing someone else. She was watching some horrid image in her dream. The terror in her eyes was almost unbearable.
"Kyra!" he shouted in anger at last. "Come on, wake up!"
Her body jerked violently and her eyes focused on him sharply. A moment of stunned disbelief passed between them before she silently mouthed, "Caleb?"
She was searching the room in confusion. He understood it and whispered a little breathlessly, "It's all right now." He released her hands and framed her face reassuringly. When she looked back up at him in question, he said, "You have had a terrible dream, Sweetheart."
Her jaw dropped open as she remembered hazy fragments of the quickly fading dream. The arms he freed flew around his neck. She shivered violently and he held her instinctively.
Caleb recognized her emotion as aftershock of the nightmare. She would never have sought comfort from him for any other reason. His arms closed around her and he held her protectively for a moment. A sudden twinge of loss and regret assaulted him as they remained in the embrace. He'd forgotten how oddly comforting a woman could feel.
Taking a deep breath, he slipped off of her without dislodging her arms and lifted her carefully against him. He had carried her almost halfway to the bed when a worried voice called to him from the doorway.
"Did she have another nightmare," Serena asked in concern.
Without pause, he carried Kyra the rest of the way and bent slowly to settle her against the pillows. As he covered her with the thick quilt, her eyes were already drifting opened and closed. He could see that she was exhausted. It must have taken a lot out of her to fight him that way.
Turning to face Serena who stood in the doorway, he said, "Go to your room and await me there. I would like to speak with you before you retire for the night." His voice was quiet for Kyra's sake, but it reeked with authority. Ignoring the look of shock on her face, he motioned for her to go. She stared back at him defiantly before bowing to his command to leave the room.
He waited several seconds after the door closed to turn his gaze back on Kyra. He sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to disturb her as she slept. Unable to help himself, he lightly stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. Almost reverently, he traced the curves of her face.
"You should have fought me so hard this afternoon," he whispered with a small smile. There was laughter in his eyes as he watched her for a moment.
Though exhausted, her eyes swept open halfway as he spoke. She smiled up at him sleepily, too tired to comprehend his meaning.
He shook his head in bewilderment and whispered, "You are a mystery to me, Kyra."
Her eyes glided over his face one last time before finally closing again. In moments she had fallen back to sleep. He remained there for a short time, not knowing what force compelled him to stay. She looked so incredibly young as she rested against the pillows. How could he have ever dreamed of causing her pain?
Feelings of great remorse filled him as he looked down on her now. How could he have possibly imagined hurting her in the garden? It disgusted him to remember what he had been thinking of doing to her. Had he been so blinded by anger that he couldn't see she was so young?
He shook his head at himself and stood up from the bed. Sitting here with her asleep in the dark was no better' How had he lost nearly every ounce of common decency in one day? His mother would have been appalled!
Turning away from the sight of her sleeping there on the bed, he left the room to find Serena.
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