Rings of Passage
A Time Travel Romance with Richard III
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Someone was following her. Her pulse quickened. She bolted up the stairs – up and up, into the darkness. Twenty steps and a landing. Another twenty-three steps and a landing. More steps. At the top, her way was blocked by a wooden door.
Her pursuer was not far behind. She held her breath and tried the door – the knob turned. She closed the door behind her.
A fire burned in the hearth. Had it been the room’s owner following her? All her fears might have stemmed from something entirely innocent. If he came in, how would she explain herself? Anise froze at the sound of someone at the door, her blood pounding in her ears. She heard receding footsteps and she trembled with relief. She thought it best to remain here awhile before trying to find her way to the main corridor. As her eyes adjusted to the firelight, she noticed small details of the room, and realized it looked a trifle… familiar.
Oh, God! She had to get out of here. These were the king’s apartments!
She grasped the door handle and yanked – and her heart nearly stopped. Dropping into a curtsey, she lost her balance and collapsed to the floor. The king grasped her shoulders firmly and pulled her up.
Anise stared into his dark eyes, her words frozen on her tongue. “Y-Your Grace..! I-I'm...” “You're lost,” Richard finished. “I know.” The corner of his mouth twitched.
Anise flushed when his eyes ran over her. He released her, satisfied she could stand on her own. “Again.” She knew she must be white as a sheet, but clamped down on her fear, scarcely believing he was not angry.
He smiled tiredly.
“I wasn’t feeling well, Your Grace. And when everyone looked at me in the Great Hall…” Quit stammering, you fool! “I-I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out of there.” Anise felt the tears building. She took a breath and managed to push them back. “I heard someone following me. I was frightened, Your Grace. I ran up this stairway, into your room. If I’d known it was you…” Richard’s expression clouded, as though he did not believe her.
“I don’t blame you for not trusting me,” she said miserably. With the back of her hand, she wiped away the one tear that had slid down her cheek. I’m not going to cry, dammit.
Her words seemed to trouble him. “You misunderstand me, m’lady. I fear what you say must be true – someone was following you. I did not come to my rooms by the stairs, but by another way.” He paused. “I am disconcerted only by this knowledge – not because I harbor any suspicions, for I do believe you speak truthfully.”
Richard stared at her so intently that Anise looked away, her heart in her throat, her face hot. Why was he so kind to her? More to the point, why did make her so breathless?
His expression softened. “You're as pale as a shade, m’lady. Sit by the fire.” It was an order, not a request. Anise found a chair by the hearth. He left for a moment and she heard the sound of liquid being poured. The king placed a cup in her hands. “Drink this. Maman tells me ’tis a balm to the nerves.” After a moment, he added, “That you found my rooms ’twas fortunate. Many at court are not kindly disposed toward me, or my guests. It might have gone ill, should you have wandered to other parts of the castle.”
He stood very close to her now, gazing at her with an expression she could not read. When Anise met his eyes, she could barely speak, somehow managing, “Thank you, Your Grace.”
She remembered how he had gripped her shoulders before realizing who she was. He was a warrior. He could be dangerous. But the intensity she saw in his eyes now was not violence.
It was passion.