Sword of a Saint
Chapter 9 - Part 7
Valerian knelt before a bank of
votive candles, her hands clasped in prayer. The shapeless gray tunic
and long, drab veil shadowed her form completely, but Michael knew it
could be no other. Only Valerian was so slender, graceful, sweet and
As he stood, drinking in the sight of her, a reckless determination swept Michael. He would have Valerian for his own. She enchanted him, and he was certain she felt the same. Why should they not answer the call of their bodies and hearts? Her Calling he discounted immediately. Were she married to an old, infirm or inattentive man he would not let that fellow stand in his way. A religious bonding was no more of an impediment.
Clearly, she did not feel the same about her current status. Michael knew he would have to plan this conquest carefully. Gentle and slow was the way to bring a wild horse quietly under his hand. Valerian would require the same touch. First, he had to ease her mind over the three men he'd killed. He resolutely walled off his ultimate aim and sent a tightly focused thought to her. She lifted her head and turned to him, her prayer beads still clasped in her hands. Then, with a furtive glance around the empty sanctuary, she rose and started toward him. Michael met her half way down the chapel. His heart thundered against his ribs, and he knew it was not from the heat of the many candles and the close air in the sanctuary.
"How is your leg?" Valerian spoke to her prayer beads.
"It's fine. As strong as it ever was." Michael was not about to let this stagnate into a conversation about an injured limb. "I've been looking for you all day." God's breath! That was no better.
Valerian's head dipped a bit. "You're leaving."
"I'll be back." Michael brushed her soft cheek with his fingertips. His hand shook, but he could not stop his nervousness. "If you want me to," he added, his voice deepening.
She looked up, startled. A hundred candles glistened in her dark eyes. "Why would I not wish you safe?"
"Because you think me a brute."
Valerian shook her head.
"Don't deny it." Michael's hands rested on her shoulders. She would not turn away from him, at least until they aired the issue now raised. "I saw the way you looked at me. I know what you thought."
"How can you know what I think?" Her voice trembled.
"Because you wear your heart in your eyes."
She shook her head and stared at the prayer beads in her hands. "If you think I'm right, why don't you stay? Killing only brings more violence."
"Even if I stopped, the humans would not. Hatred like that can't be reasoned with. Just maybe I can save a few more, or at least make the humans think twice before they burn any more homes over the heads of helpless people."
"So now you've gone from avenger to savior." She smiled, but tears traced bright paths down her pale cheeks. "Isn't that a job best left to a higher power?"
"Well, he's not attending to it."
She opened her mouth. Michael laid a finger over her soft lips.
"Valerian, those men by the stream would have killed us, had they found us first. I didn't kill them because I hated them. I could not allow the chance that our camp would be surprised, not with you there."
"I know you had your reasons."
"I didn't enjoy it." Michael was startled to realize those words were true.
Her lips parted a bit. "I know you didn't. You're no beast."
"But I was."
Valerian laid her hands over his. Her prayer beads pressed against his skin. "What changed you?"
"I think you did."
Time to commit himself. Michael switched to a deeper, more personal level of communication.
**You are so brave, so sweet, so gentle even after all that's been taken from you. You shamed me, Valerian, and I'm a better man for it.**
**You are the same man you always were.**
Her presence fit so well with his that Michael decided to go a bit farther. He slid his hands from her shoulders to pull her close. The feel of her body against him sent flames through his belly.
**For the first time in many years, I'm thinking clearly. I've got something I want to gain, something to hold forever. Something to dream about.**
**I'm glad for that, at least.** Her voice in his mind held a note of shyness Michael found inviting.
He gathered his courage. **I think you know what I mean.**
She tensed in his arms. "Michael, stop this. You know I cannot be what you want of me. I have ---"
"I know. A Calling. But you made that choice when there were no others." He loosened his hold but did not release her. This good a chance might never come again.
"You don't understand." Valerian laid her hands against his chest, but the warding gesture carried no force behind it. "Even if I felt I could set aside my vows, I could never be what you want. I can't stand the thought of a man touching me. Not ever."
"How do you know?" Michael's hand slid up her spine. He felt her tremble as his fingers probed beneath the heavy veil to find the sensitive flesh at the nape of her neck. "You've never tried it.
"You were raped, Valerian. That's not an act of love, or even pleasure. It's brute force meant to hurt and shame." Michael pulled her closer. She did not resist. "I've never taken a woman who wasn't willing. I told you that."
"And how do I know you are right?"
**Let me show you.**
Before she could resist, Michael enfolded her in his shields. He claimed her lips gently, just brushing his mouth against hers in a thousand fairy kisses while he let his hands do what they would. The technique was one he'd used with much success when seduction was his goal. He was a master at it.
She pressed against him. Her fingertips clutched at his shoulders, then drifted up to tangle in his hair. She moaned against his mouth, a soft cry of awakening passion and surrender. Michael brushed his tongue against her lips, then threw caution to the wind and firmly invaded her mouth. He tasted her, stroked her throat and toyed with her when, after a moment's hesitation, she returned the caress.
**A bit to remember me by until I return.** Michael sent the thought even as he forced himself to end the kissing. If he didn't, he knew he would have her on the floor with her skirts around her waist in another heartbeat. He was sweating, shaking, painfully aroused. It would be a miracle if his current state did not send her running for safety and never looking back.
Valerian's lips were swollen, her eyes glazed as she opened them. She pulled herself away from him, clearly unnerved. One slim hand brushed her cheeks but the gesture did nothing to cool the fire blazing beneath her skin.
"You should not have done that." Her breathless voice sounded like a feeble defense.
Michael could not keep himself from grinning. He'd won and he knew it. Now he needed only wait for her to realize she was caught. "I think I should have done that a long time ago. And I think you liked it."
"I ---" Her cheeks brightened.
"Valerian, there's a whole world I want to show you. If you'll let me. Don't answer me now," he ordered, silencing her with a fingertip when she would have spoken. "I'll be back in a month or there about. If you tell me to leave you alone then, I will. I swear it."
Michael left quickly, giving her no chance to reply. Valerian started after him, her heart racing. Before she took three steps a cold, toneless voice stopped her.
"Sister! I would speak with you." Father Ignatius stood at the back of the sanctuary, beneath a carved statue of the Blessed Mother. The saint's painted face seemed to frown upon Valerian as she turned, her heart falling into her toes. Father Ignatius motioned her through a door to the vestry. His manner resembled the stern judges Valerian imagined waited for the penitent souls in the afterlife.