A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Nine

Shit! Shit! Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshit...

Of course he had to be the one to return to camp, of course he had to be the one to follow her to the pond, of course he had to be the one to see her bathe, of course he had to be the one to discover her deception.

Alexandra was running out of breath, and she knew, she knew, that when she resurfaced, Aramis would still be there, waiting on the bank. He’d demand an explanation, demand she tell everybody, then Athos would send her back to Paris, and Robert would be on his own.

She couldn’t allow that! No matter what happened, Aramis couldn’t tell a soul. The problem was, she had no idea how to convince him to keep his beautiful mouth shut.

She slowly re-emerged, peeking cautiously. Yes, he was still there, a grin firmly in place. Bastard! She lifted her face out of the water, keeping the tip of the chin under the surface. “Will you tell the others?”

His grin dissolved and he stared at her as if she was a puzzle. She guessed that to him she was. “I should.” He shrugged. “You should.”

She felt a lump form in her throat. “You’ll send me back.”

“Naturally. This is no place for a woman.”

She rolled her eyes. “So far it didn’t bother anyone.”

“Because we didn’t know,” he said, patiently as if explaining to a child.

“Only you know. No one else needs to.”

Aramis smiled. “But they will, because you will tell them.”

Alexandra sighed. “Yes, I will, after we rescue the Englishman.”

His eyes narrowed. “It’s dangerous.”

“I know it’s dangerous,” she snapped. “Why do you think I wanted you to tag along? I’m not stupid!”

He cocked his head and looked at her as if he begged to differ.

She closed her eyes briefly. “Look, Aramis, I’ve come too far to be sent away. Just keep the secret until we’re away from Roquetaillade, then I’ll tell everybody the truth and you’ll never see me again.” It shouldn’t hurt to say it, but it did.

His eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why the disguise? Why pretend to be a man? Wasn’t there anyone else who could’ve come instead of you?”

“No,” she answered simply.

“The English—”

“They’d forsaken him. The peace treaty is looked at with contempt on the other side of the Channel as well.”

He sighed, and she knew he understood. Robert was an easily-replaceable asset, collateral damage.

“Who taught you how to fence? How to fight?”

“I’ve been learning since I was six,” she explained. “I’ve had many teachers throughout the years. My father, my brother, Sebastien...A girl needs to know how to defend herself.”

His visage darkened, questions of why she would feel the need to defend herself flitting through his eyes. She hoped he wouldn’t ask, she didn’t want to lie.

“Alec—” He shook his head. “What is your real name?”

She stared at him, thinking this was the most civilized conversation they’ve had so far. Yes, it felt like an interrogation while she was naked in a pond in the middle of nowhere, but there was no bite to his words, no mocking, no anger in his eyes.

“Alexandra,” she replied.

He smiled, a genuine smile that reached his eyes, and she felt something akin to a prick in the vicinity of her heart. He’s never smiled like that at her before.

“Which explains Alec. Alexandra suits you more.”

His voice, the way he said her name, did all kinds of things to her insides, and she shivered. She cleared her throat. She needed to get out of the water, it was getting cold. “So, do we have an accord?”

His head cocked to the side, he frowned. “What accord?”

“You won’t say anything until we rescue the Englishman.”

“What do I get in exchange?” he asked with a grin, and she rolled her eyes. It hadn’t taken him long.

“How about I let you live?”

He nodded. “Seems fair.”

“Good. Now go away.”

“Why?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“I need to get out.”

Another grin, this one even wider than the first. “By all means, come out.”

Alexandra glared. “Go away.”

He sighed. “I’ve seen a naked woman before. You won’t shock me.” He shrugged. “Besides, we need to talk.”

“We’ve talked. Go. Away.”

“No.” Aramis shook his head. “I still need to apologize.”

“Apology accepted. Go away.”

“Don’t you want to know, what I need to apologize for?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve accepted it already. Go the hell away!”

He tsked. “That’s not an appropriate language for a lady. And I need to look the person I’m apologizing to in the eye. It’s a quirk of mine. So I’ll wait for you to come out.”

Alexandra wished she had something heavy and pointy in hand so she could hurl it at him. “You can apologize for whatever you want to apologize later. At the camp.”

He shook his head. “No, it has to be now, when it’s fresh.”

“Aramis,” she groaned, turning her eyes skyward.

“Alexandra,” he drawled in response.

She looked back at him, her eyes widening as she saw him unsnap his doublet. He shrugged out of it, lifted his arm to the back of his neck, and pulled off his shirt in one single tug.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her breath becoming choppy as his hands fell to the fastening of his breeches.

“What does it look like?” he asked, hopping a little to pull off his boots. “If you don’t want to come out of there, I’m joining you.” His eyes twinkled mischievously. “I really need to apologize.”

She forgot what she was about to say as he leaned forward to take off his breeches. Then her ability to speak fled completely as he straightened. He’s chucked off his braes as well and now he stood before her completely nude. Alexandra knew propriety dictated she look away, but she couldn’t. She’s never seen a completely disrobed man before, and even if she had, they’d probably pale in comparison to Aramis.

She swallowed, her eyes running up and down his form, from his sculpted calves, and strong, thick thighs, over the—another, more difficult swallow—bushy thatch of hair at his groin from where his member rose, proud, and thick, and...pulsing? Up over the gentle ripples on his abdomen to his wide chest with a myriad of scars, badges of honour, to his strong arms, long-fingered hands, up over his shoulders, and strong neck, to his beautiful mouth partly-hidden in his groomed beard, over the straight nose, to his warm, brown eyes, over the waves of his hair, waves she wished she could sink her fingers into. And back down over his sculpted torso, her eyes were drawn to the junction of his thighs, where his member appeared to grow and straighten before her eyes.

She wet her lips and his pained groan made her look back up to his face. The skin across his cheekbones appeared taught, his lips were tightly compressed, and the look in his eyes...He looked like a hungry animal glimpsing his next meal.

She was unable to look away, it was as if he’d cast a spell on her...Then she realized he was getting closer, he was in the pond with her, the water already reaching his thighs. And he didn’t stop, wading deeper and deeper, until he almost reached her.

She finally gathered her wits, and lunged backwards, but he grabbed her wrist, pulling her to a halt, and forcing her to stand on the bottom to keep her balance. Unfortunately the water wasn’t deep enough, so she had to cover her breasts with her free arm.

He frowned down at the arm she used to cover herself, and took two steps forward. In order to keep as much distance as possible with him still retaining the possession of her wrist, Alexandra took two steps back. And the water reached her clavicle. Startled, she looked up at him, and he merely shrugged.

“You looked uncomfortable.”

And he tried to spare her further discomfort. Wasn’t that kind of him? She shook the hand, he still held. “Let me go.”

“No,” he said quietly. “We need to talk. I need to apologize.” He lifted his other hand, touched the corner of her lips gently with the tip of his finger. “I shouldn’t have hit you.”

She looked away, she couldn’t look at him anymore. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does,” he insisted. “I’ve treated you like shit almost from the start, and tonight was the lowest point. I apologize.”

“As I said before, apology accepted.” She wiggled her hand again. “Now, let me go.”

“Don’t you want to know, why I treated you the way I did? Don’t you want to know why I hit you?”

Still staring at a point above his shoulder, she wiggled her hand once more. “I already know. Let go.”

“No, you don’t. Look at me.”

“Let. Me. Go.”

“Look at me, Alexandra,” he murmured gently, deeply. “I need you to look at me.”

“Fine,” she snapped, and rolled her eyes. “What?” she asked, her eyes on his.

It was a mistake. The look in his eyes made her breath hitch, and her heart beat faster. She’d seen that look before. But whenever she’d caught him looking at her like that, he’d always averted his gaze before, his face distorted in a grimace of disgust. He didn’t avert his eyes now, and there was no disgust on his face.

“I didn’t hit you because you told me something you thought I didn’t know,” he whispered, holding her gaze. “I know the Queen used me. It was either that or death.”

He tugged on her captive hand, and despite warning bells sounding in her head, she took a tiny step forward.

“I threw the punch because it was either that or kiss you.”

Alexandra swallowed.

“The day that Tréville introduced you, you looked at me and it felt like a kick in the gut.” Another gentle tug, another little step closer. “When you threw Mercier on the ground, I silently applauded, and when we fought side by side that first day, I admired your courage. And your skill.”

Alexandra’s chest felt like someone was sitting on it, restricting her lungs. His eyes, his words, his voice...It was getting hard to breathe.

“Then we got to know you, however little you decided to tell us,” he added with a pointed glance. “We saw your willingness to make a difference, to stand beside us, to put your life on the line.” Another tug, another step. “I saw you smile, I heard you laugh, and I wanted you.”

Alexandra shook her head. She was hearing things. Someone like Aramis couldn’t want her.

“And I felt sick for wanting you.” He smirked as she glared. “I love women; I cannot be attracted to a boy.” He grew serious. “But no matter how much I convinced myself, how much I tried, I couldn’t shake this...longing. It made me angry, this weakness, so I took it out on you. Tonight most of all.”

“Why?” she whispered.

“Because we’ve spent the last four days on the road together, you were always there, a constant presence. I couldn’t get free of you.” He cleared his throat. “Then in the tavern, when you said you knew why I rejected that girl, I snapped.”

“The Queen,” she said, her voice trembling.

You,” he said forcefully. “It’s not the Queen that’s been preventing me from bedding any of the wenches these past few weeks. I love her as my Queen, I’m proud of her courage to do whatever it takes to survive, I’m honoured she’d chosen me to be the father to her child, but I don’t love her as a woman. That night at the monastery, that was a moment of weakness, of grief, I don’t desire her...I don’t want her as I want you.”

Alexandra truly couldn’t breathe. Breath hiccupped in her throat.

“You can’t imagine the relief I felt when I discovered you’re a woman. It turns out I’m normal after all.”

The hiccups turned into chuckles.

He smiled tenderly down at her. “No other woman has made me feel the way you make me feel. You make me yearn, Alexandra.” He frowned as she felt herself tremble. “You’re shivering.”

“The water is cold,” she lied.

He tugged once more on her hand, and she took one last step closer. He released her wrist, bringing his arm around her, pressed her closer, until her breasts touched his chest lightly.

“Let me warm you,” he whispered, and lifted his other hand to cup her cheek.

“Aramis.” She pressed her palm over his chest, pushed a little, as he leaned forward, his eyes on her mouth.

His eyes met hers. “You’re more than capable of stopping me, Alexandra.”

The way her name rolled off his tongue, the deep timbre of his voice like an intimate caress, the arm circling her waist, not caging her, not pulling her closer, just resting there, the callused fingers stroking her cheek...The silence of the night, the silvery glow of the moon...Or simply the fact the man she loved wanted her, even if only for tonight. Whatever it was, it kept her from pushing him away.

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