Aletheia mounted the steps soundlessly and flattened her body against the cold wall of the landing.

Aletheia mounted the steps soundlessly and flattened her body against the cold wall of the landing. She had rung Matins herself so that none would know anything was amiss at the abbey. The great bronze bell still droned the falling final stroke, and the very stones at her back seemed to hum along. Not until they stilled did she peel herself from the wall, open the door, and turn into the corridor.

Immediately she stopped.

Immediately she stopped. The corners of her mouth snapped down and her face flushed, but she was not otherwise moved. A woman’s body was a bothersome thing; few emotions could be fanned into lust, and frustration was certainly not one of them. At that moment she could almost have cried.

At that moment she could almost have cried.

A woman’s body was also maddeningly impatient. She could not bear that cloud-​​gray stare for long. Finally she flung her arms to her sides, thrust forward her neck, and stalked down the hall, as ridiculous as any raging housewife. Her woman’s legs and gown and sandals prevented her from meeting him even halfway.

Her woman's legs and gown and sandals prevented her from meeting him even halfway.

“I should have known,” she snarled. “I should have known when I couldn’t go directly to his room.”

“Then you should have stayed away.”

She stepped closer and looked him over. The freckles were unfortunate, but there was no denying there was something deliciously arousing about a priest’s robe. It was shapeless enough to make one wonder what was beneath, and forbidding enough that one was doubly tempted to find out. She wondered whether he had taken that into account.

It was shapeless enough to make one wonder what was beneath.

“I’m not sorry I came,” she purred. “I’ve been wondering whom you have been watching. Now I know.”

He snorted. “Was it not obvious?”

“I am of the opinion that there are a number of interesting characters in this valley.”

“Who besides him?”

“Wouldn’t you like me to tell you?” she chuckled.

“Whom have you been visiting besides him?” he growled.

'Whom have you been visiting besides him?'

“Why, Father!” she gasped, feigning offense. “What must you think of me?”


“No one.” She waved a hand beneath his nose. “You may not believe me, but I have lately found it far more interesting merely to watch events unfold. Haven’t you?”

He glared at her.

“It is an agreeable change, not knowing what will happen. Is it not? No? You don’t like that, do you?” she tittered.

“Go away. You shall not enter his room tonight.”

“And tomorrow night?”

'And tomorrow night?'

“No more than tonight.”

“And the following?”


“And when you are gone?”

He stiffened. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Come, Father!” she laughed. “What will become of your charge when you leave this valley?”

'Come, Father!'

He nervously pushed up the sleeves of his robe, and though they immediately slid down again, she decided she liked what she saw of his forearms. Even in her woman’s body she found that the power to intimidate was arousing.

“When do you leave?” she asked. Hips were one of a woman’s advantages, and she tilted hers towards him as she spoke, curving the rest of her body into a serpentine arc. “I have heard it is an unpleasant time to travel. But then, the spring is such a pleasant time to die. Particularly in Rome.”

“What makes you think my journey has anything to do with a death?” he asked. His voice was low and throaty with his attempt to hide his discomposure, but it sounded as good as lust to her.

'Because I shall take the same!'

“Because I shall take the same! Tell me where you will be staying. I shall need only spend a single night in Rome – it hardly seems necessary for me to take lodgings of my own.”

“You!” he growled.

She attempted to lay a hand on his waist, but he shoved her away.

“I don’t take up much space in a bed, Father.” She moved towards him and was delighted when he took a step back. “And you know, you will never find a daughter of men easier to sneak into your room than I.”

“Nothing could sicken me more.”

“Come, Father,” she breathed. “It must be agonizing to be a priest. And a shame, with such a body. Skin thin enough to show a flush like that must be exquisitely sensitive.”

'Skin thin enough to show a flush like that must be exquisitely sensitive.'

She lifted a finger to his cheek, but before she had quite touched him, he turned his head and bit her hand savagely, gripping it in his teeth and hanging on.

Aletheia closed her eyes and moaned in delight. He spat out her hand and shoved her away.

“You have just reminded me why I enjoy being a woman,” she sighed. “I am not sorry in the least that I came.”

“You’re not even bleeding,” he muttered.

“A pity. Are you certain you won’t come with me tonight? You must be on fire, going about in that priestly garb of yours for years upon years.”

He glowered at her.

“Unless, of course, you occasionally take it off,” she tittered.

Fear flashed in his eyes for a moment.

Fear flashed in his eyes for a moment. That was what she had been seeking. The blood throbbed in the veins of her groin – but it had nowhere to go. She was only a woman. There was nothing she could do.

To him.

“How sweet!” she squealed. “Who is it?”

'How sweet!'

“Don’t oblige me to dispel you.”

“Don’t!” She lifted the finger of her bitten hand in warning. “…oblige me to make you regret you kept me out of this bedchamber tonight.”

He was breathing heavily. She knew it was many things – fear, fury, perhaps humiliation too. But to her it was as good as lust.

“You know I cannot let you in there,” he said.

'You know I cannot let you in there.'

“The more I talk to you, the less I want to go. But if you won’t come with me…”

He was silent.

“Who is she?” she asked with an exaggerated air of nonchalance.

'Who is she?'

He gasped as if she had touched him intimately. She supposed she had.

“I shall find her,” she laughed softly. “It will suffice to show up here in a few months… looking like you.

“No!” It was more a moan of anguish than a command.


She too was beginning to pant. “Then come with me tonight.”

His back was bowing as beneath a weight, his head was sinking into his shoulders, and his hands were clenched into impotent fists.

“What wouldn’t you do to protect her?” she wondered aloud. “Could the thought of me in her bed sicken you more than the thought of yourself in mine?”

'What wouldn't you do to protect her?'

“Give me your oath that you will not molest her,” he growled through his clenched teeth. “That you will not pursue her, nor beset her, nor speak to her, nor touch her – her, and her children, and her children’s children, for seven generations.”

'And her children's children, for seven generations.'

“What possible interest could you have in her children?” she sniffed.

“Give me your oath.”

“Agreed,” she smiled. “I am far more interested in you. You do make me wish I had tried this before. This seems almost too easy.”

'This seems almost too easy.'

“Give me your oath!”

“I give you my oath. However! You must…” She snickered and hooked a finger around his belt. “Keep up your end of the bargain, shall we say?”

His body was tense and quivering like a drawn bow, and she could hear his panting breath whistling through his teeth. His eyes were dark as storm-​​clouds and flashed with hatred. To her it was as good as lust.

His eyes were dark as storm-clouds and flashed with hatred.