“I’ll have you flogged!” Blanche yelled after her, knowing full well that it was an empty threat.
“The master won’t allow that,” Nan taunted her from a safe distance. “He likes me smooth and soft. He’ll not let ye beat me!”
“Slut! Just wait until your belly swells with child! You’ll see then how much the master cares about you and your soft hide!”
“He’ll give me a fine cottage and mayhap a servant of my own,” Nan retorted.
The other servants snickered behind her back, Blanche knew, but at least they obeyed her orders, albeit with the slowness of mules trekking up a cliff. She ground her teeth and bided her time until Lady Joanna de Moreley came, and Evian. Graelam had seemed reluctant to have her son come to Wolffeton, but Blanche had managed to cry pitifully, an altogether honest reaction, and he had finally agreed.
Graelam grunted and heaved as he helped the masons fit a huge slab of stone into place on the outer eastern wall of Wolffeton. He stepped back and dashed the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. He felt exhilarated from the physical labor, for it had kept his mind off Joanna de Moreley’s impending visit, which he dreaded. He thought of the message he had sent to Maurice de Lorris several days before, and felt a spurt of unwanted pain for what had happened. He heard nothing from Maurice, and assumed that Geoffrey had made no move on Belleterre. Surely it could not be long now before Geoffrey found out about Kassia’sdeath. Belleterre was not that isolated, and over two months had passed.
Graelam stretched, enjoying the pull of his tired muscles, and headed toward the cliff path that led to the narrow beach below. The surf pounded against the naked rocks, splashing spray into wide arcs in the air. He stripped off his clothes and waded into the tumbling water. Feeling the powerful tug of the tide against his legs, he let himself be dragged forward with the outgoing waves. The water was cold, raising gooseflesh on his body, but he ignored it and plunged facedown into a high-crested wave.
Some minutes later he heard a yell from the cliff above him and turned to see Guy waving toward him. He started to answer, but a huge wave smashed against his back and sent him sprawling onto his face. When he fought his way out of the sea, his face smarting from the coarse rocks and sand, he heard Guy’s laughter. He strode onto the narrow beach and shook himself, much in the manner of a huge mongrel dog.
“My lord! Dress yourself before your bride sees you in your natural wonder!”
Graelam cursed softly. The girl was two days early. He did not doubt that his days of peace were over. He dressed himself quickly and strode up the cliff path.
“My lord,” Guy said, a wide grin splitting his well-formed mouth. “I fear the Lady Joanna will see us side by side and send you about your business.” Guy preened in his green velvet and patted his hand to his golden hair, his laughter ringing above the raucous sound of the seabirds.
Graelam didn’t rise to the bait. Instead he asked, “Is all in readiness for the lady?”
“Do you mean has Blanche swallowed the prune in her mouth and managed a welcoming smile?”
“If you had something to offer her, you larking, conceited buffoon, ’tis that lady you could take off my hands!”
“ ’Tis not my bed Blanche seeks, my lord!” Guy straightened suddenly, a slight worried frown puckering his brow. “ ’Twas a mistake allowing her to send for her son.”
Graelam felt thoroughly irritated. “For God’s sake, Guy, leave be. Blanche is comely and endowed with the proper shyness and modesty a lady should have. If I wed Lady Joanna, I shall find Blanche a husband. With her son in tow, it proves she is a good breeder.”
Many of the servants would applaud that decision, Guy thought. Blanche had not been overly patient with any of them, so awash was she in her disappointment. He felt a tug of pity for her, as well