Laird wouldn’t allow us separate quarters, but from the look of our room, Amanda had insisted we be given the best they had.
It was more than I’d expected, large enough to sleep the entire Blessèd brotherhood, who were used to crowded space. The room had been fitted with well-turned furnishings. Antiques that would have made my mother swoon.
Indoor plumbing, too, better facilities than I had ever seen. A porcelain sink with hot and cold running water, a claw foot tub and a loo that flushed clean with water stored in an elevated enamel cistern. Del discovered the loo moments after we entered the room and took possession without even a single by-your-leave.
It turned full dark outside before I figured he’d been in there long enough. “Del,” I called through the door. “I need to take a piss.”
“Go away.” His voice sounded strange; higher and smoother than usual.
“I can’t just crawl out on the roof and let my water fly,” I said.
I wasn’t about to do that. In truth, I was angry with him. He hadn’t been much help, down there in the kitchen.
“Last chance,” I called.
“You heard me.”
I pushed the door open and barged in. All I managed to say was: “Listen here ..”
Del stood before the sink, stripped to the waist, intent upon the large wall mirror mounted about the basin; working on the angry-looking slash across his ribs. A heavy blood-red pendant lay upon the counter.
“A seeming,” Eken whispered. “I knew it!”
I wasn’t listening. Truth be told, I was flummoxed by what I had glimpsed in the mirror.
“Get out of here,” Del hissed.
I grabbed his shoulder to pull him around. He resisted, but I outweighed him. His hands fluttered to his chest, but couldn’t cover what I had already seen. Breasts too full and too round for any man.
“God’s Blood,” Eken whispered. “Del’s a woman!”
We were in serious trouble. Women might have land rights, but it was against custom for a woman to travel in disguise and claim the rights of men. Old Church and Freewill agreed on that. If Eken knew, Stern knew; there would be hell to pay. That didn’t seem to bother Del. She wasn’t pleased that I had uncovered her deception, but wasn’t the least embarrassed.
I stumbled back into the bedroom with her right behind me, spewing words I’d never heard a woman say.
“In the name of all that’s holy,” Eken whispered. “Tell her to stay her mouth and cover her nakedness.”
“Eken’s right,” I blurted. “Put your shirt on.”
“Who the hell is Eken?” she demanded.
“I won’t talk to you while you’re naked,” I stuttered.
Del turned and stomped into the bathroom. I couldn’t stop myself from staring after her. I was upset that she had lied to me, put us in this predicament, but relieved, as well.
I hadn’t fallen in love with another man.
“Who’s Eken?” Del demanded a second time, as she returned wrapped in her shirt.
She must have left the pendant in the bathroom, for she still looked womanly, and young at that. Not much beyond my nineteen years. When I told her about Eken, I was certain she would rip off her shirt again and strangle me with it.
“Why didn’t you tell me you had a lurker?”
“He’s not a lurker, Del. He’s my witness. God’s Blood! I’m on Journey.”
“You should have told me,” she said.
“I did,” I stammered.
“You should have told me you were a woman,” I said.
“There’s no need for you to know what’s between my legs.”
She glared at me. No. She glared through me at Eken. “And my name is Dela,” she said.
That set Eken off.
“Dela, is it? Tell Dela there was every need for you to know. There are ways to do things, after all. She’s broken covenant.”
“He can hear you.”
She ignored me. “Customs, not laws,” she said. “Tell him if it weren’t for closed-minded religious sods like him, those customs would have been done away with long ago.”
Eken jump tracks.
“I’m an old man,” he whispered to me. “I’m not supposed to be taken in by such as this dolly, even if she did use magic.”
“She’s not a dolly,” I muttered.
But in a way she was. Without the magic of her pendent, Dela looked different. Her short-cropped hair was sandy blond. Her face wasn’t as hard-edged, her body softer with easy curves. And she couldn’t have been more than two years my elder.
“What was that?” she demanded. Her tone could have flayed my callused feet to red meat.
“I was talking to Eken,” I said. That set her off.
“You,” she said. “You’re as bad as that pervert. Sneaking around behind me, letting him watch. He saw me naked.”
“So did I.”
“You’re a boy.” She made it sound like a disease.
“I’m nineteen,” I said. “Old enough.”
Dela stepped close. “Old enough for what?”
The smell of her, the heat of her anger, overpowered me. I wasn’t thinking. I stepped in close and pulled her to me. “For this,” I said.
I kissed her. She tasted smooth and sweet and perfect, so different from how Tuck tasted. She reminded me of everything I’d wanted all my life and never had.
“What are you doing, boy?” Eken whispered.
He knew what I was doing, was experiencing it right along with me. What he didn’t understand, I knew, was why I was doing it. I ignored him, all my attention on Dela.
She crowded in, raised her hands. I thought she would hit me, but she never struck, at least not with any force. Instead, she wrapped both arms about my neck and held on, melting into me, kissing me back.
“Stop that!” Eken hissed.
I continued to ignore him. After a time, Dela pulled away, but didn’t let go. She took a deep breath.
“Sweet Jesus,” she said. Her voice had lost its grittiness. “I have dreamed about doing that very thing since you touched my hand over that map last week in that tavern.”
She raised on her toes, coming back for more.
The bedroom door slammed open. Teddy stormed in, Garrick right behind him. “To hell with what Pa wants,” Teddy said. “I want ..”
He stopped three steps into the room, eyes wide. Dela stepped away from me and turned toward him. I eased toward her, thinking to protect her, I suppose.
“Well I’ll be damned.” Teddy grinned. “You two are a couple of posy boys, just like Andy. The old man will pitch a fit, he finds out Mama offered shelter to the likes of you. He’ll string you up from the gateposts.”
Garr peeked around his brother. “Te-teddy,” he stuttered. “I d-don’t think that’s w-what this is.”