"What are you doing in here?" he asked in a gentler voice, approaching her slowly.
She took in a ragged breath and shook her head. "Go away, Sir Ethan."
"No. Not until you tell me why you ran from the banquet hall as if a Dark Knight of Darragh was behind you!"
Meghan turned and walked farther away from him, marching up the aisle. Before she knew he had even moved, Ethan grabbed her arm, stopping her retreat.
"I am a fool," she finally confessed, staring at his chest. "I ran because I thought that you...that you--"
"That I what?" he asked, taking a step closer. When he looked at her like that, she could feel her heart pounding.
Taking a deep breath, she said, "I think it's time I go back to Marynville, Sir Ethan."
"Why?" His voice was firm and loud, demanding an answer.
"I have done what I came here to do. I paid my respects to my brother. I met the king, and even Mynos and Malnan. Because of me, they now know of the Dragon's Flame, and I wish them luck with finding and destroying it. But there is nothing for me here."
"What about our talk earlier? About never leaving?"
"Sir Ethan." She gave him a watery smile. "You can't have two women in your life. You have vowed to protect me, and as such I will think of you as taking Duncan's place. I will rest easy in knowing that you will watch over me. But she will not approve of the time you spend with me, nor would I allow it. It's not proper."
"Who are you talking about?"
"Your lady." In saying those words, Meghan covered her eyes and stepped away from him. It hurt too much to be so close, to know he would never be hers. "I must leave."
Meghan had every intention of running again, but as before, Ethan's warm hand stopped her. "I have no lady," he exclaimed.
"Do not deceive me, Sir Ethan, I saw you with her this evening."
"The woman you saw is the Lady Jewel of Tabrinth, wife of Sir Sebastian. I kissed her hand and flirted with her, yes, not because I'm interested in impressing her, but because I enjoy vexing her husband. Seb and I have been friends for a great many years, Lady Meghan. And while I admit I once hoped Lady Jewel would choose me over him, she never did. Now I am quite over her. It was all in good fun, milady, I assure you."
Meghan glanced at the carpet with mixed feelings. If she said one more word, she was sure she'd break into sobs, and she was so tired of crying. Her chest rose and fell as she took in all he had said, trying hard to control her emotions.
"But if I did have a lady," he was saying, his voice suddenly low and soft, "I'd want her to be just like you."
With a gasp, she looked into his eyes and saw no sign of teasing in their brown depths. In fact, what she saw made her shudder for a completely different reason.
Once again, he stepped closer to her, framing her face with his large hands. With sweeping strokes, he wiped the tears from her cheeks with the pads of his thumbs.
"Do not cry," he whispered to her as he lowered his head. "It rips my heart to see you upset. And please, Meghan, don't go. Don't leave the castle."
"But I don't have a reason to stay," she breathed as her heart raced. Ethan was so close, he filled her entire vision.
"Yes, you do." He rubbed her nose with his. Their lips touched, sending shock waves through her entire body. He was gentle and chaste, calming her fears with his tender caress.
After a few moments of surprise, Meghan's heart soared into the sky as she lifted her arms tentatively to his shoulders. He deepened the kiss, angling her head for greater plunder.
Meghan whimpered when his tongue ran the line of her lips, and without any further coaxing, opened her mouth to him. Slowly and masterfully, Ethan delved deep, tasting her, holding her so she couldn't flee him again. She answered his fervor with a passion of her own, surprising herself with her ardor. She didn't want him to stop, she wanted to kiss him for the rest of her life.
Her hands found their way into his hair, releasing it from his leather strap, but he didn't seem to notice--or care.
"You look beautiful tonight." He panted as he pulled away to kiss a path down her neck. "I've never seen a woman more lovely."
She gasped as he lightly bit her beating pulse, her fingers still weaving themselves through his hair.
"I wore this dress for you," she confessed in a small voice. "I wanted you to notice me."
Ethan growled at that and took her mouth again savagely. Before she knew it, Meghan could feel the plush, red carpet underneath her. How had she gotten on the floor? She didn't know and she didn't care. Ethan was kissing her.
"You don't have to wear a pretty dress to get me to notice you," he groaned against her lips. His weight pressing down on her felt heavenly. She pulled him closer, making sure not even a breath separated them.
When she felt him caress her breast through her bodice she gasped and pulled away, looking into his enflamed eyes.
"What's the matter? Am I moving too fast for you?"
"No," she said. "It's just that no man has ever been so...familiar with me before."
He smiled at her. "So it would seem that not only am I charged with protecting your life, but your virginity as well?" His hand still stroked her, puckering her nipple under the fabric and rolling it with his fingers. She gasped at his audacity, then chuckled.
Bolstered by his own crude humor, she decided to pay him back in kind. "I was hoping you'd help me get rid of that annoying little nuisance."
His eyes widened in shock before his loud, delighted laughter echoed off the hallowed walls of the chapel.