Abruptly, as if conjured up by her distraught, yearning mind, he was there. Walking towards her through a throng of people was her husband; still in full battle regalia, walking as casually as if he were on vacation - but there was nothing casual in the dark gaze that swept over the warrior she had tended to and then leaped to her, raking her from head to foot in a single, piercing, encompassing look. He was tattered and sweaty and dirty; his robes torn and revealing an assortment of nicks and cuts and bruises. For all that, he was strong and vital; even across the distance his vitality seared her, an almost palatable force, and a shaking began deep inside her.
After the battle, when the first wounded had come in - when she had learned that Ardeth had come through miraculously without serious injuries and that the O'Connells were safely on their way to Cairo, she'd had to force her focus on the men who hadn't. As the other healers, she too had pushed personal concerns to the back of her mind for the long hours ahead; aware that her husband and children were safe and protected had enabled her to concentrate on the work at hand and the men who needed her healing skills - keenly aware also that she was more fortunate than many of the tribeswomen. But now, when he stood only a short distance away, all her senses focused on Ardeth, and the deep, churning emotion swelling inside her demanded recognition. Her legs seemed to have a will of their own, carrying her towards him while her eyes never left his.
Pride, love and desire swelled in his heart as Ardeth watched his wife walking towards him, taking his breath away. She was pale, and her usually so expressive face wore a mask that he had come to know as her healer's face - but her control was cracking, and he could see the strain of the effort it was taking her to maintain it. Lines of exhaustion marred her face, which was streaked with dirt and blood where she had absently swiped sweat off of her; her robes were dusty and dirty, and he knew that if he looked, he would find blood on them, too. She was not one to shy away from hard work. Ardeth Bay knew his wife - despite the week of hard travel and working last night and this morning to erect the temporary camp, despite preparing for the flood of warriors needing the healers' help, she likely had snatched only a minute here and there to eat and rest.
He brushed her cheek with the back his hand, needing to touch her and unheeding of the tradition of his people that it was unseemly to show emotion in public - today they had triumphed over seemingly insurmountable obstacles - they were entitled. But of course that wasn't enough - tension had been coiling inside him after the battle, transmorphing from battle lust to sexual lust that had to be ruthlessly suppressed because of duty... his and hers. Now it boiled to the surface abruptly, and he narrowed his eyes at the surge of lust writhing inside him, burning his blood and bringing him fully erect. He drew a deep breath in an effort of control.
Her hand came up to cover his in a lingering, tender caress and he turned his hand, bringing hers up to his lips, feeling the roughness of her palm. She had washed her hands, but the flat, metallic smell of blood and the bitter scents of medicine still clung to it.
"I'm dirty." Angelina gave a rueful half-smile but made no attempt to pull her hand away. A not so subtle tension was emanating from him; his eyes had darkened to nearly black and her own skin felt prickly, too tight. She wanted to be alone with Ardeth, even if it was just for a few precious moments.
"So am I." Ardeth pulled her closer but she resisted the lure of his hard muscled body and the haven of his strong arms, glancing around her. Their tent was on the other side of the camp, and from the looks of him, he would never make it - she knew she wouldn't. There was a supply tent nearby, and she lead him to it, skin prickling with the heat of his body so close behind her. She moved directly to the little table as Ardeth secured the tent flap. On the table was an old oil lamp and matches, and she lit it. She turned around and had to grip the edge of the table for support as her knees almost buckled, so pure was the relief that flooded through her: with swift, economic movements, never taking his burning gaze from her, Ardeth was removing his numerous armaments, and that, more than anything, alleviated the quiet terror inside her: Ardeth Bay was a warrior first and foremost - if he had believed there were ever a shred of a threat left to her or his family, he would not have disarmed himself.
"So it's truly over?" Her voice was barely more than a whisper. Assorted other weapons joined the scimitar on the pile of blankets along with his bandoleers. He came to her and she stood riveted, galvanized by pure, aching relief and his compelling eyes. His hands moved on the fastenings of her overrobe swiftly and surely.
"Yes, my love. It truly is over."
"What about the O'Connell boy?" She didn't appreciate the O'Connell's presence in Egypt; it always seemed to herald problems and danger for her husband - but she could and would honor her husband's friendship with them.
"Safe and uninjured." His attention was more on the robe and the skin of her neck was revealed when he pulled it open, revealing the tunic and the long skirt she wore underneath. He touched her neck where her pulse was jumping madly, his fingers warm and sure, sending shiver after shiver relentlessly down her spine. Her nipples hardened, pushing against the fabric of her tunic, and Ardeth made a rough sound in his throat.
"Good." She shrugged her shoulders and let the robe drop to the ground,
Ardeth didn't say more; he didn't have to - his darkened, glittering eyes telegraphed the depth of his emotions far more eloquently than mere words ever would, and he read the response in her eyes. He closed his fist in her hair and pulled her head back as she lifted her face towards him, offering her mouth to his even as he claimed her lips like a man starved. His taste was tart and wild and shatteringly familiar; his mouth hot and hard and hungry, as she had known it would be. He had not only survived but triumphed where defeat had seemed unavoidable - and now Ardeth was in her arms, vibrant and alive and, above all...safe.
Relief so pure and overwhelming washed over her that her knees gave; for a long, aching moment she could do nothing but cling to him, bound by invisible bonds, and let him have her mouth as he wished, relishing the feel of his hard body and strong arms around her; joyously sensing the hot force of life coursing in him. His entire body was taut, straining, and through the robes she could feel his heavy erection press against her belly, thick and hard and urgent. Tension quivered in the strong muscles under her hands, the result of fierce need tightly leashed, and she melted inside. Two of their four children had been conceived in the wake of a great battle, and she had seen other couples slip away into the night - in the next weeks and months to follow, there would be many weddings; and in nine months time, many babies would born in the tribes. It was the way of things. She understood what he was saying with his hunger: there was death, yes, but life marched on hand in hand with it.
His hands were rough and demanding as they moved upon her flesh, exploring and conquering what already belonged to him, and him alone. With sure knowledge, he roughly teased the sensitive, already hardening peaks of her breasts with the rough pads of his thumbs into aching, throbbing awareness, greedily swallowing the moan she made deep in her throat. Urgently, driven by a need more sharper and deeper than physical desire, he stroked her thighs and hips; kneading her bottom, he filled his hands with the full, rounded flesh of her buttocks, pulling her hips against his, into a grinding contact with the fullness of his arousal. She more felt than heard the raw, hoarse groan of primitive need vibrating in his throat, and she arched her lower body hard against his as her own needs struck sparks in her yearning flesh. Then those long, elegant, devilishly knowledgeable fingers slipped between her legs, feeling her, rubbing her with rough tenderness through her clothes. Riptides of emotion and sensation seized her entire being and smashed through her barriers... as if they never existed. The sound that came from her throat was half a gasp, half a sob as the familiar, ever powerful sensations flooded her entire being - he knew just how to touch her, how to initiate the very response he craved.
The steely grip of the quiet terror that had held her heart in a vise the past week cracked the tiniest bit; the fears and the sheer relief that she lived and that he lived; that the children were safe; love and lust - guilt and joy, grief and triumph - a myriad of emotions spiraled and swelled ungovernable inside her, interwoven with the exquisite physical pleasure that was always between them.
Since he departed for England, she had lived in the quiet terror of losing him, her chest squeezing painfully at the thought of a blade or a bullet extinguishing the hot vitality in his powerful body - of Ardeth lying cold and still and forever gone from her. But he was alive, and he was hers; her body heated and melted, throbbing in a near painful demand of its rightful due. A painful emptiness pulsated within her - emptiness that she, in the deep recesses of her heart, had feared would remain unfulfilled. She moaned deep in her throat, an achy sound full of need - she could not wait, not for another minute - she ached with a savage need to feel his weight pressing down on her and the seductive, comforting heat of his body enveloping her. She ached to feel him moving strongly, powerfully inside her, and her quiet acquiescence died a swift and strangled death.
Angelina came alive in his arms; her mouth moving with wild, deliberate abandon underneath his and her tongue matching his, hungry slide for hungry slide, her hands releasing their death grip on his shoulders and sliding around his back. Her grip was strong as she went down, awkwardly pulling him with her on the leather covered floor, for neither of them could stand to break the mating of their mouths. He was cradled between her thighs; she was soft and warm and pliant; achingly, wonderfully female beneath his own hard body as she writhed urgently under him, driven by a need as fierce as his. Blinded by a hunger sharper and deeper than mere physical desire, he ground hard against her; letting her feel the hard ridge of his arousal. He tore his lips from her mouth and gulped in air, burying his face in the hollow of her throat where shoulder joined neck. He pressed his open mouth against the hot skin, breathing in deeply of her scent - she, as he, had not had time to wash yet; her smell was that of sun and sand; of the bitter odors of blood and medicine, and, underlying it all, her own unique scent that he would recognize everywhere, anytime.
She arched against him passionately, raising her knees to hug his hips, and he hung his head low, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth as she ground her pelvis against his trapped, burgeoning shaft. He craved to be buried deep inside her; to feel her slick, silky sheath quake about him as she climaxed, to hear the hot little cries she made as he drove his thick length into her. Her hand slipped between their bodies, and he drew in a sharp hissing breath, sweat breaking out all over his body as he braced himself for the touch he knew was coming. Wild electricity shot through his entire body as she folded her fingers about his swollen, throbbing member as best she could through the clothes. He could feel the quiver in her muscles; she was trembling with urgency beneath him, shaking with the force of her emotions, and her touch was both delicately feminine, and boldly demanding - a searing brand of possession he would never dream of challenging. He felt the sharp bite of her teeth and hot, wet laving of her tongue as she tortured the sensitive skin of his throat, and groaned thickly in disappointment as her hand left his swollen, aching shaft. She made a soothing sound in her throat, and, in no time at all she had dealt with his clothing - by unlacing, unfastening and moving aside only what was strictly necessary with deftness born of practice - and he truly had cause to groan as his straining shaft fell into her waiting hands, her slim fingers folding about him in an exquisite caress that took his breath away.
She read the signs, knew the level of his arousal - knew that a couple of quick strokes would finish it for him. Yet, not touching him was not an option - once more, she had faced the stark possibility of living without her husband, her lover - the father of her children. Never getting to touch him, never again feeling the hot, vital current of life coursing through him... it was impossible not to seek confirmation in this way. His entire body stiffened and a raw groan rumbled up from deep with his chest as she explored the thick bulbous tip; closed her fingers about the rigid length of his shaft, hot and smooth and throbbing, steel covered in softest velvet, pulsing with independent life as his powerful body trembled above her.
"Enough!" The command came through a gritted teeth, his voice guttural nearly beyond recognition. Shifting his weight, Ardeth roughly yanked at her skirt until it bunched around her hips, pure heat flaring in his eyes as his searching fingers met with slick, silky flesh instead of cloth. Breath shuddered in her lungs as he caught her beneath her thighs and lifted her legs to wrap them around his waist, the roughness of his robes under the smooth skin of her legs adding another sensation to her already rioting nerve endings. She shifted her grip on his swollen shaft, lodging the thick head of him where she felt the most empty, breath snagging in her throat at the feel of him. For a moment, their eyes locked - the mutual yield and demand acknowledged and fulfilled. Then his mouth slanted over hers in a dueling kiss of deliberate, savage passion and breath exploded from her lungs in a hard gasp as he plunged into her to the hilt.
Her body arched in a feminine shock and her fingers dug hard into the steely muscles of his back. She more felt than heard the helpless groan that vibrated in his throat, and his body shuddered with relief, as if he could not have borne another moment unconnected to her. For a moment he held still, a throbbing, stretching, heavy presence deep within her, burning her, driving her mad. Then he began moving, taking her hard and fast - as she had known he would - driving his full length into her with feverish strength, kissing her with deliberate, heavy wildness, muffling the wild cries that threatened to erupt from her throat, muffling his own moans of exquisite torture. She was drowning, burning. Ardeth was incredibly, heartachingly familiar inside her - thick and hard and pulsing with an independent life, so deep inside her that it seemed unfathomable they could ever be two separate entities again. She heard herself sobbing, harsh sounds that burned in her throat as her body arched fiercely, eagerly, possessively to accept the powerful thrusts of his body. Everything inside her gathered and focused and spiraled, exploding with the pure physical ecstasy her husband wrought in her and desperately she thrust a hand in his hair to bring his mouth hard against her own to muffle the wild cry she felt building within her - and then she began climaxing, clamping down hard on his hot swollen rod of flesh moving blissfully, relentlessly inside her. White hot pleasure exploded in all her nerve endings, and she bucked violently underneath his crushing weight and clasped him to her with convulsive strength as she plummeted headlong into the swirling, mindbending release.
Tiny red sparks exploded behind Ardeth's closed eyelids. His lungs heaved with the effort of drawing breath; his heart thundered, reverberating against his ribcage. His entire being focused on the woman in his arms, his whole body seeming to expand until his skin would burst, and blood roared through his veins in a dizzying rush. She heaved in his arms, and need burned through him; he thrust ever deeper, ever harder inside her, helpless against the shattering sensation of her tight, clinging sheath clasping his aching length. Her soft internal muscles milked his burgeoning shaft, and he buried himself deeply within her, his powerful body arching like a bow as his climax roared through him, shaking him. A hoarse cry burst from his throat, greedily drank in by Angelina, and he shuddered; caught and shattered and healed in a way that he had found only with her.
After the evening meal, after tending to the wounded, after attending the things that could not wait for the morning, they slept; and waking, they made slow sweet love. Afterwards she held him, and he kissed her as if he couldn't get enough of her; kisses as hard and deep as if their passion had not just been expended, kisses as light and delicate as if she'd never been kissed. Tears seeped from beneath her lashes, and he kissed them away too. Love was in his eyes, and a far more deeper and aching emotion that tucked at her heartstrings; he was a strong man, a self-sufficient man - one not easily given to admitting, or showing, to a need. But he loved her, and his love was her sanctuary.
His chest hurting at how close he had come to never touching her again - never seeing his sons growing into men - and he thanked Allah, not for the first time, for gifting him with such a woman - with the strength and spirit to take him and his duty and his needs and his darkness and match them and make them her own. He knew women who would cringe from her husband if he came to her as he had come to Angelina - had before and would again; foul smelling and dirty, sweat dried upon and blood staining his clothes and body, darkness in his soul. The soft feel of her body, the strength of her embrace, the all encompassing passion of her response to him - it was all achingly dear, exquisitely familiar, and he was acutely aware of how close annihilation had been. But she was safe, and here, in her arms, in her body, in her heart, was sanctuary.
Together they kept the darkness at bay.
... for now