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  • Jacque Stevens

Newlywed Bliss? (Marian's Man Chp. 2)

Updated: Nov 4

I’m not completely naïve, you should know. I never believed all the ballads sung of love and romance, but still, my first night back with my husband did not go as I was expecting. It started out right. We rode together on a magnificent stallion and were put together in one tent to a round of lusty cheers for “Robin Hood” and his lady fair. We collapsed on a bed of well-worn furs. There were a few soft kisses, a few scattered whispers of “I love you, I missed you,” that descended to a simple chant of my name: “Mare, Mare, Mare.” And then, just when I started to wonder, would it happen tonight? Was I ready? There was nothing.

My husband had his arms wrapped around me, his fingers entwined in my hair, then he fell dead asleep with us both still fully dressed.

I know. I know. I had no reason to be disappointed. That poor boy had been traveling for months only to be immediately locked up by the sheriff, put in the cell of our own keep. He had been beaten, starved, and then near strangled—hanging by a noose for several moments before I could free him. He favored one side when he walked and leaned on me without meaning to. Darkening bruises circled his neck; he spoke with a rasp when he was awake, and his breath hitched every so often as he slept. He was hurt. He was tired. Of course he was. I was tired and stressed from worry over him. Just having him beside me again should have been enough. Just listening to him breathe. Mere days before I thought I lost everything, everyone I cared about from my childhood, but now Rob was back, and he was mine, and nothing else should have mattered.

But somehow it did matter. I felt . . . rejected somehow. Like if he had only held out for a moment longer, if only I had been able to say “Dearheart, you’re exhausted,” and left him wanting more, I could have slept without any issues.

Instead, it nagged on me, and with that nagging, a root pressed deeper into my back. The unforgiving hardness of the dirt, and the beat of the wind on the tent’s skin canvas. All the surrounding irritates built inside my brain until it seemed a physical pain.

I never thought of myself as spoiled, but the truth was, I had never slept in a tent or on the ground before. I wasn’t sure if I knew how to, especially with Rob already settled. And while I lay awake, a distant, ghost of a memory crept into the space between us.

Whispered words I thought I had put behind me long ago.

“I told you so."

The haunting words had been spoken in jest, not even meant to be unkind, but the weight they still carried was staggering. Taken back to the moment when those words had been breathed into life, it seemed I was a girl of thirteen summers again. I was jealous. Insecure. Fully aware of how irrational my thoughts were, but unable to silence them.

I tossed and turned and then left the tent.

The smell of smoke and tree sap hung in the cool night air. I tiptoed around other tents, lean-tos, and a few figures sprawled out to sleep on the ground of Sherwood forest. I had almost made it over to where we had our horse hobbled when I noticed someone awake and watching me.

John, sitting alone by a fire, quirked his eyebrow up. “Well, that was fast.”

Yes, somehow I had completely forgotten I was in a camp full of outlaws who would notice if I wasn’t in my tent. I was left to wonder if it would serve our pride better to say, yes, we were indeed that fast—champion sprinters—or to say no, after years of being married and years of being apart, my husband still didn’t want me as a man should want his wife.

But I wasn’t worried about that.

Or, at least, I wasn’t going to say I was worried about that.

I glanced behind me at the tent, then back again. “Rob is . . . is there someone here who could see him? I mean like a physician?”

The bearded leader of our outlaw band was a wanted murderer and as large as a bear, but he sobered a little at my request. The firelight played over John’s softened frown. “We’re still simple bandits, but mayhap we could call for someone. How bad is he?”

“I don’t know.” If I had been able to do my marital duty and gotten my husband naked, I could have looked him over myself. But then, I wasn’t a healer. I wouldn’t know what to do with any new injury I might have uncovered. And the stubborn boy I remembered from our childhood might die before asking for help. That left only one course of action. “I’ll find Tuck in the morning.”

John’s thick eyebrows came together and deepened his frown. “And in the morning . . . will you be Marian?”

“Of course.” I had been Marian all day—since Rob had first been captured—and there didn’t seem any way to change that now. And why should I want to? I had taken my husband’s identity out of necessity only. Not because I had truly wanted to replace him.

“Then who is Robin Hood?” John asked.

That was the question, wasn’t it? Because even though I had taken my husband’s name and tried to copy some of his habits when becoming a hooded bandit, I had no idea how Rob felt about Robin Hood—especially if he would have to play the role himself. But surely, we couldn’t completely discard our greatest weapon against the sheriff with everything still so uncertain?

I glanced back at the tent again. “I will have to ask him.”

“Ask him? You don’t know yourself? After everything that has happened, do you truly think you can manage being Robin’s girl instead of the hood himself?”

John seemed so skeptical. A part of me didn’t blame him. I knew it would be an adjustment for all of us, but it would also be a relief if I didn’t have to figure everything out by myself anymore and could receive my husband’s council. And right before I had freed Rob, I had promised God I would be a proper woman if I could save him.

God had fulfilled his side of the bargain. I had to at least try to fulfill my side in return.

“I’ll talk to him,” I said again, and I went straight back the way I had come.

But when I got back to the tent, and saw Rob sleeping, I didn’t want to wake him. Not yet.

His arms and fingers were curled, like he still thought he was holding me. His hair was an unruly tangle of blond. Even with his short beard, growing around a thin white scar he had gained in the Holy Land, he looked so much like his boyhood self—the one who wouldn’t sleep until he collapsed amid one of his midnight projects. The boy I recognized and had grown up loving despite the long years we had spent apart. And just thinking again that I had him back, that all my previous nightmares were over, that really was enough for me tonight.

After all, there were far worse things in life than being simply Robin’s girl.

I no longer had to be an irrational girl of thirteen. I had no reason to complain or feel sorry for myself. He was my husband and he had risked death for me. I was going to do my best to take care of him in return. If he needed to sleep and heal right now, then I would help him do it.

We would have our whole lives to figure everything else out.

I tugged off one of his boots, trying to ease him into a more comfortable position. He stirred and gave me a feeble kick in response, his eyes unfocused and his words slurred. “I’m married. Go find Gale.”

A wide grin overtook my whole face. “Yes, dear. You’re married to me.”

He blinked. “Mare? My Mare?”

“Shh . . .” I purred in response, making my movements as gentle and soothing as a lullaby. He smiled sleepily and voiced no more protest. I finished with his boots and his sword belt—anything leather and bulky, but I felt no more need to remove anything more intimate. “Go to sleep, my darling.”

He nodded and reached for me, drawing me into his chest. My heart thrilled at the touch. He was so warm. So strong. So much better than trying to sleep on dirt. His heart beat slowed and steadied under my ear. I felt him drop off again with nothing but satisfaction.

Though I never voiced the fear out loud, I had heard of the paid wenches who followed after companies of campaigning soldiers. Many regarded it as an almost natural part of life; men never held themselves to same level of chastity expected in their wives. But Rob had kicked those harlots away. He had sent them to my unmarried brother instead. He had done it so often it became second nature, even half asleep.

That was my Rob—my boy and now my man. Rigid and stubborn. Noble and strong. That was how he always was and always would be. And it occurred to me, as it hadn’t before, how on-guard he must have been the last few years. Not just for his honor, but for his very life. He had been among enemies in foreign lands. To have him relax for me after all the time we had spent apart was a far greater gift than anything else I could have received that night.

No matter what happened to Lady Marian or Robin Hood in the morning, I was truly blessed to be Robin’s girl again. I filled in the space between his arms, certain that was one place I would always belong.



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