Life was improving, and Roana couldn't help but feel contentment, especially when she compared her current reality to her time spent betrothed to William. In fact, there were occasions when she was more than content, and she couldn't keep the smile from her face.
Things were developing nicely with Allan. He left her feeling breathless with wonder and desire, yet, at the same time, loved, cherished, and safe. It was a heady combination that felt so right, and completely organic. There was nothing artificial or forced about it; they had met and fallen in love, and it seemed only natural for things to progress without any doubts or reservations. That Robin had given them his blessing secured the union in both of their minds.
Robin and Roana's talk had been a shared moment that she had unconsciously been waiting for since she had returned to Nottingham. That it had taken so long in coming was understandable. There were numerous factors that had stood in the way of it having happened sooner, not least her stint in the castle, when Allan had been her closest confidant. There had been little time for family reunions during that period, or since then. That Robin had used their stay at Second Chance as an opportunity to rebuild their sibling bond filled Roana with warmth. She felt much closer to him now, and it was a nice feeling. Although Roana had always cultivated her independence, having two men who cared about her wellbeing so deeply caused her heart to swell.
A hidden part of Roana had always smarted over the way her father had abandoned her all those years ago. Although the rational side of her brain acknowledged that it had been the best course of action, the little, lonely girl inside would always miss her parents and the family she had had before her mother had died. Her aunt and uncle had done an admirable job in raising her, and for that, she would forever be thankful. But she couldn't help those deep feelings of rejection. No matter how much she strove to understand her father's actions as an adult, her little girl heart would always be broken and bewildered. Being accepted by Robin as his younger sister, and being loved by Allan, a relative stranger until mere months prior, were more than she had ever dreamed possible, especially after the dread of her betrothal to William. Life was certainly sweeter now than it had been when she first arrived in Nottingham, all those weeks ago.
But there were still things to consider, and her night at Second Chance, while having rested her mind in some ways and filled her with anticipation in others, had also provided her with additional issues to contemplate. She was in no doubt that her future would include Allan; that went without saying. He was in her heart, and she longed to progress their relationship. However, Robin's words from earlier that morning played on her mind. Allan's worries were now her worries, and she couldn't bear the thought that he was doubting his own importance in their union. Roana didn't care about his status or what he owned. She cared about the person that he was, and the way he made her feel. She cared about his loyalty to his friends, his emotional honesty, and the way he looked at her, as if she were everything he had been searching for. She wanted to be, and she knew that she would need to broach the subject with him soon, to put both of their mind's at rest.
Robin had been preparing to leave Second Chance for an inordinate amount of time, but kept finding people to talk to, basking in their admiration, catching up on their gossip. Roger of Locksley had taken him to view their newly erected tree shelter, and Roana decided to pull Allan aside, slipping her hand into his and leading him into the thick trees surrounding the dwelling.
"Ro, if you wanted to get me on my own, you only needed to ask," he quipped, his tone amused as he followed her. Roana laughed and glanced back at him, giving him a grin.
"Behave yourself, A Dale. I just wanted to talk to you in private."
His stride faltered as his face fell a little. Roana saw a flash of uncertainty in his eyes, and realised with a jolt that he was expecting the worst. Coming to a halt, she doubled back and took his face in her hands, kissing him on the lips. Pulling back, she looked into his blue gaze.
"Nothing bad. Stop worrying."
He grinned. "Promise?"
She winked and began to head further into the greenwood, stopping in a tiny clearing that was close to the small village but far enough away to avoid eavesdroppers. Turning to Allan, she took both of his hands in hers.
"Allan," she began, earnestly. "I wanted to talk to you after.. well, this morning, and what I said last night, and then I spoke to Robin about.. stuff, and.."
Flustered, she stumbled over her words, suddenly tongue-tied, and Allan came to her rescue, touching her cheek.
"Slow down. Start from the beginning. What you— what we said last night. Because it wasn't just you, Ro."
She smiled at him, gratefully. "I know, Allan. And I just wanted to say that I meant it. I do love you."
He smirked and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer. "And why wouldn't you? I'm irresistible." Roana laughed and swatted his shoulder before winding her arms around his neck. He sobered. "Seriously, though, I meant it too, and I've never said that to anyone before, Ro. Until you."
Roana's heart swelled with adoration for him. "I haven't, either. Until you."
They smiled at each other, and he kissed her, gently and with feeling, then drew back. "Last night, you were gonna tell me all of the reasons why you loved me, too. Don't think I've forgotten about that."
Roana laughed. "Oh, I'll tell you, all right. However, we don't have the time right now."
Allan rolled his eyes, still holding her close. "Fair enough. It can wait. What's next? This morning?"
Roana pinked, feeling a little breathless as she recalled their morning together. "Yes. This morning.."
Allan stilled and looked into her eyes. "You're having second thoughts? Because, if you're not ready, Ro, just say."
Roana shook her head, quickly. "No, no. It's nothing like that. It's just— well, it's a big deal, isn't it? And I wanted you to know that I would only consider doing anything like that with you."
Allan looked at her, shocked. "I know that. You're completely different to any of the women I've, umm, met." He looked abashed for a brief moment, before continuing. "Ro, whatever happens between us is between us, and it will be special. Different to anything else I've known. I'd never take advantage of you." He hugged her to him, and Roana rested her cheek against his chest as he stroked her hair. "I'm mad about you. Sometimes, I look at you and I can't believe you chose me."
Roana drew back to look him in the eye. "Which brings me to the final topic. I did choose you, I do choose you, and I will choose you. I want to be with you, as a fellow outlaw and as a noble."
Allan kissed her on the forehead and released her, moving away across the small clearing. He ripped out a handful of fog grass and began to twist the strands in his hands, watching her. "But will I be enough for a lady? What will your aunt and uncle say?"
Roana felt a twinge of guilt at the thought of Robert and Eleanor. She would have to return home at some point in the near future, if only to update them on the situation with William. She knew that, by breaking off her betrothal, she may well have incited William's wrath, but he was still in Nottingham for the time being. Surely he wouldn't take it out on them. And surely Robert and Eleanor would not begrudge her finding love with Allan.
"I'm sure they will be happy for me, Allan. For us."
He eyed her, carefully, still twisting the grass. "But they wanted you to marry William."
"We were forced into it, Allan," Roana replied, hotly. "I couldn't see a way out, at the time. But now, I'm not going to be threatened into anything, by anyone!"
He crossed to her, quickly, his hands still busy with the grass. "Alright, Ro. I know, I know." He freed one hand to rub her arm. "You reckon your uncle would like me, then?"
Roana looked at him and softened. "How could he not? But, Allan, whatever they initially think, I won't change my mind about you."
He moved closer and pressed his lips against hers in a kiss that quickly became deeper, more ardent. Abandoning the grass, he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. She placed her hands on the nape of his neck, sliding her fingers into his hair, and opened her mouth, tilting her head to deepen the kiss even further. He devoured her lips, hungrily, his tongue meeting hers halfway. Roana clung to him as a wave of desire crashed over her, and he backed her up against the trunk of an ancient oak tree, placing his hands on either side of her head.
Roana gasped as he pulled back to trail hot kisses down her throat.
"Allan, we need to go," she managed, huskily, her breathing heavy.
He hmphed. "I knew you were going to say that."
"Your psychic ability. One of the things I love about you," Roana said, impishly, and she felt his smile curving across her skin.
Moving back, he held up the fog grass that he had picked earlier. He had twisted the strands around and around to create a tight rope of grass, and then tied the two ends together to form a ring. He took her left hand and held it up, positioning the grass ring about her fourth finger. He looked at her, questioningly, and Roana's face split into a wide smile of pleasure as she nodded. He slipped the grass ring onto her ring finger, where it nestled perfectly at the base of her finger.
Allan shrugged, bashfully. "That's the best I can offer right now. The ring might not last long, but the way I feel about you will. I'd quite like to marry you one day, Roana of Locksley or Filey or wherever you're from. Is that okay with you?"
She nodded again. "Very much so."
"Good." He kissed her, quickly. "Now, let's find your brother and get back to the camp."
Much headed straight back to camp from Locksley, abuzz with purpose. The day felt strangely fated; meeting Eve again after so long filled him with hope for a future that wasn't so lonely after all. His life thus far had been so closely entwined with Robin's that he hadn't considered an existence that didn't involve being by Robin's side. But Eve's return had opened up unexpected and very welcome possibilities.
However, as Much has discovered, often to his chagrin, there were always obstacles to overcome before any great achievement, and Robin's family were in danger. They would have to come first. Whatever Robin needed from him, Much was willing to give, because that was what best friends did for each other.
And afterwards, Much hoped beyond hope that Eve would be waiting for him.
Reaching the camp, he dismounted and quickly tethered his horse before hurrying into the living area. Will, Djaq, and Little John were deep in conversation and looked startled to see him.
"Much, what's happening?" Will asked, looking concerned.
"It's Bridlington," Much said, glancing around. "He's out for revenge. I need to find Robin and Roana."
"What is he going to do?" Djaq asked in alarm.
"He's travelling to Filey with the Sheriff and Gisborne," Much replied. "He means to burn Filey Manor."
"Roana's home," Djaq gasped.
Little John thumped his staff on the ground in anger. "We need to stop him."
"Stop who?" Robin asked, wincing as he joined them. He was walking carefully, holding his back straight, and seemed weary. Roana and Allan were close behind, talking amongst themselves.
"Master!" Much exclaimed, looking relieved. "Thank God you're back."
"Were you missing him, Much?" Allan quipped, and Roana muffled a laugh.
Much shot him a glare, then looked back at Robin. "We have a problem."
"What is it?" Robin was immediately alert.
"Alice came to camp, looking for Roana."
"Is something wrong?" Roana asked, her smile fading as she glanced quickly at Much.
Much looked from Robin to her and back again. "The Sheriff and Bridlington are going to Filey in the morning."
The colour drained from Roana's face. "No," she whispered.
Much's expression was grim. "He wants revenge for your rejection. He means to take it out on your aunt and uncle."
Roana looked distraught, and Robin moved to her, placing a hand on her arm. "Wait, Roana. Much, what did Alice say he planned to do?"
Much looked uncomfortable. "Burn Filey Manor, from what I gather."
Roana nodded, her face drawn and her tone one of bleak resignation. "I'm going home. I need a horse."
The other outlaws shifted, looking to Robin.
"I'm going with her," Allan said.
"We're all going," Robin replied, grimly. "This is family. We look out for family." He was suddenly determined. "Much, get together all of the food we have. John and Allan, prepare the horses. Will, start locking the camp down. Djaq," he winced again. "Please put some of this salve on my back before we set off, and check my stitches."
"But, Master," Much said, indignantly, as everyone jumped into action. "You should be resting."
"Much, this is far more important," Robin stated, brooking no argument. "We need to get to Filey before the Sheriff and Bridlington."
Roana looked at him, gratefully, her eyes huge and brimming with tears. "Thank you, Robin. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
"Roana, you're my sister," Robin told her. "There is no way you're dealing with this alone. So, come on, lads and ladies." He looked around the camp, taking it all in as if for the last time, committing everything to memory.
"We're going to Yorkshire."
To be continued...
Check our the second instalment in the Lady Locksley series, Lady Outlaw.