Settling down with a mug of tea, Sansa needed to take a break from job hunting. Opening her tablet, she decided to indulge her favorite escape: perusing vacation blogs, pretending she was planning a visit to the southern countries of Westeros.
While the south was full of cities bustling with diversity, plenty of jobs to be had for the asking, and mild weather, the north never recovered from the war. And the ten year winter season was a burden itself.
The poor economy denied basic resources for northerners, especially since King Joffrey placed tariffs on all the products exported from there as part of a trade war. In the past year, many industries closed. And families that Sansa had known all her life were moving away.
Since her father passed away five years back, there had been huge financial burdens on the family, and Sansa couldn’t bring herself to leave them. So she settled on a local university to continue her dream of becoming a custom dressmaker.
Bran’s snowboard accident happened not long after; in-home physical therapy and medical bills further strained the family funds. Sansa had to quit school and work two jobs. Since their mother spent her time working and caring for Bran, Arya and Rickon grew wilder by the day. Winter had come with a vengeance for the Starks.
Sleet rattled against the windows, shaking her of her recollections. Gods, what she wouldn’t do to be on a southron beach right now. She was determined to reach her dreams, one way or another. She just needed a plan.
Sansa tapped her finger on the bookmark of her favorite blog. Escape to the warm, sun-kissed beaches of King’s Landing! Sansa wished for nothing more. Life seemed so carefree for the people who lived there. The sight of the wealthy, young, tanned and fit men and women frolicking in the waves sent a pang of envy through her.
Sansa couldn’t remember the last time she had a vacation, could barely remember a time when she felt the effortless contentment in the people smiling back at her through the screen of her tablet.
Eagerly she moved onto the second one. The beautiful shores of Port Lannisport, one of the largest, richest cities of Westeros. Come to visit and see it’s prosperity for yourself!
More beautiful, tanned people, Sansa complained inwardly. This time they were wearing swimsuits that barely covered their most intimate places, enjoying champagne under burgundy and gold cabanas of the exclusive Casterly Rock Club. Yes, Casterly Rock Club was very elegant, but she would feel too out of place there if they even allowed shabby northerners into the place. Every one of the guests was surgically enhanced and dripping in gold and diamond jewelry.
Swallowing hard, her hand instinctively went to the silver and sapphire direwolf charm at her neck, the last nameday gift she had received from her late father. It was a reminder of better times, and the ones she prayed to the gods were ahead for her. She fingered it while whispering a quick prayer to her father before tapping on the next bookmark.
Shop the opulent Lannisport Outlet Mall, your one-stop destination to luxury! Oh, she would much rather visit there! Ever since she was a little girl, Sansa loved embroidery, sewing, and designer clothing.
The scenes showed happy families laughing while eating southern delicacies, bringing up a bitter lump in her throat. Young people in the latest summer fashions carried designer Dornish leather handbags as they shopped and flirted under a shaded canopy.
Wrinkling her nose, Sansa glanced down at her sweats and ratty sweater. When was the last time she went shopping? Aside from The Wall Mart, there weren’t many places to shop near Winterfell - and none of them fashionable. She would definitely need to do some serious online retail therapy if she ever visited Port Lannisport.
Faintly Sansa could hear her mother speaking to someone. On to the next region, she said to herself as she tucked her feet under her legs.
Visit the rugged hills of the Westerlands, the richest lands in Westeros. A landscape dotted with golden, rolling plains and caves from which gold and silver mines pour forth deep veins in astonishing quantities. Abundant gemstones and precious metals mean lower prices on all your jewelry needs!
With widened eyes, Sansa clicked on the pictures of black fertile fields, apple orchards, Pinot grape vineyards, and Black Mission fig tree groves. Further inland lay dense maple forests that opened up to crystal blue lakes and river rapids, reportedly renowned worldwide for whitewater rafting.
Gemstones of all kinds, gold and silver jewelry, beautiful log homes in the verdant foothills all caught her attention. Oh, she would definitely visit the Westerlands first! The featured delicacies and riches were sensational!
But how could she go? The family barely had enough money to get by; not many opportunities presented themselves as of late. Her gaze fell on a bookmark icon for a mail-order bride broker she had set up months ago. Missandei’s Marriage Brokerage Suite. Let us help you find your perfect match with a beautiful, northern bride of your choosing.
That’s one way to get south. And if I’m chosen, I could put my husband’s fee in a trust for Bran. From what Sansa had seen on the website, Lannisport and King’s Landing was teeming with beautiful women, but the farming areas surrounding them were not heavily populated. The men there depended on agriculture and vacationers for their incomes – jobs that left little time for meeting potential partners.
Her mother’s voice pulled her out of her fantasies - and back to the dreary reality of life. Stern Aunt Lysa was impatiently tapping her foot; Sansa had been so caught up in her musings that she didn’t realize she’d entered the room.
“Sansa, are you daydreaming again? Put down the tablet for a moment, please.”
Her mother had a way of saying “please” that sounded anything but polite, especially when she was about to lecture to one of her children.
No wonder Arya and Bran are nowhere to be found. Suppressing a sigh, Sansa braced herself and turned to face them.
“I cannot understand for the life of me why you haven’t yet settled down with someone and moved out,” Catelyn began. “I was married for four years at your age.”
“It’s all I can do to keep Winterfell let out, and food on the table for Arya and Rickon, and Bran with all the medical bills, I can’t afford to feed you too.“
“Mother, I know,” Sansa struggled to remain respectful. Ever since she turned eighteen, this had become a well-worn topic between them, and at twenty, Sansa had already said all she had to say on the subject.
Enter Aunt Lysa.
“That is why I started college,” Sansa pulled her mother close, “so I could make real money, not just the little I bring doing housekeeping and selling on Etsy.”
“And what good did it do you? You knew from the start that we could ill afford it, but you were determined to waste what little money your father left you on it.“ Aunt Lysa interjected. “And here you are, squandering your days on that damned tablet!”
Her words stung. “I wanted to help the family by having an actual career. I thought maybe I could open a clothing store and help the local economy, but there aren’t any opportunities here.” Sansa stepped away and wrung her hands.
Exasperated, Aunt Lysa shook her head. “Always with the dreams. Well, it’s time you grew up. Take your educated self south, Miss.”
“I would love to go, but since I, as you say, wasted my money on education, I don’t have a way.”
Aunt Lysa and her mother exchanged a look. "Uncle Petyr lives in King’s Landing in the famed Red Keep and he’s offered to take you in. You could work with his showgirls’ costumes-“
Tears stung Sansa’s eyes, for this, too, was a familiar and unpleasant topic between the three of them.
“No, absolutely not! He’s not my uncle, so I wish you both would stop with that! And they aren’t showgirls, Aunt Lysa, they’re sex workers!”
"Ungrateful child!” Aunt Lysa sputtered. “This family has no better friend than Petyr, especially since your father and Jon both-”
Sansa rolled her eyes.
“Sansa that is just a terrible rumor started by jealous people trying to discredit him.” Catelyn insisted.
“So that’s the official party line he has you two repeating.“
Catelyn gaped at her, but Sansa went on, “He’s always staring at me in the grossest way. Sending me friend requests on my social media. He’s a stalker.“
“Sansa, that’s your college third wave feminism talking! Petyr is old-fashioned, and he’s not about to hide that he’s interested in you. What’s wrong with that?” Aunt Lysa fumed.
“What’s wrong is that I’ve made it clear that I don’t want his attention - and yet he refuses to take no for an answer!” Sansa set her jaw. “If you like him so much, why don’t you go live with him and leave me alone?”
Catelyn pinched Sansa’s arm. “By the gods, Sansa, you can be just as willful as Arya at times!”
She jerked away from her.
“You don’t have many options. So, it’s either go with your Uncle Petyr, young lady, or get in touch with a marriage brokerage.”
“A marriage brokerage? To offer myself as a mail order wife?” Sansa’s nervously considered the possibility. It was an honorable way to find a husband and definitely a good opportunity…
“Petyr offered to do it himself, but I don’t like your attitude, so you just do it on your own!” Aunt Lysa hissed. "Just go on and become a mail order bride on one of those bargain sites and see what kind of monster you end up with!”
“Whoa, wait just a minute - Petyr offered to buy me outright, didn’t he?!” Sansa shouted. “And not just for my sewing skills!”
Catelyn side eyed her. “Don’t be so dramatic.”
“I married your father as a mail-order bride.” Her mother arched her brow.
Great, another guilt trip.
“And I married your Uncle Jon as one, the Seven rest him.” Aunt Lysa added, even though Sansa had turned her back to her. “You have a duty to your family. It’s time you made good on it.”
“We need the money, Sansa, and there aren’t many prospects up here-“ her mother gestured to the shabby conditions around them, “and Bran and Arya and Rickon need me. What would you have me do?”
“Stop being so selfish, Sansa!” Aunt Lysa shouted.
“Good gods, Aunt Lysa, even the marriage agencies give women the right to choose their husbands!”
Squeezing her eyes shut, Sansa fought to calm her temper and think rationally. Perhaps if I joined up with one of the free sites, I will find a nice man, settle in with him and who knows? Love might follow. It worked out pretty well for my mother. Less so for my aunt.
Biting her lip, Sansa thought it over. Could she really muster up the courage to reach out to a strange man? To be his wife, and share his bed?
Sansa had already looked at a few sites, and they didn’t seem so bad; each one had ways and means to ensure successful matches. The only caveat was the marriage had to be consummated the day of their meeting after the wedding and if they didn’t get along by the end of the trial period, Sansa would need to return the money - and to the north.
Excitement and a bit of fear took hold of her, while Sansa’s silence increased her mother’s unease.
“Stop that lip nibbling, Sansa, it’s unladylike and a disgusting habit you picked up from Arya. So what will it be: go stay and work with Uncle Petyr, or become a mail order bride?”
Sansa had so little ownership of her own life since her father died. Yet today she would regain control, snatch it out of thin air, all for herself.
“Fine, Mother, I’m going to do it my way. I’ll meet with a marriage brokerage as soon as possible.”
Without a word, she picked up her tablet and left the room, leaving her mother crying over her ungrateful daughter and her aunt harping on her duty to the family.
After the war, the king had rewarded the Clegane family’s loyal service with two hundred acres of land in need of cultivation, as well as an estate in the Westerlands.
Sandor, as the youngest brother, held no hopes of inheriting the lands. Then ten years back, his brother Gregor was killed. His sister Eleanor died after a short battle with cancer and his father and mother followed her to the grave not long after. Life had been lonely from then on and Clegane Manor had transformed into a ghost of its former self.
Before, Eleanor filled the house with laughter and talk endlessly about things she loved, and Sandor missed her loving ways and kindness. His mother had been a great source of comfort to him in the face of Gregor’s abuse and his father’s indifference. They were the only women in Sandor’s life who touched him with affection and looked him straight in the face. When he was younger, he had hoped to find that in a wife but as time passed, Sandor’s heart hardened to the idea and he grudgingly accepted that at 30 years old, marriage and family may not in the cards for him.
While he missed his mother and sister dearly, Sandor couldn’t say the same for the rest of his kin. His sadistic fuck of a brother burned his face against a fire pit, and as a result, Sandor’s father mortgaged most of the land to pay for his skin reconstruction - a debt he never let Sandor forget.
Despite his father’s alcoholism, Sandor left home and joined the elite Lannister army, eventually moving up into Special Forces. After he was injured, he toiled long hours in the fields of Clegane Manor and managed to pay off the loans.
Bronn and Tormund, his neighbors, brothers in arms, and closest friends, weren’t deterred by Sandor’s scarred appearance, large size, or foul temper. Together, they had managed to create a sort of family in the absences of their own.
Such demanding work had left little time for socializing, not that many women were lined up to be his friends or girlfriends. And yet still Sandor longed for the companionship of a woman – an actual, honest to gods relationship, not the hasty couplings of the one night stands that made up his experiences with the opposite sex.
Both Bronn and Tormund had found nice northern women on Missandei’s Marriage Brokerage Suite and encouraged Sandor to join. He had plenty of money for a family and room besides, so one day he decided to give Missandei a call.
Reluctantly Sandor filled out the endless questionnaires and submitted to personality tests, all the while doubting any woman, no matter how financially desperate, would overlook his scarred face. Missandei had assured him that northern women weren’t as shallow as those in the south and that scars held a cultural significance for many there. It all sounded like a load of horse shit to him but after much needling from his friends, he posted his profile.
Sansa Stark was the first profile Missandei showed him, the young woman coming with high praises that were unusual from the marriage broker. Her waist length, thick wavy auburn hair immediately caught his attention: it reminded him of autumn leaves, and Sandor had never seen such a color before. Her fair skin was a rare feature in the sun-soaked south and looked smooth and soft to the touch. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her and hadn’t wanted to look any further even though Missandei had insisted that he browse the site.
Indeed, no matter how many profiles Sandor looked at, time and again his mind wandered back to her. Sansa was breathtakingly beautiful, but it was her eyes that kept him returning to her profile – as sad and blue as they were lovely, the dark emotions contained within them belying the happy smile she gave the camera. The need to protect oneself behind a mask was something Sandor was deeply familiar with, and he wanted to discover what else lay hidden beneath her poised veneer.
Unlike the other women Missandei recommended, whose bodies were displayed for all to admire, Sansa’s profile was filled with pictures of her with family and pets, her skills and education, and the charity work she was involved in. She didn’t ask for jewelry or clothes; only that half the recovery fee be placed in a trust for her brother Brandon.
Sandor spent hours online, pouring over the pictures of her brothers and sister and their dogs, as well as the clothing she designed. Sandor recognized that she was a talented, smart and deeply caring woman – if not a bit naïve for her age –and it was refreshing change from the women Sandor had encountered in the Lannisport bar scene.
He wondered about her siblings, and what had led her to join such a site. Surely there were many northern men who wanted her; why had she resorted to offering herself as an online bride? Hesitatingly Sandor had made an offer for her and it turned out that he was the first Sansa had received. He was surprised she admitted it, and also that she told him the reason: Sansa wasn’t a virgin, a highly valued commodity in the marriage broker business.
Sandor couldn’t have cared less about that: he had long ago lost his virginity - but he appreciated Sansa’s honesty in telling him, knowing it likely cost her a great deal of money in doing so. What bothered him was how ashamed she seemed to be about it, and Sandor gathered that her previous partners were at least partly to blame for the forlorn expression in her eyes. Her honesty and straightforwardness meant far more to him than a ridiculous piece of skin between her legs, and so Sandor counteroffered the highest price for Sansa.
The young woman had actually cried out of relief, Missandei had said, and afterward agreed to become his wife; it turned out her mother had led her to believe no man would want her. Sandor hoped he could give her a reason to never cry again.
After they began texting regularly, Sandor discovered that they had more in common than he would have initially believed. Sansa seemed comfortable enough with his appearance, in fact she didn’t even seem to notice it. It wasn’t long before Sandor suggested they wed as soon as possible.
The Faith of the Seven clergyman married them over the Missandei’s Marriage Brokerage Suite website – not very romantic, but it was only way Missandei could guarantee a marriage would take place.
Sandor gave no fucks about weddings. To his surprise, Sansa also didn’t seem to mind. She followed the old gods of the north. Sandor wasn’t religious, and he couldn’t care less about the airs and formality of holy men; he preferred a no-nonsense ceremony to seal their union. And so after a blood test, a few clicks and an e-signature, Sansa Stark became Sansa Clegane, his wife.
Sansa had asked that he come to her right away, and Sandor was more than happy to oblige her. In two days, he would finally meet his wife in person.
“So, let’s see the little missus.” Tormund nudged him.
Sighing, Sandor clicked onto the profile picture and held up his phone.
“Is this her?” Bronn whistled low when the striking redhead appeared onscreen. “By the gods she’s a beauty.”
“Aye she is, gingers are beautiful, kissed by fire. Just like you, Hound.” Tormund pointed to Sandor’s scars.
“Fuck off, the lot of you.” Sandor growled while batting his hand away.
The men burst out laughing but then quickly settled as Sandor glared at them.
“I mean it, you bloody wankers. You better behave when I bring her back here. Don’t want to scare her off any more than she’s already like to be with this mug.”
Bronn sobered up. “We will, Clegane. You’ve been good to Margie-“
“-and Brienne, too,” Tormund interjected. “The lass has nothing to fear with us.”
“The girls can’t wait to meet her.”
Sandor figured as much; there weren’t too many women in the area for them to socialize with out in the country.
“She’s got beautiful eyes,” Bronn leaned in for a closer look. “and her skin is like snow. Nice long legs, too.”
Sandor nodded. “A proper lady. Her name is Sansa, Sansa Stark.”
“Pretty name for a pretty girl. Young, too. She looks kind of sad, though.” Tormund tilted his head. “Don’t you think?”
“Aye, it was one of the first things I noticed about her.” Sandor gritted his teeth, deciding to let the comment about her age pass.
“Poor lassie. You know what that’s about?”
“Her father died a few years ago, and her younger brother had a terrible accident that left him a paraplegic. Money’s been tight ever since. She signed up with Missandei on an ultimatum from her mother.”
“Just like Margie.” Bronn clicked his teeth. “Well, I wish better days for her. I think she’ll like it here.”
Tormund nodded. “Of course she will. When are you going up there?”
“Saturday.” Sandor let out a nervous breath.
“Why isn’t she flying here? She scared to fly by herself?”
“I didn’t ask,” Sandor shrugged. “I don’t want her traveling by herself with the weather being so bad up there, so I offered to come to get her. Plus I want to meet her family.”
“That’s right gallant of you, Hound.”
“Fuck off, you wanker.”
Bronn laughed. “I’ll have Margie come over and get the place ready for you and Sansa while you’re away.”
“Ready how ?” Sandor glanced around. “The domestic workers keep everything clean.”
“No, lad,” Tormund slapped his back, “women like roses, champagne, and cake after they meet their husbands. Didn’t Missandei tell you?”
Sandor thought back: he vaguely remembered the sound of her lilting accent droning on about such things as he stared at Sansa.
“She might’ve, I don’t know for certain. For fuck’s sake, that woman can talk. I think I tuned most of it out.”
“Well listening is important to women, so you’d better get in the habit of it.”
“Get her a robe and some nice soaps and lotions in the bathroom,” Bronn suggested.
“For fuck’s sake-“ Sandor barked out.
“Do it, lad. Marg loves all of that stuff, and I bet Sansa will too. Don’t worry, we’ll have everything ready for her,” Bronn interrupted, “and you’d better get used to this kind of thing with a wife around.”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Sandor nodded: there was much he didn’t know about being a husband; he just hoped he didn’t fuck up too badly and that Sansa would at least learn to like him enough to want to stay.
“Thanks, but I should probably be the one to pick that out for her. She likes lemons and winter roses. I know fuck all about the bath stuff.”
“Margie loves doing this shit,” Bronn grinned, “She’s been bugging me for a week to mention it to you. Tell you what, I’ll have her come by with some options for the cake and flowers.”
“Thanks, man.” Sandor took out his wallet and peeled off several bills. “And ask her to get the other things, too.”
Snatching it from his hand, Bronn grinned. “Will do, Hound.”
The flight north was pleasant enough, and Sandor passed the time by staring at Sansa’s picture on his phone. However, no sooner had they disembarked than a fierce whiteout swept down from the Frostfangs and buried everything in heavy snow. Sandor and Sansa’s return flight was canceled.
There was no fucking way he was going to spend his wedding night with Sansa in a shitty airport waiting area. Holing up next to a data port, Sandor booked the honeymoon cabin at The Karstark & Thenn Mountain Resort and then rented an SUV for the trip to Winterfell.
When the storm abated, Sandor followed the map on his phone to the resort, dropped off his luggage and then headed over to Winterfell to meet Sansa. The first thing Sandor noticed as he approached the building was that the place was far smaller and shabbier than Sansa had led him to believe. He wondered what else she hadn’t told him. Swallowing hard, Sandor patted the jewelry box in his coat pocket and knocked on the door.
Canon Easter eggs abound in this chapter :)
Sansa smoothed down her dress. Today was the day. She spent the last four weeks embroidering a cream sweater dress she had designed especially for the occasion. It paired nicely with the thick cream cable knit leggings her mother had given her. Arya had gifted her with tall cream wedge boots and Bran had braided her hair in a traditional intricate northern style that he had learned on YouTube.
“Winter’s lady.” Bran had proclaimed when she modeled her look for her siblings earlier that day. Arya had clapped her hands and whistled, while Rickon sulked behind the curtain.
I’ll miss them. Sansa’s eyes filled with tears even as she acknowledged that this was what was best – both for her and her family. She had prayed for a solution to her problems and her father had answered them, and for that reason, she felt she had no right to sadness.
Sandor’s fee had already been put to good use: Bran had been able to get an in-home nurse, a new wheelchair and therapy equipment. Her mother had begun repairs around the house. Arya had enrolled in college to become a physical therapist. Sansa hired a lawyer and put the rest into a trust that strictly stipulated the money be used only for immediate family expenses, thus cutting off any loan attempts from Aunt Lysa.
As for Sansa, she herself had not asked him for anything and used her savings to make the dress she currently wore. It had been so long since she had any new clothes that her new outfit felt sinfully indulgent.
The thought of moving in with Sandor, a man who was practically a stranger to her, was both thrilling and frightening and growing more so by the minute.
The marriage brokerage’s terms were somewhat different than the website had led her to believe. She hadn’t been able to Skype with Sandor prior to agreeing to marry him; all correspondence had been a series of supervised emails through the website. Still, Sansa enjoyed their conversations and quickly came to look forward to them.
Only after she had agreed to marriage did Missandei allow them to text one another. Even then, hadn’t had the chance to really look at him. The one picture she had seen of the man had been the perfunctory profile page photo, though she supposed his accident had something to do with that.
Missandei had warned Sansa that Sandor had undergone several surgeries to repair terrible scarring on his face and that it was still very apparent. Sansa’s only concern was how it happened. An accident, Missandei had demurred.
“Please, don’t tell me any more details,” Sansa had whispered, “I want to hear it from him.”
Her paternal grandparents were of the indigenous First Men; her father had raised them to view scarring as a badge of honor and bravery. It was Sandor’s story to tell, and Sansa would not have his confidence broken.
She did not say as much to Missandei, however, for she had learned the hard way that Southerners viewed such beliefs as antiquated and uncivilized.
Missandei had only smiled and bit her lip. To Sansa, nothing could be as archaic as expecting people to have sex as soon as they met in order to solidify their marriage in the eyes of the Seven, though she had kept that to herself as well.
The company required them to sign a disclaimer, stating that it was the condition the High Septon set in exchange for performing the ceremony online, as well as for the wedded couple to provide proof of consummation. Missandei assured them that the brokerage would send her husband a kit for providing evidence after the wedding.
Though she had no idea what that entailed, Sandor seemed to understand, for he swore and argued against it until Sansa interrupted and agreed to the terms; afterward, he grudgingly followed suit.
Aunt Lysa and her mother had told her to expect such a requirement, though they offered no other details. Sansa really didn’t know much about her mother’s faith and had instead chosen to worship the old gods of her father.
When Sandor had offered to meet her at her home, Sansa was pleasantly surprised, for Missandei had made it clear that it was the wife’s responsibility to travel south for the first meeting. There is a kindness about him, Sansa surmised, even though the man spoke bluntly and his manners revealed he hadn’t lived with women for an extended period of time.
A loud rapping on the door sent Sansa’s heart racing, the young woman frozen in place as a deep rasping voice resonated in the entry hall. Oh my god he’s here he’s here he’s here.
“Hello, I’m Sandor Clegane. You must be my goodbrother Brandon.”
“Oh my gods, you’re Sansa’s husband! Nice meeting you finally. Call me Bran. Come on in, bro,” Bran’s wheelchair grated against the threshold strip.
“Need some help with that?” Her husband’s rich baritone replied.
What if he thinks I’m ugly in person? What if he sees me and decides he doesn’t want to follow through tonight? I should have posted sexier pictures, but I didn’t want to scare him off. Aunt Lysa said Southern men don’t like forward women, let alone used ones…what if he decides he’d rather trade me for a virgin girl?
Her aunt had told her that such wasn’t a rare occurrence in marriage brokerage and spent the better part of a month bemoaning Sansa’s previous sexual habits. Never mind that it had taken place with Harry, a relative of her Uncle Petyr’s, a man widely known for cheating on his partners who had two children with two different women - none of whom he parented. No, in her aunt’s eyes, she was tainted – and now Sansa was afraid Sandor might see her the same way.
He said he didn’t care about my past. You’re just panicking, that’s all. Yes, that was it; I just can’t face him yet. Sansa had suffered many panic attacks since her father's death, and even more after the incident. Therapy had helped immensely and so she started her deep breathing exercises while she listened.
“Wow, you’re really strong.” Bran’s awed tone interrupted her self-loathing inner voice.
Sansa heard Sandor chuckle then, the sound like snarling dogs in a pit.
“It’s the training I received in special forces – I keep up with the routines even though I’m no longer serving. I can show you some of the upper body moves if you like.”
Working up her nerve, Sansa peeked out her window. A tall, muscular figure easily lifted her brother – wheelchair and all - over the sill, and for a moment Sansa thought it was her father.
No, it couldn’t be – my nerves are playing tricks on me. No, this was Sandor Clegane, her husband, helping her brother. At his feet sat a large bag. Tears pricked her eyes as she took in the scene.
Sandor’s broad back was to her, revealing brawny shoulders swathed in a rich brown shearling coat and long black hair that hung well below. His hands were huge and worn, and yet they handled Bran with a delicacy she didn’t expect to find in such a large man.
He’s beautiful in a rugged, masculine way. Gods, he’s so unlike the other men I’ve been with, she whispered to herself. Please give me a sign that he’ll treat me different too, Father, and that this was a good decision.
“Well, we’ll see what we can do about that,” his words pulled her out of her prayers. “I can have my contractor fix the place up if your mother agrees.”
“Oh man, that would be sweet, thanks!”
The delight and hopefulness in her younger brother’s voice brought tears to her eyes once more. Their family had been without hope or prospects for so long that Sansa had forgotten how sweet a thing it could be. And she so wanted her brothers and sister to finally find joy in their lives – they deserved it. Her mother’s forced polite tone reached her ears, followed by two others that Sansa could not make out.
Who else is here?
“Arya! Come meet Sansa’s husband!” Her mother called.
Finally, Sansa worked up her nerve and unhurriedly made her way to the living room.
Sandor’s eyes were the first to meet hers and the room fell silent. Deep gray and steady, keen and yet with a hint of naughtiness in them. An angular jawline and strong nose dominated his face, along with the scarring Sansa had expected. She knew he was thirty years old, he looked somewhat older but it didn’t matter to her. He was a good head taller than her, perhaps more. He has the look of the North, Sansa let out a nervous breath. A good sign.
Her husband stared long and hard at her, leisurely taking in her face and body as if they were the only two people in the room. Without a word he walked toward her, his mouth quirking into a small smile.
“Sansa, my lady wife. You look amazing.”
“Thank you, Sandor,” she smiled broadly at him, reaching out to take his hands. She raised up on her toes and kissed the scarred side of his face, her face blushing at his heated gaze.
“Aye, about bloody time you came out. Do I frighten you so much, girl?” Sandor teased before bringing her trembling hands to his lips and then returned her kiss on each cheek. His mouth was warm and soft, his breath lightly ghosting over her skin as he did so.
“This whole situation does, to be honest,” she laughed nervously.
Sandor nodded knowingly, his confident demeanor slipping but for a moment. “You look like a little snow robin,” he twirled her around to take in her outfit, delighting her. ”Is this one of your creations?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it is," Sansa smiled brightly, "It’s so kind of you to notice.” Things were going even better than she dared hope.
“Beautiful work, truly.” Sandor stared at her with a mixture of desire and admiration.
"Thank you, Sandor." Flushed, Sansa glanced happily at her family as she squeezed his huge bicep. “I’m so happy you’re here at last.”
She noticed her Aunt Lysa and Uncle Petyr sulking in the background. At once her face fell, causing Sandor’s eyes to flit over in their direction with a frown.
“I heard you and Bran speaking earlier.” Sansa tried to recover. “You seem to get along well.”
“Sandor’s cool. Good choice, sis.” Bran smirked. “We’ll see what Arya has to say."
Aunt Lysa, Petyr and her mom all gaped while Rickon sized Sandor up from behind their mother.
“Sansa, your aunt and uncle made this trip especially to meet your husband.”
Of course, they would try to get me to change my mind.
For once Sansa rebelled, determined that she wouldn’t be nice, no matter how rude they thought her.
“So I see,” Sansa looked up at her tall husband. “Sandor, have you had a chance to meet the rest of my family?”
“Not yet.” Sandor extended his hand to her mother first, “You must be Mrs. Stark. I’m Sandor.”
“I’m Catelyn Stark, Sandor. Glad to meet you.” Her mother spoke tightly.
“Good to finally meet you, ma’am.”
“And this is Rickon, my youngest.” She pushed the little boy forward.
Sandor knelt down and offered his hand, which was readily accepted, though the frown furrowed on her brother's brow only slightly lifted.
“This is your new goodbrother, Rickon.” Sansa gathered him close and he nodded.
“I hope your trip wasn’t too awful with this weather.” Her mother went on.
“No, the worst of it came after I landed.” Sandor stood.
Aunt Lysa shot a pointed look at Sansa.
She bit her lip to remain silent.
Catelyn glanced between them. “And this is my sister Lysa and her husband Petyr Baelish.”
Sandor nodded at them, his eyes narrowing darkly on her uncle. “Baelish, I’ve heard that name.” Sansa felt his body stiffen. “How do I know you?”
“I live in King’s Landing part of the year for work,” Petyr offered his hand, which Sandor made no move to accept. “We contract with the military.”
“Oh right, I heard that. My brother saw your show. You put them on in brothels, right?”
Petyr rolled his eyes. “Burlesque, Mr. Clegane, is not stripping or prostitution. It’s an art form. We do shows for the troops.”
Sandor stepped forward, placing himself between Sansa and her uncle. “As you say. Didn’t know you were related to my wife.”
Hearing the term spoken deep and rasping sent a warm quiver through Sansa, though the palpable tension in the room threatened to douse it.
“Are marriage brokerages also the same as mail-order brides or is it more like buying a wife, Lysa?” Petyr twirled his mustache like a cartoon villain.
Lysa shrugged nonchalantly.
“No one orders anything through the mail anymore, Uncle,” Bran responded dryly, though his eyes glittered. “That’s only for old people. Sansa and Sandor met online and corresponded through emails.”
Lysa started to speak but was quickly interrupted.
“Fuck, sorry I’m late,” Arya dashed in between them, eagerly glancing at the men. “I was Skyping with Gendry. He’s my fiancé.”
Thank Gods, Sansa whispered to herself.
Her sister turned to Sandor with a mock start. “Holy fuck, you’re big!”
“Oh Mom, I’m sure he’s heard worse.”
“So, you’re my new special forces veteran goodbrother. I’m Arya, your new sister, and worst nightmare.”
“Sandor. Congratulations on your engagement.” Sandor extended his hand which Arya eagerly shook, then pulled him in for a hug.
Bran chuckled behind her.
“So you’re the spitfire Sansa told me about,” he smirked at her. “I’m retired special forces.”
“What a shame.” Aunt Lysa interrupted.
“Aged out?” Baelish asked, and Aunt Lysa snorted.
“Wounded in the line of duty.” Sandor set his jaw.
Petyr shook his head. “Brutish business, war.”
“Just ignore them; we do. You’re still really built.” Arya patted his chest. “Damn.”
“Do you know Krav Maga?” Bran asked.
“I do, and Kali as well.”
Arya grinned at Sansa and mouthed lucky bitch.
Their mother coughed. “What was your job in the military, Sandor?”
“I was a trained weapons specialist.”
“Oh, I’m sure that’s useful in everyday life,” Petyr answered dryly.
On the brink of tears, Sansa swallowed hard and interrupted, “Please, don’t be rude to my husband.”
“It’s just an observation, my dear,” Petyr waved his hand in Sandor’s direction, “no harm meant.”
Aunt Lysa clicked her tongue. “Gods, Sansa, you’re always so sensitive.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Sandor while casting her eyes downward.
The feel of his mouth on her cheek surprised her.
“No worries, little bird.” Turning to Baelish, he added: “You’d be surprised just how often it comes in handy.”
“That’s so badass,” Arya turned toward Petyr with a raised eyebrow, “I’m glad Sansa has a big, strong warrior man who can protect her from the perverts she unfortunately seems to attract.”
“Aye that she does; I’ll keep her safe. No one will hurt her again or I’ll kill them.”
Arya, seemingly oblivious to the tension, beamed at him. “Good man!”
“I can teach her to protect herself too,” Sandor settled her hand on his arm once more and covered it with his own possessively. “Would you like that, little bird?”
“Oh, yes,” Sansa breathed out. “I would love to learn.”
“Me too?” Arya bounced on her feet.
“Aye, and you too, Bran.”
Bran’s eyes widened hopefully until Petyr snorted.
Ignoring Petyr’s scoff, Sandor continued, “There are self-defense disciplines for everyone, and there are moderations that can be tailored to individual needs and abilities.”
“Oh, that’s so cool!” Bran beamed at them, his happiness bringing a lump to Sansa’s throat.
“I’ll train you anytime, brother,” Sandor patted his back. “Let us know when you’re ready to visit and I’ll make the arrangements for you and Arya’s flights.”
“Sounds good, We’re there, aren’t we, bro?” Arya nudged Bran and he nodded heartily. "But we'll wait until you guys are done honeymooning."
“How wonderful, Sandor.” Sansa blushed as she beamed up at him. “It’s so kind of you to offer.”
Catelyn anxiously glanced between her children but remained silent.
Arya used the lull in conversation to dart from the room and then return carrying a small heart shaped cake.
“Congratulations Sansa and Sandor!” She handed Sandor the cake. “My friend Hot Pie made this for you both. Lemon, of course.”
“It’s so beautiful!” Sansa squealed at the heavily decorated confection.
“Lots of buttercream roses, just the way you like.”
“On my, it’s been so long since we had cake. Can we cut it now?” She looked up at Sandor.
“Nope, that’s just for you two to take with you,” Bran wheeled forward, “we had Hot Pie make another for the family.”
Sandor took the cue. “Well, another squall line is supposed to come in soon, so I think we’d better head out, Sansa. Before we go, though, I have something for you.” He opened the bag, took out a chocolate shearling coat and placed it over her shoulders. “For you, lass. The weather’s frightful cold.”
Gasping, Sansa raised up and gave him a small kiss. “It’s gorgeous, Sandor, thank you.”
Tears streaming down her cheeks, Sansa turned and kissed her mother, Rickon, Bran, and Arya, who fiercely wiped her tears from her eyes.
“I guess it’s time we headed out.” Sansa sighed as she squeezed Rickon close once more.
Aunt Lysa leaned forward and snuck a kiss on her cheek while Petyr reached around to hug her. Wriggling away, Sansa wanted to slap them both for the way they insulted Sandor. Arya would, but Sansa hesitated. She just couldn’t bring herself to ruin the last few moments she would have with her family. To Sandor’s credit, he pulled her close to his side while steering Sansa toward the door and thus prevented her from acting rashly.
“Well you guys drive safe,” Arya winked at Sandor as she ushered them out to the walkway. She caught what he did. She knew what I was about to do.
In a daze, Sansa made her way to the car. For so long she had prayed to go South, and now she was leaving her family home behind – with her husband. Her prayers had been answered.
“Bye guys, have fun. Text me when you get home.”
“Will do, Arya,” Sandor called as he opened the car door for her. “You ready to go, little bird? Or do you need a few minutes to yourself?” Anxiety was plainly written on his face.
Thank you, Father. Sansa silently prayed, before drawing a deep breath and smiling at her new husband. “I’m so very ready to go with you, Sandor,” she squeezed his arm. “Let’s go.”
While in front of her mother, Sandor hardly dared glance Sansa’s direction, the man afraid that once he did, he wouldn’t be able to pay attention to anything else. And now that they were alone with Sansa sitting close beside him, it was all he could do to focus on the road.
Gods, she’s even more beautiful in person. Her rich autumn auburn hair glittered in the low light, and her creamy skin called to him. But having just met, Sandor doubted that she would allow him to touch her. And no matter how much he might want her, he would never coerce her into anything.
Her family situation is far more fucked up than she let on, too. He knew it would be. In his experience, families were always a fucking nightmare. But she didn’t think I’d show up to see for myself.
Old paint peeled in sheets on the outside walls of the Stark home, and the broken brick steps were downright dangerous and not suited for her family.
But repairs were being made, too, and a wheelchair ramp had been built. It pleased Sandor to see some of his fee had already been put to good use. He could tell Sansa had been spending it wisely, even frugally. As soon as he got home he would hire contractors to pick up the pace, as a surprise for her.
Inside, resignation and resentment held onto the Starks like the fog that obscured the fields of his ancestral home, at once eerily familiar and concealing their true nature. He didn’t know the circumstances which led to that, but it was no wonder the little bird’s sad air remained despite the pretty songs she sung for him.
“I’m so sorry about all of that back there, Sandor,” Sansa’s small hand gently rested on his forearm which draped over the console as he drove. “I certainly didn’t intend for you to have to deal with my insane family just moments after we met.”
In truth he had been completely caught off guard. Petyr fucking Baelish had been the last person Sandor expected to see in Sansa’s home and the last person he wanted anywhere near his sweet wife.
The man was a notorious mafia king who used his strip clubs as a front for drugs, money laundering and human trafficking.
It had taken every last bit of Sandor’s willpower to keep from throwing him through the plate glass window when he kept reaching for Sansa. He drew a deep breath to clear the dark thoughts threating to overtake him.
“It was nothing. Your mom seems nice.” Sandor rasped after a moment, thinking that Elder Brother would be pleased with his response.
“My mother is very educated and all about manners and politeness. She was born into a wealthy family but gave it all up when she went to the marriage broker and met my dad. So sometimes she still kind of looks down on others in the way the wealthy often do, but besides that, she’s a good person.”
“The wealthy like me?”
Eyes widening, Sansa covered her mouth and gasped. "I'm so sorry, I-"
Sandor laughed outright. “No need to fret, lass. You aren’t wrong.”
After she relaxed, Sandor went on. “So you aren’t the first in your family to marry this way?”
“No,” Sansa shook her head, “in fact, none of the women in my family have married for love. My sister will be the first.”
“Does that bother you?”
“A little,” Sansa attempted a carefree shrug that didn't fool Sandor for a minute. “What about you? Are you the first person to go to a marriage broker in your family?”
Memories rushed back of the other Clegane brides that had been brought home who were not brokered but bought: young and pretty, desperate to escape violence. They had all shared the same sad ending as well: broken, bloodied and sooner or later, missing - never to be heard from again.
Ugly fucker, you’ll never get a bitch of your own. You'd best buy one. Bile rose into Sandor’s throat at his brother’s words, forcing him to swallow hard and clear his throat.
“My friends urged me to sign up,” Sandor finally managed, “they said with my personality, it was the only way I’d marry.”
Sansa burst out laughing, much to his surprise. Her lyrical voice raised as she held her sides but when she noticed his expression, she struggled to straighten up.
Sandor didn’t mind; it felt good to hear her laugh and he was disappointed it ended all too soon.
At the house, she had been all courtesy and politeness, yet on the verge of tears nearly the entire time. Sandor initially feared she would back out of their arrangement. Things seemed to be going better now that it was just the two of them, much to his relief.
“My mom gave me an ultimatum. Get married or move in with my uncle and work for him.”
“So that was it.” Sandor snorted. “I wondered what a girl like you was doing on a marriage broker website.” He couldn't bring himself to ask if her family meant for her to become a sex worker, nor could he disguise the bitterness he felt
Her hand moved away from his arm. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
Just calm down. He took a deep breath.
“Gorgeous, smart, talented,” Sandor eyed her up and down, “it didn’t add up that you’d have to go online to meet a guy, let alone settle on the likes of me to wed.”
“I didn’t have to.” Sansa bristled and shifted in her seat.
“A dog can smell out a lie, you know.” He winked.
“In the army they called me the Hound. It’s a nickname that stuck.”
“Oh, that explains the avatar.” Sansa smiled, clearly pleased with herself.
“Admit it. You sing a sweet little song, but I just knew you had to join that site.”
“Okay, I didn’t have a lot of options, I’ll admit. But I did choose you over the others.”
Over Littlefucker. Or the other men who hurt you. Not much of a choice, in his view.
Silently Sandor searched her face, but the girl met his gaze evenly, without reluctance or aversion. “That you did,” he patted her hand. “And a good bargain I made of it, too.” His eyes traveled over her, taking in her deep curves and supple skin – what little he could see of her, given the huge buggering coat she was wearing. It made him long to see just what else her clothes hid from him.
Sansa giggled once more. “You’re absolutely shameless.”
“You’ve no idea, little girl.” Sandor ran his tongue over his teeth, causing a deep flush to rise in Sansa’s cheeks. She was even more beautiful when she was annoyed or embarrassed, and Sandor couldn’t help but wonder just how far that blush extended down her body.
“I have a feeling I’ll soon find out just how brazen you are,” Sansa lightly smacked his hand. “It’s a relief, to be honest. I thought you’d run screaming out of the house once you met everyone.”
“No, they were nice. Bran is really cool guy.”
“He’s a wonderful brother. I’m so happy you two hit it off.”
“And your sister, she’s a real character.”
”That she is,” Sansa agreed, “no filter whatsoever.”
“I prefer people who don’t bullshit around, though. I can’t stand liars.”
“I picked up as much from your profile and then just now with my kin,” Sansa squeezed his arm, “it might surprise you to know that it’s what first drew me to you.”
“Is that so?” Sandor raised his brow. “You never said.”
“I wanted to tell you in person, it’s more authentic that way.” Sansa smiled softly. “The way we met, we can’t really get the feel for the other person, you know?”
“Aye, true enough.”
“This way, I can look into your eyes, and you can see the truth of my words. Plus it’s more romantic, don’t you think?”
She wanted to meet in person and gauge my reactions before she shared her feelings with me – such a smart little bird. And yet she dreams of romantic shit too.
“I know fuck all about romance lass, but yes, I do like this way better.” Sandor cleared his throat. “And I see the truth in you.”
“And I in you.” Sansa beamed at him with such hopefulness that he nearly choked.
“So, uh, your mom’s pretty nice.” Sandor offered.
“My mom’s a good woman, yes, but after my father died, she lost her spark. Her expectations for us are a bit low. It seems she’s lost faith in us, even though she would never admit it.” Sansa squirmed beside him.
The woman doesn’t have to, it’s as plain as the nose of her face. Sandor shrugged, keeping his thoughts to himself. “As far as education and material things, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little money.”
“That’s what Petyr says.” Sansa shivered and picked at her skirt. “I think he and my aunt keep shooting down my mom’s confidence in us in order to get their way.”
Sandor grunted. “They want to get the house one way or another?”
Sansa nodded. “I could tell you were surprised by my aunt and Petyr’s behavior.”
“Nothing surprises me, little bird,” the words slipped out of Sandor’s mouth.
“You’ve seen families like this before in business?”
“Aye, in business and in my own family.” Sandor ended curtly, hoping she wouldn’t expect him to go further.
With an understanding nod, Sansa gave his arm a pat. “I am just so embarrassed, Sandor. It was the last thing I wanted for our first meeting, for you to see my relatives acting out.”
“Not your fault, little bird,” he squeezed her hand with a small grin. “And their shit attitude, that’s nothing on you.”
“After my father died, they ingratiated themselves into my life, mostly without my consent.”
“I noticed.” Sandor ground out tightly. “So, Lysa is your mom’s sister?”
The last thing Sandor could imagine was Littlefinger married to the plump, frowzy woman he met.
“If you don’t mind my asking, are they really married or do they live together?”
“Aunt Lysa calls Petyr her husband and they’ve been together long enough to be considered common law, but they aren’t married in the eyes of the Seven.”
“That makes sense.” He muttered.
“That he isn’t a blood relative. I noticed that he didn’t look at you like an uncle normally does his niece.”
Sandor watched as Sansa traced circles in the condensation clouding the window while trying to avoid his gaze.
“That’s putting it mildly,” she whispered bitterly, “Petyr – he, well, he spends a lot of time in King’s Landing.”
“I know, I used to seem him on the Lannister compound inviting the men to his place.”
“Aunt Lysa always says he will marry her when he moves back North but I have my doubts,” Sansa hesitated, “It’s just that, well, Petyr’s always so inappropriate. He’s always trying to touch me and get me to work at one of his brothels-”
Rage drowned out the rest of the little bird’s words, ringing his ears and blurring his vision. Rapidly he blinked and drew a deep breath.
“..But I don’t want anything to do with them, either of them. It seemed like you two recognized each other, I don’t know if you’ve visited his places and I don’t care. Just know that I’m not comfortable-”
Equal parts fear and anger overwhelmed him. There was far more to it than she was saying, Sandor was certain of it. Gods be damned, had Littlefinger, as the men at the base called the man, assaulted the little bird and took her virginity? Was he the reason behind her haunted expression?
Sandor didn’t want to ruin things between them by prying, but if they were going to follow through on their wedding night, it was important that he knew the truth.
There was no fucking way he would ever allow that shitbag near his wife. Forcing down the bile burning his throat, Sandor covered her hand with his own and gave it a squeeze.
“Everyone has shit relatives, Sansa. I have my own, though I’d crawl over broken glass before I’d let them near you.” His voice came out harsher than he intended. “As for Baelish, I’ve gone to his place to retrieve men from my unit but never for entertainment. After what I saw in there, I would never invite that asshole anywhere, so you needn’t fret. Make no mistake, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe from him or anyone else. No one will ever hurt you again, understand? You just say the word and I’ll finish them.”
Squeezing his arm, Sansa’s lip trembled as she spoke. “Thank you, Sandor that means a lot. And I’m sorry to hear that you have family troubles too, truly. I wish we didn’t have that in common.”
She remained quiet for a time, the dull hum of the tires the only sound between them.
After they parked the SUV, Sansa looked up at him with wide, hopeful eyes.
“We’ll do better, won’t we? For us and one day, for our children?”
Sandor’s head whipped around to her. Does she want to stay married to me? And bear my children? She’d been so melancholy that Sandor doubted she would agree to keep the marriage, let alone express interest in the future.
Her typically somber blue eyes exposed a sincerity Sandor rarely saw in others.
“So, you’ve already decided that you wanted a family – with me?”
“Yes. I hope that’s okay.” Sansa twisted the hem of her skirt.
“Fuck yes, it’s more than okay, little bird.” Sandor chuckled, a lightness spreading through him as he spoke.
“No one has been so honest with me, and I know how rare that is. I-I just feel like that’s a great foundation for a marriage and – and hopefully- love and family,” Sansa whispered the last words. “Don’t you?”
Her gentle words and touch disarmed him more effectively than any soldier Sandor had ever met in battle and in that moment, he knew he would do anything for her.
“It’s okay if you don’t feel that way yet,” Sansa hurriedly added to fill his silence. “But I hope that during the next thirty days, you’ll learn to like me and then maybe-”
“Yes, little bird.” Sandor cleared his throat. “I do want that with you. The family, the marriage. And first and foremost, I want you.”
I want all of you, Sandor longed to add. Your body and soul. Your affection, laughter, smiles. Your lust, your anger, your joy. Everything you’re willing to give me.
Relief washed over Sansa’s face as he spoke.
“Fuck me, I’m sorry I didn’t answer right away, but I’m just fucking blown away that you feel the same, that we want the same things. I wanted to make sure that after we met in person, that you were, you know, absolutely certain that you’d want that with me.”
“Thank you, Sandor,” Sansa wiped a stray tear from her cheek. “Oh, I do want those things with you, too, but you might needs patience with me. It’s just – well, I’ve been hurt before. Trust doesn’t come easily to me.”
“As have I, Sansa,” he rasped low while running his finger over her hand. “We’ll figure it out together, okay?”
She nodded tearfully.
“And you needs not chirp courtesies with me. I would rather you tell me exactly how you feel, the good or bad. Is that a deal?”
Smiling broadly, she agreed as The Karstark & Thenn Mountain Resort sign came into view.
“Are we going to stay here?!” Sansa clapped her hands, all solemnity was forgotten.
“Yeah, our flights are canceled for today. I’ll try again tomorrow to get us a flight home.” Sandor answered as she dashed out of the car.
“Oh my gods, it’s so beautiful! I’ve always wanted to stay here but we never could!” Sansa gazed, wide-eyed through the cabin windows.
“Here’s the key card. Why don’t you go on in and I’ll bring in our things?”
Sansa snuck a quick kiss on his scarred cheek and then darted for the door.
“Oh, fuck – wait, Sansa!”
She froze in place. “What’s wrong?”
“I thought a romantic little bird like you would like to be carried over the threshold.” Sandor ran the toe of his boot through the snow in circles.
A delighted shriek bubbled up from her throat as she launched herself into his arms. As he squeezed her close, Sandor couldn’t help but chuckle at her child-like affection and enthusiasm.
In between whispered “thank you’s”, Sansa covered the scarred side of his face with kisses; the headiness of her sudden affection overtook Sandor’s senses.
“This is just gorgeous!” She beamed after he reluctantly set her down inside the foyer. “It’s perfect for our wedded night!”
A stupid grin tugged at his mouth as Sandor listened to Sansa cooing over the place. Indeed, it was a charming log cabin with all the amenities to which he had grown accustomed. But in Sansa’s eyes, the warm space was something out of a dream. Absently Sandor wondered when he had grown so callous to his much-improved life situation and what his money could buy for others.
“Oh my gods, the bathroom has both a sunken granite tub and a rain shower-“
The sight of the beautiful little bird fluttering excitedly around their nest captivated his full attention and reduced her words to a warm background sound. He hoped she would forever be as happy with him and their life as she was in this moment.
“This is so much more than I ever dared hope for,” Sansa beamed up at him, “I am so grateful, Sandor, truly.”
His pants grew painfully tight as the intimacy of sharing a room together as husband and wife overwhelmed his senses.
Leaning down to his overnight satchel, Sandor ran his hands through his hair. “Glad you like it, lass. You go ahead and relax. I’m going to shower the plane off of me.”
“I’ll order us some food.” Blushing deeply, Sansa bit her full bottom lip and lowered her eyes.
She feels it too. His eyes fell to her deep red mouth as he imagined tasting her lips and other similarly colored places of her anatomy that he knew would be ripe for kissing as well. The tension that had been building between his legs all afternoon was growing unbearable.
“Is everything ok?” Concerned, Sansa reached out to him. "Sometimes the altitude bothers newcomers."
If she so much as touches me right now I'll come in my pants like a fucking greenboy. “No, everything’s great. You go over there and order whatever you want, little bird, and get us some sour wine too.”
"Yes Sandor, of course. What do you want me to order for you?"
"Anything is fine, lass, I'm not picky." Eager for relief, Sandor beat a hasty retreat into the bathroom suite and slammed the door behind him.
Okay sooo don't hate me but this isn't the lemon-soaked chapter most of you are expecting. The next one will be! I just had to get a few important things squared away first.
I'm baaack! Thank you to all of my readers for your patience and for sticking with me. I promise I haven't given up on this story and will make every effort to update regularly. Your kind words and encouragement mean the world to me.
Humming to herself, Sansa lit the river rock fireplaces in the living room and bedroom and lowered the lights. Her eyes fell on the enormous featherbed, the sight sending the nerves to full flutter in her stomach. Drawing a deep breath, Sansa took one last look in the mirror.
Sansa needed their wedded night to be perfect in every way. It simply had to be, for she only had thirty days to convince Sandor to remain married to her. Consummating their union was the important first step - one that Sansa couldn’t afford to blunder.
Gods, Red, you’re such a fucking prude. If I can’t get what I need from you, I might just have to find it somewhere else. Then where will that leave you and your fucking family? Even a year after she left him, Harry’s words still held the power to hurt her. Bitterly she wiped away the tears filling her eyes.
Sansa had never been with a man before him, and Harry had swept her away with lavishly planned dates and grand gestures. When he flirted with other women, Sansa told herself that all men looked, it was only natural.
His disrespectful attitude toward her didn’t stop there. Their sex life had left Sansa sore, unsatisfied and confused. Harry complained about her lack of enthusiasm, humiliating her. Not knowing what he expected of her made Sansa believe herself broken, that she might not be capable of enjoying sex, let alone pleasing him.
Not long after she moved in with Harry, Sansa found texts from a woman named Cissy on his phone and tearfully sought her mother's advice. Her ever-present Aunt Lysa admitted that Harry had a child with Cissy, and another pregnant woman as well.
After her initial shock and anger cooled, Sansa blamed herself for being unable to please him and causing him to seek pleasure from others. And so, when Harry demanded that she engage in a BDSM relationship, Sansa grudgingly agreed. She had always balked at it before but reasoned that if she only gave in to Harry’s desires, he would be faithful to her.
Their sessions together started off painful and progressively grew more violent. Sansa found herself miserable, injured and traumatized.
She felt like a complete fool for ever falling for Harry or agreeing to his terms. Arya helped her find a counselor, and after only a few sessions with the support group, Sansa realized that no amount of financial hardship was worth staying with him.
The young woman in the mirror stared back at her sadly. Until now, Sansa believed she had moved beyond that horrible experience. But as the night wore on, the old familiar echo of his criticisms drew up feelings of inadequacy and fear once more.
Gods only knew what Sandor would expect from her. What if he married her believing that since she wasn’t a virgin, she was skilled in the bedroom? If that were the case, Sansa feared that she would disappoint him.
"Sandor isn’t pressuring you. He has given you the way out many times. Sandor has been kind. He is not Harry." Sansa whispered her affirmations into the mirror. Determined, she forced herself to smile and then walked away.
After perusing the menu, Sansa called for room service, settling on an array of traditional northern fare that she felt Sandor would like.
An agreeable young woman named Alys set up their meal.
“I can tell from your accent and your food selection that you’re a Northerner, born and raised.”
“Yes, I am,” Sansa smiled, “I ordered these for my husband. He’s a Westerman and has never had the chance to taste our regional dishes.”
“Would you like me to explain the menu to him?”
“No, thank you, I will do that.”
Alys eyed her for a moment. “If you don’t mind my asking: is this the first time you’ve met in person?”
“Yes.” Sansa let out a long breath. “How did you know?”
Alys knowingly smiled. “I was a Winter’s Lady too. And I couldn’t have asked for a kinder, braver husband than my Sigorn.”
“That’s wonderful, I hope I’ll feel the same one day.”
“Love comes later, but it comes,” Alys called as she closed the door behind her.
Winter’s Lady. Sansa had all but forgotten there was a polite northern term for a mail-order bride. It reminded her that, contrary to the admonishments of her mother and aunt, most northerners accepted such arrangements as normal.
I’m doing the right thing, I know it. Father will bless our union. Sansa whispered to herself as she changed into the sleeping gown Missandei had gifted her.
The young woman claimed Westermen expected their wives to wear sleeping gowns. It puzzled Sansa, for in the north, sleeping nude was the custom, and Sansa had assumed all men would prefer that. But allowing that Missandei knew Westermen better than she did, Sansa went along with it.
The water stopped running in the shower. Sandor’s naked in there. And soon we both will be, together, in that bed. Tall and broad-shouldered and muscled like a bull, Sandor's physique was impressive, even under his clothing. Sansa imagined that the rest of him would be similarly well proportioned, a notion that brought the heat to her cheeks and a thrum of desire through her body. The rugged appearance of his scars, his intimidating demeanor, and unique silver eyes only added to his appeal.
Despite her earlier self-scrutiny, the idea of sleeping with Sandor both thrilled and embarrassed Sansa. She could only hope he was as physically attracted to her. Sandor’s body language suggested that he shared her excitement about their night together. He hadn’t said much about what he thought of her appearance, but he looked at her as though he wanted to devour her whole, and it took Sansa’s breath away. It hadn’t taken long for her to realize that she was eager to let him.
There was no denying that Sansa desired Sandor physically, but his honest words and gentle ways quickly secured her conviction that love would come for them in time. She prayed silently that her husband would feel the same about her. And she would need to make sure that he did.
First date jitters took hold of her. With trembling hands, Sansa lit the candles. Staying occupied seemed to relieve the butterflies fluttering in her belly. So caught up in her own musings was Sansa that she hardly noticed the old pine door to the bathroom creaking open.
“You’ve been busy making your nest, little bird,” Sandor’s resonant baritone drew her out of her thoughts, “and you shed your winter feathers, too.”
Warm fingers gently traced over her arm, raising gooseflesh.
“Oh! You startled me.” Sansa laughed softly, turning to face him. Biting her lip, she hesitantly placed her hands on his chest. “I hope you like my gown. Missandei gifted it to me.”
“Aye, I do.” His silver eyes drifted over her face to her lips, down the length of her neck to her breasts, then lower still. “You’re the Maiden made flesh for true.”
Unable to meet his searing gaze, Sansa bit her lip and brought her focus to his chest. His smooth, tanned skin glistened with the water droplets that clung to his chest hair and ever so slowly trickled downward, following the line of fine black hair covering his rippled abdomen.
A heated flush rose to her cheeks, and instead of looking away like a proper lady might, Sansa eagerly drank him in, just as he had done to her.
It wasn’t like her to act forward with men, but Sandor was not just any man, he was her husband. Swallowing hard, Sansa allowed her fingers to press lightly against his skin and then trace through the hair from Sandor’s chiseled stomach to the thickly roped groin muscles at his hips.
A sharp shiver moved through Sandor, and the man remained completely still while watching her.
“You’re so very beautiful, Sandor.”
“Yeah, I’m a regular knight in shining armor.” Sandor darkly smirked.
Had she offended him? “I beg your pardon?”
“Nothing, little bird.” He sighed.
Frowning, Sansa had little time to ponder what he meant, for as she started to move away, Sandor covered her hands, still resting on his body, with his own.
“You needn’t fear, lass. You can look and touch all you want, drink your fill. We won’t do anything tonight if that’s what you want.”
Now Sansa really was confused. “I’m sorry but I don’t understand what you mean.”
Sandor huffed out an annoyed sigh. “I get that I’m not the pretty type you’re used to, but I’ll take whatever you’re willing to offer.” His voice had taken on a smoky, husky tone that drew a pleasant ache between her thighs.
“Forgive me,” Sansa felt her cheeks grow hotter still, “of course I want our wedded night just as it is intended to be. It’s just that, you’re, well, you’re so finely built and I’m afraid you won’t find me to your taste.” She didn’t have the heart to tell him about her scars, let alone show him, or explain how she got them.
Without thinking, she spun away and then cursed herself at the sound of Sandor’s sharp intake of breath.
Warm fingers traced over her upper back. Behind her, his breathing grew increasingly ragged.
“Is this from something consensual?” Sandor ground out his question.
“What are you implying?” Sansa asked pointedly.
“Are you into kink or something?”
“No!” She gasped indignantly, then sheepishly added: “but my ex was.”
“Don’t get your feathers up, I’m not judging you. I just want to understand you before we start something here. It takes two to agree to this kind of play, and it shouldn’t end in scars.” He tipped her face up to meet his eyes. “So, this wasn’t consensual?’
“No. It wasn’t. And I don’t want to do that kind of “play” again.” Her lip trembled as she spat out the word. Shame overwhelmed Sansa, and she buried her face into Sandor’s chest and started to cry.
“Pretty little bird, the man who did this is a fucking abuser, not into kink play.” Sandor patted her before drawing her close. “You and I will never do anything that you don’t want to do. I swear it on my fucking life.”
“Harry was his name. He’s the man Uncle Petyr arranged for me to be with to help out the family. He’s his nephew or cousin – he’s related somehow. I only moved in with him because I thought we would marry.”
“Fucking figures he’s related to Littlefucker,” Sandor growled low. “Does Harry have a last name? Is it Baelish?” The rough pad of his finger, surprisingly gentle, traced over her skin, trailing along her spine in the most soothing manner.
“Why?” Sansa asked, burrowing further into his chest as she spoke.
“Shouldn’t I know the name of the man who hurt my wife?” His voice remained eerily calm, but Sandor’s hands were shaking. Was he mad at her? Or at Uncle Petyr?
“Hardying. Harrold Hardying.”
Sandor moved her so she would face him.
Nervousness got the better of Sansa as she meekly met his eyes. “Do you know him? He’s quite popular in King’s Landing, or so I hear, now that we aren’t together anymore.” Tears spilled over her cheeks. Gods, you’re such a fucking prude, Red.
“No, lass. I don’t know the man. But I will. And he’ll know me, you best believe.” His arms came around her waist, holding her to him, his voice a low, menacing growl next to her ear. The coldness of his intonation brought a corresponding chill throughout her body.
“So- so you aren’t mad at me?” Sansa looked up at him.
Sandor snorted ruefully. “Fuck no, why would I?” His eyes were dark, furious even, but softened as he held her gaze.
“Well,” Sansa wrung her hands, “you probably weren’t expecting the wife that you paid good money for to be somewhat…damaged.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I-I should have told you.”
“You don’t owe me shit, lass. And you’re not fucking damaged. If you feel like this, why didn’t you say something before?” Sandor asked while wiping her tears away with his thumbs.
Sansa chewed her lower lip. “I saw that you were scarred too, and I hoped that meant, well, that you wouldn’t mind it too much. Please don’t give me up.”
A rough laugh escaped Sandor’s throat and he pulled her to him once more. “I would never, ever give you up, lass, not unless you wished it.” Sandor tilted her face up to him. “I may look like one, but I’m no fucking monster. I have no intention of punishing you for anything, bloody hells. You know that, right?”
His crude reassurance drew a short laugh from Sansa. “I do now.”
“And you guessed right about me.” Sandor’s warm breath stirred the hair on top of her head. “I give fuck all about your scars, or whether you have a piece of flesh between your legs, or how many men you’ve been with, or any of the rest of that shit. Gods, lass, I could wring the necks of all the miserable bastards who’ve filled your mind with that bullocks! I only want us together, and that we’re honest with each other – good, bad or otherwise.”
“Of course I’ll be honest, Sandor.” Sansa leaned forward and carefully kissed his chest, right over his heart. She felt him draw a sharp breath, and then sigh.
“Pretty little bird.” His lips pressed onto her head. “You needn’t be afraid of me. I’ve got a mean temper for true but I’d never hurt you or deliberately scare you. And if I do something that makes you uncomfortable, you only need to speak up.”
“Thank you.” Sansa sniffled.
“Sansa, for fuck’s sake, you don’t have to thank me for being a decent human being,” he huffed out, “that’s just the minimum you should expect from anyone. Understand?”
“Yes.” Sansa pressed her lips to his chest once more.
“And you needn’t fear anyone, ever again. I meant what I said. If anyone tries to hurt you again, I’ll kill them.”
Swallowing hard, Sansa nodded, the young woman wondering, not for the first time, just what sort of man she had married.
A loud grumbling from Sandor’s stomach broke the silence that followed, causing Sansa to break into giggles.
“You sound like your starving. Come, I’ve ordered our supper. I really hope you like our northern dishes.”
Nodding, Sandor chuckled and allowed himself to be led to the next room.