A coerced bride, an honourable knight = love?
I am more than thrilled to be part of the IndieBrag “Be Still My Heart” bloghop – or, as I call it, the Indiebrag lovehop. As some of you may already know, I am a big fan of the huge efforts undertaken by IndieBrag to give recognition to Indie authors – there’s a post about their unstinting efforts here.
This is the fifth stop on the hop, and right at the bottom you’ll find a list of the other blog hosts so that you can properly indulge in romance and the like. One can NEVER get enough of love & romance is my personal opinion (and I rather like to add a spoonful or two of sinful spice) And now onto the post!
In September of 1321, the fortified manor of Stratfield Mortimer was preparing for a wedding. Sir Roger Mortimer was hosting the event, and the happy groom was none other than his trusted captain, Adam de Guirande. Not that Adam was all that happy about his impending nuptials – not when rumour had it the bride had spent time in Lord Mortimer’s bed. But Katherine de Monmouth came with more land than Adam could have hoped for, and things were further sweetened by Mortimer’s gift of three manors, elevating Adam in one fell swoop from A Very Poor Knight to a Not So Poor Knight. Still; Adam didn’t like it, even less when he heard his bride-to-be was most upset at the notion of marrying beneath her.
Katherine de Monmouth was nothing if not resourceful. Determined not to be wed to this upstart knight of dubious pedigree, she fled with a Spanish nobleman – one of Edward II’s distant cousins in the nth degree. Her father, Sir Thomas, was angry and distraught. Her mother, Lady Cecily, was livid – and not about to let something as immaterial as a missing bride ruin her carefully laid plans. After all, unless the wedding happened, chances were her eldest son would lose his position as Lord Mortimer’s trusted squire. And all those nice new manors settled on Sir Thomas would likely be recalled. Fortunately, Lady Cecily had a rather devious fall-back plan.
Kit Coucy had lived most of her life at Tresaints, a small manor in Worcestershire. Her closest neighbours were sheep – and more sheep. Kit was, or so she believed, the daughter of a long-dead honourable knight and her mother Alaïs – a mesalliance, seeing as Alaïs was the daughter of a Lymington salter. And then Alaïs died, and Kit was suddenly the lady of the manor – until the day she was snatched away, drugged, and transported to Stratfield Mortimer.
A confused Kit was told the truth by the rather terrifying Lady Cecily. Turns out her father was none other than Sir Thomas – Lady Cecily’s husband. Had Lady Cecily been given a choice, she’d happily have stomped Kit into non-existence, hating this willowy reminder of her husband’s infidelity. (In view of Lady Cecily’s anything but warm and fuzzy character, it was a miracle Sir Thomas had not strayed more than he had, but only a fool with a death wish would ever tell Lady Cecily that) Now, however, Lady Cecily needed Kit, an eerie look-a-like of her wilful daughter. After all, what is a wedding without a bride?
Kit refused. At first. Under Lady Cecily’s threats to her and the tenants of Tresaints she buckled. Drugged to her eyeballs on sweetened poppy wine, Kit de Courcy married Adam de Guirande at the door of the chapel – except everyone thought the bride’s name was Katherine de Monmouth. Not, one would say, the most auspicious beginnings to a marriage and a lifelong committment to love and to hold…
Somewhere halfway through the lavish feast, the effect of the poppy wine started to wane. Kit sat back in her chair and gawked. The hall was thronged with people, the floors were covered with strewn flowers, and dogs slunk from one table to the other. She fingered the heavy fabric of her gown. A deep, rich green, it was adorned by a wide girdle and embroidered flowers, and when she raised a hand to her head she could feel some sort of circlet on her hair.
“Here.” Someone poured wine into her cup and she downed it in a gulp. Aagh! It was too sweet and full of spices. With an effort she stopped herself spitting it out, not wanting to attract undue attention. The man sitting at her side turned towards her and smiled briefly, a guarded look in his eyes. She had no notion of who he was, but had a vague recollection of standing beside him some hours back at the door of a chapel. At the door of a chapel? Kit hiccupped; this man was her new husband – not that she had any memory of anything beyond walking up to stand beside him.
She dared a quick peek from under her lashes, met his appraising look and ducked her head. Her husband! Kit knotted her fingers into the fabric of her skirts.
From somewhere to her right came loud laughter, and the man – her husband, dear God, she had a husband, a man she’d sworn to honour and obey under false pretences – joined in.
“Look,” he said, and she followed his finger to where a jester was prancing about in motley. There was more laughter, at the further end of the hall a fight broke out, and right in front of her danced a girl, accompanied by two musicians.
She felt as if she was drowning. So many unknown people, so much noise, and beside her a man she was now tied to for life. She felt an urge to run, to flee before it was too late. Kit rose, and the man rose as well, his thick fair hair gleaming when it caught the candlelight.
“I…” She sat back down again, giving him a tremulous smile. He just looked at her. “Wine?” she asked. Her husband – Adam – snapped his fingers, and a child rushed over, a heavy pitcher in his hands.
“Not too much, I prefer my bride conscious on our wedding night.” There was an edge to his voice that made Kit quail. He smiled, yet another smile that came nowhere close to touching his eyes. Kit licked her lips; her husband was clearly as unhappy about having to marry her as Kit had been at the notion of marrying him.
“It’s not my fault,” she muttered.
“How do you mean, my lady?”
“It wasn’t me who forced you to marry me, my lord.”
He sat back, looking surprised – and amused. “There’s not a man alive who could force me to wed you,” he said after some moments of silence.
“How fortunate – for you.” She emptied her cup, waved it at the wine-boy. “Not everyone has a choice.”
“It is done.” He regarded her intently. “It is up to us to make it work – or not.”
“Yes, my lord.” She drank some more, false courage collecting in a burning heat in her belly.
Fortunately for Adam and Kit, their future fate was in my hands (that’s the good thing with being invented characters. Lord Mortimer’s fate was out of my hands, seeing as he was once very, very real) And while love did not immediately blossom between them, lust most certainly did.
Kit rose and wandered over to Adam’s chest. Tunics lay thrown together; she saw the coloured leather of a boot, the heavy buckle of a belt. She picked up a long length of hose, found its pair and rolled them together. The tunics were shaken, inspected and folded, with Kit caressing the fine silks of his two supertunics. There was a deep blue woollen tunic that must fall down to his knees, a number of linen braies and three long linen shirts. She held one to her nose, capturing a faint remnant of his scent. Her husband…despite the unorthodox aspects of their union, she couldn’t quite suppress a little shiver. Just the thought of him had her privates contracting, heat flaring between her legs. Lust, she chided herself, this is mere lust.
“My squire can do that.”
She whirled, finding her husband by the door.
“I don’t mind,” she said. This was something she felt comfortable doing, with the added benefit of being out of sight of all the people who thronged the castle.
She folded a thick cloak, knelt to tuck it in, and heard him crossing the floor towards her. His boots squeaked, and a leg clad in thick hose appeared in her field of vision. She placed a hand on his leg. He inhaled when she moved her hand upwards.
“What are you doing?”
Her cheeks heated at her daring. Would he find her too forward? “Exploring my husband,” she said, caressing the narrow patch of bare skin she found on his upper thighs. The hose-points were tied to the rougher fabric of the linen braies, and Kit counted two ties as her fingers traced their way round his leg. She suppressed a nervous titter. She had never inspected a man’s undergarments before. His hand clasped hers, arresting it, through the fabric of his tunic.
“My turn today, my lord.” She looked up at him, still kneeling at his feet. His face was flushed, those grey eyes of his inscrutable.
Adam gestured with his head. “The door – it’s unbolted.” He sounded hoarse, breathless even.
Kit lurched to her feet, nearly stumbling until he caught her, holding her close. Stubble gilded his cheeks, straight, fair lashes framed his eyes, and a lock of dishevelled hair fell across his brow. His lips grazed her ear, her jaw. She breathed through her mouth, eyes closed. His lips on hers, a strong hand at her waist manoeuvring her backwards, to the door. The bolt screeched into place. He pressed her against the door and she moaned into his mouth. Adam tore away, gasping for breath. His hands under her skirts, masses of fabric wedged between them, making it impossible to get him really close.
“Bed,” she said, tugging at his belt.
“Here,” he panted, “now!”
Of course, Adam and his Kit have quite the rocky path to tread. How is Kit to maintain the subterfuge, and what will Adam do if – when – he finds out he has been duped? Plus, of course, we have the further complication of Lord Mortimer rebelling against King Edward II, dragging Adam with him towards what seems a certain – and excruciating – death. Traitors are hanged, drawn and quartered…
Obviously by now you’re gagging to find out what happens next – which is why I recommend you to leave a comment below to enter my giveaway. I am giving away one Paperback copy & one Kindle copy of In the Shadow of the Storm. The rest of you will simply have to gallop over to your favourite on-line store and buy your copy (links here)
Also, do not forget to visit IndieBrag and enter the giveaway for the 20 USD Amazon gift card!
Giveaway is open until Feb 26, I will announce my winners here, IndieBrag theirs there…
UPDATE! The Winners are Janet W and Liette B – congrats to both!
Tomorrow, the lovehop continues with Joanne Phillips – be sure not to miss it!
All the posts on the hop:
February 13 VL Thurman
February 14 C.L. Talmadge
February 15 Janet Leigh
February 16 Lucinda Brant
February 17 Anna Belfrage
February 18 Joanne Phillips
February 19 KJ Farnham