Part of the My Immortal Knight series
On Sale: April 28, 2010
While hiding her true identity, Maddie must seduce the mysterious Lord Garon to cement their marriage contract to ensure she won’t be returned into her lecherous stepfather’s care.
Fresh from Crusade in Palestine, Lord Garon has a secret he must hide, a hunger that must be fed, and a dark and uncertain future. Having shed himself of a fiancée he never met, he’s home to lick his wounds. The only thing he wants is a warm-blooded meal—but the new housekeeper is strangely insistent on giving him much more.
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
Maddie shivered at the creaks and groans the portcullis made as it slowly rose. The rain-laden wind carried the noises and filled the silences in between with a howling that sounded like the hounds from hell had arrived at the castle gate.
Shouts outside the curtain wall had alerted them only minutes before of Lord Garon d’Albermarle’s arrival. With only a bliaut over her sleeping shift, Maddie stood on the first step of the keep, holding a tray with a goblet of wine, ready to offer a proper greeting to her overlord.
“Are you sure this is the way you wish to go about this, M-Maddie?” Egbert asked, fidgeting at her side.
She swallowed against the sudden dryness in her mouth and nodded.
“It be on your head then,” he said, his always-mournful tone as dire as one of Father Ansel’s Sunday sermons. She sent thanks above that the cranky priest was away or her deception wouldn’t last past the introductions.
The clatter of dozens of hooves on the cobbled bridge beyond the gate filled the castle yard with thunder. From the encroaching darkness, the sounds were as ominous as the dark shapes looming on the gatehouse walls. The torches she’d ordered lit sputtered and flared, distorting and elongating shapes so the men riding through the entrance appeared as tall as giants.
Already tired and on edge because she hadn’t slept since a messenger had arrived, warning the castle of his lordship’s arrival days before, Maddie’s fevered imagination painted them darker and larger still.
“Be they devils?” Egbert asked, his narrow shoulders shaking. “No one travels on a night with nary a speck of light in the sky.”
“Hush!” The storm whipping at her clothing and the fatigue from months of worry over this very moment combined to make her hands shake and blackened an already foul mood.
The horsemen entered the bailey and a large figure separated from the contingent who approached the keep. As he drew closer, her fears weren’t eased one whit. The warrior sat atop a huge black destrier, forcing her to raise her gaze quite high to seek his face.
He wore a helm that left only his square jaw exposed. The darkness cast by the metal nose guard concealed his eyes. Only his mouth gave a hint of his mood—a thin, straight line with the corners crimped downward.
Under his stare, Maddie’s knees trembled but her tray never rattled. She squared her shoulders and shot a glance about her at the castle folk. “Stephen!” she called to the stable master. “See to their horses.”
In moments, boys scrambled to accept reins, and the creak of leather and the clank of iron filled the air.
The stable master himself approached the dark warhorse at the foot of the steps but the mounted warrior’s gaze never left Maddie.
She licked dry lips with an even dryer tongue. “Lord Garon?” she asked, although there could be no question who led this contingent. All gazes remained on his intimidating figure. “Please come inside, milord. Your people will see to the comfort of your men.”
His mouth twisted. “And who will see to mine?”
Maddie’s heart leapt to the back of her throat. “I will, milord.”
A long pause indicated he looked her up and down. “And who might you be, madam?” he asked, his voice a deep, hollow rumble.
Maddie remembered to curtsy and then straightened, girding herself to speak the lie aloud. “Your housekeeper. I take care of things now.” The latter, at least, was the truth.
Lord Garon grunted. Without a glance at the stable master, he tossed down his reins and dismounted.
When he turned toward her, Maggie’s breath caught. Lord, he’s a tall man. I thought it was just the horse.
Maddie lifted the ornate chalice from the tray to deliver her much-rehearsed welcome.
Instead, his lordship’s lips pressed into a tighter line and he brushed past her.
She was left gasping on the bottom step. “What a rude ogre!” she exclaimed, annoyed he hadn’t fallen in line with the first step of her plan.
“Watch your tongue, madam,” an accompanying knight said tersely as he followed the lord up the steps. “He has exceptional hearing.”
“M-Maddie?” Egbert said, nodding toward the door.
She shoved the tray at his belly and grasped her skirts high to rush up the steps.
The plan had seemed so simple. All she needed was to get him alone and addle his sight with a little wine or ale so he’d not care she wasn’t the comeliest creature in the keep. Then she would seduce him.
And the sooner, the better. The longer she took losing her virginity, the greater the risk he would discover her identity. The truth was, she would rather copulate with the devil himself than be returned home.
However, this business of copulation, which had seemed a simple, messy, perhaps even enjoyable act, according to the cook, now promised to be a daunting trial.
The lord of the keep turned out to be a giant and as dour as a priest at confession. The thought of being naked with him and accepting his manstaff into her body frankly petrified her.
She rushed through the massive doors, hoping her preparations would meet with his approval. Nothing else could be allowed to mar her well-thought-out plan.
His lordship stood in the center of the hall, hands on hips. Unlike his men, he wore no chain mail, only a leather hauberk to protect his body. He’d removed his headgear, revealing hair a black as midnight and a face as hard as carved granite.
He was everything she’d remembered and more—more frightening, more imposing—and more beautiful because of the differences. Thanks be to God, he hadn’t recognized her.
His gaze narrowed on the hall and she looked around to see what might have displeased him already.
Around him, servants scurried, delivering warm food to the men-at-arms as boys eagerly divested them of their armor. If she hadn’t been observing him so closely, she might not have detected the change in his posture. He scarce seemed to notice the din of activity. His mouth lost a little firmness, his hands unclenched on his hips and his chest rose and fell deeply.
In that instant, Maddie lost a measure of her fear. Here was a man savoring his first night home after a long absence. He had a heart and cared for something at least. Perhaps he wouldn’t be a complete troll when making her his wife.
Garon shut out the noises swirling around him and breathed in the scents of his home. The smells remained unchanged even after eight years away—wood smoke from the hearth, the moist mustiness clinging to the stone walls, roasted meat and women.
Unchanged from his memory, but enhanced by his “affliction”.
Now he could easily discern pheasant from roast beef, sage from rosemary—the laundress’s ripened odor from the housekeeper’s more delicate musk, which wafted in the air behind him where she hovered.
His sight was as improved as his scent. Even the darkest corners, far from the blazing torches in their sconces, were revealed in varying shades of gray—crisp as the autumn air outside. Outside, in the dark, the housekeeper’s eyes had been pale in her pinched, pallid face. He wondered now whether they were blue or hazel.
Sounds reverberated on the walls, a steady rumble of quiet conversations punctuated with sharp bursts of laughter. But the only sound that had raised his interest since his arrival was that of the housekeeper’s heart as she’d waited on the steps of the keep—an agitated tattoo indicating fear despite her calm demeanor.
She’d called him an ogre. If she knew the true nature of the beast, her trepidation would become terror.
“Milord, I’ve secured sustenance for you in your chamber,” Raymond, his captain-at-arms, murmured beside him.
Garon thanked God every day that he and Raymond had met on a faraway battlefield and discovered a connection that bound their destinies. Without him, he’d never be able to sustain this ruse.
“So quickly? I am hungry and thought I’d have to make do.” The throbbing hunger building in his belly had been nearly unbearable the last score of miles.
“Sisters. A friendly pair. They approached me. Said you’d remember them.”
He did. Sturdy, lusty blondes. Their names escaped him, but he well remembered how they used to play in his chamber, offering him hours of sensual delight. This time, however, the play would be quick, even deadly if he couldn’t harness his appetite. “You will wait outside the door and listen in case I have need of you.”
“Yes, milord. If the silence is overlong…”
Garon gave him a sharp, grim nod and turned toward the stairs.
The housekeeper waited at the bottom step, her hands worrying the frayed end of the braided rope securing the castle’s keys around her waist. Her shoulders straightened at his approach. “I’ve ordered a bath sent to your chambers.”
“Later. My man will tell you when I am ready.” He moved to brush past her, doing his best to ignore the heavenly scent of her skin and the pulse that throbbed at the base of her white throat. Her startled eyes were indeed hazel and too innocent for his purposes.
Light brown eyebrows lowered in a frown. “But, milord, the water’s already set to boil. It will be no bother—”
He continued up the stairs, catching a murmured curse from the woman.
So eager to please. She must wonder if her position was secure. At the death of his steward two years past, he’d been informed by courier that another had taken over the management of the estates. As she seemed to be the one in charge, he assumed she was capable, for the land he’d passed through had shown signs of a recent orderly harvest, and the keep was clean, the servants exacting in their care. Tomorrow night, he would tell the woman her place was safe. He had little interest or ability in seeing to the daily running of the estate.
That she was a woman filling a man’s shoes was only an annoyance. Dealing with her reports on a nightly basis would test his patience and he’d have to learn a measure of trust, which would be trial in itself.
He’d learned the hard way that a woman could best a man without using brute force. Sly intelligence and seductive wiles could win the battle when a man’s attention was centered between her legs. He had lost nearly everything to one such heathen bitch—a Saracen’s whore with a thirst for blood.
He shoved open the door of his chamber and hunger instantly clawed at his belly, rumbling loudly.
A fire blazed in the brazier in the far corner. The twins lay naked, warming the covers of his bed. Older now, their figures were a little overblown and fleshy, but their lips still curved in welcome. His body clenched as hunger overrode his caution. He climbed quickly onto the mattress to lie between them. The problem of how to take one without the other screaming the roof down about his ears was less of a concern than feasting on the bounty before him.
“Shall we undress you?” the one with a mole above her lip asked as she scooted closer.
“Later,” he growled, earning delighted giggles from the women. He twisted her body over his, her blonde hair forming a curtain to conceal the nature of his “taking”. Her screech of delight ended in a shocked squeak as he bit into the tender flesh of her neck.
“Milord?” she whispered, her hands pressing against his collarbone for a moment before her fingers curved into his shoulders, clutching him closer. She moaned and her hips ground into his erection.
“All that from just a kiss?” the other said, a plaintive note in her voice. “Save a little for me, Anne.”
Garon’s hands fisted in Anne’s hair, holding her still while he drew blood from the twin piercings at the side of her throat, sucking hard to assuage his hunger. Tasting of salt and copper, her blood coated his tongue, filled his throat and spread warmth throughout his body.
He sucked harder and she cried out, the rapture overtaking her body to set it trembling above his. As her hips ground harder into his, he widened his legs, and slipped a hand to her buttocks, kneading her generous mounds, and then pressing the hard bone of her mons against his cock. He matched her rhythm, bucking against her writhing body to ease the second hunger growing inside him.
A sharp knock on his chamber door penetrated his bliss-fogged mind and he withdrew his teeth, lapping her neck to clean away the smears of blood and close the small wounds he’d inflicted.
She murmured sleepily and burrowed her head against his shoulder, her hips slowing as she fell asleep.
He reached out to snag the other sister, dragging her to his side. When she aimed a kiss at his mouth, he turned from it, not wanting her to discover the length of his teeth, and dragged his lips along her throat. She moaned and nestled closer to his side.
A knock sounded again. He turned toward the door. “Yes, Raymond,” he shouted. “All is well.”
The door flung open and the housekeeper stomped into the room, her eyes widening at the sight of the two naked women. Her mouth gaped and then shut with an audible snap. Her gaze rose above the bed as though she were examining the ceiling for cobwebs. “I’ve brought your bath,” she said, her voice tight, red flags of color staining her cheeks.
With the sharpness of his bloodlust dulled, Garon’s carnal appetites arose full-blown—called to life by the shock and outrage warring in the mousy housekeeper’s expression.
Why her face and reed-thin form should appeal didn’t matter. That he had to have her and wipe away that look of disgust pouting her full lips did.
Garon’s mouth curved in wicked delight. “A foursome then?”