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I’ll be away from my computer again today. There’s always an adventure in this house and yesterday’s involved the wood-burning furnace. I was adding a couple of logs to the fire, and bent to lift one of them, when a burst of flame, like something out of the movie Backdraft, flared out. I didn’t have time to move back, and dummy me, couldn’t even blink because it was beautiful. I felt and heard little sizzling crisps tumble onto my shoulders, saw my glasses fog. I took a step back and swiped my hair and face as quick as I could and when my hands came away from my hair, I was clutching tons of crispy bits. Yup, I burned my hair, singed my eyebrows and my eyelashes. I have very strange little damaged curls at the ends of most of my hair in the front so I am going to beg my hair dresser to fit me in. He might have to cut my hair very, very short. Bright side, at least that quick burst of flame didn’t burn my skin.
I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about after a visit with him. He’s my age, has a long gray ponytail and wears shorts no matter the weather. Love Nick to death, but he’s going to be laughing his ass off at me.
Anyway, this book was released in March 2007 and is part of the Seasons of Seduction anthology. The winner will get a download of the entire anthology. Good luck!
Newlywed Lady Margaret du Bary must find a way out of the marriage her king decreed. Lord Roland is far beneath the ideal knight she’s dreamed of — and she won’t have him! But how can she distract the brute from consummating their marriage until she can steal away from the keep and return to the convent that ejected her?
Lord Roland is very pleased with his mousy bride. Besides the lands and fine castle she brings, she’s pleasing to the eye and has a suitably demure demeanor. The only thorn in the ointment is he has no experience tupping a gentlewoman. Bedding his modest bride will prove a true test of this knight’s steel.
“Another flagon of ale!” The new lord of Beckwith Keep slammed his empty cup on the wooden table. A serving wench tripped in her haste to reach him, spilling more ale onto the table than into his hammered silver chalice. He ignored her dismay and planted his elbow in the puddle, tilting back his head to take a long draw of warm ale.
“Perhaps you should curb your thirst.”
Lord Roland Du Bary cast a baleful eye at his friend, Dougal Fitzhugh. “Why ever for?”
“The wedding night is still to come. Are you not afraid your ardor will flag?”
Roland licked the foam from the hairs that curved over his upper lip. “A little ale has never impeded me in bedsport. Not once have I failed to rouse my staff when the occasion called.” He cast a glance at his bride. The shy little miss had taken a seat further down the table. Her hair, neither blonde nor brown but all the pleasing shades of a pheasant’s tail feathers, hung in a long curtain to her hips. “Besides, my wife inspires me sufficiently.”
“Aye, you are a lucky man. You’ve a fine keep and lands—and a comely wife.”
His gaze still on his young bride, Roland replied, “She seems a pleasant mouse. Although methinks she tends to overimbibe. Her cheeks are quite flushed already.”
“Why say you she is a mouse?”
“She’s so timid, she has not once looked me in the eye.”
“Perhaps she is put off by your ill looks,” Dougal said with a laugh.
Disgruntled, Roland straightened his shoulders. “My looks haven’t a thing to do with it. My sword arm and my fame as a warrior are all she’s concerned with.”
“You only met the girl today. How do you know this?”
“Why, you heard her. When she greeted us at the steps of this keep, all she could say was, ‘You are Sir Roland Du Bary? The king’s knight?’ And she looked me up and down as though she could scarce believe her good fortune.”
“Just how many flagons of ale had you quaffed before this scintillating conversation with your beloved?”
“Not a one, as you well know. And it is wedded wife. I would caution you to get that aright. There will be no love. Love is for weaklings and puny courtiers who fawn over a lady, read her poetry and sing, just so that they might stand close enough to stare down her gown at her tits.”
“Then you’ve experience with that sort of endeavor?”
“I haven’t the time for such nonsense. Thanks be to God, my dear wife is a more sensible sort.”
“How do you know this? You spoke to the lass for less time than you took to throw your reins to the stableboy.”
“I know she is sensible, even-tempered and appropriately submissive. She stared at my feet the entire time we spoke.” An intriguing thought crept into his brain. Perhaps, his wife had been studying the size of his feet…
“Then have a care for your wife’s tender sensibilities. She is only fresh from the convent.”
Roland shuddered. A virgin. An appalling thought. “Think you I would cause her harm?”
“She’s not built to take the likes of a beast like you. Go easy on the drink or you’ll forget yourself.”
“Bah! She’s a woman. All are made to sheathe a man’s sword.” Roland scratched his beard then looked down the table at his meek bride. Her skin shone as lustrous as a pearl. Would it be soft and creamy to his touch? Perhaps he should trim his rough beard. He lifted his sleeve to his face and sniffed. “Do you think I should bathe?”
His friend laughed and slapped his shoulder. “You smell like your horse. What woman wouldn’t appreciate the aroma of an earthy man? It has only been three months since we last bathed.”
A movement at the end of the table drew his gaze. His bride rose from her seat and without a backward glance left the hall with only her nurse in attendance. Laughter and loud cheers rose from the lower tables.
Not for the first time, he admired her straight back, the gentle curve of her waist and her round, firm bottom below.
“Seems your bride’s as eager for the bedding as you, my friend,” Dougal said, his tone teasing.
Unbidden, the thought crept into Roland’s conscience—he’d never before bedded a gentlewoman.
* * * * *
“I won’t have him!” Lady Margaret Du Bary had worked herself into a high state of indignation. “You’ll just have to tell the king. He can beat me, starve me, tie me to a stake and whip me ‘til I’m bloody—but I won’t have the brute!”
Her nurse, Grania, watched her mistress’s pacing with interest. “Why ever not, milady? Lord Roland appears to be a strong man and well respected by his men and king.”
“Strong? Oh yes, strong smelling! He reeks of horses and sweat. Why, he stood in dung when we met and he never noticed!”
Grania folded her arms over her ample chest. “His horse was last to enter the bailey. That he honors his men with such an act speaks well of him.”
“That beast of a man stood in horse shite while the king’s priest said our marriage rites and he never noticed!” Margaret’s words grew louder until she shouted her displeasure.
“If it is only his aroma,” Grania replied calmly, fighting a smile, “a bath will solve that problem and would likely be appreciated by your new husband.”
“A bath is only the beginning of what would appease me. Did you see his hair and his beard? His fluff sticks out around his head like a big bear. And if he didn’t eat for a week, he could live off the crumbs embedded in his fur.” She stopped her pacing and stomped her foot. “I’ll not have him!”
“Well, it isn’t as if you were given a choice of husbands, my lamb. The king’s instructions were quite clear. This knight will rule your keep. Your late father would have wanted this.”
“My father cared nothing about me or this keep, or he would have stayed here to rule it himself instead of always following a fight.”
Grania ignored her charge’s familiar complaint. Her father hadn’t cared enough to forge a bond with the child after the death of her mother. Thankfully, the girl didn’t grieve too deeply at his loss. “Obviously, the king believes our new lord will be strong enough to hold this tiny corner of England. Roland Du Bary is your lord by his decree. What you make of this marriage and this man is up to you.”
“I’ll make nothing of him. I’ll return to the convent—that’s what I’ll do. Before he has the chance to make me his wife in deed.”
The stubborn glint in her eye worried Grania. The last time she’d seen that look had precipitated events resulting in her mistress’s prompt expulsion from the convent.
“Hurry! Pack!” Lady Margaret plucked gowns and underclothes from their pegs on the wall and tossed them at Grania.
Grania paid her mistress no mind and rehung the clothing. Her lady could not return to the convent. The prioress would bolt the door if she saw who begged entrance.
The sounds of laughter and drunken shouts floated up from the hall. “Your husband will be here any moment and you’re not prepared to greet him,” Grania chided. “Would you shame the people of your keep? They barely know you now since you’ve just arrived from the convent. Will you have them thinking you’re a mouse?”
Lady Margaret stomped her foot again. “The shame is not mine. I…will…not…have…him!”
‘Twas then the old nurse noticed the sheen of moisture in her young charge’s eyes and guessed the girl was afraid. “Now, lamb, perhaps he’s not the man you imagined in your maiden’s fantasies, but you are no squeamish miss either.”
“He’s far beneath the man I dreamed he’d be. Why, he lived for a time in Queen Eleanor’s court.” The young mistress’s words cracked and her shoulders slumped. “I had hopes he would at least be clean.”
“And you had hopes he would recite poetry and sing you songs.”
Lady Margaret gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “I’d dreamed his hair was golden and his manner would be…pleasant. The man belched at my table!” she whispered furiously.
“Most men belch.” Grania cut to the heart of what she believed was the cause of her mistress’s distress. “Are you afraid of the bedding?”
“I’m not completely ignorant. I’ve seen animals mate.” Lady Margaret’s fierce expression grew dubious. “I know what is to come, but I never thought he’d be quite so…large.”
“Ah love.” Grania hugged her. “Every girl has fears of her first time. You’re a smart one. You’ve only to apply your wits to ensure your husband takes care with you.”
“Think you he will listen? Did you see how much ale he consumed?”
“Well, think on that. Doesn’t Elspeth complain that her husband’s…oak—”
Grania waved her hand. “‘Tis not the time for maidenly airs. The men are coming up the steps even now. Elspeth says when her husband is in his cups, he cannot sustain a…” She searched for a word other than the coarse one that first came to mind.
“Yes!” Grania replied, flustered with the topic of their conversation, having never experienced a man’s ardor. “You’ve only to ply him with more ale and get him into a hot bath. His…limb will wilt like a willow branch and he’ll be unable to claim you.”
“But what of the morning?”
“Tomorrow is another day, love.”
Margaret’s eyes widened. “We could wait until daylight and slip out of the keep.” Her mistress hugged Grania. “Whatever would I do without you?”
Have children? Live a long life? Grania pushed aside her morbid thoughts. If the new lord was half the man she believed, Lady Margaret might not be so eager to leave in the morning. And she’d witnessed how her lady’s gaze had clung to his tall, broad frame as he’d approached the keep—before he’d dismounted. “Quickly, now. Remove your clothing. You must appear willing. I’ll order a bath brought to this chamber.” Grania helped her untie the knots at the side of her bliaut and drew it over her head, and then swept away her undergown. “Now, put on this robe.”
As soon as the robe was belted tightly around Margaret’s slim waist, the door to the chamber burst open. Lord Roland stood in the doorway, his arms braced on either side, holding back the crowd of boisterous revelers. “Good even, wife,” his deep voice boomed.
Margaret kept her gaze on the floor, afraid her intentions would be written on her face. It would serve her better to have Roland continue to believe her a submissive mouse. With a quick glance upward, she nodded her greeting, then her gaze fell away again.
That one look had her knees shaking. With the knot at the neck of his cotte undone and his hair sticking up in spikes around his head, she feared he might be too far gone with drink to fall in with her plan.
“We should inspect your bride for impediments,” Dougal Fitzhugh his sly friend said and pushed his way past Lord Roland, opening a passage for the rest of the party to spill into the room.
“Aye, let’s have a bedding!” “Aye!” “Take off her clothes, Lord Roland!”
Margaret bristled with rage and felt heat stain her cheeks.
“Take off your robe, wife. I’ll not have any say you are not a fit bride for me,” her new lord said, his voice a deep rumble within his broad chest.
Humiliation causing her hands to shake, Margaret fumbled with the belt, but finally she shed the robe, allowing it to puddle at her feet. Please don’t let the oaf be overcome with lust and take me now!
“Her breasts are small, but even-sized and nicely placed,” Dougal said.
Her husband didn’t comment. She dared a glance and found his gaze fixed on the juncture of her thighs. “Turn around,” he said, his voice sounding strained.
Knowing she had no alternative but compliance with his command, Margaret fisted her hands at her sides and slowly turned.
“She has fine, broad hips,” the priest pronounced. “She’ll carry strong sons to serve our king.”
“A lovely arse she has, Lord Roland!” “Aye, on to the bedding!”
Completing the turn, Margaret lifted her chin. “I, too, would know there is no impediment to our marriage, milord.”
“Oh ho!” Dougal chortled. “She’s eager to see your manstaff.”
Roland scowled at his friend, color rising from his neck to flush his face. With a glare that expunged her small flare of triumph, he stripped his shirt over his head, knelt to remove his boots and chausses and then dropped his braies to the floor.
Immediately, Margaret realized her bid to humiliate him had failed. He stood proudly before her, his body sun-bronzed, except for the pale swath at his hips, a testament to his years of physical training out of doors.
Her mouth dry as dust, her gaze swept over his broad, hairy chest and arms, noting the play of shadow and candlelight on his deeply muscled flesh. She blinked, unwilling to linger over what rose from between his legs, and stared at his large feet, at the lightly furred toes and up his strong ankles and calves to his massive thighs. Naked, he was more formidable than he’d appeared when she’d first seen him, fully clothed, helmeted and wearing heavy mail.
Calling herself a coward, she drew in a deep breath and inspected his manflesh. She’d seen other men’s dangling parts since she’d arrived at the keep and had never been impressed. The part that was their pride seemed vulnerable and awkward. Her husband’s, however, rose straight and strong from a nest of curly, dark brown hair. It terrified her.
“T-turn,” she stammered.
Hands on his hips, he presented his backside, yet another view of masculine strength and pride. The wide V of his back narrowed at the waist, and his round, muscular buttocks looked anything but foolish. Dear Lord, and she had thought to control him. “I see no impediment,” she whispered.
He turned to face her once again, and Margaret fought to keep her gaze anywhere but on his “limb”.
“There being no impediment to this marriage,” Dougal said, “on to the bedding!”
“Aye, give her a swive!”
Roland watched the color drain from his bride’s face. He’d thought she might swoon when she’d first stared at his cock. Now, she looked terrified. Dougal’s levity and the growing din from their witnesses caused her eyes to widen until the whites framed her fine gray eyes.
“Wait!” she cried out. “I haven’t seen all of him. I would know there is no deformity.” She swept her hand upward, pointing at his face. “I would see him beardless.”
If he hadn’t seen her fear, he might have laughed with the rest of the buffoons. Instead, he lifted his hand to his beard and scratched. “If it will remove the last of your doubts, then aye, I’ll give up my beard, though I don’t know how I’ll warm my face in winter.”
Her relief was not flattering.
“Move aside, you louts. Make way!” Lady Margaret’s old nurse called from beyond the wall of bodies crowding the chamber doorway. When a narrow path cleared, she strode inside, followed by two burly men carrying a large metal tub and a trail of women bearing buckets of steaming water. “Your bath, milord.”
Seeing another plot afoot to delay his enjoyment of his shy bride, Roland decided a bath might be just the thing to calm his rampant erection and soothe his bride’s nerves. “A bath is a fine idea. My wife will attend me.”
Her startled gaze told him of her dismay.
“Now the rest of you, out!”
“Nay!” “What of the bedding?” “On to the bedding!”
“There must be witnesses when you take your bride,” Dougal murmured.
Roland watched his wife’s tightly clenched fists. “We will display the sheets in the morning. My word she was a virgin and that the deed is done will be enough.”
Dougal gave him a curious look and nodded. “Come, men! The ale is below. Let’s go raise a cup to our lord’s potency.” With not so gentle shoves, he hastened the rowdy crowd’s exit.
Except for the sound of water sloshing as it was poured into the copper tub by servants, silence descended on those remaining in the chamber.
His bride knelt to pick up her robe from the floor.
“You won’t be needing that,” he said. At her wary glance, he added, “You’ll only wet your clothing. Leave it off.”
“But I’m cold.” Her nipples were tightly beaded, but not from the cold, he’d wager. She still assiduously avoided looking at his cock.
“We’ll add wood to the brazier.”
“Milord, is the temperature of your bath to your liking?” the old nurse asked, reminding him there were others still in the room.
He walked to the tub and bent to trail his fingers in the water. Steam rose from the surface. “It’s perfect. You may leave us now.”
“As you wish,” she replied after a pointed glance at her mistress. The other servants followed in her wake.
Now that the two of them were alone, Roland studied his bride’s body more closely. Dougal had thought her breasts small but well placed on her chest. Roland thought them perfect—round as apples, tipped with ripened berries. Indeed, the small nipples pointed north so that a man need only lean down to sip upon their stems. Her waist was small and neat and flared into rounded hips. The dark down between her thighs looked soft as silk, and Roland’s groin tightened. He wondered whether the flesh her curling hair cloaked was as pink and succulent as her nipples.
Tonight, he’d dine on the freshest, lushest fruit in the kingdom—his bride’s virgin flesh. But first, he had to overcome her maidenly fear. He had to convince her he wasn’t a great, rutting bear. God’s ballocks, but virgins were a true test of man’s will!
“Attend me,” he commanded, and he stepped over the rim of the tub and knelt in the narrow space. The water lapped at his hips and was hotter than he’d first thought, but it had the desired affect on his manroot. Almost immediately, the pressure building in his cock eased.
Lady Margaret hovered beside the tub behind him—out of his range of vision apurpose, he suspected.
“Would you care for more ale, milord? I’ve a pitcher warming next to the fire.”
“I would be much obliged if you would pour me a cup,” he replied, remembering his manners. Women seemed to prize a pretty turn of phrase or an unneeded thank you on occasion. Now that his erection no longer demanded he pounce upon her, he relaxed. The two of them, he and his unruly cock, had the entire night to woo his nervous wife.
A silver flagon was handed to him and he threw it back, draining nearly half the cup before holding it out to her. “Take it. I would have you wash me, now.”
“P-perhaps, I could start with your hair.”
“Whatever pleases you, my dear.” The warm water and ale lulled his body. A pleasurable ease settled over him. Aye, he was a lucky man to own such a thoughtful wife. He envisioned many nights to come when he returned from battle or a hunt to find a warm bath and her lush little body ready to comfort his aches and wounds.
“Tilt your head back, milord. I can’t reach you with this pitcher.”
Water sluiced over his head. His indrawn breath whistled between his teeth, but he bit back the oath he would have shouted to spare his wife’s tender feelings. The water was so hot his skin felt parboiled.
“Oh! It’s too hot. I’m so sorry.”
Before he could assure her she had not roasted him like a lamb on a spit, another pitcher of water was dumped over his head, this time so cold his fingers left their imprint on the sides of the tub. Bloody hell! If this was her version of a soothing bath, he’d wait until the next spring’s thaw to wash his arse in the river!
From the corner of his eye, he saw her hand dip into a pot and bring out a dollop of soap. He grasped her wrist and tugged her forward. If he turned his head, her sweet nipple would brush his lips. Lord, she was a temptation. “I’ll not smell like a flower,” he said more harshly than he intended.
“I-it’s scented with herbs only. Smell it.”
He pulled her hand to his face and sniffed. The fragrance was pleasant, like green fields in springtime. “Very well,” he said, releasing his hold.
“If you’ll lean your head back again…”
Closing his eyes, he did so. Her hands glided over his hair, and then her fingers dug beneath to gently scrape his scalp. The sensation was so pleasurable, he moaned. “You’ve a gentle touch, wife,” he said, remembering to give her praise.
“Thank you, milord,” she said, her tight voice betraying her worry.
A smile tipped the corners of his lips. Aye, she should be alarmed. Her silken touch was countering the affects of the warm water and ale.