“Do you not want a lifetime with me, Katelyn?”
Tears welled in her eyes. “In truth, I do. You seem kind and are respected by your people. I simply believe you shouldn’t accept being forced into a marriage not of your own making.” She gave him a wistful smile. “You could have any woman in England, Nicholas. One far more suited to be your countess than I ever could be. You don’t even know me.”
Nicholas placed his hands on her shoulders. “I am beginning to learn something about you. The fact that you want to give me a way out of our marriage shows you are selfless.”
“You are being noble, Nicholas.”
“Well, I am a titled nobleman now,” he teased. “Why don’t we compromise?”
Katelyn sniffed. “How? We’re either wed or we’re not. There is no in-between.”
“Give us a month. We can get to know one another in the weeks ahead. If at the end of the month, you still seek an annulment, I will grant you one.”
She licked her lips nervously, causing him to want to do the same.
“You want us to get to know one another.”
“And if I don’t like you—or you change your mind and don’t like me—we can end the marriage with no hard feelings.”
“All right. I agree.”
“Then I promise to visit you each day so we can spend time together,” Nicholas said. “We can walk. Ride. Play chess.”
“I like to walk.”
“So do I.”
“I don’t have a horse,” she pointed out.
“Then I’ll get you one. Or you can ride with me.” The thought of wrapping his arms about
Katelyn made his heart race.
“I don’t know how to play chess.”
“I can teach you.”
“You have an answer for everything, Nicholas.”
“See, I would make you an excellent husband. You could come to me for anything and I would solve your problems.”
She smiled playfully. “What if I wished to solve yours?”
Landon reached for Cassiana’s hand under the table and entwined his fingers through hers. It pleased him to hear her sharp intake of breath.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her eyes widening.
Landon looked down at her lap and back into her eyes. “I believe I am holding your hand. The hand of my future countess.”
“What if someone sees?”
“What if they do?” he countered, teasing her as he watched her brown eyes flicker with more amber now. “Did your parents never hold hands?”
“I … I don’t remember.”
Landon shrugged. “Not all wedded couples do. Hold hands, that is.”
“Did yours?” she asked curiously.
He stiffened. “Nay. Never.”
He released her hand and looked out over the great hall. Suddenly, her hand rested atop his, wriggling until their fingers were once more interlaced. Landon turned and faced her.
“I think I like holding your hand,” she said boldly.
He laughed, relaxing at the contact between them. “Likewise, my lady.”
Landon lifted their joined hands and, never taking his eyes from hers, kissed her fingers. Suddenly, all conversation died in the great hall. With her hand still in his, he rose and urged her to do the same.
“Good people of Briarwood,” he began. “I am Landon de Blays, formerly of King Edward’s royal guard, and the new Earl of Briargate.”
Landon turned and bowed his head in acknowledgement of Cassiana before looking out at the room again. “The king knows how blessed Briarwood has been to have Lady Cassiana all of these years. He wishes for her to remain and she will—as my wife.”
Once more, he raised her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across her knuckles as the room erupted in cheers.
“You certainly know how to introduce yourself,” she murmured.
Landon smiled. “And I cannot wait to introduce you into the ways of love, my lady.”
“Wait a moment, my lady,” Quill said.
Her tongue darted out and nervously lick her lips. It reminded him of how his had touched hers only last night. Desire threaded through him.
When he didn’t speak, she prompted him. “What do you need, Sir Quill?”
“Ned asked that I compete in his place this week. I was hoping to ask you for a favor to wear. To bring me good fortune.”
Tristanna blushed. “You wish a token from … me?”
“I do,” he said firmly. “In the name of courtly love, I wish to dedicate my performance at this royal tournament to you.”
“Oh!” She looked startled—and then pleased. Very pleased.
“What say you, my lady? Might I receive a small token from you? Mayhap a ribbon?” he suggested.
“I have a ribbon at the end of my braid,” she said quietly.
Quill reached and took the braid that rested over one shoulder. “May I?”
She nodded, another blush heating her cheeks. He fumbled a moment and her fingers closed over his.
“Allow me,” she said softly as she untied a pale pink ribbon from a cluster of three.
Frowning, she said, “You don’t have a helm or lance with you.”
“Those are in the tent reserved for the competing knights,” he replied.
“Then let me tie it about your arm. I’ve seen other knights wear it in such a way.”
Quill lifted it slightly and Tristanna wrapped the satin ribbon around his bicep, just above his elbow. She tied it with a bow and stepped back.
“Thank you,” he said. “I will do my best to not only represent the Granville family name but to bring honor to you.” Bowing, he left her, his heart pounding wildly.
Quill wanted to not only do justice to the Granvilles. He wanted to win this tournament.