The King’s Cousins Trilogy

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.”

Aye.”

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.”

Aye.”

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.

For Tris­tan­na.