The Knights of Honor Series

Mer­ryn,” he said soft­ly. “I have some­thing for you.” He pulled an object from his pock­et but kept it hid­den in his hand. Her curios­i­ty grew.

He cupped her cheek, the warmth of his touch a com­fort.

I pro­vid­ed gifts for our guests and the priest, but it’s cus­tom­ary for the groom to bestow a gift upon his bride, as well.”

A gift?”

He caressed her face. “I am sup­posed to com­pen­sate you for your lost vir­gin­i­ty.” Geof­frey encir­cled her waist and tugged her close, then dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose.

Mer­ryn felt cher­ished in that moment. Her wor­ries van­ished. She might be inex­pe­ri­enced, but she knew her hus­band would take good care of her.

I had this made in France.” He opened his right hand.

A gold and enam­el brooch rest­ed in his palm. Bril­liant sap­phires made her smile.

Mer­ryn met his intense gaze and imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized the love shin­ing in them.

Your eyes are the bluest of blue, my love. When I saw these stones, I knew the piece was meant for you alone. Will you wear it for me every day? I would be hap­py to see it pinned to your cote­hardie.”

She picked up the brooch and admired it. “Nev­er a day shall pass that I do not pin it on and think of you. It will be my con­stant reminder of how much you love me.”

Mer­ryn kissed it. She looked back at her hus­band. “You spoil me. I have noth­ing for you.”

Geof­frey reached inside his gypon and pulled out the gold neck­lace she’d giv­en him on the day of their betrothal.

This has rest­ed next to my heart since we part­ed five years ago. I have nev­er tak­en it off. I nev­er will. ‘Tis the best gift you could ever give me.”

He con­tin­ued, “Until now.” He embraced her. “I know you are unsure, my love, but we will explore love togeth­er. Come.”

Mer­ryn set the brooch on the table and took his hand as they crossed the cham­ber. Geof­frey drew the cur­tains aside from the large bed.

Her new hus­band rest­ed his hands on her shoul­ders and gazed into her eyes. “You are the most beau­ti­ful bride that any man has claimed. I shall tell you every morn­ing how love­ly you are.”

Even when I am wrin­kled and gray?”

Slow­ly, Raynor began to stroke her throat with his thumbs. Beat­rice locked her fin­gers behind his neck and pulled him clos­er. At the last minute, he real­ized what she meant to do. But it was too late. Beatrice’s lips brushed against his.

And the world caught on fire.

The smell of ros­es invad­ed Raynor’s nose as his lips pressed against hers. He had always thought of him­self as a strong man, both phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly. Yet, any resolve he had dis­ap­peared when he came near this woman. Every­thing he knew him­self to be changed in an instant.

There was only here—now—with her.

He cra­dled her face as his tongue ran along the seam of her lips. She opened her mouth to him. As desire burned deep with­in his bel­ly, he drank in her essence.

Beat­rice whim­pered. The sound pleased him immense­ly. His hands moved to the nape of her neck. Her breasts pressed against his chest, caus­ing his man­hood to stir.

Raynor broke the kiss. Beat­rice gasped for air as his lips glid­ed down her throat and then across to her ear. His teeth teased her ear­lobe, light­ly tug­ging on it. Her quick intake of breath and low moan brought a smile to his face.

Grad­u­al­ly, he brought his mouth back to hers, wrap­ping her in his arms, draw­ing her near. Time stood still as he feast­ed upon her. Both of their hearts beat rapid­ly as their bod­ies touched. His hand cupped her breast, knead­ing it before drag­ging a fin­ger across her nip­ple.

Raynor’s heart warred with his mind. It had to stop. This woman belonged to anoth­er, no mat­ter how much he wished it could be dif­fer­ent. He could go no fur­ther. Reluc­tant­ly, he dragged his lips from hers, ashamed at how quick­ly he’d giv­en into temp­ta­tion.

But Beat­rice was hav­ing none of it. Her fin­gers locked tight­ly in his hair, and she yanked him back to her. Her tongue invad­ed his mouth. Raynor clutched her. He would enjoy this moment for what it was, drink it in and trea­sure it always. On those lone­ly nights when his need for her burned, he would remem­ber these pre­cious kiss­es.

Because it would be all he had of her—of them—and their time togeth­er.

 

Elysande kissed Michael hun­gri­ly, greed­i­ly, as if they would nev­er see each oth­er again. He respond­ed to her kiss with a like pas­sion, know­ing the time spent away from her would seem an eter­ni­ty. Her hands began to roam his body bold­ly, caus­ing his pulse to quick­en. They moved low­er and his mem­ber sprang to life at her touch.

She broke away a moment, a sur­prised look on her face, and glanced down. When their eyes met, she sud­den­ly seemed unsure of her­self.

Michael pressed his lips to her fore­head. “Your caress has spurred me to want to take action.” He cupped her face in his hands and sweet­ly brushed her lips with his briefly. “But we must stop with our good­byes.”

Why?” she asked, a long­ing shad­ow­ing her face.

Because we should be hus­band and wife before we take our love play fur­ther.”

Do you love me, Michael?”

Her ques­tion star­tled him. “Of course, sweet­ling. You know I do. And when we’re wed, I’ll tell you that sev­en times a day. Nay, sev­en times seventy—or more!”

Love me,” she said sim­ply. “Love me now. I am already wed to you in my heart. ‘Tis only a few words we’ll repeat after some priest. I want you. Now.”

He saw she spoke the truth. Her truth.

Their truth.

Ken­ric found him­self stunned when Ave­lyn beat him sound­ly in their first game of chess. It hap­pened quick­ly, as if he expe­ri­enced a sur­prise attack by the ene­my that left him dec­i­mat­ed. He strug­gled but clawed his way to vic­to­ry in the sec­ond game. Though the noble­woman proved a cun­ning oppo­nent, when he saw the dis­ap­point­ment in her eyes, he thought to give her an out.

May­hap your injury con­tributed to your loss, my lady.”

A slight­ly twist­ed ankle has noth­ing to do with my think­ing.” She eyed him for a moment, much as a cat might before it pounced upon a help­less mouse. “A final game, my lord, to see who’ll take the match?”

Nay.” He sat back from the gam­ing board. “We can reen­gage in play once we reach Sand­bourne.”

Her grin told him that he had been caught.

You wish to think about my strat­e­gy and plan a way to try and win.” She laughed, a teas­ing light shin­ing in her eyes. “You think, despite your talk of hon­or­ing ladies with your code of chival­ry, to embar­rass me in front of your home troops in the great hall, where you will have a bevy of knights cheer­ing for you.”

Ave­lyn picked up her queen and toyed with it. “I accept your chal­lenge, Sir Ken­ric. It will give me time to give thought to your chess play, as well.” Her eyes now sparkled with mis­chief. “You should fear me, my lord. I won’t go easy on you—no mat­ter what wit­ness­es stand present at your defeat.”

He crossed his arms. “I fear I won’t find an easy vic­to­ry, for I now see you have a keen mind.” He paused. “I under­es­ti­mat­ed you, Lady Ave­lyn.”

In more ways than one …

Both men and women cir­cled the may­pole, danc­ing with utter aban­don­ment. His eyes were drawn to Alys. She moved with an innate grace, almost as if she flowed like water cours­ing in a stream. The cir­cle became small­er and small­er until the rib­bons sur­round­ed the may­pole and the music switched again, caus­ing the par­tic­i­pants to reverse direc­tion and unwind the rib­bons they held.

Alys hand­ed her rib­bons to a young girl and joined him. “You must come dance, my lord,” she encour­aged.

I don’t think I have ever danced,” he said, appalled at the thought of giv­ing him­self over so freely to the music.

Then it’s high time you learned,” she declared. Alys took his hand in hers and pulled him along. As they weaved in and out of the crowd, she turned and looked over her shoul­der, her cheeks full of ros­es. He swal­lowed hard, tak­en by her sim­ple, fresh beau­ty.

They final­ly reached the may­pole. His heart began to beat faster. Her hand in his seemed the most nat­ur­al thing in the world. Reluc­tant­ly, he released it when she took a long bit of rib­bon from a girl and hand­ed it to him.

Dance, my lord,” she said. She accept­ed a rib­bon her­self as a new song began.

He began mov­ing to the beat of the drum. As a sol­dier, he knew he was a phys­i­cal man. He had lain awake at night and pic­tured him­self, sword in hand, arc­ing through the air. The weapon had seemed an exten­sion of him. This rib­bon now felt the same. He let his feet move as he became swept up in the melody. His ribs twinged unpleas­ant­ly if he moved his arms too high, so he low­ered them and only waved them in small cir­cles.

His body took over, and he expe­ri­enced the hap­pi­ness that he saw on the faces of those sur­round­ing him. He looked across at Alys, who seemed to float through the air as a feath­er might. Her braid bobbed along as her feet did some intri­cate steps that he wouldn’t both­er to attempt. But look­ing at her brought a yearn­ing that he decid­ed must be sat­is­fied.

Today.

What­ev­er had hap­pened in his past. What­ev­er his present might be. What­ev­er the future held for him. None of that mat­tered.

Only Alys did.

It might be wrong, but he planned to kiss her this day. Leisure­ly. Thor­ough­ly.

Pas­sion­ate­ly.

Ancel led Margery through the hid­den pas­sage­way, hold­ing fast to her hand. They arrived at the secret­ed door and he pushed it open so they could step out into the cool night. Though he doubt­ed he would ever need to make use of the con­cealed path, he’d want­ed to learn every­thing about it. Being pre­pared had served him well in the past.

If you like, we can return to the keep from the out­side,” he sug­gest­ed, know­ing she might dread tak­ing the dark­ened path­way again. “I hold you in high regard, Margery. I can’t imag­ine nav­i­gat­ing some­thing unknown such as this nar­row pas­sage as you did, much less in total dark­ness. Though you feared for your life, you pressed on and even tried to res­cue your moth­er. Even the bravest of knights would have seen this as a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge.”

She nib­bled on her bot­tom lip and desire shot through him. His hand tight­ened on hers.

I didn’t feel very brave. Most of the time I was par­a­lyzed with fear,” she admit­ted.

But you con­tin­ued on,” he point­ed out. “That’s courage, Margery. Being afraid and not let­ting it stop you from what you have to do.” He paused.

When I ride into bat­tle? I feel ter­ri­fied. But I press on because I must.”

You know fear?” she asked, dis­be­lief on her face.

I think most men who ride into bat­tle are ter­ri­fied. Very few men enjoy war. But as a knight of the realm, I fight for king and coun­try and will do it every time I’m asked to defend Eng­land.”

I hope I am nev­er that scared again, Ancel,” she con­fessed. “I don’t ever want to be so afraid. I want a qui­et, sim­ple life.”

He stud­ied her a moment. “Have you thought on the king’s words, Margery?” he asked soft­ly. “On stay­ing here, at High­field, as my wife?”

Her mouth trem­bled. “I’ve want­ed to. But I haven’t. Part of me wish­es for it des­per­ate­ly. A hus­band. Chil­dren. Mak­ing High­field into a home that’s full of happiness—and love.” A sin­gle tear cas­cad­ed down her cheek. “But a part of me is ter­ri­fied that Thurstan will ride back through the gates and I will, once again, be a pris­on­er with no choice.”

Ancel set the lantern down and cupped her face. “Even if your step­broth­er returns, you don’t have to stay here.”

Her sad eyes gazed at him. “But where would I go?”

Wher­ev­er I go,” he said sim­ply.

Edward looked deeply into her eyes. “I know you have sensed some­thing between us, Ros­alyne. I believe it is a bond that will stand the test of time.”
His tone was so seri­ous. She had nev­er seen this side of him.

I must share with you things about myself that you do not know.” He smiled. “But once I do, I hope you will still want me. Want to be with me. For all time.”

You … wish for us to … wed?”

Aye.” His smile widened.

She had no idea what he might reveal to her. Had he been mar­ried before and his wife passed away? Did he have chil­dren that she would need to moth­er? Had he done some­thing awful and run away to Can­ter­bury to escape his past? Was he in debt? Had he killed a man?

Tell me,” she urged.

He cupped her face, his thumbs caress­ing her cheeks. “My name is not Edward Munn,” he said.

Her heart skipped a beat. “Are you an out­law? Have you assumed anoth­er name to … escape pun­ish­ment?” Ros­alyne prayed that wasn’t the case. Edward seemed like such a good man. She couldn’t imag­ine him being a crim­i­nal.

He laughed hearti­ly. “No, my love, I am no thief, much less a mur­der­er.” He kissed her swift­ly. “My true name is Sir Edward de Mont­fort. I am a knight of the realm and a mem­ber of the roy­al guard, here in Can­ter­bury on a mis­sion for King Richard.”

Hal couldn’t pos­si­bly love her.

Could he?

He low­ered his fore­head until it rest­ed against hers. Eli­nor inhaled the famil­iar scent and longed to taste him. They stood togeth­er this way for some min­utes until she thought he was try­ing to lull her into a false sense of con­fi­dence. Why was he toy­ing with her, as a cat did a mouse, pre­tend­ing to feel some great affec­tion for her?

Then his arms fell away. His hands found hers and he thread­ed their fin­gers togeth­er.
Hal lift­ed his head and met her gaze. “Hear me out, Eli­nor. Please.”

His voice cracked on the last word. A flood of ten­der­ness swept through her. She nod­ded mute­ly.

You not only healed me phys­i­cal­ly but emo­tion­al­ly. I was bro­ken and did not even know it. You gave me a gift—the gift of redis­cov­er­ing myself. With you, I learned to be the man I once was. And the one I want to remain.”

His fin­gers tight­ened around hers. “I left so many things unsaid before we part­ed. I longed to tell you how much I care for you. Desire you. Need you. How much I always want you by my side.”

Hal gave her a crooked grin. “I love you, Eli­nor. I believe we are soul mates. I want to see your face next to mine when I awak­en each day after hav­ing spent the night hold­ing you in my arms.”

His words left her with unan­swered ques­tions. “Then … then … why did you leave me?

Why did you not say what was in your heart?”

Because I’d nev­er told a woman that I loved her. I didn’t know how.”

Nan dropped to her knees, nau­sea and despair threat­en­ing to over­whelm her. Tris­tan Therolde lay on the ground—with her arrow pro­trud­ing from his leg. She cleared her mind of every­thing except help­ing the man who had sac­ri­ficed him­self by com­ing to her aid.

Tak­ing his hand in hers, she said, “My lord, you have been struck by an arrow. You may not feel the pain yet, but you soon will.”

His eyes met hers. “Oh, I def­i­nite­ly feel it, my lady. My thigh is pul­sat­ing with a world of hurt. And while we are dis­cussing my injury, we might want to note that the arrow in my leg belongs to you.”

Nan cringed. “I am sor­ry my arrow pen­e­trat­ed your leg, Lord Tris­tan. ‘Twas meant for the boar that charged me. You came from nowhere. I had already released the bow­string when you appeared.”

I caught sight of the yel­low you wore tonight as I heard the ani­mal crash­ing through the woods.” He gave her a crooked smile. “Lit­tle did I know you would walk these woods with pro­tec­tion in hand. I thought to shield you from the boar’s attack. It all hap­pened so sud­den­ly.”

But you threw your­self in the beast’s path,” Nan said. “It might have killed you.”

He shrugged. “I act­ed on impulse. Who knew deep inside that I was such an hon­or­able man?”

Mar­cus took Jessimond’s hands in his. This time, she didn’t yank away. “Thank you for spend­ing some time with me today,” he said. “I enjoyed being in your com­pa­ny.”

I enjoyed it, as well.”

They stood gaz­ing at one anoth­er. Jes­si­mond sud­den­ly had a fierce urge to kiss him. Such a thought had nev­er crossed her mind before.

As if he knew what went on inside her head, Mar­cus asked, “Have you ever been kissed, Jess?”

Nay,” she whis­pered, her heart beat­ing rapid­ly.

He bent and brushed warm lips against her cheek. Her fin­gers tight­ened against his as light filled her. His breath fanned hot against her face. She turned her head slight­ly so her mouth could meet his. Before it did, Agatha called out.

Ready, Jess!”

Mar­cus released her hands and stepped away. Dis­ap­point­ment flood­ed Jes­si­mond.
“Com­ing!” she called over her shoul­der.

As she turned, Mar­cus caught her elbow and turned her so that they faced one anoth­er.

A first kiss is some­thing spe­cial, Jess,” he said soft­ly. “It takes time—and requires pri­va­cy. I promise you this—we’ll find both.

Soon.”