…theirs was a forbidden love…
The characters contend with the turmoil at the climax of the bitter English civil war in the 12th century. Heir to a wealthy earldom, Rodrick must choose between his inheritance and marriage to his beloved Swan, a union forbidden by the Catholic Church.
Excerpt: The hero is smitten!
Rodrick considered he was outgoing, affable, a good conversationalist. People generally seemed to like and respect him. He furrowed his brow, suddenly recalling the scene in the gallery when his Northumbrian cousin, Suannoch had ruffled his feathers. He hadn’t handled the situation well. He’d allowed a chit to get under his skin, a girl who might have the body of a boy under the voluminous white material—though he somehow doubted it.
Espying two young noblemen of his acquaintance searching for seats, he hastened over to welcome them, intending once they were settled to speak to Steward Bonhomme. The servants needed to let the fires die down. The stifling heat was making him sweat.
He noticed his brother William and Bronson FitzRam conversing confidently with Robert of Leicester. It was generous of his father to have welcomed the northern cousins to sit at the head table. He hoped Suannoch wouldn’t be seated next to him. Where was she anyway? Evidently Bronson hadn’t accompanied her to the Hall.
Normally there’d be no danger of getting stuck next to her, but the arrangements had been changed to allow for Robert of Leicester to sit at the head table. Rodrick had ceded his place at his father’s right hand.
Of the two, he’d prefer to be paired with Bronson. At least then he might enjoy an intelligent conversation.
His mother entered in the company of Grace and his younger sister, Aurore. He wandered over to join William’s little group, watching with pride out of the corner of his eye as the three beautiful women were greeted by visiting barons.
Leicester slapped him on the back. “Well spoken today, young Rodrick. You’ll make a fine Earl when the time comes.”
William laughed. “Aye, but let’s hope that time doesn’t come too soon.”
Rodrick feigned a blow to his brother’s belly. “Right!”
Bronson offered Rodrick his hand. “I agree. It took courage to declare your opinions when you didn’t—”
He withdrew his hand quickly, seemingly choking on his words and his face reddened considerably as he stared in the direction of the entry doors. Rodrick frowned, worried his cousin was having an apoplectic fit. He turned to look at what had stunned Bronson into silence.
A young woman had entered the Hall. No wonder his cousin had been struck dumb. She was easily the most alluring blonde he’d ever seen. Her fair hair was covered with a modesty veil, but its transparency revealed luxurious tresses that fell around her shoulders.
She held the copious skirts of her deep red gown in long, delicate fingers. He licked his lips as his hungry gaze traveled to the bodice that clung to perfect breasts then continued to her incredibly long elegant neck. She was a majestic swan, smiling regally at the handful of noblemen who fluttered around her like courtiers wooing a queen. Her smile sent blood rushing to his groin.
Bronson suddenly catapulted himself in the woman’s direction. Rodrick would be damned if he was going to let his cousin claim her attentions. He hurried to catch up.
The beauty frowned as they approached. There was something vaguely familiar about the frown, the flashing amber eyes.
“Suannoch, what is the meaning of this?” Bronson spluttered.
Rodrick’s feet were suddenly stuck to the stone floor, rendering him immobile. This vision of female beauty was Suannoch?
A maelstrom of conflicting emotions ran rampant through his brain, churning his gut. He wanted to fall to his knees and tell her she was lovely, then pick her up and whisk her off to his bed.
But she was a nun. Wasn’t she?
This was a travesty. Here was a woman of great beauty who exuded passion. He would move heaven and earth to spare her imprisonment in a convent.
But then the sky fell in on his head. This incredible creature was his cousin. It was wrong to desire her, a sin in fact.
She stared at him, obviously enjoying his discomfort, while Bronson continued his tirade through gritted teeth. He had to do something. Teetering on the edge of a precipice, he reached for her hand. “Swan,” he murmured, brushing his lips across her warm knuckles, inhaling her fresh scent. A jolt of desire turned his already hard shaft to granite. Without thinking, he entwined his fingers with hers and in a raspy voice he barely recognized, said, “It would be my pleasure to sit beside you at table.”