|#3 in my SWORDS OF PASSION series|
Defying his king, Geoffrey St. Claire invades a dungeon to save the woman he loves from cruel death. This time, he vows, he will save her and make her love him—or die trying.
Countess Katherine Harleigh knew her refusal to become King John’s lover courted his punishment. But she never thought he’d try to starve her. Cast into a dungeon—widowed, alone and disgraced—Kat fears no one can save her. Not even the one knight who always promised to love and protect her.
Geoffrey St. Claire serves his Sire as loyally as a sane man can. But when John imprisons the one woman Geoff has always adored, he risks his lands and his life to ride to her rescue. Yet, he knows she will never welcome his aid. She hates him too much for deserting her years ago. But he will not leave her this time.
Now, Geoff plans to save her from death and despair, nurse her back to health and then persuade her to love him as wholly as she once did. Seduction in her bath, her bed, her chamber is his only method and he prays he can restore her love for him before John appears with an army to take her from him once more…this time, forever.
Need a nibble of my cherry? Of course you do!
Copyright 2013, Cerise DeLand. Excerpt, All rights reserved.
Grey walls of stone surrounded her. Ah—she fought tears—another dungeon. Yet…it was not. This one seemed sweeter. In truth, light streamed from a small window in the far wall. Candles glowed upon sconces. Flashes of warmth and hope radiated through her.
She licked her cracked lips, curiosity besting her disappointment and outrage. In tiny increments, she opened her eyes wider and caught her breath at the sight of a man’s corded arms, two stalwart hairy legs and huge feet pressed along the planes of her own and braced at the curve of the wooden tub in which they sat.
No man bathed a woman like this.
Not husband. Surely, not abductor.
She bent forward, the effort costing her heartbeats of fear.
Strong hands cupped her shoulders, stroked her arms and grasped her wrists. Firm lips pressed to her nape. “You have no need to fly from me, ma cherie. You are safe. I merely wish to help you wash away the remnants of your imprisonment.”
Geoffrey. She had not conjured his voice, had not hallucinated that he had saved her. Her heart picked up a fierce tattoo. Her panic sapped her. She fell back against him, drained of tension and yet consumed by doubts. She had no strength to fight him, had no wish to try. His presence, his embrace was too enchanting, too welcome to her feeble mind and body. And he felt too marvellous, too solid and secure, for her to repel him.
She examined his large hands upon her, his muscular arms enfolding her. Huge in his youth, he was now brawny as a warhorse. She had never been a match for his height or power. Now? She had not the strength to lift a pin, let alone fight him. Indomitable, he was at this moment the only sturdy comfort in her world. Her weak body could not run. She let him embrace her, awed by his tenderness as he hugged her backwards more firmly into his care. Trembling with joy at his succour, she wanted to cry. In relief or surrender, she could not decide.
With one shaking hand, she covered her mouth to stop the tremors.
“I know not what you can recollect of your imprisonment and rescue. I tell you each day. Now, in this tub today, you seem more aware. Shall I repeat my litany?”
She nodded, her muscles tight with expectation of what she’d hear, what she’d feel in his arms.
“I came three nights ago to the hellhole where those nuns had thrust you. I arrived with a retinue of my men and we escaped with you across the channel to Chepstow. Here, we are with friends who have welcomed us into their gates and drawn the bridge.”
Friends. Chepstow. Her thoughts dissolved and formed anew. She had noble friends at Chepstow. So did Geoffrey. He had been born here. She turned her head to one side, as much a move of endearment and thanks as it was a caress of her cheek against the wall of his chest.
She heard him sigh, revelled in the way he squeezed her to acknowledge her sign of gratitude.
He dropped a kiss to her wet scalp. “I have been a pest, I know, to make you sip and drink. But it was the only way to save you, slowly and in small measures.”
“Starved,” she said, the word more sob than statement.
He cupped her jaw, his fingers stroking her cheek. “I know, my dearest. Word has it the nuns earned a fee. They will all rot in hell. But they failed and you recover. We shall soon hear what earthly reward they earn for that.”
“The King?” she managed, horrified at the ghostly sound of her own voice.
He snorted, his disdain suffusing his torso as once more he cuddled her nearer to him. “John? You must not think of him. Only of you.”
She summoned every ounce of strength and twisted her face up to him. With her eyes wide open, she gazed upon him. So close, so alive, so dear, so hated and forbidden to her, Geoffrey St Claire appeared hazy and ethereal, a phantom of her past. Blinking, she examined him more closely. She had last seen him in London more than a year ago, but here in his arms, naked and vulnerable, ill and needy, she saw what he had been and what he had become. His auburn hair was still curly and bright, but along his temples, threads of grey appeared. His sultry eyes were still verdant green, large and sweet, but lines crinkled the corners. His cheeks were ruddy, sharp and stern, kissed by the wind and cold. His jaw was rigid, his teeth clamped tight as she surveyed him. He was Geoffrey, her Geoffrey, serving kings, fighting their wars and today, saving her.
As much Norman as Saxon, Geoffrey sprang from a line of cousins loyal to the Conqueror. The St Claires had intermarried at the first William’s orders, combining their blood with Saxon princesses and bringing forth men known for their extraordinary height and heft and loyalty to the English kings. Aye, this is Geoffrey.
Marvelling at her deliverance and that it should be by him, she reached up to curve her palm against his cheek.
He smiled at her as she held him, then pressed a kiss into her palm. “I am real, and you are alive and improving in health, I see, by the minute.”
Swallowing hard, she fought tears. Pride would not let her show him such weakness. He was her saviour, but to what end? He was at core, by lineage and temperament, John’s man. Despite occasional breaks with their Sovereign and frequent stays in the dungeons of the White Tower, Geoffrey had pledged his fealty to John Plantagenet. How could she believe Geoffrey’s words that she was safe? And how long did she have before he changed his mind and ransomed her to his ruler?
She leaned away. Tried to sit. To stand.
He pulled her back. “Kat, to test your strength is not wise. Nor even necessary.”
She elbowed him. To no avail.
Grasping her wrists, he bound her arms across her bare chest and clutched her to him. His words blew hot against her ear. “Stop this! We have no idea how strong your bones are. You are not whole, not yet! Do not fight me!”
But he clamped her to him. “You have no need to run from me. Do you not see that I have condemned myself in John’s eyes by abducting you?”
“Or you could ransom me.”
“Bah! If you fear I took you only to offer you up to him, I ask you, what folly would that be? John would not pay me for such a service.”
She was too weak, too weary to argue.
“I am not your enemy, Kat, nor ever was.”
Fatigued beyond words, she shook her head to object.
“I know you think otherwise. Let me prove my devotion. We’ll start with the fact that I have you here with me safe, and soon you will be wholly returned to health. For me, with me, you will eat and drink and indulge in this water. I will talk with you. Tell you tales of my life without you. And I will wash you and savour you, here, naked in my arms the way you should have been from the age of sixteen, when three men ripped us apart. And now, two of them are dead. The last, my King, is now my eternal enemy for what he has done to you.”
He ran his fingers along her jaw and tipped her head to give him access to the tender flesh behind her ear. “You are mine.”
“Never,” she whispered.
“In spirit, you always were. You cannot run from me. And have no need to go. For where you are, there I am also. You are mine, Katherine.”He bound her to him, one arm around her waist, tucked tightly beneath her breasts. With his other hand, open and warm, he lifted her jaw and encircled her throat. “You live because of me. I yearn to make you live for me. And I will.”
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