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Authors: Margaret Mallory

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical

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BOOK: Knight of Desire
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“When Hotspur was sixteen, he was in such a rage after a skirmish with the MacDonald clan that he chased after them alone
into the hills.” His tone held a note of disapproval. “Northumberland and King Richard had to pay a fortune in ransom for
his return. Hotspur was always rash and hotheaded; he did not change as he grew older.”

Encouraged by this lengthy response, she risked asking another question, one that had long plagued her. “Why do you suppose
the Percys turned against King Henry?”

It was well known that Henry Bolingbroke would not have been crowned in the first place without Northumberland’s support.
Catherine had never understood why the Percys later became so intent on removing him.

“The Percys resented Henry for not rewarding them more for their support,” FitzAlan explained. “King Henry, on the other hand,
believed they already held too much power and wealth.”

He glanced at her, as if checking to be sure she was truly interested, before continuing.

“Relations went from bad to worse when they argued over who should collect the ransom for some Scots Hotspur captured in battle.
The king insisted the ransom go to the Crown.”

“Was that the usual custom?” she asked before realizing the awkwardness of her question.

“ ’Twas customary for the man who made the capture to collect the ransom, but the king had the right,” he answered carefully.
“I will tell you, Hotspur had strong feelings about making these particular hostages pay him. They were men from the MacDonald
clan—the ones who took him hostage as a youth.”

Catherine leaned forward in her saddle. “Hotspur must have waited years to make them pay for that humiliation.”

He nodded. “Eventually, Hotspur joined forces with Glyndwr in open rebellion and called on his father, North umberland, to
do the same.”

Fascinated, she asked more questions. He answered, though somewhat reluctantly. When she pressed for details about battles
he fought in, he pulled his horse up and turned to look at her.

it you who sent the messages to Prince Harry?” His voice held surprise and a touch of uncertainty. “You truly did serve as
the prince’s spy?”

“Did you think a woman not capable of seeing what was under her nose?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him. “Or did you think
that, though seeing it, a woman would lack the courage to do what ought to be done?” She knew she should not be belligerent
with him but could not seem to help herself.

“I had not made up my mind what you did.” Oddly enough, he was smiling. It did nothing to dampen her temper.

An even more insulting possibility occurred to her.

“Did you believe I was a traitor?” Her voice was high-pitched, even to her own ears. When he did not deny it, she demanded,
“You could marry me believing I might have supported Rayburn in his treason against the king?”

What made her dare speak with such insolence to FitzAlan? Rayburn would have pulled her from her horse and beat her to within
an inch of her life for less.

“I should apologize for upsetting you,” he said, though he did not look sorry.

Behind the laughter in his eyes, there was a fire that burned right through her and made her throat go dry. She heard his
words from the night before in her head:
I will not wait long

She kicked her horse and rode ahead.

After a time, he eased his horse beside hers. In a mild tone, he asked, “How did you obtain your information for the prince?”

She took a deep breath. He had answered her questions; in fairness, she should do the same.

“Whenever my husband discussed rebel plans with his men, he would send the servants away and have me wait on them.”

She refrained from telling FitzAlan of her other sources of information.

“Your husband trusted you.”

She shook her head. “ ’Twas more that he never considered I would act against him.”

“How soon after your marriage did you begin spying for the prince?”

“I did not think of it as spying, not at first,” she said as she guided her horse around a rabbit hole in the path. “I would
tell him bits of news I happened to hear. I gave him nothing truly useful until just before the Battle of Shrewsbury.”

“What was that?”

“I learned Glyndwr was leading a Welsh army in the direction of Shrewsbury, to join Hotspur’s forces,” she said. “So I sent
an urgent message to the prince to warn him.”

Hotspur, in his usual headlong fashion, had moved his army so quickly that neither his father nor the Welsh could get to Shrewsbury
before the king engaged his army there. Hotspur’s death in the Battle of Shrewsbury ended the first Percy conspiracy.

Thinking of that now, she asked, “Why do you think the king did not take more retribution against Northumberland after Shrewsbury?”
She and Prince Harry had discussed this many times, but a Northerner might have a different perspective.

She was letting her curiosity get the better of her again. FitzAlan, however, did not chastise her.

“Northumberland was too powerful,” he said. “Since he had not taken up arms with Hotspur at Shrewsbury, the king could wait.
Northumberland was growing old. Hotspur’s death should have put an end to his ambitions.”

It had not. Only this spring, Northumberland was involved in a second conspiracy to remove Henry from the throne. This time,
he barely escaped into Scotland with his life.

“They said the messages the prince received were anonymous,” FitzAlan said, turning the subject back to her.

“The prince knows my script, so I never took the risk of signing or using my seal.”

“When did Rayburn cross over to the rebels?” he asked.

“ ’Tis difficult to say,” she said, looking off at the horizon as she thought. “For a long time, he played both sides. He
provided funds and information to the rebels but would not risk meeting with them.”

“Until yesterday,” FitzAlan said in a flat tone. “When, thanks to you, we captured him.”

Just yesterday! A single day since she waited in her bedchamber for news of Rayburn. She shook her head. So much had happened
since. For a time this afternoon, she’d forgotten how her life was tied to the stranger riding beside her.

She thought she could like this William FitzAlan, if she did not have to be married to him. Already, he had shown her more
kindness and respect than Rayburn ever had.

She would put off her marital duty for as long as she could. For once he took her to his bed, she might not like him nearly
so well.

Chapter Five

atherine’s tight-lipped expression made William want to pound his fists on the table in frustration. No matter how congenial
their conversations during the day, each evening she grew withdrawn. Four days—and four long nights—he had waited to consummate
this marriage.

And yet, she remained as skittish as ever.

He went riding with her each afternoon, though he had no time for it. While it was good for the tenants to see their new lord
riding his lands, his first priority was the castle. He did not know when he would be called to fight again, so he was working
feverishly to shore up its defenses.

Ross Castle would be safe before he left it.

He was equally determined to consummate this marriage. With luck, Catherine might conceive a child before the king sent him
off chasing rebels through Wales for weeks on end.

And so he went riding. He hoped the ease that was growing between them during their afternoon sojourns would lead her to accept
him as her husband at night.

So far, it had not.

At first, he brought Jamie along on their rides to please her. To his surprise, he found he enjoyed the child’s company.

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he recalled how Jamie had leapt on his back and pounded at him when he first
arrived. After the violence of their initial meeting, Jamie took to him quickly. In sooth, William liked the way the boy pulled
at his sleeve and chattered away at him.

Aye, he and young Jamie got along just fine. If only the boy’s pretty mother took to him half so well.

Busy as he was, all he could think of was bedding her. He imagined her delicate fingers running down his belly, her warm breath
in his ear, her soft skin under his hands. Four days wed, and he had not even seen his wife’s breasts! Lord, how he wanted
to. He swallowed hard and looked at her again.

Seeing how she clutched her goblet for dear life, he had no reason to hope tonight would be different. And yet, he did.

He stood and held out his arm to her. He was not amused by the looks his men exchanged. It was early to retire, but he did
not care. He was done with waiting.

As soon as they reached the solar, she fled into her bedchamber with her maid.

“Come sit with me when you have finished preparing for bed,” he called after her as the door closed in his face.

His irritation rising, he stalked into his own bedchamber to undress.

“Good evening, m’lord.” His manservant’s voice startled him from his thoughts. It had slipped his mind that Thomas had arrived
today and would be waiting to help him undress.

“I hope you did not look at your new bride like that,” Thomas remarked as he knelt to remove William’s boots.

William gave him a quelling look. “Just because you have served me since I was twelve does not mean you can say what you will,”
he said, though they both knew Thomas could speak his mind with impunity.

William pulled his tunic over his head and threw it in Thomas’s direction. Unperturbed, Thomas snatched it from the air and
waited for the shirt to follow. Showing his usual good sense, Thomas helped William into his robe and left the room without
another word.

William washed his face and hands in the basin of water Thomas left for him. Frustrated, he ran wet fingers through his hair.

Surely Catherine must be ready by now.

The solar was empty, so he called her name outside her chamber door. Getting no reply, he eased the door open. God grant him
patience. His wife was sitting on the trunk at the foot of her bed, wringing her hands as if waiting to be taken to her execution.

As he stepped into the room, she gave a startled yelp and jumped to her feet. He might have laughed if his heart did not feel
so heavy. When he noticed the maid cowering in the corner, he jerked his head toward the door. It gave him some small satisfaction
to see her scamper out like a frightened mouse.

“M’lady wife, I have told you I will not harm you,” he said in a quiet voice. He held his hand out to her. “Come, let us sit
and talk.”

Hesitantly, she came to him and took it; her fingers were icy cold. He led her to the window seat in their solar. After handing
her a cup of warm spiced wine, he sat beside her. To calm her, he talked about what he accomplished that day. Then he asked
her advice about the stores that would be needed to withstand a long siege.

When he felt her tension subside, he risked resting his hand on her thigh. She started, but he did not remove his hand. The
warmth of her skin through the thin summer shift filled him with such lust. He wanted to lift her by her hips onto his lap
and have his way with her right here.

It took all his concentration not to rub his hand up her thigh. He would force himself to go slowly, but he was determined
to move things forward tonight.

“Catherine.” He lifted her chin with his finger so she would have to look at him. “Surely you know this cannot go on.”

He dropped his gaze to the swell of her breasts beneath the thin cloth. His throat was dry, his erection painful.

He brushed his lips against her cheek. “How can I make you forget your fears?” he breathed into her ear. “What can I do?”

He pushed her heavy hair back and moved his mouth along her jaw. “Does this help?”

As he made his journey down her neck to her delicate collarbone, he asked his questions against her skin. “What of this? And
this? And this?”

He was lost in the smell of her skin, the feel of its softness against his lips. And the anticipation of having her naked
beneath him. To be inside her at last. For surely it would happen this time. He ran his tongue over the swell of her breast
above the edge of her tunic.

“Perhaps you could tell me something of your family?”

Her voice, high-pitched and sudden, startled him. He bolted upright.

“Catherine, when I asked what I could do, I was not asking you to suggest new topics of conversation, and you know it.”

She was pressed against the wall behind her. But he would not be deterred so easily this time. He eased the shift off her
shoulder with his finger and kissed the exposed skin.

“Mmm, lavender,” he said, nuzzling her neck.

She remained as stiff and unyielding as ever.

Since his efforts at seduction were failing so miserably, he would try goading her.

“You are being a coward, Catherine.”

Looking straight into her eyes, he put his hand again on her thigh. This time, he did rub it firmly from knee to hip. Lord
in heaven, it felt good. So good, he almost could not hear her speak over the rush of blood in his ears.

“Truly, I do wish to know more about you. Do you have brothers? Sisters? What of your parents?” She spoke in an insistent,
frenetic rush. “I know you come from somewhere in the North, but where precisely is your home?”

Exasperated, he cut her off. “I have no home in the North.”

Perhaps if she had asked him to speak of something else, his patience would not have snapped. But he had his own secrets,
and he saw no reason to share them with his wife. He pulled her roughly to her feet.

“I have waited longer than any other bridegroom would,” he said, so frustrated he wanted to shake her. “You made vows to me
before God. As your husband, I could order you to my bed. I could drag you there kicking and screaming. It is my right.”

“I know it,” she whispered, her eyes cast down.

His anger seeped from him. God in heaven, she was still frightened of him.

“I don’t want to force you,” he said, and heard the pleading in his voice. “I am asking that you come to me, Catherine. And
that you do it soon.”

BOOK: Knight of Desire
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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