» Besieging His Lady

Besieging His Lady cover

Blurb

Description: To get the land and title he's long sought, Sir Martin le Werre must marry the widow of a recently deceased baron. Although Lady Gwyneth is young and beautiful, years of marriage to an abusive husband have left her cold and unfeeling. Martin's best efforts fail to melt her iciness. Then he finds the whip her former husband punished her with and uses it to make her forget pain and embrace pleasure.
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Excerpt

Martin burst out of the forest and into a small clearing on the top of a hill. Below him lay the road he sought, in the distance the cursed convent, and in between his quarry. With a shout of triumph, he jabbed his spurs into his destrier's sides, urging the huge horse down the hillside with abandon. He reached the road.

The fading sounds of hoof beats told him his two companions had fallen far behind, but he knew he would need no help subduing the two women and one un-armored man in the party ahead. Lady Gwyneth was indeed foolish to travel so unprotected with an iron bound treasure chest strapped to a packhorse for all to see.

She glanced over her shoulder, and spurred her palfrey in a desperate attempt to reach the convent gates. More foolish yet, to think she could escape him. With a roar of indignation he sped past her servants, pulled even with her horse, and reached for its bridle. Yanking on the leather strap with one hand and his own reins with the other, he brought the two animals to skittering stops as he shouted, "Hold Madam. Your bridegroom cometh."

The hood of her cloak had fallen back, revealing golden hair and dainty features. Martin breathed a sigh of relief. At least his heiress wasn't a hag. After the sorry state in which he'd found Blackstone Castle and the small village huddled around it, he'd fully expected the woman to be a gray haired crone with a wart on her nose. Then he noticed her narrowed eyes, compressed lips, and flared nostrils. Was she frightened or angry?

"Fear not, Lady Gwyneth. I am Martin le Werre. You received the king's decree concerning our marriage, did you not?"

"I am only recently widowed," she said in a voice that seemed more angry than afraid. "I choose to enter a convent, not remarry."

"The choice is not yours to make. You are the king's ward, and he wants your lands under the control of a man he trusts."

"Have the lands and the title, I want nothing but to enter the church." She yanked on her reins, trying to break his grip on her bridle.

Martin ruthlessly pulled the hapless palfrey's head closer, so he could lean over the rider and glare into her eyes. Aware of the gawking servants and his own guards, who had just arrived, he lowered his voice into a feral growl. "And what of the gold and jewels from Baron Rupert's treasury? Am I welcome to that?"

Her eyes widened. "I was married to the old baron for seven years. Surely I deserve something for my--my service."

"You do not deserve to beggar the barony or flaunt the king's decree."

She turned her head and looked toward the convent with such evident longing, that he knew she had not yet surrendered her intentions. "Do you really think the abbess would bring the king's wrath down on her order by sheltering you?" he asked.

Her head and shoulders drooped. She looked so forlorn that he felt a twinge of pity, but he quickly brushed that aside. If he must marry an unwilling woman to finally secure land he had so long coveted, so be it. Gentling his hold on the palfrey, he slowly turned both horses away from the convent.

The lady did not resist.

"Let us return to the castle. I brought both wedding party and priest with me."

She blinked several times, and he thought her about to cry. Then her chin and her back stiffened. He released her bridle, and with her hand and foot, she signaled her horse to move forward. Her lips remained pinched but her head high as she rode in the direction from which she had come more like a queen than a backcountry baron's widow.

After making sure the attendants and pack animals were trailing after him, Martin sighed wearily and relaxed into his saddle. Would his life never become easy? After years on battlefields where he fought not only to survive but also to win the notice that would carry him above the status of an ordinary knight, he'd been promoted to the king's personal guard. At court he had mastered the sly, knife-in-the-back fighting of courtiers, finally receiving his reward, land, a title, and a wife of his own.

He had thought success was his; that he could live out his life in ease. Then, after spending half of his life's savings so he could arrive at his holding in a style commiserate with his new station, he discovered a rundown castle and a runaway bride.

The news that his bride-to-be was a widow had pleased him, thinking he'd not have to waste time playing the silly games some untried girl would demand. Hearing that her husband had been much older, he'd expected the woman to be grateful to receive a man still in his prime. Looking at Lady Gwyneth's stiff back it was plain to see she was anything but pleased.

What had the steward at Blackstone Castle said after telling Martin of her flight? "The lady is willful." An obvious understatement. With her youth and beauty, she'd undoubtedly led her elderly husband around by the nose. Well, she wouldn't be married to a sickly old man this time. Martin would quickly teach her who was master in his castle.

It took all of Gwyneth's self-control to suppress a groan when Blackstone Castle came into view. The late afternoon sun outlined the castle's silhouette, blotting out all detail. The crenulated walls looked like a giant's teeth and the castle a black mouth waiting to swallow any who came too near. The first time she approached Blackstone it had been this same time of day, but she hadn't realized how fitting the ominous appearance was. Would this man be as cruel as the last?

The new baron was more frightening than Lord Rupert, for he was hale and hearty and angry with her even before the marriage began. Fleeing to the convent had been a great mistake, ruining any chance she might have had to win some sort of accommodation from her new master. Why had she thought God would shelter her? Hadn't He ignored all her past prayers for mercy?

She glanced at the scowling man riding beside her. The shadows cast on his face by his helm were heightened by a day's growth of dark beard. He had come for her wearing armor. Had he been wearing it when he arrived and learned she was missing, or had he donned it afterward, determined to win back the boron's wealth, even if he must slaughter innocents to do so? A shiver ran down her spine. How fitting that a black knight had come to be the lord of Blackstone Castle.

Could she bear such a harsh master? With him there would be no hope of an early release through his death, at least, not from the effects of old age. She stared at the tower rising above the walls of the castle, and once again thought of flinging herself from it. But doing that would condemn her to eternal torment.

She closed her eyes to block the threatening tears. Whatever she did, she must not let him see her fear. Men fed on fear. As the horses' hooves clip-clopped on the cobble stones of the entry bridge, Gwyneth opened her eyes, squared her shoulders, and took the deep breaths that always calmed her.

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