Authors: Sarah Hegger
Tags: #978-1-61650-612-4, #Historical, #romance, #Medievil, #Ancient, #World, #King, #John, #Reign, #Knights, #Rebels, #Thieves, #Prostitutes, #Redemption
By SARAH HEGGER
An imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp.
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
To Olivia and Caitlin, my power and my joy.
Always a big thank you to my family for their continued support and understanding. Especially Brent, who knows just when to back out of the writing cave and when to toss in chocolate. Without the continued patience of critique partners, Kim Handysides and Leslie Hachtel, my books would never leave my head. And a HUGE thank you to my editor Penny-Jo Barber for all the thousands of ways you sculpt my work and support me as a writer. I dreamed up a perfect editor, put it out there and along you came. Thanks to Renee Rocco and the rest of the Lyrical (Kensington) team, including Ellen Chan, for making my experience with them a pleasure. And an acknowledgement wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to the writers of Romance Weekly #lovewritechat
Time to be wooed. Wooed with honeyed words and sweeter touches. Delightful tingles spread to Beatrice’s fingertips, rushed back again, and pooled in her stomach.
Spring filled the air with scents of new grass and wildflowers. The sun beamed from a cloudless arc of blue above her. Birdsong serenaded her, as cornflowers merrily bobbed beside the path. Even the insects buzzed encouragement. Only one thing was missing.
She dare not tarry much longer. Someone from the keep would soon come looking for her. Beatrice shifted her basket to the other arm and investigated a patch of what might be vervain. From the keep, anyone would see her picking wildflowers. Just as she intended.
A footpath disappeared between the dense green beech thickets. It crossed a small stream before meandering through the trees and down to the village below. Was he still down in the village? She tried to picture what he’d be doing. Working at the forge, perhaps?
She gave up on the plant and straightened. She wouldn’t know vervain from, well, anything. Opposite the village, a path shot straight as an arrow through the meadow toward the castle. For certain, Garrett wouldn’t come from that direction. Perhaps he wasn’t coming at all. He’d made her no promises. There was no understanding between them. But, she dearly hoped all the same.
Hoping, however, didn’t make him appear.
The sun blazed down harsh on her face and she’d freckle.
“Wish, wish, planted a feather and wished a bird would grow.”
Nurse’s voice sang in her head. It was nonsense, pure and simple. Nonsense, like lingering alone on a path, pretending to pick wildflowers, whilst waiting for a man she barely knew to appear. A man with dark and mysterious eyes that whispered of secret places and forbidden pleasures. She was a goose. When she pictured the scene in her mind, it went thus. A beautiful maiden, garbed in her finest blue samite, engrossed in the gentle occupation of picking flowers by the roadside. The sun gleamed off her flaxen hair and brought roses to her alabaster cheek. Her slender form, bent like a reed to her feminine labors…
Roses be damned, she was sweating beneath her silk. It would leave stains on the fabric. She’d never hear the end of it from Nurse.
A soft whistle jolted her.
Her heart leapt.
There he stood, by the thicket.
Smiling to warm her from the inside, one shoulder propped against a tree, arms folded across his broad chest.
An answering grin tugged at her mouth. She fought it back. A girl mustn’t appear too eager. Inside her mind, the lady in the blue samite capered.
He is here, he is here, he is here.
Beatrice breathed deeply to steady her heart. Her damp palms slipped on the basket handle.
Looking for all the world as if he owned the ground beneath them, he jerked his head, motioning her to join him.
. Beatrice clicked her tongue, but moved toward him anyway. She’d tell him so as soon as she caught her breath again.
“Were you waiting for someone?” The breeze ruffled his hair. It was too long, but so thick and lustrous, like purest sable.
“Nay.” Her cheeks heated at the lie. His mocking laughter irked her, but not enough to stop her willful feet from moving beneath the canopy of trees.
“What a pity.” Dark and rich as treacle, his eyes filled with deliciously wicked intent. He took her basket and dropped it to the ground. “I hoped you might be waiting for me.”
“And why would I do such a thing?” Her voice sounded breathy and eager. It would never do. He was already too sure of her. But how to dissemble when just being in his company was enough to make her limp as a pudding.
Garrett drew her out of sight of the path and the castle.
Excitement tripped along her spine.
“I could not say. I could only hope.” A bump marred the straight blade of his nose, as if it had been broken.
Her legs trembled. She longed to know the secret behind that tiny imperfection. All his secrets.
“I hoped you enjoyed my kisses and wanted more.” He traced the line of her cheek. He was so terribly, delightfully, and wonderfully bad when he spoke thus to her.
“Nay.” She shivered. Gentle maids didn’t allow such things to be said to them.
“Nay? Mayhap I am not doing it right then?” Jaw firm, mouth full, he had a strong, beautiful face. He brushed her mouth with his thumb.
Her lips tingled.
Oh, please, please, please kiss me.
Her mind shouted what would be too brazen to utter.
“Shall I try again?” His voice sounded rough, like the coarse fabric of his tunic beneath her fingers.
Wordlessly imploring him to fulfill his teasing promise, she tilted her chin upward.
His lips brushed hers. Leather, fire, and earth, a scent uniquely his, would cling to her clothing long after he’d returned to the village.
Beatrice rose onto her toes, crushed her mouth against his.
There was no other word for his kiss.
His tongue sought entry at her lips.
With the slide of Garrett’s tongue over hers, heat settled in an ache between her thighs. She pressed closer to his hard, strong body.
He groaned encouragement.
Her blood pulsed faster and wilder.
He cupped her bottom in his large hands and drew her to him.
His male flesh firm against her belly shocked her and summoned a wanton inside her. He hadn’t dared to go so far before. Yet, each time Beatrice encountered him, he took her further and further along a path that some tiny part of her mind warned her against.
When she was alone, reliving these stolen moments, her cheeks heated at her own daring. But when she was with him, male musk overwhelming her, she was powerless against the onslaught of his mouth and his hands. Need drove her.
Beatrice dared to rub her belly against his hardness.
His hands tightened, roughly urging her on as his tongue plundered her mouth.
The taste of him raged through her senses. So male. She wanted more.
One hand slid across her hip and upward. His touch burned right through her silk gown and the fine linen beneath it. He took and she gave, willingly. His hand curved around her breast.
She relished the swell of her bosom against his palm. It made the place between her thighs tingle. Thrilling. Too thrilling. She tore her mouth from his. “Nay.”
Immediately, his hand dropped away. His fingers dug into her hip and he rested his forehead against hers as he took deep, calming breaths. “Forgive me, you have no idea what you do to me. I lose all reason.”
“We must not.” She wasn’t sure on whom she was trying to impress this.
“You must know how I feel about you, Beatrice.” He planted a soft kiss against her temple.
“It is wrong.”
“Do not say so, sweeting. Do not say it is wrong. Nothing can be wrong for us.” His lips burned the sensitive skin beneath her ear.
Already, her traitorous senses were responding. The chaste maiden retreated to the back of her mind and grumbled. This was not so shocking. Harmless kisses. She tilted her chin so the sweet torment could continue, if only for a bit longer. “I should not.”
“Let yourself feel,” he said. “Just for this moment. You and I, here and alone, let yourself feel what is betwixt us.”
“It is a sin.”
“Nay.” He nipped at her bottom lip. “Sin would not feel this wondrous.” Garrett moved his hand toward her breast.
Beatrice’s knees weakened. Her head grew light. She could have stopped him. She should have stopped him, but she wanted more of his touch. A chaste girl would protest. Beatrice didn’t want to be that girl. She wanted to feel this wondrous always. Especially when his long, hard fingers brushed against the stiff peak and her nipple tightened.
He took possession of her mouth. Hot and hungry, he demanded a response.
It seemed the most natural thing in the world to arch her back and push her breast deeper into his hand. His rumble of approval reverberated through her bones. She made a soft protest as he withdrew his hand and lifted his mouth from hers.
“Beatrice,” he murmured.
She sucked air into her starved lungs, breast still tingling from his touch.
“I ache for you.” He placed her hand on his braies. “See what you do to me?”
His hard flesh pulsed in her palm. She let him curl her fingers around the shaft. It was so carnal and base, so incredibly exciting. Her thighs clenched together. She wanted him to join his body to hers, to ease the damp ache at her core. The chaste maiden whispered in the back of her mind. She tugged her hand away.
He let her go without protest.
Beatrice staggered back.
A flush stained his cheeks. Garrett straightened his shoulders and his hands clenched over his rope belt.
“We must stop.” She wet her parched lips.
Heavy with desire, his dark gaze tracked the motion. “Why?”
She couldn’t think of a good answer. Each time it grew more difficult to walk away. Disaster, hissed the maiden. It didn’t feel like disaster, though, or sin. It consumed her, glorious and so very, very tempting.
“I will be missed.” She gestured toward the castle. “I need to get back.”
He dropped his head as she retreated. The grip on his belt tightened, the skin going white around his knuckles.
Beatrice hesitated. She wanted his touch again, but that way led to trouble. “On the morrow?”
“I do not know.”
“Nay.” The word burst from her. He was the best part of her day.
He stepped away from her, raking his fingers across his scalp. “We cannot continue like this.”
She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the sudden chill. “You do not want to see me?”
“Beatrice.” He frowned. “You know I cannot tarry here. I would have been gone long since if it were not for you.”
“What are you saying?” He couldn’t be telling her he was leaving. It caught inside of her like a barb, and she struggled to draw her next breath.
“I cannot stay.” He grasped her shoulders.
“You are leaving?” She could barely form the words past the constriction in her throat. Pain raked inside her chest. He could not leave.
“You know I must.” He shook his head. Regret lined his beautiful face. “I cannot stay here, like this, and not have you.”
“But you do have me, Garrett, you do.” Beatrice grasped the front of his tunic. She had to keep him here.
“Not in the way I need you.” His words hung in the air. He wanted to lie with her.
She wanted to, but doubt gnawed at her. Beatrice stepped back. Her thoughts were cloudy when she was close to him. He’d never said the words, but he touched her like he loved her.
Her virtue, however, must be prized and guarded. It had been impressed on her since she became old enough to understand the notion. Still, what could be better than to give such a cherished gift to the man she loved? And, yet, that maiden shrieked caution.