Tedric is a ferocious Saxon warrior, haunted by the destruction of his family and his property. Amberlie de Fontaine is a beautiful Norman widow, who is shadowed by her conniving in-laws. Of all their differences, they have two things in common:
1) They hate each other.
2) They're about to be married.
Months ago, Amberlie's people invaded Tedric's homeland, leaving only blood and death in their wake. As a skilled warrior, Tedric was quick to exact his revenge: he murdered Amberlie's husband, and then took her as his captive.
Once in his charge, however, Amberlie caught glimpses of the kindness underneath her captor's steely exterior—and she wasn't entirely displeased with what she saw. Tedric, too, has found himself drawn to Amberlie—despite his commitment to another woman, Glenna.
Even so, they're in no hurry to confess their feelings, much less get married—though that's exactly what King William wants them to do. Under his royal order, Amberlie and Tedric must walk down the aisle, say "I do," and head off to the marriage bed...
Read on for an excerpt of Knight's Caress, and then download the book!
“What else must I do to reclaim my home? Must I wed Lady Julianne?” Tedric was joking, but suddenly a shiver slid like ice down his backbone for the king wasn’t laughing.
“You must wed but not the Lady Julianne,” William responded. “I order you to marry Lady Amberlie.”
“The woman hates me,” he ground out in disbelief and regret.
“Maybe, maybe not, but would you turn down my proposition because of a woman’s feelings? Not only would you reclaim your birthright, but you’d wed a beautiful young woman. Why care if she hates you? Amberlie shall make you a dutiful wife.”
“I can’t be certain she won’t knife me whilst I am sleeping, sire.”
William let out a huge guffaw. “Then your life shall not be dull!” The king quieted. “What say you, Tedric? Have I your allegiance?”
Tedric’s head swam with the implications of William’s proposition. If not for the imposed marriage to Amberlie de Fontaine, the arrangement would be near to heaven. But Amberlie was the main reason he hesitated. Could he live with the Norman wench, could he sleep with a woman who despised him, no matter how attracted he might be to her? If he agreed to William’s plan, Amberlie would go from being his enemy to being his wife. What would she think about all of this? he wondered. But William didn’t intend for her to have any say at all in the matter, so Tedric guessed that her own feelings were unimportant.
And what about Glenna? How would he explain things to her? Yet Glenna was a Saxon and she knew how precious Woodrose Keep was to him. He persuaded himself that Glenna would understand. As for Guy de Bayonne and Julianne, he didn’t even consider their feelings, because Tedric doubted that the villainous twosome ever felt true human emotions at all.
“Have I your word on this?” Tedric heard William softly ask him.
The moment was at hand. “Aye, sire, I pledge my allegiance. And I shall take Amberlie de Fontaine to wife.”
“Sire, please, you cannot be serious about this marriage. I hoped to marry but not … Tedric.” To even say Tedric’s name left a bitter taste in her mouth. What could the king be thinking? Was this a cruel hoax? Was he suffering from madness? Apparently not, for he seemed perfectly sane and wasn’t laughing as if in jest.
Amberlie stood beside William on the battlements. A brisk, cool breeze blew Amberlie’s mantle about her figure and ruffled her dark curls. She placed her hands upon the stone wall, and her troubled gaze swept the countryside that was carpeted before them in jewel shades of orange and yellow, interlaced with splashes of green. At the moment she couldn’t appreciate nature’s beauty. Never had she felt so forlorn and bereft, having no one to turn to, no person in whom to confide her fears about this strange alliance which the king wished her to make. He seemed not disturbed at all by her reaction. In fact, if she looked closely, she discerned a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“Would you rather I released you to Guy de Bayonne as a bride?” William asked, the ruby brooch on his red mantle sparkling in the sunshine. “Either way, Tedric shall regain Woodrose.”
It wasn’t Woodrose she worried over, but the horrible sin which would fall upon her soul to wed Henri’s murderer, to be the man’s wife. “Tedric is a barbarian, sire. His people’s customs are strange to me, their beliefs are heathenish. I remind you that he is responsible for my husband’s death. The man has agreed to marry me only to reclaim his lands, not because he burns for love of me. Surely, you recognize all of the reasons why I cannot marry him.”
“Then you choose de Bayonne as your husband?”
“I choose neither, sire.”
William held up his hands in supplication, a sad smile on his lips. “I’m sorry, cherie, but you will marry one of these men. I could force you to marry Tedric, but I think you should come to this decision on your own. He has agreed to marry you and protect you, as your father would have wished.”
“My father wouldn’t have wished for me to marry a barbarian!”
The king seriously contemplated her before speaking in the same tone of voice which her father had used with her many times when he was exasperated with her as a child. “Hmmm, but you’re wrong, Amberlie. This Tedric isn’t a barbarian, nor is he a heathen. True, his customs and upbringing are different from yours, but I trust you can train him to be a proper husband. After all, Henri was a perfect mate for you.”
“Henri was docile and sweet, not arrogant and filled with manly pride like Tedric.”
The king laughed shortly. “Cherie, it is his manly pride which is the attraction for you, I think. And you are captivated by the brute, are you not?”
“No, I am not—”
“Don’t lie to me, Amberlie, for you do it so poorly. I am your sovereign and demand your honesty. At least look into your heart and be honest with yourself. Admit that you’re attracted to Tedric. I can see too that he’s taken with you. So, what is wrong with such a match, eh?”
“He is my enemy, sire.”
William vehemently shook his head. “If I didn’t believe that Tedric would be loyal to me, I wouldn’t have offered him Woodrose and you as his wife. In your heart you know that he will be a far better husband and protector for you than Guy de Bayonne. But alas, you must choose. I cannot sway you further one way or the other.”
Amberlie thought he was doing a very poor job of trying not to sway her. The king wanted her to wed Tedric; in fact, he’d already promised her to the man as his wife, and the king didn’t make promises lightly. William fully expected her to marry Tedric, whether she wished to or not. And the king’s word was law.
“When is this marriage to take place?” she asked without feeling.
“Three days hence. I’ve already ordered the kitchen help to begin preparing for the wedding banquet. Of course, I didn’t know who the bridegroom would be.” William looked awkward and had the grace to blush. “So, cherie, whom will you choose?”
“Tedric of course, sire.” Amberlie sighed in defeat, wondering if the man even possessed a surname.
On the morning of the wedding, the castle household stirred from sleep before daybreak. Servants sleepily left their pallets and lighted the huge hearths in the kitchen and the great hall in preparation for the marriage feast. Dawn had just broke when Amberlie heard a cock crow in the bailey, rousing her from a fitful sleep.
She gazed around her chambers with unseeing eyes. All she could think about was the wedding that would take place within a matter of hours. On top of the large cedar chest at the foot of her bed lay her wedding attire. Even in the dawn’s misty light she discerned the vivid blue color of the bliaut and the girdle, which was fashioned from soft dyed wool and inset with pearls and tiny sapphire stones, much valued since it was a wedding gift from the king. Beneath the bliaut she’d don a white chemise made from the finest silk, and she’d cover her hair with a white silk headdress. Upon her feet she’d wear blue slippers, and she remembered that the last time she’d worn them was before she’d left Normandy, over a year ago.
“What am I doing?” she asked herself, and couldn’t dispel the misery she felt within her soul. She hadn’t seen Tedric to speak to him since the day she agreed to marry him. The king had moved him out of Amberlie’s room and into the smaller room beside his own. She wasn’t allowed to tend to him any longer, Magda having permanently replaced her. Though she hadn’t seen him, she’d heard his booming voice sometimes in the hallway, and she knew that with each passing day, he had grown more vigorous in body. No doubt, he’d sufficiently recovered from his injury for he took his meals in the great hall now, while the king had ordered that she dine in her room. It was a most lonely activity, but he didn’t wish her to be seen until the day of the wedding. Amberlie guessed it had something to do with her being found beside Tedric in bed, and William wanted to quell any rumors throughout the keep about her honor—or lack of it.
And what of her honor? she asked herself. Apparently, it meant little to the king to force a marriage between herself and a slave. And what of the wedding night to come? Amberlie shivered just to imagine the scene, and prayed that Tedric would still be too weak physically to possess her. Just the very thought of his touching her turned her legs to liquid. She hated Tedric and resented his intrusion into her life, but her body responded differently than her mind did. Whenever Tedric touched her she behaved wantonly, and she couldn’t bear for the man to know his effect upon her for it gave him a power over her, leaving her too weak to resist him. She knew she would surrender herself to him when the time came, but she vowed to harden her heart against him. Tedric would marry her to inherit the keep and land he so desperately loved, but the union would be a loveless one. Tedric might possess her body, but never would she give him her heart and her soul.
Amberlie rose and gazed out of the window at the busy scene below as serfs raced hither and yon in the bailey, carrying huge silver platters of foods from the kitchen to the keep. Just then Magda entered the room with a tray. “I thought you’d be hungry and would be ready to break your fast, my lady, before I help you dress for your marriage.” Smiling benignly, Magda placed the tray upon a small table. Freshly picked plums from the keep’s orchard and a cup of wine beckoned from the tray. Amberlie decided the wine was more sorely needed than the fruit on such a morning, but felt unable to eat or drink anything for her stomach fluttered with nervousness. “Lord Tedric breaks his fast with the king,” Magda told her.
“Really, such an odd conspiracy.”
“Aye, I admit ’tis an odd turn of events, but we’re well pleased, especially Lady Mabel. Did you know that Lady Julianne has turned over her chamber to Lady Mabel and Edytha as she’s taken up residence in the east wing of the keep? Sir Guy too.”
Amberlie didn’t know that Julianne and Guy had moved out of their rooms into the newly constructed east wing. She almost felt guilty and responsible for what was surely Julianne’s decision to vacate her chamber, for she doubted anyone, even the king, had ordered her out. Yet she felt relieved too, for she’d no longer have to be aware of Julianne’s presence nearby, now that Tedric would be her husband and would sleep in the same bed in which Henri had slept. She wasn’t bothered by Guy’s decision to move.
When Amberlie was dressed and Magda had finished arranging the headdress in place, the woman stood back and appraised her. “You’re truly lovely, my lady,” Magda said simply. This was high praise from the usually quiet woman. “Lord Tedric is indeed fortunate and will be pleased with you. On the morrow, you’ll be pleased too with your morning gift.”
Amberlie barely heard her as tiny butterflies took wing in her stomach. “What do you mean?” she asked absently, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves as the time drew near for the wedding.
“Your morning gift, my lady. On the morning after the wedding, the groom gives his bride a gift to prove that she has—pleased him—beneath the furs. ’Tis our custom and much valued by the bride, for it means that the bride not only has won her husband’s heart but is true mistress of the keep and its people.”
Amberlie gazed at the woman in stunned silence, immediately understanding the significance of the gift and feeling outrage and embarrassment. “And what sort of a gift am I to receive for pleasing Lord Tedric?”
“The circlet, my lady,” Magda patiently explained. “It has been passed down to every mistress of Woodrose by her lord and husband. Lady Mabel has already given it to Lord Tedric. ’Twas the one thing of value she was able to save when she fled the keep. And now it will be passed to you, and should be worn on the morn after your marriage night.”
“So all should know that Lord Tedric is pleased with me.”
“Aye, my lady.”
“’Tis a silly and barbaric custom.”
Magda looked much affronted and hurt, thereafter going about her chores in sullen silence. Dismissing the woman from her room, Amberlie realized that she’d offended the old woman with her remark. Her nerves were on edge, and the very thought of her wedding night caused her no end of distress. But clearly, the custom of the morning gift probably meant a great deal to the Saxon people. Amberlie thought it was a strange way to gain acceptance from a people, by physically pleasing their lord. Yet her mind wove erotic images of herself in Tedric’s arms, lying beneath the furs with him. Would she please him enough to earn the circlet? She couldn’t help but be intrigued by the custom, though she thought it was strange.
An authoritative knock sounded on the door, and she opened it to King William. He wore a red tunic with a gold-colored mantle and looked quite handsome. Holding out his arm to her, he smiled. “Your bridegroom waits nervously below stairs, cherie.”
Amberlie doubted that Tedric was more nervous than she as she took the king’s arm and made her way down the stairs to the great hall. After all, he was getting his heart’s desire, while she was simply marrying a man who was the lesser of two evils. This arrangement seemed less than fair to her, but she entered the hall with her head held high. No matter her own qualms, she wouldn’t allow others to know her heart was heavy with dread.
Never had she seen so many people squeezed into one place. The knights and serfs all craned their necks to get a good view as the king of England led her to stand beside Tedric on the dais. For the first few moments, she didn’t deign to glance at him, her attention diverted by the glowering glances thrown her way by Guy and Julianne. But slowly, she focused on the man she was soon to marry, and noticed that he wore a mantle and tunic which were fashioned from a rich burgundy velvet. His shoulders seemed incredibly broad and strong, muscular enough to rip apart the material with a jerk of his arms. Never had she seen a more handsome man. It was quite different to imagine the slave any longer, though the golden slave collar still encircled his neck.
As Amberlie studied him, her breath died in her throat. No longer did Tedric wear the long hair of his people. Instead, his hair was now cut short, in the bowl shape of William and his knights. This was a very telling change, Amberlie thought, because she guessed he’d cut it to prove his loyalty to William. But more than that, he’d cut his hair because his love for Woodrose was greater than anything else in the world. He loved Woodrose more than he would ever love her or any woman. However, when he smiled at her, her insides warmed and tumbled like hot coals. She wouldn’t let him know how his very presence always affected her, so she quelled her own weakness by turning her attention to the king.
William purposely placed her hand within Tedric’s large one and stood in front of Father Ambrose, who patiently waited to perform the ceremony. The king trained his eyes on the crowd of people. From his tunic, he withdrew a key and held it up for everyone’s inspection. “This is the key which unlocks Tedric of Woodrose’s slave collar. When I remove it, he shall truly be your master and my servant. Respect his authority, for if anyone does not, he disrespects his king.” With much solemnity, William placed the key into the small lock of Tedric’s collar and unhinged it. Mutters of approval and happy weeping echoed throughout the hall as the king drew it from Tedric’s neck. Then Father Ambrose stepped forward and performed the ceremony.
...if you desire surprises, I shall willingly oblige.
The day had been one of the most trying of Amberlie’s life. Happy congratulations were bestowed upon her; Lady Mabel and Edytha dutifully kissed her cheeks. Everyone enjoyed themselves at the wedding feast as they partook of the wines and cheeses, the partridge, venison, and fish. Sauces made from the herbs in the keep’s garden, and honey, thick and rich from the beekeeper’s hives, were placed upon the tables to be used at will. Woodrose’s bounty was evident, and everyone helped themselves to liberal portions. Joviality reigned within the great hall, but Amberlie sat upon the dais with only Guy for company, as Julianne had earlier taken to her bed. King William sat at the far end of the table in a lengthy conversation with one of his knights, while Tedric had joined in the festivities, leaving her alone for a few minutes when she declined to join him.
“You’re a foolish woman, Amberlie,” Guy solemnly intoned, and refilled his cup with wine. “Now your life will be filled with Tedric’s swinish relations, and you’ll always know your husband married you only to reclaim his lands.”
Amberlie made no pretense of hiding her contempt. “Far better to marry a man who’d reclaim his lands than one who’d marry me only to gain power over me, as you were wont to do.”
“Such cruel words from such a pretty face, cherie. But I trust you not to become too attached to your husband. Unforeseen circumstances could arise to destroy your union.”
Amberlie clenched her fingers together. “Is that a threat of some sort? I trust you spoke not in earnest.”
Guy exhaled in what Amberlie discerned as smugness. His eyes glowed, and she followed his gaze to where Tedric and Glenna stood together in rapt attention of a minstrel’s song. “Love can be destroyed before the seeds are sown by reasons other than death, cherie. When you grow weary of your Saxon’s roving eye, I shall always be nearby to offer you—comfort. For I sense your husband is still besotted with another.”
Seeing Tedric with Glenna tore at her insides, but she wouldn’t give Guy the satisfaction of knowing that his words had hit their mark. Instead she smiled at him, as if she didn’t really care that her husband stood so closely beside the woman he’d have married, if not for the king’s command. It was her own wedding day, not Glenna’s. Why wasn’t Tedric sitting beside her, taking delight in the minstrel’s song?
Glenna no longer wore her old bliaut but a green velvet one, which caused her blond hair to look lighter and her skin to glow like sunlight. Each time the woman smiled up at Tedric, Amberlie could tell that Glenna still loved him. Perhaps she should have married Guy de Bayonne instead—at least he wouldn’t have forced her to sit through this humiliation.
After a few moments, Tedric sensed his bride’s gaze upon him, and politely withdrew from Glenna to come sit beside Amberlie. She crowed inwardly in triumph because Glenna’s face fell at his departure. For the next two hours, Tedric sat beside her, his attention not once diverted from her. He offered her choice pieces of meat from his trencher and refilled her cup with wine himself. If not for the fact that Amberlie had trained herself to hate this man, she would have willingly drowned in his attention. Yet she treated him coldly, barely answering him when he spoke. Still, he sat near her and pretended an affection for her, which she guessed he didn’t feel.
When the sun had set, Tedric turned to her and whispered in her ear, “The hour grows late, my lady. ’Tis time to be abed. Go to your chamber, and send your serving woman to me when you are ready for my company.”
“What if I am never ready for you, my lord?” she dared to ask as panic overwhelmed her.
Tedric’s brow rose warningly. “Then I suggest you pretend, for you’ll not escape your wifely duty so easily.”
“Have I become the slave? Will you taunt me with your strange Saxon ways beneath the furs?”
To her amazement, he laughed. Amusement and something that resembled sheer lust glittered in his sky-blue eyes. His face moved toward hers, his mouth nearly touching hers. The sweet scent of wine clung to his breath. “When I taunt you, my lady wife, ’twill be with pleasure, but if you desire surprises, I shall willingly oblige.”
His words shook her to her very soul.
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Created on 13 Apr 2018