Vow of Deception, page 13
“I agree it would be an excellent match for your son. Through my daughter, upon my death, he would inherit the title of earl and all its inherent lands, privileges, and honors.”
“The chances of that are very unlikely. You and the countess are still young and may yet produce a male heir. In which case, it stands to reason that Lady Alice, and thus Lincoln, shall benefit more from the alliance than Ayleston.”
Lord Lincoln waved over a servant carrying a flagon of wine. The slender young man refilled their chalices.
Lincoln continued once the servant left. “Lady Rosalyn, I cannot deny a betrothal would be financially more beneficial for Lincoln. But I have higher aspirations for Lady Alice. She is my sole heir and deserves no less than an earl or even a prince for husband.”
“Princes are few and far to come by. Lord Alphonso, King Edward’s only surviving male heir, is already betrothed. And though there are two earldoms in England that your daughter could marry into, neither is as wealthy as Ayleston. Obviously you must weigh the merits of a title versus financial gain. But I believe if you were to see the details of the contract I wish to advance, you would agree that your daughter shall be amply rewarded.”
A new look of respect entered his dark brown probing eyes. “I see you have done your research.”
She allowed a small smile to grace her lips. “I have, which is why I know you wish to increase your presence and influence in Wales. An alliance with Ayleston would be advantageous in that regard with its backing and support.”
“You bring up an excellent point. But will not your husband have a say in the betrothal arrangements?”
“Lord Ayleston is my ward. My husband has no rights to arrange a marriage for my son. He will not be a factor in the decision process.”
Lord Lincoln crossed his arms and tipped back on his heels. “Of course. But with his recent wardship of the Ayleston estate, his decisions will have an impact on whether I wish to proceed with betrothal negotiations. As you pointed out I wish to expand my base in Wales. If Sir Rand does not approve of the match, he could deny material support of Ayleston.
“Is that not correct, Sir Rand?”
Rose jerked toward the direction of the earl’s gaze. Rand swaggered toward them wearing an azure tunic decorated with black bands of silk on the square neck and wide cuffs. The sword belt cinched at his waist emphasized his powerful shoulders.
Rand stopped next to Rose and nodded to the earl in greeting. “Lord Lincoln, my dear,” he said, and proceeded to kiss her cheek as he wrapped his right arm behind her back and squeezed her shoulder in a brief embrace.
Rose cleared her throat in embarrassment.
Amused, Lord Lincoln winked at her. “Sir Rand, your lady wife and I were just discussing the possibility of a betrothal between Lord Ayleston and my daughter, Lady Alice. What are your thoughts on the matter? Is this a match you would support?”
“I am sure my husband has no opinion on the matter. He has little concern for the boy’s welfare and can have no stake in the outcome of the negotiations. Am I not correct milord?” Rose smiled to soften the dismissal.
“Actually, as guardian of Lord Ayleston’s estate, I am concerned with his welfare.”
“What concern is it of yours if I arrange a marriage for my son? Need I remind you, Jason is my ward?”
Though Rand was smiling, Rose noticed a small frown appeared on the bridge of his nose between his eyebrows. “I was not aware you were considering a marriage for Jason. If you ask my opinion, I think he’s a little young yet for you to be making marriage arrangements for him.” He continued, turning to the earl, who was watching their byplay with fascination, “But of course, as guardian of the boy, my wife needs not my approval to conclude a betrothal agreement.”
Rose smiled up at Lord Lincoln. “There, you see, my lord. I hope I have erased all doubts you may have had, and you will consider my proposal.”
“Very well. I shall consider it. Have your steward’s clerk send the documents to mine and I shall go over the proposed betrothal.” After handing his chalice to a passing servant, Lord Lincoln bowed and bid them good eve. “Sir Rand, Lady Rosalyn.”
The king’s musicians, having finished setting up their instruments, began to play a lively country dance. Rand pressed his hand against the small of Rose’s back and, leaning in, whispered in her ear, “Come, wife, let us dance,” then led her onto the dance floor.
Heat seeped through the fabric of her dress. Breathless from her negotiations, Rose assured herself. She acknowledged his bow with a curtsy.
Holding hands, they jumped, shuffled, and swirled in a circle, then parted to dance with other partners. When they met again, the shock of his warm hands swirled up her arms. Her face flushed. The fool just grinned and gave her a teasing wink. They repeated the pattern of dance steps twice more before the music stopped.
Rose, her chest heaving, could not help smiling, the excitement of the dance thrumming in her blood. She stared up at Rand, whose gray-green eyes blazed with desire. The heat in his intense gaze kindled her blood. He tugged her off the floor and out of the dining hall. She followed, unresisting, heart pumping excitedly. When he pulled her into a secluded alcove, her lips met his hungry mouth as it came down on hers.
Strong arms pulled her against his hard, unyielding body and molded them together chest to chest, thigh to thigh. His tongue thrust into her mouth, hot and wet and rough. He sought her tongue with bold slashes, sending shivers down her back, one ripple at a time, like waves upon a shore.
Silky breath shimmered across her neck at his whisper, “God, you make me so hot I want to rip off my clothes.”
He kissed her again, long and hard, slow and soft. Then his lips shifted, slowly trailing down the long column of her neck, and settling at the base, where her pulse leapt. He licked her there and then pressed his lips to her neck and sucked the soft flesh into his mouth. It tingled and throbbed, making her crazy with desperation.
Hooking her leg beneath her thigh, he wrapped her quivering limb around his hip. His hand gathered up her tunic skirt to her waist, skimmed up her exposed thigh, and gripped her bare buttock. A shivery caress shot straight to her core. She recoiled.
The combination of desire and shame made her stomach roil.
“Nay, this is wrong.” Her voice hoarse with desire, her plea came out too softly. She was weak, wicked, and wanton. Everything Bertram had accused her of.
She bucked against Rand to push him off, but he pressed harder into her and his mouth returned to hers, cutting off her denial. Her mind blanked all emotion. She went completely stiff and closed her lips tight.
Desire, thick and sluggish, pounded through Rand. His phallus was hard to the point of pain. But in his arms, Rose had stiffened and clamped her mouth shut. He dropped her leg and lifted his head to stare down at her in confusion.
The sudden cold withdrawal where once burned a seething inferno withered his desire like an unexpected early frost on the vine. “Rose, what’s wrong?”
“Prithee, release me,” she mumbled, staring down at her toes.
Rand stepped back immediately.
“I am sorry. My behavior was wanton and I regret inflicting my licentious behavior on you. It won’t happen again,” she said, her voice quivering. Her eyes flickered briefly to his. The big blue centers were glazed with shame and a glossy tear slid down her cheek.
Rand reached out to comfort her, to deny her contention, but she slipped away and headed toward the dining hall.
He fisted his hand and slammed it into the stone wall. Pain radiated through his knuckles, the skin scraped raw and bloody. Frustration coiled in his gut and gnawed at his innards. He felt useless in the face of Rose’s emotional pain.
The depth of abuse she’d received from Bertram had been both physical and mental. Now he suspected it had been much more flagitious. What had the man done to her to so warp her thinking and repress her passions, her spirit for life? He must have derided her passionate nature as wicked and wanton. Her own
Rand wanted to heal her and prove to her that her desires were natural and beautiful, not amoral and wicked. But he realized that was impossible. He’d have to be satisfied with the knowledge that with his marriage to her, she’d never have to endure again the physical intimacies she so abhorred.
Lady Rosalyn returned to the dining hall and slid along the fringes of the crowd to slump into a darkened alcove. But her attempt not to draw attention to herself failed. One man in particular followed her progress from the moment she entered the vaulted chamber. He’d been waiting for the opportunity to get her alone for days. Since the day she rejected him and humiliated him before the whole court.
Sitting on a bench, Lady Rosalyn stared down at her hands folded in her lap. Golan smiled with evil intent as he slipped into the alcove. Her head jerked up at his entrance, her eyes going wide with fear. Excited, his cock stiffened as straight as a pike.
When she attempted to get up, he blocked her exit and she was forced to remain seated.
“Lady Rosalyn, ’tis a pleasure indeed.”
“W-what do you want?”
“Like all women, you are corrupt and amoral. I merely wish to warn you that I shall take my due pleasure from you in good time.” He reached out and caressed his finger along her cheek. She flinched, drawing her head back to escape his touch. “You shall not always have a horde of people to protect you.”
“If you dare harm me, my husband will kill you. I know you have not forgotten the beating he gave you the last time you touched me. Your face still bears the marks of your insolence.”
Golan touched his bruised cheek. “Your husband,” he snarled, “will not be safe from my wrath either. I shall make you both pay for your impudence and cheating me of my rightful claim.”
He leaned down and pinched her chin between his finger and thumb. “I shall see you all pay. Even your precious heir shall suffer for your defiance.”
At the threat to her son, a hand squeezed Rose’s lungs and cut off her breath. She pulled her chin free of Golan’s grip and hissed, “If you harm my son, I’ll cut out your heart and shove it down your throat.”
His hate-filled gaze burned into hers. “Tsk, tsk, you are a bloodthirsty wench. Mayhap the rumors are true and you did kill your husband.”
She gasped, her heart pumping with a mixture of rage and fear. “I suggest you leave. Now! Before I create a scene in front of the whole court. Then I would be forced to tell the king what precipitated it. Rand is his cousin and one of his most valued knights. Edward would not be best pleased to learn that you threatened him.”
“Go ahead, make a scene. I shall just tell the king you misunderstood me.”
“So be it. You leave me no choice.” Rose lurched up from her bench and opened her mouth to say loudly, “Sir Go—”
A young lord and lady who had their backs to the alcove turned their heads to stare.
Golan hissed, “Very well. I am leaving. But this is not over.” He slunk away quickly.
Rose plopped back down on the bench. Releasing a deep breath, she pressed her hands to her knees to stop them from knocking together in belated fear. Then a slow smile of satisfaction graced her lips and her chest puffed up with pride, for standing up to Golan, and not cowering as she’d done so many times in the past.
Men of Golan’s character were secretive and duplicitous, their vile and vengeful nature concealed from society by their respected positions as knights or barons of the realm. The last thing Sir Golan would want to do is incur the wrath of the king. He’d seek his revenge in a way that would not draw suspicion upon himself.
Rose needed to warn Rand, but she was afraid he would challenge the knight to a trial by battle, this time to the death, and she knew Rand was not yet healed from the injury he received in the joust. That would play right into Sir Golan’s hands.
But what frightened her the most was the threat to her son. Would Sir Golan really go so far as to harm the boy? Rose jumped up, a flutter of panic in her chest. She had to speak to Rand, find a way to warn him without revealing that Golan had threatened her.
If it were not for Jason, she would have died long ago. When he was born she’d found a reason to live despite the abuse Bertram heaped on her. Now Bertram was dead and she was married to Rand. But one thing had not changed: her love for her son. Jason was her whole life. She would protect him with her last breath if need be.
Rose began searching the crowd. Her eyes jumping from man to man, finding very few blonds.
“Lady Rosalyn,” someone called.
Rose turned. Will sidled past Lady Lynette, one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, and stopped before her. “My lady, I have been looking everywhere for you. Sir Rand—”
She grabbed Will’s arm. “Is he all right?” Will started, gazing at her in surprise. “Pray, answer me.”
“Fear not.” He patted her hand. “My lord asked that I escort you back to Strand House. The king has called an emergency session of his council, and Sir Rand expects it shall be very late before it is over.”
Rose floated, wrapped in a warm cocoon, her cheek cushioned against a hard yet warm yielding surface. A comforting, safe feeling enveloped her, but a nagging sense that she was supposed to do something important kept pulling her back to wakefulness. Her eyes were heavy, and she struggled to open them. Then she was falling, falling until she landed on a fluffy mattress, a blanket pulled up to her chin. She blinked, once, twice.
Rand stood over her, a finger to his lips. “Shhh, go back to sleep.”
She’d been sitting on the bench at the foot of the bed waiting for Rand to return from court. Apparently, she must have fallen asleep, and when he’d found her he had carried her to bed.
She closed her eyes, about to drift asleep, when that persistent feeling of doom pricked her again. Rolling onto her side, she pillowed her hands beneath her cheek. Rand stood before the washstand, his back in shadow and his front gleaming golden in the candles’ glow. He was naked except for a sherte tossed over his shoulder as he washed.
Rose swallowed a gasp. Her eyes grew wide. She’d never seen Rand naked. Though they made love once before, theirs had been a brief, swift, furious coupling against the chamber door, with only minimal adjustments of their nightclothes to satisfactorily accomplish the deed.
The branched candle stand on the washstand glimmered across every ripple and indention of his muscular chest, stomach, and thighs. He rinsed the linen cloth in the basin again. When the cloth made contact with his face, he gasped. His stomach muscles flexed. The fleshy member between his legs jumped.
The hair at his groin was darker than the hair on his head, and springy. Were all men as large? Rose was amazed, for he was not even distended with desire, and he was huge.
The moisture in her mouth dried up. Her breath grew ragged. She made a small sound. Rand pulled on his sherte, spinning toward her. She snapped her eyes shut.
“Rose, are you awake?” Rand moved closer to the bed and gazed suspiciously at her. Her eyes were closed, but he’d heard a mewling cry and swore she had been watching him.
Her eyes fluttered open. “Rand. You have returned.” She peered around, taking in her surroundings as though confused, but her cheeks were flushed with what he thought was embarrassment.
The suspicion that she’d been watching him had a predictable effect on him. But he kept a tight rein on his wayward lust. He would not inflict any more pain on Rose because he could not stop wanting her. “You should go to sleep. ’Tis very late,” he said, voice gruff with restraining his desire.
He flicked a blanket out and laid it and a pillow on the pallet he’d placed on the floor earlier.
Rose scooted up in bed, pulling the coverlet up to her chest and placing her hands in her lap. “I would speak to you first. About Sir Golan.” She paused, her words hesitant, then said, “I do not trust the man and fear he means to do us harm.”
Rand frowned. “Has the man done something to
“Nay,” she said quickly. Too quickly, he wondered? “I am just concerned Golan means to retaliate against you. He does not seem like a man who takes kindly to being thwarted.”
“Though I am flattered you are worried about me, you need not be. I shall not underestimate Golan’s character again. To that end, I have made arrangements to have him watched. He will not make a move that I do not know about.”
She plucked the coverlet on her lap. “You cannot have the man watched forever.”
“Certes. One day there will be a reckoning between us, but for now it will have to wait. The king’s council declared war on Llewelyn.”
A hand flew to her throat. “Lord have mercy. Why did you not tell me sooner?” Rose flipped the covers off and threw her legs over the side of the bed.
Distracted by her bare toes and slender ankles, he said, “It was very late and I did not want to worry you when it could wait till morning. There is naught you can do anyway.”
Rose jumped out of bed. “There you are wrong.” She dashed into the wardrobe and returned carrying an armful of drab widow’s clothes. “I must leave for Ayleston Castle immediately. Jason is in danger. With war declared, raids will increase and preparations must be made to increase the guard.”
She returned to the wardrobe and dragged out an iron-bound chest.
“Rose, ’tis the middle of the night. Aside from the fact ’tis too dangerous to travel on the roads at night, arrangements must be made for the journey.”
Grabbing the gowns from the bed, she tossed them into the chest. “Nay. ’Tis imperative we leave now.” Her words came out muffled and breathless as she bent over, her hair hanging loose to the floor and shrouding her face.
His eyes flicked to her rounded bottom, her sheer chemise molded to her bare skin. The shadow between her bottom cheeks stoked his senses and lured him into temptation. He wanted to reach out and run his hands over the soft firmness, to grab hold and clutch her to him as his fingers dipped into the indentions that separated the cheeks of her buttocks from her thighs.
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