Hi everyone and welcome to this weeks A Duchess Monday!
I've had award winning author Margaret Mallory in my eBook collection for over a year now and will admit the one thing that drew me to her books were her heroes. I love how she depicts them so perfectly for the time period in her historical romances. She also writes with an air of suspense and intrigue that keeps the pages turning to the very end.
Today I've chosen a snippet from Knight of Desire, book one of her All The Kings Men series. I found it to be a a smooth romantic and touching read that will keep you up long into the night just like it did me.
Knight of Desire
All The Kings Men, Book 1
Amazon | B&N
Back of the Book
FEARLESS IN BATTLE
His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.
TENDER IN BED
Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she's keeping secrets and dares not give him her heart. As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives.
England, near the Welsh border
Lady Mary Catherine Rayburn sat on the bench in her bedchamber and waited for news. If the prince received her latest message in time, the king’s army should have caught her husband with the rebels by now.
She pulled up the loose sleeve of her tunic and examined her arm in the shaft of sunlight that fell from the narrow window. The bruises were fading; Rayburn had been gone a fortnight. She let the sleeve fall and rested her head against the stone wall behind her.
Not once in all this time did her husband suspect she had betrayed him. But he would know it now. She had been the only one in the hall, save for the men who went with him, when he disclosed the time and place of his meeting with the Welsh rebels.
She buried her face in trembling hands and prayed she had not made a mistake. What else could she do? Nothing short of discovering Rayburn with the rebels would convince the king of his treachery.
If Rayburn escaped unseen, he would return and kill her. What then would happen to Jamie? It was unthinkable that her son would be left alone in the world with that man.
The cold of the stone wall penetrated the heavy tapestry at her back, causing her to shiver. Her raging fever had only broken the night before. She’d been the last to fall to the illness that had swept through the castle.
Exhausted, she closed her eyes. How had she come to this? She thought back to the beginning, before Rayburn’s betrayal of the king—and before her betrayal of Rayburn.
The king had been so certain of Rayburn’s loyalty when he chose him as her husband. At sixteen, she had been quite the marriage prize. She possessed that most rare and appealing quality in a noblewoman: She was her ailing father’s only heir. More, she was heir to one of the massive castles in the Welsh Marches, the strategic border area between England and Wales. That made her betrothal worthy of the king’s personal attention.
At the age of ten, she was betrothed to a young man whose family, like her own, was closely aligned with King Richard. The match lost its luster the moment Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne. Consequently, her father was pleased when, a short time later, the young man had the courtesy to fall from his horse and break his neck. When the new king “offered” to select a husband for her, her father was happy for the opportunity to demonstrate his new allegiance.
King Henry deliberated carefully, dangling her as a prize before powerful men he wanted in his debt. When her father fell gravely ill just as the Welsh revolted, however, the king acted swiftly. He could not afford to leave Ross Castle and the surrounding borderlands without a strong man to defend them. As her father lay on his deathbed, the king’s soldiers escorted her to his castle at nearby Monmouth for her wedding.
She crossed her arms over her chest and rocked herself as the memories came back to her. She had known Rayburn to be a cold man. She did not expect tenderness from him. Still, her wedding night had been a shock. He managed, just, to take her virginity.
Perhaps it was the novelty that made it possible that first time. He ordered her to put out every candle and wait in silence on the bed. Only later did she understand that the sounds she heard in the dark were her new husband touching himself to prepare for the task.
There were no kisses, no caresses. It was, at least, mercifully quick. As soon as he was finished, he left her. She cried through the night, believing her life could not be worse.
How naive she had been.
He made weekly visits to her bedchamber, intent on getting her with child. She tried not to hear the foul things he said in her ear or to feel the rough hands rubbing over her thighs and buttocks. When he succeeded, she forced her mind far away as he pounded and grunted against her flesh.
Over time, it became increasingly difficult for him to do his duty. When he could not, he beat her. Sometimes the violence excited him, for just long enough. He took to drinking heavily before he came to her. The drink only made him more violent.
By a miracle, she conceived. Her pregnancy saved her life. Rayburn still lacked any redeeming qualities, but he ceased to terrorize her in the bedchamber.
Then, a few weeks ago, he decided he must have “an heir to spare.”
She had no regrets about what she did to save herself this time. And to save the Crown for Harry. One day, Harry would be a great king, the one England deserved. Still, she was bone-weary from the strain of her deceit.
Her eyelids grew heavy as her mind drifted to the soothing childhood memories of playing with Harry at Monmouth. Those were happy times, before her mother died and before her friend became prince and heir to the throne. She curled up on the hard bench and let her eyes close.
“M’lady, what are you doing out of bed?” The maidservant’s voice roused Catherine from a troubled sleep.
“What is it?” she asked, sitting up.
“Men at arms approach the castle,” the woman said, her voice pitched high with tension.
“What banner do they fly?” Catherine demanded.
“The king’s, m’lady.”
The surge of relief that flooded through her was so intense she had to grip the bench to steady herself.
“What does it mean, m’lady?” the maid asked, twisting her apron in her hands.
“I do not know,” she said, trying to sound reassuring, “but we should have nothing to fear from the king’s men.”
If Rayburn was caught, why would the king send armed men here to Ross Castle? Perhaps Rayburn had escaped and they were looking for him? Would he come here to hide? Panic rose in her throat. She forced herself to be calm.
Nay, if Rayburn’s treason was found out, he would hardly come here. Faced with the risk of execution or imprisonment, he would flee to the Continent. She was almost sure of it.
“M’lady, the king’s soldiers are almost to the gate. The men are waiting for you to say what they must do.”
“Since they fly the king’s banner, we must open the gate to them,” she said. “But tell the men to wait until I come.”
“But, m’lady, you are too weak. You must not—”
Catherine silenced her maid’s objections with the lift of her hand. “Help me dress. I must know what news they bring.”
Holding the maid’s arm for support, she got to her feet. Her head swam at first, but the feeling passed quickly enough. She nodded approval at the first gown the maid held out and let the woman dress her. Her mind was occupied with a single question: Why would the king send his men here after the battle?
“There is no time for that,” she said when the maid brought out an elaborate headdress in blue brocade. “A jeweled net will have to do.”
Ignoring the maid’s protests, Catherine twisted her hair in a roll and shoved it into the net. As soon as the maid fixed a circlet over it to hold it in place, Catherine sent her running to the gate with her message.
She was relieved to find Jacob waiting outside her door. Gratefully, she took the arm the old man offered and smiled up into his weathered face.
“Let me give your apologies to the visitors,” he said, his brows drawn together in concern. “I’ll tell them you are too ill to greet them.”
“Thank you, Jacob, but I must do this,” she said. “They shall not set foot inside the castle walls until I assure myself they are truly the king’s men.” And until I know what it is they want.
After so many days in the darkness of her bedchamber, the bright sun hurt her eyes when she stepped outside the keep. She felt weak, but the fresh air cleared her head as they walked across the inner and outer bailey. Half the household waited near the gate, anxious about the armed men on the other side.
As soon as her son saw her, he broke free from Alys and flung his arms around her legs. She knelt down to kiss him.
“Jamie, stay here with Alys while I go speak with these men,” she told him firmly. “Do not go out the gate.” She gave a meaningful look over his head to the housekeeper, who responded with a quick nod.
When she stood up again, bright sparkles crossed her vision. She’d never fainted in her life, and she could not permit herself to do so now. She would meet her duty to protect her household.
She waved the others back and went to stand alone in front of the gate. At her nod, the men dropped the drawbridge over the dry moat with a heavy thud.
Through the iron bars of the portcullis, Catherine could see the men on horseback on the moat’s other side. They had a hard look to them, as though they had seen much fighting and were prepared for more.
She turned and gave the order. “Raise the portcullis, but be prepared to drop it at my signal.”
The iron chains clanked and groaned as the men turned the crank and slowly raised the portcullis.
As soon as it was high enough for her to pass under it, she stepped out onto the drawbridge. She sensed the waiting men’s surprise. They stared at her, but they remained where they were, just as she intended.
This snippet is from chapter one. I searched many sections but in this case the beginning was best as to not give anything away for those that haven't had a chance to read the book yet.
Thank you for stopping in for a bit and sharing some of your Monday with me. How did you like today's historical romance snippet? Have any that you'd like to recommend? Share away int he comment section!