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MASTER OF PLEASURE
By JESSICA TRAPP
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Jesica Trapp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhitestone Castle, November 1470
Lady Meiriona watched a tiny, black spider spin silky strands in the door frame as she waited to betray her bridegroom.
Her slippered foot tapped impatiently against the chapel's red and black tiled floor. If only she could make her father understand the betrothal should be broken by diplomacy instead of force.
From her seat on the front bench, she glanced from her father's hiding place at the front of the church to the chapel's open door and back again. Why did men not understand that violence only begets more violence?
"Promise me you won't kill him, Father. Force him to sign the papers and be done with it."
"I will do what I think is best," her father's voice boomed from behind a wooden screen painted with biblical lore. Bright colors splashed across the partition depicting the image of a woman nailing a man's head to the ground.
The church's incense-tinged air burned Meiriona's nostrils and dread churned in her stomach. Mayhap she was the woman in the painting and the man her bridegroom. She folded her hands together, covering their trembling in the green velvet of her kirtle.
"I hate being bait, Father. Surely the contract can be broken another way."
"There is no other way." Her father's angry voice resounded through the dark, empty sanctuary. Although he hid in shadows, she felt his agitation. "Edward forced the betrothal on us, and by force we will break it. You will sit there until this is over."
Meiriona stiffened; the metal of her girdle scraped against the pew, biting into her flesh. "I am no longer a child, Father." Her voice sounded defiant, even to her own ears. She despised being a pawn.
"You are barely fifteen."
"Old enough to be married," she countered.
Her father's tall, gaunt figure emerged from behind the painted screen, hands balled into fists. Chain mail clinked, and his crimson surcoat billowed as he stalked toward her, his bristly gray beard quivering with rage. Gray strands hung in front of his thin face, as though he had jammed on his helmet without bothering to first sweep his hair aside.
"Defy me and I will kill the bastard for certes!" He slammed his armored fist against the white cloth atop the thick wooden altar. A candle stand crashed to the tiles, sending unlit tapers skittering across the floor.
Meiriona patted her crisp wimple in a telltale gesture of nervousness but met his gaze without flinching. Why did men prefer war when diplomacy could accomplish the same goal? Already the graveyards overflowed with casualties from this conflict between the house of Lancaster and the house of York.
Her father stormed across the bloodred carpet that ran down the aisle of the cold chapel. He stopped directly before her. "Lo, daughter, are you a Lancaster or a Yorkist?"
"Father, please. You know my loyalty is true." She stared at him, her fingers running along the edge of the oak bench. "But Henry has regained the throne. Mayhap we can break the betrothal contract legally."
"Legally! Bah!" He shook his gauntlet-clad fist at the air, fighting monstrous unseen demons. "Was your mother raped legally?"
Meiriona cringed and set her jaw to dam the tears she never allowed to fall. "I cleaned the blood off Mother's thighs myself after that Yorkist dog took her. Do not doubt my sincerity."
Her father leaned forward suddenly to kiss her forehead, an expression of fierce love glowing in his eyes. "You are so much like your mother. When I married my Catrin she was fire and flash. Red hair and green eyes. I will not betray her memory by allowing you to marry a Yorkist."
She tugged at his faded red surcoat, straightening it for him as she often did. "Mayhap King Henry would agree with us that this marriage should not take place, but do not usurp his authority by slaying this man."
Her father shook his head. The metal of his helmet gleamed and bounced colored lights around the elaborate chapel as morning light shone in through ornate stained-glass windows.
"I am too soft with you," he grumbled.
"You have never been soft," she assured him. "But Godric of Montgomery is innocent."
"Ha!" Her father's shoulders straightened with new life. His eyes bulged like an enraged bull's. "No Yorkist is innocent. They are murderers and traitors from birth. May they all burn eternally for their betrayal of our pious King Henry and what they did to my Catrin!"
"Father! Please!" She shivered, wishing he would turn back into the laughing, compassionate papa he had been before her mother's rape and subsequent death in childbirth. Since that time, his tempers were all too recurrent.
A trumpet sounded and her father quieted. "The Yorkist bastard will be here in a moment, and all will be over."
Tearing her gaze from her father's, she peered through the open doorway. A tall figure, walking with the arrogant swagger of a man newly knighted, strode toward the chapel.
"Lo, daughter, he comes!"
Blood drained from her face as she looked upon her betrothed for the first time. With a surge of guilt, her heart went out to the man walking alone across the trampled grass. He was a bastard, a man with no family. Her father had summoned him to come posthaste, under the pretense that the wedding must take place immediately. Perhaps her bridegroom had no one to accompany him on short notice, even to his own wedding.
She clutched the sleeve of her father's surcoat. "Promise me you will not kill him, or I will warn him."
Her father glared at her. "Fine." He righted the candle stand and kicked the fallen tapers beneath the hem of the altar skirt. A cruel smile crossed his rawboned features. Like a suffocating mantle, a feeling of impending dread fell over her.
"Do not forget your duty, daughter." He hurried to his hiding place behind the screen, mail jangling as he went.
She perched on the front bench, her raw nerves stretched tight as she composed her face into a mask of blandness. She felt like a quivering rabbit, ensnared for bait while the hunters awaited a hungry predator to approach.
Her betrothed reached the doorway in long measured strides. The spider scampered to avoid him as he ducked beneath the low arched door frame.
Meiriona gasped, her whole body aware of the crackling shift his presence made in the air. Backlit with the halo of sunshine, he was an archangel: beautiful, masculine, powerful, dangerous.
He stepped into the sanctuary and her mouth went dry.
Dressed in wedding finery, silver knight-spurs gleaming, he was the most striking man she had ever seen. A blue surcoat with yellow embroidery emphasized broad shoulders. His hose and high boots revealed long, muscular legs. Near a lean waist, his large, callused hands stroked doeskin riding gloves. Guilt pulled at her conscience when she realized he wore no sword.
Blunt-cut, shoulder-length, black hair framed angular features. An aristocratic nose and dark eyebrows gave him a daunting presence, but his eyes danced with intelligence and deep sensuality. Generous full lips softened his features.
What would it be like to be kissed by those lips? She swallowed; her heart pounded and she wished she could stop looking at him.
He stared back at her expectantly. "Lady Meiriona?"
Her heart leapt into her throat at the deep husky timbre of his voice. "Aye."
He bowed. "Godric of Montgomery." He indicated the ornately painted chapel with the sweep of one muscled arm. "Why are you alone here in the dark? We are to be married."
Her hands trembled within the folds of her skirt. "I cannot marry a Yorkist," she whispered.
"What was that?" He stepped closer, masculine arrogance dominating the space between them. "I did not hear you."
She cleared her throat, suppressing the urge to jump and run. Even without a sword, he seemed frightfully capable of ripping one's heart out.
"My apologies, sir. I am disquieted at being a bride." She swept her eyes sideways to hide the lie.
When she did, her gaze rested on a large painted statue of Jesus nestled among the shadows. His unblinking stare condemned her, and she sucked in her breath. Did God really need the huge sum her father had bribed the priest with to annul the betrothal?
"Where is the wedding party?" Godric's deep voice ripped through her thoughts.
Her gaze snapped back to his. Midnight blue eyes fringed with pirate black lashes pierced her.
Heart pounding, she spared a glance at the screen hiding her father. "They will be here shortly."
The knight nodded, as if satisfied with her simplistic answer. "I had not expected the heiress of Whitestone to be so beautiful."
Her stomach flipped at the compliment. Surely only the devil himself would be so beguiling. "Sir, I beg you, do not say such things."
"But it is true." He extended his hand, the muscles of his sword arm dancing as he reached for her.
She licked her dry lips, fascinated with the size of his muscled limb. It was large, tanned, and seductively powerful.
He took her hand and chuckled softly. "You like what you see?" The husky tone of his voice was filled with overconfidence.
"I do not," she lied, feeling her cheeks on fire. She knew not even the whisper of lead powder could hide her blush. She clamped her lips closed in irritation. She was no overheated milksop who blushed and stammered when a man paid her a compliment. She wanted to snatch her hand back but she dared not-he might become suspicious.
He winked at her, gave her a roguish grin, and ignored her lie. It was as if they shared some keen secret. He looked as though he could read her inner desires, see right through her modest green gown and the yellow shift beneath it.
"My lady," he murmured, leaning close. "You need not fear the private desires between a man and a woman."
She shivered. He smelled like fresh rain, wild wind, and the comforting smoke of a campfire. She felt a fervid longing for the impossible.
"This is not right between us," she whispered more to herself than to him.
Godric stroked her fingertips with his callused hand, and her body tingled with traitorous desire. "Nothing could be more right between husband and wife."
She turned her face away, heart racing as her private emotions warred with logic and loyalty.
"All will be well between us, my lady." He lifted her hand, and his lips, soft as spring heather, kissed her palm.
She jerked back as if burned, but he held her hand tight.
The faint, metallic scrape of her father's sword leaving its scabbard echoed through the quiet sanctuary.
Godric glanced over his shoulder.
Shrieking a war cry, her father leapt from his hiding place, sword extended. An instant later, armored soldiers crashed into the church, surrounding them.
She sprang forward as her father lunged at her bridegroom.
Godric pushed her behind his own body, shielding her from harm. He drew a short dagger from his boot and held it ready. Her father advanced, the point of his sword aimed straight at Godric's heart. Men crowded into the chapel, swords drawn. The scent of leather and sweat overwhelmed the scent of incense.
Sweet Mary! What had she done?
Meiriona slipped between Godric and her father. "Nay, Father! We can accomplish this another way!"
Godric's gaze pinned her. "Accomplish what?"
She glanced from him to her father and back again. "I cannot marry you." Her hand touched Godric's forearm, a silent plea that he would understand.
"My daughter will never marry a bastard!"
Godric's expression turned from confusion to disbelief. "What?"
She shivered under his gaze and turned to her father. "This is not-"
Sunlight gleamed off the men's upraised swords, causing a rainbow of dancing lights to flicker across the altar.
Godric's gaze turned on her, icy as the tip of Snowdonia. Anger and tension hunched his shoulders.
"You mean you were here in the dark as bait?" The grip on her hand tightened. The civility disappeared from his midnight blue eyes, replaced by the wariness of a cornered wolf.
"I had no choice."
"No choice?" he roared.
She cringed; his blood would be on her hands if he chose to fight. One man did not stand a chance against so many armed knights.
"Please! Just sign the papers!"
"To break the betrothal. My father has them drawn already."
The force of the hatred in his eyes nearly knocked her to the pew.
"You are mine," he stated, so quietly it was as though he were shouting. Moving with the lightning reflexes of a warrior, he snagged her waist, yanking her close.
She landed fully against his body, her head not even reaching the top of his broad shoulders.
Her father roared and lunged forward.
The flat of her bridegroom's dagger, cold and inflexible, dug into her back and held her father at bay. Pressed against Godric's body, she felt his wrath as their heartbeats thumped against each other. With a defiant glare at her father, he dragged the wimple from her head and kissed her boldly. Her heavy auburn hair spilled around her, over her shoulders and down her back. Logic demanded she resist, but his mouth laid claim on hers, searing her with its touch.
His lips were not soft as they had been on her palm, but challenging and severe. Yet his breath tasted sweet as honeyed mead.
An uncomfortable heat radiated through her limbs when his tongue flicked across her lips, demanding entrance.
Vaguely, she heard her father bellow in the background. Godric's arm tightened, his knife hard against her back. Then time pitched into a dizzy flurry and she lost awareness of everything but his mouth and the impractical desire it demanded from her soul.
Abruptly he pushed her away.
Breathless, she tried to compose her thoughts, but they seemed as tangled as her hair. Her father's gaze bore into her, condemning her. Shame burned her cheeks. She had not even struggled to get away from the kiss.
Godric assessed her as though he had just staked claim.
She stretched her fingers to wipe the ferocity from his face. Fury radiated from him, and her nerve evaporated. Her hand fell lifelessly to her side.
"Get him out of here," she breathed, wrenching free from his hold. She scurried from the chapel like a coward, brushing the spider in the process. Long strands of web clung to her hair as she ran toward her chamber.
"I will come for you. You are mine!" His voice rang through the courtyard after her. "You will pay for this."
Five years later. Turkish prison.
Pain pulled Godric Montgomery slowly back to consciousness. Throbbing temples and a sharp ringing in his ears proved he yet lived. He cursed the thought.
Excerpted from MASTER OF PLEASURE by JESSICA TRAPP Copyright © 2005 by Jesica Trapp. Excerpted by permission.
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