- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Years before she would grow into womanhood and know her own heart, Lady Lilliane of Orrick was betrothed to Corbett of Colchester in an agreement between the two powerful families. Despite her refusal of him and her attempts to flee, Lord Corbett has every intention of claiming the woman rightfully his. Original.
The scene in the bailey was golden. The sun caught the swirling remnants of dust stirred by the knights' mock battle. Over and over they had fought their way back and forth across the dry, hard-packed dirt until their bodies had glistened with sweat and their arms had become almost too heavy to lift. It was only then that they had retired from their practice, weary yet satisfied with the day.
Stepping lightly across the now-empty courtyard, Lady Lilliane of Orrick fancied she still heard the shouts of the men: their cries of victory, their oaths upon defeat. Orrick was the same as it had always been, and she felt as if she had not been gone these two long years. But there were differences, she reflected as she made her way to the broad-limbed chestnut tree that shaded the far end of the bailey.
It was not her father who led his men in their daily exercise, for he was no longer the vibrant, healthy man of her youth. Sir Aldis had led Orrick's knights in their practice today. Her younger sister, Odelia, had married him just prior to Lilliane's departure, and although her father had yet to relinquish his authority to his son-in-law, Lilliane feared it was only a matter of time.
Still, there was young Tullia's husband-to-be. After her wedding four days hence, Sir Santon might very well make a play for stewardship of Orrick Castle. And yet Lilliane sensed that her father did not hold either of the two young knights in very high regard. But then, it was seldom he approved of the men his daughters favored.
Across the bailey two women made their slow and stately way toward the great hall. Odelia and someone Lilliane didn't know, she noted. A small frown marred her normally serene features. The wedding guests had already started arriving from as far away as Farrelton, and Odelia was quite clearly in her glory playing the role of lady of the castle. She was more than content to leave all the practical aspects of the preparations to Lilliane while she entertained the guests.
At first Lilliane had been hurt by Odelia's coolness toward her. It was obvious that neither Odelia nor her husband, Aldis, was pleased with Lilliane's return. As long as she remained unmarried, Aldis and Odelia were the logical ones to inherit Orrick Castle. But if her father should find her a husband ...
Lilliane scoffed at that idea. The subject of her marriage was one neither she nor her father was willing to bring up. Indeed, they'd stepped very carefully around that topic these past few weeks.
She sighed, determined to ignore Odelia's bad humor. Tullia's sincere welcome had more than made up for it. If it hadn't been for her youngest sister's letter desperately pleading for help with the wedding preparations, Lilliane would still be at Burgram Abbey.
And yet she was glad to be back. Lilliane let her eyes slowly sweep the bailey, taking in the familiar sights and noticing every little change. There was something special about Orrick, she admitted as she leaned back against the ancient tree's solid trunk. All her memories were tied up in this castle, both good and bad. Not one day had passed at the abbey without her thoughts dwelling on Orrick Castle.
It would be even harder to leave this time than it had been before.
From a window opening in his receiving chamber, Lord Barton of Orrick watched as his eldest child brought a hand to her eyes. Was she crying? He leaned forward with a hand on the center mullion, straining to see. He watched as she straightened up and walked toward the storehouses. Then he slapped the granite sill in frustration.
"What is it, Father?"
Without taking his eyes from the slender figure below, Lord Barton opened an arm to Tullia and then held her affectionately close. He planted a kiss on her smooth brow.
As she hugged him she spied Lilliane. "She's not going to stay, is she?" she asked wistfully.
"It seems unlikely." He sighed. "Unless I force her to."
"Maybe you should. Maybe that would be best."
"My mistake was in letting her go in the first place."
"You mean you should have let her marry Sir William?" Tullia looked up at her father in surprise.
"No. Sir William was not for her. I meant I should never have let her go to Burgram Abbey. She would not have kept her anger at me alive this long if she'd been here. But now ..."
"She's not angry with you," Tullia said earnestly. "Truly she's not."
He only snorted in disbelief.
"You're just as stiff around her as she is around you," Tullia accused with soft brown eyes. "Why, 'tis clear that you and Lilliane are so alike in temperament as to irritate one another endlessly."
"A daughter should obey her father."
"She did," Tullia replied with faultless reasoning. "She did not marry William, did she?"
"No, but she makes it clear she will not marry another. Does she yet pine for him?"
"I don't think so," Tullia replied pensively. "But we shall know soon enough. Sir William and his wife, Lady Verone, arrived this afternoon. Odelia is with her now. Lady Verone is—" She hesitated. "She is with child."
"With child? And William brought her traveling this far?" Lord Barton's heavy brows lowered in a scowl. "I hope I do not rue the day I invited William back to Orrick. I have never trusted that fellow. He's a peacock. A man who'd rather dawdle about King Edward's vacant court than see to his lands and his people. I don't want him alone with Lilliane."
"You've never a kind word for anyone," Tullia reproached him gently. "You sent poor William packing when he courted Lilliane. And her with a broken betrothal already. You very nearly did the same to Sir Aldis when he courted Odelia."
"I let him marry Odelia, didn't I?" His frown deepened but his grasp on her tightened. "And now I shall let you marry that boy, Santon."
Tullia pressed her face against her father's wide chest and smiled. "I love him. And that's why you said yes, isn't it? You let both Odelia and me marry where our hearts lay. Why could you not do so with Lilliane?"
Disturbed, Lord Barton patted her head tenderly and let his gaze stray to the late-afternoon glow that rested over the stone fortress and the fertile lands beyond it.
He was a man of actions, not of words. He was a man of war. Though he might wrestle with his feelings and reason with his daughters, his decisions invariably were made for the good of Orrick and its people. He could not put into words his mistrust of William of Dearne. But he had been adamant in refusing the man his eldest daughter's hand as well as in denying him dominion at Orrick. And so the rift between him and Lilliane had been formed.
But it had been the right decision, he reassured himself as he led Tullia toward the great hall. William was not for his Lily.
The great hall was nearly filled to capacity, abounding with both guests and servants. The arched ceiling resounded with laughter and conversation as Lilliane paused at the landing of the main staircase to look at the gathering below.
It was as it should be, she thought with a small, satisfied smile. A great ox and two huge boars had been turning on the spits since the previous evening and were now being prepared by teams of meat carvers. Other servants bustled about with platters of pheasant and quail, duck and eel. Great tureens of leek soup as well as overflowing baskets of breads were centered on each of the many tables, and wines and ales flowed freely. Trays of delicate fruit pasties and bowls of stewed pears waited in the kitchens to be passed about later.
Lilliane could not ignore the feeling of pride she took in the display she saw before her. Not three weeks earlier she had been appalled at the drab condition of this very same hall. The two massive hearths had been black with encrusted soot and home to a myriad of small crawling creatures. The great shield of Orrick, which should have gleamed proudly, had been gray with smoke and cobwebs, the blue and silver colors hardly discernible.
The hall had been little used for entertaining in recent years, and Lilliane could not blame Tullia for its shabby appearance. After all, the girl had been but fourteen when both of her older sisters had left Orrick. The castle was a large and rambling one. Seeing to its daily routine and upkeep was a considerable task, one that never seemed to end. There were servants aplenty to see the work done, but Lilliane knew that pretty, soft-hearted Tullia would never be one to control her servants well. At least Tullia had had the foresight to send for her prior to the wedding.
It had taken every minute of Lilliane's time to see Orrick made ready for the guests' arrival. Every scrap of bed linen had been washed, whitened, and hung to bleach in the sun. The kitchen storerooms had been purged of their moldering contents and replenished from the ripening late-summer fields. Every room, from the finest honored guests' chambers to the meanest servants' niches, had been swept and scrubbed. Each sconce and torch base had been removed and scraped of old drippings, then polished until it shone. A team of women had toiled for days preparing beeswax and wax berry for pouring hundreds of candles.
At her command seamstresses had labored at new hangings for the great hall and all the major chambers. They had swiftly stitched the fine new garments expected of the wedding host family. From dawn to dusk she had worked, overseeing each task until there was not a servant she did not know, nor one who had not come to know her high standards. She did not doubt that they all bemoaned her return to Orrick, but that was only because they'd grown lazy under Tullia's inexperienced hand.
Content now that even the most exacting of their guests would find naught amiss with Orrick, Lilliane leaned forward over the carved stone balustrade and peered at the gathering below.
"Do you seek any particular face?"
Her father's voice took her by surprise, and she whirled to face him. He was dressed as befitted the lord of the castle in an overtunic of rich blue silk, trimmed at the neck, hem, and armholes with wide silver embroidery. A short mantle was pinned back over one of his shoulders, held by a large sapphire brooch set in heavily worked silver. A heavy silver chain circled his considerable girth.
On first returning to Orrick, Lilliane had been struck by how much her father had aged in her absence. But tonight in his regal attire he looked more the man she remembered.
"I was only curious about which of Tullia's guests had arrived," she answered.
"But no one in particular?" he persisted.
"No. No, why do you ask?"
Lord Barton lowered his gaze then and moved to grip the balustrade with his two beefy hands. "Sir William of Dearne arrived today. His wife is with him," he added pointedly.
Although Lilliane stiffened at his words, understanding at once the warning he gave her, she refused to acknowledge it. "Well, I do hope Odelia placed them in a comfortable chamber."
Her father eyed her suspiciously, and she knew he was not at all fooled by the sweet tone of her words. She could not deny, at least to herself, that the thought of seeing William again caused her heart to quicken in anticipation. But she would keep that fact from her father if it killed her.
"I still have hopes of settling you with husband." Lord Barton spoke cautiously, as if uncertain of her reaction. But his bright-blue eyes were canny as he waited for her response.
"I would agree, and eagerly," she retorted, lifting her rounded chin bravely. "But I would marry a man I love ... or at least respect."
"Would I choose a man of no honor for you?" he demanded, waving one hand angrily in the air. "Would I leave my eldest child and my ancestral home to the care of a man of no honor or respect?"
"But I thought Aldis ... or mayhap Santon. Why, Odelia has great plans for Orrick when you ..." She trailed off in embarrassment.
"When I die?" Lord Barton laughed and his face softened as he gazed at her. "Aldis is not a leader. Oh, he leads the men well enough. But to tend a castle and its lands and people requires much more than skill with the mace and broadsword. No, his ability on a war steed will not help him on that score. And as for Santon." He shrugged and let his eyes stray to the boisterous company below. "Santon is good for Tullia. But he could no more see to the demesne's needs than Tullia can properly tend the castle's. So you see"—he smiled gently at her—"nothing has really changed. I still must find you a husband."
Lilliane was momentarily silenced. She had not sought her father's company since she'd returned to Orrick. Indeed, she had avoided him as much as was possible, although it pained her greatly to do so. She loved him deeply even though his decision about William had broken her heart. But while his honest revelation now surprised her, it did not anger her, for her thoughts on her sisters' husbands had followed nearly the same path as his.
"I love Orrick," she admitted in a hushed tone. Her hand ran slowly along the rough stone wall beside her as if she stroked a beloved pet. "I've missed it sorely."
"Then you shall stay."
He did not seem to expect an answer from her, and for that Lilliane was much thankful. He merely took her arm and led her down the broad stone stairs to join the gaiety below and lead their guests to the dinner table.
Many eyes followed father and daughter as they crossed through the throng greeting relatives and acquaintances, for they made a striking pair. Lilliane in many ways favored her father with her erect carriage and confident air. Although his hair was heavily laced with silver and his eyes were no longer the piercing blue of his youth, those who had known Barton of Orrick in those years saw his reflection in Lilliane. Her hair was the same deep chestnut color as his, glinting with deep gold in the light from the many torches. Her wide cheekbones and firmly set jaw were cast from the same mold as his. Only her eyes had she gotten from her mother, a rare shade of green and gold, as likely to sparkle in humor as to flash in anger.
And it was known to all that she bore the same temper as her father. What else would keep a girl almost two years away from her home?
Lilliane was aware of the speculative looks her entrance on her father's arm created. She knew the gossip their estrangement had caused. But tonight she felt no estrangement at all. It was simply good to be home and in this company.
She smiled warmly at Tullia and Santon as she ascended the steps to the head table. But as she moved her gaze to include Odelia and Aldis, she was taken aback by the fury in her other sister's expression. Sir Aldis as well seemed soured by her appearance. With a sigh she let her father seat her in the chair next to his own. When his hand squeezed hers, she glanced warmly at him and vowed to ignore Odelia's foul mood.
As the guests found their own seats, Lilliane's eyes swept the assembly, and it was then that she saw William. He was staring directly at her as he stood next to a woman he had just seated. For a long moment their eyes met, until his attention was drawn by the woman. He slowly sat down beside her on the wide bench seat, but not before he sent a last, lingering glance toward Lilliane.
There was something in that look that disturbed her, and Lilliane turned her attention to the servant who poured wine for her. Grateful for the distraction, she sipped at the liquid and glanced covertly back at William.
He was as handsome as ever, she noted, tall and elegant-looking with his hair in tawny waves upon his collar. He was dressed in an intricately detailed tunic of red and gold. The woman with him wore the same colors, and Lilliane realized at once that she must be William's wife. She was a small, pretty woman, with hair nearly as pale as Tullia's. It did not surprise Lilliane at all that William had married well. She had heard of Lady Verone and knew that she had brought a fine castle and many serfs to the marriage. That she was also beautiful seemed only right, for William of Dearne was as beautiful a man as a woman was ever likely to find.
At that moment he looked toward her again, and she immediately lowered her gaze. For two long years she had kept his memory alive, knowing that they would never marry but still needing some romantic imaginings in her young and confined life. Yet now, faced with his clear interest in her, she was uneasy.
"Yon William seems most distracted by your presence here." Her father spoke in her ear. "That is his wife at his elbow. She is with child," he added pointedly.
"You do me an injustice," Lilliane retorted curtly, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. "Do you think I have less honor than you? Do you think I would dally about with a married man?" She shot him a sharp look before picking up her goblet once more.
Excerpted from My Gallant Enemy by Rexanne Becnel. Copyright © 1990 Rexanne Becnel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 28, 2014
Posted April 13, 2014
Posted May 6, 2014
No text was provided for this review.
Posted April 27, 2013
No text was provided for this review.