Secret Vowsby Mary Reed McCall
Forced to wed against her will, Catherine of Somerset must be strong as she exchanges vows with the man she is sworn to destroy. It is not fear that causes the proud lady to tremble as she stands before her soon-to-be spouse, Baron Grayson de Camville, but her unforeseen desire for this powerful, yet gentle, knight a fevered wanting that she
A Secret Passion
Forced to wed against her will, Catherine of Somerset must be strong as she exchanges vows with the man she is sworn to destroy. It is not fear that causes the proud lady to tremble as she stands before her soon-to-be spouse, Baron Grayson de Camville, but her unforeseen desire for this powerful, yet gentle, knight a fevered wanting that she cannot deny.
Punishment awaits Catherine should she fail, yet how can she betray this handsome stranger her husband, honorable and true who, with soft words and soul-shattering kisses, has taken her heart willing prisoner ? There is no escaping the rapture of Gray's caress. The passionate hero she intended to deceive is the man she is destined to adore and no enemy's dark scheme will rob her of that ecstasy. For only by surrendering to love will Catherine and Gray truly be free.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
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- 4.26(w) x 6.83(h) x 1.18(d)
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Ravenslock Castle, Wiltshire
'Twasbut the first step toward damnation. Catherine swallowed the nausea that rose in her throat and forced herself to stand stiff in the entrance to the chapel. She shut her eyes against the sun's glare, murmuring a prayer that the veil she wore would continue to hide her feelings from any that looked on her. But though the silken gauze might mask her guilt from the world, she knew that nothing could stop the horrible truth from piercing deep into her own soul.
In a few moments she was going to pledge herself in holy wedlock to the man she'd promised to help murder.
Revulsion washed over her again, and she swayed into a cool stone pillar. Reaching out, she tried to regain her balance, squirming at the trickle of sweatthat made its way down her spine. Her amethyst kirtle clung to her in sticky folds, worsened by the day's heat. 'Twas stifling for September, and undoubtedlya sign from God a taste of the hellfire she was sure to suffer for the mortal sin she was about to commit.
"Damn you, Catherine," Eduard hissed into her ear. "If you faint on me now, I vow to make you sincerely regret it." He grasped her elbow and hauled her to a standing position.
The movement made her wince. Every inch of her body ached from the constant abuse he'd lavished on her in the past two weeks, compounded by the wrenching pain she felt in knowing that she'd never see her children again, never look into their sweet faces or hold them close. Thanks to Eduard, the twins thought her dead, and that truthhad cut her even more fiercely than any of his beatings; she'd wanted to die from it alone. But she couldn't. He'd made certain she knew the deadly consequences of changing her mind. If she refused to go through with his plan, her children would suffer what she did, only worse, before he killed them.
The message hadn't been lost on her.
"I'm not going to faint, Eduard. Just get me some water."
He grunted in response, but soon a cup of metallic tasting liquid was pressed into her hand. When she finished, she handed the empty vessel back to him from beneath her veil.
"Are you ready now?" he demanded.
Catherine nodded, feeling too sick to hazard an answer. She had to save all her strength for her vows; she knew it would take every ounce of reserve she possessed to utter their blasphemy without choking.
Vaguely, she felt the pressure of Eduard's hand on her arm as they walked into the main portion of the chapel. Though heavy, the layers of fine gauze covering her face allowed her to see what was before her. The priest stood in his accustomed place below the altar steps, his hands folded in solemn piety as he awaited her arrival to the ceremony.
Almost against her will, Catherine swept her gaze over the other occupants. Four score guests whispered and craned their necks for a better view. Apart from them, all that remained were two men who waited high on the altar behind the priest. The first was older and dressed in servant's garb, the second a man who appeared to be about a score and ten, outfitted as a knight of the realm.
He, then, must be her groom, she thought. Bewilderment clouded her already weary mind. He hardly seemed foreboding. Eduard had warned her of her future husband's vicious reputation, wanting to prepare her for what she would face so that she wouldn't be distracted by undue fear when it came time to bed with him and ultimately clear the way for Eduard's hireling to kill him. If she hadn't dreaded another beating, she would have laughed at such skewed reasoning. It had seemed ridiculous that helping to murder someone could ever be made easier, regardless of what one knew about the victim beforehand. But she'd remained silent in her opinion.
Now she wondered why Eduard had bothered to tell her aught about her betrothed. It was clear that he'd exaggerated his description of Baron Grayson de Camville's powerful stature and warlike demeanor. This man looked sturdy, with fair skin and hair the color of wheat. But he was no musclebound monster. She wondered if Eduard's hatred of his rival was so great that it had made him see attributes that weren't there.
Until a third man strode out onto the altar.
Catherine gasped audibly before stumbling into Eduard. He let out a curse and managed to right both of them before they could fall onto the marble aisle of the chapel.
"By all that's holy, Eduard," she whispered frantically, "with all else that you told me about this man, why did you fail to mention this?"
"Silence," he hissed back, "I'll not have you botching our plans now."
She moved without thinking as he pulled her the remaining few paces to the altar, unable to drag her gaze from Baron Grayson de Camville. He was all that Eduard had said a fierce warrior knight, taller by a head than any man she'd ever known, and carved from what appeared to be perfectly sculpted muscle and bone. But what Eduard had neglected to tell her was that her future husband possessed the face of an angel, so stunning that were it not for his utterly masculine presence and the way his mouth tightened into a grim line, she might have thought him one of heaven's messengers, sent by God to save her from Eduard's plotting.
The buzzing in her ears slowly gave way to an annoying sound. Gradually, the noise needled and poked at her, until she turned her attention to the nasal voice. It bleated a name, over and over, and her stunned mind...Secret Vows. Copyright © by Mary Reed McCall. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Award-winning author Mary Reed McCall (historical)/M. Reed McCall (contemporary) was a finalist for Romance Writer's of America's Best First Book RITA Award and has won the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Medieval Romance. She grew up in a rural area of Upstate New York as part of a large and loving family.
Before becoming a writer, she first considered a career in national security, studying for a brief time at the University of Leningrad before completing undergraduate degrees in Russian and English back in the United States, followed by a Master's degree in English Literature. The sixth of seven girls in her family, Mary now makes her permanent home in New York State, with her husband and children. When she is not writing or involved with family activities, she teaches high school and college level English.
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