Read an Excerpt
SHE WHO COMES
IN THE NIGHT
Lord Kendrick, the Baron of Tewsbarrow, couldn't help sneering as he watched a servant lead his sodden nephew from the hall. Sir Daniel indeed. What fool had knighted such a lackwit? The young man had been so bedazzled by the prospect of becoming Kendrick's heir that he'd stared about the hall like a wide-eyed child at his first fair. Until he'd gotten so drunk he could barely see.
Kendrick should have expected Daniel to be like his father, good for nothing but waving a sword about. But that meant he could easily be used. Kendrick's plan should succeed, if only Isabel would do her part. What was wrong with her? She was beautiful enough to rule all men's hearts but dumb as a cow. He was sick of her mewling and whining and had begun to truly regret marrying her. She better play her part correctly tonight, or he'd turn her pearl white buttocks red.
He drained the last drop of brandy from his cup and rose to his feet. Unlike his nephew, Kendrick had been careful not to overindulge tonight, still he lurched as he took a step, and immediately adjusted his tunic to be sure his malformed leg did not show. Seeing his tall, well-built nephew had only reminded him of the injustice of being born the eldest son, the heir, and a hopeless cripple. Everyone had thought him unfit to be the baron, especially his younger brother, but he'd shown them. And he'd show them once again by producing his own heir for Tewsbarrow. If he could bestir his timid little wife.
Kendrick returned to his solar at the end of the hall and over to the corner where a circular stairway opened into the tower. He hated the twistingstairs that led to the upper chamber, so he'd given Isabel the room on the same level as the solar, even though that put her closer to his sleeping quarters than he liked.
He found her slumped on a stool. Her long black hair flowed down her back in soft waves and she wore a dark fustian cloak. He assumed she'd obeyed his command to wear nothing else, although she'd wrapped the cloak so tightly around herself he couldn't tell for sure. A quick glance around her chamber showed him she'd sent away her doting maid, Tess. So perhaps, Isabel had accepted her duty.
Then he noticed her nervous fingers twisting a fold of the cloak and heard the teary quality in her voice as she asked, "Has he gone to bed then?"
He debated what method to use with her. Would she respond better to sternness or cajolery? He decided it would be best not to cause tears. She could work herself into an addled state if she started crying. "Everything is going as planned," he said in a pleasant voice. "Daniel drank a great amount of ale during the meal and the brandy afterward. One of the servants had to lead him to his bedroom."
Her head came up. Is that hope I see in her eyes? "Perhaps he's had too much to drink, and I won't be able to ah-ah--"
Kendrick had difficulty concealing his impatience. "Just do as Esmeralda showed you. He's a hale and hearty young man, he'll respond."
"I peeked into the hall tonight. He's very large."
Kendrick pressed the lips together to keep from screaming at her. After taking a deep breath, he said, "You didn't let anyone see you, did you? I've told everyone you're ill."
She pulled her lips into a pout. "It's hard to stay in my room all day, pretending to be sick."
He forced himself to smile. "If you do your duty tonight, tomorrow you'll feel like sleeping the morning away."
She didn't smile back.
He held out his hand. "Come, my dear. It's time."
She blinked up at him. "Shouldn't we wait a little longer to be sure no servants are about?"
"I'll check the hallway before you step out." He gave his hand an impatient shake, and true to her bovine nature, she placed hers in it and stood. He led her into the solar and over to the wall covered with a large tapestry showing hounds attacking a stag. He pushed the tapestry aside and opened the door that had been installed when the new hall, containing apartments for upper servants and guests, had been built. Since the ground level of the great hall was devoted to storage, its first floor was level with the second story of the new hall and the hidden door opened into the end room and not the passageway, giving Kendrick a way to move secretly between the buildings. Since marrying Isabel it had proved a great convenience.
Isabel stopped before the closed door of the strange man's bedchamber. This was the moment she'd been preparing for since her marriage. It was time to do her duty to her husband and the baronetcy. She could hear her frantic heartbeat and feared she might faint or perhaps hoped she would. What she was about to do seemed wrong to her, even though Kendrick said it wasn't. But he was her lord and master and the welfare of her family depended on his good will. She could not go against him.
Kendrick, who was standing just behind her, lightly touched her back, and whispered, "Pretend he's a prince sleeping under the spell of a wicked witch, and only you can awaken him. Use your imagination, my dear, and you might enjoy yourself."
She looked back at him, astonished he would even suggest such a thing. He smiled, as he did when treating her like a stupid child, and gave her a slight push. After taking a deep breath, she reached for the iron lever that would open the door. She heard her husband clumsily moving back so he couldn't be seen. Did he fear Sir Daniel might be awake?
The door slowly opened. The hinges had apparently been greased for there was no squeak. Isabel held the door so it wouldn't open too widely and peered around the edge of it. A fire had been lit against the nighttime chill that came with the harvest season, and she could see the outline of the large bed against a far wall. The curtains had been left open and she saw the silhouette of a man's body. He was lying on his back and the rumbling of deep breathing sounded like that of a sleeping man.
She looked back at Kendrick who impatiently waved her onward, so she stepped into the room and softly closed the door. She moved toward the bed, waiting after each step to see if the man stirred. As she drew closer, she studied his profile. A broad forehead, a straight nose, a strong chin with no wrinkled skin under it. A cover had been drawn halfway up his chest, but his shoulders were bare. Even in repose he looked powerful. One arm had been thrown up beside his head and muscle bulged in his forearm. Suppose she startled him awake and he swung that thick arm at her?