A practical marriage...
He married for convenience, but William of Anglesea had hoped for more than piety from his new bride. Raised in a convent and thrice widowed, prim Lady Alice of Tarnwych seems like an innocent when it comes to the marriage bed-except for the tentative passion he senses in her touch, and sees in her eyes. It seems the bold knight has a new challenge in alluring Alice. But will seducing his intriguing wife lead to his downfall?
An inconvenient desire...
Everything about charming, free-spirited William defies the cloistered world Lady Alice comes from. Duty brings her to their bed-and a long-held hope for a child. Yet after three indifferent husbands, the desire William shows her awakens her own. Little did Alice expect the powerful feelings he would inspire, emotions that make her ready to abandon her rigid beliefs, and the only family she's ever known-when William's life is on the line....
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A Sir Arthur's Legacy Novel
By Sarah Hegger
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Sarah Hegger
All rights reserved.
If she lived to be a hundred, Alice never wanted to attend another wedding, particularly not as the bride. The odor of roasting meats almost undid her, and she took a long draught from her water goblet. A bride did not vomit all over her wedding feast.
Her father, face ruddy with wine, sidled up and pinched her side. "God's teeth! Smile, you stupid wench. I have found you a good 'un this time. Far better than a butter-face like you could hope for." Goblet held high, he strode away, sprinkling wine across the heads of those he passed. His forced laughter grated on her ear.
To her right, her groom drank from his goblet. In a deep, smooth voice, he murmured to his mother on his other side. As he shifted, his muscular thigh pinned her skirt to the bench.
Loathe to draw his attention, Alice tugged the dull brown wool.
He inclined his head with a smile, moved his leg, and freed her skirt. "I beg your pardon."
God save her from her beautiful husband. "No matter."
"May I serve you more water?" Eyes deeper blue than the lake beneath the castle twinkled at her. Candlelight gleamed off his dark hair and clung to his finely etched face.
"Thank you, but nay."
With another smile, he turned back to his mother.
She would prefer if he did not smile so much. Or did not smell so appealing. His subtle woodsy-sweet spice teased her every time he leaned nearer. He did quivering things to her innards. How could she hope to hold a man such as this? Atop the scarred table, their trencher sat between them, still full of mutton, gravy oozing into a brown puddle on the table. It couldn't be worse. Her father had outdone himself this time. Three husbands he'd chosen for her and this one, by far, the most daunting.
Aye, but William of Anglesea would make fine children. Tall, strong boys, broad and powerfully built like their sire, and girls to take after his mother and sisters. A child of her own. A downy head nestled against her breast, a tiny body cradled in her arms. She touched her palm to her flat, empty belly, and put her hand back on the table before anyone could notice. Even butter-faces had dreams.
A jester before the dais capered about, ringing his bells and doing his best to enthuse the assembly with joviality. Poor man raised only titters of amusement. He must have come with her father for the wedding, for they had no resident jester at Tarnwych. A few determined souls cheered the jester on his way, and a band of minstrels took his place. The cheery pipes led the lutes into songs praising the bride's beauty and the groom's virility. Could they not spare her those? She'd wager the minstrels would change their songs when they left for the inn tonight.
The bawdy ballad of Alice of Tarnwych and William of Anglesea. She made up her own words to the cheerful wedding song the minstrel band warbled.
The peacock ruts with a dull, brown wren,
A dull brown wren, a dull brown wren
The peacock ruts with a dull, brown wren,
Fa, la, la, la la.
William, the peacock, with his striking looks and finery had stood beside her in the chapel, and the top of her head had only reached his shoulder. How the ladies in attendance had sighed as he dipped his dark head and recited his vows to her, the dull, little wren in her brown wool dress with her atrocious hair confined to a wimple. Both William's sisters boasted glorious flaxen hair the hue of summer wheat, not brazen red. Willowy and graceful they glided in rich, silk slippers like butterflies, whilst she stomped around in her sensible clogs.
Sister Julianna leant in and kept her voice low. "This is a bad business. This family is sown with wild, spoiled seed."
Then there was that. Whispers of the taint on Sir Arthur's beautiful family carried even this far north.
"It is time." Gracious and lovely, Lady Mary of Anglesea rose with a sweet smile for Alice. "Shall we?"
"Aye, let us get to the meat of the matter." Smug grin eating his face, her father thumped the table.
Rising too, Sir William offered his hand to her. Grip warm and sure, he helped her climb over the bench, then straightened her skirts for her. No fault could she find with her groom's manners. As far as she could see, he had no faults at all. Men like William should marry their faultless equals. How different would this be if she looked like his mother and sisters? If she could enter his bed with her head held high, confident in her groom's delight in her beauty.
The other women stood with her. Lady Faye, flawless and serene in her pregnancy, golden hair framing her enchanting face. Her second new sister-in-law, Beatrice. Bea, they called her, and on occasion Sweet Bea. Not as fair as Faye, but her pretty countenance made more so by the lively march of humor across it.
God mocked her by surrounding her with all this overbearing comeliness.
"Come along, then." Beatrice's smile stretched false with forced good cheer. Nay, they no more welcomed this match for their brother than she did.
Another wedding night and she would endure.
* * *
Drained, her face stiff from forcing a smile, Alice tottered to the bed and perched on the edge.
Sister Julianna shut the door on the determinedly cheery faces of Sir William's womenfolk. "I would not have you suffer those women at such a time." Sister Julianna slid the bolt home. "It is bad enough your father ties you in marriage to such a family."
"Lady Mary seemed most gracious." William's mother had made a point of wishing her well and welcoming her to the family, pressing a kiss on her cheek after the ceremony.
"Poor woman." Sister Julianna smoothed the front of her pristine scapula. "Beset by such a husband. Your father may have forgotten Sir Arthur took his army and marched on King John, but those of us who value loyalty have not."
"They say the new king has forgiven him." Even this far north, King John's infamy had touched their lives. Long, hard winters had marked the late king's reign.
"King Henry is but a child. We must pray that the guidance of his guardian, the Holy Father, will prevail." Sister Julianna crossed herself and raised her eyes to the roof. "We must pray that ... abomination never takes up residence beneath this roof."
"Amen," Alice whispered, because Sister would expect it. She hadn't yet seen the child Sister called the Abomination of Anglesea, but she wasn't sure any child should bear such a name. They had named him Mathew. Several years younger than his siblings, he must suffer a lonely existence with his brothers and sisters getting wed and moving away. If not for Sister Julianna, she would have wandered her father's keep for days without a soul bidding her good morrow, or even playing with her. Sister did not play, but she had provided company for a motherless little girl. Certainly, her father found no favor in his only child, a plain and quiet disappointment to him all these years.
"This is not your first wedding night." Sister Julianna folded her hands before her.
"Nay." It was her fourth, and she was as nervous as a first-time bride. Sir William unsettled her, left her stomach tangled. He would enter this chamber and find her not like the women he had known before. The ladies liked William of Anglesea. Her father made sure to tell her so. All the loveliest ladies of the court flocked to him. Rubbing his huge hands together with glee, her father had informed her of her good fortune, congratulating himself on the rich prize he had landed.
"You know what to expect." Sister turned her about and worked on the lacings of her bliaut. "As is fitting, you must submit to your husband. It is the lot of women to suffer the bestial nature of men."
"Aye, Sister." Alice clasped her shaking hands together. She had done this before, her virginity long gone. What came next would be uncomfortable, a little painful, but her husband would satisfy his lusts and leave her.
"I am afraid he looks like a lustful one." Sister tugged her bliaut off. She brought Alice her nightrail and slipped it over her head.
Beneath the garment, Alice wriggled out of her chemise. Sister insisted on modesty at all times. "I see my wedding nightrail survived the moths."
"Indeed." Sister bent and snatched her chemise. "I laid it amongst layers of bay leaves, in case you would have need of it again. The devil employs wanton waste to his own ends. Our Lord frowns on excess."
Alice pushed her arms into the sleeves. Aye, she had worn it but once when her last husband had joined her on their wedding night. The linen retained its pristine white, the tiny blue flowers she had embroidered along the neck as perfect as when she had stitched them. She had not worn a new gown for her wedding, so it stood to reason she would not wear a new nightrail. Lady Faye had worn the most beautiful gown of deep blue samite, and Beatrice just as resplendent in emerald green. Alice would wager silk felt sinful and soft, like a constant caress on the skin.
She removed her wimple and handed it to Sister, who arranged it on the clothes tree beside her bliaut and chemise, ready for her to don in the morning.
With deft fingers, Sister braided Alice's unfortunate hair. In open defiance to its brazen red, her hair grew thick and wavy, almost touching the back of her thighs when unbound. She only freed it long enough for washing. Such a color hair spoke ill of the morals of its wearer. Devil's hair, Sister called it. Alice's burden and her shame. Secretly, when Sister was not about, Alice left her hair free. A tiny act of vanity that would bring Sister's wrath down on her head if she knew.
Icy flags chilled Alice's feet as she padded to the bed and eased beneath cold linens. She would grow warm soon enough. Straw poked through the thin pallet, and she wriggled to get comfortable.
"Get yourself with child." Sister stood at the foot of the bed. "The purpose of marriage is to bear children. This" — she waved a thin hand at the bed — "is an evil to be endured until the Lord blesses you."
Alice tucked her cold hands beneath her thighs. Teeth chattering, she managed no more than a nod. She should have braved the lecture and requested a fire. Only when her father made one of his rare visits did this rule get broken. Father preferred the comforts of Yarborough over Tarnwych.
"I will wait until he finishes with you." Sister shuddered as she studied Alice. "Remain steadfast, my child."
The door shut behind Sister with a muted thud. A small taper on the washstand flickered in the draft. Shadows clung to the corners of the chamber, making ghostly patterns on the unadorned walls.
Alice tucked the covers beneath her chin and waited.
The peacock ruts with a dull brown wren,
Fa, la, la, la la.
* * *
William's bride, so tiny he could tuck her in his pocket, left the hall with a gaggle of women. Amidst the bright yellow, green, scarlet, and blue silks the others wore, the lifeless brown wool of Alice's gown stuck out like dog's ballocks. In the rearguard strode the nun who seemed never more than arm's length from his new wife. Emaciated, the nun's habit bound her twiggy appendages together.
Wed. Not yet bed, and the gnawing dread in his gut had him grabbing his wine goblet.
"Well." Roger drew the word out on an exhale. "It seems you're done for, brother o' mine."
"She seems mild tempered," he said. Alice had barely said a word above nay to wine and aye to water since they'd exchanged vows. Somewhere there existed a custom more agonizing than wedding a stranger, but he had not yet heard of it.
Roger adjusted his "good" tunic where it strained at the shoulder seams. "Meek even."
"Perhaps." William never assumed anything when it came to women.
"Not ... that beautiful." Roger sipped his wine.
William almost laughed. His brother lacked a glib tongue in his arsenal. "Not quite plain, though."
"Aye." Roger nodded a touch too heartily. "And definitely not ugly."
A dour serving girl refilled their wine goblets.
"Why in hell did you agree to this?" Roger lost his battle for further diplomacy, and yanked at his tunic until the stitches ripped.
William feigned a carefree shrug as if he hadn't asked himself that very question, for the last fortnight. "A man must marry. She will make as good a wife as any other. Indeed, better than most. She has land, and her father may have enough influence to restore our family's good name at court."
Roger pursed his lips and stared at their father.
Sir Arthur sat beside Lady Alice's father. A big, rough-boned man, Sir Ivo had the look of a wild boar. For certain, too hearty a man to have sired little Alice.
"God's bones but it's cold. Thank God we leave tonight." Roger huffed a cloud of white breath into the air. "You'll freeze your ballocks off getting your wedding tackle out."
In the gaping maws of all eight hall hearths, miserly flames eked out tepid heat against the bone chilling cold of a northern winter. Barely three days into October, and already William smelled the bitter ice on the air.
"I would have a word with your lady about the fare." Roger poked his eating knife at the thin slithers of mutton on his trencher. Plain fare and in meager supply, suitable for an army on the move, but not for a wedding feast.
William drained his goblet. The wine had come from Anglesea, barrels and barrels of it from the depth of the Anglesea cellars where it had lain waiting to mark a celebration. Brought to Tarnwych by bullock train, it had provided the one bright point in his frigid wedding feast.
Cold, bleak, and as unrelentingly gray as the sky outside, his new hall resembled a tomb. Through the casement, blue water glittered from the lake beyond, the only color in a desolate view. God, what a depressing place. William snatched his goblet and found it empty.
Roger's nudge almost sent him to the floor. "You look like you might need this more than I."
William drained Roger's cup and put it on the table. He motioned for the serving wench and her wine jug. Soon, the women would finish preparing his bride, and he would be called upon to swive his way into conjugal contentment.CHAPTER 2
William opened the door to his wedding chamber. Frigid air greeted him in a rush. Stark as a crypt, and with only one taper providing a flicker of warmth in the miserable dark. Bare of adornment, with a few basic pieces of furniture the chamber lay free of the flowers and ribbons he would have expected for a wedding night. At the far end of the chamber, the bed hulked in shadow. A tiny mound in the center provided the only sign of life. "God's bones."
Alice stirred and then went still.
William didn't fancy frostbite of the ballocks. The chill of the miserable hall was bad enough. "Why is there no fire?"
"It is not yet December," she said.
Bugger that. William strode to the door and bellowed, "Cedric!" Getting the job done, and done well, deserved a scrap of comfort. "I'm bringing December a little early this year."
Alice made a soft noise.
Cedric barreled through the door, his cheeks flushed. "Sir William."
"Get some wood in here. Lots of wood." Let them have some semblance of good cheer between them tonight. He marked no honey cakes to sweeten the bride's disposition, no bridal broth to stiffen the groom's resolve. "And wine." Neither he nor his wife had eaten much at the feast. "And fill a platter. Do it fast, Cedric."
"Aye, Sir William." Cedric spun about, crashed his shoulder into the doorjamb, and careened into the corridor. Nice lad, Cedric, willing and eager, but not the brightest squire he'd trained.
Silence filled the chamber. "That was Cedric. My squire." He chafed his palms together for warmth. "He means well, but you will have to overlook his clumsiness."
Alice might have moved, but who could tell in this fitful light. She had barely glanced at him through their parsimonious wedding feast. Every time he had shifted closer to her, his lady had shifted away. Part of him had wanted to see how far down the bench she would edge to put distance between them. As his efforts would have driven her straight into the lap of that sour-faced old nun, he'd resisted the urge and set himself to putting her at ease. Their wedding night would require renewed effort.
"Indeed." His voice rang. Had they no rugs to take the chill off the flags? Even the rats, it seemed, deserted Tarnwych for warmer welcome. "Cedric joined me recently. He is a cheerful sort, if you don't mind the chatter too much." He'd give his sword arm for a bit of Cedric's meaningless drivel right now. "He is a good lad."
He strode to the casement and peered into the night. On the far side of the lake, lights twinkled from the village. From the wisps of smoke ghosting on the night air, he guessed they had no December rule there. "Why December?"
Excerpted from Conquering William by Sarah Hegger. Copyright © 2016 Sarah Hegger. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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