All's Faire in love and war...
Connie leads a double life. During the week, she is an up–and–coming designer and dressmaker, creating sleek, elegant gowns for the wealthy elite. But come the weekend, Connie becomes Lady Constance, a member of the House Felicitous at the local Renaissance Faire, creating beautiful historical garments for herself and her friends and teaching dancing to fair attendees. Fearing loss of business should her stylish clientèle discover her extracurricular activities, Connie keeps her professional life and her faire life carefully separate. However, everything changes when she's saved from certain death by Sir Justin: a rising star in the joust and an actual knight in shining armour.
Behind his mask as Sir Justin, Dominic is confident and charismatic, but out of his armour, his courage fails him, and to his own horror he finds himself accidentally pretending to be his own best friend. Suddenly, he is in Connie's life as two different men: the elusive Sir Justin who courts her over the internet and from behind a suit of armour and Justin's 'best friend' Dominic who hangs out at her apartment and helps her move. The lie only grows bigger and Sir Justin finds himself faced with the most frightening challenge he can imagine: extricating himself from his lie and winning Connie's heart as his true self.
But there's something rotten afoot at the Faire, something that threatens its future, the community that has grown there, and even Sir Justin's life. Will Lady Constance find the courage to step up and risk everything to defend her friends, save the Faire, and rescue her knight?
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About the Author
Anna Klein grew up on fantastical fairy tales and hasn't yet seen any reason to grow out of playing pretend. She completed a Masters degree in English in horror literature, but now writes about sweet, geeky and slightly awkward people finding love. She loves to escape reality through books, TV, movies and roleplaying games. She believes art is the closest thing to magic in the world.
She's handy with both a sewing machine and a sword, and she lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
Emerging from the bustle of the renaissance faire, Connie Manning, better known within the realm of the faire as Lady Constance, approached the field set up for the afternoon's jousting tournament. It was still quiet; the joust was not due to start for another half an hour and the announcement had not yet been made to the crowds. Some two dozen spectators milled around, all having had the same idea as Connie to arrive early and find a good vantage point from which to watch the tilt.
Connie ambled down the slope in her elaborate outfit, a red velvet Tudor gown with a square neckline, trimmed in decadently woven ribbon, made voluminous by layers upon layers of cotton underskirts. Soft cream linen cascaded for its sleeves, choked and held tightly in place by the scarlet over-sleeves. Even with the soft cotton, the outfit was warm in the afternoon. She gratefully sat down in a shady spot under a tree with a bright green canopy of leaves, lush for the time of spring. She carefully arranged her skirts around her and looked out over the field.
The jousting lists were set up in a dip in the ground, a large flat field surrounded on three sides by steep, grassy verges. It was a naturally occurring bowl that formed an accidental amphitheatre. The lists were prepared for the event: the barriers had been set up, along with the banners of all the competing knights. The spectators were to watch from the three sides of the hill, while at the flat edge there was a raised podium and an ornate pavilion, where the noble peers and dignitaries of Foxingwood Renaissance Faire would sit. Over at the organisational tent, a smaller and more serviceable affair than the nobility's pavilion, she could see the grounds staff of the joust in the midst of busy preparation.
From behind her, Connie heard a voice shout, 'What are you doing? Watch out!' followed by a reverberating crack and an ominous metallic moan. She twisted round, and her initial alarm promptly swelled to all consuming panic as she saw a large horse float tumble over the lip of the grass verge and fall, turning over itself, bouncing down the hillside, gaining terrible momentum, with Connie straight in its path. Connie's brain froze as adrenaline flooded her and time seemed to slow as she tried to scramble to her feet, tripping over her long dress and its petticoats, and losing her balance. She didn't even think to scream. Everything was frozen, except the horse float that was hurtling towards her.
She didn't hear the horrified shouts of the people at the top of the rise. She didn't see the hopeless attempt by two people to try and catch the float. She didn't even hear the thundering of hooves behind her until they were almost on top of her, and she suddenly felt the back of her dress grabbed as she was bodily hauled out of the way, watching dumbly as the horse float tumbled past, and she was not in its path.
Connie found herself gripping the arm that had grabbed her and inelegantly curling up to keep herself from dragging on the ground.
'Whoa, girl, easy, good girl,' the rider said to his horse, bringing the steed to a stop. Connie put her shaking legs on the ground and stood, though she suspected her standing upright had a lot to do with the metal gauntlet hand still hanging onto the back of her dress.
'My god, are you all right?' the rider asked, obviously shaken. 'Do you need an ambulance? Can you stand? Are you hurt?'
Connie looked up. Her rescuer was wearing a knight's full plate armour. His horse was beautiful, and dressed for the joust. The sun beating down on him made him hard to look at. She looked away.
'I'm not hurt,' Connie replied, voice shaking, pausing momentarily to take stock of herself.
'I'm going to let go. Are you going to fall?' Connie shook her head. As the rider removed his support, Connie's legs wobbled and she sat down more suddenly than she would have ordinarily.
The knight expertly slid out of the saddle, keeping a hold of the reins, and lowered himself as much as the armour allowed.
'Can I get you anything?' he asked earnestly.
'I'm all right,' she tried to reassure him, wishing her voice would stop sounding so tremulous. 'You saved my life.'
'I think I might have done. Thank god I decided to take Cleopatra out before the tourney.' With his free hand, he tried to unclasp the visor that covered his face. 'Dammit, it's stuck again,' he muttered, sounding slightly muffled through the visor of his full-face helmet.
They both looked downhill — the empty horse float's rapid descent had come to a stop at the bottom of the hill with an enormous crash, but with no one in the way. Faire officials were running from the far side of the jousting lists to look at the horse float. Another group had run down from the top of the hill. Several of them were shouting and pointing at Connie and her rescuer. The knight waved and flashed them a thumb-up sign to indicate they were all right.
'I probably better go,' he said, jerking his gauntleted fist towards the understandably panicked faire staff. 'They'll need some help sorting this out. Some rank amateur must have been trying to park in the wrong place.'
'Thank you so much,' Connie said, barely taking in what was going on around her. Her heart was still hammering from the fright. 'I looked up, and that thing was falling, and I couldn't even think. I tripped over this bloody dress — too many damn petticoats — my boots caught. I feel like a total twit.'
The knight shook his head, as much as he was able to in the restrictive helmet. 'Don't. You aren't. I don't think that dress was made for making quick escapes from runaway vehicles in, lovely though it is.'
'Seeing as I made it, I can tell you for a fact 'quick escapes' weren't anything I thought about having to do while wearing this dress.'
'You made it? That's awesome — I mean,' he amended, 'my lady is most talented. And I've gone and ripped it like an uncouth knave.'
'You saved my life, sir. I can fix the dress. My pride, however, is pretty badly bruised. Us damsels are expected to be self-rescuing these days.'
A laugh echoed inside the knight's helm. 'Don't feel bad, my lady, we have a yearly quota of damsel saving we must meet, else they revoke our right to ride in the joust, and also our right to say 'forsooth' and 'verily'. In truth, it is you who have helped me.' The humour in his words melted away some of the embarrassment that Connie was feeling.
'I guess you're riding this afternoon?' Connie asked, though from the knight's attire and saddled horse it was obvious. She wondered why she was trying to prolong the conversation. Her stomach fluttered. The last of the adrenaline, she told herself.
'I am indeed,' the knight answered. 'Forgive me, I forgot my manners. I am Sir Justin.'
'I am Lady Constance, of the House Felicitous,' Connie replied. 'You'll have to imagine my curtsy, I don't quite trust my legs yet.'
'Lady Constance. What a lovely name.'
Connie resisted her usual reaction of making a face when someone told her that her long, unwieldy and out-of-date name was lovely.
'Thank you. It takes a long time to embroider, and takes up far too much room on my business cards,' she said. 'Look, I honestly — I mean, verily — I just cannot thank my lord enough for saving my life. I have nothing with which to repay the debt.'
The knight hesitated for a moment. 'Perhaps I could take a small favour to ride with this afternoon? Mayhap the good fortune of our meeting will carry with it and stand me in good stead in the tourney.'
Connie blinked in surprise, then laughed. How wonderfully fitting with the pageantry of the faire! 'I would be delighted to,' she told him. Stooping down, she ripped a length of red velvet off the bottom of her skirt.
'My lady, your dress!' the knight interrupted, startled.
'Worry not, I'm lopping half a foot off the damn hem as soon as I get back to my castle,' Connie told him with a grin. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, she could feel her good humour returning, and she handed the knight a length of red fabric. Sir Justin took it and kissed her hand — or more accurately, held her hand to the visor of his helm. Connie wasn't sure what to say next; surely it was time for the knight to go, yet neither of them seemed to want the conversation to end.
She was saved from having to think of anything when two people came running up the hill.
'The horse float, was anyone hurt?' a young woman with a faire staff badge asked between breaths.
'No, we're both fine. Sir Justin got me out of the way in time.'
'Damn lucky that, ma'am, we are so sorry,' the staff member babbled. The young man with her had been up on the rise with the horse float. He looked deathly pale. Sir Justin helped Connie to her feet.
'Whoever was trying to park that float needs to have their hide tanned,' Sir Justin said tartly to them, before turning to Connie. 'I thank my lady for her favour. Now I best make haste, lest I am disqualified from the tilt for being tardy. I am very glad you are all right.' Sir Justin mounted his horse with a nod to the three of them and rode away.
Connie didn't want to be left with the grovelling faire employee, who seemed worried about being sued, nor the young man who was evidently responsible for almost crushing her. At their insistence, Connie spent fifteen minutes filling in a form, going over the story, pointing out where she'd been sitting, repeating what she'd heard and reassuring the shaking young man that she was all right and there was no lasting harm done.
Finally free to go, Connie had a few minutes to find a spot to watch the jousting from. Securing a considerably less favourable vantage point than she had before, the trumpets rang out in fanfare, indicating the start of the event.
The crowd turned its attention to the announcer who strode out into the lists. Quite a large crowd had gathered; the jousting was traditionally one of the biggest events of the faire.
Nicolo Lorenzo Contarini, the master of ceremonies, lavishly dressed in 15th century Italian renaissance clothes, strode out onto the field and waved enthusiastically at the crowd.
'Welcome! My most honoured lord steward, my lords, my ladies, lads and lasses, knaves, rogues, pirates, beggars and all other manner of citizenry present here in our realm!'
There was thunderous noise in response, whooping, applause, foot stomping and not-so-genteel 'huzzahs' rang out across the field.
'Jousting, the historic sport of kings, is here for your entertainment this afternoon. Real horse flesh, real lances and real people, no trickery,' Maestro Contarini, with his booming voice and knack for endless patter, continued. 'The annual jousting championship has been an annual institution at Foxingwood Renaissance Faire every year since the faire first started ten years ago. We have been graced by the presence of top international jousters, from across the world, even as far away as New Zealand.'
There was a particularly noisy shout from a group in the crowd. Connie surmised they were New Zealanders.
'This is our third contest in this year's championship, and our reigning champion, Sir Tristram, is off to an auspicious start, and is once again in the lead. Behind him, Sir Katrina and Sir Justin are neck on neck for second place, and Sir Gareth is gaining on them steadily.' The Maestro paused for the audience to cheer. 'Now, raise thine voices in support of our illustrious leader, the magnanimous and magnificent, the fearless hand that holds the rudder, Lord Harold, the Steward of Foxingwood!'
Connie applauded dutifully, but without particular vigour, while the Steward took his seat high up in the VIP pavilion, under an awning and at the centre of attention.
'Remember,' the Maestro continued, and Connie snapped back to reality from her mental replays of being rescued by Sir Justin, 'the champion of this year's jousting tourney will not only be crowned the greatest knight in our realm, they will also be crowned — for the first time ever — the King or Queen of Foxingwood Faire, to take a seat at Foxingwood's own ruling round table to do, well, whatever exciting thing that rulers do!'
Oh, get on with the jousting already! Connie thought, shifting from foot to foot.
Her wish was granted, as the Maestro — with great ceremony — called forth the first two riders of the afternoon, Sir Iago and —
'... fighting for second place, in only his third year of jousting, the valiant and glorious, Sir Justin!'
Connie felt a giddy little flutter as the armoured knight in the royal blue surcoat rode out onto the field, and she cheered wildly. As he rode by the appreciative crowd, Connie saw a length of red velvet tied around his upper arm, striking and impossible to miss. The Maestro, gabbling away with his patter, noticed it too.
'... riding his trusty horse, Cleopatra, Sir Justin does indeed look the dashing figure in blue ... why, where did that red ribbon come from? My, my, that can't be part of his outfit. Could it be a token from a lady?'
After a split-second hesitation, Sir Justin inclined his helmeted head. Connie's heart thumped.
'A favour! A favour from a lady for Sir Justin!' The Maestro almost exploded with excitement. The crowd cheered and whooped. Connie was certain she was glowing as red as her dress. 'Will it bring Sir Justin the luck he needs to take second place as his own?'
Sir Justin's performance that afternoon was spectacular. The crowds roared with delight and the Maestro was almost beside himself, but the person most excited at Sir Justin's meteoric success was Connie. Every single pass, he not only landed a touch, but shattered his lance tip into shards, earning full points, while his opponents were lucky to land a touch on his shield. He quickly claimed second place, and began to close in on Sir Tristram's lead.
His bout with Sir Tristram was the only blemish on his performance that afternoon. Connie had gone all but hoarse by the time the reigning champion came out onto the field to meet the unexpected underdog. The crowd stamped and shouted jubilantly. The first two passes resulted in a tie, both of them shattering their lances against each other's shields. For the third pass, Sir Justin's lance tip shattered and Sir Tristram missed.
Because her eyes were fixed unwaveringly on Sir Justin, Connie noticed sooner than the celebrating crowd that the announcer fell silent and Sir Tristram was shouting about something. The field referee was making her way over, unimpeded by her use of a cane.
Known as the Queen of Arms, the referee was Baroness Lysanor, a long-time veteran of the tilting fields. Dressed in a man's doublet and hose, her thick brown hair was heavily streaked with grey and her face was one that had spent a lifetime loving the outdoors. Connie had met her up close once and was surprised to see that the lines around her dark brown eyes were of laughter, not stress. The Queen of Arms was renowned for her sportsmanship and integrity. Confidence rolled off her in waves. Not only was she a woman in an activity primarily conceived to be a man's (history, after all, popularly favoured men as its warriors) but Lysanor clearly admitted no impediment to her achievements. She was the sort of woman that the title 'Queen of Arms' was wrought for.
'There is some dispute,' Maestro Contarini explained as Lysanor reached the knights, falling silent in a transparent attempt to eavesdrop. The crowd quieted down simultaneously, in time to hear the Queen of Arms say, 'You are out of order, the pass went to Sir Justin.'
'Thank you, honoured Queen of Arms, but I am happy to make another pass in the interest of fairness,' Sir Justin was heard replying.
'Sir Tristram has raised a concern about the horses' starting positions for the last spectacular pass. Sir Justin has graciously agreed to re-ride, though the ruling was in his favour. Will he repeat the same resounding success?'
Unfortunately not. This time, Sir Justin's lance glanced off Sir Tristram's shield, and Sir Tristram shattered his tip to claim full points. As they rode off the field, Sir Justin shook gauntleted hands with Sir Tristram in acknowledgement of his success.
Maestro Contarini summed up the day on the field. Sir Justin was only a handful of points behind Sir Tristram.
As the crowds began to disperse, Connie realised her throat was hoarse from her shouting, her underdress was uncomfortably sweaty and that she had never been so jubilant about the jousting. She couldn't stop picturing him riding on that field, with her favour tied firmly to his reins. Distracted, she walked straight past her best friend, Claire Parker, even as she tried to catch Connie's attention.
Excerpted from "The Modern Woman's Guide To Finding A Knight"
Copyright © 2017 Anna Klein.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
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