26 November 2009

Excerpt Thursday: Margaret Mallory

This week on Excerpt Thursday, one of our new contributors, Margaret Mallory, is back with a selection from KNIGHT OF PLEASURE, the second in her "All the King's Men" trilogy from Grand Central. Stop back on Sunday when Margaret will be answering questions and giving away a copy!

THE GREATEST PASSION...

Lady Isobel Hume is an expert swordswoman who knows how to choose her battles. When the king asks her to wed a French nobleman to form a political alliance, she agrees. But that's before the devilishly charming Sir Stephen Carleton captures her heart-and tempts her to betray her betrothed, her king, and her country.

...IS WORTH THE GREATEST PERIL

Sir Stephen Carleton enjoys his many female admirers--until he dedicates himself to winning the lovely Isobel. When a threat against the king leads Isobel into mortal danger, Stephen must prove that he is more than a knight of pleasure...and that love can conquer all.
***

Set-up: Lady Isobel Hume travels to Normandy to make a political marriage with a French nobleman at her king's behest. Shortly after her arrival at Caen Castle, which serves as Henry V's base for his "re-conquest" of Normandy, she meets Sir Stephen Carleton, an English knight.

***

Caen Castle, Normandy
1417

Whish! Whish! Whish!

The sound interrupted Sir Stephen Carleton's thoughts as he passed the storeroom. Drawing his sword, he eased the low wooden door open to take a look.

"Lady Hume!"

She looked as surprised as he was to catch her alone in a storeroom attacking a sack of grain with a sword.

"The poor thing is defenseless," he said, cocking his head toward the sack. Grain was seeping onto the dirt floor from several small tears.

"Close the door!" she hissed. "I cannot be seen here."

And what a sight she was, with her cheeks flushed and strands of dark hair sticking to her face and neck. God preserve him. He stepped inside and firmly closed the door behind him.

"I meant for you to remain outside when you closed it."

Though she took a step back as she spoke, she kept a firm hand on her sword. As she should. Aye, the lady had every reason to feel nervous at finding herself alone with a man in this secluded place.

"That sack cannot provide much of a challenge," he said, trying to put her at ease.

"You make fun of me." There was resentment in her tone, but he was pleased to see her shoulders relax.

"Now, do you want to continue playing at sword fighting?" he asked, deliberately baiting her. "Or do you want to learn how to protect yourself from someone who intends you harm?"

Green eyes sparking with fire, she raised her sword and said, "Teach me."

Oh, what he would love to teach her! God help him, she was breathtaking like this.

"You should carry a short blade, as well," he instructed as he fended off her attack.

"Why? You think you can knock my sword from my hand?"

"I can, but I will not have to. You will drop it."

He forced her to step back, and back, and back again. Once more, and her heel caught on a sack. She threw her hands up, sending the sword clattering against the wall as she tumbled backward.

The next moment, she was lying back on her elbows, her hair loose about her shoulders, skirts askew, chest heaving.

Stephen could not move, could not even breathe.

She looked like a goddess. A wanton Venus, sprawled on the dirt floor at his feet. Then she threw her head back and laughed. Not a light trill, but a full-throated, joyful laugh that made his heart soar.

"I'm afraid you have the advantage of me," she said, her eyes dancing. She reached her hand up for him to help her to her feet.

He took it and sank to his knees beside her.

"Not true, Isobel," he said in a harsh whisper. "'Tis I who am at your mercy."

His eyes fixed on her lips, full and parted. Well beyond thought now, he gave in to the inexorable pull toward them. The moment their lips touched, fire seared through him.

He tried to hang on to the thin thread of caution tugging at his conscience. But she was kissing him back, mouth open, her tongue seeking his. His ears roared as she put her arms around his neck and pulled him down.

He cushioned the back of her head with his hand before it touched the dirt floor. Leaning over her, he gave himself wholly to kissing her. He splayed his hands into her hair and rained kisses along her jaw and down her throat, then returned to her mouth again.

The sweet taste of her, the smell of her filled his senses. He was mindless of anything except her mouth, her face, her hair, his burning need to touch her.

He ran his hand down her side to the swell of her hip. When she moaned, he knew he had to feel her beneath him. Beneath him, pressed against him. Skin to skin.

Slowly, he lowered his body until he felt the soft fullness of her breasts against his chest. Sweet heaven! Oh God, the little sounds she was making. He let himself sink down further and groaned aloud as his swollen shaft pressed against her hip.

There was a reason he must not do what he wanted to do, but he could not recall it. And did not want to try.

The breath went out of him in a whoosh as he cupped the rounded softness of her breast in his hand. It felt so wondrously good he had to squeeze his eyes shut.

He froze the instant he felt the prick of cold steel against his neck.

"You are right," she said so close to his ear that he could feel her breath, "'tis wise to carry a short blade."

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