25 August 2011

Excerpt Thursday: Lindsay Townsend

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming historical romance author and regular contributor, Lindsay Townsend, as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, TO TOUCH THE KNIGHT, from Kensington Zebra. Join us on Sunday, when Lindsay will be here to talk about the novel and give away a copy! Here's the blurb:

As a pestilence sweeps medieval England, a low-born woman has only the sharpness of her wits—and the courage of her heart…

Edith of Warren Hemlet plays a dangerous game. At the knights’ tourneys across the land, among the lords and ladies, she is a strange foreign princess. But in the privacy of her tent with the other survivors of her village, she is but a smith’s widow with a silver tongue. They are well-fed, but if discovered, the punishment is death. And one knight—fierce, arrogant, and perilously appealing—is becoming far too attentive…

Sir Ranulf of Fredenwyke cares little for tourneys: playing for ladies’ favors, when his own lady is dead; feasting, while commoners starve; “friendly” combat, when he has seen real war. Still, one lady captivates him—mysterious in her veils and silks, intoxicating with her exotic scents and bold glances. Yet something in her eyes reminds him of home…and draws him irresistibly to learn her secrets…

***An Excerpt from To Touch the Knight***

In this excerpt, Edith the heroine and Ranulf the hero are intrigued by each other can cannot resist tormenting and 'testing' each other. The novel takes place just after the first outbreak of the Black Death, against the glittering backdrop of the world of the tournament.

The following day, the theme of the tournament had changed. Damsels were to wear white and the knights black. Sir Tancred had hurried to her tent before dawn, noisy as a blackbird with the news.

"It is to be a procession of Day and Night, the ladies the day..."

And one has his black armor already, for night.

"...We are to ride in company to the wayside spring of a saint, Saint Loye or Saint Frideswide, I forget which, and the damsels will dip their favors in the sacred waters."

Edith quelled a churning rush of panic: she could not ride, not as a lady would. "May I ride with you, Sir Tancred?"

"Princess! It will be an honor!" His face shone in anticipation. "It will be splendid!"

Edith smiled and agreed that it was indeed splendid, while she uttered her genuine thanks and wondered if they would pass any villages. If they did, would the people there be hale and fed? Her eyes strayed through the open tent flap to the present combat field and that host of tall grass and growing wheat. It was surely wrong to allow that to rot, when there were men enough to harvest, at least the hay. The wheat would not be ready yet.

Concern for the crops? But you have left that life behind.

"Peace, my brother," Edith thought in answer in her head, but the waste irked her.

"Do the damsels set tasks for the knights today?" she asked Sir Tancred. This had been a feature of Lady Blanche's tournament so far and she was eager to give Ranulf of Fredenwyke a very particular task, one he would no doubt refuse. She still ached to see his expression when she proposed it.

"That is for tomorrow, after a morning game of hoodman blind."

"I see." Edith itched to say that in her village, a game where one person's hood was turned so that the 'face' of the hood was to the back of the head and the person, blind-folded, was urged to give chase, was considered fit for children. She recalled that as a princess of Cathay she should not know it. "What is hoodman blind, Sir Tancred?"

Her thoughts drifted as her companion eagerly explained. She would not be taking part in hoodman blind: if caught she would be too easily recognized, or worse, unveiled.

I do not miss a child's game, she told herself, wondering even so how it would be to be caught by the black knight himself. He would be gentle, skimming his long fingers lightly across her shoulders, and then her face. When he knew her - as he must at once when he felt the veil - would he wind an arm about her bare middle and scoop her closer to him? Would he thrust her away? Or would he kiss her?

Edith felt her breath stop and her fingers tremble. Such thoughts were idle folly and she was startled by her own soft-heartedness. It must be lust. You have been too long without a mate. Consider your own pale costume: you must be the most splendid and shocking of the damsels.

Ranulf spurred his black palfrey to ride alongside Sir Tancred and his pillion, smirking as the princess unpinned yet another scrap from her costume to hand across to another ever-gracious knight.

"Well met, Sir Dew, Lady Jade," he said, noting the shield of the latest who had received the saucy wench's favor: this time a blue heron on a gold background. So far he had counted five favors granted and five warriors he would fight: he meant to best them all and take nothing from them but those irritating bits of silk. Then we shall see if men are quite so eager to ask for them, eh?

"We are night and day today." Sir Tancred shook his own black cloak and jutted his beard. "You will fight in your own armor?"

"I do. My squire and my page await me at the tourney ground, when we return from the sacred spring." Ranulf watched the small, pale figure riding behind Sir Tancred as he said "page," but the hardened princess did not flinch. "Lady Day." He stood on his stirrups and bowed, hearing the larks in the fields close by and the heady buzz of the damsels' chatter.

"Lord Night."

She stared off into the distance, so far as he could tell. He guided his palfrey closer still, catching a whiff of her perfume.

Her costume, the lack of it, was astonishing. Her head and hair were covered and veiled but as for the rest of her...

He whistled softly, turning the sound quickly into a tune so she would not realize he was disconcerted and yes, frankly impressed.

Truly she was as opulent, as translucent, as fragrant as a lily. Today he and others could see her long, shapely legs, glimpsed through a series of light-as-air skirts that seemed both white and colorless. He had been ready for her naked waist and belly but the tiny, tight-fitting sleeveless jerkin clung to her breasts like moon-light. He found himself imagining if her nipples were pink or dark and cursed himself for being so easily ensnared.

Her feet, brushing Sir Tancred's meaty calves, were narrow, high-arched, and bare.

He decided it was safe and indeed very pleasing to stare at her dainty little feet. "You do not feel the cold, Lady Day? I have heard the land of Cathay is far warmer than England; some would say as hot as hell."

Sir Tancred snorted and his horse danced beneath the pair as he must have tightened his grip on the bridle, but "Lady Day" sighed like a moth moving round a candle and finally fixed her bright eyes on him.

“I never feel the cold, Lord Night. What do you call those blue flowers in the road?”

“Speedwell, my lady,” several young squires replied, all at once, but Ranulf smiled at her obvious ploy. He decided to test her some more.

"I was at a joust once where the ladies gave so much of their sleeves and veils, chemises and mantles, to their jousting knights that they were all but naked by the end of the tournament."

"Strange, Lord Night. I was told that such a fable was from the romance of Perceforest." She smiled, or at least above the white veil pinned across the lower half of her face her eyes crinkled.

"I have heard the romance, too, but this time I saw it," Ranulf went on, determined to have his point. "But you, I note, are already in that state. What will you do, if a knight at the lists asks you for a favor?"

"Are you asking me, Lord Night?"

He admired her courage in tilting straight at the heart of the matter. For that reason he chose not to shame her. "Indeed I am, my lady."

Her dark brows drew close in a frown: clearly she had not expected that answer.

"Nay, I see you puzzled, but do not trouble so, princess. I will find a way. I do not think you can lose any more cloth." He grinned and spurred on, cantering to greet Lady Blanche and Giles, who were already kneeling at the spring.

Lindsay Townsend

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