03 May 2012

Excerpt Thursday: The Burning Candle by Lisa J. Yarde

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming historical fiction author, Lisa J. Yarde. Her upcoming title, THE BURNING CANDLEwill be available next month exclusively on Kindle. Join us Sunday, when Lisa will be here to talk about the novel and offer a copy in the winner's preferred format. Here's the blurb:

Love is for women who have choices. She has none. 

In eleventh-century France on the eve of the First Crusade, Isabel de Vermandois becomes the wife of a man old enough to be her father. He is Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan. A hero of the Norman victory at Hastings and loyal counselor to successive English kings, Robert is not all Isabel had expected. Cruel and kind by contrast, he draws her into the decadent court of King Henry I. As Robert's secrets are unraveled, Isabel finds her heart divided. Her duties as a wife and mother compel her, but an undeniable attraction to the young William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, tempts her. In a kingdom where love holds no sway over marital relations, Isabel must choose where her loyalties and her heart lie.

Based on the life of a remarkable medieval woman forgotten by time, The Burning Candle is a story of duty and honor, love and betrayal. 

**An Excerpt from The Burning Candle**

Isabel donned a fur-lined mantle and escaped via the stairs above an enclosed garden at Winchester. She trod a slow, gloomy descent and halted in mid-step at the second landing. William came up the same steps in lengthy strides. His stare widened, as hers must have done.
An indigo-colored mantle draped across his shoulders and trailed to his feet. Dark hair fell over his black brows and a thick moustache almost obscured his lips. Yet, she would have recognized him anywhere by the wild staccato flutters within her heart.
She drew in a deep breath and stifled her inner response. “Milord.”
“You do not partake at dinner. Why?”
His brazenness had always shocked her. After long months since his departure, he did not offer a word in greeting, only impertinent questions. Despite his betrayal of Amieria, she must remain civil with him for her friend’s sake.
He closed the distance between them, until he occupied the step just below hers. “Are you ill? Your cheeks are pale.”
When he raised his hand to her face, she brushed his cool fingers aside. “Do not touch me. My health is not your concern.”
“As usual, the sight of me gives you no pleasure,” he mused with a sardonic smile.
“Why should it? Do you believe I have languished here awaiting you? You mistake me for your betrothed. Have you given one thought to her in these long months?”
“She sent word to me of her departure to Kent. When the King comes again, she shall join me.”
“Then by the Grace of God, I pray that may be soon, so you may marry her and depart.”
“Is it your heart’s desire, to be so far from me?”
“You are betrothed!” She could have stomped her foot in frustration, if fear of the slick stairs had not impeded her.
Odious man! If Amieria cannot see his true nature, how little he cares for her, then she is a fool and welcome to him.
William grasped her hand. “I have not forgotten. You must know my heart. I have never lied to you before and cannot do so now, even if it pains you. I do not love Amieria. I love you, Isabel.”
Her heart pitched. Aghast, she would have struck him, but his hold tightened.
“Let me go, milord.”
“William. You never say my Christian name.”
“It suggests familiarity between us when there is none. Release me, now.”
“If only you might do the same for me.” A wistful sigh escaped him. “You have claimed me.”
“I do not want you! You forget yourself and who I am.”
“I cannot forget you are the Comtesse de Meulan, wife to Robert. I bring word of your husband even now.”
Despite the bruising pressure of his fingers, her struggles ceased. “What news?” A harsh breath escaped her. “Speak! Has something happened to him?”
“Your cousin, King Louis of France, has pillaged the Comte de Meulan’s border estates.”
She covered her mouth for a moment. “He has not dared! Why has Louis moved against Robert?”
“The French King has no claim against your husband. Rather, King Henry has drawn Louis’ ire by refusal of the usual demands for homage and castles. The King of France strikes out at your husband because Robert is Henry’s chief counselor and Robert’s lands are within your royal cousin’s domain.”
“How have you received word of these attacks?”
“Before I crossed the Channel, I was with the King and your husband.”
“What does my husband intend? Robert cannot mean to avenge himself against Louis.”
“Would you have Louis pillage and destroy your husband’s demesne while he does nothing?”
She glared at him. “Robert is not the man he might have been in his youth. I would not see him injured or meet his death in a battle against France.”
William shook his head. “He’ll do as he must. If Henry would have returned the castles along the Epte and done homage, Louis would not have struck out at Robert.”
“You blame our King for these troubles, yet you hold no sympathy for the danger my husband faces. Are you so oblivious?”
“I do not doubt the courage of a hero of Senlac. My father raised me on tales of the bravery of the Conqueror’s companions. Your husband has no need for my pity. He shall avenge himself on Louis, despite what you may believe of diminished capacity in his advanced years.”
“You admire Robert,” she whispered, almost in awe of the realization.
“How could I not?” William’s dark gaze melded with hers. “His fortunes have advanced. His wealth rivals my own. I admire and hate him, for he possesses the only thing I now covet. Your loyal heart.”
She broke their mutual stares, her hand pressing on the wall. He raised the other he held and pressed her fingers to his cheek. Rough stubble chafed at her palm.
“You go too far, milord.”
He raked her hand across his face to the corner of his mouth. His warm breath against her palm, he nuzzled the center of her hand.
“I have struggled against this.” His voice did not rise above a murmur. “If you only knew how I have fought sinful thoughts of you. For years, I believed it only a lustful envy of the Comte de Meulan, jealousy of his claim upon a fair wife in his bed. I deceived myself. I have had women as fair as you are. Yet, none has ever rivaled your hold upon me. In every instance of our encounters, my feelings only grew.”
“What of your betrothed and the regard you should have for her?”
“In time, I am certain she shall endear herself to me. I have admired her beauty and her sweetness of spirit, while desiring the match only because she is Henry’s daughter. I have never loved her. I do not know if it is possible. All I know is you.”
She glanced at him, wordless. He stepped closer until little space remained to draw breath between them.
“My dear, sweet Isabel, you are the only woman I have ever loved. I shall worship you until I draw my last breath.”
Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. “Amieria does not deserve your faithlessness.”
He nodded. “None of us deserves this folly. Your friend is doomed to a mockery of a marriage, while I must forever mourn your absence from my arms. You hate me, but my betrothed is your dearest companion. Would that God could look down and release us from this misery.”