FEARLESS IN BATTLE***
His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.
TENDER IN BED
Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she's keeping secrets and dares not give him her heart. As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives.
Set-up: Five years before the story begins, William is delivering a message at a castle near the Welsh border when he surprises a young lady as she is sneaking out for a midnight ride on the eve of her wedding. When she refuses to abandon her plan, he accompanies her to ensure her safety.
"Tomorrow I am to be married."
The surge of disappointment in Williams' chest caught him by surprise. Although he was told the castle was crowded because of a wedding, it had not occurred to him that this achingly lovely girl could be the bride.
"I do not expect this will be a happy marriage for me," she said, lifting her chin. "But tomorrow I will do what my father and my king require of me and wed this man. From that time forward, I will have to do as my husband bids and submit to him in all things."
William, of course, thought of the man taking her to bed and wondered if she truly understood all that her words implied...
"Lady, I would save you from this marriage if I knew how."
He spoke in a rush, not expecting to say the foolish words that were in his heart. He was as good as any man with a sword, but he had no weapon to wield in this fight. Someday, he would be a man to be reckoned with, but as a landless knight, he could only put her at risk by interfering with the king's plans...
Impulsively, he reached out to trace the outline of her cheek. Before he knew what he was doing, he had her face cupped in his hands.
Very softly, he brushed his lips against hers. At the first touch, a shot of lust ran through him, hitting him so hard he felt light-headed and weak in the knees. He pressed his mouth hard against hers. Dimly, through his raging desire, he was aware of the innocence of her kiss. He willed himself to keep his hands where they were and not give in to the overpowering urge to reach for her body.
He broke the kiss and pulled her into his arms. Closing his eyes, he held her to him and waited for the thundering of his heart to subside. God have mercy! What happened to him? This girl, who trusted him blindly, had no notion of the danger.
Swallowing hard, he released her from his embrace. He could think of no words, could not speak at all. With deliberate care, he pulled her hood up and tucked her long hair inside it. Then he let his arms fall to his sides like heavy weights.
"I did not want his to be my first kiss," she said, as though she needed to explain why she had permitted it.
She took a quick step forward and, rising on her tiptoes, lightly touched her lips to his. In another moment, she was running across the yard, clutching her cloak about her.
For many years, William dreamed of that night. In his dreams, though, he held her in his arms by the river in the moonlight. In his dreams, he kissed the worry and fear from her face. In his dreams, he rescued her from her unhappy fate.
In his dreams, she was his.