I thought I’d add an excerpt from my new novel. I hope you enjoy.
Gwynneth heard them coming and stopped to listen, at first cocking her head and frowning, then smiling at the unmistakable sound of disgruntlement in Richard’s voice.
“Gwynneth,” Richard repeated for what seemed to him the ten hundredth time, he walking on foot as Alden and Geoffrey trailed behind with the horses. “I’m sorry for what I said. I’ll not put you away. Please come out and let me take you home. Gwynneth, I’m sorry…” He said it over and over, repeating what Alden had said he should say, but feeling very foolish.
It was after Alden explained why Gwynneth had reacted as she had about being put to convent that Richard reluctantly agreed to speak aloud to the wood. As Alden told the story, she’d been sent to convent as a child, but promptly ran away. It had taken over ten days for her to make her way home, during which time everyone was convinced she’d never be seen again, either having been devoured by the wild beasts of the forest, or taken and sold. She’d been given a beating upon her arrival home, but stubbornly insisted she’d do it again if forced to return to the confining convent. Gwynneth was assured she’d be returned the next day. When all awakened the next morning, she was gone.
“That’s when you found her,” Alden said.
“I found her?” Richard queried.
Alden nodded. “She’d been hiding in a tree, but fell and broke her arm. You found her and brought her home to Mother at Aven.”
He screwed up his face in thought. “That scrawny thing was Gwynneth?”
“Yea. She recalls quite clearly how you rescued her. How you teased she must be the clumsiest wood nymph in the wood.”
Wood nymph? Richard frowned.
“Was she ever sent back to convent?” Geoffrey asked.
Alden shook his head.
“Why’d she run from convent?” Richard asked.
“She fears being confined. When she said she’d die if you put her away, she spoke true.”
Richard had grunted and agreed to Alden’s way. But was greatly relieved his men weren’t there to hear him speaking, nay, pleading aloud to the trees. He jumped when he felt a small hand settle on his arm, and uttered an oath. He turned to face her. “You,” he began darkly.
“You won’t put me away?” she asked softly.
Seeing her fair countenance marred by one eye swollen shut, Richard softly growled. He’d killed the baseborn dog too quickly. Should have made him suffer more, suffer mightily, should have made him plead for a swift death. Next time, he promised himself.
Now he had Gwynneth to contend with, to ease her fears and strange notions. At the sight of her face open and trusting, his angry words fled, although irritation remained. “Nay, Gwynneth.”
She stared, waiting expectantly.
He rolled his eyes at her loud silence. “Know this, I shall never put you away. This I vow,” he declared loudly.
“Or leave me at another holding?”
He muttered at such doubt. “Nay, you won’t be left behind.”
She nodded. “You don’t want me.” Her tone of voice remained neutral.
He growled, anxious to return, although he knew she was waiting for some assurance concerning her future. “I don’t like being forced to do things. And I don’t like your father! Miserable bastard,” he muttered as he looked away.
“I can understand that,” she said softly. “I never set out to deceive you.”
“I know.” He reached for her arm. “Come.”
She pulled away from his hand. “I feared what my father would do if he knew I had met with you. He never would have understood it was by chance we met. Well, the first time. I didn’t mean to deceive you.”
“I understand,” he gritted. “We return now.”
She stepped back. “You said you’d never forget what I did.”
“God’s death, woman!”
Alden and Geoffrey moved a little closer.
She stared up at him, waiting.
“What? Jesu, I said I wouldn’t put you away! What? What more do you want?”
“You only marry me because my father—”
“You and I marry, Gwynneth,” he broke in impatiently. “‘Tis not what we want, but we cannot always have what we want, can we?”
She shook her head and frowned.He growled softly, seeing her apprehension. “‘Twas you put us in this mess! What’d you think would happen when that—when your father learned what had happened? Hmmm?”
She pulled herself up straighter, and looked him square in the eye. “‘Twas you that brought me to Erlestoke. I told you take me home!”
He snorted. “But you didn’t say why, did you? Didn’t say aught about why itwould be in my best interest to take you home, now did you? Hmmm?”
“Nay.” She looked down at the ground. “The words never came out. I know it sounds a paltry excuse, but my throat seized whene’er I tried voicing my name or identity.”
He wasn’t pleased at the sight of her woeful expression, and his frown increased at the remembrance of her words spoken earlier.
“I don’t kill my wives,” he said darkly. “They die on me. ‘Tis naught I do, just their bad luck.”
She pulled her mantle a little tighter, and again faced him. “I never believed you capable of murdering a wife for gain.”
His eyes narrowed. Gain? Where’d she hear that? “Then why shout it as you ran from me?”
“I didn’t,” she retorted indignantly. With a brief look at the wood, she turned her eyes back to Richard. “If, as you say, ‘twas naught you did, just their bad luck, then if I become your wife, then mayhap my luck will change. I don’t want to die; all your wives die.”
He shook his head at her stubbornness. “You won’t die, Gwynneth. You’re young, strong, healthy; you won’t die.” His thoughts went back again to Renard’s words. “She comes from good stock, FitzHugh. Her mother, the best of women, a great lady, bore me one jewel of a daughter and five healthy sons; all still alive and well,” he’d gloated. “Gwynneth is small, but she favors her mother, the Lady Cinnia. She’ll beget you a dynasty, FitzHugh…if you can keep her.”
Her face clouded at his impatient tone of voice. “How can you be sure?”
Because your bastard father will decorate the trees with my entrails should aught happen to you. “I won’t let you die.” She looked unconvinced by his declaration. “Your father will be angry with you if you don’t come back with me—” slyly he ached a brow—”if you don’t marry me.”
She looked again toward the wood. “You come after me only because you fear my father’s wrath; but so did I.”
“Though true, ‘tis neither here nor there; we wed.” He knew there must be kinder words to say they had no choice in the matter, but he wasn’t of a mind to search for them now. “Know you how long it would take you to walk to Penclyst?”
She shrugged in reply and looked down at the ground.
“Have food with you?” he asked roughly.
She shook her head.
His frown deepened. “Aren’t you hungry? Maudie said you refused food all day.”
“I had no appetite.”
His hands went to his hips. He could put a stop to this by grabbing her and forcing her to return, but realized it would be a temporary solution, for he’d no doubt she’d try this again. “‘Tis dangerous to sleep alone in the wood. Wolves, boars, bears—”
“I would sleep in a tree.”
“Fall and break your arm again?”
She looked up quickly.
He saw her worried expression disappear, the near smile. He spoke in a gentler tone. “I want you to come back with me.”
With a sad sigh, she looked back down at the ground.
He gritted his teeth and forced himself to patience. “I don’t want to have to force you to come back with me. Should I have to force you, I shall have to beat you, you know.” There. That’s a threat she understands.
She snapped her head up and her gaze searched his face.
Now that she recognized he wasn’t a man to be taken lightly, he silently congratulated himself. “When we return you may do whatever you like to the hall so it suits you. It does stink.”
Gwynneth was amazed to hear such words come from him, and felt a surge of pleasure he’d allow her such freedom. “I may?”
“Yea. Should be pleasant for our wedding.”
She searched his face carefully, but saw no part of his smile touch his eyes.
“I have spoken to Sheila,” he informed her. “She’s the one who… You’ll have no cause for complaint from her,” he assured her, his tone of voice hinting at dire, unpleasant consequences should Sheila ever cause Gwynneth to voice a complaint.
Her eye opened wide. Was that what she’d seen?
He took her meat knife and dagger from his belt, and held them before her. When she reached for them, he pulled back. “I trust you,” he cautioned.
She smiled. Foolish man! Did he think she would ever use her dagger on him?
He glowered at her. “I warn you, should you ever brandish this before me, I shall have to beat you.”
“Never,” she promised softly.
“And no more tears. I hate tears. Should I see tears, I shall beat you. You understand?”
“Yea,” she replied softly. “Is there aught else I needs do to avoid a beating?” She bit her lip closed at his look of shock.
He cleared his throat. “Yea.” He cleared his throat once again. “Yea. As my wife, I’ll not tolerate mindless chatter from you, nor angry silences, nor witless complaints.” He glared at her, as if daring her to whimper up a complaint, grunting when she remained silent.
“Now Gwynneth, you cannot be running off every time I raise my voice to you.”
Raise his voice? He’d threatened to put me away! She arched her brows and opened her mouth to protest.
“Gwynneth,” he continued quickly, “I say things when I am angry. Things I don’t mean to say. It…” He stopped and shrugged.
It wasn’t an apology, but she was sure it was as close to one as she’d ever get from him. It satisfied her. She nodded, and then rested her hand on his arm.
He acknowledged her silent acquiescence with a grunt. “No running away again,” he warned darkly. “Know I would quickly find you, and then have to beat you. ‘Tis best you understand I’m not a man who abides women running away from him.”
She nodded meekly, and looked down as she bit her bottom lip to keep it closed. Although she dearly wanted to inquire how many women in his life had felt the need to run away from him, she didn’t think that now was the time to task him with such a question.
He might threaten to beat her. It took all her willpower to keep from laughing aloud.
Alden stood silent at a distance.Geoffrey’s eyes looked from Alden to Richard and back again. He knew protecting his lord was now going to be immensely more difficult, and all because of Lady Gwynneth.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt.