Authors: Cerise DeLand
A Total-E-Bound Publication
At Her Service
©Copyright Cerise DeLand 2009
Cover Art by April Martinez ©Copyright November 2009
Edited by Michele Paulin
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Total-E-Bound Publishing.
Applications should be addressed in the first instance, in writing, to Total-E-Bound Publishing. Unauthorised or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
The author and illustrator have asserted their respective rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Acts 1988 (as amended) to be identified as the author of this book and illustrator of the artwork.
Published in 2009 by Total-E-Bound Publishing 1 The Corner,
, Spridlington, Market Rasen,
This book contains sexually explicit content which is only suitable for mature readers. This story has been rated
Swords of Passion
AT HER SERVICE
For Desiree Holt, my friend and mentor, thank you.
The smoke from the tapers made her guests’ eyes water, and though she brushed a finger under her lashes to rid herself of one tear, Elise Dumond could still see Simon de la Poer at the back of the great hall. God preserve her, she would see him if her eyes were closed. If she were blind. Indeed, if she were dead, she would see him in hell. And, oh, would it not be sweet succour to die and know she would remain in his company forever and end this torture of being parted from him for all these endless years?
She fiddled with the stem of her goblet and drank back more red wine. Then drank again, unnerved by the sight of the man who had taken her in his arms as a youth and put his firm, hot lips to her own with sweet promises of a lifetime of love.
Who had he delighted like that these past twelve years?
Ha! She took another draught.
Who had he
ravished in his bed? In Londontown, the fabled knight Simon de la Poer was reputed to have bedded any woman of noble birth desirous of spreading her legs for him and paying him her weight in gold to compensate him for his services. Elise caught back a sob of jealousy for all those women he’d touched, for all those he had kissed and to whom he’d whispered pretty words of devotion as once he had to her.
She put forth her cup for the maid to refill. The girl scurried over, understanding her mistress was in the mood to drink.
Drink myself to distraction. Drink myself to oblivion.
Unbidden, her eyes drifted towards the back of the hall, past the tiny man and the tall, dark Oriental who were Simon’s odd companions. Her gaze locked on the man she wished she did not see.
Christ in His Glory, this man was unmistakably the warrior they called Knight Divine. Simon de la Poer, who had earned his moniker attacking the Infidel in
with his lord King Richard of
, possessed all the imposing aspects of a man with whom any woman would desire a night in heaven. He had matured to a massive build. Tall as the sconces, broad in the chest as two men, muscular in his black velvet tunic, his grey hose hugging his bulging calves, he seemed Herculean.
She wished she could tear herself away from eating him up with her eyes. Wished she could ignore his quicksilver stare that met her own. Wished she could refuse her husband’s order to offer up her immortal soul to keep what was hers here on earth. Yet she had no choice but to obey her husband and strip herself bare then lie down with her noble lord in their marriage bed tonight—and invite Simon de la Poer to join them.
Her future depended on her cooperation. Her ability to continue to live here until she died, in the grand keep with retainers and serfs to do her bidding, required it. Aye, she had ranted and raved against her husband and his plan these past two months. Still, Alphonse, earl of this estate and master at Atherton, brooked none of her objections. He had written to
, summoned Simon here to the wild, frozen north-western climes. And now tonight, she faced climbing into bed with her husband of twelve years, a randy but dying man, then giving herself to the famed knight, who once was her childhood friend fostered in her father’s castle.
For temporal gain, she would now relinquish her integrity. And her marital devotion.
“And to gain my blessing!” Alphonse had yelled at her more than once. “Do so while I still draw breath. Get yourself with child before I go to dust and can do naught for your protection.”
“To save your name and lineage,” she had shot back at him. “Vanity!”
“Nay, necessity, and well you know it,” he had sputtered then and given way to one of his coughing fits. “Once I am in the vault, buzzards will come to feast on the bounty of Atherton. I will not have you fight a battle against the ravening
“A baby cannot fight for me, my lord.”
“But King John will.”
She had scoffed at that, as well. Their royal monarch’s greed and mismanagement of state affairs made him more ravenous for land and coin than inclined to keep his royal word.
But neither John Plantagenet nor the voracious Crosbys hold sway tonight. My fate is sealed here and now.
Best to get to it.
She rose with a start. Her huge wooden chair clattered backward to the floorboards of the dais.
“My lady!” Her husband’s owl-like steward lifted his bald head to scowl at her. “What will you?”
“I will retire, Cleve,” she told the retainer whom she least trusted in her household. Cleve Faulk had advanced from serf to chief steward in the past decade, and she suspected he had his meaty hand in her larder as well as her husband’s coffers. God knew, Cleve Faulk wanted to put his hand on her, too. And she shuddered at the thought.
“You have not eaten, milady,” the gluttonous man objected, grease of the roast boar coating his fleshy lips.
“Give it to others here, Faulk. We must not allow any to waste.”
“Thank you, I will,” he replied with a greedy smile, reaching for her trencher. She hurried from the main hall, gliding past the kitchen serfs, lifting her skirts to climb her bower stairs where, in a cosy alcove adjoining her husband’s bedroom, she had slept for two years now, gratefully and blissfully alone.
Circling up, up, up the winding tower that was the back entrance to their private rooms, she heard no one behind her. She breathed deeply in relief for that. Simon would not dare to come to them in full view of Alphonse’s retainers and servants. Simon might be under her husband’s thrall, but he would not leave the hall after her and, thus, make the servants aware of what his mission was.
She pushed open her husband’s bedroom door. It creaked, an eerie sound that sent shivers up her spine. But the warmth of the hearth fire, always blazing in the winter’s snow, rushed out to bathe her face and welcome her inside.
“Close the door, Elise.”
At the distinctive husky tone she could still identify after all these lonely years, she paused with one foot upon the threshold. She watched in amazement as Simon unfolded himself from the chair nearest the door and stood to his ungodly height. Anger flooded her at Simon’s impertinence of speaking to her before her husband bid her enter. Her gaze shot to Alphonse who lay beneath a pile of woollens and silks, snoring, his thin face grey, his mouth lax, his once manly frame reduced to a skinny child’s.
Simon took a step forward and extended his hand to the chair opposite his. “Come.” His rough bass voice flowed across the expanse of the chamber like thick molasses over her senses, her body warming to his sensuous tone. Simon’s merest words could entangle and enslave her.
Against his allure , she braced her spine. “How did you get in?”
Mere feet away, she noted how his silver eyes shown like the hard coin he would take for his service to her. “Your husband gave the order to his steward.”
Cleve knows about this pact?
“He should have told me, asked me,” she objected without regard to wake her husband, clenching her fists in fear at Cleve’s knowledge. Her voice bore her outrage that she could not countermand the great earl of Atherton, even as he lay dying in his bed.
Simon strolled forward, his head high, his expression earnest and pleading. Beneath his breath, he spoke to her alone. “The steward put me in the room below.” He nodded towards her alcove and the private winding stairs down to his tiny room. “We must talk.”
“No.” What good was talk? She was chained to Alphonse’s bargain and bound up in a torment wanting Simon de la Poer but knowing she should not have him. Yet she would take him to her to please Alphonse. Aye, and in the taking, she would also surely please herself. She snorted, stepped fully into the cosy apartment and shut the door to the world below.
“You need to know—”
“I want to know nothing.”
“That,” he whispered as he stepped close to her and threaded his long, supple fingers under her wimple up into the coil of her hair, “is a lie.”
She flinched backwards, wrenching to escape his reach. “You must do as I say. Agree or this will not happen at all.”
He clamped her flush to his loins. His dark features went so hard, she almost wondered if a mason had chiselled them to stone. This close, she saw how the years had matured him from a tall, reedy lad with sculpted cheeks and brows to this brute who stood before her. Square faced, high cheeked, broad in the brow and wide of eye, now he was a black-haired warlord, a warlock, a satyr and legend from the deep end of hell. No longer was he a boy to laugh with and love with. Now he was a giant of unbearable male beauty. And her loins flooded with such wet desire for him that she braced herself with hands to his rock-hard chest.
He clamped her to him so tightly that his fiery body burnt her flesh and enflamed her to ripe longing. “What would you have of me?”
Your manhood. All of you. Inside me.
Groaning at her rebellious body’s desires, she pushed at him to no avail. “Only I give the orders here.”
Slowly, he nodded.
“But I will countermand you, lady mine,” came a rasping baritone from the bed.
She spun towards her husband.
“I am the master on this night,” declared Alphonse. “For you both.”
She swallowed back her trepidation. Worse, she froze with expectation. To have Simon, his body and his passion, once and for all time, had been her fantasy for years. Long years of marriage to a man who was moderate in his marital demands had been comfortable but somehow lacking a glory her mother said might be. True, Alphonse was a rich man whom many women—and yea, most wives—would give their teeth to call their own. She had honoured him, loved him, kept only unto him. And now, at his order, she would take unto herself this other man. This one man whom she had craved in her bed, in her arms and in her life since she’d been a girl.
“Come stand here between us, wife.” Alphonse beckoned her with a bony finger. “Stand here in the centre of the room. Good girl.“ He licked his cracked lips. “Give me my cup for another bit of wine.” She did and he drank, droplets dribbling to his thin chest. “Now,” he grinned salaciously, “remove your veils.”
She opened her mouth to object but snapped it shut at once. To delay was useless. And in compliance—and without a glance at Simon, she reached for her combs to pluck them out. In defiance, she dropped them to the floor with a clatter. Lifting her headdress, she released it too and swirled her wealth of hair about her shoulders. Alphonse smiled to soothe her. But she heard Simon de la Poer suck in his breath at the sight of the hair he had often brushed against his lips and praised for its golden purity.
She caught back a cry. Such tender reminiscences held no place in this scene here tonight. She turned her back on the memory and on Simon. “Unlace my girdle.”
His footfalls sounded on the stones as he advanced on her. His body heat engulfed her. His fingers picked at her laces, swift and sure, but she felt how his fingers trembled and fumbled with the thin threads. Still, he did his work quickly, and she felt the thick wool leave her as he lifted it away from her stomach.
“Your gown, my love,” Alphonse ordered, his rheumy eyes a mix of pride and lewd desire. “Quickly.”
Aye, the best way.
She whirled about, her movement sending Simon’s eyes wide, his hands out but yet not quite touching her. Inside, she smiled. And with two crossed arms, she grasped handfuls of her gown and dragged it over her head. Before Alphonse could venture another order—and before she lost her courage—she grabbed her thin tunic and whisked the linen over her head. Save for her sandals, she stood before Simon naked.
His expression melted as his brilliant silver eyes fell down her form. “Elise—” He swallowed so hard she heard him then he reached out for her.
“Nay.” She side-stepped his grasp. “Alphonse?” She sought her husband’s help. What should she do when the only act she craved was Simon’s hungry eyes upon her?
“Come to me, Elise.” Alphonse beckoned with a shaking hand.
Eager to take it, she stepped forward to him.
His brown gaze, red, watery but warm, approved. “Turn around and let Simon admire your charms, my sweet.”
She gulped. But she obeyed.
Simon’s eyes locked on hers, searching for her feelings, which she kept from him with a stony glare.
Her husband’s hand crept round her waist and hooked on her hip bone. “Lovely, is she not, de la Poer?” Alphonse’s fingers stroked her belly. “The gold hair. The sky-blue eyes. The lush mouth. The long column of her throat. The skin here under her navel where pleasure is born for man and his wife, ah, here, I tell you, the skin is soft as a peach.”
Simon flexed the muscles of his cheek, the glitter of his eyes unmoving from hers.
Alphonse’s hand trailed upward to cup one of her breasts. “These apples are full and ripe. They have grown much bigger, double mayhaps, as our girl grew to a woman. The large nipples,” he found an areola and pinched it between thumb and forefinger so that she winced and her cunt watered at the compliment, “are soft as down and when you take them in your mouth, she yearns to have you roll them with your tongue.”