Authors: Jenna Jaxon
After a night of passion with her betrothed, Sir Geoffrey Longford, Lady Alyse de Courcy is eagerly looking forward to her wedding. But when Geoffrey is forced to marry another, a heartbroken and possibly pregnant Alyse finds herself in her own private hell. She must either gamble with her reputation or marry someone she does not love.
A reputed connoisseur of women, Thomas, Lord Braeton, has dallied with many ladies of King Edward’s court, although he has favored none. However, as Geoffrey’s best friend, Thomas has sworn to serve and protect Alyse, an oath now sorely tested when he agrees to marry her—in name only—to guard her reputation. Yet, as they grow closer, and Thomas discovers Alyse’s sweet but spirited nature, he comes to desire a marriage in truth.
Can he overcome her memory of Geoffrey
, or is Thomas doomed to burn with passion for a woman he can never possess?
Time Enough To Love
By Jenna Jaxon
Published by Jenna Jaxon at Smashwords
Copyright © 2014, Jenna Jaxon
Cover Art by
All Rights Reserved. This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or part in any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is dedicated to the late romance author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, whose early works made me fall in love with historical romance and whose final book inspired me to write this one.
As with a child, it takes a village to write a romance novel. My village includes: my fantastic editor, designer, and mentor, Danielle Fine, without whom this book would never have been published; my awesome critique partners: Patricia Green, Kary Rader, and Ella Quinn, the ladies who keep me on the straight and narrow; the encouragement and support of my online critique groups and the Chesapeake Romance Writers, my local RWA chapter; my long suffering husband and two daughters who give me love and leave to write; and my dearest friend, Wayne Tucker, who read this book in its horrible first draft days and encouraged me to write anyway. You are all in my heart.
Castle, Late June, 1348
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”
Lady Alyse de Courcy finished the prayer and crossed herself. Princess Joanna rose to remove to her apartments with her other attendants, but Alyse squeezed her eyes shut, as if still deep in her devotions, to avoid everyone’s curious gazes. She intended to linger in the chapel to say another rosary for the safety of her lord and the health of his brother. She did not, however, wish to divulge the reason. No one knew of Geoffrey’s late visit last night, and she had declined to speak of his journey to his father’s home today. The courtiers would only laugh at her and accuse her of being melancholy.
They would not understand how much she missed Geoffrey Longford. She and Geoffrey had known each other less than two weeks, so few would credit the feelings they had for one another. Too many courtiers had marriages arranged for status or wealth, and indeed hers had been the same.
Her father had sent word from
France that she was to marry Sir Geoffrey Longford, a man she did not meet until King Edward announced the betrothal. She had been grieved that the chosen suitor had not been Lord Braeton, the courtier she had favored since her arrival at court. Instead his best friend, the hulking knight with dark hair and brilliant blue eyes, had the claim on her. She had doubted she could ever find happiness with this stranger, yet Geoffrey had wooed her with pretty words and bold deeds.
He had arranged for her to ride with him in the procession to the royal tournament—an unheard of privilege. And when Lord Braeton slandered her character, Geoffrey had challenged him to a joust for her honor and almost killed the man. Such undeniable displays of his regard had won her heart and led her to entice him to seal their devotion in the bedchamber.
Now their bond ran deeper than the roots of an oak tree. Their separation, though brief, had pained her in ways she could scarce explain. How then could others understand it? Her chamber mate Anne would certainly not sympathize. More likely, she would tease her without mercy.
If only he would return soon.
Alyse closed her eyes and recited the Rosary once more, praying in earnest supplication for Geoffrey’s brother—the reason he had left court last night. Had left
She squeezed her eyes tighter, to guard against the ache in her heart. His absence, though less than a day, seemed an age. Yet it had been necessary for him to go.
Sir Roland lay ill at Longford. Their father had called his younger son home, lest the elder’s death take them unawares. Alyse could not begrudge Lord Longford the comfort of his family at such a time, but she longed for Geoffrey all the same.
Incense, sweet and familiar, wafted over her. She breathed deep, letting the peace of the dusky, fragrant church steal through her. The silence, broken only by the clicking of her beads, soothed her soul. Combined with the heady scent, it gave her renewed hope. Sir Roland would live and Geoffrey would return. She would put fear and doubt away.
Rosary completed, she rose from her knees. She moved toward a small shrine to the Virgin, placed several coins in the poor box, lit a candle, and said additional prayers for the two brothers. Her heart lightened with each word.
At last, Alyse made her way toward the princess’s chamber, her spirits lifting. As she reached the alcove before the door, a voice from the shadows made her jump.
“Lady Alyse, good morrow.” Lord Braeton appeared as if from nowhere. He bowed low to her.
“Thomas,” she squeaked. “Good morrow.” She curtsied and rose, smiling. The smile faded, however, as she remembered Geoffrey’s words. Thomas had seen them together in his chamber… Her face heated with shame.
What he must think!
Alyse tried to look everywhere but his face, yet finally stole a look at him. The courtier who had enchanted her, offered her his service and friendship still stood before her, but she could only think of him now as the one who had seen her in Geoffrey’s bed.
He gave her his familiar lazy smile. “Be easy, sweet lady. I judge not but by the effects of love, for ’tis that should affect us most. I know the true love you and Geoffrey bear each other. What care I how that love is shown?” He grinned knowingly. “Indeed, I have not a single stone to cast, for I surely have been no saint.”
Alyse’s tension eased—she had no reason to think Thomas would betray them—and she managed a small smile in return. Only then did she note his disheveled appearance. He always dressed superbly, with an offhand elegance that drew the eye. Why had he presented himself thus to her?
His dark gray cotehardie and traveling cloak hung in heavy folds from his shoulders, damp with rain and splattered with mud. His black leather riding boots were covered in muck almost to the tops. His eyes were rimmed red with fatigue.
“You have ridden out early this morning? ’Twould seem a foul day for such a jaunt to judge by your look.”
Thomas snorted. “Aye, Alyse, ’twas a hell of a morning for a ride, yet here I am. Charged with a message and sworn on pain of death to give it to you the instant I returned to court.” He gestured to his dishabille with a rueful smile. “My appearance will bear testimony that I arrived some scant half hour since, and, finding you still at your prayers, have waited so as to discharge my duty.”
Alyse clutched her rosary, the urgency of his words striking sudden fear into her heart.
“Be not afraid, Alyse.” He pried her fingers from the marble beads until her hand lay in his. “I bear no ill tidings from your betrothed.”
“Thank the Lord!” Alyse squeezed his hands then flushed and withdrew them. “But,” she furrowed her brow, “Geoffrey told me last night that he had been—”
“Summoned home? Aye, he was.” Thomas shrugged and stretched. “I accompanied him on the journey. ’Tis not meet to travel alone so late. By God’s grace we were blessed with full moonlight. And Longford Manor lies close by, only three hours on a fast horse, so I rode with him for company and returned after an early breakfast.”
“His brother, Sir Roland, is he...” Alyse searched Thomas’s eyes for the truth. Had she lost a kinsman she had never known? She already considered Geoffrey’s brother family.
“No better this morning when I left, but no worse either. The doctors have bled him, which they hope will put him to rights. However, if ’tis a wasting fever as they think, nothing may help.” He shook his head, staring past her, caught in some serious thought. He recalled himself and sent her an encouraging smile. “But I was obliged to offer other messages as well.”
Alyse’s pulse sped. Word from her beloved so soon!
“Geoffrey bid me tell you directly that he arrived safely. And that he misses his little maid, but holds her in his heart.”
Alyse flushed again but did not care what Thomas might see in her face. To know Geoffrey missed her already filled her with a warmth she did not want to hide.
“He bade me give you this.” From beneath his cloak, the courtier withdrew a small purse, opened it, and presented Alyse with a single sprig of lavender. “He picked it this morning ere I left and warned me not to crush it.”
Tears started at the sight of the bit of lavender. She wiped them carefully before she took the sweet-smelling flower from him. Raising the little plant to her nose, she inhaled its familiar scent. And remembered their interlude in the rose bower.
Thomas chuckled. “You and Geoffrey are certainly well-matched. He did the self-same thing before he handed it to me.”
Alyse smiled with pleasure at the image his words conjured: Geoffrey’s huge frame bending low to pick the little purple flower, holding the soothing smell beneath his nose as, mayhap, he thought of her.
“Oh, it should be ever thus, Thomas. That like should marry like and for love rather than position or wealth. Although Geoffrey and I have all three.” She sighed, a contentment stealing through her for the first time since her beloved had left. “It scarce seems possible that we have met and wooed and loved in less than a fortnight.”
He chuckled. “’Tis the way of it sometimes. A whirlwind that leaves your senses scattered in all ways save one. Your heart knows true North and cleaves to that before all else.”
Buoyed by the sudden happiness, she glanced at her sworn champion. Not long ago, this man had been all her heart desired. She had thought about him constantly, sought him at every court function, and fretted when he paid her no attention. Even after her betrothal, she had cherished hopes of his interest until Geoffrey’s presence had consumed her entire world.
Her calf love for Thomas now seemed foolish, especially as it had been wholly unrequited. The handsome courtier had many favorites among the noble ladies of the court, although none remained favored for long. Nor would any one be, in Alyse’s estimation. Yet he seemed to understand the pangs of true love. Without thought, she blurted out an impertinent question. “Have you ever been in love?”
The moment the words left her mouth, she wished to call them back. The color left his face, and a shadow passed over it, leaving him white-lipped and drawn. Then the dashing courtier returned, as though a mask had shifted back into place. He was Thomas once more, the lazy smile touching his lips.
“Aye, I have felt the sting of Cupid’s arrow. ’Twas long ago, however, when I was a green youth. Never was there such a lovesick fool, although Geoffrey Longford has run me a close race in that contest.” He laughed, dispelling the last bit of his melancholy.
She hastily strove for another, safer, topic. “Thank you, Thomas. You are more than kind to have carried these messages from my lord. Pray God he may bring the next such word himself.”
Thomas lifted her hand to his lips. “Indeed, lady, I will pray your reunion needs wait but a little while. Until then, I am, as always, yours to command.” He kissed it, skimming the surface of her flesh.
It tickled, and she suppressed a giggle. “Will you take your rest now? You must be tired after such a long journey in so short a space of time.”
Thomas stretched, the lines on his face making his weariness even more apparent. “Nay. I am off to attend the king. His Majesty will desire my report on how Sir Roland fares.” He smiled kindly. “However, should you have need of me, lady, you have but to summon me. I am at your service until Geoffrey’s return.” With a dashing bow, he spun on his heel, his cloak swirling ’round him.
Alyse watched him go, savoring the words from her betrothed as she once again lifted the sprig of lavender to her nose. A token from her beloved she would cherish until his return. With a sigh for that day to come quickly, she pushed the door to the princess’s chamber open.
She tried to slip in unobserved. Of course, everyone turned their gaze to the door the moment she entered. Alyse sped inside and crossed to the princess, sinking into a low curtsy. She waited, fearing the displeasure of the young woman who had only ever shown her kindness.
Princess Joanna paused before bidding her to rise. “Well, Lady Alyse, you were overlong at your prayers this morning, were you not?”
Alyse stood and nodded, unease sweeping through her.
The princess gave Alyse an eager look. “Are you doing penance for some...indiscretion?”
Her heart leaped into her throat. Guilt over her tryst with Geoffrey on the night of the tournament made
her drop her gaze to her hands
Lord, does the princess know? Does everyone?
Alyse fidgeted with the edge of her sleeve. She opened her mouth to deny the allegation—what else could she do with her reputation at stake?—when Anne spoke up. “Aye, Your Highness, she should have been on her knees all morning.”
Shivers of dread coursed through her. Anne had seen her that night. She knew.
Alyse gaped at her chamber mate, her mouth bone dry. How much would she tell?
The disagreeable girl continued to stare at her, arching her neck, a triumphant smirk on her face.
Eyes wide, Princess Joanna looked from Anne to her before leaning forward. “Is this true, Lady Alyse? What dire transgression have you committed?”