Betrothal (Time Enough To Love)

BOOK: Betrothal (Time Enough To Love)
12.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

Lady Alyse de Courcy has fallen in love with Lord Braeton, a nobleman in King Edward III’s court and a man to whom she has barely spoken. Fate, however, has decreed her betrothal to his best friend, Sir Geoffrey Longford—a handsome and imposing knight, yet hardly the man she wants to wed.

When Sir Geoffrey is bound in betrothal by his father, he could not have expected the beautiful stranger to win his heart the moment they meet. Nevertheless, the fascinating Lady Alyse has done exactly that, and his feelings for her only grow as he learns more of her gentle yet spirited nature. But Alyse’s infatuation with his friend casts doubt on whether she can ever return his regard and their wedding day is fast approaching…

Will
he have time enough to win her love?

 

Betrothal

Time Enough To Love

Book One

By Jenna Jaxon

 

Betrothal

Jenna Jaxon

 

Published by Jenna Jaxon at Smashwords

Copyright © 2013, Jenna Jaxon

Edited by
Danielle Fine

Cover Art by
Danielle Fine

 

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.

 

Dedication

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.

 

Acknowledgements

 

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.

 

Chapter 1

 

June 1348

London, England

 

Where is he?

Lady Alyse de Courcy walked with studied grace into the Great Hall, her face carefully composed into pleasant lines.

Sweet Jesu, help me betray nothing of my longing to the court. But please, please let him be here.

Her stomach fluttered at the thought. Her body racked with the sudden trembling anticipation of seeing him again.

Act naturally, you fool
.

She forced herself to nod and smile demurely at Lady Brisbane, one of the court’s biggest gossips. That hurdle safely past, she swept her gaze across the crowded room, searching for that one face alone.

During her first banquet, the spectacle of the Great Hall had rendered Alyse speechless. Illuminated by hundreds of gleaming candles and smoky torches, the assembled courtiers clustered here and there in tight knots. Their jewel-colored finery, embellished with gold and precious gems, glittered in the flickering light as they relayed the latest scandal of the day or planned assignations for the morrow. The collective din, increased by shouted commands to servants, rose to such a level Alyse could hear no one when they spoke to her.

Now, two months later, the magnificence of the court impressed her not at all. Barely paying attention, she jerked her rose brocade skirts out of the path of a servant carrying ale as she peered around the Hall.

Where is he?
Furtive looks up and down the Hall proved futile.
Is he not coming?

Despite her distraction, she managed to maintain the proper distance behind Princess Joanna as they headed toward the royal dais at the end of the
Hall. As they neared
his
usual table, Alyse craned her neck, searching the various groups of nobles. He was not there. Her heart gave a strange little skip, and her lips quivered as disappointment washed over her. She had waited all day for this one chance and now he had not appeared.

The princess continued to her accustomed place with the royal family while Alyse turned toward the trestle tables set up on the left side of the
Hall for the attendants. She joined Lady Maurya Wakefield and her husband Sir John at the table closest to the dais, all the while busily searching the courtiers.

“Your father has still not sent word?”

A sharp poke in her arm made Alyse jump. “Oh, I beg pardon, Maurya, but no, he has not given me the merest hint,” she replied absently as she scrutinized a new courtier entering the Hall.

Not him
.

She shook her head then remembered herself and leaned toward her dinner companion. “My only hope is that my father’s interests and mine are similar.”

Pray God they are exactly the same
.

She strained in the uncertain light to catch sight of the man whose mere presence incited her heart to riot.

“As most women can attest, Alyse, fathers’ interests are seldom the same as their daughters’.” Maurya gave a sharp laugh and glanced at her own husband.

“Aye.” The thought did little to comfort Alyse. “I only hope I will be able to accept my father’s choice with fortitude should he not choose—” She stopped abruptly before the name could escape her lips, her face heating like a flame. With a sip of ale, she tried to cover yet another blunder then glanced surreptitiously at Maurya, who wore a smug smile.

“You might as well say the name. Everyone knows you favor Lord Braeton.”

“I…I do not… He is not…” Stuttering and humiliated, Alyse closed her eyes and silently cursed to think her secret passion for Thomas Knowlton, the Earl of Braeton, had become common knowledge. Did Lord Braeton himself know of her regard? Brows puckered in fear, she turned to her friend.

“Alyse.” Maurya chuckled, though her smile was warm with understanding. “You show your heart in your face, my dear. Whenever the man is around, you fairly glow. When he’s not, you look like a pouting thundercloud.” Her tone grew even merrier. “And after this morning, well…there’s no doubt at all in anyone’s mind.”

Alyse winced at the memory.

At breakfast, when Princess Joanna had asked which author of church doctrine held her greatest interest, Alyse had replied, “Thomas Knowlton,” instead of Thomas Aquinas.

“Perhaps, Lady Alyse, you mean you could find Thomas Aquinas’s ideal of happiness in Lord Braeton?” Joanna had remarked playfully, bringing a deep flush of heat to Alyse’s cheeks and setting the other attendants laughing at her expense.

After breakfast, however, the young princess had questioned her further. “Do you favor Lord Braeton as a suitor then, Lady Alyse?”

“Aye, Highness, I do.” The telling fire had crept up toward her forehead but she had answered the princess tru
thfully. “I know him but little. However, when I have had the pleasure of talking with him, he seemed a most amiable courtier, well-versed in the ways of courtly manners.” She had frowned. “Except for his reluctance to dance with me.”

Princess Joanna had laughed at that. “He is somewhat agreeable to look on also, perchance?”

“Aye, Your Highness, I would say very agreeable!”

The princess had given her an appraising look. “He is a young man most admired among the ladies of the court. Too much admired by some.” She had hesitated then continued. “Lord Braeton can be a very
attentive
courtier to those he favors, although I hear his favorites come and go rather quickly.”

“A word of warning, Your Highness?”

“Of caution, Alyse.” Joanna had shaken her head and sighed. “I would not want your hopes raised on the strength of mere courtly manners, for Lord Braeton is experienced in other ways as well.”

But the warning had been unmistakable. Alyse lamented her folly in revealing too much regard for the worldly courtier, but there could be no help for that now. Deciding to heed the princess’s advice, Alyse had resolved to put Lord Braeton out of her mind—until she had entered the
Hall tonight and once again become obsessed with seeing the handsome man.

Alyse sighed and nodded to Maurya. “Aye, I do favor Lord Braeton. Who would not? If only my father had told me whom he was considering, perhaps I could have schooled myself better. But not knowing, I have allowed myself to hope I will be betrothed to a man I can love.”

“’Twill only lead to disappointment, my dear.”

“I have dealt with that, and grief as well, Maurya,” she reminded her gently.

The older woman smiled sadly and patted her hand. “I had forgotten, Alyse. Forgive me. I pray your father’s decision grants you as good a man as Sir Phillip.”

Sobered by the memories their conversation recalled, Alyse returned her attention to the bustle of the Great Hall and frowned. He had obviously decided to forgo dinner this evening.

Perhaps he has gone himself to France to offer for my hand
. Her heart skipped a beat then she firmly crushed that notion.
Do not even think such nonsense, Alyse
.
You must
not fall further into folly.

“Are you still looking about at suitors, Alyse? Or only for Lord Braeton?” Anne Wythecomb, Princess Joanna’s other lady-in-waiting, sat down beside her chamber mate, an irritated smirk on her face.

Alyse closed her eyes. The exasperating girl could not wait to taunt her about that awful slip this morning. She took a deep breath. “Yes, Anne, I am still contemplating possible suitors and, no, I am not looking for Lord Braeton.”

“Oh.” Anne sent her an innocent glance. “Well, then I do not need to point out that he has just arrived.”

“What!” Alyse’s breath went out with a gasp.

“He is right over there, you ninny.” Anne gestured across the
Hall. “But I thought you were not looking for him?”

“I…I am not.” Alyse tried for cool indifference and failed. “I merely wondered why he had not appeared this evening.”

“So you have been looking for him.”

The triumph in the girl’s voice firmed Alyse’s resolve. She got hold of herself and steadied her own tone. “No more than the other courtiers my father may be considering.”

Anne sniffed.

Oh no, my lady. I will brook none of your sniffs.

“I have been reflecting on the merits of Sir Patrick Sullivan,” Alyse said, watching for Anne’s reaction. “I might send word to my father asking him to consider him as a match.” Patrick was Lady Maurya’s brother and a good friend to Alyse, although until this minute she had never considered him a possible suitor.

Anne turned to stare incredulously at Alyse. “Patrick Sullivan?” she screeched, drawing the attention of several courtiers, including his sister.

Maurya broke off her conversation with her husband and swiveled around. “All right, ladies, what has my brother done now?”

“Nothing, Maurya,” Alyse spoke up before her chamber mate could. “I suggested to Anne that Patrick could be one of my prospective suitors. I suppose that surprised her.” She glared at the disagreeable attendant.

After one suspicious look, Maurya went back to her conversation with Sir John and Alyse elbowed Anne. “Have a care to keep your voice down! Do you think I want the whole court to know my business?”

“I still do not believe you are serious.” Anne cut her eyes at Alyse, a petulant frown marring her face.

“Why not?”

“He is too short, for one thing.”

“Ah, but height is not everything, Anne.” Alyse smiled, well pleased to have diverted her from Lord Braeton. “A man can be too tall, too. You would get a crick in your neck looking into his eyes.” She traced the embossed pattern on the silver goblet as she continued her subterfuge. “I think I would quite like having Patrick for my husband. He always pays me charming compliments, he converses well and shows a rare wit for jests. And I do not believe I am alone in that estimation.” She nodded toward Patrick at the other end of the Hall, with several ladies of the court clustered round him.

As she contemplated his boyish features, he suddenly raised a bright, blue-eyed gaze to her and flashed a quick smile. His notice brought heat to her face. She nodded a greeting to him then dropped her own attention back to her cup.

“Well,” Anne broke in on her thoughts, “flirt with him if you want, but I warn you he is a handful. Marriage shall not change that one an iota.”

Before Alyse could question her about that statement, another courtier summoned the girl to the next table, leaving her alone with her thoughts. She grasped her cup again, hoping the ale would cool her cheeks.

She raised the goblet, her eyes trailing around the room until they locked onto the figure of Lord Braeton, standing directly across from her.

Air rushed out of her lungs with a soft “huh.” Her heart beat an erratic rhythm in her chest and gooseflesh rose on her arms. How could she have forgotten he was here? She remembered to breathe but, for several minutes, it seemed to make no difference. The sensation of breathlessness persisted, as it always did when the man came close to her. Alyse held still, afraid any movement might make him disappear in a puff of smoke
, like a sorcerer’s trick.

She feasted on his lean, muscular frame as he stood casually beside a companion, deep in conversation, and hunger awoke in her. A well-built, confident man of mayhap thirty years, he possessed shoulder-length honey-blond hair and warm, seductive brown eyes—the coloring she found most attractive. One of only a few young men at court who defied fashion and chose to wear a thin mustache and beard, he appeared aristocratic and dangerous by turns to Alyse. She allowed her gaze to linger on the broad shoulders that declared him a strong warrior then it drifted to the well-shaped legs that attested him much in demand during court dances.

A low moan escaped her as she imagined how his brawny arms would feel clasping hers in the
trotto
dance. Shivers raced down her body just as Lord Braeton looked up to catch her staring—with God knew what sort of expression on her face. He flashed her a knowing grin, showing even white teeth in a too-sensual mouth.

What must he think?
Alyse’s mouth dried so that her tongue stuck to her teeth. Blood drained from her face as he leaned toward the hulk that was his dark-haired companion on the right, likely to jest about what he had observed.

Do not make this worse! Act as though you do not mark him
.

Summoning her training, she glanced around the room, nodded to another acquaintance then turned her attention to the trencher placed before her. Though she doubted she would be able to eat a mouthful.

She picked up the succulent roasted squab, her favorite dish, pinched a bite from the breast and popped the morsel into her mouth before daring to glance back at Lord Braeton’s table.

He was staring at her.

Alyse stopped, aghast. The delicate, flavorful meat turned rancid on her tongue, its luscious smell now noisome. She dropped the bird back onto her trencher with nerveless fingers.

“Maurya!” She leaned toward her companion, who was laughing at some jest from her husband.

“Aye, Alyse?”

BOOK: Betrothal (Time Enough To Love)
12.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Owls Well That Ends Well by Donna Andrews
Waking Up by Arianna Hart
Marea estelar by David Brin
Revenge of the Bridesmaids by Chastity Foelds
A Secret Life by Barbara Dunlop