Excerpt: The Perfect Seduction
Book Three: The Conquerors
Late summer, 1072
“Taken?” ‘Twas the dignified Lady Beatrice, sitting across from Kathryn de St. Marie, who’d spoken. “If the barbarian Scots took me, they would have to kill me before I would ever show my face in civilization again.”
A shiver ran down Kathryn’s spine. Surely Kettwyck’s new walls were sufficient to keep any raiding Scotsmen out. And there were many strong and powerful Norman knights present for the festivities here at her father’s holding.
Still, they were very near the border, far from the safety of the Abbey de St. Marie where she and her sister, Isabel, had spent the last ten years. Were they vulnerable here at Kettwyck? The fortress was not yet complete, and Kathryn had seen workmen adding mortar and stone to the walls that very day. She dearly hoped this welcoming banquet was not premature.
“What they do to captives is unspeakable,” added Lady Alice, Kathryn’s mother.
“My daughter would certainly know enough to throw herself from the nearest cliff before returning to society. She could never come bac–“
The old biddy’s words faded into the night when Sir Geoffroi Le Chievre came up behind Kathryn and touched her shoulder. Slivers of heat raced down her arm at the touch of the young man who’d attracted herattention earlier in the day. They’d flirted some, and she’d been intrigued. But she had not expected him to come to her here. “Come and join in the dance.”
Kathryn stood, but her mother’s words followed her as she accompanied Geoffroi away from the cluster of old women in her father’s great hall. “Once you become a Scotsman’s whore, you might as well be dead.”
“Don’t listen to those old flap dragons,” Geoffroi said, leading her to the courtyard where the musicians played and the young people had gathered to dance. “I mean no offense to your mother or the other ladies, but Kettwyck’s walls are stout and strong. No Scotsman will ever breach them.”
“Of course you’re right,” Kathryn said, smiling up at the young knight. She put away all thoughts of Scotsmen and her father’s castle walls and gave her attention to Sir Geoffroi Le Chievre.
To his credit, he’d barely taken note of her sister, Isabel, the comely one. Isabel had pleaded with their father to allow them to choose their own husbands. Lord Henri had agreed, to a point. He’d drawn up a list of favored candidates and gathered them here for the festivities marking the two sisters’ arrival at Kettwyck and their reunion with their parents. Over the next few days, each sister would choose a husband.
Kathryn was certain that even without a generous dowry, Isabel would have no trouble settling on a bridegroom. The lords and knights here were mad for her attention, while Kathryn quietly yearned for the honest affections of one man, a bridegroom who would honor and revere her for what she was, not for the wealth she would bring him.
‘Twas a foolish wish, she knew. The daughters of powerful Norman barons married to achieve strategic goals, not to satisfy silly yearnings. Besides, she held not the same appeal as beautiful Isabel. Kathryn’s eyes were merely brown, and her hair was the color of a mouse’s pelt, so different from her sister, whose eyes were stunningly golden and her hair a striking, glossy black.
Kathryn had grown up in Isabel’s shadow, but the two sisters could not have been closer. She did not begrudge the attention Isabel garnered with her beauty and her many talents. Both young women had been exceptionally well educated at the abbey, and Kathryn had a head for languages. The abbess had said her skills would serve a husband well, but Kathryn had never spoken of the fire that burned unquenched within her.
She’d been too embarrassed to ask the holy woman about the deep yearnings she felt for the caring touch of a husband. She’d imagined her bridegroom’s kiss and his gentle caress too many times to count. Such thoughts were surely sinful, for she’d heard of no other maid who admitted to such desires–not even Isabel.
Kathryn admired Geoffroi as he danced so well, wishing she could match the grace and elegance of his movements. Yet not once did the intricate steps of the chain dance require that he take her in his arms, or even touch her hand. At this rate, Kathryn would never know if Geoffroi was the one she should choose as her bridegroom. She needed to know if his touch . . . if his kiss . . . could flame the fires that burned within her. She seemed destined never to know, for Geoffroi was a proper knight who would observe custom and keep her under the watchful eye of the matrons.
Taking matters into her own hands, she beckoned him away from the crowded courtyard.
She made no reply, but took his hand and moved quickly into the bailey adjacent to the keep. With so many people about, no one took note of their departure. Laughing, Kathryn led Geoffroi to the yard behind the stable and stopped in a dark corner. A mere sliver of the moon lit their faces, but Isabel could see puzzlement in Geoffroi’s expression.
She knew her actions were much too bold for a well-bred lady, but she had to discover whether Geoffroi’s touch, his kiss, could satisfy the hunger within her. She wanted to know if he’d sought her out because she pleased him, or because he realized Isabel had already made her choice, giving him cause to settle on her.
Was this the man who would cherish her, who would give her the children she craved?
“Kiss me, Geoffroi.” Her voice sounded too breathless, too anxious for one who had never been guilty of cowardice. Yet Geoffroi’s motivation had taken on a great deal of importance. Kathryn had to know if she was what he wanted . . . or if it was just her dowry that attracted him.
“Kathryn, I don’t think–“