Forbidden flames burn brightest…
The knight Alric of Hawksmere has endured years of war and survived dozens of battles in the service of the king. A new challenge awaits him when he returns home to renew his bond with a childhood friend. Alric instead discovers she is now a spirited woman of rare beauty whose kiss makes his blood burn. But the lady Cecily de Vere has been offered in marriage to another man, and Alric‘s duty is to escort her to the wedding.
Cecily wants to behave as a proper lady. But she yearns for her childhood flame and knows he shares the same desire. When a sudden twist of fortune puts Cecily in mortal danger, Alric takes an unimaginable risk to rescue her. Left alone in the wild, Alric and Cecily must make a choice that will change their lives forever.
The first book in The Swordcross Knights: A series of full-length historical romance novels set in the vivid and beguiling world of medieval Britannia during the period known as "The Anarchy".
Honor & Roses
Cecily walked briskly down the curving stairwell and through the ground floor hallway toward the courtyard, intent on reading the gardens as quickly as possible. When a shape moved out from a darkened alcove, she jumped in surprise.
“Don’t fear, my lady,” a voice said. “It’s only me.” The knight Sir Rafe emerged into the flickering light of a sconce, his smile putting her at ease.
She had always thought Rafe was handsome. Even when he was younger, his dark, curling hair and high cheekbones were enough to send many of the local girls into fits of silliness, nearly swooning at his beauty. And those who were not impressed by his face could appreciate his body. Since he was a knight in training, he was in superb physical condition, well-muscled and athletic. He took advantage of his looks quite shamelessly, which was the one thing about him that Cecily never liked. He’d favor one girl for a sennight, then steal a kiss from another.
But surely the years had made him more thoughtful and mature. Time had made him even more attractive. And by his smile, he knew it.
“Did I scare you?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” she said, “but you startled me.”
“Then I beg your forgiveness.” Rafe stepped closer and reached for her hand. “I would never deliberately cause a lovely creature such as you any distress.”
“It’s quite all right, Sir Rafe,” Cecily said, pulling her hand away.
“I must thank you for your good work earlier,” he went on. “You were right. We should not have brought a petty squabble to your attention, and certainly not at the feast.”
“Petty?” she asked. “You call it petty, yet you would kill a man over the issue?”
Rafe shook his head. “Alric envies me. He has for years.”
“Why should he envy you?” Cecily asked. That made no sense. She knew Alric. He was not one to dislike another man for no reason. He was one of the fairest people she’d ever met.
“How should I know?” Rafe said. “Maybe he thinks me a threat to his own military reputation. I won several battles for our company, you know.”
“I hadn’t heard,” she said.
“I would tell you all about my deeds, if you like. Some evening soon.”
The look Rafe was giving her made her hot and cold at once.
“But what has that to do with Alric?” she asked, striving to stay on the previous course. “Surely he performed such deeds too, for your fought together.”
“Well, perhaps he’s just jealous that ladies look at me more than him. But is it my fault I’m blessed with this appearance?”
He drew her closer with every word. By the time he finished, she was only inches away from him.
Rafe caught her chin with his free hand, and bent to kiss her directly on the mouth.
Cecily was so shocked that for a moment she didn’t know what to do at all. He was far too close to her, his body too hot and too demanding. When his hand trailed to her chest, Cecily put her hands up.
“Please stop that! It’s most improper.” Cecily pulled away, but then found herself trapped between him and the stone wall. How had he turned her around so? “Let me go by.”
“You’re playing games, Lady Cecily. You like it—no more pretending you don’t.” He fingered the neckline of her gown with an intensity that made her queasy.
“Stop it. Let me go by,” she repeated.
“But I don’t want to let you go.”
The sound of a heavy footstep made both Cecily and Rafe look over. Alric stood there, his face impassive. “She told you to let her alone.”
“Stay out of this,” Rafe snapped, his demeanor shifting abruptly, growing darker. “It has nothing to do with you.”
“It does.” The sound of Alric drawing his dagger erased any idea that he was impassive about the situation. “Cecily kept you out of a fight once this evening. If you don’t leave now, she’ll find all that persuasion for naught, because I’ll put a hole in whatever replaced your heart. Your behavior is not worthy of a knight...once again.”
“You exaggerate my actions,” said Rafe. “We were merely talking. Isn’t that so, my lady?”
“Leave,” Alric said, before Cecily could form any words. “Now.”
Rafe’s lip curled into a sneer, but he left, conscious of Alric’s anger, and the fact that Alric still had a dagger drawn.
“By your leave, Cecily,” he said, his voice softer and more insinuating. Then he walked away.
Cecily waited until Rafe was gone before she spoke.
“I thank you,” she whispered. She was mortified Alric had seen Rafe kiss her, and dearly hoped he wouldn’t think she invited it. “He...he didn’t ask...I didn’t want...”
“May I escort you to your room, my lady?” Alric broke in, saving her from having to make an embarrassed explanation.
She took a quick breath, remembering her task. “If you don’t mind, could you escort me to the gardens?”
He frowned. “The gardens? Why?”
“It’s where I was headed when Rafe waylaid me. I have to go. There are some plants which must be harvested at night.”
Alric nodded in understanding, his deep brown eyes watching her intently. “Then we go to the gardens. I’ll wait while you work there, and escort you back to your chamber.”
Cecily sighed in relief. She’d been afraid to ask him to do just that, and she feared Rafe would find her again in the relative isolation of the gardens. “Again, I thank you.” She then added, “You always watched over me.”
His iron expression softened at her words. “I didn’t think you remembered.”
Cecily smiled at him, suddenly giddy with happiness. “Alric, you fool. Of course I remember.”