The Warrior's Winter Bride ~ Excerpt:
From Chapter One:
Warehaven Keep - Autumn 1145
Men were no better than toads, hopping mindlessly one way and then the next without warning. Before, she’d only wondered about it, but now she knew for certain it was true.
The cool night air did little to soothe her raging anger. Isabella of Warehaven shouldered her way through the throng of people crowded in her father’s bailey. She needed some time alone before returning to the celebration about to take place inside the keep.
Her betrothal and upcoming marriage to Wade of Glenforde had been painstakingly planned for months. Each detail had been overseen with the utmost of care. Every line of the agreement had been scrutinized with an eye to the future—her future.
And in a few moments time she would toss all of her father’s planning into the fire. Her parents would be so upset with her and she hated the idea of disappointing them, but she just couldn’t, she wouldn’t marry Glenforde. He could wed the whore she’d seen him kissing while he pulled the giggling strumpet into a private alcove.
Thankfully, her mother and father had given her, and her younger sister Beatrice, the rare blessing of choice. And while she’d dragged her feet until her father, out of impatience, took it upon himself to find her a husband, Isabella was certain he would not force her to go through with this betrothal or marriage. Especially when she shed light on Glenforde’s unseemly behaviour.
Isabella picked up her pace as the recent memory renewed her rage. It was one thing for him to have a whore, but it was another thing entirely for him to so openly flaunt the relationship inside her father’s keep. And to do so on the evening of their betrothal was beyond acceptable.
Adding this indiscretion to the way he’d pushed her to the ground in anger earlier this afternoon when discussing her sister was more than Isabella was willing to accept.
If he acted in such reprehensible ways now, what would he do once they were wed?
She had no intention of discovering the answer to that question. She was certain that once she explained all to her parents, they would understand her misgivings about this arrangement and she’d never have to worry about the answer. They would more than likely be upset that they’d been so duped into believing he was a suitable choice by her aunt. Her father’s half-sister, the Empress Matilda, had insisted Wade of Glenforde was not just suitable, but the perfect choice all round; he was young, wealthy, available, and more importantly supported her claim to the crown over King Stephen’s. To sweeten the pot, the empress had promised to supply Wade with a keep, demesne lands and a title worthy of Isabella. How could her parents turn down such an offer?
Fisting her hands she lengthened her stride in an effort to get clear of the guests milling their way to the keep. Isabella nearly choked on the urge to scream.
The sound of a splash and the ice cold wetness seeping into her embroidered slippers made the scream impossible to resist. ‘My God, what more ills will this cursed day from hell bring me?’
She slapped one hand over her mouth, lifted the long skirt of her gown with the other and then ran at an unladylike pace toward the stables at the other end of the bailey. No one would hear her curses there.
Quickly gaining the privacy offered by the stables, she ducked to the far side of the building. With her chest heaving from the effort and speed of her escape, she lowered her hand from her mouth. This far away from the keep no one would hear, or see, what was about to be one of her finest bouts of temper since she’d gained adulthood.
Isabella closed her eyes and took a deep breath before parting her lips. Only to have a large, work-worn hand slapped firmly over her mouth.
She opened her eyes wide in shock as she swallowed the scream she’d been so eager to let fly.
‘My, my, what have we here?’ The man standing behind her asked softly over her shoulder.
He ignored her struggles to free herself, to ask, ‘Why, I wonder, would Warehaven’s whelp travel this far from safety in the dark?’
He leaned closer, his chest hard against her back, his breath hot across her ear. ‘Unescorted and unprotected.’
The deepening timbre of his voice acted like a bucket of ice cold water sluicing down her body, making her tremble as she suddenly realised the danger in which she’d placed herself.
She’d been a fool to have flown the keep so rashly. Alone, without protection, she had foolishly risked her life. Her family had repeatedly warned her about her rashness. They’d gone to great lengths to frighten her with terror-filled tales of what happened to head-strong maidens who cavorted about in such a thoughtless manner.
Was she now about to be killed—or worse—for paying no heed to their dire warnings?
His deadly soft chuckle served to increase her tremors. ‘Do you smell that?’ He inhaled deeply. ‘It’s the scent of fear.’ Pulling her closer against him, he stroked the flat edge of a blade against her cheek adding, ‘Are you afraid, Isabella of Warehaven?’