How eager would the bridegroom be if he knew he could never bed the bride?
Lady Emma of Ravenwood Keep is prepared to give Sir William l’Orage land, wealth, and her hand in marriage. But her virginity? Not unless he loves her. The curse that claimed her mother is clear: unless a Ravenwood heir is conceived in love, the mother will die in childbirth. Emma is determined to dodge the curse. Then William arrives, brandishing raw sensuality which dares her to explore her own.
William the Storm isn’t a man to be gainsaid. He’ll give her protection, loyalty, and as much tenderness as he can muster. But malignant memories quell the mere thought of love. To him, the curse is codswallop. He plans a seduction to breach Emma’s fears and raze her objections. What follows is a test of wills and an affirmation of the power of love.
Toasts abounded, and the music soared. Yet Emma’s gaze kept straying to the gold ring on her finger. ʼTwas tangible proof she was a married woman, the property of William l’Orage. Soon, in the bedchamber they would share, she’d discover exactly what that meant.
She shuddered. Would he understand her predicament? He might laugh. He might even force her to betray her sense of self-preservation. ʼTwas his right, and she’d said the words: “to be bonny and buxom in bed and at board.” The board she could handle; bed was another matter.
Still, there were moments during the ceremony when he seemed softer somehow. When she entered the chapel, the look in his eyes stole her breath. It implied approval, pride.
For the second time in as many minutes, she shivered. She looked to the high, vaulted ceiling and twisted her wedding band.
“Cold again?” her husband asked. The low, rich timber of his voice was seductive and becoming all too familiar.
She dropped her hands into her lap and cast a cautious glance his way. “Not especially.”
A pox on the man! He looked sinfully handsome today. It made him unduly appealing and far more dangerous. His eyes glittered like the dark jewels on his belt.
She squirmed in her high-backed chair. His belt! God save me from what lies below it.
“You’ll be warmer once we withdraw to our chamber,” he said.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Oh?”
“I told Tilda to have a fire waiting, and plenty of warm wine.”
“Is that all you can say?”
“What more do you require?”
“If not words, how about a smile?”
“I’ve smiled overmuch the past few hours. My cheeks are numb.”
His grin was sensual by nature and mischievous by design. “Have you no enthusiasm for the coming festivities?”
She stifled a grimace. “Festivities. Is that what you call them? If you want a festive night, you’d do better to invite jugglers and mummers to prance about the chamber.”
His black eyes smoldered. “No, my bride. You and I will devise our own entertainment.”
The power of speech deserted her. Yet she kept her composure during the toasts and as the people cheered the bride and groom for the last time. Then William rose to his feet.
The dreaded moment had come. In a daze, she stood. Her eyes sought Meg, but the older woman was deep in conversation with Wulfstan and didn’t notice.
William guided Emma away from the table and out of the boisterous, oblivious hall. Once they were beyond observation, she pulled her hand from his arm and used her veil as an excuse to occupy her hands elsewhere.
She climbed the spiral, stone stairs as slowly as she dared, delaying the moment when the bedchamber door would close behind them. The stairwell torches were ablaze with flames that eagerly licked the shafts of wood. Behind her, William’s footsteps were as loud as thunder.
At the top of the stairs, the large, oak door stood wide open. There was no one inside the bedchamber, not a single soul to grant her one last pardon. Tilda had turned down the bed, and it loomed in the shadows, waiting.
On shaky legs, Emma crossed the rush-strewn floor and stood in front of the massive, arched fireplace. She studied the inferno roaring inside, refusing to look at William. Behind her, the door closed with a thud, and the bolt slid to with a scrape of finality. She heard and felt each crunching step as he came up behind her.
“My lady,” he murmured. “My wife.”
She couldn’t face him. “Aye,” her voice cracked. The fire looked wild, hungry.
“Would you like some wine?” His breath warmed the side of her neck. A second later, his lips sealed the tender flesh with a kiss.
“Wine.” She spun around. “Wine would be nice.”
His eyes blazed hotter than the fire. He hesitated, then smiled. “Then wine you shall have.” In two strides, he moved to the table where it waited. He grabbed the pitcher and poured dark liquid into one of two silver cups. Then he offered one to her.
Her fingers brushed his as she took the cup. She thanked him with a closed-mouth smile and took a sip of wine. The heady mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves tickled her tongue. The liquid warmed and soothed her throat.
“Good?” he asked.
She nodded and sipped again.
He grinned. “Perhaps ʼtwill loosen your tongue.”
His grin deepened. “Though I see it’s had no effect yet.”
Hours of nervous tension crystalized. “I’ve better use for my tongue than to prattle the night away.”
“Really?” He inched closer. “Would you care to demonstrate?”
~~ Purchase Books 1-3 Today! ~~
~~ MEET THE AUTHOR ~~
Judith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Whether penning medieval romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) or young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), her favorite themes include true love, destiny, time travel, healing, redemption, and finding the hidden magic which exists all around us. She loves to share that magic with readers and whisk them far away from their troubles, particularly to locations in the British Isles.
Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.