February's FREE READ comes from Nicole Locke who shares something you won't find anywhere else! An exclusive extract from Reclaimed by the Knight.
As most of you know, I write the Lovers and Legends series for Harlequin Historical/Mills & Boon. Each story in this series is a standalone with its own hero and heroine who obtain their happily ever after. This month I'm sharing an exclusive excerpt from my upcoming release Reclaimed by the Knight.
The hero is Nicholas (from The Knight’s Scarred Maiden) and the heroine is Matilda. They fell in love in their youth, but due to financial circumstances he became a mercenary to earn some coin. So they became betrothed before he went away… for six years. In those years, he becomes lethal and wealthy, while she marries his best friend.
In the following scene, he's returned and they see each other for the first time. What Nicholas doesn’t know is that Matilda is a widow… And that she’s carrying a baby. What Matilda doesn’t know is the grave disabling injury Nicholas incurred as a Knight Mercenary. The question is, will she be reclaimed by the knight?
And now for the fun stuff! Here is an extract from Nicole’s book Reclaimed by the Knight:
Matilda should have heard their voices or the extra commotion in the yard. She should have heard his voice, but she couldn't seem to hear anything through the roaring in her head. Not even her own thoughts were clear to her. Later she realised Bess, who walked beside her, hadn't been as affected as her. Bess understood Nicholas was within a few paces on their path and she hadn't steered them in another direction.
But it was too late to walk another way because Nicolas was suddenly there, and already handing the reins to a boy whom he shared a few words with.
Faced away, his back afforded her a few moments to watch him while he exchanged greetings and soothed one of his horses who restlessly stamped his hoof as the satchels were removed.
Nicholas. How had she forgotten how formidable he was? His long brown hair tied back in a queue. His shoulders so much broader than when he left six years ago. From being a mercenary; from swinging his sword and killing. Such a dangerous and unscrupulous profession had given him the strength she saw in his arms, the tapering of his waist to legs that walked the lands he once wrote to her about.
The horses he chose were huge, but they didn't disguise what a giant of a man he was. How had she forgotten the immensity of him?
Bess went still at her side. Neither pushing her forward nor turning her away, while others around them offered shouts and greetings. Not all the voices held joy. There was a tenor of dismay she couldn't understand. Sounds of distress had no meaning when the prodigal lord of the manor had returned.
Now was the time for joy and much celebration. If Nicholas returned, it meant he fulfilled his vow to his people. It meant he had enough funds to make Mei Solis all he envisioned and promised.
Or perhaps he simply returned without coin. How was she to know? He had once been so honourable in his vows... and then he had broken the one he made to her. To make her his wife.
He turned then, deliberately, as if he felt her accusations against his back. When he fully faced her, even Bess' hand at her elbow couldn’t steady her.
How could she have forgotten how he looked, the angles of his jaw softened only by the fullness of his lower lip. How his steady brown gaze could rivet her. She remembered their kisses. The way he smelled and felt when he held her. Deep down she remembered the immensity of him, too. But his gaze; the way he looked at her. She forgot the breathlessness from just a look. It was this that captured her when they were only friends. It was his gaze that made her see into his soul and he into hers as they fell in love.
What did he see with her right now? Almost eight months pregnant, her skirts saturated with mud, the wheat stuck in her hair. With shock in her eyes, trembling in her limbs, and her breaths coming short.
Shorter yet, until she comprehended why her heart pounded erratically, and her breath wouldn't come. Why her nerves pounded her insides as if trying to wake her. Nicholas with a scar across his face. A thin slice that went from his left temple almost across his left eye, and down his cheek. Then a gap at his neck, before a broader gash revealed itself on his collarbone and disappeared under his loose tunic.
A scar he tried to cover with the brown leather patch across his eye, but she could see it. In her nightmares right now, she could see all of it.
All those years she imagined the swing of a sword gutting him. Of him spilling his life's blood in a field too far for her to reach him. He was here, alive, but he had lost his eye. What he must have suffered.
And she didn't know. He never told her. Hot rage roared through her, until her first and only instinct was to hit and rail at him and never stop.
His brows drew in, his mouth grew fierce. His gaze as open as hers must have been. What did he see in hers?
Too much. She had purposefully forgotten how he could see too much. How he knew her. And she thought she knew him. Until the day he left Mei Solis. Until the moment he stopped writing her, and forgot her completely. She held on, until her mother’s death, and she realised how fleeting life was. So she moved on to Roger, and now carried their child.
Yet Nicholas was here, standing, waiting. It seemed the whole courtyard was waiting. For her to throw something at him. Yell. To burst into hysterics or give a cutting remark because she was a woman scorned.
In their youth, she had been mischievous, and he reckless. They appeared a perfect match in every way. They showed no caution in their courtship because they saw no need to. He left because of his restlessness and ideas of grandeur, even as she had begged for him to stay.
Six years, and she felt the entire courtyard held its breath for this reunion.
But she wouldn't rail or hit--though that had been her first response. Between that breath and now, she found her strength from her home. She had purposefully changed herself over the last few years, and was no longer that woman he left. No longer the girl he grew up with when they were friends.
Friends. They were friends first before they held hands, kissed and promised to marry each other. Before she gave him her heart and almost her body. Before he left and broke her trust.
Friends since childhood, and he had meant the world to her. As they ran and raced and jumped and laughed. If that boy stood before her, what would she do?
Striding over she lifted herself on her toes and gave him a brief embrace before stepping beside Bess.
'Welcome home, Nicholas,' she said, pleased her voice did not break on his name. That her gaze stayed steady with his. 'Are you hungry?'
'It's wonderful to be here again,’ he said just as evenly. ‘I am famished, but even I know this isn't the time for food and don't wish to inconvenience anyone.'
Rising above her emotions, she said, ‘You've returned to your home. It's more than time for food, it's time for a feast.'
Nicholas couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t hear, see. Whatever words he uttered had come from somewhere else because he couldn’t recall his words. My God she was more beautiful than he’d ever seen her. The weak winter light played warmly against the havoc of gold in her hair. The sun’s light gleamed a beam across her eyes so they showed more green than brown, and made shadows of her lashes across her reddened cheeks.
Stunned to see her though it was ridiculous to be so surprised, his only response was to stare like a fool and helplessly track the fluttering movement of her hands that landed on the swell of her belly she lovingly caressed. Matilda carried a child not their own.
Whatever pain he felt before was nothing to this. Nothing.
Made more cruel because Matilda embraced him as if they were long lost friends. He could feel the weight of her against his chest, smell the scent she carried of fresh cut wheat.
No matter the year, she always smelled that way to him, like the promise of abundance.
Pain. Too much, and he wanted to draw his sword against it. Enough already. How much more could she take from him? He thought she had taken it all. That it was her coldness that had made him into the most lethal of mercenaries.
He wanted to howl against the pain, but an audience surrounded them, and she stared expectantly at him. What did she expect? An offer of friendship?
Surely everyone here wouldn't expect it. After all, he left here her betrothed, and he toiled for years to make a home worthy of her. When she decided she had enough waiting, she married his closest friend, and then wrote him a letter.
Reclaimed by the Knight releases this summer, and is available for pre-order right now! For all the details check out Nicole's website and follow her on Facebook, and Twitter.
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