Exclusive FREE READ
You read it here first! Our FREE READ for June is from PHS columnist Elisabeth Hobbes, who brings us an exclusive scene from her new romantic historical,
Beguiled By The Forbidden Knight.
He’s her enemy…
…and she must not fall for him!
When her mistress is taken as an enemy Knight’s betrothed, handmaiden Aelfhild knows it would be too dangerous for her Lady – she must go in her place! But there’s more to the scarred Knight than she first thought…she isn’t expecting to fall for him! As the line between friend and enemy blurs, Aelfhild realises she might be protecting her mistress, but not her heart…
And now without further ado, the exclusive extract from Elisabeth’s book,
Beguiled By The Forbidden Knight.
The bell tolled for the second time. The women quickened their pace. Hilde, the prioress, disliked lateness. She ran her establishment with an iron hand, perhaps hoping one day to be spoken of with the same reverence as her namesake at Whitby was.
Midreth, leading the procession, reached the heavy wooden door to the refectory and pushed it open. Instead of the oppressive silence that usually greeted them a male voice boomed out.
‘I have not travelled all this way to be thwarted at the last! I respectfully ask, again, that you bring her to my presence at once!’
Aelfhild reeled. Her limbs became water. The voice was unmistakable, the tone of exasperation equally familiar, the demand for her to be brought more dreadful than any other utterance she had heard. The Norman was here and he was looking for her.
How had he discovered where she was? More than that, why? The small injury she had caused him with her pin could not have been enough to warrant seeking her out to demand vengeance. Vomit rose in her throat. She should run. Leave the priory and hide somewhere where he could not mete out a punishment. Possible places to shelter filled her thoughts, but she knew as she thought it that such an idea was impossible.
Midreth turned and looked back at her companions in alarm. ‘What should we do?’
Seeing that she was not the only one startled by the unexpected male invasion of their female domain gave Aelfhild the courage she had briefly lacked, and her legs regained some of their solidity. Now she was furious that her first impulse had been to escape rather than to confront her adversary. She had been tested and found wanting.
Straightening her back, she slid a glance to Sigrun to see if she had noticed Aelfhild’s reaction, but she was whispering with the two novices and had seemingly not seen anything untoward in Aelfhild’s behaviour. No one had.
The prioress was replying to the visitor’s unsettling demand in her low, firm voice. Aelfhild couldn’t make out her words, but her tone was decisive.
‘We should go in,’ the woman standing behind Aelfhild whispered.
There were murmurs of agreement. Everyone apart from Aelfhild was curious to discover the owner of the voice.
‘Why hasn’t the message arrived? A letter bearing news of my arrival should have been sent a week ago!’ the Norman replied angrily. ‘Why are you not expecting me?’
Aelfhild’s shoulders sagged with relief and she almost laughed aloud. When they had met, he had mentioned that he was traveling. He was not here for her and their meeting had been coincidental. She would slip away and he would never know she was here at all. She turned to go, but Sigrun seized her arm and pulled her towards the doorway. Reluctantly Aelfhild followed.
The women crept into the refectory and made their way on silent feet to the back of the long, high-ceilinged room. The Norman was standing in front of the fire with Hilde. That he had succeeded in gaining entry this far into the building was notable in itself. Most visitors were admitted no further than the porch. Hilde protected her domain fiercely, an elderly, tiny woman whose size belied her strength of will and strength of arm. She came barely up to the Norman’s chest. Her head was tilted back, his forward as they stood face to face in a manner that reminded Aelfhild of pieces on a hnefatafl board. Which player would withdraw first was anyone’s guess.
Aelfhild bowed her head in what she hoped would pass as modesty and peeked out at him from under her veil. Three more novices whose turn it was that day to prepare the meals had been carrying food to the tables, but now gave up all pretence that they were ignoring the spectacle and joined Aelfhild’s group. Aelfhild followed the cluster and stood in the corner of the room behind the others, hoping to remain unnoticed.
‘I receive many messages. Until I know who you claim to be from, how should I know if you speak the truth?’ the prioress said calmly. ‘I most certainly will not release any woman from my care other than to the designated person.’
The Norman gave a cold laugh. He delved inside his cloak and brought out a leather pouch on a long cord. He tipped the contents into his left hand, then held up a large ring. It glinted gold in the shaft of late afternoon light that streamed through the high window.
‘I may have no letter to prove my legitimacy, but perhaps this will secure your co-operation. The seal of Gilbert du Rospez, knight of King William.’
A soft murmur rippled through the women, this time with a hint of warmth. A Norman, but a noble one. A rich one, perhaps. The ring had done nothing to melt Hilde’s frostiness. She waved a hand at the gathered women to silence them.
‘The name means nothing to me. Why should I send away one of my charges on the sight of a seal?’
The Norman seemed to pause. Perhaps it took time to translate the meaning to his own tongue. He folded his arms. ‘What if I was to tell you I was the owner as well as the bearer?’
‘Is that what you claim? Hilde stared at the Norman. ‘Do you bear the name as well as the seal?’
‘Would it make a difference?’ the Norman asked sardonically.
‘I am not foolish enough to bring the wrath of our King on my establishment. I have seen how you Normans deal with resistance. Are you Gilbert du Rospez,’ Hilde snapped, ‘or are you merely a rogue who has come by this seal by foul means?’
The Norman lapsed into silence. He seemed to be battling with some inner turmoil, then came to a decision. He folded his arms and jutted out his chin.
‘I am du Rospez. Now, tell me, who is my bride?’
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