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The following excerpt is from Catherine LaRoche’s delicious historical romance, Knight of Love. Lady Lenore flees her abusive marriage at the hands of a cruel German duke, and finds herself in the arms of an English rebel. And the best part? If you love what you’ve read, you can buy it for just $4.99 by clicking the buttons at the bottom of this post!
Her stomach heaved as he brushed deliberately against her hip, to let her feel his hard arousal.
He laughed. “You will look stunning on our wedding night, my dear bride.”
It was her one saving grace, that he enjoyed the anticipation of taking her virginity too much to attempt it before their nuptials. She’d been spared that, although the sick games he played with increasing frequency were bad enough.
He trailed a gloved hand down her back. His dark eyes gleamed as he paced in front of her and held up a finger, his white cotton stained with her blood. He leaned in closer and stroked the glove down her cheek. “Ah, yes, very beautiful, meine Liebe.”
She drew a shaky breath, about to spit in the devil’s face, but he read her intention and grabbed her jaw in a punishing grip.
“Now, now, Lenora!” he mocked. “Remember, you are to be an obedient and submissive wife. You wouldn’t want another lad like young Franz to suffer for your disrespect, would you?”
The sweet-tempered lad who helped in the stables had been an early favorite of hers—a dangerous mistake. If the past three months had taught her anything, it was surely the lesson that defiance and her damnable pride would get her nowhere.
She needed a new strategy, starting now. “You win, Kurt.” She cast down her eyes and shuttered her hate deep inside. “I will fight you no more.”
His self-satisfied chuckle spilled like acid over her wounds. “I knew I’d bend you to my will.” He turned away to address the crowd again, motioning for the stable master to release her bonds. “My lady has passed her trial and proven herself worthy. When she becomes Prinzessin of Rotenburg-Gruselstadt on Midsummer’s Eve, all will rejoice.”
The gathered townspeople and servants shifted, and unhappy mutterings rippled through the crowd.
Kurt snatched the lash from the groomsman and cracked it heavily against the raised wooden floor around the lashing post. “Silence!” he commanded. He jumped down into the crowd, which backed up hastily to part for him. “You, blacksmith!” he roared, pointing the lash at a giant of a man at the back of the crowd near the castle wall, not far from the smithy shed. “Come here!”
As the stable master worked at the knots binding her aching arms, Lenora lifted her head to see what fresh hell Kurt had in mind. The huge man approached slowly at his lord’s command. A heavy leather apron wrapped his front, and longish dark hair fell across his face. Massive coiled muscles roped his arms.
The smith stopped in front of Kurt.
“Excellency?” His address was polite enough, but he neither bowed nor cast down his eyes. The two men were of a height, which Lenora knew would annoy Kurt. Her fiancé preferred to look down on those around him. And the smith’s trade gave him a strength and physique that far outweighed his master’s.
“Are you new here?” Kurt demanded, frowning. “I haven’t seen you before. Where is Dieter?”
“Home for his mother’s funeral, Excellency. I arrived yesterday to help in his absence.”
Kurt’s eyes narrowed. “See that you do prove helpful and keep to your place. We tolerate no shoddy work at Rotenburg.” With that, he tossed the lash into the dust of the courtyard and strode away. “Smith, carry my lady up to her quarters in the castle,” Kurt ordered over his shoulder. “We’re done here.”
Lenora knew Kurt intended this order as a final humiliation to her: flogged in public and then made to suffer the sweaty embrace of a lowly servant carrying her through the castle courtyard and chambers. To one of Kurt’s mind, that shame would be as bad as the flogging itself.
But Lenora had grown up as much in the stables as in the drawing rooms of the Sherbrooke estates. Her parents had taught her to value their laborers. She respected many of Kurt’s “peasants” more than she did her fiancé, although she knew enough to fear them as well. Many of them associated her, the bride-elect, with their lord and his wickedness. She’d seen their fear and hatred of him in the looks they cast at her as well. And the few servants he’d drafted into playing his games of punishment and humiliation made her fear anyone with any allegiance to this twisted man. The huge blacksmith reached her side as the stable master stepped back from releasing the last bindings. Her shoulders screamed in protest as her hands dropped heavily to her sides. She tried to grab onto the post to steady herself but couldn’t seem to get her arms to move. She would have fallen had not the smith reached out to steady her. His large callused hands were gentle around her upper arms. Her vision filled with corded neck and massive shoulders, a dusting of dark chest hair through the open collar of a rough
work shirt, and—when she looked up—a scruffy dark beard and piercing blue eyes.
“I’m fine,” she managed to gasp.
He raised one dark eyebrow. “Meine Dame is far from fine. Pray allow me to assist as Prince Kurt bids.”
“I don’t need your help.” She pushed away from him, swaying on her feet. She wasn’t bothered by Kurt’s snobbery. But this smith was a man, and a giant and powerful one at that. She couldn’t stomach another male touching her, thinking to control and direct her, even if at another’s command. His scent was already all around her. Strangely, it wasn’t the acrid sweat of a man who worked with fire and bellows, but a clean and musky smell.
“I can walk,” she insisted. “But I will take your arm. You may escort me.”
Dear Lord! Truth be told, even speech was almost beyond her. Her breath came in short pants as she focused hard on staying upright. She managed to give the smith a careful nod, worthy of her duchess mother, she thought fleetingly, as she reached out a shaky hand to lay on his forearm. She noted that the arm was as thick around as a heavy tree branch; she easily imagined him lifting the forger’s hammer and bending metal with limbs like these.
He met her gaze with a hard stare that was long and bold for a village blacksmith. “As meine Dame wishes.”
Stepping down off the wooden dais into the courtyard almost undid her. The motion jarred her back into spasms of misery. A sickening wave of nausea and vertigo threatened to drown her. She clenched the smith’s arm and waited for the spasm to subside into something like a low molten boil. The long forecourt stretched ahead of her, bustling with blacksmith shed, stables, dovecote, armory, storehouses, and a dozen other active outbuildings. And then there were the castle reception chambers, main hall, and two flights of stairs to traverse before arriving at the guest wing where she was housed at the end of a long corridor in the chambers of honor.
She tried to put one foot in front of the other, but it seemed stuck, as if in mud. A gripping cold began to spread through her limbs. Blackness gathered from the edges of her vision. “Smith, don’t let me fall,” she whispered. Her voice sounded far away, even to her own ears. “I don’t want them to see me fall.”
“Meine Dame has no need to worry.” The words came back to her, soft as a cloud. “She is safe with me.”