Category Archives: Lady of Thorns

Lady of Thorns: Many Happy Returns

For those of you who read yesterday’s Mid Week Tease and wanted to know how the rest of that scene turned out, I live to serve. Enjoy!


“Well, it could have been worse, milady,” Jeanette said judiciously, holding up the stained copper silk and studying it. “At least you didn’t make the entire tree blow up.”

“That’s not nearly as helpful as you think it is,” Amelie muttered, getting the last bit of sticky juice out of her hair. She slid under the water in the tub to rinse, shaking her head from side to side to sluice out the suds, then resurfaced. “You should have seen their faces.”

Her maid made a noncommittal noise. “But the apples ripened.”

“Yes, the apples ripened, which means the Harvest Festival is officially underway. Hopefully that will keep Maman satisfied.” Amelie stood up, accepting a bath sheet and wrapping it around herself. “And I can get back to my real work.”

Jeanette helped her out of the tub and shooed her over to the vanity table. “Excuse me for being blunt, milady, but these will be your duties someday. You can’t stay in your office forever.”

Amelie wished she was still young enough to stamp a foot, absurdly petulant as that would be. Instead she dropped onto the padded chair, allowing the maid to work on her hair with a drying cloth. “Perhaps Maman should have made Sibeal her heir after all. She could have blown up the entire square and everyone would have congratulated her.”

“Mayhap, but Lady Sibeal isn’t a Terra magistra,” Jeanette said mildly, pulling out a comb and running it through Amelie’s damp locks. “You are. And frankly you have the better mind for governing a province.”

“So you say. Maman says I’m too cold and analytical.”

The maid sighed. “Her ladyship has a different view from yours on what makes a good countess. It doesn’t meant that hers is the only correct way.”

“Oh, isn’t it?”

Both of them started, turning guiltily towards the tall woman standing at the bedroom door. With her titian hair coiled into an elegant updo, hazel eyes that changed color depending on what she wore, and a form-fitting maroon gown that highlighted both a heavy strand of emeralds and creamy décolletage over the square cut neckline, Henriette le Clerq looked like the harvest personified. “Do go on, Jeanette,” she suggested.

Blushing, Jeanette dropped into a deep curtsey. “I’m sorry, my lady. I didn’t mean—”

“Of course you did.” Henriette swept closer, holding a piece of rolled-up paper in her slender hands. “And you’re quite right. My daughter’s views are different from my own. When she becomes the Lady, she may rule Lierdhe as she sees fit. In the meantime, however, I am still the Lady of Lierdhe and must do as I deem best for my province and my people, even if that runs counter to my daughter’s views.”

Jeanette bowed her head. “Of course, my lady. I apologize.”

“Mm. You may go.”

The maid bobbed another curtsey and left. “I wish you wouldn’t scold Jeanette, Maman,” Amelie said wearily. “She did nothing to deserve it.”

“Oh, my dear, that wasn’t a scolding,” Henriette said, waving the roll of paper. “That was merely a reminder.” She pursed her lips. “I heard about the little contretemps at the ceremony today. Apple juice everywhere, the mayor said.”

Leave it to her mother to bring that up. Controlling her temper, Amelie picked up the comb Jeanette had dropped and went back to work on her hair. “I was distracted by one of the children. It won’t happen again.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Henriette said idly. “Practice makes perfect and all that, and it’s not as if I can step down until I know the family line will continue.” Before Amelie could come up with an appropriate reply she continued, “Speaking of that, however, I just received the most wonderful news from your sister.”

“What does Sibeal have to say?”

A beaming smile crossed her mother’s face. “She’s with child. She writes that she should give birth in the spring, and we’re to come to Wolf’s Lair to see the baby.”

For someone who had resisted the match so severely, Amelie thought, her mother certainly seemed happy with it now. It was ironic, considering the chill that had dropped over their own relationship ever since the King of Ypres had ridden to Lierdhe at Amelie’s request to stop the forced wedding of her younger sister Sibeal to Clement Reynard. The wedding had been Henriette’s way of dealing with rising debts from her drought-stricken province; she’d made an arrangement with Gregor Reynard, the Earl of Leuven, for a loan of two million gold soleils to cover seed costs in exchange for one of her daughters marrying the Earl’s heir Clement. When Amelie had broken off the engagement due to Clement’s boorish behavior, the countess had thrust Sibeal into her place, locking Amelie in a mage-warded cell to keep her “out of trouble.”

But King Matthias had put a stop to all that. Now Sibeal was happily married to Duke Tomas Villiers, the man who had ridden at the king’s side to her rescue, and Lierdhe was safe thanks to the earl forgiving half his loan (at sword point, admittedly) and a generous wedding gift of one million soleils from Villiers, the crown, and Prince Marcus of Illium.
Amelie ignored the sharp pang at the thought of Marcus. He’s gone, and that’s all there is to it. “How wonderful. I’ll write to Sibeal tonight.”

“I’ll have the seamstress start on a layette immediately,” Henriette said, pacing now as she tapped the rolled letter against her chin. “White and green, I think, with our sigil worked in silver thread. And some new gowns for Sibeal, of course. And we must have a purse for the child.”

Amelie thought of the ledgers in her office. “Don’t make it too extravagant. This year’s harvest was much better than the last two, but it was hardly a bumper crop.”

Henriette stopped in mid-stride, the doting grandmother-to-be replaced by the shrewd countess. “How bad?”

“Not bad, but the farmers say it won’t be up to the amount we’re used to, either. They estimate we’ve had an eight percent decrease in yield.”

“Drat.” The duchess resumed her pacing, but this time her smile was gone. “I thought the spring rains had taken care of the drought.”

“They eased it, yes, but it will take more than one wet spring to fully heal the land.” Amelie toyed with her comb. “You might want to reconsider my proposal that we send a request to the Aeris chapter house. If we can have a team of their mages generate a steady amount of rain through the winter—”

Henriette shook her head, two delicate curls bouncing with the movement. “The Aeris don’t believe in interfering with natural weather patterns. And even if I could talk them into it, it doesn’t sound as if we have enough money to pay their infernal fees.” Her hazel eyes narrowed in thought. “Besides, we don’t need Aeris help with this. We can install an irrigation system fed directly from the Lier. And our farm workers can create the irrigation channels, with help from us as required.”

Creating a ditch via magic was certainly one of the easier tasks a Terra mage such as her mother or herself could perform. “That would certainly be practical,” Amelie allowed. “But how would we go about planning such a thing, much less installing it?”

“I’ve already contacted the Earl of Bertrix. He’s willing to lend us some engineers for the project.”

Amelie felt her mouth drop open and closed it quickly. “You must be joking. You loathe Stefan Vandenberghe. I’ve heard you call him a dirt-grubbing troglodyte to his face.”

Henriette flicked long fingers. “That was only because he called me a high-handed harridan. But I’ll admit the blasted man is clever when it comes to earthworks. He’s already agreed to help us plan and install an irrigation system for a share in our harvests over the next five years.”

Amelie ran the figures in her head. Much depended on what the earl considered a share, but if Lierdhe’s fields had access to guaranteed water then their house could afford to give up a certain percent of each harvest. And the earl, ruler of a dry and rocky province on the border of Ypres near Munoz, was known for his brilliant aqueducts and other strategies to transfer water across his lands. If anyone could design a functioning irrigation system for the rolling fields of Lierdhe, it was the Earl of Bertrix. “Does that include this harvest as well?”

“No, not until the system has been installed and is working properly. I’ve invited the earl and his entourage to come to the Harvest Ball so that we can discuss terms. You’ll have a full report on this year’s harvest by then, of course.”

The Harvest Ball. Amelie wanted to groan in dismay. In previous years her mother had used the ball to trot potential suitors in front of her like some fairy tale come to stiff, uncomfortable life. She’d been allowed to skip it last year due to her doomed betrothal to Clement, but clearly her mother had the matrimonial bit in her teeth again.

The only boon about that was that Henriette had been forbidden from having any say in Amelie’s future consort, by both royal and magical decree. Lette Melliers, the Terra Grand Magistra of Ypres, was an old friend of her mother’s but hadn’t been happy about Henriette’s actions in the spring. Both King Matthias and Lette had laid down the law; Amelie’s husband would be her choice, and her choice only.

Which meant she would be expected to make an appearance at the ball and view whatever potential suitors could be scrounged up, as well as sit in on the negotiations with Vandenberghe and provide facts and figures as needed. Her head started to hurt at the thought. “I take it we’re lodging Vandenberghe’s people at Ardenhaal?”

Henriette sighed. “Unfortunately. I’ve also asked the king to send that lawyer of his to assist us with the negotiations.”

That came as a surprise. Counselor Alain LaPorte was the lawyer who had advised King Matthias on the unlawfulness of Sibeal’s betrothal agreement. Amelie wondered if her mother was going for some kind of record in personal shocks. “I thought you called him a duplicitous snake.”

“He is. But if I’m to deal with Vandenberghe, I’d prefer to have a duplicitous snake working on my side.” Henriette pointed the rolled-up letter at her. “As you take on more of my duties, you’ll learn that ruling a province isn’t all pretty dresses and balls. You’ll often be called upon to do things that go against your personal preferences.”

Such as marry a rich boor. “Forgive me for not being able to stomach Clement Reynard, Mother,” Amelie said through her teeth. “But if you had gone to the king as I’d begged you—”

Henriette held up a hand. “We don’t need to rehash this, Amelie. The de Clerqs still rule in Lierdhe and Sibeal is happily married with a baby on the way. Things have turned out for the best, which is all I can ask for.”

Which was completely false. Her mother could, and would, ask for the sun and moon on a silver chain if the mood struck her. “If you want me to have the latest figures for the negotiations, I’d best get back to work tomorrow. Was there anything else you wanted to tell me?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Henriette said, attention straying back to the letter in her hand. “I’ll let you get ready for bed. Good night, my dear.”

So much for that. She tried for a polite smile, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate. “Good night, Maman.”

The countess swept out of the room. After a moment, Jeanette came back in, one hand behind her back. “Is the coast clear?”

Amelie slumped on her chair. “As clear as it’ll ever be. I’m sorry about her scolding.”

The maid shook her head. “It was my own fault, milady. My mother always said my tongue will get me into trouble one of these days. Now, shall I help you get ready for bed?”

After the disasters of the day, all she wanted was to be left alone. “No. I think I can do that much for myself. But thank you.”

With a surprising hesitancy, Jeanette approached the vanity, bringing out what she had hidden behind her back. “Then I’ll give you this, milady.”

She put down a small plate that held an iced almond cake. Amelie stared at the pastry, her throat tightening. Someone had remembered, after all.

“I—thank you,” she stammered. “That was very kind of you, Jeanette.”

“I know it’s not much, but everyone should have a cake on their birthday.” The maid gave her a sympathetic smile. “Many happy returns, milady, and good night.”

With a quick curtsey she was gone. Blinking back tears, Amelie reached out and broke off a bit of the cake, wondering if its sweetness could offset the sour thing that had become her life.

Happy twentieth birthday to me.

Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! This week I’m teasing you with the opening to the third book in my Two Thrones series, Lady of Thorns. Please note that this story will NOT be about Danaë and Matthias (their parallel adventure will be in Book 4), but it does feature Lady Amelie le Clerq, the young, prickly Terra magistra and heiress to the Lady of Lierdhe, and the eminently sneaky Counselor Alain LaPorte from Palace of Scoundrels. The best way I can describe it is, imagine Lady Mary Crawley from Season 1 Downton Abbey and Alan Shore from Boston Legal going head to head.

So to speak. Ahem.

And voila, hijinks ensue! Next week I’ll post a snippet of their first love scene together, so stay tuned, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!


A crisp autumn wind blew through the village of Greatham, fluttering the leaves of the great apple tree in the square and making it look as if the tree was waving at the gathered villagers. As today was the official beginning of the Harvest Festival, everyone had been fortified with mugs of ale and hot pasties courtesy of the Duchess of Lierdhe while they waited for the day’s main event. A ragged but happy cheer rose when the duchess’s carriage finally rolled into view, the grand vehicle coming to a creaking stop next to a wooden platform where the mayor and other village officials waited for their esteemed visitor.

Lady Amelie le Clerq swallowed hard as she peered out the window of the carriage. She had tried to argue that the village was close enough to walk to from their castle, but Countess Henriette le Clerq, the Lady of Lierdhe and ruler of the province, had decreed that her heir would arrive in a dignified fashion for her first Ripening Ceremony and that was simply that.

Hence the carriage, not to mention the dress. Amelie scowled down at the diaphanous copper silk gown with its golden girdle that was the Lady’s ceremonial garb for this day. On her mother the gown looked both beautiful and dignified. On her…

I look like I’m playing dress-up. She had a woman’s curves, barely, but they weren’t balanced the way her mother’s were. Too much flesh across the hips, not enough across the breasts, and then there was the good hand’s span of exposed ankle between ground and hem. Worse, there was muscle underneath the softness, a result of her daily walks and the occasional stop to help a milkmaid or farm hand with a task. Amelie believed that a better understanding of her people’s daily lives could only aid her when it came time to govern Lierdhe, but her mother had been horrified the day she came home with one arm slimed to the pit from helping out with a difficult foaling.

Despite all that activity, she still had an exasperatingly round face with an upturned crabapple for a nose, as well as the dark eyes and hair that were a legacy from her father’s family. She couldn’t help feeling like a plump, drab wren next to her glorious cardinal of a mother. And now, wearing the Lady’s garb and about to perform her first Ripening Ceremony, she felt like an impostor as well.

Stop being ridiculous. You’re a fully qualified Terra mage and can perform this ceremony in your sleep. She studied the crowd again and tried to will her nervous stomach to calm as she stepped down from the carriage. The surprised faces in the crowd made it clear that not everyone had been informed about the change in the ceremony.

Squaring her shoulders, she headed for the mayor, a stocky man whose bushy eyebrows and red nose gave him a fatherly attitude. He bowed at her approach. “Lady Amelie, welcome,” he boomed. “It’s an honor for our village to host your first Ripening Ceremony.”

Her answering smile felt stiff, but she had no time to come up with something better. “And it is my pleasure to perform this ceremony for Greatham, mayor,” she announced, hoping no one could hear the tremor in her voice. “Shall we begin?”

“Of course.” He snapped his fingers and an official handed him a carved wooden cup full of spring water. “So that our lands may always be nourished and fruitful,” he announced, handing the cup to her.

Amelie had watched her mother perform this ceremony since she was a toddler. At the center of the square, a doubled circle of children ringed the gnarled apple tree. The children would part and pass the Lady through into the center, then begin dancing in a circle while singing a hymn praising Lierdhe’s autumn bounty. The Lady would pour the water onto the roots of the apple tree, symbolically nurturing it, and release the binding spell placed on it after it had bloomed in the spring. Using her Terra magic, she would then coax the tree into bearing fruit within minutes, a visual representation of the province’s fruitfulness.

This year, however, her mother had decreed that Amelie should take on the Ripening Ceremony in Greatham, the village closest to their home of Ardenhaal and the traditional site for opening the Harvest Festival. “You’ll have to do it eventually, and it’s best that you get some experience,” Henriette had said blithely. “Besides, it will be good to let the people see you performing magic, don’t you agree?”

Amelie felt the barb hidden inside her mother’s offer. The Terra magic involved in releasing the binding spell wasn’t difficult. Getting the tree to produce ripe apples at an unnatural speed was more challenging, but not beyond her capabilities. It was doing all of that while wearing a ridiculous scrap of copper silk and being watched by a crowd that made her stomach cramp.

She tried to dredge up some saliva, wondering how horrified the onlookers would be if she took a sip from the cup. You can have all the water you want later. Just get through this now. The older villagers gathered closer, many of the adults holding mugs of ale in one hand and pies or pasties in the other in celebration of the holiday. Under normal circumstances she enjoyed the smell coming from the food and drink, but today it set her already cramping stomach on edge. She swallowed hard, willing herself not to throw up in front of her mother’s subjects. I can do this. I can.

Taking a deep breath, she called, “Children of Greatham, let the Lady pass.”

Two sets of girls, most likely chosen for their good behavior, dropped their linked hands on cue. Amelie stepped past them into the cool shade of the apple tree’s spreading boughs, ignoring the giggles behind her. The tree’s life force reached up to her, a rich golden stream steadying her nerves.

Tipping the cup, she poured the water over the gnarled roots while saying a silent prayer, watching the dry brown earth turn moist and black. Depositing the now-empty cup on the ground, she straightened and looked up at the knobby branches and their clusters of green leaves. Her mage senses perceived the binding spell like a sticky caul that covered the branches, holding back their bounty. The tree ached with the need to bear its fruit, and she could feel that pain deep in her own belly.

Raising her arms, she murmured the releasing spell under her breath. Slowly, the caul began to peel back from the tip of each branch, gathering speed as it reached the trunk and unraveled towards the ground. She took in a deep lungful of air as she waited, noting all the scents; the moist dirt at the bottom of the apple tree’s roots, the dry spice of healthy wood, the odor of sugarplums, milk, and a hint of urine from the children, clean sweat, pasties, and ale from the adults, the pungency of manure and other odors that came from living together in a village, and above it all the smell of plants that knew it was time to give up their gifts and bow to the farmer’s scythe.

Within a minute the tree was free from its binding, a light breeze ruffling the leaves and making it seem like the branches was stretching in relief. Amelie allowed herself a sympathetic sigh. The first part was done. Now came the fiddly bit.

She let her hands drop to her sides, spreading her fingers wide, and lowered her mental shields to the ground under her feet. For her, every contact with the earth felt like a low, thrumming note that ran over her long bones, singing to the part of her soul that connected with her element. Today the earth welcomed her, cradling her in its slow, unstoppable immensity.

It was time. Sinking her mental reach deep into the earth, she drew upon its power, letting it stream up through the soles of her feet, filling her to overflowing. The spell she held in her mind would flow outward onto the dusty grey-brown bark, spreading over the trunk and branches, finding the tiny fertilized buds and prompting them to swell and ripen into red-gold apples. All she had to do was let it go—

An outraged squeal startled her, breaking her concentration. Annoyed, she turned towards the source of the interruption and spotted a tiny girl who was trying to tug her long russet braids out of the grasp of a boy in the outer ring.

He dropped the braids when he saw Amelie’s glare, giving her his best innocent smile. She remembered her male cousins doing the same thing before her Terra power manifested, thinking it was great sport to try and make her cry.

Locking gazes with the boy, she crooked her finger. After a quick check to make sure she wasn’t summoning one of the other children, he came over, hands clasped in front of his holiday smock.

“Yes, Lady Amelie?” he piped, eyes wide and ingenuous.

She leaned over so that they were nose to nose. “If you ever pull a girl’s braid again,” she said quietly, “I’ll turn you into a tree and have you chopped up for firewood. Do you understand?”

She didn’t mean it, of course. For one thing, she wasn’t even sure if it was possible. But the threat was effective. “Y-yes, my lady,” the boy gulped, ingenuousness vaporizing into fear.

“Good. Now get back into the circle.”

He dashed back to his place, and the scent of urine intensified. Drat. She tried to smile at the now-quiet children, but they stared at her as if she was about to turn into a monster and eat them. Double drat and damn for good measure.

With no other option, she turned back to the waiting apple tree and quickly rebuilt the spell. It wasn’t as easy this time and she had to make an effort to smooth the rough edges of the magic. Taking a deep breath, she gestured towards the tree as she released the spell, waiting to see the buds swell into ripe apples.

Nothing happened.

A soft murmur built behind her, and a creaky old man’s voice muttered, “Aye, what’d you expect from t’ Lady of Thorns?”

Amelie’s cheeks prickled in embarrassment at the old nickname. Gritting her teeth, she did her best to ignore the waiting crowd and went through the steps of the spell again, finding the word she’d left out.

The murmuring behind her increased as she rebuilt the spell a third time, casting it at the tree harder than she meant to. The gnarled branches swayed under the impact, their nubs exploding under the force of the magic into apples.

In some cases quite literally exploding, showering the ground with sprays of juice and pulped fruit. The children squealed at the arboreal attack, breaking formation and dashing back to the safety of their parents. A startled Amelie wiped a smear of apple from her cheek before she turned around to face her people.

The expressions on their faces were … memorable. “May Greatham have a fruitful harvest,” she called, wishing she could crawl into a hole and pull it shut behind her.

#

“Well, it could have been worse, milady,” Jeanette said judiciously, holding up the stained copper silk and studying it. “At least you didn’t make the entire tree blow up.”

“That’s not nearly as helpful as you think it is,” Amelie muttered, getting the last bit of sticky juice out of her hair. She slid under the water in the tub to rinse, shaking her head from side to side to sluice out the suds, then resurfaced. “You should have seen their faces.”

Her maid made a noncommittal noise. “But the apples ripened.”

“Yes, the apples ripened, which means the Harvest Festival is officially underway. Hopefully that will keep Mother satisfied.” Amelie stood up, accepting a bath sheet and wrapping it around herself. “And I can get back to my real work.”

Jeanette helped her out of the tub and shooed her over to the vanity table. “Excuse me for being blunt, milady, but these will be your duties someday. You can’t stay in your office forever.”

Amelie wished she was still young enough to stamp a foot, petulant as that would be. Instead she dropped onto the padded stool, allowing the maid to work on her hair with a drying cloth. “Perhaps Mother should have made Sibeal her heir after all. She could have blown up the entire square and everyone would have congratulated her.”

“Mayhap, but Lady Sibeal isn’t a Terra magistra,” Jeanette reminded her, pulling out a comb and running it through Amelie’s damp locks. “You are. And frankly you have the better mind for governing a province.”

“So you say. Mother says I’m too cold and analytical.”

The maid sighed. “Her ladyship has a different view from yours on what makes a good countess. It doesn’t meant that hers is the only correct way.”

“Oh, isn’t it?”


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I have been cleaning ALL THE THINGS

Which is why I haven’t posted since last Friday, sorry about that. The Sister arrived yesterday and I’ve spent the last week digging out this house and making it look like grown-ups live here (because deadlines + five cats = FUR EVERYWHERE). I still have to clean out my office in preparation for the mutual HS friend who will arrive tomorrow for a girl’s weekend, but after that I am DONE, people.

And oh, I am full to overflowing with the need to write. I completely overhauled the first few chapters of Cross Current in my head, worked out a great subplot for Lady of Thorns, rearranged some plot points in Uncertainty Principle, and even roughed out the outline for Shifter Woods: Snarl. Y’all are going to be inundated with new Nicola stories over the next few months, I promise.

Speaking of that, both Degree of Resistance and Shifter Woods: Howl are now off KU and available at all online retailers, so if you prefer .epub files you are good to go.

Happy July! Have a snippet from Lady of Thorns

So I spent the first two days of July working on the first chapter of Lady of Thorns (Two Thrones 3). The plan is to split my time between finishing Cross Current and LoT and have CC off to Evernight by mid-July and LoT up by early August. And if I can maybe get some work in on Shifter Woods: Snarl during then, all the better.

BTW, this all took place while Ramón was using the dining room across from me as a staging area for his desk base construction. Since he works full-time at home now and really needs a better setup in his office, he’s been buying IKEA desk parts for the last two months with a plan to create a U-shaped modular desk with hutches to hold his multiple computers/laptops/monitors/what have you.

Unfortunately for him, this required him first to disimpact his office, which … yeah. Let’s just say that he could probably build a time machine from the bits he keeps in there and leave it at that. Much vacuuming and cursing came from the office wing over the weekend, I can tell you. But the initial construction is done and looks pretty good (he had to call a temporary halt since he’s actually working today and needed his work stuff to be up and running), which means that all the IKEA boxes that have been stacking up since May will soon be broken down and put into recycling, selah.

But going back to Lady of Thorns — want to see an unedited snippet? Please note that this story will NOT be about Danaë and Matthias (their parallel adventure will be in Book 4), but it does feature Lady Amelie LeClerq, the young, prickly Terra magistra and heiress to the Lady of Lierdhe, and the eminently sneaky Counselor Alain LaPorte from Palace of Scoundrels. The best way I can explain it is, imagine Lady Mary Crowley from Season 1 Downton Abbey and Alan Shore from Boston Legal going head to head. So to speak. Ahem. And hijinks ensue!

And, yes, I jumped ahead and wrote one of the love scenes. Some background — Amelie has never fit the Lierdhan standards of beauty. Whereas the average Lierdhan maiden is short and deliciously round in all the right places with masses of curling russet or blonde hair, Amelie is tall, hippy, and small-chested with straight dark hair and eyes, to her mother’s eternal exasperation. In an attempt to shed her prickly, standoffish Lady of Thorns reputation and gain a sense of comfort with her sexuality and self-image, Amelie decides she needs a positive experience in physical intimacy. Since LaPorte is in Lierdhe working with her on a business agreement with another duchy, has a good rep in the area of bow-chicka-bow-bow, and has shown evidence that he finds her attractive, she asks him to help. Her plan is really rather logical. Too bad plans never survive first contact with the enemy.


“You don’t believe that I want to take you to bed, do you?”

Her eyes stung, and she blinked to hold the water at bay. “I believe that you’re willing to adhere to our agreement, which is kind of you.”

“No, it’s not. I’m afraid you’ll find that I’m not a kind man, not in the slightest.” His voice lowered, developing a vibration that went through her like thunder. “The thing is, my lady, a man may lie about his wealth, his occupation, even his family name. But one thing he cannot lie about is when he’s attracted to a woman.”

His hand slipped around hers and drew it down. She knew instinctively what he was doing but still gasped in shock when he pressed her hand against the heavy, warm length in his leggings. The muscles between her legs contracted in a unexpected, greedy clench at the physical proof of his desire.

He folded her fingers around him, keeping her palm pressed against his hardness. “I wanted you from the first moment you walked into the king’s study, travel-stained and exhausted as you were. If we hadn’t had other matters to attend to, I would have pressed my suit then and there.”

Other matters. Namely, the rescue of her younger sister Sibeal from an unwanted wedding ceremony. Amelie could still remember the acrid stench of the privy that had been the only avenue of escape from the mage-proof chamber where her mother had jailed her. With only enough time to crop her hair short and change its color, she had spent a sleepless night riding across country to reach Mons and plead for Matthias’s help.

“I was a fright,” she muttered. “How could you have wanted me?”

“You were stunning. A warrior goddess come to earth to claim fealty from the king.” His hand began to move hers, guiding it up and down the heated ridge. “Although I prefer your own hair color. The blonde didn’t suit you.”

“I meant it as a disguise.” Her thoughts were fragmenting, split apart by the promise of his flesh against her palm. The growing ache between her thighs throbbed, making her wonder what it would be like to feel him inside her, filling her. Would it be as delicious as the gossiping girls promised, or would it be yet another disappointment?