|REBEL BRIDE: out now in ebook, paperback in March|
An extract from REBEL BRIDE (Lust in the Tudor Court #2):
Courtier Hugh Beaufort has agreed to accompany Susannah Tyrell - a beautiful young woman promised in marriage to an old man - back to Lord Wolf's hall after she claims to feel unwell. It's only a short ride across the Yorkshire moorland. What harm could there be? But Susannah has other plans ...
‘I think Lady has a slight sprain. To be safe, I should not ride her back to the hall but must walk.’ Susannah sighed. ‘What a nuisance. It’s not far on horseback, but will take ages on foot. And we have not yet crossed the river. My gown will be soaked.’
‘Nonsense,’ Hugh said shortly.
He dismounted and bent to examine the mare’s fetlock himself. Sure enough, the unfortunate beast did appear to have suffered a strain through putting its hoof into a rabbit hole. He was surprised by Susannah’s knowledge, and could not hide it. Most gentlewomen of his acquaintance did not have the first idea how to care for an animal.
‘Well, you are right; it does appear to be strained. But as for walking, there is no need for such drastic measures. You will have to sit up before me, that is all,’ he told her, then saw her smile and the slight flush that entered her cheeks, and cursed himself for a fool.
‘Though it might be better, over such rough terrain, for you to ride and me to lead the horse,’ he added.
Her blue eyes teased his. ‘Oh, it is not so difficult a journey from here, sir; I promise you.’
‘I thought you did not know this path.’
‘I have remembered it now.’ Susannah shook her head when he came to set her on his horse, a sudden merry defiance in her face. ‘There is no need for you to walk, good sir. You will ruin your fine courtly hose among these briars. Besides, I cannot sit that saddle. It is not fit for me.’
The wench was mocking him. You will ruin your fine courtly hose. Why, he was wearing nothing but what was fashionable in the southern reaches. Thrown off balance by her laughter, Hugh struggled to keep his patience, unaccustomed to being mocked by young women.
Especially a young woman with eyes blue as the sky in summer.
‘And why not, pray?’
‘That saddle has no hook for a lady. I cannot sit astride like a man, sir. It would not be seemly.’
She was making fun of him, Hugh was sure of it now. Not seemly? He could not imagine any gently bred lady less concerned about seemliness than this one. ‘Then you must sit side-saddle and … grip the horse’s mane, mistress. That should suffice to steady you.’
Impatiently, he put his hands to her waist, meaning to hoist her up onto his horse. But her arms came about his neck at the same time, dragging his head inexorably down to hers. He saw a bright flash – her blue eyes, dancing with mischief – then suddenly her mouth was on his, kissing him.
Afterwards Hugh could not have said for sure how it happened. One moment he was still in control, fully intending to push the saucy girl away and chastise her for such forwardness. The next moment his control had snapped, and he was kissing her back like a starving man.
Susannah might be inexperienced, an innocent virgin, but her lips felt like fire on his, impossibly hot. Reason fled on a wave of hunger, and Hugh jerked her close, abruptly needing to feel her whole body against his.
Her soft lips parted on a gasp of surprise, or perhaps fear.
At once, his tongue stroked inside her mouth, revelling in her taste, sweet as summer berries, intoxicating as wine on this hot afternoon.
God’s blood, he chided himself, he should not be kissing her like this. He was one of the king’s advisors, and he had been entrusted with Susannah’s safety and well-being by Lord Wolf less than an hour ago. Yet here he was, breaking his word as a gentleman and a courtier, and taking shameless advantage of an innocent virgin.
‘Hugh,’ she murmured against his mouth. Her hands slipped down his back and cupped his buttocks, pulling him harder into her.
Hugh was astonished by such wanton lustiness. Virgin she almost certainly was, but not as innocent as he had assumed.
To take such a firebrand into his bed …
He imagined what Sir John would say, receiving back a despoiled daughter. And his friend Lord Wolf, who had handed the girl into his care. It had seemed a small thing at the time, accepting her charge. A short ride back to the hall across easy terrain. Instead her horse had gone lame, she was burning up in his arms, and he had little doubt that in a few moments more he could have his way with her willing body.
Common sense finally reasserted itself.
‘No,’ he exclaimed, dragging his mouth from hers.
Hugh expected words of accusation and reproach from the maiden, perhaps even a slapped cheek. And he fully deserved such affronts. Yet there was only a soft sigh from Susannah, who looked up at him dreamily, her eyes half-closed, her cheeks flushed.
‘No,’ he repeated, more firmly this time. His hands tightened about her slender waist. ‘You will mount and I will lead the horse. You are promised to Sir William Hanney. And I have sworn to escort you back to the hall unscathed, which I fully intend to do.’
Frustratingly, Susannah seemed unmoved by this declaration. Her hands continued to cup his buttocks, squeezing them shamelessly. ‘But what if I should have no objections to being scathed?’ she demanded, and tilted her head to one side like a little sparrow, watching him, curious to hear his response. ‘Would you change your mind, sir?’
His jaw clenched. ‘Get on the horse, Susannah.’
‘Or I shall put you across my knee.’