A battle of wills . . .
As the oldest son and heir to Anglesea, it is Roger’s duty to stand tall and strong. But his tough exterior belies the heart of a true romantic, a devoted son who yearns for the deep love he has witnessed between his parents and his sisters and their husbands. However, with the Anglesea family jockeying for a more advantageous position, Roger must marry judiciously.
A fight for the heart . . .
Having spent her childhood watching her mother suffer, Kathryn of Mandeville is determined never to marry. To be as a Viking shield maiden of old is her heart’s only desire. But when her sister Matty runs away to escape Roger’s sensible proposal, Kathryn is forced to help Roger find a more suitable bride. Bound by duty, Roger and Kathryn soon discover they are facing a much tougher fight—the one that is within their hearts . . .
Roger wanted to jab his dagger into his eye. He despised failure, hated it, yet judging by his intended bride’s reaction to his courtship performance, he and failure now shared a bed. Love and war, with a clear plan, a man could manage one in much the same manner as the other. Hadn’t a lifetime under the guiding hand of Sir Arthur of Anglesea set this lesson into Roger’s marrow?
Except, Roger’s courtship had veered from the battle plan.
Lady Mathilda had accepted his flowers with her sweet, lovely smile and even moved her skirts to make place for him beside her. Since then, his plan had moved from disarray into rout. Lady Mathilda should be sighing by now, at least peeping at him from beneath thick dark lashes. He’d watched William turn a woman sweet a hundred times.
In her haste to put distance between them, she inched her curvy hips down the bench, almost tipping onto her pert ass. She pressed a fluttering hand to her throat. “Five sons, Sir Roger?”
“Aye.” He softened his tone. A woman would not enjoy being bellowed at like a man-at-arms. “My mother had four, and the two girls. I wager we could do better.” He gave her a tiny nudge. “Aye?”
Agape, Lady Mathilda shook her head. Her nut-brown hair made a silky swish on the bench.
Too abrupt? Perhaps. He should have refrained from the nudge for certain, but desperation crept through him with each passing moment. “Of course, that is if you are willing, my lady.”
Gentle, his mother had urged. Woo her with sweet words and smiles. Roger smiled.
She stared at him with huge eyes, dark like aged walnut, and gave him her flawless profile.
Mother had chosen well. Lady Mathilda boasted the sort of beauty that would make any man want to strut and crow like a barnyard cock.
“Your lips.” He gave it another try. Please let the spirit of his brother, William, dwell within him now. “Are as ripe as…apples. Red apples, not green. Not the red and green ones either. All red, like…” Jesu, give him strength. Even he could do better than that. “I mean cherries.”
“You are most kind.” Her chest rose and fell with her quickened breathing, and while a man tried not to look, or get caught looking, she filled out the front of her bliaut with a tasty, ripe bounty.
Roger balled his hand into a fist, tempted to punch his own face with it. He made a dog’s ballocks of this. Give him a keep to tear down, a young soldier to train, a horde of marauding Scots. Anything but this.
Still, he’d vowed to marry, and marry he would. Time to do his duty as the heir. At his feet, his favorite bitch peered at him and whined. She understood him, never needed pretty words from him. Why couldn’t women be more like dogs? Only, with not quite so much fur and the bad breath. There must be something they could speak of. He waded into the oozing silence. “Dogs?”
Lady Mathilda clasped her hands in her lap, fingers white about the knuckles. “Dogs, Sir Roger?”
“Aye, dogs. Do you like them?”
He should talk about her. That last bit of counsel from older sister, Faye. “What do you like?”
“Me?” She started. A flush stained her peachy skin.
Mother had certainly found him a girl to rival Faye in looks. “Aye.”
“I like flowers.”
There, he had done one thing right. “Flowers are nice. And?”
“Um…” She stroked her skirts over her knees. “Silk. I like silk.”
“Then I shall be sure to clothe you in silk for the rest of your days.”
Her head snapped up and she went taut beside him. “The rest of my life?”
“Indeed.” The rest of his life seemed to stretch in front of him like an endless road to nowhere. Did Lady Mathilda perhaps sense his reluctance to marry? “I am sure we will be very happy together.”
Lady Mathilda sprang to her feet. “Aye.” Retreat bellowed from every taut line of her as she scurried away.
Roger received the message clearly. Lady Mathilda did not favor his suit.
Her full hips rocked with the speed of her flight.
It was a pity for her, then, that Roger of Anglesea had decided he would wed Mathilda of Mandeville. Will she or nil she.
Kathryn stuck her head around the screens at one end of Anglesea’s hall and tried to signal her sister. Matty charged straight into hell with all Kathryn’s carefully conceived and executed plans. Why could a person not run a courtship like a battle? It would be so much simpler that way.
Matty stared at Sir Roger like the man had sprouted two heads. Blast! What ailed her sister? Sir Roger fit Kathryn’s requirements to perfection. Not much for prayer, Kathryn had spent hours on her knees asking for just such a husband for Matty. They’d been at Anglesea for two days now, and Kathryn’s relief when she met Sir Roger had made it easy to encourage Matty to welcome the match.
She could not fathom, why today of all days, the usually biddable Matty had taken one of her huffs into her head. Lord above knew, they did not happen often, but when Matty took one of her stands, there would be the devil’s work to sway her. The wedding contracts remained unsigned, on Sir Arthur’s behest, until Roger and Matty both agreed they would suit.
Sir Roger tugged at his tunic neck as he shifted on the bench beside Matty.
If only the man had a touch more address. To be fair, however, Kathryn had not aided his courtship because of his honeyed words and pretty gestures. She had explained all this to Matty.
Matty rose and near ran for the door.
Fists balled by his sides, wide shoulders taut, Sir Roger watched her go.
Matty rushed past and Kathryn dropped into step beside her. “What happened?”
With a shriek, Matty leapt away from her. “Kate?” She pressed her hands to her bosom. “You near scared the life out of me. I thought you were him.”
“Nay, him.” Matty jerked her head toward the hall. She glanced back. “Does he pursue me?”
Sir Roger stood, much as Matty had left him, with a tremendous frown on his handsome face.
“Nay.” Kathryn lengthened her strides to keep up with Matty. “What happened?”
Matty stopped, one foot on the bottom stair. “Did you see him?”
“Aye, I did. Great comely fellow that he is.” Kathryn suffused as much enthusiasm as she could into her words. Not as pretty as his brother, William, but Kathryn preferred Sir Roger’s more rugged looks.
Matty shuddered. “He is a brute.”
“Brute?” Kathryn followed her sister up the stairs. “Nay, Matty, but he is a warrior, which is why we agreed you should marry him.”
Matty spun and glared. “We agreed to nothing. You and father said I should marry him.”
“Matty.” It was the first and last time Kathryn would probably agree with their father. “We spoke about this. Remember?”
Matty drooped. Her eyes filled with tears. “I cannot marry him.”
“But why not?” Kathryn climbed closer to her sister. “He may be big and rough, but I enquired everywhere about him. They say he is tough but fair, and kind to his people. Men like this do not come about like the village peddler. We must snap him up while we can.”
“I cannot.” On a soft cry, Matty ran up the stairs.
“But you must,” Kathryn whispered to the empty space. “How else am I to keep you safe?”
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