As a novice, Lady Cecily of Fulford's knowledge of men is nonexistent. But when tragic news bids her home immediately, her only means of escape from the convent is to brazenly offer herself to the enemy...as a bride!
With her fate now in the hands of her husband, Sir Adam Wymark, she battles to protect her family. Suspicions and betrayal are rife, yet their convenient marriage offers Cecily much more than comfort in her knight's arms....
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January 01, 2007
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Excerpt from The Novice Bride by Carol Townend
Novice Cecily was on her knees in St Anne's chapel when the shouting began outside. According to the candle clock it was almost noon, and Cecily--who in her former life had been called Lady Cecily Fulford--was in retreat. She had sworn not to speak a word to anyone till after the nuns had broken their fasts the next morning. A small figure in a threadbare grey habit and veil, alone at her prie-dieu, Cecily had about eighteen hours of silence to go, and was determined that this time her retreat would not be broken.
Lamps glowed softly in wall sconces, and above the altar a little November daylight was filtering through the narrow unshuttered window. Ignoring the chill seeping up from the stone flags, Cecily bent her veiled head over her prayer beads. "Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is--"
A thud on the chapel door had her swinging round. Another harder one had the thick oak door bouncing on its hinges.
"Cecily! Cecily! Are you in there? You must let me speak to you! It's--"
The woman's voice was cut off abruptly, but Cecily's prayers were quite forgotten. For though the voice did not belong to any of the nuns, it seemed vaguely familiar. She strained to hear more.
Two voices, arguing, and none too quietly. One belonged to Sister Judith, the convent portress. The other voice, the outsider's, went up a notch in pitch, touched on hysteria...
Part curious, part anxious, Cecily scrambled to her feet. Not more bad news, surely? Hadn't the loss of both her father and brother at Hastings been enough...?
She was halfway up the aisle when the door burst open. Lamps flickered, and her blood sister, the Lady Emma Fulford, threw off the restraining arms of the portress and hurtled into the chapel.
One year Cecily's senior, seventeen-year-old Emma was a vision in flowing pink robes and a burgundy velvet cloak. Dropping a riding crop and a pair of cream kid gloves onto the flagstones, she flung herself at Cecily.
"Cecily! Oh, Cecily, you must speak to me. You must!" Finding herself enveloped in a fierce embrace that bordered on the desperate, Cecily fought free of silks and velvets and the scent of roses so that she could study her sister's face. One look had her abandoning her vow of silence.
"Of course I'll speak to you."
Emma gave an unladylike sniff. "She--" a jerk of her head at Sister Judith set her long silken veil aquiver "--said you were in retreat, not to be disturbed. That you may at last be going to take your vows."
"That is so." Emma had been crying, and not just in the past few minutes either, for her fine complexion was blotched and puffy and her eyes were rimmed with shadows. In the four years since Cecily had been brought to the convent she and her elder sister had become strangers, but her sister's delicate beauty had lived on in her mind. This distraught, haggard Emma made her blood run cold.
Sister Judith shut the chapel door with a thump and stood just inside the threshold. Folding her arms, she shook her head at Cecily, the novice who once again had failed to keep her retreat.
Cecily took Emma's hand. Her fingers were like ice. "Something else has happened, hasn't it? Something dreadful."
Emma's eyes filled and she gave a shuddering sob. "Oh, Cecily, it's Maman..."
"Maman? What? What's happened to Maman?" But Cecily had no need to wait for an answer, for she could read it in Emma's expression.
Their mother was dead.
Knees buckling, Cecily gripped Emma's arms and the sisters clung to each other.
"Not Maman," Cecily choked. "Emma, please, not Maman too..." Emma nodded, tears flooding openly down her cheeks. "Wh...when?"
"Three days since."
"How? Was it...was it the babe?" It had to be that. Their mother, Philippa of Fulford, had been thirty-seven--not young--and she had been seven months pregnant at the time of the battle at Hastings. Of Norman extraction herself, she had found the great battle especially hard to cope with. Cecily knew her mother would have taken great pains to hide her emotions, but the deaths of her Anglo Saxon husband and her firstborn son would have been too much to bear.
Many women died in childbed, and at her mother's age, and in her state of grief...
Emma dashed away her tears and nodded. "Aye. Her time came early, her labour was long and hard, and afterwards... Oh, Cecily, there was so much blood. We could do nothing to stem the flow. Would that you had been there. Your time at Sister Mathilda's elbow has taught you so much about healing, whereas I..." Her voice trailed off.