Five lusty men, three stubborn women and two determined guardians must comply with a dead queen's wishes -- when her youngest daughter reaches maturity each of her daughters must marry. The wording of the will leads the guardians to believe the princesses must be seduced before they wed.
Since their mother married three times, none of the princesses wishes to wed at all, but they are compelled to obey.
Gareth, the man to whom Yvonne unknowingly has been betrothed since birth, brings his brothers to give her the illusion of choice. Will each princess get the man of her choice?
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Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Passion's Four Towers by Dee Brice
"Dehy's following us again," Yvonne said as she and her two sisters left Marchon Castle behind and trekked toward the apple orchard.
Pippa frowned. "I can't see the pest. Can you, Willa?"
"No, but I don't have Yvonne's keen eyes," Willa said.
"Take heart, Pippa. He's only following us because Willa's with us. Perhaps we should go to our swimming hole." Yvonne's voice held laughter but her expression was somber.
"Don't start," Willa said, her voice menacing, a smile curving her lips.
"Yes, let's go for a swim. Willa can disrobe as she did last summer, slowly, inch-by-inch revealing her body. And you and I, Yvonne, can eavesdrop on Dehy when he tells the stable boys whether he likes Willa's plump handfuls and ass as much as he did last year."
"Pfft!" Willa spat then grinned at her siblings. "Keep on teasing and I'll order Cook to feed you only the most fattening foods." She sighed. "Not that it would do much good with all the exercise you two get."
"There's not much difference among us," Yvonne said, grasping her sisters' hands. "Walking the fields with Gaspar keeps you slim, Willa."
"Compared to you and Pippa, I'm fat."
"Pfft!" her sisters said together.
"Besides," Willa continued, "if we want our conversation to remain private, the orchard is the best place for it. Dehy won't come anywhere near the mother tree."
"Nor will any of the stable boys," Pippa said. "Do either of you know why?"
Willa shook her head, but Yvonne nodded. "Poor superstitious darlings. They all believe our mother tree grew the very apple that Eve used to tempt Adam."
"I think it was the snake that tempted Eve," Willa said.
"Whatever," Pippa said, waving her free hand dismissively. "Men blame women for every misfortune that befalls them."
Willa and Yvonne muttered their agreement.
"Perhaps Willa should take Dehy to her bed. 'Twould save us the trouble of this miserable tournament Aunt Aida and Gaspar are planning," Yvonne said, only half joking.
"Dehy is a child."
"Eighteen to your twenty," Pippa said.
"And besides, the tournament was neither Aunt Aida's nor Gaspar's idea."
"No," Pippa agreed, "it was our wretched--"
Willa and Yvonne gasped, appalled that Pippa would speak ill of the dead.
"Our mother's idea, may she rest in peace," Pippa corrected, her voice bitter. She'd heard enough gossip about her mother's love of men to think Kerrie uninvolved with her daughters' present predicament.
They walked on in silence until they reached the orchard and the mother tree. Spreading their cloaks on the ground, they brought out their supplies and ate.
Willa passed out chunks of cheese and accepted bread from Yvonne and a winter apple from Pippa.
"Perhaps," Pippa said, "we could choose another suitor for Willa. Someone older, someone she knows and respects."
"Gaspar!" Yvonne crowed.
"He won't accept. Besides Aunt Aida would kill us all," Pippa said, looking at Yvonne as if she'd lost her mind. "They've been lovers since dirt was a baby."
"It wouldn't have to be real," Yvonne said in a reasonable tone. "Gaspar could make Aunt Aida see reason and--"
"No," Willa said so firmly her sisters gaped at her.
"Leave Gaspar out of this," Pippa admonished. "Now, Yvonne, since you are the oldest, you have--"
"Right of first refusal. I claim it. I refuse to have any part in saving us all from marriage."
"An obligation to Willa and to me to make the sacrifice."
"But I am the defender of Marchon Castle! Who will defend us if I marry and go live who knows where? Will you, Pippa?"
Willa broke into the escalating argument. "Pippa is almost as strong as you are, Yvonne, and could learn to defend us. But she plays as important a part in Marchonland's wellbeing as you do. As guardian of the horses--drays for our fields, destriers for our knights, ponies for our peoples' children--she could not easily be replaced either.
"No, Mother's will aside, I must be the one. I am resigned to it. Gaspar is more than capable of carrying out my duties. After all, he did them for years while I was growing up and learning everything I needed to know."
They fell into morose silence.
Willa gazed up at the limbs of the mother tree. Mild March temperatures had tempted new leaves to sprout. Now, in April, pink and white blossoms began to spread their sweet scent over the orchard. Soon Willa would need to lay bouquets of those blossoms at the bases of some of the trees or they would not bear fruit. Unless the bees finally awoke from their winter slumbers and pollinated these trees.
"Pfft!" Yvonne said in disgust several moments later. "Dehy's at it again."
"At what again?"
"You know," Pippa said, pantomiming a man touching himself.
"You mean he's jerking his quim-sticker?" Willa said, her face red, her smile wide.
"Where do you hear such words, Willa? Eavesdropping on my stable boys?" Pippa asked, obviously teasing.
"Eavesdropping on my men-at-arms?" asked Yvonne, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring with mock severity at her younger sister.
"No." Willa laughed. "Eavesdropping on Aida and Gaspar."
Yvonne laughed then said, "Remind Portier to make sure Dehy washes before he returns to duty."
"Ugh!" Pippa said, making a face. "I wish your ears weren't so damn keen."
"Ugh?" Willa said. "This from a woman who watches stallions cover mares."
"From a woman who returns from the stables covered in afterbirth?"
Pippa waved her hands dismissively. "It seems more natural when a stallion mounts a mare."
"Trust me, Pippa, if a stallion had hands he'd jerk off too," Yvonne said wryly.
"Then I am very glad my horses have hooves!"
They lapsed once more into silence.
"I have it! The perfect solution to this debacle Maman and Aunt Aida have gotten us into." Looking at her sisters' forlorn faces, Yvonne felt her elation deflate. "Don't you want to hear?"
Willa said in a defeated voice, "We've been at this for so long my brain is seeping out my ears."
Pippa sighed. "If it's another Gaspar... Oh go ahead, Yvonne. Since you're the oldest, we should at least hear you out."
"I'm getting awfully tired of being the 'oldest'," Yvonne snapped.
"Besides, Pippa, Yvonne comes up with good ideas. Sometimes."
"When? When was the last time Yvonne came up with an idea that didn't land us in a manure heap?"
"Never mind then. I only thought you might like dressing up like a knight, Pippa, and showing off your riding skills."
Pippa looked up from regarding her clenched hands. A spark of interest lit her tawny eyes. "What? What, what, what?"
"Here's the plan. Pippa, you enter the tournament, but only in the horsemanship events--the rings and things like that. I shall enter those events that involve swords and battleaxes and archery. Since we are nearly the same height and build and we'll be wearing helmets, no one will know the difference."
Pippa's smile faded. "Except for archery. You cannot wear a helmet and expect to see. And if you can't wear a helm, how can we continue the disguise?"
"Chain mail," Willa said, for the first time that day looking truly cheerful. The sparkle returned to her turquoise eyes. "Your chain mail will cover your hair, Yvonne, and leave your vision clear. And I shall... What shall I do?"
"Sit in the stands and--"
"If you say 'look pretty' I'll dump you both in the moat."
"But you do look-- You are-- Your beauty aside, Willa, you are the holder of the land. Everything we have, the horses, the men-at-arms, the crops--everything--you embody. The competitors will expect to see you."
"And when Yvonne and I win, you will present one of us with your favor."
"Then Pippa or I will carry you off to the castle to have our wicked way with you." Yvonne waggled her eyebrows and twirled an imaginary mustache.
"You can take months, perhaps even years," Pippa encouraged, "to make your decision as to which of us you want to marry."
"I doubt Aunt Aida will allow much time at all. Speaking of her--"
Yvonne's cat-like green eyes glittered. "I'm sure Gaspar won't mind keeping our nosy aunt busy."
Pippa grinned. "With any luck at all, she won't be able to walk."
"Let alone climb up and down stairs to check on me and my 'suitors'," Willa added, looking resolute. She blushed then covered her mouth with both hands. She didn't know exactly why she should be embarrassed, but she was. The idea of women making love to women or men loving other men seemed very different, especially given Kerrie's appetites for the opposite sex.
"I believe there's more of our mother in Willa than we suspected," Pippa finally said.
"Let's hope not, or she may agree to a veritable parade of men," Yvonne countered.
"Which might be better than sharing a tower with you two for who knows how long. Pippa always smells like horses and hay and worse. And with you about, Yvonne, with all those sharp weapons of yours, I shan't be able to leave my bed for fear of stepping on one of them."
They shared a laugh then sobered.
"What if you fail?" Even to her own ears, Willa's voice sounded timorous.
"We won't fail," Pippa said in a firm voice.
They both looked up at Yvonne. She shrugged. "There are always the gypsies."
All three nodded. Anything, even trekking with a gypsy caravan, was better than marriage to a man who would expect them all to give way to his wishes.