Her Only Hope For The SeasonWith their father gone this Christmastide Bronwyn de Breton and her two younger sisters are utterly vulnerable at unprotected Hunswick Castle. And their troubles are compounded when a fearsome knight arrives on the king's orders to take Hunswick as his own-and the youngest de Breton daughter as his wife.Is A Man She's Never MetBronwyn would never let her little sister be forced to marry a man as rough and wild as the new lord is whispered to be. Yet someone must form an alliance with him or all of Hunswick will be at risk. So she steps forward pretending to be her own sister.And A Love She Never ExpectedBut the new lord is not so easily fooled. He knows Bronwyn is not the woman he has promised to marry. And yet no matter how duty-bound he may be there is no resisting the golden-haired beauty who so fearlessly gives herself to him...and awakens a passion unlike any he's ever known...Praise for Michele Sinclair"Sinclair...carries readers into the hearts and minds of her hero and heroine."-Romantic Times on To Wed a Highlander"Sensual and humorous a winning combination that everyone can enjoy."-Hannah Howell New York Times bestselling author on The Highlander's Bride
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September 30, 2010
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Excerpt from The Christmas Knight by Michele Sinclair
Wide spacious ships with single mast sails were the primar y means of traveling short distances. Ships transporting large quantities of goods drifted slowly at the speed of approximately a knot per hour. The distance between Fecamp, Normandy, the closest port to Rouen, the capital of the Duchy of Normandy, and Southampton, England, which served as the primary port for Winchester, the medieval capital of England, was nearly 130 miles, or approximately five days by sea in good weather. Travel by land depended upon horses, type and condition of the terrain, and the quantity and size of goods being transported. Journeying from Westminster to the wilderness of Cumbria crossed more than 275 miles and typically took nearly two weeks, but the trip could be made in less than five days if one traveled very light and by horse. Deadeye.
That's what they called the man Laon had been chasing since spring. And it was appropriate. For the famed dark-haired knight refused to wear a patch. How he lost his left eye was a mystery, and if anyone did know, they were not saying. Rather all the mumbling aboard the ship was about Laon and how he had found--more like unwillingly caught--the only man who had refused to become a lord.
The small fleet of ships had been traveling to England for two days and the seas had been exactly as expected this time of year--unwelcoming. The weather continued to fight their northwesterly course, dramatically slowing their voyage with fierce wind, creating uncomfortably large white-capped waves that constantly slapped at the wooden oak planks of the Viking-designed cog.
Laon studied the lone imposing figure standing by the ship's side, staring at the rolling sea. The newly titled, reluctant lord was impervious to the enormous swells that made nearly everyone else on board seek the ship's rail for temporary relief. Only today had Laon felt well enough to study the battle beaten knight and prepare some kind of defense or explanation. But he could fabricate not a one, for Laon regretted nothing he had done. The difficult man had left him little choice. A new lord was needed, and Ranulf de Gunnar--whether he wished it or not--was the only viable Anscombe heir. Laon did not expect to be pardoned for his actions, but he did hope for understanding. Loyalty between a man and a king was important, even necessary, but the loyalty exchanged between a knight and his liege could mean the difference between life and death. Especially in Cumbria, the remote hills of northwestern England.
So when the previous Lord Anscombe had lain dying, needing someone to find his elusive nephew and ensure he assumed his responsibility, Laon had gone, never imagining Anscombe's heir, a favored commander of England's new king, would be so hard to find . . . or to persuade. And in the end, Laon couldn't.
So he had resorted to shrewd means to not only find, but bind the solemn knight to a life the man had made clear he did not want.
Sir Ranulf de Gunnar was the next in line to the Anscombe title and forfeiting that right would be ruinous for an already struggling people. The resulting vacuum would tempt not only northern marauders determined to steal and plunder whenever prosperity became possible, but those enemies who lived close by, waiting for a chance to gain even more land and power.
A voice cried out by the ship's mast and a young boy dressed in several layers of rags to keep warm rushed across the deck carrying what appeared to be a heavy coil of rope. Unable to see in front of him, the lad collided into the large knight's back and would have fallen if it had not been for Ranulf's quick reflexes and accurate timing. He gently righted the cringing boy, who avoided looking at him before taking off again.
Laon fought the urge to move back into the shadows as Ranulf turned to scan the forecastle. His single umber-colored eye quickly inspected the activity of the bow. The evidence of the eye's missing mate was hidden beneath a closed, flaccid lid, concealing the empty wound. Most probably thought the injury was the result of an unlucky encounter with a sword, but only someone familiar with the fiery depths of hell would recognize the probable cause behind the mottled scar disfiguring the left brow and cheek. Laon was one of those few.
Moving back into the shadows, Laon attempted to covertly study his new liege lord. But as if the man understood just what Laon intended, the hard figure returned his gaze to the sea so that his back was once again all that was visible. He had given no evidence in his expression that he was aware of Laon's scrutiny, but Laon was certain nonetheless that the newly titled lord was fully cognizant of who was around him and what they were doing. A skill he had employed shrewdly in Normandy.
Finding him had been difficult, but eventually achievable. Speaking with Ranulf, however, had proved near impossible. He moved from one battle to another, attending the duke's court for only brief periods of time before setting out for a new location, training field, or battle. At first, Laon had believed it to be just bad timing causing him always to be where the elusive knight was not. But when it became obvious Deadeye was cleverly and intentionally avoiding him--and would continue to--Laon realized the truth. Ranulf was well aware of his cousin's death and he had no intention of accepting the Anscombe title or the responsibility.
So Laon had done what his new lord no doubt considered underhanded, devious, and far from honorable . . . but it had worked. And now there would be consequences for using such tactics. Just what those were, however, Laon was having difficulty discerning.
Ranulf de Gunnar was far from young and had long mastered the ability to appear disconnected from all that was around him. It was not surprising. If one survived the wounds caused by a fire, the experience did more than just damage the skin, it changed a person inside. The pain of recovery either broke their spirit or made them stronger. That the new lord was made of the latter was obvious, but whether he had become wiser or bitter was impossible to distinguish from afar.
The wind caught the collar of Ranulf's tunic and flipped it up, slapping him on the side of his face. He pivoted and flicked it aside. His expression remained what it had been since the inception of the voyage. No anger, no remorse, no self-pity . . . no warmth. Emotions were not something the man displayed. His nickname "Deadeye" led one to believe hatred and wrath marked his life's path, but Laon suspected there was much more to the one-eyed knight than the outward shell revealed. Long distance observation would divulge nothing more than what Laon already knew, leaving only one way to determine the makeup of Cumbria's future. He must talk to him.
Ranulf ignored the old knight who had singlehandedly ripped his simple, but livable life away and replaced it with one only a fool would want. His previous life may not have been pleasant, but as a prized commander to the duke of Normandy, who in a few days would be crowned the king of England, it had been very lucrative and--most important--isolated from the general populace.
The old man advanced another step and shifted his stance to counter the movement of the ship. He was standing on Ranulf's left just outside of his limited range of vision, but that didn't mean Ranulf could not hear where the aged knight was and just what he was doing. Ranulf had learned to perpetuate the myth of full sight with an acute sense of hearing, which let him know exactly where the old man stood. Close, but far enough away to step out of reach if Ranulf decided to physically assault him, and yet, just near enough for conversation. Something the old man obviously hoped Ranulf would initiate.
If the scheming knight had been anyone else, Ranulf might have been inclined to talk, if only just to order him away. But he was no longer naive to the lengths the old man would go to achieve his desires. Few men had the audacity--let alone foresight-- to seek out the duke and duchess of Normandy and convince them of their cause. And yet, Sir Laon le Breton had displayed a surprising amount of audacity by doing just that. Of course, fortuitous timing had helped. Henry had just learned of King Stephen's untimely death and his rightful succession to the throne,making the stability of England-- especially in the remote areas of the country--of high importance. Having loyal noblemen overseeing distant regions would be critical to securing Henry's reign. So Ranulf had been ordered north to his new home, his new title, and his new responsibilities . . . his own feelings on the matter noted, but ignored.