With over five million copies of her novels in print, New York Times bestselling author Virginia Henley has enchanted readers worldwide. Now she sweeps us back to an intensely romantic, tumultuous time in Scottish history. . . .
When Lynx de Warenne, Edward Plantagenet's most prized warrior, invaded Dumfries castle, he took possession of Jane Leslie's home--and soon wanted something more from the headstrong lass. Desperate for an heir, he proposed a handfasting: a Scottish custom whereby a man can lawfully take a woman into his bed, then, after a year and a day, the couple can either wed or part. Any child of that union is deemed legitimate. Jane had no choice but to surrender to the invader's knowing touch. . . .
Fearless on the battlefield, Lynx was afraid to love. But Jane slowly stole into his heart. And as the fires of war raged around them, amid treacherous foes and brilliant intrigues, who would have thought that two such unlikely partners would fall in love--or that their breathless passion for each other would outlast . . .
Virginia Henley is the author of fourteen romantic novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Seduced and Desired. Her work has been translated into ten languages. A recipient of the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award, she lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Ontario, Canada.
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October 11, 1998
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Excerpt from A Year and a Day by Virginia Henley
Jane was thankful that her favorite sister-in-law, Judith Leslie, accompanied Mary and Kate when they came to her new chambers. Her sisters kept telling her how lucky she was to have Lord de Warenne choose her for a mate, but as Judith helped her into the huge tub, she looked into Jane's eyes with gentle concern. "Are you afraid?"
Jane sank down in the warm water. She was about to deny her fear vigorously, but Judith's soft words brought a truthful response from her lips. "Yes, I'm afraid...I don't know what to expect from him."
Kate laughed suggestively. "Expect the worst."
"That way, you won't be disappointed," Mary added.
Judith chided them both. "Jane has no experience with men. She needs our advice, not dire warnings!"
"Just keep your mouth shut and your legs open," Kate advised. "Men don't want conversation, they want action."
"The bigger the man, the bigger the appetite, if you know what I mean," Mary informed her, holding her hands apart to show her the size of his parts. "They don't call it a yard for nothing!"
Kate laughed at Mary's rude gesture.
"They are just teasing you, Jane, take no notice of them," Judith urged.
"Oh, I know they are enjoying themselves at my expense."
Kate stopped laughing. "All right, then, here's some real advice. Don't cry, no matter how much he hurts you. Men hate tears."
"It's time to get dressed, Jane. Step out of the water." Judith held up a big towel.
"No, I'm going to drown myself," Jane said, only half jesting.
"Stop feeling sorry for yerself; every other woman in Dumfries would sell her soul to be handfasted to Lord de Warenne," Mary informed her.
"She's right," Judith admitted. "It's a blessing, not a curse. Try to please him and obey him in all things and everything will go well for you, Jane."
When she was dressed, Judith brushed Jane's hair until it fell brilliantly to her hips. Against the purple velvet of the plain-cut tunic, her hair was a lovely red-gold.
When Lynx de Warenne came to escort her to the hall he stared in surprise at the transformation that had taken place. Instead of a peasant girl he found a beautiful young woman in her place. He was impressed by his squires' efforts on behalf of his lady. The simple wreath of flowers crowning her glorious red hair was more exquisite than costly jewels. She looked more desirable to him than any woman he had seen in a long time.
As they entered the noisy hall filled with his men and all the people of Dumfries Castle, including the entire family of Leslies, Jane gripped his arm so tightly, he knew immediately she was terrified. Unlike most women she seemed to dread being the center of attention.
"I'm sorry, Jane. Everyone is curious about us. Once they've had a good look at you, I'm sure the novelty will wear off." He put his hand over hers and squeezed his encouragement. Up on the dais Lynx held up his hands for silence. His speech was short and sweet in deference to her shyness. "I present the Lady Jane. Please join me in a toast to welcome and honor her." Lynx raised his goblet and everyone in the hall toasted Jane.
A thunderous cheer followed by applause rolled around the hall. Jane lowered her eyes. She did not dare look up at the sea of men before her, nor raise her eyes to acknowledge her family. Neither did she dare steal a glance at Lord de Warenne. But she was acutely aware of him. When they were seated, his chair was elevated higher than hers as befitted his station, and his two squires stood behind their chairs to serve them.
"It is customary for you to acknowledge the toast."
Her lashes flew up, she stared at him for a moment, then picked up her goblet of wine and drained it.
Lynx quirked an eyebrow in amusement. "A simple "thank you' would have been a more appropriate response for a lady."
The wine brought instant heat to her cheeks. It felt as if a bright red rose unfurled in her breast and brought her a small measure of recklessness. "If you had wanted a lady, my lord, you should not have chosen me."
"Are you deliberately trying to goad me, ch�rie?"
Thomas refilled her goblet and Jane eyed the wine uncertainly. Seeing her speculative glance, Lynx recalled the time she had deliberately spilled hot soup on him. Before she could reach for the goblet, he took her hand and gave her a warning glance.
Jane read his thoughts and the corners of her mouth lifted in amusement. "Have no fear, the wine is too good to waste on you." She pulled her hand from his as if his touch offended her.
"Insolence will soon make me tire of you," he said silkily.
"I am relieved it won't take a year and a day."
Lynx masked his own amusement. Her wit was unexpected and it secretly delighted him. He enjoyed sparring with her. It was infinitely preferable to the fear she had displayed at first.
Jane usually had a good appetite and the food placed before her looked and smelled delicious, but her throat felt tight and she knew she would not be able to swallow one bite with everyone's eyes upon her.
Lynx watched her toy with her food. It annoyed him. Why did women eat like birds, starving themselves for vanity's sake? His sister, Jory, was the only woman he knew who relished her food and there were few men breathing who didn't find her attractive.
Welsh harpers strolled about the hall, providing music while everyone dined. When the meal was almost done, a balladeer stepped to the center of the hall and sang an epic love tale, set to music. Jane had never felt so uncomfortable in her life. Her cheeks flamed with fire, while her hands turned to ice. Her feet were extremely cold as well, for she had come down in her stocking feet. Her sturdy leather shoes had seemed inappropriate with the elegant tunic, and she posessed no slippers. From the tail of her eye she saw Lord de Warenne beckon Thomas, though she could not hear what he said.
"Christ, no more soulful love songs. Summon a piper and let's have something Scottish and lively."
Everyone in the castle seemed to be enjoying themselves except Jane. She felt as if every eye watched her with speculation as the hour grew later. She looked over at the long table where her family sat. Megotta was not there, but her brothers and sisters were having the time of their lives. Jane wished she was sitting with her brothers instead of here on the dais beside the sharp-eyed de Warenne.
Lynx followed her glance. "Your brothers seem to be enjoying themselves."
Does he disapprove of their behavior also? she wondered with pique. She lifted her chin. "They love to laugh; they are very witty. You don't seem to have much humor...or wit. Perhaps you are witless?" Jane was aghast at her own daring.
His eyes narrowed. "You enjoy pricking me with your words. Soon it will be my turn to do the pricking."
Jane stiffened with fear and rose to flee. His hand shot out to grasp her wrist and he forced her to sit. "You will not rush from my side before my men. You haven't the faintest idea how a lady should act. You will be gracious. Smile at me. At least have the courtesy to pretend you are happy to be handfasted to me."
"Pretense is exactly what it is." As the pressure on her wrist increased, Jane smiled. But through her teeth she said, "I hate you, I hope I am barren!"
Lynx de Warenne was on his feet instantly. He swung her up into his arms and raised his voice. "Stay where you are and enjoy yourselves. Our steward will keep the wine flowing." A great cheer went up when they saw the lord would carry his woman from the hall.
Taffy stepped close to Lynx de Warenne and murmured, "Your lady is very young, my lord."
Lynx was startled. Surely the young devil didn't fear for her? He ignored the remark and strode from the hall. His two squires followed him while the rest of his men took out their dice or challenged each other to wrestling matches. He felt Jane clutching his shoulder and glanced down at her. Her face was whiter than the hawthorn blossoms in her hair.
Lynx carried her up the steps to the first level of the Master Tower and opened her chamber door. Incredulously, he heard Thomas's voice in his ear. "She is extremely innocent, my lord."
He slipped inside and set her feet to the carpet, then Lynx turned to confront his squires. "Christ, do the pair of you think to tutor me?" Then he firmly closed the door in their faces.
Now that Jane was alone with him, all her bravado fled. "My lord, I'm sorry, I didn't mean what I said. It was just a game to see who could make the cruelest remark."
Lynx saw the fear in her eyes. Eyes that were the lovely soft brown of a doe. The last thing he wanted her to feel was trapped. His face softened as he looked down at her. "Do you think we can begin again? It was an ordeal for you tonight with every eye upon you. Let's both forget the things we said to each other."
"Yes, that would be best," she murmured.
Lynx stood awkwardly, wondering exactly how to go about the business of impregnating her. It was a unique situation, one that he had certainly never encountered before. If the female he was with had been a whore, she would know exactly how to go about the task, with encouragement from him. If the female he was bent on seducing had been a lady, she would expect and welcome his advances the moment the chamber door closed.
His mind went back to his wedding night, seeking clues. That deflowering had gone easily enough, Lynx recalled. Lady Sylvia Bigod had clung to him avidly and the clinging had gone on for five years. He reminded himself that this situation was completely different and banished all thoughts of his late wife. Lynx decided that at all costs he must remain polite; he could not allow things to degenerate into another battle of words. "Did you enjoy the music, my lady?" he inquired courteously.
Knowing how easily her tongue got carried away when she was nervous, Jane decided to speak as little as possible. She stood hesitantly, gazing across the chamber at the fire. "Yes, my lord."
Lynx advanced into the chamber, spied a stringed lute on the wall, and again asked politely, "Do you play?"
Jane's lashes flew up. Was he asking her to play some sort of mating game? When she saw he was looking at a musical instrument she replied, "No, my lord."
Again there was silence.
Lynx took a few more steps into the room, noting that Jane remained just inside the door, exactly where he had deposited her. His glance fell on the games table with its carved pieces. "Do you play chess, my lady?" Was that a desperate note he detected in his own voice?
"No, my lord." She could have bitten off her tongue the moment she said it. If they played a board game, it would postpone the consummation.
He watched her gaze return longingly to the fire. "Are you cold?"
"No...yes...no, my lord."
Lynx laughed and immediately felt better. "Well, which is it?"
"My feet are cold," Jane blurted out.
Lynx laughed again. Cold feet was something they had in common! He held out a hand. "Come and be warm." He watched her come forward slowly and pulled a cushioned chair closer to the fire. She sat down primly with folded hands and lowered lashes. Lynx sank to his knees, folded back the hem of the velvet tunic, and saw that she wore no shoes.
He bit back a surprised comment as he realized she had no slippers. Instead, he took Jane's foot in his big hands and began to massage it. It was indeed icy to the touch, yet her cheeks flamed. He massaged the other foot, watching her breathing become agitated.
His hands were unbelievably strong and warm. As he rubbed her stockinged foot, she felt his heat begin to seep into her. It felt wonderful, but his closeness took away her breath. As her breasts rose and fell, she saw his eyes upon them. Her nipples peaked of their own volition and she feared he would soon have her naked.
"Are you afraid of me, my lady?" he inquired, still using the formal, polite tone.
"No...yes...no, my lord."
This time he forced himself not to laugh. "Well, which is it?"
"I don't know, my lord," she murmured, fingering the soft velvet of the tunic she wore.
Lynx knew he would have to breach the barrier of formality that existed between them. "Jane," he deliberately used her name, "let's try to be comfortable with each other. All of this formality is getting us nowhere." He rose to his feet and moved across the chamber to pour them wine. He saw immediately from its pale color that it was only watered wine, too diluted to warm the blood. Lynx headed for the stairs that led up to his own chambers. "I'll get us some wine."
While Lynx was upstairs he took the opportunity to divest himself of his clothes. He shrugged into his black velvet bedrobe to cover his nakedness and took up a flagon of wine. He hoped one would be enough. Lynx also hoped Jane would take the opportunity to undress and put on her own bedrobe, but when he came down the stairs, he found her exactly as he had left her.
As he poured them each a goblet of the red wine, he realized she wasn't going to make it easy for him. The onus rested squarely on him. Perhaps she wasn't simply innocent, perhaps she was woefully ignorant on top of everything else. He took the wine to the fire and handed her the goblet. He watched her covertly as she tentatively took a sip. It was obvious she had as little experience with wine as she had with men. It appeared he would have to teach her everything.
"Like this. Take a mouthful and roll it about your tongue to savor the taste." He swallowed and watched as she imitated him. She repeated the action, then quaffed deeply, half draining the cup. Her eyes became bright as an idea suddenly occurred to her. She must ask him to teach her how to play chess. She would keep filling his goblet until he passed out, as she had seen her brothers do upon festive occasions.
"Now I'm hot," she announced.
Lynx nodded. "The wine warms your blood from the inside, just as the fire warms you from the outside."
She rose and moved away from the fire. "Would you teach me how to play chess, my lord?"
He realized that she was avoiding the intimacy that must inevitably happen between them, and reluctantly decided to give her a little more time. "You cannot learn an intricate game like chess in one night, but we can begin the first lesson." Lynx de Warenne curbed the impatience that had started to build inside him. He wanted to give her a lesson all right, but it had nothing to do with chess.
They sat down facing each other with the small games table between them. The chess pieces were tall and beautifully carved from ivory. He picked one up and handed it to her. Their fingers touched and she drew away as if he had burned her. "That is the king, the most important piece on the board. He outranks everyone."
As she gazed down at the tall figure in her hand, she realized he could be speaking of his own position here at Dumfries.
"Each player has sixteen pieces to move; eight principal pieces consistin
Excerpted from A Year and a Day by Virginia Henley Copyright (c) 1998 by Virginia Henley. Excerpted by permission of Island Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.