The Untamed Warrior’s Bride
“Now remember who you are. Say it again.” Wenda of Grevershire stared down at him, her blue eyes revealing a stony indifference.
“I’m the true heir to Penrith,” Piers replied. He tried to sound brave, though a chill threaded through his guts. His stomach gnawed with hunger, but he knew better than to ask his mother for food. She’d cuffed his ear when he’d mentioned it last night. They had traveled for three days, and now they stood outside the castle keep and the surrounding walls of Penrith.
“This is where you belong,” Wenda told him. Though his mother’s gown was made of silk, it had worn down over the years. The hem had frayed, and the blue color had long since faded. Even so, she carried herself as a lady. “You are going to live here in the castle and work at whatever tasks they give you. Learn this place,” she insisted. “You’ll have to if you intend to rule over it one day.” Her eyes gleamed with intensity, laced with anger.
Piers stared at her, not knowing what she meant by that. He could never rule over Penrith, despite her claims. He couldn’t be anything more than what he was—a bastard son his father knew nothing about.
Wenda handed him the small bundle of his belongings, and he suddenly realized what was happening. “You’re leaving me?” His voice revealed his uncertainty, and he tried to stand up straighter. He was eleven years old, and somehow, he’d thought she was coming too.
“I must,” she said. “But heed my words and remember them. I was betrothed to the Earl of Penrith before you were born. A betrothal is the same as a marriage, binding in the church.” Her eyes glittered with fury, and she stared at the fortress. “He may have abandoned me, but you are his true heir. You were born first before he set me aside and took that harlot as his wife. And I will have my vengeance on Degal. I swear it on my life.”
Her words bordered on madness, and Piers looked down at the ground. Wenda gripped his hair and forced him to look at her. “Learn about the family, all their secrets. Find the whore’s son Robert and befriend him. Earn his trust.” She smiled slowly. “And when the time comes, you will take your place at Penrith.”
When the time came for what? He didn’t ask her but gripped the bundle in his hands.
Then Wenda rested her hand on his shoulder. “Gleda will help you. She used to be my maid, years ago. She will give you a place to sleep.”
A hollow feeling of loss surrounded him. She truly planned to leave him here with these strangers. The iciness tightened, numbing him deep inside. “Will I see you again, Mother?”
“You will,” she agreed. “But not for some time. They need to accept you first. Let them believe you are alone.” Piers wanted to hug her, but Wenda pulled away when he tried to step toward her.
“There’s one more thing.” Her voice held a coolness, and something about her tone made him want to shrink away. “The harlot’s son has been ill. I’ve sent a vial of special medicine for Robert. Give it to Gleda along with the letter I wrote.”
“She can read?” he interrupted. He had never learned how.
“Yes, she can read. The letter tells her of the medicine and how to make more. Tell her to burn the letter after she’s read it.”
Wenda rested her hands upon his shoulders and bent down. “It is very important that the harlot’s son takes his medicine every day. He may be ill, but this medicine will help him.”
The slight smile on her face made him uneasy. Something about her words did not sound truthful, but Piers dared not accuse her of lying.
“Now take this letter with you and go to the gates,” she said. “Tell the guards you have a message for Lord Penrith. Deliver it to him and then find Gleda later that night.”
“What does the message say?” he asked.
“It tells him that you are his son. You will meet your father for the first time, and he will allow you to stay.”
His nerves turned his skin cold, and Wenda straightened. “Go now, my son. And I promise that one day, you will be lord of Penrith. It’s time for your new life to begin.”
She gave him no embrace, only a slight push. Piers forced back his fears, knowing he had to be strong. He didn’t understand why his mother was sending him away, but he wanted to believe that one day she would return.
But despite her vow, he never saw her again.
* * *
The sound of someone in her room sent her blood racing. Lady Gwendoline reached for the knife she kept hidden beneath her mattress and quietly sat up in the darkness.
Her heart pounded, but she didn’t scream. At least, not yet. She had one opportunity to gain the upper hand, and she needed the element of surprise.
The footsteps came closer toward the bed, and she silently crept out the other side, the dagger hilt clutched in her palm. She held her breath, wondering if it was better to run or confront the intruder.
But then, the stranger took another step toward the bed. Was he trying to attack her or kill her? Fear roared through her, but she saw no choice but to make her move. If she didn’t, he would strike first.
Gwen held her breath and stepped behind him, pressing the blade to his throat. “Looking for someone?” She didn’t know who this man was or what he wanted, but she was not about to become his victim.
The man was tall and lean, but she could feel the hard muscles beneath her hand. His hair was roughly cut against his neck, and his scent reminded her of pine trees within the forest. In the darkness, she could not see his face.
“I was looking for you, Lady Gwendoline.” His voice was deep and resonant, but to his credit, he didn’t move.
Gwen tightened her grip on the knife. “How did you get in my room?” And more than that, why was he here? Was he trying to attack her?
“I know this castle well,” was all he said.
She didn’t know what to make of that, but she needed to call out for the guards outside her door. Yet, something in the man’s demeanor made her hesitate. His hand reached up to her wrist, but instead of trying to take her knife, he slid his fingers across her arm in the barest caress. The heat of his hand stunned her, and she hardly knew what to do. She’d had suitors before, but none had affected her like this. His touch seemed to reach deep inside, awakening sensations she’d never imagined.
“Don’t touch me.” She pressed the blade deeper, and he released her immediately. “Why are you here?”
“Because I wanted to see you before the competitions.” His voice was low and resonant, and something about him made her skin tighten. It was entirely wrong, but she felt a forbidden thrill at having her arm around this man.
“You’re one of my suitors, then.”
Her father Alfred was hosting a tourney for her hand in marriage on Midsummer’s Eve and had invited dozens of suitors. He’d told her that she could have her choice from among the competitors. And this man was clearly seeking an advantage.
Her emotions tightened, for she was uncertain about marriage. Her father had promised to let her choose…but he’d gone back on his word before. She was trapped within a prison of his rules, and she’d learned to feign ignorance, behaving like the perfect daughter. But inwardly, she wanted to escape these invisible chains. And the last thing she wanted was to go from one cage into another.
This man clearly believed she would behave like any shy, terrified maiden. Perhaps he thought he could coax her into seduction or win her affections. His presence both unnerved and intrigued her. She’d never imagined anyone would go to these lengths to see her alone. But her brain warned that his was not a man who would grant her the independence to live her life as she wanted to. He would make demands, bending the rules to suit him.
And she held tight to her blade, knowing she could never wed a man like him.
He reached for her hand gently and pulled the blade back just enough so he could face her. Then he released it, allowing her to keep the blade at his throat. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Men who aren’t planning to hurt me don’t usually sneak into my room,” she pointed out. But even so, she couldn’t quite understand what it was about this man that tempted her. His voice held the edge of longing, and in the darkness, she found herself breathless. He was more dangerous than anyone she’d ever met.
Call out for help and be rid of him, her brain warned. And yet . . . perhaps it was the safety of her guards that made her more daring.
“How else could I see you?” the man asked. “Or talk to you before the competitions?”
“Why would I want to talk to you? You’re a stranger to me.” Her arm was beginning to ache from holding the blade to his throat.
“My name is Piers of Grevershire,” he told her.
She didn’t know anyone by that name, but she lied, “I don’t care who you are. I want you to leave my room before I draw this blade across your throat.”
“Not yet.” His voice was a rough whisper, and his hands moved to span her waist. She went motionless, and the sudden heat of his hand on her spine made her conscious of his touch and the masculine scent of his skin. He said nothing but moved his fingers against the base of her spine in a gentle caress. No man had ever touched her like this before. She didn’t know what to do, but when his hands moved higher, her skin broke out into gooseflesh.
A wicked desire kindled within her, making her want to lower her blade. But it was only his means of lowering her defenses while he laid siege to her common sense.
“What are you doing?” she whispered in return.
“I want to know more about you,” he answered. He continued his relentless assault on her senses, and she swallowed hard, knowing she had to send him away.
“I’m going to call for my guards,” she said, putting her hand between them.
“You’re not,” he predicted.
His bold statement evoked her defiance. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because as you said before, you can take care of yourself. And I’d wager you’re curious about me. You won’t know more if they kill me.”
“I don’t care anything about you,” she shot back. “You’re in my room, and you need to go.” In desperation, she tried to push him away, but in one swift motion, he disarmed her and tossed the blade away.
Terror clawed at her, and she took a deep breath planning to call out for the guards. Without her blade, she was helpless against this man. But all he did was rest his hands upon her waist.
“I will leave in a moment,” Piers said softly. “But before I do, I want to know something about you that no one else knows. And I’ll tell you something about me. If you ask.”
“I don’t want to know you.” Her words broke off when he caught her left hand in his. Gently, he explored her fingertips, his thumb grazing against her calluses.
Her heartbeat pounded at his touch, and she couldn’t help but imagine his fingers moving over other parts of her bare skin. Why did he have this effect on her? She couldn’t understand it, and she wondered how she could convince him to leave.
“But I do know something about you now,” he said quietly. His thumb stroked the crease of her second and third fingers. Then he took his thumb and circled her palm before he pressed his hand to hers. “Something that I suspect few people know.”
“You know nothing.”
“You’re an archer,” he predicted. “And this is where you release your bowstring.” He touched the callused part of her fingers. “You don’t practice as often as you’d like, and you probably haven’t told your father.”
Her eyes widened at his statement, and she pushed at him again, trying to seize what was left of her composure. How had he guessed? It was her secret, one that only a few of the soldiers knew. She loved archery, but she only practiced when her father was away. He wanted her to be the obedient daughter, one who never touched a weapon. She’d learned to shoot in secret, but when she’d revealed her skills to her father, he’d been furious.
“I’m impressed,” Piers said, lifting her palm to his lips. Then without another word, he released her hand and disappeared into the darkness. She heard the slight movement of stone behind the tapestry. So that was how he’d entered her room.
Gwen exhaled a sharp breath, completely undone by what had just happened. But more overwhelming than his presence was the unexpected compliment. He didn’t seem to disapprove of her ability to shoot a bow, the way her father did. Instead, his voice had held admiration.
That was unexpected.
She closed her eyes and sank down on the bed. It had been such a mistake allowing this man to talk to her…and yet, he’d stayed just long enough to talk to her. He could easily have made more demands, refusing to leave until she called for her guards. Yet, he’d provoked an unexpected interest.
Do not fall into his trap, she warned herself. He’s just like all the other suitors who want to seize command of Penrith by claiming your hand in marriage. It had been foolish not to call out for help.
Yet somehow . . . she’d believed Piers when he’d said he wouldn’t hurt her. She didn’t know what to think of this man’s boldness—whether to fear him or admire him.
But as she climbed beneath her coverlet, she couldn’t help but wonder when she would see him again.
* * *
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