An Unexpected Passion
Lady Jenova of Gunlinghorn feels she should marry, though not for love, for she vows never to entrust her heart to a man again. Then Lord Henry, her charming and devilishly handsome friend, arrives to offer his opinion on the chosen bridegroom. But when they are trapped together by a winter storm, she and Henry wildly succumb to a desire they neither anticipated nor welcomed. And suddenly Jenova must rethink her matrimonial plans.
An Unforeseen Betrothal
It was a momentary madnessâand Henry cannot let one indiscretion destroy a cherished friendship! Still, the fire lit by a passionate kiss will not be extinguished, and Henry aches to taste Jenova's sweetness again and again. The only proper course is to marry her himself, though it will surely cost him his honored position at the royal court. But more importantly, how can two who share no faith in romance trust their hearts to something as perilous and unpredictable as love?
The weather had not been altogether bad. South beyond London, the Forest of Anderida had enclosed them like a green ocean, but Henry had arranged for a guide to lead them through its timbered vastness. Snow had fallen, but not heavily, and not enough to slow down his troop of men.
Henry, huddled in his thick, fur-lined cloak, had thought wistfully of Christina, her long, dark hair covering the smooth, pale skin of her back as last evening she'd poured him wine from a jug. Her movements had been graceful and languid, and as she had turned to him, she had smiled. Aye, she had made a tasty picture, dressed only in her ebony locks.
He did not love her, any more than she loved him. Theirs was a relationship of convenience, and love was not something that was part of the contract between them. For Henry, women like Christina were a necessityâa necessary pleasure. If she was not the greatest conversationalist, and her intelligence was shrewd rather than deep, what did it matter, when she more than satisfied him in bed? And as for Christina, the daughter of an ambitious minor noble, she was more than happy with her comfortable rooms and fine clothes and jewels.
"I have to leave tomorrow," he had told her, sipping the wine.
She had blinked. "Go where, my lord?"
"To the Downs in the southwest, Christina. To Gunlinghorn."
Her eyes had widened. "Oh, my lord, I would not like to go outside London! There are savages in the countryside!"
Henry had grinned. "Then it is as well you are not going, Christina. You will stay here until I return."
She had been relieved, Henry thought now with wry humor. Christina had had no desire to share the perils of Henry's journey. She liked him, or at least she liked the luxuries he could afford to give her, but that was as far as it went. She was glad he was going alone.
Why were women so fickle? They couldn't wait to get into bed with him, but none of them sobbed more than a few false tears when it was time to part. Was it something to do with him? Did he not please them in some way? Henry knew that wasn't soâhis women were always well pleased. When their relationship had run its course, and they left, they nearly always took with them a mutual fondness. Nay, the problem lay elsewhere. And Henry had lately begun to understand that something was missing.
As clever and handsome as he was reported to be, Henry did not know.
In younger days he hadn't felt the need to dwell on such puzzling and incomprehensible matters. Then all he had wanted was a lusty woman in his bed. But now... I must be getting old, he thought in disgust. Or maybe it was seeing Radulf and Lily, and Gunnar and Rose, and Ivo and Briar, all so happy, all content with exactly what they had, all so much in love ...
It was ridiculous, but it made Henry feel lonely.
In his heart, Henry held a dark fear. Love would mean sharing all his secrets with another person and trusting them to understand. It would mean giving more of himself than he was prepared, or perhaps able, to give.
Henry had been more or less orphaned at the age of five, and at thirteen he had been a man well and truly. He did not look to love as a reason to survive.
What does it matter if I haven't found a Lily or a Briar? he asked himself angrily. He had what other men envied. He was well favored in looks and fortune, he had the king's ear and any woman he wanted. It was no boast, but honest truth. Women never turned Lord Henry down.
He had no time for love; it was the least of his concerns. He admitted to himself that that was why he preferred the lighter intimacies of women like Christina; it was less trouble. It was safer....