To burn with passion . . . to surrender to the power of a man's desire . . . Kathryn de St. Marie's years in a French convent have taught her such things are forbidden. Still the chaste Norman beauty dreams of a soul-stirring love. But cruel destiny intrudes when she is taken prisoner by Scot barbarians--though a kinder fate intervenes when she is rescued by proud, haunted Edric of Braxton Fell, a bitter Saxon lord displaced by Norman rule.
Though he despises the conquerors, Edric can sense that Kathryn is different--gentle and giving, yet possessing a fire that enflames Edric in turn--and he grudgingly allows her into his broken life. For Kathryn's capture has tainted her in the eyes of her people, and she can never again return home. Her future rests in the strong hands of her enemy champion . . . and in a long-cherished dream of a perfect seduction and a dangerous, rapturous love.
"Taken?" 'Twas the dignified Lady Beatrice, sitting across from Kathryn de St. Marie, who'd spoken. "If the barbarian Scots took me, they would have to kill me before I would ever show my face in civilization again."
A shiver ran down Kathryn's spine. Surely Kettwyck's new walls were sufficient to keep any raiding Scotsmen out. And there were many strong and powerful Norman knights present for the festivities here at her father's holding.
Still, they were very near the border, far from the safety of the Abbey de St. Marie where she and her sister, Isabel, had spent the last ten years. Were they vulnerable here at Kettwyck? The fortress was not yet complete, and Kathryn had seen workmen adding mortar and stone to the walls that very day. She dearly hoped this welcoming banquet was not premature.
"What they do to captives is unspeakable," added Lady Alice, Kathryn's mother.
"My daughter would certainly know enough to throw herself from the nearest cliff before returning to society. She could never come bacâ"
The old biddy's words faded into the night when Sir Geoffroi Le Chievre came up behind Kathryn and touched her shoulder. Slivers of heat raced down her arm at the touch of the young man who'd attracted her attention earlier in the day. They'd flirted some, and she'd been intrigued. But she had not expected him to come to her here. "Come and join in the dance."
Kathryn stood, but her mother's words followed her as she accompanied Geoffroi away from the cluster of old women in her father's great hall. "Once you become a Scotsman's whore, you might as well be dead."
"Don't listen to those old flap dragons," Geoffroi said, leading her to the courtyard where the musicians played and the young people had gathered to dance. "I mean no offense to your mother or the other ladies, but Kettwyck's walls are stout and strong. No Scotsman will ever breach them."
"Of course you're right," Kathryn said, smiling up at the young knight. She put away all thoughts of Scotsmen and her father's castle walls and gave her attention to Sir Geoffroi Le Chievre.
To his credit, he'd barely taken note of her sister, Isabel, the comely one. Isabel had pleaded with their father to allow them to choose their own husbands. Lord Henri had agreed, to a point. He'd drawn up a list of favored candidates and gathered them here for the festivities marking the two sisters' arrival at Kettwyck and their reunion with their parents. Over the next few days, each sister would choose a husband.
Kathryn was certain that even without a generous dowry, Isabel would have no trouble settling on a bridegroom. The lords and knights here were mad for her attention, while Kathryn quietly yearned for the honest affections of one man, a bridegroom who would honor and revere her for what she was, not for the wealth she would bring him.
'Twas a foolish wish, she knew. The daughters of powerful Norman barons married to achieve strategic goals, not to satisfy silly yearnings. Besides, she held not the same appeal as beautiful Isabel. Kathryn's eyes were merely brown, and her hair was the color of a mouse's pelt, so different from her sister, whose eyes were stunningly golden and her hair a striking, glossy black.
Kathryn had grown up in Isabel's shadow, but the two sisters could not have been closer. She did not begrudge the attention Isabel garnered with her beauty and her many talents. Both young women had been exceptionally well educated at the abbey, and Kathryn had a head for languages. The abbess had said her skills would serve a husband well, but Kathryn had never spoken of the fire that burned unquenched within her.