By Royal Command by Laura Navarre - Fiction
Two brothers. One woman. Three hearts at war.
Katrin of Courtenay's husband is dead--and she doesn't mourn him. He was cruel and controlling, and she doesn't need a husband to hold her northern keep. But her vengeful uncle, the King of England, has other ideas: intent on marrying her off, he's ordered his Viking-bred warrior to return her to court.
On the journey, the Viking captures her interest, and for the first time Katrin understands passion. But her guard is honor-bound to deliver her to the king, and so it is settled--she must wed the mysterious Rafael le Senay, the Baron of Belmaine.
A forced marriage to a stranger slowly becomes something more, and Katrin realizes she is in love with Rafael. But with the shadow of her former lover hanging over her, and Rafael's powerful brother making dangerous plans, can Katrin negotiate the delicate balance between survival and happiness?
She'd murdered her husband when she prayed for his death. In secret, Lady Katrin of Courtenay had known God would call her to account for it.
Gripped by the vise of terror, her heart thudded against her ribcage. Her belly roiled and her hands were ice. No doubt she would die as she deserved: devoured by wolves, condemned by her own choices. Yet, divine judgment or no, she couldn't resign herself.
Who would tend to their welfare without her--these precious folk who looked to her for safety?
She should never have returned alone to this keep she'd abandoned for the best of reasons. She should never have ventured so far beyond the uncertain shelter of her temporary walls, burrowed deep in the protective wood, and the swords that warded them. An act of sheer madness, when her lands crouched quivering beneath the twin menace of encroaching Scots and savage raiders from Denmark.
And if venture to these tragic ruins she must, why hadn't she taken heed from the fire-blackened gates swinging inward into shadow, the silence that mocked her hesitant hail, the uneasy nicker of the goat in its pen? Instead, reckless, she'd dismounted--a man's impulse rather than a woman's--to seek the kindly steward who guarded the shell of her burned-out home. She'd barely lit a torch when her palfrey shied and bolted.
Now too late Katrin spied the wolf, lean and dangerous, slinking around the charred stable into the failing light of day. When his brethren slid from hiding, her heart sank to her boots. Six of them, for God's love!
Her entire body ignited with the charge of flight. Well, that was a woman's impulse, but come too late.
She thought desperately of her hunting bow, but it was strapped to her saddle, and the mare had fled. She had her belt-knife, but scarcely wished to allow the circling beasts close enough to use it. The wolves grinned at her as though they knew it, barely held at bay by the smoking torch.
Clenching her lip between her teeth, she thrust her flaming brand toward the nearest wolf. The monster bared yellow fangs, but inched back. Better.
Seizing her advantage, she edged sideways until her back bumped the stable. Now they couldn't creep up behind her, perhaps she could sidle to the door and let herself in. It wasn't as solid as she preferred, with her on one side of it and six wolves on the other. But she prayed it would be enough to hold them.
Aren't these God's creatures, driven by the spur of hunger? Who isn't hungry, in this accursed land?
But hunger made them cunning, just as it had for her. When she dared to creep toward shelter, the lead wolf crouched, its snarls deepening. She thought the wolves sensed what she was about, and were clever enough to thwart her.
A gust of wind caught her rope of hair and flung it forward. The cord loosened, and a skein of red-gold curls unraveled across her face, blinding her. Swiftly she stripped it back, and tasted the bitter knowledge of her fate.
She would die here, in the bailey of this gutted ruin where she'd come as a reluctant bride. The castle was destroyed, her few retainers left cowering in the forest lodge where she, too, should have remained. God knew what dire fate had befallen the faithful steward and his wife. Her life, with its grim daily struggles for food and the strength to hold her meager lands, would be over. She'd spent her brief years uselessly, like a candle burning in an empty room. Now that struggling flame would be blown out.