Mad Knight's Bride, The
By: Kate Hill | Other books by Kate Hill
Published By: New Concepts Publishing
Published: Feb 19, 2013
ISBN # 1586088033
Published By: New Concepts Publishing
Published: Feb 19, 2013
ISBN # 1586088033
Word Count: 77,259
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, HTML, Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi)
Mad Knight's Bride, The by Kate Hill - Romance>FantasyA man with no memory and no name … but with a brutal past that could destroy the woman who gave him a new life, passion … love. His face might have inspired the name Elaine bestowed upon him—Gabriel—but he’s anything but angelic.
Reader Rating: 5.0 (1 Ratings)
Off the Coast of Northumbria
Elaine of Rockland stood at the bow of her ship, squinting bleary eyes against the icy winter wind. She and her crew had spent a frightening night fighting to keep their course through an ice storm. Had Rockland not been so desperate for money and goods, they never would have ventured out until spring. Their people were hungry, many were sick, and the raids earlier that year had left them with little resources and in dire need of repairs. Elaine and her crew were forced to sail up the coast of Essex all the way to Northumbria and possibly to Scotland, if necessary, to gather supplies for their survival.
Thus far most villages had been unwilling or unable to trade in the midst of winter. They needed their supplies for themselves, since Rockland was not the only village which had been sacked from summer to autumn. Though Viking raids were far less common than in earlier years, bands of outlaws throughout the land destroyed many of the smaller villages. William Blackridge, a man who had once been one of the finest knights in the land but had turned to looting, led a particularly fierce band of raiders. Only through a recent failed attack on a village called Ravenhill, under the protection of a Viking who had converted to serve the king, had Blackridge’s dishonorable actions been revealed to the king and his raiders disbanded. The knight was now an outlaw with an enormous price on his head.
And I hope someone finds him and cuts his head off, Elaine thought. Actually, beheading is too good for him. He deserves to suffer as he made others suffer, as he’s made every man, woman, and child in Rockland suffer.
“It’s cold, but if the weather stays clear, we should reach Ravenhill soon,” Ezekiel, Elaine’s brother, said as he came to stand beside her.
Elaine nodded. Since hearing of Ravenhill’s success against Sir William Blackridge’s raiders, they had decided to approach them for trade. If Ravenhill possessed such a fine army, perhaps they retained the resources to assist Rockland.
“I hope this won’t be another futile attempt,” Elaine said, folding her arms across her chest to keep some warmth beneath her worn, frost-covered cloak. She lifted her chin and shook a tendril of thick black hair from her face. Always rebellious, Elaine defied fashion and refused to bind her hair; however, loose hair was the least of her feminine sins. Most of the time she dressed as a man with breeches, boots, and loose shirts. She even owned chain mail and a fine sword, which she treasured above all else. The weapon had saved her life many times in the past and she was sure it would continue to do so in the future.
Though a woman living in an age ruled by men, Elaine had endured physical and emotional hardships to earn her people’s respect. They considered both her and Ezekiel the leaders of Rockland.
“We haven’t got the best supplies to barter with,” Ezekiel said. “People don’t want embroidery in the middle of winter.”
“We also have the dried herbs,” Elaine added. Such herbs were extremely valuable for healing. The people of Rockland had gathered an overabundance that summer. “Someone is bound to want... What is that?”
Elaine placed her hands on the ship’s wooden rail and stared closer at the water.
“What?” Ezekiel joined her. “I don’t see any-- God, it looks like a man!”
Elaine narrowed her eyes at the dark shape in the waves and saw it was indeed a man, hanging onto a piece of drifting wood. Freezing waves crashed over him, threatening to drag him beneath the churning sea.
“Somebody get a rope,” Elaine shouted over her shoulder, then called to the man. “Hello! Can you hear us?”
“I don’t think he’s conscious,” Ezekiel said, shrugging off his cloak and reaching for the rope supplied by a crew member. “I’ll have to get him.”
“Are you mad, sir?” said the crewman. “You’ll catch your death in that water.”
“Aye,”--James, one of Ezekiel’s closest friends, glanced into the sea--“and by the look of him, he’s already dead. Frozen for certain.”
“But we don’t know that,” Elaine said. “We can’t just leave him there.”
Ezekiel secured himself with the rope. “Once I’ve got him, pull us up.”
The men nodded, and Elaine grasped the end of the rope, assisting the others as they lowered Ezekiel into the water.
Within moments, both he and the stranger were on deck. Ezekiel trembled from head to foot. Elaine threw a cloak over his shoulders and ordered him below deck and out of the icy wind.
When she turned back, several crewman had gathered around the stranger.
“I’ll be damned.” James looked up at Elaine. “He’s still alive. Scarcely. He has a hell of a gash on the head and a worse one on his arm.”
Elaine pushed her way through the hulking sailors to look at their unexpected guest. Other than a mass of curly, black hair and a neatly trimmed beard, she could discern little of his face. Blood gushed from a cut on his forehead, streaking his face red. He wore black boots, breeches, and shirt beneath finely made leather and mail armor, the breast and arm of which had been slashed open. Blood leaked from both wounds. The chest injury appeared minor, the mail having absorbed most of what could have been a fatal blow. Still, Elaine would have to inspect it more carefully to be sure.
She stood. “Bring him to my cabin and put him on the cot.”
“My lady?” James’s eyes widened.
“What else are we to do with him? If we’re going to save his life, it’s the only decent place on the ship.”
James and the others knew better than to question Elaine once her mind was made up, so they dragged the stranger down to her cabin. She followed, ordering water to be boiled so that she could cleanse the man’s wounds and see how much damage had been done. She ordered everyone but James from the room while she gathered dry clothes, a needle and thread. James removed the stranger’s drenched clothes, covered him, and went to find another blanket.
Elaine approached the wounded man, unconcerned for his naked state, as she’d spent years training and fighting alongside men and had dressed wounds many times before.
The more serious of his injuries were the gash on his head and the one on his arm. She bound his arm tightly, then immediately set to work cleaning blood from his face so she could better see the wound. It was small but deep, the flesh around it bruised.
“Dressed for battle. Wounded. What were you doing?” Elaine whispered, pressing the cloth to his forehead to slow the bleeding. He trembled so badly from drifting in the icy water that when James returned, he’d have to hold him steady so she could stitch his forehead. While applying pressure to the injury, she took note of the man’s face. Though his skin was grayish white from exposure to the winter sea, he was quite handsome, with finely chiseled bone structure and thick eyelashes. He was extremely tall, at least a head taller than Ezekiel and every man on their crew. Lean muscle rippled in his torso visible above the bedcovers. For a man of his size, he hadn’t any spare flesh whatsoever. For the first time, Elaine felt the stirring of desire, a foreign emotion to her at any time, particularly with an injured man whom she’d never seen before.
Too many worries, Elaine. You’re letting your thoughts run away with you.
James stepped in and Elaine asked him to assist her while she stitched the man’s forehead.
“Who do you suppose he is?” Elaine murmured, sliding the needle in and out of flesh, grateful that her patient was unconscious. She wished he would stop shivering. Even with James steadying him, stitching his wound proved difficult. Still, the idea of floating in that freezing water for any length of time made Elaine wince. Between that and the blood loss, she wondered how he’d survived at all.
“I haven’t any idea,” James grunted, his brown hair tumbling into his eyes as he leaned his hands into the man’s shoulders. “But he’s strong as a horse.”
“I’m almost finished. Hold him tighter before I end up sewing his eyes shut.”
“I’m doing the best I can. You know he’ll probably die anyway.”
“Not if he’s as strong as you claim.” She moved from the man’s head and began stitching his arm. After several moments, she said, “Finished. I think I can manage now, James.”
Nodding curtly, James shrugged on his cloak and left Elaine alone with their unconscious guest.
She turned her attention to the shallow wound on his chest. The blood had already begun to clot. Since the injury wouldn’t need stitching, she pulled the blankets up to his neck and sat back on her heels. She squeezed water from a cloth and dabbed blood from the corner of his mouth. Except for a slight swelling on one side, his lips were finely drawn beneath his dark moustache, the top lip delicate, the lower full and sensual. An angel’s face.
Elaine shook her head. By the look of the man’s wounds and the quality of his armor, he was certainly not an angel. She wondered what color his eyes were. She imagined they were dark, as brown eyes so often accompanied black hair.
Picking up the bowl of bloody water, she left the cabin.
“Elaine,” her brother called from where he sat on a storage bin, wrapped in a dry cloak, his teeth chattering from the cold. Lifting a mug in trembling hands, he took a long drink of broth. “How is he?”
Elaine shrugged. “He’s lost plenty of blood and is half-frozen, but he might survive.”
“He better. I didn’t dive in that bloody ocean for nothing.”
Elaine smiled at her brother. Strong, brave, skilled, and charitable to anyone weaker than himself, the young man personified knighthood. Elaine and her mother were very proud of him, as she was certain their father would have been, had he lived.
Elaine walked topside, dumped the bowl of bloody water overboard, and stopped for a mug of stew before returning to the cabin. Their unconscious guest’s shivering had finally subsided. She placed the stew aside and fixed the blankets he’d thrown off. When she looked up she nearly jumped with surprise to find him staring at her. She’d been wrong to think his eyes dark. They were the purest blue she’d ever seen, like jewels peering through a veil of thick, black lashes.
She smiled. “How are you feeling?”
He shook his head slightly then closed his eyes against what must have been dizzying pain.
“Try not to move.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You hit your head badly. My name is Elaine. This ship belongs to me and my brother Ezekiel.”
“Elaine,” he murmured, his rich, lovely voice making her tingle from head to toe.
“What are you called?” she asked.
His gaze dropped from her face to his chest. When he looked back at her, a hint of panic shone in his eyes but disappeared so quickly it might not have been. “I haven’t the slightest idea.”
Elaine lifted an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“I don’t know who I am. I have no memory of ... anything.”
Elaine held his gaze for a moment before she said, “Sometimes that happens after a blow to the head. I’m sure your memory will return in time. You were adrift on the ocean when we pulled you in. Your armor was slashed and by the look of your wounds you were in a fight. Does any of that sound familiar?”
He thought for a moment. “No.”
“Well, sit up slowly.” Elaine grasped his arm to assist him. The sensation of hard muscles beneath her palm sent her heart beating out of control. Embarrassed by her uncharacteristic attraction to the man, she released him abruptly and turned her back on him to reach for the mug of stew. Careful not to touch him again, she passed it to him. “Drink this. If you need anything, shout. My brother is just outside the cabin trying to warm up. He’s the one who pulled you out of the water.”
“I should thank him.” He attempted to stand, but the pain in his head made him unsteady.
Elaine impulsively reached out to him. “You can thank him later. Just rest for a while. You’re lucky to be alive.”
She glanced at her hands splayed across his broad chest. Dark hair, surprisingly soft beneath her palms, dusted his warm flesh over solid muscle. His gaze dropped to her hands as well and she cleared her throat, clutching her fists behind her back, frustrated because she’d wanted to keep touching him. Even pale and wounded, he practically glowed with male sensuality. If he wove such a spell around her now, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know him at all once he regained his strength.
“You have absolutely no idea what your name is?”
He smiled slightly and shook his head. “I’m sorry, my lady. I’m sure in time--”
“Gabriel,” she said. The face of an angel...
“Until you remember who you are, I’ll call you Gabriel. Do you agree?”
“If you like.”
Elaine smiled as she turned and left the cabin.