He has twelve nights and twelve kisses to prove his love.
The battle for the crown of England has ended, and Henry Tudor is king. For David, a supporter of the king, that is excellent news. For Alis, who has been in love with him since a girl, life is less certain. David has married her, but can he love her when her family supported the house of York?
Compelled to be alone with her new husband over a snowy Christmas-time, will Alis win her heart's desire? Will David truly love her?
Here is the first chapter of my medieval historical romance, 'Twelve Kisses'.
She had loved him since she was a girl of fourteen years old, and he was an apprentice farrier of seventeen. Once there had been talk of marriage between her and David, a wedding that would have made her blissful with joy.
But times had changed and alliances, too. David's family supported the house of Lancaster and her kindred the royal house of York. Henry Tudor had wrested the crown from King Richard on a distant battlefield, and she was now eighteen and David's wife. David had insisted on the match, and her parents dared not refuse him, as he was a man now and rumored to have the ear of the new king. He had lost a brother to the battle between King Richard and Henry Tudor, as she had, and Alis feared he had chosen her for reasons of revenge.
Alis prayed she was mistaken in her dread, but her husband of a few days was so very forbidding and stern. Riding on a small gray palfrey behind his glossy chestnut horse, she remembered the blond-haired, laughing lad she had loved and compared that David to the powerful, laconic, shorn-haired stranger ahead. Only a month earlier, they had met after a gap of four years, a single meeting, and then he had demanded her hand.
Why did I not refuse him? Because my family would have suffered. Henry Tudor hates all Yorkists, even simple saddlers.
"Hold." David held up a gloved hand, and the small, tightly-ordered column of horses and men stopped. He twisted round in the saddle, and as always, the sight of his squarely-handsome face made Alis's heart quicken. He was fair-skinned but tanned, even now in mid-winter, and all supple, strong lines, with a firm chin, long nose and large mouth that should have been made for smiling. His clear blue eyes, however, were as cold as the winter sky above them, and his mouth was a slash, like a rent in cloth.
"You know your orders?" he demanded his men.
"Aye, s-sir," stammered his second, or apprentice, Alis was not sure which.
"Go to it."
The men cantered off, leaving Alis alone with her new husband. They were on a sunken road in England, in a county she had never visited before. Fear churned within her as David spurred his mount closer.
He can do anything he likes with me. He has the right.
"You are warm, madam?"
Alis touched her new, lush furs, a gift from this unsmiling husband of hers, and answered roundly, "Perfectly, thank you."
Had his full mouth tweaked then? She was unsure but heard his reply, "We shall be at the place soon," clearly enough.
She bowed her head, so he could not see her face, her limbs suddenly clammy within the soft furs. Soon she would be alone with him in a strange house. There were no servants with them, and he had bluntly commanded her to bring no maid. What "place" was this that they were headed to?
Not a home, not for me at least.
David had no living kindred, and at this moment, even a sour mother-in-law might have been preferable. She cleared her throat, which felt full of feathers, and asked, "Are we to be alone, sir?"
"Quite alone, for the rest of these twelve days. Even farriers stop then, for no man works at Christmas-time." He tossed her a keen, cold glance. "Your mother assured me you know how to manage a full household..."
You know this already, David! You saw me learning at fourteen!
"We shall be in the old forge and cottage."
Alis scraped her memory, but no recollection of any old forge came to her. It must be an ancient place, she reflected glumly, as David leaned down from his horse and took the reins of her palfrey.
"I shall lead from here," he said.
Gripping her horse's reins, he turned their horses off the sunken road, and they passed through a small wood. The bare trees seemed to close in around them, muffling the horses' hooves, and Alis became more uneasy. Memories of a younger David, when he had chased her round the apple orchard for kisses, only served to sharpen her disquiet. Her brother, Jerome, had been alive then, urging both of them on. Now he was dead, and David had returned from many wars quieter and harder and very much a man.
Alis stared at his broad shoulders and narrow flanks, at his lean legs effortlessly controlling the big chestnut stallion and felt a mingled alarm and desire. Tonight, they would be utterly alone together and for the first time.
So? You are eighteen. You played your part at the wedding and through the marriage feast. Do not let him cow you now!
"I will tend the horses and empty the panniers. You make up the bed. There is straw ready and blankets inside."
His curt order returned her to herself. They had stopped outside a small, low building with two lean-tos on each end—stable and forge, she guessed. She had scant time to see more before David whisked her off the back of her horse and set her down on the frosted grass. Stiff from riding, she tottered a few steps toward the doorway.
She kept on walking, but he snatched her back. "Did you not hear?"
Saying nothing, she stared at his hand gripping her shoulder until he released her. She was determined not to be spoken to as if she was a hunting hound.
He was unabashed. Instead of apologizing or stepping aside, he tossed her over one shoulder, seemingly oblivious to her gasp of protest. Bearing her as if she weighed no more than a Christmas favor, he nudged the door open with his knee. Ducking with her slung over his back, he stalked through the door and set her down easily inside. "Bad luck for a bride to stumble on the threshold." He left her, saying, "I like a good, full mattress."
Had she been younger, she might have cried, or thrust out her tongue at his tall, retreating figure. Instead, she shrugged out of her new furs and set to work with the strength of anger.
* * * *
David tramped through a light scattering of snow to the stable. The horses snorted and shook their manes and tails, probably reacting to his tension. As he fed and groomed them, he thought of Alis and wished things were different. All his plans were melting down.
He loved her that was the devil of it. He had wanted her as soon as he saw her again, even after a four-year absence, but she hated him as the enemy, as one of Henry Tudor's creatures. Perhaps he should not have demanded her hand in marriage, but why not? She would be safe with him.
Words would not come to him easily now. War had beaten softness and openness out of him, but he knew he had to be open with Alis. He wanted to be—not soft, exactly, but gentle. He longed for her to smile at him as she did as a girl. Her face these days was a sheet of ice.
So warm her, man!
That was the other danger, he knew. She made him parched-throated and aroused him with no more than a glance. You tossed her over your shoulder like a war captive rather than a wife. She made him white-hot, red-blooded. He wanted at one and the same time to master her and to make her pretty trinkets, adorn her with silver and gold.
So do so. Use and give what you have already. Do not let your courage fail now. She is a woman, treat her so. Be her husband.
He grinned at the thought, his breathing hanging with the horses' in the byre, and patted her gray palfrey. "Easier to shoe you than to woo her, I think, but we'll manage, " he told the mare. "I have twelve days."
And better yet, twelve nights....
He braced his shoulders and turned to go back.
Inside the small cottage—which he had chosen because it was homely and comfortable, and his parents had lived here in their happy early years of marriage—Alis had set a spark to the kindling. A fire warmed the hearth, and its light played around the wattle walls. She had swept the beaten earth floor with an ancient twig broom, stuffed odd cracks in the walls with straw and moss and even brought the cobwebs down from the lower rafters. The sheets and blankets had been laid out, and Alis had packed the rough sacking mattress with enough straw to stuff it like a Christmas goose. The small window under the bed platform was shuttered, the table and two stools drawn alongside the fire.
Should he say more? Unsure, as he never was when dealing with his men, he placed the panniers on the table and went outside again for the saddles and bridles. Dropping the tackle by the door, he barred it.
"Cups and ale and victuals in there." He nodded to the larger pannier.
Checking the fire, he thought he heard her mutter, “It would be quicker if you helped," but when he raised his head, she was unpacking the stuff on the table. Amused by her flash of temper, he sat on a stool, warmed his hands by the blaze, and watched her. Alis had always been a pleasure in action.
His new wife was dark where he was blond, svelte and small, with eyes the color of ripe acorns and a white and rose complexion. She had long black hair that he remembered would curl over his fingers and a pretty, expressive face with black eyebrows and lashes, bright eyes, and blood-red lips.
No! Not blood red, nothing of war. Red as holly berries, he thought frantically, following her again to forget and close the door on his last four years of skirmishes and deceits. Alis was always as honest as good water and as clear in her meanings. It was one of the things he had always loved in her.
For the rest, small and slender and trim, she was as she had been at fourteen. To be sure, she was by no means as strong as a farrier's usual help-mate, but always nimble and quick. Her clothes were different, richer and brighter somehow, though he did not understand women’s fashions, not even her country fashions. But he missed her loosened hair. Today her long hair was somehow lashed into submission under a white linen coif—the sign of her new status as wife.
My wife, he thought, though that was not true in the full sense. They had wed just before Christmas—he had insisted on the security and certainty of marriage—but had not slept together.
He nodded thanks when she poured him a cup of ale from the flagon, but she was chewing on her lower lip, another trick of hers that secretly delighted him. "What is it, wife?"
She tossed a glance at him like a dagger. "Shall I set snares tonight, sir? And have I your leave to forage about tomorrow?"
"Ah, you think the food too scant to last over Christmas!" He almost smiled at her, but her steady stare made him as solemn as she was. "More will be delivered here by our people, Alis. They shall feast at the main forge, and we here shall lack for nothing."
To prove it, he poured her a cup of ale, set it on the table and patted his knee. "Come."
She darted for the second stool, but he hefted it away, into the shadows. Her dark eyes flashing, she stood beside him and raised her cup. "To winter's defeat."
She pretends obedience yet defies me. That realization stirred him like strong wine as he took a drink himself. "Do you have any Christmas customs?" he asked, allowing her to stand by his shoulder.
"I no longer drink to the king's health."
He stifled any smile, aware that if he indulged her pertness he might never hear the end of such things. Instead, he answered her challenge by hooking her around her narrow waist and skimming her down onto his lap. "What else?"
She shook her head. "You should say now."
He racked his head for an easy answer, but staring at her flushed pretty face and red lips, all that came out of his own mouth was, "Kisses."
She had stayed on his knee, silent and stiff, but at least had not turned away.
Taking hope from that, he added, "Christmas kisses. Twelve kisses for Christmas."
"Kisses." Her face was as still as a painting.
"As a start," he said.
He meant to show her, but she sat up on his lap even straighter and demanded, "What Christmas custom is this? I never saw it before at your parents' house. Is it a kiss each day?"
"Nothing so formal. Rather as I wish."
"You also, wife." He was enjoying goading her, she teased so well, with her dark eyes gleaming and her color rising. A fire sprite.
"But I never saw this—" Abruptly, as if she had admitted too much, Alis subsided, turning her head. "I must tend the fire."
"It burns strongly. I should know." He remembered telling her story after story when he was a lad, but now, when he needed one, his mind was filled with her lips and the sweet feel of her and the soft crackle of the night air in the thatch of the roof. "It is a challenge," he muttered. She had always been a distracting little creature.
Her dark eyes fixed on his. "I have a challenge."
Intrigued, he gave a brief nod. "Say on."
* * * *
Alis took a deep breath, fighting her own distracting desire. She was perched on David’s knee now, smelling his familiar scent of leather and musk, and it was hard to think of him as an adversary.
And was he really her enemy? True, she wished she could see glimpses of the youth he had been, the lad she had known and admired, but this older David was powerfully attractive. He might not smile as readily as he did as a boy, but he was a handsome brute. She felt surprisingly safe—no, right—in his arms. Relishing his heat and strength, she was tempted to tuck her feet against his strong calves and lean her head against his shoulder, but he might think her too bold. Nor did she want to be his doll.
I would be more than that to him. I would have us know each other, learn each other afresh. She wanted to respect and admire this new David and to have him respect her.
"You want my kisses?" Please let him say yes, let him admit to some softness for me; then I will know we have a chance together.
"You are my wife."
This was not the answer she required, but Alis was determined not to be cast down. "If you want my kisses, you must teach me how to shoe a horse."
His eyes widened in surprise. In that instant, the years dropped away, and he was the youth she had always known.
"Please, Davey?" she added, the plea slipping out before she could stop it.
"If you will show me how to cook," he answered, surprising her in turn. He shrugged, and she felt the world rock with him. "I always burn victuals. Anything else, my lady?"
Were his eyes sparkling then? Was he amused, as she'd intended?
"I will think on it," she said promptly.
He smiled and even as she was, tense and unsure, she was awed by it.
"And if I have challenges for you?" he asked.
"That is not how the courtly game works."
"Not in the usual way," he agreed. "But if I have?"
She nodded agreement but could not resist adding, "Though I will not worship Henry Tudor."
She had meant it as a jest, but he caught her wrists tightly with one huge hand, half-turned her and delivered a stinging slap to her rump with his other hand. "Such talk is risky," he growled. "You do not say such things abroad."
"Credit me with sense," she protested, mortified and feeling that her face must be as red and hot as her nether region. "And who made you—"
Her voice stopped, and she forgot the rest as he placed his hand on her again, cupping her bottom, stroking where he had smacked. Without meaning to, she sighed.
"You are mine, now, Alis," he said, his long fingers circling and caressing, taking the sting away even if his words were harsh. "My responsibility. I would be a poor thing if I did not protect you."
Dry-mouthed, she somehow found speech. "How is this protection? I am no child, to be used in such a manner. I am your wife."
"A Yorkist wife. But I shall make those white roses of yours more red."
"You will spank me?"
"And you decide that?" Her indignation was not as forceful as she would wish. Indeed, the treacherous thought hovered that if he would soothe the sore spots after, as he did now, such punishment might be sweet.
* * * *
"Indeed." He released her hands, marking how she did not stir. "And bring you to bed after, I think."
A second sigh escaped her slightly parted lips. She was soft in his arms, and when he murmured, "Put your arms around my neck, sweeting," she did so at once.
Here was a surprise! He cradled her close, lightly kissing her neck, hearing the seductive hiss of her skirts as he continued to fondle her backside. She had her eyes closed, lost in what he assumed were new sensations. It was tempting indeed to do more, to lift up her skirts completely and caress and tickle and pat. She would go very easily over his knee, and he could lay her down after on her new furs.
Gently, he warned himself with the hard-won patience of the forge, while his blood thudded hard in his ears. This is a novelty to her, as it is to you. Even if she writhes in delight and clamors to be spanked, be careful, or she may loathe you after. Yet he would take a kiss.
"You have the right." Her prim response made him realize, he had spoken his wish aloud. "You may take, sir. You may take, though I will not give." She clung to him like a honeysuckle on a tree, pliant as molten copper, and yet, contrary as only a wench could be, she still fought.
"We shall see about that." He kissed her now, not to silence or punish, but because he could no longer resist her.
She tasted of mints and smelled as fresh as a newly-washed babe. Conscious for an instant of his own leather-sweat-horses stink, David almost drew back, wondering if he should speed outside and dunk himself in the water barrel. Then lusty good sense surged back—this was his wife, and he would have her.
They had kissed before, he and Alis, but never like this. The light, tender embraces of his youth were as insubstantial as dandelion fluff, these searching, deep kisses were something else, far more.
“Mother of Christ, you make my head spin,” he growled, when he could bear to tear his mouth away from hers. “Strip and into bed with you.”
He had meant to be slower, to part her gown carefully, to divest her like a queen. But the want within him was as white-hot as a blazing forge, and whatever came next, he must have her.
Years of war have kept us apart but no longer. Tonight you are mine.
He released her with another light smack on her rump to encourage compliance and stalked to the doorway. “Be ready when I return,” he ordered, hating the stark commands issuing from his rigid jaw but unable to stop himself—he had to have her. “Do not dally.”
Avoiding her stricken face, he flung himself out into the winter night.
99 Cents here
99 Cents here