A Knight’s Seduction

Knight’s Series, Book 5

Grieving for her young suitor killed during a prisoner escape, Lady Claire Sevalliere plans to leave the great castle at Wode to live with her aunt. Claire will remain a maiden, devoted to her beloved who died. However, before she can depart, Wode is besieged. Claire is taken hostage.

Determined to provoke a confrontation with his sire, Tye, the illegitimate son of Lord Geoffrey de Lanceau, lays claim to Wode, the de Lanceau family castle. Tye looks forward to the battle in which he will slay his father. It’s the destiny for which Tye’s vengeful mother raised him. Yet, when Tye meets Claire, who challenges his authority, he is intrigued. He’d never be worthy of Claire’s love, but he’ll enjoy the challenge of seducing her. He soon finds he is the one seduced by Claire’s innocent beauty and intelligence. She brings light to his dark, tormented soul.

As battle draws near, Tye’s past catches up with him. At risk of losing Claire, he must confront his greatest torment—and his destiny changes forever.

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Chapter Two

The great keep at Wode, Moydenshire, England
January, 1215

“Mother Mary!” With an irritated huff, Lady Claire Sevalliere lifted the lid of her wooden linen chest and shoved at the garments tumbling out. The chest had to shut. Otherwise she wouldn’t be able to travel when the men-at-arms who were to ride as her escort arrived at her chamber later that morning.

Today, she was leaving this grand fortress where she’d lived for the past five years. By the day’s end, she’d arrive at her new home: the castle of her widowed sixty-five-year-old Aunt Malvina.

Claire had only met the extremely pious lady, the sister of Claire’s deceased father, twice. Yet, they’d exchanged letters in the years since Claire’s parents had been killed in an accident on a muddy road one stormy spring afternoon.

That tragedy had left Claire and her younger sister, Johanna, orphaned. By the King’s command, Johanna had gone to live with a nobleman and his wife who’d been close friends of the Sevallieres. Claire had been made a ward of Lord and Lady Brackendale, relatives of Moydenshire’s famous lord Geoffrey de Lanceau.

In response to a recent letter from Claire, Aunt Malvina had been kind enough to offer her a place to live—a relief when a more recent tragedy had made the stone walls of Wode feel as though they were closing in upon Claire.

At nineteen years of age, she was ready to begin anew; to devote herself to the quiet life of a maiden who’d never marry, for her heart belonged now and evermore to Lord Henry Ridgeway, whom she’d loved and lost.

Fighting a pang of sadness, Claire buried her hands into the gleaming silk gowns, gauzy linen chemises, and embroidered leather shoes. Strands of curly blond hair tumbled over her face as she reshuffled the top garments then pressed down hard.

“You are losing that battle.”

Claire smiled. Straightening, she faced her chamber doorway. Her dearest friend, Lady Mary Westbrook, stood there, her arms folded over the bodice of her moss green gown. Mary was trying to hide a grin behind her hand, but her brown eyes danced with mirth.

“Which clothes do I leave behind? I sold all of the gowns I could part with. I donated the money to the nearby abbey, remember?” Claire looked back at the garments and fought an uncomfortable knot settling in her throat. She’d accumulated many lovely things since arriving at Wode. The Brackendales treated all of their wards as if they were their daughters. The flowing, pale blue wool gown with silver floral embroidery at the neckline, sleeves, and hem that she was wearing today had been a gift last winter. Lord Brackendale had died a few weeks ago, and all that Claire owned had become even more precious because of her fond memories of him.

She would just have to make the linen chest close. ’Twas the only answer. She set her hands atop the contents and pressed down again. “Holy.” Push. “Blessed.” Push. “Mother of God!” Push.

“Claire, you must stop swearing. If you curse like that in front of your aunt, she will faint from the horror.”

Guilt wove through Claire. “You are right. I shall remind myself every day to watch my tongue.”

“Good.”

In the midst of shifting the garments again, Claire paused. “Mary—”

“I am just trying to give you sound advice, as a loyal friend should.”

“Please do not worry. I do not plan to cause my aunt any trouble. In fact, I want to live a very quiet, solitary existence.”

Mary rolled her eyes, as though a quiet, solitary existence was so unlikely for Claire, ’twas not worth considering. “If you say so.”

“I do.”

“Fine.” Mary sniffled. She sounded close to tears.

Claire struggled against the tug on her heart and repositioned a pair of leather shoes wedged in the far corner of the chest. She’d never imagined leaving would be this difficult.

She heard the whisper of Mary’s gown, glimpsed her wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Claire couldn’t bear to acknowledge her best friend’s tears, because then she’d be crying, too.

Part of her insisted she was a witless fool to leave Wode. How would she manage without Mary’s friendship? How would she rein in her love of freedom to become as strictly pious as her aunt? This huge change, though, must surely be a good one. A life devoted to prayer and chastity would truly honor the young man who would have been her husband, if he hadn’t been killed while fulfilling his duty for Lord de Lanceau. Henry had died while trying to stop a dangerous prisoner from escaping his lordship’s dungeon. No other man she’d met—or would ever meet—could compare to her memories of her brave, beloved Henry.

“I am sorry. I do not mean to cry,” Mary said quietly. “I know this move is what you want.”

Claire straightened up from the linen chest. “’Tis what I must do.”

“So you have said. I only ask this because you are like a sister to me, and I want you to be happy…but are you certain?” Mary wiped her eyes again. “Are you really sure this new life is what Henry would want for you? You only met him on a few occasions. Forgive me, but ’tis hardly enough to get to know a man.”

Claire grinned as her first memory of Henry filled her mind. How vividly she saw sunshine brushing his blond, shoulder-length hair and lighting his blue eyes. “Oh, Mary, I will never forget that feast when he and I first met. Henry was so gallant that day, the way he apologized for bumping into me in the crowded bailey. He bowed, rose with my hand gently clasped in his, and smiled as though I was the most beautiful lady in all the land.”

“You are beautiful, Claire,” Mary said, envy in her voice. “You must know that, by the number of suitors you have turned away since Henry’s death.”

“Goodness, Mary, but you are far prettier than I.”

“Nay, I am not—”

“Besides,” Claire said, fighting the blush creeping into her cheeks, “physical beauty is not as important to me as what lies in a man’s heart. Although, Henry wasn’t just handsome, he had a beautiful soul, too.”

“I believe you are right. The day you walked together in Wode’s gardens? He acted like a knight from a romantic chanson.”

“And his letters,” Claire said wistfully. “Those I could never leave behind.”

“Do you remember how we shrieked aloud when we read his words, over and over?”

Claire giggled. “And then, there was the day he returned to Wode to speak with Lord Brackendale. Somehow, I knew Henry would ask me to marry him. Seeing him dismount from his horse in the bailey made my pulse flutter like a caged bird. The tender kiss he placed upon my cheek, I shall cherish always.”

A delighted sigh rushed from Mary. “That kiss sealed your love forever.”

“It did.” Claire’s fingers drifted to the middle of her left cheekbone where his lips had brushed her skin. The intimacy had been quick, light, but just for her. No kiss could ever compare to it. Since she’d never been kissed by a man before that moment, and would never be kissed again, she’d treasure it as the most perfect of kisses.

“One day,” Mary murmured, “I hope to have such a kiss.”

“You will. I am certain of it.”

Excitement gleamed in Mary’s eyes. “I will write to you as soon as it happens. I will tell you all about it in great detail. That would not be forbidden by your aunt, would it? I hope not.”

So do I, my dearest friend. Trying not to let doubt back into her mind, Claire shut the linen chest. No garments were poking out.

“Thank goodness,” she said, wiping her hands on her skirts. “Now—”

Shouting outside drew Claire’s gaze to the wooden shutters at her window. She’d closed them earlier, because of the morning breeze. Judging by the raised voices, something extraordinary was taking place in the bailey.

With Mary at her side, Claire hurried to throw the shutters wide.

Frigid air buffeted Claire. She hadn’t remembered the sky being such a dense pewter gray color earlier, but then, she’d been focused on packing her belongings.

Snowflakes swirled in through the iron grille across the window, as more urgent shouts carried up from the bailey.

“What is happening?” Mary asked.

“I am not sure.” Leaning farther into the embrasure, Claire peered out. Men, yelling to one another, were running along the snow-dusted battlements, their weapons raised.

“Will it be safe to travel to your aunt’s castle? The roads might become covered with snow, and then the wheels of the cart—”

“Mary.”

“But—”

“Please,” Claire said desperately. “Hush!”

The voices outside were distorted by an icy gust of wind. Then, clear and distinct, came a man’s cry. “Attack! Attack! The keep is under attack!”

* * *

Spurring his horse to a gallop, his sword drawn, Tye raced down the snowy road toward Wode’s gatehouse, a score of hired mercenaries close behind him. Today, as Tye had learned from studying the keep’s routines over the past several weeks, the fortress was expecting deliveries from the village alewife and fishmonger. Judging by the lowered drawbridge and raised portcullis, the castle guards hadn’t anticipated an assault on this freezing, wintry morning.

Just as he’d planned.

Today, at last, he would take what he deserved.

He’d spent the past months moving from nearby town to nearby town, never in one place for very long—as his mother and Braden had done, and as King John had advised. Last summer, after receiving Veronique’s missive sent during the battle at Waddesford Keep, the King had secretly agreed to help her and Tye in any way possible, in exchange for information on de Lanceau’s activities in Moydenshire. If the clandestine agreement were discovered, however, the King would vehemently deny all knowledge of it and would claim a conspiracy within his London court.

King John was well aware of de Lanceau’s attempts to unite his peers against the crown with a Great Charter. While the sovereign didn’t dare arrest a lord as wealthy and well-connected as de Lanceau, he planned to use every bit of useful information to undermine de Lanceau’s efforts.

While Tye’s leg had healed, and while he’d watched and listened for the King, he’d toiled for shop owners, farmers, blacksmiths, and carpenters, trading his work for food and a place to sleep.

That life, though, had ended.

Today, he’d seize his destiny.

Today, after months of studying Wode’s daily routines, eavesdropping in taverns, and delaying his attack until the ideal opportunity, his wait was over.

Frantic cries from Wode’s battlements reached him. The sentries had seen him and his mercenaries and sounded the alarm; yet, he’d be across the drawbridge before the men could lower the portcullis.

As he neared the towering fortress, falling snow clung to his hair and his cloak trimmed with fur; water from melting flakes slipped down the back of his neck and under his chain mail hauberk. Snowflakes landed on his face, but he relished each icy, tingling kiss. He savored the muffled crunch of snow beneath his horse’s hooves, for he felt alive—more than at any other moment in his life.

An arrow hissed past Tye’s head. He spied the archer on the wall walk above, heard a mercenary behind him slow his horse and prime his crossbow. Tye had ordered the mercenaries to only kill when necessary. Killing bred hatred and resentment, and to maintain control of Wode, he needed to win the folk’s loyalty. The archer would soon be wounded, though, unable to fight like several of his colleagues.

An agonized cry rent the air, accompanied by a splash as a guard fell from the battlements into the ice-skimmed moat. Tye’s mercenaries were earning every coin they’d been paid.

His horse’s hooves thudded on the drawbridge, and then he passed under the teeth of the portcullis and into the shadows of the gatehouse. The hoof beats of the mercenaries’ mounts thundered close behind. He tightened his grip on his sword, his palm warm inside his black leather glove. Wode, the castle that had been ruled by the de Lanceau family since the reign of King William the Conqueror, would soon be his. ’Twas an insult his sire wouldn’t be able to ignore, especially when Tye’s rule of the keep was swiftly approved by King John.

As of today, Tye would be called ‘lord,’ a title that recognized the noble blood in his veins. A title, also, that brought respect. Using Wode as his base, Tye would conquer castle after castle, while he anticipated the moment he confronted his father in battle. In a triumphant fight, Tye would slay his sire. All of Moydenshire would bow to his control.

No one would stop him.

Especially his sire.

Tye looked to the bailey opening directly ahead. Wode’s men-at-arms, slipping on the snow-covered ground, scrambled to block his entry. Some of them were old enough to be his grandfather.

“Do not let them pass!” bellowed a stocky, white-haired warrior, likely the captain of the guard. “Defend this keep, as Lord Brackendale would have expected of you.”

Lord Brackendale. Tye’s lip curled in a sneer. The old man’s death had caused a stirring of grief among the folk of Moydenshire. His passing had also left the castle without a ruling lord. De Lanceau undoubtedly intended to replace Brackendale with one of his loyal lackeys, but he hadn’t done so yet, likely because he hadn’t wanted to offend his lady wife and mother-in-law, who were both very upset by the death. The lack of leadership had worked to Tye’s advantage, especially when unrest had taken de Lanceau and his armies away to other parts of the county—leaving Wode ill-prepared for an assault.

Tye slowed his mount, using his horse’s last steps within the shelter of the gatehouse to assess the opposition. The snowfall was thickening. Still, he counted a dozen men-at-arms approaching and more on the battlements, ready to bring him down.

Let them try. My attack will not fail.

Ahead, a black-haired archer stepped forward, raised his bow, and fired at Tye. Tye dodged the arrow, heard it whistle past before it clattered against the stonework behind him. Expression grim, the man nocked another arrow, but before he could shoot, leather creaked behind Tye, immediately followed by the hiss of an arrow. The archer reeled backward, the arrow launched by a mercenary buried in his shoulder. Blood streaming down his armor, the archer collapsed against one of his colleagues. With angry cries, the other guards edged forward, swords raised.

“Yield,” Tye yelled.

“You will not pass,” the captain of the guard shouted.

“Yield or die.”

The white-haired man scowled. “You will die this day.”

Tye held the man’s gaze through the swirling snow. He heard the mercenaries, who’d slowed their horses to match his, rallying behind him; the odors of worn leather and wet metal carried on the wind.

“Attack!” the captain of the guard bellowed. As he rushed forward, weapon glinting, Tye’s horse flailed its head and stepped backward. Instead of reining the spooked animal in, Tye slid off its back and raised his sword.

Shouting battle cries, the mercenaries spurred their mounts into the bailey.

“Stop them!” the captain of the guard yelled as the riders cantered past. Men-at-arms ran after the mercenaries.

The older man’s sword collided with Tye’s. Twice. Three times. Teeth bared, the captain of the guard rallied another strike, while several other men spread out in a wide circle to entrap Tye. With a guttural cry, Tye brought his blade whipping down to cut the captain’s lower leg. He screamed, hobbled, blood staining the snow.

With angry roars, the men-at-arms surrounded Tye.

Air rushing between his teeth, he met strike after strike of the warriors’ swords. The fight became a blur as he spun, lashed out, and dodged blows. Blood from wounded men dotted the front of Tye’s armor and spattered on the snow. A handful of mercenaries, some on horses and others on foot, crowded in around him. They worked alongside him to quell the resistance as quickly as possible.

With a brutal slash of his sword, Tye thwarted a final assault from one of the wounded swordsmen. As the man fell sideways into the snow, groaning, Tye signaled to five of the mercenaries. “Come.” As arranged earlier, the men fell in alongside him. Leaving the rest of his forces to conquer the bailey, Tye headed for the forebuilding that led up into the keep’s great hall.

Shouts and the crash of swords snapped his attention to the far side of the bailey, where light from the stables and kitchens tinged the snow pale yellow. Huddled in the kitchen doorway, servants watched, terrified, as mercenaries battled more men-at-arms. Archers on the battlements continued to fire down arrows, even as their numbers dwindled. A man priming a crossbow on the battlement screamed. An arrow had pierced his right arm; he careened sideways and disappeared from view.

Tye focused again on the forebuilding, less than ten paces away. Over the metallic clang of a nearby swordfight, he caught running footfalls.

“Milord!” cried a mercenary behind him.

Tye whirled to confront whoever neared. Through the falling snow, he recognized his mother, garbed in her black cloak trimmed with fur. Strands of red hair poked from the edges of her hood. Braden, in his thick fur cloak, hurried along beside her, his bloodied sword at the ready.

As they reached Tye’s side, the mercenaries turned and watched the bailey, keeping a lookout for enemy assailants.

“The gatehouse is under our control. Our men will lower the portcullis and raise the drawbridge shortly.” Veronique’s eyes were bright from the pleasure of the fight. Fresh blood glistened on the dagger in her gloved hand.

“The castle is expecting deliveries this morning,” Tye said. “Tell the men to turn away anyone who approaches. They are to say there is sickness in the castle.”

“Very well,” Veronique said.

“What of the postern gate?” Tye asked. This doorway in the castle’s outer wall, built to enable folk to escape in the event of a surprise attack, couldn’t be left unguarded.

“’Tis secured,” Braden said.

“No one escaped?”

Veronique shook her head. “As you ordered, mercenaries are standing sentry on both sides of the postern. No one can get in or leave by that door.”

“Good.” Tye grinned. All was going just as he’d planned.

You will loathe hearing of my victory today, Father. You will hate to the very depths of your soul that I am ruler of this keep—and I will bask in your hatred!

Another of the men-at-arms in the bailey fell to a mercenary’s blade, and Tye’s grin widened. What he would give to see his father’s face when he received news of the conquest. De Lanceau would blame himself for leaving Wode vulnerable, for the opportunity he’d overlooked that Tye had seized. His sire’s guilt and regret would be akin to strings looped through Tye’s hand; he’d tug, tangle, and manipulate them, without mercy, without a glimmer of forgiveness, before in a glorious final fight, he ran his father through.

A chunk of melting snow slipped from the edge of Tye’s cloak and settled against his neck: an icy chill against his skin. A reminder that while his victory was nigh assured, ’twas not complete. His attention shifted to the keep, its stone rendered dull gray by the overcast sky. With a harsh cry, he summoned the mercenaries to follow him.

“We will speak later, Mother.”

“We will.”

Her triumphant laughter followed him as he threw open the door to the forebuilding. “Wode is yours at last, as you deserve.”