“Look at her,” Simon ordered, nodding in the
direction of his. . . wife. It still felt strange and new
to him to call her that, not difficult to understand since
they’d only married this morning. “Just look
at her.” His blood heated just glancing at her.
Giles, Brice and Soren all turned to look across the crowded
hall to where the women sat in various groups during the
wedding feast. Elise had made her way over to her mother
and her cousins and sat chatting with them, all the while
enticing him with her innocent demeanor and simple beauty.
“She seems to be in good spirits, Simon,” Brice
offered. “Though I am surprised she is here.”
Simon turned and realized that his friends were looking
at the wrong woman. Before he could correct them, Giles
“As am I. Alianor looks unseemly happy for a woman
who is losing her lover and protector to the clutches of
a wife.” Giles held up his cup in a salute to Simon
and then to Soren. “Mayhap she will be looking for
a new one, Soren. What think you of her beauty and manners?”
Soren opened his mouth to speak, but laughed instead. “I
will wait to see how smoothly things go between Simon and
his wife. He may be back in Alianor’s bed sooner rather
than later and my efforts would all be for naught.”
Simon’s graphic curse stopped further discussion
of his mistress and startled some who stood close by their
group. Turning his back to them, he lowered his voice.
“I was speaking about Elise, you fools, not Alianor.”
Simon drank the rest of his wine in one swallow. “Bastards,”
he cursed under his breath.
“Without a doubt, my lord,” Giles said, nodding
to Simon. Stepping closer, he smacked Simon on the back
and laughed. “We but sought to ease the moment.”
“Am I that obvious then?” Simon could feel
the tension growing within him over the coming night. .
. and taking Elise to his bed. He’d wanted her the
moment he watched her dismount in front of his keep and
now that she was his in the eyes of the law, he only wanted
“Just as much as any other groom, Simon,” Brice
Glancing across the room again, he watched as she smiled
and nodded at something one of her women said. His body
reacted strongly to her beauty and her femininity. And the
thought of holding her in his arms, touching her skin, tasting
her essence and initiating her into the pleasures of the
marriage bed this night made him harden yet again.
Then, as he watched his friends appraise her, the heat
of jealousy pierced him. The three drew women to them like
flies to the sweet and he had no doubt that, if any of them
turned their real attentions to her, they could show him
up for the rough, brutish man he truly was with their experience
with the ways of wooing women. It was only the hope that
he could be different for her, different to her, that allowed
him to believe he could make her happy in this marriage.
As though his thoughts had called her name, Elise raised
her pale blue eyes and met his gaze. Tossing the hip-length
waves of auburn hair over her shoulder, she tilted her head
a bit. His throat tightened and his mouth grew dry, but
his blood pulsed and his heart raced as the corners of her
mouth lifted into the gentle smile he was coming to crave.
Soon, she would truly be his. The sound of his friends’
whispers drew him from his lost moment and back to the problem
facing him about the coming night.
“She is yours, Simon. Surely you know that even as
everyone in this gathering does,” Soren assured him.
“What is it that has your ball. . . trews twisted
in a knot?”
The others laughed at their friend’s witticism, but
Simon did not. Taking in a breath and letting it out, he
turned to face them. In a lowered voice, he finally admitted
his deepest fear.
“She is a virgin.”
The others looked one to the other and then back at him.
“Of course, she is, Simon. Her virtue has been well-guarded
by her family. Even her dimwitted father knew enough to
keep her from his plans,” Giles answered.
Elise’s father had backed the wrong noble in the
dispute between the imprisoned Duke Conan and his usurping
uncle Count Eudes who tried to wrest control of the region
from him. Simon’s family, connected to both sides
of the embattled family by blood, had remained out of the
fray, but he suspected that Eudes and his progeny would
still come back into power in the duchy. With their cousin
William making noises of war in their direction and pressing
ahead with his plans to claim England as his own, Simon
could believe any number of machinations would move those
out-of-favor back into favor and change the balance of power
between Breton, Normandy and the other duchies and kingdoms.
“Ladies such as she deserve poetry to woo her and
to gain her love. Contracts and marriage will not do it,”
he began. He might be known as a lover of women, but he’d
never wooed one in his life and not one so fair and so feminine.
“She is so delicate and I,” he said, “I
am so. . . so. . .”
“Old?” Soren asked, finishing his sentence
but not with the word of his choosing. “Most women
appreciate those years of experience in a man.” Soren
laughed loudly and smacked Simon on his back. “Lady
Alianor was heard to say just that on many occasions.”
Simon wheeled around and walked away from his friends.
Even knowing that too much wine and the festive and even
somewhat bawdy mood had loosened their tongues, Simon would
probably punch one or all of them soon and that would bring
a different end to their marriage feast than he wanted.
It would show Elise the very side of him he anguished over
even now. But, he grabbed a pitcher of wine from one of
the servants and stalked off up the stairs to the top floor
where he could be alone and watch the hall from the balcony.
By the time he reached the alcove above, a lovely widow
had already approached Soren, clearly with hopes of a liaison
for the coming night. Shaking his head over how easily the
fairer sex fell over themselves at the feet of the ‘beautiful
Bastard’, he took a deep drink of the wine in his
cup and swallowed it.
“The lady is in love with you already, Simon. You
have nothing to fear with her.” Giles reached his
side and looked down over those gathered below them. “Take
her gently and all will be well between you.”
He held out his empty cup and Simon filled it and his as
well. “I have always favored my father’s family,”
he offered. “We are not known for our grace or small
“Ah, but to have watched you fight with your sword
in battle is to know the lie of those words. And small or
large, it will all work out if you have but a care for the
lady’s pleasure first.”
Simon drank down most of the wine in his cup again before
Giles pulled it from his grasp.
“If you continue to drink at this rate, the only
thing the fair Elise has to worry about is you falling asleep
of her.” Giles eyed him once more. “Have you
never taken a virgin before?”
He said nothing, but that was answer enough for his worldly
“See to her pleasure first and then to your own.
Once she has found hers, she will be more accepting of allowing
you yours.” Giles drank the rest of his wine.
It seemed like a sound plan, but the strength of his desire
for Elise was there in his body already for his manhood
rose hard against his breeches. Would he be able to maintain
control of his fierce urges when presented with Elise, naked
in his embrace, finally his alone to claim?
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