Take a peek at Elisabeth Hobbes' book, A Wager for the Widow.
Nothing more needed to be done. The beeswax candles glowed on each table, chandelier and wall sconce, their scent mingling with bundles of dried lavender. The tables were laid with Sir Edgar’s finest plate, enamelled silver glinting in the firelight. Fresh rushes had been laid on the floor and the soft music of lute and harp drifted from the gallery above.
Will looked round with satisfaction and smiled to himself. He pictured Eleanor’s expression when she saw the Great Hall and raised his cup to his lips in silent tribute to her. By his side Edmund continued to talk though Will had stopped listening. He could have done without Edmund bragging about his latest bedroom conquest in his ear.
Love or wealth.
Will had been thinking all day about Eleanor and Lady Fitzallan’s argument when he had interrupted them and had a dreadful suspicion they were discussing Allencote. The knight had been seeking Eleanor out the previous evening and Will had rarely seen them apart over the last two days. Had he told her of his debts and did she want to marry him despite her parent’s wishes? He found it hard to believe she had fallen for Allencote so quickly, but could think of no other explanation for her words.
‘You’re playing a risky game, Will,’ Edmund said.
Will’s started at hearing his name.
‘It’s a lot of money to lose and she won’t unbend by midnight. Admit defeat and I’ll cut the stake by three groats,’ Edmund said magnanimously.
The wager. Will ran a hand through his hair as, not for the first time, his conscience stabbed. If Eleanor was reckless in choosing love over wealth, he was guilty of doing the opposite, continuing to chase his stake when Eleanor had long since filled his heart more than the thought of riches filled his mind. He had seen enough to know he had awakened the feelings Edmund believed Eleanor had buried, but if she was planning to bestow them on Allencote, money was all Will could hope to gain from the wager. That and a memory to console himself with.
He frowned at Edmund’s words. ‘It isn’t midnight yet. I’ll still win,’ he said confidently.
‘Win what? What stake?’ Anne Fitzallan’s head appeared over her brother’s shoulder. She peered at the men curiously. Edmund pulled her around into a hug and she laughed with delight.
‘William is about to make me a richer man.’ Edmund grinned.
Anne narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Will glared at Edmund. ‘It’s nothing of note,’ he cut in quickly, ‘simply a silly game.’ Changing the subject, he asked, ‘Are you looking forward to the feast?’
Anne twirled around, displaying her flowing skirt. ‘Yes, I am. The Earl of Etherington’s squire has asked me for the first dance. I think he likes me.’
Will smiled. ‘I’m happy for you. The lad’s of good family and the earl is a fair master.’
Anne danced away. It was fortunate her attachment had not been long lasting, Will mused. He doubted his own heart would mend as quickly.
A fanfare sounded and the Master of the Chamber swung the great double doors open. Guests began to file into the room and take their allotted places, colourful and extravagantly clothed. Allencote appeared, looking handsome and confident in a burgundy surcoat with broadly slashed sleeves and cuffs. Will glanced down at his own attire: a plain black surcoat and breeches, the discreet orange-and-green collar and cuffs the only outward indication of his position. Let others dress themselves like peacocks to display their greatness. Will had no need.
Eleanor walked through the doorway and Will forgot everything.
She wore green. Pale silk under a mantle of heavy, emerald velvet laced with gold braid from beneath her high breasts to her slender waist. Her hair had been twisted atop her head and encased in a net of gold so that her braids flamed between the metal. The gown left her shoulders bare and the elegant expanse of creamy flesh sent Will’s heart thudding into his stomach.
Half-a-dozen men leapt to their feet as they saw Eleanor, but Will was quicker. He tore his gaze from the curve of her throat and collarbone and strode to her. He bowed before her, then lifted his head. His eyes travelled slowly up her body until he met her gaze, determined to leave her in no doubt of the effect she was having upon him. She looked uncertain until Will gave her a discreet wink. She smiled back and the world brightened, as though a hundred more candles had begun to burn.
‘Let me escort you to your seat, Lady Peyton,’ Will said formally. As she took his outstretched arm he whispered in an undertone, ‘You’re the most beautiful woman in the room. It was worth the hailstorm to see you in that dress.’
Eleanor said nothing, but a blush crept across her cheeks and her fingers tightened on his arm. Will led her to her seat, reluctantly relinquishing her to the company of the Sheriff of Tawstott. He could barely keep his eyes from her for the rest of the feast.
When the final dishes had been removed the tables were cleared for the dancing to begin. The musicians tuned their instruments and an expectant hush fell over the hall.
Allencote began to thread his way through the crowd towards her and Will crossed the room to her side. The two men reached her at the same time. Eleanor looked from one to the other apprehensively.
‘Will you dance the first measure with me, Lady Peyton?’ Allencote asked, a shade before Will could ask the same question.
Eleanor’s eyes flickered briefly to Will’s. He held her gaze boldly though his stomach curled with anxiety. It was out of his hands now. If she chose Allencote, he had lost everything.
Blurb: ‘I SUPPOSE A KISS OF GRATITUDE IS OUT OF THE QUESTION?’
Widowed Lady Eleanor Peyton has chosen a life of independence. Living alone on her rocky coastal outcrop, she’s cut herself off from the world of men – until William Rudhale saves her life and demands a kiss!
As steward to Lady Eleanor’s father, Will knows the desire he burns with is futile – but he’ll still wager he can claim Eleanor’s kiss by midwinter! Yet when the tide turns Will realises vulnerable Eleanor is far too precious to gamble with. Can he win his lady before it’s too late?