The cold, crisp air burned the inside of Alyse’s nose on the second day of their journey to Havering. Geoffrey had insisted they move slowly to accommodate young Thomas and his nurse, Ysa, a young girl from the village whose husband had been taken by the pestilence and whose babe had been stillborn. Grief stricken, the girl had come to dote on Thomas as though he were her own. They now rode together in the cart, bundled alongside numerous trunks and goods that would last them the month they would spend at court.
Alyse had chosen to ride Mirabelle and now relished the cold that stung her cheeks and made her impatient to move swiftly. Under its blanket of snow and ice, the countryside looked like a new world as the morning sun glinted off the dazzling white. She squinted at the glare and turned to Geoffrey, mounted on Saracen. The big black stallion pranced along, snorting as if he too was impatient for a gallop.
“Shall I race you to that oak tree yonder, my lord? Are you as ready for adventure as your steed or overtired with your journey?” Alyse grinned at her husband who constantly surveyed the landscape. Although the pestilence had left the land bereft of people for the most part, of those who had survived many had become lawless, roaming the countryside, robbing travelers and ravaging outlying villages.
Geoffrey quirked an eyebrow at her. “You are in fine fettle this morn.” He glanced once more across the still land, but nothing stirred. “What forfeit will you pay when I am the victor?”
Laughing at the arrogant flare of his nose as he arched his neck, Alyse blew him a kiss. “Another of these, save it will have more substance.”
“I’ll take that wager, my lady. ‘Twill be my pleasure to claim your lips when we two are done.”
“And what will you forfeit to me, Lord Longford, when I best you?”
A grin immediately split his face, blue eyes brightening. “What would you ask of me, fair lady? Another feat of Hercules?”
Alyse laughed in return and a warmth spread through her heart, for he reminded her of their early days of courtship. “Nay, my lord. I think those days are put to rest.” Still, what could she ask of him? There was nothing he would deny her an she ask for it. At least she thought not. “If I am the winner, I beg…a lock of your hair.”
The startled expression on his face brought on a fit of giggling from Alyse.
“You want me to cut my hair?” The horror in his voice sent her into fresh peals of laughter.
“Not all of your hair, Sampson. One lock only.” She cut her eyes toward him to find him dragging his fingers through his dark hair, as if to assure himself it still remained on his head. “I want to make a keepsake token, like the one I gave you.”
“Aye. I can bear to be shorn thus.” He stole his hand to the breast of his dark green tunic, to rub the spot above his heart where her favor, a small blue silk bag with a lock of her black hair, lay. His eyes twinkled. “An I lose this wager, of course.”
During their conversation they had walked their horses much closer and the massive oak tree seemed to tower over them.
Not waiting for a signal, Alyse tapped Mirabelle hard with her heel and the mare shot away at a gallop.
Geoffrey sounded farther behind her than she expected. He would not remain so for long. She leaned almost flat over the horse’s withers, urging her mount to greater speed. A quick glance over her shoulder showed Geoffrey and Saracen closing the gap at a frightening pace. They were but yards from the goal if only Mirabelle could keep her lead.
* * *
Lord and Lady Longford have journeyed to the Christmas Court of King Edward III in the year 1349 to wait upon the king and take place in some Yuletide merriment. However, when Geoffrey is called suddenly into the king’s service again, Alyse must remain at the court, attending the queen and dissuading her rebellious sister from a disastrous action. When rumors of Geoffrey’s death arise, Alyse fends off an old suitor who pays court to her once more. But how long will he take “No” for an answer?
Seduction at the Christmas Court will release in November 2016.