Opening from A KNIGHT'S CAPTIVE by Lindsay Townsend

Here as an excerpt is the start of my Kensington Zebra medieval romance, 'A Knight's Captive'. In it we see the hero Marc for the first time, and the heroine Sunniva.

Northern England, September 1066

"Uncle Marc! Is she not as beautiful as the sun? That is what her name means. She is Sunniva, Sun-Gift. Do you not think she is like the sun?"
"Steady, little one. You will wake your sisters. But yes, you are right. She is most comely."
Ignoring the powerful temptation to look where Alde was pointing, Marc tucked the ends of his big traveling cloak around his excited niece and encouraged the child to lie down again by doing so himself. A swift, anxious glance confirmed that Judith and Isabella were sleeping, sprawled under his cloak, their small faces sunburned with weeks of travel. Isabella was sucking her thumb. The day had been long, the riding hard and tiring. He prayed she would sleep through, free of nightmares.
Just one night, Lord Christ. As a mercy to her, and to her sisters. "Uncle Marc?" Alde whispered, tugging on her lower lip, the pupil of her left eye sliding towards her small, faintly hooked nose as she fought her body's weariness, "Can I have -" A tiny snore escaped her pouting mouth.
Marc waited a moment, watching his charges. His brother had spoken of the "fierce love" a parent feels for a child: in these past months he had come to understand what Roland meant. He would kill for these three.
Beside him a female peddler, as gnarled as the sticks she carried for sale on her back, snorted and shifted closer to the central fire. Turning carefully so as not to disturb Isabella, Marc lounged on his belly, one hand absently rubbing his aching spine as he scanned the company.
Two and twenty figures, hunched in various attitudes of slumber, some snoring, most silent, were ranged about the fire, their dun and dust-stained clothes orange in its fading glow. Outside the ruined, roofless square fort - an old Roman castle, according to their escorts - he could hear the night-guards walking and talking softly. So far, the pilgrim party he was part of had journeyed in safety, although he slept with his sword close to hand. Even main roadways such as the one they traveled on were haunted by footpads, ever-ready to prey upon the unwary or unprotected. There were rumored to be horse-thieves hereabouts in these rough lands of the north and worse still, slavers.
He knew of one who would be a great prize to such creatures. Blonde - such fair eyebrows and skin must betoken blonde hair, although he had never seen so much as a strand of it: Sunniva was a modest girl who hid her tresses under a plain russet head square. Lithe, with a tumbler's body: that much he could guess from her graceful walk, though her robe hung on her as if made for a larger woman. And her face… Marc smiled in the semi-darkness. Even at a distance, she was more than comely, she was spectacular, a prize -
"Sunniva! Damn you, wench!"
The carping voice broke into Marc's guilty day-dream, causing him to stare where he had sworn he would not. Straight across the fire from where he and his three darlings were snuggled into a corner, their backs safe against the fire-proof stone walls, a hulking scarecrow of a man sat bolt upright. Cloaks and scraps of precious cloth and even tapestry rolled off him, scattering like chaff as he whirled his beefy arms. "Here, girl, attend me! Look at me, girl! You should not be sleeping!"
"Not when my leg troubles me!" Marc finished for Cena under his
breath, clenching both hands into fists as he fought his own temper. Since he and his girls had joined the pilgrim party five days ago he had grown weary of this graybeard's mewling complaints - the Englishman moaned more readily than six-year-old Isabella.

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