A Knight's Enchantment - new excerpt

Here's a new excerpt from my historical romance 'A Knight's Enchantment' where Joanna is trying to escape from the hero Hugh.

Rushing past the beds of spring-time flowers, all silver in the moonlight, Joanna spotted Peter the page, hiding from sight of the castle and kitchen windows. He was crouched behind a stand of hyssop and thyme, playing a solitary game of dice.

Seeing him, Joanna recalled Hugh's previous comment and greeted him at once. "Peter, well-met! Will you fetch a box of white powder from my chamber and deliver it here to Sir Yves? He has asked for it most urgently."
"Unnn- " Peter assented, coming slowly to his feet, his face a beacon of shame at being discovered.
"And hurry," Joanna pressed, keen for the lad to be away.
As Peter slouched off to do her bidding in some fashion, she scanned the high walls of the castle garden. If there was a gate, or a tree close to the wall she could climb, she might escape the keep. She had her own pitiful share of Orri's gold with her - she always had her gold on her - so she would have something to give the bishop. Pray God it would placate him for a space, and win her more time.
Why not wait to see what the messenger says? Her reason argued, but her feelings were all urging her to flee. The truth was, she did not trust Bishop Thomas. Hugh had taken her as a valued hostage, but what if she was not? What if the bishop did not care? He could get other women to share his bed, and other alchemists to try to grow him gold. At least back at West Sarum she could be useful in many ways: making rose-water, elixirs, sweets, helping in the kitchen. Now she was away from him, Thomas might forget her altogether and her father would be left to rot in the donjon, or worse.
"Let me find a gate," Joanna panted, as she traced another high wall without any opening.
Her prayer was answered at once. No gate, but a wild crab apple that must have seeded itself from the woodland outside and was now growing beside the wall. Its sturdy branches reached beyond the huge, smooth stones and a wide canopy of blossom gleamed as beautiful as stars in the deepening twilight.
"Thanks be to God," Joanna murmured, stretching her arms up to the tree. Its bark was grainy under her hands and a piece flaked down into her face, but she was too jubilant to care.
"Are you not old to be climbing trees?"
Hugh's question startled her and she lost her grip, scrabbling for a hold as she plummeted toward the swathes of violets, pinks and black-looking speedwell.
Hugh caught her and silenced his dog's howling abruptly. "Enough, Beo! She is not hurt." He gripped her more tightly, his arms as firm as a ship's ribs beneath her trembling legs and shoulders. "She is safe."
He touched her face, lightly brushing away the scrap of bark from her lips. "You are as light as a moth." His blue eyes gleamed with a mixture of amusement and exasperation. "And as treacherous ."
Joanna found her voice again in her raw, dry throat. "I was merely examining the blossom."
"That is an idea, but I have a better one. I will assay you for cuts - have I the word right? - and examine you to ensure you are not bruised."
He was enjoying this, the devil, but even as he spoke, Joanna found herself imagining Hugh studying her. It was the kind of game she had never played with a man, but how might it be with him? To be touched and touch in return...
Joanna wrung her mind from a disturbing mêlée of images, desperate to fob him off somehow. "I must - I must use the garderobe," she whispered.
"I am not surprised, after such excitement. I shall escort you there and thence to your chamber."
It seemed he meant to carry her to both places.
"We shall be quicker if I walk," Joanna said.
"But not if you run. You may run too far." Hugh allowed that none-too-subtle hint hit home and then changed the subject. "My men speak highly of your white powder. It soothes their aches better than any other tincture they know. I have found the same."
He raised his arms slightly, to lift her smoothly over a rosebush.
"I am most intrigued as to what it is. Can you speak of its basics? How did you make it? How did you choose its parts?"
Had she not been trapped by him and the bishop's deadline, she would have been glad of, even a little flattered by his interest. As it was, feeling aggrieved with all men and their power-games, she answered sharply, "All my work is secret."
"A way to keep control. I understand."
His soothing reply exasperated her more. "Do you tell other jousters how to win? It is the same for me."
"Competitive alchemy?"
"We all have exacting patrons."
He shrugged. "Find some other labor if you dislike it so much."
His smug, overweening, ignorant superiority made her burn with rage.
"As you would, if you did not spend your days dashing out your opponents' brains? And what new labor would that - ?" Joanna began, then snapped her teeth together. She would not give him the satisfaction of a waspish answer. Besides, they had passed up the outer stair of the keep and were heading rapidly for the inner staircase and she was anxious as to what Hugh might do next, faced with the tight narrow spiral.
“I can walk ahead of you upstairs,” she said quickly.
“No, you are plainly overset. We will keep as we are.”
“Do not put me over your shoulder!” Joanna warned, shaking a finger at him.
“To carry such a wee bag of bones as you? I think not.” He lowered his head, kissed her finger and now bore her in one brawny arm up the spiral, shielding her head against the stones with his shoulder. The smooth, steady rush would have been exhilarating, had she not been so irritated.
Finally he set her down, outside the door of the garderobe. She knew he would be lurking when she came out again and so he was.
“Stay with her, Beowulf,” he told the wolfhound. “Guard.”
Instantly the dog began to pace to and fro, exactly like a human guard, and Joanna realized what would happen if she attempted to move along the narrow corridor. Staring out from an arrow slit at the dark garden, she relieved some of her feelings by cursing Hugh, Sir Yves, Bishop Thomas and even David.
“I wish I was a unicorn,” she grumbled. “Too magical to hold.”
“I would have had you for a lioness,” said Hugh behind her. “Valiant as a queen.”
“And you would be the lion?” she asked archly.
“A phoenix,” came back the prompt, unexpected reply. “Then I could burn away to ash and be reborn with no hurt to anyone.”
Joanna thought of Hugh's mother, dead in childbirth, bearing him, and said nothing. She had heard of fathers blaming offspring for the deaths of their spouses but had not witnessed its raw pain until encountering Hugh and Yves. A memory of her mother, more precious than gold, shimmered a moment before her eyes. Miriam had been small and dark as she was, merry and chattering and with hands softer than silk. She had loved to comb and dress people's hair, even her husband's own sparse locks.
"What are you thinking?" Hugh asked softly. "You seem far away."
Joanna shook her head. To speak of her mother when he had never known his was unkind. To talk of Miriam was to invite questions and she was not ready yet to answer the worst one - how her mother had died.
"Do you have no other captives to pester?" she demanded.
"No," he said, without apology. Instead of drawing back as she wanted, he stayed where he was, absently rubbing his lower back.
"Long hours in the saddle," he remarked, catching her look. "How are your legs now?"
"Better. Why do you ask? Are you thinking of riding me into the ground tonight? Riding with me?" she amended, horrified by what she had just said. A picture of her and Hugh, rolling together on the soft earth, slammed into her head and stayed there.
"You need not fear me, you know."
What did he mean? Had he noticed her mistake? Joanna did not hit back with the obvious answer, that she did not fear him. She lifted her head and looked at him directly, spearing her eyes at him, facing down him and her own imagination. So she had day-dreamed of his touching her, of him embracing her as a husband does a wife. Could she not enjoy that notion?
Even as she admitted to herself that she did, Joanna knew she was torn between wanting to touch Hugh and wanting to escape him. She made a mummer's show of a yawn, hoping he would take the hint and leave her on the corridor. Then she would try again to weave her way out of this castle keep.
"If your legs are well now," Hugh went on, seemingly oblivious to her inner turmoil, "then I can help you."
"To do what?" Joanna asked.

A Knight's Enchantment
Reviews for this and my other novels, plus covers, buy links and more excerpts can be seen at my website http://www.lindsaytownsend.net/

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