Bridie's Diary, from the Lesbian Diaries by @GiselleRenarde

Bridie’s Diary
By Giselle Renarde
Series: The Lesbian Diaries
Book: 2
EBOOK ISBN: 9780463011881
PRINT ISBN: 9781703071498

Bridie never expected to find herself in this position at midlife: leaving her husband and moving to the ends of the earth, purchasing her childhood home, falling in love with her tenant...

Ness is everything Bridie is not. She’s young and bold and artsy and trans. Bridie can’t fight the attraction. It’s addictive. It’s overwhelming.

But when Bridie’s best friend shows up to remind her what life was like when they were lovers, she’s torn between fresh possibilities and familiar passions. Will Bridie choose the old or the new? Or will life choose for her?

Lesbian fiction from award-winning queer Canadian author Giselle Renarde.

Buy your copy from Google Play:
Or read at Radish:


Suddenly, Ness’s lips were on mine.

When her tongue entered my mouth, I wasn’t expecting it. Reminded me so much of Jacintha’s kiss. I hadn’t expected that one, either, though I certainly should have.

Perhaps I should have expected this one, too.

Surrender made me weak. Goodness knows how we got to the couch. My legs could barely support me.

She was very good at kissing, Ness. Her style was similar to Jacintha’s, though perhaps a tad hungrier, owing to her age. When we were that age—me and Jax—the make-out sessions were explosive. I was only too happy to experience that burst of youthful energy all over again, with my twenty-something tenant. She seemed as eager as I.

When she unzipped her hoodie, which went almost down to her knees, my hand went to her breast. Under the hoodie, she had on a tank top, but no bra. It was easy enough to slide my fingers beneath it and prick up her nipple.

Her hand moved to my breast, but there was too much in the way. I tore out of my top, out of my bra, which I’m sure I wouldn’t have done in a fully-lit room if it hadn’t been for Jacintha telling me, only days ago, that my tits were every bit as perky as they’d been when we met.

I don’t know about perky. They’re certainly fuller now. But, yes, I had to agree, they weren’t bad. I didn’t mind showing them off.

Ness seemed pleased. She lifted her tank top and pressed her chest to mine. We toppled down flat on the couch, which made me laugh, goodness knows why. Nerves, perhaps. Her tiny tits felt so good against my bigger breasts.

She was such a good kisser. I could have kissed her all night.

Except that I could feel a growing need between us, and I say that only in part metaphorically. Ness had on leggings or tights, whatever you call them. She wasn’t the type to tuck it away. Who would see, when her hoodie went down practically to her knees?

But I could feel it pulsing against my thigh. And, I tell you, my arousal went through the roof.

Buy your copy from Google Play:
Or read at Radish:

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

(PG Excerpt) Re-Release of TAINTED TEA FOR TWO

Re-Released! A, Award Winner Favorite!


Author: Susanne Marie Knight

Genre: Regency

Available electronically at and

Price: $3.99

Buy link:
Available electronically at:

Someone wants Lord Embrey dead. Will the method of execution be by poison, or injection, or... potato??

When personal fitness trainer Ms. Marty Jackson accepts an assignment in England, romance is the furthest thing on her mind. Fate has other ideas in the form of a handsome British barrister. But when a body is found in the library, can Marty convince her new-found love of her innocence when all evidence points in her direction?

Scene Set-Up:
Newly arrived in England, Marty Jackson has decided not to join her client, Lord Embrey, for dinner. His son, Gregory Gresham, however is most insistent that she dine with them. 

Belatedly making sure her short, cotton robe covered what it was supposed to, Marty took a step back from Gresham. No good, though. His masculine after-shave drifted toward her and teased her tired senses. “What do you mean by coming into my room like this? I could’ve been... sleeping.”

Fortunately she changed her word choice from “naked” to “sleeping.” Dangerous suggestion around someone who looked as devastating as he did.

Gresham’s smile conveyed his disbelief. “At eight o’clock? I hardly think so.” He clasped his hands behind his back and took a cramped stroll around the room. “I’m here to bring you downstairs.”

Although she should have thrown him out, she stood rooted to the floor. She didn’t even flinch when he picked up her special paperweight, but she would’ve been lying if she didn’t admit her fingers itched to grab it out of his hands.

Then, for some reason, the four poster bed seemed to attract him. He walked over to it and began pawing through her pile of recently discarded clothing. “I was under the impression that Americans understood English, Ms. Jackson. Dinner, I remember saying, is at eight. You are keeping everyone from their food.”

Only when he uncovered her bra did her motionless state vanish. “Do you mind?” She quickly tugged on his arm, and pulled him away from the bed... and the intimate articles.

He smiled again, revealing perfect white teeth. This time her heart fluttered in such a peculiar way. “I, ah, told Lottie I wouldn’t be joining you.”

“You have no choice. Come. It is late.”

Annoyance crept into her tone. She planted her hands on her hips. “Listen, I appreciate the offer but I’m tired and I don’t feel like eating.”

The top of her robe gaped open a little. Naturally his gaze took in the sight. Just collarbones, but his smile deepened. She grabbed at the material. The beast!

Then he did the unexpected. He bent down to stare directly into her eyes. Waves of his masculine, musky after-shave shook Marty to her very core. His sparkling grey eyes mesmerized her, and once again, she couldn’t have moved if her life depended on it. She gulped down hard. Embarrassingly enough, her nipples hardened. Good grief, this power he had over her was unfair but there was no way she could protest.

“Ms. Jackson,” Gresham murmured, “you will accompany me to dinner, undressed as you are, or otherwise.” He slowly, torturously, skimmed the side of her cheek with two of his fingers.

When she shivered, he broke contact and shrugged. “Make no mistake about it. Lord Embrey wishes to meet you tonight, and I’ll not have him disappointed.”

She was left breathless. Never in all her born days had anyone affected her to this degree. She didn’t even know the man, didn’t even like him, but one touch from him and she was like Jell-O.

Marty, you’re losing this battle. Better retreat and build up your defenses.

“Ah, okay.” She massaged the bridge of her nose. Was this day ever going to end? “Give me a minute and I’ll get dressed.”


She waited but he didn’t leave the room. Starting to lift her hands to her hips again, she then remembered about the robe gaping open. “Obviously I can’t change with you here.” Her voice practically dripped with sarcasm.

“No?” Gresham raised a dark eyebrow. “A pity.” He purposefully walked to the door, then turned around. “You said a minute, so that’s when I’ll expect you to be done. And, by the way, there’s no sense locking the door.”

He patted the pocket on the left side of his breast. “I have the key.”


Hope you enjoy!

Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

She is Beauty but is he the Beast? THE SNOW BRIDE

She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?


Excerpt 2

A woman of my own. Someone to return to.
Alice cared and had urged him most ardently to stay with her and Peter, but pride had made him refuse them both with a smile. He did not begrudge the handsome couple their joy, not after their many trials. But the dark of winter and Christmas especially brought his own desolation home to him most keenly, sharper than an assassin’s blade. He was nine and twenty, a grizzled warrior, battle-scarred and wounded.
Feeling sorry for yourself, Magnus? Brace up, man! Be a Viking, as your granddad was. You have your wits and your balls, all working. The lasses in the stews make no complaint and do not charge so much. You have land, a strong house, good fellowship, and two hearty godchildren.
“Splendor in Christendom, let me have my own family! A lass who loves me!”
His voice rang out, startling a lone magpie into taking flight from a solitary elm in a blur of wings, but the drab and well-worn saint gave no sign of hearing. Peering into the calm, carved face, Magnus wondered if the saint was smiling, and then he spotted his own reflection, clear in a frozen mirror of ice by the shrine.
He scowled, knowing very well what he looked like, and spat to the left for luck. With his knees creaking, he staggered to his feet and remounted his eager horse. When he passed this way again he would leave gold, he vowed, but for now he wished only to slink away. He needed to find the village before nightfall and speak to the council of old men—it was always old men—who had sent word to his manor of Norton Mayfield, begging for help, any help, to track and to defeat a monster.

Lindsay Townsend

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

PG Excerpt Of Re-Release: THE MAGIC TOKEN


THE MAGIC TOKEN: 2003 EPPIE Award Finalist for Best Historical Romance!

Author: Susanne Marie Knight

Genre: Regency Romance

Price: $3.99

Available electronically at and

Buy link:

An old woman gives skeptical Amanda a magical coin. It couldn't possibly work, but then how else can she explain her sudden good fortune? The very man who captured her heart years ago appears, offering a position as governess. But how can she endure being near to a man so beyond her reach?

Marcus, Duke of Yarborough, is burdened by family and political responsibilities. A chance meeting throws him together with the engaging sprite from his past, causing him to reevaluate his beliefs. For once in his life, the call of love beckons far stronger than duties and obligations.

Scene Set-Up:
Newly hired as governess to the Duke of Yarborough’s young sister, Daphne, Amanda finds herself having to lie to protect Daphne from the duke’s displeasure.

After the door closed, the duke gestured toward a wide, cushioned settee, away from the fireplace. “Please, have a seat, Miss Barclay.”
Amanda gladly complied. To her dismay, he remained standing. She had a close-up view of his muscled thighs. Her heart pounded in response, but only because he towered over her--no other reason.
“What was my sister crying about?”
Her first dealing with the Duke of Yarborough and she had to lie. And he just said he hated secrets. If her father were alive, he would preach up a storm.
But she had to protect the child. It was important that Daphne tell the duke herself. “Um, it was nothing important, your grace.”
Convinced or not, he shrugged away the incident. “So, I am a busy man. I shall get right to the point. Do you agree to become my sister’s governess? I think you will find me very generous. Very generous. Indeed, I have had no complaints from any of my women acquaintances.”
Amanda raised her hand to her throat. Women acquaintances? Whatever did he mean? Was he talking about... mistresses? He could not possibly mean to dishonor her. Narrowing her gaze, she regarded him warily.
He pulled off his leather gloves and slapped them against one hand. “Well, speak up. What do you say--yea or nay? Save your missishness for another occasion, hmmm?”
She flushed. How embarrassing that he could read her private thoughts. Far from feeling at ease, she sat at the edge of the cushion. “You do not know anything about me, your grace. How can you be certain of my competence?”
Dropping his gloves next to his hat, he paced in front of her. Every step he took closer to the fireplace made her wince with apprehension. She and Daphne had been lucky--so far.
“Fishing for compliments, are you, Miss Barclay? Well then, I shall oblige you.” He ticked off comments on his fingers. “One, you are the daughter of a baronet, I believe. And sister to a parson. I cannot think of more steadying influences than those. Two, you have been away nursing relatives--this shows stamina. Three, Pritchard has spoken for you. I value his opinion.”
He swept his gaze over the length of her. “And four, concerning your outward appearance, suitably clothed, you do not inspire aversion.”
She gasped. His insult drummed savagely through her veins, chilling her very core. A sensation of sudden frost descended over her limbs, disabling her.
His highly polished Hessian boots came to a stop in front of her. She could only stare at the boots’ small, black tassels, jiggling to a halt.
“Ah, I have made a mull of it, haven’t I?” He reached down, caught her hands, and carefully tugged her to her feet. “I do apologize, Miss Barclay. I am a plain speaker. At times the things I say are not suitable for the gentler sex. Three years in Wellington’s army had that effect on me.”
She removed her hand from his. Speaking of effects, his close proximity had a dizzying one on her. Instead of looking him in the face, she contemplated the complex folds of his cravat. Being this near to him was even worse than she imagined.
Worse? No, perhaps it was more like heaven.


I hope you enjoy!

Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist!

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS


New Cover!

Is “The Wakefield Disturbance” A Gift Or A Curse? Chills, thrills, and ghosts! THE WAKEFIELD DISTURBANCE is a Dream Realm Finalist for Best Speculative Fiction Romance. This paranormal romantic suspense has been re-released for purchase electronically at is available for purchase electronically at and

Lara Wakefield receives messages from the dead. Her latest “client” is a murdered young girl who wants to be put to rest. The girl’s killer, however, objects. Can Lara find the girl’s body without becoming the next victim?
Private investigator Stuart Manning wants nothing to do with supernatural phenomena. A retainer of $50,000 overcomes his reluctance. Lara’s innate ability, integrity, and beauty cause him to have second thoughts about psychics, while deadly occurrences cause him to believe the little girl’s murderer is still hanging around. How can Stuart protect Lara when the killer is always one step ahead?
Visit see a trailer of this book. (Uncial Press version)


* 5 STARS!--Barnes and Noble
* 4 Cups! This is an interesting suspense tale with three good main characters. Stuart is a tortured ex-cop who feels responsible for his partner's death. Lara is cursed by her gift and wishes it would go away, and Chrissy is an unwanted and neglected child who befriends the both of them. The rest of the cast... add a bit of comic relief. The plot itself is fun to read with elements of suspense, romance and the paranormal. The dialogue is engaging... There is a good amount of suspense and fine love scenes also in this very enjoyable story.--Coffee Time Romance Reviews
* Fantastic! Couldn't put THE WAKEFIELD DISTURBANCE down!--Reader Comment.
* Hauntingly good, spine-tingling!--Reader Comment.
* I found THE WAKEFIELD DISTURBANCE exciting and interesting--when I got home from work, I read the last chapters instead of doing my chores!--Reader Comment.
* I enjoyed THE WAKEFIELD DISTURBANCE!-- Reader Comment.

THE WAKEFIELD DISTURBANCE is available for purchase electronically and

Paranormal/Suspense Romance Novels by Susanne Marie Knight include:

GRAVE FUTURE (Paranormal Suspense)
PAST INDISCRETIONS (Paranormal Suspense)
THE COMING (Paranormal Suspense)
COMPETITORS! (Paranormal Suspense)
UNCOVERING CAMELOT (Paranormal Romance)
A KARMIC CONNECTION (Paranormal Romance)
The Two Of Hearts Is For Lovers (Paranormal Romance)

Hope you enjoy! Thanks!

Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist!

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

Inspiration for Medieval Historical Romance, Plain Harry." Blurb/Chapter One

The inspiration for my medieval historical romance, “Plain Harry.”

The wounded warrior is a powerful archetype and one I find fascinating to explore in romance. I love writing strong heroes but heroes without flaw, without fears are blank. Wounds of any kind, physical or of the spirit, give me a starting point to develop a character.
Harry is one such character. As a result of childhood small-pox, he has many scars. Isolated and mocked for his appearance, he believes he is ugly, both inside and out. Esther, my heroine, sees him as more than his scars and recognizes him as the knight and hero he truly is.
Esther, too, is damaged. A widow, she has emerged from a terrible marriage where she was beaten and broken down. Lacking in confidence, she needs to discover her self-belief.
These two wounded characters gave me the starting point and inspiration for my story.

The setting also gave me endless ideas. I love the British woodland and countryside, the seasons and weather and different skies. I love the flowers and scents and feel of grass and bark, the sounds of birds and calls of forest animals. In my “Plain Harry” I tried to bring out my delight in the land.

I’m a member of the British Woodland Trust and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. I walk in my local woodland every day. I love British classical music for its fey elements and enjoy reading old fairy tales. My hubby and I are looking forward to gathering strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries in our garden, with redcurrants and blue berries to follow. Sometimes he or I pick through “Curye on Inglysch” a compilation of 14th century cookbooks, to try and adapt things as a change from an everyday diet. It’s great fun!

Here's the blurb for "Plain Harry" and an excerpt.

 Recovering from a brutal marriage, Esther is living quietly as a widow when a letter from her brother Sir Stephen destroys her contented life. Stephen orders her to marry Sir Henry—but who is this “Plain Harry” and how will he treat her?

Set in medieval England in a time when women had few rights, this story shows how love can flourish in the unlikeliest of places and between the unlikeliest of people.

Here is Chapter One, to give you the beginning of the story.

Plain Harry
A Sweet Medieval Historical Romance

Lindsay Townsend

Chapter 1
Northern England, Spring 1363

Esther knelt on the floor of her still room, the one place she would be undisturbed, and forced her fingers to uncurl. The scrap of parchment in her hand dropped to the tiles she had so proudly swept that morning. She did not need to read the letter again, since its terms were already seared into her mind.
I offered Sir Bertrand D’Acre an insult for which he challenged me. As I have still a broken arm from a previous duel, my place was taken by Sir Henry Leafton, who fought as proxy as my champion and won. Sir Henry asks to be remembered to you. He met you at court last midsummer with your then husband Sir Edmund. As you are now a widow, Henry wishes to court you. I have agreed to the match.
The day after you receive this letter from my herald, Sir Henry will call on you. You will know him. You will be obedient to him. Be ready. We owe him a great debt.
Sir Stephen Armstrong.

The parchment scraped along the edge of the table where she made her cordials. Stephen had not written the note—he could scarcely sign his name—but it was his way of speaking, no kind of greeting or salutation, bluff and brutal and always to the point.
 “I am to marry again,” she whispered, through frozen lips. The line, Henry wishes to court you, was nothing more than a pretty fiction, as Stephen had already offered her to the champion who had saved his life. Her forthcoming nuptials were as good as settled.
Esther’s racing heart felt as if it flipped over in her chest as her skin chilled. Memories of bellowing Sir Edmund, of their vile wedding night, of their horrible, short marriage, battered through her afresh and she closed her eyes, willing her slight, trembling body to be still. As a widow she had been independent, looking after her small estate, making her cordials and ales, taking care of her two old retainers, few estate workers and page, beholden to no one.
And now, with a few foolish words, my younger brother ties me back into wedlock. I know Stephen and how his tongue runs away with his wits. Because he could not resist making a cruel remark, he lands himself in trouble, and yet he is not the one who pays. In what way do I owe this stranger, this Sir Henry, a great debt? He did not save my skin.
Esther snatched up the hectoring note—and how typically selfish of Stephen not even to give her the illusion of a choice, not even to have his herald wait for her reply—and crushed it beneath her heel.
“He never asks, he demands! Because he is the son and heir, and the law and the church all say that men have governance over women. Because he would not back down or apologize and had another fight for him, I must now be obedient? How is this fair?”
Her voice rang in the small chamber but no one answered. Through a gap in the window shutters a bee droned into the room and out again. Esther felt that it had taken the spring-time with it.
“It is worse,” she continued aloud, hauling herself upright by the table leg, wondering what cordial she had been preparing when Stephen’s herald had smashed into her life. “What am I to say to Walter?”
Handsome, blond, curly-headed Walter, her own age of nineteen, a good man, a squire and, more frequently of late, a messenger and herald. He served neighbors of hers, Sir Richard and Lady Constance, and always lingered a little when he delivered messages from them. He praised her cordials and teased her in a gallant, sweet way, calling her “Mistress Bright Eyes” and “his nimble-fingered physic”. He gossiped like a magpie and was less than kind in his quips about her old retainers, but she liked him.
Walter respects me. My brother would say he is a landless squire, ready to flirt with any woman with a little riches, but Walter has never demanded anything of me. At night in her narrow bed, Esther sometimes imagined running away to the crusades with Walter, of their making a life together in the mysterious east, or the Mongol court.
That pleasant day-dream must be over. I have to marry Sir Henry.
Esther resumed grinding coriander, ginger and cardamom to make her compost, the chutney that Agnes and Adam liked and that Walter said went well with all meats. Bent over the mortar, the swirl of sweet spices no longer making her smile, she tried to recall every Henry she had ever met. Harder than it seems, since Henry is a popular name.
A dark face tumbled like a leaf in a breeze through her memory. Esther crushed another batch of coriander seeds and let the ghost flit back to her again.
A time at court last spring, when the cuckoo had just begun to call, as now. The great hall at Winchester, fragrant with fresh strewing herbs and colorful with the king’s wall tapestries. She had been hurting, because Sir Edmund had beaten her the previous evening, blaming her for his impotence and for not gifting him an heir. Colliding with the edge of a trestle, she had been unable to disguise a wince when a cloaked and hooded stranger had clasped her hand and softly drew her aside, shielding her from her stomping husband.
“Be well, my lady,” the stranger wished in a low voice. Tempted and reassured by such rare kindness Esther had peeped up into his hood—and seen the face of a demon, pox-scarred and livid. He had cold blue eyes and haggard features, pale where they were not ridged with black pits and broken veins.
Clearly aware of her shock, expecting it, the man’s thin mouth jerked into a crooked smile and he gave a brief bow. “Sir Henry of Leafton, at your service. I will take my leave now.”
Lanky and gray as a heron, he melted away into the crowds of knights and stewards before she could apologize. When Sir Edmund jabbed her bruised side and hissed at her to attend him, Esther had tried to forget her ill manners, although Sir Henry’s ruined, burnt-looking features had haunted her dreams for several nights after.
“Plain Harry,” he was known, throughout the court. She had spotted him the following day, a head taller than most and always courteous, ignoring gasps and rude finger-pointing and striding gracefully through the press of courtiers with that crooked smile and keen eyes that missed little. Including herself, it now seemed.
I remember him. And clearly he still remembers me. The pestle dropped from her nerveless fingers and Esther wrapped her arms about her middle, trying to rock for comfort. What can he want with me, except revenge? But revenge for what? For what my brother did or for some unknown insult I gave him? What?
Plain Harry knew he did not suit his nick-name. He had been plain before the pox had scarred him at eight years old, but now he was ugly. Gangling, too, and it did not seem to matter that he moved smoothly, stealthily if need be, or that his hair was blacker than a midwinter night and curled whenever it was damp.
I do not fit the name Harry, either, he thought, presenting himself at the widowed Lady Esther’s sturdy manor house. He watched patiently as the old watchman limped off across the modest great hall to fetch his mistress. Harrys were kind, hearty, shoulder-slapping fellows, always part of a mob. He was solitary by nature, a lover of books and wild places, desires sharpened by his appearance and by the way his father flinched and his mother lamented his loveless state each time he returned home. He had flung himself into military training, if only because a helmet covered his looks. On the battlefield no one cared if he could not dance, or compose a love poem, or swear undying devotion to a damsel who would doubtless go shrieking off to a convent if he tried. In a melĂ©e his lanky frame and long reach were an advantage.
War had also taught him how to take notice. At court, twelve months back, he had seen Lady Esther shrink slightly each time her boorish husband addressed her. He had noticed her stumble once, blushing wildly, and jerk back as if burned when her flank grazed a table. He had reacted then without considering his visage, offering her his arm as support. Her pink and pretty lips had parted to say thanks and he had felt normal for an instant, until her wide brown eyes met his.
Harry slammed his hands behind his back and let his fingers play tug of war against each other. Even with the strains of dread and regret shadowing her clear-cut features, and the bruises at the sides of her head which she had tried to hide with her veil, Lady Esther had been flawless, a delicate beauty whose natural cream and roses complexion contrasted cruelly with his own craggy, ugly, black looks.
So why am I here at her home?
Because, last summer, he had glimpsed not a morsel of disgust in her pale, shocked face. And because he sensed that, widowed or not, the lady needed help. Her fool of her brother was already using the promise of her hand as a means to save his own skin—Sir Stephen had done it with him and Harry had no doubt that were he not to marry Lady Esther, Stephen would offer her out again.
‘Tis a pity womenfolk have so few rights against the men of their families, but such is the unkind way of the world.
Harry shook his head, unsure if he would have ever entertained such ideas had he not been uglier than a troll and subject to the bitter way of the world himself. Yet he had ridden to this compact jewel of a manor not solely for sympathy.
Admit it man, this is the only way you will win a wife. He was rich in war-loot and tournament prizes but as a younger son would not inherit the land that all damsels demanded in return for their wedlock. Harry could not fault them. You could build and grow on earth but never on gold, however prettily it gleamed.
Pray God the lady here considers that last point about me, that I can keep her and her good land safe, better than most handsome squires or knights. Harry knew that was unlikely but he could hope.
His breath hitched as the red curtain to the private solar, the little chamber at the back of the great hall, drew back and Lady Esther emerged.
Glorious. She made the word real. The bruises and hurts she had endured under her old husband were gone now and she shone like a harvest moon, her eyes brighter than polished bronze, her hair—the glimpses he could see beneath her modest white head-veil—a rippling mass of chestnut, shot through with tawny. Small and slender she came toward him, silken as flowing water, an image enhanced by the green-blue gown she wore, a color Harry knew had been fashionable at court a year ago.
She did not smile but the sight of her graceful shape and movement was enough. Harry’s body reacted as it had not done since he was fourteen and an easily aroused and blushing squire. Why now, by Christ? Is it so long since I have been with a woman? Despising his looks, Harry was no gallant or regular user of the stews, but even so this ardent reaction was embarrassing. Praying that his interest and urgent physical response did not show, he flung his cloak loosely about his rangy figure and gave a low bow.
“My lady.” His voice sounded less its usual music, more of a rasp.
“Welcome.” She sounded as indifferent as a cloudy day and about as warm. “Will you take refreshment?”
“Come to my still room.”
Dazzling and distracting as the planet Venus, she turned, then Harry heard her soft footfalls shifting through herbs strewn on the hall floor, stirring up a scent of lavender as she walked back to the curtain. Recollecting his scattered wits, he strode to catch up and passed through a tiny solar, the watchful warrior in him seeing a small weaving loom, a spindle, a narrow chest and a canopied bed before he had to duck to avoid a doorway lintel . Shifting sideways through the low arch, he blinked at the bright chamber beyond.
Painted flowers tumbled round the walls, while under painted trees brightly rendered unicorns and dragons gamboled up to the roof rafters, drawn at play as if such creatures were as carefree as the spring lambs bleating outside. Harry swiftly shut his open mouth and saw, with new admiration, the many flasks, jugs, basins, sacks of dried herbs and tables of knives, pestles, and mortars that he guessed made up a good still room. The air was heavy and sweet with the tangs of rosemary, cinnamon, sage, lavender and bitter orange peel, and a rainbow array of cordials in heavy glass flasks lined the shelves behind Lady Esther.
“Amazing,” he murmured and wondered, when his eyes met hers again, if she had softened a little. “You did this?”
“Since my lord died and I moved here.”
Her low voice touched on a scandal. On his death-bed the wretched Sir Edmund had attempted to deny the now-orphaned lady her widow’s portion because she had “failed” to provide him with children. Luckily, Sir Edmund’s adult son Richard was more honorable than his father and had released the bits of land into her care. The modest manor house was her own dowry, the only part of her family legacy that Sir Stephen could not touch.
“You have done well with the place.”
She inclined her head. “Richard has helped.”
Her former son-in-law but not her brother, Harry noted. Clearly Richard had little faith in Sir Stephen defending the rights of his sister, and neither had he. To that end, Harry knew he should raise the issue of marriage, but when? To do so at once was surely too unmannerly.
To his surprise the lady raised the matter.
“Will the priest be coming here? That is,” and here the pink flush on her ivory cheeks and dainty chin darkened to rose, “if you and my brother are agreed?”
Her voice was calm but her hand trembled as she lifted a jug from a small brazier and poured two cups of gently steaming tisane. He took a cup from her, touching her fingers briefly in an attempt to reassure—why he was not sure, only that he was keen she did not think him a bully. Unsure how he looked when he showed his teeth, since he had no mirrors and did not waste time peering at his reflection, he did not smile.
“I am content with the match between us,” he said steadily, wanting to say more but unwilling to impose on her. Determined to be honest he added, “I understand if this is not your desire. I can, if you wish, tell Sir Stephen that we did not suit.”
Spirit flared in her eyes and stiffened her shoulders. “Which leaves me vulnerable to other men and their offers.”
“Would he force you to accept any?”
Her shoulders dipped. “You know my brother. Right, custom, the church would all be on his side. Now he has conceived the idea of my marriage as a means to advance himself, he will not stop until I am re-wedded.”
And you will be beleaguered and nagged to death until you choose what he demands.
“It could be my only way, if I wish for a family of my own.”
Was that yearning he caught in her voice? To give her a moment, Harry took a sip of the tisane, giving a tiny huff of pleasure when the blended taste of raspberry, orange, and strawberry hit the back of his throat. Should he say what he wanted to admit? Why not? She longs for a family, a home, children, and so do I. A marriage between us could be a way.
In truth he had ridden to Lady Esther’s manor to release her from her brother’s cruel expectations. Seeing her afresh and learning that his repudiation would not save her from other, possibly harsher marriage suitors, was forcing him to reconsider.
Can I court her? Harry dared not admit his deepest hope, that she would somehow see past his maze of scars, but he could offer her family. “Until I caught small-pox I looked agreeable, in a homely way. My present appearance would not be inherited by any of my children.”
She raised her head and speared him with a glare. “What are you saying, Sir Henry? Please do me the courtesy of being direct.”
He leaned forward, drawn to her bright boldness, and was saddened when she flinched slightly. Yes, you have been struck before, my lady, for you to show such a honed reaction. He took another sip of her very fine tisane, allowing her another instant to compose herself.
“Will you call me Harry?” he asked mildly. “Whenever people say ‘Sir Henry’ I feel they are speaking of my father.”
“Harry.” She spoke his name as if turning a pebble in her mouth. “I presume you wish to call me Esther?”
“If it please you. Were you named after your mother?”
He thought his feeble attempt at conversation had failed when she added, “You may call me by my name.”
“Thank you.” Harry took her concession as a sign and put down his cup. He meant to keep to his new purpose, to be as direct as she demanded, but to his own surprise a different question slipped out. “Did you paint the unicorns and such?”
“I did.”
After the stark admission, Esther tried to hide her blushes behind her cup, which he found endearing. “They are well done,” he said gently. “You have made a magical world in here.”
For an instant he worried he had been too honest, or perhaps too over-courtly, for what did he know of such pretty games? Esther—and she was Esther now, no question—glanced at his clenched hands, bunched in his long brown tunic, and said, “You will not object if I paint or brew?”
“Why should I?” The instant he answered, Harry wanted to flay himself. Of course her old husband had probably objected. Sir Edmund had wanted her as a breeding mare and no more. “I stitch gauntlets,” he added, an undertaking he had the tools and strength in fingers for, and one his comrades in arms had learned not to mock.
“I would be interested to see those.” As if she had admitted something unseemly, Esther blushed afresh.
 Yes, I think we will do well together. We are both shy of the wider world, in different ways, and happy to create a place of peace in which to dwell. Slowly, so as not to startle her afresh, he raised both hands and reached out. “Esther, I swear here and now that you will be safe with me.” His mouth had dried the instant he began to speak, but Harry forced himself to keep going. “Will you do me the very great honor of marrying me?”

 "Plain Harry" is for sale on Amazon

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS