The Saxon Warrior’s Captive Bride by Emily Royal

Prologue

Leaside Hall, England, 1080

“Lady! Lady Arlette!”

Arlette pulled a face at her nursemaid, then leaned over the balustrade overlooking the main hall.

“Hush, Esme,” she said. “I want to hear!”

Plump fingers circled her wrist. “What would your father do if he caught you eavesdropping? Or Lord Henry? You think he’d deem you a suitable match for his son? A lady must show dignity.”

“I want to look at him,” Arlette replied. “If I don’t like him, I don’t have to marry him—Papa said so. Perhaps he won’t like me either.”

“Orson Greywell will fall in love the moment he sets eyes on you,” Esme said.

Arlette snorted. “He’ll shackle me to the marriage state, to service him as a wife must. The moment I utter my vows he’ll demand I surrender my sword and replace it with an embroiderer’s needle.”

“He may not. After all, your father permitted you to train with his men as if you were a son.”

“Until Guillaume’s birth gave him that son. Now, I’m reduced to chattel—to be sold in marriage.”

“Be thankful your father values you enough to seek your opinion,” Esme said. “Your mother didn’t have that luxury—widowed during Duke William’s conquest, forced to marry the man who’d killed her husband…”

“Mama loves Papa,” Arlette said.

“Perhaps now,” Esme replied, “but at first, he was her conqueror, and she the spoils of war. Be thankful you’ll not suffer as she did, on your wedding night.”

The wedding night…

Arlette shivered as bright, painful red flashed across her mind’s eye—droplets falling to the sound of screams, a blood-soaked nightshift, the white face of a young bride, twisted with fear while the baying crowd congratulated the man who violated her…

Raised voices echoed across the hall, followed by angry footsteps. Papa came into view, followed by a tall gray-haired man, and a younger man with thick black hair that fell to his shoulders.

The young man tipped his head up and Arlette shrank back into the shadows. His muscular build was evident beneath his tunic. A slight shadow of a beard dusted his firm, square jaw, above which a straight nose defined his features, flaring slightly at the nostrils.

His eyes—a clear gray—radiated sharp, angry intelligence, and Arlette’s breath caught in her throat. What might those eyes look like when he smiled?

“We’ve never been so insulted!” a deep voice roared.

“Neither have I, Lord Wulfson,” Papa said, his voice shaking with anger. “You deceived me! I will not shame my family by wedding my daughter to a bastard, particularly one who’s already fathered a bastard child himself!”

The young man drew his sword, and Arlette let out a cry.

“Be silent!” Esme hissed. “Do you want a thrashing?”

Lord Wulfson raised his hand. “Orson, stop! Apologize to Lord Reynaud.”

“No, Father. He’s insulted us.” A rich, strong voice snarled in anger. “The devil take you, de Villiers—and your daughter!” The young man sheathed his sword, then strode out of the hall.

“Forgive my son,” Lord Wulfson said. “He does not take insults lightly.”

Papa inclined his head.

“But,” Wulfson continued, “I warn you, de Villiers. Cross my path again, and you’ll pay for your insult. Few men call my son bastard and live. From this day, we are enemies.”

Lord Wulfson followed his son out of the hall.

Arlette sighed. “It seems I’m not to be married today.”