AVAILABLE: Thursday, October 6th Box Set #58: Lindsay Townsend: The Historical Romance Collection, Volume 2 (All 3 books for $3.99)
In Blue Gold, Pharaoh Sekenenre has many enemies, family and foes who want to take his throne. But his most dangerous adversary is the storm-god Set. It is a time of famine. To prosper, a man must be civilized—and ruthless. The conflict for control of Egypt reaches its climax in all-out war. Behind it all is the God Set, with his question: “What am I?”
In Bride for a Champion, Alice Martinswood has no choice but to obey her father’s final instruction and marry his champion, Simon Paton. Bewitched by Alice, Simon vows to help find her younger sister. After misunderstanding Alice’s tears of joy on their wedding night, Simon swears he’ll never touch her again, a promise Alice makes impossible to keep. Will they find the missing sister as they track through medieval London? Will they find true love with each other?
In The Virgin, the Knight, and the Unicorn, Sir Gawain is on a quest to catch a unicorn. His companion, the dairy-maid Matilde, loses no time in clashing with the young knight and remains resistant to his attempts at controlling her. As they proceed on their quest, the couple begin to compromise and a fondness grows. When Matilde is taken by outlaws, Gawain realizes, almost too late, what she means to him. But can he save her in time?
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
Click on each link for detailed blurbs, awards, ratings, excerpts, and reviews for each book in Lindsay Townsend: The Historical Romance Collection, Volume 2.
“What a man, my father! He has the speed of a leopard.”
“My boy, son of my great wife! What a son for a warrior-Pharaoh!”
Sekenenre and Kamose toasted each other again, and the nobles lifted their own tall goblets and drank, pledging allegiance to both. Torches blazed throughout the banqueting hall as men and women dropped off their wigs and entertainers practiced final flourishes in the odd dark corners. Ahhotpe kissed the cheek of the slave-girl who had brought her another perfume-cone and, with a sigh of pleasure and relief, shook off her own wig.
“Allow me.” The Pyramid loomed at her elbow. He placed the cooling cone of perfumed grease on her hair. Ahhotpe shivered as the perfume-cone melted and ran in a delicious fine rain down her face.
“Thank you, my lord.” She glanced from Zoser to Sekenenre. Her father and younger brother were very drunk. She was very drunk. She looked again at the Pyramid.
He took her practiced smile as an invitation to join her on the couch. Kamose saw but did nothing. And how could she resist a man so much bigger and stronger than herself? Alive with the wine, Ahhotpe was in a mood to enjoy.
“My arms are full of flowers, and my hair is weighed down with perfumes.”
She waited for him to complete the verse, as her father would have done, or to lay his broad head in her lap and have her say the rest of the poem, as Kamose did. The Pyramid merely grunted and tugged on her anklet bangle.
“We’re betrothed, little bird. I don’t want you to keep staring at Kamose.”
“I’ll gaze only at you, my lord.” His face in the torches seemed sleeker, his dark eyes, lined with malachite, lustrous as the beads of his arm-bracelets. Ahhotpe saw new possibilities for Zoser. Being engaged to the man had its advantages.
Two nobles, shouting and throwing bones at each other in an argument over a Senet game, gave Ahhotpe and the Pyramid their opportunity.
“It’s getting to be a real riot.”
“Father’s drunk. Everyone takes their cue from him.” Ahhotpe pushed aside a tipsy slave, who fell giggling against her couch. “Why not come and study the paintings in my room? They’re by a Keftian artist, and very fine.”
The Pyramid cupped her breasts and licked his lips. “Let’s go to my room instead, and trade parts.”
“Such a coarse expression for love.” Ahhotpe, with a drunken little smile, held up her arms to Zoser. He scooped her from the couch like a barbarian, throwing her over one shoulder.
Raising her jiggling head and squinting back into the hall, Ahhotpe noticed Kamose sprawled on purple cushions, ponderously explaining how he had saved Pharaoh’s life. Her father, fondling the Pyramid’s mother, smiling at everything Kamose said, talked earnestly to a drunken acrobat. None of them saw her undignified exit.
Ahhotpe lowered her head, feeling the broad flanks rub against her face, and ran her thumbs between the Pyramid’s legs.
* * * *
Later, lying in the warm dark circle of the Pyramid’s arms, Ahhotpe was talking to herself. This habit, born of a lonely childhood, she would never lose. Zoser snored.
“This fat pig who rutted on me and fell asleep afterwards as though I were a slave has done me a true service. Any doubts I had concerning him are gone. Sleeping with the Pyramid has cleared my mind. A pity though, that it was such a dismal lesson.”
Ahhotpe smiled and scratched her nails across the man’s broad chest. Zoser twitched and rolled onto his back.
“Sleep on, prince pig, and let me puzzle for myself.” Ahhotpe drew aside the Pyramid’s hairy forearm and wormed out of bed, taking the bedclothes with her. Zoser’s hand groped for the covers, and she quirked a golden eyebrow.
“Ah, you must learn to do without. How much better it would have been for you, Zoser, had your mother ever taught a little self-denial. Of course, if she had, I wouldn’t be here yet. You wouldn’t have let me come until our official wedding night, and then it would have been too late.”
Ahhotpe blew him a kiss. “I’m glad you’re as you are, pig.”
Swiftly, she sped onto the balcony. In this last hour before dawn, the night was as cold as it would ever get. A mist of dew wet her bare feet. She heard a hippo grunt, a donkey braying somewhere, both sounds carried by the Nile. Ahhotpe leaned out and listened to the closer shufflings of the palace night-watch. All was well.
“By Amun—well, why shouldn’t I use Kamose’s oath?—there’s the wine cup!”
One hand hugging the covers round her middle, Ahhotpe darted back to the bedchamber and retrieved the silver cup. She and the Pyramid had drunk from this vessel, pledging each other before love. Zoser had drunk from it afterwards, too.
“His mistake.” Ahhotpe took up the water ewer and walked back to the balcony. She washed out the silver cup and replaced it on the table, filling it with new wine.
Carefully, she applied new lip-paint and then took a good long draught from the cup. The imprint of her lower lip showed red against the metal.
She sat on the bed and listened to the Pyramid’s breathing.
She heard his breathing stop.
BRIDE FOR A CHAMPION
I command you to marry the bearer of this letter. This is the man, the one I told you of, Alice, the one who saved me. My champion Simon Paton, come all the way from Constantinople. Marry him, bear him a son and heir and forget Henrietta. Do your duty by me.
Lady Alice, crouching on her knees with a cleaning rag and a ribbon of her missing sister’s in one hand and her father’s last letter in the other, knew she did not look her best. But what did that matter? Her father was dead and the dead no longer care for appearances. Since the loss of Henrietta, she did not care, either.
She glanced at the man’s travel-stained cloak and mud-splattered boots without looking up into his face. Her steward should not have brought the fellow into her presence, should have given her time to compose herself and greet him in the great hall, but she sensed Simon Paton had ordered otherwise.
And my steward obeyed him. Already my people take orders from him, because he is a man.
“Forgive my appearance, Lady Alice,” said the stranger in a deep, faintly accented voice, clearly indifferent to whether she forgave him or not. “I had business to attend to in London. I have come as soon as I could.”
Alice dropped the yellow ribbon back into her sister’s clothes chest. She had been searching the chest again for any sign that would point to where Henrietta had been taken and by whom, but her father’s last letter contained a devastating order. Marry him.
The letter shook in her hand. Swiftly, she dropped it into the chest and closed the lid. “Your name, sir?”
“I am Simon Paton. Your father’s champion.”
The bearer of the letter. The man I am commanded to marry. “You were with my father in London?” She almost choked on her next question but she had to know. “At the end?”
“I was, my lady. Your father died well and at peace.”
Alice wished she could cry, she longed for some relief. When word had come ten days ago of her remaining parent’s death from fever she had expected to feel something. Instead her heart felt numb. Her beloved younger sister was lost to her and her father—their father—had disowned Henrietta weeks before. Henry Martinswood had always demanded absolute obedience from his daughters and, by her elopement, Henrietta had failed him. Yet now, by letter, he orders me from the grave. Marry this man. Give him sons. Do your duty. Always obedience and no word of love. Our father never loved his girls.
Still without looking at Simon Paton directly, Alice reluctantly clasped his fingers and allowed him to draw her to her feet.
“My lady, you may be assured that your father died and is buried as he wished, in London.”
Beside the longed-for son that his London mistress had borne him, Alice guessed, wondering how this new knowledge did not pierce her soul. She had never met the young Henry, her father’s namesake, but when the child had died two summers back Henry Martinswood had become still more cold and grim toward his daughters.
“Lady Alice. Look at me, Alice.”
Hearing her name said so gently, she looked up for the first time and stared, forgetting the tingling pins and needles in her legs, forgetting everything.
He was big, this Simon Paton, tall, well-made and starkly-handsome, black-haired and with a head-full of straggling, fierce curls. Tanned from many eastern suns, he was dressed in a mantle that was strange to her, very dark and at the same time glossy, like the plumage of a raven. His clean-shaven, pox-free face, as lean as a hermit’s, thrust at her like the prow of a great ship.
He was smiling, or at least a shadow of a smile hovered round his full lips—though not his eyes. Simon Paton’s eyes—a dark blue, almost black, ringed with curling black lashes—gazed at her in a coolly intense, measuring way, as if judging her. He had a contained energy in him, as if he was ready to wrestle with angels, yet at the same time found the challenge distasteful. An unhappy man, she thought, yet also a striving one.
The woman to win his heart will be most lucky. The idea—more a feeling than a thought—flashed through her and was gone, dashed aside by his next words.
“Alice, I understand your father’s last wishes. I applaud them. Before he died, he spoke to me of them. When we are married, you will be safe. I shall protect you.”
Thoroughly disconcerted, Alice wrung her hand from his. “He discussed my marriage with you?”
“To ask my consent.”
Yes, you are asked but I have to obey. It was the way of the world but she did not have to like it. “And my consent?”
He waved that aside. “You need a man to be safe. I agreed, subject to my seeing you.”
Alice clenched her teeth together, too proud to ask if he approved of her. Simon Paton was clearly enjoying her discomfiture.
“Shall we take a glass of wine or tisane together, my lady?” he went on smoothly. “Toast our nuptials tomorrow?”
So soon! Alice dipped her head, afraid her face might show her alarm. “Will you call my maid Beatrix, to serve us?” she asked this tall stranger—my husband to be—thinking he could be useful at least.
“Such duties are for a woman,” came back his curt response. “I will await you here and we shall plan how best we shall manage together.” His dark eyes gleamed as she jerked her head up. “How you will obey me.”
“You may be sure I shall be most agreeable,” Alice snapped, aggrieved afresh. “I shall fetch a tisane.”
She withdrew, her head high and her heart hammering within her.
If he is so keen to marry me, might he also help me to find and recover Henrietta? Or will he be only too keen to gorge himself on my father’s lands? Will this Simon Paton be thrilled with my dowry and delighted to keep me in my place? Such thoughts horrified her and she shivered. Would I were a man, in command of my own fate!
THE VIRGIN, THE KNIGHT, AND THE UNICORN
“The girl you want is weeding in the great field this morning,” Lord John told Gawain. “You will know her by her beauty. Her name is—”
Gawain ignored the rest of his lord’s speech. The girl was a peasant, so why should he bother with her name? Did serfs have names? He gave a stiff bow of farewell to Lord John, nodded curtly to Lady Petronilla, and mounted his palfrey.
Riding to the great field, Gawain spotted the girl at once. She was the youngest, cleanest and the prettiest of those peasants toiling along the rows of peas and beans, a small, slender blonde, nimbly weeding along the flowering rows of his lord’s field strip. Pleasantly surprised to find her so comely, he stood up on his stirrups and hailed her. “You!”
You plunged her hoe into the soil and looked up at him. Her eyes, gray as steel, flicked over him, a long, cool stare. Without speaking or bobbing a courtesy, she spun about on her bare feet and stalked away.
“Hey!” Gawain called, astonished that she dared to turn her back on him. Half of him wanted to ride her down, but that would mean trampling his lord’s crop, so he had to content himself with nudging his horse along the ridge between the field strips to follow her. Gaining on the disrespectful wench with his bay’s every stride, he watched her kiss a wizened field-worker on the cheek and pick up a neat cloth bundle clearly left at the end of the strip. Now I have you.
“Follow me, girl,” he ordered, smirking at the dust his horse raised as he cantered past her. When he looked round after a few paces, he saw her lagging way behind, making no effort to run. “Make haste!”
“I am,” came her instant reply. “Though I am a dairy maid, I do not yet have four legs. If I might ride with you, we would go faster… Sir.” Staring at him full in the face, she added his title deliberately late.
Scarcely believing her insolence, Gawain glanced at the other, crook-backed serfs. Had any been fit, he would have clubbed this wench to the ground and taken another, but, looking properly at her fellow peasants for the first time, Gawain realized they were all old. There were no more maids in this field to take in her place.
Reining in, astonished afresh, he saw by the wench’s half-smile that she knew this, that she had probably even planned it that way. Temper scorched through his body. Catching his darkening mood, his horse snorted and laid back its ears. He tugged the reins again. “Easy.”
“Do you speak to me, your horse, or to yourself, Sir Gawain?”
She spoke with a rough accent, her mouth soiling his name. Incensed that she should know it, he swung down from his horse and stepped closer.
The girl stood her ground. She was a foot smaller than him, dressed in patched but clean green skirts and an earth-colored tunic. Her blonde hair was partly hidden by a short veil, but her face was not hidden at all. She studied him as if they were equals, as if she had a perfect right to look at him.
For an instant, her beauty cooled his anger, as a sparkling frost may coat and still a pool. Cloud-gray now, her eyes were fringed with long, golden lashes and shone with intelligence and life. Her skin was flawless, rich cream and roses. Gawain found his hand rising seemingly by its own will, to touch her perfect cheek. Forget the unicorn. This wench beguiles me, but where is the treasure or renown in that? Quickly, he jerked his arm down and gripped his belt instead.
“Do we begin the quest, Sir Gawain?”
Gawain twitched, irritated afresh that she should speak to him. I should speak first.
“May I make a suggestion?”
“No,” growled Gawain. “I need nothing from you but your obedience.” Tired of talk, he snatched her off her bare feet, cast her over his shoulder, strode back to his mount, and slung the writhing, gasping girl across his horse’s neck. As she opened her mouth yet again to protest, he leapt into the saddle, spurred hard and rode off at a canter, laughing when her head bounced against the bay’s muscled flank and she shut her eyes tight. Keeping her secure with a heavy fist in the middle of her back, he galloped for the woods.
The forest where I shall find and slay the unicorn, where this wench will be my lure, but first she will learn, indeed she will learn.
As he reached the end of the fields, where the trees began, Gawain was smiling.