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Authors: Kathrynn Dennis

Awakening His Lady

Awakening His Lady
Kathrynn Dennis

 

King John's summons to war in France may have taken Sir Thomas Addecker away from his beloved Lady Meriom before they could wed, but not before they shared one passionate night together on the eve of his departure. The memory of that love and desire helped Thomas survive, even after he was brutally scarred in battle.

But nothing could be more painful than the thought of Meri, believing Thomas was killed, marrying another man. Can this warrior reawaken the passion they once shared before it is too late?

AUTHOR NOTE

I hope you enjoy AWAKENING HIS LADY. Before the time of DNA testing, dental radiographs, or even dog tags, the identification of a soldier who fell in battle often relied upon recovery and return of a personal item—jewelry, armor, a shield.

But sometimes mistakes were made.

Happily, reports of a tragic death were occasionally proved wrong. Imagine the passion and the joy shared between reunited lovers—a heroine reawakens and her hero, long given up for dead, renews his faith in love. 

ONE

Bouvines, France
July 26, 1214

A knight wearing nothing but his bloodstained, padded shirt and ragged leathers drew closer to the evening campfire. He stroked the ring on his little finger with the pad of his thumb and stared at the flames. God but he was tired, and after two days without sleep, could barely think. He struggled to recall the scent of the wild English roses and the periwinkle that once bloomed in his lady's much-loved garden. But he'd been gone two long years from home—and when he drew a deep breath, the acrid smoke from the fire stung his eyes and filled his lungs.

He coughed and took a step back.

Hell to the devil. With each passing day, he worked harder to remember England, the softness of her gentle rain, the sound of the village peasants singing at the harvest feast, the taste of good English beer. These things he missed, nay he longed for, but the fading memory of his beloved Lady Meriom was most painful—his Meri, her young face an image he once vowed he would never forget. Bright blue eyes and high cheekbones, framed by hair the color of the earth…but was the tiny scar on her chin on the left side or the right?

He winced. His heart thumped so hard against his chest it hurt to breathe.

Damnation.

Was there no room in his mind for anything but war and fighting—images of an unhorsed soldier, blind, staggering across the field and gasping for air, his dented helmet too misshapen to remove, another man with, his limbs flailing, skewered through his middle, pinned to the ground by French lancemen?

He closed his eyes and rubbed the ring.

By the saints, send me thoughts of my Meri and give me peace.

A low voice called from the fireside. “What's that yer rubbing,
le broyeur
?” Edward Galvon, a swarthy knight from Salisbury asked, keeping his gaze on the small charred carcass at the end of his roasting stick. The man killed for pleasure and without repentance. He'd chopped off the head of the squealing squirrel he'd captured for his dinner with more flourish than was necessary.

“I say,
le broyeur
, what is that?” Galvon repeated. “A talisman from the witch of Gruen?”

Le broyeur
, the crusher. The words penetrated slowly, rousing Thomas.

God in heaven, how he hated that name, given to him by his garrison because he'd felled more Frenchmen in a single battle than most English knights had in the whole of the fighting season. But it was not a skill he'd perfected for the sport. It was necessary to survive. It was his duty, performed in the name of King John of England, defending English properties in Flanders against that traitor, Philip of France. When this conflict was over, as it would be after tomorrow's battle, in victory he, Sir Thomas Addecker, heir to a baronet, would leave
le broyeur
here with the rest of the misery that was war.

He kicked a stone away and stretched out before the fire. “Not
le broyeur,
Galvon. I answer to my Christian name. And it's your turn for the night watch.”

Nodding, Galvon squatted beside him and took a bite of charred squirrel. “Then Sir Thomas,” he sputtered out the words while he chewed. “That ring you are always rubbing 'afore we go to battle, where did you get it?”

Thomas drew a deep breath but did not answer. He watched the stars flickering against the dark sky and rested his hands on his chest. The ring was given to him by his Lady Meri. A simple gold band, it bore her family's coat of arms. Passed to her from her grandfather, it was her most precious possession. He could not forget the forlornness in her eyes as she pressed the ring onto his finger, or the taste of her tears on his lips when he kissed her goodbye.

“I'll wager your ring's a lucky piece, Sir Thomas,” said another campmate stretched out a few feet away. “Blessed by the Pope himself. That explains why you've not been wounded or even gotten sick with gut rot like the rest of us. Did you kiss the ring while the Pope was wearing it?”

A third voice joined the discussion, that of Able, the young squire who carried King John's standard. “You must have, didn't you, Sir Thomas, kiss the Pope's ring 'afore he gave it to you?” he asked quietly. “The ring is blessed. It keeps you safe.”

A hush fell over the ragtag camp.

Thomas opened his eyes. The hint of fear in the boy's voice and the edgy silence at the fireside warranted a response.

Thomas smiled. “That it does, lad. I don't know how I would have survived without it. Now close your eyes and sleep. In the morn, we battle back some fifteen thousand Frenchmen. God willing, England will prevail and we shall all go home.”

 

In the late hours of the night, Thomas turned his gaze to the campfires scattered in the fields across the countryside, the twinkling lights oddly foreboding. If he listened hard enough, he could hear men's voices in the meadows below, and the sound of armor and horses. Then silence.

He closed his eyes, fatigue settling over his bones. He dreamed of Meri and how she'd come to him the night before he'd left, for in his dreams he could relive what he could not well remember…She'd met him at the chapel steps and walked with him in silence, hand in hand, into the stables and waited while he checked his horses.

“How can I live without you?” she'd whispered when he was finished, resting her head against his chest. “Do not leave.”

Thomas ran his knuckles over her smooth cheek. “I must, my lady.” He kissed her forehead. “The king has summoned me directly. Not to answer would be an affront.”

“Can he not wait until we are married? The banns are posted.”

“My ship sails at dawn, Meri. I'll be back within a year, I promise. We'll make quick work of the French.” He kissed the inside of her wrist, then pressed her palm to his chest. “When I return we'll have a grand wedding feast, with music, fine wine and sweet cakes in the shape of magic beasts.”

She stifled a quiet cry.

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her hard against him, crushing her breasts against his chest, burying his face in her hair. He could feel her heart beating hard against his own and the rise and fall of her chest with her every breath. God's breath, she smelled like summertime and new wine and she fit him perfectly, her belly molded against his, her long legs the spanning length of his own. He'd loved her since he was a just a boy. And now her silken touch, her scent, the sound of her voice—all assaulted his senses, beckoning for more than just youthful and chivalric kisses. He ran his hands down her supple back, to the curve of her waist, cognizant of the effect she had on him. His heart raced. His breath quickened and the stirring in his gut ignited a man's full grown desire.

'Twas worse than a sentence to hell, knowing he might never lay with his Meri, and know her the way a man should know the woman who holds his heart.

“Thomas,” she said, stepping away, loosening her hair from its long plait. “If I cannot have you for the year to come—” Her voice broke and she glanced to the loft above. “Then at least let me have you until dawn.”

Her gaze fixed on his face; she unfastened the laces of her kirtle and drew the bright yellow gown over her head. “Give me these last few hours before you leave. I have loved you since the day we met. Please…”

Standing there in her fine chemise with her long, wavy hair spread across her shoulders, her eyes pleading, asking him to take her—'twas enough to tempt a saint. And Thomas Addecker was no saint. What had he ever done to deserve the love of this vibrant, passionate woman?

He reached to run his fingers over her lips, across the small crescent shaped scar on her chin to the hollow of her neck. Through her thin chemise, her nipples rose erect. She raised her face to his and kissed him, tentatively at first, teasing, inviting him with feminine softness. She threw her arms around him and grasped his nape, drawing his head closer.

He found himself kissing her back, hungry, his need burning with an urgency too long denied. Her lips parted allowing him to taste her. It took every ounce of self-control he could muster to break their embrace, and when he held her at arm's length, with his hands on her shoulders, he was shaking.

God's bones! He'd bedded a woman before. He was newly knighted, capable and proud of his looks. What virile man his age was not?

But this was his Meri…

He could not take her as he wanted to, hard and fast, with her legs wrapped around his waist while he pumped against her, thrusting until he came to his release and she to hers. But God, what exquisite torture it would be, to spend his last night on English soil loving Meri!

He groaned and shook his head.

“Thomas, what is it?” she asked, her breath raspy and quick.

Thomas flung his cloak over her shoulders and wrapped it around her. “I cannot do this. Should you get with child, 'twould be ruinous. And who knows when next I might return?” He looked away. “If I return.”

There. He had said it. Surely she could see he loved her more than a fighting knight should. He faced certain death long before he would grow old. He braced himself, expecting to hear her heart-wrenching sobs.

“You oaf!” She slammed her small fist into his chest.

He staggered slightly, completely surprised by her response.

“I care not if there are consequences from our loving. My father will force me to marry
someone
if you are given up for dead or gone too long, and no man would turn away my dowered lands, even if I bore and kept our bastard.” She attacked his chest again, beat against his chest as though hitting him could fight back her tears. When she was spent, she collapsed against him, her fiery anger melting away to the warmth and softness he found so alluring.

“I love you, Thomas Addecker, and no man will ever hold my heart the way you do. No man.”

He took her hands in his and kissed her temple. God in heaven, she was unpredictable and true, strong and feminine—exactly why he loved her.

“'Tis my desire you not go through life alone. Promise me you will marry if I am killed. Promise me that, my Meri, and I will grant you anything you wish tonight.”

She flung her arms around his neck and covered his face with kisses. “I promise, knave. Now grant my wish.”

Meriom shrugged her chemise from her shoulders and let the garment fall to her feet.

Thomas let his gaze travel upward, from the slim turn of her ankles to her shapely calves, to her rounded thighs and hips. He drank in the sight of her, the gentle swell of her breasts causing him to hold his breath. God in heaven, she was beautiful…beautiful enough to rob him of all reason—and restraint if he wasn't careful.

She slipped her hands beneath his tunic, her slim fingers searching for the ties to his braes. Her fingers grazed his belly and he flinched, though not from fear…

Thomas grabbed her wrists. “Wait,” he said. “Are you certain you—”

Meriom frowned. “Are
you
certain, Thomas?”

He pulled her to him. An exasperated groan rumbled from his throat. “Hell to the devil, Meri. I have been certain for the last five years. Painfully so.” Without another word, he swept her up and climbed the stairs to the loft, bounding up two risers at a time.

He laid her gently in a bed of straw. “I'd hoped to lay with you on our wedding night in coverlets of fur and silk—”

Her slender fingers pressed against his lips. “Shhhhh, Thomas,” she whispered. “There will be time for that someday. Make haste. The meadow lark is calling to the rising sun.”

Thomas pulled his tunic and his shirt over his head, pausing long enough to watch her eyes widen as he rolled his braes below his hips.

Meriom sat up and ran her hand down his chest, tracing lines of muscle, stopping just above the thatch of hair between his legs.

He tensed beneath her touch, her fingers like fire against his skin.

“God's breath, Thomas, you are handsome, so smooth. So fair.” She studied him, her gaze drifting lower. “I should not have let you—suffer.” She kissed his belly—soft, quick kisses and moved her mouth lower than he thought she'd ever dare. Then she stopped.

Thomas' breath hitched. “Meri, why did you—?”

She stifled a small laugh and laid back, opening the cloak he'd thrown around her shoulders. Unabashed by her nakedness, she stretched out before him. Raising her arms and reaching, she opened her legs, allowing him to settle there between them.

He lowered his head, pressing urgent kisses down the column of her neck and across her breasts. He'd dreamed of this moment from the day they'd met; he just a randy boy of thirteen years, and she a precocious, enchanting girl of twelve who'd fallen from her pony and scraped her chin. He'd caught the little beast and brought him back, and the wounded but proud little girl had let him help her dust the mud from her skirts and hose.

“Thomas, please,” she murmured, her womanly voice interrupting, reminding him the girl had long ago grown up.

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