Lord Greville's Captive
Grafton, Oxfordshire, England
It was high summer and the village of Grafton was garlanded for a feast to celebrate the betrothal of the Earl of Grafton's only daughter to the eldest son of Fulwar Greville, the Earl of Harington. This dynastic match was no surprise, for the two Earls were old friends, one-time comrades in arms and godfather to each other's children. It was a day of great rejoicing.
In her chamber in the west wing of the old manor house, Lady Anne Grafton's women were helping her dress for the banquet.
"Do you like Lord Greville, Nan?" Anne's young cousin Muna asked, as she slid the petticoats over Anne's head in a ruffle of white. "He seems to me quite stern and cold."
"Like his sire,'commented Edwina, Anne's former nurse, with a shiver. She pulled Anne's laces tight. "They do not call him the Iron Earl for naught."
Anne laughed, stopping abruptly as the pull of the laces stole her breath. "Oof! Edwina, you are smothering me!'She slipped obediently into the red velvet gown that her nurse was holding for her. "Uncle Fulwar is the kindest man in the world," she said, muffled. "As for Lord Greville—" She stopped. The truth was that she did not know Simon Greville well, for all that their fathers had served together in the wars on the continent. Simon was eight years older than she and already a battle-hardened commander who had been commended for his bravery. Muna was right—there was something distant and a little stern in his demeanour, as though all that he had seen and done in his life had already made him older than she by far more than years.
In the week that the Earl of Harington and his son had been at Grafton, Anne had not spent any time alone with Simon. It was not expected. It might be her hand in marriage that he had come to sue for, but it was her father's permission he needed, not hers.
And yet, there had been a moment that had taken Anne quite by surprise. Simon had ridden in late one evening when the full moon was rising high over the tall crops in the fields. Anne had, naturally, been curious to see him; although she understood that it was her duty to marry this man, there was a part of her that hoped that she might find him personable as well. Thus it was that she had been leaning out of the mullioned window, in a most hoydenish fashion, when the horses had clattered over the drawbridge and into the courtyard.
She had known that she should draw back in all modesty, but something had held her still, watching. The air had been warm from the heat of the day and full of the scent of honeysuckle. There had been no sound except the flutter of the doves settling in the cote.
Simon Greville had swung down from the saddle and then he had looked up, directly at Anne's window. Instinct had prompted her to draw back. Curiosity had held her still. He had a hard, handsome face tanned deep by the sun, and he had raised his plumed hat and brought it sweeping down in a low bow. His hair was thick and dark, and a wicked smile had lit his eyes as he looked upon her. To her astonishment Anne had felt a shiver run all the way down her spine. All thoughts of duty flew straight out of the window. She had a suspicion that it might be an absolute pleasure to marry Simon Greville.
"Look at my lady's face!" Edwina said now, her own beaming. "You like him well enough, do you not, my pet, and quite right too! I'll wager Lord Greville is a lusty man who will make you happy."
One of the maids giggled. "Edwina!'Anne pressed her hands to her hot cheeks. She was seventeen, old to be unwed and painfully aware that her father's protectiveness and his negligence in arranging her marriage meant that she knew little of these mysterious matters. There were girls far younger than she who were already mothers.
"Peace, I beg you," she said. "I marry Lord Greville because it is Papa's will."
Edwina smiled. "That is all very well and good, pet, and indeed as it should be." She bustled around Anne's head, fixing a circlet of silver in place. "But I have been thinking about the wedding night."
Anne looked up. She remembered Simon Greville's dark gaze upon her and gave a little shiver.
"I have been thinking," Edwina continued, "that as you have no mama to speak to you, I should take that role." She gestured to Muna. "Come closer, pet. You must listen too, for no doubt you will soon be wed as well."
Anne sighed. "Must we endure this, Edwina? I have a feeling that Muna and I shall be monstrously embarrassed at what you have to tell."
Muna giggled. "Madam Elizabeth from the village told me that, as long as I kept quite still and closed my eyes and did not move, no matter what my husband did to me, I should prove a very satisfactory wife."
"Lord have mercy," Anne said drily. "I do not think that sounds very satisfactory at all, Muna."
Edwina put her hands on her hips and huffed. "Tis not a matter for jest, my lady. The demands of a husband can come as a shock to a gentlewoman. Why, my own husband kept me busy nigh on five times a night."
Muna clapped her hands to her mouth. "Five times! Every night?"
"I heard tell that he was a very lusty fellow," Anne said, smiling. "I am not sure whether you are to be congratulated or commiserated with, Edwina. Did you ever get any sleep?"
"You are not taking this seriously," the maid grumbled. "Well, do not come complaining to me when you receive a shock on your wedding night!" 'I promise I shall not complain," Anne said. "And," she added firmly, "I should like a little time alone, if you please, before the feasting starts."
They went grumbling, Edwina herding Muna and the younger maids before her, closing the door on their chatter. Anne sank down on the window seat with a heartfelt sigh. She had so little quiet. The burden of managing the household had fallen on her shoulders since her mother had died. Always there was someone or something demanding her attention, from the maids who fussed and fluttered around her to the villagers who brought her their problems and requests, knowing that she would present their petitions to her father with soft and persuasive words. She loved the people of Grafton and she knew they loved her. Her entire life had been lived out in this land. And now through this betrothal she knew that the Earl of Grafton was seeking to ensure her a safe future, knowing that his health was starting to fail and that Grafton and its lady needed a strong lord to defend them.
Anne felt the prickle of tears in her throat. She swallowed hard, and deliberately turned her thoughts aside from her father's ill health. The room was hot, its walls confining. Suddenly she did not wish to sit waiting here for the summons to the betrothal feast. The air would be fresher in the garden.
So it proved. She skirted the kitchens, where the cook was bellowing at the scullions and sweating to provide the finest banquet that Grafton had ever seen. The villagers were already flocking to fill the ancient tithe barn and share in the feast. But no one saw Anne as she slipped through the doorway into the walled garden and walked slowly through the parterre to the sundial at the centre. The shadows were lengthening and the smell of the lavender was still in the air. She ran her fingers over the sundial's smooth surface. Sometimes it felt as though time stood still at Grafton. In her memories there was always the sun.
Anne jumped, a small cry escaping her lips. She had not seen the man who was standing in the shadow of the doorway, but now he came forward, his footsteps crunching on the gravel, until he was standing before her.
"I beg your pardon,'Simon Greville said. "I did not intend to startle you. Your father is looking for you, Lady Anne. We are ready for the feast."
Anne nodded. Her heart was beating swiftly, not only from the shock of his sudden appearance but also from the knowledge that they were alone for the first time. During the previous week they had ridden out together, danced under the indulgent gaze of the household and conversed on generalities. But suddenly it seemed precious little upon which to build a marriage; even as Anne reminded herself of her duty, the fear clutched at her heart.
"Of course," she said. "Excuse me, Lord Greville." Simon did not move. He put out a hand and caught her arm. "A moment, Lady Anne."
Anne looked up. The evening sun was in her eyes and she could not see his expression. She waited, her heart racing.
Simon slid his hand down her sleeve to capture her fingers in his. His hand was warm, the shock of his touch sufficient to send a shiver through Anne's entire body. "I have your father's permission to wed you, Lady Anne," he said, "but I do not yet have yours."
Anne stared. "You do not need mine, my lord."
Simon smiled into her eyes. "Yes, I do. I will not force an unwilling maid. So speak now, Anne of Grafton, if you do not wish to take me as your husband, for soon we shall be troth-plight."
His hands tightened on hers as he waited for her answer. Anne searched his face, so dark, so stern. She felt a little quiver of apprehension.
"I will do my duty—" she began. "I do not want your duty." Simon sounded angry now. "I want you." He moderated his tone. "And I had thought—forgive me—that you might in some small way feel the same..."
Anne remembered the moment in the courtyard when she had first set eyes upon him. Then she remembered Edwina's words about the wedding night. An involuntary smile curved her lips.
She got no further, for Simon leaned down and kissed her, his hands suddenly mercilessly hard on her slender frame, his mouth hungry. Anne's exclamation of shock was smothered beneath the relentless demand of his lips. Her head spun and the blood pounded in her veins.
He released her gently and she steadied herself with one hand against the mossy stone of the sundial. She was trembling down to the tips of her toes. She pressed her fingers against her lips in confusion and the beginnings of desire.
"So is that a yes?'Simon demanded. His eyes were bright and hard with passion. Anne saw it; for the first time in her life, she understood the truly awesome strength of her own power and felt the excitement flood her body. To be able to do this to such a man... She could bring him to his knees. She felt dizzy at the thought.
"I am considering it," she said demurely. "Tis true, my lord, that you are very pleasant to look upon..."
His lips twitched in response, but she could feel the impatient desire in him, barely held under control. "Thank you," he murmured. "And?"
"And I have...enjoyed...the time that we have spent in each other's company..."
"And?" 'And indeed I think you must kiss very nicely, my lord, although I have no means of comparison."
Simon made a movement towards her, but she evaded him, dancing away down the path. She was laughing now, the exhilaration burning in her veins.
"So having given consideration to your offer..."
She paused, looked at him. He caught her wrist, pulled her close and held her still.
"Yes?" he said. "I will marry you," she whispered, as their lips met again. "With all my heart."
304 pages; ISBN 9781426836961
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Title: Lord Greville's Captive
Author: Nicola Cornick