SCANDALOUS
AGE OF HONOR: Book Three ~ A Medieval Romance

Copyright: Tamara Leigh, 2022     Ebook ISBN: 978-1-942326-60-1       Ebook ASIN: B0BMXT724F

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Releasing 12.15.22

THE WULFRITHS. FIRST. IN BETWEEN. IN THE END.

 

The late middle ages. England’s king seeks to recover the French lands of his ancestor William the Conqueror and claim the continental throne. France’s king aspires to seize the remainder of his royal vassal’s lands and retain his throne. So begins the Hundred Years’ War, the backdrop against which the formidable Wulfriths of the AGE OF CONQUEST and AGE OF FAITH series continue their tale

THE SWAN OF LEXETER

Lady Adelaide Soames of scandalous repute counts the days, months, and years until justice is served. At last, King Edward’s masked ball not only brings her face to face with the nobleman who ruined her sister but the sheriff she deems his accomplice. When she exposes the culprit, the resulting spectacle finds her teetering on the edge of the king’s mercy. And stunned when the sheriff who could have saved her sister offers a solution to the problem of a lady no longer welcome at court. Certain he expects her to reject what can only be a show of penance, she accepts. Then just like that, the scandalous Swan of Lexeter finds herself hopelessly ensnared and justice deferred. Yet there could be good in it. If she can put growing feelings for this man ahead of her desire for revenge.

 

THE SHERIFF OF WULFENSHIRE

Sheriff Percival D’Arci is diligent in enforcing the law upon Wulfenshire—though not always. Years ago, vexed at being awarded an office requiring more time than he could spare, with undue haste he investigated a lady’s assault on her sister’s guardian. And mistakenly gave greater weight to the testimony of a respected nobleman than a woman known for stirring trouble. Now, burdened by a tragedy he might have prevented, he is prepared to give Lady Adelaide her due—and even more when guilt collides with impulse and the penance he offers is not rejected. Might his resolve to bring to justice the nobleman who destroyed her sister ease her bitter heart? Or have they consigned each other to a life of discord? And how is he to keep the lady to whom he is increasingly drawn from taking matters into her own hands?

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Romary Castle upon the Barony of Woodhearst

Wulfenshire, England, October 1350

 

She wished her eyes deceived. Far from it.

 

Though at ten and eight such kisses and embraces she herself did not know, she had no doubt those received by one aged ten and four were entirely lacking innocence. And more lascivious this tryst for the young woman's partner being married.

 

“Ah, Gisa,” Adelaide whispered as her sister dropped back her head, inviting the Lord of Romary Castle to explore the low neck of a bodice that was far from filled with womanly breasts. “He seduces a girl, and more a girl you are for not seeing this man old enough to be your sire makes prey of you.”

 

When he pushed aside the necklace hung with a pearl and dipped his head to accept what was offered, Adelaide parted her lips to shout down reproach. But it was then the girl’s eyes landed on her sister who had decided to see the garden from the roof for Gisa insisting it was worth the shakes—this fear of heights that made her dig her toes into her slippers. Certes, it was not expected Adelaide would undertake the challenge this fourth day of her visit when she found herself alone well beyond the hour Gisa was to be occupied with tending her lover’s bedridden wife.

 

Becoming aware of the change in his victim’s demeanor, the man who heretofore showed no signs of being a lecher drew back and said something. Receiving no answer, he followed Gisa’s gaze up the donjon.

 

Adelaide could have stepped back from the embrasure whose crumbling edge she gripped to ensure her balance, but anger held her there.

She was not the one in the wrong. Reginald Ufford was, and she longed to alarm he who spoiled a maiden and betrayed a wife recovering from the loss of another babe.

 

Though surprise and fear leapt across his face, as if assured his rolls of the dice would land higher than hers, neither emotion lingered. And he had reason to be confident. Were she to speak of this, greater harm would be done Gisa. Whereas most men were forgiven their dalliances, not women who, named temptresses or Daughters of Eve, were blamed for drawing men into sin. And well some should be blamed, though her stepmother had paid no price for relations outside her marriage.

 

Now Woodhearst’s lord, who Adelaide had agreed with her sister was handsome, smiled—and in that moment was so far from handsome as to be unsightly. Then he turned back to Gisa who yet stared at she who had mothered her until deemed a bad influence.

 

The girl nodded at something he said, then hitching her skirts for a reason other than to accommodate the lecher, hastened to the donjon.

 

Though certain her sister came to her, Adelaide waited for Reginald Ufford to return his gaze to the rooftop.

 

Raising a face she now thought too wide of brow and soft of chin, he let more of his mask fall by drawing fingers across lips that had been all over Gisa’s mouth, neck, and chest. Then like a spoiled boy caught pilfering honey and expecting no worse punishment than having his rear smacked in passing, he shrugged.

 

“Knave,” she rasped, then worked her tongue in her mouth to gather moisture and spat.

 

He could have jumped aside, and should have for how near she came to her mark, but did not. He but looked to the wet on the stone path, shook his head, and strode to the door.

 

Would he also come to the roof? If so, what would he do? He was lord here because an heiress was secured for one born behind two other sons. His wife being a dozen years older, she had yet to present him with a child to ensure his hold on the Barony of Woodhearst in the event of her passing. Were that woman to learn her husband was intimate with the girl she fostered…

 

Imagining a shove to the garden below, which could be missed by men-at-arms patrolling the castle’s walls for how few their number, now Adelaide was the one alarmed and fearful.

 

Once more gripped by the shakes—these shudderings more fierce than ones previously experienced—she abraded her fingers in dragging them off the crumbling edge and swayed as she turned. Flinging her arms out to maintain her balance, she breathed deep, then raised the skirt of her yellow gown and started across the roof toward the hatch whose door she had set back after braving a ladder fixed to the wall.

 

“Ada!”

 

She halted as Gisa’s dark head poked up through the hatch.

 

“Why did you do it?” her sister demanded, stepping onto the roof in a gown whose skewed bodice would be indecent had she more than budding breasts between which that pearl hung. As quick steps carried the girl forward, Adelaide pondered the accusation that made no sense, especially since she should be the one demanding answers.

 

Gisa who had appeared to have become a young woman in the three years since last they were together, the pestilence in England having

enlarged the wedge between them, halted and stamped a foot. “Why did you do it?”

 

“Why did I do what?”

 

“You spied on us!”

 

Being taller than most women and older than Gisa, the offended Adelaide peered down her nose. “I was not spying. I but took your advice, unaware Reginald Ufford made use of the garden to seduce—”

 

“Not seduction! I am happy to be loved by him.”

 

Adelaide gasped. “Loved? By that lecher who is old enough to be your sire and exploits one of tender heart?”

 

The girl was short, but she had good reach and surprising strength, her slap landing so hard it knocked her sister’s head to the side. “I am no longer your pet!”

 

Clapping a hand over the burn, Adelaide said, “Never have you been that to me. You are my—”

 

“I am not your sister!”

 

It was true they shared no blood, but the stepsisters had been as big sister and little from the beginning.

 

“And certainly not your daughter!” Gisa stepped nearer. “As oft my mother scolded, you think too highly of yourself, Adelaide Soames, so much you cannot bear Reginald showing no interest in the Swan of Lexeter though you preen, sway, and flutter your lashes.”

 

Those words feeling another slap, Adelaide nearly stumbled. Since her arrival at Romary, there had been only kindness and joy between the long-parted sisters. This was not the girl she had mostly raised when her sire wed again to provide a mother for his young heir and guidance for an unruly daughter.

 

The new Lady of Lexeter had exerted little effort with Adelaide, but she had been quite willing to allow her stepdaughter to take responsibility for her own child. For Gisa, who lacked love and stability, Adelaide had mostly gained control of her restless impulses those first five years. But that sixth year, while her sire fought to retake the French lands of King Edward’s forebears, impulse won out when she saw what she should have sooner and done what would be permitted a man, but never a woman. Hence, her stepmother had deemed her a bad influence and sent Gisa to the Lady of Woodhearst to make a proper lady of her and ensure she wed well.

 

“Deny it!” Gisa returned Adelaide to the present.

 

Lowering her hand from her burning cheek, she said, “I deny it. I have no interest in that man, and not because he is too old for me—meaning much too old for you—because he is wed. And ungodly!”

 

The girl thrust her chin forward. “Were I as silly as once I was, I might believe you as I did in accepting your accusations against my mother that now I question, but ’tis Reginald I believe for being experienced with women setting themselves at him.”

 

Adelaide nearly choked. “He tells I have done that?”

 

“Aye.”

 

“He lies, as you must know since almost ever I am in your company.”

 

“As told, he is experienced in such things, seeing and feeling what I do not.”

 

“And thinks to educate you!”

 

Again, Gisa stamped a foot. “Because he loves me!”

 

“How so?”

 

The girl blinked. “What do you mean?”

 

“Does he love you only with words, kisses, caresses, and…” Adelaide arched an eyebrow. “…groping?”

 

Gisa drew back her hand, but this time Adelaide caught it. “That is what I saw, a man nearly of middle years seducing a girl while his wife—your mistress—is abed on the other side of that wall struggling to recover so she can try again to give him a son.”

 

Though defiance continued to light the girl’s eyes, tears brightened them further. “He loves me!”

 

“Have you lain with him?”

 

The wrist Adelaide held jerked, evidencing she would have been struck again, then tears began falling. “I remain a maiden and shall until my wedding night!”

 

Those words should have comforted, but there was something behind them. “Your wedding night?”

 

“The Lady of Woodhearst is very ill this time, and for that was unable to welcome you into her home. As Reginald is certain she will not survive this last loss, once his time of mourning is past, we shall wed.”

 

Adelaide’s stomach twisted. She was not well versed in hatred, but she had felt it when her sire was cuckolded by her stepmother, and again when that woman sent Gisa away to punish Adelaide for seeking to reveal her infidelity. But that hatred did not compare to what she felt for Reginald Ufford who corrupted her sister.

 

Determined to save Gisa as much from her foolish self as the lecher, she said, “Even if you never forgive me, I will not be blind to this.”

She released the girl and stepped around her.

 

“Down in the prickles of me, I have suspected your love to be false, that you but seek to control me,” Gisa called. “Now I know it to be true.”

 

Teeth set, Adelaide continued forward.

 

Silence, then footsteps sounded behind. “Pray, do not tell his wife, Ada!”

 

She halted, looked around. “That is not for me to do.”

 

“Then?”

 

Adelaide bent and, holding to the hatch’s opening as the shakes once more sought to incapacitate her, set a foot on the second rung down.

 

“Do you mean to tell my mother, Ada?” She who was widowed a second time when Adelaide’s sire succumbed to dysentery during King Edward’s siege of Calais in 1347.

 

Adelaide in mourning had been grateful her uncle was released from military service to administer the Barony of Lexeter until her brother, training at Wulfen Castle, was a man and warrior in full—and more grateful when he who had no liking for his brother’s widow returned the lady to her family. Thus, the running of the household had fallen to Adelaide, and she had proven capable.

 

“Do you mean to tell her?” Gisa asked again.

 

Adelaide stepped down and, tightly gripping the rung above, looked up. “Much depends on how Reginald Ufford conducts himself.”

 

“I love him, Ada!” Gisa cried as her sister descended the rest of the way.

 

And I hate him for what he has made of you and what else he will make of you if I do naught, Adelaide thought and went in search of him.

She did not have to go far. Upon entering a hall conspicuously absent servants at this time of day, she saw he leaned against the high table.

 

Eyes narrowing on her, doubtless noting her one bright cheek, he said, “Lady Adelaide,” and motioned her to follow.

 

Heeding the voice within, she said, “I will speak with you here.”

 

When he continued toward the corridor down which the steward’s study lay, she touched the meat dagger on her belt, ignored that insistent voice, and followed.

 

“Close the door,” he said when she entered a room whose steward was absent.

 

“’Tis proper it remain open.”

 

“As you will.” He dropped onto a stool before a counting table. “So tell what a knave I am for loving Lady Gisa.”

 

A deep breath gaining her a bit more height, she said, “You are worse than a knave, being an old man relative to one of ten and four.”

 

“Soon ten and five,” he drawled.

 

“Still a girl.”

 

“Her body disagrees.” When Adelaide’s breath caught, with the superiority of one who imparts vital information, he said, “At long last, she has flowered.”

 

That he knew Gisa had come into her menses, which had not been confided to Adelaide, horrified.

 

“We are very close, she and I.”

 

“As seen! But menses or nay, woman or girl, what you do with her is sinful. Such intimacy is for those wed to each other, not a married man and a maiden.”

 

“In that we differ.”

 

“We differ in all!”

 

He clasped his hands between spread knees. “What do you intend?”

 

“Providing you return Gisa to her mother—and with a good report, explaining your wife is too ill to do right by her—I will say naught of this.”

 

“And if I insist she stay?”

 

“Then by other means I will ensure she is removed from your clutches, even if I must gain the aid of your bedridden wife.”

 

The corners of his light brown eyes twitched. “Clutches, my lady? As you saw, such was not required on my part, that passionate young thing eager for my kisses. Too, just as she would wager…” His gaze moved to her inflamed cheek. “…I wager it would be the same with you.”

 

Adelaide had thought herself on the farthest end of anger, but he pushed her beyond. Stepping toward him, she said, “You flatter yourself imagining I would welcome intimacy with a lecher and adulterer who will be considered old well before I am middle-aged, whose brow is too broad, chin too soft, and body soon to go the way of that chin.”

 

Even before color moved up his face and swept away amusement, she had known not to sling insults, but had not closed her mouth nor retreated.

 

Now he lunged off the stool.

 

Adelaide spun and made it into the corridor, but he caught her arm and wrenched her back. As she opened her mouth to scream, he slammed a hand over it, then kicked the door closed, propelled her against a wall, and pinned her with his body.

 

She struggled and, unable to get her free hand between them to retrieve her meat dagger, tried to bite his palm. Though he had no height on her, he proved his body had yet to go the way of his chin.

 

“Cease!” His chest pressed her so near the wall, it was hard to breathe.

 

Be still, watch, wait, she silently commanded. And somehow obeyed.

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