Once a Bride

Free Once a Bride by Shari Anton

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Authors: Shari Anton
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suffer an ache in his loins for the remainder of the night.
    “What boon?”
    “That you carefully consider the consequences before you act on what you learn.”
    “I am a careful man, Eloise.” “Are you? Your brother Hugh was. Of you I am not sure.”
    Once more the vision of Hugh and Eloise tumbling on the deep blue velvet plagued him. Had Hugh gentled the lioness with his caresses, kisses, lovemaking?
    Roland tore his attention back to where it belonged. Without making further assurances, he crossed the room and snatched up the parchment. From the few words not burned away by her fire or smeared by his water, he caught the meaning of the message, knew who must have sent it.
    If Sir John had given his daughter orders before fleeing, then Eloise had known of her father’s whereabouts all along.
    He crumpled the parchment. “You saw your father before he fled. You knew Sir John was not out hunting.”
    “I knew.”
    Her voice came from too close for her to have stayed on the bed. He turned to find her right behind him.
    “Where does he hide?”
    She shook her head. “He ordered me to allow the earl in the gates, do whatever I must to ensure Kenworth did not feel the need to take Lelleford by force of arms. Then he left.” She waved a hand at the parchment. “Beyond that, I know only that he watches for an opportunity to return. Roland, I beseech thee to keep this knowledge from Kenworth.”
    Eloise asked him to join in her conspiracy. What gall! But then, ’twas to be expected of a willful woman, was it not?
    “In God’s name why should I?”
    Her fingers landed lightly on his arm. “Because if the earl knows my father watches, no one at Lelleford is safe, which you claim is your responsibility. Think on it. What might you do if the earl decides to torch the keep or use me as bait to draw my father out? Could you stop him, keep your oath to the king?”
    Damned if the woman didn’t have a point.
    Irritated, he held up the parchment. “How did you come by this?”
    “I found it on my bed. I know not how it came to be there.”
    Dare he believe her?
    “Obviously someone delivered it.”
    She nodded, but volunteered no information. ’Twasn’t truly necessary. If Sir John hadn’t done so himself, then his squire must have, which meant there was another way in and out of the castle than through either the main or postern gates.
    “Who else knows of this message?”
    “Isolde.”
    “No one else? Simon? One of the other knights?”
    She shook her head, and he wondered again whether or not to believe her. Eloise might look sincere, but she’d tricked him, fooled everyone.
    ’Twas several hours before dawn, time enough to decide what to do with the information. As he’d told Eloise, he tended to be a careful man, and he walked a thin line here between aiding a fugitive from justice and keeping faith with the king’s direct order.
    “I will give you my answer on the morn.”
    Eloise removed her hand from his sleeve. “I will pray you decide rightly.”
    Roland doubted he’d trust his decision to prayer. ’Twould take very careful consideration over what to tell, or not tell, the perverse earl.

Chapter Five
    E LOISE WARILY eased down the stairway. ’Struth, she’d been tempted to hide out in her bedchamber, but resisted the urge as unacceptable cowardice.
    She needed to learn what had transpired during her restless night spent curious as to how someone had delivered her father’s message, and frightened over what Roland would decide to do with the information. The uncertainty had her stomach in knots.
    All the while she’d also wrestled with her annoying reaction to Roland’s manhandling.
    Mercy, the man was strong. He’d hefted her up off the floor and tossed her over his shoulder as if she weighed no more than a sack of grain, in a display of both power and frustration with what she had to admit was her callow behavior.
    Instead of childishly sitting on the half-burned scroll, she should have

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