Today’s excerpt comes from The Lady of the Forest by Barbara Bettis
When her elderly husband dies, Lady Katherine fakes her own death and disappears into the forest with others escaping the brutish new lord. Determined to protect her people, she knocks the wrong man senseless. But Lord Henry isn’t an enemy, he’s the brother of her childhood friend. Although his tender confidence tempts her, she’s bound by duty.
Henry of Chauvere has found the one lady he wants for his own, never mind she’s tied him hand and foot. When he learns the king has ordered her to wed Stonehill’s ruthless new master, he insists Kate seek haven with his sister. But she won’t desert her friends. Henry vows to solve her problem, provided he catches a traitor before the threat from Kate’s past catches her.
When a daring rescue compels Henry and Kate to join forces, their attraction grows into love. If only duty didn’t drive them apart.
In this excerpt, Henry has interrupted the wedding celebration at Stonehill Castle to challenge Mortimer’s right to marry Kate.
[Henry and his two friends] stalked into the hall where the lord held forth at the high table before the household left for the chapel. Kate sat at his right, the priest at his left.
“Sir Mortimer.” Henry’s voice boomed above the din. “Stand and answer my challenge.”
Mortimer lifted his head. “Lord Henry. Sit, break your fast before I wed my lady.” His oily tone did not match his hard set of jaw and narrowed eyes.
Henry ignored the words and continued across the floor. Mortimer rose but before he could speak, Henry leaped onto the dais.
“You have no right to demand Lady Katherine in marriage.” It took all Henry’s determination not to glance at Kate.
“I have an order from the king, granting me this holding and the lady as my bride.
“I say the order does not exist.” A murmur rose from the people seated at the lower tables. Calling the lord a liar meant a fight. But no sounds arose of benches scraping back. Perhaps the soldiers awaited a signal. Henry stepped closer. “Produce this writ. Let me examine the seal.”
Dull red moved up Mortimer’s neck; his nostrils flared.
Henry sucked in a breath of satisfaction. He had him now. “You cannot. The people of Stonehill have been mistreated and their lady driven into hiding in fear for her life. You’ve lied and cheated, and you’ve taken part in a treasonous attempt to overthrow one of the king’s barons.”
He hadn’t known what to expect from Mortimer, but it wasn’t the self-satisfied upturn of the man’s mouth. Dread scraped a cold trail along Henry’s spine.
“You may be another baron and a pet of the king,” Mortimer said, “but that don’t make you always right, and that don’t keep you from facing a fight when you accuse an honest man of wrongdoing.”
He motioned to the priest, who stood and withdrew a section of parchment from a leather satchel beside him on the bench. It contained no seals.
Henry clenched his teeth. Why in the devil’s own hell hadn’t he considered the priest as the knight’s accomplice?
The churchman opened the document and at a nod from Mortimer, read. “Sir Mortimer of Corbeau, in gratitude for service, is granted the holding of Stonehill in Nottinghamshire…”
A loud buzzing in Henry’s ears blotted the words that followed. Satan’s backside! The writ existed. The parchment was stained and tattered, not the official document often used to dispense favors, but he’d seen Richard direct a clerk to scratch out such awards after a battle. They were rough and hurried, yet they carried the weight of the king’s power
And they always carried his seal.
Where was the seal for this order?