We’re finished with this round of Medieval Monday. A new theme will be along in the new year. I didn’t want to leave you with nothing to read though so I thought I’d share the first encounter between Eleanor and Will from my Midwinter book, A Wager for the Widow
The ferryman braced his back and rammed his pole into the riverbank. The craft creaked alarmingly as it started to move away from the shore, the great chain that spanned the river pulling taut.
The shrill blast of a hunting horn sounded, ripping apart the peace. A commanding voice shouted, ‘Ferryman, stop!’
Eleanor peered back at the riverbank. A rider on an imposing chestnut-coloured horse was galloping along the road at the edge of the water. He pulled the horse up short.
‘You’re too late, my friend, the current has us now,’ the ferryman called back.
‘Wait, I tell you. I must cross today. I have business to attend to.’ The rider’s voice was deep and urgent, his face hidden beneath the hood of a voluminous burgundy cloak. The ferryman shrugged his shoulders and dug his pole into the river, pushing further away. Keeping one eye on the drama playing out, Eleanor walked carefully around behind the carriage and made her way to the other side of the deck to get a better view.
What happened next had the texture of a dream. The horseman cursed and wheeled his mount around. He galloped away from the water’s edge, then turned back. With a sudden bellow he cracked the reins sharply and sped back towards the river. As the horse reached the edge, the rider spurred it forward. The horse leapt through the air with ease to land on the deck alongside Eleanor. The ferry bucked, the far end almost rising from the water. Hooves clattered on the slippery wood and the animal gave a high-pitched whinny of alarm.
It was not going to stop!
As a cumbersome-looking saddlebag swung towards her Eleanor threw herself out of its way. The railing caught her behind the knees and she stumbled backwards, her ankle turning beneath her with a sickening crunch. Crying out, she flailed her arms helplessly, unable to regain her balance as the river came up to meet her.
She saw the horseman lunge towards her, felt his fingers close about her wrist. She gave a sharp cry as her shoulder jolted painfully and her feet slid on the deck. Cold spray splashed over her face as her head fell back, her free fingers brushing the surface of the water.
‘Take hold of me quickly. I can’t stay like this for ever,’ the rider ordered, tightening his grip on her wrist.
Eleanor raised her head to find herself staring up into a pair of blue eyes half-hidden in the depths of the voluminous hood. The rider was leaning along the length of his horse’s neck, body twisted towards Eleanor at what seemed an impossible angle. She fumbled her free hand to clutch on to his arm and he hauled her back to her feet. As she stood upright a spear of pain shot through Eleanor’s ankle. She gave an involuntary gasp and her knees buckled.
With the same speed as his initial rescue, the rider threw his leg across the saddle and dismounted with a thud. His arms found their way round Eleanor’s waist, catching her tight and clasping her to him before she slipped to the ground.
‘I’ve got you. Don’t wriggle!’
The man’s hood fell back and Eleanor saw him clearly for the first time. He was younger than his voice had suggested. A long scar ran from the outside corner of his eye and across his cheek, disappearing beneath a shaggy growth of beard at his jaw. A second ran parallel from below his eye to his top lip. His corn-coloured hair fell in loose tangles to his shoulder. Close up his eyes were startlingly blue.
Footsteps thundered on the deck as Eleanor’s coachman appeared. It struck Eleanor suddenly that the man was still holding her close, much closer than was necessary, in fact. She became conscious of the rise and fall of his chest, moving rhythmically against her own. Her heart was thumping so heavily she was sure he would be able to feel it through her clothing. As to why it was beating so rapidly she refused to think about.
‘You can let go of me now,’ she muttered.
The horseman’s eyes crinkled. ‘I could,’ he said, ‘though I just saved your life. There must be some benefits to rescuing a beautiful maiden in distress and holding her until she stops shaking is one of them. I suppose a kiss of gratitude is out of the question?’
‘You didn’t save my life. I can swim,’ Eleanor cried indignantly. It was true she was trembling, but now it was from anger. ‘I am most certainly not kissing you!’
The man’s forehead crinkled in disbelief. ‘Even though I saved you from a cold bath?’
Eleanor’s cheeks flamed. ‘It was your fault in the first instance, you reckless fool. You could have capsized us all. Your horse might have missed completely.’
The horseman laughed. ‘Nonsense, it was perfectly safe. Tobias could have cleared twice that distance. If you had stood still none of this would have happened. You panicked.’
With an irritated snort Eleanor pushed herself from the man’s grip, contriving to elbow him sharply in the stomach as she did so. She heard a satisfying grunt as she turned her back. She headed to the carriage, but her ankle gave a sharp stab of pain. She stopped, balling her fists in irritation. The horseman leaned round beside her. ‘Allow me,’ he said and before Eleanor could object he had lifted her into his arms and strode the three paces to the carriage. With one hand on the door handle he cocked his head. ‘Still no kiss? Ah, well, it’s a cruel day!’
‘There are no circumstances under which I would kiss you!’ Eleanor said haughtily, sweeping her gaze up and down him.
His face darkened and Eleanor took the opportunity to wriggle from his arms. Biting her lip to distract herself from the throbbing in her ankle, she swung the door open herself and climbed inside, slamming it loudly behind her.
Blurb: ‘I SUPPOSE A KISS OF GRATITUDE IS OUT OF THE QUESTION?’
Widowed Lady Eleanor Peyton has chosen a life of independence. Living alone on her rocky coastal outcrop, she’s cut herself off from the world of men – until William Rudhale saves her life and demands a kiss!
As steward to Lady Eleanor’s father, Will knows the desire he burns with is futile – but he’ll still wager he can claim Eleanor’s kiss by midwinter! Yet when the tide turns Will realises vulnerable Eleanor is far too precious to gamble with. Can he win his lady before it’s too late?
The book came out in July 2015 so you’re unlikely to get a print copy but the ebook is available here:
Harper Collins: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9781474006071/a-wager-for-the-widow