Unkissable Knight by Anna Markland

Dervenn

Victorine de Toeni was exactly what Dervenn had expected. He’d known Berenger de Toeni, and wasn’t surprised the daughter was spoiled, arrogant, and rude. Hence his reluctance to fulfill this errand. However, when a king commands…

What he hadn’t expected were the perfect breasts, the willowy form, the pouty lips that looked deliciously kissable. She’d probably be mortified if she realized the wind had caused her wimple to go slightly askew, revealing wisps of hair. A blonde with green eyes. An unusual and potent combination. She’d be a beauty if she ever smiled.

But it was pointless to let his thoughts wander in that direction. She’d reacted predictably to his wound, drawn to stare in horror, despite herself. Just like the others.

Wait till she found out he wasn’t a Norman. Though the Bretons had fought side by side with the Normans for every inch of ground gained at Hastings, a Breton knight would never be considered good enough by the likes of Victorine de Toeni, no matter that King William had hinted at the possibility of such a match.

It amused him that she was obliged to depend on his arm as they made their way up the sloping beach, though she tried valiantly not to lean on him.

“I am anxious to hear about the coronation,” she gushed nervously.

He suspected this proud woman loathed appearing weak, but then she’d recently lost her father and brothers. Facing life as an orphan in a newly-conquered foreign land must be daunting.

“Things didn’t go exactly as planned at Westminster Abbey,” he replied, recalling the chaos that had erupted at the Christmas Day ceremony thanks to the overly zealous Norman guards. “But William is indeed King of England.”

She came to an abrupt halt. “Surely my guardian doesn’t allow you to call him by his given name?”

She averted her gaze when he turned to face her. “As a matter of fact he does,” he replied with more belligerence than he intended. “Something to do with my saving his life and nigh on losing an eye in the process.”

She glanced up at him, doubt plain to see in those green eyes, but she said nothing, evidently deciding not to rise to the challenge in his own gaze. Strangely, her refusal to spar with him was a disappointment. The prospect of trading wits with such a temperamental beauty kindled a spark of excitement he hadn’t felt since before Hastings.

When they reached the horses, she inspected the mount he indicated was to be hers. “A passable palfrey,” she finally allowed.

He bent the knee and meshed his fingers together.

She looked at him as if he’d asked her to put her foot into pig-swill. “Is there no mounting block?” she asked, her voice dripping disdain.

The urge to put her over his knee and smack her bottom was powerful and led to another desire he’d disciplined his body to stifle in the three months since life had changed completely. So he said nothing, leaving her with no alternative but to accept his offer to boost her into the saddle.

She hesitated a moment or two, both hands on the pommel, until it apparently occurred to her if she attempted to mount that way she would likely end up on the ground on the other side of the horse.

It gave him immense satisfaction when she put a hand on his shoulder. Too much in fact. This was dangerous territory. He couldn’t afford to become preoccupied with a woman like Victorine de Toeni, or with any woman for that matter. His future was set. He would dedicate his solitary life to helping his king establish Norman law and order in England.

The irony wasn’t lost on his Breton sense of humor.

Once she was safely mounted, he turned his attention to the youngest of his charges. He hunkered down in front of the pale child who stood holding the hand of one of his men, eyeing the horses that were all obviously too big for her to ride. The lingering odor of mal de mer suggested she’d endured a rough crossing. She gaped at his scar and moved closer to the soldier.

“Would you like to ride with me, demoiselle Marie de Monluc?” he asked. “I’m not as scary as I look. Antoine will help you.”

He’d discovered that children tended to accept his disfigurement more readily, so he wasn’t surprised when she smiled and nodded. He mounted Haritz and Antoine lifted her into his lap. She nestled into him, sparking a twinge of regret that he would never hold a child of his own. He loved children and had always assumed he’d sire many strong sons and beautiful daughters.

Antoine signaled that the baggage was loaded onto the wagon. Dervenn suspected that one of the handful of maids riding amid the iron chests served Victorine.

As he set the column in motion towards Westminster it was of some satisfaction that the haughty blonde glared at Marie. He chuckled inwardly. Mayhap he should have offered her a ride in his lap.