A FANTASY ROMANCE By Cate Duncan
When Seagrette's widow's veil falls aside, Conrad of Martin forgets the careful planning of the last ten months. With a shock, he recognizes the lady he has seen only in his dreams. Ever since he first came to know what the sight of feminine flesh could do to a man, she was the woman of his midnight fantasies. In his darkest hours, she has come to him, silent, soothing, ever giving, always satisfying, forever just what he needed. And if ever he needed someone like her, it is now. Why does her revelation have to be here, in Hargrove? And in the personage of Seagrave's widow? Why, in the name of all that is dear to him and his Family, does she have to exist outside of his sleep, and here in the House of his greatest enemy?
Con growls in pain. The choice that suddenly lies before him--and her! see, she knows him!--is entirely his. He's spent years developing this strategy for his king, the one that will bring these mutinous lords to heel. He alone has the power to bind her to him forever or make her hate him worse than she could despise her most terrible enemy. What will it be? His king and his beloved land, Terrabien, or the woman he never thought existed beyond the imaginings of blessed sleep?
The time? Five hundred years after a nuclear and biological catastrophe, in a world that has gone feudal and is only just beginning to learning something of what a united kingdom might mean. The place? The front range of Colorado. Learn what love, war, politics and social strife might mean to a post-nuclear age in FATED LOVE.
is BOOK THREE
in THE TERRABIEN SERIES
Tales of what happens in a Post-Apocalyptic World
Alora of Seagrette drifted to wakefulness, the golden sunlight calling her to a new day as it streamed through the window next to her bed. She turned in the silken sheets, reaching for the hard-muscled man beside her and found his place empty. An all-too familiar ache filled her throat, and tears started to her eyes. She dashed them away, angry with herself for letting them come.
She thought she had abandoned those feelings decades ago, before she’d even married. The man who came to her in her dreams didn’t exist, couldn’t exist. Why did she insist on conjuring him up? She had long ago realized that the boy who had made her laugh, chased her through meadows of long grass, caught her and kissed her and later bedded her with such gentle passion, could only be a fantasy, the product of an over-active imagination.
She had begun schooling her mind against the pain of knowing he wasn’t real the day she met her husband, Maximilian, Lord of Seagrette. Foolishly, she believed he would be the young man she had dreamed of so often. He walked into her father’s House, bowed curtly over her hand, and wished her a good evening. Alora had bitten her lower lip to keep from crying. Instead of the dark-eyed, long-haired youth of medium height and WIDE shoulders, she found herself in the clutches of a balding, graying, middle-aged widower, who stank of sour wine and garlic, and leered at her with a barely concealed lust. In that moment, she learned the difference between dreams and duty, between desire and reality, the danger of wanting something one could never have.
She never confessed her attraction to a dream man to anyone, convinced that he was nothing but a fantasy. Knowing she shouldn’t, she indulged in thoughts of him when she needed to respond to her husband’s perfunctory attempts at making children. She did her duty as a wife of a Family Head. She gave him six children, more than most ladies provided for their lords, and all but one survived to adulthood. Their two sons had now met their majorities. The two oldest daughters had married well. Only Lana, their youngest, had yet to be matched. With her husband, Maximilian, now dead of a heart attack, Gifford, her oldest son and now Lord of Seagrette, would find a good husband for Lana, a strong match that would strengthen their alliances..
Alora prayed that Lana did not dream of a young man with deep set eyes. Better to face a lady’s role in life than live with a foolish fantasy that would never come to fruition.
Alora, a widow at thirty-eight, turned her head from the sun and curled in on herself, giving vent to the tears that overwhelmed her. How she wanted that man. He had grown older with her, grown strong and only more loving. In her hardest trials, he came to her at night, invaded her dreams, consoled her soul with tender lips and gentle caresses. He fueled her desires for something she knew no lady and lord in the realm shared, for love belonged only to the lower classes, those who had the freedom to choose their own mates, whose pairings did not matter to the politics of the realm. As a lady of Hargrove, she had had no voice in the matter of her marriage.
True, she could have taken a lover. Many of the courtiers at Seagrette vied for her favor. But the dream man ruined even that pleasure for her. None of them compared to the strapping youth with the intense gaze, or the increasingly muscle-bound and oh-so competent lover that came to her, unbidden, in her dreams at night. She dallied with a few of the guards who resembled him, and even found pleasure in their arms, but none gave her the satisfaction that her fantasies hinted could be had with the long-haired warrior.
“Enough,” she chided herself, aloud. She arose from the bed in a cloud of filmy bed clothes and went to the window to inspect the day. A fair one, it appeared, like all those of Terrabien’s autumns. It would be brisk outside, under that sapphire sky. She would enjoy the day-long ride to Hargrove, to visit her mother and father while her son consulted with his grandfather about the alliances for his sister, Lana and, perhaps, even herself. At thirty-eight years of age, there might be a widowed Lord willing to take her on a gamble of another child. It would be a gamble, yes, but with Alora’s five children, she had a good record, and that might stand for something.
Alora shook her head at the sudden rebellious thought that came to mind, a mental image of mounting her horse and galloping towards the mountains in the dead of night, fleeing to the arms of a man with intense brown eyes, a full trimmed beard, long, dark hair, and broad shoulders. He would take her away to a rustic lodge and they would live there together to the end of their days, alone, undisturbed, in happiness, with no more duty. She would sing to him, and he would hunt for her, and they would do nothing but make love to one another.
One more tear, and Alora snorted at herself. She pushed open the window, letting the cold air wash over her face and bare arms, dissolving the last of the painful dream. Then she turned towards the dressing table to ring the small bell that sat there and summon her lady’s maid and begin the day.
* * *
“Then it’s settled,” Conrad of Martin recapitulated to the heads of the Chivalry Alliance gathered around the large, oval table. “I make one more attempt to treat with Hargrove and Seagrette. If they do not agree with our terms, I lead the royal army against both Houses, execute the Heads, take the heirs captive and arrange for the marriage of the widows, maidens and youths in both Families. We will ally them with the central and southern Families so that they can no longer control the eastern trade, and we will have full access to our northern fortifications. Taking Hargrove and Seagrette will cripple the lesser Families in their
Conrad of Martin remained standing, waiting for questions or arguments. There were none. Finally. He’d wrestled this contentious lot into submission.
“Thank you, Martin,” King Charles offered from his place at the head of the table. He rose and held up a sparkling crystal goblet. “To a united Terrabien.”
The dozen Family Heads around the large, oval table hastened to follow his example. Con reached for his goblet and did the same. “Chivalry and Terrabien,” he agreed, as the others mouthed similar oaths of allegiance. Charles met his eyes, and grinned in congratulations that they finally had the approval of their
As the nobles began to file out of the room to noisy conversation and Con turned to join them, the king laid his hand on Martin’s arm. “Stay, Con. I still want a few words with you.” The broad-shouldered Lord of Martin nodded, a grin twisting his mouth. Instead of heading for the door, he took his empty goblet to the wine steward standing by the sideboard.
When all the men had emptied the hall, Charles leaned back against the large table. “You did it, Con. You got these contentious men to agree to something as heretical as attacking two of their cohorts, killing them, and taking over their lands. I didn’t think it could be done. They have yielded power to the throne. I never thought it could happen.”
“They know you can hold that power only as long as you have their backing. They also know that Hargrove and Seagrette will kill us all with their greed if we don’t stop them. These are desperate times. They call for desperate measures. You know I thought of everything else I could, tried every line of reasoning with the two bastards, and nothing worked.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” the tall, elegant king replied, waving aside Con’s protest. “We all know your heart isn’t in killing these men and taking their holdings from their heirs. It sets a dangerous precedent. But it also sends a powerful message, one that will not be wasted on their allies, nor on mine. You’re brilliant, Con. The best man I have. Indeed, the best friend I have.”
The king walked up to the green and black clad lord who leaned against the sideboard and clasped him on the shoulder. Charles towered over him by half a head, but Con outweighed the king by a good twenty pounds, all of it muscle and sinew. His broad shoulders owed nothing to padded clothing or armor like that affected by some of the courtiers who wished to look like athletes. Massive thighs, a barrel chest, and powerful arms all betrayed the life Conrad of Martin had spent keeping himself physically fit and active.
“I like least the idea of arranging marriages,” Con volunteered, scowling.
“It was your idea,” Charles reminded him. “Like everything you do, you’ll be good at it.”
Con scoffed. “It doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy the task.”
Charles laughed. “Come now, my man. We all have our duties. ‘Better to be free-born than a member of a Family.’” He quoted an old saying. All of the nobility knew its truth. Most of the free-born knew it, except those too greedy to understand how much the costly jewels, clothing, lands, and Houses cost in terms of freedom.
Con finished off the last of his wine and set the goblet back on the sideboard. “Well, Charles. I do have to be getting back to Martin. The trip on to Hargrove will take another day, and I want to get this operation underway before one of the Families lets slip our plan.”
“This isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about. Stay where you are, Con.” The king picked up the bottle of wine the steward had left and refilled his friend’s goblet, as well as his own.
“Oh? I thought we had covered everything in excruciating detail,” Con remarked.
“Except the Lady.”
Con raised his eyebrows. “Lady?” pretending bewilderment.
“You haven’t spoken of your dream woman in several months, my friend. How fares she?”
Con’s eyes focused on something halfway between the table and the ceiling two dozen feet above them. “I should never have told you about her.”
“Come, my boy. How is she?”
“A plague on my soul. Instead of leaving me in peace and showing up once a month or so, she appears nightly, leaving me aching with unfilled desire in the morning, a rod stiff as a mattocks or sticky blankets like a lad of fourteen.”
Charles laughed. “You need a wife.”
“I had one. She didn’t help. The dream only gave me the endurance to beget my daughters and a son that lived to the age of six. Would that Lily had her own fantasy man, so that she could bring me to her bed often enough to give me a son.” Con had said the same thing so often he thought he could keep the bitterness from his voice. But he couldn’t. His lack of an heir plagued him more than the image of an imaginary woman.
“But she sounds so delightful, man. How can you resent the fact that she makes your nights so pleasant.”
Con grinned despite the ache in his throat. “Because she shows me a way of life that no man can ever have. She dances in my head, pulls her fingers through my hair, caresses my body with a touch that sends fire through every nerve. Her form, her face, every little movement bewitches me, delights my eye, all of my senses, my very soul. She taunts me with promises of something that can never be, Charles. No man of my station ever possessed such a woman. Why must she remind me, every single night, that I can imagine such as she, but I can’t have her? She can’t be mine, simply because she doesn’t exist.”
Charles shrugged, a smile on his face.
Con scowled. “What are you so happy about?”
“That there are still obstacles out there for you to overcome, my friend. As long as you have them, you will stay alive and be my right hand. The day you have everything you want, I’m totally on my own.”
Con laughed and clapped his king on the shoulder. “Never. I am yours for life, my King. I’ll be putting your slippers on your feet when we are both ninety-five if I cannot draw a sword.”
Charles clasped the hand on his shoulder, laughing in response. “Sounds fine to me. Now go. Bring me some captive heirs and some good battle stories. I look forward to hearing them.”
Con grinned, saluted his king, and turned to walk out of the main hall at Chivalry. He was indeed looking forward to bringing success to his friend.
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