Title: Flight of the Raven
Author: Judith Sterling
Genre: Historical Romance
How eager would the bridegroom be if he knew he could never bed the bride? Lady Emma of Ravenwood Keep is prepared to give Sir William l’Orage land, wealth, and her hand in marriage. But her virginity? Not unless he loves her. The curse that claimed her mother is clear: unless a Ravenwood heir is conceived in love, the mother will die in childbirth. Emma is determined to dodge the curse. Then William arrives, brandishing raw sensuality which dares her to explore her own. William the Storm isn’t a man to be gainsaid. He’ll give her protection, loyalty, and as much tenderness as he can muster. But malignant memories quell the mere thought of love. To him, the curse is codswallop. He plans a seduction to breach Emma’s fears and raze her objections. What follows is a test of wills and an affirmation of the power of love.
The lord’s private chapel was the most beautiful place in the castle. As William awaited his bride before the altar, he studied the small chamber.
The ceiling and walls had been carved and painted with artistic grace seldom seen outside royal households. The altar was draped with shining, white satin. Its centerpiece was an enormous, gold cross, flanked by two large, beeswax candles in gold candlesticks. Behind the altar, a single, arched window featured costly glass stained in blue, green, and red. No one who entered the chapel would question the wealth of Ravenwood’s lord.
He’d abandoned his customary black attire for blue. ʼTwasn’t an easy choice. Blue was a symbol of purity, and he’d sinned enough in his lifetime to make the color shrink from his flesh. Still, the tunic was embroidered with silver thread, and a jewel-studded belt was the perfect complement. ʼTwas his finest court apparel and the only clothing worthy of the occasion.
Emma had insisted that Wulfstan give her away. William had agreed, though the compromise was as palatable as sour wine.
But Lady Emma will be mine by the end of the hour. After that, Wulfstan can go to the Devil. Who knows? Satan’s company might be a welcome respite from Aldred’s.
He glanced at his brother, who stood tall and stoic at his side. Robert’s gaze roved about the chapel.
He’s assessing the riches into which I marry, just as Aldred is gauging his losses.
The Saxon’s scowl was as fervent now as when he first entered the chapel. Gertrude, who looked equally grim, sat beside him on the bench. The only smile in the room belonged to Meg. Her countenance was as serene and lovely as the chapel itself, and something in the tilt of her head reminded him of Emma.
The next instant, he needed no reminder. Emma crossed the chapel’s threshold on Wulfstan’s arm, and William forgot about Ravenwood’s wealth and the horror of battles past. All he could see was his bride.
She glided toward the altar with the poise of a queen. She wore lavender silk and a fine, richly embroidered veil over her hair. Amethysts and rubies dotted a silver belt which accentuated her waist and hips and trailed down the front of her skirt in one long, shimmering line.
Her violet eyes sparkled as she approached the altar. In that moment, she embodied all that was good and the essence of desire. She resembled the haunting beauty of a storm. His storm.
He chafed at Wulfstan’s presence. But before he knew it, Father Cedric bent his shiny, bald head over the prayer book and began the ceremony.
“Beloved brethren...” the chaplain intoned.
Beloved, William mused. By whom? God? Each other?
The only evidence he’d seen of real love between a man and woman was the bond his parents had shared. His mother, though strong and proud, still mourned her husband’s death.
Would anyone mourn his? Although he’d bedded many women, he’d entrusted his heart only to one. That had been the mistake of his life; one he’d paid for, body and soul.
“Sir William,” said Father Cedric, “will you take this woman as your wife, and love and honor her, guard her and keep her in health and sickness, as it befits a husband should do his wife, and forsaking all others for her sake, stay only with her all the days you both shall live?”
William sobered. He could never love Emma, but he would strive to uphold the other vows. “I will.”
The priest turned to Emma and asked her the same. William held his breath.
“I will.” Her voice sounded strong, clear.
He relaxed. Beside him, Wulfstan placed Emma’s right hand in the priest’s. With the formal betrothal complete, Wulfstan and Robert joined the other three guests on the bench. Then Father Cedric motioned for William to take Emma’s right hand.
Her fingers were ice-cold. He willed his warmth into them as the chaplain continued with the ceremony.
Her voice was softer as she repeated her vows. “I, Emma, take thee, William, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health...”
Her voice trailed into silence for one heart-stopping moment. Then she squared her shoulders. “To be bonny and buxom in bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, if holy Church will it ordain, and thereto I plight thee my troth.”
Father Cedric blessed the simple gold band which lay on his prayer book and handed it to William.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” William said. “With my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly chattel I thee honor.”
He pushed the ring onto Emma’s thumb. “In nomine Patris.” He moved the ring to her forefinger. “Et Filii.” Then he slid the ring on her third finger. “Et Spiritus Sancti.” Finally, the ring claimed her fourth finger. “Amen.”
She avoided his gaze as they knelt to receive the priest’s blessing. Only when they rose to leave did she look up at him. Her eyes were dark with emotions and thoughts he couldn’t read, but he squeezed her hand to reassure her. She gave him a closed-mouth smile, and he grinned in return. Her hand was now warm and accepting.
Together, they turned and strode from the altar. The puckered brows of Aldred and Gertrude were like a chorus of disapproval, but Meg’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. Both Robert and Wulfstan smiled at the couple.
Once outside the sanctum, William sighed and glanced at his bride. It felt almost natural to walk beside her. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“No...my lord. Quite lovely, in fact.”
“You are lovely.”
Her cheeks colored. “Another compliment? Take care or I shall swoon.”
“Not until bedtime,” he warned playfully.
Her smile disappeared.
“Fear not,” he whispered. “I won’t bite.”
“Your teeth don’t concern me. I’m sure you’ve a much sharper weapon at your command.”
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
It’s a magical romance that will transport you to medieval England. There’s a good deal of humor, despite the drama, and the hero’s talent for seduction just might have you wishing he could seduce you!
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Judith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Whether penning medieval romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) or young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), her favorite themes include true love, de