Title: Shadow of the Swan
Author: Judith Sterling
Genre: Historical Romance
Lady Constance de Bret was determined to be a nun, until shadows from the past eclipsed her present. Marriage is the safest option, but she insists on a spiritual union, in which physical intimacy is forbidden. Not so easy with a bridegroom who wields unparalleled charm! But a long-buried secret could taint his affection and cloak her in shadow forever. Back from the Crusades, Sir Robert le Donjon craves a home of his own and children to inherit it. From the moment he meets Constance, he feels a mysterious bond between them. When she's threatened, he vows to protect her and agrees to the spiritual marriage, with the hope of one day persuading her to enjoy a "real" one. She captivates him but opens old wounds and challenges everything he thought he believed. Two souls in need of healing. Two hearts destined to beat as one.
They retired to the bedchamber and peeled off layers of clothing until all that remained was her chemise and his breeches. Constance willed her gaze from Robert’s torso to his eyes as he approached.
He halted an arm’s length away. “Thank you for your honesty…and your trust.”
She grinned. “Thank you for marrying me.”
His dimples appeared. “My pleasure.”
Pleasure. The word hung in the air between them like a watchful, seductive spirit.
She held her breath. What is he thinking? Will he kiss me?
He hesitated, then stepped forward and leaned closer. His lips connected with her forehead in a soft, lingering kiss.
His nearness was at once a balm and a temptation. But I’m not ready!
“Good night, Constance.” His breath was hot on her flesh.
She found her voice. “Good night.”
He pulled away and strode toward the bed.
My dear Robert, you are patience incarnate. She hastened toward her side of the bed and sighed as the feather mattress embraced her weary frame. ’Twas a glorious thing to lie down with a clear conscience. Finally! Within minutes, she slipped into sleep.
For the next week, their bedtime ritual followed a similar pattern. He kissed her forehead and said good night. Sometimes they talked in bed about the day’s activity; sometimes not. For the most part, she was content. But she couldn’t help comparing their situation to the fervid affair between Alice and Guy. The squire made nightly visits to the handmaiden’s chamber while Meg busied herself elsewhere.
The comfort of friendship versus the passion of love. The latter appealed to Constance, more with each passing day.
At week’s end, shortly before supper, she stood alone on the bridge above Woden’s Pond. A swan glided across the calm water, creating symmetrical ripples that stretched beyond the bird’s wake.
With head tilted, Constance followed its progress. Our actions influence everything around us, just as the swan affects the pond.
Her revelation about Dominy certainly changed Robert. He showed even more courtesy than before, treating her almost like a harp with worn strings which might snap if played. She wanted to make music. At least, she wanted to try. But his gallantry seemed to know no bounds.
She frowned and wiped the sweat from her brow. Why should that bother me? Her lips twisted. Because I fear he’s lost interest.
Had he? Could any man truly possess such restraint? He demonstrated it at every bedtime. Every single one. What if it continued? For weeks. Months. Forever and ever, amen.
A sudden chill commanded the air. Shivering, she rubbed her arms, then felt compelled to look down.
The undulating water warped her reflection. Might it also bend reality and grant her another vision? Nothing like that had ever happened to her, not until the day of the help-ale. And though it seemed strange, her heart insisted an experience so profound must derive from the mind of God, that source of all creation to which she’d always gravitated.
She knelt down for a closer view and waited. As she stared, a new picture emerged.
The pond at dusk, enshrouded in fog. Robert, standing naked before her. He opened his mouth to speak. “Come to me, Constance.”
The sound jarred her out of the vision.
A swan looked up at her. She glanced at the opposite side of the pond, where the original swan remained, then regarded the bird below her.
“Why are you here with me? Look. There’s another swan right over there.”
Again, the bird whooped. Then it swam off and out of sight. The air was mild once more.
Or perhaps the vision warmed me. Her stomach twitched at the memory of it. How many men could boast a body such as her husband’s? Not many, surely. And he was hers. If she had the courage to claim him.
And if he still desired her.
There’s one way to find out. She stood, wiped the dirt from her tunic, and headed toward the castle.
After supping on roasted venison and frumenty, she and Robert retired to the solar with a jug of mulled wine. She leaned back in her chair as he poured their drinks.
He handed her a cup. “You were quiet as a mole during supper.”
She took a long draft of wine. The mixture of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves tickled her tongue. “I was thinking.”
“About?” He raised his cup to his lips.
He choked on his drink. After a fit of coughing, he cleared his throat. “Lovemaking.”
“Aye. You gave me a general idea before, but I want specifics.”
“Oh, I think I gave you one or two of those.”
She sipped her wine, then placed the cup on the table. “Remind me, if you would.”
He shifted in his seat. “I told you where I’d put my mouth.”
“I recall it now. You said every inch of me, even…” Heat raced through her body. “But you exaggerate. Kissing every inch would take all night. There must be areas you would focus on.”
“Constance, what are you about? Is this mere curiosity or something more?”
“Perhaps both.” Her cheeks burned.
He sipped his wine, but his gray eyes smoldered above the rim of the cup.
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We love baking together and eating the finished products while watching classic holiday movies. Some of our favorite goodies are Bliss Bits (similar to Mexican wedding cookies), iced sour cream cookies, almond crescents, Kolachke (glazed Polish pastry), shortbread, gingerbread, and Swedish cardamom bread. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
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Shadow of the Swan has romance and humor, but it also features compassion, healing, renewed joy, soul connections, abiding love, and a touch of magic.
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