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.
Sitting without repose on one of the solar’s high-backed chairs, Constance shifted positions. An unexpected chill crept in with the evening. The shutters were closed, and a fire danced and hissed on the hearth. The room was aglow with candles whose light harmonized to showcase the exquisite tapestries on the wall. Vibrant yet vulnerable, the flames quivered at the slightest draft.
Her stomach quivered, too, as she stared at her half-eaten pigeon pie. Whatever made me agree to share his bed? The mention of rats? The thought of a prickly straw mat between her back and the cold, hard floor?
From the other high-backed chair, Robert eyed the pie that lay unprotected on the table between them. “Do you plan to eat that?”
A predator drawn to his prey. She shrugged. “I suppose not. Do you want it?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” He attacked the food.
She folded her hands in her lap. “Sir, your appetite is a thing of wonder.”
He swallowed, then grinned at her. “Why, thank you.” His smile disappeared. “Or do you criticize?”
“Not criticize. Marvel.”
His dimples were back. The one on the right was deeper. “I’m a man of many talents, and eating is one of them.” He took another bite.
“Evidently.” She cleared her throat. “I only wondered if…” Her stomach trembled as he licked sauce from his fingers.
Abruptly, he ignored the food and studied her face. “If what?”
She sighed inwardly. Just say it! “If all your appetites run that strong.”
His intense stare roused something inside her. She’d never felt its like. Heat, not only in her face but her entire body.
“You’re referring to appetites of the flesh.”
She lifted her chin. “I am.”
With a casual air, he leaned back. “I’ll admit, I’ve enjoyed the company of women. Have I ever! Truly, deeply, unreservedly—”
“I grasp your meaning.” She shifted again on her chair. “Do you think you can live without it?”
“I’m willing to try.”
“Trying won’t suffice. If we’re to share a chamber, I need a clear statement of your intentions.”
He grabbed his wine, drained the cup, and plunked it down on the table. “We agreed to be friends, did we not?”
“Friends don’t steal from one another. They take only what is willingly given.”
“Know this now: I shall never give it.”
His gaze held hers. “So you’ve said.”
“I mean what I say.”
“As do I, and you have my word. I shall never force you to consummate our marriage.”
Relief coursed through her. He was a man of his word; that much she knew. She was safe. All would be well.
He slapped his thighs. “That said, shall we to bed?” He eased out of his chair and stretched his limbs. “The mattress is calling my name.”
She hesitated only a second, then stood. “Odd. I thought it called mine.”
“You don’t mean—”
“No. The bed is as much yours as mine. We’ll share it.” ’Twas a simple matter of fairness. No need to overthink it. Then why do my legs feel weak?
He glanced at her as they started toward the bedchamber. “Good. Feathers are far superior to the floor.”
“So the mattress is stuffed with feathers. I noticed you testing it before; now I know why.”
“I thought perhaps it held wool, which would’ve been fine. But I’ll take luxury any day. Here we are. After you, my lady.”
The lively fireplace greeted them as they entered the chamber. Already, the space was warmer than before. Two stools stood in front of the fire. A table lined one wall; above it hung another fine tapestry, whose threads wove the image of a swan on a secluded, tree-lined pond. Directly opposite sat the bed. Its canopy was suspended from the ceiling, and rich green curtains spilled down around the carved, wooden headboard and frame. The inner sanctum, with its turned-down linen and coverlets, waited in shadow.
She stared. A person could lose herself in a bed like that. And in eyes as infinite as her husband’s.
She flinched, then slowed her breathing. Calm yourself. ’Twas only the door. Your husband is a man of honor. She listened for the scrape of the bolt. It didn’t come.
Frowning, she wrenched her gaze from the bed and sought Robert. With hands clasped behind his back, he studied the tapestry.
“Lady Ravenwood’s grandmother made this,” he remarked. “The ones in the solar, too. Uncommon skill!”
Constance moved to stand beside him. “Indeed. I’ve never seen its equal. And what a fetching scene.”
He turned to her but said nothing.
After a moment, she met his gaze. “Why do you stare at me?”
He grinned. “On the morrow, I want to show you something.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why won’t you tell me?”
“’Tis a surprise.”
“I don’t like surprises.”
“Neither do I, on the whole. But you’ll like this one.” He reached toward his belt.
She stepped back. “What are you doing?”
“Undressing.” He set his belt on the table.
Her stomach dropped. “Why?”
“Aren’t you the suspicious one?” He pulled off his boots. “’Tis customary to doff one’s clothes at bedtime.”
She whirled around, turning her back on him. “I slept fully clothed at the nunnery.” She stared hard at the stone wall.
“I hate to state the obvious, but this isn’t a nunnery.”
“Well, how do you sleep?”
“Naked, of course.”
Heat flooded her cheeks and forehead. “Is that necessary?”
“I could wear my breeches.”
She sighed. Whew!
“On one condition.” His tone was loaded with meaning beyond her grasp.
What condition? What does he want from me?
She turned to face him. Apart from his calf-length breeches, he was nude. Her gaze locked onto his chest.
Sculpted by combat. Scarred by war. Covered with black hair.
“Any objection?” His voice was soft, deep.
She forced her gaze to his eyes. They looked darker now. Was it a trick of the light?
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Amazon Audio https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Swan-Novels-Ravenwood-Book/dp/B07CMKMMWN
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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, destiny, time travel, healing, redemption, and finding the hidden magic which exists all around us. She loves to share that magic with readers and whisk them far away from their troubles, particularly to locations in the British Isles.
Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.
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