Misrule's Mistress by Nicole Hurley-Moore
sensual historical holiday romance
Release Date: 12/20/2012
Cover art by Valerie Tibbs
Lord Barric Cranley wants Lady Ellette for his wife but she has already refused once. He knows that Ellette loves him… it’s just she hasn’t realized it yet. With a little help, cunning and the Feast of Misrule, Barric plans to capture his bride and make it a Christmas she’ll never forget.
England – 1247 AD
“Tis fine work, master smith,” Lord Barric Cranley said as he rolled the gold ring between his fingers. It was small, intricate, and fashioned in the shape of a crown. “You have excelled in your craft. ‘Tis more than I had hoped.”
Barric lent against the rough wooden workbench. The heat in the small room was almost oppressive. Two inches of snow had fallen overnight, but the workshop was as hot as the fires of Hell. One of the goldsmith’s apprentices stoked the fiery furnace whilst the other stood near an iron anvil, hammering out silver into a thin sheet.
“My lord.” The old man bowed his head, but as he straightened, Barric could see a glimmer of pride reflected in his watery eyes.
“Here is the coin I promised.” He dropped several silver coins into the smith’s outstretched hand. He turned his attention back to the ring. “‘Tis an astonishingly pretty thing you have conjured. You have my thanks.”
“You are all kindness, my lord, but may I be so bold as to ask if the ring is destined for a fair lady? Is it to be a betrothal ring?”
“Aye, ‘tis my hope,” Barric said as his lips curved into a smile.
“Then good luck, my lord, and may the blessing of Yuletide be upon ye.”
“And to you,” he said as he nodded his dark blond head and reached for the leather pouch that hung by his side. But before he slipped it inside, he held the ring up once more. A pale shaft of winter sun shone through the crude wooden casement and illuminated the tiny crown. “My destiny turns upon this trinket. The trap is prepared, the bait set, and now I must wait.”
“I do not understand, my lord; you speak of the hunt rather than a lady?”
“‘Tis all one and the same. For if luck is with me, I shall capture my bride.”
~* * *~
A familiar flare of excitement shot through Ellette’s body as Cranley Castle came into view. It was a sight that she never tired of; Cranley was not the largest castle in the land, but in her opinion it was the prettiest. Two elegant towers rose towards the heavens, and the grey stone walls looked almost silver in the pale sun. Above the towers flew the Cranley pennant, a hawk flying between the twin towers in a blue shield on a white background. There was a thin veil of snow covering the ground, which made Cranley look as if it were from an enchanted dream rather than the home of Barric Cranley. They had known each other for longer than she could remember – he was her friend, the constant in her life, but above all he was her fiercest competitor.
“Well, my child, Cranley looks as fair as ever,” Lord Gelsey said as his horse drew alongside hers.
“Aye, Father, she does.”
“No doubt you and Barric will spend the winter festival trying to best each other,” he said with a laugh.
“Aye, no doubt,” Ellette said with a smile and her grey eyes sparkled with amusement. “And I intend to win.”
“You always do, although I believe Barric will have something to say about that. I suspect that he will challenge you to a hunt once again.”
“I believe that is his plan; ‘twas merely luck that saw him win last time.”
“You can challenge him soon enough. Come, our host will be expecting us.”
“Very well, Father, but I wager that I can ride into the courtyard before you!”
Ellette laughed as she spurred her horse on. “Make haste, Elflin,” she cooed into the ear of her dapple grey mare. “Make haste; Barric awaits us.” She felt Elflin’s pace increase to a gallop, and heard the horse’s hooves beat out a rhythm on the road covered by a scattering of snow. The icy wind blew in her face and tugged at the fur hood of her green woollen cloak. She was filled with happiness: a mixture of the exhilaration of the ride, the sense of freedom it gave her, and the prospect of seeing Barric again. Elflin clattered over the wooden drawbridge and into the outer bailey of Cranley Castle.