Tuesday, 5 May 2015

OUT TODAY! Valens the Fletcher and His Captive by Lindsay Townsend


Valens the Fletcher and His Captive (MF)
by Lindsay Townsend
Medieval Captives 2

Siren-BookStrand, Inc.

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 23,476

Historical


Now with money off!


Katherine has been let down by men before. Can she trust the man who captures her?






England, Summer 1132

Valens is an arrow-maker and spy for Lord Sebastian (the hero of Sebastian the Alchemist & His Captive, Medieval Captives 1). His beloved sister Julia has died, leaving an infant who needs breast-feeding. Valens is still single, so needs to find a wet nurse for the baby.

He kidnaps young Katherine, and her baby, Jack, from a camp of women. Can Katherine save Edith, Valens’s little niece? Can she trust the handsome Valens, share her secrets, make a life with him? Can she recover Jack’s lost inheritance?

Ordered to court Katherine by his lord, Valens slowly begins to understand that he loves Kate, that he loves making a family with her, Jack, and Edith. Does his realization come too late? When, on their wedding day, a plot between Valens and Sebastian is revealed, can Katherine forgive Valens? Can she trust a spy?


A BookStrand Mainstream Romance

Chapter 1

England, Summer 1132

Valens heard the girl he had chosen as booty before he saw her. Crawling beneath the luxuriant low-hanging hazel branches and over the stinging nettles and ruthless brambles toward the women’s summer camp, he heard her weary, patient whisper. “Come on, Jack, feed for me, sweetheart. That’s right, that’s right. Good boy…”
There was a mewling whimper and the soft sound of suckling. Valens took a chance and raised his head.
Here she is, my little mother.
She crouched, half-facing away from him and behind the other women, on the less favored side of their hissing fire. Her face remained in shadow and he watched her hands, cradling, soothing, coaxing. A spit and flare from the flames illuminated her charge, Jack.
Her son, I think, or the son of her heart. Whichever the babe was, Valens took in his rounded limbs and downy head with pleasure. The infant was well cared for and the girl would care for Julia’s child—She will if she wants her own brat to thrive.
Valens lowered his wiry frame back into the crush and scratch of brambles and allowed the wet nurse’s soft crooning to wash over him.
“You are doing so well, my pretty darling, growing so big and strong. Let me check your padding…Good boy! I have more wool tufts and moss in my pack. Soon you will be clean and dry again, my Jack…”
The girl had been saying similar nonsense over the past four days that Valens had been tracking the women’s camp. So far he had only approached this close to her after twilight, content in the day to shadow the group at a distance. With her hair hanging limply ‘round her face in greasy, dirty-blond curtains, he still did not know if the wench was as pretty as a beech nut or as ugly as a gall apple, but her hands were clean and deft and her clothes patched and tidy. Baby Jack had more things than she, with three carrying slings and a half dozen little cloaks and hoods.
She may not wash her hair but she cares for Jack and will be a fine wet nurse for Edith. Valens frowned and tried not to think of his dead sister and her ailing child, in case a passing devil caught his feelings and made them worse, but it was no use. Julia had passed away seven nights ago and he and his widowed father were struggling with their grief and with Edith, Julia’s child. At almost two years old, Edith was beginning to eat more solid food, but it was the custom to breast-feed until two years, and weaning itself was dangerous. He and his father Thorkill, Edith’s granddad, had no idea what to do, beyond treating the grizzling infant like a sickly calf. Julia’s child was not thriving and would not do so until he could supply breast-milk by means of a wet nurse.
His present duty, to spy on the goose herder women, had proved provident. Accepting the task from his lord, Valens had known that such bold females would have youngsters and babies and one of the women would be in milk. Lucky for me. Julia would have said it was God’s will, but Valens was less sure, seeing that God had stolen Julia from him. He knew that tiny, squalling Edith would not make up for the loss of his sister, but the child was a part of Julia, one he vowed to preserve.
“You are not getting her,” he vowed under his breath, not caring who he meant at that moment, God or the devil.
He felt breath on his neck and twisted ‘round. The scowling face of his lord loomed briefly, then Sebastian crawled to one side, cursing at this cramped spying place.
“Only you, runt, dare have me scramble this way.”
Valens acknowledged the grumble with a flash of teeth. “But always worth it,” he countered, ignoring the taller man’s nickname. No one but Sebastian dared to comment on his lack of height, so he reckoned they were even.
“Are they thieves?” Sebastian jabbed a long, pale fist at the camp. His blue eyes darkened as Valens gave a brief nod. “Explain.”
Used to the man’s brusque orders, Valens counted off on his fingers. “One, they are meant to be goose herders but they have no geese.”
“This close to Michaelmas? They should be thigh deep in fattened-up birds, driving them to market.”
Valens grinned afresh. Sebastian was always quick, it was one reason he spied for the man. That, and he paid in gold, on time. “Two, they have clubs and ropes, lots of ropes.”
“For restraining prisoners and hostages. Go on.”
“Three, they are practiced in pretending to be fluttery, foolish maidens. A well-set-up traveler rides through the forest on one of the main trails and these women are there, arranged like a Mystery play, all tasteful sprawled limbs, big eyes, and pleading glances.‘Oh, kind sir, can you help us?’ and more of the same, till the fool steps down from his horse and they have him.
“Four—”
“I can count.”
The warning made Valens skip to his greatest news. “Big Agnes is their leader.”
In the dark blue twilight Valens almost missed Sebastian’s thin mouth tightening, but he heard the satisfied, “A name worth gold. Our sheriff has wanted her for some time.”
“Where is Julian?” Valens whispered, checking on the girl again as she rubbed her baby’s tiny back.
“Swirling somewhere in that red cloak and being heroic, no doubt.”
A prickle of alarm sped down Valens’s spine. “Not here, I hope. That cloak and that yellow hair of his, they will show up.” He dismissed the rest of Sebastian’s sour comment. His lord was touchy about his looks—though far less since his marriage—but Julian was something else. Even Valens, who also liked women, could see that.
There was a low snort from the hazel thicket, as Sebastian stifled laughter. “Peace, man, the sheriff is not an idiot. He does not go to your lengths, but he knows how to blend in woodland and so do his men.”
Valens forbore to comment that he dyed his red hair black so as to blend in, as Sebastian put it. His bushy and above all bright mane was distinctive, and for a spy that was bad.
“We attack them tonight?” Sebastian asked.
“Early morning is better. We shall see more and the women are slow to shift. Several have children.”
“By Lucifer, another problem,” muttered the man beside him. “My men will not like that. I do not like it.”
“I think you will have little trouble,” Valens said quickly. “Such women with youngsters are low status, like camp followers. They earn their keep by washing and cooking and are kept away from the main leaders. A few strikes on a shield will have them scattering and their brats with them.”
“Runaways and strays, eh? They will not be harmed. And where is Big Agnes?”
“Sprawled, with her flagons, right by the main fire with her cronies, dividing up the day’s takings. They are usually half-drunk in the morning, still.”
“Better, by Lucifer.” Sebastian clapped him on the shoulder, the closest his lord would come to outright approval. “And what do you want for your work?”
Valens showed his teeth at his lord’s scowling face and pretended to consider. “Four days and nights squatting in holly bushes, covering my tracks, going without food or more than a sip of ale. What would you say to granting me a holiday, my lord?”
Sebastian wormed backward and Valens followed. Skirting a flowering and spiky wild rose that showed blue in the late evening light, the men crawled behind the cover of a beech tree and stood upright.
“Ask again, master fletcher,” Sebastian said then. “I need those arrows of yours.”
Valens shook his arms and legs to get the blood flowing again. “Well, then.” He braced himself, aware his next request would most definitely not be approved. “I want a girl from the camp.”
 Sebastian dragged him off his feet and hoisted him aloft as if he weighed no more than a leaf. Half-choked by his tunic, Valens sucked in air and kept talking.
“Not as my slave but to help! The wench will have a better life with me than cast adrift.”
His lord’s eyes glittered. “You will marry her?”
By Adam, he is wed and now thinks every other man should be.
“If she is a widow, then yes.” Resentment sharpened Valens’s answer. “I need a wet nurse for my sister’s child, not a bed-mate. Put me down.”
“Or what?” Sebastian chuckled and lowered him. “I should call you Cuchulainn after the Irish warrior. He was a runt, too.”
“Everyone is short to you,” Valens muttered, slipping his knife back into its sheath as he was released. Not that he did not trust Sebastian, but spying kept his reactions honed. The dagger had been in his fist and pricked against the taller man’s belly before he had even thought of it. He had no idea who Cuchulainn was and did not care. “Are we agreed?”
Stepping back, Sebastian glared down his long hooked nose and gave him a searching look that made him feel like a new apprentice with his master. “You will keep her and her infant safe?”
“I will,” vowed Valens, thinking of Julia and Edith.
“Snatch them tonight, then, and take them away with you.”
Valens gave a brief but wide smile. His lord had given him something else with this, the chance to spare the girl and her babe the panic of an attack. “I intend to. Let me have two men.”
Sebastian folded his arms across his chest. “You want to terrify mother and child?”
“Two good men,” Valens persisted, ignoring his lord’s mocking glower, the dark humor in those dark eyes. “Two good men to show her the futility of struggle. I’ve taken down knights in full armor before now, so a girl and a baby will be easy.”
“Very well.” Before he moved back in the direction of the camp, Sebastian touched his arm. “Be careful,” he warned. “Too much…trouble and the girl might lose her milk.”
“I have my ways,” said Valens, with a confidence he did not altogether feel. Sebastian was still glowering down his nose, though, so all must be right with the world.
“Keep safe, runt.” His lord seemed on the verge of saying more, but instead clapped him on the shoulder for a second time.
“And you, my lord.”
The two men parted ways.

* * * *




Katherine could not shake the feeling that she was being watched. Worse, that she and Jack were being watched. The other women of this camp constantly slighted her in flea-bite ways, remarking or gesturing about her small size, feeble strength, and lack of wood-craft. Big Agnes, their leader, had agreed to let Katherine travel with the gang and had then ignored her. The others—who surely were no goose herders, for where were their geese?—had copied Agnes, or Aggie, as she liked to be called. For the week Katherine had traveled with them, aside from being piled with filthy clothes to wash, she and Jack had been left alone.
It is exactly what I want, she told herself, but lately, with this constant tingle at the back of her neck and the sinking feeling in her stomach, with this sense of being watched, spied on, she was less sure.
Jack smiled at her, gummy and warm, and she was enchanted afresh. That she and Eric had produced such a wonderful, sweet, clever child she thanked Christ for every hour. Propping the bundles of clothes she had to wash in a protective circle around him, she set Jack down to roll and crawl and toddle, clapping her hands in warning each time he crept and waddled to the edge of the circle.
Her bare hands, Katherine thought with a sigh. She had sold her wedding ring nine days ago but the lack still smarted. If only Eric had not died. If only I had been more patient with him and not nagged him in our bed. That was a dark shame and secret of hers and one she still flinched from. If only my husband had kept his word and not kept all those secrets
“Hey, Wash-tub!”
Katherine refused to flinch at the hated nick-name, or at the muddy, cold scrap of cloth that slapped down the side of her face. She caught it before it fell anywhere close to Jack and heard the braying order, “Big Aggie wants that washed tonight.”
She nodded and scooped a faintly grizzling Jack into a carrying sling. Where she would find wash-water at this hour was one problem, although at a pinch she could use her own urine and rinse the scarf in—what? Rainwater collected in a tree stump?
But she did not complain. Better to be bullied here than bullied and raped at the old house by my stepson. He was starting to pick on Jack, too. Eric had sworn he had made provision for us, but he did not. Secrets, always secrets. Remembering her own secret with a shudder, she picked up her pack and the washing bundles and moved farther back from the fires, preparing to do as Big Agnes demanded.

* * * *

Spiteful fools, Valens thought, wishing he had his lord’s skill with poisons and could slip some to these chattering mares. To expect a nursing mother to leave the safety of the camp simply to wash a scarf spoke of a careless arrogance that made his blood boil. The girl and her babe would do far better with him. They do not deserve her.
He was so furious it was several moments before he could admit that their petty malice, to one of their supposed own, had made capturing his prize easier. The young woman was clearly seeking fresh water and had just found some in a moss-covered birch stump. She had placed Jack into a cocoon of bedding and was pounding the scarf on a smooth rock, stopping after each weary flick to glance to the distant camp and peer into the closer trees. Sure that his dark clothing, dyed black mop and dirt-smeared face would make him invisible, Valens slipped his sheathed knife from his belt into his boot—he did not want the girl trying to grab his blade and stab him—and waited. He moved as she did and squirmed closer to the baby.
Jack was gnawing his fist but content and eager to be diverted by the sparkling toy of a gold chain and crucifix, dragged by Valens across the rim of his circle of blankets. Gurgling, the baby obligingly tottered, then crawled on plump little legs after the pretty thing. Valens allowed Jack to grab the chain and picked up the baby, settling the child on his hip. Jack snuffled and stared up at him in wide-eyed wonder. He trusts me.
“Jack! Where are you?”
On her knees now, the woman was patting and throwing aside the empty circle of clothes, gasping in her panic. Valens loomed closer, sweating a little himself, though his voice was cool and low.
“Here with me. Shush.” He closed his other hand around his little mother’s thin wrist and yanked her to her feet, deftly releasing her and removing her eating dagger from her belt as she stumbled. She fell against him and he caught her again, winding an arm about her middle and snagging her against his body as closely as he cradled her son. Her mouth and eyes were as wide as Jack’s, but she did not scream. Her attention was altogether on another matter.
“No, Jack, not in your mouth.” She grabbed the gold chain and made a brave attempt to smile at her son. “Never something you could choke on.”
Valens released her wrist to sweep his dark cloak around all three of them. “I shall know that next time.”
“Give me my boy.” The wench reached for him but Jack nuzzled against Valens, who was in no hurry to release either of them. He leaned closer, keeping a firm hand on the baby.
“No.” Valens gambled on her not wishing to scare or hurt Jack by trying to wrest him free.
Her eyes glanced away from him and her baby to the camp. At a snap of his fingers, Sebastian’s two good men rose out of the undergrowth, taking a step closer. The woman moaned as she saw the chance of any possible escape diminishing to nothing.
“No help here or over there,” Valens spoke as if no other fate was possible. “You and Jack are coming with me.”
“Why should we?”
He liked the flash of temper. Anger meant she would not faint. This close, he saw her face for the first time, rather than her bent head or profile. He stared for an instant—he could not help it.
My little mother is a pretty waif. Not beautiful, he corrected at once, not with that grubby hair or sharp little nose, but her face was free of pox scars and had an open, impudent look. She had a narrow head and a thin mouth that curved up at the corners and green eyes that shone with fury, lightening them to the color of fresh beech leaves. He had done well for himself by her capture. To marry this will be no torment.
He inhaled sharply and smelled her sweet, milky scent, felt her turgid breasts press against his lower ribs. She was smaller, much slighter than him, but tucked nicely under his chin for all that. The realization slid through his mind as fast as an arrow bolt, then he was answering.
“I need your help.”
He had not meant to say that. He wanted to get her walking, get them farther into the trees, away from the others. “Come with me now. No trouble.”
He prodded her side with a finger and she jerked sideways, flinching as if she feared a dagger thrust. “I promise I will not hurt you or your boy,” he added.
“Such vows are easy to make,” she answered at once, reaching out again. “Give me my son.”
He prodded her shoulder. “Walk first.” He did not tell her there were horses nearby, one step at a time was enough.
Still the woman did not move. She stared at how he held Jack, balanced against his hip, and more suspicion flared in her face. “Why—”
I cannot waste more time on this. Edith is ailing. Valens scooped baby Jack into her arms and picked both of them up. Ignoring her instant struggles, he began a shuffling retreat, flanked by the two men. When the girl opened her mouth to yell, he silenced her by pressing his lips onto hers.
Refusing to acknowledge either the guards' knowing smirks or the blistering agony when the annoying, squirming, necessary wench bit him, he staggered deeper into the forest.
How had he ever thought this would be easy? Once I have them back at home, it will be.
He could only hope.




Valens the Fletcher and His Captive is book 2 of my Medieval Captives Series. Book 1, Sebastian the Alchemist and his Captive, is already out.




He takes her for hate. Will he keep her for love?

Sebastian, lord of the tower in the northern high lands, is a proud, bitter man with a dark past. An alchemist and a warrior, he has had lovers but knows he is ugly—experience and betrayal have taught him that.  When Melissa, the beautiful, neglected daughter of two old enemies, falls into his possessive hands he is determined to hold her. Why?

As one of the detested and defeated Felix family,  Melissa must cling to her courage when she is claimed as a war-prize by the tall, grim Sebastian. Expecting torture and ravishment, she finds instead a peace and sanctuary that she has never known. Treated with kindness for the first time in her life, Melissa begins to blossom.

But there are secrets and old betrayals between them. Sebastian’s abiding jealousy is not easily quelled, especially when someone at the tower seeks to destroy his growing love with Melissa…

Medieval Captives 1

Read Chapter One 



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