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Colette Gale - Bound by Honor

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Bound by Honor
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Colette Gale


Bound by Honor

Bound By Honor

An Erotic Novel of Maid Marian


Colette Gale


PROLOGUE


“Are you not the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire?” Prince John said in that lazy way of his.

It was not a question; he knew full well to whom he was speaking. His eyes were darker than ever in the dimness of his private chamber, but they were hooded with heavy satisfaction. “Methinks there’s none who knows the king’s Forest of Sherwood as well as you.” He stretched his broad shoulders, and gave a little, almost effeminate shudder.

“Indeed, my lord, I am quite familiar with the forest,” replied Sir William de Wendeval, keeping his voice even and his attention from the generous breasts of the serving wench who was . . . serving . . . the prince at the moment, and had no doubt caused his shiver of pleasure.

Her lips were red and swollen, her jaw stretched wide as she accommodated her liege’s well-used cock. Large breasts hung and swayed with each movement, her nipples threatening to brush the floor. She was breathing hard from exertion, her face red and glistening with sweat.

Prince John, who was lording his royal self about his brother Richard’s country while the king was off fighting Saladin in the Holy Lands, had taken over the ladies’ solar in Ludlow Keep for his own private chamber. His Court of Pleasure, as he called it.

Will was grateful for his choice of the room, for it was large and had two massive fireplaces and several narrow slits that allowed fresh air to come in-a welcome treat on nights like this, when the chamber was thick with the smell of sex and sweat and heat.

“Then . . .” John gasped, stilled, then grabbed the head of the doxy going down on him and jammed his cock deep into the back of her throat. Pleasure narrowed his eyes and thinned his generous lips as the girl coughed and choked and struggled beneath his hands.

John released her suddenly and she fell back onto the floor. Her tangled hair caught under her hands as she collapsed, gasping for breath. From where he stood, Will eyed her critically. She’d live.

Unlike the girl last week, who’d been a casualty of one of John’s experiments that included bondage and a heavy hood.

Will transferred his attention back to the prince, keeping his face devoid of emotion. He enjoyed fucking as much as any man, and in many ways, and the more the merrier-but some of John’s proclivities weren’t to his taste. And, at the least, unlike this pitiful wench, he had some choice in the matter.

So far.

“. . . ’tis inconceivable that you have not yet caught Robin of the Hood!” John continued his sentence as though he’d not stopped to spew his seed, wipe his cock, and then shove it back into his braies-all the while leaving Will, whom he’d summoned from his bed well past midnight, standing there. “He and his band of outlaws have poached from the king, stolen from the tax collector, and they continue to run rampant through the shire.”

Will’s face tightened. He bowed to his liege. “ ’ Tis a matter of great annoyance to me as well, my lord. Robin Hood has been able to remain a bare step ahead of my men thus far . . . but ’twill not be long before we capture him. His luck cannot last forever.”

John shifted on his seat, which happened to be a massive wooden chair piled high with cushions and furs. He’d removed his jewel-encrusted tunic some time ago, and now wore only an undertunic, braies, and soft calf slippers. A goblet of wine sat next to him on a small table, and he lifted it to drink furiously as though he-not the serving wench-had labored for his pleasure.

Will cast a glance around the room. The window slits were uncovered by heavy tapestries this summer night, and a beam of moonlight shone in through the westward side.

The side that faced Sherwood Forest, where the outlaw Robin of the Hood had famously eluded the fearsome Sheriff of Nottinghamshire for nearly a year.

A miracle that the prince hadn’t come to investigate before now, since his pocket had become quite a bit lighter since Robin had taken to stealing from traveling lords and ladies.

John, of course, collected taxes from the English people in the name of his brother, Richard, called the Lionheart, who had left him as regent while on Crusade. Well, to be more precise . . . he’d first left William Longchamp, that humpbacked dwarf, as England’s justiciar and chancellor-completely in charge of the treasury and in control of the country. That was until John, with the support of the powerful nobility, had removed the power-hungry man and sent him scuttling out of England.

Now, flush with the surge of power obtained by the overturning of Longchamp, John plotted to seize even more control. But in a much stealthier manner. Thus, while he acted in the name of the king, a goodly portion of the king’s tax money meant to fund Richard’s war had been lining John’s pockets, and anything that the outlaw Robin Hood made away with was a direct cut to the prince’s coffers.

“Robin Hood’s luck had best change sooner rather than the later,” John grumbled. He cast his attention around the luxurious chamber and his eyes fell on another of the wenches he had collected for this night’s entertainment.

Her eyes goggled and Will saw her breasts-barely covered by a thin shift-rise and fall as though she were running. But she dared not move from where she sat on her haunches, either to hide or attempt escape.

John, who was considered a rather handsome man, with his dark hair and well-trimmed beard and mustache, smacked his full lips and gulped again from his goblet, but did not call the girl to him. Perhaps he was sated for the time. Will hoped that was the case, for he had little interest in watching his liege, especially when his jaw was as lief to crack with a wide yawn. A long day it had been, patrolling the Forest of Sherwood, on the hunt for outlaws like Robin Hood.

“Bitches,” John said, slamming the heavy goblet down. He glowered at the frightened girl. “They stink and scuttle in fear the moment someone looks at them. ’Tis a blessing that Isabella will leave for Westminster in two days. Then we shall have a much more interesting variety to sample.”

Isobel of Gloucester was John’s wife, and it was well-known among the prince’s confidants that she demanded at least the pretense of fidelity while she was in residence with him. That simply meant that her husband refrained from tupping any of her ladies-in-waiting, or the wives and daughters of his vassals, while Isobel was about.

But upon her removal from the prince’s residence, the ladies became the same fair game as the does John hunted during the day . . . whether they wished to be or not. And when John’s two other bosom companions, Sir Louis Krench and Lord Ralf Stannoch, were also in attendance . . . well, Will thought ’twas rarely a pretty sight.

“Indeed, my lord.” Will bowed, then attempted to divert the king back to the reason he’d rousted him from bed so late at night. “Did you have some news for me, my lord?”

“Ah, yes. But of course.” John plucked a piece of cheese from his mother’s homeland of Aquitaine and slipped it into his mouth, brushing tiny crumbs of bread from his neat beard. “I received word earlier today that Lady Marian of Morlaix shall arrive here at Ludlow Keep sometime in the next sennight. As she’s returning from her dead husband’s lands as a ward of the king, it is expected that her baggage will be extensive. A perfect opportunity for Robin Hood to make an attempt to ambush her carriage. And of course, the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire shall be waiting to thwart such an attempt, and to save the fair maiden.”

“Indeed,” Will replied a trifle later than he should have. His brain had turned sluggish as soon as her name passed the prince’s lips.

Marian was returning.

Lady Marian, she was now. No longer the maiden he and Robin of Locksley had known during their childhood when they’d been fostered with Marian’s father. How wealthy she had become, and how far Robin had fallen-from the young landed lord to an anonymous outlaw resigned to hiding out in the forest. Yet, Will had recognized him the first time they’d come face-to-face during an aborted robbery.

Marian’s father, Lord Leaford, was a baron well-known for his skill in training young boys to be knights, and until his death, he had been popular among the lower ranks of nobles who could not afford to send their boys to a more powerful lord for fostering.

Yet, it was the baron’s daughter Will remembered best. The tart-tongued, quick-witted, coppery-haired girl who’d ridden circles around both him and Robin, teasing and pestering and laughing at them with her sparkling green eyes. Now she was no longer a girl of twelve, but a woman grown and widowed, a rich heiress . . . and returning to Nottinghamshire.

A woman who had haunted him ever since their youth.

A ripe target for Robin Hood, indeed.

And, Will realized, with a glance at the handsome, lascivious prince . . . a ripe target for John Lackland, who would be fascinated by any new woman at court. But especially one as fiery and bold as Marian.

By all that was holy, what was he to do?


CHAPTER 1


L ady Marian of Morlaix peered through the shuttered windows of her traveling wagon, but to her annoyance could see little of interest. The tall, close trees of Sherwood Forest allowed only dappled sunlight through on a bright day, but when there were clouds and rain threatening as now, the woods were as dark as night. The smell of loam and damp bark was thick in the air.

’Twas ripe for an ambush from a band of thieves, and she was glad of the six sturdy men-at-arms who accompanied her small caravan. They would have reached Ludlow Keep by vespers, but a broken wheel on her wagon had delayed them. If it had been one of the other wagons, with her clothing and belongings, she would have gone on ahead and allowed them to follow. But, alas, hers was the only wagon fit for a lady to ride in-although she would just as easily have ridden asaddle. Her longbow and arrows had been packed deep inside a trunk of clothing, but she had a dagger handy.

If the tales were true about the band of thieves led by a man called Robin of the Hood, she might very well need that blade. Even in Normandy, Marian had heard stories of the outlaw who stole boldly from rich travelers and then distributed the wealth among the villeins and townspeople-likely after keeping a good portion for himself.

And the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, who was rumored to be just as blackhearted and brutal as Prince John, his bosom companion, had been unable to lay his hands on the band of outlaws or its leader. A rich caravan with the niceties of the widow of the rich Lord Harold of Morlaix would likely prove too much of a temptation for them. But there was no help for it, for the road to Ludlow ran through the king’s Sherwood Forest.

It was hard for Marian to believe how much her homeland had changed since her father died-King Henry was now gone, and the new king, Richard, had hardly taken the crown when he left on Crusade. His mother, Queen Eleanor, had been traveling with him to the Holy Land, but was now making her way back to neglected England.

Upon her father’s death, Marian and her mother had been sent from the small barony of Leaford to live in Normandy, where her mother had remarried. After the old king died, Eleanor had been released from prison and reassembled her own court. As the daughter of a man who’d been faithful to his liege, Marian had been sent to the dowager queen’s court, where she’d become a trusted favorite of the queen. There she remained until she was wed to the much-older Harold three years ago.

With her husband’s death only six months past, she acquired a portion of his estates. Thus, at the age of twenty, Marian had become a wealthy woman whose marriage could be used for political alliance. Five months ago, the king had ordered her to the queen’s holdings in Aquitaine to await the queen’s imminent return from the Holy Land . . . and a decision about a future husband.

Now that Eleanor had been back in Aquitaine for some months and renewed her friendship with Marian, she’d had her own purposes for sending Marian on to her younger son’s court: to spy on her son in advance of the queen’s own arrival.

Marian had heard rumors of what John Lackland’s court was like, and they had left her wondering whether she had more to fear in the forest or at her destination.

No sooner had she those thoughts than the wagon lurched to a halt.

“What ho!” came a shout from Bruse, her master-at-arms.

Marian sat up, ignoring the stifled shriek of her maid, who’d done nothing but hold her prayer beads and move her lips soundlessly during the entire journey. Her heart pounding, she looked out the window again just as a loud thump came on the roof above her, followed by a second and third. Ethelberga, the maid, gave a full-blooded shriek and dived to the floor, screeching in English about how they would all be dead in mere moments.

Marian forbore to point out that it was unlikely anyone would be killed, even as she pulled the dagger from her sheath. The thieves would merely want to relieve her of her valuables, and, in the very worst-case scenario, take Marian off for ransom. She hadn’t heard of this Robin Hood killing anyone, and in any case a thief wouldn’t be foolish enough to harm a gentle-born woman. Although, she thought, looking wryly at Ethelberga, mayhap they might be induced to put the lady’s maid out of her misery if she didn’t stop wailing.

The thump on the roof turned to low, rhythmic thuds as the person-or persons-moved about up there.

“Stand off!” came another shout, followed by a sharp whiz that she recognized as an arrow’s flight. A soft twang followed as it embedded itself in a target close enough for her to hear it.

Marian couldn’t see what was happening, but she suspected she knew. The thieves had surrounded the two carts and now held the men-at-arms from moving. Most likely, they were holding them off with arrows nocked into their bows, ready to fly at any moment. The one she’d heard had probably been an accurately charged warning shot.

At least two of the thieves had landed on her roof, likely jumping down from a tree. But surely six chain-mailed men would be enough of a deterrent for a ragtag band of thieves, unless they were particularly good archers. The shouts had settled into silence, and despite her certainty that she wouldn’t be harmed, Marian’s heart pounded in her chest.

Before she could move to the other side of the cart, making her way over the prone Ethelberga, the vehicle began to rock violently. Ethelberga screamed anew, clutching at the hem of Marian’s undertunic, tangling herself among the floor-length skirt and her legs.

With the rocking of the cart, and her maid’s histrionics, Marian lost her balance in the small space and had to catch herself against the closed door. But at that moment, the door opened, and she tumbled out, the dagger slipping from her grip. Strong arms caught her awkward fall, and the knife landed on the ground between two dusty boots.

“Well, now,” said a surprised voice. “This must be the famous Lady Marian come to greet Robin of the Hood and his merry men.” His arms tightened around her. “You are well come to our Sherwood, my lady,” he added.

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