Authors: Ruth Kaufman
THE BRIDE TOURNAMENT
Wars of the Roses Brides Book 3
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England 1462: Can the woman who wins his hand in marriage win his love?
Lady Eleanor de la Tour’s life turns upside down on her wedding day. Instead of her betrothed, she must wed the new earl, to whom the king has given his title and lands. Though Richard Courtenay is handsome and intriguing, she wants the man she loves and chose. And Richard pursues alchemy, anathema to her because the obsession to turn base metals into gold is destroying her father.
Richard needs and wants to stay wed to Eleanor to uncover her father’s alchemy secrets. He vows to win her even as she arranges a bride tournament to find him a better and willing wife.
The happier he seems with the potential brides, the more Eleanor regrets her choices. Which man is best for her? When Eleanor rescues him after his life is threatened, Richard is stunned to realize he loves her. How can he accept the tournament winner and lose the best bride of all?
For everyone who loves historical romance.
Lady Eleanor de la Tour clutched her blue brocade skirts as she hurried down Middleworth Castle’s winding stone stairs, happiness bubbling inside her.
“Hurry!” she called to her younger sister, Alyce, and closest friend, Maud Fitzalan.
They joined her at the arched entrance to the great hall, breathing hard from their swift descent.
“If only my father had let me wed the man I wanted,” Maud, a sweet-faced brunette, said.
“Yours will be a marriage of love,” Eleanor’s ethereal sister added.
“A marriage of love,” Maud repeated wistfully. “And to a wealthy, handsome earl.”
Eleanor couldn’t stop smiling while her sister straightened her garnet and pearl necklace and smoothed her waist-length hair.
In the hall, colorful banners dangled from the high, wood-beamed ceiling. Ladies in fine gowns mingled with men in jewel-studded short tunics as minstrels played a jaunty tune on the dais beneath tall stained glass windows. The tempting aroma of roast duckling made her mouth water.
Eleanor moved through the crowd, absently greeting those who offered good wishes. Her father stood with several friends, imposing in his midnight blue velvet robe and beaver hat. Their conversation came to a halt when she approached.
“My pardon. Father, where is Arthur?”
Lord Edmund de la Tour turned, a grim expression on his narrow face. His companions stared as if they’d never seen her before.
What did they know that she didn’t? Foreboding trickled through her.
“You’ll see him anon.” He raised his voice over the guests’ conversations.
Only twice had her father looked this serious. Once when he told her that her older brother had been killed in battle, and last week when he caught her in his alchemy workshop.
Eleanor could barely suck in enough air to speak. Music blared, no longer festive.
“What’s wrong?” Tears welled in her eyes. “Is he ill? Injured?”
“Arthur is well.”
Several guests inched closer, clearly sensing something was amiss. No doubt they wondered what juicy tidbit of gossip they’d be first to hear.
Her father directed her into an alcove removed from avid listeners. Alyce and Maud crowded the small space. The air was so still the gauze veils on their tall headdresses didn’t dare flutter.
“Leave us,” her father ordered with a wave of his beringed hand.
Her sister and friend turned in a swish of trailing skirts and hurried away.
“You’re scaring me.” Eleanor couldn’t keep her voice from trembling.
“You’ll think me the bearer of bad tidings, daughter,” he said. “But ’tis for the best. You cannot marry Arthur. Not now. Not ever.”
The room tilted. Her empty stomach threatened to rebel. “Why? We’ve pledged our troth, which is akin to marriage.”
Lack of sympathy in her father’s light brown eyes brought tears to her own. “Arthur staunchly supported the old king, Henry. He has been attainted by the new king, Edward. That means—”
“It means he has lost his title.” Eleanor dropped onto a bench, glad for the stone wall to support her back. “His lands are forfeit. There’ll be nothing for any children to inherit.” She jumped to her feet in horror. “He could be executed.”
“His life will be spared. But King Edward has given Arthur’s titles and estates to another,” her father said. “There’s a new earl of Glasmere.”
“This changes nothing.” Eleanor swallowed against the bitter taste in her mouth. Hope filled her. “Edward himself was attainted several years ago. If God’s anointed can rise so high from such a fall, surely Arthur can be made an earl again. We shall get the bill reversed.”
Her father pressed his lips together, as if biting back more bad news. “What will be is for the best.”
“I must go to him.”
He caught her arm. “Eleanor, stay. You’ll not marry Arthur today.”
“If not today, then soon.” No matter what her father said. Eleanor closed her eyes and imagined all was as she’d planned. She would make it so.
She lifted her chin, determined to behave as the lady she was raised to be. No one would see how the news of Arthur’s attainder or delay of their wedding affected her. “We must tell the guests the wedding has been postponed and send them away.”
“No. They shall remain,” her father replied. “Because you will marry today. You are bound by contract to wed the Earl of Glasmere. So you shall.”
She sucked in a breath. “I am betrothed to Arthur.”
“You were. King Edward asked the archbishop to annul your betrothal and procured a dispensation for the banns. You must wed the new earl instead.”
“How can you ask this of me?” She grasped her fur-trimmed sleeves to warm her fingers, but nothing could warm her heart. Her dream was slipping from her grasp.
“For once I’m demanding. What woman weds at four-and-twenty?”
“You’re glad of this. You want me gone.” Her throat constricted, hurt and anger rushing through her fast as a river after a storm. “Because I’m determined to stop you from pursuing alchemy. What of your deathbed promise to Mother to cease? You’ve betrayed her.”
Red mottled his cheeks. “Arthur’s fall from grace is the reason. He should have wed you years ago if he wanted you.”
That hurt. Eleanor had believed Arthur kept delaying their wedding because of duty to his liege. What if he’d lied to her, too?
“Your marriage to Glasmere was arranged long ago to merge estates. To make us all more powerful. Not to satisfy womanly wishes,” her father repeated. “The time has come for you to live up to your name.”
“An annulled betrothal. A dispensation. A different husband. It’s too much. Too sudden.” Eleanor’s stomach roiled anew.
But her father pressed on, offering no comfort or even understanding. “The new earl is Richard Courtenay.”
The name hit her with the force of a slap. “The son of your former alchemy partner? I won’t.”
“You will. Right now.” Her father held out his arm.
Eleanor struggled to find an argument to sway him. None came.
“And yes, I’m glad of it,” he said. “Now you can search for his father’s notes before Richard locates them and gives them to the king.” The eerie gleam in his eyes sent chills down her spine.
“Father, please don’t make me do this. I won’t have anything to do with alchemy. It’s heresy. There must be another way.”
“You will marry Richard, and find out what he knows. Or lose me and your inheritance.” His gaze revealed no mercy. Nor a hint of compassion. “You will do your duty.”
“No!” she cried.
The music stopped.
Alyce peered into the alcove. “Is aught amiss?”
Gowns rustled and jewels sparkled as guests gaped. In the distance, the musicians waited, bows and instruments poised to resume play.
Eleanor stood. Her father’s hold felt like a hawk’s talons, squeezing her very bones.
“Who knows how the king will react if you disobey?” he whispered.
’Twas as if she heard the key turn, locking her in a cell. He’d found the one argument to sway
. How could she put Middleworth and its people at risk?
Officium quod veneratio supremus totus
…duty and honor above all. She couldn’t betray her family’s creed.
Eleanor stretched her lips into a smile and followed him into the hall. A few steps later, she froze in her tracks.
This was how a deer must feel before the arrow hit.
Before her stood Arthur Stafford, his familiar face expressionless. Her heart melted with sympathy for all he had lost.
“My friends, I have news. There has been a change in plans,” her father said, raising his voice. “Eleanor, meet the man you will wed this day, Richard Courtenay, Earl of Glasmere.”
As her guests buzzed louder than a swarm of bees, Eleanor forced her gaze from the man she longed to marry to the man she must marry.
The new earl stood taller than Arthur. She had to tilt her head back to see his high cheekbones, straight nose and square chin. A face more chiseled than the one she loved. Wild waves of dark brown hair fell to his shoulders. Richard’s eyes were an unusual mixture of gray and green, not light blue. He was handsome in the way of a rugged warrior, not elegant like the man she’d hoped to marry.
He bowed with grace. “’Tis a pleasure to meet you, Lady Eleanor.”
His voice was sonorous, rich and smooth like his fine velvet garments. He crossed his arms, one brow slightly raised. A challenging gleam sparked in his eyes, as if he expected her to do something rash. To test him.
Edmund de la Tour beamed, arms resting on his slight paunch. He patted her on the back then left her to face the earl alone.
“Perchance I’d feel the same, my lord, had we met under different circumstances,” Eleanor said. “And if you didn’t carry on our fathers’ heinous pursuit.”
“I’m at Edward’s command. He believes transmuting base metals into gold can help resolve the kingdom’s problems. Who are we to deny him?” He held out his arm. “Let us see what we can do to make the circumstances more to our liking.”
Eleanor felt scores of eyes on her, watching, waiting to see whether she’d accept this new earl. Arthur had disappeared. She just couldn’t bring herself to make the best of the situation as he was doing. “I am needed elsewhere, my lord.” She gathered her heavy skirts and turned.
Richard whispered in her ear, “Consider this. Whatever you do this day shall be returned ten-fold.” His warm breath sent a tingle up her neck.
She whirled with a huff.
“How dare you?” Lifting her chin, she met Richard’s intense gray-green gaze.
“I dare because I can,” he cut in, his low tone emphasizing his deep voice. “I need to wed with you. So I shall.”
“Other women may submit to a man’s commands, but no man controls me,” she hissed.
“Until now.” His eyes narrowed and he put his hands on his hips. With his broad shoulders back, his square jaw set, he looked powerful and forbidding. A man accustomed to getting his own way. “’Tis up to you how we fare. Remember that.”
With his broad shoulders back, his square jaw set, he looked powerful and forbidding. Like a man accustomed to getting his own way.
She wouldn’t let him incite her further. “You’re an earl. Surely you could find a more willing bride. One who’d support your quest.”
“No doubt I could. But the king gave me you.” He paused. “My men know defiance leads to hardship.”
Worse and worse. What was she to make of his warnings? This earl already proved a formidable opponent. She would best him, somehow, and remain true to her goals.