Who now, in the eyes of the king, has turned traitor.
What happens when that traitor is then confronted by a spy threatened by the king to capture him? What happens if that spy is the very woman he longed for all his life?
So begins the story of Her Christmas Knight.
This scene is between Hugh and Alice. They are in a dark private room where Alice snuck in to search for the Half-Thistle Seal. Hugh caught her there, and is just now realising that the love of his life, the woman he can never have, is spying for King Edward.
But that isn’t what terrifies him. It’s that the traitor she is to find, capture, and bring to King Edward to execute, is him. Hugh doesn’t know what to do so he….
‘I need to understand first,’ Hugh said. ‘The King sent you back to Swaffham to look for something in Lyman’s house?’
The King had sent him to look for the Half-Thistle Seal, to pay close attention to the Fenton family. Could it be that the King suspected Lyman as well as the Fentons? That might be the break he needed in this nightmare he was embroiled in. Him returning to Swaffham, facing his past, facing Alice. If he could place the blame on this man who stared at Alice too lasciviously then something good would come of it.
Except it didn’t matter if it was Lyman’s house or all the houses of Swaffham. The real trouble was if the King had sent her to look for the Seal, that only meant she looked for him.
‘It isn’t necessarily Lyman’s house I need to search,’ Alice continued. ‘It’s all the houses. After I played his game of finding a seal—’
Denying the truth didn’t stop the words. His body shook, shuddered, and he exhaled his held breath. The Seal. If the King had sent her to find it, that meant he didn’t trust Hugh. It was possible that the King suspected him. But that couldn’t be true. He’d been careful. Lives were at stake.
He’d been careful.
Before he knew what he was doing he took steps to be next to her, to touch her. By placing his hand on her arm he could solidify whatever words they would now exchange. Not the stuff of nightmares, but reality.
‘It was only a game—or so I thought.’
He didn’t want to discuss games. ‘What seal?’
‘The game at the Tower of London was a test to find a fake seal. When I was the winner the King deemed me worthy of finding a true seal.’
There would be no coming back from what she was about to say—no remedy. He wouldn’t be able to hide his thoughts or reactions from her. If she looked for the Seal she would find him. He couldn’t lie or hide the truth from her. Either way he would be found out for the traitor he was.
His past separated him from her; his present made it all the more unbearable. His lineage had been forced upon him, but the Seal was his own inspiration. His own blackened deed.
Alice, who was always so determined to right wrongs, to fix misdeeds, had been commanded—threatened—by the King to find a traitor. If she found the Seal—if she found him—she would know him as a traitor. And the only way for the King to right the wrong would be to execute him.
It wasn’t his death he worried about. It was the loss of that unreserved admiration in her eyes when she looked at him. She’d never tried to fix him before. Now she would see him as an enemy.
He had thought himself, if not safe, at least secure that the King had sent only him. But he hadn’t. And right now he didn’t want to think about the King not trusting him. He only wanted to think of what Alice was about to say and how he would react.
‘What seal?’ he repeated.
‘A small one with a half thistle,’ she said in the dark.
Hugh kissed her.
Her Christmas Knight
Nicole writes the Lovers and Legends historical series for Harlequin.