Lover’s Knot

England, 1659.

Lover's Knot by Louise Clark, CoverThere’s a new man in the small village of West Easton. Sir Philip Hampton seems to be exactly what he claims to be: a loyal Royalist newly returned from exile in France. But is he?

Alysa Leighton needs to know if Sir Philip is everything he claims to be, for in 1659 England is a land divided. Civil war has set Royalist against Roundhead, and those who support the king, like Alysa’s family, are always in danger. If Philip is not the Royalist he claims to be, but is a spy for the Roundheads, everyone Alysa loves could be in grave danger.

The only way for Alysa to be sure Philip can be trusted is to get to know him. But the more she learns of him, the more she likes him. As her feelings for Philip grow, Alysa realizes she is falling in love with him. But is she falling for a friend — or the enemy?

 

Excerpt

The careful blankness came down over his features. Alysa watched him, puzzled. She searched back over what she had said, but could find nothing untoward. She wished, rather anxiously, that she knew why he sometimes closed himself off from her this way.

She was surprised when he said levelly, “Don’t do that again, Alysa,” and even more surprised when she replied, “If it disturbs you, Philip, I promise you I will not.”

He nodded, his eyes dark with an emotion she thought was concern and something more. Her heart began to beat rather wildly as she waited for the kiss she was sure was to come.

But he did not move. Instead he sat watching her with an expression in his brooding eyes that sent shivers of desire surging through her. Gently, she touched her heels to her horse, urging it nearer to his mount. Something flared in Philip’s eyes as the skirt of her blue riding habit brushed against his leg. The look assured Alysa he had recognized her action as deliberate. She smiled, half enticing, half rueful.

Her horse’s nose touched his mount’s flank. They were inches apart now, facing each other, alone again in the warm sunshine. The magic that had surrounded them in the kitchen garden came to life once more, burning away doubts.

“I’ve never kissed a man on a horse before. Will you show me how it is done?” Alysa murmured, lowering her lashes demurely, then slowly and provocatively raising them so that she could look Philip directly in the eyes.

His breath caught. A wry smile curled his lips. “I fear, Mistress Alysa, that this is a new experience for me as well.”

“Then let us experiment together.” She shifted in the saddle, leaning toward him.

Philip could resist no more. Dropping the reins, he mastered the horse with his knees only so that he could use both hands to catch Alysa firmly by the shoulders and draw her close enough to kiss.

She made a soft murmuring sound deep in her throat as his mouth covered hers. The pleasure she had felt in the garden flooded back to her, but even more intensely.

This time there was no delicate brush preceding the hard, demanding kiss that forced her lips apart. This time Philip took her quickly and inside the sweet, moist cavern of her mouth his tongue teased hers, coaxing her to participate in the swift, sensual dance.

As before, Alysa surrendered to the demands of her senses and willingly allowed Philip to assume control of her responses. The near disaster had sent the blood flowing faster through her body, but now the kiss, awkward as it was, inflamed her ever more. Only the sudden movement of her horse brought Alysa back to reality. Less well trained than Philip’s mount, it took advantage of her slackened grip on the reins to sidle away. Alysa was wrenched from Philip’s grasp, even though passion still held them in its sway.

“Damn!” Philip said, grabbing her mount’s bridle near the bit while Alysa shakily gathered up her loose reins.

She wasn’t sure if he was expressing disappointment that their embrace had been cut short, or if he disapproved of what they had done. Her mind was still whirling from the pleasure of the kiss and she was not in a fit state to analyze anything.

In control of her horse once more, she smiled at him shakily.

Immediately the fierce expression faded from Philip’s eyes. He brought his mount beside her again and lightly stroked her cheek. “My lovely Mistress Alysa, we must stop doing this. You have a devastating effect on my composure and I do not know how long I will be able to continue being a gentleman.”

“Or I a lady,” Alysa murmured. Her smile fell away. “Philip, I did not expect this…this fierce emotion that arises every time you touch me. I do not know how to cope with it.”

He sighed, his eyes warm on her face. “Nor I. I think, Alysa, that from now on we should take care to remain in the presence of others if we are together. The time is not yet right for me to approach your father and I would not like to go to him with an uneasy conscience.”

Alysa swallowed and silently agreed. Mention of her father made her very much aware that she was breaking every rule of good behavior that had been drummed into her. The knowledge that Philip did not think any the less of her for it buoyed up her spirits and made her smile mischievously again. “I do believe, sir, that you would have no difficulty winning my father over to your cause should you decide to speak to him this very morning, but I do appreciate your thoughtfulness in waiting until things are more settled here. When Thomas is safely away we will all be ready to discuss more private issues.”

The shutter closed over Philip’s expression again, agonizing Alysa as she vainly tried to understand what it was that had caused him to hide away from her. Try as she might, she could find nothing she said that was out of the ordinary. Then Philip smiled and the moment might never have been.

“I must go.” He added gently, “And so must you, or questions will be asked.”

Alysa pouted prettily. “I know, but I do not want to leave you, Philip.”

“Or I you,” he said ruefully. “But needs must. Now go, lovely lady, before I forget my good intentions and take you off that horse to give you a proper kiss.”

“Is that a threat or a promise?” Alysa teased.

“Both,” he retorted huskily. Then he added seriously, “Go, Alysa. We both know you must.”

Though she made a little moue of distaste, she turned her horse and began to trot away. Unable to resist, she looked back at Philip to blow him a kiss. He was watching her leave, his expression grave, his gaze hooded.

The kiss withered on her hand. Dressed in the buff jerkin, sitting at ease on the sleek black stallion, he looked like nothing so much as one of the soldiers who had come to West Easton after the Battle of Worchester. They had devastated the land and the town in their attempts to discover the whereabouts of King Charles II. Those men had been tough, war-hardened soldiers who kept their feelings secret behind blank expressions and emotionless eyes, and to Alysa they represented the ultimate danger.

Rather desperately she dug her heels into her horse’s sides. Obediently it launched into a ground-eating canter. Every time she thought she understood Philip Hampton, something would happen that would make her wonder again if he was all that he seemed. But he must be what he claimed to be, for if he was not, she was falling in love with the enemy.