Do you have a favourite trope or character type?
I’ve always loved an underdog hero. There’s something about a character with the odds stacked against him and who struggles on despite all the slings and arrows that fortune chucks at him which really appeals to me and puts a book on my auto-buy list. Perhaps I find these characters so compelling in historical romance because until far too recently women had much less power than men so it redresses the balance a little to see a woman who can call the shots. In an era where the prospect of a good marriage was a huge consideration, a man with high status and title or a full bank box had it easier than one who didn’t. That makes it a little too easy for my liking, though. I like my men to have to use other means to get my attention including charm, resilience and honour.
Just to read or to write as well?
I practice what I preach because all my heroes are either lower status than my heroines or relatively low in the society they live in. I’ve written an outlaw, a household steward aiming for his boss’ titled daughter, an illegitimate blacksmith and a duke’s henchman. The only Overdog (I wonder if that’s worth copywriting…) I’ve written was Roger, my Rogue Knight, and even then I couldn’t resist the urge to incapacitate him and leave him with no recourse to his usual means of seducing a woman. On paper none of them have much going for them, so my men have to have really earn their HEAs and offer the heroine a compelling reason to commit to life with him.
Does your latest hero fit that description too?
In Beguiled by the Forbidden Knight, Gui should by all measures be the villain of the piece. He’s taking a woman from her priory to be married against her will and is impersonating her future husband in order to gain access to her in the first place. On top of that, he’s part of the Norman army that invaded and conquered England.
But Gui isn’t from a noble or powerful family who joined William of Normandy for rewards of land and wealth. He was a regular squaddie who followed his lord to England – one of the thousands of archers who fought in the ranks (and he wasn’t responsible for shooting an arrow into Harold’s eye before anyone asks).
It is Gui’s status as an outsider that makes him sympathetic to me (and hopefully to readers). He wasn’t granted land and titles when King William carved up England after the Conquest and he’s now living in a hostile land, surrounded by people who despise him and with no prospect of a future. Without giving away too much, he’s been left scarred, both mentally and physically, by his experiences during the Battle of Hastings. He suffers nightmares and, for reasons the reader will discover, can no longer fulfill the role he once did.
As he travels across Yorkshire Gui sees the aftermath of the Conquest – something he has played a part in. He must come to terms with his guilt and decide whether to return home or stay in the country and help rebuild it, finding a purpose to his life as he does.
He’s her enemy…
…and she must not fall for him!
When her mistress is taken as an enemy Knight’s betrothed, handmaiden Aelfhild knows it would be too dangerous for her Lady – she must go in her place! But there’s more to the scarred Knight than she first thought…she isn’t expecting to fall for him! As the line between friend and enemy blurs, Aelfhild realises she might be protecting her mistress, but not her heart…
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Beguiled by the Forbidden Knight
Sir Gui gave a sharp cry and arched his back, slamming down again on to the straw mattress. Aelfhild shivered, wondering what horrors he might be seeing. She could not leave him to suffer through the night.
She crawled across the room to kneel beside his cot. In the dim light of early dawn she could see his face. Sweat had matted his hair to his brow and cheeks and his eyes were screwed tight shut as he fought whatever night demons held him captive. He looked more vulnerable than she had ever seen him, more even than when he had stood naked and unarmed in the river. Her heart filled with sympathy for his suffering, but close behind it was a thrill that she was seeing this side to him that he had previously concealed. If Sigrun saw this, perhaps she would lose some of her fear of him. She opened her mouth to call Sigrun across, but then closed it, wanting to be the one who he saw when he awoke.
‘Wake up,’ Aelfhild murmured, leaning over him.
He didn’t respond so she reached a tentative hand to his cheek and brushed the hair back. His skin burned to the touch like a man in a fever. His chest rose, muscles swelling beneath his loose tunic. Aelfhild spread her fingers wide, longing to trace the path of them and feel the strength in him for herself. Instead she blew gently across his face, hoping that her cool breath might wake him or at least ease his temperature a little and make him more comfortable.
Gui’s arm came up abruptly, lashing out with a force and speed Aelfhild could never have anticipated. The metal rivet on his glove caught her on the eyebrow, drawing blood, and the flat of his forearm landed across the side of her face.
Aelfhild had received whippings from the prioress as punishments for some disobedience or other, but no one had ever struck her in such a manner. Lights exploded in her head. She cried out in pain and surprise as tears filled her eyes. There was no fear, she realised when she thought about it later, understanding instinctively that he had not intended to hurt her.
Gui’s eyes flew open at the sound of her cry and locked on to hers, but from the glazed expression that filled them Aelfhild doubted he was really seeing her. His shoulders slumped and he murmured something wordlessly, then closed his eyes once more. Before Aelfhild could move away, Gui’s arm wound around her back and she found herself clasped firmly to his chest. She tried to pull away, but Gui’s arms were rigid and his embrace too strong. In sleep he had made her his prisoner. His nightmare appeared to have passed because now he lay still, breathing with a regular rhythm.
Faced with pulling free and perhaps causing his nightmares to resume or staying where she was, she decided lying in Gui’s arms until he released her of his own accord was the most sensible option. She heard Sigrun settling back on to the blanket at the other side of the room and almost laughed at the absurdity of lying with her friend’s betrothed while the bride lay so close and seemingly uncaring.
Aelfhild’s face throbbed from the blow he had given her and she felt lightheaded. She reached her fingers to examine her temple and was reassured when they felt sticky, but not soaked in blood. The wound was not too serious, though from the throb of heat that coursed through her face she expected to have a bruise come morning. She wriggled into a more comfortable position, lying on her side with her body pressed against his and one leg crooked over his, her pelvis jutted against his hipbone causing heat to surge within her. For want of a better place to put it, she laid her hand across Gui’s chest and her head found a space in the hollow between his neck and shoulder. Her breasts pushed against his side where the broad chest began to taper to his taut belly. His deep breaths caused his chest to rise and fall and each movement caused a pulse of excitement to shoot through her body.
She had never realised muscles so firm and powerful could provide a bed so appealingly soft and welcoming. Any wife would willingly lie in such a bed and it upset her more than she expected that she was not to be his wife.
When she awoke, Gui’s arms had slackened as he slept and he no longer held her tight. She wriggled free from his embrace, leaving him unaware that she had spent the night anywhere other than the pallet she shared with Sigrun.