First Sample Chapter - Looking Back

Looking Back - A Medieval Romance Below is the sample first chapter from the medieval romance novel Looking Back.

Prologue


England, 1208

“Learning is not child’s play –
We cannot learn without pain.”
-- Aristotle

Lucia gazed out at the faire’s dense throng, the thunderous applause rolling over her in waves, a hot flush coursing through her as she took in the admiring gazes of a weathered fisherman with muscular shoulders, a sun-browned farmer winking a twinkling eye, a slender potter flexing delicate fingers, a swarthy butcher flashing a sharp smile, even a bright-eyed tinker with a blush. They were all staring at her, all coming up to the edge of the wooden platform to cheer their praise for her singing. Each man wanted to be the one to offer a hand, to help her down the short step onto the lush grass of the town green. The spring sun glowed warmly across the swarm of people; a gentle breeze tickled the ribbons on the maypole into a fluttering, swirling spiral.

A strong grasp latched securely on her arm, and she was pulled roughly from the maelstrom of adoring fans, dragged over to the shelter of the ancient oak on the eastern edge of the fairgrounds. A pair of stormy eyes looked down at her with jealous heat, and his voice ground out low and tense.

“You should have waited for me before you descended into that mob,” Roger growled, his dark brown eyes sweeping possessively down her delicate face to the long, spiraling curls of blonde hair which trailed down the back of her buttercup-yellow dress. “You could have easily been hurt.”

Lucia’s eyes snapped up to meet his. “Always giving orders, never discussing.” The corner of her mouth quirked up as she soaked in the heat in his gaze. She leant back against the gnarled trunk, pulling Roger in against her, her eyes sultry. “Besides, I like being pressed in,” she murmured, bringing her hands up against his back.

Roger let out a sharp breath, and then he was up against her, kissing her hard, and she brought her hands into his thick, dark hair, breathless with the power of his strong muscles, his sturdy build sandwiching her against the strength of the oak. The kiss enveloped her for long minutes before he reluctantly drew away, his eyes smoky with passion.

“Maybe I should not let you sing again, if it causes such a sensation,” he muttered hoarsely, looking down into her green eyes with barely restrained desire.

“You are not my husband yet,” she smiled up to him with a teasing lilt. “I have every right to do as I will. If I want to sing, if I want to go walking with another man -”

His eyes flashed with sharp anger. “Do not push me,” he bit out. “If I were ever to find you in the arms of another man -”

“You had best keep me content, then,” she whispered mischievously into his ear, withdrawing herself from his arms, turning to look out over the throngs of the faire, at the assortment of booths and minstrels and livestock. Her eyes lit up with delight as a trio of young blond boys came racing up to clamor at her side. She grinned with pleasure, drawing them in against her. Each child received a fond hug before she tousled the hair of the eldest, prodding him with a gentle shove.

“The fun is over; my song is done. Back to the stall with you all,” she ordered with mock severity. “I am sure father needs you to lay out fish or help with packing for customers. We may have our best day yet, at this rate!” The three turned in a tumble, scampering off with exuberance in the direction of her family’s booth.

She turned back to face Roger. “So, speaking of dueling for my hand,” she mused with a sparkle in her eye, “I will be turning sixteen in another month, you know. If you delay over long in making us official, I may just have to run off with a tinker.” She winked at him, the corner of her mouth turning up in a grin.

Roger’s eyes narrowed. “Do not even joke about that,” he retorted with a snap. “You know we barely hear from my older sister, and she has been gone several months now.”

Lucia spun in a circle, her arms out at full stretch, soaking in the bright sunshine of the spring day. She took Roger’s hand in hers, pulling him along as she moved toward a stall flowering with ribbons and bows. “You are so serious, and you are barely twenty,” she grumbled cheerfully. “Your sister followed her heart! She is off on a grand adventure with the man she loves! What could be better than that?” As they reached the vendor’s booth she ran her fingers along a pink piece of fabric, admiring its texture. “Genevieve’s life certainly sounds more entertaining than mine. I am stuck in this gossipy small town gutting fish all day.” She wrinkled her nose, then began sorting through the ribbons, separating them out between her fingers to get a better look.

“You want a better life, and that is why we must wait,” insisted Roger, his voice tense. “I have explained this to you many times. My father is just a woodcutter; we do not have money saved. Once I join the soldiers, things will be better.”

“Better?” Lucia’s voice was skeptical. “If you became a soldier, you would change. You would learn how to hurt people, how to kill. Best we stay far away from those types.”

“You know soldiers are not all like that,” he quickly contested. “I promise – I would not be hardened by it. I simply do not have many options for earning the money we need. If I just save up for a year or two -”

Lucia stamped her foot, turning to stare up at him, shaking her head. “Another year?” she moaned in frustration. “I want to be married now! I want to be an adult, to do what I want to do, to get on with my life!”

Roger took in a deep breath, gazing down at her wide eyes, and let it out in a long sigh. He laid a hand tenderly against her soft cheek, his eyes gentling. “We have our whole lives in front of us,” he soothed her, his voice becoming a caress. “There is no rush. What is another year or two, so that we build a strong foundation for our life?”

Several of the ribbons blew free, and he knelt in an instant, catching them in his fingers. Lucia looked down, running a hand fondly through the hair at the back of his head. “I need to re-trim that cowlick of yours,” she commented with a smile. “It always stands up after a day or two.” She peeled a yellow ribbon from his fingers, then turned to the store keep, handing him a small coin. The item paid for, she wove the ribbon through her long blonde curls.

When she was done, she took him by the hand. “Why do you want to be a soldier, anyway?” she asked, meandering along to another booth. “All those swords, and think of the danger. If you feel we need money, why not work with leather, or build furniture?”

He shrugged his shoulders, glancing down at the heavy muscles of his arms. “Soldiering seems to be what I am best suited for,” he commented, “and besides, it appeals to me to help protect the innocent.

“I am innocent,” she offered in a low voice, fluttering her eyelashes at him. “Who will protect me?”

He groaned beneath his breath, pulling her close, bringing his lips down to kiss her. The kiss coursed through her body, sending her toes tingling, her heart racing. She was breathing deeply by the time he released her.

“You are a vixen,” he growled tenderly, gazing down into her eyes.

“Then maybe you should not desert me for a year or two,” she teased him with a twinkle. “Who knows if I would wait even another day.”

“Lucia, please …” he sighed, his voice low. “It is best for us.”

She grinned, then glanced up at the sky, drawn by the incandescent orange streaks which were streaming across the royal blue. “Dusk is coming – I need to head home to prepare for tomorrow. It looks like we will need all of our spare stock to get through the faire’s final day. You will be here?”

“Since you will be here, I would not choose to be anywhere else,” he agreed with a smile, drawing her hands into his own.

“Unless you run off to become a soldier in the meantime,” she pointed out, her face widening into a grin.

“Unless that,” he chuckled.

“Or unless I run off with that tinker from Birkenhead because I tire of waiting for you,” She teased, winking at him.

He pursed his lips, but did not respond, only bringing her hands up, lowering his head to tenderly kiss them.

She gave his hands a final squeeze, then pulled her own free. Lucia turned and headed out, her feet lightly skipping over the grass as she moved from booth to booth along the way, examining a ring, then running her hands along a bolt of fabric.

Roger watched her go, as always captivated by her beauty and innocent grace. She reached the end of the fairgrounds, then looked back to give him a wave. He raised his hand in farewell. She smiled, then turned her head and vanished into the forest beyond.

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