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Sin and Surrender

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ISBN: 978-0-06-178348-7

Sin and Surrender

by Julia Latham (Gayle Callen)

Book 6 of the "League of the Blade" series
(The books do not have to be read in order.)

Raised by the secretive League of the Blade, Sir Paul Hilliard fled England to escape from their shadow. And now his life depends on the breathtaking Bladeswoman he once trained and now desires.

Painful memories once drove Paul Hilliard away. But when the elite secret fraternity of knights calls him home to help thwart a devilish plot against the king, Paul cannot refuse. And his bodyguard in this deadly undertaking is Juliana Gresham--a stunningly beautiful warrior who honed her skills under his expert guidance.

When Juliana first received her training, she was a young, shy, and innocent orphan; now she has blossomed magnificently into womanhood, tempting the honorable knight. Surrendering to his passion could gravely endanger their mission. But Paul's great need for her will not be silenced--especially when the plot demands that the exquisite Juliana play a shocking new role in their dangerous Paul's mistress.

"...destined to move readers who will be enraptured by the historical backdrop as well as the deeply touching love story between honorable characters. This is a book that's not easily forgotton."

RT Bookreviews Magazine

"...a great read. Latham may make a new Medieval convert out of you, too."

All About Romance

"Sin and Surrender is a thoroughly scrumptious read. Written so formidably well, that by the end of the book, satisfaction absolutely reigns supreme."

Romance Junkies


(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)

Chapter 1

(Story set up: Sir Paul Hilliard has returned to the League of the Blade grudgingly, and agrees to help in a plot to protect the king. To his consternation, his bodyguard is Juliana Gresham, a Bladeswoman whom he’d once trained, and who must now pretend to be his courtesan.)

Both Paul and Juliana pulled their hoods up, and the entire party set out through the rear entrance into the alley, meandering slowly through crooked streets while the horses picked their way through refuse. It wasn’t until they neared the London Bridge that they cast off their cloaks in the sun and rode almost royally through the crowds, drawing gawking attention from fishwives with their loaded panniers, to bakers holding pies over their heads. They followed a flock of geese being driven up the narrow path of the bridge, between the merchant shops and homes built on its two-hundred-year-old span.

It was almost a parade, Paul thought, keeping a faint, noble smile about his mouth.

And then there was Juliana, the queen of the parade. She dazzled every man on the street, her expression serene and confident, her black hair hanging in long, gentle curls about her body. She looked like a woman of leisure, a woman of sin.

She saw him staring, and the smile she gave him was full of raw intimacy that was as physical as a punch to the gut. Her knowing eyes slid down his body with open possession, promising much when they were alone that night. She was making their disguise far easier than he’d imagined it would be.

The party reached the summit of the bridge, where another tower rose into the sky between the buildings. The road narrowed even further, until Paul’s and Juliana’s knees touched occasionally as they rode. They were now a spectacle, people gaping as they approached, a growing crowd following from behind. There was no way to escape down the crowded thoroughfare, no room to maneuver on horseback. There should be no reason for attack now, at the beginning of the mission, but it had been instilled in him to constantly prepare for any event. But if they were attacked, he would have to sit back like a coward and allow the others to defend him.

Paul happened to glance up at the three-story buildings rising high on either side of him, when he noticed an upper window open, and someone leaned out with a pot.

In character, Paul shouted, “Anon, Michael, look above! Do hurry! I’m not about to be tossed with filth because of your crawling pace.”

Juliana ignored him, as if she was used to his sudden flares of temper. He saw Michael’s back stiffen, but the Bladesman urged his horse into a trot, and more than one man on the street yelped as he jumped out of their way.

Juliana found herself impressed with Paul’s mastery of his character. He’d been away from League duty for several years, yet he managed to focus on playing a spoiled, entitled man. There was an arrogance in his smile, a boldness in his possessiveness of her. As long as he didn’t think the latter was true…

For herself, crossing the bridge as a spectacle was—exhausting. She wasn’t used to being gaped at, wondered about. There were no sneers, since for all the townspeople knew, she was his wife. The sneers would come later.

She was so used to blending in, being unobtrusive, able to watch while not being seen. As the afternoon went on, she found herself longing for peace and solitude, for no voices to be ringing in her ears. But of course, then she would be alone with Paul, their first night together as supposed lovers.

Within an hour, they reached a lively tavern in Southwark where they stopped for supper. Paul spent lavishly, seeming to enjoy being the center of the party. With his blond hair and dazzling blue eyes, he commanded the attention of everyone there, man or maidservant. He flirted with the barmaids, then drew Juliana onto his lap, as if he didn’t want her to think he was ignoring her. Instead of accepting his flirtation, she stiffened and gave him a cool look of simmering anger, as if should he keep this up, he would regret it that night.

It was harder than she imagined to work like this, to pay attention to any threats from the crowd, when she felt absolutely surrounded by Paul. She could feel his hard thighs beneath her backside, his arms about her waist, his hand resting on her knee. His broad chest rose against her back with every breath. It took everything in her not to shiver at each touch, and she grew angry with herself. She was a master at blending in—and yet she felt overwhelmed by the task of playing his courtesan. Whenever he spoke to her, he would bend to whisper into her ear. She could feel his warm breath stir the curls on her neck.

Once, his lip touched the shell of her ear, and she almost flinched at the intimacy, but was determined not to show weakness. She had to accept the way his hand caressed the length of her arm as if to soothe her.

At last they finished their meal. The tavern owner showed sincere regret at their departure, especially after Paul on being told their bill, handed over his purse as if it seemed too much effort to count, offering to pay for drinks for their fellow revelers. Tankards of ale were raised in cheers and toasts as they left. Their return journey to the north side of the Thames was far less crowded, now that encroaching darkness lingered in the air. Lanterns were lit along the bridge and through the streets, guiding their way.

Timothy procured them lodgings at a four-story inn overlooking the river, with balconies wrapping around a central courtyard. At last, Juliana was ensconced in one of the private bedchambers, knowing that fellow Bladesmen would sleep in the lodgings on either side. Briefly, she was alone, reveling in the near silence. Of course, she could still hear voices echoing from the courtyard below, the neigh of horses in the stable yards, the cheerfully obnoxious calls of inebriated men.

The bedchamber was cozy, with no fire in the hearth, for it was a warm night. There was a table and chairs, a massive bed, and a screen for privacy—which pleased her, considering she’d have to change here. As she hung her cloak on a peg protruding from the wall, she would not worry about the coming night; she did not think Paul meant to abuse her trust.

Yet for a woman who’d spent the last few years surrounded by men, she felt…nervous, uneasy, floundering in unknown territory. Most women her age were married with children already.

Then the door opened and Paul stood there, filling the chamber with his presence. She tried not to stare at him, even as he set down the pannier carrying their garments.

Rubbing his hands together, he looked about. “’Twill do, I imagine.”

“As you know, we’ll surely encounter worse the farther north we journey.”

He nodded, but he was studying her now, as if wasn’t really hearing her words. She wished she had something to putter with, some task—except preparing for bed.

“I like your hair down,” he said abruptly. “You shall wear it thus for the rest of our time together.”

Paul enjoyed the outrage in her eyes, glad to provoke some reaction in her. She was usually so cool and composed, utterly focused in her confidence about the role she played. Gone was the young woman who’d once looked to him with such desperate awe, such eagerness to learn. And he found he missed her.

Surely a virgin would stutter or shy away from him now that they were alone. But she only flared with anger at his teasing.

“Do not assert your feminine rights,” he said, raising both hands. “I simply thought your long hair made it clear you were yet an unmarried woman, so others would not think you my wife.”

“You don’t want people to even wonder about my place in your life?” she asked dryly.

“’Twill save time in the end,” he assured her.

She let out her breath in a huff. “Very well.”

There was a knock at the door, and Paul called, “Enter,” in a commanding voice.

He saw Juliana’s hand rest on her girdle, and wondered at the weapon she hid there. The League had molded her, made her into a Bladeswoman, taking away her natural femininity. She was serious about her role as his guard, he thought ruefully. But he, too, could quickly reach a blade if he needed one.

A round-shouldered maidservant bobbed a curtsy as she entered their lodgings carrying a stack of linens, followed by a valet burdened with a basin and steaming ewer. Paul handed out coins as they left, and saw Juliana watching him.

“Did I do something of which you disapprove?” he asked lightly.

“You are enjoying being so free with money not your own.”

“I am free with my own purse as well. The service is always better.” He gestured to the basin. “Would you care to wash first?”

Thanking him as easily as if she shared a bedchamber with a man every night, she carried the basin and ewer behind the changing screen, along with several garments she’d removed from their panniers.

Paul silently wished the screen gone. Though Juliana was playing his courtesan before others, she would certainly not act so brazen when they were alone together.

“Do you need help unlacing your gown?” he asked, testing her.

“Nay, thank you,” she answered in an agreeable voice.

As if the indecent suggestion had not bothered her at all, he thought with curiosity. He couldn’t help wondering about her, about her ease with men, with their assignment together. In the tavern, he’d been immersed in his part, enjoying himself to the hilt, while danger was yet distant in the north. Then he’d pulled her onto his lap, his arms suddenly full of willing woman, touching her as he wished. He hadn’t been able to place the scent of her, exotic yet warmly intimate. When he’d been a teacher, he couldn’t have imagined doing such a thing to a young woman under his care.

But their old relationship of teacher and student was gone, and a new one would have to take its place.

He could hear the faintest sound of her humming an unfamiliar tune and the splash of water as she prepared herself for the night. Even as he unpacked a clean shirt and breeches, he watched her gown appear hanging over the top of the screen.

And then she emerged in a silk dressing gown that skimmed her curves and hung to the floor. Her hair was pushed back over her shoulders, so that he could see the long elegance of her neck, her collarbones arching like the wings of a swan. She had wide shoulders for a woman, yet he found it incredibly attractive. She was no diminutive miss, with her height and strength, and that made him think too much about vigorous bed play. But perhaps she already knew all about that, considering what the League had assigned her to become.

He took his turn behind the screen, changing into a clean shirt and breeches for the night. When he emerged, he found her sitting in a chair before the bare hearth, combing out her long hair. She hadn’t yet seen him, and he remained motionless, watching her.

He’d spent the majority of his life without women, and once he’d been released from the League, he’d learned about their pleasures with gusto. But his time with women was spent in bed, and he knew little of them beyond that. Of course a woman had to groom herself, but…how could such a simple thing as combing one’s hair seem so alluring?

Surely it was because he hadn’t eased himself with a woman since he’d been at his brother’s these last two months. He’d been enjoying his reunion, and was hardly going to prowl London looking for a willing bedmate.

And now here was Juliana, a woman of strength and skill, who obviously wanted to be treated as any other member of the League.

But her hair was simply beautiful.

She glanced up and saw him, and he waited for her to freeze, to blush, to appear awkward. She but gave him an absent smile, looked away, and continued combing, as if men watched her intimate rituals all the time.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

And then he realized that when she played the courtesan, she’d been using a lighter, more feminine tone. Her natural voice was deeper, huskier, and it made him think of a woman murmuring to him in the night. He was still too curious about her ease with this role, and he needed to distract himself.

“How many other men have you played courtesan to, Juliana?”

She could have been offended; perhaps a virgin would be.

But she only continued to comb her hair as she arched a brow. “At least a half dozen.”

Surely she was making a jest. But this was the League, and he of all people knew their ruthlessness. “So the League has been offering you to men now?”

She gave him a withering look. “Bladesmen are honorable; they would never expect such indecent things of me.”

“You do not know them at all,” he said quietly.

“Then explain them to me, Paul, since you have such experience.”

She had the idealistic zeal of so many Bladesmen who believed the League could do no wrong. And he felt sorry for her.

He shook his head. “’Tis not my task to disillusion you. Stay with them long enough, and you will draw your own conclusions. Now since we’ll have an early start in the morn, I’m going to bed.”

She murmured some sort of acquiescence behind him.

He turned down the bed, which rested against the wall. “I’ll sleep on the outside.”

“Nay, allow me.”

She’d come up behind him, her hair now plaited into a long braid.

He looked down at her in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

“I should sleep nearer to the door.”

He sank onto the edge of the bed, leaned back on his hands, and looked up at her, smiling lazily. “And why would you do that?”

“You know my position here, Paul. I am your personal guard. I take my responsibilities seriously.”

He grinned, hiding his annoyance. “Are you saying that if a thief enters in the night, I’m supposed to stand back and allow you to defend me?”

“Of course. Someone might be testing your supposed lack of skill.”

“And if I do not lie about it from the beginning, ’twill not be an issue.”

Hands on her hips, she looked down at him with serious intent. “And then the traitors might believe you more of a threat to them. Sir Timothy’s reasoning for your character is sound. You agreed to this.”

“And you don’t think anyone will be suspicious that my courtesan is as skilled with weapons as any man?”

“I think it will only inspire mystery, and increase curiosity about me. But ’twill deflect suspicion from you. So move over.”

He had thought she might suggest one of them sleep on the floor, and his relief that she hadn’t, made him put aside his annoyance. He slid beneath the coverlet, leaving an inviting space for her as he patted the mattress. “Come to bed, my fair courtesan.”

She arched a brow, but made no response to his teasing. To his disappointment, she didn’t remove the belted dressing gown. He’d been looking forward to seeing her night rail a bit too much. She placed her sword beside the bed, then sat down to slide her legs beneath the coverlet, keeping her back to him. Momentarily, she braced herself on her elbow and blew out the candle. As his eyes adjusted, he realized that a torch on the balcony outside their window lent a faint glow to their chamber. He could see the gleam of her hair, the long slope of her hip and thigh beneath the thin summer-weight bedding.

He propped his head on his hand and looked down upon her. “You are not going to insist on marking your territory, placing some kind of barrier that I must not cross?”

Without looking at him, she said, “I trust you,” then gave a loud yawn.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to be trusted. And he liked her disregard of him even less. He rolled onto his back and stared at the beamed ceiling.

Juliana was far too tense from trying to pretend she wasn’t tense. Her back began to ache from keeping herself so stiff. She was lying with a man in bed, and it felt awkward and strange and…exciting.

Always trying to be honest with herself, she could not deny that her senses were buzzing with Paul’s nearness, her body alert and restless with an unexpected yearning to lean into him, feel his arms around her again as he’d done at the tavern. This was desire, this ache, this need. She’d been taught about it, warned to learn to control her own reactions, given methods to distract herself, but suddenly, her usual certainty wasn’t all that certain. She hadn’t imagined how it might feel, like an ache deep within her, a yearning to be within Paul’s control. It was almost frightening, as if she had no will of her own.

There was a part of her that had worried she wasn’t like other women, that she didn’t have the same emotions. Now, at least that fear was gone.

Why did it have to be Paul who inspired this lust she didn’t want? She’d lived alone with men for several years now, and no one had ever made her feel this way. Once, a Bladesman had tried to push her into more, but she’d felt nothing except disappointment in him and his behavior. It had been a vital discovery that she had to be so careful with men.

Paul had been so calm and controlled and respectful when she’d first arrived at the League that she’d let down her guard where men were concerned. He’d given her the time she’d needed to recover from the tragedy of her parents’ deaths. But that had made her grow to depend on him so much that when he’d gone, with little warning, she’d felt almost…betrayed. But apparently those feelings didn’t matter to her weak-willed body.

This was her first crucial mission, one where she played a major part—her first as a courtesan, regardless of the way she’d taunted him. She couldn’t afford to be distracted like this, refused to be a pathetic woman who could not control herself with a man.

When at last she heard Paul’s breathing settle into a regular pattern, she forced herself to relax, using techniques to clear her mind, to loosen her muscles. Yet every time he made a movement in his sleep, her drowsiness evaporated and alertness gripped her.

How was she going to do this night after night? ~~ Home
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