In a climate of utmost treachery, where Saxons still intrigued against their Norman invaders, Royce and Nicholaa reveled in their precious new love...a fervent bond soon to be disrupted by the call of blood, kin, and country!
How on earth have I been reading romance for 30 years, and I've never read a Garwood? What a shame. Holy cow, was this book good!
One of the things I like so much about this book was the dialogue - both between the characters, and even their internal dialogue. Garwood does a great job of showing how both Royce and Nicholaa are feeling, and how opposite that frequently is.
"She was pleased that her voice wasn't shaky. Her legs were. She didn't want Royce to know she was a little afraid and very embarrassed about what was going to happen. She was his wife now, not some silly little chit. Why, she didn't even think she was blushing now.
Her face was as red as fire. Royce let out a long sigh..."
They are so frequently on two totally different playing fields, yet they always manage to come together.
Their banter is terrific, too.
"Your William is determined to give me as booty to some man, isn't he?"
She shoved away from his shoulder and glared at him. A leaf fell out of her hair. Her face was bruised and covered with dirt. He couldn't contain his smile. Nicholaa looked as if she'd just lost a tug-of-war.
"I'm not a prize."
He agreed wholeheartedly. "No, you're not."
"She stretched up and kissed him. It was a gentle, undemanding touch. "I will give you your explanation tonight, Royce. When you've heard it, I don't think that you'll want me to apologize. I haven't done anything wrong, and once I've explained, I'm certain you'll agree. You might even have to apologize to me. You do know how, don't you?"
She was smiling up at him so sweetly, looking so damn innocent, too. It was difficult to believe she was the hellion he'd been living with these past two weeks.
"You could drive a man to drink."
Dear God, she hoped so. His insult thrilled her. She almost laughed out loud.
There was an absolutely wonderful scene where Nicholaa thinks to get Royce drunk, but ends up soused herself. It was adorable and funny, as Nicholaa determines to hide things from Royce and to seduce him, but ends up giving away all her own secrets. And I loved that Royce didn't take advantage of her in any way - either physically or by using her secrets against her.
What I loved was that even though both Nicholaa and Royce were obviously trying to fulfill their own agenda, things never quite went the way they wanted, and they good-humoredly accepted it, and even learned from each confrontation. They both were basically happy people forced into an unhappy situation. Neither could contain their true character.
I also really liked how fair Royce was. You tend not to think of the conquering armies as fair, but they were made up of individuals, and the lines between right and wrong, good and bad, weren't always clearly drawn. Royce was simply a good man whose job forced him to be a badass. I loved it when he realized that having Nicholaa being all meek and subservient wasn't what he wanted, even after weeks of lecturing her on it. I loved how she wasn't afraid to show her true colors to Royce, and that he could appreciate her, even as he lectured her to change herself. That was truly funny to watch him get all tied up in knots.
I loved the lectures, BTW! Nicholaa pretending to listen to Royce while he went on and on about something or other... blahblahblah... and she's off in her own world daydreaming. Too funny!
For her part, Nicholaa was pretty believable. She wanted to do right by her husband, once they were married, because that was her job. Even though it wasn't the path she would have chosen for herself. But she wasn't a doormat at all. She was smart, and resourceful, defending her keep against 3 attacks until Royce came along. She also was great at making him think he'd won every argument or disagreement. She was the champion of nodding and saying "whatever you want, dear," and then doing (or certainly thinking) whatever she pleased. At the same time, she was very innocent and sweet, wanting Royce to be pleased by her.
The little details made this book extra special, like the chess piece, whose theme and symbolism carried throughout the 2nd half of the book.
The secondary characters were great as well - I loved Justin, although I'd have liked to know a little more of his internal battle from his perspective. And Thurston was an understandable, if not totally sympathetic character. Everyone, down to the servants, and the morally ambiguous Baron Guy was great. Although I don't care for "villains for the sake of villains", in a time of war, even Guy's vassals' actions were almost excusable.
There are so many other examples of how great this was - their handling of the Ulric situation among them - that I could go on all day. Just a fantastic book.
OK - what do I read next?