(Extract Chapter 1.)Tony swept in, a swirl of cloak exposing his loose shirt, doublet and hose.
“My Lady Caitlin!”
He performed a gracious bow and she giggled, hardly able to associate this elegant courtier with her brother-in-law who dressed in the baggy shorts and T-shirts of most Australian males enjoying their summer break. If only life was really like this! The married man who’d caused her such grief last year knew nothing of the art of romance. Even now, her stomach felt the clutch of misery, remembering Richard’s self-pitying stories. She’d believed all the clichés, listened to all the promises, yet it had taken a year, and all her strength, to finally walk away.
“My lady looks thoughtful?”
“I’m just not sure what to expect tonight.”
Forgetting his pose, Tony gave her a brotherly hug. “I guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself. Tonight’s the investiture of the new Prince of Lochac.”
Her enquiring expression led him to elaborate.
“We hold tourneys. Fighters compete for the title. Our prince gallantly won his title by force of arms.”
“You actually duel?”
Tony grinned. “Wooden swords. We don’t draw blood! Points are awarded for swordsmanship.”
“And who’s this year’s winner?”
“Will Bradshaw…” Tony interrupted his reply, bending one knee and extending his hand as Heather returned. She’d changed her shabby shorts and top for a splendid dress of dark red silky material, full-skirted and low-cut. The neckline was set off by heavy metallic jewelry that looked as though it belonged in a royal vault. She laughed at Tony’s posturing.
“It’s only an old curtain, and the necklace is from Paddy’s Market. What were you saying about Will?”
“Just filling Caitlin in on tonight’s proceedings.”
“I hope you told her the new Prince of Lochac has a reputation as a heartbreaker.” She gave an odd laugh. “Be warned, Caitlin!”
Tony disagreed. “What rot. Will’s too busy being an entrepreneur to have time for women.”
“That’s not what the girls say.”
“Perhaps you pay too much attention to their gossip?”
Surprised by the sudden note of tension, Caitlin interrupted.
“You needn’t worry about me, Heather. My heart’s not available.”
“We’ll see. Will’s the archetypal tall, dark and handsome stranger.”
“I don’t care what he is. I’m not interested.” She’d put her dreams away and had no intention of allowing any other man to storm her defenses and break her heart again.
Tony seemed intent on having the last word. “Will’s a damn good swordsman. When you see him in full dress tonight, you’ll believe the twenty-first century is an illusion. He’ll carry his crown justly. He’s earned it.”
The two little girls ran in to show off their party wear. Tony swung each of them round and round while they squealed. He set them on their feet and stood back to admire their costumes, identical pale gold tunics with hand-woven belts.
“You’ve done a splendid job, love.” Tony hugged his wife as though soothing away the awkward moment, and she leaned against him, murmuring a soft apology.