It wasn’t his eyes that Caroline noticed first, hidden beneath sleepy lids and accented with a slash of dark, sooty brows. No, it was the vivid impression of a hawk among peacocks that caught her attention the instant she entered the formal drawing room at Hampton Court Palace. Amid the rich burgundy, green, blue, and gold, a tall figure in black leather moved with a swagger, a man at ease in any situation. His leather doublet had been slit to reveal black silk velvet pulled forth in tufts. He laughed and clapped his hand on the back of one of the courtiers ostensibly warming themselves before the great fireplace. After a quick tug to straighten his doublet, he moved toward a cluster of ladies seated a few feet away, sheltered by fire screens. The only light in the room came from the fireplace, and the shadows in the corners created an ambience of dark and sensual mystery.
“Caroline, are you coming?”
“I said are you coming? We mustn’t dillydally.” Marjory tugged at Caroline’s arm. “Caroline?”
“Yes, yes, you go ahead. I’ll be along in a moment.”
The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself. She couldn’t observe so openly if she became the observed.
“What is it that has you so mesmerized by this room? It’s just a drawing room. The palace is full of them.”
“I know. And they’re all so beautifully appointed they just take my breath away,” Caroline stalled. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in all my life.”
She spoke the truth; she had never seen anything so beautiful in all her life. He stroked a short, well-groomed beard covering a strong jaw, as he listened attentively to a fellow courtier. He wasn’t conventionally handsome, but all the parts fit together to form essential male—a compelling essence that separated him from the rest of the tableau.
“Yes, it’s their very lavishness that caused King Henry to take this palace from Wolsey, you know,” Marjory whispered close to Caroline’s ear. “He said a cardinal shouldn’t have a residence that outshone that of the king.”
“But rumor has it that the Lady Anne put the idea in the king’s head. Everyone knows about the antipathy between Anne and Wolsey.”
“Oh, is that so?” Caroline murmured.
“And a cardinal’s friendship can’t compete with sexual passion when a king is in full rut. She held him hostage to his own lust. Very clever lady.”
Caroline didn’t answer. She strained to see the dagger that hung from his belt, and the short black cape tumbled casually over a broad shoulder. A black velvet cap obscured part of his face. Black leather boots indicated a life lived outdoors— perhaps a soldier.
“You know, once he set eyes on Anne, her poor sister faded into the background.”
Marjory tried once again. “So, are you finished in here? We don’t have much time.” She fanned herself with her hand. “Besides, it’s too warm in here. We don’t need a fire at this time of year.”
“Maybe it’s for ambience,” Caroline answered. “It certainly casts the room in a warm glow.”
She knew for certain it wasn’t the fire that gave her such a warm glow.
© Sharon Noble
Velvet and Topaz
Author: Sharon Noble
Publisher: Freyas Bower,
When Caroline Benning's husband of 18 years divorces her on the eve of her 40th birthday, she is devastated. To boost her spirits, best friend Marjory treats Caroline to a month-long trip to England where they can indulge their long-held passion for Tudor history. History comes alive when the friends visit Hampton Court Palace, mingling with costumed reenactors populating the palace and the grounds, and they are virtually transported to 16th Century England and the court of Henry VIII.
One man in particular, a dark, bearded cavalier in black leather and velvet moves Caroline to unexpected sexual longing - so much so that she returns alone the next day just to see him again. In a shadowed closet adjacent to one of the bedrooms, they make love unlike anything she has ever experienced.
Caroline is unable to explain her uncharacteristic behavior, and she determines to put the episode behind her and continue her vacation as if nothing had happened. But the memory of his topaz eyes haunts her dreams. Her life will never be the same.
Adam Carruthers is a high-powered attorney who enjoys reenacting Tudor history. When he sees a beautiful blond tourist, he can't resist her and soon finds himself in an unlikely, but very enjoyable, position.
Now, he can't forget her or their brief encounter. However, when she doesn't return to the court, he has no way to contact her... until a chance meeting at a protest rally. Unfortunately, they are on opposing sides.
Can their passion overcome their differences? Or will their beliefs keep them apart?