Lady Eleanor knows better than to dream of romance and love. Married twice to secure her father’s alliances, she has learned that she is desirable only for her fortune. When the Laird of Kinfairlie’s sisters ask her to wed their brother, Alexander, Eleanor agrees, expecting only to save herself from danger.
But Alexander is like no man she’s known before, a man more interested in courting her smile than her obedience, a man who values her counsel as much as her newly awakened passion…and a man unaware that Eleanor is the key to a fortune that could ensure the future of
everything he holds dear.
Now, ruthless enemies will stop at nothing to secure Eleanor’s capture. Will she dare to trust her new husband before it’s too late for her, for Alexander, and for Kinfairlie?
“Delacroix provides an excellent end to a terrifically captivating series.”
“THE SNOW WHITE BRIDE is a gripping story with an emotionally wounded yet wonderfully strong heroine. What a passionate, romantic read!”
Vanessa Kelly, one of Booklist’s new stars of historical romance
USA Today Bestseller
A #1 Kindle Bestseller in Medieval Romance and in Scottish Romance
The Snow White Bride is also available in an audio edition.
You can listen to a sample on my Audio page.
An excerpt from The Snow White Bride:
Alexander Lammergeier, Laird of Kinfairlie, had had his fill of responsibility. The accounts for Kinfairlie would never balance, not without a massive financial gain from some unanticipated source. He had seen two sisters married this year, on the counsel of those who knew more of running an estate than he, and could not for the life of him see what fiscal benefit had been derived from having two less mouths to feed. There were dozens yet residing within his walls, after all.
The sound of merrymaking rose from Kinfairlie’s hall below. It was Christmas Eve, and he was laboring over Kinfairlie’s books, trying to find a stray denier.
There were no stray deniers. Alexander knew it well. And further, he despised being Laird of Kinfairlie. He wanted his parents back, hale and hearty; he wanted to ask his father how that man had managed the burden of responsibility; he wanted to know what he should do when the seed was washed away and the peasants who relied upon him were left hungry.
Further, he wanted his Uncle Tynan, upon whom he had heavily relied after his parents’ demise, to walk out of the grotto beneath Ravensmuir and explain that he was not dead after all. He wanted his Aunt Rosamunde, also lost in the rubble that had been Ravensmuir, to leap from beneath the stones, to explain that tales of her death were mere exaggeration, and to present an ancient relic along with its tale.
Alexander wanted answers, he wanted counsel, he wanted the merriment of his former life back.
Yet all Alexander had were burdens. His sisters were no longer foils for his teasing or even victims of his jests, but maidens for whom suitable husbands had to be found. He had seen the two eldest of his sisters wed, but did not for a moment deny that Fortune had smiled upon him in those two circumstances. He had not handled those nuptial arrangements well and it was good luck alone that had seen Madeline and Vivienne happily wed.
His two brothers had been dispatched to Inverfyre and Ravensmuir to train, at Uncle Tynan’s suggestion, which had relieved Alexander of the cost of supporting them but also of the merriment of their company. Worse, Malcolm stood heir to Ravensmuir, though he was younger and less knowledgeable than Alexander – and he came to Alexander for counsel the older brother could seldom give. Ross was at Inverfyre for the foreseeable future, training to earn his spurs, and though Alexander thought this a great favor by their uncle, the Hawk of Inverfyre, still he missed Ross’ companionship.
Alexander was lonely, he was frustrated and he saw no promise for change in his future. He had failed on all accounts, when once he had been able to do nothing wrong. He scowled at the cursed books, listened to the music being wrought by musicians he had no notion of how he might pay, and swore with vigor.
It was Christmas. He had seen fit to entertain Kinfairlie’s peasants, as was traditional, despite the dearth of coins in his treasury. He might as well enjoy the festivities himself.
It might be the last merry Christmas at Kinfairlie.
Alexander slammed the ledgers of his abode with a vengeance, then dropped them back into the trunk where they were stored. He savored their resounding thump, then dropped the lid on the trunk so that it slammed. He locked it and only just stopped himself from hurling the key out the window into the snow that had not ceased falling for an entire day.
Indeed, he had lifted his fist when his castellan’s discreet cough halted his gesture.
Alexander pivoted smoothly, slid the key into his purse and smiled at Anthony as if that man had not interrupted a healthy impulse. “Good evening, Anthony. I trust all is well in the hall?”
Anthony surveyed the chamber, his white brows bristling in disapproval. “Well enough, my lord. Might I conclude that you have balanced Kinfairlie’s accounts for the year?”
“You might,” Alexander said with a cheer he had not felt in considerable time. “But you would be in error.”
Anthony scowled. “Your father would never have left his chamber until his labor was done.”
“My father is dead, and though his habits were exemplary, they will not necessarily be mine.” Alexander swept past the older man and sniffed appreciatively. “Venison! What a marvel you are, Anthony.”
“The miller felled two bucks, supposedly by accident, my lord.” Anthony frowned more deeply. “There is certainly more to the tale than what we were told, for all know that common people have no right to hunt deer, and it is difficult to mistake a deer for anything other than what it is. I would suggest that we delve to the bottom of the tale lest all think they can hunt without repercussions…”
“I suggest that we enjoy the meat and the season and leave the matter be,” Alexander said with resolve.
“But they are hungry, Anthony. The harvest has been poor and most gardens have not prospered either. It is to their merit that they share the spoil with all.”
The older man straightened with disapproval. “Your father would never have allowed such a transgression against his rights…”
“Nor would he have allowed those beneath his hand to starve.” Alexander softened his tone and laid a hand upon the older man’s shoulder. “This year has been most uncommon, Anthony, and I will not punish my guests for ensuring that the board groans this night. Christmas is a season of celebration and forgiveness. Let us welcome the year with hope.”
Anthony took a deep breath, but Alexander did not want to argue about his breach of convention again. Instead of choosing a select few peasants from Kinfairlie village to feast in the laird’s hall, Alexander had invited them all. The population of the village had dwindled in the past year due to the poor conditions and he wanted every man, woman and child to share in whatever largesse he could offer. They had been arriving steadily since morning mass, bringing their napkins and their spoons and undoubtedly their appetites. Many had brought the chickens and candles they owed to the laird for this feast.
Alexander had given his villagers what he could – he had ensured that they had justice, he had tried to supply seed for the fields, and no matter what it cost, he would see their bellies filled this night.
It was Christmas. Let Anthony say what he might.
Alexander’s brother-in-law Rhys FitzHenry and sister Madeline had arrived the day before and, at Alexander’s request, Rhys had ridden to hunt with two of Kinfairlie’s falcons and the men in his party. He had returned with four dozen rabbits.
Five baskets of eels had been collected at Inverfyre by Alexander’s sister Vivienne and her husband Erik on their journey south to Kinfairlie, and Vivienne had brought half a dozen goats heavy with milk to swell the ranks of livestock at Kinfairlie.
Alexander himself had sent to York for six cured hams, and the peasant children had foraged for the eggs of wild fowl. The musicians had arrived this very day with the hams and requested accommodation and alms for the season, which Alexander had not been able to protest.
The most startling facet of all of this was that Alexander even found himself thinking in inventories. He tallied and calculated, concluding that there was food enough for the considerable company for perhaps four days, at which point, he would have a problem.
At least the problem was four days away.
Alexander marched past his astonished castellan, then paused at the top of the stairs. He snapped his fingers and pivoted to face Anthony, whose silvery brows had formed a single line of bushy reproach. “There are two casks of wine yet in the cellar, Anthony, according to the ledgers. Please have them brought to the hall and opened this night.”
Those brows shot skyward. “My lord…”
“Do as I bid you immediately, Anthony,” Alexander interjected crisply, knowing that his castellan was as surprised by his command as his tone. “And be sure to taste the wine yourself before allowing it to be poured.”
The wine would do his proper castellan good, in Alexander’s opinion. He strode down the stairs, the music lightening his heart, and resolved to have a measure of that wine himself.
* * *
Alexander was pleased to note how his sisters had brought greens into the hall, for he had been so immersed in his books that he had forgotten about this ritual. Hundreds of candles burned and the Yule log, a particularly massive specimen which would surely last for the entire fortnight, burned on the hearth. Mercifully, some soul had recalled this ritual, as well.
The hall was warm and golden, filled to bursting with trestle tables and chattering people. He could smell the roasted meat and the musicians led the assembly in a merry tune. His sisters were adorned in their best and laughing at the high table. Even the sight of the unbound tresses of his three maiden sisters failed to trouble him on this night.
Alexander might have paused there on the stairs to savor the sight, but to his surprise, the detection of his presence in his own hall was greeted with a rowdy cheer. The peasants of Kinfairlie rose to their feet, turned and lifted their cups of ale in salute. “My lord!” they cried as one.
They saluted him. Tears pricked Alexander’s eyes at this unexpected tribute. What had he done to deserve their respect? He had tried, to be sure, but the Fates had conspired against any success. Ever one for a jest, he turned and looked behind himself, summoning a hearty laugh from the assembly.
“God bless the Laird of Kinfairlie!” cried the miller, who had evidently been appointed spokesman. “The fairest laird that ever there was.” There was another ripple of laughter and the miller flushed. “I mean, of course, that his courts are fair and that justice is found in his courts.” The miller grinned. “Though my wife tells me that he is not hard upon the eyes either.”
The assembly laughed. “A wife is what our laird needs,” cried one bold soul.
“Nay, a dozen bairns is what he needs,” shouted another, but the miller held his hand up for silence.
He sobered as he held Alexander’s gaze. “It has been a year of challenges unexpected at Kinfairlie. Though none of us would have wished for the sudden loss of our former laird and his lady -” many in the company crossed themselves in reference to the deaths of Alexander’s parents “- I have been chosen of all of us to thank you for so boldly taking on your duties, sir.”
Alexander inclined his head. “I was raised to assume this duty, as well you know.”
The miller shook his head. “Few men could have faced this past year with such courage, my lord, no less with such grace and generosity. You serve your father’s memory well, Alexander Lammergeier, and may you prosper at Kinfairlie for years untold.” With that, the miller lifted his cup higher.
“Long live the Laird of Kinfairlie!” cried one soul and the company echoed the blessing. They lifted their cups in salute, then drank heartily.
Alexander was deeply touched, though he characteristically hid his response with a jest. “I thank you kindly,” he said, then bowed deeply to the company. “But you should know that I called for the wine to be opened before I knew that you meant to greet me thus.”
The assembly laughed and the musicians sang a ditty on the merits of wine, a comparative rarity in these parts.
Alexander made his way through the company, welcoming peasants by name and exchanging Christmas blessings. He found himself laughing at one tale and pinching a child’s plump cheek, enjoying himself despite the odds.
He glanced up, feeling the weight of someone’s gaze upon him, and met the steady stare of a woman he did not know. She must have been among the entourages of Madeline or Vivienne, perhaps a friend of one of his sisters. Alexander was intrigued by the very sight of her. She watched him from the high table, her eyes the clearest green he had ever seen.
But there was a sadness in her eyes and a downward curve to her lips that snared Alexander’s attention. She averted her gaze as soon as their gazes met and eased herself into the shadows. She was veiled as a married woman, but no man attended her. Worse, she was not merry on this night of festivity, and Alexander decided then what his mission would be.
He would make this lady smile. Once, he had been good at coaxing women’s laughter. Once he had savored feminine companionship. His pulse quickened at the challenge, for he had not lingered overmuch with women this past year. It would be good to prove – if only to himself – that he had not sacrificed all of himself to his duties as laird.
The castellan brought him a goblet of ruby red wine, that man’s lips still taut. “I thank you, Anthony.” Alexander raised the cup to his guests assembled in Kinfairlie’s hall. “And I thank you not only for your kind salute, but for joining me on this night of nights. I bid you be merry in Kinfairlie’s hall, one and all, and may this Christmas Eve feast be but the first of many we share.”
The assembly roared agreement and raised their cups, then drank heartily of Alexander’s ale and wine. Alexander raised his cup to the beauteous lady at his board, who feigned ignorance of his salute. She sipped his toast and her cheeks pinkened slightly, though, which was progress of a kind.
Alexander Lammergeier would not be so easily defeated as that.
Indeed, he purposefully made his way to sit at her very side, not caring a whit for changing the arrangements Anthony had carefully made at the head table.
This lady’s smile would be won, regardless of the cost.
©2005, 2011 Claire Delacroix, Inc.