She has twelve days to win his heart.
He has twelve nights and twelve kisses to prove his love.
The battle for the crown of England has ended, and Henry Tudor is king. For David, a supporter of the king, that is excellent news. For Alis, who has been in love with him since a girl, life is less certain. David has married her, but can he love her when her family supported the house of York?
Compelled to be alone with her new husband over a snowy Christmas-time, will Alis win her heart's desire? Will David truly love her?
Inside the small cottage—which he had chosen because it was homely and comfortable, and his parents had lived here in their happy early years of marriage—Alis had set a spark to the kindling. A fire warmed the hearth, and its light played around the wattle walls. She had swept the beaten earth floor with an ancient twig broom, stuffed odd cracks in the walls with straw and moss and even brought the cobwebs down from the lower rafters. The sheets and blankets had been laid out, and Alis had packed the rough sacking mattress with enough straw to stuff it like a Christmas goose. The small window under the bed platform was shuttered, the table and two stools drawn alongside the fire.
Should he say more? Unsure, as he never was when dealing with his men, he placed the panniers on the table and went outside again for the saddles and bridles. Dropping the tackle by the door, he barred it.
"Cups and ale and victuals in there." He nodded to the larger pannier.
Checking the fire, he thought he heard her mutter, “It would be quicker if you helped," but when he raised his head, she was unpacking the stuff on the table. Amused by her flash of temper, he sat on a stool, warmed his hands by the blaze, and watched her. Alis had always been a pleasure in action.
His new wife was dark where he was blond, svelte and small, with eyes the color of ripe acorns and a white and rose complexion. She had long black hair that he remembered would curl over his fingers and a pretty, expressive face with black eyebrows and lashes, bright eyes, and blood-red lips.
No! Not blood red, nothing of war. Red as holly berries, he thought frantically, following her again to forget and close the door on his last four years of skirmishes and deceits. Alis was always as honest as good water and as clear in her meanings. It was one of the things he had always loved in her.
For the rest, small and slender and trim, she was as she had been at fourteen. To be sure, she was by no means as strong as a farrier's usual help-mate, but always nimble and quick. Her clothes were different, richer and brighter somehow, though he did not understand women’s fashions, not even her country fashions. But he missed her loosened hair. Today her long hair was somehow lashed into submission under a white linen coif—the sign of her new status as wife.
My wife, he thought, though that was not true in the full sense. They had wed just before Christmas—he had insisted on the security and certainty of marriage—but had not slept together.
He nodded thanks when she poured him a cup of ale from the flagon, but she was chewing on her lower lip, another trick of hers that secretly delighted him. "What is it, wife?"
She tossed a glance at him like a dagger. "Shall I set snares tonight, sir? And have I your leave to forage about tomorrow?"
"Ah, you think the food too scant to last over Christmas!" He almost smiled at her, but her steady stare made him as solemn as she was. "More will be delivered here by our people, Alis. They shall feast at the main forge, and we here shall lack for nothing."
To prove it, he poured her a cup of ale, set it on the table and patted his knee. "Come."
She darted for the second stool, but he hefted it away, into the shadows. Her dark eyes flashing, she stood beside him and raised her cup. "To winter's defeat."
She pretends obedience yet defies me. That realization stirred him like strong wine as he took a drink himself. "Do you have any Christmas customs?" he asked, allowing her to stand by his shoulder.
"I no longer drink to the king's health."
He stifled any smile, aware that if he indulged her pertness he might never hear the end of such things. Instead, he answered her challenge by hooking her around her narrow waist and skimming her down onto his lap. "What else?"
She shook her head. "You should say now."
He racked his head for an easy answer, but staring at her flushed pretty face and red lips, all that came out of his own mouth was, "Kisses."