Saturday, August 17, 2013

My screwup

I'm posting this out of sheer mortification.

Yesterday's post about the Romance Novel Convention featured some nifty images I'd bought from the RNC website which were full resolution. Because Blogger includes a setting that says something like full size, medium, etc., I thought the images downsized;many sites  automatically reduce the resolution on high resolution images. (Web images are a standard 72 dpi, but print images are 300. This is a big difference, and the reason that if you try to print web images, they look like crap.)

But the images didn't downsize. Jimmy Thomas pointed out that I'd posted the full-resolution images so anyone could copy them and basically obtain them for free.

Now, this violates the hell out of Jimmy's copyright on the images. I just bought the right to use the images for my swag and covers, so as soon as he brought it to my attention, I took them down and put up low-resolution versions.

Please, please PLEASE, if you copied the high-res versions and plan to use them, go to the RNC website and pop for the one-time $15 per image fee to pay for the rights to use them. That's a heck of a lot cheaper than being sued, which you easily could be if you haven't paid for those rights.

What's more, you could get me sued too, only in my case it would be for being too damned stupid not to realize my mistake in violating the copyright on the images. I wouldn't blame Jimmy a bit if he did sue me; he'd have every right to. (He's a nice guy, but if the post had gone viral or something, I could have cost him a lot of money. Luckily that didn't happen, but still.)

You should also be aware that ANY image, piece of music, ebook, ANYTHING you get on the internet, even if it's a cat video, belongs to the original photographer, musician, writer, etc. If you use it without the creator's permission, he can sue the living hell out of you.

And a lot of companies and creators will not hesitate to do just that.

That means if you, say, decide you're going to do a music video using a Black Eyed Peas song and half-a-dozen Jimmy photographs, you need to obtain permission from the Black Eyed Peas AND Jimmy or the photographer who took those pictures before you can post the video online. Otherwise, you could find yourself in court losing your shirt.

This is not about creators being hardasses. People like Jimmy, the Black Eyed Peas, and me make our respective livings creating things for your entertainment. But just because you've bought a copy of one of my ebooks, say, or "Boom Boom Pow," that doesn't mean you then can give it away to everyone you know.

You may think, "Hey, I bought it! I can do what I want with it!" Well, yes and no.

Let's say you bought a paperback of MASTER OF DARKNESS. After you finished reading it, you took it to a used bookstore and traded it in. You have a perfect right to do that: it's your paperback book. My publisher already got its $6.99 for that copy, and I already got my 6 percent cut of that, so we're square. You can give that copy to the used bookstore or your sister or whoever. I don't care, because I've been paid.

However, you could not take the book apart, take the pages to a printer, and make a thousand copies of my book and sell them for $6.99, because that's stealing. You only paid for ONE copy of my book. Selling 1000 of them violates my copyright, because I don't get paid anything for those 1000 copies.

People think writers and other creators are filthy rich, but in fact, most of us get paid what amounts to minimum wage. It takes MONTHS to write a book, and it's damned hard work. Creators, like everyone else, have a right to be paid for their efforts.

Now, let's say you bought the e-book of MASTER OF DRAGONS, and you put it up on your website and started charging $6.99 for it. Again, you have violated my copyright, but the damage is potentially much greater.

In the first example, you've only taken $6,990.00 from my publisher and me, but in the second example, there is no theoretical limit to what you can cost me, because you can sell that one copy over and over and OVER again, because it will never wear out.

Even if you give the file away for free, you're still costing me a huge amount of money, because every copy you give away is a copy I can't sell.

Jimmy's in the same boat I'm in. By putting the high res pics up on my blog, I could have cost him sales, even if my actual intention was to make more people aware of his website and help him sell more pics. That's why I'm so embarrassed and unhappy about my mistake.

So make sure you pay for the rights to any use you make of a creator's work. Just as you expect to be paid for your work, we should be paid for ours.

Thanks for your understanding!

Angela Knight

Friday, August 16, 2013

Angela Knight is a Sexist Pig

By Angela Knight
Yep, you read that right. I was shocked too. I mean, I’m a feminist. I don’t believe people should be judged by their appearance. If some male confessed he expected a woman to be dumb because she was blonde, gorgeous, and had impressive headlights, I would be the first to accuse him of oinking.
Yet last week I discovered I was guilty of the same kind of thinking, only in reverse.
Like many mortal sins, this one took place in Vegas. My husband and I attended the RNC Convention Aug. 7-11.
I will admit, I didn’t have high expectations. This was the first year for RNC, and the first time you put on any big event, there are going to be bugs to iron out.
Attendance was part of an all-inclusive package of $250 for five nights at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, which I knew to be an older hotel. So given the fabulous deal, I expected the venue to be a bit seedy, and the event itself to be a little disorganized. Especially since Jimmy Thomas, cover model and RNC’s CEO, had never put on a conference before. (And yes, the huge, gorgeous hunk on the banner is Jimmy.)
I didn’t think any of that sounded encouraging.
I was wrong. The hotel has been renovated, and it’s huge. Among its attractions are a three-level pool with water slide. Now, plenty of hotels have a water slide, but this one is enclosed, and it shoots through a shark tank. With actual sharks.
Then there’s the Grotto, a seafood restaurant with a floor to ceiling tropical aquarium and an amazing menu; I loved the swordfish.  
The food was fabulous, and thanks to the deal Jimmy wrangled for us, we got $300 worth of meals at our choice of the hotel’s nine restaurants for $75. (There were other deals, but that was the one I picked.)
As for the classes, I learned great tips about book covers, promotion, and self-defense. (!?) I’ve gone to a lot of conferences over the past nine years, and it’s rare I find out something new in every class.

Too, Fiona Jayde designed this really nice banner and conference ad for me. The actual banner itself was sturdy and easy to put up; kudos to Jimmy, who worked the deal for the banners for his attendees.
Being a cover artist, I actually created a design myself, only to have Jimmy present me with two designs Fiona did for me. I instantly realized that Fiona’s were much better than mine, and so I went with hers.
By the way, my husband Mike and I went out to dinner with Fiona, who is delightful as well as a damned good cover artist. I really like her work.
So how did I find out the sexist pig thing? Well, part of the reason my expectations were a little low is because I didn’t know Jimmy.
Now, mind you, I love shopping for cover novel photos at his website,  Jimmy really understands women’s fantasies, and he knows exactly how to play to them when he poses. During a couple of different classes on creating memorable covers and swag, he gave us some great tips on the topic.
One of his points is that he has the photographer shoot a lot of images, then he just lets his eye skim over them to see which one pops out. He puts those on the site, because they’ll be more likely to draw the attention of romance readers.
He also stressed that what you’re looking for in a good cover is strong emotion, whether it’s a sense of sensual heat for erotic romance or tenderness for sweet romance.
Hand posing is very important in creating that emotion. When you’re aiming for passion, he said the fingers should dig into the skin of the other person, because that’s what you do when you’re that turned on.
Eyes are also important: both people should be looking at one another, not gazing off-screen. Which makes sense: if you were with Jimmy, would you be staring blankly into space?
I didn’t think so.
The models’ arms and legs should be bent, forming triangular shapes rather than extended into stiff, straight lines that lead the eye off the cover.
You want the reader’s gaze to circle around inside the image. If the characters’ eyes, the arms or the legs are pointed off-screen, he said, you’ll destroy the effect.
Jimmy is 6 feet tall, but he says he prefers to pose with women 5'2" or so on his covers because he wants to create the sense that the hero is physically overwhelming compared to her. (Though I’m tall, and I still found Jimmy physically overwhelming. He may not be 6’3”, but that is still one big human being.)
He said even if the woman crouches, the length of her arms and the size of her hands will unconsciously bother the viewer, because they’ll reveal she’s much taller than she looks.
So today I took his tips and went shopping  at Jimmy’s site,
Royalty-free high-resolution print-ready photographs are just $15, which is a great deal. I bought nine of them, including those shown here. A couple of them I got not because I have a book for them, but because they give me ideas for books I can’t wait to write.

Take the one on the left. I love this image. Look at his face. It just screams, “Yeah, she’s got me right now, but I’m gonna get loose in about five minutes and bang her like a kettle drum.”
Ah do declare, he’s givin’ me the vapors.
Then there’s the one below with BDSM Barbie and the guy on the other end of her leash. There's a whole book in this one shot. How did she get the drop on him, why did she do it, and what’s he going to do when he gets loose?
And he will get loose if I write it, because that’s just the kind of perv I am.
Like I said, Jimmy knows his stuff, and he understands romance readers in a way few men do.
Which brings me to the self-defense class he taught with Fiona. Most of those class things at conferences are fun to watch, but you wouldn’t be able to actually use those techniques if you were in danger.
I was attacked once, and I completely froze. I couldn’t move at all while the guy beat me like Apollo Creed whaling away on Sylvester Stallone at the end of Rocky. All I could do was scream, which did eventually drive him off.
Jimmy demonstrated how just digging your fingers into the notch of the collarbone can inflict pain enough to dissuade an attacker and give you a chance to run like hell.
Then he asked for someone to help him demonstrate how to fight off someone with a knife. He needed a partner taller than he is to do the move he had in mind. And since that described only one person in the room, my 6’3” husband sighed and volunteered. 
Mike’s been a cop for 25 years, and he knows something about self-defense. He said he was tempted to counter Jimmy’s move to see what he’d do. “But I was afraid he’d hurt me.”
Besides, the sight of my big hubby and Jimmy going at it would probably have given me the vapors…
I did mention my pervy streak, right?
Anyway, about the sexist pig thing…I must admit part of the reason I didn’t expect much from the conference is that I figured any guy who looked like Jimmy would have the IQ of a Cobb Salad.
Say it with me, girls: “Oink. Oinkoinkoink.”
Jimmy’s actually damned smart, he knows romance readers, and he has insights about art, covers and photography romance writers would do well to listen to.
I enjoyed RNC, which is going to be at the Golden Nugget again next year. I hope to attend it if my writing schedule allows.
And Jimmy, I promise to do a lot less oinking.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The First Chapter of The Once and Future Lover

 Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog.
This is an excerpt from a novel-length erotic romance in Wicked Games, an anthology of my erotic novellas which will be published in April, 2014. Please note that this book is not intended for readers under 18, so if that’s you, please head to Pintress or YouTube or whatever. You do not need to be here. 
Anyway, The Once and Future Lover is a prequel to my Mageverse series about the vampire Knights of the Round Table. It tells the story of how King Arthur and his knights became vampires, while Queen Guinevere and Morgana le Fay became witches. It also deals with what exactly did happen with Lancelot… 
I hope you enjoy it!
The Once and Future Lover 
By Angela Knight 
Chapter One

Gwen dreamed of death, of blood and terror and grief. She jolted awake. In her panic, she almost shot from the bed, but her husband’s brawny arm was wrapped around her waist. She stilled, his breath warming her nape.
Arthur Pendragon slept as he so often did, curled around her, surrounding her in his swordsman’s hard strength.
He’s not dead. It was only a nightmare. Going limp as a soaked rag in her relief, Gwen turned her head to press her cheek against his broad bare chest. His heart thudded in her ear, steady and strong and comforting. Like Arthur himself.
As her dream panic drained away, she heard the deep voices of the guards out on the balustrade murmur something to each other. They sounded unusually tense.
Gwen stiffened as reality hit her like an armored fist. Today was the day Arthur would fight to the death.
Against Mordred. His son, heir, and enemy.
Her stomach curled into a sour knot. She had to pace, do something, or she was going to start screaming. What if this morning's dream had been more than a nightmare? What if it had been a vision?
Slowly, carefully, she eased Arthur’s warm, muscled forearm from around her waist, swung her feet to the stone floor, and rose, trying not to wake him. They’d been up late last night, making love out of desperation as much as desire. Arthur needed to sleep every minute he could.
A cooling breeze poured through the open shutters of the chamber’s sole window, which overlooked the courtyard where he and Mordred would do battle in a few hours' time. A shaft of blue dawn light spilled in, illuminating her husband as he sprawled in tanned, brawny nudity across their bed.
Arthur was not a tall man, though Gwen suspected he was actually more muscular at thirty-seven than the nineteen-year-old she’d married, back when they’d called him the Princeling King. He still drilled with his knights every morning, going full out with sword and shield. Whenever she pointed out the likelihood of being hurt in such practice, he’d snort. “I’ll not grow too soft to sit a horse.”
Her beautiful man. Her handsome king.
Responsibility more than age had salted Arthur’s hair with gray. More pewter threaded the beard that framed his lushly sensual mouth, and sprinkled the soft, dark thatch that covered his powerful chest. Still, the hair on his groin was as dark as ever, a sable ruff surrounding the long cock she’d always adored, the heavy balls she loved to cradle in her palm.
If he dies, I might as well crawl into the grave with him.
Gwen had seen too many battles over seventeen years as Arthur’s queen. She knew what happened when an older man fought a big brute nineteen years younger, and it wasn’t pretty.
The wizard Merlin had promised power to the winner of today’s battle. Arthur wanted that power to better protect his people from the invading Saxons, not to mention a Celtic warlord named Varn who had been a thorn in his side for the past two years. Then there was the collection of former rulers whose kingdoms Arthur had conquered more than a decade before, any one of whom would love to topple the High King.
As for Mordred… Well, he just wanted an acceptable excuse to kill his father. Anything more was just gravy on the goose as far he was concerned.
Arthur deserved better than a bastard son who hated him.
If only I’d been able to give him the heir he needed. The most important job I’ve ever had, and I failed him.
Three pregnancies. Three miscarriages.
Barren. A term that conjured images of winter fields covered in dead, brown stalks. Devils and angels, how Gwen loathed that word.
A familiar bitter sting gathered behind her eyelids, and she clenched her jaw, blinking hard, forcing her twisted features to smooth. You will not cry. You will show only smiling confidence. You will not make Arthur doubt himself.
Doubt can kill a man in a fight like this.
Mordred had enough advantages as it was. Gwen wasn’t going to hand him another arrow for his assassin’s quiver.
Wheeling, she paced naked across the chamber. All too soon, they’d have to walk out into the courtyard below to face the prince’s challenge. Gwen only hoped Mordred didn’t win. Not only would his victory be a catastrophe for her and Arthur, it would be a disaster for the country.
Her mind flashed back to a night months before, when Mordred had tried to convince Arthur to declare war on the Picts. The king had refused.
“Our people are enjoying the longest stretch of peace we’ve had in thirty years,” he’d told Mordred. “Let them savor it a little longer.”
“Peasants.” Seated at Arthur’s right at the Round Table, Mordred speared a bite of mutton on the tip of his dagger and ate it with a wolfish snap. Chewing, he sneered. “What do we care for the opinion of peasants?”
Arthur eyed him. The Table went silent as courtiers, knights and ladies listened for their king’s response. Sitting at Arthur's left, Gwen watched the two men just as attentively.
“My son, peasants are the ones who do most of the dying in war. Marching armies too often murder peasant children, rape peasant wives, and burn peasant crops, leaving the survivors to starve. A good king doesn’t start a war unless it’s the only way to secure peace.”
Mordred dipped his head as a practiced courtier’s smile lit his face. “I will remember your wise council, Father.”
Arthur turned away to speak to Lord Kay. As Gwen watched, Mordred stared at him, rage and malice flashing across the face so much like his father’s. Then he saw her watching him, and the fury vanished, leaving behind the smiling Mordred she'd thought she knew. The man who, for all his arrogance, was the embodiment of a dutiful son, willing to lead patrols and drill the men while his father handled affairs of state.
At the time, Gwen had told herself she must have been mistaken. Mordred had to have been reacting to someone else, anything else, not the father who loved him. Clinging to that belief, she hadn’t told Arthur of the hate in his son's eyes.
Last night she’d learned the king had seen enough to have his own doubts. Arthur had ignored them because he’d remembered paranoid accusations his own father had leveled against him when he’d been the prince and heir, though the thought of treason had never even crossed his mind. When he’d begun to entertain doubts about Mordred, Arthur had decided paranoia must be one of the hazards of kingship.
He’d been wrong.
Gwen squeezed her eyes closed. With a queen's ruthless discipline, she concentrated on making her mind as smooth as a frozen lake, feeling no fear. No doubt. No pain. Feeling nothing.
“You know,” a deep voice purred in her ear, “you do have the most beautiful rump I’ve ever seen.” Arthur’s big hands cupped both her bare cheeks. “I made you queen for this arse.”
But there are better things to feel than nothing. She turned her head to smile up into her husband's wicked grin. If he was working just a little too hard at it, she'd do them both the favor of refusing to notice. He's not dead yet. And neither am I. "At the time," she drawled, "you told me it was my eyes that won you. Or perhaps my mouth."
"And so they were. You're a woman of many parts." He slid his arms around her and leaned down to take her lips in a kiss so passionate, it made a fine distraction. She opened her mouth with a sigh and leaned into his warm strength. His tongue slipped inside her lips, explored sensitive flesh, teased with gentle strokes. Heat gathered between them everywhere they touched, dancing along the surface of her skin, coiling in the tips of her breasts and between her thighs.
Arthur's arms curled around her, tracing the naked rise of her hip before sliding down to cup her between her thighs. One finger stroked her sex with an exquisitely gentle touch that brought heat rushing to her core.
As delicious as that felt, though, she knew they would be interrupted. “My maid and the servants are due…”
“We’ll send them away.”
“…and you did order Lancelot to attend you for new orders.”
“He can damned well wait with the servants. None of them will begrudge us whatever moments we can steal.”
She considered arguing, but Arthur’s free hand distracted her as it traced a leisurely path up her torso, his swordsman's callused palm a little rough. The erotic scrape of his skin along hers made Gwen squirm.
The thought of the duel tried to surface again, but she thrust it down hard. Arthur was right.
If this is to be the last time, let’s make a memory to keep me warm through all the lonely winters. Everyone else can wait.
Especially Mordred.
Arthur found her nipple, twisted it with the perfect pressure. He knew just how hard she liked his touch, when she liked it, and where.
Throwing her head back on his shoulder, Gwen rolled her rump against his erection. “Mmm,” she purred. “You’re very, very…tempting.”
“I could say the same to you.” The hand teasing her sex parted her innermost lips to stroke the delicate flesh. “Sweet as cream, and just as wet.”
Guinevere turned her head and smiled up into his dark, hot gaze. “As I said, tempting.” She let her body relax, let all her fear and tension go. It was a trick she’d learned years ago, before other battles, other wars.
Arthur gave her nipple a harder tug, drawing it out to the edge where pain and pleasure met.
She groaned in delight. It had taken her years to convince him to be even slightly rough with her. His instinct was to treat her as if she had no more heft than a cobweb, easily shredded by careless hands.
A second finger joined the one in her sex, and he opened and closed them as he milked one nipple. The combination of heated sensations maddened and teased. She writhed, pressing back against his hips, until his shaft slid deliciously along the valley between her cheeks.
As Guinevere rolled her hips against him, he groaned. “Watch it, woman. You’ll make me spill.”
“I’ll take that chance,” she panted.
“I won’t.” He pulled his fingers from her juicy sex, caught her by the shoulders, and spun her to face him. She went into his arms with an eager moan. His mouth covered hers, hot and wet and fierce. She kissed him back, starving, loving the feel of his hands cupping her arse, the hard length of his erection.
His tongue slipped into her mouth, and she chased it with her own, suckling and circling it as if it were his cock. He growled against her mouth and lifted her off her feet, cradling her arse in broad, strong hands. With an eager moan, Gwen wrapped her legs around his waist and hooked one heel over the opposite ankle. She started to lift herself with her horsewoman's strong thighs, meaning to impale her sex on Arthur's meaty shaft.
“No, I don’t think so.” Turning to the bed, Arthur spilled her onto her back across the mattress. Before she knew what he intended, he dropped to his knees beside the bed, spread her thighs wide, and buried his face between them. The first long, skillful lick tugged deliciously at her labia without touching her clit. Not quite.
“Arthurrrr,” Gwen moaned. “God, Arthur, let me suck you. I need to…”
He lifted his head long enough to growl. “I think not. I’ve other plans.” He licked her again, then leaned in to find that exquisitely sensitive spot between her pussy and anus. His tongue pressed hard, swirling with surprising force, triggering a tingling jolt up her spine. Her knees went lax. He used his fingers to part her lips and admire her glistening folds. “You’re so pretty here. So delicate. My own sweet rose.”
He leaned in, licking her with that seductive skill of his, exploring her folds with the tip of his tongue, then licking slowly up and down each interior lip.
Gwen shivered and lifted her knees, catching her ankles in both hands to spread herself completely.
He rumbled in approval. Sliding two fingers into her pussy, he pumped in, out, again and again until she twisted in delight, unable to keep still. “You’re so wet,” Arthur growled, his voice deep and dark. “You really want my cock, don’t you?”
“Jesu, yes! Please, Arthur…”
The king grinned, hungry as a fox contemplating a helpless hen. “No.”
He thrust one finger up her arse. The sheer unexpected kick of wicked pleasure ripped a gasp from her mouth. The gasp turned into a groan when he began licking circles around her clit, not quite touching the hard little nub, but swirling close enough to make her body ring with pleasure. All the while, he pumped his finger in and out of her backside in a storm of sensation that intensified as he caressed her body.
Pausing, he brushed her bellybutton, tickling her until Gwen squirmed. “Arthur, you wretch, stop that!”
"Would you rather I do this instead?" Laughing softly, he subjected each nipple to a series of twisting tugs that sent pearlescent ribbons of sensation up her spine.
"If..." She had to stop to pant. "If you insist."
"Oh, I do." Lifting his head, Arthur studied her slick folds with possessive eyes. A second finger joined the one plugging her backside. “One day I’m going to fuck you here. Hard.”
She shivered. “Now. Do it now.” There may not be a later.
Arthur laughed. “No. No, I think I’ll save it for a special occasion.”
Before she could wail a protest, his mouth covered her clit and sucked so hard, his cheeks hollowed. Gwen's climax hit in a storm of fiery sparks that bowed her spine and ripped a scream from her lips. Never mind the servants who probably heard; for once, she didn’t care.
Even as the pulses started to fade, he started finger-fucking her arse in long, ruthless digs. His black eyes watched her face with dark male hunger.
“Fuck me, Arthur.” Gwen gasped, writhing, desperate. Lost. “However you want it, do it. Jesu, please!”
With a low animal growl, Arthur surged to his feet and grabbed her behind her knees. A hard tug dragged her to the edge of the bed. He snatched up a pillow and shoved it under her backside, angling her pussy for his use. One big hand gripped the ruddy jut of his cock and presented it to her opening.
His gaze met hers, hunger stark in his warrior's eyes as he reared over her, broad-shouldered and massive from hours swinging sword and shield.
He entered slowly as he always did, making sure she was ready for him. As if I could be anything else. Gwen tightened her inner muscles, loving the sensation of that thick, meaty cock stuffing her by hot inches.
"Jesu, you feel delectable." Groaning, he brushed his thumb over her clit, first circling it with his thumb, then teasing the inner lips stretched tight around his shaft. He seemed to know every point on her body where he could trigger pleasure. Gwen moaned helplessly as he filled her deeper and deeper, until every inch of that thick member was inside her. Slowly, he rolled his hips, rocking, grinding. “So tight. So hot and slick.”
It took Gwen almost a minute to manage speech. “You are so…” He circled his hips, and her mind went blank. “Good.” That last word emerged as a whimper.
Arthur laughed, low and wolfish. “As are you, my lady.”
His cock…Angels and devils, his cock! Each stroke seared her with distilled pleasure, goading her into rolling her hips against his.
Arthur grabbed her behind the knees. Knowing what he wanted, she rested her heels on his broad shoulders, a pose that tightened her, heightening the sensation for both of them.
Pleasure pealed through her in bell-like reverberations of delight. Reaching up her body with his free hand, he caught the peak of one breast. Arthur knew just how to pull and tug the way she liked it best. Sensation piled on sensation with every hard thrust, until she hurtled into pleasure, the deep, hard pulses bowing her spine. Gwen screamed in delight, barely aware as her king drove to the balls, head thrown back with an orgasmic roar.
Arthur collapsed on the bed beside Gwen, breathing hard, his heart pounding, his skin sweat-slick. For a moment he was content to simply listen to her pant. “Why are you breathing…so…hard…?” he joked. “I did all the work.”
“I…offered,” she gasped. “You…turned me…down.”
“Good point.” Scooping one arm under her, Arthur hauled her over on top of him and tucked her blonde head under his chin.
“I’ve got…an…idea,” she panted, her heart thundering against his chest. “Let’s…just stay…right here. All day.”
“Tempting…” He managed to catch his breath, at least enough for a feeble attempt at a joke. “But I’d hate to disappoint the boy.”
“Fuck him.” The violence in her snarl made him blink. “You have given him quite enough as it is.”
“Apparently he doesn’t think so," Arthur said, keeping his voice light despite the desolation he felt. "And he is my son.”
“But he isn’t mine.” As he blinked, startled, she gestured wearily. “Forgive me."
"Nothing to forgive." But he frowned, for her outburst was telling. She had never reproached him about siring Mordred; for one thing, he and Gwen had yet to meet when he'd slept with the boy's beautiful mother. He'd been a callow seventeen then, fresh from his first major battlefield victory. Morgana, a year older, black-haired and beautiful, had been summoned to use her Druid healer's skills to save his best friend's life. Lancelot had lived, and the young king had celebrated his victory between the pretty healer's thighs.
What neither Morgana nor Arthur had known back then was that they were actually half siblings. Evidently, Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon, had fathered Morgana during an assault on her Druid mother. They’d only learned the truth last week, when the wizard Merlin had sensed the incestuous connection.
Ten years after Mordred’s birth, Morgana had brought the child to court as she sought to become Camelot's healer.
Gwen, of course, had known Mordred was Arthur's son the moment she saw him. His mouth, his nose, the shape of his jaw, all bore the Pendragon stamp. Most other women would have been outraged at being presented with a husband’s by-blow, no matter when he'd been sired. Instead, Gwen had greeted boy and mother with joy. From then on, she treated Mordred as her own.
For all the good it had done. Arthur sighed, absently caressing his wife's bare shoulder. “I would I knew what happened. Where I went wrong…”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t you.”
“It wasn’t Morgana either. She…”
“My queen?” Gwen’s maid called through the door. “It’s time. We have the water for your bath…”
Before Arthur could object, Guinevere scrambled out of his arms and grabbed the dressing robe she’d left draped on a chair. He rose reluctantly and reached for his own robe. “Wife, there are times you are too bloody efficient.”
The king groaned in pleasure as he sank into the huge bronze tub that required a team of servants to fill. The water was pleasantly cool, giving the building June heat. “God’s balls, that feels good.”
Gwen dropped her robe and stepped into the water between his knees, then settled down opposite him with a sigh of appreciation. “This tub has to be the most wonderful gift you’ve ever given me."
“Including the emeralds?”
She considered the question, head tilted, expression judicious. “Those were truly beautiful…” Her smile turned wicked. “But I do believe the view from here is even better.”
“I can say the same of you, though honestly compels me to admit that necklace was as much a gift for me as for you. I do love the sight of those stones against your pretty breasts.”
“And here I thought you were just generous.”
“Oh, I am.” He grinned at her. “I’ve also been fascinated by those lovely tits since the day I met you.”
Gwen gave herself a glance far more critical than the view deserved. “They are not as firm as they were when I was sixteen.”
“Those were a girl’s breasts, my dear. Now they are a woman’s. Don’t underestimate the attractions of a lover who knows what she’s about.”
Gwen laughed. “Flatterer.”
“You know better than that. I’ve never had the patience to think of pretty lies. The truth is so much easier to remember.”
He smiled and relished her return smile of appreciation. Her oval face looked soft and lovely, her large blue eyes smoky over full lips. Her maid had used combs to secure her hair atop her head in a messy pile of blonde curls. If there was any silver among that gold, he’d never found it. Her body was still as lithe as a girl’s, her breasts pert, her legs long, lovely and strong.
His one regret in seventeen years of marriage was that he’d never been able to give her the child she’d wanted. And now, of course, it was too late.
We’re left with Mordred, unless I can contrive to kill him.
The thought made his gut coil into a sick knot of guilt and pain. When he was growing up, his own father’s love had seemed as unreachable as the moon; he’d been determined to serve his son better. I should have saved myself the effort.
Mordred had grown up to be as big a cold-blooded bastard as Uther. More so.
At least Uther hadn’t wanted Arthur dead…
Knotting the thick leather belt around his waist, Arthur strode into the sleeping chamber, his chain mail hauberk ringing softly. As he closed the door behind him, he could hear women's voices as the maid dressed Gwen's hair.
Knuckles banged the balustrade door in a decisive knock. “My liege?”
“Enter, Lance.” He sat down on the bed and began pulling on his boots.
His dearest friend strode in, dressed in a mail shirt almost as finely made as Arthur’s, his helm tucked under one arm. At thirty-nine, he was a big, dark-haired man, hard-eyed and steady, as well as the best swordsman Arthur had ever known—and the king had known many fine warriors over the years.
“My lord Lancelot.” Arthur gave him a formal nod and dropped into one of the chairs sitting beside the cold fireplace.
Lance had never been slow at picking up on cues. He promptly dropped to one knee and bent his head, though as boyhood friends, they weren’t normally so formal. “My liege, how may I serve you?”
“Be seated." Arthur waved him toward the high-backed wooden chair Gwen normally occupied. "I would give you your orders before I begin this day’s work.”
“Of course.” Lancelot rose to his feet as easily as if he wore wool rather than chain mail. The knight looked impassive as he sat down, but tension tightened his eyes.
Arthur could make a pretty good guess what he was thinking. “You have my permission to speak, Sir Knight.”
Lance paused as if choosing his words carefully. “Am I still your champion, my liege?”
Arthur lifted a brow. “Have I told you you’re not?”
“I wondered if I had given some offense. It is a champion’s honor to fight for his liege. Unless you don’t believe I can win?”
“Unfortunately, that’s not the point. Merlin made it clear I must prove myself worthy to drink from this enchanted cup of his. If I refuse the challenge, none of my court will be allowed to attempt it. Given the political situation, we can’t afford to spurn any advantage.”
"That cup’s still not worth your life, sire."
"Don't assume the rest of the court shares your opinion. Immortality is a damned powerful lure."
"True, but your subjects love you. You are fair, quick to rein in abusive lords even when it costs you politically, and generous with those who need it, whether noble or peasant." He believed every word he said, too; Lance had never stooped to flattery.
Arthur grunted. "My father was a stone-hearted bastard, but on one subject he was absolutely correct: if God grants you a crown, He expects you to serve as much as you're served. Which is why I cannot allow myself to be branded a coward before my entire court."
Restless, he rose and began to pace the chamber, his mail ringing. “Another thing—what if Merlin decides to repeat his offer to Hengrid and his Saxons, or even Vran and that gang of bandits he calls an army? I have no desire to face un-killable warriors with the strength of ten.”
“So you believe Merlin's cup can do what he claims?”
“You don’t?” Arthur leaned a shoulder against the wall and eyed his friend.
“Merlin has worked some impressive magic,” Lance admitted. “But so did that magician who came to court two summers ago, the one who claimed he could bring the dead to life. Him you sent packing with a boot in the arse.”
The king frowned. “Merlin is not some simple trickster. He proved that last week.” The wizard and his partner, Nimue, had stepped through a mystical gate in the air into the Round Table chamber. Arthur had wondered if they’d been fooled somehow—until Merlin opened a second gate to the Chanel, then invited them all to step through. The king shook his head in remembered awe. “Leagues covered in a heartbeat. You were as wonderstruck as I.”
Lance braced his elbows on his knees, his expression troubled. “But what if it was some sort of illusion…?”
“We all stepped through that gate, Lance. We smelled the sea, heard the boom of the surf. That shell Gwen brought back is right here. Still smells of the ocean.” Flipping open the jewel chest that sat on the mantle, Arthur grabbed the oyster shell and held it up. “Is this some fairy trinket, spun of air and moonlight?”
Lance being Lance, he didn’t back down. “No, Sire. But even if Merlin does work magic, that does not mean he isn’t playing some deep and lethal game. We cannot afford to lose you. I don’t want to bend my knee to Mordred.”
“Do you think I’m that easy to defeat?” Arthur hurled the shell against the far wall so hard, it exploded in a rain of shards.
“No, but I do think Mordred is three inches taller, at least a stone heavier, and nineteen years younger. Any one of those things you could overcome, but all?" He shrugged.
“Lance, I've been making war since I was fifteen. Hell, you were there, fighting beside me. Mordred may be built like a bull, but I can scheme rings around him.”
“You can strategize rings around him. Don't underestimate Mordred's talent for scheming. And if he does kill you, what happens to the rest of us?” His lips tightened. “Especially Queen Guinevere.”