Each story in this series is a stand-alone romance. Some characters were introduced briefly in other books, but you don't have to read those to enjoy these tales. If a character was introduced or appeared somewhere else, it will be noted here on the info page, Valladora Tales, and on my website.
If you're a fan of the Valladora trilogies (the Year of ... books), Desire and Duty is about Gwynn and Orman, whom we met in His Insatiable Bear (Year of Suns 1). It takes place during the week between that book and the next one, Bound and Bitten, which will be coming out Fall 2016.
Lots of readers, and my editor, have asked for MF stories set in Valladora, and there will be many in this series. There will also be MM, MMF, and MMM storylines as well.
Gwynn really liked the terms the merchant offered, and his price was reasonable. She sat at Orman’s desk and drafted a reply, as she felt Orman would agree with her. Her handwriting wasn’t very feminine, so Orman often sent off letters she’d drafted with his signature affixed. It saved all of them time. She set the draft in the middle of the desk pad and patted it with a sheet of blotting paper. She tossed the used sheet into the little basket by the desk and stood up, surveying the mess on the polished surface. She put the unopened letters in the wooden box on the corner and began sorting things out. Vane’s illness had Orman worried and flustered, so his study was even messier than usual.
As she sorted the papers and put the ledgers in their proper places, she considered what to do. If Orman liked her, why wasn’t he saying anything? Doing anything? He talked to her a dozen times a day. She wasn’t being courted by anyone, and she wasn’t a flirt like so many of the other maids. She did her duty and focused on that, just as Orman did. Now she thought on it, that seemed to make them very compatible. As she put the last paper into place, she wondered how red he might turn if she pushed everything off his desk and stretched across it to wait for him in a seductive pose.
He’d probably faint.
She giggled at that, and at just that moment the door opened. Orman walked in and stopped short. He looked around with a puzzled expression on his face. “Someone else here?”
She cleared her throat. “No, just me.”
He glanced at his desk. “Something amusing you then?” He closed the door and came closer. “I see you’ve cleaned my desk.”
“Aye, it was a bit messy. I know you’ve been under a lot of pressure with Lord Vane sick and all.”
“Yes, I have.” He met her gaze. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Anything you need, you can always ask me.” Gwynn decided to test the waters. She walked around the desk and stood right in front of him. Taking a deep breath to make her breasts strain against her bodice, she said, “Anything at all.”
Orman didn’t take his eyes off her face. “Then there is something. Lord Vane wants us to have dinner together tonight.”
“Really? Isn’t he sick to death of us?” she asked, wondering why Vane would want them to have dinner with him.
“No, you misunderstand. He wants you and me to have dinner. Together. Just the two of us.”
“He said that?”
Orman nodded, looking as if he was hiding something.
He seemed to search the air above her head for words before he said, “So we can just relax. Have some time to ourselves.”
She took a step closer and noted how his breathing shallowed. “Liar,” she said in a low voice.
“Excuse me?” he said, shock registering on his face as his eyes widened.
“Lord Vane is bored stuck in that room, and now he’s playing matchmaker. He says you like me, so out with it. Is he right?”
Orman looked uncertain as he searched her face, and Gwynn realized she’d never seen him look that way before. She swallowed and said, “I’m not teasing you.” She bit her lip and shrugged one shoulder. “All right, I am a little, but why are you looking at me like that? It’s just me.”
“Just you? I can’t think of it that way. Not at all.”
His brown eyes looked softer now, and his dark hair fell into his face as he gazed down at her. “Oh?” she said.
“That all you have to say?” he asked.
“Vane really said he wants us to have dinner?”
“Yes. He commanded me to have dinner with you, in fact.”
Gwynn almost laughed. “Did he, now? He wasted no time. He was working on me when you came in just a bit ago.”
“Working on you?”
“Aye, he was saying all kinds of things. How you smile more around me. How you’re happier when I’m in the room.”
“He may be right about those things. I do think I’m happier when you’re in the room.”
See where your teasing has gotten you? She pushed the thought away. “Are you?” She’d only meant to test the waters, not jump right in.
“Yes.” He came much closer to her. “I have to obey my lord and have dinner with you, but it’s something I want as well. It’ll be my pleasure.”
“Don’t I have a say in the matter?”
“Of course, but if you say no, you have to go and tell Vane that you turned me down. I’m not going back up there today. He’s threatened to turn his mother loose on us.”
“Turn her loose on us? What do you mean?”
He smiled. “You’ve never been to their castle, have you?”
“Vane’s parents? No, I’ve never been there.”
“Lady Evane is the real matchmaker in that family, so we need to be careful.”
“Be careful? What would she do?”
Orman laughed and walked around his desk. “She once locked two people in the wine cellar to get them to admit their true feelings for each other.”
“Oh, there’s no way that happened.”
“Ask her. She considers it a triumph. They were married within a month.”
Gwynn let her gaze wander over the desk. “Hmmm.”
“Well, can I have an answer?”
Gwynn put a hand on her right hip. “Not until you ask me properly. I don’t care what Vane said. I’m not having dinner with anyone because someone told me to.”
“All right then. I want to have dinner with you because I do like you. I have for a very long time. Will you?”
She plumped up the pillow in the chair in front of Orman’s desk before saying, “I suppose so. Not very flattering, though, that you had to be forced to ask me.”
Orman walked around the desk and came up to her again. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but you should be very flattered. I didn’t ask before now because I don’t think I’m good enough for you.”
“You’re the lord’s steward. What are you talking about?” If she’d set her sights on him, people would’ve said she was doing it to raise her station and earn more favor. What he said made no sense at all.
Orman laughed. “You’re a strong woman and beautiful in the bargain. I’m more than ten years older than you and not much to look at. I see the way men your age look at you. Handsome, strong men that other girls fawn over.”
“Well, you don’t see me fawning over them. Good looks are just luck, and muscles come from working hard.” She gave him a quick once over. “There’s nothing wrong with the way you look, and who cares how old you are.”
Orman came even closer, tilting his head and looking as if he was about to kiss her.
Gwynn stepped back and dusted her skirts off. “Well, if we’re having dinner, I need to finish a few things before then. Where do you want me?” She cringed at how that had come out, but she couldn’t help it. She’d kissed plenty of men, but she wasn’t ready to kiss this one.
Not yet anyway.
Orman seemed to take the hint well enough. She couldn’t even be sure he’d been trying to kiss her. He was so much taller than she was he might’ve just been trying to hold her gaze from that angle. “Yes, I need to see to a few things, too. I’ll come to your room for you about seven? We could take a picnic basket outside, just in time for the sunset. That way we won’t be in anyone’s way or need anyone to serve us or set up. That all right?”
“Sounds like a good idea.” Was he truly being considerate of others or trying to ensure some privacy? Now she wished she hadn’t teased him and practically shoved her breasts in his face. “I’ll be ready.” She turned to go, but then she looked back and pointed. “There’s a reply for the merchant. I liked what he had to say. Change anything you like.”
Orman smiled at her. “I’m sure it’s fine.” He looked into her eyes. “We make a great team, you know?”
“Aye, we do pretty well. Think alike, I guess.”
“And you look ready to bolt.” He took up the letter to read it. “Go on. I’ve wasted enough of your time.”
She wanted to argue with him, a bit insulted at the implication she was scared or anything, but instead she grabbed the doorknob and twisted it to make her escape.
And it came off in her hand.
Oh, fuck me. Has Lady Evane somehow found out? Did she come down here and loosen the knob from the other side? Gwynn wondered what Evane would be expecting of them if she had.
“Damn, I thought I’d fixed that.” Orman came over and took the knob from her, oblivious to her distress and wayward thoughts. He fit the knob back in and twisted it very gently. “I’m just going to have the entire thing replaced. It’s getting ridiculous.”
“Aye, best see to that,” she said, not quite bolting but definitely quickening her pace as she moved around him. She went straight to the kitchen and grabbed a basket to gather some herbs. She wasn’t fit to be around anyone right now, and she needed time to think.