From the #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR.
When heiress Hastings Trent is joined with warrior Severin Langthorne in marriage, she must uncover the mystery surrounding a secluded estate known as Rosehaven.
Release date: June 1, 1997
Print pages: 384
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Oxborough Castle, Home of Fawke of Trent,
Earl of Oxborough
HER FATHER DIDN’T LIKE HER, BUT HE WOULD NEVER DO THIS
to her, never.
Even as she swore over and over to herself that it
couldn’t be true, she couldn’t stop staring at the man. The
air seemed to stir in seamless folds about him as he stood
utterly still and silent. She knew somehow that he wouldn’t
move, not until he had judged all the occupants of the great
hall of Oxborough Castle. Only then would he act.
His face was dark, his expression calm and untroubled.
Sharp sunlight poured in through the open doors of the
great hall, framing him there as he stood motionless. She
stared at him from the shadows of the winding stone stairs.
She didn’t want to look at him, didn’t want to accept that
he was here at Oxborough. But he was here, and he didn’t
look like he had any intention at all of leaving.
His eyes were as blue as the sea beneath the bright morning
sun, yet they seemed somehow old and filled with
knowledge and experience a man his age shouldn’t possess,
and distant, as if part of himself was locked away. She
could feel the strength of him from where she stood, feel
the determination in him, the utter control, the deliberate
arrogance. He looked to her like the Devil’s dearest friend.
His finely made gray cloak moved and swelled about him
even though there was no wind. The black whip coiled
about his wrist seemed to whisper in that thick, contained
air. But he made no movement. He was still and calm,
He wasn’t wearing armor, the whip around his wrist and
the huge sword that was sheathed to his wide leather belt
were his only weapons. He was dressed entirely in gray,
even his boots were a soft, supple gray leather. His tunic
was pewter gray, a rich wool, his undertunic a lighter gray,
fitting him closely. His cross garters were gray leather
strips, binding his leggings close.
No, her father couldn’t mean this. Surely this wasn’t the
man her father had brought to Oxborough to marry her.
Hastings wasn’t afraid. She was terrified. Marry this man?
He would be her husband, her lord? No, surely this couldn’t
be the man, more like he was an emissary from Hades or
a messenger from the mystical shades of Avalon.
Her father wanted to make this man of his line? Leave
him all his possessions and land? Bestow upon him his
titles since all her father had produced was her, a single
female, of little account in the long scheme of things. Except
for this marriage. Except to bind her to a man who
scared her to her very toes.
This was the man her father’s longtime friend Graelam
de Moreton wanted her to marry? Lord Graelam was her
friend, too. She remembered him throwing her squealing
into the air when she was naught but seven years old. Graelam
was as good as family, and he wanted this unearthly
creature to be her husband, too? Indeed it had been Graelam,
now striding into the castle’s great hall, who said this
man was a warrior to be trusted, to be held in respect and
awe, and who held honor more dear than his own soul.
Hastings didn’t know what it meant. Of course she
shouldn’t have heard his views, but she’d been eavesdropping
two months before, bent low in the shadows behind
her father’s chair. Now her father no longer sat in his chair.
He no longer ate his dinner in the great hall, in his finely
carved chair, served by his page and squire, both vying to
give him the tastiest cut of beef. Now he sipped broth in
his bed, praying it would stay calm in his belly.
The man’s cloak seemed to move again and she thought
she’d scream. All the Oxborough people in the great hall
were huddled together, staring at the man, wondering what
would happen if he became their master. Was he violent
and cruel? Would he raise his hand when it amused him to
do so? Would he brandish that whip as her father had done
when he had found that her mother had bedded the falconer?
Hastings hated whips.
The man’s cloak rippled yet again. There was an unearthly
shriek. She stuffed her fist into her mouth and
sucked herself farther back into the shadows.
The man slipped his gloved hand beneath his cloak and
pulled out a thickly furred animal with a bushy tail. There
was a low hiss of fear from all the Oxborough people in
the great hall. Was it a devil’s familiar? No, no, not that,
not a cat.
It was a marten. Sleek, thick-furred, deep brown in color
save for the snow white beneath its chin and on its belly.
She had a beautiful sable cloak made from this animal’s
fur. She’d wager this animal would never have to worry
about being a covering for someone’s back. Not held so
securely by this man. What was this warrior doing with a
The man brought the marten to his face, looked directly
into its eyes, nodded, then very gently slipped it once again
beneath his cloak inside his tunic.
She smiled, she couldn’t help it. The man couldn’t be all
that terrifying if he carried a pet marten next to his heart.
Graelam de Moreton stepped up behind him and slapped
the man on his back—as if he were just a man, nothing
more than a simple man. The man turned and smiled. That
smile transformed him. In that moment when he smiled, he
looked human and very real, but then he wasn’t smiling,
and he was as he had been, a stranger, a dark stranger, with
a marten in his tunic.
The two of them were of a size, both taller than the oak
sapling she’d planted three summers past, big men, too big,
taking too much space, crowding everyone around them.
She’d never feared Graelam, though. She knew from stories
her father had told her since she’d been small that he was
a warrior whom other soldiers backed away from if they
could, that her father had once seen Graelam sever a man
in half with one swing of his sword and kill another three
men with the same grace and power. She had never before
considered that a man could be graceful while he butchered
‘‘Graelam,’’ the man said, his voice as deep and rough
as a ship pulling at its moorings in a storm. ‘‘It has been
too long since I have tapped my fist into your ugly face
and watched you sprawl to the ground. All goes well with
‘‘Aye, too well. I don’t deserve what I have, the luck
God has bestowed upon me, but I give thanks daily for my
life. I caution you never to call my face ugly in front of
my wife. She has a fondness for it. She may be small but
she is ferocious in her defense of me.’’
The man said, ‘‘She is a special lady, unlike any other.
You know why I am here.’’
‘‘Naturally,’’ Graelam de Moreton said. ‘‘I regret that
Fawke of Trent is very ill and cannot be in the great hall
to welcome you. Hastings should be here to greet you but
I do not see her. We will sup, then I will take you to him.’’
‘‘I wish to see him now. I wish to have this over with
as quickly as possible.’’
‘‘Very well.’’ Graelam nodded to her father’s steward,
Torric, so thin Hastings had once told him that she feared
he would blow away whenever there was a sharp wind off
the sea. Graelam then motioned for the man to precede him
up the winding stone stairs that led to the upper chambers.
‘‘Then,’’ he said to the man’s gray-cloaked back, ‘‘you will
want to meet his daughter.’’
‘‘I suppose that I must.’’
When they were out of sight, Hastings drew a deep
breath. Her future would be sealed at her father’s bedside.
Her future and the future of Oxborough. Perhaps the man
would refuse. She walked into the great hall. She called out
to the thirty-some people, ‘‘This man is here to see Lord
Fawke. We will prepare to dine.’’
But who is he? she heard over and over.
People were whispering behind their hands, as if he
could hear them and would come back to punish them.
Their faces were bright with curiosity and a tinge of fear.
This was the sort of man who would wage a siege and show
She said aloud, ‘‘He is Severin of Langthorne, Baron
Louges. He, Lord Graelam, and their men will dine here.
MacDear, please return to the kitchen and keep basting the
pork with the mint sauce. Alice, see that the bread remains
warm and crisp. Allen, fetch the sweet wine Lord Graelam
prefers.’’ She shut up. They were all staring at her, all filled
with questions. She raised her hands, splaying her fingers
in front of her. ‘‘I believe,’’ she said finally, ‘‘that Lord
Severin is here to wed with me.’’
She didn’t listen to the babble. She was frankly surprised
that everyone, all the way to the scullery maids in the
kitchen, hadn’t known who he was or why he was here. A
well-kept secret. She knew he had just returned from France
to find his older brother murdered, his estate beggared, his
peasants starving, nothing there but devastated fields destroyed
by marauding outlaws.
Aye, he was here to wed her, the heiress of Oxborough.
She’d heard this when her father had asked Graelam what
he knew of the man, what he thought of him and his honor
and his strength. And Graelam had praised Severin, told
him how King Edward had requested Severin ride at his
right hand when they had been in the Holy Land during
those final battles with the Saracens. He had stood beside
Edward on the ramparts at Acre.
He was called Severin, she’d heard Graelam say, then he
would add as he rubbed his callused hands together, ‘‘Aye,
Severin, the Gray Warrior.’’
• • •
‘‘Severin is here, Fawke.’’
Fawke of Trent, Earl of Oxborough, wished he could see
the young man more clearly, but the film that had grown
over his eyes was thicker than it had been just this morning,
blurring everything, even his daughter’s face, which was
good since she looked so much like her mother, and it
pained him to his guts to look at her. Too much pain, and
now death was coming to him. He hated it, yet he accepted
it. At moments like this, he welcomed it, but first he had
to see this through.
‘‘Severin,’’ he said, knowing he sounded weak and despising
himself for it.
The young man gripped his wrist, his hold firm and
strong, but it didn’t hurt Fawke. It felt warm and powerful,
a link to both his past and the future, a future of many
generations, and his blood would continue to flow through
those warriors who would come after him.
‘‘You will wed my daughter?’’
‘‘Aye, I will wed her,’’ Severin said. ‘‘I thank you for
Graelam said, ‘‘I have told you she is comely, Severin.
She will please you just as you will please her.’’
Fawke of Trent sensed the young man freeze into stone
when he said in that damnably weak voice of his, ‘‘All I
ask is that you take my name. I have no son. I do not want
my line to die out. You will own all my lands, all my
possessions, collect all my rents, become sovereign to all
my men. You will protect three towns, own most of the
land in the towns, accept fealty from three additional keeps.
I have nearly as much coin as King Edward, but I have
told him I am barely rich, for I don’t wish him to tax me
out of my armor. Aye, you will wed my daughter.’’
‘‘I cannot take your name, Fawke of Trent.’’
Graelam said, ‘‘Severin, you need not efface your own
name. It is long known and you will continue to wear it
proudly. Nay, what is to be done is that you simply add the
family name of Trent to yours and the earl’s title to your current
one. You will then become Severin of Langthorne7
Trent, Baron Louges, Earl of Oxborough. King Edward
agrees and has given his blessing to this union.’’
It would serve, Fawke thought, wishing again that he
could see the young man clearly. His voice was deep and
strong. Graelam had assured him that he was of healthy
stock. He said, ‘‘My daughter will be a good breeder. She
is built like her mother. She is young enough, just eighteen.
You must have sons, Severin, many sons. They will save
both our lines and continue into the future.’’
Oddly, Severin thought of Marjorie. He remembered
clearly the glory of her silvery hair, her vivid blue eyes that
glistened when she laughed and darkened to a near black
when she reached her release. Then her image dimmed. He
had not thought of her in a very long time. She had long
since been married off to another man. She was buried in
a past that he would no longer allow to haunt him.
He said to Fawke, ‘‘Graelam has told me her name is
Hastings. Surely a strange name for either a male or a female.’’
Fawke tried to smile, but the muscles in his face
wouldn’t move upward. He felt the deep weakness drawing
on him, pulling him toward bottomless sleep, but he managed
to say low, ‘‘All firstborn daughters in my line since
the long-ago battle have been named Hastings in honor of
our Norman victory and our ancestor, Damon of Trent, who
was given these lands by William in reward for his loyalty
and valor, and, of course, the hundred men he added to
His eyelids closed. He looked waxen. He looked already
dead. He said, voice blurred with pain and weariness,
‘‘Come to me when you are ready. Wait not too long.’’
Graelam motioned for Severin to follow him from the
chamber. He nodded to a woman who went in and sat beside
Fawke of Trent, to watch over him whilst he slept.
‘‘Aye, if we can find Hastings, it will be done in two
hours,’’ Graelam said. ‘‘She is usually working in her herb
garden. Aye, it must be tonight. I am afraid that Fawke
won’t survive until the morrow.’’
‘‘As you will. Trist is hungry. I would feed him before
giving my name to this girl Hastings.’’ Severin reached his
hand into his cloak and pulled out the marten. He raised
the animal to his cheek and rubbed his flesh against the soft
fur. ‘‘No, don’t try to eat my glove, Trist. I will give you
pork.’’ He raised his eyes to Graelam’s face. ‘‘No other of
his species eats much other than rats and mice and chicken,
but when I was captured near Rouen last year and thrown
into Louis of Mellifont’s dungeon, he had more rats on his
dinner plate than a village of martens could eat. He didn’t
have to hunt them down. All he had to do was wait until
one came close, kill it, and eat. After I escaped, he wouldn’t
hunt another rat. I believed he would starve until he decided
that he would eat eggs and pork. It is strange, but he survives
and grows fat.’’
Graelam said, ‘‘He poked his head out a few moments
ago. It seemed to me he didn’t like being in Fawke of
Trent’s bedchamber. He quickly withdrew again.’’
‘‘He remembers the smell of sickness and death from the
dungeon. Not many of us survived.’’
‘‘Aye, well, now he will eat all the pork he wishes.’’
Graelam paused a moment on the winding stone stairs.
‘‘Severin, I have known Fawke and Hastings for a goodly
number of years. Hastings was a clever little girl and she
has grown up well. She knows herbs, and over the years
she has become a healer. She is bright and gentle. She is
not like her mother. As the heiress of Oxborough, she will
fulfill her role suitably. I will have your word that you will
treat her well.’’
Severin said in an emotionless, cold voice, ‘‘It is enough
that I will wed her. I will protect her from the scavengers
who are already on their way here, just waiting for the old
man to die so they can come and steal her. That is all I
promise—that, and to breed sons off her.’’
‘‘If she were not here to be wed, then you would have
to become another man’s vassal. You would still be Baron
Louges but you would watch your lands turn hard and cold
with no men to work them.’’
‘‘They are already hard and cold. There is naught left
‘‘You will have the money to make things right. You
will have Hastings as your wife. She will oversee the management
of Oxborough when you are visiting your other
‘‘My mother wasn’t able to oversee anything. When I
arrived at Langthorne, she was huddled in filth, starving,
afraid to come into the sunlight. I doubt she even recognized
me. She is a woman with a woman’s mind and now
that mind is mired in demons. She is quite mad, Graelam.
She could not hold Langthorne together. She could not do
anything save whine and huddle in her own excrement.
Why would I expect anything different from this Hastings?
From any woman? What do you mean she isn’t like her
‘‘Her mother was faithless. Fawke found she had bedded
the falconer. He had her beaten to death. Hastings isn’t like
her mother.’’ He thought of the girl Severin had wanted to
wed, this Marjorie. He had spoken of her long ago, with a
dimmed longing. Did he think little of her also?
‘‘We will see.’’
Severin was a hard man but he was fair, at least he was
fair to other men. Graelam knew there was nothing more
he could do. He missed his wife and sons. He wanted to
leave as soon as these two were married. He rather hoped
Hastings would approve her father’s choice, though that
didn’t particularly matter.
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