The Protector: A Medieval Romance
But once upon a time, he was a knight who had failed in his greatest duty.
It has been said that the Plantagenet royal family is full of vipers. No one knows that so well as Sir Fox de Merest, a knight of the highest order once given the ultimate assignment – to protect a royal bastard from the rage of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was a task he failed miserably at - he fell in love with the woman he was supposed to protect. That failure resulted in her being committed to a nunnery.
As the trainer known as “The Protector” at the most elite warrior training school in England, Fox has carved out a niche for himself training new recruits and distancing himself from the crushing failure of being unable to protect his love from a furious dowager queen. No one knows of his past, but ten years after his abject failure, the subject rears its ugly head again.
Fox’s lady love was Gisele of Gloucester, royal offspring of Henry the Young King, and now her uncle, King John, is brokering a treaty that would see her plucked from the convent thrust into the limelight of a strategic marriage. Fox is now tasked with saving her from a marriage that would certainly cause her death and taking her to safety – again. At William Marshal's request, he must take a leave from Blackchurch to try and finish what he started those years ago.
Can he complete his task, as ordered, without running away with her for good this time? Or will he deliver her to another convent in secret and simply walk away? Love, it seems, has no reason – and no boundaries, royal or holy.
For Fox and Gisele, it may be the ultimate sacrifice.
And the ultimate pain.
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Release date: August 31, 2023
Publisher: Kathryn Le Veque Novels, Inc.
Print pages: 324
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The Protector: A Medieval Romance
Kathryn Le Veque
Year of Our Lord 1204
Selborne Castle, Hampshire
“He did it!” came the scream. “Theo did it! I’m going to tell Papa!”
It was chaos in the kitchen yard of Selborne Castle. Beneath a bright blue sky that had
just cleared of a few summer rain clouds, the type that blew in and blew out quickly, the
ground was wet and slippery, too slippery to outrun an angry rooster that had been
dropped into the kitchen yard to terrorize the young women who were stealing cheese
from the buttery.
The children of Val and Vesper de Nerra were at it again.
“Run!” A young woman with hair the color of glistening honey was moving faster than
her companion. “Charlotte, run! He’ll catch you and scratch you to pieces!”
Even the servants were running as the furious rooster chased anything that moved. It
would have been hilarious had the rooster not had spurs that were quite sharp and capable
of doing damage, but Charlotte’s younger brother hadn’t considered that. He was on the
roof of the stable adjacent to the kitchen yard, watching the girls scatter and having a
howling good time at their expense.
Charlotte could see her gloating brother as she ran for the gate, which he had locked
when he dropped the rooster into the yard.
“Theo!” she screamed, now running toward the postern gate. “I’m telling Papa!”
Theodore de Nerra was laughing so hard that he could barely breathe. He didn’t actually
think the rooster could catch his sister, but part of him hoped it did. Perhaps the little ninny
would think twice before again putting some sort of purgative she’d stolen from the physic,
who had been visiting the castle to help cure his mother’s allergic rash, into his food. God
only knew what poison Charlotte had put in his stew, but it had been enough to keep him
up all night with fluids coming uncontrollably out of both ends of his body. He knew it was
her because she’d been the one to serve him the night before. It was one more volley in a
long line of volleys between them, the ongoing war between brother and sister.
But he had planned his revenge well.
His mother had a large chicken coop that she was quite proud of, and Theo had annoyed
one of the roosters until it was bristling with anger. Then he’d carried the feathered
tornado over to the kitchen yard when he knew his sister was there. True, she was there
with a ward of the family, and it was unfortunate that Gisele de Salisbury was caught in the
Collateral damage in the ongoing war between Theodore and Charlotte.
“Theo? What are you doing up there?”
Theo stopped laughing long enough to look down at the man who had asked the
question. He was a seasoned knight, someone Theodore looked up to. In fact, the man was
like a brother to him, as Theo had known him more than half his life. He pointed to the
“Lottie is getting her comeuppance,” he said. “She put something in my food last night
that had me up until dawn, so I put the rooster in the kitchen yard with her and locked the
gate. She cannot get out.”
The man gazing up at him from the stable yard cocked a disapproving eyebrow. “That is
a big rooster,” he pointed out. “If it spurs her, your father will have your hide.”
Theodore knew that, but he was still defiant. Mostly defiant, anyway. At his age, as he
had seen sixteen summers, his defiance could be more foolish than fact-based. “It cannot
catch her,” he said confidently. “You worry too much, Fox. Both Lottie and Gigi run too fast.
It cannot catch either of them.”
Fox de Merest’s face went slack when he realized what was going on. He immediately
turned for the kitchen yard.
“You idiot,” he said to Theodore. “Gigi is in there with her?”
Theodore frowned as he swung himself over the side of the roof, which was quite low to
the ground because the stable itself was built into a slight indent in the earth. “Why so
concerned?” he said. “Gigi runs faster than Lottie does.”
Fox would have slugged Theodore in the face if he’d had the time, but there was no time
to waste. The women were in danger. He reached the gate leading into the kitchen yard
and, seeing that it was locked from the outside, unhinged the bolt and threw it back.
Yanking open the gate, he could see the rooster prancing around, searching for victims, and
two young ladies huddled on top of the buttery roof. He headed straight over to the
structure, holding his arms up to Gisele.
“Come down from there,” he said. “Come down before you fall down.”
Gisele wasn’t apt to climb down with the rooster still on the prowl. “Not until the rooster
is caught,” she said fearfully. “He is trying to stab us!”
Fox sighed sharply, looking to Theodore, who had just come in through the kitchen gate.
“Catch that damnable rooster before it hurts someone,” he said. “Put it back where it
belongs and leave it there.”
Theodore didn’t like the fact that Fox broke up his fun. Big, powerful, serious Fox. A
wooden plank had better humor than he did. As Theodore begrudgingly went after the
rooster, Fox went to Gisele and grabbed hold of an ankle.
“Come on,” he said, gently pulling. “Come down.”
But Gisele resisted. “The rooster is still running loose.”
Fox simply shook his head, coaxing her to at least lower herself into his arms. He ended
up carrying her across the kitchen yard as Theodore was being attacked by the rooster
over near the fence. He was trying to grab the bird, but the feathered bully had no intention
of being captured.
The fight was on.
“It serves you right,” Fox shouted as he headed from the gate.
Theodore kicked the bird away as it tried to stab him. “A true friend would help me!”
“You do not deserve it.”
Fox set Gisele on her feet before heading back into the yard to pull Charlotte off the roof
also. With both women clear of the kitchen yard, where Theodore was now trying to use a
shovel to stun the bird, Fox shut the kitchen gate and left Theodore to deal with his own
mess. He faced Gisele and Charlotte, who were grinning up at him.
“You are a good and true man, Fox,” Charlotte said. “Thank you for saving us.”
Fox dipped his head gallantly. “It was my pleasure,” he said. “Do you require any further
Charlotte giggled and shook her head, shooting Gisele a long look before dashing off
toward the keep, undoubtedly to tell her mother what Theodore had done. Fox and Gisele
watched her go before Fox spoke softly.
“I suppose she knew well enough to leave us alone,” he said. “She usually does.”
Gisele turned to look at him. A man she’d known half her life, someone who was part of
her as much as her lungs or her heart. She couldn’t breathe without him, nor could she
stand to be away from him for any length of time. When it came to Fox de Merest, Gisele
had been hopelessly, and completely, in love with the man for six years.
Six long and agonizing years.
“Time alone is so rare,” she murmured. “Shall we take advantage of it?”
His lips twitched with a smile. “God, I hope so.”
“The usual place?”
His pale gaze moved around the stable yard, which was relatively empty at this time of
day. The animals were fed, chores were done, and it was the quiet part of the afternoon
when most people were either napping or off doing inconsequential things.
He cleared his throat softly.
“Aye,” he agreed. “I will meet you there.”
Gisele turned away without another word. She knew where their usual place was, but
getting there without being seen was the trick. There was a barbican to the south of
Selborne, covered stairs leading down to a small, fortified chamber that sat on the banks of
a small river called the Well Head.
Selborne was a very old castle, a Saxon fortress built well before the Duke of Normandy
came to the shores of England, and there had been a time when the Well Head was a river
that connected with larger rivers that traveled to the sea. Supplies could be brought to the
barbican via the waterways, but those days were long gone. At some point, the wooden
walls had been replaced by stone, as had the rest of the castle, and the small moat around
the fortress had been widened. Drawbridges and gatehouses were now the main point of
entry, and the big chamber on the banks of the small river was old and dusty and
It was their safe haven.
Gisele was very casual in her path to the barbican. It wasn’t normally guarded, but the
gate was secured, an old iron and oak gate that opened to the protected stairs. It was near
the keep, in an area where they stored the wagons, and Gisele kept a sharp eye out as she
made her way into the corral of wagons. Ducking low, she was able to get to the gate, open
it, and slip through.
Quickly, she made it down the dusty, steep steps.
The room at the bottom was another dusty space, forgotten by time, but she and Fox had
managed to build it up as a chamber for only the two of them, a place where they could be
alone in a world that very much wanted to keep them apart. The fortified chamber she
found herself in had an even smaller chamber inside of it, one that had once stored things
and could be locked from the outside. That was the chamber that she and Fox used for their
very own, with a rope bed and stolen furnishings like a fine coverlet and hides on the floor.
There, they could pretend there was nothing standing between them. Where they could
make-believe that theirs was a normal relationship and that, ultimately, they would be
together. It was a forgotten chamber of dreams. Gisele was so afraid that it was all they
would ever have.
So afraid that, in the end, all they would have were memories.
It seemed that was all they had even now.
Gisele had known Fox a long time. They met shortly after her tenth birthday when he’d
come to Selborne from Winchester Castle, where he’d been in service to the king.
Exceedingly tall, with broad shoulders, a big neck, and muscular arms, he presented the
perfect image of a powerful knight simply at first glance. But when one looked a little
closer, they could see his dark hair, chiseled features, and the pale blue eyes of a handsome,
and young, warrior. Those comely looks had the maidens of Selborne whispering and
sighing when he walked by, but he was full of youthful arrogance and had no interest in any
woman other than Gisele, because he’d come to Selborne for a specific purpose.
And Gisele knew what it was.
She’d known of her parentage for quite some time, mostly because William Marshal, the
Earl of Pembroke, was a frequent guest at Selborne, and she and Charlotte and Juliana,
Charlotte’s older sister, had once overheard a conversation between the Marshal and Val de
Nerra, the lord of Selborne Castle and Charlotte and Juliana’s father. The girls, who
eavesdropped on a regular basis because they were nosier than cats, got an earful when
they heard the Marshal allude to the fact that he was pleased with his daughter’s education
and thanked Val for guiding Gisele. More pieces of the puzzle fell into place the more the
conversation progressed, and when the Marshal had departed Selborne, Gisele confronted
Val with what she’d heard. He’d threatened to spank her for listening in on a private
conversation, but eventually relented and told her everything.
Fox had arrived shortly thereafter.
They’d spent years antagonizing one another, something she giggled at now, but
something that wasn’t entirely humorous at the time. She swore there were moments when
Fox was going to take her over his knee, but he never did. The young, prideful knight had
shown an extreme amount of patience with her, and Gisele knew it, so she supposed that
was when she started realizing Fox de Merest was something special.
It was a spark that grew.
Six years later, it was a roaring inferno.
“Christ,” Fox hissed as he came in through the door and shut and bolted it behind him.
“Theo caught sight of me and I had to outsmart him.”
Gisele looked at him with concern. “Do you think he’ll follow you?”
Fox shook his head, moving to the old table he’d brought down here and striking the flint
and stone against the cold taper. As the wick came to life with a small flame, he turned to
“He’s no fool,” he said, removing the gloves he was wearing. “He knows about this
chamber. About us. But he will not come down here, and he’ll discourage anyone else from
doing the same.”
Gisele collected the gloves he’d tossed on the table and stacked them neatly before
moving to an earthenware pitcher and some cups.
“They all know,” she said softly, pouring him a measure of wine that she’d brought down
a couple of days ago. “All of the de Nerra siblings. No matter how petulant they are to each
other, they haven’t spilled our secret in all of these years.”
“I heard a rumor that you were taking men to Ramsbury Castle,” she said, handing him
the cup. “Any truth to that?”
He took a sip of the somewhat stale wine. “There is,” he said. “The Duke of Savernake is
holding a gathering of local warlords.”
He set his cup down and began unfastening the belt and scabbard around his waist.
“Because John has the backing of some French mercenaries,” he said. “We’ve heard tell that
they are heading for our shores, and, more than likely, they’ll be close by Selborne because
they’ll probably come into Portsmouth. If that is the case, we must be prepared.”
Gisele watched him lay the scabbard on the table and work on removing his tunic.
“John,” she murmured. “My uncle, the king. Well… my mother’s husband’s brother, in any
case. I am related to a man no one can stand.”
He pulled the tunic over his head. “You are not related to him,” he said. “You do not carry
“That is not what everyone else thinks,” she said, sitting down on one of the two chairs
in the chamber. “Everyone thinks I am Henry the Young King’s offspring and that is why I’ve
been protected all these years. You think that I do not know that, but I do. William Marshal
does not acknowledge me because he is trying to protect my mother’s memory. What
would the world think if they knew Margaret of France bore a bastard out of wedlock?”
Fox eyed her. This wasn’t an infrequent conversation, at least the fact that she was the
Marshal’s bastard, but bringing up Henry the Young King was something new.
“Why do you speak of Henry the Young King?” he asked. “Where did that come from?”
Gisele shrugged, lowering her gaze and looking at her hands. “I don’t know,” she said. “It
just came to mind. I suppose it is my frustration talking.”
She gestured to the room with a soft white hand. “With this,” she said. “With everything.
With the fact that we must always meet in secret. I wish with all my heart that we could live
and love like a normal couple.”
“You used to say that as long as we could be together, it did not matter.”
She sighed faintly and looked at her lap. “Mayhap it did not at one point,” she said. “But it
“Because I want more now,” she said. Her gaze came up again, meeting his imploringly.
“I have loved you for six long years, yet you cannot marry me. I cannot marry you. You have
asked for permission only to be denied. I am growing weary of meeting you in a dark and
dingy room because it is the only way we can express our love.”
More of the same conversation they’ve been having as of late. Her frustration, and his,
wasn’t anything new, but they were in a very difficult position, and he sensed that she was
becoming impatient with it.
“It could be worse,” he said. “There could be no secret meetings at all.”
“I realize that.”
“Then you should be grateful for the time we have together, such as it is.”
“I am,” she said, but quickly corrected herself. “I am not. Fox, I want to be your wife. Can
we simply not run away to France and be married? You are a fine knight. Any lord would be
thrilled to have your fealty, and we could live in the open, as man and wife.”
He pulled off the linen undertunic he was wearing, exposing his broad, beautifully
muscular chest. “We have been over this, my love,” he said patiently. “Nay, we cannot run
“Because we would run away from everything we know,” he said. “The people, the
Her cheeks were starting to redden. “Everything that keeps us apart.”
“Everything we’ve worked for.”
Her eyes flashed. “Everything you’ve worked for, you mean,” she snapped. “I am quite
willing to leave everything behind because there is nothing for me here, but you… you are
not willing to leave the reputation you’ve built nor the position you’ve achieved. That’s why
you won’t leave with me, Fox.”
“That is not true.”
“It is never more obvious than when you try to deny it.”
He cocked a dark eyebrow at her. “What do you want me to do?” he said, trying not to
become irritated with her. “What do you want me to say?”
“I want you to be honest with me,” she said. “It is clear that your position and profession
is more important to you than I am. At least be honest and tell me so I know where I stand.”
“Is that what you want?” he said. “What then? How do you feel when I tell you that I love
my career more than I love you? Does that make you happy?”
She scowled, but he could see that tears were close to the surface. “Then it is true,” she
said. “You do love your knighthood more than you love me.”
Fox looked at her. That beautiful, fiery woman he couldn’t live without. She had hair the
color of sunlight through honey, dark blonde and glistening, as it tumbled to her buttocks.
Her eyes were incredibly unique as well as stunning, a sort of pale blue-green color, large
and tilted slightly downward. Her lashes, long and dusky, were part of that magnificent
picture. Fox could have stared at her all day, and, truth be told, there were times when he
had. But above the beauty and the emotions he’d long felt for her, he had to admit there
was some truth in what she said. He loved her, but he didn’t want to leave everything
He was still trying to work that all out.
“You are a woman with royal blood,” he finally said. “Your mother is a queen, Gigi. Your
father is England’s greatest knight. Your pedigree is astonishing. Of course I love you more
than my knighthood, but it isn’t as easy as that. Women like you do not simply run away
from everything, and most certainly, they do not run away with a simple knight. Is that all
you feel that you are worth? Running away from a situation rather than facing it head-on?
Is that the extent of your bravery?”
The tears began to glisten in those big eyes. “You know it is not,” she said. “But I want to
be your wife. I want us to live openly and love openly, not hide our love as if we are
ashamed of it.”
He held up a hand to silence her. “Listen to me,” he said. “Listen to me again so I will tell
you what I have told you before. The Marshal denied permission for our marriage because
he does not feel that I am worthy of you. That is true—I am not, not yet. He was kind about
it, but I still have a great deal to accomplish before I am worthy in his eyes. Do you not have
the patience for me to attain that?”
Her brow furrowed. “I do have patience,” she said. “But I am not getting any younger,
you know. Most women my age are already married.”
“Most women your age do not have men willing to wait for them, no matter how old they
become,” he said. “Whether you are sixteen or twenty-two or forty, I will still be here to
marry you, Gigi. I will not give up until I do. But you must let me work for it so that the
Marshal will give his permission without reserve. Can you at least understand that?”
Gisele had heard those words before. It was true that she was very impatient, but Fox
had a way of putting things so she could comprehend and see the logic. With a heavy sigh,
she closed her eyes briefly and hung her head again. “I understand,” she murmured. “I do
not like it, but I understand.”
He went to her, kissing her on the top of the head. “I know,” he said. “I do not like it
either, but I know it is better this way for the both of us. I love you, and I do not want to be
on the run with you. That would be no life for us, constantly afraid of being followed or
discovered. Do we not deserve the dignity of a proper marriage?”
He was right and she knew it, but her impatience and frustration had the better of her.
Tilting her head back, she gazed up at him.
“And you will not leave me for someone with whom a marriage would be a simple
thing?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Probably,” he said. “If she was rich enough. But not today.”
He fought off a grin. “I know,” he said as if completely unconcerned. “If you do not realize
I have a mercenary heart by now, that is your misfortune.”
With a smirk, she slapped him on the buttocks, and he laughed low in his throat.
Reaching down, he pulled her up against him, gazing down into that face he loved so well.
“You are a petulant, ridiculous child, and I do not know why I put up with you,” he said.
“But you are my petulant, ridiculous child, and I love you very much. There is no one else,
Gigi. There never will be. Only you.”
With that, he slanted his mouth over hers, hungrily, and Gisele responded immediately,
latching on to him, her hands in his hair as she pulled him down to her. Lips fused, Fox
picked her up and carried her over to the bed, where they both ended up falling onto the
straw mattress. Fox was on top of her, his arms going around her as he kissed her fiercely.
She was sweet, delectable, and warm. Everything he expected of her and everything he
His passion flamed.
Fox began to remove her from her gown. Fortunately, it wasn’t restrictive, and when the
ties were loosened, she easily slid out of it. He pulled it off her feet and threw it onto the
ground, pulling off his leather breeches in nearly the same motion. Nude, he reclaimed his
place on top of her, his mouth descending upon a taut nipple.
Gisele groaned as he suckled her, his heated mouth sending bolts of pleasure through
her body. He took his time with her, as he usually did, for he was a thoughtful lover. He had
been for nearly six years, ever since he took her innocence in a most tender and beautiful
way. She knew his body, his moves, the way he touched and liked to be touched, and her
hands moved down his body, caressing his buttocks as he nursed upon her.
In the midst of his mouth to her breasts and belly, Fox’s fingers probed the dark curls
between her legs. Welcoming his intimate touch, Gisele opened her legs to him, letting his
big body settle between them. This was how their lovemaking usually went, with Fox
kissing and suckling and touching every part of her while she lay there and let him. He
inserted a couple of big fingers into her body, and she drew her legs up, groaning. She was
already hot and slick, her body prepared itself for his entry, but when he tried to mount
her, she squirmed out from underneath him, pushed him onto his back, and put her mouth
on his manhood.
Now, Fox was the one groaning.
He didn’t usually like her to focus on his manhood prior to joining his body with hers
because he was always so eager to get to the heart of the situation. To feel himself within
her was a greater pleasure than anything she could do to him otherwise. But he’d taught
her how to pleasure him with her mouth, something she had very much wanted to learn
when he’d first introduced her to the art of lovemaking, and he had to admit that he was a
good teacher. She did a damn fine job of it. She plunged her mouth on him again and again,
suckling as she went, and in little time, he’d had enough. Any more of it and he’d erupt,
something he didn’t want to do.
Pulling her up by her hair, he rolled her onto her back again, pushed himself between
her legs, and thrust his long, hard length into her warm and quivering folds. Gisele sighed
with pleasure, bringing her legs up, wrapping them around his thighs as he thrust into her.
Her hands moved over his body, feeling the texture of his skin as her nostrils drew in the
scent of his musk. Her hand moved between them, touching their bodies where they joined,
and she fondled him as he made love to her. She savored every thrust, every movement,
with the greatest of enjoyment. She bit him gently, on the chest, and he growled with
When the moment of her release came, Gisele was catapulted into a blinding climax,
nearly screaming with ecstasy until Fox covered her mouth with his own to silence her.
Even though they were off in their own little world, he still didn’t want anyone hearing
them. But her release set off his own climax, and he quickly pulled back to remove himself
from her body, as he always did when they made love. He didn’t want to fill her with his
seed and risk a pregnancy, but as he moved to withdraw, she locked her legs behind his
buttocks and forced him to remain inside of her. Doing exactly what he didn’t want to do
but unable to stop himself, he spilled deep into her body, deeper still when he felt her
climax again around him, less forcefully than before.
It was sheer heaven.
For the longest time he simply lay there, embedded in her, feeling her hands roving over
his body, caressing him. She was holding him, cradling him, refusing to let him pull out even
when he tried to do it again. She just held him there, feeling him in her, taking delight in
Fox finally lifted his head.
“If you do that again, I will never bed you again,” he muttered, his voice low. “If you think
to force a marriage by conceiving a child, then that is a stupid and reckless thing to do.”
Gisele stared at him for a moment before unwrapping her arms and legs from him and
pushing him off her. Without a word, she hunted down her shift and surcoat, which he had
removed in one piece, and brushed off the dust from the floor where it had laid. Silently,
she put on the shift, then the surcoat, as Fox sat up in bed and watched her. After pulling on
her leather slippers, she smoothed her hair before going to the door, opening it, and leaving
She hadn’t said a word the entire time.
Fox sat alone on the bed, thinking of the volatile lady he was so in love with. Of course he
hadn’t meant what he’d said about not bedding her ever again, but he did think her actions
were stupid. She wasn’t stupid by nature, but she was bold and impatient at times. He
wondered if she knew what would happen to them both if she became pregnant. She
thought she was forcing him to do what she wanted, but the truth was that she would be
creating a worse situation than they were already in.
But he knew he’d hurt her feelings.
With a heavy sigh, he stood up and went in search of his clothing, dressing quietly and
efficiently, his thoughts lingering on Gisele. He knew she wouldn’t apologize to him—she
was too stubborn for that. He’d known her more than half her life and had never known her
to apologize for anything, so they would be angry with each other for a few days before
they started speaking again and then go on as if nothing had ever happened. That was what
they usually did, although sometimes they would talk about it again and reason through it.
That only happened over the past couple of years, as she matured—and, frankly, as he
matured. She was growing up, becoming a reasonable and astute woman, but in moments
like this, he could still see the young girl who simply wanted her way. That was something
they were still wrestling with.
But that didn’t mean he was content for her to be angry with him.
By the time he strapped on his scabbard, he knew he was going to go out into the bailey
and find her, probably try to soothe her. Men in love did stupid things, too.
But he didn’t much care.
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