He only cares about revenge. Until he meets her.
A widow after only one year of marriage, Lady Roysa chooses to run to her sister Idalia, who is wintering at Dromsley Castle, rather than retreat to the property granted to her. What she doesn’t realize is that Idalia and her new husband have a secret—they are part of a rebellion against the king, as is their gruff host at Dromsley Castle.
The last thing Terric Kennaugh wishes for is a guest, let alone one who seems more concerned about fashion than the Order of the Broken Blade’s rebellion against King John.
He may be more of a Scot than an Englishman, but the English royals have a long history of doing his family wrong. He won’t miss his chance at revenge, especially not by the poorly timed arrival of a pampered English miss. Even so, Idalia is as good as a sister to him, and he cannot refuse shelter to a member of her family. To his surprise, he soon finds himself warming toward Roysa—whose beauty and stateliness is but a small part of what makes her a strong, noble woman. But love is a distraction he cannot afford if he is to have his revenge.
Dromsley Castle is about to become the first battleground in what promises to be an all-out war between the king’s men and the Order. Can love bloom in the midst of so much danger?
WARNING: Terric Kennaugh is a true medieval bad boy. If you have a weakness for expert swordsmen who know how to wield their weapons, proceed with caution.
Release date: October 30, 2019
Publisher: Altiora Press
Print pages: 238
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Stokesay Castle, Northumbria, 1214
“Your husband is dead.”
That the news made Roysa curious instead of sad said much about her short marriage.
“How?” she asked her brother-in-law, who seemed no more broken up than she felt. Which made her even more curious. Roysa had been married to Walter for less than a year. This man had been his brother for two and thirty years. Surely he should be reacting with something more than a nearly imperceptible lift of his thin brows.
“A hunting accident.”
It seemed those were the only details she would receive.
Lord Langham indicated she should sit. The small wooden chair with its velvet cushion might have been inviting if she were in her parents’ solar back home. But here, like everything about Stokesay Castle, the seat felt stiff and unwelcoming, much like her late husband. And his brother.
Although Roysa would prefer to retire to her chamber, somewhere she could absorb this surprising news and what it might mean for her, she knew she could not yet separate herself from this foul man’s presence. As always, her needs meant little.
“As his widow . . . ,” the brother began.
I am a widow.
Roysa had always been in possession of an active imagination, but this was one role she’d never imagined herself playing.
Walter had sat opposite her in this very chamber, chastising her about her “too lenient” treatment of the servants, mere days ago. And now he was dead. The finality of it was shocking.
She snapped back to the present. “He is truly dead?”
Langham did not hide his impatience. “I assure you, the death of my brother is not a matter I’d trifle with, my lady. He is, in fact, deceased.”
Why are you not upset?
Of course she’d not ask such a question, but it sat there on her tongue like a blackthorn berry, bitter and unfit for consumption.
“You will, as is customary,” Langham said, looking at her as if she were the least significant person in the castle, “have forty days to vacate. A dower manor will be arranged.”
Roysa had some idea of where he planned to install her.
Her guess did not please the new baron, the twitch of his brows reminding her of Walter.
“As per the marriage agreement, you will also receive Holton for a term of one hundred years, along with rent collected from its tenants. Over five hundred marks per year.”
Something in his tone gave her pause.
The new baron sounded . . . hopeful. Those were indeed the terms of the marriage agreement, and though she was glad he planned to honor them, she also knew Holton edged the northernmost border of their land. The border was a tumultuous place at the best of times—and this was most certainly not the best of times.
“Is it safe?” she blurted before realizing she should not have done so. How could she expect an honest answer from the man who’d just delivered the news of his brother’s death as if he were discussing the day’s weather? She watched his eyes carefully but could glean nothing from him.
“Of course,” he said, too smoothly. “If you will pardon me, Lady Roysa.”
A dismissal. One she would gladly accept.
Barely conscious of what she was doing, Roysa dragged herself to her bedchamber. Sitting on the bed she’d occupied for the past year, she contemplated what was to come.
What would it be like occupying Holton Manor as a widow? Although she’d dreamed of something very different before her wedding—a happy future here at Stokesay Castle with children and plentiful laughter—it had not taken long for reality to set in. She’d fallen in love with a man conjured by her own imagination. Her handsome husband had been neither honorable nor kind.
Her maid peeked inside, and for some reason, it was the sight of Lisanne that finally brought tears to Roysa’s eyes. Although her maid, who was six and twenty, was only her elder by two years, Lisanne had been married, widowed, and married again. She looked after much more than Roysa’s wardrobe.
“Why are you crying?” she asked, her gentle tone reminding Roysa of her sister Idalia, which made her cry a little harder. “My lord was a horrible man, God rest his soul. And a much worse husband.”
Pulling away, Lisanne grabbed a small linen cloth off the bedside table and handed it to her.
“Because I did not do so when Langham told me.” Aware she was making no sense, Roysa attempted to explain. “I felt nothing. What kind of woman learns of her husband’s death and feels . . . nothing?”
Lisanne planted her hand on her hips. “One whose husband mistreated her. Who refused to allow her to leave, even to visit her sick mother. One who should be thankful his brother despised my lord even more than the rest of us did.”
Roysa’s brows drew together. “Despised? I thought the brothers got on well enough?”
Lisanne’s look of pity did not inspire her to make further inquiries.
“You’ve not heard, then?”
“I came here immediately, and you know none but you will speak freely to me.”
Fear had stayed their tongues rather than loyalty. Roysa often wondered how she would have gotten along at Stokesay had Lisanne not taken her into her confidence.
“They’re only whispers . . .”
Lisanne hesitated. This gossip, whatever it was, made her nervous, which did not bode well for Roysa.
“Tell me,” she insisted.
“’Tis possible they are false rumors, my lady.”
She resisted the urge to beg her friend to speak, and instead waited for her to do so.
“’Tis said,” Lisanne said, raising and then lowering her shoulders. “’Tis said ’twas no accident. That Langham killed my lord for having relations with his wife.”
Roysa simply stared.
Her mother had often reprimanded her for gossiping with the maids, but she’d done so for a reason: the servants were often correct.
Lisanne’s worry became her own as she thought back to her short meeting with Walter’s brother. Langham had smiled as he spoke of sending her to Holton Manor. That smile had been anything but pleasant.
Although the story was outrageous, she suspected it was true. And she suspected something else—Langham did not plan for her to live comfortably there until the end of her days. He thought to dispose of her as he’d very possibly done with his brother. Title and land and the possibility of power did strange things to men, something Roysa knew all too well.
If she’d thought Walter dangerous, his brother was even more so.
And Roysa would not wait at Stokesay to learn if she was right.
Terric ignored the sound of swords clanging around him, focusing instead on blocking his friend’s blade as the blunted steel hurtled toward his head.
“The men are near frozen, Terric.”
Lance threw this bit of commentary at him as he twisted away from his counterattack.
Sure enough, snow dotted the frozen ground. March at Dromsley Castle, he had found, was as frigid as it was back home.
Though, he supposed, this was his home now. Terric had spent more time at his English estate this past year than he had at Bradon Moor. He’d known that would be so, of course, when he and his friends had formed the Order of the Broken Blade, pledging to either dethrone the corrupt King John or force him to desist his worst policies. All four of them, along with the barons and others who had pledged themselves to their cause, had given up something. Relinquishing his home, for now, was a small price to pay.
“The men may soon be fighting for their lives,” he huffed out, taking another swing. “The practice will do them good.”
Terric landed a blow against his friend’s sword this time, the sound ringing through the training yard.
“Again,” he prompted when Lance held up a hand.
His friend’s brow crinkled, which was really fair enough. They had been training since the midday meal, and now that darkness began to descend, he supposed their session should soon come to an end.
“Last one,” he amended.
As he always did in training, Terric imagined his sister, defenseless, splayed on the ground in front of the man who’d meant to steal her innocence. With a roar, he swung harder than he had all day. Lance deflected him, but he promptly lowered his weapon and held up his hands. This time, he knew his friend would not be waylaid. They were done for the day.
“Idalia will wonder if you finally managed to kill me in training.”
Terric sheathed his sword. “Not today.” Grinning, he slapped his friend on the back. As always, Lance remained much too serious for his liking. “You look as if the king himself waits at the gate.”
The blacksmith-turned-knight sheathed his own sword.
“He may well be at the gate sooner than we think.” The Order of the Broken Blade had finally declared their demands to the king several months prior. If he agreed, his tyranny would be at an end—if he did not, they would go to war.
The Order of the Broken Blade and the others who supported their rebellion had spent all winter waiting.
The other men in the training yard began to pack up their things.
“Has Idalia received word from her father yet?”
“Nay. Nothing since the last report. No movement from John’s allies has been detected.”
The two remained silent as they made their way from the training yard back into the castle. Lance stopped suddenly, pulling Terric to the side.
“John delays too long.”
They’d had this conversation so many times over the past months, Terric had nothing new to offer. He agreed. But they certainly hadn’t expected the king would immediately accept their demands.
Open rebellion against a king was not supposed to be easy. Or clean. They’d made their demands, and now they waited. And waited.
Dromsley Castle was as prepared as possible, although Terric’s clansmen had not yet joined them from across the border in Scotland. They would arrive as soon as the weather allowed for travel.
“’Tis maddening.” Lance’s jaw ticked. “How can you remain so calm?”
He was anything but.
“We will crush him,” Terric said in a tone that made even his hardened friend flinch. “If I am calm, it’s because I’ve been waiting for the moment John, or his men, dare to take what is mine. I look forward to it.”
“I worry for Idalia,” Lance admitted.
“You’re a fool for taking a wife,” he said, nodding toward the corridor. He’d said the words any number of times, although there was no heat behind them. They began walking once again, the smell of some kind of roasting meat reminding Terric he’d hardly eaten that day.
“Say as much to Idalia,” Lance dared.
“It’s as if you conjured her,” he said with a grin. Indeed, the very woman they’d discussed had just stepped into the other end of the corridor.
“You will not come into the hall in such a state,” she called to them, reminding Terric of the many times his mother had chastised him and his brother for entering the hall much as they had today, directly from the training yard.
It still amazed him, the way his friend, the steadfast warrior, changed at the sight of his lady wife. He became a man who smiled easily, spoke gently, and greeted his wife with a kiss. The pair of them had lived with him at Dromsley all winter, so Terric had become accustomed to their antics. And despite what he’d said to Lance, he was very fond of Idalia. It was almost as if his sister were here, with them, rather than back home at Bradon Moor.
“How will Dromsley Castle get on without you when you return to Tuleen Castle?” Terric asked as they reached Idalia. Turning to Lance, he added, “To be clear, I’m speaking of your wife. Not of you.”
Lance ignored him.
“You could, mayhap, obtain a wife of your own,” Idalia answered sweetly.
He laughed, Lance joining him, until Idalia planted her hands on her hips.
“’Tis not so outrageous as that.”
“Aye.” Lance placed another kiss on his wife’s nose in parting. “’Tis as outrageous as the idea of King John actually arranging a meeting.”
“More outrageous,” Terric muttered, shaking his head. “We will return.”
When they turned to leave, Idalia called back to them. “Clean and changed for dinner.”
“You’ll miss her,” Lance commented as he turned toward the corridor that led to the east tower.
“Indeed,” he agreed. He was sorry to see them both leave—and worried for their safety too. Dromsley Castle would not be as easily breached as Tuleen. Although it might not come to a battle. Perhaps the reason for the delay was because the king was considering giving in to the order’s demands.
The thought was not a welcome one. He was ready to fight.
He wanted one.
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