Authors: A Knight's Honor
“She delivers what longtime romance readers want: remarkable characters and a story that sweeps them away.”
“This is classic Mason. Her fans will put this on the top of their to-read lists.”
“Mason’s romances are always a feast for readers seeking a passionate, exciting story peopled with larger-than-life heroes who take your breath away.”
“A legend of the genre, Mason delivers a tried-and-true romance with a classic plot and highly engaging characters.”
“Ms. Mason has written another winner to delight her fans who want sexual tension that leads to hot explosion, memorable characters and a fast-paced story.”
“[Ms. Mason] crafts with excellence and creativity . . . [and] the added attraction of mystery and magic.”
“. . . Upholds the author’s reputation for creating memorable stories and remarkable characters.”
“Ms. Mason has written a rich medieval romance filled with tournaments, chivalry, lust and love.”
“Ms. Mason always provides the reader with a hot romance, filled with plot twists and wonderful characters. She’s a marvelous storyteller.”
“Ms. Mason has created memorable characters and a plot that made this reader rush to turn the pages . . .
is an enduring story.”
“Connie Mason at her best! She draws readers into this fast-paced, tender and emotional historical romance that proves love really does conquer all!”
Other books by Connie Mason:
A BREATH OF SCANDAL
A LOVE TO CHERISH
A PROMISE OF THUNDER
A TASTE OF PARADISE
A TASTE OF SIN
A TOUCH SO WICKED
BEYOND THE HORIZON
BOLD LAND, BOLD LOVE
BRAVE LAND, BRAVE LOVE
CARESS AND CONQUER
ICE AND RAPTURE
LORD OF DEVIL ISLE
LORD OF THE NIGHT
LOVE ME WITH FURY
MY LADY VIXEN
PROMISE ME FOREVER
SEDUCED BY A ROGUE
SURRENDER TO THE FURY
TAKEN BY YOU
TEARS LIKE RAIN
TEMPT THE DEVIL
THE BLACK KNIGHT
THE DRAGON LORD
THE LAIRD OF STONEHAVEN
THE LAST ROGUE
THE OUTLAWS: JESS
THE OUTLAWS: RAFE
THE OUTLAWS: SAM
THE PIRATE PRINCE
THE PRINCE OF PLEASURE
THE ROGUE AND THE HELLION
TO LOVE A STRANGER
TO TAME A RENEGADE
TO TEMPT A ROGUE
TREASURES OF THE HEART
WILD LAND, WILD LOVE
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Copyright © 2005 by Connie Mason
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ISBN 13: 978-1-4285-1172-9
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Mildenhall Castle, Norfolk, England, 1414
Mariah of Mildenhall entered her husband’s bedchamber, pleased to find him awake. He appeared in better spirits than she had seen him in several days.
“Mariah, my dear, come sit beside me,” Edmond said, making room on the edge of the bed for her.
“You seem in good spirits today, husband. Are you feeling better?”
Edmond of Mildenhall, a gaunt, elderly man with kind eyes, sighed. “We both know I am nearing the end of my life.”
Mariah grasped his hand, her voice fraught with concern. “You cannot give up, Edmond. You must live. What will I do without you?”
“Think you I do not know what my death will do to you? I am an old man, Mariah, a very sick one. I would have died long ago if you had not come into my life. You were but a child placed under my guardianship when I was already an old man.”
A tear slipped down Mariah’s cheek. “I love you, Edmond.”
“I know you do, but as a father.” She shook her head, refusing to look at him. He held up a hand. “Nay, do not deny it. I wed you to save you from being given to the husband the king had chosen for you. I knew the man and his reputation for cruelty well, and could not bear to see you abused. You were but fourteen when we wed, still a child.”
“Now that I am one and twenty, I still love you.”
Edmond reached out a bony hand and caressed her satiny smooth cheek. “Thank you for that, little one. But we have more practical things to talk about. The last physician I consulted gave me only a year or two before my heart gives out, if I spend most of my days in bed. Edwina, the healer you put such store in, agrees with him. Lying in bed is not something I enjoy.”
“What do you wish to talk about?” Mariah asked, though she had a good idea. Her future looked bleak indeed.
“My brother Osgood has his sights set on Mildenhall. Since I have no heir, he will claim it once I have drawn my last breath. I do not want that to happen. Mildenhall is your home, the only one you have known since your parents’ death from the fever that swept through England when you were a wee lass of seven.”
Mariah stared at her hands.
“I know what you are thinking, Mariah. The times I’ve bedded you during our seven-year marriage have been few. I knew I needed an heir to keep Mildenhall out of my brother’s hands, but each time I bedded you, I felt I was committing a mortal sin. You were more daughter to me than wife.”
“Do not worry about me, Edmond. Concentrate on getting well. I will still have a widow’s portion.”
“ ’Tis not enough. You would have to leave Mildenhall, perhaps find another husband. But my worst fear is that Osgood will force you to wed his son.”
Mariah blanched. “I would never wed that despicable lecher.”
“He could petition King Henry for approval, and then you would have no choice. Our warrior king might look favorably upon Osgood’s request because of my brother’s reputation as a fierce knight.”
“You’re frightening me, Edmond. I am but a woman, who must yield to laws made by men. I am neither weak nor bird-brained, yet I am not allowed to inherit my home unless I have a male heir. ’Tis unfair.”
“Life is unfair, my dear, especially so for a woman. There is only one solution. I waited until I felt strong enough to speak to you about this. You must present me with an heir.”
Mariah looked at her frail husband, a man who rarely left his bed, a kind man who would do nothing to hurt her; a man who considered her the daughter he’d never had. She wondered how he expected to accomplish the miracle of producing a child.
“Do not look at me so, Mariah. You know I am incapable of bedding you.”
“Listen to me, sweet child, listen carefully. I would find no fault with you if you found an honorable man to give you a child. There must be someone in Mildenhall you fancy.”
“Edmond! How could you suggest such a thing?”
“After I am gone, you will have no one to protect you. A son would secure Mildenhall for you. If you had one, not even Osgood or the king could force you to leave.”
She shrank away from him. “I cannot.”
He grasped her hands. “Do you love me, Mariah?”
“You know I do.”
“Then take a lover and give me a son.”
“I cannot,” she repeated.
Edmond sank into the mattress and closed his eyes, weary unto death. But he couldn’t die and leave Mariah just yet. Poor Mariah. A woman as young, as beautiful and full of life as his wife deserved better than the hand fate had dealt her.
Except for a few brief couplings he’d managed once she had reached seventeen, he hadn’t touched her despite his need for an heir. Over the years, Mariah had become his beloved daughter, one who had never known desire or experienced passion with a virile man.
“You didn’t answer my question, Mariah. Is there no man among Mildenhall’s knights you fancy?”
Mariah shook her dark head. “I took vows, Edmond. Sacred vows.”
“The sin is not yours when a husband cannot function as a man, and hasn’t for many years. Do not naysay me until you have considered my proposal. A male heir would solve both our problems.”
Mariah had watched Edmond wither before her eyes. How she loved this dear old man. She would do anything for him. Anything except betray him. Even if she did as he asked and took a lover from among the castle’s knights, her sin wouldn’t remain a secret for long. It would be impossible to hide the truth from the inhabitants
of Mildenhall, and Osgood would have reason to doubt his brother’s ability to sire an heir. Osgood was a cruel man; he wouldn’t rest until he ferreted out her lie.
“All this talk has tired you,” Mariah said, pressing a kiss on his papery cheek. “We will discuss this later.”
“Please think about what I have said,” Edmond rasped as Mariah let herself out of the chamber.
Norfolk, England, 1414
Sir Falcon of Gaveston whistled a happy tune as he traveled along a deserted roadway through a forest in a part of Norfolk he had traveled only once before. A fortnight ago he had become betrothed to a wealthy maiden whom King Henry had promised him for his bravery at the battle of Agincourt in France. Henry’s ten thousand archers had shattered the French knights, and Falcon had ridden at Henry’s side, one of the king’s own knights.
Rosamond of Norwich was an heiress who would bring him the wealth and land he yearned for. As a third son and landless, Falcon had to make his own way in life, earn his own keep and find a way to obtain a piece of England to call his own.
After meeting Rosamond, Falcon had decided that Henry had chosen well for him. The heiress had proved to be a raven-haired beauty who had found him as favorably disposed as he had found her. Marriage to Rosamond wasn’t going to be difficult; the fervent kisses they had
shared during stolen moments alone had been more than satisfactory.
If Rosamond appeared frivolous, Falcon blamed it on her youth. Though her flirtatious manner with other men did not please him, he felt confident in his ability to tame her wild ways. All in all, the visit had gone well. The terms of Rosamond’s dowry had been ironed out between him and Rosamond’s father, the Earl of Norwich, and the wedding was set for a fortnight hence. Rosamond and her father planned to travel to London, where the wedding would take place in the king’s own chapel.
Falcon was a happy man. The land and small fortress that would be his upon his marriage earned a good profit from crops and sheep. Aye, Falcon’s life couldn’t be better right now.
The tiny village where Falcon hoped to engage a room and a meal at an inn lay ahead. It was growing dark. Shadows began to lengthen, casting the forest in near darkness. A prickling at the back of Falcon’s neck made him wish he had not decided to travel alone. But since his visit to Norwich was of a personal nature, he had left his men and squire behind in London.
A rustling of leaves made his horse perk up his ears and skitter sideways. Falcon patted his neck and spoke soothingly to him, but the animal refused to settle down. Deciding that his faithful palfrey knew something he didn’t, Falcon reached for his sword. A moment later pandemonium broke loose.
Two burly men dressed in rags and wielding cudgels dropped from the trees, knocking him from the saddle. These were the brigands whom Lord Norwich had warned him about, Falcon thought in a moment of clarity.
They lived in the forest, attacking and robbing travelers foolish enough to be caught alone on the road after nightfall.
Falcon rolled to his feet and drew his sword, preparing to defend himself. He realized his was a losing battle when he saw several more men materialize from the forest and surround him. Falcon fought fiercely, with uncommon valor, but he was one man against many. He managed to wound two men and kill another before he was brought to his knees and dealt a crippling blow to the head by a bandit who had managed to creep up behind him while he fought off a vicious frontal attack.
Falcon fell senseless to the ground, unaware of the blows falling randomly, one after another. When the leader finally called a halt, Falcon lay bruised and battered beyond recognition. As a final insult, the bandits stole his valuables, ruthlessly stripped off his clothing and left him lying naked and vulnerable in the dirt. Taking Falcon’s horse with them, they melted into the forest, leaving the king’s knight unconscious and close to death.
Falcon lay in the middle of the road throughout the night. His body was discovered shortly after sunup by a cotter on his way to Mildenhall Castle to deliver produce.
The cotter, a husky man of middle years, drew his donkey cart to a halt, leapt down and cautiously approached the naked man. After a moment’s contemplation, he nudged Falcon with his foot. “Are ye dead, then?”
A tormented moan answered his question.
“Well, then, what am I going to do with ye?”
No answer was forthcoming. “I suppose I can take ye to the castle since I’m going that way. If the ride in the back of my cart don’t kill ye, mayhap old Edwina can fix ye.”
The cotter lifted Falcon’s broken body into his cart and covered him with a horse blanket. Then he climbed onto the driver’s bench and plodded off toward Mildenhall Castle.
“Milady, a cotter has just brought a wounded man to the castle,” Sir Martin, Mildenhall’s steward, informed Mariah. “He’d been badly beaten and left in the forest for dead.”
Mariah looked up from the silver she had been counting. “Where did you put the poor man?”
“I had him carried to a guest room in the solar. I hope that meets with your approval.”
“Did you summon Edwina?”
“Aye, though I fear he is beyond the healer’s help.”
Mariah lifted her skirts and hurried toward the winding stone staircase. “I shall go to him immediately.”
“Wait!” Sir Martin called after her, but she paid him no heed. He followed in Mariah’s wake, his tunic flapping about his knees.
Mariah entered the chamber and came to an abrupt halt. The man lying on the bed was naked and bleeding from numerous cuts and bruises. His muscular body, honed biceps, powerful torso and sturdy legs were those of a warrior. Obviously, the man was well acquainted with death and violence.
Huffing and puffing, Sir Martin rushed into the chamber behind Mariah. “Milady, I tried to warn you. The man was brought in as you see him before you.”
“Has he spoken? Do you know who he is?”
“Nay. He said naught to the cotter and naught since he reached the castle. Think you he will die?”
“I do not know. Return to the hall and wait for Edwina. Bring her to me as soon as she arrives.”
Sir Martin’s eyes settled on the naked man. “I cannot leave you alone with him.”
“A man in his condition can do me no harm. Go, Sir Martin.”
Mariah approached the bed. The poor man hadn’t moved since she’d arrived in the chamber. Her breath caught; he was a masterpiece of hair-roughened bronze skin pulled taut over rippling muscles. As she reached for a coverlet and started to ease it over him, her gaze settled on a part of him she had refused to look at when she first entered the chamber.
Never in her life had she seen a male as magnificently endowed as the man lying in the bed. Since she had never seen her husband naked, she’d had no idea a man’s male part could be so fascinating. Shaking such wicked thoughts from her head, she drew the coverlet over the stranger’s battered body and gazed into his bruised countenance.
Mariah couldn’t tell what the man looked like, for his face was swollen and covered with purple and yellow bruises. His eyes, ringed with black, were sunken into their sockets, and his chin was covered with day-old stubble as black as the hair on his head. She hadn’t even touched him, and yet, inexplicably, she was stirred.
Mariah was still staring at him, wondering about the color of his eyes, when a bent old woman carrying a basket over her arm hobbled into the chamber.
“Who is he, milady?” Edwina asked as she approached the bed.
“I know not,” Mariah replied. “The poor soul took a fearsome beating. Apparently, he was set upon by bandits.
They stole everything he owned and left him for dead. If he had a horse, it, too, was taken. We’ll have to wait for him to awaken to learn his name. Can you help him?”
“Depends on how badly he’s hurt. Step aside, milady, while I tend his wounds.”
Mariah backed away, unwilling to leave until she knew if the man would live. Something about him reached inside her in a way she had never experienced before. She closed her eyes and willed him to live. If will alone would make him well, he’d be in excellent health right now.
“I need hot water, milady, and clean cloths.”
“I’ll see to it,” Mariah said, slipping from the chamber. Mariah sent a maidservant to fetch hot water from the kitchen, and then she headed to her chamber for cloths she kept in a cupboard for her personal use.
Edmond was awake and sitting in a chair before the hearth. Cedric, his personal servant, stood nearby, waiting to help his master into bed. Edmond looked up when Mariah entered. “Sir Martin just informed me that a wounded man was brought to the castle this morning.”
“Aye, he’s in dreadful shape. Edwina is with him.”
“A young man?” Edmond rasped with more animation than Mariah had noted in a long time.
“I think so, though ’tis hard to tell. He was beaten and left for dead on the road. We won’t know who he is until he can speak.”
Mariah retrieved the cloths she had come for and turned to the door.
“Keep me informed,” Edmond called after her.
Edwina was bent over her patient when Mariah returned. The hot water had already arrived, awaiting the cloths Mariah brought.
“How is he?” Mariah asked.
“Still alive,” the old woman answered.
“Has he spoken?”
“Naught but groans have come from his mouth.”
Mariah watched as Edwina bathed the man’s face and searched his head for wounds.
“Ah,” Edwina said.
“What did you find?”
“A lump the size of a goose egg.” She cleansed the blood from his wound and applied salve. “Judging from the color of his bruises, he has lain unconscious and unattended for hours, mayhap all night. If he doesn’t wake up soon, I hold scant hope for his survival.”
“What of his other injuries?”
“The man must be made of iron. I could find no broken bones despite the battering he took, though he may have injuries that I cannot see.” She shrugged. “Other than apply salve to his wounds and feed him an infusion to ease his pain, there is naught I can do for him. We will have to wait and see what happens.”
Edwina worked diligently over the man, soothing his hurts with marigold salve and mixing a potion that she dribbled into his mouth to ease his pain. “I will return later,” she said as she collected her herbal concoctions and returned them to the basket. “Have a maidservant sit with him. Tell her to fetch me should his condition change.”
“I will sit with him myself,” Mariah said. She pulled a chair up to the bed and settled into it as Edwina slipped from the chamber.
Mariah studied the man’s face as she kept watch, wondering who he was and what he was doing in these parts.
Mildenhall was so remote that few visitors arrived at their gates, and certainly no one in this poor man’s condition. Was he a traveler on an important mission? A husband returning to his wife and children? A knight about his business?
Mariah sighed and closed her eyes. Staring at the man wasn’t going to make him well.
Falcon awoke in pain—brutal, pounding pain. His body, his head, there wasn’t a part of him that didn’t hurt. His body demanded water, but his swollen lips refused to voice his needs. He tried again but didn’t recognize the sound that came from his mouth.
“Don’t try to speak.” The voice was soothing and female. “I’m going to lift your head so you can drink. You must be parched.” A woman’s soft breasts cradled his head.
Falcon felt a cup pressed to his lips. Water trickled down his throat. It tasted like the nectar of the gods. When the cup was empty, she lowered his head. He managed to peel his eyes open and peer through gummy, swollen slits at the woman bending over him.
“Am I dead?” he croaked.
She smiled, bathing him in warmth. This had to be heaven, he thought.
“You are alive, sir.”
Unless his eyes were deceiving him, which was a distinct possibility, the woman smiling down at him was beautiful beyond belief. Hair the color of a golden sunrise, held in place by a circlet of silver, cascaded over her shoulders in a spill of pure magic.
“How can I be alive? Are you not an angel?”
Mariah’s answer was forestalled when Falcon’s head lolled against the pillow and he became unresponsive. Seized by panic, she felt for a pulse in his neck, heaving a sigh when she found one.
Mariah returned to her chair, smiling when she recalled his words. He thought her an angel.
The chamber was dark but for the dim light from a single candle when Falcon next opened his eyes. The woman was still with him, sleeping with her head resting on the bed. Who was she? Her bright hair beckoned him. He tried to raise his hand to brush a stray strand from her forehead and failed. What had happened to him? He had struggled awake from a nightmare, where monsters were attacking him, but that was all he recalled.
He closed his eyes and slept again.
It was full daylight when Mariah stirred and lifted her head. She was more than a little startled to see that the man was awake and staring at her.
“How do you feel?”
“Like I rode full tilt into a stone wall,” he rasped. “Do you know what happened to me?”
“We think you were beaten and robbed by bandits who travel in groups and live in the forest. They left you for dead in the roadway.”
Falcon closed his eyes, trying to recall the attack that had left him close to death. His mind was blank. No remnants of his earlier nightmare remained.
“Where am I?”
“Mildenhall Castle. Are you thirsty?”
“Aye.” Mariah held a cup to his lips, and he drank
thirstily. She rose. “I’ll fetch some broth, you must be hungry.”
No answer was forthcoming. He had fallen asleep again. Mariah tiptoed from the room.
Time had no meaning for Falcon. Each time he awakened, either the golden angel, an old crone or a manservant who saw to his personal needs was in the chamber with him. He recalled being fed water, broth and something vile-tasting. Of all his shadowy visitors, it was the golden angel whose presence he craved—she of the stirring voice and gentle hands.
Falcon’s head never ceased aching, even as his body’s hurts began to heal. His brain was so scrambled he could recall naught of what had happened prior to his waking up in a strange bed. He didn’t even know where he belonged.
One day, despite his befuddled brain, Falcon decided it was time to get out of bed and test his legs. He sat on the edge of the bed until his head stopped spinning and then pushed himself to his feet. He wobbled, found his balance and took a step. When he didn’t fall flat on his face, he took another, and another.
While Falcon tested his legs, Mariah sat in her husband’s chamber, discussing the wounded man.
“Is he young?” Edmond asked.
“I believe so. Though his face is still somewhat swollen, he has the body of a young man.”
“Is he comely?”
Mariah shrugged. “It’s difficult to tell, but I believe his face will be pleasing to look upon once the swelling recedes.”
Edmond’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “How fortunate that he should come to us now.”
Mariah bristled. “Do not even think it, Edmond. We have no idea who this man is. He may have a wife and children awaiting him somewhere. He could be a common criminal.”
“Do you think he is a criminal?”
“Nay,” Mariah admitted. “I would describe him as a fighting man, mayhap a soldier or knight.”
Edmond struggled to his feet. “I wish to see the man who has captured your fancy.”
“Edmond! I have done no more than care for a man near death.”
He resumed his seat. “Forgive an old man’s musings, my dear. Find out his name. Perhaps I know his people.”
When Mariah entered Falcon’s chamber a short time later, she found him leaning against the bedpost, panting as if he’d just run a great distance.
“ ’Tis too soon for you to be out of bed,” she scolded. “You must remain in bed until Edwina says you are well enough to leave it.”
“I cannot regain my strength if I lie in bed all day. There is someplace I need to be, though I cannot name it.”
“The only place you need to be right now is in bed. Let me help you.”
“I can help myself. Turn away, lady; I am unclothed.”
As if suddenly aware of Falcon’s state of undress, Mariah turned her back.
Slowly Falcon eased his way into bed and pulled the coverlet up to his waist. “You can turn around now.”
Mariah turned. “Are you hungry?”
“Famished. How long have I been here?”
His eyes widened. “Seven days? Truly?”
The swelling around his eyes had receded, and for the first time Mariah saw their color. They were golden and compelling, not dark as she had imagined. Distracted by her discovery, Mariah took a moment to recall his question. “Truly, sir.”
“You called me sir. Do you not know my name?”
“You have yet to provide one.”
Falcon stared at her. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
Mariah gasped. “What are you saying?”
His eyes glowed with desperation. “I recall naught before the moment I woke up in this bed. I hoped you could help me remember.”
Mariah shook her head, saddened by his plight. “I have never seen you before you were brought to the castle, grievously injured and near death. Mayhap your head injury resulted in a temporary loss of memory. I have heard of such a thing happening. I’m sure you will remember in time. I will consult with Edwina about your memory loss.”
Disheartened, Falcon sank against the pillow and closed his eyes. “Whenever I try to think, my head feels as if a thousand demons are bedeviling me. Of what use am I? I can’t even use the chamber pot without help.”
“I’ll send a manservant to help you. Do whatever it is you need to do while I fetch you something to eat.”
“Wait! I have a question.”
Mariah turned away from the door. “What is it?”
“Who are you?”
“I am Mariah of Mildenhall.”
The door opened. Edmond tottered in, assisted by two servants. They eased him into a chair and left to await him outside the chamber. He studied Falcon for several minutes, then smiled.
“Edwina said you would live, and she was right.”
“Who are you, sir?” Falcon asked.
“I am Edmond, Earl of Mildenhall.”
“Forgive me for not rising, my lord. Your daughter tells me I have been the recipient of your hospitality for several days.”
The old man’s eyebrows lifted. “Ah, yes, my
Mariah. ’Tis a sad thing to be widowed so young.”
Mariah shot her husband a warning look. “Edmond—”
Edmond held up his hand. “Please, Mariah, I wish to speak to the young man. What is your name, sir?”
“I was hoping someone here could tell me,” Falcon answered.
“Can you not remember?”
“Nay. I feel as if I should be somewhere but cannot recall where. Do you know me? Can you tell me my name?”
Edmond shook his head. “I have never seen you before, so ’tis safe to say you are not from these parts. Do not worry, lad, you are welcome at Mildenhall while you regain your memory. Besides, Edwina tells me it will be weeks before you are able to travel. I pray you will accept our hospitality while your mind and body heal. It would be remiss of me to send you away without a memory.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Falcon replied in a voice made hollow with despair. Not knowing his name or origins was a humbling experience.
“Forgive me for cutting my visit short, but as you can
see, I am not a well man.” Edmond held out his hand to Mariah. “Come, daughter, I would have a word with you in my chamber.”
Mariah kept her silence until Edmond was settled in his bed and the servants dismissed.
“Whatever were you thinking?” she demanded, rounding on him. “You deliberately lied to . . . to . . . Oh, I don’t even know what to call him.”
“Call him a miracle sent by God to save us, to save you. That young man is a maiden’s dream.”
“I am not a maiden. I am a wife. Your wife.”
Edmond shook his head. “I have never been a true husband to you. Let me die in peace. Give me an heir to save Mildenhall and carry on my name and title.”
“Do not push me into this, Edmond, I beg you. If I did what you asked, I could have a daughter, and then where would I be?”
“That young man I just saw will give you a son.”
“How do you know that?”
“Some believe Edwina is a witch. I do not believe in witches, but I do believe she can see things others cannot. She knows how desperately I need an heir, and told me the nameless man in the bed will give you a son.”
“No one but God can determine that,” Mariah insisted.
“You know Edwina’s predictions have proven true in the past. Why are you being so obstinate about this?”
“Because what you suggest is a sin.”
Edmond closed his eyes. “Leave me,” he said wearily. “I will die soon and cannot bear the thought of Osgood forcing you from your home or into an intolerable marriage with his son.”
Mariah hesitated a moment before taking her leave. Instead
of returning to the sickroom, she went to the chapel to pray for guidance. She had never disobeyed her husband in all the years of their marriage, but what he wanted her to do went against God’s law.
The chapel was a peaceful place this time of day. Mariah knelt on the wooden kneeler, folded her hands and began to pray. To her dismay, her mind kept wandering to the man with no memory, the man whose golden eyes were filled with confusion and pain. Little by little his face had returned to normal, revealing a ruggedly handsome visage that would turn any woman’s head.
His body proclaimed him a fighting man. Was he a knight? Was someone he loved even now looking for him? Did he have a wife? A betrothed? She had to admit he was magnificently put together, and wondered what it would be like to have a man like that in her bed. Looking at him set off all kinds of wicked thoughts inside her head. She stirred restlessly, her body making her aware of feelings that were strangely arousing. Strange because she’d never had them before.
She prayed harder.
“You seem troubled, my child.”
Startled, Mariah looked up at Father Francis, the resident priest. “I didn’t hear you, Father.” She concentrated on her clasped hands, embarrassed to be caught thinking impure thoughts in a holy place.
“You were lost in prayer, my lady.” He gazed at her, as if he himself were deeply troubled.
Father Francis had come to Mildenhall many years ago; he was here when she had arrived to live with Edmond. Though he was old and not as spry as he used to
be, his keen intelligence and sharp eyes missed naught that went on at Mildenhall.
“I just spoke with Lord Edmond, Lady Mariah.”
Mariah’s attention sharpened. She watched him with trepidation as he began to pace back and forth in front of her. “Is something wrong, Father?”
“Lord Edmond told me about the stranger Edwina is nursing back to health.”
“What did he say?”
Surely Edmond didn’t tell him what he wants me to do, did he?
“We discussed the possibility of Lord Edmond’s dying without an heir, and what it would mean to you.”
She clutched her throat. “Dear Lord, what did he tell you?”
The priest swung around, his brown robes swirling about his skinny legs. “Everything.”
She hid her face in her hands. “Oh, no. You must forgive Edmond! He is worried about me and Mildenhall. I did not for one moment countenance committing such a grave sin.”
Father Francis continued his pacing. “Edmond is right about many things. Osgood is a cruel man. Our people will not fare well under his guidance.” He whirled to face her. “Mildenhall will fall into ruin.”
He fell to his knees beside Mariah. “God forgive me,” he implored. “Never have I been so challenged in my faith. What Edmond suggests is a sin, yet I cannot condemn his reasoning or fault his judgment, for it is sound. Mildenhall needs an heir to survive, and Edmond cannot give you one.”
Mariah leapt to her feet. “I must go.”
“I will pray on this dilemma,” Father Francis said, waving her off.
Mariah all but ran out the door. Had the world gone mad? How could a man of God condone adultery? Yet . . . yet, the priest had all but encouraged her to seduce the nameless man who had come to them. A laugh caught in her throat. As if she knew how to seduce a man. Her steps slowed. Would he welcome her attention should she offer it?
Edwina hailed Mariah in the great hall. Mariah stopped and waited for the healer. “What is it, Edwina? Is there a problem with your patient?”
“Nay, he is progressing well, milady. I just left him. He asked about you. He wanted to know how your husband had died.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Naught. ’Tis for you to decide whether or not you will make the sacrifice for Mildenhall.”
my decision, my sacrifice,” Mariah agreed. She walked away, her mind in turmoil. Without realizing where she was headed, she found herself climbing the stairs to the solar and entering the injured man’s chamber.
Falcon was restless. He had asked Edwina for a looking glass. She had brought him a silver tray, polished to a high sheen. He had gazed upon his face for the first time and seen a stranger—a man with no past and no future.
Earlier today, a manservant had scraped the hair from Falcon’s face. He had hoped he would recognize his face without hair. A familiar feature, mayhap. He had seen naught but a man with odd golden eyes, dark hair, twin slashes of black eyebrows and generous lips. Though his
nose was somewhat long, the dimple in his chin softened his harsh features.
He had found a scar above his left eyebrow and another to the right of the dimple. And he didn’t remember how he’d come by either of them! Earlier he had discovered scars on his left thigh and right knee. The only thing he could deduce from his findings was that he was a fighting man, which would also account for his muscular build.
Falcon had never felt more alone or desperate, or at least he thought he hadn’t. And then Mariah entered the chamber, bringing sunshine and warmth, chasing away the fear that threatened to consume him.
“Edwina said you were asking questions about me.”
A corner of his split lips lifted into a half smile. “Whenever you are with me I feel better,” Falcon said. “Stay awhile and talk to me. Tell me about yourself.”
Though she feared she was making a mistake, Mariah sank down into a chair. “What is it you want to know?”
“Your father said you were a widow. How long ago did your husband die?”
Mariah should stop this charade now. “A few months ago.”
“How did he die?”
“A . . . hunting accident. Please, I don’t want to talk about him.”
“You must have loved him very much.”
Mariah sought a way to change the subject and found it. “We should give you a name until you can remember your own. Do you have a preference?”
His brain scrambled for memory, found only terror and empty spaces. He shook his head.
Mariah cocked her head and tapped her lips with a fingertip.
Falcon felt a stirring he knew was not new to him. Aye, this golden-haired, blue-eyed angel stirred him, made him feel alive and eased his fear.
“You are beautiful, lady,” he murmured, unable to help himself. “Your husband was a lucky man.”
“I . . . I suppose. We were talking about your name. What shall I call you?”
A sense of angry impotence filled him.
He didn’t know!
His mind was as blank as a newborn babe’s. He sent her a look fraught with terror.
Mariah’s heart ached, unable to bear his pain. “Until you regain your memory, I shall call you Sir Knight. Now you should rest, and I have duties to attend.”
He grasped her hand. “Nay, do not go. When I am alone, I am consumed by demons.”
How could Mariah refuse? “Very well. I will stay for a little while.”
Mariah perched on the edge of the bed. Who was this man? She knew he was feeling terror—anyone would in his situation. It must be frightening to look at your own face and see a stranger, or to have your memory completely erased. Though she felt attracted to him, that attraction hadn’t lessened her sense of right and wrong.
“What are you thinking?” Falcon asked.
She blushed and looked away, relieved that he could not read her mind.
His gaze swept over her. She was wearing a blue gown today, a color that closely matched her eyes. The neckline was modest, but it did naught to disguise the lush curves of her breasts.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Mariah asked.
“You are fair to look at. Are you sure we have never met before?”
“Aye, Sir Knight, I never set eyes on you until you were brought to Mildenhall. Perhaps I resemble your mother, or wife.”
Falcon looked away, as if searching for something familiar.
“Nay, I am sure my mother is not fair like you, and I feel no connection to a wife. Although . . .”
He shook his head. “I am confident I am not wed.”
Reaching out, he stroked her cheek. She pulled back as if stung.
“Forgive me, I had no right.”
Mariah dragged in a calming breath. What was wrong with her? The burning sensation that lingered where Sir Knight had touched her was a new one. His innocent caress raised bumps on her skin. She felt heat rise to her cheeks, then spread downward to private places.