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Authors: Diana Hall

Angel of the Knight

BOOK: Angel of the Knight
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She lifted her face and Falke sucked hard for air.

Her almond-shaped eyes displayed her emotions like an expensive glass mirror. Every torment clearly distinct and apparent for all to see, yet imprisoned inside.

Kneeling to be eye level, Falke whispered, “Go ahead and cry.”

Instead of relief, fear blended with Gwendolyn’s despondency. “Nay, I’ll not cry.”

Falke pulled her into the nest of his arms. “’Twill make the grief easier if you don’t hold it in so.”

He could feel the erratic flutter of her heart next to his chest. “Pray, let me go.” A half sob caught in her voice.

“Cry,” Falke ordered. She would become sick if she kept all this sorrow inside.

“Nay, I cannot.” She bit her lower lip. Her chin wobbled slightly, her voice filled with wistful remorse. “I’ve forgotten how.”

Forgotten! Falke’s mind flared at the notion. A woman who didn’t cry…!

Dear Reader,

This month our exciting medieval series KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK ROSE continues with
The Rogue
by Ana Seymour, a secret baby story in which rogue knight Nicholas Hendry finds his one true love. Judith Stacy returns with
Written in the Heart
, the delightful tale of an uptight California businessman who hires a marriage-shy female handwriting analyst to solve some of his company’s capers. In
Angel of the Knight
, a medieval novel by Diana Hall, a carefree warrior falls deeply in love with his betrothed, and does all he can to free her from a family curse. Talented newcomer Mary Burton brings us
A Bride for McCain
, about a mining millionaire who enters a marriage of convenience with the town’s schoolteacher.

Whatever your taste in reading, you’ll be sure to find a romantic journey back to the past between the covers of a Harlequin Historicals novel. We hope you’ll join us next month, too!

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell,

Senior Editor

Angel of the Knight
Diana Hall
Available from Harlequin Historicals and DIANA HALL

Warrior’s Deception
#309

Branded Hearts
#482

Angel of the Knight
#501

To all my angels who helped me during Ricky’s cancer:
Mom and Dad: I couldn’t have made it through this time
without both of you. I can’t thank you enough.

Tami, John and Mitch: Thanks for all the hugs, smiles
and hours of talking.

Savanna: I’m proud of you. Thanks for all your
help and strength.

Chuck and Maggie, David and Audrey—great friends
and wonderful listeners.

Tracy and Patience: Thanks for giving me the time
I needed.

All my writing friends at VFRWA and PLRWA,
especially Casey, Debbie, Joan, Kate, Orysia, Nancy and
Michelle: You keep me looking toward the future instead
of back to the past.

Prologue

England, 1144

I
solde clutched her protruding abdomen and prayed death would be merciful. Talons of pain raked her womb. Her scream bounced off the cold stone walls and reverberated in her ears.

“My poor lady. Curse that man and his evil.” Ever faithful Darianne tipped a gourd of water to Isolde’s chapped and bleeding lips.

Isolde savored each drip of lukewarm water, then asked, “Gwendolyn?”

“Outside the door.”

Isolde braced herself as another contraction began. Her lady-in-waiting shoved a cloth-wrapped piece of wood between Isolde’s teeth. She clamped down. Agony hypnotized her into a trance of torture and despair.

“Mother?” Her daughter slipped through the door of the cell. With iron determination, so like her
mother’s, the girl wrapped herself around a bed leg, clinging to the rickety frame. Long strands of snow-white hair hung in wild disarray around her face. Sapphire-blue eyes glistened with tears.

“Leave your mother be, Gwendolyn.” Darianne gently tried to pry the child away. “Husband, you were to keep her from this sight.”

A gnarled knight, just past his prime, entered. Battle scars marred his face, while tears stained his clean but frayed tunic. “You know how nimble she is.”

“Let…her…be.” Isolde’s own hair was plastered against her skull with sweat and grime. She fingered her daughter’s silvery tendrils and gazed into the startling blue eyes. Gwendolyn resembled her too closely. She’d bear Titus’s barbs and beatings now.

Another contraction seized Isolde. The stab of pain tore deep. Despite the pain, she listened—stiffened when she heard the rough clunk of boots on the bare stone floor. She turned her head, warily eyeing the door.

Titus entered and swaggered over. “Has my bastard killed her yet?”

Loud booming laughter shook his muscle-bound body, but Isolde could see the effects of his extravagances. A belt of sagging flesh girthed his waist and jowls widened his coarse face.

“She needs a physician.” Darianne hovered nearby, but out of Titus’s reach. “The babe’s turned and we may lose the both of them. I’ve done all I can with my herbs.”

Titus sneered as he confronted Isolde. “No aid, no
relief until you sign all rights to these lands to me. Sign the contract or die in childbirth, unclean and unholy.”

“She’s been in labor for two days. ’Tis more than she can stand,” Cyrus begged.

The sneer hardened on Titus’s face. “Sign, woman, or die.”

The pain threatened to overtake her, yet Isolde fought on, not for herself, but for her daughter. Her response came out a scream. “Nay, I’ll not sign away my daughter’s birthright.” Her body ached to rest from the onslaught of labor. The brief reprieve between contractions was not enough. A cloud of white swept past her. “Gwendolyn!”

Her daughter tackled Titus and sank her teeth deep into the flesh of his leg. The burly man yelped, then picked up his attacker by the scruff of her wool shift. With a careless toss, he heaved her from him. The petite form hit the wall. Gwendolyn’s head cracked against the hard stone. Her body lay slumped in the corner like a discarded rag. A low moan escaped her lips. The knight and his lady gasped but did not move.

“That was foolish.” Isolde fought to make her mind clear. Her fate was sealed, but Gwendolyn still had a chance, a hope of surviving. “You may forge my signature and have no repercussions from King Stephen, but what of Henry?”

The cold sneer melted from Titus’s features. Isolde had only moments before a contraction pushed reason from her mind. In a deceptively calm voice, she
argued for her daughter’s life. “Henry will drive you from Cravenmoor, wrest from you your ill-gotten gains should he be crowned. Gwendolyn, as legitimate heir, is your only protection from Henry’s ire.”

Titus gripped Isolde’s hand, his fingers digging into her wrist. “You should have wed me when I offered.”

“And burn in hell for marrying my husband’s murderer?” She waited for the slap that would follow her retort. ’Twas not a long delay. Her cheek stung from the blow.

“My brother died from a hunting accident. I would think you would learn by now not to cross me.” He rubbed his knuckles against the red mark he’d produced.

Isolde wished she could spit in his face, but she didn’t have the strength. In a quiet voice, she requested, “Leave me to die.”

Titus’s face grew mottled with anger. “Then you die for nothing.”

“Nay, Titus, do not think so.” This time, Isolde used the pain, used the months of torment to summon a will beyond her own. “For with my death, Gwendolyn’s survival is assured. Kill her, and your wealth is lost. And know this—my death brings me strength. I will not lay in consecrated ground and thus will not rest. Draw my child’s blood, and I will seek you out, though I must travel from the bowels of hell to do so. Neither heaven nor hell will keep me from you.”

Titus stumbled away from her, his eyes wide, his jaw slack. She had penetrated his thick skin, for a
man as evil as her brother-in-law must believe in an evil more dark than himself. Believe in that power and fear it.

Recovering, he jerked his head in Gwendolyn’s direction. “I may not be able to own the lands, but I’ll be the whelp’s guardian. I’ll grow rich off her.” He rose and moved to the unconscious form. He nudged the child with his toe and gave Isolde a lecherous stare. “She reminds me of you—same hair and eyes. She’ll provide me with entertainment longer than you did.” His laughter lingered in the room as he left.

Darianne and Cyrus rushed to the child. Gwendolyn wrapped her arms around the woman’s neck.

Isolde sucked in her breath and cursed Titus’s evil. Her limbs grew strangely numb, the life seeping from her. Only moments remained, but what of her child?

Cyrus knelt at her bedside. “Gwendolyn’s battered, but she’ll mend.” He rested his palm on the dagger in his belt. “Release me from my vow, Lady Isolde, and I’ll kill the hell-spawned devil.”

“Nay, Sir Cyrus.” Isolde had to speak before the pain made thought impossible. “Titus has too many men to be taken unaware. If you should die, who would look after my Gwendolyn?”

Darianne cradled the child as she knelt near her husband. Isolde reached out and caressed Gwendolyn’s black-and-blue cheek. Eight short years her daughter had lived, and few of them joyful. Would she remember the happier times, before Titus’s lust
and greed had driven him to arrange William’s murder?

Time grew short and precious. “Darianne and Cyrus,” Isolde murmured, “I give you my child to protect as your own.” She fingered the soft straight hair and mumbled on. “Heaven has cursed her with my beauty. Spare her the ravishment my looks brought upon me. Do not let Titus destroy her.”

The couple intertwined their hands. “With our last breaths, we will protect her,” they vowed together. Tears streamed down Cyrus’s weathered face. Darianne kissed Gwendolyn’s temple.

A knife of pain sliced thorough Isolde. Her eyes opened wide in shock at the intense agony. Then she felt a disattachment from her body. A brilliant white light blinded her, and within it stood a tall, familiar figure, beckoning. William!

Light and young again, she rushed to her husband’s arms, but stopped just before being engulfed in their welcome embrace.

“William, what of our child?” How could she leave her daughter alone in the world?

“Come, my love, your time of suffering is over. Darianne and Cyrus will look after her.” William’s rich voice soothed her fears. “And we shall watch over her from above.”

Isolde closed the distance and embraced her husband.

Darianne gently closed her lady’s eyes and drew the moth-eaten blanket over her face. In death, the
serene beauty of Isolde’s face reappeared from the ravages of pain.

Cyrus wiped his tears on the back of his sleeve. “I should kill that bastard now and be done with it.”

Darianne batted him with her arm and motioned for him to help her rise. Still holding Gwendolyn, she tottered to her feet. “Nay, his death is not so important as this child’s life. The next years will be hard. We must have our wits about us or we’ll all end up supping at death’s table.”

Cyrus looked at the sleeping child’s face. Marred with dark bruises, it still foretold a beauty to come that might even surpass her mother’s. “Our lady spoke true. Titus will want Gwendolyn as he desired Isolde. He’ll not care that the child is his niece. What can we do?”

Darianne clutched the girl closer to her bosom. What could she and her husband do against Titus’s evil? They were both past their prime, with only their wits as weapons. Titus kept her alive only because of her knowledge of healing herbs. Herbs! Aye, there was a chance, though a small one, that they could save the child from Titus’s evil touch.

She gave Gwendolyn to Cyrus and began to gather up some small twigs and leaves into bags. “Take the child to our rooms and then inform a servant to bring a pot of boiling water.”

“What are you about, woman?” Cyrus readjusted the child’s limp form in his arms.

“I mean to erase the gifts heaven sent this child.” Darianne pushed her husband out the door. Before
she left, she turned back to the body of her lady, wrapped in a makeshift death shroud. “From this day on, Gwendolyn will cease to resemble you, my lady. I pray you will forgive me for what I’m about to do to your child.” She closed the door and whispered a prayer for the dead woman, the child, and for herself. The last few years had been torture; the years ahead would be worse.

BOOK: Angel of the Knight
5.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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