A Rose for Lancaster (The Tudor Rose Novella series) (5 page)

BOOK: A Rose for Lancaster (The Tudor Rose Novella series)
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Edmund stared at me in a peculiar way. Giles wore the same look when he contemplated bedding me in the middle of the day, as he had done on occasion.

“Good day to you, Father Dominic.” My sharp voice brought out the boy’s good sense and he bowed swiftly before retreating to the kitchens.

****

My new sister-in-law visited my rooms and sat comfortably on the couch holding her precious mite. Her laugh proved contagious and my vow to dislike her melted away when she offered me a chance to hold the babe. I gurgled like a fool with a new toy, but the rush of sweet tenderness for the tiny bundle gave me a secret joy.

“My brother is in a better mood since he returned from the north,” Anne cooed at the baby as she prattled.

“I understand he was angry with you and Dorset?”

“He has known I’ve loved Robert for years. I believe he fretted over his marriage to you. They said you were an old woman, but here you are in Somerset, the very picture of beauty.” She giggled. “He’s different now.”

“Different?”

“I see the way he looks at you and know he is pleased with the king’s command.”

“Pleased with my land and goods, I expect.”

“That too. Our foolish father, though you must never mention it to Giles, wasted much of the family wealth, lavishly entertaining, drinking and gambling. The castle is sound and the lands are fertile but money is scarce.” Anne giggled again. “You must convince Giles and stop him from sending me to Robert’s family. I wish to stay in your company rather than pray and sew all day with my new mother.”

The idea of her company pleased me. “I will ask your brother to keep you here.” Robert Dorset rode under Giles’ banner and if Anne managed to stay at Somerset castle she gained time with her husband.

“To please you, he will agree.”

It warmed me to believe her. “You share the same father?”

“We are his bastards by different women but we grew up together. Giles is older by a few months. He pulled my hair on many occasions and I’ve bitten him twice but now we understand one another. Our father proved a difficult man when the ale flowed freely, which was often enough.” Anne’s forthright speech comforted me. “Giles is not like him, but I’m afraid I inherited my father’s temper.”

I witnessed her anger on my first day at Somerset and hoped to be spared in the future.

We watched the baby doze in her arms and after a moment the door opened and both Giles and Robert sauntered into the room. Robert went straight to Anne and lifted his son into his arms. Giles paused to look at the child. “He takes after you, Robert.”

Anne pouted, but I suspected she enjoyed the comparison. “Little Henry Robert is finally asleep.” She raised an eyebrow at Giles. “I wish to speak with my husband if we may have your leave, my lord.”

“Far be it from me to stop a man from speaking with his wife.” He winked at Robert who grinned back in mischief.

The door closed and Giles drew the bolt across. “I’ve missed you, Blanche.” He loosened his doublet and exposed the shirt underneath; I caught sight of his chest hair curling over the edge.

“In your bed?”

“That too. I cannot sleep on the couch much longer, surely.”

I had kept the pretense up for a week and I knew he’d be angry as soon as he discovered the lie.

“You need not stay away.” Heat seared my cheeks. He intended to bed me and I thrilled at the knowledge. His shirt landed on the floor at my feet and the sight of his hard torso drew my curious eyes. “I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Do you?” He moved closer, his gaze traveling over my casual gown and loose hair. “What does
my lady of Somerset want from me?”

“Your sister mentioned leaving the castle and retiring to Dorset’s home.”

Giles nodded, “Mayhap, Anne suggested she stay?”

I shrugged. “She’s not overjoyed to leave but will go if necessary.”

“Why keep her here?”

“A lack of proper company is reason enough.”

“Anne has never been proper.” Giles took a seat and reached for a lock of my hair to curl around his finger. “But if you wish I will think upon it.”

“Thank you,” I whispered. The air between us filled with tension but he held back and I used the moment to my advantage.

“I also ask your pardon, my lord. When I thought Anne was… before I knew her to be your sister, I lied to you.”

“I know.” His gray eyes locked onto mine.

“You do?”

“Think on it, Blanche. A castle-keeper and his staff know every need of their master and his lady. You required nothing of them, no linens, no extra washing.”

It made perfect sense and revealed to me the need to be cautious over every detail.

“You know then of my secret?”

“Secret?” The momentary lapse in his determined manner showed he did not, and a wary look settled on his fine face.

“We are married almost two months and have been together most every night.” I took his hand into mine. “I think we have made a child.”

His lips parted, his brow furrowed. “But…”

“It has been two months since.”

“You think we have made a child yet you cannot be certain. Is this another trick?”

“You have every reason to doubt me, but I believe it is true. I need your sister’s help, for I have no knowledge of such things. Caring for a baby is a strange and wonderful prospect that I welcome, yet fear.”

Giles Beaufort stared at me for a moment, perhaps to discern the truth of my revelation. “You will rest undisturbed until we know for sure.”

“Rest undisturbed! I will go mad with boredom if I stay in these rooms any longer. I carry a child but I’m not sick with it.” The urge to
bed him overwhelmed me. “Please, do not punish me.”

“It’s best if you do nothing to harm the babe.”

I stood up, with a mind to annoy Giles Beaufort and prove that he did not rule me but he more than matched my speed and took me in his arms before I managed to reach the door.

“Blanche,” he murmured in a persuasive tone.

The heat and strength emanating from his body melted my resistance. My arms flew around his neck and for a long time I clung to him, tears ran down my face and my body shook as I cried in his embrace. He lifted me to our bed and drew back the linens. I held tight to him, not wanting him to leave. He stroked my hair and calmed me with soft words and light kisses.

“You’re my wife, Blanche, not a prisoner. This is your home and it will be our child’s home. I brought you here to keep you safe, not to make you unhappy.” He wiped my tears. “Anne will stay to calm your fears and keep you company if you wish it. And I will sleep elsewhere.”

“No, I prefer you to stay with me. I was angry when I thought Anne was your mistress, but I misjudged you.”

“You wish me to stay?” He held me firm in his arms.

I pressed my face into his neck and the clean, fresh scent of him enveloped my senses.

“I need you.”

“You’re sure,’ he whispered. His lean, strong fingers skimmed my hips, inflaming my desire.

“Very sure.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

~ Giles ~ December 1486

We sat close to one another in the great hall under the curious eyes of my kinsmen. Blanche leaned over to make conversation and to my amusement and delight she chatted and laughed with an easy grace and ready wit. The decision to move from Langley proved wise as my wife, growing with child, looked the image of health. The last few weeks in Somerset country, even as winter settled over us with a light touch, invigorated our senses and strengthened our tenuous marriage.

Blanche and my sister made quick friends, and I joined them often, along with Robert, and we enjoyed the short days and long winter nights keeping good company together. Food and drink flowed in the weeks leading up to Christmas as the fragrant boughs of pine trees decorated the walls and tables, and our talk turned to planning the coming festivities. Anne took me aside to offer her opinion on the gift I should give my wife but I had the perfect presents. An expensive wool cloak lined with the finest ermine lay hidden in my rooms, along with a diamond set in a ring of gold. I waited to give these gifts to Blanche, imagining her surprise and eagerness to wear them.

Murdo stayed in the shadows, my eyes and ears, diligently playing watchdog with unquestioning loyalty. As the night wore on he appeared at my side and I took this as a sign of his need to speak. At my signal he bowed low to reach my ear.

“A message from the parish priest.” His voice, deep and serious, gave me pause. “Father Dominic is dead.”

Blanche’s goblet fell from her hand to hit the stone floor with a ringing thud. The room went quiet.

“Father Dominic, dead?” Blanche uttered the words; her bright eyes round with shock. The room hummed with a hundred voices concerned over Murdo’s message.

“I’m afraid so, milady.”

“When? How?”

The depth of her interest and apparent shock surprised my liegeman into a reply. “They say he never fully recovered after an attack on the road from London.”

Blanche pressed further. “Who attacked him?”

“We cannot know for sure, but if we find out they will suffer. Father Dominic was a good man and well liked in these parts.”

It saddened me to hear the priest died after a senseless attack.

“Thieving bastards,” Murdo grumbled.

“Surely he did not carry much coin?” Anne asked.

“They took his robe and shoes, leaving him all but naked on the side of the road. If not for a farmer’s wife finding him and calling for help…” Murdo shook his head and reached for a drink. “And such a feeble old man at that.”

“I will notify the sheriff. Mayhap, someone has knowledge. Robert and I will ride out tomorrow to the surrounding villages and ask questions.”

Blanche reached for my arm, her face white as milk. “I must lie down, milord. I feel quite unwell.” She swooned and I swept her up, taking her to our rooms. Anne hurried along after us leaving Robert and Murdo to talk amongst our retainers.

Blanche wept in my arms giving me cause for alarm. I worried for her and our unborn child. Anne soothed her, helping her into bed, providing the gentle care only a woman can offer.

“Do you wish me to leave?” Anne asked. Blanche nodded after a moment’s hesitation.

“But Giles must stay.”

After the door closed and we were alone she stared at me with the look of a frightened animal.

“Father Dominic came to see me a few weeks ago.”

I took her hand to offer her comfort. “I did not know.”

“It was not truly Father Dominic, but I swear to you I knew nothing of the attack.”

“Who came to see you?” My wife’s body trembled and my mind to raced at her hesitation. A spy from London had been in my home, a murderer, a traitor to the crown. Our lives were at risk if this reached the king’s ear. “Blanche, I do not blame you. Tell me his name.”

Her fingers shook even with my reassurance and for a moment she held my gaze. I raised her hands to my lips. “Trust me with this.”

“Edmund de la Pole.”

It took all my effort not to throw the furniture across the room. The Pole family posed the biggest threat to Henry’s rule. As contenders for the throne their patriarch, the Earl of Lincoln, held a claim but reconciled after Bosworth and swore his oath to Henry.

“What did he offer you?” I was no fool. A York man meeting in secret with my wife, both descended from kings, meant only one thing.

“John de la Pole petitions the Holy See to annul our marriage.”

“That conniving bastard,” I snapped.

“They will winter in Ireland to gain supporters before moving against Henry.”

“Pole is married.” I wrestled with the need to seek out the traitor and break his neck in person.

“Edmund seeks a wife, not John.” Blanche fidgeted with the counterpane. “They use the clergy as a way of communication and traveling safely.” A tear rolled down her cheek.

“What else?”

“Lincoln seeks the support of Langley men. I cannot prevent
him. The earl is their overlord.”

“I must go to the king with this. Every moment we delay works against us. If he were to find out before we inform him it could mean a charge of treason. I leave at first light with Murdo.”

Fear returned to Blanche’s face. “I’m sorry.”

“We will catch Pole and his fellow traitors and put an end to their fruitless plans. But know this, Blanche, you’re my wife, you carry our babe, and I have no intention of losing you to another man.”

****

I rode out with Murdo in the early morning mist, wearing a thin coat of mail over my layered garments and my best falchion hanging at my side. An eerie silence surrounded us, and as I glanced back the castle disappeared into the mist. We rode fast, stopping only to eat and rest the horses, sleeping in reputable establishments. With Pole’s men roaming the country in disguise, drumming up support for their cause, caution prevailed. I ached to start a fight with any loutish braggart to appease my anger but as ever my liegeman kept me from making a foolish decision.

We arrived in London, bone tired, going straight to the king’s residence. Not well known, they held us at the guardhouse, but Murdo uttered a name to the sergeant who ordered a man to deliver a message to the king’s advisors. I prayed for word before long.

Late into the night they ushered us through a narrow doorway and after many twists and turns we passed through another narrow door into a richly decorated room. Three well-dressed men stood together, a muster of concerned peacocks, none of them familiar but one nodded to Murdo and then looked at me. “Baron Somerset, you bring urgent news
. Let us hear it.”

“The king is in danger.” I cared not for who they were, only that I spill my news quickly.

Their expressions grew wary. “How so?”

“John de la Pole is planning to rally men and move against the king.” The men froze as though struck by a spell. Nothing moved except their eyes. I followed the direction of their gaze to a dark corner of the room where a woman stepped out from behind a screen.

Murdo fell to his knees and I followed when the three peacocks did the same.

The rustle of dark skirts neared and I saw a richly slippered foot pause beside me.

“Stand up, and let me look at you.” I obeyed the woman and met her harsh gaze. “If danger threatens my Henry I must be the first to know.”

I stood in the presence of the Countess of Derby and Richmond—a woman known for her unfailing dedication to her son, Henry Tudor, the
King of England.

“Tell me everything.” She signaled for wine and food and I spent the next hour with her and the three unnamed men recounting my wife’s story of Father Dominic and Edmund Pole. Throughout my tale her eyes stayed on my face and she kept a solemn manner. An odd feeling crept up my spine but I could not determine the reason.

“You have done well, Somerset.” She turned to the men. “That snake, Pole, has been too eager to agree with us. I should have known he planned to make himself king. Henry must be told.”

****

The king of England sat on a high-backed chair, surrounded by men and a number of grim-faced guards. I dropped to my knees, head bowed.

“Get up.” Henry said, without ceremony. Mayhap, displeased to be roused from his bed late in the night. His mother stood behind him, her eyes glittering as he waited to hear my tale. Henry’s face tightened as he listened. It was no easy task to inform a king of the threat on his newly won throne. After my speech he stood up.

“Where is Pole?” Henry asked no one in particular.

Margaret Beaufort spoke first. “In Lincoln, gathering support I suspect.”

The king narrowed his eyes in calculation. “He won’t make a move until spring. There is time to counter his plan. I will hold counsel in the morning.” He threw a quick look at me, “Be ready to attend at my summons, Somerset.”

The guards showed me to a simple room in the farthest wing of the castle. I slept comfortably, dreaming of Blanche standing in the rose garden at Langley. For three days I waited with only Murdo for company but was not called
. On the fourth day a guard arrived at my door and took me alone to the room where I first met the king’s mother.

“Your wife is a York and the king believes her in danger while Pole plots against him.”

A surge of anger coursed through me at the implication but I stayed calm. “She is with child and poses no threat to the crown. She alerted the king through me.”

“You and I both know that Pole hopes to use her lineage to his advantage. Henry must be ready for any turn of events.”

“God almighty, do not hurt my wife! I came willingly to the king with this information.”

“She is in good hands.”

The sly bastards had kept me hanging while they took Blanche into custody. “In good hands! By God, if she’s hurt in any way…”

“You will do as you are bid and your wife will remain in our safekeeping. Do you not see the danger from Pole?”

“I will protect her from Pole and his band of traitors.”

The king’s mother laughed with scorn. “You are in the service of the king. He needs every available man. You will track the movements of the traitors, ready to fight when called upon.”

“And my wife?”

“Safe in the tower of London at my request.”

“I must see her.” She hesitated, a strange look crossed her face, but her agreement filled me with relief. The king of England and his mother had me at their mercy. I had no choice but to fight Pole and his ambitions but I welcomed the chance to defeat the man who sought to destroy my marriage.

****

The time allowed with Blanche proved hardly enough to say the words on my mind. I spent most of the time reassuring her of my eagerness to see her returned safely to Somerset castle.

“They will kill me if Pole gains any ground.”

“He won’t gain ground against Henry. The king musters his men. I travel to Ireland in disguise with Murdo to gather information on Pole’s plan.”

“Disguise?” Did I trust my wife with information? She waited, her face a picture of innocence.

“As a priest. The king’s mother suggested we use their method of deceit against them.”

“How clever.”

“This betrayal by Pole will put an end to him and his supporters. If we waiver against the king it means our death. Margaret Beaufort, the matriarch of my kin, expects my sword to guard Henry. If he dies, we die. Your presence in the tower speaks loudly enough.”

Blanche place her hands over the small bump that announced her delicate state. “Giles,” she whispered, “the only matter of concern is our child. I want him to live no matter what happens to me.”

“You carry a Beaufort and that guarantees your safety and comfort for now. As for the future, we can pray that Pole loses heart and runs to Europe.”

An envious idea that Blanche preferred Edmund Pole for a husband entered my head, and if the Yorks won the fight I stood with my wife for the last time. I took her into my arms. “This may be goodbye for us.”

It pleased me when she gasped, holding tight to me as though it pained to let go.

“How much time do we have?”

“One night. I bribed the guards and Murdo stays with them.”

Beautiful brown eyes met mine. Soft pink lips parted to reveal pearly teeth as she bit her lower lip. “One night.”

She took my hand and led me to her small bedchamber, swiftly removing my shirt and breeches. I watched as she undressed and stood in a flimsy sheath of fabric. The time for talk was over and we slid beneath the sheets, joined eagerly and for the first time I knew without a doubt that no other woman offered the joys and delights I found in Blanche’s bed. The night held numerous opportunities for physical discovery and we laughed, pleased at the way our bodies twined together, kissing and touching, making love without restraint, lifting the limits of past encounters to find new heights together as man and wife.

As we lay exhausted but happy a flash of gold caught my notice.

“You wear the ring I planned to give you at Christmastide.”

BOOK: A Rose for Lancaster (The Tudor Rose Novella series)
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