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Authors: Shari Anton

By Queen's Grace

BOOK: By Queen's Grace
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He hadn’t meant to start her tears flowing,

truly had no idea for which reason she cried-she had several. Faced with her tears, he could do nothing but take her in his arms until the sobs subsided.

Longing, deep and intense, washed through him like an ocean wave, threatening to pull him under. He could not succumb. Judith was far too upset, too vulnerable. Even knowing it, he wanted to kiss her tears away, take her to another place where no pain existed, only ecstasy. Duty battled with desire. His wish to comfort argued with his selfish need.

“I truly hate your chain mail,” she said. “You keep yourself encased in cold metal.

” “Right now you should be thankful for it. “Tis all that keeps you safe from me.”

“What if I do not wish to be safe from you…?”

Dear Reader,

What a perfect time to celebrate history-the eve of a new century. This month we’re featuring four terrific romances with awe-inspiring heroes and heroines from days gone by that you’ll want to take with you into the
next
century!

Corwin of Lenvil, a protective Saxon knight, is one of those characters. He’s the handsome hero in Shari Anton’s exciting new medieval novel,
By Queen’s Grace,
which is the sequel to
By King’s Decree.
Corwin infiltrates a rebel camp in order to rescue a kidnapped royal maiden who long ago broke his heart. There’s passion and danger at every turn as the lovely Judith begins to trust in-and fall in love with-Corwin.

In
The Lady and the Outlaw
by DeLoras Scott, the unforgettable, English-bred Antoinette Huntington has a romantic run-in with a rugged outlaw on a train headed to Arizσna Territory. In Suzanne Barclay’s new medieval tale,
The Champion,
knight Simon of Blackstone will leave you breathless when he returns from the Crusades to right past wrongs. In doing so, he rekindles a love that was lost but not forgotten…

Wolf Heart is the fascinating, timeless hero from
Shawnee Bride
by Elizabeth Lane. He’s a white Shawnee warrior who rescues a young woman from certain death, yet must make her his captive. Can the deep love that grows between them transcend the cultural barriers?

Enjoy! And come back again next month for four more choices of the best in historical romance.

Happy holidays,

Tracy Farrell
Senior Editor

B
Y
Q
UEENS’S
G
RACE
S
HARL
A
NTON

Available from Harlequin Historicals and SHARI ANTON

Emily’s Captain
#357
By King’s Decree
#401
Lord of the Manor
#434
By Queen’s Grace
#493

Coming Soon:

The Conqueror
#507

Please address questions and book requests to:
Harlequin Reader Service
U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269
Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

To the members of Wisconsin Romance Writers of America.

Your encouragement and continued support are greatly appreciated.

With special thanks to Carrie Bebris, Susie Just and Leslie Parker, whose opinions and comments I value.

Chapter One

England, 1109

T
he heron never knew what hit it.

Poised against the bright blue sky, a peregrine falcon stooped and attacked with swift and fatal accuracy, saving its screech at a successful kill until its prey hung limply from sharp talons. From the meadow below, Corwin of Lenvil watched the young huntress’s skill with awe, though not with surprise. Ardith had trained the falcon, and no one in England rivaled his twin sister’s talent with hunting birds.

The game bearers rushed off to fetch the heron, pursuing the dogs that marked where the bird had fallen. The falconer whirled the lure to call the peregrine. Corwin shifted in his saddle to fetch a piece of meat, the falcon’s reward, from his leather pouch.

“I am nearly out of bait, Gerard. Do you think it safe for us to return to the castle yet?” he teased his brotherby-marriage and hunting partner.

Gerard, Norman baron of the vast fief of Wilmont, tossed back his mane of long blond hair and laughed. The falcon
perched on Gerard’s thick leather glove flapped her wings in protest of the sharp sound, straining the belled jesses that secured the bird to her master’s arm. The highly trained palfrey on which Gerard sat, however, moved not a muscle.

“Safe? Nay,” Gerard said. “I shudder to think of what Ardith has planned in retribution for not being allowed to hunt with us. Would that I could stay away until nightfall.”

A tempting thought. Corwin couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather be than out hunting with Gerard, especially when they hunted with falcons-a bird a man of Corwin’s rank had no right to fly. Few Saxons in Norman-ruled England enjoyed the privileges he did, and at times like this Corwin thanked the fates that his overlord had possessed the good sense to fall in love with and marry his twin sister.

Corwin held the tidbit of meat in his gloved fingers, raised his hand high in the air and whistled thrice, inviting the falcon back to her former perch. “I shall do you a great favor, my lord,” he offered. “If I praise this bird to the very heavens, ‘twill sweeten Ardith’s mood so greatly she may forgive you your folly.”

“How good of you, Corwin,” Gerard said wryly.

“My pleasure, my lord.”

Corwin snatched away the meat an instant before the falcon landed, leading with widespread talons. He tensed his arm to accept her weight, swiftly secured the jesses, then gave her the prize she expected. For so fierce a hunter, she took the meat from his fingers gently-a mark of Ardith’s training.

“You might do well to remember that Ardith is none too pleased with you, either,” Gerard chided. “She is not happy that you leave on the morrow after so short a visit. Since your father’s death, you do not come often enough or stay long enough for her liking.”

Since his father’s death several months ago, Corwin’s
life had changed, not all for the better. He was now the lord of Lenvil, a prosperous manor that had been in his family for generations. While he enjoyed the running of it, he also chafed, at times, at the loss of the luxury to come and go as he pleased.

“Ardith knows I now have Lenvil to oversee, and I have duties to perform in your service. Besides, she will have Bronwyn here with her until after her babe is born. Our sister will surely be more of a comfort to her than I could be.”

“She understands why you leave, yet it sits hard with her. Mayhap, after the babe is born, you can return to Wilmont for a fortnight or so.”

Corwin heard the command with Gerard’s suggestion, and decided he would be happy to comply
after
Ardith gave birth. Until then, he wanted to be as far away from his twin as possible.

The twin link he and Ardith shared could be both a blessing and a curse. It allowed them to feel each other’s pain, and had saved both of their lives over the course of the years. The link had weakened as they became adults, and distance proved a buffer. Still, when Ardith had given birth to her first child, he’d
known,
even though he’d been at Lenvil, a full day’s ride away from Wilmont. This time, he would be in the far south of England, hundreds of leagues away.

“You have only to send for me and I will come.”

Gerard nodded slightly, then turned toward the game bearer who approached him.

“My lord, all but one sack are full,” the game bearer announced. “Should one of us return to Wilmont for more?”

Gerard smiled at Corwin. “What say you, Corwin? How long do we wish to delay our return?”

“I say we had best fill the last sack or Ardith will accuse us of being sluggards.” He sighed. “Then I suppose we should go back. I still have several things to do before I leave on the morn.”

Twice more they unleashed their falcons. Gerard’s took down another heron. Corwin claimed the better prize of a swan. He hated to see the hunt end, but knew it must. Along with Gerard, Corwin hooded his falcon and turned his palfrey toward Wilmont.

The gates stood open, as was usual during daylight hours, allowing the hunting party to pass through without hindrance into the bailey. Game bearers headed for the kitchen; stable lads rushed forward to take charge of the horses. Tenants, merchants and servants bustled about the bailey, going about their work or errands.

As Corwin dismounted, he glanced toward the stables, and the four wagons waiting nearby. One had been packed with tents and provisions for his week-long journey; the others would be loaded with planks, shingles-and nails.

On the morn, along with six mounted guards and the wagons’ drivers, he would leave for Cotswold, a manor in southern England near Romsey. In Romsey, he would hire the carpenters necessary to make the improvements Gerard had in mind for the estate. That Gerard had asked him to captain the entourage to Cotswold was a favor to Corwin, giving him an excuse to be far from Wilmont for several weeks. The added responsibility of hiring the carpenters and directing their labors was a mark of Gerard’s trust-a trust Corwin had earned several times over, both as a friend and knight. A trust he’d tested sorely only once, for Ardith’s sake.

“‘Twould seem the loading is nearly completed,” Gerard commented.

“I will inspect them after I see to the falcon,” he said,
hoping the wagons passed his inspection. He wanted nothing to go wrong on this journey, not so much as a shifted plank to unbalance a wagon and tip it off the road.

Corwin followed Gerard and the hunting hounds up the outside stairs that led to the stone keep’s second floor, then through the oak doors that opened into the great hall.

The servants had begun to prepare for the noon meal. Trestle tables were being set up in rows down the length of the hall. Soon serving wenches would bring out the bread trenchers upon which to place food and cups to hold ale. Only those who ate at the high table-the lord’s family and guests-would eat off of clay plates and drink wine from goblets. Corwin considered himself honored to take his meals here as family.

Indeed, he felt as at home at Wilmont as at Lenvil. As a boy, he’d spent many months each year at the home of his overlord-had learned to read and write, to skillfully wield a sword and lance, and had become fast friends with Gerard and his brothers.

In Gerard’s wake, Corwin crossed the hall, kicking up the scent of rosemary from the recently changed rushes. At the far end of the hall, beyond the dais, he unwrapped the jesses from his arm and reluctantly returned the falcon to her perch among her fellow hunters.

Corwin ran a finger down the falcon’s softly feathered chest, feeling the taut power in the beautiful, deadly predator. He wanted her as any man who appreciates fine hunting birds would want her.

At Lenvil, Corwin kept several hawks, good hunters all, his favorites being a lovely goshawk and a daring little kestrel. This peregrine would be a pleasure to own, a joy to fly whenever he pleased. Though he’d become a landed knight, a warrior whose skills rivaled nearly all but Gerard’s,
a man whose education far surpassed that of most Normans, he wasn’t of noble birth.

An unfair restriction, in his opinion, but one King Henry refused to consider changing. Indeed, the king was most adamant about enforcing the Forest Laws. Poachers weren’t tolerated in the king’s woodlands. Bringing down a deer could mean a hunter’s death. Henry grudgingly allowed his nobles to hunt smaller game. Gerard, thankfully, allowed his landed knights to hunt within the boundaries of their holdings-but held to the restrictions on hunting birds.

Once more Corwin stroked the falcon’s chest, knowing that dwelling on the unfairness of the law served no purpose. There were simply some things he couldn’t have, rights he would never obtain, all because he’d been born to the wrong family.

Gerard interrupted Corwin’s musings. “While you inspect the wagons, I will go up and see how Ardith fares.”

“I fare just fine.” Her voice came from the bottom of the stairway that led up to the family chambers.

For Corwin, looking at his well-loved sister was almost like looking into a silvered glass. Though his hair was colored a more earthy shade of brown than hers, they shared the same azure-blue eyes. In a generously cut gown of deep blue, having left off her veil and circlet to allow her plaited hair to swing behind her, Ardith waddled toward him.

“Since the two of you went off hunting and left me here on my own,” she said in a disgruntled tone, “I put the time to use by writing a note to Judith. Corwin, would you do me the favor of delivering it?”

Corwin hoped his shock didn’t show as he took the note from Ardith’s hand, wanting to say her nay but unable to come up with a good excuse to deny her request. She wouldn’t understand his reluctance to stop at Romsey Abbey. Or to see her friend Judith.

Only once had Corwin crossed Gerard. Ardith had been desperate to see a midwife-nun at Romsey Abbey and, even while knowing Gerard would be livid, Corwin had taken her. Gerard had been angry, had blustered and handed down assorted punishments. Still, Corwin felt no remorse and would do it all over again if the need arose.

Unfortunately, at Romsey Abbey he’d also met Judith Canmore, a royal heiress, a niece of both Queen Matilda of England and King Alexander of Scotland. Someday she would leave the cloister to marry, but until then served as companion to Matilda whenever the queen made one of her frequent retreats to Romsey. Judith had been kind to Ardith and the two had become friends. Judith’s favor, however, didn’t extend to him.

Well, he didn’t have to put the letter into Judith’s hand, just give it to whoever answered his knock on the abbey’s door.

“‘Twouldbe my pleasure,” Corwin finally answered, forcing a smile.

Ardith answered his smile with a beaming grin. “When you return, you will have to tell me if Judith has changed. By now, I imagine she has grown into a beautiful young woman.”

Three years had passed since their meeting and Judith probably had blossomed from a winsome girl to a beautiful woman, but Corwin was loathe to set eyes on her. The last thing he wanted to do was admire Judith’s soft, dove-gray eyes and shiny, sable-brown hair. Wonder what curves hid beneath her concealing robe. Long to taste the adorable bow of her lips, only to have her turn up her pert royal nose at him-again.

‘Twas one of the few times his lack of rank had been tossed in his face so forcefully, and it wasn’t an experience he cared to relive.

Judith rolled up the sleeves of her black robe, preparing to scrub the pots the nuns had used to cook the noon meal. Her punishment could have been worse, but she knew Abbess Christina chose this particular chore knowing how much Judith disliked it.

The other nuns had finished their after-meal tasks and left the kitchen. All but Sister Mary Margaret, who watched over Judith to ensure a thorough cleansing of the pots.

“Truly, Sister, you need not stay,” Judith said, smiling at the frown on the nun’s age-wrinkled, kindly face. “I can manage on my own.”

“And have the abbess learn that I shirked my duty? I think not. She will have
me
scrubbing those pots. What did you do this time?”

Judith slid the first of many pots into the tub of water and began scrubbing, recalling the heated disagreement that had ended with Judith nearly in tears and the abbess red in the face. “I refused the abbess’s entreaty to take the veil.”

“You have done so before without drawing punishment.”

True, but she’d never before been so vehement, or used disrespectful language. “Aye, well, I fear I refused a bit too pointedly and loudly this time.”

“If the queen were here-”

“But she is not, so cannot intercede for me. So, I scrub pots.”

Queen Matilda had been called back to London from her latest retreat at Romsey Abbey, to rule the kingdom while King Henry went off to see to some business or another in Normandy. As always, after one of Matilda’s prolonged visits to the abbey, the abbess again tried to convince Judith to take the veil. Again Judith refused.

Sister Mary Margaret pulled up a stool and eased her short, plump body down on it. “You could do worse than
to take the veil, you know. A woman of your rank could move high in the Church.”

For seven years Judith had lived among the nuns at Romsey Abbey and been content for the most part. These days, however, when she knelt down to pray-which happened often in a nun’s day-she prayed for deliverance from another seven years. She shuddered at the thought. Madness would overtake her long before then.

Lately, contentment had been elusive. More often her discontent flared over the simplest things, like the black color of her robe or the lack of a particular seasoning in the stew.

‘Twas time to make another appeal to her family, remind them she’d long ago reached marriageable age. Prod them into rescuing her from her ordeal. Not to her parents-they would bow to any royal edict. Uncle Alexander would only caution patience, if he took note of her plea at all.

Best to seek aid from Aunt Matilda, who might listen, who would best understand her wish to be free of Christina’s heavy-handed persuasion to take the veil. Except it could be months before Matilda returned.

“I have no wish to rise high in the Church,” Judith said, putting the clean pot aside and grabbing the next dirty one. “Christina wants me to take her place as abbess, just as she once tried to convince Matilda to do the same, before Henry came to Matilda’s rescue.”

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