Authors: Margaret Mallory
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
William cooled his heels Efor half a day at Monmouth while Prince Harry dealt with some unexpected business. Damn. He was
anxious to get this appearance at the king’s Christmas court over with and get back home. It was midafternoon before the prince
was finally ready to start the journey to Eltham.
“What an hour to get started,” William grumbled to Stephen. “We’ll have to stop for the night in a couple of hours.”
As they mounted their horses, two score of men-at-arms bearing the Lancaster lion banner pounded through the main gate.
The prince watched them with narrowed eyes. “ ’Tis my uncle Beaufort.”
William dismounted. They wouldn’t be going to Eltham today. He scanned Beaufort’s men but did not see Edmund.
After greetings were exchanged, William said to Beaufort, “I sent a man to you yesterday. If you came on the London road,
you should have crossed paths.”
“We traveled on it all the way from Eltham,” Beaufort said. “We passed a few men but none stopped us.”
An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of William’s stomach.
“We are difficult to miss,” Beaufort said. “Are you sure your man took the London road?”
It was the only road Edmund could take to Eltham Castle.
William tried to tell himself something could have happened to waylay Edmund. His horse took lame. Bandits attacked him. He
got drunk and found a woman along the way.
William had fought beside Edmund for ten years. He’d trusted the man with his life more times than he could count. And yet,
all he could hear were Catherine’s words:
I do not trust him
He remembered the night he met her here at Monmouth Castle. She had told him her betrothed was not a man to be trusted. As
an inexperienced girl of sixteen, Catherine had seen Rayburn for what he was. No one else had.
His heart thundered in his chest as he mounted his horse.
“Catherine may be in danger,” he said to Prince Harry. “Make my excuses to the king.”
He did not wait to hear the prince’s reply.
He signaled to his men to follow and galloped out the gate.
as it you who arranged my kidnapping?” Catherine asked in an attempt to divert Edmund.
“Aye, I did it to save him,” he said. “William was a fool for you from the start. I could see you would be the ruin of him,
bedding every man from prince to troubadour right under his nose.”
Edmund sat in the chair on the other side of the small table and took another long drink from his flask.
“The Welsh wanted you as soon as I told them Prince Harry would pay any price for you,” he said with a cold smile. “Then I
made William believe you’d run off with a lover. Believe me, I just had to plant the seed.”
She felt the smoldering anger beneath his taunting humor.
“I expected the ransom demand to the prince to remove any doubt about the sort of woman you are,” he said, shaking his head.
“After that, William should have been happy to leave you to rot in Wales.
“I meant to cure him of you. If the Welsh offered me money to sweeten the pot, why not?” Edmund slammed his fist on the table.
“William got his land and wealth. By heaven, did I not deserve something as well?”
His shifting moods were frightening her as much as his words.
“But instead of paying me the rest of my money, that bastard Rhys Gethin had his men try to kill me!”
Rhys Gethin had the sense not to trust a man who betrayed his own.
“But how could you do that to William?” she asked. “You were his friend. His second in command. He trusted you.”
He turned to gaze out the window at the dark sky. “I loved him like a brother,” he said, nodding. “ ’Twas a time we had everything
in common. We were the best of soldiers, but landless, with no bonds of family.”
She heard the plaintive longing in his voice.
“There was freedom in the life we had. And always plenty of women. William drew them like flies.” Edmund blew out a deep breath
and shook his head. “But William was never content with it. Nay, he always wanted what he did not have.”
He lifted his flask and, finding it empty, tossed it aside. He picked up her cup and took a deep drink. Though he showed little
outward sign, she thought he must be drunk.
“Then the king hands him a castle, lands, and a title—and all for nothing more than refusing to follow his father into treason.”
Tiny drops of spittle hit the table as Edmund spoke. “Truly, his bounty was too much!”
“You understand him well enough to know what he truly desired was not wealth or lands,” she said in a soft voice. “What he
wanted was a family of his own, a home.”
“I would not have begrudged William his good fortune,” he said, fixing her with a look that burned right through her. “But
then, in addition to all else, he got you. And for you, he had to pay no price at all.”
Edmund’s words sent a wave of panic through her that threatened to swamp her.
“No matter what you were, what you looked like,” Edmund said, “he would have married you because you needed saving. You see,
William lacks his parents’ pragmatism when it comes to honor. I could have forgiven him the rest of his good fortune if he
had to take an ugly heiress into the bargain.
“Instead, the whore’s son got a woman who puts all the others to shame,” he said, his voice thick with bitterness. “It was
more than one man deserved.”
Her years with Rayburn gave her the sharp instincts of the hunted. She sensed Edmund was on the verge of attacking her.
“What about Tyler?” she asked, hoping to divert him again.
“Tyler knew some of the rebels. He served as my go-between with Rhys Gethin.”
“What happened to him?” she asked, though she could guess.
“When William brought you back, I knew he would figure out someone here betrayed you. I gave him Tyler.” He shrugged. “I suspect
they’ll find his body in the spring.”
With an edge to her voice, she asked, “How is it you are not concerned William will come after you?”
“Well might you ask!” He laughed as he said it, but she heard unease in his laughter. “Believe me, I plan to be far, far away
before William returns.”
Praise God, he was going to take his rabble and leave soon. She narrowed her eyes at him. “You might want to get started.”
“I have three days, maybe more, before the news reaches him and he returns. All the same, we’ll leave in the morning.”
She just had to survive until morning.
“You do know I’m taking you with me?” he said.
She did not look down soon enough to hide the terror in her eyes, and he smiled with satisfaction.
“You bewitch men at every turn. One of them is sure to pay,” he said. “I’ll send ransom demands to them all and sell you to
the highest bidder.
“Mind you, I’d make Gethin pay twice as much as the others, after what he did to me.” He took another drink of wine and narrowed
his eyes to slits. “But even if William could find the money after he loses Ross Castle, I’d never let him buy you back.”
Catherine felt such a surge of rage it left her shaking. But then the child rolled in her belly, and her thoughts turned cold
and clear. She would save herself and her baby.
“It would be a shame to give you to a man like Rhys Gethin. I suspect he has no refinement in bed,” he said, leaving no doubt
as to the direction of his thoughts. “He probably makes love the same as he fights—charges straight for the prize with all
He leaned across the table and took her chin in his hand. She sat still, every muscle taut.
“Perhaps I’ll give up the money and keep you for myself.” His eyes were shining, and he was breathing hard. “Believe me, Catherine,
I could make you call out my name and beg for more.”
She was too late in wiping the revulsion from her face. He released her chin and grabbed her wrist.
“Then you shall go to that vulgar Welshman, who will use you as roughly as a whore and give away your child.”
She felt his anger like the edge of a blade against her skin. She tried to pull her hand out of his grasp, but he held it
in an iron grip.
“But I shall have you first,” he said, jerking her to her feet. “I want William to come home and smell another man on your
illiam and his men raced in silence through the increasingly gray afternoon light. All the while, he prayed he was wrong.
Prayed she was safe. Prayed Edmund feared him enough not to do it. Edmund must know William would follow him across the earth
and into hell to kill him if he…
The sun dipped below the horizon, and the air turned bitter cold. It was not the cold, however, but a sense of foreboding
that sent a shiver up his spine.
At long last, the outline of Ross Castle was dimly visible in the early darkness of the winter evening. William pushed his
tired horse harder over the last stretch and reached the gate ahead of his men. When he roared at the guards, nothing happened.
They neither called back nor dropped the drawbridge. He looked at the gatehouse and the towers. No torchlight. All was dark,
as if the castle were abandoned, empty of every living soul.
God help him. They took his castle. His wife and Jamie were inside. The protection of every member of the household was his
responsibility. Somehow, he had to get inside. He thought of all his work, strengthening the castle’s defenses. He could see
the storage rooms filled with sacks of grain to withstand weeks, even months, of siege.
It would take him at least two days to get a siege tower here. Too much could happen in two days. He could not wait that long.
He heard the trampling and snorting of the other horses as his men joined him.
“Ropes,” he shouted at them, panic rising in his throat. “We need ropes to climb the walls.”
The men were silent. One or two might carry a bit of rope, but it was unlikely to be long enough to scale the curtain wall.
He turned toward his brother’s voice in the darkness.
“I know a way.”
Catherine screamed as Edmund dragged her across the solar toward the threshold to the bedchamber.
“No one will come,” he shouted over her screams.
As he carried her toward the high bed, memories of Rayburn came crashing down on her. She kicked and screamed and clawed at
his face. She would not be taken against her will again without a fight.
He pushed her onto the bed and straddled her. Holding her wrists over her head, he leaned down close to her face. “We can
do this rough or not,” he rasped, breathing hard. “The choice is yours, but I will have you one way or the other.”
She struggled against him, but he held her fast. Holding her with one hand, he reached inside his tunic and pulled out a length
God help her, he meant to tie her down!
He put his mouth against her ear and said, “Aye, Catherine, I will do it.”
He pulled back to look at her, but he was still close enough for her to feel his breath on her face. It smelled of sour wine.
“You may as well cooperate and enjoy yourself,” he said, his voice almost playful. “Then you can tell me if I am better than
He put his palm to her cheek and rubbed his thumb across her bottom lip. “What say you, Catherine? How shall it be?”
It was difficult to think with him holding her down, but she could not let him tie her. She must have her hands free to have
any chance at all.
“Will you promise to be careful of my baby?” Her voice came out faint and high-pitched.
“Very, very careful,” he purred.
She swallowed and nodded. “All right, I will do it willingly. But you frightened me badly. You must give me time to calm myself…
if… if I am to enjoy myself.”
“I’ve had enough of waiting. Waiting and watching while you carried on with William, the prince, even that troubadour.”
His eyes fixed on her mouth. Oh God, she could not take it if he kissed her mouth. Without releasing her wrists, he leaned
down and kissed her throat. She bit her lip to keep from screaming at him to stop.
“But I am an understanding man,” he said with a thin smile. “I will give you as much time as it takes for me to remove my
He lifted her to the floor with him.
“Light a candle while I take my boots off,” he said. “It’s getting dark, and I want to see you.”
Her hands shook as she lit the candle stub. As she did it, she listened for sounds from below. She heard no sound of guards
fighting their way into the keep to save her, only the soft rumble of male voices and hoots of laughter. If she was to be
saved, she must do it herself.
Feeling his eyes on her back, she turned to find Edmund sitting on the bench holding his boots midair.
“You are beautiful,” he said, raking his eyes over her. “I gave you your time. Now I want to see you naked.”
She took two steps back but could go no farther. Her back was against the bed. Somehow, she had to slow him down and gain
control of the situation.
“What about you?” She let a faint smile lift the corners of her mouth. “If you want me to enjoy myself, you will have to take
your clothes off as well.”