Authors: Margaret Mallory
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
And now, Catherine believed him.
illiam ran his finger up her arm. “We have the afternoon without the children underfoot. Do you wish to spend it
Catherine laughed and squeezed his hand. After a dozen years, their love and their passion for each other remained strong.
“God has truly blessed us,” she said.
“His blessing today is that the children are gone,” he said as he pulled her to her feet.
Before they reached the stairs, Catherine heard male laughter behind them, and Stephen and Jamie burst into the hall.
“This is a happy surprise!” she said as she crossed the room to greet them. “We did not expect you for another fortnight.”
“We missed you too much to wait,” Stephen said as he leaned down to kiss her cheek.
“I suppose the ladies at court believe all your lies,” she chided. “You must tell me later what truly brought you home early.”
She settled the men by the hearth and sent for wine.
“I am certain the king intends to return the Carleton family lands to you,” William said, “so there is no reason to delay
arranging a betrothal for you.”
She sighed. Did William have to raise the subject even before the wine was poured? She and William were in perfect accord
on the need for Stephen to be settled, but she would have waited for a quiet moment to speak with Stephen alone.
“There is no cause to hurry either,” Stephen said. His tone was light, but she caught the obstinate look in his eyes.
“Still,” she put in, “there can be no harm in discussing it.”
“I have presents for the little ones,” Stephen said in a blatant attempt to divert her. “Where have you hidden them?”
“They are visiting the abbess.” She folded her arms. “Now Stephen—”
“Truly, Catherine, every young lady you’ve asked me to consider is exceedingly dull.” To annoy her, he turned to Jamie and
said in a loud whisper, “And pliant in all the wrong ways.”
“You should have let us arrange this betrothal long ago,” William said. “Now Mother and Abbess Talcott have put their minds
“I thought Mother’s new husband would keep her better occupied,” Stephen grumbled. Lady Eleanor had married a man a dozen
years her junior after the death of Stephen’s father.
William’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “I suggest you settle the matter soon, or those two are sure to trap you in some scheme
of their own.”
“I told you a long time ago,” Stephen said, winking at Catherine, “if you can find me a woman like yours, I’ll be wed as soon
as the banns can be posted.”
Catherine rolled her eyes and waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Save your false flattery for the foolish women I hear
you spend your time with.”
As the men continued talking, she bit her lip and stared into the fire. She should have known the young girls of marriageable
age would bore him. Perhaps a foreign bride would pique Stephen’s interest. Or a young widow…
When she looked back at Stephen, something in her expression caused his smile to falter. She was a more formidable opponent
than his mother and the abbess combined, and he knew it.
“We have news,” Jamie said. “Maredudd Tudor has come forward to be pardoned.”
“Praise God!” Catherine said, putting a hand to her chest. Maredudd went into hiding eight years ago when Harlech fell and
the rebellion was crushed. “Poor Marged. How difficult these years must have been for her.”
“He waited long enough,” Stephen said. “Harry offered Glyndwr and all the Welsh rebels pardons when he was crowned four years
“If Maredudd wants to help that son of his, he should send him on campaign with us to Normandy,” William said. “Fighting the
French would go a long way toward demonstrating his loyalty to the Crown.”
Catherine put her hand on William’s arm. “Will that be soon? I hoped Harry would wait another year before making a second
“The king has been preparing all winter,” William said in a soft voice. “He’ll not let another summer pass before returning
to fight for the lands our prior kings lost to France.”
“Everyone at court was talking of it,” Jamie said, his eyes alight. “We came home to tell you the king has commanded all the
men to gather in a few weeks.”
Catherine closed her eyes. It had been so hard when they went on the first expedition two years ago.
“Jamie,” Stephen said in a low voice, “let us go collect your brothers and sisters from the abbey.”
Their footsteps echoed in the hall as they made their escape.
William pulled her onto his lap. “No harm will come to us,” he said, lifting her chin with his finger. “You forget what a
fearsome trio we make. The French will run like rabbits when they see us.”
Please, God, let my men come home from this war.
She thought of how the course of her life had been changed, more than once, by the events of a single day. No matter how much
William tried to protect her, it could all change again.
But for now, she would count her blessings and be grateful for the time she and William had together.
She would not waste a day of it.
“William, take me upstairs.” She stood and held her hand out to her husband.
Much later, as she lay with her head on William’s chest, she heard their children entering the hall below. She took comfort
in their laughter and in the strong, steady beating of her husband’s heart.
he more I read about the great Welsh rebellion of six hundred years ago, the more I came to admire both Prince Owain Glyndwr
), the Welsh rebel leader, and young Prince Harry, who spent much of his youth putting down the rebellion.
Glyndwr took control of all of Wales, inspired a ten-year rebellion, won recognition from foreign countries, and pressed a
forward-thinking reform agenda. My natural inclination would be to take the rebel side, but history was against them.
Henry V (Prince Harry in this book) was also a leader of stunning accomplishments. In writing about him as a young man, I
could not see him as the frivolous youth Shakespeare depicted. At eighteen, he was already an experienced commander in charge
of the English forces fighting the Welsh. As king, he appears to have devoted every waking moment to his duties. After the
disastrous reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, he united England as both beloved warrior king and a skilled and tireless administrator.
He reconciled the noble factions, fostered nationalism across the classes by making English the language of his court, and
decisively turned the tide in the Hundred Years’ War with France.
Another interesting historical character in this book is the child Owain (or Owen) Tudor, son of a Welsh rebel. After Henry
V died in 1422, Owain held the lowly position of clerk of the queen’s wardrobe. He had an affair with the king’s young widow
that sent the Lancasters into apoplexy—and resulted in five children. It is ironic that the grandson of this Welsh rebel and
Henry V’s French princess would usurp the throne in 1485 and begin the Tudor dynasty.
I drew personality traits for these and other historical figures from the information I had—and made up the rest. I apologize
to descendants of the Welsh rebel Rhys Gethin, in particular, for giving him unappealing characteristics to serve my story.
Please turn this page for a preview of the next passionate book in Margaret Mallory’s All the King’s Men series!
Available in mass market in December 2009.
tephen cursed Sir John Popham as he followed the path along the castle wall to the bailiff’s residence. With mist hovering
over the ground, the bailey yard was eerie at this hour. Did Popham set their appointments earlier each day just to spite
He tried to turn his thoughts to the business of the day, but they kept returning to the more interesting subject of Lady
Isobel Hume. The more he saw of her, the more intrigued he became. And he saw her often; he made sure of that.
Flirtation seemed not a part of her social repertoire. Unusual, especially for such a pretty woman.
Her smiles rarely reached her eyes. He’d yet to hear her laugh. As with flirting, his efforts there came to naught. He tried
to imagine what her laugh would sound like. A tinkling? A light trill?
Aye, he was intrigued. Almost as much as he was attracted. It was not just that she was beautiful, though she was that. He
wanted to know her. And her secrets.
Curiosity had always been his weakness.
A peculiar sound interrupted his musings. Peculiar, at least, to be coming from one of the storerooms built against the wall.
He went to the low wooden door and put his ear to it.
Whish! Whish! Whish!
The sound was unmistakable. Drawing his sword, he eased the door open to take a look.
She looked as surprised as he was to catch her alone in a storeroom attacking a sack of grain with a sword.
“The poor thing is defenseless,” he said, cocking his head toward the sack. Grain was seeping onto the dirt floor from several
“Close the door!” she hissed. “I cannot be seen here.”
And what a sight she was, with her cheeks flushed and strands of dark hair sticking to her face and neck.
God preserve him.
He stepped inside and firmly closed the door behind him.
“I meant for you to remain outside when you closed it.”
Though she took a step back as she spoke, she kept a firm hand on her sword. As she should.
With her glossy dark hair in a loose braid over her shoulder, she looked even more beautiful than he imagined. And he’d spent
hours imagining it. No man saw a grown woman with her hair uncovered unless he was a close family member. Or a lover. The
intimacy of it sent his pulse racing.
Aye, the lady had every reason to feel nervous at finding herself alone with a man in this secluded place.
“That sack cannot provide much of a challenge,” he said, trying to put her at ease.
“You make fun of me.” There was resentment in her tone, but he was pleased to see her shoulders relax.
“I believe I would serve as a better partner, though I must warn you”—he paused to glance meaningfully at the sack of grain—“I
will not hold still while you poke at me.”
Her sudden smile spilled over him like a burst of sunshine.
“But I wonder,” she said, raising her sword in his direction, “will you squeal like a pig when I do stick you?”
He laughed out loud. “I am shamed to admit this is my first time matching swords with a woman, so please be kind.”
She barely gave him time to take up position before she attacked.
“You have natural skill,” he allowed after a few parries and thrusts. “All you need is more practice.”
“But you, sir, are astonishing,” she said, a little breathless. “Quite the best I’ve seen.”
His chest swelled as if he were a youth of twelve.
“And I thought you excelled only at drinking games.”
“So you’ve been watching me. I am flattered.”
The deep flush of her cheeks pleased him to no end. He deflected a determined jab to his heart.
He played with her as he did with the younger squires—hard enough to challenge, but not so hard as to discourage. When she
pulled her skirt out of the way with her free hand, though, he missed his footing and very nearly dropped his sword.
She stepped back, her brows furrowed.
“Showing your ankles was a clever move,” he said, giving her a low bow. “A trick I’ve not seen before.”
“It was not my intention to rely on anything other than my skill.” Her tone was as stiff as her spine. “I would not be so
dishonorable as to stoop to tricks.”
. “If your opponent is both stronger and more skilled than you are,” he said, keeping his voice even, “then you must use what
advantages you do have.”
Sword arm extended, he motioned with his other hand for her to come forward. He suppressed a smile when she took up her sword
again and came toward him.
“Then, once you have an opening, you must use it,” he said. “Never give up your moment, as you just did. Do not hesitate.
Your opponent may not give you a second chance.”
“You do not care how you win, sir, so long as you do?” Her tone was scathing.
He sighed inwardly. How naive could she be?
“Use whatever rules you like when you are playing, Isobel. But if a man less honorable should find you alone as I did today,
you will wish you knew how to fight without the rules.”
She narrowed her eyes at him but did not speak.
“It would be preferable, of course, if you did not wander about alone. You forget you are in dangerous country here.”
“ ’Tis not your place to lecture me.”
“Now, do you want to continue playing at sword fighting?” he asked, deliberately baiting her. “Or do you want to learn how
to protect yourself from someone who intends you harm?”