Authors: Margaret Mallory
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
Her hair was still damp in places. He sank his fingers deep into the waves and shook her hair free, releasing the scent of
wildflowers. Closing his eyes, he put his face into her hair and breathed in until he was dizzy with the smell of it.
He pushed the hair aside to kiss the delicate curve of her neck. At last. Another woman would have sighed and leaned back
into him, or turned and pulled him into a deep kiss. But his new wife remained rigid.
So much for his resolve to calm her with conversation before touching her. He sighed, knowing he should not have lost himself
like that. Sinking into the seat beside her, he took her hand. He was glad for some physical connection, however tenuous.
Catherine covered her eyes with her other hand. To his bewilderment, her shoulders were shaking. She was weeping! After what
seemed like an eternity to him, she seemed to recover herself somewhat.
“I am sorry,” she said in a tremulous voice. “I do not mean to annoy you.”
What was he to do with her? He patted her hand, which seemed so small in his, and waited. He felt desperate, but he could
think of nothing else to do. At last, her breathing steadied and she dropped her hand from her face. She looked at him cautiously
from red-rimmed eyes and attempted a smile.
Even this small sign caused hope to spring up in his heart.
“I wish I did not frighten you,” he said.
“You are not to blame.” She spoke so softly he had to lean forward to hear her. “My husband… Lord Rayburn…” She cleared her
throat and tried again. “He was not a kind man. I had cause to fear him.”
“If you truly feared him, how could you risk betraying him as you did?” He knew he was being blunt, but he found it hard to
“I had to.” From the way she pressed her lips together, he could tell this was all the answer she intended to give him.
“In what way was he unkind to you?” William asked.
“It would distress me to speak of it.”
He did not want to upset her just to satisfy his curiosity. “You need not speak of it. But I would have you know, you need
not be afraid of me.”
He patted her hand again, since that seemed to be the only thing he could do to soothe her.
What now? It did not look too promising a wedding night, with her so pale and miserable beside him. He’d never forced a woman.
He was not going to start now with his wife. In his youth, he’d seen soldiers rape peasant women. As a commander, he prohibited
such vile behavior in his men. It violated everything a knight should be.
He rubbed his hands over his face and gave a long sigh. “Perhaps you are too soon from your sickbed to make a marriage bed,”
he said, pushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear. He paused to give her time to contradict him before giving her his
final dispensation. “God willing, we have many years of married life ahead. Tonight, you must sleep.”
The relief in her eyes hurt his pride.
“Thank you. I am so very tired,” she said, rising from the table.
He grabbed her wrist. “Catherine, it is important that everyone believe we consummated our marriage this night. No one must
think we are not fully bound.”
“Yes, of course,” she said, pulling away from him.
Good Lord, she looked as if she intended to run before he changed his mind. He stood and rested his hands firmly on her shoulders.
have my rights as a husband.” He held her eyes with a look that was meant to sear through her. “I want children, and I will
have them only with my wife.”
After a moment, she said in a soft voice, “I would like more children as well.”
Her words set off such an intense surge of longing that he had to struggle to keep from pulling her hard against him. She
must have sensed his weakening resolve. When she tried to step back, he tightened his grip on her shoulders.
“I want you in my bed,” he said. “And I will not wait long.”
He kissed her lightly, holding back the passion that threatened to overtake his will. She held herself very still, as if she
knew that if she responded in the slightest, she would find him pressed against her, every inch touching, and there would
be no turning back.
But she gave no quarter. He broke the kiss, his heart pounding in his chest. Without another word, he led her to her bedchamber
door. She closed it swiftly behind her.
He told himself he had waited years for her; he could wait one more night. But sleep would not come easy. Not with Catherine
so near and his body aching for her.
atherine paused at the entrance to survey the room. The hall was empty, save for a few of FitzAlan’s men, who sat near the
hearth cleaning their weapons. FitzAlan, praise God, was not among them.
The rest of the household must have broken their fast hours ago. How did she sleep so late? It was a wonder she was able to
sleep at all with FitzAlan so near. She awoke feeling almost in full health again. However, after days of eating almost nothing,
she was famished.
Nodding to the men, she hurried to the table to take her breakfast. She was so hungry she could think of nothing but the food
in front of her for some time.
After putting away an unseemly amount of food, she looked up and caught the men exchanging amused winks and nods. Apparently,
they had set aside their work to watch her eat.
Did these Northerners have no manners? She gave them a severe look. She was gratified to see them go back to cleaning their
weapons, albeit with a snort or two of stifled laughter.
Alys bustled into the hall, calling, “Good morning, m’lady!”
Heavens, why was everyone full of cheer this morning? First those men acting like boys, and now Alys smiling as if she’d found
a bag of gold coins.
“Where’s Jamie this morning?” Catherine asked her.
“Jamie? Why, he’s gone with Lord FitzAlan.”
Catherine jumped to her feet. “What? He has taken Jamie?” Her throat was closing in panic. “Where, Alys? Where has he taken
“Pray, do not fret, m’lady. He only took the boy to the stables to look at that huge animal of his. Jamie begged him.” Touching
Catherine’s arm, she added, “I would have come for you if there was anything amiss.”
Catherine closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. Jamie was all right. He had to be.
At the sound of a loud commotion coming from the entrance, she opened her eyes just as FitzAlan strode into the hall. Jamie
was on his shoulders, grinning from ear to ear. The relief that flooded through her made her knees feel weak. She took a half-step
back and put a steadying hand on the table behind her.
Jamie waved wildly at her, shouting, “Mother! Mother!”
He gave a high-pitched giggle as FitzAlan swung him down. As soon as her son’s feet touched the floor, he ran to her, excitement
radiating from his face. She dropped to one knee to catch him and clutched him fiercely to her chest. Praise God, he was all
right. Forcing herself to release him, she leaned back and gave him what she hoped was a cheerful smile.
“He says I may ride on his horse with him,” Jamie told her, his eyes dancing. “Can I,
“Of course.” Looking up at FitzAlan, she added, “I hope I may come along when you do.”
She was not about to let FitzAlan take her son outside the castle without her. Anything could happen.
“You could show me the lands near the castle, if you feel well enough to ride.” FitzAlan examined her so closely she felt
her face flush. With a slight lift of his eyebrow, he said, “You do look in fine health today. Very fine.”
Her blush deepened; she could not mistake his meaning.
“The rest of my men just arrived, and I need to arrange an escort to travel to London with Bishop Whitefield,” he said. “Can
you be ready in an hour?”
Glancing at her son, Catherine was amazed by how at ease the boy was. He rested one small hand on FitzAlan’s arm while pointing
at one thing after another.
Jamie’s excited chatter gave an unexpected sense of normalcy to the ride. As they rode across the green fields, she found
she was almost enjoying herself. She leaned back and closed her eyes. The warm summer sun felt good on her face after so many
“I understand from Alys and Jacob that you managed the estates for your father when he was absent.”
She snapped her eyes open. So, FitzAlan already knew to go to Alys and Jacob for information rather than the useless man Rayburn
had appointed steward. She must keep her wits about her. This was not a man she should underestimate.
The muscles in his jaw tightened, and then he said, “Of course, you did the same for Rayburn.”
“I have been the mistress of Ross Castle since I was twelve, when my mother died,” she answered him. “I only did as other
women do when their lords go off to fight, though perhaps I took on the duties younger than some.”
“Then you can tell me what I need to know.”
He proceeded to pepper her with questions about the tenants and about what most needed his attention on the estates. At first,
she believed he was merely making conversation. But when he pressed her for her opinions and listened closely to what she
said, his interest seemed genuine. Never once had Rayburn—or her father—sought her advice.
“May I go?” Jamie interrupted. He was pointing toward a small group of men and boys working in a nearby field.
FitzAlan raised his eyebrows at her in a silent question. Pleased that he would defer to her, she nodded. Jamie ran off to
greet the tenants as soon as FitzAlan set him on the ground.
Before she could dismount, he was at her side. He lifted her down as though she weighed nothing at all—and did not release
her. With his large hands holding her waist, she felt like a trapped hare. It did not help that he was looking at her as if
he’d like to gnaw her bones.
She twisted away from him and hurried after Jamie through the field. In an instant, FitzAlan was beside her. He walked so
close the heat from his body seemed to pass through their clothing to her skin. Each time his arm brushed hers, it sent tingles
through her body.
“Those are two of our tenants, Smith and Jennings, and some of their children. Smith is always willing to take on extra work.”
Good heavens, she was blabbering, but the way his gaze swept her from head to foot made her nervous.
“Why is Smith so willing to do extra work?”
“Smith?” She looked at him blankly before she recalled what she had just said. Without stopping to think, she blurted out
the truth. “His wife is such a shrew that he is glad for any excuse to be away from his cottage.”
FitzAlan responded with a smile that reached his eyes. The saints be praised, the man had a sense of humor. What next?
“What of the other man, Jennings?”
“If you want something delivered far from home,” she said, “Jennings is your best man.”
“He is the most responsible?”
“In sooth, he is not, though he serves well enough,” she admitted. “But none of the other men like to leave if Jennings stays
behind. They fear if they leave their wives alone, their next child may have Jennings’s green eyes.”
God help her, had she truly said that?
FitzAlan’s deep laugh rang out over the fields. The sound startled her; it seemed so at odds with his serious nature. He looked
younger and less formidable when he laughed. And even more handsome. More trouble, that was. All the maids would be atwitter
FitzAlan nodded toward a third man, working apart from the others. “Who is that?”
“Tyler. The only one to give me cause for complaint,” she said as she watched the man in the field with narrowed eyes. “Tyler
is not blessed with an honest nature.”
When they reached the tenants, FitzAlan spoke with them about the crops and the weather. As they took their leave, Jamie begged
to stay and “help” Jennings’s children with their work.
“I’ll look after the lad, m’lady,” Jennings assured her, “and return him to the castle before supper.”
She thanked the man. Too late, she realized this would leave her alone with FitzAlan.
It was a perfect day, so clear she could see the Black Mountains across the border in Wales as they rode. The warmth of the
sun and the gentle breeze touching her face soothed her. As FitzAlan asked her questions about various noble families of the
area, the ease she felt earlier returned.
After a time, she ventured a question of her own. “I hear you come from the North. Did you know Northumberland and his son
“It is not possible to live in the North without knowing something of the Percys.” Giving her a sharp look, he asked, “Why
do you wish to know about them?”
Clearly, it was a mistake to ask about the powerful family that had twice conspired to remove the king. Why could she not
“I am curious, that is all,” she murmured. “There are so many stories about them, especially Hotspur.”
“Hotspur was as brave and reckless as they say,” he said in a flat tone. He paused so long she thought he meant to close the
subject. Before she could think of something to say to fill the awkward silence, he spoke again.