Authors: Margaret Mallory
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
He wanted her warm and willing in his arms. He wanted her clinging to him as he carried her to his bed. He wanted to see her
weak and spent from their lovemaking. He wanted her to reach for him in the morning and do it all again.
He wanted, he wanted, he wanted.
She held herself rigid, waiting for him to release her. Unhappily, he let her go. He went to his bedchamber alone, hoping
it would be the last night. Without bothering to remove his robe, he fell facedown across his bed.
He must have dozed, for he woke with a start to the sound of her screams. Heart pounding, he grabbed his sword from where
it hung on the bedpost and ran to her bedchamber. In the darkness, he nearly collided with her maid.
“Lady Catherine is having one of her nightmares, m’lord,” the maid said breathlessly. “I will fetch Alys. She knows what to
“Go quickly,” he urged her, and went to Catherine.
She was thrashing on the bed and moaning, “No, please, no!” When he tried to quiet her by taking her in his arms, her movements
became more violent. He stood back, feeling helpless.
Alys came rushing in, her voluminous night robe billowing behind her. By now, Catherine had awakened. She sat up in the bed,
her hands over her face, shaking violently. And still, she could not bear to have him touch her.
The housekeeper put a steadying arm around his wife and held a small vial to her lips. She drank it down and rested her head
on Alys’s shoulder.
“That devil Rayburn is gone, thanks be to God,” Alys murmured as she held Catherine and smoothed back her hair. “He cannot
harm you now.”
After a time, Alys eased Catherine onto the pillows and gingerly backed down the steps from the high bed.
“The draught will bring her a peaceful sleep, m’lord,” Alys whispered as they left Catherine’s bedchamber. “You’ve no cause
to worry now.”
Alys would have continued out the solar, but he put his hand on her arm to stop her.
“But I do have cause to worry.” He nodded to a chair, and Alys sat down obediently. “Tell me what Rayburn did to her. All
of it. Now.”
Alys looked away and said, “Lord Rayburn beat her viciously. We could hear her screams.” There was a note of pleading in Alys’s
voice. “There was nothing I could do, save tend to her after.”
She grabbed a handful of her robes and wiped her nose and eyes. “May that man burn in hell for all eternity!”
“You would have protected her if you could,” William said. “He was a powerful lord and her husband.”
“I told Lady Catherine it would be a simple matter for me to slip poison in his soup, but she forbade it.” Alys shook her
head in obvious regret. “She would not have me blacken my soul by committing a mortal sin.”
She stopped to blow her nose again. “The beatings stopped once she was with child.”
“That was the end of it?” He hoped she would tell him it was, but he did not think so.
“That’s what we thought. But then Jamie caught a fever and nearly died, poor lamb.”
William was confused. “Are you saying Jamie’s illness led Rayburn to mistreat her again?”
“I know it did,” Alys said, nodding her head vigorously. “I heard him shouting at her about one son not being enough, that
there was nothing for it, but he must get her with child again. She cried and pleaded with him, promising nothing would happen
to the boy.”
“I heard her screaming as he dragged her up the stairs.” Alys bit her lip and sniffed. “Next morning, I took care of her,
as I always did.”
William did not know what to do with his rage. It pulsed through him, blurring his vision. He wished Rayburn were still alive
so he could kill him. No matter how Catherine deceived Rayburn, she did not deserve such treatment. No woman did.
Could she not see he was different from Rayburn? He would never lay a hand on her. He was a man of honor; it was his duty
to protect her. He renewed his determination to be patient. In time, she would see he would not harm her. She would come to
Three more days of waiting, and William’s patience had worn thin to breaking. He could not sleep and was so short-tempered
that his men had taken to avoiding him. Edmund—the only man who dared—finally confronted him.
“What is it with you, man?” Edmund demanded as William stomped past him in the bailey yard. “I had supposed bridegrooms to
be a cheerful lot, but the men are ready to join the Welsh just to get away from you.”
When William only growled at him in response, Edmund said, “What complaint can you have? You have a woman in your bed every
man here would sell his soul to the devil to have.”
A glint came into Edmund’s eyes. “Oh no, William, tell me you did not do something foolish to upset that pretty wife of yours?”
Grinning now, Edmund shook his head in mock disbelief. “Did you let her catch you with that serving maid? The one who flounces
her wares at you every chance she gets?”
“Don’t insult me,” William said sharply. “I am wed but a week, and you think I’ve already committed adultery?” William turned
on his heel and resumed his march across the yard.
“If married life suits you so poorly,” Edmund said, catching up to him, “you can send her away.”
When William ignored him, Edmund took hold of his arm, forcing William to turn and face him.
“If it is your new wife who is making you such a miserable horse’s arse, ’tis an easy matter to be rid of her. All you need
do is tell the king she was party to Rayburn’s treachery.”
“Never speak against my wife again.” The deathly calm of his voice made Edmund step back. “ ’Tis only because of the bond
we share from many years of fighting that they will not be scraping your bloody carcass from the bailey ground today.”
His body vibrated with anger as he stepped close to Edmund. “It will not save you a second time.”
illiam strode toward the stables, hoping a long, hard ride would improve his mood. Before he reached them, he heard a trumpet
“Who comes?” he called up to one of the men on the wall.
“They carry the king’s banner, m’lord.”
There was no time to change into something more suitable for greeting a royal visitor, so he headed straight for the gate.
It could not be the king. Henry was in the North finishing off the last remnants of the rebellion there.
William recognized the young man who rode through the gate at the front of the men-at-arms as Prince Harry. As the prince
dismounted, William dropped to his knee. At the prince’s signal, he rose to receive his future king.
“FitzAlan, I am glad to find you here. The king wishes me to report—” The prince stopped midsentence, his attention caught
by something behind William.
“Kate!” the prince called out, his face transformed by a boyish grin.
In another moment, Catherine was beside William making a low curtsy. Prince Harry pulled her to her feet. After bestowing
enthusiastic kisses on both her cheeks, he lifted her off the ground and spun her in his arms.
If the prince’s behavior was not surprising enough, Catherine’s was astonishing. She threw her head back and laughed. Then
she pounded on the prince’s shoulders, shouting, “Harry! Harry, put me down at once!”
The prince did as she commanded. “I am always happy to do the fair Catherine’s bidding,” he declared, giving her a dramatic
The prince turned and gave William a grin and a wink. “Truth be told,” he said in a loud whisper she was meant to hear, “your
lady wife was a tyrant as a child.”
The prince put his hand to his heart and gave an exaggerated sigh. “I was in love with her when I was a lad of seven. But,
alas, she was an older woman of ten and would not have me.”
The men crowded around them laughed. William did not.
Catherine stood too close to the prince, squeezing his hand, chatting at her ease. William would have given a good deal to
have her smile at him in precisely that way. Seeing her grace another man with it hit him like a blow to the chest.
He ceased to follow the words of their conversation, seeing only the affection and delight the two found in each other. Before
he knew it, the three of them were walking to the keep. Focused as he was on how tightly she held the prince’s arm, he almost
failed to notice that Prince Harry was speaking to him.
“If you would be so gracious as to put me and my men up for the night,” the prince was saying.
“It would be an honor.” William was surprised by how normal his voice sounded.
“Only one night?” Catherine asked.
“I am sorry, my dear Kate,” Prince Harry said, patting her hand on his arm, “but you know my time is not my own.”
My dear Kate?
The prince was talking to him again, but William could barely take in the words.
My dear Kate?
“The king wishes to know whether there have been rebel attacks in the area since your arrival at Ross Castle.”
He must have mumbled something appropriate, for the prince seemed satisfied.
William narrowed his eyes at Catherine. She was looking radiant in a close-fitting, rose-colored silk gown that flowed gracefully
as she walked. Had she dressed with particular care today? The prince had given no advance warning of his visit. At least
not to William.
Once inside the keep, Catherine sent servants scurrying in every direction to prepare rooms and refreshments. As soon as the
prince excused himself to change, William took his wife by the arm. He marched her into a passage just outside the hall, where
he could speak with her in private.
“You appear to know the prince quite well,” he said in a harsh whisper.
“We have known each other all our lives,” Catherine said, surprise in her voice. “You must know he spent his early years close
by, at Monmouth Castle. Our mothers were close friends.”
“Yes, of course,” he said, feeling foolish.
“William, I must speak with the cook now,” she said, clearly anxious to get back to her duties.
He could think of nothing else to say, so he let her go. At least she had called him “William” for once.
At supper, the prince chose to sit between William and his wife. And William chose to refrain from pushing his royal arse
onto the floor. It annoyed him further to see what the kitchen, under his wife’s direction, had produced on such short notice
for their royal guest.
William was heaping pheasant onto his trencher when he became aware that the eyes of everyone at the table were on him.
“What is your opinion?” the prince asked, leaning forward and looking at him expectantly. “Will they come this summer?”
Fortunately, it was easy to guess what the prince was asking. The question was on everyone’s lips: Would the French send an
army to support the Welsh?
“I cannot say,” William said, shrugging a shoulder, “but we must be prepared for it.”
“Aye, we must!” Without pausing, the prince began to speculate as to where the French might land their forces. Then he launched
into a discussion of how the English could then drive them out of Wales.
William should be glad for the opportunity to discuss military strategy with Prince Harry. After all, the prince was in command
of all English forces fighting the Welsh. The young man showed such remarkable talent for military command that Parliament
had given him the responsibility two years ago, at the age of sixteen.
Tonight, however, William did not care about a French invasion. To hell with the damned French.
As soon as the nursemaid took Jamie up to bed, William began to calculate how many hours before he could follow with Catherine.
When the prince rose to his feet, he felt hopeful.
“May I take your wife for a walk in the garden?” The prince was already holding his arm out to Catherine as he asked the question.
William could not very well tell the heir to the throne he would rather have a dagger twisted in his gut. If he gave his consent
without much grace, the prince did not seem to notice.
Catherine took great solace in having even a short visit with her friend. Though Harry had an air of authority about him now,
she could still see in him the boy who pulled her hair and slipped beetles down her back. Despite his annoying pranks, they
had always been close.