Your first allegiance is to your heart…
As a knight, Sir Rand Montague’s allegiance is to King Edward I. But when the king orders Rand to escort Rosalyn Harcourt to court in order to wed her off to Sir Golan—a crass knight Rand abhors—he’s torn between duty and desire. For Rand has never forgotten the woman he spent one unforgettable night of passion with…
After suffering abuse at the hands of her deceased husband, Rose wishes to never wed again. But when Rand rescues her after Sir Golan attempts to compromise her, she agrees to marry Rand in name only. However, sharing such close quarters with Rand brings back memories of their torrid rendezvous—and tempts Rose to give in to an all-consuming desire…
In the year of our Lord 1276
Fourth year in the reign of King Edward I
“The lady who shall be my next wife shall have no reason to find fault with my lineage.” Sir Golan de Coucy chuckled. “Indeed, `tis no boast when I say that the de Coucy’s are endowed with certain attributes women greatly esteem in a spouse.”
Sir Rand Montague, escorted into King Edward's chamber by a dark-robed clerk, glanced at the knight speaking amongst a group of lords.
Hazy light filtered into the long, narrow room through three glazed windows on the longer east wall. Opposite this, a table was pushed up below a map of the world painted on the plaster wall. Rand approached Lords Warwick and Pembroke, and de Coucy standing before the table.
Sir Golan was tall, of broad muscular frame, with dark brown wavy hair that swept back from his smooth forehead. At court, rumors abounded about the comely, well-sought-after knight who was searching for a new bride. The gossip mainly revolved around the knight’s prowess with the opposite sex and the tragic story of how his first wife died giving birth to their stillborn son.
But another dark rumor claimed Golan had had a hand in his wife’s demise.
Rand truly despised the courts’ ruthless preoccupation with other people’s personal affairs. He knew firsthand the destructive force of speculation and innuendo. His cousin Kat was nearly destroyed by scurrilous lies spread by vicious nobles who reveled in court intrigue.
Rand greeted each man, forceful slaps on the back all around. On the long board were what appeared to be a large rolled-up map, and a lighted branch of candles, a flagon of wine, and several jewel-encrusted drinking vessels.
Golan passed Rand a chalice of claret, or rose`. “I believe I have boasted enough for the nonce,” he said, grinning broadly. “Rand, tell us about your mission to Gascony.”
The Earl of Warwick added, “Aye. I had not heard you’d returned to England. Was your journey successful?”
Rand patiently answered all their questions, savoring his claret. He recognized the excellent vintage from his family’s Bordeaux vineyards that he imported in his cargo ship.
“My lords, well come we meet,” King Edward intoned behind them.
In unison with the other lords, Rand spun round and bowed low before his sovereign liege lord. Edward waved a negligent hand for them to rise, then moved to the table. They gathered round the king, who unrolled the map, which was a very detailed representation of Wales and the western border of England. Without preamble, the king began discussing war plans.
“Here and here,” Edward said, pointing to the Welsh Marches along the English border, “if it comes to war, as I expect it will, is where I plan to cross into Wales. The troops will advance into the south and central regions of Wales, but I’ll send the bulk of the troops into Llewelyn ap Gruffydd’s territory in Snowdonia in the north, harrying him and any resistance we meet.” A red flush crept up Edward’s face as he continued, “If the man does not come to pay homage to me as his overlord, I intend to crush and subdue him.” He rapped his knuckles on the table, punctuating his statement. “No man, prince or otherwise, shall defy me without retribution.”
Rand listened with half an ear as Edward discussed his plans. With war appearing imminent, he could not help but worry about Rosalyn Harcourt, Lady Ayleston, and her young son, Jason.
Staring at the map, his eyes strayed to the cartographer’s mark that indicated the town and port of Chester near the Welsh border. The manor of Ayleston lay in the Marches five miles southwest of Chester, making it vulnerable to Welsh raids once hostilities broke out. It was too dangerous for Rose to remain at Ayleston without proper protection. But Rand did not think she would listen to him if he tried to reason with her. She ought to move to one of her dower manors farther inland for the duration of the war.
“Well, cousin. I have lost you, haven’t I?”
Startled, Rand glanced up at the king.
Several inches taller than him, Edward had long golden hair and a drooping right eyelid. The king slapped him on the back good-humoredly. “Come. Tell me what troubles you.”
Rand glanced around, realizing he and the king were alone. Consternation filled him at his breach of etiquette, but Edward, seemingly unperturbed, moved to the table to pour more claret into his chalice. Rand followed suit, taking a big swill of his wine.
“Now. I would hear what had you so distracted earlier that war plans could not hold your interest. Most unusual for you, cousin.”
Rand had been feeling rather out of sorts of late. The pride and satisfaction he usually took in being a trusted and highly valuable knight in the king’s household no longer fulfilled him as it once had. Something was lacking in him, but for the life of him he could not deduce what.
“’Tis Lady Ayleston, Sir Alex’s sister.”
Edward chuckled. “Ah, of course. I should have guessed. After warring, you are renowned for your amorous conquests.”
Rand chuckled. “Nay, Sire. My interest in Lady Ayleston is not of a prurient nature. Verily. My concern is her proximity within the border of Wales, war with Llewelyn appearing inevitable. As Alex is my friend, I cannot help but feel it is my duty to keep her safe from harm.”
Rand shrugged, grinning as though his apprehension was naught but a trifle.
“Ah, Rand, you are a good and dutiful friend. But let me set your mind at ease on that score. The good Sir Golan has offered to marry the lady, and offered a hefty sum to acquire the wardship of the lands of Lord Ayleston’s heir. He shall make a worthy protector of Lady Ayleston.”
Rand’s stomach felt as though it had dropped to his knees. He knew it was inevitable she would marry again. But thinking of Golan caressing the delicate perfection of Rose’s body—kissing her soft, luscious lips—was too awful to bear.
Rand took several deep draughts of wine. It burned a path down his throat, clearing the images from his mind. “Has the lady given her consent to the marriage?”
“Nay. I have not informed her yet, but Lady Ayleston will do as she is told. As you have noted, the seat of the Ayleston barony is in a strategic location near the border between our two countries. It also has a total of thirty-two knight’s fees, and fifty men-at-arms and archers. Ayleston will need a strong leader to rally her fighting men under one banner.”
Perhaps just as importantly, Rand thought, silver from Sir Golan’s purchase of the wardship would flow into Edward’s coffers and help pay for the war.
Edward quirked his blond head at him and a twinkle of humor flashed briefly in his eyes. “Have you given some thought to seeking a bride yourself? ’Tis time you married and saw to the begetting of heirs.”
“I have not thought about it, Sire. I have plenty of time yet before I need concern myself with siring heirs. Besides, I doubt any lady with good sense would have me,” Rand said good-naturedly.
“Nonsense. Any lady would be proud to have a knight of your renown to claim as husband.”
Nay, there would be no wife for him. Rand turned to stare blindly at the portrait of Queen Eleanor above a cold fireplace. What he did not tell the king was that he would never marry—for everyone he ever loved died. The waking dreams of his sweet, vivacious little sister were a constant reminder.
A pain throbbed at the base of his skull as the memory returned.
The river’s current tugged Rand under, and he sputtered, choking up water even as he gripped Juliana tighter. “Rand!” she cried out in desperation moments before they were dragged under again. The water’s embrace drew them deeper and deeper into the dark depths of the river. Holding his breath, lungs bursting, he couldn’t breathe. A bright light burst inside his head.
Oh, God, Rand released Juliana. Her narrow arms slipped from his neck and she floated down.
Suddenly he kicked his legs and shot straight up. He burst free to the surface, gasping for breath. His mouth opened wide; a long, agonized wail of grief ripped from his throat until his voice was sore and raw.
“ . . . you are to escort Lady Ayleston to court without delay.” King Edward’s commanding voice pierced his waking vision. “Certes, keep your counsel regarding her marriage to Sir Golan. I shall inform the lady of her duty when she arrives at court.”
“Sir Rand.” The same dark-robed clerk as before appeared at his side, his arm extended toward the door by which Rand had entered.
Reeling, Rand bowed and then exited the chamber. His agitated footsteps echoed down the torch-lit corridor, while it felt as though a vulture pecked at his exposed innards. Not only would he have to watch Rose marry another man, but now the king had tasked him with delivering her into that man’s hands.
When he finished his distasteful task, it was time to consider his position in the king’s household. He’d risen to knight banneret, yet still he was not content. Perhaps he was destined for dissatisfaction—guilt was his burden and his curse.
Juliana’s death was not all he had to atone for. His mother’s violent, painful death was on his conscience, as well. Rose, he had wronged her, too. . . But she made him swear never to speak of it and he honored her request.
County of Chester
Rising at daybreak, Rose exited the Keep down a set of steep stairs, and went round back to the kitchen garden. She dug her fingers into the moist earth, weeding the medicinal herbs she grew for treating the various wounds, ailments, and diseases of the dependents of Ayleston Castle. It was a responsibility she learned at her mother’s side, and one in which she took immeasurable comfort in easing the ills of her people.
Entering the kitchen by the back entrance, she met with Cook to plan the meals for the following week. Then after instructing Lady Alison on the supervision of the servants in clearing and replacing the rushes in the Great Hall, she went to her steward’s office.
A corridor off of the Great Hall’s entrance led to the chamber. When she stepped inside the small room, David ap Gwilim rose from the stool behind the table and bowed. “Good morrow, my lady.” He smiled in greeting. A hank of his thick, dark auburn hair flopped on his broad forehead.
“Good morrow, David. Has a message from the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield arrived for me yet?”
In addition to the table, a number of open cupboards on one wall were stacked with parchment rolls full of estate records.
“Aye, milady. Bishop Meyland’s messenger arrived early this morrow.” David searched the rolled parchments on the table until he found the bishop’s sealed missive. He came around the table and handed it to her. “I insisted the man wait while I informed you of his arrival, but he refused and departed hastily.”
Rose broke the wax seal, unrolled the parchment, and read the untidy Latin scribble. A quiver shot to her stomach, but she did not reveal her distress. She had learned well at Lord Ayleston’s hands how to suppress her emotions.
“The bishop informs me that his annual progress has been delayed, yet again, and he will not be able to travel to Ayleston for some while.” She looked up from reading the message and met the steward’s concerned black gaze. “Well, David, if Bishop Meyland cannot come to me, I shall go to him. Ready an escort for me for the journey to his residence in Lichfield. We depart on the morrow, at dawn.”
Rose left the chamber, her steps calm and measured, counter to the pressure building in her chest. Anxiety spread its wings inside her, a feeling of imminent doom growing that no amount of mental reasoning could calm. She exited the castle in search of Edith and Jason, the heat of the sun already foretelling another sweltering day.
She found Edith on a bench overlooking the orchard, keeping a watchful eye on Jason. Crouched on his haunches, Jason, large for a boy nearly three summers old, dug for worms with a stick beneath the sheltering branches of an apple tree.
Rose raised the missive in her hand and waved it at Edith. “The bishop has cancelled his trip to Ayleston, again. I wonder what can be keeping him?”
Edith set one of Jason’s hose she was mending down on the bench beside her. She rested her right arm, bent at an awkward angle, in her lap. “Milady, calm yourself. I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for his delay.”
Rose smiled at her former maidservant’s observation. Rose could not be any calmer outwardly, but Edith knew her very well and understood her agitation.
“I cannot help feeling something is amiss. Not till the bishop takes my vow of chastity will I feel safe. I shall never marry again,” she swore, a dark thread of conviction drawing her voice taut.
Rose plopped down on the bench beside Edith. Jason tugged a worm from the earth and squealed in delight, his cheeks dimpling. Rose’s gaze softened as she watched him.
“Are you sure you wish to take such a drastic measure? A vow of chastity is irrevocable. Perhaps you will want to marry again one day.”
Rose jerked her head to Edith. Jason’s nurse gazed at her, eyes shadowed, her left hand rubbing her crippled arm.
Guilt reared. Rose reached over and began massaging the shrunken muscles and tendons of Edith’s forearm. “Oh, forgive me, Edith. Here I am rambling about my troubles when you are in pain.”
A significant pause, then Edith whispered, “’Twas not your fault, milady.”
“If only I had been obedient and dutiful, Bertram would not have broken your arm and forbidden me to set it properly for you.”
Rose gazed off in the distance, her thoughts returning to the past. Rose had been spoiled and indulged as a child, and her father, Lord Briand, had taken the unusual step in allowing her to choose her own husband, provided the man was of equal or greater rank than she. But Rose had chosen unwisely, to her everlasting shame and regret. When she threatened Bertram that she would return to her father and tell him of Bertram’s perverse sexual proclivities, her husband struck out at Edith instead.
From that moment on, she learned never to defy him. No one was safe from his violent tendencies, not even Jason, his own son.
“Once I take my vow of chastity, I shall never be compelled to marry and be at the mercy of a man again.”
Marriage required enduring the humiliating debasement of conjugal duties. She had barely survived her first.
“Wurm, Mama. I found a wurm.” Her son’s excited voice drew Rose from her devastating memories. She looked down at Jason standing before her. The worm lay in his dirty palm as he raised it up for her inspection. She relaxed her tight grip on the crumpled missive.
Her eyes grew big as she stared at the worm he dangled before her. “Oh my, you did find a worm. A big, fat, wiggly one.” She growled beneath her breath, then reached out and tickled his tummy.
He burst out giggling, his little body wriggling as he tried to escape her marauding fingers. “I can’t breathe, Mama,” he gasped between giggles.
Rose relented, bent forward, and kissed his sweaty brow. “Jason. How would you like to help me collect some herbs in the woods? You are always such a great help to Mama.”
“I’m a good helper, Mama.” He jumped up and down, a huge grin on his face, his gold curls bouncing in his exuberance. Her heart twisted at the resemblance to his father, but she pushed the guilt away.
Regrets could not alter the past. She lived in the present, her sole purpose to rear and educate her son to prepare him for responsibilities he would assume upon his majority. Her son was her life. Indeed, she would protect him to her last breath from anyone who would harm him. She would teach Jason to revere and respect women, like his uncle and grandfather. They were the rare exception of what was good and honorable and chivalrous in a man.
“Good. Why don’t you go put the worm in your pail?”
Jason skipped away.
“Milady. What do you intend to do?” Edith looked up at her, her hand shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun.
“We leave for Lichfield at dawn. I dare not delay one day longer.”
“I shall go and have Lady Alison pack for you and Jason then.” Edith rose and hurried toward the Keep.
Rose’s gaze returned to Jason, drawing in the dirt with his stick. Her only regret about her decision to formalize her vow of chastity was that she would not have any more children. But it was a sacrifice she was willing to make for her independence. Not to mention her emotional and mental welfare.
Rand swiped his moist brow upon entering the shadows of the squat stone building shrouded in thick, twisting green vines. Unusually warm for early autumn, it was darker and moderately cooler in the still room. Rand sighed in relief, even as he braced himself for the duty he was about to perform.
“Papa. Papa.” Rand heard the childish chant moments before a small whirlwind crashed into his knees. Startled, Rand nearly buckled his legs. Rand stared down at a towheaded boy about three summers old. The lad wrapped his chubby arms around Rand’s knees and clung to him as tenaciously as the crusty buildup on the bottom of Rand’s ship’s hold.
It was Jason, Rose’s son. He looked just like his mother, except for his blond hair and blue-green eyes. Rand’s heart twisted in yearning, and then he knelt and greeted the little Lord Ayleston.
A soft, deferential voice spoke behind him. “Make your bow, Jason. This is Sir Rand Montague.”
On his knee, Rand twisted to look over his shoulder at the lady of Ayleston. Rose stood framed in the doorway, backlit by the sun. Her short, slender form was hidden beneath a sleeveless surcoate of drab gray wool worn over a tunic of white linen. Her beautiful hair and swanlike neck were completely covered by a wimple and veil, the headdress customarily reserved for nuns and older widows.
If he closed his eyes, he could still imagine her dressed in gaily colored silks, with her straight copper hair hanging loose to her waist, and her eyes flashing with life and innocent joy. But when Rand returned from Crusade, he’d found Rose’s appearance and personality drastically altered. He’d recognized the signs of abuse—docile obedience, avoidance of eye contact, dispirited disposition–because he’d seen the same characteristics in his own mother.
Taking Jason into his arms, Rand climbed to his feet. Rose stepped into the room. Rand’s gut clenched at the sight of her. Despite her drab garb, she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. With bright blue eyes that pierced a man’s soul, when they were not darting away from direct contact.
Rose’s cheeks appeared slightly flushed as she stared at Jason, in his arms. “Good day, Rand. What brings you to Ayleston Castle?”
“Must I have a reason to visit you, Rosie?” He grinned.
She winced, but otherwise ignored the hated nickname. “Nay, of course not. ’Tis just now is a busy time for me.” She held up the basket of flowers in her arms. “I am drying flowers and herbs for my scented bath oils and soaps. Half the fields have yet to be cleared of the harvest. I’m planning to leave on the morrow for Lichfield to visit Bishop Meyland of Coventry and Lichfield. Now, you have arrived—”
She stopped in mid sentence and cocked her head. “Why have you come, Rand? Has King Edward sent you on a matter to do with his wardship of Ayleston?”
Rand knew how clever Rose was and was not surprised she grasped the significance of his arrival so quickly.
Rose strode around a large cauldron in the middle of the room and laid her basket down on the worktable along the north wall. On shelves above the table were various vials and jars and bottles, their mysterious contents used for numerous treatments and cures for the habitants of the castle and village. A number of plants and herbs, including marigold and thyme, hung from the low ceiling in various stages of drying.
Her arms outstretched, Rose came forward to take Jason from him.
The boy leaned his head on Rand’s shoulder and clung tighter. “I want to stay with Papa.”
Amused, Rand watched Rose redden in embarrassment.
“Come, Jason,” she said sternly. “Edith is here to take you to bed.” Then her voice softened. “If you behave, Cook shall give you a treat when you wake from your nap.”
With only a little fuss, Jason went to his mama, who kissed him and ruffled his hair before handing him over to the plump nurse who had appeared silently at the door.
Rose turned around and wiped her dirt-grimed skirts in a nervous gesture. “I pray you forgive Jason. Ever since I told him he had blond hair like his father, Jason calls every blond-haired man he meets Papa.”
“You need not apologize, Rose,” he said softly. “I was not offended—quite the opposite actually. He seems like a fine boy. I would be proud to claim him as my son. Indeed, you are to be commended.”
Her eyes shuttered, but he saw the comment pleased her. “Thank you. Would you care to go to the Great Hall? We have some excellent mead and you can explain your visit while you refresh yourself.”
“Aye. I would appreciate rinsing the dust of the road from my parched throat.”
Rand followed Rose outside, past the flourishing kitchen garden, and around to the inner courtyard. “You have made some improvements since I last visited.”
Her eyes jerked to his, almost fearful as though she expected censure. She relaxed when she read the admiration in his eyes. “I do not like speaking ill of my husband, but Bertram neglected the estate when he was alive. So I have expanded the gardens and repaired the dilapidated outbuildings. I’ve increased the arable and grazing lands, also. But there is much more I wish to do. When Jason reaches his majority, I want him to have a prosperous, well-run barony to inherit.”
Rand felt a sudden stab of guilt as Rose spoke proudly of the improvements she was making to Ayleston. She had no idea that soon all control of the estate was to be given into the hands of Sir Golan, along with her person. But the king had vowed him to silence, and Rand would not think of breaking his sworn oath to his king. Rand’s father had berated him, calling him a disloyal, disobedient son. But Rand had proven him wrong. Honor and duty were his personal code, his only pursuit that of faithful and dutiful service to his king.
So he shook the guilt away. Rose certainly knew as an heiress she would have to remarry eventually. Except for older widows, it was rare for a woman to be allowed to run vast estates without the protection of a husband.
But Rand just smiled and said, “A worthy goal, indeed.”
The double doors of the Great Hall were open. He took her arm to escort her up the steps. She flinched, subtly leaning her body away so only their arms touched. Though Rand kept his expression bland, her reaction saddened him. There was a time she did not despise his touch. Once, she even . . .
When he reached the dais, he pulled out the chair at the head of the table for her. She looked up, her big blue eyes startled, then dropped her gaze and sat down.
Did her husband never do her this courtesy? But it was the least of the man’s transgressions. Not for the first time Rand hoped Bertram was burning in Hell for his foul treatment of Rose.
Rand took the only other chair beside her at the trestle table, and a pretty dark-haired servant promptly appeared. Her name was Lisbeth if he remembered aright. Leaning past his shoulder, the maidservant plopped down a tankard of mead on the board. Slow to withdraw, her bodice gaped, the smooth upper slopes of her breasts inches from his face. He flashed an appreciative glance at her offering, then winked at the bold wench. She sauntered away with a saucy, inviting smile on her lips.
“Why are you here, Rand?” Rose’s voice snapped like a whip.
She sat stiff and straight with her hands clasped demurely in her lap. His knights and squires, already partaking of the mead and ale, were laughing and conversing boisterously at the lower table.
Smiling at his men, he drank deeply. Wishing to delay the interview, he changed the subject. “You left court rather abruptly after Kat and Alex reconciled.”
“It was time. Though I enjoyed serving the queen, I was gone from Jason too long. And Kat no longer needed me. By the by, have you news of my brother and Kat?”
Rand could not keep the huge grin off his face. “News, indeed. Kat is with child and Alex is elated. I daresay you will not recognize Alex next you see him. He is already making a toy bow and arrows for the child, which he insists will be a girl.” Rand envied them their familial bliss, though he hid it behind a cheery facade.
“What marvelous tidings. I know Kat always wanted children. They both deserve to be happy after what they have endured.”
“Aye. Lady Lydia caused them a lot of grief. It is still hard to believe a woman was behind the attacks on Kat and Alex. You can never know where evil exists when it hides behind such beauty.”
A shudder raced down Rose’s spine. She wholeheartedly agreed with Rand as she stared down at her hands in her lap. Bertram had been such an evil man, hidden behind the face of a Roman god. She was glad he was dead, though her soul was damned for her thought.
Rose took another drink of mead. “I heard the king confined Lydia to a nunnery for the rest of her life.”
“Aye, he was reluctant to execute her, but I believe a nunnery a rather fitting punishment. She will no longer be able to seduce men into doing her evil deeds. Edward even ordered her beautiful hair shorn.”
Rose agreed the punishment was rather diabolical and just. Bertram’s mistress had been a curse on many people and there was no way to know how many lives she had destroyed. Her evil machinations had even reached into Rose’s own marriage. “What became of Sir Luc? I heard he recovered from his wound.”
“Though Sir Luc conspired with Lydia, he had no knowledge of her murder plot or the attack on Alex in Outremer. So Edward banished him from court forever, a stiff punishment for a courtier. Last I heard, Sir Luc returned home to reconcile with his estranged brother.”
Rose was surprised she had not heard this news. Sir Luc’s family seat was in the neighboring shire of Derby. As long as the man caused her family no grief, he was not her concern. But Rand’s untimely arrival was troubling.
Surely it had naught to do with the bishop’s repeated excuses to delay taking her vow of chastity?
Rose looked up into Rand’s hazel eyes. They were greenish gray or grayish green. His thick blond hair was similar to Bertram’s, though that was the only similarity. “Tell me. What brings you to Ayleston?”
He shifted in his seat, a nervous gesture that surprised Rose and put her on guard.
“King Edward requests your presence at court. In that vein, he ordered me to escort you safely to Westminster. You have today to pack. We leave on the morrow.”
Her heart sped up. She waited several beats and forced her voice to remain steady and calm. “I’m sorry, but I must decline.” She licked her suddenly dry lips. “As I said, I’m traveling to Lichfield for an audience with Bishop Meyland. ’Tis imperative I meet with him. I can delay no longer. Prithee, give the king my regrets.”
Rand stared at her lips. Rose reddened. Her hand fluttered over her lips and then dropped limply into her lap.
Rand looked up and cleared his throat. “Edward’s invitation is not a request, Rose. ‘Tis an order. You shall have to postpone your visit with the bishop.”
“Do you know what Edward wants of me?”
“Alas, I cannot say.”
Rose frowned and studied her friend’s open countenance. Whatever the king wanted, it could not be to her benefit. Since Edward had become king, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales, had refused to pay homage to Edward as his overlord. The king was losing patience, and it appeared England was on the verge of war with Llewelyn.
Because Ayleston Castle was in the Marcher lands of Wales near England’s border, it would be vulnerable to attacks and raids by Welsh rebels. With Bertram dead, and Jason in his minority, Edward held wardship of Ayleston and could do aught he wanted with the barony.
Now more than ever it was imperative she take her vow of chastity.
“Very well. I’ve already made arrangements to travel to Lichfield. Once I meet with the bishop there, we can continue on to Westminster.”
“’Tis out of the question.” His voice was adamant. “The king has ordered me to escort you directly and forthwith to Westminster. You shall have to delay your audience with the bishop for another time.”
A throbbing pulse jumped at her throat. Oh, this was not good.
Rose raised her chin, bravely holding his intense stare. “My audience cannot be delayed. Bishop Meyland has agreed to take my vow of chastity. I wish to see it done immediately.”
A flash of surprise brightened Rand’s eyes. “A vow of chastity? When did you decide to take such a monumental step?”
She dropped her gaze and rubbed her fingers in her lap. “I have been considering it for some time. I have no wish to be compelled to marry, or be dominated by a man who shall have complete control over my body and my estates. I imagine some ambitious lord may try to claim my wealth for his advancement. I shall never be at the mercy of a man like Bertram again.”
His voice a soft caress, Rand offered, “Not all men are like Bertram, Rose.”
She shook her head. “I cannot take that chance. The king can force me to marry any lord of his choosing. The character of the man shall not matter to him, only what advantage he may gain from the transaction. King Edward shall not coerce me to marry once I profess to God my vow of chastity before the bishop. Unless he wishes to risk excommunication.”
“I am afraid you have no choice in the matter. Your vow shall have to be postponed. The king sails for Gascony in a fortnight.” He shoved up from his chair. “Our journey cannot be delayed for any reason. You may bring one servant and one chest of clothing for each of you.”
She scrambled to her feet. “What of Jason?”
His brow puckered. “We shall be traveling swiftly, with brief stops and mostly sleeping in tents out of doors. It shall not be conducive to a child. Jason will have to remain at Ayleston.”
He waited patiently for her acquiescence. What choice did she have in the matter? she thought bitterly. She’d never defy King Edward and put her son’s welfare in jeopardy.
“Very well. I have already begun packing. My attendant, Lady Alison, and I shall be ready to depart for Westminster, as you command,” she said, her voice monotone.
Rand nodded and left the dais to join his men. Will, Rand’s brown-haired squire, said something to him. Rand threw back his golden head and laughed. Dimples creased his cheeks, softening the sharp angles of his face.
She dropped her eyes, her stomach agitated. Deep in thought, she stared down at the pale rose liquid she swirled in her chalice.
Received “Lovely Rose” Rating at Romancing the Book
"The writing is good—very good. The writer is able to pull off the time period easily and (seemingly) flawlessly." ~ Marissa ~
Sugarbeat’s Books. “Ms Johnson does an outstanding job of creating characters! . . . The respect and the chemistry between Rand and Rosalyn is a wonderful thing to read. Their understanding of each other’s past issues and them coming together despite their fears is beautifully written.” ~ Barb ~ Read the Full Review here
Romance Junkies, 4.5 Blue Ribbon Rating
VOW OF DECEPTION is a thoroughly captivating historical novel with tons of action, sensuality, suspense and emotion. I love a good story with characters I can relate to and empathize with and Angela Johnson’s story definitely lived up to my expectations. ~ Chrissy Dionne
"Johnson brings life to her historical characters as they practically jump off the page with passion, drama, and danger aplenty." ~ Mandy
The Romance Reviews
"Ms Johnson does an outstanding job of creating characters! . . . The respect and the chemistry between Rand and Rosalyn is a wonderful thing to read. Their understanding of each others’ past issues and them coming together despite their fears is beautifully written.” ~ (Barb) Sugarbeats Books
Coffee Time Romance and More, 4 cups rating
“The author has given the reader memorable and vivid characters, a great setting, and a plot that will keep you turning pages until the very end.” ~ Maura
SingleTitles.com, 4.5 star rating
“Angela Johnson weaves a tale of courtly love and bitter enemies.” ~ Candy
"Vow of Deception hit many positive marks for me to make it a very enjoyable and often emotional read. . .The way the author mixes together tragic pasts while each character still showed how strong they are as an individual when faced with certain circumstances was refreshing for this genre of book.” ~Samantha, Fiction Vixen Book Reviews
Received 4 stars
“While reading this tale I couldn’t help but fall completely in love with Rand’s character. He is physically strong and determined, definitely not someone to toy with, and yet, his tender and emotional side completely steal your heart. Powerful and gentle all in one package…sigh…” ~Barbara, Lovin` Me Some Romance blog
Rating: 8 (Very Good)
"Vow of Deception has fantastic characters, thrilling drama, vivid descriptions and a romance worth dying for. This novel is an absolutely delightful read, one that you should not pass up."~Lisa, The Season blog
Received 5 books at Long and Short Reviews
“Using subtle and often ominous undercurrents that threaten to swamp the hero and heroine, Angela Johnson enchants with an incredible love story while weaving in events of history that add a realness to the spellbinding Vow of Deception.”~Camellia
“This medieval tale of lust, debauchery, betrayal and passion is historical romance at its best.”~ Linda Roberts, RT Book Reviews
~Buffie, The Romance Dish
“Vow of Deception is Angela Johnson’s second book and one to be proud of. Not only is the emotional tie between Rand and Rose strong, but the sexual tension between the two is thicker than London fog.”
“I really enjoyed this battle between right and wrong, good and evil, danger around each and every corner.” ~Terra, Yankee Romance Reviewers
“'Vow of Deception' is a solid and enjoyable medieval romance with a steadfast, yet vulnerable hero and a resilient heroine. You'll absolutely FALL for the irresistible characters and compelling plot line!”~Rita, Not Another Romance Blog
“The second medieval Vows romance (see Vow of Seduction) is an entertaining historical as King Edward I proves to be a failure at matchmaking. . . . fans will enjoy this suspense laden journey to love.” ~Genre Go Around Reviews