Dane St. Gregory, fifth baron of Kenbrook, raised one gloved hand in a gesture of weary command. At his back, the remains of his private army came to a clattering, snuffling, and decidedly graceless halt. His charger, Peleus, an agile, muscular beast with a hide as black as the deepest fold of Lucifer's heart, planted wide hooves on the stony soil of the ridge and, nickering, tossed his massive head. Dane had bought the animal just a fortnight ago, at a horse fair in Flanders, and he'd spent a great many deniers in the process -- so many that the purchase had all but emptied his purse.
The expense was well justified in Kenbrook's mind, for such sturdy mounts, full of stamina and thus ideal for fighting, were rare in England. He had only to breed the stallion to the best mares at Hadleigh, and over time, the enterprise would yield a herd of such steeds. The profits, he knew, would be substantial.
Dane drew a long breath and released it slowly, fixing his attention on the landscape. Far below, the lake glittered pale green, like a misshapen jewel, capturing the late summer afternoon sunlight, sending it dancing over a windswept surface in glimmering shards. Hadleigh Castle, that grim and ancient fortress, boasting three baileys and twice as many towers, loomed upon the southern shore. At the base of its drawbridge, which spanned an empty moat, but still within the outermost walls, huddled the small, shoddy village, also called Hadleigh. It was a community of huts and hovels, with sheep and swine and chickens choking the narrow lanes, but there was an inn with a tavern and a humble church boasting one stained-glass window -- a modest depiction of St. George slaying the dragon.
The grand house of Cyrus the wool merchant stood a little apart from the others, a sturdy structure of red brick, with a tiled roof, gardens, and a small courtyard. Doubtless, Dane assured himself, his child-bride, Gloriana, would be eager to return to that gracious haven. Neither Hadleigh Castle nor Kenbrook Manor were half so hospitable, despite their august histories and their many rooms.
Dane shifted uneasily, aching in all his old wounds. The merchant would be furious on hearing the news he bore, and not without cause.
He set his jaw and leaned forward, resting one forearm on the pommel of his saddle and surveying the pleasant vista spread before him. The marriage to Gloriana was meaningless -- the chit had been a mere seven years of age when their vows were said, after all, and he a callow lad of sixteen. Neither of them had even been present for the ceremony; the little girl had stayed in London Town, attended by her doting mother, while Dane himself had already set sail for the Continent, there to learn the lucrative soldiering trade. The match was loveless on both sides, he reasoned, quite unlike the one he meant to make with Mariette, and therefore, Gloriana had no cause for heartbreak. Indeed, she might well be overjoyed to find herself free of him.
The idea, for all its vast convenience, was somehow unsettling.
He let his gaze sweep beyond the village gates, and there, of course, was the crumbling abbey, just a quarter mile along the rutted road that curved around the lake like the languid arm of a lover. The lane disappeared into a dense forest of oak and emerged, at length, before the gates of Kenbrook Manor.
Dane smiled. Built on the site of a Roman fortress and boasting one squat tower, that forbidding pile of stones had been in steady decline for centuries. The roof had collapsed here and there, and in winter, icy winds swept the passageways, extinguishing lamps and torches. There were ghosts prowling about, it was said, truculent ones lacking all charms and graces. On occasion, the wolves got in and made a den of the place.
For all its shortcomings, the manor was Dane's by right, and he had always loved it. He would set about making the place habitable, and by the time he was free to take Mariette to wife, Kenbrook would be restored to its original glory. Dane meant to sire sons within its walls and raise the lads to be knights, stout fighting men to take up the cause of justice and make a father proud. He hoped for daughters, as well, pretty, accomplished girls who might make fortuitous marriages.
With a sigh, he turned to look down into the exquisite face of the young woman beside him. Resplendent upon her small dapple-gray palfrey, fresh and unruffled despite several grueling days on the roads and the turbulent crossing from Normandy before that, Mariette de Troyes favored him with a sweet, demure smile. Then she lowered her eyes, lashes fluttering.
Dane's heart swelled with pride and an emotion he reckoned to be pure adulation. "Look, Mariette," he bid her quietly, pointing toward Kenbrook Manor. "There stands our home."
Mariette adjusted her elaborate headdress, a pristine wimplelike affair that hid her hair, her crowning glory, from everyone except her servingwoman and Dane himself. Although he had not been intimate with Mariette -- she was gently bred and had passed her tender years in a French nunnery -- he had caught illicit glimpses of those lush ebony tresses on occasion. One day soon, when His Holiness had granted the proper decree, thus dissolving the sham marriage to Gloriana, it would be Dane's privilege to see and touch that splendid mane of silk, to run his fingers through it and bury his fare in its fragrant softness, night and morning.
"It seems a place of sorrow," Mariette ventured to say, in a timid voice.
One thought having led to another, Dane had become so intent upon the various prerogatives of a husband that, for a moment, he didn't know what she was talking about. Following her gaze -- her eyes were a soft shade of hazel -- he saw that she was surveying the hall.
He felt the vaguest twinge of disappointment, far down in his belly, and disregarded the sensation immediately. "Yes," he said, rather solemnly, thinking of his unborn sons, forgetting for the moment that a score of men were rallied behind him with their ears cocked. "There has been much grief at Kenbrook over the centuries, but that time is now past. We shall fill the place to its beams with children, Mariette -- our sons and daughters."
The blush in her cheek made a fetching contrast to the snowy white cloth of her headdress.
Dane took her reaction for maidenly virtue and wheeled his glistening charger about, that he might face his men. They were grinning now, a gap-toothed lot, covered in grime from the tops of their shaggy heads to the soles of their soft leather boots and smelling worse than their horses. Dane felt heat climb his neck, but he gave no other indication that he regretted speaking of personal matters within their hearing.
"A welcome awaits you at Hadleigh Castle," he told them, in a voice raised to carry. "Avail yourselves of it, but mind your manners. My brother is master there, but the rules of the company still hold, and you flout them at your peril."
The men nodded in accord and, at a signal from Dane, wheeled their mounts round and plunged -- whooping at the prospects of ale and women -- down the steep trail that joined the castle road below. Only one man lingered. Dane's friend, a red-haired Welshman called Maxen, was the best swordsman in the company, but for himself, and he wisely held his tongue.
Maxen and Mariette's servingwoman, Fabrienne, brought up the rear of the small procession, while Dane and his future bride led the way.
Gloriana rode astride the small, spotted horse Gareth had given her at Easter, bent low over the animal's back, her copper-gold hair a wild, tangled banner in the gentle breeze. Her kirtle, dark blue and richly embroidered at collar and cuff, was smudged and hiked halfway up her calves, revealing her bare, dirty feet. She laughed as Edward, her young brother-in-law and closest friend, drew up beside her on his own mount, a dun-colored gelding called Odin.
"God's blood, Gloriana," the boy shouted, "will you pull up?"
There was an agitated expression in Edward's pale blue eyes that went beyond the loss of yet another race, on yet another summer afternoon. Concerned, Gloriana drew back on the bridle and brought her lathered pony from a gallop to a trot and then to a walk.
"What is it?"
Edward shoved a hand through his mane of shaggy brown hair and then pointed toward the hill rising beyond Hadleigh Castle. "Look," he said, tight-lipped.
Gloriana did so, and saw a gaggle of men descending the trail on horseback, their gleeful shouts little more than a pulsing echo in the fragrant air, because of the distance. "Visitors," she said, turning her curious gaze back to Edward. His eyes were slightly narrowed, and his freckles stood out on his pale skin in complicated constellations. "How grand. They've come to pay you honor and celebrate your splendid achievement. Perhaps they will have tales to tell."
Edward stood in the stirrups of his saddle, which had belonged to both his elder brothers in turn before coming down to him. Gloriana had bought him a lovely new one at the summer fair, and it was hidden away in her chamber. Two days hence, when Edward and several other young men were to be knighted, she would present it to him as her gift. Now sixteen, he had worked toward his goal from the age of eight, and Gloriana, knowing the true measure of his accomplishment, was proud of him.
"Not visitors," he said, when some moments had passed, in a quiet and somehow odd voice. "Do you not see their colors? Green and white. These are Kenbrook's men, Glory -- your husband has returned."
Gloriana's heart fluttered, for she had heard stirring tales of her mate's exploits for years; even troubadours sang of his bravery, his chivalry, his strength of heart and mind. She resisted an urge to smooth her hair and straighten her torn and rumpled garments. She had long dreamed of Kenbrook's homecoming, of course, and in her imaginings she was always clad in an imaculate gown of malachite-green velvet, wearing a circlet of gilded oak leaves in her hair and delicately embroidered slippers upon her feet. Her present state of grooming was sadly at variance with the fantasy, and a little cry of dismay bubbled into her throat and swelled there as she shaded her eyes and peered at the oncoming party.
Dane St. Gregory rode well behind his rowdy army, his pale hair, a legacy of some Norse ancestor, gleaming brighter than burnished gold in the sunlight. There was about him an air of dignity and power and danger that gave weight to the many legends of his prowess.
With another exclamation, Gloriana spurred her patient mount off the road, skirting the gaping village gates for the orchard of apple tress that grew along the ancient wall. With Edward galloping behind her, shouting in annoyance, she rode hard for the postern leading into the garden behind her father's brick house.
It was hers now, she thought with a pang of grief as, ignoring Edward's bellowed protests, she bent from the mare's back to work the stubborn iron latch and push the gate open. A great many things were Gloriana's, for Cyrus the wool merchant and his wife, Edwenna, had perished a twelve-month before, when a fever swept through London Town. Their legacy was extensive.
Edward caught up just as she was urging the pony through the narrow passage.
"Blast it," he fumed, "this gate should have been sealed years ago. Suppose our enemies were to learn of it!"
"They would surely pass through," Gloriana said, in a tone full of dark and dire portent, "and skewer us all with their swords!" Leaving Edward to close the postern, she crossed the overgrown garden where she had played so happily as a little girl, when she and Edwenna were down from London Town, and hurried through the village proper. As she mounted the drawbridge, the first of Kenbrook's men were arriving at the inn, abandoning their horses in the dooryard and brawling among themselves as they made for that establishment, where passable wine and ale could be had.
"No control over his own men," grumbled Edward, who had caught up with Gloriana by then. "That's Dane for you."
Intent on a bath and fresh clothing, Gloriana ignored the comment and galloped past smiling guards into the third and outermost bailey. At last, at last, Kenbrook was home. Gloriana, now twenty, had begun to fear, secretly of course, that she would be too old to bear children by the time her husband returned from his travels. She'd had nightmares in which she was a shriveled crone, grown over with warts like a garden taken by weeds, when Dane St. Gregory finally came back to England to claim his bride.
Her heart hammering with a mingling of panic and glorious anticipation, Gloriana crossed the middle and innermost baileys and was off her horse and running toward a side entrance to Hadleigh Castle in almost the same motion. She streaked across the great hall -- the stone floor was bare of rushes and servants were sweeping and scrubbing -- and along the broad passage leading to her private quarters, a sumptuous apartment that had once belonged to Lady Elaina, the absent mistress of the household.
Along the way, Gloriana collided with Gareth, her elder brother-in-law and master of Hadleigh Castle, for his private chambers lay in that direction. He laughed and grasped her upper arms to steady her.
"Does the devil pursue you?" he teased. "You flee as if he does."
"Dane has come back!" Gloriana sputtered. Beyond, Edward could be heard, bursting into the great hall. There was a clatter, and one of the servants berated him good-naturedly for overturning her scrubbing pail. "I can't let Lord Kenbrook see me like this!"
Gareth's blue eyes twinkled. He resembled Dane in some ways, even though he was almost twenty years older and neither so tall nor so broad in the shoulders, and his hair, while thick and fair, had darkened to a butternut color. "Dane has come home at last? A surfeit of good news. No doubt my brother is hungry for the sight of his bride -- as well he should be after so much time has passed. My guess is, he will not care overmuch if said wife looks rather more like a wood nymph than a baroness."
Gloriana pulled free of Gareth's grasp, with a murmured and quite incoherent apology, and fled down the passage and into her own apartments. There, she flung herself into the process of hasty transformation.
In the courtyard of Hadleigh Castle, Dane dismounted and then helped Mariette down from her horse. His hands nearly spanned her waist, and it seemed that she weighed no more than the goose he'd bought at Christmas as a gift for his men. For a moment it troubled him that she was so small; even stout women ofttimes perished while giving birth to a child; the last Lady Hadleigh had died whilst bearing Edward. What chance had a creature as fragile as Mariette, when St. Gregory sons were known for their great size?
It seemed, just briefly, that a cloud passed over the sun, blotting out its light.
Dane spoke to Fabrienne, in French, but his gaze still rested upon Mariette's face, with its translucent, milk-white flesh and delicate bones. "Take your mistress inside," he said. "There, the servants will do your bidding."
Fabrienne, despite her lovely name, was a plain and halting creature, with pale, lashless eyes, protruding teeth, and hair the color of a mouse's pelt. Nevertheless, she was obedient and uncomplaining -- for the moment, at least.
"Yes, my lord," she replied, with a slight curtsy. Then she took Mariette's arm and squired her carefully up the stone steps that led to the gallery. Beyond was the great hall.
Lingering in the courtyard, Dane watched the women out of sight, absorbed in thought.
Maxen, still mounted on his squat Welsh pony as he bent to claim the reins of Dane's prized stallion, interrupted. "I do not envy you, my friend," he said. "To put aside a wife for the love of another is an undertaking fraught with danger."
Dane scowled at Maxen, the only man on earth he would have trusted so unhesitatingly with his temperamental horse. "What," he asked, "makes an ugly knave like yourself an authority on the fair and fragile sex?"
Maxen countered Dane's expression with a placid smile. "Experience," he answered, reining his mount toward the second bailey, where the stables were. "I'll see that the stallion is fed and groomed. If you want sympathy later, or balm for scratches and tooth marks, look for me in the tavern."
"Scratches and tooth marks, indeed," Dane muttered, turning his back on the Welshman and starting, with resolve and a certain well-concealed trepidation, for the stone steps. Gloriana would be happy to be set at liberty, he promised himself. She was twenty by now, and well past her prime. Such women often welcomed the peace and solace of the convent, where they might read and sew and reflect upon seemly subjects, untroubled by the attentions of a husband.
The great hall was in a state of chaos -- the floor had been cleared of rushes and swept. All around, servants knelt, scouring the ancient stone as though to rid it of some deep-settled stain. Clearly, a celebration was planned, but Dane knew he was not to be the guest of honor -- he had not announced his return to Hadleigh Castle, having made the decision to come home in some haste.
A youthful, arrogant voice echoed from the musicians' gallery, high overhead, causing Dane to pause in mid-stride and look up.
"And so the hero has at last bestowed himself upon us. Pray -- will you tarry?"
Resting his hands on his hips, Dane assessed the speaker, a lad of tender years, and recognized Edward by his resemblance to their lost mother. The boy had been a small lad when Dane had seen him last, eager to take up the duties of a squire and forever underfoot. Letting the first comment pass, he addressed his reply to the question. "Yes," he said. "I mean to restore Kenbrook Hall and live there."
Even from that distance, the flush that suffused Edward's patrician features was clearly visible. "With your wife."
"Yes," Dane said. He would ignore his young brother's disdain; boys of that age had contentious humors in their blood and were ofttimes testy and sullen.
"And this mistress you've brought home from the Continent? Where shall she be kept?"
Dane did not reveal his irritation, which was instant and intense. He was damned if he would explain his personal affairs to a stripling calling out impudent questions from a minstrel's perch. "Go and have a swim in the lake, Edward," he counseled evenly. "Perhaps the waters will cool your overheated disposition." With that, Kenbrook dismissed the boy and started for the stairs. Fatigue had settled deep into his bones, like an aching chill, and he required strong ate, food, and an hour of solitude.
Edward said nothing, but by the time Dane had gained the second floor and found his way to his own chambers, the boy was waiting in the passageway, leaning against a wall.
Dane hid a smile and reached for the latch. So, he was tenacious, as well as swift, this young brother of his. That was surely a good omen. "What is it?" Dane inquired, as smoothly as if they had not had an exchange only moments before.
Fresh color surged into Edward's face, and his expression was sulky as he thrust himself away from the wall. He still had a few spots on his face, the marks of tempestuous youth, but he was altogether a fine-looking, stalwart lad, and though willful, he would no doubt make a good soldier. "I will not permit you to humiliate Gloriana this way," he said, after an audible swallow. "She deserves only good things."
"Yes," he said. Dane had no doubt that his erstwhile wife deserved better than him, though whether the improvement would come through entering a convent or taking another husband remained to be seen. Personally, he thought the nunnery an excellent choice.
He pushed the towering door open, and the smells of mice and mildew filled his nose. As he stepped over the threshold, Edward was directly on his heels.
The place was dank and swathed in a musty net of shadows and cobwebs. Evidently, he thought, with a rueful half-smile, his esteemed elder brother, Gareth, had not expected him to return to Hadleigh Castle at all.
"She's been waiting for you, Gloriana has," Edward babbled on, and Dane was glad of the gloom in that vast chamber, for it allowed him time to absorb the implications of what his brother was saying without revealing his reactions. Dane had not been expecting to hear that his wife had looked forward to his arrival -- she'd been a mere infant when they were bound to each other and probably didn't even remember him.
He wrenched down one of the tattered tapestries that had been draped over the windows, then another. "Nonsense," he said, as welcome light and fresh air streamed into the room. Flecks of dust sparkled in the great shafts of sunshine. "My 'wife' has not laid eyes on me more than once or twice in all her days, and that from a distance. God's teeth, will you look at my bed? It appears to have been a nest for every rat in the realm."
Edward had calmed down a bit, but anger still emanated from him like heat from a brazier. He'd hoisted himself onto the broad sill of one of the windows, his knees drawn up. "I will spare you the obvious retort," the boy said.
"Thank you," Dane replied, yanking down the last of the tapestries. "I suppose it would be a waste of my time to ask you to go and fetch a handful of servants to put this place to rights?"
Surprisingly, Edward levered himself down from the sill, making a royal ceremony of dusting off his leggings and tunic. "Not at all," he answered. "I shall be happy to take my leave of you, my lord." Green and tender stalk though he was, he crossed the room with the dignity of a much older man, and then he paused in the doorway. "Be gentle in your dealings with Gloriana," he warned in parting. "You are my brother, blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh, but if you do milady injury of any sort, I shall see you dead for it."
With that, Edward went out.
Dane stood in the center of that time-ravaged room, staring after Edward. He was not afraid of his younger brother or any other mortal soul, and he certainly intended to deal kindly and justly with the current Lady Kenbrook, but he had been forced to take note of something important. Edward was not the boy he remembered, but a man, and one to be reckoned with.
He smiled, then crossed the room to his bed, pulled off the feather ticking, no doubt infested with fleas as well as mice, and flung it aside. Exhausted, he stretched out on the rope netting beneath and sank into the brief and vigilant but profound sleep of a soldier.
There was a tiny courtyard off Gloriana's chamber, with an arbor of yellow roses on one side and a stone bench on the other. By her order -- and she did feel a little guilty, since the servants were so frightfully busy -- her tub was carried outside and set beneath the canopy of flowers. Warm water was brought, and Gloriana herself added lavender before shedding her clothes and stepping into the bath.
As she soaked, dreaming of her reunion with her husband, a breeze caressed the courtyard and a rainfall of golden petals descended in a scented cloud. They covered the surface of the water, like a blanket of gossamer velvet, and Gloriana told herself this was a good omen, a blessing from the Fates. This night, she would go to Kenbrook's chambers as his wife, and he would find her pleasing.
Gloriana dozed despite her excitement, lulled by the buzzing of the bees and the comforting clamor of daily life at Hadleigh Castle, a mingling of many sounds -- birds chirping, horses neighing, shouts and the clanking of swords as the men-at-arms practiced their aft, servants going about their business and calling out to each other.
The water was cold when Gloriana awakened; perhaps that was why her senses were instantly and acutely attuned, rather than languorous from what must have been a long nap. She knew almost before opening her eyes that she was not alone in the courtyard.
He was sitting on the stone bench, watching her, his broad shoulders slightly stooped, his hands loosely clasped and dangling between his knees. His fair hair gleamed in the changing light, and his eyes, troubled, were a fierce Nordic blue. They were, she thought as something sharp and warm pierced her heart, the eyes of a Viking.
"My lord," she said shyly, with an inclination of her head. Her hair was wet through, clammy against her cheeks and her neck.
She swallowed hard. Over the years of their marriage, she had rehearsed this meeting a hundred times, nay a thousand, but now, when it mattered, all the pretty words had fled. In her imaginings, Kenbrook had been the grandest of men, full of valor, handsome beyond bearing, strong as the proud warhorse he managed so easily. And her imaginings paled before the vital reality of the man himself.
The girlish adulation she had always felt for him was quite real, however, and now it had doubled and redoubled just since she had opened her eyes and found him there, watching her.
"You are Gloriana?" he asked, almost as if he hoped she would say she was someone else. His voice sounded hoarse, and he looked quite stunned, perhaps even feverish as he studied her.
"Yes, my lord," she said meekly.
"We must talk." There was no anger in the way he spoke, but she sensed reluctance in him and a sort of troubled resolution. Lord Kenbrook cleared his throat. "Not while you are in a state of near nakedness, of course."
Gloriana flushed with a combination of indignation and despair. Some men, she thought, would be pleased to come upon their wives in such a condition. No doubt he found her wanting, and it was unfair of him to judge her so swiftly. He had not seen her dressed in green, after all, with her hair brushed and braided through with ribbon. "We did not expect you, my lord," she said moderately. "If you had written, or sent a courier, preparations might have been made."
He had continued to stare at her, and she had the very clear impression that he hadn't heard a word she'd said. "You are not at all as I thought you would be," he remarked.
Gloriana was stung, but she made herself smile, and that dispelled some of the terrible nervousness that had heretofore tangled her tongue and scattered her thoughts. "I see," she murmured.
Dane made no move to rise from the bench. "You do not see," he said with some impatience and, to Gloriana's way of thinking, rather presumptuously. "You are twenty years of age -- an old woman by anyone's reckoning. I did not think to find you so fetching."
He'd struck close to the bone with that first comment, but he'd also called her "fetching." Gloriana was both injured and exultant.
"How very generous of you," she said, for she tended toward sauciness and had never entirely curtailed that quality. "To pronounce me fit to look upon, I mean."
Dane's golden eyebrows drew together in a frown. He stood but did not move toward Gloriana, who still huddled, shivering, in her tub. "You are also somewhat impudent," he said, with an air of distraction, as though cataloging the characteristics of a temperamental horse. "No doubt, Gareth has allowed you to do whatever you pleased while I was away -- my brother has ever been indulgent, with women, with children, with servants." He paused, and a muscle flexed in his jaw. "I only hope it is not too late to render you suitable for the proper purposes of God and man," he finished.
Then, turning on one heel, Dane St. Gregory, fifth baron of Kenbrook and first husband of Gloriana St. Gregory, strode into the bedchamber. Moments later, the outer door slammed.
"I hate him," Gloriana marveled. She sank beneath the water but, with no hope of drowning, finally rose above it again. Methodically, trembling with the chill of an English afternoon fading to evening, she washed her hair, scrubbed the rest of her body, and climbed out of her bath. After a cursory toweling with a bit of rough cloth reserved for the purpose, she took her chemise, a sturdy garment made of undyed muslin, from the bush where she'd left it and wrenched it on over her head.
She was seated on the bench, where Dane had been, combing the tangles out of her hair and cursing under her breath with every tug, when Edward came out of her room and into the courtyard. He carried a clean kirtle of the palest blue, which he tossed to her, and then leaned with one foot braced against the end of the bench while she put on the gown.
"Come, Gloriana," he said, taking out a small knife and undertaking to clean his fingernails with its point, "you'll do better to dry your hair by the fire. You could be taken by a fever if you catch a chill."
Gloriana did not move. She was not fragile like other people; sickness had passed her over more times than she could count. Still, for all her physical strength, she wasn't impervious to emotion, and she teetered on the brink of tears.
"Glory?" Edward persisted.
"I'm all right," she said, somewhat snappishly, combing with a vengeance now and refusing to meet his gaze. She would not let him see her weep, though he had ever been her friend; her pride was bruised and she was too vulnerable.
Edward came and crouched before her, looking up into her face, robbing her of the last vestige of privacy. "Why do you lie?" he asked. At the same time, he reached out and took her hand, the one that had wielded the comb, and held it still. "Have the servants been carrying tales? By God, I'll have them flogged, every one, if they've uttered a word to cause you hurt."
A sense of dread came over Gloriana, like a wintry shadow thrown across her spirit. "What is there to carry tales about?" she asked, in a small voice, bracing herself for the answer. She had known all was not right, of course, by her husband's greeting, but there was clearly more to the matter.
"Tell me, Edward," she whispered when he hesitated.
He closed his eyes for a moment, then raised himself up far enough to take a seat beside her on the bench. He held both her hands in his, stroking the knuckles with his thumbs. "I suppose it will be kinder, if you hear the news from me," he said. The pain in his face was genuine. "It's not as if such things don't happen, as if other men don't -- "
Gloriana squeezed his fingers hard.
"Dane's brought his mistress home from the Continent," Edward said, forcing the words out in a reluctant rush.
Gloriana felt the color drain from her face; rage followed shock, and she rose to her feet, only to be puffed back down by Edward. It was true that other men kept mistresses, and even sired children with them, but Gloriana's view of marriage was not conventional. She'd seen the warm relationship between her father, Cyrus, and her mother, the gentle Edwenna, and the noble union shared by Gareth and his beloved Elaina. She wanted that kind of dedication, that kind of love, for herself and Dane, and she would settle for nothing less.
"Oh, Edward," she whispered, and sagged against her sodden hair tumbling over his tunic. "Whatever shall I do?"
He kissed her temple, her oldest and dearest friend, the boy she thought of as her brother, and wrapped his arms around her. "The solution is simple," he said tenderly. "You shall divorce the rogue and marry me."
Copyright © 1996 by Linda Lael Miller