Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
Leila ignored his last words. "What do you mean .
. . too late?" He was shaking his head again, and she could sense that his
mood was darkening considerably, as it always seemed to do whenever he spoke of
"When Roger takes one look at you, Leila, it will
be as if the cat has found the cream."
"Now you are speaking in riddles."
"This one is easy to understand," he said
grimly. "Your brother paid dearly to redeem his lands and his place in society
after the rebellion, perhaps too dearly. Financially, it has nearly broken him."
"I am sorry to hear this, my lord, but what has it
to do with me?"
"Everything! You will fetch a very high price in
the marriage market, my lady. Perhaps not among the firstborn sons of the
nobility, who usually seek rich heiresses, but among others who might seek to
better their station by acquiring an aristocratic
Guy's voice grew quiet as his eyes moved over her lingeringly. "Then
again, there are probably those who would pay a king's ransom just to possess
Leila swallowed hard as that same stirring warmth
flooded her body. How could he make her feel this way when she was so angry?
Had she no control over her emotions any longer?
"If this is all true, my lord, then how could you
bring me to this country, knowing Roger might sell me to the highest bidder?
That would seem to make you as ruthless as he."
"I don't know," Guy replied, dragging his
fingers through his hair and sighing heavily. "Maybe I thought it would
still be better than the life you had in Damascus.
"So you became my judge just because I was a
Christian woman living in a world you didn't understand and couldn't
appreciate. Thank you for your kind consideration, my lord. My life is now so
much better for it."
Guy exhaled slowly in the face of her pain and
bitterness, more determined than ever to make amends to her if she would only
give him the chance. No matter what she said, he still believed he had done the
right thing in bringing her to England. Now even more so and for entirely
selfish reasons. He would not rest until she became his wife.
"Leila, it doesn't have to be that way. Spare
yourself what your brother is most assuredly going to make you suffer. It is
within your power to save yourself. We cannot marry without your consent. It is
the law. If you agree, I will confront Roger with the bed linen I saved from
the other night—"
At her sudden gasp he quickly sought to soothe her.
"It must be done. The enmity between us runs too
strong for Roger to give me your hand willingly. He must know what happened in
. He will have no choice but to accept. There could
be a child . . . our child—"
"No! I don't want to hear any more!" Leila
cried, brushing past him as she fled from the bed to the window. She threw open
the shutters and leaned heavily on the sill as she fought for breath.
A child. She had never even considered that
possibility. Dear God, she was so confused, her reason and emotions pulling her
in opposite directions. She barely noticed the cool rain pelting her face and
the front of her gown, but she was very much aware when Guy came up behind her
and placed his hands upon her shoulders, squeezing them and kissing the top of
"No!" She jerked away from him and spun
around, her back to the wall. She felt so trapped, so overwhelmed, all she
could do at that moment was cling desperately to the plan of last resort which
she had nurtured since
"I told you, Lord de
I do not wish to marry you! I want to go home, to Damascus . . . and I must
trust my brother to help me accomplish this. I cannot believe he would hurt me,
his own sister. Even if it was his intent to force me into a marriage, he
couldn't do so without my consent. That is what you said, isn't it?"
"Ah, Leila, Leila, it's not that simple. There are
many ways for unscrupulous men to gain verbal consent so they might further
their own ends."
Leila suddenly grew fearful, wondering what else Guy
might have in store for her. She tried to back away further, but there was
nowhere else to go. "Ways you might employ, my lord?" she accused.
"No," he answered firmly, his expression
becoming hard. "I would never force you to become my wife."
"Then have done! Please! I have given my answer."
As her strained cry died in the room, she slumped against the wall and buried
her face in her hands.
Guy was silent for what seemed a long, long moment,
he reached out and drew her slowly against him, locking
her within his arms. Too exhausted to struggle, Leila closed her eyes as he
threaded his fingers through her braided hair and gently tilted back her head.
"Look at me, Leila."
She did so and was stunned anew by the intensity of his
emotion as he bent his head and kissed her. His lips were warm and tender, yet
so undeniably possessive that when he finally pulled away she was breathless
and light-headed, her mouth aching from his passionate bruising.
"Here is my answer, lady fair. Go to your brother
and make your plea. If he agrees that you may return to Damascus, then God go with
you. But if he threatens you with a forced marriage, know this, Leila. I will
be close at hand if you need me. Perhaps then my own offer won't seem so
Your offer is most appealing!
Leila wanted to
cry out as Guy suddenly released her and strode from the room, closing the door
firmly behind him.
Any woman would be rich beyond measure to possess the
love that shines like truth from your eyes!
"Only it cannot be me," she murmured
brokenly, turning to stare blindly out the window.
What she wanted lay far across the Mediterranean Sea in
a land of rivers and trees, fruits and colored birds, where her life's work
beckoned and a dark-eyed man was waiting for her, calling out her name . . .
How strange, she thought, numbly wiping the rain from
Now that she was trying to conjure Jamal in her mind,
she couldn't even remember what he looked like for the striking, blue-eyed
giant of a man standing in his way.
"Order more ale," Guy said gruffly, his gaze
sweeping the packed dining hall as he sat down on the bench next to
. The crowd had grown more rowdy since he had left
with Leila, which suited his black mood just fine.
"The lady has retired?" Henry asked, his
freckled face composed into a suitable mask of discretion as he signaled to a
plump bar wench.
Guy shot him a dark glance. "Yes. I'll be sharing
your room tonight.
"Ah, what?" Guy shouted
his angry roar lost to the boisterous din. "If that implies you were
right, Langton, it seems indeed that is the case. For now."
"Exactly, my lord. For now. Things can always
change." Henry's lips twitched with a smile as three brimming tankards
were slammed upon the table. "I suggest we make a toast—"
"Aye, a toast," Robert agreed, casting his
fellow knight a telling look as if to say,
"Only if it's not to chivalry," Guy muttered.
"I've always supported the Magna Charta, but that clause about forbidding
forced marriages should be forever stricken from the rolls. I fear I was born
"Nonsense, my lord. If so, you wouldn't have met
the beauteous Lady Leila. So a toast! To the women who will not be swayed . . .
and to the swaying of them!"
Guy drained his tankard, his foul mood a shade lighter
as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Henry's jests were ably
serving their purpose, something his eloquent knight had been wont to do since
he had pledged himself to Guy many years ago. But all levity aside, he was now
faced with a most serious problem.
Leila would soon be in a buzzing hornet's nest, and he
would likely have to go to battle to get her safely out of it.
Roger was a foe he knew well. The bastard would lock
her in a nunnery before he would allow her to return to Damascus. But a nun's
drab habit would certainly not be the garb Roger envisioned for his sister.
More likely her glorious hair would be her only gown as Roger forced her into
some rich man's conjugal bed.
Guy clenched his teeth at the unsettling thought.
Roger would never get that far, he hoped. As soon as
Leila realized that everything he had said about her brother was true, she
would call for him. She would have nowhere else to turn. And when she did, he
would be ready.
"God's bones, de
I'm glad you're alive and back in England."
"As am I, my lord," Guy said, sitting off to
one side while a quartet of tailors hovered around the tall, athletic prince.
Edward was standing very straight in the middle of the
room with his arms outstretched, looking extremely uncomfortable as the four
craftsmen tucked and hemmed the red silk damask tunic and crimson mantle he
would wear in tomorrow morning's coronation ceremony. Guy knew Edward enjoyed
the pageantry and color of royalty, but the tailors had been busily at work for
the whole hour they had been talking. It was enough for any man to bear, let
alone a monarch.
"And such an incredible tale," Edward
continued, doing his best to ignore the low whisperings and mutterings near to
the floor. "It grieves me deeply about Reginald and the others. Good men,
all of them. I'm grateful for your part in the embassy, Guy, though I wish it
had proved more worthwhile, especially considering that men died in its cause.
Who could have known when I sent you to Anatolia that I would not be in Acre to
greet you upon your return?"
"It was not a waste, my lord, despite the
unfortunate loss of life. Our close relationship with the Mongol
will hold us in good stead should we return to the
Holy Land for another crusade."
"True, though God can only know when that might be
I have much to
concern me now in Britain." As the tailors seemed to pause in their work,
Edward dropped his arms with a sigh of impatience. "Are you finished,
"Not quite, my lord," one of the tailors
spoke up, a balding man who looked extremely harried. He bowed apologetically. "Another
"That is all I shall grant you, so make haste."
Edward glanced over at Guy with a wry smile. "Hand me my wine, good
knight. My throat grows parched from this tedious ordeal."
Guy laughed as he rose from the chair and brought
Edward a goblet from a nearby table, but he grew serious when the prince
lowered the vessel after drinking deeply. "I am honored to be a knight in
your service, Edward," he said, clasping his longtime friend's arm. "Tomorrow
will be a glorious day for England. A new reign. A new era."
"Yes, and I equally need men like you, Guy. Men I
can trust. I'm glad the governor of Damascus, his
soldiers, and his wretched prison combined proved no match for you. What a day
that must have been when you escaped!"
Guy leaned against the table and crossed his arms over
his chest. "I won't soon forget it. When I heard that the governor's
messenger had been killed—"
"Now that puzzles me," Edward interrupted,
frowning. "Do you really think thieves could have set upon the man? I
doubt it. I don't believe any Arabs would have touched him, knowing he was a
royal messenger. Native Christians, maybe. But I think it more likely that
there was treachery involved. Perhaps someone didn't want me to receive your
letter of ransom. Every man has enemies, Guy, known or unknown. And there were
always crusaders patrolling the hills around Acre, both singly and in groups.
It's a possibility . . ."
"Yes," Guy agreed, "but one that can
never be proven."
"Perhaps. I suggest you watch your enemies well
these next few days. Much can be betrayed by a simple glance, a misspoken word,
"There! We have finished, my lord," the chief
tailor exclaimed proudly, hauling himself to his feet. The other three
craftsmen were beaming, all of them clearly pleased with their meticulous
"It's about time," Edward declared, then
softened his tone as he perused his appearance. "My thanks, gentlemen. The
garments are truly splendid . . . fit for a king. But now help me out of this
finery and fetch me something more comfortable to wear."
As the tailors rushed about and Edward changed, Guy
moodily drank his wine.
He, too, had considered the possibility of treachery,
but it seemed remote. The odds of that messenger running into men who would have
wished, for whatever reason, to thwart his ransom were so slim . . .
Guy inclined his head at the light burst of feminine
laughter drifting to them from a distant room, and his hand tightened around
God, he missed Leila!
He was amazed at how easily his mind could skip to
thoughts of her, despite the fact that he was surrounded by bustling activity
and in the presence of the crown prince, who had granted him an audience as
soon as he heard Guy was at Westminster. It felt as if it had been weeks since
he had last seen her, rather than a few hours. He never would have dreamed that
being in love could be such torture. Yet he would not trade it. Not for a
What was she doing right now?
wondered. Where might she be . . . strolling somewhere in the palace or perhaps
resting in the
tent, one of many such
temporary lodgings which had been set up on the palace grounds? Was she
thinking of him? How was she faring now that she was under Roger's