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Authors: Jo Beverley

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Lord of My Heart

BOOK: Lord of My Heart
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Lord of My Heart
Jo Beverley

To save her barony from ruin, Madeleine de la Haute Vironge must wed one of a trio of lords offered by King William. A shocking twist of fate impels the convent-bred beauty into the arms of the most dangerous of the three—a magnificent, exciting stranger Madeleine desires.. .but also fears.

Torn between familial loyalties and devotion to his king, handsome Aimery de Gaillard prowls the forest as the Golden Hart, devoted to helping the common English folk. But the beautiful young heiress he is honor bound to marry suspects his secret, threatening his cause and his life. Yet his noble heart, hardened by mistrust, aches with passion for Madeleine’s sensuous innocence—entreating the daring outlaw to surrender to the glory, the rapture.. .and the peril of love.

“This work is a tapestry of historical detail, filled with so much depth and beauty that it not only stirs the heart but stimulates the intellect as well.”

The Anastasia Gazette
ALSO BY JO BEVERLEY
Dark Champion
My Lady Notorious
Hazard
The Devil’s Heiress
The Dragon’s Bride
“The Demon’s Mistress” in
In Praise of Younger Men
Devilish
Secrets of the Night
Forbidden Magic
Lord of
Midnight
Something Wicked
Lord of My Heart
Jo Beverley
A SIGNET BOOK
This book is dedicated to the memory of my parents, John and Mildred Dunn.
My mother ignored any notion of sexist limitations, and encouraged her daughters to aim as high as they pleased. My father introduced me to the romance of English history, and was a great admirer of Hereward the Wake. Thus this book, more than any other, springs from them.
Thus speaks the homeless-one,
haunted by memories of terrible slaughter
and the death of his friends:
“Dawn often finds me grieving in solitude,
for no one still lives
with whom I dare share
the truth of my heart.”
—From
The Wanderer,
an Anglo-Saxon poem

Castle
Gaillard
,
Normandy

August 1064

The Lady Lucia looked up as her husband strode into the hall. There was a heavy frown on Count Guy de Gaillard’s face, and he bore a scroll clenched in his fist.

“Plague? Murrain?” Lucia hazarded as she rose to accept a kiss on the cheek. “Michief by one of the boys?”

His frown eased as he hugged her. Lucia wished she could soothe every care from his life so easily. Small chance of that in
Normandy
, nor would he relish it. Norman men seemed to thrive on mayhem. Being English born and bred, she would be perfectly content with tranquil, unchanging days.

She had to admit that fifty years of mayhem had done Guy little harm. His back was straight, his hair still thick, and his green eyes keen and shrewd. The only changes she saw after twenty years of marriage were the silvering of that springy hair and the darkening of his eyes, which had deepened in color as a spring leaf darkens at summer’s end.

“Neither plague nor murrain,” he said as he threw himself onto his great oaken chair by the fire. “Nor even, unlikely as it may seem, mischief by one of the boys. Here.” He tossed the rolled parchment to her, then reached for the wine kept warm by the fire. His favorite hound, Roland, came over to rest its muzzle on his knee.

Count Guy relaxed and pulled gently at the dog’s long, silky ears.

He watched his wife as she sat down again on the facing chair, carefully moving her exquisite needlework to one side and unconsciously arranging her woolen skirts into elegant folds. It was still a matter of wonder to Guy, the grace and beauty his English bride had brought to his harsh Norman home, though it was now a well-accustomed pleasure.

Under her skillful management there was always tasty, wholesome food on the table, even at the end of winter; the stone walls were softened by tapestries; and he and his sons wore softly woven garments edged with bands worthy of a king.

Life was good at Castle Gaillard, and he desired only to keep it so.

Lucia unrolled the parchment, and her brow furrowed slightly as she tackled the Latin. It was the only line on her comely face, and the hair which peeped out from her snowy wimple was still golden. Guy wondered with lazy admiration whether she knew the secret to eternal youth, for she was nearer forty than thirty. It must be her tranquil nature. Lucia was comfortably padded into delightful curves, and one needed a tranquil nature to stay plump in Castle Gaillard.

Being English, she was better educated than he— though he was well-lettered for a
Norman
—and the text gave her little trouble. “Poor Earl Harold,” she remarked dryly. “First swept toward
Normandy
by storm, then captured by Guy de Ponthieu, now ‘rescued’ by Duke William and forced to swear to help him to the English throne. The earl must think God’s hand against him.”

“As you see from the letter,” said Count Guy, “many would agree.”

Lucia picked up her needlework. “I can think of no reason why God would turn against the earl, who does his duty to Christ and king as well as the next man.” She sighed. “That oath is a seed for trouble, though. The question is, what will Harold do when he’s safe home again? It’s said King Edward’s health is failing.”

“What can he do?” asked Guy. “An oath is an oath no matter how obtained. No man can prosper who breaks his word. William has long claimed to have Edward’s favor as heir to
England
, and now he has the oath-bond of the greatest earl.”

“But Earl Harold won’t have the giving of it, Guy. That right is held by the great men assembled in the Witan.”

“Are they likely to choose William?”

She shook her head. “Not even with Earl Harold’s support. They’ll want an Englishman. One of mature years and proven abilities.”

“Such as Earl Harold of
Wessex
,” said Guy. “Which William will never accept now he has the man’s oath to support his cause.” He looked into space and cursed softly.

“A
Norman
worried about a nice juicy war?” Lucia commented to the air around her. “It must be old age.”

To her surprise the teasing didn’t lighten his concern. She extended her mind to find the problem. A blast on the castle horn turned her mind in the right direction. It doubtless announced the return of the two youngest de Gaillard sons, who had ridden out with a troop of knights to seek a band of marauding outlaws. “Aimery,” she said.

Guy nodded. “No more jaunts to
England
for him.”

Guy had three sons and two daughters by his first wife, but God had only granted him and Lucia one child. Lucia had wanted her son to learn some of the cultured English ways as well as the bellicose
Norman
, so since infancy Aimery de Gaillard had spent a part of each summer in
Mercia
.

“My family would never let harm come to Aimery,” Lucia protested. “If Edwin is young yet, there is always Hereward.”

Count Guy snorted. “It’s my opinion your brother is half mad! Hereward the Wake. Hereward the Beserker. He clings to ways generations past. Lord knows what possessed him to put those skin-marks on Aimery.”

“They are a great sign of honor in the English tradition,” Lucia protested.

“And a matter of ridicule in a
Norman
! And what of the ring he gave him?”

“To be ring-friend to a great man is an honor . . .” She trailed off and looked at her husband, very pale.

“It is also a binding commitment, is it not?”

Lucia nodded.

“So what will Aimery do if this contest for the throne of England comes to arms with all the men of Mercia, including Hereward and Edwin, on one side, and Duke William and the de Gaillards on the other?”

Lucia had no answer. A shiver trickled through her at the possibilities.

“Your son goes no more to
England
till this matter is settled,” said Guy firmly.

Noises suddenly broke out in the castle bailey— hooves and shouts and barking dogs. Guy went to the narrow window which overlooked the busy space. It was thronged with dogs and horses, grooms and soldiers. Cutting a clear swathe through them all were his two youngest sons. Instinctively he checked for limps and wounds. Aimery had a bloody cloth tied around his arm, but from the way he straight-armed a soldier out of his way, the wound clearly gave him little trouble.

Lucia came to her husband’s shoulder, tut-tutted, and bustled off calling for hot water and her simples.

The two young men were tall and strong but otherwise utterly different. At twenty and eighteen, they were both approaching their mature build. Long, rigorous hours of weapons practice from infancy had given them strong arms and shoulders, well-muscled legs, and fluid agility in movement.

Roger, the last child of Guy’s first wife, was massive like all his older boys. He looked as if a falling tree trunk would bounce off him. Aimery, Lucia’s son, was of a lighter build. The tree trunk would kill him if it hit, but it was clear he would be nimble enough to avoid it.

They were both clean-shaven, but while Roger wore his dark hair trimmed close to his head in true Norman fashion, Aimery’s blond hair flowed to his shoulders. One had to give the boy credit for taking pride in the English style in the face of his brothers’ teasing, but perhaps he had little option now that his body was marked with tattoos. Even at a distance, Guy could see the blue rood he wore on his left upper arm and the fantastic, curlicued leaping beast which decorated his right forearm and hand.

Under Lucia’s influence, all the de Gaillard men wore clothes of the finest weaving, cut and embroidered as only an English woman could. Like all
Normans
they wore as many English-made ornaments of gold and precious gems as they could afford, for English goldsmiths were the best in
Europe
.

Aimery had a taste for bright-colored clothing, and his English relatives had gifted him with particularly fine ornaments—at the moment he wore two bracelets of gold and garnet which would buy a decent property— but he should not have looked so strange. His looks came, however, all from Lucia and her family; as he reached maturity he was disconcertingly like her brother Hereward twenty years since. His style of dress made him seem a foreigner in his homeland.

Sometimes Guy felt the only thing he’d passed on to his youngest son was his green eyes.

Guy went to pour wine into two more silver goblets. His life would have been simpler if he had never seen Lucia. Simpler, but in no way desirable. Lucia was the light and warmth of his life, and her troublesome son was in many ways his favorite. He hoped the cub was not aware of it.

The young men burst noisily into the hall, bringing the smell of fresh air, horses, and blood.

“. . . no need to kill them all!” Aimery was shouting.

“What point in bringing them back here to hang?” asked Roger with a sneer.

“Justice.”

“Justice! Saxon pap. They were murdering outlaws, and that’s all we needed to know.”

Guy broke in. “Has the problem been taken care of?”

Two voices clashed, but Roger’s carried through. “A few escaped, but we killed eight.”

“Good,” said the count.

Aimery opened his mouth, but at the look in his father’s eye he gave up the argument and came to take the wine being offered.

“How were you wounded?” asked Guy.

“An arrow. It’s only a scratch.”

“Nevertheless, your mother is preparing to tend it.”

Aimery grimaced and turned as Lucia bustled in. “It’s nothing, Mother.”

“That’s what the last man in the graveyard said,” she replied tartly. “If you’re brave enough to get it, you’re brave enough to bear the healing. Sit down.”

He sat on the stool indicated, and Lucia began to gently unwind the bandage. Guy took pity on him and gave him something to take his mind off things. The letter.

Aimery put down his wine and took up the parchment, reading with absorption. “This—” He broke off and hissed as his mother ripped the last of the bandage off roughly to open the wound and set the blood flowing. “It’s clean,” he protested. “I cleaned it.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” she said, washing and poking.

Aimery forced his mind back to the document. “The oath must have been forced—Mother!” He took a deep breath and continued. “Earl Harold would never voluntarily swear to support the duke’s claim to the throne.”

Guy took away the parchment and replaced it kindly with the wine. “Then he should have died before swearing,” he said absolutely. “An oath is an oath. What do you know of him?”

Aimery took a deep drink. “Earl Harold? I’ve never met him . . .” He stopped speaking as his mother dug deep after something. After a moment he carried on. “He’s well-regarded and known to be a fine soldier. He’s been running
England
on the king’s behalf for years. He’d make a good monarch.” He looked at his father defiantly.

“He’d be an oath-breaker,” Guy countered.

Aimery drained the goblet and sat looking into the polished bowl. “If the Witan chooses Harold as king,” he said at last, “and Harold accepts, what will Duke William do?”

“Go in force to make good his claim.”

Aimery paled, possibly because of whatever powder Lucia was pressing over the wound on his shoulder, but Guy doubted it. He’d never thought Aimery slow to understand implications.

BOOK: Lord of My Heart
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