Loyal Heart (The Von Wolfenberg Dynasty #1)

BOOK: Loyal Heart (The Von Wolfenberg Dynasty #1)
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Contents

LOYAL HEART

Dedication

COPYRIGHT

MADLY IN LOVE

LOYAL HEART CHAPTER ONE

FRUSTRATION

MUT

THE HUNT

THE WATERFALL

A HOUSE WHERE LOVE DWELLS

RESTLESS

SONG AND DANCE

THUGS

CAVALCADE

NAGGING QUESTIONS

CONFLICTING EMOTIONS

HE CAN'T BE DEAD

NEVER SAY NEVER

WENDELIN

ICE MAIDEN

WOVEN ENCHANTMENT

DIFFICULT INTERVIEWS

INEVITABLE TRUTH

THE BROTHERS

RUMORS OF WAR

FIRST KISS

FRIEND OR FOE

LOOSE LIPS

SUMMONED

LATE ARRIVAL

A WAITING GAME

THE LETTER

LISTEN TO THE TOADS

THE SUMMER HOUSE

NEGOTIATIONS

PEACOCKS

HERCULES AND APHRODITE

BEDDING

EPILOGUE

FOOTNOTES

ABOUT ANNA

MORE ANNA MARKLAND

LOYAL HEART

Von Wolfenberg Dynasty Book I
Includes Series Prequel~Madly in Love

By

ANNA MARKLAND

©COPYRIGHT ANNA MARKLAND 2016

All rights reserved

COVER ART BY STEVEN NOVAK

“Mankind's greatest gift, also its greatest curse,
 

is that we have free choice.
 

We can make our choices from love or from fear.”

Elizabeth Kübler Ross

For my grandson Jackson, the human dynamo.

This story is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. The reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author.

All fictional characters in this story have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author and all incidents are pure invention.

MADLY IN LOVE
 

The Von Wolfenberg Dynasty~Series Prequel

Estate of Count Dieter von Wolfenberg, Saxony, 1136 AD

“I won’t allow my mother’s madness to taint our bloodline,” Johann insisted, though he regretted breaking his father’s heart. “She tried to murder you.”
 

He refrained from mentioning the disturbing detail that his mother had come close to unmanning her husband during one of her frenzied attacks. It was a blessing for all concerned that Frederica von Wolfenberg had eventually taken her own life, and an even greater miracle that his father had subsequently met and married Blythe FitzRam.

“You’re my heir,” his father replied wearily, staring into the cold hearth, both hands on the marble mantel. “Your stepmother and I expect you to do your duty. You must marry and sire children.”

Johann shook his head. “Then why did you not betroth me to some titled woman when I was a boy?”

“I wanted you to choose your own wife. Your mother and I were betrothed when we were children. I had no choice but to marry her though I had serious misgivings about the state of her mind.”

Johann pinched the bridge of his nose, weary of the argument that never went away. Reluctantly, he deployed his ultimate weapon. “It’s my intention to renounce my right to your title, Papa. Luther will make a better Count.”

His father turned away from the hearth to continue the argument, despair etched deeply on his face. He held his peace when a manservant entered to light the fire.

Johann took the opportunity to flee, colliding with his happy-go-lucky brother in the hallway. He loved Luther, but the difference in their temperaments was all the proof he needed. Though they were sons of the same father, Lute had inherited his mother’s optimism, whereas Johann…

“Whoa,
bruder
,” Lute exclaimed. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

Choking with emotion, Johann could only shake his head.

His perceptive brother glanced quickly through the half open door and recognised the situation immediately. “Another argument about marriage?” he said in a low voice. “I know the feeling. Our parents have been haranguing me as well.”

Every member of the family was aware that lunacy had destroyed Johann’s mother, but he hadn’t confided his concerns about inheriting the madness to any of his three siblings. As he softly closed the door, he realized it was time. “You’ll have no trouble finding a wife, Lute. Our sister’s best friend seems taken with you.”

Lute eyed him curiously. “You’re mistaken. Kristina’s more interested in you than me.”

Johann’s heart fell. He’d been in love with Kristina Halden for years. He’d watched Sophia’s childhood friend blossom from a little girl into a beautiful young woman. When male urges began to develop, he avoided her. One glimpse of her lovely face, golden hair and generous breasts was all it took to send the blood rushing to his groin. When she spoke to him, her sultry voice rendered him tongue-tied. It was impossible that she found him attractive.

“As I’ve told Papa, I don’t intend to marry. I would never risk inflicting my mother’s madness on Kristina. You’ll need a wife. I’m stepping down as heir in your favor.”

Mouth agape, Lute grasped Johann’s arm before he had a chance to escape. “I refuse. It’s not my birthright. The notion is lunacy. You’re not mad.”

“It’s in my blood,” Johann replied.

“What’s in your blood?” his stepmother asked as she came around the corner from the kitchens.

His gut clenched. Blythe Von Wolfenberg had always loved him as her own son and he wished with all his heart she was indeed his mother. Arguing with her grieved him, but…

“I am renouncing my title in favor of Luther,” he declared.

His stepmother frowned, laying a hand on his arm. “This is about your mother, isn’t it?”

He clenched his jaw, determined to keep his resolve, but allowed her to draw him back into the parlor.
 

Lute followed.

Their father now stood with his back to a hearty fire, arms folded across his chest, seemingly oblivious to the hiss and spit of the pine logs. He glowered at Johann. “You are being unreasonable,” he growled once the servant had withdrawn.

His stepmother rolled her eyes. “That statement doesn’t help matters, Dieter.”

Lute flopped down into an armchair. “I refuse to accept the title and all the responsibilities that go with it, so if you’re determined, you’ll have to pass it on to Konrad.”

Johann folded his arms, exasperation tightening his throat. “That’s not an option, and you know it. Our little brother is determined to enter the Church. He has aspirations to become a bishop.”

Lute grinned. “Now, that’s lunacy if you ask me.”

“Boys,” Blythe scolded, “don’t forget my brother was a monk.”

Lute scoffed, a twinkle in his eye. “I hate to say it, Mama, but consider how long Uncle Aidan lasted in the monastery.”

Johann was tempted to laugh at the perplexed expression on the faces of both his parents, but then his father smiled and it was relief to see his good humor return.

“Lute is right,” his father admitted. “Aidan soon discovered he needed the love of a good woman.” He walked to his wife and put an arm round her waist. “Just as I did.”

Blythe snuggled into her husband. Johann envied the deep and enduring love they shared, but it was his destiny to lead a solitary life. Perhaps he should be the one entering the priesthood. The notion sent chills rushing up his spine.

He moved to the spot his father had occupied near the hearth.

“If you could see yourself,” Lute remarked. “You look just like Papa standing there. A moment ago the two of you were like twins with your arms folded.”

“It’s true,” Blythe agreed. “You are your father’s son, Johann. The first time I set eyes on you I saw it, though you were only three.”

“But there are some who might suggest I was a little mad myself,” his father warned, “kidnapping the wrong woman and then falling in love with her.”

Mention of the unusual way Dieter and Blythe had met always brought a smile to everyone’s face.

The knot in Johann’s belly loosened a little. “It’s true I look like you, Papa,” he conceded.

“And talk and walk,” Lute teased. “You’re like peas in a pod.”

“Except my hair is greyer,” their father added.

Johann understood what they were trying to do. “But the fact remains, my mother was mad, and madness runs in families. None of you can deny that. How can I inflict that on a woman who will expect to have children?”

“Have you asked her?” Lute interjected just as Konrad wandered into the parlor.

“Asked who what?” their youngest brother wanted to know.

Their stepmother sent Johann a sympathetic glance. She too knew the studious Kon would pursue the matter like a dog with a bone. It was a relief when Lute came to his rescue. “Johann intends you to be the next count.”

The lanky nineteen-year-old stopped abruptly, his brow deeply furrowed. “What?”

“He’s teasing you,” their mother assured him.

Kon brightened visibly and punched Lute’s arm before escaping to another armchair. He glanced around. “Why is everyone so glum?”

Their father cleared his throat, locking eyes with Johann. “We’re having a discussion. Johann is worried Kristina will reject his proposal of marriage.”

“No danger of that,” Kon retorted. “The girl’s smitten with him.”

“Told you,” Lute said smugly, sticking out his tongue.

Johann slumped into a chair. “It has nothing to do with a particular person.” But a small inner voice questioned if perhaps he did fear Kristina’s rejection and his mother’s madness was simply an excuse.

~~~

Kristina and Sophia curtseyed prettily in response to the ancient maestro’s overly formal bow. Once the elderly gentleman had shuffled out of the music room, they collapsed onto the couch in a fit of giggles.

“I don’t know how I keep my face straight when he breaks wind,” Sophia said hoarsely once she caught her breath.

Kristina wiped her eyes with a kerchief, then pinched her nose. “He doesn’t realize he’s doing it. You’d think he’d notice the odor,” she said nasally.

Still chuckling, Sophia retrieved her lyre and carefully returned it to its shelf. “It happens every time he bends his knees in time with our playing. Like he’s a wind instrument.”

Hilarity gripped them again.

“Then he scolds when my hammers hit the wrong wires on the dulcimer,” Kristina choked out with a grin.

It was all wonderfully comfortable and familiar. She and Sophia had been making fun of one music teacher after another since they were children, though they agreed this latest Russian was definitely the most comical.
 

The best part about the lessons was that they took place on Friday afternoons and Kristina was allowed to stay at the Von Wolfenberg estate for the weekend. It was a welcome respite.
 
Her parents squabbled constantly, or pointedly ignored each other. The count, in contrast, treated his wife with warm regard and it was evident they were still in love despite being married more than twenty years.

BOOK: Loyal Heart (The Von Wolfenberg Dynasty #1)
13.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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