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Диксон Хелен

The Devil Claims a Wife

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«The Devil Claims a Wife» - Хелен Диксон

GUY ST EDMOND, RETURNING WARRIOR, WILL LET NOTHING STAND IN THE WAY OF HIS DESIRESpoken of only in whispers – and with a name that strikes fear into the hearts of his enemies – Guy St Edmond wields his ancient sword like the Devil and his charm like a weapon. Confronted with a woman who does not cower before him, he finds his interest is aroused – but Jane Lovet is sworn to another.Yet her engagement is soon broken by Guy’s ruthless intervention, causing a scandal that echoes around the royal court. Forced into marriage, he can’t deny that having the desirable Jane at his side night after night promises untold pleasures…
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‘Do you know who I am?’

‘You are Guy St Edmond, the Earl of Sinnington. You are to take up residence at Sinnington Castle. People have talked of nothing else these past weeks.’

‘Then since we are to reside close to each other, Mistress Lovet, I shall look forward to seeing you again. What else should I know of you?’

‘I am to be married, sir—yet even had that not been the case your reputation has preceded you. People say you are the spawn of Satan and that men and children fear you. For years there have been rumours that you enjoy killing—that it was by your order that my brother died, and that you take pleasure in the suffering of others.’

When he didn’t deny it, Jane felt her insides cringe.

‘Since you appear to know so much about me,’ he said in a dangerously soft voice, ‘there is little wonder I am persona non grata in certain company.’ Guy’s leisurely perusal swept her as he tried to control his restive mount. ‘You should know I am as lucky in war as I am in love, sweet Jane.’


I thoroughly enjoyed creating THE DEVIL CLAIMS A WIFE, which is my first Medieval novel. I do like to vary the periods I write about and, inspired after reading several books about the Medieval period, I couldn’t resist trying something different. Creating the story was challenging and demanding, but most of all enjoyable.

I hope you enjoy reading THE DEVIL CLAIMS A WIFE.

About the Author

HELEN DICKSON was born and lives in South Yorkshire, with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.

Previous novels by Helen Dickson:





(part of Christmas By Candlelight)














And in Mills & Boon® Historical Undone! eBooks:


Did you know that some of these novels are also available as eBooks? Visit

The Devil

Claims a Wife

Helen Dickson

Chapter One

They said Guy St Edmond was the spawn of Satan. They said he was as tall as a tree and that he could slay a man with a single stroke of his sword. There were darker tales still in his shadowed past, rumours that Guy St Edmond was the despoiler of innocents, that he ate the flesh of his victims and that he devoured everything in his path.

Battle after battle he led his troops to victory after victory. The king and hardened warriors granted him their respect and deferred to his opinions, and by the time Jane was seventeen years old he was already a legend in Cherriot Vale. It was said he had never lost so much as a skirmish. His name was a password for victory and it was rumoured he only had to appear on the horizon for the enemy to turn and flee.

The mere mention of his name made little children cling to their mothers in terror and hide their faces in their skirts. But as far as Jane knew, no one had ever dared confront him to find out if all of this was fact or legend.

Yes, she thought as, with a thundering heart and almost suffocating with fear, she peeked through the foliage to look at the demonic spectre who was one of the young King Edward of York’s most favoured and most formidable knights, Guy St Edmond might well be all those things, but no one had said how handsome he was, that he was a devastatingly masculine male, with a certain air about him that could not help but intrigue and attract every female eye. How could he be all those terrible things? Was that what the wars had done to him, or just his nature?

Power, danger and bold vitality emanated from every line of his towering physique as he rode ahead of a small entourage of knights and squires. Some wore his red-and-black livery. They had evidently been riding hard for some considerable distance for their clothes were dusty and their faces streaked with dirt and sweat. With a jingle of harness and a noise like thunder, the stately chargers came at a gallop in a swirling cloud of dust and earth, looking unreal in the small clearing—yet Guy St Edmond had the God-given right to be there, for was he not the Earl of Sinnington, the lord of Sinnington Castle, to have and to enjoy the lands and revenues to be reaped from his domain?

There were ten horsemen in all, but Jane felt no inclination to move her gaze past the imposing man astride the black steed prancing in the lead. It was huge, a warhorse, high, wide and broad in proportion, with a hint of wildness in its eyes. It had its ears back, its head well up, its smooth-flowing gait a perfect complement to the proud, majestic bearing of his rider. His leather boots were silver-spurred and he wore a sword and a long dagger attached to his belt.

The earl rode with a purpose that was impressive. Tall and powerful, he was of an age perhaps a score and ten. But it wasn’t only the height and the impressive display of bulging muscle and sinew that caused him to stand out from the other horsemen.

There was about him an air of confidence and intelligent command that he wore as easily as he did his sword. Everything about him spoke of control. Or so it seemed to Jane, who could hardly judge for certain when she’d never seen him before or heard him utter a word.

As if sensing he was being watched, Guy St Edmond snatched at the reins. Wrenched to standstill, his horse stood up on its hind legs, the following riders wheeling and coming to a jarring stop, metal clanking against metal as they cursed at the sudden halt. They were close to where Jane was hiding. The sun sent shafts of light through the high trees and softly crept through the clearing. At closer range she noted Guy St Edmond’s hair was unruly and very dark, almost black, curling round his neck. His skin on his hawk-like face was bronzed above the black beard.

Displaying a coat of arms on his tabard, he was clad in a leather tunic and leggings. It showed his strong limbs and thick torso. He turned in the saddle to speak to his men. He laughed as they shared a joke. It was a deep rich sound that made Jane think of clotted cream. She shuddered. It would seem the formidable Earl of Sinnington had a sense of humour. As he turned back to the light, she made out the fascinating tone of his eyes—could they really be so blue and so bright?

Suddenly the voices of the children she was hiding from as they played their game of hide-and-seek could be heard in the woodland behind her. Ears attuned, his body alert, Guy St Edmond’s smile turned from open humour to something more guarded. His thick black brows lowered and his eyes narrowed as they searched for the source of the disturbance. Jane could see he was used to weighing up new situations quickly.

Suddenly the unsuspecting children burst into the open, accompanied by Jane’s maid, Kate. Confronted by these awesome, terrifying strangers, the children abandoned their game and clung to Kate, whose protective arms went round them and held them close. Blanche, Jane’s ten-year-old sister, stared in mute terror, while Alfred, Jane’s thirteen-year-old brother, simply stood and looked with wide-eyed awe, craning his neck up the better to see the man on the horse.

Half in fear and half in concern for her siblings, emerging from the shadows, Jane moved to stand a few paces away from the cowering children, tall and graceful with her long-legged stride. Her skirts of myrtle green moulded her fine limbs, flowing out above her brown leather slippers in soft, yielding folds. The waist gathered beneath the rounded young breasts was caught with dark green ribbons emphasising her shape. Then she raised her eyes, indifferent to all, in morbid curiosity desirous only to look at the man bearing the manner of a warrior about him.

As the daughter of Simon Lovet, an English cloth merchant, and younger sister of Andrew Lovet, who had been killed in battle fighting for the Lancastrian cause and the rightful King Henry and his wife, Guy St Edmond would look on her as a traitor. But Jane, having grown heartily tired of strife, was beyond loyalty to anyone but her family and herself. She stood and waited for him to speak, while terror screamed through every pore of her quaking body.

With the clean, heady scent of spring clover and newly budded flowers in the air, and a blackbird happily singing its heart out, Guy watched the girl watching him as he approached and saw her every thought reflected in her eyes—interest, uncertainty, suspicion, dread—but no fear, thank God.

Unbeknown to him, it was not false bravado that made Jane show no fear. She felt it deep in her bones, but she was a Lovet and a Lovet never admitted fear of any man. She had heard that time after time from her father and her dead brother, and she had adopted their creed for her own.

As he halted his horse in front of her, all the breath suddenly seemed to have left him as he was struck by a jolt of unexpected lust. She stood for a moment in silence, contemplating him. The girl was as ravishing a creature as one could imagine—youth and springtime incarnate.

She had affected him, Jane knew that. Her apprehension increased. Here she was, being stared at by a magnetic, thoroughly compelling man, a man whose direct and confident gaze made her heart beat faster—though that, in small part, might have been due to dread.

For a long moment he gazed right into her eyes with a look that blazed, heating them until they glowed like molten coals in his bearded face. They were hard and inscrutable, as if she knew a secret that he had to know, as if they had known each other for ever. She was unsettled by his look, but she could not look away. A modest woman would lower her eyes, but she stood tall, astonished at herself, staring like an ignorant peasant. She found she could not take her eyes from his, eyes which were burning her where she stood.

Guy was not quite sure what to make of it. Either she had not heard, isolated in Cherriot Vale, that he was the Devil incarnate, or was too starved of male company to care. He found himself strangely moved by her candid look. Fancifully, he thought her like a beautiful half-wild creature of this emerald glade—or a wondrous rare forest animal that did not know enough of the world to be afraid.

She was totally innocent.

Though they were at least twelve paces apart, Jane felt his gaze penetrate her heart. Nudging his horse forwards, he circled her, his smile set in a grim line across his darkly handsome face, examining her like a horse at the fair.

Guy’s eyes roved approvingly over her lithe figure, stopping at the swelling breasts and tiny waist, then strayed back to the soft tresses of honey-gold hair that escaped the confines of her green velvet cap. Her nose was upturned, a nose bespeaking curiosity and impishness. Her lips were full, parted and hinted of secret, of a hidden sensuality as her tongue flicked nervously over them. The chin was not weak, not strong, argumentative perhaps, but not intransigent. Her skin was creamy white and glowing. Her eyes green, into which one might wish to dive, to be willingly lost for ever, glowed with an inner light and hinted of the woman hidden beneath the child-like innocence of her face.

She was the loveliest creature his eyes had seen in many a day.

‘Well, well, and what have we here?’ Guy St Edmond murmured in a voice that was deep and rich and full of unexpected beauty, still looking at her. Her eyes flickered over him, clearly interested, but perhaps intimidated by his size and the bruiser’s build that he had inherited from his father. ‘I don’t bite,’ he said with a cynical half-smile.

‘No? I have heard to the contrary.’

He laughed, a deep, booming laugh as his horse did a full circle. When he faced her once more, already regretting her impulsive words, Jane stared up at the stranger and despite her efforts a soft flush crept up her cheeks. Without lowering her gaze, she sank into a curtsy as gracefully as she knew how and her trembling limbs would permit. In an attempt to alleviate her siblings’ fear, she smiled, showing teeth that were white and even and beautifully shaped. ‘I am Jane Lovet,’ she said, ‘daughter of Simon Lovet, who is a trader in fine cloth here in Cherriot.’

‘And the father of a Lancastrian, if I am not mistaken,’ he said in such a way that made Jane’s blood run cold in her veins. ‘And do you and your family follow your brother’s inclinations as loyal Lancastrians, Jane Lovet, though much good it did him? Are you loyal to King Henry?’

Jane stared at him. Every merchant in London was Yorkist to a man, throwing their support behind the young, strong and intelligent King Edward. Being an exacting, ambitious man, her father’s every thought was directed into making money and the elevation of his family, and as such he had no particular leanings for either side. But he had been unable to forgive Andrew his support for Henry, which had turned the majority of merchants against him.

‘My brother’s support of King Henry cannot be denied, but my parents accept the rule of King Edward.’

He nodded. ‘A sensible move, since Henry can no longer raise a decent army to continue the fight.’

‘So we have been told, and since the king himself has recently married an impoverished widow from the enemy camp, a woman whose own father fought against him, we can be assured of his leniency.’

Guy’s eyes narrowed as they focused on her upturned face, caught somewhere between anger, amazement and admiration for her defiant courage. ‘Your words are boldly spoken, Jane Lovet. But I warn you to have a care what you say in the future. Do you live hereabouts?’

She nodded. ‘In the manor house at the end of the village close to the river.’

‘So we are to be neighbours.’ His eyes did a study of Alfred and Blanche and the comely Kate. ‘And are these people kin of yours?’

Jane glanced at the threesome. Alfred was tall like his father, while her younger sister, Blanche, was a few inches less, and still growing. They were similar in looks—both had light-brown curly hair and green eyes with brown flecks.

‘Kate is my maid, and Alfred and Blanche my siblings. Are you to reside in the village long, sir?’

‘As to that, we shall have to wait and see.’ His arrogant mouth softened and, leaning down, he cupped her face with his big hand and looked deep into her eyes. ‘Never have I seen a face so fair—or eyes so unafraid. Do you not fear me, sweet Jane?’

Jane knew she should draw back and state her objections at this uncalled-for bold familiarity, but she held her ground and endured the feel of his strong fingers and the warmth of them touching her flesh. ‘Do I have reason to fear you, sir?’

‘Maybe you do. Do you know who I am?’

‘Everyone in these parts knows who you are.’

‘And how can they possibly know that when they have not set eyes on me in almost a decade?’

Jane stared at him, temporarily speechless, relieved when he dropped his hand and sat up straight in the saddle. His looks were spectacular, but they were not the most important thing about him. Now she could see that his face had an uncompromising ruthlessness and strength which marked him as an adventurer and gambler. In spite of the fact that he was a nobleman, he was a man free from bonds and ties.

‘You are Guy St Edmond, the Earl of Sinnington. You are to take up residence at Sinnington Castle. People have talked of nothing else these past weeks.’

Guy St Edmond cocked a brow and canted his head at an angle as he gazed into her eyes, holding her in his blue depths. Suddenly Jane was the captive of those fathomless eyes and, while those around them went on breathing, Jane felt as if she and Guy St Edmond were alone in the world. Though it was not a feeling she was accustomed to feeling, some feminine instinct deep within her recognised the fiery gleam in his eyes and understood that he felt the same.

‘Then since we are to reside close to each other, Mistress Lovet, I shall look forward to seeing you again. I have noted your grace and your beauty and that they are but hints of other talents. What else should I know of you?’

‘Sir, I do not know what else I might tell you, except that I am soon to be betrothed and when I am wed I will be leaving the village to take up residence with my husband’s family in the next village.’

So taken was Guy by her that her pronouncement dealt him a blow of disappointment he was quite unprepared for, though he gave no hint of it. It was because he was watching her so intently that he saw a change in her. He saw the light of exhilaration so suddenly and utterly extinguished and, for a fleeting moment, it was replaced with a look of total desolation. It was the sort of look that could break even the hardest heart and made him wonder what was wrong with the man she was to wed.

‘Married! Then I must congratulate your betrothed on an excellent choice of bride,’ he said, his eyes never leaving her face. Her astonishing beauty had struck him at once, but now that he saw her more closely he was impressed by something more, a sort of intrinsic worth which he had not expected to find. However, he did not intend to let her see this and there was more than a suggestion of mockery about his smile when he said, ‘He is a truly fortunate man to have claimed such a wondrously fair bride. I cannot but imagine the ardent swains who will be left languishing over their loss. I will think of a gift for the bride-to-be and have it delivered directly to your father’s house.’

‘Thank you,’ Jane said, suddenly shy. ‘That is indeed thoughtful of you, but I—I could not possibly accept …’

‘To refuse is to risk offending the earl,’ the rider closest to the earl said jovially. Cedric was a big, brawny squire with a wild thatch of bright blond hair in dire need of a trimming, who looked more like a bear than a man. He looked Jane over from head to foot, his voice and eyes lazily good humoured. ‘When a pretty girl takes his eye, you will find Guy St Edmond a man of the grand gesture,’ he quipped, winking good naturedly at his master. ‘Now we must be on our way, Guy. We have ridden far and my belly is demanding food. I haven’t had a mouthful since I ate that bacon at breakfast.’

His fellow riders laughed heartily at this, for apparently his appetite was a well-established joke among them.

‘The deuce you haven’t, Cedric,’ the earl chided with mock reproach. ‘Come, then, we’ll be on our way.’

The men wheeled their horses round and as Guy St Edmond’s turned, its forelegs lifted high, he turned his head and looked at Jane once more. Perhaps it was the heat of the day or the sun that filled the glade with its golden light, or the blackbird that continued to sing its delightful song, but in the depths of that gaze she felt time was suspended.

‘We will meet again, Jane Lovet. Do not be in any doubt of that. I shall see to it.’

Her mouth went dry as alarm gathered apace, along with wild, wanton sensations she had never experienced before that were beginning to fill her body, taking control of her, making her weak and helpless. Recollecting herself, she reminded herself who he was. They had been told it was Guy St Edmond who had issued the death sentence on her beloved brother when he had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Towton in 1461—just one of almost thirty thousand cut down that day. She took a step back, her heart beating sickeningly fast. As she stiffened her shoulders in an effort at least to appear composed, her eyes were intense.

‘You forget yourself, sir. It would be inappropriate for us to meet in the way I believe you are suggesting.’

He flashed her a mocking smile, his tone suddenly taunting. ‘Why? Would it have anything to do with me being a barbarian?’

‘I have told you that I am to be married, sir—yet even had that not been the case,’ she said, unaware that she was plunging lightning-fast into unchartered territory, ‘your reputation has preceded you. People say you are the spawn of Satan and that men and children fear you. For years there have been rumours that you enjoy killing—that it was by your order that my brother died and that you take pleasure in the suffering of others.’ When he didn’t deny it, Jane felt her insides cringe.

‘Since you appear to know so much about me,’ he said in a dangerously soft voice, ‘there is little wonder I am persona non grata in certain company.’

‘You must have luck on your side in war,’ she replied tersely.

Guy’s leisurely perusal swept her as he tried to control his restive mount. ‘I am as lucky in war as I am in love, sweet Jane. I’ve been a long time at the wars. I confess there might be some justification in the rumours you have heard about me. Killing makes barbarians of many brave and honourable men. However,’ he said, his eyes glowing in the warm light as he gave her a lazy smile, his gaze settling on her lips, ‘I doubt that in your case my reaction would vary had I just left the king’s court.’

Jane’s eyes flared at his boldness. Lifting her nose primly in the air, she coolly glanced askance at him. ‘You press yourself beyond the bounds of propriety, sir! As I said, I am to leave the village shortly when I am wed.’

A crooked smile slanted Guy’s lips. He had seen her eyes flash and he approved. It was a sign that she had spirit. Mistress Lovet was clearly prepared to reject his further attentions. Where with another woman he would have felt merely challenged, if he felt anything at all, her rejection, delivered with a sweet but dauntless pride, cut dangerously deep. He rarely encountered occasions when he bothered to exert himself to change a woman’s mind, but a man like Guy St Edmond got what he wanted, and meet with her again he would.

As he leaned forwards there was a flash in his eyes that Jane could not recognise. It was like a sudden hunger, as when a starving man sees a banquet. Bravely she stood her ground. She was neither afraid nor coquettish, but she was still young and there was something about the power and the energy of this man that she didn’t want focused on her.

He stared at her with his head tilted to one side. The corners of his mouth lifted as his eyes left hers and wandered to her feet and back, slowly, slowly appraising, approving, for his smile broadened as he looked back into her eyes. Reaching out, he touched her cheek with the backs of his fingers. When he spoke, his voice was solemn and he held her gaze with an intensity of his own.

‘You’re very beautiful,’ he murmured, both entranced and repelled by what he wanted. ‘I remember your father and your mother,’ he said equably. ‘I have known them since I was a boy, in good times and bad. So know this, and never doubt it, sweet Jane.’ He seemed to measure his words carefully. ‘My word is my bond and I pledge it to you. You can rest assured we shall meet—and at my instigation. I promise you.’

Jane stared at him aghast, realising he meant every word he said. For a moment the blue eyes looked savage. That this mighty lord should want her both fascinated and terrified her. He was confusing on every level. Unknown and intriguing, he was a new threat that could not be second-guessed. She knew beyond doubt that she was his prey, that he intended to seduce her, to dishonour her, and nothing was going to deter him from trying—not even the fact that she was about to be betrothed to another.

Guy St Edmond would have no pity on her and he would damn anyone who stood in his way.

She could not let that happen. Time that had stopped for a moment went on again. Unable to bear his taunting gaze, she dropped her eyes and made a curtsy. With a deep laugh and a touch of spurs to his horse’s flesh, Guy turned and rode off in pursuit of his companions.

Not until he was out of sight did Jane turn to Kate, who suddenly found her tongue.

‘Well, I never! The Earl of Sinnington! He has a way about him, doesn’t he?’

‘Oh, yes. He certainly has a way. Come, let us play a game of hoodman blind. I shall wear the blindfold.’

Determined not to let the encounter with Guy St Edmond spoil their game, Jane took the cloth from Alfred’s pocket and tied it around her eyes. Having no wish to go home just yet, the frightening interlude forgotten as they became caught up in the new game, the children giggled and erupted into gales of laughter as they darted this way and that to avoid their sister’s groping hands. Jane laughed delightedly as she pretended she couldn’t locate the giggling children.

Taking a moment to pause and look back, Guy was enchanted by what he saw. Mistress Lovet’s laughter rang out like tinkling chimes. It was a delightful scene—a scene of innocence and perfection that would become etched in memory and emblazoned on his heart.

From her seat on a stout trunk of a fallen tree, Kate watched the innocent play of her charges. Kate had watched Jane grow. As a child she’d been headstrong, pugnacious and daring. Surrounded by family all her life, especially her doting mother, she was an imp of a girl, always courting laughter with her japes.

Kate’s gaze took in the condition of Alfred and Blanche, which brought a frown to her brow. They had set off from home in their best and she was dismayed to see that Alfred had scuffed his shoes and ripped his hose, and that Blanche had leaves and twigs in her hair. They were in for a scolding from their father when they got back to the house, unless she could smuggle them upstairs and clean them up first. Knowing it was time to go home, she rose.

‘Jane, come. It’s time we were getting back. Enough play for today. Your mother stressed that you mustn’t be late.’

Removing her blindfold, Jane laughed at her maid, her beloved Kate, who knew her like no other, who saw to all their needs with affection and devotion. ‘Must we go now, Kate?’

‘Do you forget that soon you are to be betrothed? There is much to be done before the event. Even now your mother is sewing her fingers raw in her effort to complete your gown in time.’

Kate’s words were a harsh reminder to Jane that soon she would have the mundane affairs of the wife of a cloth merchant’s son to fill her days and occupy her mind—soon, but not yet. As hard as she resisted, she could not help wondering what it would be like to be married to a man like Guy St Edmond instead.

Not that she could now seriously entertain the idea of marriage to one other than Richard. She’d committed herself to doing right by her family and was not one to go back on her word, no matter how distasteful she found the consequences. She had been raised to know her place and knew better than to defy the rules of men and make her own destiny. It had come as no surprise to her and with much bitterness that, as a girl, her worth to her family was her marriageability.

Believing in the inherent wisdom of her parents, Jane was optimistic about her future and had not questioned their judgement—until now, when her betrothal was just days away and she had gazed upon the handsome face of Guy St Edmond.

Guy was staring straight ahead into the distance, a faint smile playing about his lips as his eyes embraced his home. He tipped his head in the direction he was staring and in a quiet voice, said, ‘Look, Cedric—the castle.’

‘It’s a fine demesne. You’ve been looking at it as if you’ve not set eyes on it before.’

‘Not in a long time, Cedric. Eight years, at least—and not since my father passed on and my brother was killed at St Albans. I kept meaning to come back, but the king always had urgent need of me elsewhere, which may have been for the best. The battles have made me wealthy, which will ensure my sons will not have to earn their living with muscle and blood as I have done.’

‘So you have done with fighting.’

‘I’d like to think I’ve breached my last castle wall and fought on my last battlefield,’ Guy said, his voice harsh with resolve. ‘Dear God, it will be good to be home at last, to have a soft bed to sleep in every night and good food in my belly.’

Guy drank in the incredible beauty of the wide vale of Cherriot. Twenty miles north of London, it was a fertile valley. The hills on either side were covered with forest and fertile fields, the lower slopes clothed with pear and apple orchards and fruit gardens. His vast demesne contained four villages, two visible to the eye. A lazy river meandered its way passed the picturesque town of Cherriot, with its main street, the stone bridge which spanned the river, and industrial premises along the waterfront: leather tanners, sawmills, manufacturers and the abattoirs. Smoke rose from a thousand chimneys and miniature people meandered through the streets going about their business. On a raised plateau overlooking this pastoral scene stood Sinnington Castle, with its soaring turrets and high, thick walls punctuated with six gracefully rounded towers.

Guy could hardly contain his excitement the closer they got to the castle. He was expected. There were sentries at the gate. They clattered over the bridge that spanned the moat.

‘I can see this is the ideal place for you to settle down and raise those sons you intend to have one day,’ Cedric remarked, appreciating all he saw.

‘I must first find a wife who will give me children, Cedric,’ Guy said with a fierceness that left Cedric in no doubt about his seriousness. ‘It’s no matter whether she is pretty or not, so long as she can give me fine sons.’

‘Then all you have to do is find the lady.’

Guy stared straight ahead. For months he had been plagued by a deepening awareness of a large hole in his life, an emptiness. He had sensed it vaguely and ignored it because for a very long time it evoked painful memories of Isabel Leigh, a callous, brown-eyed witch driven by ambition and greed. For a time her beauty had bewitched him and, when she had betrayed him with another, he had been shocked to discover how close he had come to losing control. He had vowed that his emotions would never again be engaged by a woman. He wanted none of their treachery and deceit. But his need for sons had sharpened since he had fought his last battle into a nameless hunger, a gnawing urgency.

He had a fortune to rival many of his aristocratic friends, but he had no heir to leave it to. If he died unexpectedly—and there was always a chance of that, the way he lived—everything he’d worked and fought for would die with him. But getting heirs meant putting up with the inconvenience of a wife, a prospect he so little relished that he had been putting it off for years. Where could a man find a woman who would bear his children and otherwise leave him alone?

Unbidden, an image of Jane Lovet came to mind. As Guy recalled the moment when she had smiled at him, a smile that had grown slowly and then shone, his expression softened and his eyes gentled. He had seen Madonnas whose features would pale before her loveliness. It was as though a shutter had been flung open and the sun had rushed in. And the way she had stood up to him! She had looked him in the eye and spoken her mind with a frankness most men wouldn’t dare.

With her anything might happen. There was a mark of destiny on her, quite apart from her beauty and the rare and subtle quality she emanated. She made one think of hot, tumbling love and sensual sport. She was a well brought-up young woman with a decent woman’s need for marriage which he was not able to give her. It would be social death to consider looking outside his own circle, a penniless girl from the lower orders, the daughter of a cloth merchant … but as a mistress? His eyes narrowed and a calculating gleam glinted in their depths.

He did not stop to wonder why he was so inflexible, it was just so. He was the Earl of Sinnington and he must rebuild. Men of his station married for advantage so that they might be the founders of dynasties. It was a business. Love did not come into it. He had decided long ago that such an affliction of the heart was best left to the peasants as compensation for their miserable lot in life.

‘Mistress Lovet is comely enough, Cedric. What was your opinion of her?’

Cedric gave him a knowing look and laughed heartily at his friend’s remark, knowing precisely where his thoughts were leading him. ‘Mistress Lovet is no ordinary girl, I grant you, but I imagined your interest to be in the way of finding a little amusement and nothing more. She is a strangely fascinating young creature, but hardly your type.’

Guy felt a moment of annoyance at Cedric’s pronouncement, remembering the exuberance of his most recent wild coupling with one of the more rapaciously demanding, hedonistic ladies of the court, who positively encouraged him in his more abandoned pursuits. But he had never lain with a virgin—had never been given the opportunity to discover the pleasures of such unblemished perfection, of making his mark on untouched territory. He imagined the sensation and felt a stirring in his loins.

‘You are quite right, Cedric. Jane Lovet is not my usual type at all. But then, one’s taste improves with age, I’ve been told.’

‘Aye, but for a wife you have to think about selecting a woman with an eye to forming political alliances and important connections. Mistress Lovet is merely the daughter of a humble cloth merchant.’

‘It is the way of things,’ Guy replied, knowing Cedric spoke the truth, but the image of Jane Lovet was too fresh in his mind.

Knowing Guy so well that he could follow his train of thought, Cedric smiled. ‘Did I not hear Mistress Lovet say she is to wed to someone else?’

‘Apparently so,’ Guy replied dismissively. ‘But I shall not be denied the pleasure of pursuing her if I so wish.’

‘Even though her brother was a supporter of the Lancastrians in the past.’

‘That no longer cuts any cloth with me, Cedric. Pray to God that after countless battles, the peace holds and Edward will sit on the throne of England for many years to come, leaving me free to enjoy the more enjoyable, gentler pursuits of life—and if I have a mistress as delectable as Mistress Lovet to enjoy them with, it will make life a damned sight more delightful.’

Cedric had seen how Guy had warmed to Jane Lovet, had been aware that his eyes had filled with the soft fire he felt when he’d looked at her. It could be interesting seeing how he dealt with the finer points of luring her into his bed. He had what other men envied. He was well favoured in looks and fortune, and he had any woman he wanted. It was no boast, but the honest truth. Women never turned him down.

Guy was also a fighter without equal, a soldier for whom violence was not indulged, but controlled—whose aggression was directed, not by ambition for personal glory, but by a sense of justice. He was a clear-headed, resourceful planner, a tireless campaigner, an entertaining, cheerful, unpretentious companion and faithfully loyal. But all Guy’s virtues were warrior virtues. He was made for war. He thought of nothing else. He was also an integral part of King Edward’s council, and as such the powerful barons saw him either as a shrewd friend to look to in times of trouble, or as a man to be wary of if they were involved in anything detrimental to the king.

But of late Cedric could see in his friend that he was, at thirty years old and having been brought low by the death of his brother, growing tired of war and that his thoughts were turning to the softer joys of hunting and hawking, of peace and music and love.

Guy rode into the outer bailey, casting an eye over the castle folk waiting to welcome their lord home, nodding in reply to their welcome. There wasn’t a man, woman or child that didn’t know of the black reputation he had acquired in France. He took a moment to look around. The main structure of the castle was built around the inner bailey in whose centre was the well that ensured the water supply. On the ground floor were the Great Hall, the stables, the kitchen and storerooms, and the living quarters communally shared by a large collection of human and animal dependants.

Guy and his men dismounted and handed their horses to the grooms who rushed forwards to take them, servants bowing low when they entered the great hall. The warmth and welcome of Sinnington Castle embraced him, along with the aroma of roasting meat from the kitchen. Guy felt himself relax, all the tensions easing out of him. After years of fighting, the need to be forever alert and watchful was being replaced by a sense of well-being.

Lovet House was a substantial family home. It was a long house, half-brick, half-timber, and commodious with glass in the windows. Its airy halls and parlours were decorated with many tapestries and carpets. Between the house and the river were the well-tended gardens which Margaret Lovet, Jane’s mother, had filled with sweet-scented roses growing on trellises and where peacocks flaunted their beautiful feathers like vainglorious lords.

Margaret, whose greatest pleasure was cosseting, watching over and cherishing her children, was elegant, charming and composed. She had a sweet, lilting voice and a patient smile. She was a perfect lady, one Jane had tried to emulate all her life. She kept the house in perfect order and the servants were devoted to her. She was the lady bountiful of Cherriot Vale and her hospitality to the poor was well known.

On entering the house, Jane sought her out after glancing into the spacious undercroft where her father carried out his work and stored his merchandise and seeing a happy band of silk women doing their needlework or weaving or throwing or twisting threads surrounded by the many bolts of cloth: brocades from Milan, Venetian velvets, the finest manufactured silk from Lucca—Italian silk being of supreme quality and a significant source of trade. Jane liked nothing better than fingering these sumptuous fabrics, hopefully destined for the wealthy when her father’s business picked up, as it surely would when she married Richard.

She found her mother in the parlour. She had opened the windows that overlooked the river shifting endlessly by. Her head beneath her tall headdress was bent over her work as she put the finishing touches to the dress Jane was to wear for her betrothal, her face still and serene as she embroidered her thoughts into the gown.

Looking up from her work when Jane entered the room, Margaret curved her lips in a smile of welcome. ‘Ah, Jane! I’m glad you’re back, although I do wish you had been home earlier. John Aniston called on us this afternoon.’

‘Did he? For what reason?’

‘Richard has to leave for Italy sooner than planned, so, as soon you are betrothed, the wedding will have to be brought forwards.’

Jane’s heart sank. That Richard was leaving for the commercial metropolis of Florence with a group of cloth merchants had been planned for weeks now. ‘I see. How soon?’

‘No more than two weeks after the betrothal.’

Jane stared at her mother in disbelief, panic taking hold of her. ‘You can’t mean that. The wedding is set for six weeks after the betrothal. There is so much to do. It is too soon. We cannot possibly be ready in time.’

‘We have to be,’ Margaret said, resuming her sewing. ‘Richard wants to see you settled in his father’s house before he leaves. With you and Kate to help me we can be ready with time to spare.’ Looking up, she noted her daughter’s pale face and sensed her unease. ‘Jane, you do want to marry Richard, don’t you? You know I love you and I would understand if you are against this marriage—but …’

‘I don’t think Father would be so understanding,’ Jane said when her mother’s voice tapered off. ‘Where he is concerned, my opinion counts for nothing.’

Neither, she thought, did her mother’s. Her father had not always treated his wife kindly and Jane could not remember him asking her mother’s opinion on anything. Docile and submissive, she was not a wilful woman and survived quite well. Unlike everyone else in the household, Andrew had not been afraid of his father. He had believed he knew his tempers, having been on the receiving end of his blows many times. Their father had expected Andrew to dutifully follow him into the business, but Andrew, with his sights firmly set on a military career, had had no such ambitions.

Their father had been furious when Andrew had shown support for the Lancastrian cause and went off to fight. Indeed, wild-eyed and monstrous, he had shouted curses that had rung to the rafters. Jane always squeezed her eyes tight shut at the memory, wishing to banish it from her mind, but could not.

Her father’s greatest fear was loss of status and, it seemed, when confronted with that possibility he lost all reason. Despite Jane’s sympathy for him, she could not bring herself to justify his treatment. She did not care if he was a man mad with disappointment and resentment or the master of the house and her person. There was no claim he could make great enough to make this right.

‘Your father is only doing what he thinks is best for you,’ her mother said in his defence. ‘You have to marry as your circumstances demand. And Richard does want to marry you so much.’ Sighing despondently, she shook her head and went on, ‘Circumstances have been—difficult of late. Indeed, as you are aware, the business has suffered very badly.’

Jane knew this was true. No one could do business in a town without belonging to or having the respect of the other members of the guild. Her father’s business and his standing among the other guild members had suffered greatly because of Andrew’s support for King Henry. They all felt the humiliation of his reduced status and it was like balm to her parents’ wounds to have their daughter marrying the son of an important and respected alderman of the guild.

‘Far more devastating to your father’s pride was the knowledge that you would have to share the grim consequences of his misfortune,’ her mother went on in an attempt to justify her husband’s strict treatment of his eldest daughter. ‘Everyone would realise that you would not have the great dowry formerly anticipated and the most worthy of the men seeking wives, those best able to provide the standing and security you deserve, would turn their attention elsewhere. Which is why arranging this alliance is just as important to your father as winning a battle. Marriage to Richard is a way in which John Aniston intends to honour him with such an important connection. Your father is hopeful of calming the temper of the guild and redeeming both his status and the respect he rightly deserves. Perhaps then the business will prosper once more.’

Jane took a deep, tight breath. That she was being sacrificed for her father’s ambition went against the grain, but this she kept to herself. All her life she had hoped she would have the freedom to choose her own husband, but, when it came to it, her father had chosen for her. A good alliance, he called it—but the last person she’d ever have chosen would be Richard. How she wished she could look upon him more favourably. It would be so much easier to welcome this marriage, but he was not her idea of an ideal husband—or lover.

Averting her eyes, she was unable to ignore the picture that entered her mind of the last time she had seen Richard when he had come to dinner with his parents and other guild members, when her father had put on a lavish meal in an attempt to impress the aldermen. Jane did not think she would ever grow to love Richard, not as a woman should love her husband. Would she be able to pretend to do more than endure? When she looked into his eyes she did not see love, comfort, laughter or companionship—in fact, when he had leered at her obscenely and tried to grab her knee under the table, it seemed his thin veneer of courtesy was easily dissolved by brandy wine.

Richard was the eldest son of John Aniston, who could refuse his son nothing. With his second son to run his cloth business, Richard had been free to follow his dream and became a squire in a nobleman’s household in Wiltshire, and later doing military service on the field of battle where his skill and bravery brought him acclamation from his superiors. It was his ambition to become a knight—but not all squires became knights.

There had been some kind of trouble at his master’s house. The true facts were not known, but Richard’s involvement was suspected and he had been dismissed. As a consequence, under great sufferance, Richard had returned home and joined his father and brother in the business. But the manufacture of cloth held no appeal for Richard and his life’s ambition, to become a knight, to ride, hunt, fence and fight in battle, was in no way diminished.

When Richard’s father had offered a sizeable stipend to be paid for Jane’s hand in marriage to his son, assuring Jane’s father that Richard’s dismissal from his master’s house was a trivial matter and nothing more than a young man’s exuberance, Simon Lovet had considered it a good match and seen no reason why Richard should not be considered as a suitor for Jane.

When he told his daughter of his decision, Jane knew she would have to give up all hope of marrying someone she loved in order to save the family. Her stomach twisted into sick knots at the thought of committing her body, her entire life, into the hands of a man she instinctively recoiled from, but, miserably resigned to her fate, she lifted her head and bravely met her mother’s gaze.

‘Please don’t worry, Mother. Everything will work out for the best, and this painful time will soon be forgotten. Of course I will marry Richard. It is already decided,’ she said, telling herself that the look of pride and relief on her mother’s face made the sacrifice worthwhile.


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