When the love of your life is taken from you, your memories keep you going.
Widowed for eight years, Lady Amye De Barnard has poured her heart into making her domain prosperous and her people happy. But, when a handsome young man falls from her tree, what can a lady do but take him home, fix him up, and fall in love.
If you're an assassin, you never think of love, unless you're disguised as the Queen's Troubadour.
When Laine de la Vierre finds himself in the care of a beautiful older widow, for the first time he finds himself wanting to stay in one place. Yet he knows if he does stay, those who hunt him will certainly find him and kill him. Do you risk your life for a chance at happiness? Or do youpass up the love of your life?
Buy your copy!
Barnes & Noble.com
RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 2009
Laine made best speed toward Edensmouth. His assassin’s mind told him trouble waited somewhere, and he watched carefully as the mare galloped along the path. Last night he had learned that the manor was the heart of the land ruled by the de Barnards and that most of the villagers had gone there for spring planting.
Everyone he spoke with seemed enamored of their lord and lady.
The road split and Laine took the turn the lovely innkeeper had told him led to the manor. The path curved around and he could hear the river rushing by below. The River Eden, she’d called it. Having ridden hard since morning, Laine dismounted to give the mare a rest. The sun was now close to the horizon. Dusk would be upon him before he reached the manor. He walked around the mare to get his wine skin and noticed the horse’s left hind footprint had a mark in it.
He picked up the hoof and found a distinct notch in the metal. But the smith put new shoes on her just yesterday. Someone had deliberately marked the shoe so they could distinguish his trail. That could only mean he was indeed being pursued.
If an assassin follows, the man will not be too close behind. As long as an assassin knows where the marked man is, he will wait until the most opportune moment to strike. The notched shoe showed which way to go. Nothing can be done about the trail so far, but at least I don’t have to make myself easy to track now.
Laine walked to the edge of the road and carefully guided the mare down to the river, then climbed back up the grade to cover the signs of where he left the road. A fallen pine branch made short work of the mare’s footprints as well as his own. When he got to the point where he left the road, he covered the slope evenly with dead leaves and sprinkled around some pine needles. This would not stop a good assassin for long, but at least it would slow the pursuer for a bit.
Laine mounted and urged the mare along the banks of the river as quickly as she could go. If I can make it to the manor before he has a chance to strike, I can more easily uncover the man sent to dispatch me.
* * * *
Amye watched the women tamping down the fires of the encampments from her window. Even though she required only two workers from each tenancy to help plant, they respected her enough to arrive in greater numbers yesterday. They had finished planting the fields in just one day. Now, she would send people to assist others who needed help with their own planting.
Unusual though it be, Thomas had cared so much about what happened to the serfs. He had ruled with compassion and kindness rather than fear. That had been one of the things she loved about him. In fact, it was the reason she had married him. When he explained his ideas to her, all those years ago, she had fallen in love with him. She apparently gave a good response to his excited ramblings because, although he was to become betrothed to her third sister Juliette, he had begged their father to let the younger Amye become his bride instead.
Gray early morning clouds mirrored the hint of melancholy that crept into Amye’s mood. The day seemed cool, and it crossed her mind it was perfect weather for a hunt.
“Yes, that will lighten my spirits,” she whispered. “Sela!”
“Yes, my lady?”
“Tell the stable I will hunt today and then get my riding apparel ready.”
“Yes, my lady. Will you eat first or after you hunt?”
Amye thought for a moment. “Bring me some fruits and a bit of bread and cheese. I best break my fast before I hunt on Jester.” The first time she rode the young stallion, he had tried to throw her off. But she managed to hang on until he settled down and let her ride. Now she was the only one he would let on his back. Still, he remained a handful.
Thomas had taught her to use a bow almost twenty years ago. She still loved to hunt because it reminded her of him, of the good times they’d had together. Even though it had been eight years since his death, Amye still missed him fiercely.
Sela returned with a tray, and while the maid gathered her hunting attire, Amye picked at the cheese and ate a few pieces of dried apple. She swallowed a piece of bread before finishing a goblet of wine, then sat while the maid braided and twisted her hair so it could be stuffed under the chaperon she wore to hunt. Sela helped her dress, and Amye reached down to assist with pulling on the riding boots. The well-worn boots reached nearly to her knee but were soft and comfortable. She picked up her gloves and turned to go.
“Have the girls up and ready by the time I get back.”
“Yes, my lady
* * * *
Jester, so named for the triangle pattern of red and white markings on his face, stood saddled and waiting when Amye came down the steps to the courtyard. Sir Gervais and Sir Siward, her two oldest retainers chatted with her godson, Sir William, newly knighted and just returned from service at King Henry’s court. She had not expected the young man until tomorrow, but her spirits lifted to see him so soon.
The arms master approached as she reached the bottom step. He carried a quiver of bolts and her favorite crossbow.
“Good morrow, Master Durand.”
“Good morrow to you, milady.”
He bowed and pressed her hand to his forehead before handing her the arrows.'
“‘Tis a fine morning for a hunt.”
“Indeed it is, my lady.”
Without looking, Amye handed the quiver to Jordan. She knew he would be there, unobtrusively standing behind her.
“Good morrow, Jordan.”
Taking the quiver, the young groom bowed. “Good morrow, my lady.”
Amye turned around and he helped her fasten it at the proper angle on her side. Durand handed her the weapon and gave a short bow before he went to stand by his horse.
Amye strode through the jumble of horses and men toward Jester, greeting each knight she passed. Before mounting, she turned to the three men she had spotted earlier.
“Good morrow, Gervais. Siward.”
“Good morrow, Lady Barnard.” As always, Gervais kissed her hand.
“And William. It gladdens me that you have returned to us safe and knighted as well. Will you be staying or did King Henry woo you away from us?”
“My lady. There is no one I would rather serve than you. Not even the King.”
Amye smiled at the ardor of his response. “How can I refuse such an offer?”
William drew his sword and bent to one knee before presenting it to Amye. “By the gospels of God, I, William, son and heir to Roland of Evermore, in my own right a knight of the realm, do swear in the presence of these good knights, that I shall be for all my days a faithful vassal to the house of Barnard. I pledge to protect my lady and all her successors against all malefactors and invaders, without regard to my own life.”
Amye had not expected his immediate fealty. She had planned to take his oath at supper. A smile turned up the corners of her mouth as she noted he had turned the point of the sword toward his heart, a symbol that the lord held power of life and death over the vassal. But the gesture had dropped from fashion years ago. His father must have taught it to him. Touched by this show of special reverence, she reached out with both hands and took the sword he offered.
“William of Evermore, I accept your service. Arise as my vassal with all the duties, rights and privileges thereof. I welcome you to my demesne.” Amye kissed the hilt of the sword and handed it back to the young knight.
A grand cheer went up from the crowd, and knights circled round the novice, welcoming him with handshakes and clapping him on the back. When the din had settled, Amye pulled the young man aside.
“We will discuss the particulars of your service when we return.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“You may ride with me today, if you desire.”
William gave her a broad grin and polite bow. “Yes, my lady. Thank you, my lady.”
Amye turned back to Jester. Jordan stood by the horse’s side, hand cupped, ready to help her into the saddle. As he lifted her foot, she swung her leg over the horse’s back to ride astride. The beaters had been out stirring up game for a good half hour when the gates swung open and the hunters exited the grounds, riding down the path and off into the green of the Cumbrian forest.
* * * *
The ride from the glen up the ridge found the hunting party in good spirits. They had taken a good many animals. Siward made the shot that had taken the first quarry. After a hunt, Amye liked to reward the first successful shooter with a prize at supper. She was thinking about what reward an unmarried knight would like, when she heard a great rustling from the trees above her. The party came to a halt as branches began to tumble to the ground.
Two men crashed through the canopy and landed with a loud thump against the forest floor. Her mount wheeled away, but Amye turned the horse back toward the melee. One of the men had risen and now looked her straight in the eyes. He seemed about to run but suddenly dropped to his knees and fell face forward into the moss of the forest floor.
Amye quickly slid from Jester’s back and moved toward the fallen stranger. Her men, not far behind, surrounded her before she could get to the bodies. Gervais pulled her away.
“My lady, stay back. These men may be dangerous.”
“They are obviously injured,” Amye tossed back.
Gervais knelt between the men and placed two fingers against the neck of the one who had nearly run away.
“He is still alive.” He turned and checked the other. “This one, however, is dead.”
Amye sighed and made the sign of the cross over her heart. “Well, at least we can help the living,”
“My lady, you know nothing about this man. He could be a thief or a murderer,” Gervais countered.
“I have seen him somewhere before, but I cannot think where. What if he is someone important?”
Folding his arms across his chest, Gervais looked at her with a piqued expression, but she ignored him and inched closer to get a better look at the man lying on the ground. Though a deep purple bruise had begun to swell on his cheek, his face was quite handsome.
“From the looks of him, I don’t think he will be able to hurt us for a while yet. I do know he is injured and he is on my land. That makes me responsible for him.” She gave her old friend the look of resolve that said she had made up her mind.
Finally, he uncrossed his arms, but his face still frowned in disapproval. “William, take Lady Barnard back to the castle. Bring the cart back for them.” Gervais nodded toward the motionless bodies. “Half of you come with me. We’ll search the woods for others. The rest of you wait here."