Romance Writers of America®’s Inspirational Golden Heart® Award Winner
“A richly textured tale of love, danger, and history.”
— NYT & USA Today bestselling author Mary Jo Putney
Can love and faith surmount duty and royal commands?
England 1453: Sir Nicholas Gray planned to go on a pilgrimage after fighting the French, but King Henry VI sends him to protect the recently widowed Lady Amice Winfield from undesirable suitors. Though Nicholas intrigues her, Amice yearns to run Castle Rising without a man’s control. Mutual interest and affection grows, yet serving opposing factions seeking to rule England threatens to pull them apart.
At court, the king and queen reject Amice’s pleas and choose a new husband, a highly-ranked lord who’ll provide political connections and coin for the king’s depleted coffers that Nicholas cannot. How can she follow the king’s command when she’s a scribe for his rival, who she believes should rule? How can she marry another man when she’s falling in love with Nicholas?
O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
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Norfolk, England — April 1453
Sir Nicholas Grey’s scout leaned forward in his saddle, holding up two fingers to let the others know two horses approached. Nicholas heard only the slight jangling of harnesses blended with wind rattling through the trees, but relied on his scout’s uncanny ability to hear what no one else could.
He and his eight men sat alert, deep enough in the forest to avoid being seen while maintaining a clear view of the road through leafless branches. Nine armed men could frighten travelers. ‘Twas best to let them pass.
Each man watched, each horse sinking deeper into chilling mire as a mud-covered, black palfrey plodded over the rise in the road, its long mane whipping in the frigid winds.
“No rider,” Martin, the scout, murmured.
“Look again,” Nicholas replied. At first he too had thought the horse was riderless. Now he could see a woman collapsed on the animal’s back. Her black hair draped down its withers, mingling with the horse’s mane. The palfrey placed each step as if trying not to jostle its burden.
Another horse, a brown rouncey ridden by a thin, balding man, galloped after the palfrey. A look of triumph brightened the man’s face as he spotted the horse ahead of him. He bent forward, extending his hand. Fingers like talons grasped the woman’s tangled hair.
“Mine!” he cried.
* * *
Amice Winfield jerked awake. Agony forced her head back, allowing her to see the man who gripped her hair as though he’d perish if he let go.
She screamed. Arrows of fear pierced her as she clawed at his fingers. Her horse bolted, leaving her dangling from Harry’s hand by a small clump of hair. The long strands held for a few seconds, then tore from her head.
Pain seared her scalp. She dropped into a puddle. Stunned by her fall and her stinging head, Amice could only stare at her tormentor while freezing water soaked her clothes. How she hated him. How she regretted her desperate flight from home. What other choice did she have?
Harry gaped at the dark tresses hanging from his hand. He threw them to the ground as she struggled to rise. Panic gripped her as his hostile glare changed to a slow, confident smile.
“There’s nowhere to run. I’ll catch you if it’s the last thing I do,” he vowed. He leapt off his horse.
Amice tugged her sodden skirts, trying to haul them out of the puddle. Where was her mount? Too far away to reach without being caught, weighted down as she was. Sprays of water flew as she heaved her skirts over her arm. Heart racing, she ran for the trees. A branch snagged her. With a cry of frustration, she pulled the wet wool until it wrenched free.
Ignoring twigs tearing at her skin and icy mud that sucked away one of her shoes, she forged ahead. She gasped for air as she plunged into a tiny clearing, then came to an abrupt halt at the sight of a group of mounted men. Slimy hair slapped her face and clung to her cheek.
Panting, cold air stinging her throat, she sought a path to escape the strangers. Alarm coursed through her. She focused on the man at the head of the group. Anxiety and uncertainty warred within her though she sensed an almost tangible power emanating from him. The wind tossed his long black hair as he stared down with a stern expression.
Will he help me? Am I better off with him or…? If only she still trusted God for guidance. If only she still believed. Before Amice could decide, branches snapped behind her. Harry ran into the clearing. Instinctively she moved closer to the commanding stranger.
“I am Sir Nicholas Grey,” he announced, his voice deep. Confident, yet reassuring. “And you are…?”
Harry’s pointy nose wrinkled. She knew he wondered if he could get away with a lie. “This miscreant is my daughter. She’s running away because she refuses to marry the man I’ve chosen for her,” Harry said.
“He lies,” Amice protested. “Harry Winfield was my husband’s cousin. He wants to marry me now that my husband is dead, which all know is against—”
“This is none of your affair, Sir Nicholas. ‘Tis a mere family misunderstanding,” Harry said. His spindly fingers closed over her wet arm, sending a shiver of revulsion through her. “Come, sweeting, ‘tis time to go home.”
Silence reigned while she twisted free. Amice hoped Harry’s friendly tone didn’t fool Sir Nicholas. If necessary, she’d beg him to help her. All Amice wanted was to go home and live her life in peace. Without Harry. Without any husband. One had been quite enough.
Sir Nicholas studied her, clearly assessing the veracity of her tale. Something flickered in his piercing blue eyes. The intensity of his gaze unnerved her, but she couldn’t look away. When Sir Nicholas broke their connection, she felt colder than before.
“I come on the king’s business.” He opened his cloak to reveal King Henry’s badge of a chained antelope. “Which makes whatever I choose my affair.”
Had Harry met his match?
“Certainly, Sir Nicholas, your business can’t call for you to meddle in a father’s discipline of his wayward daughter,” Harry said. “You must believe me over a mere woman.”
Harry’s audacity no longer surprised Amice.
“He is not my father. I flee to escape him, true, but because he’s trying to force me to marry him. His men control my home. I need to reach friends at Caister Castle and get word to my cousin Cromwell,” she said. “You must believe me.”
* * *
Nicholas studied the pair as the petite, soggy woman spoke. She’d begun to shiver, no wonder as she had no cloak and only one shoe. With all the mud coating her gown he couldn’t guess at its quality. But her speech and bearing, the way she confidently met his gaze though her green eyes were filled with apprehension, indicated she was a lady. For certes she was beautiful, even splattered with grime. And her green eyes conveyed an intelligence that made him want to know more about her.
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