Her Dark and Dangerous Lord, страница 1
‘No! No, please do not send me away,’ Anne said desperately. ‘Have I done something to make you angry?’
‘No,’ he said, his voice soft and caressing. ‘Nothing but keep me restless in my bed each night. You haunt my thoughts, Anne…’
He moved towards her, reaching out to catch her and draw her close. His eyes seemed to burn with a dark flame, and then he bent his head and kissed her. It was not the gentle kiss he had given her before, but a hungry, passionate kiss that seemed to draw her soul. She felt his heat pressing against her body.
When he let her go at last, she felt her senses swim.
‘I cannot go on this way. I have tried to ignore my feelings, because you deserve more than I can give, Anne. I am not a gentle or a good man, and I am not sure I know how to love— but I want you in my arms, in my bed…’
Stefan de Montfort is a man with a past—a dangerous man of brooding passions. When he plucks Anne Melford from the sea, her life is irrevocably bound with his. Stefan intends to wed this young girl who knows nothing of her past, but first he must come to terms with the demons that haunt him. Can such a man as he ever hope to find true happiness?
This is a further novel in The Melford Dynasty. Over the coming months I hope to write more of these books for you, bringing you the stories of the descendants of these men and women as the centuries pass and we arrive in modern times.
My wish is that this book will bring pleasure to my readers. Please contact me at my website: www.lindasole.co.uk. You can find competitions, blogs, and news of my books.
Previous novels by the same author:
MARRYING CAPTAIN JACK
THE UNKNOWN HEIR
THE HOMELESS HEIRESS
THE RAKE’S REBELLIOUS LADY
A COUNTRY MISS IN HANOVER SQUARE*
AN INNOCENT DEBUTANTE IN HANOVER SQUARE*
THE MISTRESS OF HANOVER SQUARE*
THE LORD’S FORCED BRIDE†
THE PIRATE’S WILLING CAPTIVE†
And in the Regency series
The Steepwood Scandal:
LORD RAVENSDEN’S MARRIAGE
And in The Hellfire Mysteries:
AN IMPROPER COMPANION
A WEALTHY WIDOW
A WORTHY GENTLEMAN
*A Season in Town trilogy
†The Melford Dynasty
About the Author
ANNE HERRIES lives in Cambridgeshire, where she is fond of watching wildlife, and spoils the birds and squirrels that are frequent visitors to her garden. Anne loves to write about the beauty of nature, and sometimes puts a little into her books—although they are mostly about love and romance. She writes for her own enjoyment, and to give pleasure to her readers. She is a winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romance Prize.
HER DARK AND
Stefan, Lord de Montfort, looked down at the body of the woman lying at the feet of her murderer. She had betrayed Stefan, lured him here to meet his death, but instead she lay dead, slain by the man who had once more plotted to destroy Stefan.
‘You are a vile murderer,’ Stefan accused, his eyes hard as he met those of his enemy. He was a strong man, broad in the shoulder and powerful, which is why his enemy had plotted to entrap him rather than meet him in open combat. ‘She did all that you asked and yet you killed her…’ He looked about him, seeking a weapon. He had not brought his sword to the chamber of a lady he thought innocent and so was unarmed.
‘You are her murderer,’ Sir Hugh said, an evil smile on his mouth. ‘For I intend to see you dead, and she had to be silenced. She had served her purpose. Besides, she fell on my sword—which, as you know, was meant for you.’
‘You are a cold devil,’ Stefan said. He was trapped in this house, for Sir Hugh was not alone. Stefan should never have been fool enough to come here alone and unarmed, but the lady Madeline had begged for his help. He saw the open window and knew that it might be his only way of escape. Yet even as he moved cautiously towards it, Sir Hugh lunged at him with his sword, just catching him with a slight slash to his thigh. Stefan dodged back, picking up a wooden stool and using it as a shield to fend off his attacker. Sir Hugh laughed like the demon he was, aware that Stefan was trapped and that he must win this time. ‘I should have finished you the last time we met.’ Sir Hugh bore a scar at his temple that was testimony to the last clash between them many years previously.
‘This time I have the advantage…’ Sir Hugh cried, triumph in his eyes. ‘I have hated you since we were lads and you gave me this…’ He motioned to the scar. ‘Your brother was an arrogant brat and he gave me good sport before I killed him, but you—’
He broke off as the door crashed open and a large man came in. He was dressed in the clothes of a man of the east, his face horribly scarred, a turban on his head, and a wicked-looking scimitar in one hand, a sword in the other.
‘It is as I thought, my lord, she trapped you,’ Hassan said and threw the sword towards Stefan, who caught it neatly by the hilt. Even before he did so, Sir Hugh flung himself at the newcomer, slashing at him with his great sword and roaring his anger.
‘Saracen dog! You should have died long ago!’
Hassan counter-attacked, his deadly blade flashing out in an arc and catching the other man’s sword. With a twist of his wrist he sent the sword skimming across the floor and in the next instant his blade cut Sir Hugh across the body, a deep deadly wound that sent him sprawling to the ground, his lifeblood gushing out in a stream. For some minutes, he twitched, an expression of disbelief in his eyes, and then he lay still.
‘That devil will bother us no more,’ Hassan said, a look of satisfaction in his eyes. ‘He has tortured and murdered for the last time, my lord.’
‘Yes,’ Stefan agreed. ‘You have done what I should have done long ago, Hassan—but now we must leave for his men are coming….’
Stefan advanced to the door, sword in hand. The sounds of fighting would have reached the ears of Sir Hugh Grantham’s men. They would need to fight their way out, side by side, as they had many times before this day, comrades and brothers, their swords for hire to any that would pay them.
Anne Melford stopped to watch the mummers on the village green. The men were a fine sight as they danced, the bells they wore on leather straps about their legs jingling merrily as they jigged to the fiddler’s tune. The summer fair had come to Melford and Lady Melford had promised her daughter that they would buy cloth for new gowns, as was their custom. Normally, that thought would be pleasing, but Anne frowned as she turned away from the celebrations. Since her sister Catherine’s wedding three years earlier, Anne had grown restless at home. Sometimes she despaired of it ever being her turn to visit the court and find a husband. Her parents had talked of it the previous year, but then her young brother had fallen ill and the visit had been postponed. At sixteen years of age it would have been usual for Anne to at least be betrothed by now and she had thought of her marriage constantly for years.
At one time she had believed herself in love with Will Shearer. She had feared Catherine might wed him, but Anne’s sister had fallen in love with Andrew, Earl of Gifford. Anne occasionally visited her sister and brother-in-law and envied them their happiness. She was no longer sure who she wished to marry, for she knew that Will had recently married his mistress, a woman not of his own class. His marriage had made his mother very angry, and at first Anne had been terribly hurt because she had truly believed that he would love her one day. However, her distress had given way to a feeling of emptiness a
As she crossed the village green, Anne caught sight of two men approaching on horseback. It was not an unusual sight, except that one of them was dressed rather oddly in loose flowing robes over his leggings. His head was covered by some kind of cloth, the bottom half of his face hidden. She could see his black eyes and his nose, and noticed that his skin was the colour of polished walnut, as were the hands that held the reins of his horse. The second man was dressed as befitted a nobleman, though not in the English style, and, as Anne moved her curious gaze to him, she saw a fierce, proud, handsome face with eyes as blue as a summer sky. She noticed a dark brown stain on his silken hose and wondered if it were dried blood.
He had become aware of her interest and his gaze narrowed, icy cold and challenging. Anne was startled. What could she possibly have done to make him look at her that way? She felt that he was hostile and shivered, feeling nervous as she hurried on her way. She sensed that the men were strangers to her village and wondered what brought them to this quiet valley in the Marches that lay on the borders of England and Wales.
She was not sure what nationality the men were; one had much lighter skin than the other, but both had a foreign air about them and she did not think that either was English. She wondered if they were Saracens, because one looked as if he came from the East, but what would men like that be doing here? Her father, Lord Robert Melford, sometimes traded with men from other lands, but she did not think they had come from her father’s estate. She would judge that they had travelled some distance for there was dust on their boots, and the dark man’s clothes had been spattered with brown marks that Anne took to be mud—or was it blood?
She thought about the strangers for a few minutes as she made her way through the meadows to her home. The grass was long and sprinkled with wild flowers—it had been left to grow wild and would be cropped for hay later in the year. However, as she entered the courtyard of her father’s manor house she saw that several men on horseback had just arrived, and one of them was her elder brother Harry—or Sir Harry as he was known since King Henry had knighted him after Prince Arthur’s wedding. Sadly, the prince had died only a few months after his marriage. The King’s heir was now Prince Henry and there had been some talk of him marrying his brother’s widow.
Anne’s feeling of boredom vanished as she saw her brother. Harry was some years older than Anne, was Catherine’s twin, and was often at court or on some business for the King. He had not visited for more than six months and Anne’s feeling of boredom vanished as she saw him.
‘Harry! Harry!’ Anne cried, gathering her skirt in one hand so that she could run faster, heedless of the fact that she was revealing a pair of pretty ankles.
Anne was in fact a very pretty young woman. Her hair always turned lighter in the sunshine, and it was presently the colour of ripe corn, lighter than Harry’s dark auburn and their mother’s red tresses. Anne’s eyes were a greenish blue, but often became a deeper green when she was angry, at least her brothers told her so, because they said she had eyes like a cat. Slim, fiery and always eager for life, she had a temper that she was at pains to hide for her mother’s sake.
‘Anne!’ Harry turned towards her with a smile on his lips. He had matured these past years and was now a powerful man, strong and influential at court, too busy to think often of his home and family. ‘You grow more lovely each time I see you.’
‘You hardly ever come home,’ Anne accused, but with a smile on her lips because she was glad to see him. ‘You are too busy with your fine friends at court. Mother said only yesterday that she despairs of you ever settling down.’
‘Then perhaps she will be pleased with my news,’ Harry said and grinned. ‘It is my intention to take a wife quite soon. We shall live at court for a time, but once we have children my lady may wish to live on my estate—and Father will be pleased to learn that I have secured land no more than thirty leagues from Shrewsbury.’
‘Close enough for us to visit you often,’ Anne said and sighed. ‘I am glad you are to wed at last, Harry, but I wish I was betrothed.’
Harry chuckled at his sister’s impatience. ‘What a woeful picture you are, Anne. You are still young enough, never fear. I dare say Father will take you to court before another year is out.’
Anne slipped her arm through his, smiling at him as they went into the house. His men were seeing to the horses and the baggage cart. These days Harry travelled with a train of at least ten men-at-arms and the servants necessary to fetch and carry for them.
‘Sometimes I feel as if I shall be a maid all my life,’ Anne said and pulled a face. ‘But tell me, brother, what is the lady’s name and where does she live?’
‘She is Mademoiselle Claire St Orleans,’ Harry said and gazed down at her, for she reached only as far as his shoulder. Above six foot in height and broad shouldered, Harry was a giant amongst men and very attractive. ‘In truth, I do not know that she will take me. We have met but three times. Once at court, when she attended a masque with her father, and twice in Paris when I was on business for the King. She lives in the Loire valley and it is there that I must journey if I am to ask for her hand in marriage.’
‘She is French?’ Anne was surprised and curious. She wondered what her parents would think about Harry marrying a French lady. ‘And of noble birth?’
‘Her father is a comte,’ Harry told her. ‘She is very beautiful, Anne. Her hair is similar in colour to yours, but her eyes are blue. She has a soft, gentle nature and I love her. I have taken my time in deciding whether or not to ask Claire to be my wife, because she would have to leave her home and come to England to live. I am not sure that she will wish to give up so much for my sake.’
‘If she loves you, she will not think it a sacrifice,’ Anne told him. ‘I would be willing to go anywhere with the man I loved.’
‘Claire is not like you,’ Harry said. ‘You are braver… even reckless, as I remember from your childhood.’
‘She would not have to be brave to marry you,’ Anne said and laughed. ‘If I had a few minutes alone with her, I would soon dispel any fear she might have about becoming your wife…’
Harry nodded, making no answer, but he was thoughtful as they went into the parlour where the sound of voices told them the family was gathered.
‘We should rest,’ Hassan said, glancing at his companion, who had endured his pain without complaint, but looked exhausted. ‘That wound needs to be dressed. It has bled again, my lord.’
Stefan scowled at him. A more faithful friend than Hassan was not to be found in all the kingdoms of Christendom, though he be a Saracen and an unbeliever. They had fought shoulder to shoulder as mercenaries for ten years or more, bound by blood and friendship since Stefan had rescued Hassan from the slaver who had beaten and tortured him.
‘I have known worse,’ he growled, cursing the foolish moment that had led him to trust a lying woman. Undoubtedly, he owed his life to Hassan’s timely intervention. ‘Women are the devil incarnate, Hassan. Remind me of that next time I am minded to answer a woman’s plea for help.’
Hassan grinned, his teeth white against the walnut tones of his skin. Looking at the top half of his face, none could guess at the fearful scars to the lower part… scars inflicted by Sir Hugh many years ago when he had for a short time been the man’s slave.
‘Devils in truth, my friend,’ Hassan agreed. ‘But sweeter than honey amongst the silken cushions of thy couch.’
Stefan’s eyes narrowed as he thought of the beautiful woman who had enticed him to her chamber with tales of a cruel uncle. He had not known then that the man she spoke of as holding her to ransom was Sir Hugh and that she had conspired with him to capture a man it seemed they both hated. He knew there were reasons enough for Sir Hugh’s hatred, but could not guess at the reason for Madeline’s need to wreak revenge on him. It was do
‘Sweeter than honey, sharper than a serpent’s tooth,’ Stefan agreed. ‘Thanks to you, Sir Hugh will not trouble us again, but he has a cousin.’ Hassan nodded—they both knew that it was probably Lord Cowper who had ordered Stefan’s death. ‘Sir Hugh’s death will add one more reason to the list he has for wanting me dead.’
‘It is a pity that the English King would not grant you a hearing, my lord,’ Hassan said as Stefan dismounted. ‘Had he done so, you might have revealed Cowper for the murdering devil he has become.’
‘When my father disowned me, I swore I would never return to England’s shores,’ Stefan said. ‘I left vowing never to forgive him for believing Cowper’s lies. My father trusted him and now Cowper has all that was my father’s and he lies rotting in the churchyard. I have his title, for none can take that from me, but his lands are lost, stolen by trickery and deceit. Had I returned years ago, I might have saved my father from the evil trick that was played on him in his declining years. As his mind descended into blackness they took everything he had, though they have deeds and letters to prove the land was sold and the money lost in foolish ventures. Answer me this—whose was the hand that guided an old man’s as he squandered his birthright?’
‘Lord Cowper gained too much influence over your father,’ Hassan said. ‘We have the testimony of Lord de Montfort’s steward, who was later dismissed for some wrongdoing and left to starve.’