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Saturday, 5 December 2015

SPECIAL POST: SAVE OUR DROP IN CENTRE!!!

Special People enjoying their special place

There is a town in England, in Hertfordshire, called Letchworth Garden City. This town is unique in that it was the very first garden city in the country, and used to be owned exclusively by the Quaker Church.
It is also unique in that it has many purpose-built flats and houses specially for people with learning disabilities. My son, Ian, is one of those people - there he is on the right with the yellow guitar. As you can see, they love this place!

One of the houses where people live in small groups is run by a very special lady called Jackie. She realised that there was a shortage of places for people like Ian to go during the day, so she set out to start a drop-in centre. She found an empty building owned by the council, she was given donations of furniture, televisions, computers, and even a snooker table.
That was in January 2012, but now she and the people who depend on the centre, like my Ian, are in danger of losing their special place. She is desperately trying to raise funds to keep the centre open and she needs our help.
Jackie has worked hard to achieve this special place and now I want to help her to keep it.
She has started a fundraising page which will tell you more about the centre, 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Two Boxed Sets

Historical Romances

This is a limited edition, a boxed set of six of my most popular historical novels.
 
The Adulteress - a story set in the 12th century at the time of the civil war known as the Anarchy.
 
The crusader's Widow - a story set in the 12th century at the time of the Third Crusade.
 
A Man in Mourning - a story set after the Battle of Bosworth, when King Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor.
 
To Catch A Demon - a story set at the end of Cromwell's Protectorate and the return of King Charles II.
 
The Romany Princess - a story set in the East End of London at the beginning of the 20th century.
 
This set will only be available until Christmas. It also contains details of how you can obtain the first book in the series for the next boxed set:
 
HOLY POISON Six books telling about the ordinary people who lived through the reign of Bloody Mary.
 
All the books in this series have received great reviews and can now be bought at a saving of 75% over the price of the individual books.

Monday, 26 October 2015

THE ELIZABETHANS: BOOK 2 - THE VISCOUNT'S DIVORCE out now!

The Viscount's Divorce

This series is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, and concerns a noble family of three brothers and how their lives progress.

In medieval times, a divorce was almost impossible to achieve. There were few grounds, but even should a divorce be granted, it resembled a legal separation in modern times. When a couple were married, by law they were obliged to live together and certainly to have sex with each other. Sex was the legal right of both parties and the church had the power to order a couple to live together if they had parted. King Richard I, well known for having failed to consummate his marriage to Queen Berengaria, was eventually ordered by the church to return to his marriage bed.

A divorce was the legal way of putting an end to such interference so that a couple could live separately if they so wished, but they were not usually free to remarry. An annulment meant that the marriage was never valid in the first place.

That being the case, I have entitled this novel The Viscount's Divorce, because The Viscount's Annulment just doesn't have the same ring to it! I hope you will forgive this creative licence. Book three will be about the youngest brother, Viscount John, and will be coming soon.
 


The first book, The Earl's Jealousy, concerns Michael, the eldest brother and the Earl. This one, is about his brother, James, Viscount West.
 

Viscount James West is a very possessive husband, but his wife, Lady Helen, is not averse to that. She loves him and does not mind in the least that he rarely lets her out of his sight, except for two days each month when she goes to visit her father's estate in the next town. James never accompanies her there, as he despises her father and cannot bear to spend time with him.
 This latest visit, just after Christmas, is the same as usual, except that this time she fails to return. Frantic with worry and mounting suspicion, James goes in search of her, only to learn that her father has not seen her since the day of their wedding. His world is about to collapse when he learns who his wife has really been visiting for the past five years.
 In his fury, his proud and possessive nature is put to the test and he sets out to see the Archbishop of Canterbury to obtain an annulment. His marriage is over; now he must seek a future for himself and his sons.



                                                                                

Monday, 12 October 2015

Two Countdown deals starting tomorrow

I've never run two countdown deals at once before, but after the phenomenal success of my Kindle daily deal, The Wronged Wife,
which Amazon ran in the UK only, I have decided to give my US readers a chance to get a bargain as well. Countdown deals are only available on the Amazon sites for the US and UK, so apologies to my readers in other countries.
 
The first book I am discounting from 13th till 20th October is A Man in Mourning. (US link) or UK link
 
 
The story begins after the battle of Bosworth Field, which saw the death of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, and the victory of Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII and founded the Tudor dynasty.
 
This story is about Lord Ian Westerby, who has mourned the love of his life, his wife, Eleanor for ten years and vowed never to remarry.
 
But the battle has taken the life of his brother and he must try to father a son to replace him as heir to his title and estates.
 
He is not a popular choice as his continual mourning is well known but neither is his chosen bride. She is crippled from an accident and although beautiful, has had few offers since. But she is prepared to be a good wife to Lord Westerby, as she wants a household and children as other ladies have.
 
Can these two overcome their individual heartaches and build a future together?
 
TO CATCH A DEMON (US link) or UK link is a much darker tale.
 
It begins after the fall of Cromwell and his son, when King Charles II returns to reclaim his throne and take revenge on those who murdered his father.
 
Jasper Philbert is one of those murderers and his abused wife, Lady Diana, hopes the King's return will put an end to ten years of cruelty at his hands and reunite her with her first love, Peter. But the King suspects her of helping her husband to escape and hide from capture and her journey back to a normal life proves to be a long and arduous one.
 
These two books are normally priced at $3.99 (or £3.99 in the UK) but from 13th they will be discounted to .99 cents (.99 cents). The price will gradually increase over the seven days, so get yours in good time.
 
Don't forget, your free books are also available when you join my Readers' Group.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Elizabethans: The Earl's Jealousy

The Elizabethans - New series
Book one The Earl's Jealousy out now

There are three things for which Viscount Michael yearns, but is not in a position to acquire. He would love to build a great new house in the fashionable shape of an E in honour of the new Queen Elizabeth I. He would love that beautiful black stallion he saw for sale and is frustrated lest someone else should buy him. But more than these things, he would love to marry Lady Christine, the daughter of the Duke of Westerbury. Alas, he lacks the means for the first two and the status for the last. He is enchanted with her, cannot get her out of his mind, but as the younger son of an Earl with no prospects of advancing higher, he knows he is not good enough to ask for the daughter of the Duke.

When the unthinkable happens and his father and elder brother are both killed in an accident, Michael suddenly finds himself as the Earl of Melford and he wastes no time in ordering an architect to design his house, in buying his stallion and, most important of all, in petitioning for the hand of Lady Christine.

Despite knowing that Edmund Carstairs has been keeping company with her, he gives him little thought. He has even less status and fortune than Michael himself before he inherited his title and estate. Michael cannot wait to marry Christine and make her his countess. But when Edmund Carstairs tells him that he and Christine are in love and that Michael stole her away from him against her will, he allows his jealousy to consume him. He does not ask his wife how she feels, he is afraid she might confirm Carstairs' tale and he cannot bear for her to say it.

When he finds her in the arms of Edmund Carstairs, he believes he will make her happy by letting her go to him.

After arranging a suitable match for his younger sister, Grace, Michael is forced to find his wife and bring her back when Grace refuses to marry unless Christine is there to see it. In truth, he regrets having let her go and is eager for this excuse to try to reconcile with her.

Against the advice of his brothers, he takes her back, prepared to forgive her, but he is devastated to learn that he made a horrendous mistake and that it is she who must forgive him.

  

Thursday, 17 September 2015

HOLY POISON - LIMITED EDITION BOXED SET


The complete series, books one to six, are available in this boxed set for a limited period only.
 
It is less than half the price of the individual books together.
 








Book 1 - The Judas Pledge
Book 2 - The Flawed Mistress
Book 3 - The Viscount's Birthright
Book 4 - Betrayal
Book 5 - The Heretics
Book 6 - Consequences
  
See the menu on the right for links to the first chapters of each book.
 
“The 6 books of holy poison are among some of the best books I have read, I could not put them down and the last one had me crying, What an author. I would have given it 10 stars if I could.”  Reader's praise for Holy Poison.

This is a series of stories about the ordinary people who lived through the religious upheaval and brutality of the reign of Queen Mary I of England 1553 - 1558.

 
 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

New Novel - HOLY POISON: CONSEQUENCES

This is Book Six, the final part of the Holy Poison series which follows ordinary people who lived through the reign of Bloody Mary.

1558 - Bloody Mary is finally dead and Lord Richard Summerville is pardoned by Queen Elizabeth for high treason. He is home with the wife who betrayed him, the woman he risked his life to protect, the woman he still loves. They have both committed sins against each other, but will their love be strong enough to bury the resentment they both still feel? Will they be able to put the past behind them and forgive each other, build a life together? Or will the consequences of those sins follow them into the future?

This is the sixth and final book in the Holy Poison series, which has followed the lives of ordinary people who lived through the religious persecution of Queen Mary I and her brutal campaign to restore England to the Church of Rome. This is the story of how those people survived into the more stable reign of her Protestant sister, Elizabeth, and the effect their actions will have on their children.

This book takes us from Lord Summerville's narrow escape from death by the executioner's axe, to his feud with his once loved cousin, Anthony, and that cousin’s plot to destroy Richard’s marriage and claim Summerville for himself.

The consequences of all their actions will reach out to haunt them for years to come.

Holy Poison: Consequences - First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE


Queen Mary was dead! Could there be a better gift to end the year of 1558 for Protestants everywhere than to know that the Papist hag was dead and gone and her brutality with her? It was the first day of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, England's second female monarch, and one could only hope she made more friends than her late, unlamented sister.
Only that morning, after little sleep, Bethany, Countess of Summerville, had dressed in black and gone about the mournful duty of telling the tenants and villagers that their lord was dead, executed for treason. Anthony blamed her, said it was her failure to obey her husband's wishes that caused him to replace her at court with his mistress. He had presented that mistress to the Queen as his countess, an insult to Her Majesty's face. And when the Queen learned the truth, the Earl of Summerville, who had been her staunchest supporter and closest friend, was arrested, tried and convicted of treason.
Only yesterday Bethany had made the long journey from Suffolk to London, bribed her way with gold coins into the grim building where her husband awaited his death and held him in her arms for what she believed would be the last time.
She still believed then that he was in that dismal place because he could not bear to be parted from his mistress, the beautiful Lady Rachel Stewart. Now she knew better; now she knew the truth and she felt humble and grateful for the risk they had both taken to protect her.
She went to the village priest that morning to buy masses for his soul, all the time knowing he had no need of such superstition, but it was what he believed that mattered. She had let him down about so many things; she would not let him down about that.
And as she went about these tasks, her imagination would not stop seeing his beautiful head on a spike on London Bridge, with all the other traitors.
Then the miracle for which she had prayed so hard happened - Mary died and the new Queen pardoned all her enemies. Richard came home, just when she had decided there was nothing left worth living for. He held her hand and took her to bed and she was nervous like the very first time, it had been so long since they did those things, so long since she felt his touch on her flesh.
He made love to her this afternoon, a joy she had thought would remain nothing more than a wondrous memory for her to savour during the cold, lonely nights to come.
This was a momentous day, a day when Bethany realised her actions had unwittingly severed the close bond between her husband and his cousin. Anthony blamed her when Richard was condemned and seeing him alive and well had failed to turn the tide of his resentment and anger. He would never forgive her the betrayal of her husband; Richard had been forced to choose and he had chosen his wife.
Anthony did not join them for supper and she was forced to finally admit to herself that he meant what he said, he was leaving, moving to his own house where only that morning she thought she would be joining him as the unwelcome guest he would reluctantly house out of loyalty to his cousin.
Now he was leaving, and they could hear him upstairs dragging his boxes around, yelling to the servants to help him with his belongings.
"Will you not try to make up with him, Richard?" Bethany asked for the third time. "Of course he is angry. This has been his home since he was a child and he is angry with me on your behalf, because he loves you."
"No," he replied coldly. "If he loved me he would not be trying to drive us apart. I can only suppose my influence did not get to him before his own father's did, he who believed that women should always know their place and have no thoughts of their own. I have never believed that; if I had I would not have chosen you for my wife. If he cannot accept that, then it is better for all of us if he does leave."
"I hate to be the cause of a rift between you."
"You are not the cause; he is. He is old enough now to run his own household in any case. He has had enough practice and will no doubt be looking for a wife of his own. She will be someone who believes she must not have an opinion that differs from his. She will be as unlike you, my love, as she can possibly get, but the one thing I hope is that he loves her. That is the only way he might understand how we can forgive each other for such crimes as we have committed."
"He does not believe you need forgiveness, only me."
"Then he is a fool, and I did not raise him to be a fool." He finished his meal and pushed the plate aside then reached to take her hand. "Have you had enough?"
She could not resist the innuendo attached to that question.
“No,” she said, mischievously. “I can never have enough of you.”
He gave her one of his delighted smiles, a smile she had never thought to see again, and shook his head.
"I never realised before what a wicked woman I married," he whispered playfully.
He leaned toward her and kissed her lips, but Anthony appeared in the doorway just as they stood up. Perhaps this was their last chance to make things right and she knew it would go better without her presence.
"I will bid you goodnight, Anthony," she said as she walked past him.
He made no reply, but she felt his eyes following her all the way to the stairs and she turned in time to see him move farther into the room. She sat on the stairs and peered through the rails where she could just make out the interaction in the dining hall.
"I have had my things packed, all my belongings I think," Anthony said. "I shall stay at the inn tonight."
"There is no need," Richard answered. "You can stay here until tomorrow."
"No. It is better this way." He paused thoughtfully, looking Richard full in the face, before he went on. "I really wish you would reconsider."
Richard frowned but made no reply, which his cousin seemed to take as encouragement.
"You should put her aside," Anthony was saying. "She will never obey you."
"I am very glad to hear it," Richard replied with a little smile.
"But you can marry again, Richard. You can get an heir with some other woman, someone of your own class, your own faith."
Richard was puzzled.
"What do you suggest I do with the wife I have?" He asked.
Anthony shuffled his feet, as though deciding whether he should speak his mind. He had told Bethany before this that he expected Richard to do away with her.
"You got rid of your last wife," he finally muttered.
A flash of anger crossed Richard's face; was he about to lose that fragile temper and do something he would regret?
"Yes," he replied at last. "Bethany mentioned that you thought me responsible for Rosemary's death."
"Well, am I to believe you were not responsible?"
Bethany listened carefully, waiting for him to deny it, but he did not.
"You are right, Anthony," he answered after a few moments. "I was responsible, but you are missing the point. I disliked Rosemary; indeed I would go so far as to say she made my life a burden. I had good reason for wanting to get rid of her." He paused and looked up, knowing his wife was listening to every word. "Bethany is different, because I love her. She is my reason for living and without her I would not want to go on. Do you yet understand?"
"No, and I never will. I wish you well of your treacherous little commoner."
Anthony turned on his heel and left the house and Bethany’s heart sank. She had hoped they might find some common ground, that their lifelong bond could be healed and she would not be the cause of breaking that bond forever. But it was not to be.
Richard came to meet her at the top of the stairs and gathered her into his arms.
"Why did you let him believe you killed Rosemary?" She asked.
"Because it is no bad thing if he believes me capable of murder. It might make him think before he insults my wife again."
"You do not trust him to know the truth about her?"
"No, I do not. Look how he has behaved over you, unable to forgive when he has no right to question. His sister has been a greater influence on him during her short visit than I thought possible. I do not want him unable to forgive Rosemary as well, perhaps even having her remains removed and buried in unconsecrated ground. If the church knew she was a suicide, they would not hesitate."
Bethany had a sudden awful vision of sombre faced priests supervising the removal of her skeleton to be reburied outside the churchyard walls or at a crossroads, a vision which made her shiver.
"Come," Richard said gently. "Let us forget him. I want to know more of that wicked woman."

***

After breakfast, while Richard rode out to show himself to the tenants, to allay their fears, Bethany visited the old cottage in the woods. For some reason she was drawn to it, as though she wanted to say goodbye, to be sure it could not reach out and grab her, take her back into a past she wanted desperately to forget.
She had been here but once since she was released from her prison by the death of her dear little girl. She had no real idea of why she should want to see it now; its memories were not good, but as she stood and looked about, she was reminded of what she so very nearly lost.
It was late in the year and the air was damp and chill, the ground muddy even inside the cottage. She remembered the winter she spent here, how the dirt floor soaked up the wet from the rain and snow, which found its way through the waxed screens and the hole above the fire.
An unexpected surge of resentment and anger tore into her heart and made her almost forget the love she had so recently shared with her husband. They were going to start again; they had no need of past transgressions rising up to interfere and spoil things. She shivered, despite the fur cloak she wore.
Just looking at this place made her vividly recall the terrifying rage in Richard's entire body when he discovered her here, when he trapped her here, her fear when she realised he meant for her to fend for herself like a peasant, in this freezing, dilapidated hovel.
That is how angry he was, how full of vengeance for her betrayal; and she had betrayed him, she had risked both their lives to aid his enemies. These memories were quickly followed by the memory of her devastation when she finally realised she had sent the man she loved into the arms of another woman for the support and comfort she had been unable or unwilling to provide.
She needed to remember the pain of that time in order to properly savour the present.
"Why are you here?"
Richard's voice from the doorway made her start violently and she shivered as a memory flashed into her mind, a memory of the last time she had failed to notice him standing in that same doorway. For a few brief seconds, the guilt and fear came rushing back with it.
"I might ask you the same question," she replied, surprised that her voice shook a little.
"I came to see what would be the most efficient way to destroy this place."
She stared at him. She had not expected that.
"Why would you want to do that?" She asked.
"It is a reminder of some terrible sins," he replied.
"Yours or mine?"
He did not reply at first, just stood in thoughtful silence, considering his answer.
"Both," he said at last.
"Then let it stay, please."
"Why would you want that? It is a reminder of an awful time, a desperately unhappy time. How can we put the past behind us while this place still stands as a monument to that past?”
"Do you always do this?" She asked him softly. "Anything you do not want to remember has to be destroyed or kept out of sight, like Rosemary's portrait?"
"What are suggesting? That we hang her portrait in the gallery?"
"It is where she belongs. She was your wife."
"In name only," he replied with a note of bitterness.
She had been dead for years, and still he could not look fondly upon her memory.
"I want this place destroyed," he said at last. "I do not want to be reminded of what we did to each other. I cannot imagine why you would not want that too."
"If Alicia had not taken ill, I might still be living here. Do you realise that?"
"I would not have left you here once Mary was dead. I never intended to release you, but I would have found you somewhere more comfortable to live."
"Anthony would have," she said. "Had you been executed, Anthony would have gladly left me here. He as good as told me so himself and I doubt he would have even bothered to tell me you were dead except to be sure I took the blame."
He frowned and shook his head.
"He would have told you I was in the Tower. I asked him to in my letter and he would not have refused me my last request. You would still have come to the prison to say goodbye. You do not realise just how much that meant to me; until that moment I believed I had destroyed your love." He paused and held her close and they stood in thoughtful silence for a few minutes, while she rested her head against his chest and listened to the pounding of his heart, savoured the warmth of his nearness just to assure herself she was not dreaming. "I cannot tell you how my heart leapt with joy when I looked up and saw you standing there. I will tell you something, Bethany. Had you not come to say goodbye, I would likely never have come back here at all."
She pulled away and looked up at him in alarm.
"Whatever do you mean?"
"I was writing letters when you came, remember? I never got to the one for you, the one that would tell you I knew you no longer loved me and that I did not blame you."
He paused and kissed her forehead, holding her head in his hand while the other held her close against him.
"That is why I did not care if I was put to death. When I interrupted you with those berries in your hand, you thought I was Anthony. You told me there was nothing left for you, and that is exactly how I felt. After you left, everything changed; I started to dread the dawn, because then I knew I had been wrong, that I did still have something precious worth living for."
"I cannot imagine why you would ever think otherwise, no matter what happened."
"That is what Rachel said," he looked at her with a little puzzled frown. "She told me you would love me no matter what I did."
"She is a very wise lady. Perhaps she would have come and released me had you not survived."
“I am so very sorry,” he said. “And I am sorry I would not listen to you, when you tried to explain. I was too angry, too hurt and I was so furious I just wanted you to suffer.”
“Do you want to know now? Why I did it?”
He made no reply straight away. He did want to know why his wife had betrayed him, but he was afraid of the answer to that question.
“I know you wanted to help; I recall your telling me, before I shut you up.”
“Oh, yes, I wanted to help, but not for the sake of the fleeing Protestants. It was for Julia.”
He frowned.
“Julia? I do not understand.”
“I watched her die, remember? And all I could see for weeks afterwards was the contempt in her eyes as she looked down at me from that cart, on her way to the stake. She told me not to marry you; she likened me to Judas Iscariot for giving up my beliefs to marry you for your wealth and title.”
“I do not think she could have meant it.”
“She meant it. You were not there; you did not see the look in her eyes.”
“I do not think it was contempt in her eyes, Bethany,” he said. “It was more likely to have been detachment. You felt guilty and you conjured up the contempt you believed you were owed. If she took the potion I smuggled into the gaol for her, she would have been too drugged to even recognise you, much less have any feelings on the subject.”
She pulled away and stared at him, hope in her eyes.
“I heard her scream.”
He shook his head.
“I was not there, but I have it on good authority that she was unconscious when they tied her to the stake. With all the screaming going on, you could not have known it was her you heard.”
“So you smuggled in something to send her to sleep, to spare her the pain and humiliation?”
He nodded.
“It was the best I could do,” he went on. “Had she been anyone else, I could perhaps have got her out, but they knew she was one of the leaders. Had I been suspected then, I would have lost the ability to help, to warn them. I could not risk it, not for one woman, not even for her. I am so sorry.”
She clung to him, tears beginning to erupt.
“You saved her,” she said. “And you saved me. I thought she hated me, but she did not even know I was there. I have to get word to Charles, Richard, do you not see? He will be suffering as I was, believing she died in agony. It would mean so much to him to know the truth.”
“I do not want you to go there,” he said.
“Why? Do you still not trust me?”
He pulled her close.
“Of course I trust you, but seeing him, seeing Simon, will be like being in this place. It will bring back awful memories which can only stand between us.”
“May I write to him?”
“Very well,” he agreed. “But do not tell him it was me who gave her the drug.”
“Why not?”
“Because he will likely not believe you and that will defeat the object. Tell him it was you.”
She shook her head.
“He will not believe that. I would have told him before now if I had known.”
Richard was thoughtful for a little while.
“Tell him it was Adrian, Earl of Kennington.”
“Who is he?”
“A friend, a man who has been helping me.”
“The same man who saw Charles come here and thought he was my lover?”
He nodded.
“Come,” he said, taking her hand. “Let us get out of this place. I will order it demolished as soon as possible.”
“It should stay. Think of all the people I saved because of this place.”
“Think of the day I left you here, think of what I did before I left you here.” He held her away from him and sighed impatiently. "Do you want our children to one day come asking about this place, about its history? Will you tell them the truth, that their mother lived here, alone and in poverty, imprisoned by their father in one of his more vicious moods?"
"If I do that, I will have to tell them his reasons, tell them the cause of his vicious mood. I will have to tell them that their mother broke all her promises to their father and betrayed him by helping his enemies. I will have to tell them she got precisely what she deserved."
He pulled her into his arms, while she reached up and kissed him hungrily.
"Supposing we make some new memories," she whispered.
She slipped her hand beneath his doublet and shirt and began to caress his back, but he held her away from him.
"Not here, please," he pleaded. "I cannot. Not here."
"If it means that much to you, we will destroy this place, raze it to the ground and pretend it never existed. We will never have to tell our children what happened here, but one day they may find Rosemary's portrait, like I did, and they will want to know about her, like I did." She watched his expression change and a little frown appeared on his brow. "I will make a bargain with you."
"You did that once before, remember?" He said with a little smile. "I seem to recall it did not work out as planned."
"This one is much simpler," she replied. "You have the portrait cleaned, hang her in the gallery where she belongs, and I will not object to the destruction of the cottage. I will swear to you that our children will never know what happened here."
"Why does it mean so much to you? Why will you not let me forget she ever existed?"
"Because she did exist and your relationship with her is part of who you are. She helped to shape you, just as Rachel did. Why, without her influence you might never have chosen me for your wife." His words when he first proposed their marriage resounded in her mind: I do not want a wife who does not want me. She paused thoughtfully, unsure whether to ask her next question. "Why did you not have the marriage annulled? It would have been the best thing for both of you, surely."
"I did not think it right to subject her to such an invasive examination."
"So you would not frighten her by insisting on the consummation, which was your right, and you would not even annul the marriage because of the intimate nature of the enquiries. Why all that for someone you hated? For someone you want to erase from existence?"
She paused while he shrugged and looked at her sheepishly, as though his kindness had been something of which to be ashamed.
"I know why," she answered her own question. "Because you are a kind man and whether you cared for her or not, you accepted your duty as her husband to protect her. I do not want my children coming to me or to you and asking what your first wife had done, what crime she had committed, that she was not even allowed a presence with all the other family members. I do not want to have to tell them that her only crime was in not being what you wanted her to be."
"Very well," he agreed with a sigh. "But if she is to have her portrait in the gallery, then yours must be there too. I will concede that you are right about Rosemary, if you will concede that I am right about this place."
"It is a bargain."
"Talking of those children who will never know what happened here,” she murmured, “do you not think we should start on them sooner rather than later. Can we go back to the house now, please? I have an urgent need to be alone with you."
Outside the cottage she led him by the hand to the spot beneath the tree where she had often sat with her memories and her misery.
"This is where you first took me as your wife," she told him. "Do you remember?"
"Indeed I do," he said with a smile as he put his arm around her protectively. "You were trembling so much I thought you might run away."
"My first instinct was to do just that. But although you were a stranger to me, and I feared your touch, you promised you would not hurt me. I trusted you to keep your word."
He was quiet for a few moments and when he finally spoke, his words surprised her.
"I too was afraid," he said hesitantly.
"You? Why? You were no virgin."
He laughed softly.
"No, but I had never had the deflowering of one before. I had already failed to consummate one marriage."
"And you blamed yourself for that? But that was not your doing."
"Was it not? I could never be sure before. I did not want to frighten you too."
"I was very nervous. I knew nothing; I had no real idea of what was expected of me or whether it would be something unpleasant I was duty bound to endure." She stopped and looked at him, and saw that little mischievous glitter in his eyes.
"And is it?" He asked flirtatiously.
She laughed, then her gaze caught his.
“I fell in love with you here, that first day.”
He held her hand to his lips, watched her over the top of it and smiled reminiscently.
"After only a few days of knowing you,” he said, “I realised that for the first time in my life I had no need of any other woman and it started on that first day. That was when you began to turn my world upside down, to steal away the control I always had over my life. That was when I began to miss you when you were not there, when I started to look forward to seeing you. More than that you made me hunger for you, made me want you, as I have never wanted another woman in my entire life. You made me feel like the most important man on earth. How could any man resist that?"
She brought his hand up to her lips and kissed it.
"You are the most important man on earth," she answered softly.
"And then the King died and I let it all collapse. I knew I would fight for Mary; I had waited almost six years for the opportunity to do so. The Summerville Earls have always fought beside the monarch until Edward took the throne. Even when King Henry broke with Rome and we were all forced to sign his damned Oath."
"I assume you signed it, or you would have met the same fate as Sir Thomas More."
"I did. More was a good and honest man, but he was a fool. I was not going to risk my head for a silly oath that meant nothing."
"But you risked it for me."
"That was different. You were worth it."
He kissed her and smiled at her, his eyes locked on hers.
"You completely destroyed my plans, you know," he said with a smile. "When I first proposed to you, I had it all planned out, I knew precisely how it would be. I would find an independent woman, one who could talk intelligently and was not afraid to speak her mind. We would come to a civilised agreement. I would go and fight for Mary when the time came and yes, I wanted to marry before that happened, to at least try for an heir in case I did not return. I did not intend for love to enter the equation at all and when it did, I was torn in two directions, and that was a feeling I did not enjoy at all." He paused and gave her a bashful look. "I thought when I went away, you might forget those feelings and so might I. I was wrong."
"Is that why you tried to push me away?" She asked sombrely. "Is that why you behaved like that cold and arrogant stranger I had believed you to be when we first met?"
"Yes. And I told myself it was for your own good. I knew by then I could not have you at court and I imagined you would be happier if I could make you think less of me."
"What an absurd plan, My Lord," she answered. "Just as if a few harsh words could have made me think less of you."
"I wish I had stayed here with you, never gone to London."
"Did you have a choice?"
"Not really. I had to fight for Mary or be condemned as a traitor when she won, and I knew she would win. When Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen, Mary wrote to all her noblemen seeking their support. I know at least one who failed to respond and was later coerced into serving her anyway. Adrian was a Protestant and very unhappy about it."
"I wish we could make love here again, now," she murmured. "That would be my ideal new start."
It was damp and cold and he gave an exaggerated shiver.
"Perhaps when the springtime comes," he said with a laugh.
He pulled a knife from his belt and approached the tree, began to carve some words into the bark.
“Will that do instead?”
She moved to stand beside him, looked at the writing and smiled. Richard loves Bethany.
"That is perfect.”
They held hands and carried on walking toward their waiting horses, anxious to return to the privacy of home.
Before they had a chance to mount, a figure appeared through the woods. It was Will, Connie's husband who had been so distraught when he thought Richard was dead.
"My Lord," he cried, running toward them. "Connie told me we had got you back. I cannot tell you how happy we all are." Then he bowed toward Bethany as he drew to a halt. "My Lady. Is this not a great day?"
"The greatest, Will, the very greatest."
"I want..." Richard began, then paused and looked at her before starting again. "That is, we want this cottage destroyed. Can you arrange it? Burn it to the ground. I want no trace of it to remain."
"Yes, My Lord," Will replied. "I am surprised you’ve not ordered it before now."
They exchanged a puzzled glance, wondering just what secrets this man and his colleagues knew that they would rather they did not know. Servants and tenants knew everything. They would both be humiliated if it transpired that they all knew what had happened here.
"What do you mean by that, Will?"
"Well, My Lady," he replied, rubbing his chin, "the poor lady who lived here last was a leper, so I heard. The disease could still be hanging about. The only way to get rid of it is fire."
They both breathed a sigh of relief, then Richard glanced at her and smiled. She knew he was thinking the same as her. They could grab this excuse with which Will had presented them as a reason to destroy the place.
"Will you see to it?" Richard asked.
"Right away, My Lord," Will replied as he turned and started to move away, looking back over his shoulder as he went. "So pleased to have you back."
Later that evening, their sleep was interrupted by a loud explosion coming from the church. Bethany climbed out of bed and donned a fur cloak with which to cover herself, then went to the window to look out.
She saw the flames rising high above the trees and knew that Will was carrying out his orders and consigning the priest's cottage to oblivion. She felt Richard's hand on her shoulder as he watched with her and she turned to look up at him, saw his satisfied smile as he held her against him.
"It is gone," he said. "We can only hope it takes all its bad memories with it."

***

"Tell me more about Rachel," she said when they had returned to bed.
The flickering from the flames in the distance bounced off the window, making it appear cosy and warm.
Talking about Rachel was very difficult for Bethany. For years she had hated the woman, had believed Richard loved her, was spending his nights in her bed, sharing his tenderness and his body with her, while she could only pine for him, knowing Rachel was stealing his love away, knowing that she herself had driven him into that woman’s arms.
Now to learn the woman had risked her life by allowing him to present her to the Queen as his wife, knowing that she did so to protect that wife, was a lot to accept. Rachel was beautiful, the sort of beauty which turned heads and made people watch her as she approached, made artists long to capture her image for all eternity.
If what Richard and Rachel had told her was the truth, she had to trust him; she could do nothing else.
"How did you meet her? She is the sort of woman you would have pursued, but I do not believe you did, or she would not still be your friend. I just think it odd that a woman like that could have met you any other way."
"You are right, as it happens," he began. "It was the birth of Prince Edward. The King invited everyone in court circles to the celebrations, he was so ecstatic, and Rachel had no one to escort her. Knowing that things were not, shall we say, close between me and my Countess, that she would likely not be attending herself, he asked me to escort her."
Mention of his being at the court of King Henry made her realise how much older than her he was. She had not really thought about it before, but she held tight to him now; one day she may well lose him. He was nearly twice her age.
And Rachel too was so much older than her, so much more experienced of the ways of the world. She was Richard’s contemporary; his wife was not.
“I never thought of it before,” she said teasingly. “You are old enough to be my father.”
He laughed, held her close.
“I am indeed, but still you will not do as you are told.”
“Is that what you want?” She snuggled close and spoke against his neck. “You can be my master here in this chamber; you will always be my master here.”
He kissed her passionately, arousing those longings once more.
"So King Henry asked you to escort Rachel?"
"Yes," he answered. "I have no idea what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought I could help her to blossom, as he had been unable to do, or perhaps he thought to give me a partner for the ball and the night to follow."
"And you escorted her to the ball, but not beyond? Are you sure?"
"It was certainly my intention to pursue her when I went there, but I soon saw my advances would be unwelcome. When a man takes the hand of a woman in greeting and she flinches away, he should know that something is not quite as normal. It seems I was the first one to either notice or to care." He sighed softly, reminiscently. "So we went to the palace and we had a really good time together. We got on well; she was intelligent and funny and I felt sad that I had not met a woman like her instead of Rosemary. But I knew I could never ask anything from her."
“You will see her again, will you not?"
"She does not expect it, Bethany. You heard what she said; she does not want to come between us."
"She is not going to come between us. Nothing and nobody is ever going to come between us again," she declared firmly. "She is your friend, you are hers and her protector. She still needs you and perhaps she always will. I do not want to be the one to deprive her of that comfort, especially after she risked her life for me."
He sat up then and looked down at her.
"I would like to keep in contact with Rachel," he replied carefully. "But only if you are sure. I will do nothing to distress you, to make you feel less secure."
"That will not happen. She is your friend and if she were a man, we would not be having this conversation. You would think nothing of visiting a friend of your own sex. Perhaps we can visit her together."
They were interrupted by the sound of hooves and cartwheels in the courtyard.

Friday, 17 July 2015

New Book - The Gorston Widow

 
Robert Hayward is the newly created Earl of Haverstock, given Abbey lands and a title by King Henry VIII as reward for his assistance in securing the King’s divorce. He is just getting used to the honour and the sudden rise in status, when the King presents him with a new countess to go with his other gifts.
 
Lady Miranda Gorston has lands adjacent to Haverstock Abbey and is well known for her public and devout mourning for her late husband. Each day she visits the small churchyard attached to Gorston Hall to pray over his grave and all who see her are impressed with her devotion to his memory. 

But nobody knows the real reason Miranda visits that graveyard and her new husband is no exception. He feels that once they marry she should give up her public grieving and concentrate on her new marriage, but she refuses and will not explain why. He knows she did not love Lord Gorston, so why does she continue to mourn him? Why does she put their future happiness at risk to do so? 

Robert does not feel he can stay and be made to look a fool, that people will be saying Lord Gorston is more important to his wife than he is. He returns to London and there remains, until five years later when Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, informs him that his wife has been entertaining another man and orders Robert to return to his marriage on threat of excommunication. 

But Miranda’s visitor is not what he seems and Robert finds the man’s presence only causes even more questions for which no answers are forthcoming.

 


The Gorston Widow - First Chapter


CHAPTER ONE


 
“It has been brought to my attention, Lord Haverstock, that you have parted from your wife. Indeed, I am told you have been parted from her these five years past. Is my information correct?”
The Archbishop scrutinised Lord Haverstock through narrowed eyes, his mouth turned down in disapproval as he awaited an answer.
Robert Hayward, Earl of Haverstock had responded to a summons from Archbishop Cranmer to come to Lambeth Palace, but he had not enquired as to His Grace’s reason for the meeting. He rather thought it had something to do with his absence from more masses than he attended, but it seemed he was wrong.
The Earl had as little to do with churchmen and church services as he could manage and he saw no justification for any such clergy to be asking him about his personal affairs, even one as exalted in the hierarchy as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Since he left Miranda in Norfolk and returned to London, he had led an aimless life. He spent the first few months of their separation drinking himself into a stupor and spending his new found wealth on the worst kind of women, but not one of them could come close to making him forget his wife. The alcohol did not help either, so he had given that up when he found his muscular figure, of which he had been so proud, was turning to flab.
Miranda would not like to see that, and if he ever saw her again, he wanted her to be certain of what she was missing.
The summons from Cranmer had puzzled him; he would have thought the man had more important matters to attend to than whether some obscure earl was attending mass. Now he knew the real reason, he felt his anger rising. What the hell had it got to do with him if he and his wife lived apart? And who had he to thank for reporting such to the Archbishop?
“And just who has brought this to your attention, Your Grace?” He asked.
“That is of no matter. Suffice it to say it was a concerned party, thinking only of your happiness and that of Lady Haverstock, I am sure.”
Robert scoffed loudly.
“I am sure,” he muttered under his breath.
Some nosy servant or tenant, no doubt, someone miserable in their own life and not able to consider his wife might well be happier without him. She had many opportunities to stop him from leaving, but had taken none of them. He could only conclude she was content without him.
“There is no reason for you to concern yourself, Your Grace. Her Ladyship and I are both content with our domestic arrangements.”
Cranmer shook his head slowly, disapprovingly. Did the man never smile?
“My Lord, that choice is not yours to make. I am told Lady Haverstock has been ill of late; I imagine it is a lack of marital attention which is making her so.”
Robert sighed impatiently. He had no belief in the notion that a woman had to have a man inside her in order to remain healthy. It was a silly idea as far as he was concerned and one which made no logical sense, but if it was true that Miranda was ill, he ought to at least show his face, be sure she was receiving the best care. The fact was, he hardly knew the woman. Their marriage had lasted just long enough for her to conceive and give birth to a child, before her refusal to give up her continued public mourning for her late husband drove them apart.
Still, he had grown fond of her during those few months, very fond in fact, and reports of her ill health troubled him. He always thought he would go back one day, try to resolve their differences, but the longer he stayed away, the harder it became.
He scrutinised Cranmer where he sat opposite him and wondered just what answer he should give. His first impulse was to refuse the Archbishop’s order. If Miranda wanted him back she would have written herself and without knowing for certain that was her wish, he had no desire to return.
But there was his reputation to think about. Miranda came from one of the oldest noble families in the land; he did not. Her heritage was far superior to his and they both knew it. He still had status to build, still had to earn the respect of the common people, whereas his wife was born to that respect and her reputation was unsullied. It would do him no good if he refused the Archbishop’s command or if his indifference were to show.
He turned his attention to Cranmer’s last remark, the belief that a woman needed marital relations in order to stay healthy, in order to prevent a build up of dangerous vapours in her body. Ridiculous idea.
“I doubt that, Your Grace,” he answered at last. “I shall visit her, if you insist, to be sure she is coping without me.”
A little sardonic smile formed on his lips as he said the words. The idea that Miranda might have a problem coping without him was laughable.
“You will do more than that, Sir,” replied the Archbishop. “I expect you to stay with her, remain constant to her, as a true husband should.”
“And what if she refuses my company?”
Cranmer coughed meaningfully and hid his face by getting to his feet and turning away.
“Do you imagine she has er…other company?” He asked. “Or perhaps she is using something, some aid to her womanhood.”
His face flushed a little as he spoke, but not enough for Robert to believe his questions were reluctant. He had often wondered about the sort of enquiries a churchman felt entitled to make and just why that churchman would want to make them.
Whatever his reasons, Robert felt affronted on his wife’s behalf. They may not have a marriage to speak of but the very notion that she would take a lover was ridiculous. He did not know her well, but he knew her well enough to know that much.
“Lady Haverstock is a noblewoman of the highest pedigree,” Robert told him. “It is unthinkable that she would commit adultery. As to your other suggestion, that is between her and her God and none of my business, nor yours.”
His voice rose as he spoke, the anger gathering. How dare he? How dare he ask such intimate questions, questions Robert himself would not ask his wife?
“As long as you are certain,” the Archbishop murmured.
“What does that mean?”
Cranmer sighed heavily before he turned his eyes to stare at Robert.
“My informant tells me there is a man, that Her Ladyship has been entertaining a stranger in your house and even allowing him to stay the night.” He paused to allow his meaning to become clear, then added: “But if you are certain.”
Robert felt his fury beginning to consume him now along with a stab of jealousy which surprised him.
“I am very certain, Your Grace,” he said after a moment. “My wife’s moral character is beyond reproach.”
He got to his feet, preparing to leave, but the Archbishop’s next words halted his steps.
“Lord Haverstock,” he said. “You will return to your wife and your marriage, at once. It is within my purview to order a reconciliation and that is what I am doing.”
Robert felt his hands bunching into fists, his jaw clenching. Were this man not the highest churchman in the land, he would not be safe from Robert’s wrath.
“And if I refuse?” He demanded.
“Then I will have no alternative but to excommunicate you.”
 
***
 
At the very hour her husband was accepting an order from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Miranda, Lady Haverstock, was walking along the beach near Haverstock Abbey, trying to persuade Sir Gerald Horton that his nephew had never visited Gorston Hall, despite reports to the contrary. The man had been in the area for some weeks now and it seemed he had been told the boy for whom he searched was seen in the company of Lord Gorston.
When he first arrived, he wanted to look inside Gorston Hall, seeing as it was standing empty, but Miranda had persuaded him that her husband had taken the keys with him to London and she had no idea when he would return.
But he was persistent and she felt vulnerable; it seemed the best way to deter him was to appear as helpful as possible and Haverstock Abbey was vast, so she had invited him to stay a few nights. It had never occurred to her until later that such an arrangement, when she was alone in the house but for the servants, would create gossip. Now she wanted him to leave and hoped this meeting would be their last.
She was glad of the cool breeze from the sea. The weather had turned from bright and cheerful sunshine, to hot and humid and it was all she could do to prevent her long skirts from sticking to her legs. She loved the beach; it went on for miles when the tide was out and sometimes one could walk for hours without getting near the shore. She had loved these beaches since she was a little girl and she had walked along them with her first love, Viscount Simon Hampton, even though they were constantly chaperoned.
The beaches along the North Norfolk coast were their place, hers and Simon’s. The chaperones would follow behind while the young couple held hands and whispered together and these sandy plains combined with the distant sound of the sea would always remind her of him. Even when the tide was far out, the sea left a salty, clean taste in the air. The pine forests which edged the beach were thick and green and she and Simon had often plotted to escape into those forests, just to be alone, but it was a long time before they managed to escape their escorts.
That had been so many years ago, before things had suddenly changed, before her future plans collapsed into nothing with Simon’s sudden death. Yet still this beach reminded her of him, of the love they had felt for each other.
Lord Gorston’s offer of marriage had rescued her from scandal and shame, and for that she had been grateful at the time, not dreaming for one moment how badly she was being used. She had no idea then that she was aiding a monster. They lived separate lives and she had been his widow for only six months when King Henry presented her to Lord Robert Haverstock as a prospective husband. She was happy for a little while and she believed Robert felt the same. She had come to love him, almost as much as she loved Simon, but she could not bring herself to abandon the grave of her late husband and Robert felt her continual visits to the small churchyard to be an insult to him.
So he had left and she begged him to stay, but she could not give him what he wanted; she was too afraid.
Since he left, she had exchanged a few letters with him and had often thought of trying to make amends, trying to win him back, even if it did mean staying away from the grave. She was very lonely without Robert, alone here with his son, Robin and her own little Jamie Simon.
She had given it a lot of thought in recent months, had limited her graveside visits to two or three times a week instead of every day and she no longer wore mourning black for those visits. But she could not abandon them completely and she hoped her efforts would be enough of a compromise.
Her plans were settling in her mind and she had intended to write to Robert or even make the journey to London to meet with him and discuss the possibility of a reconciliation. That was when Sir Gerald arrived, looking for his missing nephew, he said. She had given him dinner and allowed him to stay a few nights, as the only inn for miles was somewhat below standard and Haverstock Abbey had plenty of space, lots of bedchambers. But she could not seem to persuade him to leave, to look elsewhere or give up the venture altogether and his visits were forcing her to take to her bed with anxiety.
She thought it likely his continued visits were causing gossip in the surrounding country. It was well known she had parted from her husband and the local folk had little to excite them; a possible scandal among their betters was always welcome.
Now she savoured the cool breeze from the sea as she walked along the beach with her visitor, hoping this would be the last time he would question her. She was running out of excuses and suggestions and she could not reveal the truth, no matter what. She had made a solemn promise, a promise she intended to keep at all costs.
Was it possible that he would go away without an answer, that he would give up his quest? Or would he be forever searching, forever wondering? Other people to whom Sir Gerald had spoken sympathised with him, thought him hard done by to have lost his nephew. He had told them all how he had been away at sea and on his return, had learned of his sister’s death but could find no word of her son. But Miranda could not help him and all she wanted was for him to go away and leave her and her sons in peace.
She needed Robert. She needed to tell him everything and let him deal with it all, but she knew she would not. If she was ever going to tell him, it would have been after their marriage when they were beginning to find love for each other. He had given her a further opportunity when she gave him a son; he had sat on her bed holding her hand and told her he would stay if she would only tell him the truth, and she could not do it. She could see he did not want to leave, the decision was in her hands alone, but she could not tell him the truth. To expect him to support her if he knew what really happened was just too much; at least this way he would not think so badly of her.
Her secrets destroyed that blossoming love before it had grown and now he had gone. He had probably spent five years bedding Lord knew who, he had grown farther away from her and likely no longer cared for her at all.
“You have been very kind, Lady Haverstock,” Sir Gerald was saying now. “But every enquiry I make leads me back to Gorston Hall. I have been told now by more than one person that my nephew was last seen in the company of Lord Gorston.”
“And as I have explained, Sir Gerald, I cannot help you. My late husband did not involve me in his affairs. If he hired your nephew for some work he wanted done, he would not have told me or anyone else. I fear you have had a wasted journey.”
Sir Gerald shook his head.
“Not at all. I feel there is more to learn here and I shall be staying longer. Have no fear; I will book into the inn in the town.”
She took a deep breath. Good; at least she would be spared the embarrassment of asking him to leave. He waited for a few moments, but when she made no reply he turned back toward the cliff path, holding out his arm for her to take, but she shook her head.
“I would like to walk some more,” she said.
She watched him go, watched him make his way to the path leading up to the Haverstock estate. He turned at the top and waved; she waved back. She did not want him in the house and although she suspected he waited for a further invitation, she would not give it.
He was good looking man, although many years older than Miranda and she was sure his handsome looks and her own invitation to stay at the Abbey were the main motives behind Father David’s questions. The village priest had taken it upon himself recently, during confession, to ask personal questions both about her relationship with Sir Gerald and about her lack of marital relations with her husband.
She refused to reply, refused to be interrogated on such personal issues by a celibate priest, but she knew he was not happy.
Surely a respectable woman could give shelter to a grieving uncle without everyone finding something wrong in her act of generosity? Apparently not.
She had to make him leave, had to convince him somehow that there was nothing in Norfolk for him. She thought of lying, of telling him the boy had told others he was leaving, but it was too late now.
The beach had always been the best place in the world in which to think, to make decisions, especially now in this sticky heat and with such a gigantic burden weighing her down. She walked on.
 
***
 
Robert made his arrangements to return to Norfolk. It was a long journey, two days at least by coach and not one he had any urgent desire to make. He was torn in two directions; part of him wanted nothing more than to hurry to her side and be sure she was well and safe, whilst the other part of him wanted to put her in the past where he did not have to think about her.
He could send physicians to tend his wife, if indeed she was really ill, but if she was, he was quite certain her illness had little or nothing to do with his absence. If she were that bad, why had he received no word? She might not have sent for him, but surely one of her ladies would have.
Her son by Lord Gorston was eight years old now, a young earl with no manor to show for it since Gorston Hall stood almost derelict and as his stepfather, Robert had taken over the Gorston lands to enhance his own.
The lands and income would be returned to the boy when he came of age or earlier if he married and he would need the house as well. It was Robert’s duty to begin preparations for that day and Gorston Hall would need a lot of renovation work. It was doubtful that anyone had set foot inside the place since his marriage to the then Lady Gorston. His place was there, at Haverstock Abbey with his wife and son, as well as his stepson. He had known that almost since he arrived in London, but he never had the confidence to return. He used to watch for a letter from her, always hoping she would send for him, but after a while he had realised how foolish that was. She did not want him; that was apparent from her rejection of the opportunity he gave her to make him stay.
He could not see where anything would have changed, but still he would return to Haverstock Abbey and he would take up his proper position as her husband, even if it did prove to be merely a fa├žade.
The Archbishop’s reminder that it had been five years since he and Miranda had parted made him stop and think. That would mean his own son was five years old and he had not even laid eyes on him since the day he was born. He was rather ashamed of that, but he knew the boy was safe and he had little interest in an infant.
He could still remember that day though. He remembered waiting in the next chamber, listening to Miranda’s cries and wanting to rush in to her, but her ladies had stopped him.
“My Lord!” One of them told him. “A birthing chamber is no place for a man.”
Her name was Mavis, the wife of a knight newly qualified.
“Who cares? My wife is in pain, she is to have my child. She may need me.”
Mavis shook her head, touched his arm soothingly. Robert had been forced to learn the ways of the nobility in a very short time since the King honoured him with his title, and Miranda had been wonderful in discreetly helping him, but to keep him out when she was in pain? He wanted to be with her, to help her and if that desire showed his working class origins, he no longer cared.
“She will not want you there, My Lord,” Mavis assured him.
“Why?”
She blushed.
“She would not want you to see her like that,” she said.
“That is ridiculous! It is my child.”
“Yes, My Lord and if you ever want another, you will abide by her wishes.”
He stared at her, tried hard to fathom her meaning, but he had no clue.
“What does that mean?”
“It means, My Lord, that a woman giving birth is a sight you are unlikely to forget. Please; I know what she would want.”
So he had allowed her to guide him and perhaps she was right, but he really wanted to be at Miranda’s side, to take some of the pain from her, absorb it into himself.
At last the cry of a young babe made him glance questioningly at Mavis and she went to open the door and see if her mistress was suitably attired for her husband to see her.
She turned back to Robert and nodded with a smile and he rushed inside to see the little scrap of humanity who had caused his wife so much pain.
“It is a boy, My Lord,” she whispered hoarsely. “A son for you, a son who will have that noble blood running through his veins, just as I promised.”
He glanced at the child with little interest, then turned back to his wife and gathered her into his arms, kissed her face, her mouth, her forehead.
“Thank you, my love,” he said softly. “Are you all right? I wanted to be with you, but they would not let me in.”
“Thank goodness for that,” she said with a laugh. “You are the last person I would want to see me like that.”
“That is what your lady said.”
“And she was right,” she told him, holding tight to his hand. “Are you pleased with your son?”
“He is a handsome boy. He has his mother’s beauty; let us hope he also has her generous heart.”
His one hope now was that Miranda would give up her continual mourning for her late husband, her regular visits to the Gorston churchyard, her attendance on his grave. They had argued about that before and now their son was born, he wanted nothing more than to forget Lord Gorston ever existed. He was fond of the man’s son, Jamie Simon, little Earl of Gorston, and was prepared to treat him as his own, but the boy’s father was dead and gone and should stay buried.
His wish was not to be. As soon as Miranda had recovered from the birth, she went to the Gorston churchyard to pay homage to her late husband. He could not tolerate that, it was disrespectful and unfair, when they had grown close and he hoped she would realise her future was with him and their sons alone.
He had seen her from his chamber window. It was the first day the physicians allowed her to leave her bed and her priority was not with Robert, not even with her sons – her priority was to hurry to the Gorston churchyard with fresh flowers for the tomb.
She went on foot; it was not far, the churchyard and Gorston Hall itself could be clearly seen from the upper floors of the Abbey, and Robert decided to follow her on foot. He thought it would be quieter, than he might take her by surprise, perhaps even witness something he had previously missed.
He waited outside the churchyard for her, leaning against the post of the lychgate, his arms folded, his expression showing his displeasure. She walked toward him with her head down, her eyes firmly fixed on the cobbled ground.
“That is the last time,” he told her as she emerged.
She stopped and stared at him, looked down at the dead flowers she had just removed from the grave.
“Robert,” she replied. “I did not expect to see you.”
“Of course not. I thought I made my wishes clear before the birth of our son, My Lady. There will be no more visits to the grave.”
She walked past him and took the dead flowers to the compost heap which stood beside the wall, then she turned back to him, put her hand gently on his arm.
“Robert, please try to understand.”
“No, I will not understand. Our son is thriving and tonight I wanted us to be together again; I have missed you. I hoped you might have missed me, but it seems I was wrong.”
“No, you are not wrong. I have missed you and I will welcome you to my bed this night.”
Still he made no move toward her, still his arms were folded rigidly and still he did not smile. She could not be allowed to see how his heart was breaking, how much it hurt that she would not do this one thing for him. She could not be allowed to see how hard it was to refuse her invitation.
“Not without your promise,” he said. “No more visits to this place. Not regularly like this anyway; perhaps on the anniversary of his death.”
He was hurt to see tears spring to her eyes and he reached out at last and pulled her into his arms.
“Please, Miranda. I cannot know your reasons, and I might even accept that, but you must give up this vigil or I cannot live with you. I thought you had come to care for me.”
“I have,” she said quickly, her arms going around his waist. “But I have to come here; I have to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“Sure that nothing is amiss.”
He sighed heavily then pushed her away and turned to walk back to the Abbey. They had had this conversation many, many times and it always ended in the same frustrating and unsatisfactory manner, with more questions than answers. He could take no more.
That was the last time he saw her and his son, but he was sure Miranda would have written if anything were amiss. Robert hardly noticed the rocking of the carriage on the uneven road. His mind was fully engaged on thoughts of what he might face at home, of his wife’s reception, whether she would welcome him, whether she had given up her unfathomable mourning for her late husband.
A suitable marriage would have to be arranged for the young Earl of Gorston and although that was Robert’s duty, being the boy’s stepfather, perhaps his mother had already begun enquiries. It was possible that whoever she approached would need to negotiate with him, not her, but on the other hand a noblewoman who traced her ancestors back to the conquest even, commanded a lot more respect from her peers than the average female.
The lad was only eight; there was still plenty of time and perhaps discussion of a suitable match for him might give Robert and his wife something to talk about, something in common.
Robert still felt a little intimidated by Miranda’s antecedents; his own earldom was brand new, given to him by King Henry VIII for loyal service, just as Miranda and all her wealth had been given to him. The fact that they had come to care for each other was an extra gift neither of them had expected.
To be fair, she had done everything she could to make him feel the importance his title conveyed and she had succeeded to a certain extent. It was certainly a delightful surprise to him to find she was not the proud, disdainful woman he had expected. Her disposition was one which any man would be pleased to see in a wife, but despite the success of their marital relations and the birth of a healthy son to succeed him, they had quarrelled bitterly. They had quarrelled over the corpse of a dead man.
Robert tried to be the master in his own house and Miranda gave every indication that she wanted that, wanted her husband to take charge of the estate and everything an earl should have control of. She helped him to achieve that position on every occasion; whenever he was unsure of how to act, she would discreetly steer him in the right direction, without anyone knowing that she did so. Whether such was part of her disposition or whether she felt it would shame her if he appeared weak, he had no idea, but he was pleased with the way things were developing. The exception was her insistence on dressing in mourning every day and visiting the grave of her late husband.
She had done this each morning since his death and was greatly admired by the local people for her devotion to his memory, but Robert felt she should give up this public display once she married him. Her continued visits to the grave dressed in black told the world that Lord Gorston was the real love of her life and Lord Haverstock a poor second. But she had refused his request point blank and with no real explanation. She said it was impossible to explain but she had her reasons.
Now Robert was making the trip he had thought about so often, but he deeply resented being ordered back to her, especially when it involved such a long and arduous journey. The distance meant he had no way of asking her to her face if she really wanted him there and if she did not, he would have to make the same journey again in reverse. On the other hand, the Abbey was his house, not hers, and he had every right to reclaim it and her whether she liked it or not.
As to being excommunicated, it was hard to know what one would be excommunicated from right now; the King was still Catholic, so he said, even though he had broken with Rome and his Archbishop had definite Protestant leanings.
The problem wasn’t the threat; left to himself it wouldn’t bother him too much, as he had little faith in the power the church gave itself. But he had to think of his family, his tenant farmers and servants, everyone who lived and worked on his estate. They would all be deprived of church comfort, no baptisms or even burials, no Last Rites when one of them died, not even the comfort of the confessional. Most of those people were incredibly pious and would never be able to live with such a deprivation. They would all be convinced they were on the path to hell and damnation.
He may be of low birth, still struggling to accept his own position, but he was not that selfish. He had to accept his situation for the sake of those for whom he was responsible. So he would travel to Norfolk and he would see his wife, discover her feelings on the subject of resuming what had been a very brief marriage.
He did not leave her only for his own satisfaction, but hers as well. He wanted to give her time to adapt to this new marriage, this new husband. He waited in vain for a letter from her asking for his return.
He was older now, more mature and more capable of giving Miranda the courtesy of allowing her to decide some things for herself. It would be hard, but if she wanted to keep her secrets, it was little enough to ask. The idea of a stable marriage and family was far more appealing to him now than it had been then. He was still very fond of Miranda and she was the mother of his child; despite their estrangement he owed her the consideration of finding out how she felt.
His driver found a reasonable inn on the road, where he and his servants could stay the night, where his horses would be looked after. After five years in London, it seemed odd to find such a place isolated like this, with nothing around it for miles but fields. He found the lack of traffic and voices to be eerie, but it was something of a relief nonetheless.      
The food was not terrible and the clientele what one would expect of such a place. A travellers’ inn was open to all sorts of people, from the lowest to the highest in the land and as such there were a variety of facilities to suit them all.
The place was not too crowded and Robert was able to eat his meal in peace. He was weary and stiff from the journey and anxious to retire for the night, but hunger must be satisfied first. He looked around the small dining room at the patrons, including two women for hire sitting together in the corner and throwing provocative glances his way.
They were easy to spot, with their bosoms hanging over their bodices, nipples on display, the dirty lace at their sleeves, their overly made up faces and dyed hair.
Robert wondered if he should take a chance with one of them, wondered if he felt in the mood. He had two mistresses in London to see to his needs but it had been many years since he had savoured the charms of this sort of woman. They possessed skills to tempt him, but no. If he was to return to his wife, he at least wanted to greet her with a pure heart.
The stairs creaked and as he climbed to the bedchamber to which the innkeeper had assigned him, he could feel the eyes of the two prostitutes following him, perhaps hoping he might beckon one or both of them to follow.
The bed was serviceable, good enough for one night and with well worn feather mattresses and bolsters. The bed curtains could have done with a good clean, but no matter. He would leave them open; it was a fine night and he was far enough off the ground with the two mattresses not to worry about draughts or vermin.
As he climbed into bed and lie down to stare at the grubby canopy above his head, his mind wandered back five years to the circumstances of his marriage and the reasons they parted. It was something he had not thought about in all of that time, but now he knew he had to. He was returning to Miranda, even if it was at the command of a prince of the church; he did not want to begin with mistakes, errors of judgement which had parted them in the first place.
If he could remember everything that went wrong, precisely as it went wrong, he might be able to avoid making the same mistakes again.
He was surprised to feel a little dart of anticipation at the thought of seeing her again. She was a lovely woman, dark hair, pale skin and lips any red blooded man would long to taste. She was sweet and compliant as well, not shrewish like his mistresses could be, like some of the women of his acquaintance.
Miranda’s heritage and breeding showed in her every action and word and she treated him with the respect someone of her class and upbringing would always give to her husband; he appreciated how fortunate he was to have her.
But she refused to stop visiting the grave of her late husband, every single day and she would never tell him why; he just did not believe, from the way she spoke of him, that he had meant that much to her. Robert was convinced he was a laughing stock in the village and town, even among the servants. He imagined they would be gossiping about him, saying he was second best, not as good as Lord Gorston. What else could one expect? Gorston was a proper nobleman, not like Haverstock, given the position in payment for services rendered to the King.
They might even have heard he was the son of a blacksmith although Robert had told no one that, not even Miranda. He was not ashamed of his background or his origins; his father had worked hard to send him to be trained as a knight and his progression from there was all down to that sacrifice. He was proud of his achievements and of his parents’ sacrifice, but his father had cautioned him specially to tell no one. Had she asked, he felt sure he would not have lied to Miranda, but she never had and he believed her lack of curiosity in that regard was in deference to him, to his new position and his future among the nobility.
Of course, he could be wrong. It was always possible she did not ask because she did not want to know what humble beginnings her husband had come from, did not want to know that the father of her child was from such lowly stock. Robert did not believe that; Miranda was far too generous and considerate to ever think like that and he did her an injustice by even considering the possibility.
Whenever he remembered all the subtle things she had done to make him feel worthy of her and everything else he had gained, he loved her all the more.
This time would be different. This time he would try to understand, even if Miranda never revealed her secrets; this time he would concede they were her secrets and not for him to know.

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