Kallen de Mangeron grew up in a convent, her noble family never knowing of her birth. When a new Mother Superior informs them of her existence, they send trusted knight Griffith Sommersby to escort her home.
Griffith’s heart broke when he lost his wife and infant son during childbirth, and he’s kept his feelings locked away from the world—until he meets Kallen. He soon learns her dark secret—that she sees auras around people—which allows her insight into their actions and personalities.
Now Quentin, bastard brother to the king, decides to harness Kallen’s gift in a plot to win the throne. Will Quentin successfully use a kidnapped Kallen as his political pawn, or will Griffith be able to stop him before Kallen changes the course of England’s history?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I read an article about a woman who could see auras around people. Different colors meant different personalities and traits. I decided to write a medieval heroine who had that talent and throw her into the political intrigue of a plot to overthrow the king–using her hidden talent.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I always choose their names first, then I begin to see them physically.
THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND—1293
Quentin’s brow furrowed. His hair grew damp with sweat. He studied the cards in his hand and glanced casually at Renton. Damn, the ill-tempered bastard seemed smug as he ran a hand through his dark, unruly hair. His host for this game sat across the table as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
He watched Renton gaze to his left. Quentin in turn viewed he old fool seated next to Renton. Soon the baron would quit the game. Only Quentin would be left to challenge his host.
God, but he wanted to win. Deserved to win. Why shouldn’t he? At a score and one, he was the Earl of Nowland and bastard son of the king. His life should be richly blessed.
If only he could win this one hand.
The balding baron placed his cards face down. “Enough.” He spat upon the rushes gathered on the floor and pushed away from the table.
Blond and buxom Lady Alita, always the perfect hostess and wife, moved from her husband Renton’s elbow to the yielding nobleman. “My lord, would you care for some wine? I know a man’s card play can work up a powerful thirst.”
They stepped away, Alita’s chattering striking a raw nerve with Quentin. She reminded him of his sister—the last person he wished to think of at this crucial moment.
His final opponent pushed the cards around in his hand. Quentin watched him, his heart pounding. Renton was notorious for displaying a casual air. His cards could be worth less than a pile of dung, and no one would be the wiser. Quentin determined that his neighbor would not get the best of him.
Not this time.
Yet a quarter hour later the stakes were next to impossible. Quentin now found himself sweating profusely.
Tiny rivulets formed along his neck and coasted down his back. He had to win. He must.
“My final wager to add to this,” Quentin heard himself say. His voice sounded tinny, coming from a long way off. Colors began to swim around the table, confusing him.
“What say you then, Nowland?” Renton growled. “You’ve no more coin at hand.” He belched loudly and took another swig of the ale.
The man’s vulgarity seemed the final straw. His heart full of hate, Quentin locked his jaw and narrowed his eyes, staring at his enemy. “The copse,” he spat.
Renton’s eyes gleamed. “The entire forest? Even the stream running through it?”
“Yes,” Quentin said, his voice low and menacing. “The whole of it.”
His host smiled. “You realize that would include the hunting rights, Nowland? That it would become my land, an extension of Mangeron? That you could only set foot on it at my invitation?”
Quentin’s gut tightened, but he smiled in return. “I understand perfectly.” He paused a moment. “But I don’t intend to lose.”
Renton laughed. “Then the copse, it is. I shall match you. My pair of steeds you’ve so admired, and your pick of brood mare to go with them.”
He couldn’t wait to possess those magnificent horses and all the foals that the mare would produce. “Agreed.”
“Then show your cards, Nowland.” Renton spread his across the tabletop slowly and then raised his eyes to meet Quentin’s.
No! Quentin’s blood screamed out. He wanted to take back the wager, scratch the entire night from his memory. He couldn’t lose to Renton de Mangeron.
Yet he had.
He slowly laid his own cards down as if he were in a nightmare. Renton chuckled. The two men’s eyes met.
Renton said softly, “My copse now.” He reached his arms out and swept the stacks of gold coin on the table toward him. “And my gold.”
Quentin smiled pleasantly, despite the fact his heart hammered unmercifully in his chest. He waved a hand nonchalantly. “It happens.”
He looked around. Life went on in the Great Hall of Mangeron. Guests ate and drank as they listened to a minstrel. He returned his gaze to Renton.
“A fine match,” he said, nodding his head. “Now I’m off for the garderobe and a willing wench, eh?” He laughed heartily, doing his best to disguise the pain that tightened about him, as real as any vise.
Renton’s hearty laugh caused Quentin to see red. “Mayhap I’ll invite you to go hunting soon. On my new land.” He laughed again at his own wit as Quentin stepped away and crossed the room.
He was unbearably hot. He needed fresh air. Quentin left the Great Hall, a headache already pounding away at his temples. They came infrequently but were painful when they occurred. He moved rapidly down the corridor, blind to everything except the fact that he’d lost. Again.
When would he get his gambling under control?
His blood and tastes ran royal, but his circumstances were not. Why must he always push himself beyond his means? He dreaded what would occur next. His tenants must be milked dry yet again. He could already hear their grumblings.
“By God’s hooks,” he swore, grinding his teeth. He’d suffered enough. It was time to make someone else pay.
Quentin had no idea where he went as he stormed down the stone-flagged corridor. He only wanted retribution.
And then he saw her. Renton’s daughter. The raven-haired girl with her father’s dark blue eyes was but ten and three, but she had the body of a woman. A very ripe woman.
Quentin decided it would be her. Here. Now.
He slowed his pace as he approached her. What was the chit’s name? Bevia. Yes, that was it. Bevia.
She took notice of him and stopped in her tracks. “Oh, my lord. You startled me.” She leaned down to pick up the doll she’d dropped.
Quentin bent and reached it first, handing it to her. He gave her his most engaging grin. “I am most sorry for that, my dear.”
He saw the effect his smile had on her. If he knew one thing, it was the way to a woman’s heart. He had the height of Edward Longshanks, far beyond what most of the king’s brood had been given, coupled with his mother’s gray eyes and distinct, silvery blond hair. He used all this to his advantage whenever he could.
Bevia returned his smile. “May I help you, my lord? Are you lost? I could—”
Quentin placed a hand gently on her shoulder. “As a matter of fact, I was on my way to your father’s library, my sweet. He promised me the loan of a book. I first went to the garderobe and,” he shrugged, “I seem to be turned around.”
“I can take you there,” she said eagerly.
Quentin gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Oh, would you? That would be most delightful, dear Bevia.” He linked her hand through his arm. “I’m quite looking forward to what I find there.”
The girl led him down several halls, chattering much like her mother as they walked. Quentin murmured politely every now and then, and she didn’t notice he wasn’t listening to her.
But he was taking her in. Her breasts were full, her waist tiny. His heart quickened as he thought of punishing Renton through his daughter. ‘Twould be most enjoyable.
Bevia stopped. “This is my father’s solar. You must enter it to cross to his study. There’s no other access, I’m afraid.”
Oh, this was rich. Quentin would have Renton’s daughter in his own bed.
“Would you mind showing me, Bevia? I wouldn’t want to disturb anything. You know how particular your father is.”
He saw her mouth purse with distaste. Renton was said to have a heavy hand. Quentin didn’t know if it extended to his own family, but he felt sure it must by the expression on the chit’s face.
“All right,” she agreed reluctantly. She pushed open the door. A fire burned low in the grate, the only light of the room. They entered, and Quentin silently closed and locked the door behind them.
Flushed with drink and success, Renton pinched Alita’s ample rump as they walked up the stairs. Most of the evening was now a blur after so many cups of wine and ale, but he remembered the most important event. He’d bested that pompous ass, Quentin of Nowland. The beautiful wooded area adjacent to his own property now belonged to his estate. He’d never foolishly gamble it away as the king’s bastard had.
Renton threw an arm about his wife’s shoulders. A quick romp with her and then sweet sleep awaited him. He paused as they reached the solar. The door was ajar. His guard went up. He never left it so. Neither did the servants nor Alita. It had taken training, but he was a particular man and liked things done his way.
Someone had been here. But who?
He motioned Alita aside and opened the door cautiously. The fire burned as mere embers now, the room mostly in shadow. Renton stepped in and examined his surroundings. The bed curtains, always opened upon his arising, had been closed. Someone was in his bed.
And then he heard the singing. It was soft and haunting. A child’s voice and a child’s song. Relief filled him, followed by anger. What child stumbled into his bed? Now he’d want fresh sheets. He wouldn’t lie where another had.
Renton moved toward the bed and lit a candle next to it before he drew the curtain aside. Chills ran through him.
His daughter sat propped upon the pillows, cradling her doll in her arms. Bevia rocked the toy and sang to it, her eyes glassy, her face pale. She was naked, and Renton saw the blood between her legs and spilled on his sheets.
“Bevia?” he asked, touching her arm gently so as not to frighten her. “Bevia, who did this to you?”
His daughter gazed blankly at the wall and continued to sing eerily off-key.
Savina’s back hurt from all the tiresome tasks assigned to her. She hated milking cows and loathed washing the undergarments of all the other nuns. Thank Sweetest Jesu her work was now complete. Though meticulous and conscientious as always, she’d finished quickly, and now she must avoid the abbess at all costs. That woman ruled with an iron fist. If God’s love had ever been in her heart, she’d killed it years ago. All Mother Superior now preached was work and more work. It may have made their convent rich in earthly stores, but Savina thought spiritual ones more important.
She brought her pail of milk into the kitchen and winked at the novices scrubbing pots. Their red, raw hands gave her heart a moment’s ache. Savina said a quick prayer for them. All too often she had been in their shoes, as cleaning pots was a favorite punishment the abbess doled out.
Savina walked soundlessly on the stones, having perfected the art of keeping her presence unknown at an early age. The habit, still with her after all these years, came in useful upon occasion.
She heard voices in the main hallway and decided to see what news she might pick up. Mother Superior rarely let the nuns know what happened in the outside world. Savina may have chosen to live a sheltered life with God, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t curious as to what went on beyond the walls of the convent.
A man’s voice!
She hurried her step when she realized it did not belong to any of the visiting priests. Savina moved close until she stood around the corner from the commotion.
“I tell you, I must see Julesa now. Your abbess, that is. Make haste, but summon her at once. Or better yet, simply take us to her. ‘Twill save precious time.”
Savina heard the impatience in the man’s voice. He also had a familiar tone. If she didn’t know better, she’d guess he was related to Mother.
The nuns conversing with him seemed hesitant to act. Savina peeked around the corner and decided she would take matters into her own hands. She marched out bold as a peacock.
“I am going to our abbess, my lord,” she exclaimed. “I will take you to her.”
The two nuns shot her a wild look of disapproval, but Savina ignored them. Instead, she was most interested in the woman that stood next to the man. Actually, she realized it was a young girl as she drew near, and a beautiful one at that. One upon the cusp of childhood and becoming a maid, the girl possessed flawless skin and large, blue eyes. The eyes, though, were blank. Savina wondered for a moment if she were blind.
“Finally, someone who sees reason.” The man waved the two nuns away and turned to stare at her. “Take me to your abbess now. The circumstances are none of your business, but time is of the essence.”
“Of course, my lord,” Savina said demurely, thinking the man a boor. She didn’t need to know the exact nature of his visit, but he didn’t have to sound so condescending. “Follow me.”
Savina walked through the entry way and up a wide staircase. She tamped down the impulse to peek over her shoulder and assumed the nobleman would follow. She kept a brisk pace, as was her way, and hoped he and his charge could keep up.
As they approached the door to the abbess’s study, Savina paused. Before she could speak, the man brushed her aside.
“I will handle matters from here,” he said abruptly. Without knocking, he pushed open the door and swept into the room, dragging the girl behind him.
Savina knew Mother rarely spent time in the outer chamber. She felt it safe to enter and close the door. As she turned from doing so, she saw the man and the girl she assumed was his daughter vanish beyond the second door. Savina scampered to it. The door remained open a foot.
Plenty of room to hear . . . and not be seen.
“Renton! What on God’s earth are you doing here? How did you get in? And who is—”
“I’ve no time for cordial conversation, Julesa. I have a problem. You will solve it.”
Savina could almost feel Mother’s appraising eyes as the room filled with the sound of silence. The abbess’s intelligence was second to none. Savina knew she studied the situation.
“I assume you want to leave the girl here, Brother. She is your daughter?”
Savina grimaced at Mother’s sharp tone. At least she learned the nobleman was kin to the abbess. He’d held the same air she did. It pleased her she’d guessed their connection.
“She is. Useless baggage to me now. Spoiled by that bastard Earl of Nowland. He did it for spite, since I would never let him have her. I won’t see my family ruined because of him.”
“She appears . . . distant.”
Savina heard a heavy sigh. “Bevia’s always been a bit simple. By the Christ, she still plays with dolls at three and ten! I’d thought to make a good match of her, though. She’s got Alita’s looks. Men aren’t interested in their wives having a brain.”
Mother snorted. “So make this match. Why should anyone need know she was deflowered by a royal bastard?”
“Because she’s with child.”
A hush filled the air. Savina shivered, her heart going out to the blank beauty.
The nobleman let out a sigh. “The moment Alita realized it, I tried to arrange for her marriage to take place immediately instead of next year as planned. Unfortunately, Bevia’s husband-to-be’s mother was gravely ill. He refused to leave the woman’s side. By the time the old fool passed on, Bevia’s condition could not have been hidden from a randy groom on his wedding night.”
“And so you bring her to me.”
“What else can I do, Julesa? I refuse to let Quentin have Bevia or know of the child she will bear. Bevia is dead to me as of this moment. I have a coffer full of gold for your greedy hands, Sister. You’re to keep her here permanently. No one’s to know she’s of my blood. Hopefully, the chit will regain some of her sanity after the child’s birth.”
“And what does Alita say of this decision?”
“She will only be told Bevia is dead. Leaving her here is the best I can do.”
Shock ran through Savina. She may not have seen her family for years, as all novices left their earthly relations behind when they committed their lives to God, but she knew her parents loved her to this day. And here this poor girl was, through no fault of her own, being written off as dead by her selfish, twisted father.
Savina vowed in that moment that she would care for this young girl, less than a dozen years younger than she herself.
“No one is to know of her existence, Julesa. The last word I will ask of this is to let me know if Bevia is delivered of a girl or a boy. I pray ‘twill be a girl. The earl would have no use of a girl child if he ever discovered her existence. After that, no reminders. Ever.”
Mother laughed harshly. “I understand everything you ask, Brother. And don’t think I won’t hesitate to call in a favor of my own when the time warrants. We both wield power in our own way. You may prove useful to me someday.”
Savina realized this one conversation led her to understand Mother finally. She and this cruel brother seemed to be cut from the same cloth, one without heart, without soul. Savina didn’t know how she would accomplish it, but she would become Bevia’s protector.
Without thought to the consequences, Savina marched determinedly into Mother’s study.
“Sister.” Mother’s low tones held little surprise. It was as if she knew all along Savina eavesdropped upon the private conversation.
Savina mustered as much innocence as she could project. “Yes, Mother?”
The abbess indicated Bevia. “You always seem to accomplish your tasks so quickly, Sister. I have a new one for you.” Her eyes gleamed as she appraised Savina.
“I am most willing to do whatever you wish, Mother.”
“This is Bevia. She will need your attention—night and day. You will be excused from all other chores with the exception of your prayers. You are to keep her with you at all times. You are not to make mention of anything you might have heard about her.”
Savina winced at the hard look Mother gave her. “As you wish, Mother.”
“Escort Lord Renton downstairs. Come back immediately to take care of your charge. Do you understand everything I’ve said?”
“Yes, Mother. I am to care for Bevia. I will not let her from my sight. I will protect her always, even with my life.”
Mother nodded. “Good.” She studied Savina a moment then said, “I’ve changed my mind. I will accompany Lord Renton to the gate. You may start caring for your charge from this moment forth.”
The abbess rose. “Come,” she motioned to her brother. “I know you are anxious to be off. My best to Alita. And there’s a boy now?”
“Yes,” Lord Renton replied as he led his sister from the room. “My son Crispin. Much younger than Bevia. He will be heir to Mangeron.”
They left the room, and Savina turned to Bevia. She slowly approached the girl and took her hand.
“We are going to spend lots of time together, Bevia.” She stroked Bevia’s hand, hoping it would soothe her. The glassy eyes remained unfocused.
Savina silently sent a prayer up to the Virgin, asking for her divine guidance. God worked in mysterious ways. He had finally used Savina’s eavesdropping to give her a mission in life.
And Savina would guard Bevia from all evil.
Especially Mother Superior.
Lauren Linwood became a teacher who wrote on the side to maintain her sanity in a sea of teenage hormones. Her historical romances use history as a backdrop to place her characters in extraordinary circumstances, where their intense desire for one another grows into the treasured gift of love. Her romantic suspense novels feature strong heroes and heroines who unite to defeat a clever antagonist and discover a deep, abiding love during their journey.
A native Texan, Lauren lives in a Dallas suburb with her family. An avid reader, moviegoer, and sports fan, she manages stress by alternating yoga with long walks. She plans to start a support group for House Hunters addicts—as soon as she finishes her next piece of dark chocolate.
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