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One Knight Only
The last time maidservant Anne Kendall pretended to be a noblewoman, she'd been locked in a tower bedchamber, and only had to keep up the masquerade for one person. Now she was able to ride her horse through the colorful pavilions of the tournament on the grassy park on the plains near York, her head held high, wearing the finest garments, projecting the confidence of a wealthy, powerful woman. She was impersonating Lady Rosamond Wolsingham, daughter of a duke, widow of an earl, and a woman who knew too many secrets, the kind that desperate men might kill for.
Anne could never forget the risk of danger involved.
But she had her small retinue of soldiers near her at all times, as well as Lady Rosamond's maidservant to help with her masquerade. They surrounded her as she moved through the crowd of knights and squires, their ladies and their servants, heading toward the walls of the town and the inn that awaited them.
Anne had already honed her impersonation by spending a week under the tutelage of Lady Rosamond, then visiting the first castle on the lady's husband-hunting list. Thank goodness Lady Rosamond had something in mind for Anne's journey to London. How else to keep all eyes focused on Anne, instead of the secret journey that Lady Rosamond was taking?
But this tournament had not been anticipated. There might be people here who knew the countess, who would realize that Anne was not she. So Anne bowed to the wishes of her soldiers and wore a veil attached to her headdress to obscure her face. She had not meant to take any chances by watching the tournament, butas they rode past a field surrounded by a cheering crowd, she could see two armored combatants swinging swords at each other. The fight looked intense enough for a battlefield, and one knight even lost his helm during a blow. But the reeling man only shook back his brown hair that glinted red in the setting sun, laughed, and continued to attack his opponent bareheaded. He was a reckless, brilliant fighter with little care for his own safety.
Anne felt a chill of recognition. Sir Philip Clifford. Here was one man who could identify her, might even unthinkingly call out her name. She turned her head away and tapped her mount's flanks to hurry into town. But inside her, something hot and smoldering reawakened, and she cursed her weakness where Philip was concerned. She could not afford to be distracted—
especially not by memories of him and the anger it evoked inside her.
The tavern on the ground floor of the inn was overflowing with cheering, laughing, drinking men and women, and Philip Clifford was determined to enjoy every minute of it. Today he had bested every knight in sword fighting, and he was using part of his winning purse to keep the celebration going. He knew a deep satisfaction in keeping his name in the public eye. If he continued his winning streak, he would most certainly come to the attention of King Henry. He intended to be the king's man, perhaps his champion, to live at court and make a good marriage. The king had only come to power the previous year when he defeated King Richard in battle. Would not such a man need to discover men he could trust? Philip could be such a man.
Pleasing a monarch had not always been his goal, Philip thought, sipping his tankard of ale and tugging on the skirt of a blond serving maid as she pranced by. She laughed over her shoulder at him and winked. He used to hold himself to a strict morality, focused on being as worthy as the knights in the League of the Blade, the shadowy group of men who took action when they saw a wrong being committed. He'd grown up listening to his mother's stories of the great League and its worthy deeds.
But he'd given up that quest. After everything he'd accomplished in the service of his friend John Russell,
newly married and now the earl of Alderley, Philip still hadn't earned an invitation to join the league, although John had. It had been time for Philip to move on. He'd taken to the roads of England, looking for any chance to show his talent, to earn prize money and the notice of the king.
Sometimes that road was lonely. He'd been a man always part of a company, first a soldier, then a knight. But now he owed his allegiance to no man. More than once a pretty maid had eased his nights. But even that had begun to seem lonely. He wanted his life to have meaning. So when the maidservant brushed by him again, her hand lingering on his shoulder, he smiled, but did not offer an invitation.
Several women brushed past him, even a merchant's wife, and he made a game of reaching for them, only to send them away laughing. When it happened again, he swept his arm around the woman's waist and hauled her across his lap. There was a roar of approval from the crowd, and Philip leaned over to smile at his captive, but to his surprise, she was wearing a veil that obscured the lower half of her face. Upswept black hair was tucked back beneath a small headdress, and below that, he could see wide, fathomless black eyes.
Inside him, everything stilled in recognition and desire. Anne Kendall. He had not seen her in many weeks, but his body remembered. When he'd first met her, he'd believed her to be Lady Elizabeth Hutton, and she'd been dressed as finely as she was now, with long silk skirts. Her garments slid like water across his legs, his thighs pillowing her, his arm holding her as if she were a lover. She was delicate and strong all at once, as a woman should be who'd fooled a viscount for days and kept him from marrying her lady. 'Twas a shame she was only a maidservant.One Knight Only. Copyright © by Julia Latham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.