Read an Excerpt
What She Wants
By Lynsay Sands
Copyright © 2002
All right reserved.
The door flew open, slamming into the cottage with what would
have been a crash had it been made of stronger material. Hugh
had been about to dismount, but paused to run a wary eye over
the old woman now watching him from the open door.
Eada. She was very old, age bowing her shoulders like the
branches of an ancient tree and gnarling her hands and
fingers. Her hair was a long coarse cape of white around a
face puckered and wrinkled by the passage of years. Only her
cobalt eyes still held any hint of snapping youth and
intelligence. They also held a knowledge that was unnerving.
She can look into your eyes and see your soul, pick out every
flaw you possess along with every grace. She can read your
future in the dregs of the wine you drink and read your past
from the lines on your face.
He had been told all of this and still a jolt went through
Hugh as the eyes of the old witch settled on him. He felt a
shock run through his entire body as if she truly were looking
right into him. As if she could see all the way down to his
presently curling toes. She held Hugh in thrall for a moment
with just her eyes, then turned to walk into the hovel. She
left the door open-undoubtedly an invitation for him to
Hugh relaxed once she was out of sight, then glanced at the
mounted man beside him. Lucan D'Amanieu, his friend and
confidant for years. Hugh had rather hoped the man would
soothe the foolish superstitions suddenly rising up within
him. The old childhood beliefs in witches and haunts were all
rattling to life in his suddenly fancy-filled mind, and he'd
been counting on Lucan to arch one amused eyebrow and make
some derisive comment that would put everything back into
perspective. Unfortunately, it appeared his sensible friend
was feeling rather fanciful himself today. Rather than soothe
him, Lucan appeared nervous and, tensely asked, "Think you she
Hugh gave a start at the question. It hadn't occurred to him
that she might. He considered the possibility now, his gaze
fixed on the hovel. "Nay," he said at last. "How could she?"
"Aye," Lucan agreed with less confidence as they dismounted.
"How could she?"
The old woman was fussing over the fire when they entered the
shack. It gave the two men an opportunity to survey their
Contrary to the filthy and dilapidated state of the outside of
the cottage, the inside was clean and quite homey. Flowers sat
in a wooden bowl in the center of a rough-hewn table at one
end of the room, while a narrow cot was pressed up against the
wall opposite. A fire was built into the wall across from the
door, and it was here the woman stood stoking the flames,
urging them into a livelier dance. Once satisfied, she moved
back to the table and collapsed upon one of the three chairs,
then waved Hugh and Lucan to the others.
After a barely noticeable hesitation, Hugh took the seat
opposite the woman, placing his back to the door. Lucan took
the adjacent seat, leaving him a clear view of the door should
anyone enter. They then waited expectantly for the woman to
ask their reason for being there. Instead, she took the wine
flask from the center of the table and poured two mugs full.
Ignoring Lucan, she pushed one to Hugh, then lifted the other
to her mouth.
For want of anything better to do, Hugh drank. He was
immediately sorry. The wine was bitter, scraping across his
tongue with a caustic glee that left him struggling not to
pucker in response. Doing his best not to show his distaste,
he set the almost full tankard back on the table's worn
surface. Hugh returned his gaze to the witch, still expecting
questions regarding his presence, or at least who he was. The
crone merely eyed him over the lip of her own mug, waiting.
When the silence had drawn out, long and tense, he finally
spoke, "I am Hugh Dulonget."
"The fifth Earl of Hillcrest." He gave a start as she finished
the introduction for him. "You know of my uncle's-?"
"I beg your pardon?" He stared at her nonplused.
"I said he's dead. His heart gave out on him," she repeated
impatiently. "Ye'll succeed to his title and holdings."
"Aye. I am his nephew. His only heir."
"The only one, hmm?" Her tone was dry and had him shifting
"Well ... aye," he lied, but found himself squirming under her
all-knowing gaze. He said, "Nay. Uncle Richard left a bequest
"A bequest?" She seemed to look right through him.
Hugh picked up the wine, drinking from it almost desperately
despite its bitter taste. Slamming the tankard down once it
was empty, he straightened his shoulders and scowled. "Of
course, you shall continue to receive coin for her care."
"The girl. This Willa person my uncle was so concerned with."
He did not bother to hide his distaste with the matter.
"Coin for her care, hmm?"
Hugh swallowed and felt his discomfort increase. Her steady
stare was somewhat disconcerting. He could almost believe that
she was looking into his soul. If so, he suspected the flaws
to be found were many. He doubted if there were many graces to
be seen at the moment. After all, he was lying through his
"Do ye not mean she'll be well-cared for once she marries
Hugh went still. He could feel the blood rush into his face
with reawakened rage. That same rage had consumed him on first
hearing this news from his uncle's solicitor. He'd inherited
it all. The Earldom, the money, the servants and estates ... as
well as his uncle's bastard daughter to wed. In effect, he'd
been willed a wife. Nothing more than a village bastard,
raised by an old crone who had once served in the castle. It
was one of the most asinine positions Hugh had ever imagined
himself being forced into. He, a lord, the son of a great
knight, and now the heir to an Earldom, to marry some village
brat! Not even a titled lady, but a bastard village brat with
no more training than milking cows or whatever it was they
trained village brats to do. Impossible. Inconceivable. But
true. Now, as he had that morning, he felt his body cramp with
fury. His hands clenched on the table-top, aching to be around
the crone's very throat for daring to infuriate him so. That
was when he heard the singing. A woman's voice, high and clear
and as sweet as a tankard of mead on the hottest afternoon.
Everything seemed to slow; his anger, his thoughts, his very
heartbeat all stilled in anticipation, even the room around
him became motionless. Lucan and the hag were unmoving. A fly
he had absently noticed buzzing around his tankard landed on
its lip and remained there as if listening to the sonorous
voice as it drew nearer.
The door behind him opened, bathing the dim interior of the
cottage with afternoon light; then something moved to block
that light. The singing halted abruptly.
"Oh! We have guests."
Hugh heard Lucan's gasp. Wondering over it, he turned
inexorably toward the source of the lovely voice. He felt his
jaw slacken in shock.
An angel. Surely, that was what she was. Only an angel would
glow golden, Hugh thought as he stared at the radiant outline
of the female form. Then she stepped out from in front of the
door. She moved to the old woman's side and he saw that the
golden glow had merely been the sunlight reflecting off of her
hair. And what a glory that was! Full thick strands of pure
Nay, not pure gold, he decided. Those tresses were brighter
than gold and there were strands of red shot through them. Her
hair was woven sunlight set afire. It spouted from her head,
blazed down over her shoulders, and trailed past her hips to
her knees. Hugh had never before beheld such a vision and was
sure he never would again. At first, he was so transfixed by
the sight, that he noticed neither her face nor figure as she
bent to feather an affectionate kiss on the cheek of the old
hag. Then she straightened. Her limpid gray eyes turned to him
and his attention shifted, taking in their pale color and bold
expression. His gaze dropped to the smile on her luscious lips
and he found himself swallowing.
"You must be my betrothed."
Those words stopped Hugh's perusal cold. His gaze immediately
lost its rosy tinge, dropping glacial and grim over the baggy,
plain gown she wore, taking in it's patches and repaired
rends. The garment hung on her like a sack. She looked like a
village girl, a pretty village girl perhaps, but a village
girl just the same and he was a lord, above being bound to a
simple female of such uncertain parentage. Marrying her was
out of the question, though she would make a fetching
"Gold is gold whether buried deep in the mud or adorning a
king's crown," the crone said.
Hugh frowned at the comment, annoyed at the suggestion that
she'd known what he thought. He was even more annoyed at the
meaning of her words since he was positive they didn't apply
When he remained silent, the witch tilted her head to the
side, considering him. She then reached up to clasp the hand
at her shoulder, drawing the girl's attention. "We will need
more garlic, child. For the trip."
Nodding, the chit collected a basket and left the cottage
without making a sound.
"Ye'll marry her." It was a simple statement of fact.
Hugh turned sharply on the witch, but stilled, eyes widening
as he saw that she now held his empty mug. She was squinting
over the dregs that had been left behind when he'd finished
the drink. That knowledge sent a frisson of something akin to
fear arcing up his spine. This woman was said to see the
future in those dregs. In these uncertain times, Hugh did not
think he wished to know what was yet to be. But wish it or
not, the woman read on.
"Ye'll marry her for yer people, but she'll quickly come to
claim yer heart."
He sneered at this possibility, but the woman paid him little
heed as she continued to stare into the tankard. "The future
holds much joy, happiness and children aplenty ... if ye solve
"What riddle?" Lucan asked breathlessly and Hugh sneered at
his being taking in by this trickery. When the woman merely
raised black eyes to stare at the other knight, he shifted and
asked, "Well then, what if he does not solve the riddle?"
Hugh saw the conviction in her eyes and swallowed a tad
nervously. Then she sat back and waved an impatient hand.
"Begone. I am weary and your presence annoys me."
The two men were more than happy to comply. They removed
themselves from the dim cottage, and stepped out into the
sunlight with relief.
"Well?" Lucan queried as they returned to their mounts. ] Grim
faced, Hugh waited until he was back atop his mount to ask,
"Do you return on the morrow for her or no?"
Head snapping around, Hugh glared at the old woman for
eavesdropping, then angrily tugged on his reigns, drawing his
horse around before spurring him into a run that left Lucan
scrambling to mount and catch up to him.
Hugh had to slow once he hit the trees, there was no true path
to or from this cottage, which had made finding it an
adventure. The necessity to slow down allowed Lucan to catch
up to him. The moment he had, he again asked whether he would
marry the girl.
Hugh scowled at the question. His visit with Lord Wynekyn and
the solicitor had been short. Once he had heard the bit about
his being expected to marry some by-blow named Willa, he had
worked himself into a fine temper. After bellowing and
stomping about a bit, he had headed for Hillcrest. Hugh had no
desire to marry the girl. But he wasn't sure how he could get
himself out of it. The way the solicitor had phrased it, to
gain his inheritance he had to marry her. "I do not wish it,
but fear I may have no choice if I want Hillcrest."
"Surely you cannot be denied Hillcrest," Lucan argued. "'Tis
yours by law of primogeniture. You are next in line. Whether
you marry the girl or not, Hillcrest cannot be refused you."
Hugh perked up at this comment. "Aye. You are right."
"Aye. So what will you do with her?" Lucan asked and Hugh's
posture deflated, along with his mood.
"I do not know."
They were both silent, then Hugh said slowly, "I suppose I
really have to see to her future. She is a relative after
"Aye." Lucan murmured, then when Hugh did not continue, he
suggested tentatively, "Perhaps you could arrange a marriage
for her. See her settled."
Hugh pondered that briefly, then gave a slow nod. "Aye. That
might be just the thing. She may even have someone of her own
class that she already has affection for."
"Aye. She may."
Relaxing a little, Hugh set his mind to how to accomplish the
task. He would have to work around the old woman, that was
obvious. If the hag got wind of his idea, she would most like
put an end to it right quick and make trouble for him. He
supposed that wouldn't be his responsibility. After all, the
only thing he could do was try to see to the girl's future
well-being. If the old woman wouldn't accept anything from him
but marriage ... well, she was going to be disappointed. It was
just a shame if she made things harder on the girl than need
It was that melodious voice-high, clear, and angelic-that made
him slow moments later. Cocking his head, he turned it by
degrees until he could tell from which direction the song
came, then headed his horse toward it. He was unsure what
moved him to do so even as he did. Hugh came upon a clearing
to find the sound sweet in the air, but no sign of the girl
whose lips it came from.
Perplexed, he scanned the area more carefully. He spied her
half-hidden in a crush of weeds. Rather than search out the
garlic the old lady had sent her after, the girl lay in a
tangle of weeds and flowers. She made dandelion chains as she
sang. Hugh urged his horse forward, almost sorry when her song
died mid-word and she sat up abruptly.
"She sent you for garlic. Is this how you obey your guardian?"
Hugh asked. When she merely stared up at him in blank
confusion, he shifted impatiently. "Answer me!"
"She has no need of garlic, my lord. I collected that
"Mayhap she needed more. Why else did she ask you to fetch
"She merely wished to speak to you alone."
Hugh accepted that in silence. His gaze moved around the
clearing and he began to frown. "'Tis not wise to wander about
alone. You could be set upon. Then, what would you do?"
"Wolfy and Fen would keep me safe."
His eyebrows rose. "Wolfy? Fen?"
"Friends of mine," came her evasive answer. Then she tilted
her head in a listening attitude before collecting her empty
basket and getting to her feet. "I must return. She will want
me now that you have left."
"Wait." Leaning down, Hugh caught her arm, then released her
as if stung when she turned back in question. Shaking his head
at his own reaction to her, he held his hand out. "I will take
Willa did not hesitate, but promptly placed her fingers in
his. For one moment, Hugh wondered at her placing her trust in
him so easily. Then he reasoned that as far as she knew, he
was her betrothed. Of course, she would trust him. The issue
resolved in his mind, he lifted her up and settled her on the
saddle before him, then adjusted his hold on the reigns. Hugh
turned the horse in a slow circle back the way he had come,
aware that Lucan was following a discreet distance behind on
his own mount.
"Who are Wilf and Fin?" he asked.
"Wolfy and Fen," she corrected, then added, "Friends." The
girl wiggled about a bit on the saddle in search of a more
Hugh gritted his teeth against his body's natural reaction as
she rubbed against him, but continued determinedly with his
questions. "Would you ever consider marrying either of them?"
That brought her head swinging around, her lovely golden
tresses splashing across his face as she goggled. Much to his
chagrin, a burble of laughter burst from her lips. "Nay! My
Lord, that would be quite impossible."
Her sincere amusement at the idea brought a scowl to Hugh's
face as she turned to face front. Unfortunately, while she
turned away, her hair remained plastered across his face,
caught on the stubble on his cheeks. By jerking his head
backward, he was able to dislodge the soft tendrils, then
considered his next question. While he was still curious about
the Wolfy and Fen she had mentioned, Hugh was more concerned
with handling this situation in such a way that he would not
have to marry her. Yet, would not need feel guilty over it
"Is there anyone special in your affections?" he asked at
Excerpted from What She Wants
by Lynsay Sands
Copyright © 2002 by Lynsay Sands.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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