Murder. . .kidnapping. . .revenge. The ""merrie old days"" of the Middle Ages leave much to be desired for four women in England and France. None of them ever believed they'd be embroiled in such plots of devastation and danger. Can God rescue them from the emotional dungeons they face-and lower the drawbridges into the hearts of the men they love? Will the men seeking to conquer their hearts be kindly captors. . .or cruel conquistadors? Meet four memorable characters created by respected author Tracie Peterson, and see if they can turn cavernous medieval castles into heavenly havens.
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CastlesMaidens Meet Their Knights in Four Novels
By Tracie Peterson
BARBOUR PUBLISHINGCopyright © 1995 Tracie J. Peterson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI desire to see her," the tall man stated with an air of one used to his commands being met. His scowl deepened as he awaited an answer.
Duke Geoffrey Pemberton looked sternly at the speaker. It was difficult for him to take orders, much more so from one who was a score of years his junior. Still, the duke of Gavenshire, His Grace Richard DuBonnet, was no ordinary man, and the orders he gave were nearly the same as if they'd come from King Henry himself.
"Surely it would be a waste of Your Grace's time. She is everything your proxy must have told you. I assure you, I speak for my daughter when I say she will go into this marriage with dignity, respect, and honor," Pemberton said in a much controlled manner and added, "Remember, Sire, 'twas your choice to send a proxy to the betrothal ceremony."
Richard brought both fists down on the table. He was weary of dealing with the older man. Weary from the greed and unpleasant cruelties he'd witnessed in things Duke Pemberton said and did.
"Don't question me," Richard said firmly. His breeding and background had given him the skills to easily fight and defeat opponents, but he recognized that the art of diplomacy was wasted on one such as Pemberton. "I want to see her now!" he exclaimed without room for argument.
Pemberton bit back a retort and called for his daughter's chambermaid. The terrified girl appeared, cringing as the duke bellowed out the order that his daughter was to be brought at once to the great hall.
The maid curtsied to both men and, gathering her skirts, lit up the stairs as though a roaring fire chased her.
Richard eased back into the nearest chair. Cupping his hand against the neatly trimmed beard he wore, Richard's green eyes never left his host.
The man was ruthless and cruel and it showed in his dark eyes. Richard had been forewarned, not only by his men, but by the king's messengers as well. Pemberton had a reputation for a quick temper and heavy hand, which led Richard to wonder about the daughter who would soon be his wife.
Just then the frightened maid returned to curtsey again at her scowling master. "My lady is indisposed at present, Sire. She begs to join you in a moment." The girl cowered, awaiting an angry strike, but Pemberton noted the frown on Richard's face and held back retaliation. Before Richard could speak, Pemberton was up the stairs, disappearing from sight.
"You may go," Richard said softly, and the girl hurried from the room, not even raising her eyes to acknowledge the duke's words.
* * *
With brush in hand, Arianne Pemberton sat quickly stroking her long hair. The duke of Gavenshire, her betrothed, sat in the great hall below. She'd never even met him before finding herself suddenly engaged. What manner of man would send a proxy for his betrothal ceremonies and leave his bride-to-be wondering at the sight and condition of the man she would vow to take to her side for life?
She hummed nervously to herself, then stopped with a frown. Her father, only moments ago, had sent the maid to fetch her. She had sent the maid back to decline, and no doubt her father would be furious. But I have to dress my hair, Arianne thought. It would have been most inappropriate to have been introduced to the duke with my head bare.
In spite of her attempts to convince herself she'd made the right decision, the one thing that kept coming back to her was the cruelty she'd known at her father's hand. He wouldn't like her defiance, just as he hadn't cared about her feelings toward the upcoming marriage. She didn't want the wedding, but he did. That put them at odds.
Arianne continued to run the brush through her hair, even while she considered the consequences of her actions. Her father was a ruthless man who ruled all around him with a mixture of injustice and self-servitude. He would not take lightly Arianne's delay.
Arianne's door slammed abruptly open, causing her to drop her brush.
"Get thee below at once!" her father raged. He gave her no chance to stand, but reached out and yanked the girl to her feet and out the door.
Below in the great hall, Richard heard the commotion. Pemberton appeared at the top of the stairs, dragging behind a shapely young woman.
With hip-length auburn hair flying out behind her, Lady Arianne Pemberton was dragged down the steps and landed in an unceremonious heap at her father's feet.
"Here," her father said smugly, "is your bride. Her temper can be a bit much, but the back of your hand will easily settle her disposition."
Richard was on his feet in a heartbeat, and before Arianne could lift her face, he was helping her.
"Your Grace," she whispered and pushed back the wavy bulk of hair that kept her face from his. Dark brown eyes met angry green ones, causing Arianne to instantly realize that her worst fears had come true. She was to marry a man just like her father!
"Milady," Richard spoke softly, delivering her to a nearby chair. Turning abruptly, Richard closed the distance to where the duke stood with a haughty stare of disgust.
Balling his hand into a fist, Richard raised it to within inches of the duke's face. "Never, I repeat, never treat my wife with such ill-respect again or you will feel the consequences of your actions."
Arianne could not suppress a gasp of surprise. No one had ever dared to speak to her father in such a manner. The duke's face flamed red, but he remained silent, further surprising his daughter. He must want this match badly.
With the king's edict that she be wed to the duke of Gavenshire, Arianne couldn't imagine that her father would worry that the marriage wouldn't take place. Perhaps he was simply in awe of the younger man's position with the king. Arianne knew that position and power were the only things of importance to her father and surmised that this must, indeed, be the reason for his good manners.
Completely ignoring the indignant duke, Richard turned to take in the vision of the woman he was slated to spend all of time with. She was everything his men had related and morel They hadn't told him of the way her hair flashed glints of gold amidst the deep auburn mass. No doubt they'd not seen her hair, Richard mused, for it would have been covered with a white linen wimple and mantle.
Arianne grew uncomfortable under the duke's close scrutiny. She'd had no time to plait her hair and cover her head before her father had stormed into her chamber and dragged her to meet her husband-to-be. She was most grateful that she'd dressed carefully in forest green velvet, for while it was simply adorned with a gold and jeweled belt at her waist, it was a becoming color, and Arianne did hope to meet with the duke's approval.
"Milady," Richard said, coming to greet her formally, "I am Richard DuBonnet, duke of Gavenshire." He gave a bit of a bow before taking Arianne's hand in his own and continuing. "And you, of course, are the most lovely Lady Arianne Pemberton."
Arianne wanted to melt into the rush-covered floor. The warmth in his eyes set her heart beating faster, but the gentleness of his touch was as none she'd ever known.
"Your Grace," she whispered, getting to her feet. Even as she curtsied deeply, Richard refused to let go of her hand.
"It would pleasure me greatly, Milady, if you were to call me Richard."
Arianne rose and lifted her face to his. "Richard," she whispered the name, trembling from head to toe.
"And might I call you Arianne?" he questioned. Both of them were oblivious to the older duke, staring on in complete loathing of the gentle exchange.
"But of course, Your-Richard," Arianne corrected herself. She mustn't do anything to anger this powerful man. "You may call me whatever pleases you."
A hint of a smile played at the corners of Richard's lips. "It pleases me to call you my wife," he said boldly. "The king has chosen well for me."
Arianne blushed scarlet and felt her knees grow weak. She couldn't very well reply with her true feelings toward the arrangement. Not with such gallant praise being issued on her behalf. With a quick glance past Richard to where her father stood, Arianne realized instantly that he was displeased.
Richard noticed the exchange at once and led Arianne back to the chair. "Come, we will speak of our marriage," he announced.
Duke Pemberton could no longer remain silent. "I see no need to waste your valuable time, Your Grace. You must have many affairs to oversee. I have already assured you of my daughter's virtue, dowry-"
"Yes, yes. I know all about the business dealings of my betrothal and marriage. What I desire to know now is the heart of your daughter," Richard interrupted with a flash of anger in his eyes.
"But what woman knows her heart on any matter?" Pemberton retorted with a silencing stare directed at his daughter. "Her thoughts are nothing to you or to me. She knows how to tend a household and direct the running of an estate. She is a comely lass and no doubt will give you many fine sons. More than this is unimportant."
Arianne knew better than to cross her father. She was not yet married, and until she came under Richard's complete protection, there was always the possibility that her father would beat her for her remarks. She shuddered, knowing that she still bore lash marks from the last argument she'd had with her father regarding the upcoming marriage.
Richard took the seat beside Arianne and stared thoughtfully at the duke as if he considered his words of value. Then without warning, he turned to her. "What are your thoughts on the matter of our marriage, Arianne?"
Arianne's father seethed noticeably at the disregard of his statement. He flashed a warning to Arianne that told of trouble to come should she say anything to jeopardize her standing in this arrangement.
Arianne bowed her head slightly before speaking. "It is my honor to share vows with you." The words were barely audible.
"You know very little of me," Richard continued gently. "Is there something I might share with you regarding myself that would put to rest any questionable matter in your mind?"
"Nay, Your Grace," she replied, forgetting to call him Richard.
"Is there any matter about yourself that you would like to share with me?" he questioned.
Arianne was shaking noticeably now. On one side stood her father, threatening with his eyes to strip her of her dignity should she say anything outside of his instruction, and on the other side was Richard, who genuinely seemed to care about her feelings.
The room grew uncomfortably silent. The tension between the girl and her father was clear. Richard frowned slightly. He noticed Arianne's trembling and the duke's scowling face. So long as Arianne's father remained within sight, she would no doubt say little or nothing. Without warning, Richard stood and pointed to the door. "Leave us," he commanded the duke.
Pemberton was shocked beyond reason and enraged beyond words. He struggled for the right response, but before he could find any words, Richard called for his men and ordered them to take the duke into the outer room.
Richard knew he was making a great enemy, but he no longer cared. His real concern was for the frightened young woman who sat cringing in terror.
As his men took the duke from the room, Richard called out one final order. "We are not to be disturbed for any reason."
When the door closed behind his men, Richard turned to Arianne and smiled. "Now, Arianne, you must feel free to speak to me honestly."
Arianne's mouth dropped open slightly, and Richard couldn't help but notice her lips. Raising his gaze slightly, he stared into huge brown eyes that reminded him hauntingly of a doe about to be slain.
"I ... I ...," she stammered for words.
Richard sat back down and took her hand in his own. Lifting it to his lips, he gently kissed the back. "Arianne," he whispered, "I can read things in your eyes that are not making their way to your lips. You might as well speak your heart. You aren't going to offend or injure me, I assure you. Now speak to me of this marriage. Are you truly in agreement?" he questioned gently.
Arianne could feel the warmth of his breath against her hand and pulled it back quickly. "I have never been allowed the luxury of speaking openly, Sire-Richard."
"I'm certain you speak the truth," he said with a slight smile. "But your father is no longer a concern to you. You are under my protection and you will leave with me on the 'morrow, so put aside your fears and talk to me. We cannot change what the king has arranged, but we might yet come to a better understanding of it."
Arianne swallowed the lump in her throat. She lifted her delicate face to meet Richard's gentle expression. With the exception of her brother, Devon, she'd never known a man such as Richard. But Devon was hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles away doing the king's bidding, just as she was doing the royal bidding at home.
"I am against marriage to you," she said softly, then tightly shut her eyes and braced herself for his rage.
"I see," he replied without emotion. "Has another captured your affections?"
Arianne's eyes snapped open. "Nay, there is no other," she stated adamantly.
"Then what makes this arrangement so unbearable?"
"I ... I," she stammered for a moment then drew a deep breath. "I do not love you, Richard."
"You laugh at me?" Arianne quickly questioned.
"Nay, dear lady. I do not laugh at you. Neither do I expect you to love me. Not yet, anyway. We've only just met and this arrangement is new to both of us." Richard paused, getting to his feet. He paced a few steps before continuing.
"Why, in all honesty, I hadn't planned to take a wife, at least not yet. When King Henry suggested this arrangement, however, I knew it would be one that would benefit our families and fulfill his desire to see me properly wed."
Richard's words seemed most sincere and Arianne began to relax. Perhaps the duke was not the kind of man her father was.
Arianne studied Richard for a moment. He was handsome-tall and lean with broad shoulders. His legs were heavily muscled, no doubt from many hours of supporting the chain mail hauberk and chaussures that were customary costume for men of armor. His dark brown hair had been neatly trimmed, as had been his mustache and beard. But most disturbing were his eyes; green eyes so fiery one minute and soft, almost childlike, the next. Arianne truly wished she knew more about the duke of Gavenshire.
"It is a good arrangement for my family," Arianne finally spoke. "I would never do anything to disgrace them. Neither would I do anything to bring the king's wrath upon them. It is my desire to be married to you, just as King Henry wishes."
Richard stopped in his pace and turned.
Excerpted from Castles by Tracie Peterson Copyright © 1995 by Tracie J. Peterson. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a book that I couldn't put down. I found this author detailed in her writing. I felt like i was each and everyone of those women.. I hated to let the book go. I would recommend this book to all who wants to know true love while also understanding to put no one above your God. And as long as you have him you will not fear death or deny what life has in store for you. You would recognize that there is peace in God also in True Love!