From the moment they met, Lady Beatrice yearned for the cynical Sir Ranulf. But as the daughter of a traitorous nobleman, she was tainted — marriage was nigh impossible. With little hope of securing the man of her dreams for a lifetime, perhaps the clever young maiden could get her knight for one passionate night
Ranulf never believed he'd ever love a woman well enough to wed — until he met the vivacious Bea.
A jaded knight with neither power nor wealth had little to offer a noble lady. Sent by his liege lord to take command of a castle in Cornwall, Ranulf was surprised beyond belief when the virtuous Bea suddenly arrived, intent on seduction. Would desire or honor triumph in this game of love?
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THE LORD OF TREGELLAS fidgeted on his carved oaken chair on the dais of his great hall. "God's wounds, does it always take so long?" he muttered under his breath.
Normally Lord Merrick was the most stoic of men, and the hall of Tregellas a place of ease and comfort. Today, however, his lordship's beloved wife was struggling to bring forth their first child in the lord's bedchamber above, so everyone was anxious. The servants moved with silent caution, and even the hounds lay still and quiet in the rushes that covered the floor.
Only Lord Merrick's bearded, red-haired friend seemed at ease as he sat on that same dais and took a sip of wine. "I've heard that two or even three days are not uncommon for a first birthing," Sir Ranulf remarked.
Merrick's eyes narrowed. "Is that supposed to comfort me?"
Ranulf's full lips curved up in a slightly sardonic smile. "Actually, yes."
As Merrick sniffed with derision, Ranulf set down his goblet. "It seems an age to us, and no doubt longer to your Constance, but I gather a lengthy labor is not unusual the first time, nor does it indicate any special danger for the mother or child."
"I didn't know you were an expert."
"I'm not," Ranulf said, refusing to let his friend's brusque manner disturb him. Merrick had never been known for his charm. "I truly don't think there's any cause for worry. If your wife or the babe were at risk, the midwife would have summoned both you and the priest, and Lady Beatrice would have been sent from the chamber."
In fact, and although he didn't say so, Ranulf thought it rather odd that Beatrice was still in Constance's bedchamber, regardless of what was transpiring. He didn't think Beatrice should be witnessing the travails of childbirth, or inflicting her rather too bubbly presence on a woman at such a time. If he were in pain, the last thing he'd want would be lively Lady Bea buzzing about, telling him the latest gossip or regaling him with yet another tale of King Arthur and his knights.
"Constance wanted her," Merrick said with a shrug.
"They are more like sisters than cousins, you know."
Ranulf was well aware of the close bond between his best friend's wife and her cousin. That was why Beatrice had a home here in Tregellas although she had nothing to her name but her title, and that was due to Merrick's influence with the earl of Cornwall. Otherwise, Beatrice would have lost that, too, when her father was executed for treason.
Merrick started to rise. "I cannot abide this waiting. I'm going to — "
The door to the hall banged open, aided by a gust of wind. Both men turned to see a vaguely familiar man on the threshold, his cloak damp with rain, his chest heaving as he panted.
"My lord!" the round-faced young man called out as he rushed toward the dais.
"It's Myghal, the undersheriff of Penterwell," Merrick said.
That was one of the smaller estates that made up Merrick's demesne on the southern coast, and as they hurried to meet the man halfway, Ranulf was unfortunately certain this fellow's breathless advent could herald nothing good.
"My lord!" Myghal repeated as he bowed, his Cornish accent apparent in his address. "I regret I bring bad tidings from Penterwell, my lord." He bluntly delivered the rest of his news. "Sir Frioc is dead."
Sir Frioc was — or had been — the castellan of Penterwell. The portly, good-tempered Frioc had also been a just man, or Merrick would have chosen another for that post when he assumed lordship of Tregellas after his late father's demise. "How did he die?" Merrick asked, his face its usual grim mask.
Ranulf could hear his friend's underlying concern, although there was no trouble at Penterwell that Ranulf could recall, other than the usual smuggling to which Merrick and his castellan generally turned a blind eye.
"A fall from his horse while hunting, my lord," Myghal answered. "Sir Frioc went chasing after a hare. We lost sight of him and when we finally found him, he was lying on the moor, his neck broken. His horse was close by, lame. Hedyn thinks it stumbled and threw him."
Hedyn was the sheriff of Penterwell, and a man Merrick had likewise considered trustworthy enough to remain in that post. Ranulf hadn't disagreed. He, too, had been impressed by the middle-aged man when Merrick had visited his recently inherited estates.
Myghal reached into his tunic and withdrew a leather pouch. "Hedyn wrote it all down here, my lord."
Merrick took the pouch and pulled open the draw-string. "Go to the kitchen and get some food and drink." he said to Myghal. "One of my servants will see that you have bedding for the night and a place at table."
After Myghal bowed and headed toward the kitchen, Merrick's gaze flicked once more to the steps leading up to his bedchamber, and his wife, before he walked back to his chair, drew out the letter, broke the heavy wax seal and began to read.
Trying not to betray any impatience, Ranulf finished his wine and waited for Merrick to speak. Yet after Merrick had finished reading and had folded the letter, he remained silent and stared, unseeing, at the tapestry behind Ranulf, tapping the parchment against his chin.
"I'm sorry to hear about Sir Frioc," Ranulf ventured. "I liked him."
Merrick nodded and again he glanced toward the stairs, telling Ranulf that whatever else occupied his friend's mind, he was still worried about his wife.
"At least there's no widow to consider," Ranulf noted, "since Frioc's wife died years ago — or daughters, either, for that matter. Nor are there sons who might expect to inherit a father's position, although that privilege is yours to bestow or withhold."
Merrick put the letter into the pouch and shoved it into his tunic.
"You'll need a new castellan, though."
"Yes," Merrick replied.
"Who do you have in mind?"
His dark-eyed friend regarded Ranulf steadily.
Ranulf nearly gasped aloud. He wanted no such responsibility — no ties, no duty beyond that of the oath of loyalty he'd sworn to his friends, and Sir Leonard, and the king.
He quickly covered his dismay, however, and managed a laugh. "Me? I thank you for the compliment, my friend, but I have no wish to be a castellan on the coast of Cornwall. Even my position here as garrison commander was to be temporary, remember?"
"You deserve to be in charge of a castle." Ranulf couldn't help being pleased and flattered by his friend's answer, but this was still a gift, and a gift could be taken away. He would have no man — or woman — know that he mourned the loss of anything, or anyone.
He inclined his head in a polite bow. "Again, my friend, I thank you. However, a castle so near the coast would be far too damp for me. I already feel it in my right elbow when it's about to rain."
Merrick's dark brows rose as he scrutinized Ranulf in a way that would have done credit to Sir Leonard himself. "You would have me believe you're too old and decrepit to command one of my castles?"
"I am still fit to fight, thank God," Ranulf immediately replied, "but truly, I have no desire to spend my days collecting tithes and taxes."
Merrick frowned. "The castellan of Penterwell will have much more to do than that, and I would have someone I trust overseeing that part of the coast. There has been some trouble and I — "
A woman's piercing cry rent the air. His face pale, his eyes wide with horror, Merrick jumped to his feet as a serving woman came flying down the steps from the bedchamber.
Merrick was in front of the plump, normally cheerful Demelza in an instant, with Ranulf right behind him. "What's wrong?" the lord of Tregellas demanded.
"Nothing, my lord, nothing," the maidservant hastened to assure him as she chewed her lip and smoothed down her homespun skirt. "It's just the end, i'n't? The babe's coming fast now. If you please, my lord, the midwife sent me to fetch more hot water."
When Merrick looked about to ask another question, Ranulf put his hand on her friend's arm. "Let her go."
Merrick nodded like one half-dead, and Ranulf's heart, even walled off as it was, felt pity for him. He knew what Merrick feared, just as he knew all too well what it was to lose a woman you loved.
"Tell me what's going on at Penterwell," he prompted as he led his friend back to the dais and thought about Merrick's offer.
Merrick was one of his best and oldest friends. Together with their other trusted comrade, Henry, they had pledged their loyalty to each other and to be brothers-in-arms for life.
What was Merrick really asking of him except his help? Did he not owe it to Merrick to respond to that request when Merrick was in need, as he'd implied?
Besides, if he went to Penterwell, he would be well away from Beatrice. "I should know everything you can tell me if I'm to be castellan."
"You'll do it?" Merrick asked as he sank onto his cushioned chair. "It has occurred to me, my friend, that as castellan I shall also have control over the kitchen," Ranulf replied with his usual cool composure. "I can have my meat cooked however I like, and all the bread I want. That's not an entitlement to be taken lightly, I assure you."
Because he knew his friend wasn't serious when he named culinary benefits as his primary reason for accepting the post, a genuine, if very small, smile appeared on Merrick's face. "I didn't realize you considered yourself ill-fed here."
"Oh, I don't. It's the power that appeals to me." Merrick's smile grew a little more. "Whatever reason you give me, I am glad you've agreed."
"So, my friend, what exactly is going on in Penterwell?"
Becoming serious, Merrick leaned forward, his forearms on his thighs, his hands clasped. "There's something amiss among the villagers. Frioc didn't know exactly what. He thought it might be rivalry over a woman, or perhaps an accusation of cheating in a game of chance. Either way, he didn't consider it serious enough to merit a visit from me."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you love books that are series, this is one series not to miss. Ranulf is not your perfect hero and Beatrice has her own faults which make them more realistic to us. You cannot help but fall in love with their imperfections. My suggestion is to start with book one and read thru all three. Margaret Moore will make sure that you don't want to put these books down. .......Lisa H.
They have known each other for years and secretly even loved one however, neither act on their feelings as both feel they are undeserving of the other. Lady Beatrice is the daughter of a traitor while Sir Ranulf is a landless knight estranged from his family. By 1244 Ranulf knows he must escape her lure so when his liege sends him to command a castle in Cornwell he rushes off to begin the assignment. Beatrice goes to Cornwell to set up Ranulf¿s household, but he decides to make her run home with his lustful seduction, figuring he can control himself before he steps too far. Instead she seduces him. As they both finally admit their love for one another, his scandalous past returns with a vengeance while they battle deadly smugglers. --- HERS TO DESIRE is a tremendous medieval romance as expected when the author is Margaret Moore. Beatrice and Ranulf are a fascinating pair as they deny their love, but those who know them like friend Constance and the readers realize otherwise. However, both wants more for the other so refuse to act on their feelings leading to a strong historical romance with the action coming from battling smugglers that enhance a wonderful vivid thirteenth century story line. --- Harriet Klausner