When a beautiful Welsh loyalist is taken prisoner by her English enemy, she must make an impossible choice between loyalty and love
Forced to live under the yoke of the hated English, Rhonwen ap Tomas feels like a rabbit caught in a snare. When she catches sight of the devilishly handsome English knight whose life she once saved, her only desire is to kill him. But her arrow misses its mark and Jasper FitzHugh vows that although they are enemies now, one day they will be lovers.
For ten years, Jasper fought in the long shadow of his warrior brother, Rand, who claimed this remote corner of northern Wales for England and crowned himself lord of Rosecliffe Castle. Now Jasper must safeguard Rand’s wife and children and find a way to soothe the restlessness in his soul. His near-fatal encounter with the wild creature from his childhood—now a ravishing beauty bent on avenging her Welsh brethren—only fuels his hunger to possess her.
When circumstances and a dangerous enemy conspire to make Rhonwen Jasper’s prisoner, passion flares hotly between captive and captor, drawing them to a destiny neither could ever have imagined.
The Knight of Rosecliffe is the 2nd book in the Rosecliffe Trilogy, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Rexanne Becnel is the author of more than twenty historical romance and contemporary mainstream novels, many of which appeared on the USA Today bestseller list. With the publication of her first novel, My Gallant Enemy, Becnel won the Waldenbooks Award for Best First-Time Romance Author and the Romantic Times Award for Best Medieval Romance by a New Author. While growing up, Becnel lived for a time in Germany and England, where she became fascinated by medieval history. After studying architecture at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, she worked as a building inspector for the Vieux Carré Commission, the agency of the City of New Orleans charged with protecting and preserving the distinct architectural and historic character of the French Quarter. Becnel lives in New Orleans with her husband and two children.
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The Knight of Rosecliffe
The Rosecliffe Trilogy
By Rexanne Becnel
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Rexanne Becnel
All rights reserved.
Rosecliffe Castle, Northern Wales
April 3, A.D. 1144
Jasper FitzHugh sat in a high-backed wooden chair with his legs outstretched and his booted feet crossed. He was biding his time, sipping but sparingly of his wine, as he played a halfhearted game of chess. But he kept a close watch on his brother Rand. A messenger had arrived shortly after the midday meal. A messenger from Simon LaMonthe.
Jasper knew that Rand did not trust LaMonthe. But a summons by a representative of old King Henry's daughter Matilda was not easily ignored. Matilda wanted the support of the Marcher lords against her cousin, King Stephen, who she said had stolen the British crown from her and her young son.
How would Rand respond?
Jasper watched his brother pace the width of the great hall, passing in front of the massive carved fireplace. His shadow fell, dark and long, across his children who played on a rug near the warm hearth. But they were unfazed. To his men Rand was a formidable knight. To his adversaries, a fearsome foe. But his three children saw him only as a warm and loving father. They did not pause in their game of Odd Man Throw, save to glance up with a grin.
Jasper sighed and drank from his pewter cup. Ten years now he'd been at Rosecliffe Castle. Ten years laboring in the long shadow his brother cast. And though he knew he was Rand's equal on the field of honor — and perhaps even better — that no longer satisfied him. He was restless. Of late he'd become more and more unsettled. He had a home for life; he had women enough when he wanted them. He had good hunting and plenty enough victuals, and Rosecliffe's alewife was a magician with hops and malt and barley. But it was no longer enough to content him.
"No, no!" Gwendolyn's shrill cry broke the evening quiet. "Mine," the three-year-old asserted.
"Begone from here," Gavin ordered, blocking his younger sister's access to the game he and Isolde played.
"Mine!" Gwen demanded. She shoved him but the seven-year-old boy only scowled and held his ground.
"You cannot play, Gwen. You're too little." Then, turning to Isolde, he said, "It's your turn."
"Mama!" Gwen began to wail. But Josselyn was upstairs helping one of the maids restring a loom, so baby Gwen turned to her older sister.
"Come here, Gwennie," Isolde said. She held out her arms, then settled the pouting child on her lap. "You can help me play, all right?"
Jasper studied the scene, which was restored again to harmony. When his brother stooped over and ruffled the baby's riot of dark curls, then murmured a few words to each of his children, Jasper frowned. Rand was truly blessed: a loving wife, adoring children, and a sturdy castle that had become a warm and welcoming home, a haven from the trials of the world. Though Jasper might equal his brother in physical prowess, he had none of the rest.
Not that he'd ever wanted a wife and children in the past. But sometimes ... He turned away and quaffed the rest of his wine. It was long past time for him to seek his own place in the world, he realized. For Rosecliffe no longer was it. It never had been. His brother's castle was meant only to be a way station for him — but on the way to where?
He pushed to his feet and crossed to where Rand stood. "I would go to Bailwynn in your stead."
His brother looked up. "You wish to parlay with Matilda's representative?"
"Why should I not? I'm as like to fight for her cause as are you."
Rand's dark features darkened further still. "I would rather not be drawn into either Matilda's cause or Stephen's."
"You cannot avoid the conflict between them, brother."
"Mayhap not. But I can work to delay any battle that might involve mine own people." One of his hands swept the room. "I do not labor daily to build Rosecliffe Castle in order to foster war. I do it to maintain peace."
Jasper shrugged. "You cannot alter the whims of royalty."
Rand shook his head. "Mayhap I can. 'Tis the reason I must be the one to attend Simon LaMonthe's gathering."
He tossed LaMonthe's missive on a table and turned toward the stairs. But Jasper caught him by the arm. "'Tis plain you do not wish to go. Meanwhile I am more than eager. Why will you not trust me to do this?"
"'Tis not an issue of trust."
Rand met Jasper's angry gaze without any returning anger, but that only served to anger Jasper all the more. Was Rand patronizing him? He poked a finger in his brother's chest. "I want to go. You do not."
Rand shoved him back. "You misunderstand my motives. LaMonthe cannot be trusted except to yield to a greater strength than his own. I am Lord of Rosecliffe. I am the one to remind him of that fact."
"And what am I to do here? Ride these hills, chasing the damned elusive Welsh rebels through the woods, startling hunters and wood gatherers and Welsh brats at their play —"
He broke off, but not soon enough. Rand's gaze had turned to frost. "I meant no insult," Jasper swore. "You know I meant no insult, Rand, least of all to mine own nieces and nephew. I care for them as deeply as if they were my own."
Rand nodded curtly, accepting Jasper's apology. "Do you never wonder whether those Welsh brats you refer to are not your own? In the past you have been known to spread your seed far and wide." He shook his head, returning to the subject. "No, brother. You will remain at Rosecliffe Castle. I trust you to protect Josselyn and the children from any harm. I place them in your care because I know the affection you have for them — Welsh blood or no. I trust you as I trust no other. Do you understand?"
Jasper did, though he resented his older brother's reference to his profligate ways. Would Rand never see him as more than a foolish younger brother? Still, he was mollified by the sincerity of Rand's words. Rand loved his wife and children with a ferocity Jasper could only marvel at.
Would he himself ever feel such a deep and abiding love for anyone — for a wife and babes of his own? There were times when he wanted to. And yet he feared he could never find one woman to bind him that dearly.
There were other times, however, when he was grateful for the freedoms of his bachelorhood.
Rand slapped him on the back, then looked up when Josselyn descended the stairs. Jasper saw the appreciation in his eyes, the love that had grown ever stronger in the ten years of their marriage. That Josselyn returned his love was no secret, and when she smiled at Rand, Jasper felt a stab of jealousy.
He wanted what they had, he admitted to himself. He wanted it. It was plain, however, that he would not find it in the hills of northern Wales. He knew all the women of these lands — and had sampled more than his rightful share of them. Yet not one of them had laid a claim to his heart.
For now he must perform his duty: protect Rosecliffe and the people of the demesne during Rand's absence.
But upon his brother's return he would discuss this matter further with Rand. Perhaps he would visit their brother John at the family estate in Aslin. It had been ten years since last he'd seen him. Or perhaps he would take service elsewhere, in a place with heiresses who owned lands aplenty.
No matter where he went, however, the change would be for the best.
The next morning, as the chapel bells rang prime, the whole of the castle folk turned out to bid Rand farewell. The meeting of the border lords was to take place at Bailwynn, Simon LaMonthe's fortress on the Divernn River, fully three days ride south. The contingency from Rosecliffe included eight mounted knights and a dozen foot soldiers.
Josselyn held Gwendolyn in her arms as she hugged her husband close one last time. "Give me your solemn vow, Rand, that you will be careful. LaMonthe is not a man to be trusted."
"You have my vow," he assured her. Then he turned to Jasper. Nine-year-old Isolde clung to her uncle's arm. Gavin straddled his shoulders. Rand grinned at his brother. "I see I need not request that you have a care for my family."
"Gavin and I will guard Rosecliffe from any blackguards who dare venture near, will we not, Gav?" He jiggled the boy, making him laugh.
"We will slay any knave who threatens," Gavin crowed, waving his wooden sword about.
"You, my boy. Look to your sisters. And do as your uncle bids you."
"You may count on me, Father."
Rand hesitated a moment, glancing at his wife before addressing his son once more. "While I am away, 'tis my plan to inquire after a suitable household where you may be fostered."
Gavin hooted with delight. But when Jasper glanced at Josselyn, he saw she was less pleased. The Norman custom of fostering their sons in the households of others did not appeal to her Welsh sensibilities. It was one of the few matters she and Rand disagreed on. Over the years Rand had made many concessions to the Welsh residing within the limits of his demesne, and all on account of his Welsh wife. But it appeared that on this particular issue, he would stand firm.
Rand kissed his girls and solemnly shook Gavin's hand. His last words before parting, however, were for Jasper. "You should get you a wife to give you babes," he said. "Methinks you have a talent for it."
Jasper watched, bemused, as the column of men rode over the bridge. Bright and warm, the day was filled with the cries of choughs and woodcocks. The brilliant morning light glinted on harness and weapons, but the heavy thud of the destriers' hooves was a somber reminder of the seriousness of the men's mission.
The masons hanging upon the sheer stone walls of the castle paused in their labors as their lord departed. But from the quarry beyond the western walls, the sharp tap and crack of the stonecutters carried on the wind. "Let us climb up to the wall walk," Isolde suggested. "We'll be able to follow Papa's progress past town. Past the domen, even."
Gavin was off in a flash, racing to get there first while Gwendolyn trundled in his wake. Isolde went slower, walking in the ladylike manner she'd begun to adopt. As Jasper watched her go, Josselyn put words to his thoughts.
"Rand plans also to make inquiries regarding a husband for her." Josselyn's pretty face settled in worried lines.
Jasper shrugged. "Eventually she must wed. It is not too soon to consider her choices."
"She is but nine! I do not understand your bloody English customs."
Jasper circled her shoulders in a brotherly manner. "You may not like our bloody customs, but you certainly like our bloody curse words."
That drew a reluctant smile from her. "I never said the English were completely bad. I wouldn't have married your brother if I thought such a thing." Then her smile faded. "It's just that I cannot bear the thought of her leaving here. Of any of them leaving."
Jasper tightened his grasp. "Gavin will return and one day he will be lord of Rosecliffe. As for the girls, they must eventually be wed. 'Tis unlikely they will find acceptable husbands at Rosecliffe."
"Rand says that Gwendolyn may wed a lesser lord, the son of one of his knights, or what have you. But as for his eldest daughter — and eldest child — he insists that Isolde must marry well. But I will not let her go too young. Nor too far," she added. She sighed, then tilted her head to look up at him. "Methinks Rand would be better served putting his efforts toward finding a suitable mate for his brother."
"Oho. You're that anxious to be rid of me?"
"There's nothing to say you must leave us when you wed. You can bring a wife here to live at Rosecliffe."
"And how is there a benefit in that? I am a landless knight. If I must shackle myself to a woman she might at least be an heiress."
She studied him a moment, then shook her head. "Ah, you English. I had hoped you'd been long enough in Wales to learn that the choice of a wife — or husband — need not be dependent solely upon politics and property. You are not content, Jasper. I see that very well. Have you not considered that it may be love more so than land which you need to soothe the restlessness in your soul?"
Love? Jasper was saved defending himself against that remark when Gavin shouted down to them. "I can see Father! He approaches the domen. I can even see Newlin!"
"God shield me, child! Do not lean out so far!" Josselyn called back to the grinning, waving boy so high above them now. "Oh, that rogue," she muttered. "He will not rest until he turns every hair on my head gray."
"Once he is fostered out you will not have to worry so."
Josselyn shook her head and shot him an exasperated look. "You do not understand a mother's heart. If anything, I will worry more. Is he mistreated? Is he well fed? Is he lonely for his family? No. Fostering Gavin away from his home will break my heart — as will pledging Isolde to some distant lord. Were the decision mine, they would all wed people from Rosecliffe — or Carreg Du," she added, referring to her home village not two miles away. She sighed. "I had better fetch them down, ere one of them tumbles over the side."
Jasper watched her go. She was still nearly as slender and youthful as when she'd wed Rand. Rand had done well with a Welsh wife, and yet he preferred his children wed English citizens. But that was only practical, since league by league, it was the English who controlled Wales. Even Jasper, who found Welshwomen a handsome, lusty lot, was not likely to marry from among them.
Then he ran his hand roughly through his disheveled hair. What had caused all these maudlin thoughts today? Why did he moon over the idea of marrying and settling down? It was plain he needed something to lift his spirits, something to remind him of the pleasures of bachelorhood.
Leaving orders for the guard, he filled a wineskin from the cellar, fetched his horse, Helios, then rode out into the little town slowly growing below the castle walls. In the past, Maud the blacksmith's daughter had always been good for a tickle and a laugh. And if she could not slip away, Gert the dairy maid might be available.
Blood rushed to his loins at the thought of Maud's lush breasts and Gert's pink, rounded bottom. Two lusty wenches, one English, one Welsh. Yes, he'd been far too long without a woman. As he urged his horse on, he wondered if there was a way to have the two of them, both at the same time. Now, wouldn't that be a night to remember?
Though small, the town of Rosecliffe was busy. Three women, their heads covered with couvrechefs, gathered at the well, drawing water. Two old men basked in the sun, whittling arrow shafts as they talked of times past. A dog loped by, then ducked around a newly built waddle-and-daub house, with a pack of urchins fast on his trail.
The children skidded to a halt when they spied Jasper, and they stared curiously at him, so tall astride Helios. There was no fear on their faces, though, and Jasper knew Rand would be pleased by that fact. His brother's plan to build a fortress that promised peace to all, both English and Welsh, was working. But though some Welsh people had moved into Rosecliffe village, living side by side with English settlers, they remained in the minority. For the most part, the warlike Welsh still harbored the hope of expelling the English from their borders.
Jasper knew, however, that it was a fruitless hope. The English were too strong and too organized for the fractious Welsh ever to defeat them. The change to English rule might come slowly across Wales, but come it would. Rand's marriage to a Welshwoman had begun the change in northern Wales, and there had been several subsequent intermarriages since then.
Should he consider doing the same?
The answer was simple: Not if he wanted lands of his own.
He found Gert at her churn with her mother. The mother handed him a jug of buttermilk, then crossed her thick arms and watched him with narrowed gaze until he departed.
At the smithy's open-fronted shop, Maud worked the bellows while her father and brother labored painstakingly, beating out points for new lances. Her arms were bared in the heat of the fire. Her magnificent bosom bounced and jiggled every time she leaned forward shoving the bellows up and down. Her skin glistened with sweat and her thin blouse, damp with the heat, clung to her breasts, revealing enough to torture even a blind man.
Her father looked up at Jasper, glanced at his daughter, then grinned. The man was not above tempting his liege lord's brother with his enticing daughter. But Jasper knew he was holding out for marriage. He had one son and seven daughters. Maud was only the first whom he must find a match for.
He handed a finished point to Jasper. "'Tis fine and hard, milord, and still warm to the touch. Here, feel it."
Jasper did not linger there. He didn't want to marry Maud, just bed her. Only that was proving more and more difficult to do — and he was getting hard just remembering the pleasures of the doing.
Who else? But there was no one else, not at midday. Though he was restless and in dire need of some distraction, it was clear that today, at least, a woman would not be it.
He ought to return to the tilting yard, he told himself, and work out his frustrations with lance and sword. But no one gave him adequate contest save for Alan and Rand, and they were both gone to parlay with LaMonthe.
Excerpted from The Knight of Rosecliffe by Rexanne Becnel. Copyright © 1999 Rexanne Becnel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Formula: A beautiful, but wild Welsh loyalist. A handsome, but jaded English knight. A torn land under two banners, and a battle of both arms and hearts. Becnel continues the story of Rosecliffe ten years after 'The Bride of Rosecliffe.' Rhonwyn and Jasper are the proverbial 'unlikely pair' who find that though their hearts are forever entwined, their loyalties will forever tear them apart. A wonderful story with all the elements of a quintessinal historical romance!
Some parts of it I had to skim over. Too much detail. And if you don't like romance books being historical don't buy it. How could it hurt if you get it at the library? Other than that, I liked the book.