FOR HONOR'S SAKE
When Clara became a midwife, she vowed to preserve life above all. She'll keep that vow, even if it means defying a Norman baron by hiding a Saxon slave and her child. Yet when the ruthless lord threatens Clara's villageand her lifeshe's forced to rely on another Norman to keep her safe.
Kenneth D'Entremont is a soldier, one who takes lives instead of healing them. Clara despairs of finding any common ground with him. But when he begins guarding her, she learns to see him in a new light. His care and compassion make her feel safe even loved. Can she bring herself to put her secrets, and her heart, under the protection of the warrior?
About the Author
was born in England but raised in Canada. She has traveled all her life, loving to explore the various countries and cultures of the world. After she retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, Barbara turned to romance writing. The thrill of adventure, the love of happy endings, and a far-too-active imagination, all merged to become fabulous tales of romance. Barbara now spends her days writing, traveling and spending her children's inheritance. On others, of course!
Read an Excerpt
Essex County, 1068 AD
"Push, milady, push!"
Though Clara had been the midwife in Dunmow, a small keep and village west of Colchester, for a few weeks only, she'd already learned Lady Ediva's determined personality. But at this point in milady's labor, the mother-to-be definitely needed strong encouragement. "Push harder! Harder!"
Lady Ediva scrunched up her face and glared down from the birthing chair. "I'm pushing as hard as I can! Stop shouting at me!" Her words ended with a growl and another hard push.
Already situated at milady's feet, Clara gave her forehead a fast wipe with her forearm. She had long since pulled back her own thick red hair and now felt it start to slip free, but could do nothing at that moment. The babe's head had crowned, and with deft movements, and more bearing down on the new mother's part, she soon assisted in delivering a healthy son. "It's a boy!"
Lady Ediva fell back against the chair. Clara knew their work was not yet complete, but for a few minutes they could revel in the joy of new life.
Clara prepared the babe for his mother, even though they weren't finished with the birthing yet. All the while, Lady Ediva's maid, Margaret, wiped her mistress's face. Tears ofjoy streamed down each woman's cheeks. Clara stopped a moment to admire the beautiful, squalling child in her arms.
Praise God! A new babe! New life when lately she had felt only the threat of death.
A surge of excitement washed over Clara as the indignant howl of the healthy babe bounced off the thick oak door of the solar. She knew that beyond, in the corridor, the father waited impatiently, along with his men.
As Margaret tended to Lady Ediva, Clara swaddled the babe in a soft cloth, snuggling him close as she walked over and opened the door.
Closer to the door, Kenneth d'Entremont, sergeant at arms for Dunmow Keep, whirled. Behind him, Lord Adrien stopped his pacing. Each man's face split into a broad smile at the sight of the child in her arms.
"'Tis a good day, Lord Adrien!" Kenneth announced to the new father.
"Aye. Nothing can spoil it."
Both men stepped toward Clara, a question on each face. "A boy or a girl?" Kenneth asked.
Adrien waved his hand. "I care not, but by the sound of that lusty wail, it's a boy!"
They laughed together. Clara smiled tiredly as she pulled back the wrap to reveal the babe's scrunched-up face. "You have a fine son, Lord Adrien." Behind her, Margaret approached, and Clara handed her the child.
"Your wife is ready to see you. Go spend time with your family."
"I will!" Adrien turned to Kenneth. "The keep is yours, d'Entremont, as we discussed. Guard it well, for I do not wish to be disturbed."
"You have my pledge," Kenneth answered solemnly before Adrien disappeared into the solar. Clara smiled as she shut the door to stop any draft. 'Twas good to see a new father so eager to spend time with his wife while she recuperated. She hadn't seen such devotion before. She would give them this moment of privacy before she returned to check on Lady Ediva. The birthing process was not quite finished.
Then came the sound of swift, pounding feet. Clara spun at the urgent tattoo, noticing Kenneth's hand resting lightly on his blade as he stepped in front of her. It may have been the finest day for Lord Adrien, and one during which he would cast all other cares aside, but Clara knew Kenneth would not lower his guard. Not when he'd just given his promise to Adrien to mind the keep.
A man approached. 'Twas a courier, Clara noticed, a man who wore the crest of the Baron of Colchester Lord Adrien's brotheron his short, travel-worn tunic. His face ruddy, his leggings and surcoat splattered with mud from a hard, fast ride, he slowed his approach.
"I have a missive for the master of the keep," the man panted out. "'Tis urgent, I've been told."
Kenneth held out his hand. "I have control of this keep."
The courier handed Kenneth the communiqué and departed. With only the dim, morning glow from a slit window in which to read the missive, Kenneth frowned as he held it close to scan the words.
In front of the closed door, Clara watched a black expression spreading across the young sergeant's features. She swallowed. 'Twas not good news. Was someone sick?
Kenneth looked up, his mouth thinning as he drilled a brittle stare into her. "Are you finished with Lady Ediva?"
Clara frowned. "Aye, for now. Margaret has my complete confidence. She will care for mother and babe until I am needed again."
"Good." His jaw tightened. "Because you are headed for the dungeon."
Stunned, Clara gaped at Kenneth, starting when he grabbed her arm. "The dungeon! Are you mad? Why should I go there?"
Kenneth called out and a guard met them on the curved stone stairs that led to the main floor.
"Let go of me!" Clara twisted, but to no avail.
Kenneth's grip tightened. "Nay, woman. Not after what you've done!"
"I've done nothing wrong! I demand you release me!"
"You have no right to make any demands!"
Clara barely had time to lift her cyrtel to prevent tripping on it as he dragged her down the stairs into the kitchen and down more steps to the darkness below. With the door to the dungeon ahead, she fought back more fiercely and, for her effort, was pushed hard down the short corridor. She struggled to keep her balance in the murky maw around her.
The guard proceeded to unlock the solitary door. Clara tilted up her chin and threw back her shoulders.
A thick wooden door, secured by long hinges and an iron lock, would soon imprison her. With her mouth pressed into a thin line, she told herself not to do something foolish.
And not to be scared.
She wrenched her arm free and turned to Kenneth. "Why am I here? I should be upstairs and available, for Lady Ediva's birthing is not done! You had no right to drag me down here! What was in that missive that has prompted this ridiculous act?"
"'Twas from Colchester, where you lived before coming to our keep. I would think you know exactly what the warning says."
Her voice lowered and quivered as she struggled to stand tall. Fatigue was robbing her not only of balance but thought, as well. "I am nearly too tired to stand, let alone think, so please, Kenneth, reconsider your actions. Or at least tell me why I'm here."
His expression softening only slightly, Kenneth took a step over the threshold, only to stop when he caught sight of the soldier beside him. "If you are so tired, mayhap a nice rest in isolation for a day or two will clear your head and return your memory."
She shook her head, tossing away the cobwebs that exhaustion had draped across her thoughts. She surged forward. "Nay, you're a fool! I can't be imprisoned! Not now! You know nothing of women in confinement, or of babes and all the dangers that can befall them! 'Tis a perilous time for Lady Ediva!"
The soldier shoved her back, hard, and Kenneth grabbed the man's hand as Clara struggled to remain standing.
"'Tis a perilous warning from Colchester, also, so mayhap keeping you from Lady Ediva is warranted!"
Clara felt the blood drain from her face. The cold left in its wake sent a shiver through her. No. Please, no. Had the guild masters in Colchester finally told their baron, Lord Eudo, why they'd insisted she be sent here to replace the midwife who'd died? This tiny village and isolated keep would never have been her choice of home. Had Lord Eudo suspected something was amiss from her departing look that day a month ago, and finally gleaned the truth from the guild masters on whom he'd bestowed far too much control? She shivered again. Or had that evil Lord Taurin finally arrived to claim what he had no right to possess? Did Taurin have enough influence to take her into custody, as well? Nay, she would fight this, for more than just her life was at stake.
Worry bit into her. All she knew was that Lord Eudo had seen fit to warn his brother of something he'd learned. She swallowed the hard lump in her throat.
Nay. She would not be frightened. She had done what was right and true in her eyes and would do so again. The guild masters, and indeed, all the townsfolk of Colchester, had no right to toss her out, and Kenneth had no right to imprison her for what she'd done there!
Through the dimness, she peered at Kenneth, recalling how they'd met. A month ago, he'd ridden to Colchester to escort her here. During the majority of the time they'd spent traveling, his looks had been cold enough to freeze the North Sea solid. She'd bristled, and still stinging from the town's rejection, she'd lashed back at Kenneth by correcting his sloppy equestrian habits. The ride here had been awkward and unpleasant.
"You are a brutish race of people," she whispered harshly. "All of you Normans are, coming to our land, taking what you see fit and discarding us when we are of no more use!"
Kenneth ordered the guard away. When they were alone, he stepped forward into the dank, stinking room. With his dark tunic and leggings, he immediately blended into the shadows around them. "I can tell by your expression you know exactly why you're here." Triumph lit his face at her guilty surprise. "See, you do know the reason, don't you? Then you should be imprisoned."
She snapped her head to the right to hide her expression. All the worries of the past spring flooded back. The weak, frightened voice begging her for asylum, her desperation to keep safe a frail young mother and her newborn son, whom no one here would even know, much less care for. Aye, all her own fears and that of the young woman's washed back over her.
But Clara had pledged with her life to allow no harm to come to the helpless pair. And that included never revealing their location. She'd told only one person and she was far away from Colchester. 'Twas needed, for the lives of mother and son depended on it.
If time in this horrible room, with its stink of mold and filth from drunken soldiers who'd needed to sober up, was part of the cost of her personal integrity, 'twas a cost she was willing to pay. She would never reveal where mother and child were, no matter who ordered it. The guild masters and the townsfolk in Colchester, even her own father, God rest his soul, should he return and demand she divulge their location, would never learn it.
Should Lord Taurin find Rowena and the babe, 'twould be disastrous, for he had been brutal when he'd bought her as a slave and brutal in fathering the child against her will. The Good Lord had designed that Clara help Rowena through her childbirth and then hide the pair away when Taurin's men arrived looking for them.
Since coming to Dunmow, she'd secreted Rowena and her infant to another hiding place, one closer by. It had taken a whole night and part of an early morning to travel the few leagues from the first hiding spot to the other, but Rowena was safe for now. And she would stay that way, no matter what the cost to Clara in keeping the secret.
Kenneth leaned toward her, his voice softening. "So, Clara, save yourself. Tell me where they are. Tell me all about them."
Never. Revealing their new location would surely sign a death warrant for the mother, and Clara had long since pledged to save lives, not take them. Only God should take lives.
She squared her shoulders as her eyes finally adjusted to the dimness and her nose to the stench. Her mouth thinned further as she folded her arms. Whatever Kenneth had read meant nothing, and she would not dignify his curiosity with an answer.
"Fine," Kenneth said, apparently reading her determined stance. "We'll sort out your stubbornness after you've had time to chew on it. I'm thinking you'll find your decision as tough as old shoe leather."
Clara watched as Kenneth grabbed the ring of the heavy plank door to slam it shut. At the last moment, she raced forward, hoping to say that Lord Adrien should hear her explanation, not just his brother's message. But when her hands connected with damp wood, she knew it was too late. Slowly, she sank to the dirt and rubble at her feet, her hands dragging down the roughly planed door. Something sharp stabbed into her left palm as she crumpled into a ball, worried and desperateyet not surprised. She'd known this day was coming.
Lord Adrien and Sergeant Kenneth d'Entremont were both Normans, like that filthy baron who'd caused this trouble for Rowena. They would likely never believe the tales of brutality that had Rowena fearing for her life if she stayed with her master. Lord Adrien was a good man, but would any Norman care about a poor Saxon mother as Clara did?
Her head shot up. But they would care for Lady Ediva upstairs! When Kenneth had grabbed her arm a few moments ago, she hadn't even been given a chance to call out instructions to Margaret on how to care for her mistress and the new babe. Surely they would see that she was needed!
Please, Lord, keep Ediva and her child safe! Clara bit her lip through the prayer. There was so much that could happen. Things that could easily end their lives. She jumped up and smacked the hard, mold-darkened wood with her stinging palm. "Nay! I must return to Lady Ediva! Kenneth, you must let me return to her! Kenneth, she could die! Think of your lady! Think of her babe!"
But her cries bounced around the dark room to no avail, and her hands pained from pounding on the door. She could feel blood splatter onto her cheek from the injury in her hand. Ignoring it, she called out her plea to consider Lady Ediva, but no one, save herself and whatever creatures scurried within the cell, heard her voice.
With one last soft cry on her lips, she fell to the floor again.
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I really enjoyed this clean read.
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