Rebel Lady, Convenient Wife

Rebel Lady, Convenient Wife

by June Francis

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426827921
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 02/01/2009
Series: Harlequin Historical Series
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 250 KB

About the Author

I was born in Blackpool after the local maternity hospital in Liverpool was blitzed. The first girl after two boys, Ronald and Donald. Eighteen months later my sister Irene was born in the front parlour of the family terrace house in Liverpool. In 1946 my father Stan, a plasterer, returned from the war and it was he who introduced me to the joys of storytelling and taught me the alphabet from a sign-writer's book.   

The house had no running hot water. Mam, May, cooked meals on the fire and in the side oven, the lavatory was down the yard and until I was seven I would creep up in the dark to bed, as we had no electricity. (All grist to the mill of a saga writer.) There was definitely no money to spare for books. Fortunately I soon discovered the library.   

In 1953 I won a scholarship to Liverpool Girl's College. My only claim to fame was that I fell off a wall during lunchtime and fractured my skull and spine. I lost a whole term's schooling and would like to blame that for only obtaining two passes at 0 level G.C.E in English Lit and History but the truth was that I met John in the Lido cinema and dreamed my way through classes.   

I wanted to be a writer but didn't believe working class girls could attain to such heights, besides Mam needed the money I could earn straightaway, so I took the first job offered and worked as a cash clerk for Littlewoods where I learnt to type, a skill for which I am eternally grateful. In 1964 I married John, passed my English Language 0 level at the Liverpool Institute's evening classes and bought a second hand Underwood typewriter.   

In 1980 when my youngest son Daniel was three, my beloved Dad died and I suffered from nervous anxiety for a couple of years and lost my confidence. A vicar's wife who had done some broadcasting on Radio Merseyside was interested in writing and encouraged me to have a go. First time in print was the church magazine and I became its editor, as well as joining Crosby Writers Group. Encouraged by John who bought me a second-hand desk and provided the paper, as well as members of the club, I began the hard slog to get published.   

After numerous rejections, the magazine, My Weekly, accepted my first article in December 1982 called CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS AROUND THE WORLD. I went on to write similar kinds of articles as well as personal experiences of a humorous kind. But after coming second in a Novel Opening Competition I decided to have a go at an historical romance set in the Middle Ages.   

Research started in the Children's Library with the LIVING IN A CASTLE kind of book. After lots of research, several rejections and loads of rewriting I eventually made it with Mills & Boon and wrote another four for them before trying my hand at a Liverpool based family saga. Another hard slog and after gaining an agent and a word processor, Piatkus Books accepted A SPARROW DOESN'T FALL for hardback. Since then despite enormous changes in publishing and the market place, several setbacks, a change of agents and publishers, I continue to write. Each time I finish a book, it is with a sigh of satisfaction and a niggle of worry - will my agent and publisher like it? And can I come up with the ideas for another. Fortunately so far yes! 

Read an Excerpt

England, summer 1475

The air felt hot and humid. As she left the village, Lady Anna Fenwick could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. If she was to reach home before the rain came, then she was going to have to hurry.

Something sharp hit her on the cheek and she heard a man's whispering voice say, 'Take that, witch! May God strike you down dead.'

Shock brought her to a halt as blood trickled from a cut on her face. Only recently had she become aware of the servants looking at her askance and whispering in corners. Her heart was heavy as she recalled a couple of village women holding out horn-shaped amulets, believed to be effective against the evil eye, as she passed by.

'Murderess! Adulteress!' hissed the voice.

Anna wanted to shut her ears to the accusations. But what good would that do? She found it difficult to believe that anyone who knew her could speak of her in such a way. It was a year since her four-year-old son, Joshua, had died of the whooping cough. Her grief had been almost unbearable, worse than when her husband, Sir Giles, had died a year earlier. During the last few months she had felt ill at ease in her own home with just the servants and Giles's nephew, the son of his dead sister, and his wife, Marjorie, for company. Whilst Giles had been alive, Will's manner towards her had always been circumspect but she knew he resented her. He had lived with Giles since being orphaned as a youth and had been his heir until, at the age of forty, Giles had fallen in love with Anna and married her. On his death bed her husband had told her about the marital agreement that he and her eldest half-brother, Owain ap Rowan, had drawn up on the eve of Anna and Giles's wedding.

'You'll burn in hell,' said the voice, forgetting to whisper this time.

She recognised the voice and a shudder passed through her. Will! What a fool she had been to trust him this past year, but her sorrow had blinded her temporarily to his devious ways. He had believed he would inherit Fenwick Manor on Joshua's death, but he had been mistaken. A codicil in Giles's will had left all to Anna should aught happen to their son.

After Joshua had been laid to rest with his father, she had been emotionally exhausted and hoped that the goodly sum of money that Giles had left Will would suffice to keep him happy. She'd had reason to believe that was so, for the following day he had been so caring that she had willingly accepted his suggestion that he and Marjorie continue to live with her to keep her company. Feeling numb after this second terrible blow, she had been glad of his help in running her manor. But slowly she had come alive again and shown a determination to manage her own affairs. It was then that Will had begun to reveal a much darker side to his nature and Marjorie had become less than friendly. Yet if Anna had not overheard the gossip whispered behind her back, it would never have occurred to her that they might wish her dead.

'Murderess,' whispered the voice, again.

Her heart beat rapidly. 'Come out of there and face me if you dare!' she cried.

There was a rustling in the hedge that bordered the field of ripening corn. 'You'll get your deserts. Like mother, like daughter, you'll meet the same fate as she did,' called the voice.

The words puzzled her and she turned full circle in an attempt to pinpoint Will's location. 'My mother died in childbirth. Explain yourself!'

'They lied to you.'

'If you're referring to Owain and Kate, I don't believe you, Will,' said Anna firmly, peering through the thicket of hawthorn, but unable to see him. 'Anyway, I've had enough. I'm for home before the storm breaks. You and Marjorie can pack your bags and leave Fenwick.'

A flash of lightning and a crash of thunder almost drowned out her voice, warning her that the storm was nigh. Picking up her black skirts, she raced for home, wanting to be indoors before the rain came.

She took a shortcut through the herb garden where the fragrance of lavender, thyme and gillyflowers filled her senses. The air was stifling and the earth was thirsty for moisture. She tore open the wicket gate and ran towards the back of the house. Once indoors she expected to find some of the servants in the kitchen but it was empty. She searched the ground floor, but there was no one there. Had they all decided to desert her whilst she was out of the house? What about Marjorie, who had still been abed when Anna had left to walk to the village an hour or so ago? Perhaps she and her maid were upstairs.

Anna took the stairs two at a time to the first floor but she saw no one as she made her way along the passage to her bedchamber. She felt hot and sticky and decided to change her garments as soon as she was in the safety of its confines. She pushed open the door and froze as a figure stepped out of the shadows. There was a crash of thunder and it seemed to echo the pounding of her heart as she gazed at the demonic red face with horns protruding from its head. A red cloak swirled about the black-clad apparition as it moved towards her. She backed away and would have turned to run if the door had not slammed behind her.

'Have your way with her quickly and then I'll see she burns,' said Will's voice behind her.

Terror overwhelmed her as she felt a shove in her back that catapulted her towards the gruesome figure. Black-gloved hands seized her, holding her in a vice-like grip. She was aware of heavy breathing and averted her face. On doing so, she realised that a couple of inches of flesh showed between glove and sleeve. This creature was no devil, but human. Anna sank her teeth into his wrist and drew blood. A curse issued from beneath the devilish mask and then he was tearing at her clothes. She struggled violently, aware of Will's laughter in the background.

'You'll regret this,' she panted, attempting to prise the man's hands from her breast.

As soon as she spoke those words a flash lit up the darkened sky outside her window and there was a violent crash of thunder that shook the whole house. Her captor jumped violently as there came a roar and a crackle from overhead. She looked up and saw smoke issuing from a break in the ceiling. He began to shake and released her abruptly.

She glanced at Will and saw the fear in his face. She put out a steadying hand to the bedpost and clutched her torn garments so that they covered her nakedness. 'How dare you lay hands on me! You will pay for this infamy,' cried Anna, pointing an accusing finger at him. 'Leave now or it will be you and your accomplice who will burn.'

Will's eyes darted from her to that devilish figure. Then he wrenched open the door and shot out of the chamber. Anna's assailant quickly followed hot on his heels. She collapsed on to the bed. Her shaking hands still clutching her ruined gown of black linsey-woolsey. She could hear the thudding of their feet on the stairs as they made their escape. For a moment, she did not move and then the smell of smoke caused her to gaze upwards. More thin streams of smoke were issuing through other cracks in the ceiling and she realised the thatch must be alight. She had to get out of there!

She sprang to her feet, thinking there were items that were precious to her in this room that she must save, in case the whole house caught fire. She changed out of her torn garments and into another gown. She hurried to pack a few clothes, legal papers, Giles's precious parchments, as well as items essential for her toilet. Then she fastened a pouch, containing as much coin as she could carry, about her waist. The sound of breaking glass, as the window shattered, caused her to jump out of her skin. She must make haste. From the chest at the foot of the bed, she took out her tapestry work and then lifted her lute from the wall. The instrument had been a Christmas gift from her half-brother Owain, made in Venice and delivered into her hands by merchant venturer Jack Milburn. He had vanished whilst in France six years ago.

Swiftly she wrapped the instrument in the folds of the tapestry and tucked it under her arm. She gave one last glance about the room. Here she had spent many contented moments, as well as heartbreaking ones. Giles had breathed his last and her son had died in her arms in this bed. With tears trickling down her cheeks, she hurried from the bedchamber. With a bundle held up to her nose and mouth against the smoke, she raced along the passage, only to pause when she reached the door of Will and Marjorie's bedchamber.

She could hear snoring and remembered that she had been going to look in on Marjorie. She banged on their door. 'Marjorie! Is that you in there? Wake up! The roof is on fire and you must get out of the house.'

There was no reply, but Anna thought she heard a break in the snoring. She lifted the latch, but the door did not yield so she banged again. 'Marjorie, you must get up!'

A sleepy voice called, 'Go away!'

'No! Rise and save yourself,' said Anna, attempting to open the door once more.

'I will not!' Marjorie yawned. 'Will said I must not listen to aught you say because you will cast a spell on me.'

An exasperated Anna said, 'It is not true! I don't know why Will should say such things, but I am no witch. Do get up or you could die in your bed.'

'I'm not listening,' said Marjorie in a sing-song voice. 'I have my hands over my ears.'

Anna groaned. 'Marjorie, don't be a fool! If you do not leave now, it could be the end of you.' When there was no answer, her heart sank. If she herself did not hurry, then she, too, could be trapped in the house by the fire. What was Will thinking of to leave his own wife possibly to die in her bed? And whose face was behind that devilish mask? She prayed to God to protect her from the pair if they were laying in wait for her somewhere downstairs, or in the grounds. She called to Marjorie again but she did not answer her.

With a terrible sense of foreboding, Anna hurried downstairs. She went through the hall, but it was deserted. Cautiously, she entered the kitchen, but that, too, was empty. She went outside, but there was no sign of anyone. She placed her belongings outside the stable and then gazed up at her house. The whole roof was aflame. Pausing only to remove the veiling that covered her wimple, she soaked it in a water butt before running back to the house. She had to try to persuade Marjorie to leave one more time.

Anna covered her nose and mouth with the wet veiling and hurried upstairs as fast as she could through the ever-increasing smoke. She found Marjorie lying prone outside her bedchamber door. She was still alive, but scarcely breathing. Anna wiped Marjorie's face with the damp cloth, but still she did not stir. Anna felt a rising panic and struggled to lift the other woman to her feet, but she could not do it, so instead she dragged her along the passage towards the stairs.

Anna's chest was wheezing and she was fighting for breath by the time she got Marjorie outside. Then she herself collapsed on to the ground beside her. It seemed an age before Anna felt able to make the effort to pull Marjorie farther away from the house on to the grass. There she sank to the ground again and this time it seemed longer still before she had the strength to get to her knees. To her dismay, Marjorie had ceased breathing despite all Anna's efforts.

She staggered to her feet and gazed at her house; she could only stand by helplessly as the flames consumed her home. Her heart felt like a stone inside her. She had loved this house, but with her husband and son gone from this earth, it had been a lasting reminder of the sadness of their deaths. She wept afresh for them and the happy times spent inside its walls, as well as for Marjorie.

'Why has fate dealt me such agonising blows?' cried Anna to the skies. Are you punishing me, God?'

No heavenly voice answered her and, frustratingly, the storm clouds had passed, spilling hardly any rain. But where was Will and his accomplice? She could not place any faith in his caring about her safety, but what about his wife? She doubted he would accept that she had tried to save Marjorie. Instead, she was convinced he would use that timely flash of lightning and his wife's death to strengthen his accusation that Anna was a witch. A chill of fear ran through her. She had to leave here now, in case the two men returned, and ride for her old home at Rowan Manor. Owain and his wife, Kate, had reared her from babyhood and she could trust them to help her.

Fortunately the fire had not spread to the outbuildings and she went in search of her saddle and bridle. On finding them, she paused only long enough to drink some water and pack her belongings in a pair of saddlebags, before hurrying to where her horse was cropping the grass in a nearby field. Nervously, she kept looking over her shoulder. No doubt Will would realise she had survived the flames when he saw that her horse was missing. It was possible that he might even guess her destination and follow her. But hopefully, she would have enough of a head start to manage to escape his clutches. Rowan Manor lay several leagues away; although she felt weary with fear and grief, she prayed that God would have mercy and enable her to reach Owain and Kate before nightfall.

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