Wicked Charms

Wicked Charms

by Jayel Wylie

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743475877
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 09/01/2003
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
File size: 317 KB

About the Author


Jayel Wylie Jayel Wylie lives in Chester, South Carolina, her hometown. In addition to her fiction writing, she works for a local solicitor, or district attorney, as a legal assistant for narcotics and juvenile crime cases. When she isn't writing, working her day job, or recovering from both by lying on the couch watching cable, she enjoys needlework, painting, and traditional Southern cooking. So far she isn't married, but she revels in spoiling her friends' children rotten and intends to have a family of her own just as soon as she can find the time and a suitable sweetheart. An avid believer in true love as a reality as well as a concept, she figures it's only a matter of time. She is currently working on her next novel for Pocket.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

London

1196

A letter from Sir Aiden of Brinlaw to his parents, Lord William and Lady Alista

My dearest lord and lady --

You will no doubt be surprised to learn that Prince John has chosen to bestow on me the honor of marriage to his youngest sister, Katherine. That he does so purely to annoy his kingly brother, Richard, in his absence on holy Crusade in no way diminishes my joy. While I have only been acquainted with the princess twice in our lives, both times while she was in nappies and could barely speak, I remember her with great fondness and have no doubt our union will be an unqualified success. She has expressed a resolve to never leave the side of her queenly mother, Eleanor, while she lives, and as the presence of that royal personage tends to afflict me with a strange malaise leading often to vomiting and hives, I suspect we will be living quite frequently apart. But I am resolved to give her new estates in Scotland my most loving husbandly attention.

Our betrothal will be finalized in writing in three weeks' time, on July the twenty-fifth. You should not by any means feel bound by duty to attend -- I know how little this marriage will please you and how little you love the royal court. In any case, I will be leaving immediately thereafter for the Scottish highlands to secure a castle there, Glencairn, which Richard has presented to his sister and John has made the chief portion of her dowry. I do not know what I will find there, as the former lord has died with Richard in the Holy Land after an extended absence from his home estates. Therefore, I cannot say when I will return or when I will actually be married.

Try not to despair of me completely, and remember me in your prayers.

Your loving son,

Aiden

Aiden studied his reflection. "Not bad," he congratulated his squire, rubbing his freshly shaved chin.

Robin looked back from laying out his master's best black tunic for the betrothal rite. "Not bad?" He laughed. "After four days drunken in the stews, I call it a miracle."

"I meant your shaving, Master Spite-Tongue," Aiden retorted, smiling himself. "Not my face." He braced his hands on the mirror frame, the eyes of the dragon he had carved there level with his own. The mirror was a magic spell, the first grand conjure he had worked after he left Falconskeep. He had carved the dragon frame from a single trunk of oak and rubbed his own faery blood into the grain to give the wood a dark red sheen, then ground the glass from sand in fire, breaking it and starting over time and time again until the surface was smooth and the magic was complete. "But my head is killing me."

"I shouldn't wonder," Robin agreed. He brushed a thick layer of dust from Aiden's best mantle with an expression of disgust -- somehow it had found its way under a tavern's table to a very dirty floor at some point the night before. "You should ask Lady Alista to brew you up a cure."

"I would, if she were here," Aiden answered, getting dressed.

"She is," Robin said. "She has been for the past two days, and Lord Brinlaw, too." Aiden tore his way through the collar of his linen shirt to stare at him, aghast. "And Sir Mark, your brother, arrived from Brinlaw Castle last night," the boy finished, a look of angelic innocence barely masking a grin.

Aiden put his arms through his sleeves, the better to strangle his squire. "And why did you not tell me?" he asked, forcing his voice to sound calm as he advanced.

"I did," Robin insisted, backing away but laughing all the same. "The very day they arrived." He ducked behind a chair as Aiden lunged for him. "You were in Cheapside, tupping that Sadie creature, and I came in, remember?" Aiden froze, confused. "I told you that your lady mother would be horrified to see what you were doing," Robin pointed out, as if this justified him for all time. "You threw your boot at me and told me if you saw my face again before you came home on your own -- "

"I would slit your throat and drop you in the Thames," Aiden finished grimly. "You don't really mean to say you thought I would have done it."

"I've seen you do worse," the boy retorted, but the twinkle in his eyes gave him away. "So I came home and told them you were indisposed."

"Knave," Aiden muttered, grabbing up his tunic as he turned away. "I ought to whip you for a wretch and send you packing to your mama."

"She would only send me back," Robin answered. "And if you whip me, your mama will never forgive you."

"No doubt," Aiden muttered. He pulled the tunic over his head and turned back to the mirror to tie the laces. "So what did they say? Was my father angry?"

"No, my lord," Robin said, sobering as he fetched his master's boots. "In truth, they didn't seem surprised."

Aiden smiled at his reflection in the mirror, the darkly humorous grin that made maidens' hearts go a-flutter. "No," he admitted. "I suppose they wouldn't be." After thirteen years in London, tearing up the town, even his parents had to know what he had become, at least to the world at large. His mirror was perfect; with a single word in ancient faery-speak, he could make it show him his dreams. But standing before it now, he could only see the shell the world could see, the handsome trickster, the seducer, the prince's favorite rogue. He could not see himself.

He heard the door open behind him, then a woman's voice. "For now we see as through a glass, darkly," his mother said, making him smile. Of all the noble ladies in London this morning, only Alista of Falconskeep would tease her son in Latin -- with holy writ, no less. "Careful, Willie. Vanity is still a sin."

"So is blasphemy," he answered, turning to her. "And I am Aiden now, remember?"

"Oh, yes," his mother sighed. "I do remember." She accepted his kiss with a hug of her own. "Your father still hasn't forgiven you completely for giving up his name."

"I didn't give it up," he joked. "I'm saving it for later." In truth, he had dropped his first name, William, after his father, the very day he arrived at court, and King Henry had heartily approved. I've been plagued with one Will Brinlaw all my life, he had laughed. I have no need for another. The king had taken the young squire from Falconskeep completely to his heart, including him for good and ill in the wellspring of jealous love he felt for his flawed youngest son. By the time Aiden was knighted and Henry was dead, leaving John's older brother Richard on his throne, every trace of young Willie Brinlaw had long since disappeared, at least in his outward appearance. "I'm glad you've come," he told his mother now, hugging her again before he let her go. "But we have to go to the Tower -- John will be waiting."

"Let him wait," she smiled, a twinkle of her own brand of mischief shining in her eyes. As a child, he had been utterly dazzled by her, and in truth, she was still just as beautiful as ever. Dark brown curls still peeked from the edges of her veil, refusing to be tamed, and her dark brown eyes were still as bright. No one who didn't know her well could have believed she was nearly sixty years old. Faery magic, Aiden thought. But he saw sadness in her eyes behind the teasing, sadness for him. "You look very like my father," she said, reaching up to barely touch his cheek. "He was probably vain as well."

"I doubt it," Aiden answered. "He was too busy to be vain." His grandfather, Lord Mark, had fought for King Stephen in the dark days of civil war. His wife, the sorceress Blanche, had conjured her own death trying to bring him home. Her ghost had told the child Aiden of their love, telling him he favored Mark much as his mother did now.

"She loved him more than life," Lady Alista said, following his thoughts as easily now as she had in the days when he had dogged her every step. "That's one of the few things I can still remember about her, how deeply she was in love. Even when her mortal body died, she stayed with him as a falcon because she couldn't give him up."

"I know," he answered, surprised to hear her speak of such things. His mother had never loved her faery magic, would have denied it if she could have. The memory of her mother's pain had always haunted her, and she avoided it like the wages of sin.

"That same love lives inside you," she went on, her tone turning urgent. "You are a child of Falconskeep as much as of Brinlaw -- "

"More," he promised, taking her hands in his. "I am your son, Mama; Mark belongs to our father."

"You both belong to both of us, and to yourselves most of all," she answered. "All of you were born of love, a love that never fades."

"I know that, too," he smiled. No one who had seen his parents together could doubt their passion even now.

"Then how can you want this betrothal?" A tiny line appeared between her brows, as always the first warning of her anger. "You do not love this woman; you said yourself you barely even know her."

"Katherine is a princess," he said, pulling free of her grasp. "Prince John honors me greatly by offering me her hand." Robin brought a stool, and he sat down to let the squire lace his boots.

"John's gifts are very like his father's," she said bitterly. "More to the good of the giver than the man who receives them. You said it yourself in your letter -- he means to annoy his brother, Richard, by giving his favorite sister to..." She let her voice trail off.

"You can say it, Mama," Aiden grinned. "John is giving Richard's pet to a scoundrel, a godless drunkard and seducer who cares nothing for chivalry and for morals even less." He had managed over the years to keep most of his more scandalous sins secret from his parents, first with the help of King Henry and later as a co-conspirator with Prince John. He had learned the ways and charms of women from the king's own cast-off mistresses, soft, pretty creatures with laughing eyes and a talent for discretion. But a recent dustup involving his seduction of another knight's promised virgin bride had been too heinous to keep hidden. The silly girl had decided she loved him and had spilled her secret to the world (and, more important, her intended) in hopes of forcing Aiden to marry her himself. It hadn't worked, but the subsequent uproar had been loud enough to reach the ears of Brinlaw.

"You are hardly godless," his mother scolded now, "whatever you may pretend."

"It doesn't matter why John is giving me Katherine." He stood up again, and Robin buckled on his sword. "If I make this marriage, I get Glencairn, a castle of my own -- "

"In Scotland, where you will not be wanted," she cut him off. "If what you want is a castle, your father has three with lands for more besides -- "

"All of which belong to my father." He should have known they would never trust him to know what was best for himself. If he were to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor, they would question the wisdom of the Pope. "Brinlaw will be Mark's, and Falconskeep must go to Malinda whether she wants it or not. Mary must have a dowry." He stopped for a moment, softening his tone. "I am making my own way in the world, making my own fortune," he finished. "Isn't that what you want? I know it's what Papa has always wanted; that's why he sent me to London." He's ashamed of me, Mama, he suddenly wanted to say. He's ashamed, and I can't stand it. But he couldn't say it; he couldn't even think of it for longer than a moment. He never could.

"Your father does not want you promised soul and body to a woman you can never love any more than I do," she said. "Do you truly believe you could come to love this princess?"

"Better you should ask can Katherine love me," he retorted, turning away. His reflection stared back at him again, now angry and impatient. The image was handsome, no question -- many a maid had sworn as much, melting in his arms. He had his mother's glossy curls, but his eyes were piercing blue, and in body, at least, he was the perfect shape of a knight, a head taller than the tallest of his friends with the broad, strong shoulders to match. And his mother was right; he had inherited her heart, tender and quick to love, as hard as he struggled to hide it. He wanted the kind of love she spoke of more than almost anything, burned for it with a near-religious fervor. But his years at the royal court had taught him well that a prayer was not a truth and that appearances could lie. There was something else inside him, a truth more secret than his heart and more vital than his blood. A truth he could never reveal to anyone outside his own blood kin. "How could she love me?" he asked softly, still facing his face in the magical mirror conjured with fire and the blood they shared. "Can a woman love what she can never understand?"

"Every woman does." His mother smiled, teasing him.

"You ask me why I marry without love." He turned back to her, his heart plain in his eyes. "I'm a wizard, Mama. I don't have a choice." I'm a man, he wanted to say, I won't have a husband to hide behind. But of course he could not. He thought again of all the lovers he had known, noble and peasant and bawd. Who among them could have seen his magic and not denounced him for a demon? What woman could know his heart in all its darkness and not turn away in fear? You will be greater than all of them, a voice whispered in his memory. You will be the dragon. "It doesn't matter if I love Katherine or if Katherine loves me," he finished. "I can't have what you and Papa have, so I may as well have a princess."

She wanted to argue with him; he could see it in her eyes. But as little as they saw each other now, she still knew when to give up. "My darling stranger, Aiden," she sighed, surrender in her tone.

He hugged her close for a moment, enveloping her in his arms. "Not a stranger, Mama," he promised, pressing a kiss to her forehead and wishing it were true. "Or a fool." He let her go with a smile. "Will you come with us to the Tower?"

"Thank you, no," she answered with a shudder that was only half in jest. She had always had a horror of the royal court. "Your father and Mark will go."

"Oh, joy," he muttered. "And the miller's daughter? Must I present her as well?"

"Mark's wife stayed home at Brinlaw with the children," his mother frowned. "Don't be a snob, Sir Aiden. It isn't becoming." Robin draped his freshly brushed mantle over his shoulders, and Lady Alista smiled. "And you're such a pretty thing."

"Mama, really," he scolded, offering her his arm.

Brinlaw and Mark were waiting downstairs, cloaked and ready to depart. "Finally," Mark grumbled, coming to meet them. "What were you doing so long?"

"Hello, Brother," Aiden said, embracing him. As a child, he had climbed Mark like a tree; now he could look him in the eye. He turned to his father. "Hello, Papa." Like his wife, Brinlaw looked barely more than half his age, his dark hair just starting to go gray. And Mark looked just like him, a second casting of the same fine statue. "Thank you for coming."

"Don't thank me yet," Brinlaw joked, embracing him as well.

"You mustn't blame Aiden," his mother said. "I kept him hostage, trying to make him see reason."

"I suspect you had no luck," Brinlaw said, letting him go. "So who is this woman you say you mean to marry?"

"Katherine, princess of England," Aiden said, masking his annoyance with a grin. "Daughter of Henry the Second; sister to Richard the First -- perhaps you've heard of them?"

"Pawn of Prince John the Usurper," Mark pointed out with a scowl.

"Mark," Lady Alista warned gently, putting a hand on his arm.

"Careful, Mark," Aiden said easily. "John is beginning to take that sort of thing to heart." Robin opened the door as the grooms were bringing up the horses. "And he hates to be kept waiting."

"So I've heard," Brinlaw muttered with a sigh as he gave his wife a kiss. "Very well, then. Let's go."

The betrothal documents were signed in Prince John's audience chamber in the Tower rather than a church. "For privacy," the prince explained as his clerk spread the scroll on the table. Aiden looked up at his father and brother, standing like sentries on either side of him, wearing identical expressions of distrust that made them look even more alike. "But the good bishop will bear witness for us here as well as in the cathedral," John finished with a smile.

"I don't doubt it," Brinlaw said before Aiden could speak for himself. "But where is Princess Katherine?"

"In a convent in Aquitaine with our lady mother," John said easily. "I will sign for her -- I would in any case."

"It doesn't matter, Papa," Aiden said, shooting his royal friend an apology with his eyes. "We can't be married until I secure Glencairn -- "

"Which raises my next question," Brinlaw said, the steel-blue of his eyes more telling than his diplomatic smile. "What is this Glencairn, and why must it be secured? I thought the king sold Scotland back her freedom before he left England on Crusade."

"Scotland is its own country, yes," John said, an edge coming into his tone. "But Glencairn is an English castle, built after my brothers' rebellion. You'll recall the Scottish king tried a bit of treason of his own while my father was distracted and got himself imprisoned for his trouble."

"I was one of those who captured him," Mark answered. "But if this castle is English, why must Willie secure it? Why can you not give it to him outright?"

"Charles of Glencairn has died on Crusade," Aiden explained, his voice calm only with an effort. Willie, indeed. He wasn't a child, or an imbecile, for that matter. In fact, he suspected his wits were rather sharper than Mark's own. "He was a young man and an only son -- there is no heir. But the castle is in Scotland, and it has been without a master for some time."

"The Scots may well have overrun the place by now," John agreed. "But Aiden can soon put it back in English hands, I think. It's worth having, my lord, I can assure you. My father spared no expense in its original construction, and the builder who designed it drew the plans for my mother's own house in Aquitaine."

Brinlaw scowled, obviously unconvinced. "So this document makes the castle Aiden's?"

"This document makes my sister Aiden's," John answered with a scowl of his own. His throat was beginning to redden; he would soon fly into a rage, the spoiled brat who loathed to be questioned breaking through the fragile crust the years had barely constructed around him. "But until their actual marriage, Glencairn belongs to her."

"So if the marriage never happens, Glencairn is won for England, but my son gets nothing at all," Brinlaw finished, never one to hesitate to infuriate his king or even his king's usurper brother. "Very clever, John -- your father would be proud."

"The marriage will happen," Aiden said, turning to face his father. "I will make it happen." Mark's face turned pale, but Brinlaw's didn't change -- filial insolence scared him no more than royal rage. "I will sign this betrothal, and I will marry the princess, with or without your permission." He was bluffing, of course. If Brinlaw should disown him, he would lose what little status he had. Not even John would let him marry Katherine then, and they all knew it. But his pride wouldn't let him be silent. He couldn't allow his father to destroy his plans, even with all good intentions. He didn't trust John any more than his father did; he had already considered the possibility Brinlaw raised. But he had resources not even his father could guess.

He met Brinlaw's eyes with his own, his face a stony mask. "Glencairn Castle will be mine."

"You dare?" Mark said softly -- even at thirty-eight, he would have died before he defied Brinlaw's judgment. "Our father means to protect you, idiot -- "

"Aiden knows what I mean," their father cut him off, his scowl melting into a tiny smile. The sadness Aiden had seen in his mother's eyes now shone in Brinlaw's as well. "And I do understand him." He took the quill from the fascinated clerk and held it out to Aiden. "Sign it, then," he said. "And you will have my blessing."

"Thank God," John grumbled.

"Thank you, Papa." Aiden took the quill and signed the scroll, barely scanning its text. I will have the castle, he thought, remembering the spirit's promise. I will be the dragon.

Copyright © 2003 by Jayel Wylie

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Wicked Charms 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing 7 months ago
In this medieval set romance, Aiden is a knight worthy and true (or so we're told) and he is to marry the king's sister after fulfilling one last errand: taking and securing the Scottish castle of an English lord killed on the Crusades. Standing in his way is the lord's betrothed, Evelyn, and their toddler son. Evelyn has been waiting in the castle for her fiance to come back to her and when she hears he's died, she is determined that his son should have the castle as his birthright, not that an illegitimate child had any birthright. Aiden storms onto the scene arrogant and demanding, making snap judgements and riding roughshod over everyone. And he takes one look at Evelyn and decides he'll keep her around for his pleasure just as long as it suits him but that ultimately she'll have to go because she'll throw a monkey wrench in his plans to marry the princess. Evelyn, for her part, plays the tease in an effort to secure Aiden and the castle. As the two play off of each other, they uncover the pasts that have made them who they are. In Evelyn's case, she was bartered to her fairly indifferent English lord by her brother-in-law at her nasty sister's urging. She had a youth devoid of love and so it is not surprising that she doesn't recognize what she finds with Aiden until almost too late. Aiden is fighting against his wizard heritage, which he knows has always shamed his father. But Aiden and Evelyn have an indescribable connection that stems from the magic that entwines them.Neither the hero nor the heroine were hugely appealing and the magical aspects of the story were fairly sparse until the author needed to invoke them to move the plot to crisis point, a sort of hastily constructed deus ex machina. The story of Aiden and Evelyn coming to trust each other, despite their initial cold-blooded plans for seduction solely for pleasure's sake was a much more interesting plotline than the magical history by the castle. I wasn't wowed by this one but it was a decent enough read.