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by Gayle Callen
Book 3 of the "Knight" trilogy
(The books do not have to be read in order.)
Lady Margery Welles has the uncommon privilege of choosing her own
husband--but it's a decision she has no desire to make, and the king
wants an answer soon. Pursued by noblemen eager for a wealthy bride,
Margery finds unexpected aid when Gareth Beaumont, her childhood
friend, suddenly appears. Except her early champion is no longer a boy,
his strength and virility are more temptation than any noble suitor.
But Margery hides a secret that makes her determined never to
marry--and not even her sworn knight can safeguard her from it.
Years ago in the midst of battle, young Margery's protection was
entrusted to the twelve-year-old Gareth. Sworn to defend her in all
things, Gareth has returned, years after his family curse forced him to
flee England, to be her champion once again. Convinced
of her imminent danger, he poses as Margery's devoted suitor until she
is safely married, never imagining their ruse could become a passionate
reality. For she has become a spirited
beauty--and the lady's guardian now desires to become much more...
"...fans of the sub-genre will
relish a tale that highlights the thrilling heart-thumping elements
that make historical romances so enjoyable."
Harriet Klausner, romance reviewer
(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot
copied or reprinted without permission.)
Through the narrow window,
twelve-year-old squire Gareth
Beaumont watched the inner ward burn. The night was dark, lit only by
flames. He listened to the shrieks of women and children, the groans of
as they fought the blaze.
He had seen this, by heaven, in his
dreams and his waking
visions. Everything had been muddled, but the fires had raged in his
for days. He should have known it meant attack!
He wanted to bang his head against the
wall to shake
out these incomprehensible visions that haunted him. He couldn't escape
legacy, the Beaumont Curse. Why did he have to be different than
Now Wellespring Castle was under
attack, its stables
and outbuildings alive with flames. It was just like his parents' fate
over again. They'd died three years before in a fire, leaving Gareth
nothing but painful memories.
But this time he could do something. He
flung open the
door to his room and raced down the corridor.
The inner ward was a nightmare of smoke
and flames, and
the screams of horses and men. The gatehouse held firm, keeping out the
while the fire illuminated the archers manning the battlements. At the
Gareth joined the line of men passing buckets of water from the well to
His eyes watered from the smoke, and
his lungs ached
with the need for fresh air. Although his skin was hot, a sudden chill
foreboding worked through him, and he wanted to groan aloud his denial.
The vision began as but a sound, a
Sometimes he could pretend he didn't see the visions. It made
worse, but that was better than knowing useless information he couldn't
But this time he knew who it
was--Margery Welles, the
eight-year-old daughter of the viscount. In the mists of his
saw her impish face contort in a scream of terror. She wasn't with the
as she was supposed to be.
He broke from the line of men and raced
through the inner
ward, dodging soldiers. He finally saw Lord Welles by the gatehouse.
viscount was a tall, broad man with gray peppering his dark hair, and a
face which always looked in control.
Gareth came to a stop before him,
coughing from the smoke.
"My lord, your daughter--I fear she's in danger."
The firelit ward retreated as he found
in the formidable gaze of Lord Welles. They stared at one another, and
an instant, fear touched his lordship's eyes.
"Gareth, she is with the women. Do you
Before Gareth could respond, he heard a
of wood and a sharp crack.
Lord Welles caught his arm and dragged
him away from
the swarm of soldiers who came to defend the gatehouse. "Baron Hunter
his men have broken through the first doors. There will be a battle.
above, I wish my sons were here. But you will do. Get Margery away."
"But my lord, how--"
Lord Welles leaned into Gareth's face
and spoke in a
hoarse, urgent voice. "Take her into the undercroft below the great
You'll find a stack of barrels in the north corner, and a hidden tunnel
them. Lead Margery out into the forest and await my word."
"I'll find the women and take them--"
"Margery first!" Lord Welles said,
arms and giving him a quick shake. "If you get her out to the forest
the castle itself is invaded, then you may return for others. I can't
the chance that Margery could be harmed. You must protect her. Promise
"O-of course, my lord," he stammered.
When Gareth searched the great hall and
didn't find her,
he knew Margery would go where she felt safest. He found her alone in
bedchamber, leaning out a window to watch the destruction below. He
her away and closed the shutters, feeling weak with relief at having
She looked at him solemnly, all dark
hair and wide blue
eyes. She wore white billowy nightclothes. "My father will win, won't
"Of course," he gasped, still breathing hard. He
hung on pegs, and brought them to her. "But he wants me to take you to
"You have to leave while I--"
Ignoring her protests, Gareth pulled
her smock over her
head. She was soon dressed and well-wrapped in a cloak. He led Margery
through the levels of the castle to one of the entrances to the
He lifted the trap door, grabbed a torch off the wall, and descended
the darkness below the main level, holding her hand.
Wooden beams arched overhead, dripping cobwebs.
salted meat and foodstuffs were stacked high. He led Margery to the
corner and had her hold the torch while he started to drag barrels away.
"Gareth, what are you looking for? A hidden
"A secret tunnel." Above them, he
suddenly heard the pounding
of many booted feet and a distant scream. He threw himself at the next
Where was the tunnel?
He glanced at Margery. He could see
in her eyes but still she lifted the torch high.
As he dragged a fifth barrel aside,
Gareth heard the
clash of steel over their heads. By the saints, was the entire castle
In despair, he realized he wouldn't be able to rescue the other women.
he tried, he would most certainly be captured, and Margery would be
Lord Welles's words echoed through his
mind. You must
Gareth would prove himself worthy of his
He would never let any harm come to Margery.
He felt a sudden draft of cold air at
his feet. He shoved
the last barrel aside and saw the outline of a trap door. He lifted it,
dust and dirt billowed through the air.
He quickly took the torch and led her down a short
The tunnel itself was made of earth and damp rock, carved out of the
braced with rotting wood. When they'd walked at least a
tree roots began to poke through the ceiling. Soon all he had to do was
past the roots of a tree, and they were in the forest.
Gareth knew they were only a few hundred yards
from the castle.
He could hear shouts, weapons clashing, and the hissing roar of fire.
put his arms around Margery and led her back into the tunnel.
He used the sputtering torch to light a small fire
entrance. Still kneeling, he turned and saw Margery gazing bleakly back
Gareth didn't know the first thing about
comforting a little
girl. Feeling awkward, he held out his hand and she took it, crouching
him. She stared into the fire as one tear slid down her cheek. He was
by a feeling of tenderness, and he put his arm around her. She leaned
"What else did Father tell you?" she
"He told me to keep you safe, and that
he would send
for you as soon as he could."
"You won't leave me?" She turned wet,
pleading eyes up
to him. "You're always trying to get away from me."
He hugged her closer, and pushed the
tangles of hair
from her eyes. "This isn't like our games," he said, feeling a stab of
"I promise I won't leave you."
Gareth awoke to the chirping of birds outside in
as the sun rose.
With a gasp, Margery sat up straight.
"Not yet," he said reluctantly. "Are
She shook her head.
"Of course you're hungry. Do you know
how to fish?"
She looked at him out of the corner of
her eye, and he
saw some of her liveliness return. "I tried to follow you the last
but you sent me home."
He sighed, feeling another ache of
guilt. "Your voice
scared away the fish. I'll wager you still can't be quiet."
She gave him a teasing glare and shoved
"You just show me how to fish, Gareth Beaumont."
He dug his fishing hooks and string
from the pouch at
his belt, and soon they were lying side by side on the embankment of a
creek, dangling their hooks in the water.
Gareth pulled in a small, wriggling
Margery lifted her chin. "I shall get a
He barely kept from smiling. "I'd like
to see you try."
And try she did. He was impressed, even
as he cooked
his own fish. She perched on the embankment, fishing mightily, ignoring
as he smacked his lips and ate his trout. He saved half for her.
He needn't have. Soon she caught her
own fish, and it
was bigger, just as she promised. She took it off the hook, learned how
remove the bones, and even cooked it herself, though she burned three
before she was through.
Side by side, they knelt at the edge of
the brook and
cleaned the fish smell from their hands. Something suddenly glittered
the surface. He grasped the object and rose to his feet for the best
It was just a gray, delicate stone, but imbedded in the center was a
piece of crystal that caught the rays of the sun. She looked up at him
delight, laughing as she reached out to touch it.
In her haste, she knocked it from his
hand, and it bounced
along the rocky edge of the brook. Margery picked up the two pieces of
broken stone. Her breath caught on a muffled sob. Gareth knew that her
had little to do with the stone.
"Margery, look, 'tis just as shiny as
ever. Now there's
a piece for each of us, so we can remember today."
She looked at the two stones, then gave
one to him.
She lifted her face, and he felt his heart give a painful
the redness of her nose and eyes.
"I shall keep this always," he said.
A smile tugged at one corner
of Margery's lips.
She clenched the shining stone tightly in her fist.
His gaze rose over her head in the
direction of Wellespring
Castle and he tried to mask his worry. If he could keep Margery busy,
wouldn't have time to be afraid.
For three days, they waited for word
from Lord Welles.
They slept in a bed of leaves in the tunnel by night, and
of survival by day. He taught her to snare rabbits, then how to cook
They played hiding games in the forest, where they moved from tree to
in an attempt to outwit each other. He made two pouches, so they could
carry their crystal stone on their belts. She was his first friend, and
pretended that someday when she found out about the Beaumont Curse, she
On the fourth day, they heard soldiers
the forest. Gareth retreated to a little fort they'd built high in the
and held Margery close. Hoarse voices called her name.
"'Tis my brothers!"
He found himself rubbing the crystal
stone in its pouch
at his waist. He waited for her to climb down to her family, leaving
alone once more.
She took his hand. "Will you still be
my friend when
we go back?"
"Forever." The word reverberated
through his soul like
a blood vow. He had discovered what it was like to be a man, to take
Margery descended from their perch and
into the waiting
arms of her brother Reynold, only three years older than Gareth. James
Earl of Bolton, not yet twenty, watched Gareth closely as he reached
"My lords," Gareth said, bowing his
head stiffly. "I
hope all is well at the castle."
They hesitated, and he knew in
that moment that
his visions, though unclear, had not betrayed him.
Margery pulled away from
Her brothers looked grim.
"Not Father!" she cried. "But where is
"He is fine," Reynold said as
she buried her face
in his tunic and sobbed. "He is with Father's body."
Gareth felt a tight ball of grief
clutch his chest as
he watched her tears. Reynold guided his horse out of the clearing,
James looked Gareth over. "When we
arrived home, we searched
the castle for Margery and found the tunnel open. How did you know to
Gareth grew angry at the inevitable
distrust. He would
be forever judged because of his ancestors, not for himself. What could
say? That strange visions haunted him?
"Lord Bolton, your stepfather told me
about the tunnel.
He wanted me to keep her safe."
"Well, my thanks to you," James said
"How did your stepfather die?"
"An arrow. We lost five soldiers, and
others are wounded.
But Hunter will never bother us again. I shall go to the king with this
Gareth soon came to realize that
Margery's brothers did
not quite believe his story. Within a week he was sent to another
to finish his fostering. Surely Margery would tell her brothers that it
all a mistake, that Gareth was her friend. But they never came back for
Gareth Beaumont gasped for air and came
up on his elbows,
wide awake in an instant. He bumped his head on the tent pole, and a
of water leaked inside to splatter across his face. He ignored it,
into the murky darkness, the dream still fresh in his mind.
The old bitterness welled up in his
mind. She and her
brothers had abandoned him, setting his life on a path of desperation
He breathed deeply, trying to calm his
It was just a dream, not a vision.
But he knew better. A dull ache groaned
to life behind
his forehead, and his stomach gurgled with queasiness. It was a vision
right, of Margery Welles, whom he hadn't seen in twelve years.
She was in danger again.
Gareth sat up, resting his head in his
hands. She was
not his concern. She had brothers to take care of her problems.
she must be married already, even have children.
The past was dead, and he could never
go back to it.
Why would he want to? He certainly knew early in life that he could
on no one but himself. At his final foster home, he'd been jeered at,
Warfield's Wizard because of the visions he couldn't control. To earn
he'd become a fierce fighter. It kept people away, just like he wanted,
it also kept him from starving.
But he had become too good at
his craft, and the
noblemen tired of losing. He'd been forced to leave England when he was
longer allowed to enter tournaments and no one would hire him. He'd
some mercenary work in France these past few years, but his name and
curse had followed him even there. He had no land of his own, no
no money. He was so close to poverty that he could smell the stench.
only things he hadn't sold were his armor and his horse, because
them, he had no chance of earning a living.
By the saints, why did he have to be
reminded of Margery
after all these years? He wanted to ignore this vision of danger. She
had a family, and none of them needed Gareth.
He had a sudden memory of looking into
the intense gaze
of her father, Lord Welles. He was the one man who had ever treated
And Gareth had promised the old man
he'd always protect
With an angry curse, he lay back on his
Welles deserved his loyalty, but his children did not. Yet he would go
Margery and find this danger that awaited her. He would do what was
to satisfy his oath, and then he would leave.
The sun blazed down on the rolling
hillsides and low
stone walls of Gloucestershire. In the distance, Gareth could see the
spires of a castle glittering atop a hill. Hawksbury Castle. As usual,
and her family owned the best. Resentment tasted bitter in his mouth,
he tried to put the feelings aside. His personal distaste didn't
Only his oath to Lord Welles did.
Gareth was relieved when his horse
plodded into the shadows
of a cool wooded glen, and he could no longer see the castle. He
at Wallace Desmond, who for once wasn't eyeing him suspiciously.
Gareth had known it was foolish to
approach this unknown
danger alone. He hated asking anyone for help. But Desmond owed Gareth
saving his life at a tournament. When Gareth called in the favor,
had been willing to return to his homeland to help a woman from
Though the day was unusually bright for
felt a sudden cold chill move through him. He'd spent his whole life
to ignore such warnings, but now he heeded it.
They were near Margery.
He pulled back on the reins, and his
horse danced to
a halt. He cocked his head, eyeing the woods all around them.
"Desmond, you go on ahead. Hawksbury
Castle is not far."
Desmond leaned on his pommel and stared
at him with narrowed
eyes. "What is going on, Beaumont?"
"Nothing." Desmond was ignorant of his
visions, and Gareth
planned to keep it that way as long as possible. Not for the first
he wondered why generations of a family had been cursed for one
crime. "I just need a moment to think on what I will say to Margery."
Desmond grinned. "Nervous about a mere
Gareth said nothing. The longer he
traveled with Desmond,
the more talkative the man had become, as if it was ever possible for
to be friends. Gareth didn't need friends.
"Very well," Desmond said. "I'll leave
you to your peace.
Who knows, the fair Margery might take a liking to me."
Margery Welles circled the clearing,
keeping the stone
bench between herself and a grinning Thomas Fogge. For the third time
day, she cursed her foolishness. Why ever had she thought he was
from all the others--different from Peter Fitzwilliam? Taking him to
of her favorite peaceful places had been the height of stupidity. Now
was forced to fend off his advances when all she'd wanted to do was
"Lord Fogge, I insist we go back to the
"Mistress Welles--Margery," he said,
with an ingratiating
smile that showed his blackened teeth, "I am so enjoying our private
How else can you come to know me?"
"Then seat yourself, my lord, and we
Lord Fogge leaned one way. Margery went
way, and found herself against his chest.
"Margery, I ache for one of your
kisses. Just one."
She leaned back in his embrace and
turned her face away.
She felt his hot breath on her neck. She had been in this situation one
many times this last month. Why hadn't she learned by now that every
man in England considered her fair game? And yet, what choice did she
The days were flying by at too fast a pace, and soon the king would
Margery felt his mouth on her cheek and
as she was about to bring up her knee and end his lordship's kiss with
Fogge abruptly released her. As she stumbled back against the bench,
realized that Fogge had not willingly let her go. He was caught in the
of a stranger--a much larger, broader man, who punched him hard in the
With a groan, Fogge doubled over and
a tree trunk. The stranger grabbed him again, and Fogge covered his
"Let him go!" Margery said.
The stranger ignored her. His fist
connecting with Fogge's
chin snapped the man's head back.
"That is enough!" she cried, grasping
arm. She stumbled as his arm came forward, but hung on grimly. "You've
him. He will not be so foolish again."
The stranger abruptly released Lord
Fogge, who reeled
sideways, blood dripping from his lower lip. Without a glance at
his lordship darted through the trees towards where they'd left the
But she soon forgot him when the stranger turned and looked at her.
She felt a shiver of fear. Her rescuer
would have continued
to pummel her assailant if she had not intervened. She could trust him
less than Lord Fogge. The man was tall and well-muscled, wearing a
jerkin over a dark shirt. His bright blond hair was longish and shaggy,
if he'd been traveling for some time. Then their gazes met, and Margery
She would recognize those intense eyes
He was Gareth Beaumont, the boy from
Shock and disbelief made her freeze.
Not a week went
by that she did not wonder what had become of him. Almost without
she reached for the purse hung from her belt, and touched the crystal
through the fabric.
She'd never been able to
forget the way his golden
eyes seemed to glow with a light of their own. But now there lurked a
behind those eyes that made her realize he was no longer the boy she
She stepped back, barely able to take
in the man he had
become. He was sun-burnished, golden, his nose straight and strong, his
cheekbones as chiseled as if carved by a sculptor. He was so
rendered, yet so male, that it made her uneasy. And in that moment, she
small and dark and sinful, unworthy to even look upon such perfection.
would he think of her if he knew her secrets?
But this was foolishness.
Gareth Beaumont needed
to know nothing of her past. He was no longer her childhood friend, but
stranger passing through her land.
And then she remembered the ignoble
rumors that had chased
him from the country. He was said to be a vicious opponent in battle,
won at any cost.
He, too, was assessing her,
staring into her face,
then glancing down her body. She felt the trace of his gaze leave a
path in her flesh. She was shocked and unnerved, aware of him suddenly
a man and not a memory. It showed what kind of woman she'd become, how
the heat of desire consumed her.
Every man looked on her with a covetous
bent, and she
was disappointed that Gareth was no better.
She heard her name on his lips and she
Beaumont, can it really be you? I have not seen you in--"
"Twelve years." His voice was deep,
rumbling, as unnerving
as his face.
She swallowed. "What have you been
doing for all these
"I've been traveling through Europe,"
was all he said.
She hesitated, then asked
bravely, "Doing what?"
She didn't think he'd answer. He just
stared at her in
that cool way of his.
"There is money to be earned at
tournaments, and noblemen
to work for," he finally said. "It is as good a way as any to live."
She remembered then that his parents
had died in a fire
just after he'd come to foster at her father's castle. The king had
the Beaumonts' land and possessions as payment for a debt. Gareth had
family, no home.
It was sometimes so easy for her to
take her brothers'
love for granted.
There was a long, awkward silence.
"Did you like Europe better than
England?" she asked,
then wanted to wince at her inanity.
She had heard that he had not left the
She had so many questions, but how to ask without inviting his own
of her life?
"Then why did you come here?" Margery
"You are in danger."
Her mouth dropped open in surprise and
she sat down heavily
on the bench. Fear shot through her, her hands started to tremble, but
forced herself to calm down. He could know nothing.
He remained standing, his
hands joined behind his
back, staring at her with his chilly gaze. He didn't look like he
to help her, or even be there at all.
"How do you know such a thing?" she
whispered. She remembered
the fateful night of her father's death. Gareth had come to her room
she'd been in danger.
"I heard things in London."
Margery felt the doubts creeping into
her mind. Where
had he been? What had he been doing? He may have saved her life once,
she could hardly trust him now--she could trust no one.
She sighed. "Yes, I am much the talk at
"It is complicated. But I assure you, I
am not in danger."
She tried to give him a bright smile, but it must look forced.
"Then why was that man chasing you?" he
"For a simple kiss." She
laughed. "Surely you have
tried to steal a kiss or two from a pretty maiden yourself."
She thought he would smile.
Instead, he raised one
eyebrow. "I've never had to."
Her smile died. Of course he'd never
had to. He was as
beautiful--and as cold--as a statue of an angel.
In her brittle voice, Gareth could hear
the truth: Margery
was lying. She avoided looking at him for too long, as if he were
Why was part of him
disappointed? He knew what kind
of family she came from, a family that rewarded kindness with
What lessons had she learned from brothers such as hers?
She jumped up from the bench, and the
sun slanting through
the trees painted flickering patterns across her face and dress. Her
were not delicate and ladylike; she paced like a woman with much on her
She was trying to keep something hidden.
But still he was a man, and as
she walked before
him, he reluctantly noticed the grace of her movements. Her strides
her pale yellow skirts out before her, leading him to imagine the
of her legs. He broke into a sweat. This was not the way he meant to
Her waist was long and slender, cinched in fabric
upward to cup her generous breasts. Her collarbones arced out like the
of a bird, and her neck had the unbending grace of a tall woman at ease
her height. Her long hair, dark brown, was pulled back from her face by
And what a striking face Margery had.
Her deep blue eyes
flashed with intelligence above fine cheekbones. He stared at her mouth
told himself he was unaffected. But the little girl she'd been in his
was gone, replaced by a woman--and she was as yet unmarried.
He suddenly realized she'd been
talking. "What did you
"I asked you to stop staring at me."
She put her fists
on her waist and leaned towards him.
Gareth kept his eyes on her face and
not her gaping bodice.
"You have changed."
Her face blanched. She stepped
backwards, and her arms
slid up to hug herself. She was frightened, and that made him even more
"I have not changed much," she said
coldly. "And neither
have you. I recognized you immediately."
He pointedly glanced down her body. "I
have changed a
great deal. Do not forget that. But one thing that hasn't changed is
oath I swore to your father. You need protection, whether you want to
it or not."
"Gareth, I am fine," Margery said
between gritted teeth.
"But please come stay at Hawksbury and rest before you travel on."
He said nothing.
She looked over her shoulder. "My horse
is beyond those
trees. Ride with me back to the castle. You must be hungry."
As they walked through the woods,
Gareth thought again
of her startled face when he'd said she'd changed. She must have been
protected behind castle walls that she thought the world's cruelty
never touch her. How naive she was.
She came to a stop so quickly he almost
bumped into her.
He could see the road just ahead through the trees.
"My horse--" she began, then stopped.
It was nowhere to be found.
He quirked an eyebrow. "I assume it was
"Of course, but Lord Fogge wouldn't..."
Her voice trailed
off and she sighed.
"Your horse is probably waiting for you
at the castle,"
She turned around to face him, wearing
a forced smile.
"I seem to need your help again. Would you mind sharing your horse?"
Reluctantly, he gave a low whistle, and
his gray stallion
came crashing through the underbrush.
Margery nodded. "That is very
Gareth raised his hands to help her,
but she put her
foot in the stirrup and swung her leg up over the saddle. As she sat
her skirts settled over the horse like a blanket, revealing her lower
encased in men's boots.
"Are you coming?" she asked, wearing
what was obviously
a smile of pride at her horsemanship.
He stood beside her leg, looking up
into her face. Unwanted
memories flooded through his mind, and he felt a momentary uncertainty.
a low voice, he said, "Do you remember the last time you rode my horse?"
Her forehead wrinkled with a frown.
"Yes. My father had
given you your own horse, and I wanted to ride it, too. The silly
dumped me headfirst into the pond."
Gareth still had a vivid memory of
Margery rising sputtering
to the surface as he'd splashed out to rescue her. Every memory of her
either rescuing her or escaping her.
"Well, that will not happen any more,"
she said, and
with a dig of her heels rode off down the path.
He watched as she bent low over the
animal's neck. He
grudgingly noticed the flare of her hips and her competent seat in the
At least she was not a pointlessly dainty woman. Her brothers had done
She finally turned back and raced
towards him. He didn't
move as she pulled up within feet of him, haughty, proud of herself.
She shouldn't be, since she couldn't
even protect herself.
She needed a man for that--and maybe she needed a man to teach her a
Without a word, Gareth swung up behind
her. He heard
her gasp softly as he squeezed into the saddle, bringing them in
contact. He rested his hands on her waist, feeling the slight curve of
stomach against the tips of his fingers.
She had to learn that most men were
bigger and stronger
than she was.
But while he was trying to prove her
frailty to her,
he couldn't help but breathe in the scent of her hair. The warmth from
body melded with his. The urge to trail his lips down her neck was
primitive, almost too compelling to resist. He hated feeling out of
pulled along by a woman's wiles. If his thoughts went any farther,
know exactly what he was thinking by the pressure of his hips against
He quickly took the reins from her
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