The 4th book in my Marry in Haste novella collection will be out soon. I decided to treat myself to some new covers, which I created using the Bookbrush platform (I LOVE doing graphics on Bookbrush!) Here is the cover for NEVER TEMPT A WIDOW.
And here’s the story-
The Duke of Wolfingham’s scapegrace daughter Seraphina is convinced her lover tried to kill her. Alone, penniless, and desperate, there’s nothing she can do to save the life of her beloved baby daughter, Adelina. Sir Rowland Cavendish offers an escape from her grief, but how can Seraphina ever trust a man again?
Rowland has just lost his wife, and his baby boy needs feeding. The beautiful young widow from the village would make the perfect wetnurse, but the conditions she sets in exchange for her compliance are not at all what he expects.
Seraphina refuses to share her secrets with Rowland, but her past returns to haunt her, threatening her new-found security. Her future hangs on a knife-edge as the game turns deadly, and a web of kidnapping, blackmail, and lies is uncovered.
She loves Rowland deeply, but if she doesn’t leave him, he may lose what he values above all else. His baby son.
The book comes out on May 18th, but you can pre-order your copy HERE.
I’ve always felt a bit ambivalent about my writing. Is it any good? Is it terrible? Do only a few select and special people really “get” Elizabeth Keysian? Bearing this in mind, it came as a very welcome surprise that my Victorian historical novel, WORKHOUSE WAIF, received a Silver Medal in the Author Shout Reader Ready Awards. Woohoo! To celebrate, I’ll be putting the book back into Kindle Unlimited, so people can read it for FREE, and I’ll be running a discount for a limited time very soon.
Here’s a bit about WORKHOUSE WAIF.
How can Bella Hart escape the hell of the Victorian workhouse?
Fleeing the abuse that she suffered there, the lonely outcast hopes her new life in a factory town can provide the esteem and affection she craves. Torn between the worlds of masters and workers, Bella falls for the enigmatic Jack, but their relationship shatters when his true identity is revealed. In a desperate bid to revive her love, Jack unearths Bella’s past, with tragic consequences.
After a devastating fire, a secret emerges that seals Bella’s fate, and that of everyone and everything she holds dear.
Fans of Catherine Cookson and Victorian historical romances will love this book.
If you fancy a deeper insight into my writing quirks and eccentric habits, you could do worse than have a look at the fun Interview I did with fellow author Pam Lecky! 😜 Thanks so much for doing this, Pam ❤️
Here’s a bit about the story. You can also scroll down for an exclusive extract from the book.
Sir Robert Mallory thinks the young woman he encounters, who is dressed as a boy, is a pickpocket and a prostitute. He soon discovers that the delectable Chloe is, in fact, the illegitimate daughter of a man to whom he owes a great deal of money. Things go from bad to worse when she’s kidnapped by traitors to the crown.
Robert is faced with an impossible choice. He’s desperate to save Chloe, but if he follows his heart, the security of the entire realm is at risk.
Here is a exclusive extract from the book.
“How shall we occupy the next hour?”
There was a glint in his eyes that belied his claim of exhaustion. A predatory glint.
She backed toward the door. “I hope you’re not having any lascivious thoughts, sir. I’ve told you time and time again that I’m not what you think.”
He followed her and as she reached for the latch, his hand came over hers. “Pray, don’t decamp just yet, Mistress. You have not yet explained your presence at Mistress Riviere’s, nor why you were dressed as a boy one moment and a charming woman the next. I beg you, indulge me. Fill my empty moments by telling me your story.”
Curse it! He was far too close, his blue eyes alight with mischief. And with promise. She gulped.
“Step back, sir. You’re trying to take advantage of me. If I saved your life tonight, you should be showing me your gratitude, not… not looming over me.” And not looking like he wanted to kiss her, threatening to reawaken all those wicked imaginings she’d had earlier.
“Was I looming? My apologies. So, are you going to tell me what you were doing in that house of ill repute?”
“Certainly not, as it’s none of your business.”
He tipped his head on one side. “If you are a whore, you’re the most reticent I’ve ever encountered.”
Why did his gaze keep sliding toward her mouth? It was most unsettling.
She pushed her shoulders back. “I’ve told you so many times that I am not. You should accept the word of a lady.”
“If you are a lady, then who are your people? Who are your family, and whither are you bound?”
He was looming even more. So close, she could feel his breath on her face. And there was no space for retreat. Placing a hand firmly on his chest, she gave him a push, but he was immovable. Instead, the rogue placed his palm over hers and came even closer.
Time for the knee again? She rather thought it was. But before she could move, he’d wrapped his arms tightly around her, pulling her against him.
“Nothing to say, Madam Mystery?” His lips teased her ear.
She tried to speak, but her voice lodged in her throat. A giddy sensation of excitement washed over her as she stood quivering in his arms, fascinated to discover what he’d do next. The strength and power that emanated from him both comforted and alarmed her. Protection, safety, danger. She wriggled, only to find his arms tightening around her.
He pulled his head back a little, and she was able to focus on his face. His gaze had darkened and a smile played about his lips.
“I find staring death in the face has a way of making one feel gloriously alive—as if one’s continued existence was a gift not to be squandered. As if there isn’t a single moment to lose. Tell me, didn’t besting that blackguard stir your blood, just a little?”
She shook her head. It had been terrifying. Particularly when he’d pointed his weapon back at her.
“But you were magnificent.” Even though Sir Robert was holding her less tightly now, her limbs had turned to water, and she couldn’t have escaped had she wanted to. Did she still want to escape?
He twined a curl of hair behind her ear and stroked her cheek. Suddenly, she remembered she was wearing only her thin summer nightgown. Far too little to shield her body from his. He must be able to feel her breasts pushing up against him—it would incite him, would it not?
What else had her mother taught her about evading the attentions of a lustful man? Frantically, she searched her memory, struggling to pull together her scattered thoughts. Sir Robert, meanwhile, was gazing at her mouth again, a hungry smile on his lips.
Go limp. That was it. Go limp and slide down, out of the grasp of your over-amorous suitor.
Well, it might work with the clientele at Mistress Riviere’s when they overstepped the mark, but they didn’t have the reflexes of Sir Robert Mallory. The instant she relaxed, he scooped her up and held her across his body.
“You’re not about to swoon on me, are you? Mayhap you’d better lie down.” He carried her to the bed and laid her atop the cover.
Nay! If she lay down, she’d be completely at his mercy. But when she struggled to sit up, he pressed her shoulders back against the mattress, then lowered his head and touched his lips to hers.
It was the briefest of touches, but it calmed her fears and, at the same time, ignited a curiosity within her. Her treacherous body demanded more.
“Sweet as sugared rose petals. I would taste you again.” His voice was as soft as the caress of his lips.
She should turn her head aside, or fight—or even scream. But she did none of these things. She merely gazed into his admiring eyes and wondered what was to follow.
“No complaint, Mistress?” He brushed her lips with the tip of his tongue, and they tingled in response.
Nothing to complain of as yet.
Don’t forget- if you buy the book now, it’ll only cost you $0.99! Here’s the link- http://mybook.to/mistrust
Here’s a bit about the story. You can also scroll down for an exclusive extract from the book.
Headstrong Chloe dresses as a boy and runs away to her birth mother to escape a horrendous marriage. She’s shocked to discover that her parent owns a bawdy house, and is in no position to help- nor will she reveal the identity of Chloe’s father. When a street accident throws Chloe into the lap of the tempting Robert Mallory, he offers distraction and adventure, but his stubborn refusal to trust her endangers them both.
Hot-headed Robert Mallory is battling to protect his sister, his livelihood, and his honor. He’s a spy who can’t follow the rules and distrusts everyone, particularly the delectable young woman from the bordello. Having endangered her, then rescued her from a nest of traitors, he learns that Chloe is the natural daughter of the one man he can’t afford to upset, Sir Mortimer Fowler. Offering marriage to save Chloe’s reputation is out of the question, as Fowler needs her for bait in a deadly trap.
Robert is faced with an impossible choice. He’s desperate to save Chloe, but if he follows his heart, the security of the entire realm is at risk.
Here is a exclusive extract from the book.
The hero, Sir Robert Mallory, has just offered to marry Mistress Chloe Emmerson in order to save her reputation. He doesn’t get quite the response he’d anticipated…
“He could tell from the glint in her eyes that she was becoming angrier by the minute. Mayhap he should excuse himself until she calmed down. Ye gods, if this was how she behaved when he offered to save her reputation, how would she react if she knew he’d drugged and searched her?
“If I swear not to mention your name to my father, will you tell me where he is?”
“I dare not.” He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.
“Will you not tell me the nature of your dealings with him, then?”
“I cannot.” Robert felt wretched. He’d just made the biggest mistake of his life and was about to reap the consequences.
“Then, get out of this chamber, sir.”
“I can’t go. Not until we’ve resolved this.”
“Go. I never want to set eyes on you again.”
“Chloe.” He straightened his spine. “You’re being unreasonable.”
There was a sudden flurry of movement, and before he could react, she’d taken one of the dags from his luggage and was pointing it at him with a trembling hand.
“Wrong. Now, I’m being unreasonable. Get you gone. Send someone else to collect your chest. Be sure not to follow me to London—or ever again repeat your insulting suggestion that we be wed.”
Was she holding the gun that was still primed, or the one that wasn’t? He dared not take the risk. Flinging up his hands, he bowed his head.
“As you wish. Though I have to say I wish things were otherwise.”
“Go.” She waved the gun.
He went. He could see no other choice.”
* A “dag” is a Tudor handheld gun, as featured in the first Trysts and Treachery book, LORD OF DECEPTION.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story of the romance between the two main characters in LORD OF THE FOREST, Book 3 in the Trysts and Treachery series. I thought I might experiment by putting a few excerpts and extracts out there.
Here’s the main drive of the story-
You can take a man out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the man.
She failed to save the man she loved. She won’t make the same mistake again.
Desperate to avoid a suffocating marriage, Clemence plans to dazzle at court, and remain as chaste as The Virgin Queen. Then she’s rescued from kidnappers by the mysterious Lancelot, and only a betrothal to him can save her reputation. But what could induce her father to give her to a man with no memory, no status, and no home but the forest? Especially when that man has a propensity for throwing people into horse troughs, getting himself poisoned, and being accused of murder.
In his forest home, he’s a king among both beasts and men.
Lancelot does everything differently. He can’t help it; he’s been living free in the forest with no memory of shame, sin or the reason for wearing clothes. No memory of anything at all, in fact, although his dreams reveal he’s had a close brush with death. But was he a victim or quite the opposite?
Living hand-to-mouth in his woodland lair, Lancelot is used to helping himself to what he wants, and he wants Clemence. But when she drags him back into the real world, he soon realizes that she will bring him either salvation… or oblivion.
Here’s the excerpt. If you’re wondering about the sword, the setting is England in 1585. Our hero has just been taken back to his home, though he has no memory of the place. The heroine is trying to restore his memory, despite him being concerned about what dark secrets might be unearthed…
“He tried the weight of the sword, then swung it around in an arc. His arm seemed to move of its own accord, blocking imaginary blows to his shoulders and legs.
“Some of my knowledge has been restored by reading your father’s books. Some things I simply remember—or at least the knowledge comes back if I worry at it like a terrier at a rat. And sometimes, skills return to me—like this.” He swung the sword again, stabbing it with pinpoint accuracy at the center of a red poppy on the tapestry. “Hopefully, more abilities will return if I have need of them.”
“You have scars on your back. Someone attacked you with a sword or a knife, and evidently bested you.”
A fact he had to face, though he hated it. “Mayhap I had no weapon with which to defend myself. Or was already incapacitated.”
She grimaced. “Then it was a cowardly attack. Mayhap I should have a sword, too, in case I need to defend myself.”
He immediately sheathed the ancient weapon he’d found, and fastened the belt around his hips. “Not while I draw breath, you won’t. If you hold a blade, your attacker will feel forced to use his own. If you have no weapon, he’ll be more inclined to parley. Besides, what need have you of steel when you have me to protect you?”
She tossed her head. “I suppose you’ll tell me next that swordplay isn’t so much fun as it looks. And I thought you a free spirit, with a mind open to new ideas, eschewing the everyday rules by which we live.”
He’d thought himself a free spirit, too, by comparison. But when it came to Clemence, he found he could happily follow the rules if it kept her safe.
“When I know what I know and how I know it, I might then be in a position to teach you, oh, courageous maid. But for now, I am the one wearing the sword, and intend to keep it that way.”
If you want to pre-order the book, you can do so here-
The wait is over. LORD OF LOYALTY is out TODAY!
And here’s the story-
An embittered war-hero must protect a crazed beauty. But he’s being blackmailed, she’s being hunted, and falling in love could be a fatal mistake.
In honor of a deathbed promise, wounded veteran Sir William Cavendish rescues Isobel Marston from her grasping cousin. But this frenzied young woman proves a nightmare to handle. Soon Will is trying to save her from herself, as well as from those who want her dead.
When her detestable cousin moves in after her brother’s loss, unwitting heiress Isobel is heavily drugged. Just enough lucidity remains for her to beg Will for help. But Will is being threatened by an unofficial fiancée and her unscrupulous father. If he lets himself fall for the enticing Isobel, he’ll put his entire future at stake.
Entangled in a desperate game of cat-and-mouse, Will and Isobel stand to lose more than their hearts.
If you fancy a Gothic-style Tudor romance, this is definitely the tale for you. Grab your copy NOW! http://mybook.to/Loyalty
All stories in the Trysts and Treachery Series can be read as stand-alones.
Here’s a close up of the gorgeous cover. I can promise you, the story is just as delicious!
You can get the book on Amazon now, or read it for FREE on Kindle Unlimited.
Holborn, London, July 1586
Isobel Marston rocked back and forth in agitation, desperate for release from her captivity. Not only was she stuck in this small, stifling room, she was also imprisoned by her mind, forever struggling to remember anything. Each time a memory was in her grasp, it drifted away like thistledown on the wind, and ofttimes, she forgot her own name.
Today was one of the days when she barely felt complete. Her remedy for this was ever the same—to look in her polished steel mirror. She could always find herself in that—gazing into the troubled green eyes that stared back at her from a pale, anxious face. Alas, the mirror gave her no sense of being, but at least it confirmed her existence. Which was better than nothing.
She comforted herself with the words of her cousin, Hubert Pike. “You’ve been ill, Isobel. We’re here to care for you while Edward’s fighting abroad. None can harm you while we’re here to keep you safe.”
Her flawed mind managed to picture Hubert—the hard intelligence in his eyes, the ostentatious high ruff around his neck, and his silken clothing. She remembered the face of his pot-bellied manservant, Flinders, too, and the slovenly housekeeper, Goodwife Avice Quill, who administered her bitter-tasting medicine. It wasn’t every day she could remember them all, for their faces often blurred, and became meaningless.
The mirror trembled in her hand. “I’m not sure they grant me the loving kindness a caring relation should,” she told her reflection. “Take your medicine like a good girl and don’t complain. Your brain sickness will soon pass if you do as you’re told.” She imitated Avice’s insidious whine. One day, when she felt strong enough, she’d dash that foul-tasting stuff in the woman’s face. Nay, she must not. A well-brought-up gentlewoman would never behave thus.
Next, as an exercise for her faulty memory, Isobel concentrated on Flinders. A thickset man who was a stranger to washing, and whose breath smelled like rotten meat, he was her “special protector”. But she was revolted by him and had repeatedly told Hubert she couldn’t stand having him near her. Her cousin always gave the same response—it was a symptom of her illness that she should develop delusions about people. She shouldn’t trust her feelings.
Her head snapped up, and she dropped the mirror on the bed. She could hear an uneven step on the cobbles below—someone was coming. She hurried to peer through the diamond-shaped panes, hoping for a visitor from beyond the walls, but expecting to see only a servant. It wouldn’t be one she recognized, however—they all seemed to be different from those her father had kept when her parents were alive. Mayhap Edward had employed some new ones to manage Marston House in his absence.
How long had her brother been gone, now? It seemed months since he’d last dwelled here. The house had changed in his absence—there were fewer items of quality furniture, not so many decorated jugs and inlaid boxes as there ought to be. Or so she imagined—this brain sickness of hers had attacked her memory and twisted everything, like yarn on a spindle.
Why was she looking out the window? Was it for something important, or was it just to see if it was fine enough to go outside and do some gardening? That was a task Hubert was happy for her to do, working in the walled garden—that, or reading quietly in the tiny chamber which had become her world. Not that she had any books other than her Greek mythology. She’d read it over and over, until the characters came to life in her head, steering her thoughts as the gods had steered Mankind in those ancient days.
There was a bubble of excitement in her chest—why? Ah, yes, she’d heard someone at the front of the house. But if it were a visitor, they wouldn’t be here for her. Hubert had explained he couldn’t allow anybody to disturb her in her fragile state of mind.
But that didn’t mean she couldn’t look, did it?
Cautiously, she tried her door. Not locked! And the chair in the passageway, where Flinders usually sat, was empty. With a brief flash of insight, she realized he must be with the kitchen wench who’d taken his fancy. Nobody knew she noticed such things, but on a good day, she noticed a lot.
Tiptoeing to the gallery above the main entrance into the house, she bent and peered down.
A servant, his broad figure obstructing the doorway, was in a heated discussion with the visitor. The argument lasted but a moment—the new arrival thrust the servant aside and marched in, limping a little. Isobel gasped. She’d never seen anyone shoulder their way in before.
While the stranger stood and looked around him, the harried-looking servant raced to the parlor door and announced the visitor to those within. Sir William Cavendish. That was a grand-sounding title—was Hubert in trouble with the authorities? Isobel snorted. She wouldn’t mind if he were.
Cavendish removed his high-crowned hat and placed it on the carved chest in the entranceway, then—after a moment’s hesitation—unbuckled his sword.
She stared down at him, anticipation stealing her breath. Cavendish was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a short cloak worn on one shoulder, and tightly-fitting doublet. His upper hose were paned and padded, and his stockings clung to well-muscled calves. Not as finely dressed as she might expect a knight of the realm to be, but perhaps he’d been traveling. Or mayhap she’d forgotten what a peer should look like.
Tawny gold hair framed the kind of face a classical sculptor would have adored, and there was an air of virile decisiveness in Cavendish’s movements. It made her breath catch.
“What a beautiful man—it must be Apollo. No, foolish girl—the gods don’t come to earth any more. It could be a demi-god—Orpheus perhaps. But then, where’s his lyre?”
He was out of view now, but by leaning her head as close to the handrail as possible, she could overhear every word spoken down below.
“Sir, permit me to introduce myself. I’m Sir William Cavendish, a friend of Edward Marston’s. We fought together overseas.”
“Hubert Pike, at your service. Any friend of Edward’s is a friend of mine. Have you journeyed long this day?” The stiffness in Hubert’s tone belied his words of welcome.
“I disembarked yesterday, at cockcrow, and rode directly here.”
“What reason had you for such haste?” Hubert’s voice held disapproval. Isobel pressed her forehead against the carved wooden banister and tried to recall where she’d heard the name “Edward Marston” before.
“I considered my news urgent. I would have arrived ere now but, alas, I had a wound that festered, then bad weather held back my sea crossing.”
She liked the sound of the man’s voice. It had a resonance to it that was strong, commanding. But then, if he was Orpheus, his songs could calm the hearts of savage beasts, so he was bound to have a good voice.
“Sir, I bring ill tidings, I fear.”
“Bad news? Not about poor Edward, I hope.” That name again. Why was her mind so muddled when she tried to remember anything? She knew Edward, surely?
“I regret to inform you of his death. I hope it will soften the blow of his loss to hear that he died nobly and bravely. I was with him to the very end, so I can vouch for everything. His family may be justly proud.”
“Oh, dear! Excuse me. I think, mayhap, a drop of sack to calm my nerves. Sir?” Hubert sounded horrified.
Isobel heard the clink of glass from below. “Oh, my poor darling Isobel. This could be the end of her.”
She froze at the sound of her name. Hubert rarely sounded so concerned about her.
Cavendish asked, “The end of her?”
There was a hard edge to his voice. Perchance he cared no more for Hubert than she did herself. Nay, she should not be so ungrateful. Her cousin was trying to make her better, and he kept away ignorant physicians who didn’t understand such maladies as brain fever.
“Edward and Isobel were very close, you understand. She is greatly changed since he went away, care-worn and worried. With good reason, it appears.”
“You weren’t close to him yourself, sir?”
“Alas, no. Our sires quarreled you see—one of those ridiculous feuds that can take hold in even the best of families. I have endeavored to make amends since their demise, of course. How fortunate that we did, or the girl would have had no one to care for her in her darkest hour. Are you certain Edward is dead? Where did it happen?”
There was a pause before Cavendish answered. “I watched him die—I cannot tell you where. I’ve barely slept the night through since.”
“Cannot, or will not tell me? Edward never did say where he went to make his name as a soldier.”
“My lips are sealed. You must appreciate that youngbloods seeking favor at court are wont to get themselves into mischief—I would not harm his memory by revealing his secrets. But if you don’t trust my veracity, I have here the seal ring he gave into my keeping. And a signed note—it’s in my baggage, and can be fetched if required.”
Had Orpheus been fighting? Perhaps in Greece, or at Troy? Isobel shook her head—this was very confusing
“Where is Isobel? I was charged to give her my news in person.”
She sat bolt upright. Was she going to be allowed into the parlor? That was where her harpsichord was—how she’d missed being allowed to play it!
“As I said—she has not been herself since Edward went away. I fear for her sanity. It is neither meet nor proper that she should come down and receive these tidings in her present state. I shall tell her when I deem ‘tis right.”
No! Hubert was going to deny her. Tears pooled in her eyes.
“You’re welcome to stay the night and recover from your journey. You’ll soon see we have nothing to hide.”
She dashed the tears away. Orpheus was staying the night? There was hope yet she might meet him face-to-face.
“Most hospitable of you, sir, but I must see Mistress Marston. ‘Twas a deathbed promise I made to her brother, and thus cannot be broken.”
Hubert made no answer—he hadn’t expected the stranger to be so persistent, had he? Isobel clenched her fists—it was as much as she could do not to fly down the stairs and tell the stranger how desperate she was for company.
“Mayhap I’ve not made myself clear enough,” Hubert said. “The young lady is barely in her right mind. Her wits have been addled for some time now, and the information you bring could unhinge her completely. I’m sure Edward would not have wished you to take such a risk, had he known.”
She heard a chair scrape back as someone got to their feet. “Perchance I’ve not made myself clear. I wish to see Isobel Marston in the flesh, forthwith.”
“Very well. On your head be it if she falls into a rage or a swoon, and all the goodness we’ve lavished on her these last few weeks is wasted.” Hubert was clearly irritated. “Be warned—you’ll not care for what you see. But be assured we know her mind well enough and will tell you if she’s likely to strike you.”
Yes! Hubert had given in. Isobel scuttled back to her room, closed the door and sat on the bed, heart pounding. Soon, the heavy tread of Flinders’ feet could be heard on the stairs—he’d be angered at being torn away from his kitchen wench. Hopefully, he’d not revenge himself on her.
Moments later, Isobel was ushered into the parlor, Flinders’ thick fingers gripped tightly around her elbow.
Sir William Cavendish spun around, his breath catching as he stared at the woman he’d waited so long to see. He’d been expecting a well-bred, proper young lady, not this wild sprite who looked as if she’d just stepped out of the madhouse. Tall and willowy, Isobel Marston moved with grace, keeping her elfin chin up. But her raven-black hair was unconfined by coif or hat and straggled about her face and shoulders. Disturbing green eyes stared at him intently beneath dark, lustrous lashes. Her flawless skin was pale, with shadows around the eyes and beneath the cheekbones, and she wore a worn skirt and bodice, haphazardly laced and with several of the waist tabs hanging off.
No wealthy young lady, this. More like a guttersnipe. Will could barely keep the astonishment from his face. Astonishment laced with anger.
“Had we expected you, Sir William, we would have made her more presentable. ‘Tis pointless bedecking her in finery on an ordinary day—as you see, she tends to ruin clothes.”
Fie on the fellow for discussing Edward’s sister as if she were less than a person! Will had learned a lot about her, and about his friend’s home, Marston House, during those grim days in the Lowlands. He’d been eager to meet the accomplished young woman whom Edward held in such high esteem.
He stood before her and proffered his hand. She stared at it as if it were some new kind of vegetable, then raised her bewitching green eyes to his.
Master Pike cleared his throat. “My apologies. Since her illness began, she has forgotten her manners. Shake hands with Sir William, Isobel.”
She cowered, then took Will’s hand. And failed to let go.
What thoughts passed behind those beautiful, unfathomable eyes? She had no polite smile for him, no maidenly blush. Mayhap, after all, he should not have insisted on seeing her when she was so clearly not in her right mind. He gently disengaged his hand.
“It’s Orpheus, returned from the underworld.” She sounded like some actor in a Greek tragedy, proclaiming their lines. “Don’t look behind you, or Eurydice will sink back into the depths, and you’ll never see her on the earth again.”
Baffled, Will looked at Pike.
He smiled sympathetically. “Be not alarmed. She rarely speaks two words of sense together. When she’s like this, I doubt she’ll understand the tidings you bring—though you may attempt it if you wish. Sit down, Isobel.” Pike raised his voice when he spoke to her, enunciating every syllable clearly. “Sir William has something to tell you.”
The young woman settled herself obediently onto the high-backed settle, and continued to stare silently at Will. Then she gazed around the room, a slight frown between her brows as if she were looking for something.
“Mistress Marston, let me make myself known to you.” He was determined not to lose face in front of Hubert Pike, nor to fail in his quest. Not when he’d come so far, and been through so much. “I am Sir William Cavendish. I served as a soldier with your brother.”
There was no response. She looked to have forgotten his existence. He approached the settle and crouched before her, ignoring the protest from his injured leg. “You remember your brother, Edward, Isobel? It must be around seven months since last you saw him.”
She focused on him again. Encouraged, he continued, “I regret—I bring you bad tidings. Your brother died during a raid. I got him to the surgeon, did what I could, but his injuries were too severe.”
He paused and swallowed hard. The scene of carnage after that raid at Venlo had never left him. The blood, the sickly color of Edward’s face, the sheer horror of it all. He’d been so shocked by his friend’s wounds that he’d not even noticed his own. Until the surgeon had pointed it out—after which point, he remembered but little.
He cleared his throat. “Before your brother died, he bade me take good care of you.”
A sharply indrawn breath from Pike distracted him. Of course, the man would not welcome any interference in his dealings with Isobel. But Will was bound by a deathbed promise, and too hardened by his recent experiences to give a farthing for Pike’s feelings.
Still no response from Isobel, who continued staring dazedly around her, as if she knew not where she was. Had she any idea of the significance of what he’d just said?
He turned to Pike. “I have Edward’s rapier outside, strapped to my horse. Mayhap that will push the message home. Shall I have my saddlebags brought in at the same time, if your offer of a bed for the night still stands?”
Not that he had any great desire to spend more time in the company of Master Pike and his insane patient, but weariness and pain were starting to take their toll.
The gigantic manservant fetched his belongings, but Will refused to entrust Edward’s sword to him. He’d had a box made to accommodate it, and carried it reverently into the parlor, like a sacred relic. He set the box down in front of Isobel.
She stared at him, avidly. “Sir—what, pray, have you done with my harpsichord?”
“I—” He caught Pike’s attention, but the man just shrugged. “I’ve done nothing. I didn’t come here to speak of musical instruments. Isobel—”
As he looked into her blank but delicate face, his gut twisted. Was he attempting the impossible in making her comprehend her brother’s death? Was he the only one left to mourn Edward’s passing? Pike’s sympathetic expression was unconvincing, and Isobel was trapped in a world of her own—unknowing, unseeing.
Seating himself on the settle beside her, he made a final effort. “Mistress Marston—Isobel—your brother, Edward, is dead. He charged me to give you this, in remembrance of him.”
When she reached for the box, optimism stirred. Until she smiled and exclaimed, “Pandora’s box! I have always wondered what Hope looked like.” She opened the lid.
A tragedy that a woman so clearly out of her wits—and with little in the way of genuine hope—should look to an ancient myth in search of that valuable thing.
Jaw set, Will looked at Pike. “Wherefore does she cite so many classical references?”
Pike shook his head. “There may be reason or connection in what she says, but I have yet to understand it.”
“No!” Will grasped Isobel’s wrist in time to stop her pulling the sharp blade from its scabbard. She seemed startled for a moment, then reached out slowly, and stroked the side of his cheek. He gazed, transfixed, as her face fell. Did she understand what had happened, at last?
“After the Maenads tore him limb from limb, his head floated singing down the river.”
Will recoiled and removed himself to a chair.
“Another classical reference, to Orpheus, I believe.”
“Yes, yes, Master Pike. I know that.” What he didn’t understand was why. Why was she talking in riddles? Why had this lovely woman been reduced to this state, and how? Edward had said nothing of any sickness of the mind. Indeed, he’d portrayed his sister as a handsome, lively, witty and accomplished young woman.
Will had seen too much illness during the Earl of Leicester’s disastrous campaigns in the Lowlands to fear it. He was fascinated by Isobel, while at the same time, consumed with pity. Did anything of the woman Edward had described remain behind those tortured green eyes?
Suddenly her head shot up, her face even whiter than before. “Oh, oh, help me, I beg you!” Her entire body shook with a sudden burst of tears.
He was by her in an instant—had his message about Edward’s death finally penetrated her clouded mind? The urge to take her in his arms was powerful, and deep compassion clutched at his heart. Only—he must remember he had an audience.
“Flinders, fetch Avice. It’s time for Isobel’s medicine. Apologies, Sir William—this is never pretty to witness. But needs must—hysteria will ensue if we fail to calm her this instant.”
An unpleasant scene then followed, in which Isobel’s arms were pinned behind her by Flinders while the woman, Avice, poured some dark, sticky-looking nostrum down her throat. Isobel coughed and choked, then fought with her captor before she was eventually subdued and carried from the room.
Will folded his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow at Pike, but said nothing. How fortunate he’d agreed to stay the night. The loyalty he owed his friend now belonged to Isobel.
And it looked as if she was damned well going to need it.
Once upstairs, the noisome Flinders shoved Isobel into her room. Then Avice’s rough hands took over, tugging at her laces, wrenching off her shift, petticoat, and shoes. Shivering, miserable and confused, she was forced into her nightgown and made to lie down.
No sooner had Avice left the room, than Isobel threw off the covers and ran over to wrestle with the door. There was a reason she mustn’t be shut away, something she needed to tell someone. But whom? And why could she not remember what it was so imperative she say?
Relief came when the door opened, but it was Flinders who stood there, not Avice.
She quailed, and backed away. His blotchy face was twisted by an evil leer. He terrified her so, she should scream—but she’d tried that before, and no one ever came.
“I’ll brook no trouble from you tonight, girl.” His voice was a growl.
She couldn’t help herself. “But something terrible has happened. I must go… somewhere, do something.” The tears were back, but the fight within her was ebbing away.
“Get back into your bed, wench.” Flinders took an ominous step closer.
“Don’t you come any nearer. Don’t dare lay a finger on me.” She fought the drowsiness in her limbs and her head.
“Shut your noise.” Flinders dealt her an open-handed slap across the cheek. As she wilted, sobbing loudly now, he picked her up and threw her onto the mattress. Terrified, she readied herself for battle, but he didn’t touch her again, only tucked the covers so tightly around her that her arms were trapped by her sides.
Coffins. Her mind was filled with images of corpses bundled in their winding-sheets, trapped in coffins as she now was in her bed.
Fury lashed at her. She spat curses as Flinders left and locked the door behind him, wishing she could free her hands and throw something. But gradually—as it always did—the medicine took hold of her mind, soothed her pain and lulled her into peaceful oblivion.
Only—she wasn’t quite asleep. Or if she was, she had a wonderful dream.
Orpheus came. He brought a lamp and held it aloft, gazing at her. She wanted to tell him to go away, not to look at her when she was like this. Her tangled hair was spread across the pillow, as they hadn’t bothered to tie her coif over it. Her eyes stung from her tears and must be rimmed with red, and the pain in her cheek portended a bruise. He shouldn’t look at her so intently, so softly, when she was at such a disadvantage, but even though her lips moved to chastise him, no words emerged.
He leaned in close, the dream so real, she could feel his breath on her face. Was he going to kiss her? Had she somehow turned into Eurydice? Seldom did her soporific medicine give her so glorious a dream.
He eased away without touching her, and said, “I could almost believe myself bewitched. Or enchanted—I know not. I care not. I swear on my life, I will do what I can to ease your suffering.”
Her heart was full. This glimpse of happiness was no more than a cruel torment. She would awaken in the morning, and all would be as it was before—her room empty of all her things but her precious book of Greek and Roman myths, her blurry mirror, and her comb.
And her memory of the night Orpheus came to earth to visit her. If only there were some way to keep that memory alive. Because some oracular inner sense told her he was going to be incredibly important to her.