Old cover of Lord of My Heart
Excerpt From Lord of My Heart
Re-issued by NAL, October 2002, and in stores everywhere.
Lord of My Heart was a finalist for the RITA award.
"Lucky readers will treasure the fiery hot romance in this unforgettable novel from the pen of a dreamspinner extraordinaire." Romantic Times

    The Lady Lucia looked up as her husband strode into the hall. There was a heavy frown on Count Guy de Gaillard's face, and he bore a scroll clenched in his fist.
    "Plague? Murrain?" Lucia hazarded as she rose to accept a kiss on the cheek. "Mischief by one of the boys?"
    His frown eased as he hugged her. Lucia wished she could soothe every care from his life so easily. Small chance of that in Normandy, nor would he relish it. Norman men seemed to thrive on mayhem. Being English born and bred, she would be perfectly content with tranquil, unchanging days.
    She had to admit that fifty years of mayhem had done Guy little harm. His back was straight, his hair still thick, and his green eyes keen and shrewd. The only changes she saw after twenty years of marriage were the silvering of that springy hair and the darkening of his eyes, which had deepened in color as a spring leaf darkens at summer's end.
    "Neither plague nor murrain," he said as he threw himself onto the great oaken settle by the fire. "Nor even, unlikely as it may seem, mischief by one of the boys. Here." He tossed the rolled parchment to her then reached for the wine kept warm by the fire. His favorite hound, Roland, came over to rest its muzzle on his knee. Count Guy relaxed and pulled gently at the dog's long silky ears.
    He watched his wife as she sat down again on the facing chair, carefully moving her exquisite needlework to one side, unconsciously arranging her woolen skirts into elegant folds. It was still a matter of wonder to Guy, the grace and beauty his English bride had brought to his harsh Norman home, though it was now a well-accustomed pleasure.
    Under her skillful management there was always tasty, wholesome food on the table, even at the end of winter; the stone walls were softened by tapestries; and he and his sons wore softly woven garments edged with bands worthy of a king.
    Life was good at Castle Gaillard, and he desired only to keep it so.
    Lucia unrolled the parchment, and her brow furrowed slightly as she tackled the Latin. It was the only line on her comely face, and the hair which peeped out from her snowy wimple was still golden. Guy wondered with lazy admiration whether she knew the secret to eternal youth, for she was nearer forty than thirty. It must be her tranquil nature. Lucia was comfortably padded into delightful curves, and one needed a tranquil nature to stay plump in Castle Gaillard.
    Being English, she was better educated than he -- though he was well-lettered for a Norman -- and the text gave her little trouble. "Poor Earl Harold," she remarked dryly. "First swept towards Normandy by storm, then captured by Guy de Ponthieu, now `rescued' by Duke William and forced to swear to help him to the English throne. The earl must think God's hand against him."
    "As you see from the letter," said Count Guy, "many would agree."
    Lucia picked up her needlework. "I can think of no reason why God would turn against the earl, who does his duty to Christ and king as well as the next man." She sighed. "That oath is a seed for trouble, though. The question is, what will Harold do when he's safe home again? It's said King Edward's health is failing."
    "What can he do?" asked Guy. "An oath is an oath no matter how obtained. No man can prosper who breaks his word. William has long claimed to have Edward's favor as heir to England, and now he has the oath-bond of the greatest earl."
    "But Earl Harold won't have the giving of it, Guy. That right is held by the great men assembled in the Witan."
    "Are they likely to choose William?"
    She shook her head. "Not even with Earl Harold's support. They'll want an Englishman. One of mature years and proven abilities."
    "Such as Earl Harold of Wessex," said Guy. "Which William will never accept now he has the man's oath to support his cause." He looked into space and cursed softly.
    "A Norman worried about a nice juicy war?" Lucia commented to the air around her. "It must be old age."
    To her surprise the teasing didn't lighten his concern. She extended her mind to find the problem. A blast on the castle horn turned her mind in the right direction. It doubtless announced the return of the two youngest de Gaillard sons who had ridden out with a troop of knights to seek a band of marauding outlaws. "Aimery," she said.
    Guy nodded. "No more jaunts to England for him."
    Guy had three sons and two daughters by his first wife but God had only granted him and Lucia one child. Lucia had wanted her son to learn some of the cultured English ways as well as the bellicose Norman, so since infancy Aimery de Gaillard had spent a part of each summer in Mercia.
    "My family would never let harm come to Aimery," Lucia protested. "If Edwin is young yet, there is always Hereward."
    Count Guy snorted. "It's my opinion your brother is half mad! Hereward the Wake. Hereward the Beserker. He clings to ways generations past. Lord knows what possessed him to put those skin-marks on Aimery."
    "They are a great sign of honor in the English tradition," Lucia protested.
    "And a matter of ridicule in a Norman! And what of the ring he gave him?"
    "To be ring-friend to a great man is an honor..." She trailed off and looked at her husband, very pale.
    "It is also a binding commitment, is it not?"
    Lucia nodded.
    "So what will Aimery do if this contest for the throne of England comes to arms with all the men of Mercia, including Hereward and Edwin, on one side, and Duke William and the de Gaillards on the other?"
    Lucia had no answer. A shiver trickled through her at the possibilities.
    "Your son goes no more to England till this matter is settled," said Guy firmly.
    Noises suddenly broke out in the castle bailey -- hooves and shouts and barking dogs. Guy went to the narrow window which overlooked the busy space. It was thronged with dogs and horses, grooms and soldiers. Cutting a clear swathe through them all were his two youngest sons. Instinctively he checked for limps and wounds. Aimery had a bloody cloth tied around his arm but from the way he straight-armed a soldier out of his way, the wound clearly gave him little trouble.
    Lucia came to her husband's shoulder, tut-tutted, and bustled off calling for hot water and her simples.
    The two young men were tall and strong but otherwise utterly different. At twenty and eighteen, they were both approaching their mature build. Long, rigorous hours of weapons practice from infancy had given them strong arms and shoulders, well-muscled legs and fluid agility in movement.
    Roger, the last child of Guy's first wife, was massive like all his older boys. He looked as if a falling tree-trunk would bounce off him. Aimery, Lucia's son, was of a lighter build. The tree trunk would kill him if it hit, but it was clear he would be nimble enough to avoid it.
    They were both clean-shaven but while Roger wore his dark hair trimmed close to his head in true Norman fashion, Aimery's blond hair flowed to his shoulders. One had to give the boy credit for taking pride in the English style in the face of his brothers' teasing, but perhaps he had little option now his body was marked with tattoos. Even at a distance, Guy could see the blue rood he wore on his left upper arm and the fantastic, curlicued leaping beast which decorated his right forearm and hand.
    Under Lucia's influence, all the de Gaillard men wore clothes of the finest weaving, cut and embroidered as only an English woman could. Like all Normans they wore as many English-made ornaments of gold and precious gems as they could afford, for English goldsmiths were the best in Europe.
    Aimery had a taste for bright colored clothing and his English relatives had gifted him with particularly fine ornaments -- at the moment he wore two bracelets of gold and garnet which would buy a decent property -- but he should not have looked so strange. His looks came, however, all from Lucia and her family; as he reached maturity he was disconcertingly like her brother Hereward twenty years since. His style of dress made him seem a foreigner in his homeland.
    Sometimes Guy felt the only thing he'd passed on to his youngest son was his green eyes.
    Guy went to pour wine into two more silver goblets. His life would have been simpler if he had never seen Lucia. Simpler, but in no way desirable. Lucia was the light and warmth of his life and her troublesome son was in many ways his favorite. He hoped the cub was not aware of it.
    The young men burst noisily into the hall, bringing the smell of fresh air, horses, and blood.
    "...no need to kill them all!" Aimery was shouting.
    "What point in bringing them back here to hang?" asked Roger with a sneer.
    "Justice! Saxon pap. They were murdering outlaws and that's all we needed to know."
    Guy broke in. "Has the problem been taken care of?"
    Two voices clashed but Roger's carried through. "A few escaped but we killed eight."
    "Good," said the count.
    Aimery opened his mouth, but at the look in his father's eye he gave up the argument and came to take the wine being offered.
    "How were you wounded?" asked Guy.
    "An arrow. It's only a scratch."
    "Nevertheless, your mother is preparing to tend it."
    Aimery grimaced and turned as Lucia bustled in. "It's nothing, Mother."
    "That's what the last man in the graveyard said," she replied tartly. "If you're brave enough to get it, you're brave enough to bear the healing. Sit down."
    He sat on the stool indicated, and Lucia began to gently unwind the bandage. Guy took pity on him and gave him something to take his mind off things. The letter.
    Aimery put down his wine and took the parchment, reading with absorption. "This-" He broke off and hissed as his mother ripped the last of the bandage off roughly to open the wound and set the blood flowing. "It's clean," he protested. "I cleaned it."
    "I'll be the judge of that," she said, washing and poking.
    Aimery forced his mind back to the document. "The oath must have been forced- Mother!" He took a deep breath and continued. "Earl Harold would never voluntarily swear to support the duke's claim to the throne."
    Guy took away the parchment and replaced it kindly with the wine. "Then he should have died before swearing," he said absolutely. "An oath is an oath. What do you know of him?"
    Aimery took a deep drink. "Earl Harold? I've never met him..." He stopped speaking as his mother dug deep after something. After a moment he carried on, "He's well-regarded and known to be a fine soldier. He's been running England on the king's behalf for years. He'd make a good monarch." He looked at his father defiantly.
    "He'd be an oath-breaker," Guy countered.
    Aimery drained the goblet and sat looking into the polished bowl. "If the Witan chooses Harold as king," he said at last, "and Harold accepts, what will Duke William do?"
    "Go in force to make good his claim."
    Aimery paled. That could just be whatever powder Lucia was pressing over the wound on his shoulder but Guy doubted it. He'd never thought Aimery slow to understand implications.
    Staring into an unfathomable distance, Aimery de Gaillard slammed down his empty goblet with a sound like a blade striking a shield.
    The visitor's chamber of the Abbaye des Dames in Caen was a small but finely proportioned room. It was cozy on this bitter day, for its two narrow windows were filled with precious glass and a fire burned in the great stone hearth. The sunshine that beamed through the small panes of glass was deceptively golden and gaily picked out the jewel-colors of wall paintings and embroidered cushions. The three people in the room seemed stark by comparison.
    Two were men of war -- tall, sinewy, and dressed in armor and clothing that had been used long and hard. One was old with well-grizzled hair and heavy-knuckled, gnarled hands; the other was younger and brown-haired but, age apart, he was the image of the older and clearly his son.
    The third person was a girl in the plain white of a novice. Her linen gown lay straight over a still boyish figure. A thick chestnut plait hung down her back covered by a fine lawn veil. Her scrubbed features still had a childish softness to them, but her lips hinted at determination and her large brown eyes were keen and intelligent.
    The older man, Gilbert de la Haute Vironge, fidgeted uneasily amid this elegance. He would move, and then stop as if afraid to damage some precious item. Marc, his son, leaned his mailed shoulders against a white wall without thought for the scrapes he would leave. Gilbert's daughter, Madeleine, sat straight and composed, the perfect image of a little nun, appearing to fit her setting like a pearl in gold.
    But Madeleine's composure was a mask for desperation. Two weeks ago, on her fifteenth birthday, when the abbess had raised the question of her final vows, Madeleine had realized she did not want to be a nun. There appeared to be no choice in the matter, for she had been a death-bed offering from her mother, intended to pray for the souls of all the Haute Vironge family. This unexpected visit from her father, however, could be her chance to persuade him to revoke the pledge. If she could only find the courage to ask.
    "So things are hot everywhere," said Lord Gilbert gruffly, armor and mail jangling as he moved restively about. "God alone knows when we'll next have a chance to visit you, daughter. Now Edward of England's dead and the English have crowned this Earl Harold, there'll be work for our swords unless they come to their senses."
    "Hope they don't," said Marc, picking his teeth. "There'll be spoils if it comes to war. The duke owes us something."
    Gilbert scowled at him. "We do our duty to our liege for our soul's sake, not for gain."
    "Some earthly rewards wouldn't come amiss. We've been loyal to the duke for decades, and what good has it done us?"
    "But why haven't the English accepted Duke William?" Madeleine interrupted, wondering if they bickered their way over the battlefields of Europe. "He has the promise of the crown, hasn't he?"
    Marc snorted. "If I were English I wouldn't accept a foreign usurper. And all the better for us."
    Gilbert angrily rejected the word "usurper" and they were at it again. Madeleine sighed. She didn't like her brother's taste for war, but she knew there was little option for a family brought to the brink of poverty by the troubled times. And greater prosperity could work to her advantage.
    Haute Vironge lay in the Vexin, the territory endlessly contested between France and Normandy, and it had suffered over the last decade. Gilbert had been a faithful vassal to Duke William during his struggle for his land, and in return the family received benefits from the duke as often as he was able to provide them.
    Madeleine's acceptance at the Abbaye, which had been founded by the duke and duchess themselves, had been one such benefit. It was doubtless true that if spoils of war were to become available in England, the duke would pass some of them to the men of Haute Vironge.
    The convent bell rang for nones, and Madeleine rose to her feet. The two men broke off their squabble.
    "Aye," said Lord Gilbert, not quite hiding his relief. "It's time for us to go." He laid a hand on his daughter's head. "Pray for us, daughter. You'll be a full Bride of Christ soon, I dare say."
    As the two men picked up their fur-lined cloaks Madeleine grasped her courage. "Father!"
    He turned. "Aye?"
    She could feel her heart racing and her mouth was suddenly dry. "Father.... is there any way I can not take my vows?"
    He frowned at her. "What are you saying?"
    Madeleine cast a frantic look at her brother but he was only curious. "I... I am not sure I am meant to be a Bride of Christ."
    Lord Gilbert's brows lowered yet more. "What? If you'd been left at home and I brought a man for you, you'd marry him at my word. This is no different. Your mother sent you to take the veil and pray for us all and here you are."
    Madeleine fought back weak tears. "But... but shouldn't I feel something, Father?"
    He made a growling noise. "You're feeling soft clothes against your body and good food in your belly. Be thankful." But then his expression eased. "You're pledged here, Maddy. It'd take more money than we have to buy you out and then what? There'd be poor pickings when it came to husbands. We're not rich and powerful. Perhaps," he added without conviction, "if there's fighting in England and spoils..."
    Madeleine cast an appeal at her brother, who had once been such a hero to her. He shrugged. "I wouldn't like to be a monk, but it's different for a woman. The sort of husband we could attract these days you'd be better off without."
    "But I wouldn't mind just staying home and looking after you both," Madeleine protested.
    "Staying home?" said Gilbert. "Maddy, in the five years since you came here, Haute Vironge has become a ruin. It's in the middle of a battlefield."
    The ache in Madeleine's chest threatened to consume her. "I have no home?" she whispered.
    "You have a home here," he countered. "A finer one than you could ever have expected except for the duke's bounty. The abbess is very pleased with you. You're a regular scholar, it would appear, all set to be a healer. Who knows? One day you could even become abbess yourself."
    He was trying so hard to paint a good picture, and every word he said was true. Madeleine managed to give her father a smile. In his way he loved her and would not want to think her unhappy.
    He rewarded her effort with a smile of his own and patted her head. "That's my girl. This is the best place for you, Maddy, believe me. The world's a harsh place. God bless you, daughter."
    Madeleine curtsied. "God speed," she said softly, hopelessly.
    But at the door Marc turned back. "It's a hard life out there, sister. Are you sure you want it?"
    "Sure" was a strong word and Madeleine hesitated, but then she nodded.
    "Hold off your vows, then, for a while. This English business will soon be in hand, I'm sure of it. If we end up with English riches, I'll come and buy you out."
    With this careless promise he left. The tears Madeleine had dammed began to fall. Marc's talk of riches was just a dream; her longings for freedom were a dream too and a foolish one, as her father had pointed out.
    Madeleine wiped the tears from her cheeks, but dreams could not be wiped away so easily. She stared at the picture on the wall, silk worked on silk showing Christ in the desert being tempted with worldly delights. As she was tempted.
    She ached to experience all the wonders of life, not just read of them. She longed to travel to the frozen lands of the white bear, and to the burning sands of the Holy Land. She wanted to dance, and gallop a horse. She wanted to see if dragons really flew in the skies above Scotland, and what it felt like when a man touched his lips to a woman's...
    As she left the room and made her way to the chapel for the singing of nones, Madeleine clung to the slender hope offered by her brother's careless words. She would put off her vows and hope that perhaps he would ride up to the Abbaye one day, rich and come to set her free.

The Bayeux Tapestry is, of course, the vivid account of the Norman invasion of England. Please visit this gorgeous site. to learn more about it and view the whole tapestry.

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New cover of Lord of My Heart