The Defiant Bride(9)

By: Leslie Hachtel


“She was more like a vision of heaven. But, you are right, as much as I dislike making the admission, she was probably just a dream. I thank you for your hospitality, but I need to return home as quickly as possible. John can help me.”

“As you wish.”

Tamara left the room and John leaned in. “My lord, are you well enough to ride?”

“Yes, but John, they are lying. I did not imagine this other woman. I was in pain, true, but I was not out of my mind. She exists and for some reason they are denying her. I need to regain my strength and then seek her out.”

“Yes, my lord. Let us first see to your healing and find the one who dared attack you.” Then, of course, we can search out the lady of the forest. It should not be so difficult to find her when you are well. If she exists.”

“Do not doubt it, John. She lives. But your logic is clear. I will heal and then return to seek the woman. But remember this. My tenacity rivals the terrier cur and I will not cease until she is found.”





CHAPTER 3

Dansworth Castle had been built several hundred years ago and its excellent state of repair attested to the continued good fortune of the abiding earls.

The lookout, ever vigilant on the battlements, shouted down to the men training in the outer bailey. “Lord William approaches. Call out the household, and quickly inform Lady Leah her brother returns. Raise the portcullis. Our master returns!”

As William and John crossed the bridge, a cheer went up among the men. William smiled broadly and greeted them as he crossed into the inner bailey. Lady Leah stood with Richard Lovington, their trusted retainer, her excitement clear. She ran to William, practically yanking him from his horse in her exuberance and joy. The concern in her angelic face hurt him. Her heart was overlarge and he was sure it had nearly failed her when he did not return as expected from his outing. Richard stood quietly by, obviously relieved his lord was well and had returned.

“Easy, sweet sister,” he urged as she clutched at him. “I am still sore from the arrow’s mark.”

“Forgive me, dear William. I despaired of ever seeing you again. What happened? I have been beyond worry. Are you recovered? Does your wound still pain you overmuch?” Her cheeks were flushed and William nearly laughed out loud at her rush of questions.

“It only pains me when someone pokes at it. One question at a time, Leah. I shall tell you everything, although you may indeed doubt my sanity by the tale’s end. Come, get me some food, for I have missed your gracious and loving company and I am nearly starved.”

“Did they not feed you? I must protest!”

William took hold of her arm and drew her along beside him, up the stone steps and into the main hall. Leah immediately called out for food and wine to be brought and sat on the bench next to William, watching him impatiently as he drew of his gloves. He knew she was dying for the tale now that he was safe.

“Would you like a bath or a change of clothing before you dine? Your doublet is cut and your jerkin has most surely seen better days. And the blood stains—” She paled and William saw her distress.

“I will heal. And clothes can wait. First I should like to eat and—talk.” He hesitated. “Sweet Leah, am I mad? Do I go about seeing things? Have I ever dreamed a thing and believed it to be real?”

She remained quiet, looking down at her intertwined fingers.

The food was brought and William, pausing between bites of roasted meat and bread, told his sister what he remembered of his adventure. And of the woman he knew had actually saved him. The telling finished, Leah sighed. “How romantic, to have such a vision of a woman. So unlike the reality of Melissa.”

“Leah, please. You have always been the sensible one of us. Tell me truly. Do you think I conjured this woman or could I actually have encountered her? The thought of her—the memory, although brief, haunts me as nothing else in my life.”

“There are certain more pressing issues, brother. Who dispatched the arrow that might have ended your life and then abandoned you? That kind of treachery is unspeakable. That is the mystery that must be solved before we speak of the woman.”

“I have to wonder if Cedric is somehow behind this attack. He has made no secret of his lack of love for me.”

“But what could he gain?”

“Some are simply moved by vengeance.”

“You must seek answers. If he is the miscreant here, you must find out.”

“I will make proper inquiries. Whoever did this did not act alone. Others know who is responsible. If our half-brother had any part of this, I will know it. But for now, it is the woman who has possessed my soul. Do you not understand? Please, Leah. Not knowing is my bane. I need to be convinced if she is indeed real or a vision I created. Do you not see it torments me?”

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