The Border Lord and the Lady (Border Chronicles)

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9780451230430: The Border Lord and the Lady (Border Chronicles)

Just before Lady Cicely Bowen is about to marry an elegant laird, she's kidnapped by Ian Douglas, a rough and randy border lord. The royal court is in an uproar as Douglas makes every effort to win the heat of the woman he holds captive.

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About the Author:

Bertrice Small was the New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty novels. Among her numerous awards, she was the recipient of the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. She lived on the North Fork of the eastern end of Long Island, New York, until her death in 2015.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 2

Henry of Lancaster had died on the twentieth of March, and his heir was crowned on the ninth of April as King Henry V. The young king was eager to go to war with France. The Earl of Leighton consulted with his friend—and blood relation—Sir William Rogers, as to where he might foster his daughter.

"'Tis a bad time, Robert," Sir William said candidly. "But perhaps there is a chance you can get your lass into an important house if you can offer the king something in return. He's like all the Lancasters, ready to do a favor for a favor."

"He'll need financing for his war," Robert Bowen said. "I can probably aid him there. The Florentine bankers are always looking to make another profit, and I have many friends among them."

"The king will be at Windsor next week," Sir William said. "I'm leaving in another day or two. Ride with me. I can at least get you into his presence."

"You have a new daughter, don't you?" the earl said to his relation.

"Born on the day the old king died," Sir William responded.

"She'll need a husband one day," Robert Bowen said.

"And he'll need a rich wife," Sir William observed. "My lass won't have much, but I thank you for even considering it."

"You don't know what will happen in the next few years," the Earl of Leighton told his kinsman. "Let us wait and see."

When Sir William had departed Leighton Hall, Robert Bowen called for his horse and rode to the cottage where his daughter resided. Hearing his horse approaching, Cicely flew from the little house to greet her father. When he saw her, his heart contracted painfully. She was her mother's image, with her rich auburn hair and her blue-green eyes. When she was grown she would be every bit as beautiful as Anne had been, if not more so. Even her creamy skin tone was Anne's, and the long, dark eyelashes that brushed her rose-hued cheeks. The perfection of her skin, however, was marred by a purplish bruise upon her left cheekbone.

"Papa! You came! I thought you might be angry at me." She looked up at him, concerned.

"Now, why would I be angry with you, poppet?" the earl asked her as he swept her up into his embrace, kissing her right cheek, gently fingering the bruise, disturbed when she winced slightly.

"I didn't mean to anger your lady wife, Papa," Cicely said as he set her down upon her feet. "Why does she hate me so?"

Taking her small hand in his big one, the earl led his daughter to a bench outside of the cottage door and they sat together. "I cannot sugarcoat the truth, poppet," he began. "Your stepmother is a jealous woman, Cicely. She wants no other woman in my life but her. Sadly, I cannot change her, which brings me to why I have come today. Orva," he called. "Please come and join us." And when the serving woman stood by his side he continued. "For your own safety, and for the welfare of your half brothers, I am going to foster you out to a good family. There will be other girls with you from other families. The lady of the house will teach you all those things you must learn and must know one day when you become the lady of the house. Eventually I shall make a fine marriage for you, Cicely. Orva will go with you and continue to look after you as she has always done, poppet. You could not remain at Leighton Hall forever."

"Where are we to go?" Orva asked the earl quietly.

He looked directly at her. "I do not know yet. I am going with Sir William to Windsor in a few days. The court is very busy now, and if I am fortunate I will speak with the king himself. I will choose wisely, Orva. In the meantime you must keep close to the cottage. There must be no opportunity for the countess to see you, or to see Cicely. Do you understand me?" he asked her softly, meaningfully.

Orva nodded. "I will keep the little lady safe, my lord."

"Will I ever see you again, Papa?" Cicely asked her father, and he heard the fear in her young voice.

"Of course you will see me, poppet!" he assured her. "Sadly, your stepmother will not share her excellent household skills with you, and if you are to wed one day you must have those skills. Most girls your age are sent to other families. You will follow an age-old pattern, Cicely. And while I am at Windsor, Orva will make you some fine new gowns from the materials she takes from the storerooms. You will be the prettiest young lady in whichever household you join." And Robert Bowen bent and kissed his little daughter's cheek, careful to avoid her bruise. He arose from his seat. "I must return now to the house. When I come again, Cicely, I will know where you are to go."

"Go into the cottage, child," Orva said quietly. "I need to speak with your papa."

Cicely obeyed immediately.

"Would you send her away if it had not been for the incident with your sons?" Orva asked her master frankly.

"I don't know," he answered honestly. "She does need to know the things that only a lady of rank can teach her. Donna Clara tells me my wife speaks of harming Cicely, for the jealousy assailing her cannot be quenched. Sending my daughter away will keep the child safe, I believe. Don't let Cicely eat anything you have not prepared yourself while I am gone. Do you understand, Orva?"

Orva nodded, her mouth quirking with her disapproval. "I have heard these foreigners like to use poison," she noted.

The earl sighed and shrugged. "What else can I do but what I'm doing?" he said.

"Find us a good home, my lord," Orva replied. "And find my mistress a good husband when she is old enough."

The earl nodded. "I will," he promised.

At Windsor his cousin managed to introduce him to the king, but the young man was more interested in preparing for war than in the fortunes of the daughter of an unimportant man. But Henry V was not heartless. Seeing the disappointment on the earl's face, he said, "Such a request is not within my purview at this time, my lord, but I shall send you to my most excellent and well-loved mother, Queen Joan, with my request that she aid you in your endeavor."

Relieved, the Earl of Leighton bowed low and thanked the king, who sent him off with a servant, promptly forgetting him.

Queen Joan's antechamber was filled with petitioners. Robert Bowen was forced to wait, but the king's servant waited with him to introduce him and present the king's request of the lady.

Queen Joan had been Henry IV's second wife. The daughter of King Charles the Bad of Navarre, and his wife, a princess of France, she had been married first to the Duke of Brittany, by whom she had had nine children. After her husband died she had acted as regent for her oldest son until he came of age at twelve. She had then married the widowed King of England, a father of six children himself. While both the king and queen were still young enough to have children, none were born to them. But Henry IV's offspring adored their stepmother.

After sitting in the queen's antechamber for several hours, the Earl of Leighton and the king's servant were ushered into Queen Joan's presence. The earl bowed low and kissed the elegant beringed hand held out to him.

"His Highness, the king, would have you aid this gentleman, madam," the servant said, and then he backed from the room, leaving the earl to face the queen, along with her attendants, who sat about the chamber sewing and chattering softly.

"You are?" Queen Joan asked Robert Bowen seated in a high-backed chair, a footstool beneath her feet.

"Robert Bowen, the Earl of Leighton, madam," he told her.

"What is it I may do for you, my lord?" the queen inquired of him softly.

Quietly, as carefully and quickly as he could, the earl explained his situation. He did not wish to heap criticism upon his wife, but he did need Queen Joan to understand the desperate situation that he faced in the matter of his daughter.

The queen nodded slowly, and when he had finished she said, "Aye, I can see the difficulty, my lord, but you are partly to blame for it. When you took your bride you were not firm with her. Your daughter should never have been made to live outside of your house in another dwelling. Like my dear late husband's uncles were, you legitimated your daughter. Your wife was obviously spoiled and allowed to have her own way by her parents." Queen Joan shook her head. "But even if your wife had accepted your little girl, it would be better that she be fostered out. She has a dower portion, I assume."

"With the goldsmith Isaac Kira, in London," the earl said, and then he told the queen the amount he had placed with the goldsmith.

The queen drew in a sharp breath. "Indeed, my lord, 'tis a considerable amount. You will have no trouble finding a worthy husband of impeccable breeding for your child one day. But for now we must find a suitable family for her."

"I would be honored if you could suggest such a family, Your Highness," the earl said. "My family is old. It is honorable. But we have always lived quietly, avoiding entanglements that might bring dishonor to us or those we serve."

Queen Joan nodded. "There is nothing wrong with being prudent, my lord. Now tell me how old your daughter is."

"She is seven, madam," he answered.

"Has she been taught? What languages does she speak?" the queen continued.

"She speaks both English and French, and can understand church Latin, madam," he told her. "She can do sums. She rides well, and her manners are good."

"Then she is fit for the best company," Queen Joan concluded. "Somerset's widow has remarried herself to Thomas Plantagenet, the Duke of Clarence. She has left her children by John Beaufort in the care of others. Henry, the eldest, now holds his father's titles, and remains in his own home. His three brothers are all fostered out, and serve different masters. His sisters are at home. The youngest will remain there for the interim, for she is only four, but I am considering bringing my namesake, Lady Joan Beaufort, who is almost nine, into the royal household. She is a sweet girl. Perhaps your daughter would make a good companion for her. Yes. I shall bring young Joan here, and your daughter will have a place among her maiden companions." Queen Joan looked at the Earl of Leighton. "It is settled. Bring your daughter to me, my lord."

Robert Bowen was astounded. Never had he anticipated such a high place for his wee Cicely! To be fostered within the royal house was an honor belonging to a greater name than his. "M-madam," he stammered, and he flushed at his own awkwardness. "My family is not worthy of such an honor. Forgive me, but are you certain you would have my daughter? I am in your debt to such an extent I doubt I can ever repay you."

"I am told you are clever with your investments, my lord." Queen Joan surprised him again. " 'Tis an interesting pursuit for one with so old and respected a name as yours. Is there truth to the rumor?"

He nodded. "My wife is extremely knowledgeable in such matters, having learned from her father in Firenze. I in turn have learned from her. I will advise you in any way that I can, madam. You have but to ask me."

The queen nodded. "I will send to you now and again, my lord, for your thoughts in certain matters of finance. Now have your child delivered to my favorite home, Havering-atte-Bower, at the beginning of July. You may send a servant with her. When she is older I shall suggest a suitable match for her, with your permission, of course, my lord," Queen Joan said graciously.

"Thank you, madam," the Earl of Leighton said. He bowed again as, with a nod and a languid wave of her hand, the king's stepmother dismissed him. Robert Bowen made his way from the queen's chambers and found his cousin.

"What happened?" Sir William asked, and the earl told him all that had transpired. "What good fortune you have had, Rob!" his cousin exclaimed. "You will never have to worry about your Cicely again if she gets on with the other girls in Queen Joan's household. You must instruct her to make certain that she pleases the queen in particular. If she has that lady's favor her future will be secured."

"I still cannot believe all of this," the earl said. "Of course I cannot tell Luciana exactly what has transpired. She will be jealous that I have obtained such a fine place for my daughter. I think she would have preferred I give Cicely to the Church with a meager dower portion and never see my child again. A cloistered order would have been her choice," Robert Bowen said with a wry smile.

"Does she not realize that if your daughter makes the right friends at court, and marries well, that all of that would be of advantage to your sons?" Sir William said.

"Nay, she does not envision such things," the earl answered. "When she considers Cicely she sees only a rival for my affections."

"I am sorry for you then, Rob," his cousin replied. "Surely then little Lady Cicely is better off leaving Leighton Hall."

Robert Bowen nodded, but his eyes were sad.

He returned home, stopping at the cottage where his daughter lived before seeing his wife. Cicely ran to greet him, welcoming him home. Orva stood in the door to the dwelling, and their eyes met, hers questioning him.

"Let us sit down by the hearth," the earl said. "The air is damp, and the fog not yet lifted from the fields." He took his daughter onto his lap as he lowered himself into a chair by the small fire.

Orva put a small goblet of wine that was kept for his visits by his hand, and then she sat down too. When Robert Bowen visited his child they did not stand on ceremony.

"I have had an extraordinary piece of luck, poppet," the earl began.

"You have found a family to foster me, Papa?" she asked, and to his sorrow he heard the fear in her young voice.

"Not a family, poppet, but Queen Joan herself!" he replied, forcing an enthusiasm into his voice that he did not feel. "And you will have another young lass for company who is coming to Queen Joan as well. Her little namesake, Lady Joan Beaufort. She is a year or two older than you, I am told, but it will be her first time away from her home too. Her father is dead, and her mother remarried. Her older brother is the Earl of Somerset. They are the king's cousins, poppet. This is incredible good fortune for you to be taken into a royal household. And Orva is to come with you."

Cicely began to cry. "But I don't want to leave Leighton Hall, Papa," she told him. "Please don't send me away! I will be good, I promise! I will never leave the cottage, and my stepmother will never see me again. I swear it!" She sobbed into his shoulder. "Please don't make me go, Papa! Please!"

His heart was breaking, Robert Bowen thought, but he had no other choice. If Cicely remained Luciana would work herself into a dangerous fury. And he had no doubt that she would attempt to rid herself of the child in any manner possible. Swallowing down his own anguish, he said to his daughter, "Cicely, you are not being punished. This is a great honor you are being given, being allowed admittance into the royal household. Our family is an ancient one but unimportant. Our lack of wealth has not allowed us to marry into the more prestigious families, nor gain any foothold on the rungs of power. Now we are gaining that wealth, but we have no entrée into the court. If you please Queen Joan with your sweetness and your manners you will have an opportunity to meet the most important folk in the land.

And that will one day help our family to gain ingress into the court. Queen Joan will see that you make an advantageous marriage. And once you are involved in the court I shall be able to make the best matches for your brothers, thu...

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