They cast their destineis to the winds of desire.
The year is 1483. Tavis Stewart, Earl of Dunmore, abducts beautiful Lady Arabella Grey, cousin of King Richard III, as she is about to marry Sir Jasper Keane. Tavis wants revenge for Jasper's murder of his fianc�e. Irresistibly, deliciously, Arabella surrenders to her enemy with fierce abandon--knowing that there may be only one way to get what is rightfully hers.
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Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
June 27, 2012
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Excerpt from The Spitfire by Bertrice Small
Middleham Castle sat firmly upon the southern hills, its great gray walls and towers looming over the village of Wensleydale. The king was in residence on this fine late September day, for his banner with its white boar flew from the topmost turret. His coronation was almost three months past, and his entry into his city of York several weeks ago had been in incredible triumph. How they loved him, his beloved northerners, and how warmly they had taken Anne and little Edward to their hearts as well. It had been such a triumph that he had stayed longer than he had anticipated, allowing the investiture of Edward as Prince of Wales to take place in York Minster. Now, when he should be on his way south, he had escorted his son and his queen here to Middleham, his favorite home, that he might have a few days respite before picking up his duties again. Neddie, as the little prince was fondly called by his intimates, would, of course, remain here when his father, the king, departed.
Richard, King of England, reached for his goblet and gazed with a beneficent look about the family solar. His wife's widowed cousin, Lady Rowena Grey, and her little daughter had come to stay these few precious days with them. Sweet Row, born into a lesser branch of the Neville family, had been orphaned young and raised by his father-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, with his own dear wife. She was, in fact, the best friend that Anne had, although the two women had been separated for many years.
Anne Neville's first husband had been a Prince of Wales, the son of King Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou. Rowena, on the other hand, had been married on her thirteenth birthday to Henry Grey, Baron Greyfaire, an unimportant border lord who possessed a small but strategic keep. Sir Henry, as Richard remembered him, was a loyal and kindly man, some years his wife's senior. He had died the previous year, another victim to the incessant undeclared war between England and Scotland that had raged for centuries along the border between the two kingdoms. Sir Henry had left but one living child, Arabella, who was a year older than the king's own son, her cousin.
The difference in age between the two children was not readily apparent, for although Neddie was ten to her eleven, and frail of body, Arabella Grey was still petite, not having attained her maturity yet. She had a quick mind, though, the king noted, for she not only held her own at the chessboard with Neddie, she had already beaten him once this afternoon. The girl, Richard mused with a small smile, had obviously inherited her father's intellect, for sweet Row had never been able to play chess or concentrate on anything more complicated than an embroidery pattern. The child had looks too, not that her mother was lacking there, but Rowena Neville Grey, with her light blue eyes and thick wheaten-colored hair, appeared almost plain next to her daughter, for Arabella, with that odd, pale gold, almost silver-gilt hair, and those light green eyes that slanted up slightly at the corners and which were overshadowed by dark brows and lashes, was a rare beauty. The king chuckled softly to himself. Why was it, he considered, that the heiresses from great families were more often than not horse-faced, while the daughters of the less distinguished were usually the beauties? It was obvious that God had a great sense of fair play.
"Is she promised?" he asked aloud, nodding his head toward Arabella, even as he directed the question to her mother.
"Henry and I had planned to match her with a cousin, but the boy died of a spotting sickness last autumn, my lord," Rowena Grey replied. "Ohh, Dickon!" Her pretty face grew hopeful. "Would you make a match for her? I am so helpless when it comes to things like this, and who else can I turn to? Oh, I know how busy you are now that you are king, but could you not take but a moment of your time to find Arabella a husband? We desperately need a man at Greyfaire. I live in terror lest the Scots come over the border. I would not even know how to defend the keep."
"Why do you not remarry, Row? Arabella is young yet, but it would be easy to find you a new husband," the king said.
"Nay! I have naught to offer a man but the little dowry my Lord of Warwick gave me when I was wed to my Henry. I fear a suitor might cast covetous eyes upon Greyfaire, and find a way to do my daughter a harm in order that he might gain her inheritance. If once Arabella is married there is one who would have me, then so be it, but I shall not take another husband until my child's future is safe," Rowena Grey said firmly.
"I think you show surprising good sense, cousin," Queen Anne remarked. Then she turned a melting glance upon her husband. "Come, Dickon, find a husband from amongst your retainers for little Arabella. You would have Greyfaire in safe hands, would you not? Remember that Arabella's father was a cousin to Lord John Grey, he who was the first husband of your late brother's wife."
"Henry was ever loyal to your grace, however," Lady Rowena quickly interjected, for although King Richard had loved his elder brother, Edward IV, and had always been his most loyal liegeman, he detested his brother's queen.
Elizabeth Woodville, several years King Edward's senior, had, it was believed by many, entrapped her king into marriage. She had--in fairness, Richard thought--been a good wife to her husband, and given him a large family of children, including two sons, but she had used her position to enrich and ennoble her family excessively. Few called themselves her friends, and consequently, after his brother's death last April, there were few to take up her cause when the church declared her marriage to Edward IV invalid, and her children bastards unable to inherit their father's throne. Edward IV, the church declared, had had a previous marriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler, who was yet living when Edward IV had eloped with the widowed Lady Elizabeth Grey and secretly married her. England's powerful had not wanted a minority rule, for even though Edward IV had made his brother his sons' protector, the queen's relations were immediately maneuvering to gain control of the government. Declaring little Edward V ineligible to rule and passing the crown to his uncle, Richard III, had solved the problem.
Richard had placed his two little nephews in protective custody so that they could not be used by others to foment rebellion. Already the rumors abounded that he had harmed them, but the king loved all children and was incapable of such violence. Besides, trueborn or not, they were his brother's sons, and Richard had loved Edward with all his being. But from her sanctuary at Westminster, the former queen screeched and howled her outrage over her double loss, that of her prestige, and the custody of her sons, even as she dealt, not so secretly, in an attempt to match her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, with the Lancaster heir, Henry Tudor, Richard's sworn enemy.
Queen Anne had made a small miscalculation in reminding her husband of Arabella Grey's distant connection with his sister-in-law's family. The north of England--York, Northumberland, and Cumbria--had always been loyal to her husband, yet even now Richard had begun to see enemies where none existed. He considered Greyfaire Keep. It was small, but it was strategic to the defense of the border, being so close to it. Greyfaire Keep was always the first to raise the alarm when the Scots came swarming over the Cheviot hills, and the Scots were always treating with the king of England's enemies. It could be dangerous for little Greyfaire Keep to fall into unfriendly, unloyal, or opportunistic hands. He would not be ill-advised to find a husband for the little heiress. A man who was unquestioningly loyal to Richard of England and no other master.
"I think you are correct, sweeting," he said to his spouse. "We must find our little cousin Arabella a husband, and before we leave Middleham."
"She is far too young to wed," Rowena said with obvious emphasis.
"Yet the bridegroom can be chosen now," the king said. "Your fears for Greyfaire are realistic, Row. I need a strong man in charge there, that I may be reassured of the continued safety of my northern borders. I will think on it, Row. You may rest assured that I shall not allow you to remain unprotected any longer. Indeed, you should have come to me sooner about this."
"Dickon," she began out of habit, and then amended, "Sire, my child and I are the least among your subjects. Had not my dearest Anne sent for us to come to Middleham, we would not be here at all and I should have never presumed upon your kindness in finding my daughter a husband."
The king took Lady Grey's hand in his and patted the plump flesh. "Rowena, you are family. My sweet Anne's most favorite companion from her childhood, and her cousin. Had you not been matched to Sir Henry and wed upon your thirteenth birthday, you would have remained with her, and thus now been a part of our court. That your life took a different path makes you no less beloved of us." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it before releasing it.
"Sire...", Her blue eyes filled with tears.
"Dickon, Row. As ever, Dickon," the king replied.
"Dickon, you are so kind. You have always been kind to me. I remember when we were children and Anne's elder sister, Isabel, was always so cruel to me, except that you would not allow it when you saw it. You have always cared for those weaker than you. England is fortunate to have you as its king, but one favor I beg of you."
"Whatever you desire, Row."
Rowena Neville Grey was forced to smile. "You speak too quickly, and are too generous as always, Dickon, but I shall not take advantage of you, my lord. My request is simple. Though I loved my Henry, I was too young for marriage when my Lord of Warwick sent me off to Greyfaire. I lost two sons before Arabella was born, and miscarried of another daughter afterward. Make the match that Greyfaire may have a master again, but let there be no formal ceremony until my daughter is old enough to be a wife in the fullest sense."
Richard looked to his wife, and the queen nodded her agreement with her cousin. "Pick the man," she told him, "but there should be no formal betrothal or marriage until little Arabella is older. Greyfaire will have its protector, its kings man, but should my little cousin grow up to love another as I have always loved you, my lord, at least she will not be forced to the altar with other than her true love. If we formally betroth her, she will be formally bound. Should the day come that she desires a husband other than the one you have chosen, Greyfaire's protector can be offered a suitable compensation for his loss, can he not?"
"You have a tender heart, my love," the king replied, "but it will be even as you have suggested. Will that suit you as well, Row?"
"Aye, Dickon, it will!" Lady Grey said, smiling. She was very relieved that the king had taken a hand in this matter. It was unlikely that Arabella would marry any other but he whom the king chose, and there would once again be a master at Greyfaire. It had been so frightening these last months since her husband's death. He had died in the late summer a year ago, and she truly believed that it was only through the personal intervention of the blessed Mother herself that the Scots had not raided in the vicinity since Sir Henry's demise, but how much longer could she count upon divine protection? Greyfaire needed a new lord.
She had not been entirely helpless, however. There was her husband's faithful captain, FitzWalter, and he had remained in his position after Henry's death, but FitzWalter was not Greyfaire's lord. He had appeared at Greyfaire in Henry's youth, offering his fealty and service. No one knew from whence he had come, and FitzWalter never bothered to divulge that information to any, even the wife he took after several years in residence. He had begun as a simple man-at-arms upon the walls, working his way through the ranks until one day he became Greyfaire's captain. His wife served as the keep's laundress, even as she produced a bevy of healthy daughters and one fine son for her husband. The boy, Rowan FitzWalter, was a year older than Arabella, and along with a younger sister, Lona, was the little heiress's closest companion. FitzWalter would be as relieved as she was, Rowena thought, to have a master once more. He had done his duty, but she knew that the full responsibility had fretted him. He was not a man to overstep his position. The king had given her his word, and she would not discuss it with him again unless Dickon broached the subject first.
Prince Edward and Arabella, their game of chess completed, wandered over to their parents. The boy's color was high with his excitement, and the queen reached out to feel his forehead. Edward pulled away irritably, but Queen Anne drew him back into her embrace, saying, "Your father has promised to find a fine husband for your cousin Arabella, Neddie. Is that not nice?"
"I wish to marry my cousin," the boy said imperiously. "I like her. She makes me work to win at chess."