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Determined to avenge her father's death, fiery Princess Shana lures Thorne de Wilde, Earl of Weston, into the forest to have him killed. But face to face with the earl's devilish good looks, Shana is compelled to spare his life and take him prisoner instead… Furious with his lovely captor, Weston manages not only to escape, but to take her as his hostage…

 

 

 

Rebellious Heart

April 1993 (hard to find) · Avon Books
ISBN 0-380-76937-9


Rebellious Heart

The cover for MY REBELLIOUS HEART is one of my favorites. I've always thought it was incredibly gorgeous. Of course all it takes is a castle on the cover to make me sigh, but it's actually the little subtleties that rendered it so romantic for me—the shield on the lettering of the title, and the roses twining around the couple . . . Of course, being the author, I was convinced I was probably the only one who even noticed these things!

But it's also the cover that's received the most attention from readers, too. Shortly after MY REBELLIOUS HEART was published, I attended a convention where no less than a dozen readers came up to ask about the identity of the cover model depicting the hero (no, it's not Fabio, but yes, he's definitely worth a second look!).

I got a wonderful compliment from my editor shortly after this book was published. She said her mother was my newest fan—her mother had picked up a copy and couldn't put it down until she'd read it cover to cover. I still have the letter!

The heroine's name, Shana, is actually the name of my son-in-law's sister.

My original title was DEVIL'S LAIR.

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MY REBELLIOUS HEART:

Three weeks on the Waldenbooks bestseller list

A B.Dalton mass market romance bestseller

Finalist, Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, Best K.I.S.S. hero

 

Just One Kiss

 

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Rebellious Heart

Prologue

Wales, Summer 1282

The battle had scarce begun ere it was over.

For Shana of Merwen, no passage of time was ever more immense.

When the cry of alarm went up, her father had thrust her into the arms of his knight, Sir Gryffen. Gryffen wasted no time herding Shana and the women of the household to the cellar. Twice Shana had sought to push past him; twice he blocked her way.

"There is naught you can do, milady!" His eyes pleaded with her. "Would you have me break my sworn vow to see to your protection? Your father would never forgive me were I to let any harm befall you, and I would never forgive myself! I pray you, milady, you must remain here until the fray is over!"

And so she huddled against the wall, arms banded tightly around her chest, her gaze fixed tirelessly on the trap door high in the ceiling. The air was cold and damp, but Shana did not notice. High above, the ground reverberated with the thunder of hooves and footsteps. The ring of steel against steel was unmistakable. Though muted and far away, she could hear men shouting and yelling-and screaming in agony.

Her limbs were trembling, though it was not fear for her own safety that rendered them so. Dread abounded in her heart, for her soul was in terror for those she held near and dear.

Then all was silent.

The chill that swept through her turned her veins to ice, for the quiet was even more terrible than all that had gone before.

Shana leapt to her feet. "Gryffen, you must let me pass!" she cried. "I must know what has happened!" Gryffen did not try to stop her; he slipped the ladder in place and followed behind her.

Seconds later, the young girl burst through the door of the ancient keep. With long, golden hair streaming behind her like a banner in the wind, she lurched down the. stairs and out into the evening stillness.

The stench of death was everywhere. Blotches of crimson puddled. the ground. Revulsion roiled inside her like a churning sea. Swallowing the bitter taste of bile, her feet carried her across the valley floor, weaving among the dead and the dying.

Bodies lay strewn across the earth like fallen trees flung from a mighty hand above. Villagers had been struck down where they stood, planting corn in the field, drawing water from the well.

With a gasp she drew to a halt. Her gaze chanced to fall on a man who lay nearby-the oxherd. She bent forward, thinking he yet lived, for his eyes were wide open. But the vacant emptiness she encountered struck her like a blow.

Shana had seen men wounded in battle, but nothing like this. . . never like this.

With a choked cry, she picked up her skirts and ran. This was not war, she thought sickly, this was slaughter, foul and fetid.

And then she spied her father.

She fell to her knees with a sob. "Oh, merciful God in Heaven, this cannot be!" She cried out in desperate entreaty. "Father, you have done nothing to deserve this-nothing!"

His eyelids opened slowly, as though weighted with lead. Kendal, youngest son of Gruffyth, grandson of Llywelyn the Great, the first prince of Wales to be so recognized by the King of England, beheld the features of his only child.

Her hands touched his breast. Her fingertips came away bloodied and stained. She paid no heed as she fumbled with the hem of her white linen undershift, tearing away a strip. With shaking fingers, she pressed the wad of cloth to the gaping wound in his chest.

"Oh, Lord, Father. Who dared to do this? It was the bloody English, wasn't it?" In her heart she knew she was right Once again the drumroll of rebellion-the cry for independence-had rolled across the land.

"They were English, aye," her father rasped. "I did not recognize the pennon they carried-blood red with a black, fierce, two-headed creature of the deep. But I have cause, daughter, to believe they came from Castle Langley."

"Langley! But... the Earl of Langley passed on some months ago!" The Earl of Langley had been a powerful Marcher lord. He and her father had had several run-ins, but they'd managed to settle their disagreements without taking up arms against each other.

"Aye, daughter. But I received word only yesterday that some brave Welsh soul has been stirring up our own along the border-making fools of the English knights-a man who distinguishes himself by wearing a mantle of scarlet and calling himself the Dragon."

The merest trickle of breath soughed through lips that were nearly bloodless. "Ah, Shana. I have erred greatly, I fear. For now King Edward seeks to put an end to the Dragon-and the threat of rebellion. He has summoned one of his earls to Castle Langley to snuff out the fires here." His sigh held a world of regret. "The English will not be satisfied until we are beaten into the ground. I truly thought they would leave us in peace, if only we did the same. Now-now it is too late."

Shana shook her head furiously. "Do not speak so! You will be fine, truly . . ."

"Nay, Shana. 'Tis my time, and well we both know it."

"Father!" A painful ache constricted her chest, an ache she was afraid to acknowledge. With her fingertips she wiped the grime and dirt from his cheeks.

He smiled slightly. "You have the fighting spirit of our ancestors, daughter, and the courage of your Irish mother. I brought the two of you here to this valley to shield you, but I can no longer protect you. You must look to Barris, for I know he will make you a good husband."

His hand clutched at hers. "All my life I have believed there was no greater measure of a man's worth than his honor and loyalty. My brothers warned me. the English would not be satisfied until we were broken. I had hoped they were wrong, but alas, it is not so-I was the one who was wrong, Shana. I only regret that I did so little to help unite this land I so love. Only now do I realize how selfish a choice I made."

Shana defended him staunchly. "Nay, Father, you have never been selfish! You fed the village when the harvest was meager. You gave them shelter when the rains washed away their homes. The people of Merwen love you dearly. Surely you know this!"

"I prayed that it was so," he admitted. Then his expression grew bleak. "But the winds of change are blowing, daughter, and I cannot predict what lies ahead. All I have is yours, but you alone must decide if you follow Barris and your uncle Llywelyn, or if you trod your own path. But above all, Shana, be true to yourself above all others, for your heart will never forsake you."

She cradled his head in her lap. Tears slipped unheeded down her cheeks.

He summoned the last of his strength and gazed upon her face, anguished now, but as lovely as ever. He knew that this was the vision he would take with him to his grave.

His chest heaved. He drew a gasping breath. "Remember these things, daughter. And remember me. . ."

The words were his last, for he had already fled this world for another.

A sob tore out of Shana's throat, a sound that held all the pain and despair shredding her heart. "You shall not die in vain," she cried. 'I will find the man beneath whose pennon this foul deed was committed... his retribution shall be swift and just." Deep inside a burning rage began to flame and swirl, a rage that spiraled along with her voice.

"Your death will be avenged, Father! This I swear by the Holy Rood. I will not rest until I have found this blasted English earl and he lies dead at my feet."

Only then could the fiery thirst for vengeance be quenched. . . only then.

Chapter 1

He was called the Bastard Earl.

But not a man in the whole of England would dare to say it to his face.

The sheer power of his presence was such that it wrought first silence, then whispers to the fore, whispers that had little to do with his heritage--or lack of it. His size alone inspired no little amount of awe. It took naught but a look to strip many a brave man of courage and will.

But on this particular warm spring afternoon, Thorne de Wilde sat his steed with bone-stiff weariness. He'd been at Weston when King Edward's summons had come. Edward and the Welsh princes had signed the treaty of Aberconway more than four years past. For a time there had been a cautious peace. But of late, skirmishes blazed anew along the border Marches-'twas for that very reason that Edward had called him to London.

There Thorne learned he was to join forces with Geoffrey of Fairhaven, Lord Roger Newbury, and Sir Quentin of Hargrove at mighty Castle Langley. Newbury's lands adjoined the late Earl of Langley's, while Sir Quentin had been a vassal of the old Earl's. Thorne had spent mere hours in London before continuing on to the Marches and Castle Langley. Indeed, he could scarce recall the last time he'd had a proper night's rest. With a grimace of relief, he swung from his destrier, weariness plainly etched on his features.

The inner bailey of Castle Langley was teeming. Geese and ducks dipped lo and about, flapping their wings wildly to make way for the stream of men and horses filing through the gate. High above, a parade of soldiers patrolled the wall-walk. A young groom scurried out to greet him.

Thorne tossed his reins to the boy, while another horse and rider drew up alongside him. He waited as Geoffrey of Fairhaven, a baron from York, leaped to the ground beside him.

Though the two were well matched in height and breadth, Geoffrey was as fair as Thorne was dark. Like Sir Quentin, Geoffrey had also been a vassal of the Earl of Langley. Thorne had visited Geoffrey's manor many times, and it was Geoffrey who had helped Thorne draw up the plans for his own castle. Thorne was pleased to call Geoffrey his friend, for Geoffrey was one of the few he was certain judged him on his own merit.

"I hope you fared better than I," Geoffrey said, greeting him. "Mine was a wasted trip if ever there was one. The Dragon is a crafty foe, indeed."

Thorne's mouth thinned to an ominous line. There had been no respite from the troublesome Welsh of late-it appeared they were hell-bent on rebellion. Edward was furious. He was determined to put the stubborn Welsh in their place once and for all, and so he had placed Thorne in command of the united forces at Langley. But their task here was twofold. He and the others were to seek and stamp out the pocket of resistance in the border lands-and roust out this elusive, scarlet-mantled brigand the Welsh hailed as the Dragon.

He suspected it would be no small task.

Though Edward's patience was worn thin, he had recognized the storm clouds brewing ahead. He had concurred with Thorne's request to proceed with caution. Thorne was determined not to flood the region with his troops, for needless bloodshed would only antagonize the Welsh further. In time, a mighty show of force might well be unavoidable; for the moment, Thorne was determined to maintain the delicate balance that existed up until now.

Rebellious HeartTo this end, he'd divided the troops among the other lords gathered here at Langley. Their first charge was to ferret out information about the man known as the Dragon, and those who aided him.

In truth, Thorne longed for the day this campaign was over and done, so that he might make haste back to Weston. A stab of regret pierced him. Weston was his pride and joy, indeed his greatest accomplishment. His tenants had proved themselves loyal and true, for he had shown himself to be a strong but just overlord. It was there, high upon a hilltop overlooking the sea, that he'd built his castle, grand and sprawling and uniquely his own. It was forged from his own hand, the product of years of toil and sweat... but he'd spent precious little time there since its completion three months ago.

If the bend of his mind was a trifle bitter, it was little wonder. Providence had not seen fit to cast a blessed eye upon him. He knew not who his father had been; if his mother had known, she had kept it to herself. Thorne remembered little of that heartless woman who had left him alone in the midst of a frigid winter night, when he was but a lad...

His mind resurrected all too keenly the taunts and curses heaped upon him in his youth. . . Bastard. . . little bastard whoreson. . .

So it was that as a child, Thorne had naught but the rags on his back; there was scarce a night he'd slept with a roof over his head, living in filth and squalor as he had. As a man, he'd spent most of his life in the saddle with only the ground for a bed. He was a soldier by choice, a knight and lord by the grace of the king. He would never forsake his king, but he yearned for the day he could return to Weston and live his life in leisure.

And these days no one dared to call him a bastard.

Thorne's laugh held no mirth. "Did I fare well? From the sound of it, no better than you." A scowl darkened his expression as he glanced at Geoffrey. "I take it you learned nothing about the Dragon."

"Oh, I heard a theory or two. One man said he's a farmer from the north who forfeited his land to taxes. Another said he's the grandson of an old Welsh chieftain. Still another claims he's King Arthur the Pendragon, cast off his cloak of death and come to rescue his people from the scourge of the English." Geoffrey sounded disgusted.

"Then you did better than I, my friend. Why, they all stared at me as if I were the devil himself-and my men the legion of doom. They vowed they knew nothing about these raiders-that they'd never even heard of their leader, let alone a man called the Dragon. And all the while they swore from here to the heavens above, you knew they wanted nothing more than to spit in your eye and stomp your soul into the furthest reaches of hell."

He brooded for a moment. "These Welsh," he muttered aloud. "I've never seen a more silent lot of people in my life! 'Twould seem he has many friends, this man who calls himself the Dragon."

They both fell silent, then at last Geoffrey clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I have a remedy for what ails us, Thorne." Geoffrey's warm brown eyes had taken on an unmistakable gleam.

A reluctant smile lined the hard edge of Thorne's mouth. He sighed. "Geoffrey, you are remarkably predictable."

"And you are ever as willing as I. As I always say, a man has but three necessities in life-bread, ale, and the warm embrace of a woman for the night." He grinned wickedly. "What do you say we share a spot of ale, and then set our sights on a wench—aye, maybe even two!"

Thorne shook his head. "My necessities are just a little different than yours, my friend. A hot bath and food for my belly come first, I'm afraid. And the only embrace I wish right now is the embrace of a soft mattress clinging to my weary bones."

Rebellious Heart"Oh, come now! Why, I've been told numerous times-and by numerous sources, I might add, that you've the stamina of an ox. I'll refrain from making another comparison," he went on brashly. "Although I could, and that on good authority, too!"

Thorne laughed, his exhaustion of the moment forgotten. "Geoffrey," he began, "were I the type to boast, I could tell you tales that would make even a man of your ilk blush hotter than an untried lad." Nearby there was a shout. Thorne broke off, the grin wiped clean from his lips.

Geoffrey turned as well. Across the bailey, the body of a man was being dragged through a doorway. Thorne was already halfway across the bailey. Dust swirled around his heels as he strode to where the body had been dumped upon the ground. He crouched low and pressed two fingers beneath the man's jawline. . .

"Won't do ye no. good, milord," piped a voice behind him. "We tried to save him, but he was already gone." Thorne swore silently, staring down at the man's blood-spattered chest. He whirled around to face the straggly line who had gathered behind him.

"Who is this man?" he demanded. "How did he die?"

One of the men stepped forward. "He's one of Lord Newbury's troops, milord. They had a skirmish with a band of raiders the eve before last-as did some of Sir Quentin's men. Lord Newbury thought we might be able to save him, but alas, the good Lord willed otherwise."

Thorne clenched his jaw in anger and frustration, yet even as he stood there, an eerie foreboding prickled his skin. First blood had once again been drawn between England and Wales. He had the uneasy sensation the land would run crimson before peace reigned anew.

"Milady," Gryffen pleaded, "'twould serve no purpose if you were to go to Castle Langley. I know 'tis vengeance you seek, but shouldn't such matters as this rest in the hands of your betrothed?"

Shana's mind sped straight to Barris of Frydd, whose lands butted her father's to the west. . . her beloved, her betrothed. If only he were here, she thought, a yearning ache spreading throughout her breast, even as his image filled her mind. Be was tall, with hair as black as ebony and eyes of gold, the handsomest man she'd ever laid eyes on. She knew an overwhelming urge to see him again, to seek comfort in the haven of his embrace against the pain of her loss. But perhaps it was a blessing after all that he W. as in Gwynedd, for what if Merwen's attackers had gone on to lay waste to Frydd as well?

But even as she directed a fervent prayer heavenward that his people had been spared, a brittle determination sealed her heart.

"Barris is in Gwynedd," she told the old knight. "He is not expected back until several days hence, mayhap more. And 'twas not his father who was slain, Gryffen. 'Twas mine." Shana's calm was deceiving; her eyes sparked with fire and fury. "The responsibility is mine . . . nay, the duty is mine!"

"But milady, you cannot take on the whole of King Edward's army!" Gryffen thrust his hand through his iron-gray hair. In the space of just minutes, he seemed to have aged years.

Her delicate chin tilted. "That is hardly my intent, Gryffen. But I will find the man who dared to attack Merwen."

Gryffen rubbed a hand against his leathery cheek, clearly in a quandary. "Milady, I fear for you if they should discover you are Llywelyn's niece!"

In truth, her uncle Llywelyn, named for his grandsire, was the reason her father had taken up residence here at Merwen those many years past. Though he seldom said so, Shana knew her father considered his elder brother domineering and stubborn. Kendal had wanted no part in the squabbles between his brothers; he harbored no hunger for land or power. Indeed, most of his people had known him only as Lord Kendal.

But although Kendal had chosen to distance himself from his brothers, shunning his princely lineage and retreating to this mountain vale to live his life as he would, he loved his country and the Welsh people deeply. The blood of the Cymry flowed strong and swift in his veins.

And he had passed on to Shana the same pride in their heritage. Like her father, Shana had little tolerance for her uncles' pettiness.

Rebellious HeartBut mayhap it was time she joined the battle for her people.

"We have kept to ourselves here at Merwen, Gryffen. Though my father saw me well-skilled in the English tongue, why, in all the years we've lived here, not once have we shared our table with an Englishman." Nor , she resolved darkly, would they ever.

"Nay," she went on. "My identity is safe. Not a soul at Castle Langley knows me, and I'll not give myself away." With that, the matter was settled. Neither Gryffen nor the other knights could sway her, though they tried in earnest. Nor did they dare to stop her, for even as a child, their princess was ever staunch, ever decisive; she had grown to womanhood no less determined.. They had also sworn to protect her. . . and so they would.

She left for Langley the next morning, with half a dozen of her father's men-at-arms as escort.

Although the journey was not an easy one, neither was it grueling. The mountains gradually gave way to fold upon fold of lush rolling hillside. They passed through several villages, where they heard tales of English soldiers further north who "razed hill and vale, plundering and burning without mercy!"

It was a solemn party indeed that forged a path toward Castle Langley. Late in the day, they crested a small rise. Below them, the land was smothered in thick green forest.

Shana could not appreciate the beauty set out before her. Her gaze was bound by the massive gray structure -that dominated the horizon. She scarce noticed the tiny village huddled in its shadow.

Sir Gryffen came up alongside her mount. "Castle Langley," he said quietly. It was truly a sight to behold, with towers and turrets that swept high into the sky and crowned the treetops.

To Shana, it was naught but a jutting pile of cold gray stone, a loathsome symbol of the English stranglehold upon Wales.

No one spoke a word as they forged onward.

 


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