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The wild and tempestuous peasant daughter of a slain Saxon lord, Alana of Brynwald bravely resists the brutal Norman invaders—but fears the mysterious specter who invades her dreams. Now he stands before her, Merrick of Normandy—it's he who is lord and she the captive. But Merrick cannot claim victory until she shares his passion—and his love.

 

 

 

My Lord Conqueror

March 1995 · Avon Books
ISBN 0-380-77548-4


My Lord ConquerorWhile I love writing in all historical periods, admittedly the medieval time period is one of my favorites. After writing GABRIEL'S BRIDE (which is set in the Regency period), I was struck by the urge to travel back in time again. One of my favorite ways to develop ideas is to simply poke around in history books and see what evolves. I began reading THE CONQUERING FAMILY by Thomas B. Costain (it's a very colorful history of the Plantaganet family) and it wasn't long before the characters Merrick and Alana were born.

Alana's name was another that changed during the writing of the book. Initially I called her Rowena, but after about 50 pages into the book, I just knew . . . Rowena just didn't fit this character!

My original title was MY BELOVED LORD; Avon asked me to change it since there was another author who was writing books with "Beloved" in the title. I have to admit, I like MY LORD CONQUEROR much better!

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a Waldenbooks mass market bestseller.

Finalist, Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Medieval

Married at Midnight

 

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My Lord ConquerorHe lay back down, one strong arm tucked beneath his head. Alana quickly followed suit, sliding back beneath the furs. Embers for the fire cast out feeble fingers of a faint orange glow. Alana lay with her eyes wide open. She and Merrick touched nowhere, yet she felt his warmth like the burning blaze of a fire. The certainty that he was naked sent a flurry of alarm skidding down her spine. Yet as time marched on and he made no move to touch her, she realized he presented no threat but the one that lurked in her mind.

Beside her, Merrick turned his head. "This dream, Saxon. It comes to you often?"

Alana hesitated. "Only of late," she allowed, her voice a mere thread of sound.

"And you've had other dreams before?"

Her lips pressed together. Oh, but he was a clever one! "Aye," she said curtly.

"How long have they come to you? Always?"

"I-I cannot remember."

He persisted.  "This is why the villagers call you witch? Because of these dreams?"

Though she longed to deny it, to deny him, she didn't dare.  "Aye," she said again.

"I would know the nature of these dreams, Saxon.  Do they foretell the future?"

She glanced at him sharply.  His regard was steady, as steady as hers was reticent.

"Sometimes," she allowed.

Her reply was grudging yet he paid no heed. "And do these visions come true?"

She shivered, caught fast in a swirl of memories she'd rather not recall.  "Some do," she said, her tone very low.

The mattress shifted.  Alana tensed, sensing his regard. But all he said was, "Tell me."

Her lips trembled.  She'd come to know him well enough to know he'd not allow her to shirk his questions.   Slowly she began to speak.

"I dreamed once of the alewife, who was soon to bear a child. In my dream her babe was born with his feet turned inward."

"And was it so?"

She nodded. Her fingers linked together over her breast as she went on. "There was a cottar who once lived in the village. I dreamed I saw his son standing atop the cliffs near Brynwald high above the sea. Then all at once" ÐHer voice caught; her knuckles grew white-- "All at once I saw him falling, plunging toward the raging waters of the sea."

"What then?" he asked after a moment.

"The next evening he was found dead, lying on the beach below Brynwald."

She both felt and heard his surprise. "But--how?"

"The villagers whispered that I pushed him. Only my mother and Aubrey believed it could have been an accident--that the boy fell. Only they believed me innocent." She drew a deep uneven breath. "So now you know, Norman.  Now you know why they call me witch."

When he said nothing, her eyes sought his; they were but a glimmer of light in the darkness. She started when a strong hand came to cover hers where it lay atop her breast.

"Ah, but if you were a witch," she heard him say, "you'd have fled me long before now."

"Ah, but I did try--"

"Fled," he stressed flatly, "and succeeded."

Did he mock her? Alana could not tell. Though she clearly discerned the outline of his head, the muscled bulge of his shoulders, his features were dark and shadowed. Then all at once he turned his head. He was frowning blackly.

"Come here," he growled. "You're still shivering."

My Lord ConquerorHis mouth was tight. It chased through her mind that she had displeased him yet again. She started to shake her head, but before her protest could find voice, he had turned and gathered her against him, drawing her close to his side.

Alana didn't move; she didn't dare. She was all at once heartstoppingly aware that he was naked.  Her hand lay curled atop the dark breadth of his chest. Her cheek lay snug against the sleek hard flesh of his shoulder.

She would never sleep, not like this, not with him beside her! Yet his warmth was like a cocoon around her, his presence a refuge. Her mind began to swim. It wasn't right that she should feel so safe. Nay, it made no sense, for he was all that threatened her. Yet curiously, it was as if nothing or no one could harm her . . .

It was morning when she next awoke. She lay huddled on her side in the bed, her senses still foggy with sleep. she felt absurdly cold, for Merrick did not lie beside her.

She couldn't help but ponder the night just past--not the terrible dream that plagued her but, rather, what had followed. An elusive memory stirred--a whisper of breath across her cheek, the merest brush of a hand on her brow. Her heartbeat quickened. She had lain in Merrick's arms throughout the night and into the morn. They were strong, those arms--so very warm and strong!--yet frightening, too, in some way she couldn't define.

The door creaked. Merrick strode in, as bold as ever. Alana started to sit up only to sink back in abject horror as she realized she wore not a stitch of clothing. A wise decision, too, for at that precise instant two young lads wrestled an oval-shaped wooden tub through the door. At Merrick's direction, they placed it before the fire. Several more traipsed through the door hauling buckets of water. Hidden deep within the furs, Alana watched with wide eyes as the tub was filled with steaming hot water.

Once the procession had ended and the last youth had gone, Merrick closed the door. He turned to face her, a half-smile on his lips, one dark brow cocked at an arrogant slant. Alana glared at him, a trifle annoyed that he was fully awake--aye, and fully dressed!

She nodded at the tub. "I suppose you expect me to bathe you," she said stiffly. While she was well aware it was the custom for the lady of the manor to assist male guests with their bath, she was hardly the lady of the manor. . . and loath though she was to admit it, he was hardly a guest.

His maddening smile ripened. "The bath is not for me, Saxon."

Alana's jaw firmed.  "I dislike such games, Norman. If not for you, then for whom?"

He swept a gallant hand toward the tub. "Why, who else, Saxon?"

Her glare turned to one of outright suspicion. "Surely not I--"

"And I would say again, who else but you?"

Oh, but he did not fool her! This was naught but a trick for she knew he was well aware of her nakedness.

She shook her head wildly.  "No," she said, her voice but a breath. "I-I cannot.  I will not."

His smile vanished. "You will, Saxon. Because I ask it.  Nay, because I demand it."

In but the blink of an eye, all traces of amusement had fled.  His features hardened.  His expression grew closed and tight.  There would be no arguing with him, she acknowledged dimly, just as there would be no denying him.

So it was that in the end she tugged a wide fur around her shoulders and scooted to the edge of the bed. A slim white thigh flashed into view as she extended a bare toe downward to the cold stone floor, then raced across the floor. Her grip on the concealing fur didn't lessen until the very last instant. She clambered over the side of the tub. In her haste she banged her knee and sloshed water everywhere, but Alana cared not. Quickly she sank beneath the water.

But the sanctuary she meant to find was simply not to be. Merrick did not leave as she hoped--prayed! Nay, the wretch, he advanced still closer, to tower before her at the foot of the tub.  With no shame whatsoever, he gazed down at her.  To Alana's everlasting mortification, his regard was as bold and brash as the man himself!

Her face burned painfully. Indeed, the whole of her body went hot, for she was well aware he sought to see what she would much rather he did not! Water sloshed anew as she wrapped her arms around her knees and hugged them close to her breasts.

And still her torment did not end.

Slowly he moved around so that he stood at her back. Her heart seemed to jump in her chest when he knelt just behind her. She twisted around, trying to see him. "Wh-what are you doing?"

He reached for a cloth atop a nearby stool. "Lady, I should think 'twould be obvious. You have no maid to attend to this duty. Therefore, I will attend you."

A maid? Oh, now he mocked her cruelly!

"I need no assistance, Norman. And I would be most appreciative were you to leave." Her resolve was firm, but her confidence had begun to waver.

And so had her voice.

She did not see the way Merrick's gaze narrowed intently. Her modesty chafed, for surely he was hardly the first man to see her naked. And indeed, his desire to see her so had scarcely been satisfied. Instead he'd been granted tantalizing glimpses of pale, perfect flesh; glimpses that were ever a temptation, a temptation that only sharpened his hunger and made it ever more difficult to put aside.

But the time was nearly at hand.  Soon, he promised himself, she would be his.  Soon. . .

A coarse fingertip swept a blazing path across the gleaming slope of her shoulder. "Leave?" he echoed lightly. "And deprive myself of this pleasure?"

"Pleasure!  Must your pleasure always come at my humiliation?"  No longer did she look at him. Her voice was low and choked.

My Lord ConquerorMerrick chastened himself harshly. He must be mad to allow this to happen, for who but a fool would let such tearful protestations sway his desire--and aye, his intent! If she were spitting and angry and defiant, the match might have been well met. But as it was--

"So be it, Saxon. If you require no assistance then I shall offer none."

The cloth landed in the water with a loud plop. A wedge of soap quickly followed. Alana didn't wait to count her good fortune but set to work washing herself hurriedly. The flesh of her shoulder still burned where he had caressed her, and she scrubbed there furiously until she winced in pain. Had she been alone, the bath would have been a veritable heaven. But with Merrick present, the sooner she was finished and once again dressed, the better.  With that in mind, she ducked her head under, then quickly lathered and rinsed her hair.

She wrung out the heavy tresses as best she could and tugged it into a long rope over her shoulder.  It was then she saw a length of linen had been placed within reach. Merrick, she saw, stood before the window, his hands behind his back. Alana hastily assured herself that his gaze lay elsewhere, then rose. Water sluiced down her body as she stepped from the tub.

Rather clumsily she wound the cloth around her breasts and back; it hung nearly to the floor. Glistening droplets of water still clung to her shoulders and arms. She shivered, for she'd been far more concerned with seeing her body decently covered than dried. Stepping before the fire, she shook her hair loose and combed through the silken tresses with her fingers, leaning toward the heat that it might dry more quickly.

So intent was she that she didn't notice Merrick's attention was now wholly on her. His gaze was drawn to her unwillingly--unendingly.  The linen cloth clung damply to her, provocatively revealing the slender shape of her--small, round breasts like firm, ripe fruit, hips that flared alluringly.  The bare skin of her shoulders gleamed with the luster of a pearl; it beckoned his touch. An odd sensation gripped his belly, like a fist drawn low and tight. He longed to strip away that wretched cloth and explore with lips and hands all that she sought to withhold from him so desperately.

Across the chamber, Alana glanced around, searching for her chemise and bliaud. From the corner of her eye she saw that Merrick no longer faced the window. She spied her clothing lying at the foot of the bed. But just as she would have reached for them, a dark hand imperiously pushed hers aside and grabbed them up.

Alana bristled.  "What is this, Norman? Would you steal the very clothes from my back?"

My Lord ConquerorHe strode to the hearth. As if he heard nary a word, he tossed the handful of cloth into the fire. There was a pop and a hiss. Flames licked high and bright.

She gasped.  "What is this? Are you mad?  You burned my home.  My possessions.  And now you burn my clothes!"

"Saxon," he said calmly.  "You are mine now. I will provide for you."

"Provide for me?"  She cried outrage.  "I have naught else to wear and you know it!"

He didn't answer. Instead he went to the chair near the hearth. There he picked up a neatly folded pile that she hadn't before noticed.

She eyed him warily as he retraced his steps.  "I believe you'll find these more than adequate, Saxon." One by one he displayed the articles. Alana couldn't help but stare. There was a chemise, a bliaud of dark forest green, even a pair of soft doeskin slippers.

"'Tis up to you, of course," Merrick continued.  "Indeed, I harbor no objection if you choose to remain in your present state."  Alana flushed as he raked her scantily clad figure from head to toe. "I find your form quite lovely, indeed, Saxon."

Alana swallowed and tore her attention from his face. Unbidden, one hand stole out to finger the chemise. It was spun of delicate cloth, finer than any she'd seen in all her days. She was completely unaware her features betrayed a wistful longing.

Her expression didn't escape Merrick.  "Well, Saxon? I had thought these would meet with your approval. Was I wrong?"

Alana bit her lip.  "Sybil told me most of her belongings were taken from her," she said slowly, her tone very low.  "If these are hers--"

"They are not, Saxon. They are my sister Genevieve's. I brought with me some of her possessions from Normandy. Rest assured, she has no need of them." His eyes glinted. She sensed he expected her to argue.

But all at once that was the last thing on Alana's mind. When Merrick resumed his post near the window, she hurriedly slipped the chemise over her head. It was all she could do to hold back an exclamation of delight--never had she felt anything so smooth and delicate! The bliaud came next. She had no girdle to tie at her hips, but she cared not. With her hands she smoothed the soft, thick folds. The slippers came last. Alana wiggled her toes in delight, for they were a perfect fit.

But when she looked up, a jolt want through her.  Merrick stepped before her. Eyes like a sword's point slashed over her, leaving no part of her untouched. To her shock and dismay, he took her hand and brought it to his lips.

"Why, Saxon" Ðhe smiled, his gaze never leaving hers "--you are truly a vision. Your beauty would surely vie with any--even the fairest in the land."

Alana flushed and tried to tug her hand free. His grip merely tightened. He brought her close, so close she felt trapped by his nearness, surrounded by his strength and masculinity. Her pulse raced madly. Her heartbeat quickened.

She swallowed.  "Release me," she said.

He shook his head.  "Nay, Saxon. Nay, for I do believe a token of your gratitude is due."

Her gaze, wide and distressed, fixed upon his rugged features.  "For what?"  She could scarcely force the sound past the dryness in her throat.

"Why, what else? The gown."

"The gown is your sister's, not yours," she said quickly. But her fingers, trapped securely within his, were suddenly icy cold.

"Ah, but 'tis through my generosity that you wear it. Reward my efforts."

All at once she felt ill at east and very much the imposter dressed in such finery. After all, she was no lady.  Indeed, she had no finely jeweled girdle circling her hips, nor even a wimple. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders and down her back, thick and unrestrained. No doubt his sister was very much a lady, she thought, an odd pain knotting her breast. He ridiculed her most cruelly!

Hot tears appeared without her knowing it.  Her breath caught, and so did her voice.  "You play with me, Norman."

His hands were on her shoulders now, searing her with their warmth.  "Then let us play no longer," he whispered.

She made one curt, abortive movement--alas, in vain! She was caught fast within his binding hold. She had no time to twist away, nor even to think, before his mouth closed down on hers.

His kiss was sweetness and magic, compellingly seductive. With naught but the pressure of his mouth, first here, then there, he stole the very breath from her lungs. Against all reason, all instinct, she felt herself weakening, drawn beneath his spell. His arms tightened around her. She was drawn so close she could feel the brand of his legs full and tight against her own, and all that lay betweenÉ

She could not summon the willpower to withdraw. She could only cling to him, as if she possessed no strength of her own.  No will of her own . . .

 


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