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!
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
Her lips pressed together. Oh,
but he was a clever one! "Aye," she
"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
"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
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
"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
"What then?" he asked
after a moment.
"The next evening he was
found dead, lying on the beach
She both felt and heard his
"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
"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
"Come here," he growled. "You're
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
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
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
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,
Her glare turned to one of outright
"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
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
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
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
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
A maid? Oh, now he mocked her
"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.
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
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?"
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
"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
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,
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
"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
She swallowed. "Release
me," she said.
He shook his head. "Nay,
Saxon. Nay, for I do believe
a token of your gratitude is
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
"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
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
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 . . .