Murder. Betrayal. Hope.
On his return from battle at Lincoln, Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucester and spy for the Empress Matilda, assists a dying knight caught in an ambush. Promising to look after the welfare of the knight’s only daughter, Geoffrey stays at her manor, investigating the murder. Keen to join the Empress on her progress through England, he is torn between his oath and his duty.
Left to defend her manor following her father’s death, Alleyne de Bellac reluctantly accepts Geoffrey’s support. As she doesn’t trust the taciturn stranger, she asks Will d’Arques, an old friend, for help. But loyalties change. Her life in danger and her inheritance at stake, Alleyne must decide which man to trust.
Discover England and Normandy divided by a brutal civil war, where vows are broken as allegiances waver.
“…a captivating read that draws you in the the plot of civil war, murder, confusion, intrigue and a sprinkling of romance.”
~ 5* reader review
“…captivating characters and vivid descriptions…”
~ 5* review, Booked Up Reviews
“Layered with authentic detail that will delight any historian, Dark Deceit is a well-written tale of romance, intrigue and dastardly machinations.”
~ 5* review, Suzanne Rogers, author
Alleyne waited for a sign, hardly daring to breathe. She rubbed her arms, uncertain of whether it was the biting February winds that seeped through her thin linen sleeves or premonition. In her haste, she had forgotten to bring her cloak. ’Twas too late now.
Her heart plummeted at Ancel’s body language. His wariness changed to… surprise? Shock? At an abrupt signal from the captain, two guards threw open the gates. Three riders appeared through the gatehouse, one holding the reins of a warhorse.
Alleyne drew in a sharp breath. It was indeed Father’s. The distinctive white mark on the long, grey forehead and the saddle were proof enough. The noise subsided, a hushed silence settling over the manor.
As the strangers crossed the bailey, she studied them with a mixture of anxiety and suspicion. The first man, clad in black, had the bearings of a knight, but there was no coat of arms stitched on his surcote. The other two had the appearance of mercenaries, the expression on their weather-beaten faces grim. She exchanged an apprehensive glance with Roger.
“You see why I’m concerned, my lady.”
“Yes,” she agreed, cold fear gripping her heart. “It does not bode well.”
From the corner of her eye she noticed Ancel and his men on the allure had turned and now stood watching the horsemen, crossbows at the ready. Two of her guards came to stand nearby, hands on sword hilts.
Alleyne watched as the company rode towards her. The two men following the knight looked well prepared for any danger on the roads in their rough chain mail and padded gambesons, with sturdy swords at their side. Her gaze moved to the knight. He wore a pair of leather boots and a dark, thick woollen mantle, which had fallen open, revealing his unadorned surcote. Apart from his bearing, the one-and-a-half hander sword at his hip clearly marked him as nobility.
Seemingly oblivious to her scrutiny, the knight came to a halt in front of her and eased himself from the saddle. He handed his stallion’s reins to Alfred who had crept forward, his head held low. The knight then turned to take the reins of Lord Raymond’s warhorse and, speaking quietly to the boy, pressed them into his hands. The youth stared at the animal and nodded firmly before he turned towards the stable, gently pulling both horses behind him. The knight’s men dismounted and followed Alfred.
Alleyne took a deep breath and pushed her shoulders back, her heart racing. Something had happened to Father.
“Who are you, my lord?” she called out, trying to keep her voice steady. “And why have you my lord father’s stallion in your possession?”
The knight ruffled his thick black hair. She sensed his unease. He approached in tentative steps, as if preparing the right words to say. She took in the narrow, aquiline nose and thin, wide mouth. Light blue eyes met hers with a touch of arrogance. She stared back, not giving in to the sudden urge to lower her gaze. Blood pounded in her ears. Although he stopped at the bottom of the steps, he still towered above her.
“Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucestershire.” He briefly inclined his head. “I assume you are the Lady Alleyne?”
She nodded, unable to speak.
“I bring sad news, my lady, about your lord father.” The seriousness of his task showed in his features.
Alleyne shook her head in refusal, wishing he would spare her any sorrow. “What..? Is he..?” Her voice failed her.
“I am sorry, my lady, but I’m afraid he’s gravely wounded.” When she swayed, his hand caught her elbow.
Alleyne’s vision spun and she closed her eyes for an instant. Her free hand reached for the wall for support. De Mortagne held firmly onto her, his warmth strangely comforting.
After several deep breaths, she grew calmer. Her eyes met his again.
(c) Cathie Dunn 2012. All rights reserved.