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Free Kindle Nation Shorts
a free reader's service from Kindle Nation Daily

March 29, 2013


An excerpt from Tamara Leigh's
Dreamspell

Plus a chance to win a brand new Kindle Fire HD
51 straight rave reviews!!

"Emotional, funny, romantic, and entirely enchanting,
Dreamspell is the sort of novel
that begs a screenplay."
Serena Chase, USA Today

From dream research to time travel in a single bound, the romantic Dreamspell is captivating readers with its intriguing premise, engaging story, and witty style.
"...a great read and further proof that Leigh is a consistently exceptional and talented writer."
 
 Is sleep researcher Kennedy Plain just having an amazing dream or has she traveled back in time to the middle ages? It all begins in this Free Kindle Nation Shorts excerpt from

by Tamara Leigh

4.8 stars - 51 reviews!!
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here's the set-up:


A time to live. A time to die. A time to dream.

Sleep disorders specialist Kennedy Plain has been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. When her research subject dies after trying to convince her he has achieved dream-induced time travel and her study is shelved, she enlists herself as a subject to complete her research. But when she dreams herself into 14th-century England and falls into the hands of Fulke Wynland, a man history has condemned as a murderer, she must not only stay alive long enough to find a way to return to her own time, but prevent Fulke from murdering his young nephews. And yet, the more time she spends with the medieval warrior, the more difficult it is to believe he is capable of committing the heinous crime for which he has been reviled for 600 years.

Baron Fulke Wynland has been granted guardianship of his brother’s heirs despite suspicions that he seeks to steal their inheritance. When the king sends a mysterious woman to care for the boys, Fulke is surprised by the lady's hostility toward him--and more surprised to learn she is to be his wife. But when his nephews are abducted, the two must overcome their mutual dislike to discover the boys' fate. What Fulke never expects is to feel for this woman whose peculiar speech, behavior, and talk of dream travel could see her burned as a witch.

5-star praise from Amazon readers:

Read this book!

"What a cool book! I love time travel, but I am pretty picky about my choices. ...This one was done so well -- an interesting and unique premise on how the time travel occurred, a beautiful and timeless love story, sweet story of mother/daughter bonds, wonderful history, plenty of action and villainous villains, all written intelligently and artfully."

I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!
"...a wonderful novel from beginning to end and one that I didn't want to put down!...The idea of dream-induced time travel was unique and amazing!...I definitely recommend Dreamspell to anyone who loves historical fiction or time travel books."


an excerpt from

Dreamspell

by Tamara Leigh

 

Copyright © 2013 by Tamara Leigh and published here with her permission
 

CHAPTER ONE


University Sleep Disorders Clinic

Los Angeles, California


“I was there,” Mac said amid the tick and hum of instruments. “Really there.”

Kennedy waited for his eyes to brighten and a grin to surface his weary face. Nothing. Not even a flicker of humor. Dropping the smile that was as false as the hair sweeping her brow, she said, “Sorry, Mac, I’m not buying it.” She turned to the bedside table and peered at the machine that would monitor his sleep cycles.

“You think I’m joking?”

Of course he was. For all the horror MacArthur Crosley had endured during the Gulf War, he was an incorrigible joker, but this time he had gone too far. She unbundled the electrodes.

“I’m serious, Ken.”

Her other subjects called her Dr. Plain, but she and Mac went back to when she had been a doctoral student and he was her first subject in a study of the effects of sleep deprivation on dreams. That was four years ago and, at this rate, it might be another four before she was able to present her latest findings. If she had that long. . .

Feeling the snugness of the knit cap covering her head, she said, “Serious, huh? I’ve heard that one before.”

The familiar squeak of wheels announced his approach. “It happened.”

Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking, the minute hand climbing toward midnight.

“Listen to me, Ken. What I have to tell you is important—”

“Time travel through dreams, Mac?” She uncapped a tube of fixative and squeezed a dab onto the electrodes’ disks. “How on earth did you hatch that one?” Though she might concede some dreams prophesied the future, time travel was too far out there. “Let’s get you hooked up.”

“That’s not what I’m here for.”

She turned and found herself sandwiched between the table and the wheelchair that served as his legs.

“I’ve been holding out on you, Ken. I would have told you sooner, but I couldn’t—not until I was certain it wasn’t just an incredibly real dream.”

“Come on, Mac. It’s midnight, I haven’t had dinner yet, and I’m tired.”

He clamped a hand around her arm. “I’m dead serious.”

Though she knew she had nothing to fear from him, alarm leapt through her when a tremor passed from him to her. Never had she seen Mac like this, and certainly he had never taken his jokes this far. Was it possible that what he said was true—rather, he believed it was true? If so, he was hallucinating, a side-effect not uncommon among her subjects, especially beyond sixty hours of sleep deprivation. But she had never known Mac to succumb to hallucinations, not even during an episode four months back when his consecutive waking hours broke the two hundred mark. That had complications all its own.

He released her and pushed back. “Sorry.”

Kennedy stared at him. The whites of his eyes blazed red, the circles beneath shone like bruises, the lines canyoning his face went deeper. Forty-five years old, yet he looked sixty, just as he had when his two hundred and two waking hours had put him into a sleep so deep he had gone comatose. But he had reported eighty-seven waking hours when he called an hour ago.

He had lied. Kennedy nearly cursed. She knew what extreme sleep deprivation looked like, especially on Mac. True, he had cried wolf before, convinced her of the unimaginable to the point she would have bet her life he was telling the truth, but this came down to negligence. And she was guilty as charged.

She consulted her clipboard and scanned the previous entry. Five weeks since his last episode, a stretch considering he rarely made it three weeks without going a round with his souvenir from the war. But why would he under-report his waking hours? Because of the safeguard that was put in place following his coma, one that stipulated all subjects who exceeded one hundred fifty waking hours were to be monitored by a medical doctor?

Knowing her own sleep would have to wait—not necessarily that she would have slept since she was also intimate with insomnia—she said, “How many hours, Mac?”

He pushed a hand through his silvered red hair. “Eighty. . .nine.”

“Not one hundred eighty nine?”

“Why would I lie?”

“You tell me.”

“I would if you’d listen.”

Realizing she was picking an argument when she should be collecting data, she rolled a stool beneath her. “Okay, talk.”

He dragged a tattooed hand down his face. “The dreams aren’t dreams. Not anymore. When I went comatose, I truly crossed over, and that’s when I realized it was more than a dream. And I could have stayed.” He slammed his fists on the arms of his wheelchair. “If not for the doctors and their machines, I would have stayed!”

Pain stirred at the back of Kennedy’s head. “You would have died.”

“In this time. There I would have lived.”

Then he truly believed he had been transported to the Middle Ages of his serial dream. Interesting. “I see.”

“Do you?”

Was this more than sleep deprivation? Had Mac snapped? “I know it seems real—”

“Cut with the psychobabble! Sleep deprivation is the key to the past. It’s a bridge. A way back. A way out.”

She took a deep breath. “Out of what?”

“This.” He looked to the stumps of his legs, wheeled forward, and tapped her forehead. “And this.”

Stunned by his trespass, Kennedy caught her breath.

He sank back in his wheelchair. “In my dreams, I have legs again. Have I told you that?”

She gave herself a mental shake. “Many times.”

“I walk. I run. I feel my legs down to my toes. It’s as if the war never happened.”

She laid a hand on his shoulder. “It did happen.”

“Not six hundred years ago.”

She lowered her hand. “What makes you believe this isn’t just an incredibly real dream?”

“I don’t know the places in this dream, and I’ve never seen any of the people.”

That was his proof? Though dreams were often forged of acquaintances and familiar landscapes, it wasn’t unusual to encounter seemingly unfamiliar ones.

He reached behind his wheelchair, pulled a book from his knapsack, and pushed it into her hands. “I found this in an antique book shop a while back.”

It was old, its black cover worn white along the edges, all that remained of its title a barely legible stamped impression. She put her glasses on. “The Sins of the Earl of. . .?”

“Sinwell,” Mac supplied.

Kennedy forced a laugh. “Catchy title.” She ran her fingers across the numbers beneath. “1373 to 1399. History. . .never my best subject.”

“He’s the one.”

“Who?”

“Fulke Wynland, the man who murdered his nephews so he could claim Sinwell for himself.”

Mac’s dream adversary. Though he had told her the dream arose from a historical account, he hadn’t named the infamous earl or the British earldom for which Wynland had committed murder.

“I’m in there.” Mac nodded at the book.

Kennedy raised an eyebrow.

“Look at the pages I marked.”

A half dozen slips protruded from the book. She opened to the first and skimmed the text. There it was: Sir Arthur Crosley. Okay, so someone in the past had first claim to a semblance of MacArthur Crosley’s name. What proof was that? She read on. With the King of England’s blessing, the errant knight pledged himself to the safekeeping of orphaned brothers John and Harold Wynland. She read the remaining passages, the last a single sentence that told of Sir Arthur’s disappearance prior to the boys’ fiery deaths.

Kennedy set the book on the bedside table. “You’re telling me you’re Sir Arthur?”

“I am.”

“Mac, just because your name—”

“When I first read it, there was no mention of Crosley. His name—my name—appeared only after the dreams began. And when the book says I disappeared, guess where I went.”

Pound, went her headache.

“That’s when I came out of the coma, Ken.”

Worse and worse. “But you’ve reported having these dreams since then. If what you say is true, where are those experiences documented?”

“They’re not. Though I’ve returned four times since the coma, the present keeps pulling me back before I can save the boys from that murderer.” Fury brightened his eyes a moment before his gaze emptied.

“Mac?”

“Fifty waking hours isn’t enough, not even a hundred. It takes more.”

This explained the man before her whose years came nowhere near the age grooving his face. “Two hundred?”

“It’s a start.”

She held up a hand. “The truth. How many hours?”

“Two hundred seventeen.”

She came off the stool as if slung from it. “You know how dangerous—”

“Better than anyone.”

He didn’t look like a madman, but he had to be. “You’re forcing it, aren’t you? You could have slept days ago, but you won’t let yourself.”

“Dead on.”

Kennedy reached to rake fingers through her hair, but stopped mid-air. There was too little left beneath the cap, stragglers that served as painful reminders of her former self. She laid a hand to Mac’s arm. “You’re going to kill yourself.”

His smile was almost genuine. “That’s the idea.”

Over-the-edge crazy. Deciding her efforts were better spent admitting him to the university hospital, she straightened.

“I’m not going,” Mac said.

For all his delusions, he could still read her like a book. “Please, Mac, you have to.”

“It’s my way out.”

Pound. Pound. “You think I’m just going to stand by and let you die?”

“You don’t have a say in it.”

“But you’re my patient. I can’t—”

“You think I like living in this thing?” He gripped the arms of his wheelchair. “When I lost my legs, I lost everything—my wife, my boys, my career. All I do is take up space, and I’m tired of it. You have no idea what it’s like.”

Didn’t she? Her world was crumbling, and though she had no choice as to whether tomorrow came, he did.

His gaze swept to her cap, and he muttered a curse. “I’m sorry, Ken.”

She crossed the observation room and stared through the window at the monitoring equipment.

“How’s the chemo going?”

She tossed her head and achingly acknowledged how much she missed the weight of her hair. “It’s going well.” A lie. There had been progress early on, but the tumor was gaining ground.

“The truth, Ken,” he turned her own words against her.

She swung around. “This isn’t about me.”

“You’re wrong.” He wheeled toward her. “My dream is a way out of the hell I’m living. And it could be yours.”

Nuts. Positively nuts.

He rolled to a halt. “Not my dream, of course. Something of your own choosing.”

Pound. Pound. Pound. She stepped around him. “I need to take something for this headache.”

“You think I’m crazy.”

She looked over her shoulder. “I’ll be back in a few minutes, and we’ll discuss this some more.”

After a long moment, he said, “Sure. Can I borrow your pen?”

She tossed it to him and steered a course to the washroom where she gulped down the pills prescribed for just such reminders of her tumor.

Though she rarely did more than glance in the mirror, she searched her features: sunken eyes, ashen skin, pinched mouth, the hollows beneath her cheeks evidence of her twenty-pound weight loss. As for the hair sweeping her brow, it and the knit cap to which the strands were attached was a gift from her well-meaning mother. She looked almost as bad as Mac, far from the green-eyed “looker” she had been called before. . .

Almost wishing she was as crazy as Mac, she hurried to her office. After being reassured two orderlies were on their way, she returned to the sleep room. It was empty. “No.” She groaned. “Don’t do this, Mac.”

She ran down the corridor, through the reception area, and out the glass doors into the balm of a Los Angeles summer night, but there was no sign of Mac or the cab that had delivered him to the clinic. Where had he gone? It would be a place where no one knew him, where he wouldn’t be bothered if he didn’t show his face for days. Unfortunately, the possibilities could run into the thousands.

What about the cab? If she could find the company he had used, perhaps she could discover where they had taken him.

She went back inside and, in the sleep room, saw the pen Mac had borrowed on the bedside table, beneath it his book. He had forgotten it. Or had he?

She opened The Sins of the Earl of Sinwell. If not that she recognized Mac’s handwriting, she would have flipped past the inscription on the inside cover. She slid her glasses on. Ken, it read, think of this as a postcard. Your friend, Mac

“Oh, Mac.” Try though she might, she knew that if she found him it would be too late. But knowing it and accepting it were two different things. Keeping an eye closed against the pain hammering at her head, she tucked the book under an arm and hurried to her office



CHAPTER TWO

A way out.

Mac’s words of a month ago whispered to Kennedy as she stared at the reflection of a woman she recognized less each day. Radiation and chemotherapy had taken the last of her hair. And for what? The hope she could beat unbeatable odds. Four weeks, eight at the outside, Kennedy Plain, twenty-eight years young, would go out with a whimper.

“A way out,” she muttered. “Crazy Mac.”

She tightened the belt of her robe and crossed her living room to the glass doors of her condo. A quarter mile out, waves battered the rocky beach, swept sand in and dragged it out again. Stepping onto the balcony, she sighed as cool morning air caressed her bare scalp. It was just what she needed to get through another waking hour. How many was she up to? She glanced at her watch. Seventy-two, meaning it was Monday.

Since forced to take medical leave two weeks ago, she had found it increasingly difficult to track her days—until this past Friday when she began marking time by the hour.

She turned back inside. The journal lay on her desk on a pile of paperwork that represented eighteen months of research. Research that would molder in some forgotten closet if the clinic director had his way. But she wouldn’t let that happen. If it killed her—ha!—she would conclude her study with data culled from her own dream experiences.

She dropped into the desk chair and reached for the journal. It would be her fourth entry, likely the last before her self-imposed sleep deprivation compelled her to sleep. With a quaking hand, she wrote:

8:25 a.m. Seventy-two waking hours. Not sure I can make it to ninety-six. Hands trembling, eyes burning, headache worsening, nauseated. No hallucinations, some memory lapses. Can’t stop thinking about Mac.

She lifted the pen and recalled the night he had borrowed it. For four days she had clung to the hope he lived, but on the fifth day, his lifeless body was found in an abandoned warehouse.

Kennedy swallowed hard. “Wherever you are, I pray you’ve finally found peace.” She rested her forehead in her hand and squeezed her eyes closed. Like a thief, sleep reached for her.

She jumped up and steadied herself with a hand on the chair. “Twenty-four hours,” she murmured. Could she do it? Her chronic insomnia having never exceeded sixty, she was ahead by twelve, but another twenty-four?

What she needed was a good book. Unfortunately, as her library consisted mostly of textbooks and periodicals, the best she could do was The Sins of the Earl of Sinwell. She eyed it where it lay on the sofa table. It had to be less dry than her other choices.

Sliding on her glasses, she retrieved the book and fingered the ridges and recesses of the worn title, then opened past Mac’s inscription to the first chapter. “1373,” she read aloud as she began to walk the room.

An hour later, she gave up. Not because the reading was dry, but her comprehension was nearly nil. One thing was clear from the little she had learned about Fulke Wynland, the Earl of Sinwell: he had no conscience. Not only was he suspected of having a hand in the accident that killed his brother, the Earl of Sinwell, but as a military advisor during the “Hundred Years War,” he had been party to the atrocious massacre of men, women, and children following a siege on the city of Limoges. So what chance had two little boys, aged four and six?

She trudged into the kitchen, opened the freezer, and stuck her face into it. Frigid air returning her to wakefulness, she congratulated herself on that bit of genius and closed the door. “And caffeine will do it one better,” she murmured.

After the coffee maker sputtered its last, putting an exclamation mark on the smell of freshly brewed coffee, Kennedy carried the pot to her cup with a hand that shook so violently that nearly as much made it on the counter as in the cup. When the caffeine kicked in on her third serving, she reached for Mac’s book.

The seventh chapter, marked by a slip of paper, held a scant introduction to Sir Arthur Crosley. Then came the mysterious Lady Lark and a color illustration of the type of clothing a fourteenth-century lady might wear—a pale yellow gown with fitted bodice and long flowing sleeves, a hair veil secured by a tiara set with red and blue jewels, and flat-soled shoes with ridiculously long toes.

Kennedy returned to the text. According to the author, Lady Lark made her first appearance at King Edward III’s court in 1372. No one knew where she came from, her surname, age, or whether she was of the nobility. The only thing for certain was that the king wasted no time numbering her among his mistresses.

During the summer of 1373, two months after appointing Sir Arthur Crosley to watch over the Wynland boys, King Edward dispatched Lady Lark to Sinwell to care for the motherless children. Though it was suggested his other mistress, the ambitious Alice Perrers, had worked her influence over Edward in order to rid herself of a rival, the author was more given to the belief that the king had simply tired of Lady Lark.

Kennedy trudged past the sofa, pushed her glasses up, and rubbed her eyes. She resettled the glasses.

On the approach to the castle of Brynwood Spire where the boys resided, Lady Lark’s baggage train was attacked and her entourage murdered. Of the lady herself, no trace was ever found. The one responsible for the carnage: Fulke Wynland, the author suggested. Sir Arthur Crosley, fearing for the boys’ lives, spirited them away that very day. . .

Kennedy didn’t recall reading this particular passage at the clinic, and there was no slip of paper to mark its reference to Sir Arthur. Likely, Mac had lost the marker without realizing it. However, when she dug further into the book, she found three other unmarked references. Odd, especially as they were more significant than the ones Mac had asked her to read. But nothing compared to the final reference near the end of the book. She read it twice. Hadn’t Sir Arthur disappeared at book’s end? Not according to this passage that stated that, following two weeks of pursuit, Wynland overtook him. Swords were drawn and the knight’s life severed by the man who would be earl.

Of course, it was a month since she had read the passages. Was that it? Or was she delusional? She shrugged off the niggling at the back of her mind and, a short while later, slammed the book on Wynland’s ascension to “earl” following the deaths of his nephews in a fire of unknown origin.

“Murderer,” she muttered. And caught her toe on the sofa table. The book flew from her hand and landed on the floor at about the same time she did. It should have hurt, but she was too numb to feel anything but relief at gaining a prone position.

Get up, walk it off. Only ten hours to go. She forced her head up. Seeing the book had fallen open to Mac’s inscription, she pulled it toward her, read his scrawled inscription, and pressed her forehead to the carpet. “A postcard, Mac?”

Don’t close your eyes. But she was too busy melting into the carpet to give more than a glancing thought to hooking herself up to the EEG she had borrowed from the clinic. Sleep descended, scattering her thoughts here, there, everywhere—until they met the enigmatic Lady Lark.

What would it have been like to live in an era of knights and castles? To have been of the privileged class? To dress in gowns with beautiful bodices and long flowing sleeves? To be the mistress of a mighty king? To travel across country in a baggage train with an entourage? Imagine that. . .


The sweet smell of earth, the breath of a breeze, a gentle tapping against her cheek. Wondering who disturbed her, Kennedy opened her eyes. Not who, but what. She stared through the hair fluttering across her face—thick, dark, sprung with wave, the likes of which she hadn’t seen in a long time. A tremor of expectation swept her, but she let it go no further.

This was a dream. When she awakened, not a single strand would remain. She fingered the darkness and lingeringly pushed it out of her eyes. There was something silken at her forehead and, above that, a metal band encircled her head. She drew the former forward and stared at what appeared to be a veil.

A moan sounded from somewhere nearby, and she pushed the veil aside. Only then, with a forest spread before her, did she realize she was prostrate. Where had her dreaming taken her to this time? And what was the vibration beneath her cheek?

She rolled onto her back and stared up at a canopy of trees. It was beautiful the way the sunlight pierced the leaves, thrusting shafts of light into a place that might otherwise appear sinister. There was the twitter of birds and, somewhere, the babble of a brook. It was vibrant, as if—

A mordant scent struck her, causing the dream to veer in a direction she preferred it didn’t go. She sat up and caught her breath. Twenty or more feet out, the bodies of a dozen men were gored and grotesquely bent, most conspicuously two draped across an overturned wagon. And there was more. She felt it, feared it, tried to ignore it, but looked around. Behind her lay a horse, its teeth bared in death, its rider pinned beneath, the man’s chest sliced open and his arm nearly severed.

Kennedy clenched her teeth and lowered her gaze to where the blood of beast and man pooled on the ground. It spread outward, running in rivulets toward her. Nausea rose as she followed its path to the skirt of her dress. Knee to ankle, crimson saturated the pale yellow fabric, causing it to adhere to her skin.

Not a dream. A nightmare.

She scrambled to her feet.

“My lady?” someone croaked.

Kennedy forced herself to look among the bodies. Had she ever before had such a vivid dream? Swallowing hard, she settled her gaze on the man beneath the horse who stared at her through half-hooded eyes.

“My lady. . .are you. . .?” He reached with his uninjured arm.

She knew she ought to flee before her imagination transformed him into something more heinous, but she couldn’t turn her back on him. Too, this was only a dream. Though it might cause her to awaken in a cold sweat, that was the worst she would suffer.

When she dropped to her knees beside the man, she saw that, though he had closed his eyes, his wheezing chest told he still lived.

“What can I do?” she asked.

“I saw the miscreant’s. . .device.” His thick accent sounded almost British.

“Device?”

“Had his medallion. . .in my hand.” He spread his empty fingers. “Upon it a wyvern. . .two-headed. . .above a shield. . .bend sinister.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

He lifted his lids. His eyes, pinpoints of pain, traced her face. “You are not my lady.”

“No, I—”

He caught hold of her arm. “What have you done with her?”

For a man about to die, he exhibited incredible strength. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He dragged her toward him, affording her a close-up of his death mask. “You come to steal from the dead,” he spat, flecking her with saliva.

A more morbid dream Kennedy could not recall. She wrenched backward and broke free, but not before he tore the veil from her hair.

She shot to her feet and nearly tripped over her hem. Why was the dress so long? And why was she wearing something like this in the middle of a forest?

Once more, she felt the vibration through the ground. It was stronger. Nearer. Horses? From which direction?

She whipped her head to the side and the breeze caught her hair, sifting it across her face and into her eyes. Though she longed to pause and relish the feel of it, something bad was coming.

It’s only a dream. Stay put and get it over with, and you’ll be awake in no time. But she couldn’t. Heart pounding, she gathered her hair high at the back of her head, knotted it, and hiked up her skirt.

As in the days before her illness, she sped across the ground, vaulted over debris and fallen trees, and nearly forgot the reason she ran. She thrilled to the rush of blood and tightening of her lungs, the strength in her calves and thighs. The only thing missing was a decent pair of running shoes.

When a shout resounded through the trees, she glanced over her shoulder. A horse and rider bore down on her. She pumped her legs harder, but she was no match for the four-legged beast that drew so near she could hear its breath.

Wake up! she silently called to where she lay sleeping. Open your eyes! Though a thread of consciousness often allowed her to talk her way out of disturbing dreams, her pleas went unanswered. Thus, she veered right, seized a branch from the ground, and whirled around.

Her pursuer reined in his horse, scattering leaves and dirt, and guided the animal sideways to look down at her. Clad in metal neck to toe—a jangling, clanking get-up that sounded with each quiver of his horse—he stared at her out of eyes so blue she knew her imagination was in overdrive. Though her dream had neglected to place a helmet on his head, it had made sure there was a sword at his side.

Only a dream. He can cut you in two and you’ll awaken whole. At least, as whole as a person with a death sentence hanging over her head. . .

“You do not need that.” His voice was deep and accented, though of a more precise nature than the dying man who had mistaken her for his lady. “You have naught to fear from me.”

Of course she didn’t. He was only a figment, though from where he had originated she had no idea. But with those cheekbones, shoulder-length blond hair, and closely clipped beard and moustache, he was likely a belly-button-bearing model from a billboard she passed on her way to the university.

“Lady Lark?”

She blinked, then nearly laughed at the realization she had dreamed herself into the mysterious lady of Mac’s book. What was the year? 1373? As for this behemoth, was he Fulke Wynland? He had to be. Forget that he was blonde rather than darkly sinister as she had imagined, that his eyes were blue, rather than bottomless black. He was surely the one responsible for the carnage to which she had awakened, not to mention the death of his nephews and the disappearance of the king’s mistress—the same woman he mistook her for.

She jabbed the branch at him in hopes it would send horse and rider back to wherever they had come from.

The animal rolled its huge eyes, reminding her of the one time she had ridden a horse, a mistake that culminated in her missing a barbed wire fence by inches.

“I am Lord Wynland of Brynwood Spire.”

And beneath his armor he probably wore a medallion with a two-headed—what was it? Wyvern? “Stay back!”

“I am King Edward’s man. Be assured, no harm will befall you.”

She swung the branch. “I’ll brain you!”

He frowned deeply, as if her words were foreign, as if her subconscious had not formed him from the pages of an old book. “After what you have seen, my lady, ’tis natural you would suffer hysterics.”

“Oh, puh-lease!”

He lowered his gaze over her. “You are injured?”

No sooner did she follow his gaze to her bloodied skirt than he lunged, seized hold of the branch, and used it to haul her toward him.

Kennedy let go, but not before he caught her arm. Handling her as if she were a child rather than a woman who topped out at five foot eight, Wynland lifted her off her feet and deposited her on his saddle between his thighs.

She reached for his face. Unlike her hair, she hadn’t dreamed herself a set of long nails, and she fell short by the split second it took him to capture her wrist and grip it with the other.

“Calm yourself!”

She strained, kicked, bit—and got a mouthful of metal links that made her teeth peal with pain.

“Cease, else I shall bind you hand and foot!”

Before or after he killed her? She threw her head back and got a closer look at her version of Fulke Wynland. Not model material after all. As blue as his eyes were, his face was flawed. A scar split his left eyebrow, nose had a slight bend, and the jaw visible beneath his beard was mildly pocked as if from adolescent acne or a childhood illness. Handsome? Definitely not. Rugged? Beyond. Deadly? Ever so.

Realizing her best hope was to catch him off guard, she forced herself to relax.

Wynland gave a grunt of satisfaction, reached down, and yanked up her skirt.

Horrified that her dream was taking a more lurid turn, she renewed her struggle.

The horse snorted and danced around, but neither Kennedy nor the skittish animal turned Wynland from his intent. His large hand slid from her ankle to her calf to her knee.

It was then she felt the draft and realized that, somewhere between reality and dream, she had lost her underwear.

When his hand spanned her thigh, she opened her mouth to scream, but just as quickly as the assault began, it ended. He thrust her skirt down and smiled—if that wicked twist of his lips could be called a smile. “Worry not, my lady, I place too high a value on my health to risk it with you.”

What, exactly, did he mean? That she was promiscuous? Diseased? Of course, she did portray a king’s mistress. . .

“Whose blood if not yours?” Wynland asked.

That was why he had touched her? She didn’t know the man’s name, only that he had rejected her as being his lady. She frowned. How was that? If she was Lady Lark, why had one of the players in this dream not recognized her?

“Whose?” he growled.

She shifted around to fully face Wynland. “What does it matter?”

His lids narrowed. “A soldier—nay, a dozen—bled their last to defend you. What does it matter who they were? Who their wives and children are?”

When he put it that way. . . But she wasn’t the villain, he was. Those men were dead because he had ordered it. Or done it himself. “Put me down.”

“What befell your escort?”

Why the pretense when he meant to kill her? Or did he? According to Mac’s book, no trace of Lady Lark was ever found. Had Wynland allowed her to live—for a while, at least?

It’s a dream!

Though she knew he was only smoke floating about her mind, she detested him for the sins of the man after whom she had fashioned him. “Why don’t you tell me what happened to my escort?” She was bold, and it felt good, so like her old self before this thing in her head pulled the life out from under her.

Wynland’s face darkened. “You think I am responsible?”

“If the shoe fits. . .”

Confusion slipped through his anger. “What shoe?”

One would think she had truly hopped back in time. If this was anything like what Mac experienced, no wonder he thought it was real. She only hoped that when she awakened she would remember the outlandish dream long enough to record it. “You don’t want me at Burnwood.”

“Brynwood, and, nay, I do not. But I assure you, had I wished you dead, we would not be having this conversation.”

Nothing came between him and what he wanted, including his nephews. The deaths those little boys had suffered incited Kennedy further. “Just goes to show that if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

He puller her closer. “If you have anything else to say to me, my lady, you would do well to choose your words carefully.”

His hands on her, thighs on either side of her, and breath on her face, were almost enough to make her believe he was real. Only a figment. He holds no more power over you than the next dream.

“Do you understand?”

“What is there not to understand?”

He stared at her, then released her arms and turned her forward. Before she could gulp down the view from atop the horse, he gripped an arm around her waist and spurred the animal through the trees.

She was riding sidesaddle. How much worse could it get? Though she tried to shut out memories of her last horse ride, she remembered exactly how bad it could get. She squeezed her eyes closed. Where was Wynland taking her? And if murder was on his mind, why the stay of execution? No one would hear if she cried out—

He wasn’t alone. The thundering of hooves had surely been of many riders, meaning others could have seen her flight. Fortunate for her, unfortunate for Wynland.

She opened her eyes. Trees sped by at breakneck blur, the forest floor rose and fell, shafts of sunlight blinded.

She retreated behind her lids again and was all the more aware of the hard body at her back and the muscled arm against her abdomen, the sensation so real she felt the beat of Wynland’s heart through his armor. She chalked it up to it being a long time since she had been in a man’s arms, which was more her fault than her ex-husband’s. Graham would have held her if she had let him, but the marriage had coughed its last long before the onset of her illness. Kennedy Huntworth was no more—not that she had gone by her married name. At the urging of Graham’s mother, she had retained her maiden name for “professional purposes.” In the end, it had worked out for the best. Or was it the worst?

Wynland dragged his horse to a halt, and a grateful Kennedy opened her eyes, only to wish she hadn’t.



CHAPTER THREE
 

He had returned her to the gore, the smell of butchery. Add to that twenty armored men who moved among the dead, impervious to the horror, it should have awakened her in a cold sweat. Instead, the dream gripped her more fiercely.

One of the soldiers, a man who aspired to just over five feet, stepped from the upset wagon. Like several of the others, but unlike Wynland, he wore a white sleeveless shirt over his armor, the breast embroidered with a green shield dissected by a black cross. Perched on the shield was something like a dragon.

The man shook his head. “All dead, my lord.”

Kennedy searched out the one who had spoken of the medallion. He stared wide, but he had seen his last living day.

“Thieves?’ Wynland asked.

The soldier strained his neck to look up at him. “’Twould appear so, my lord. The king’s men have been stripped of armor and weaponry, their horses taken and, excepting a trunk beneath the wagon, all of the lady’s belongings are gone.”

“You have searched the attackers’ bodies?”

“There are none to search, my lord. More, the ground is bloodied only where the king’s men lie.”

Kennedy felt Wynland’s disbelief. He probably hadn’t expected his hitmen to fare so well against the king’s soldiers. How convenient for him.

“’Tis like nothing I have seen,” the soldier said. “As if—”

“—they knew their attackers,” Wynland finished, then more gruffly, “Is that how ‘twas, Lady Lark?”

His charade was for the benefit of his men, but as much as she wanted to set the fools right, she knew it was a battle best left for when Wynland wasn’t so near. She looked over her shoulder. “I don’t recall.”

His left eyebrow arched on either side of the scar, forming a sinister M. “Do you not?”

“I. . .hit my head.” She rubbed a spot above her right ear.

“You were attacked?”

Kennedy feigned offense. “You ask that with all this carnage?”

“I ask it when none but you survived.”

It was strange, but this was a dream. “My injury occurred when the wagon overturned.” She pointed at it.

“You were in that wagon?”

Apparently not. A carriage, then? She didn’t see one, though that didn’t mean there hadn’t been a carriage prior to the attack. What about a horse? Had ladies in this age travelled on the beasts?

“Lady Lark?”

She sighed. “Yes, that wagon.”

“Regardless of what you are, have been, or nevermore will be to the king,” Wynland bit, “’tis difficult to believe Edward would have so little regard for the woman he chose to care for my nephews that he sent her to Brynwood in a baggage wagon.”

Kennedy shrugged. “I’m not a horse person.”

His regard sharpened as if he saw Kennedy Plain past Lady Lark. Then, with one fluid move, he swung out of the saddle and dropped to the ground. Tall as a smoggy Los Angeles day was long, he strode toward the wagon.

That was it? He was going to leave her sidesaddle on an animal that surely sensed her fear? However, as much as she wanted to call him back and ask for help in dismounting, pride wouldn’t allow it. Nor the possibility of escape.

She eyed the horse. Surely she need only nudge it with her heels? Though she hated the idea, she had nothing to lose but the fast-fading memory she would have upon awakening. She grabbed the saddle horn and swung a leg over the other side of the horse. When the long dress fought her, making a good case for riding sidesaddle, she hitched up the skirt, scooted back, and reached her feet to the stirrups. She was on the tall side, but Wynland’s legs outdistanced hers.

The stirrups weren’t necessary, were they? She lifted the reins and jabbed her heels into the horse’s sides. Nothing. She snapped the reins, dug her heels deeper. The horse shifted its weight. She leaned forward. “Come on, big guy, show me how it’s done.”

The horse tossed its massive head and issued a snort suggestive of laughter.

“You are thinking of leaving?”

Kennedy looked around and saw Wynland approach at a leisurely pace indicative of the confidence he placed in his trusty steed.

He halted alongside her. “He answers only to me.”

Kennedy straightened. “I had to try.”

He lowered his gaze down her leg. “The king may enjoy such brazen displays, Lady Lark, but you are at Sinwell and such behavior will not be tolerated.”

She looked down her leg and did a double-take, though not because of any sort of indecency. The shoes that had served so poorly during her flight from Wynland were pointed and three inches too long, just like the ones illustrated in The Sins of the Earl of Sinwell. So that was where her imagination had gone to outfit her. . .

“Cover yourself,” Wynland ordered.

She glanced at him, then looked down again. Above the shoe, a thick sock pooled around her ankle. Higher, a stretch of bare calf was visible. She could use a shave, but she was hardly brazen. Certainly not by twenty-first century standards. The prude! She reached down and tugged the hem of her skirt, but it was no use. In straddling the horse, there wasn’t enough material to cover her legs.

She shrugged. “I tried.”

Wynland scowled and thrust something at her. “Your veil and circlet, I presume.”

Air trembled through the white gossamer, sunlight ignited red and blue jewels set in the gold wire band he called a circlet. Remembering how she had lost them, Kennedy glanced at the soldier. His eyes were no longer open. Had Wynland closed them?

“I am curious as to how the king’s man came to be in possession of these,” Wynland said.

She took them. “I was trying to help him.” She tried, but failed, to put images of the encounter from her mind.

“Continue.”

She pulled the veil through her fingers. “And I removed them.”

“For what purpose?”

She draped the veil over her upswept hair and settled the circlet over it.

His lids narrowed again. “Clearly, you are unaccustomed to such manner of headdress, my lady. Tell me of your maid.”

Lady Lark had one?

“Surely you did not set out from London without one.”

“I. . .yes, I had one.”

“Where is she?”

Kennedy looked past Wynland, but searched no further than the nearest fallen solder, a man far from whole. She swept her gaze back to blue.

“Thirteen lie dead,” Wynland said, “but none amongst them is a woman. What befell your maid?”

“I must not have brought her with me after all.”

His teeth snapped. “You wish me to believe the king not only set you upon the road in a wagon, but did not have a maid accompany you?”

He thought her a flake or a liar—or disoriented. Falling back on her feigned injury, she touched her head. “I’m not thinking straight right now.”

Clouds stormed his eyes. “You fear the wrong one.”

So he thought she played dumb because of her distrust of him. That would work. “Do I?”

A humorless rumble rose from him. “You think you have no enemies, Lady Lark? A woman who tried to displace the grasping Alice Perrers?”

Though Mac’s book had speculated that the king’s favored mistress might have been responsible for Lady Lark being sent from court, there the speculation ended. Had this Perrers woman taken it a step further? A possibility, but Kennedy thought it was more likely Wynland’s attempt to throw her off his scent.

“How convenient you were in the neighborhood and able to come to my aid so quickly,” she hazarded.

With what sounded like an obscenity, though she had never heard the word, he caught her wrist. “Neither I, nor my men, were near when this happened. A villager brought tale of the attack to Brynwood.”

As she looked into his anger, she had the feeling it cost him dearly to defend himself. Odd he should feel the need to do so with a woman for whom he had such low regard. Of course, Lady Lark was the king’s mistress. He wouldn’t want Edward gunning for him.

He released her and put a foot in a stirrup. Like rain on a metal roof, his armor rang against the quiet of the forest as he swung up behind her.

Expecting him to try to turn her back to sidesaddle, Kennedy clamped her thighs against the horse. However, Wynland put an arm on either side of her, took the reins, and guided his horse to where his men gathered near the wagon.

Kennedy was disturbed by the looks that came her way, from surprise to lewd appreciation to affront.

“Sir George,” Wynland called.

The man stepped forward. “My lord?”

“Divide your men and search the demesne. I want the murdering thieves found.”

Tempted to tell the man to look no further than his lord, Kennedy bit her tongue.

“After I have delivered the lady to Brynwood, I will return with more men.”

How stilted Wynland’s speech sounded. A few contractions here and there would go a long way to remedying the problem.

As Sir George returned to his men, Kennedy was surprised to discover that none of them was any more familiar than Wynland. Odd. Where had she seen these faces that she would unknowingly store them in her memory? And what about their voices? Though, on occasion, she had been around British accents, these weren’t quite the same.

Mac had said he didn’t know the people in his dreams. Though Kennedy hadn’t achieved his level of sleep deprivation, she guessed this was analogous to what he had experienced.

Oh, please, let me remember just one tenth of this when I wake! Unfortunately, the likelihood of doing so was hampered by the fact she hadn’t hooked up to the EEG. If she had, the alarm rigged to awaken her following REM sleep would have facilitated her recall. Now she was dependent on luck.

“Gain your mount, Squire James,” Wynland called.

Kennedy saw a young man hasten from the gathering and swing into his saddle. He also wore a sleeveless shirt, but it bore a beast that was half-eagle, half-lion. Why two different coat of arms? Did the eagle-lion belong to Wynland, the dragon to his deceased brother?

Wynland guided his horse through the maze of dead and, once clear, fastened an arm around Kennedy and let the animal run.

Kennedy watched as they passed from forest to open meadow. To the edge in the distance, lush vegetation filled the eye and was capped by skies so blue that the cirrus streaking it could not dampen its radiance. Blankets of wildflowers undulated color amid greater green, towering trees stood sentinel over the bordering forest, sheep dotted a hill like a thousand tiny clouds come to ground. And the scent? Like a hundred Carolina mornings rolled into one. How incredibly removed it was from the glass, concrete, and metal that sprouted from Los Angeles, the smog that burned her eyes. But nothing prepared her for the fairy tale edifice that jagged the sky. Gait by gait, its white walls grew to immense proportions, beat by beat, its spires sharpened. Brynwood Spire.

Built on a hill, the castle stood guard over a walled city jutting to the left. Black on green flags flapped from spires, sunlight on armor flashed silver atop the walls, and from the center of the castle arose a building with towers in each corner. Although the structure should have appeared out of place against the pristine countryside, it seemed as much a part of the scenery as the grass and trees. Storybook perfect—except for the two little boys murdered within those walls.

Kennedy pondered the man who held her. How could he order the deaths of innocent children? It was evil. To have lived during the Middle Ages must have been to live a nightmare. She couldn’t imagine—

Couldn’t she? This was a dream, every crumb fallen from things and people forgotten in some deep crack in her memory.

As Wynland guided his horse onto a forty-foot span of bridge raised above a rushing river, Kennedy remembered the young man who had trailed them throughout the ride, and only because of the clatter of hooves that joined theirs.

A soldier was at the far end of the bridge, motionless until they were nearly upon him. His gaze on Wynland, he said with a deferential nod, “All is quiet, my lord.”

With a spur of heels, Wynland guided the horse onto the beaten path that wended upward to the castle. Shortly, they crossed another bridge over what Kennedy guessed was a moat. That was where the fairy tale took a sharp turn off the page. Who knew what pestilence the fetid muck harbored?

Shouts drew her regard overhead. Several men leaned out of recesses in the upper wall and called greetings to Wynland, welcoming his return as if he had been gone days rather than hours. In silence, he directed his horse beneath the arched entrance and through a shaft outfitted with not one but three sets of doors three times the height of a man and bounded by soldiers.

If the rest of the castle was as well-manned, no one came or went unchecked. That included Kennedy. Though all were quick to give Wynland their attention, they stole furtive glances at her. Did they know of the attack on Lady Lark’s entourage? Was that behind their interest? Or was it her appearance? The blood on her skirt and her straddling of the horse that revealed a bit of leg?

A clamor reached Kennedy in advance of their exit from the shaft, but she was unprepared for the flurry of activity in the courtyard they entered. People dressed in the clothes of common folk were everywhere, along with dogs, horses, wagons, contraptions—one that looked like an enormous grinding wheel. From the far left came the sound of metal being struck. To the right, a glowing fire radiated enough heat to work up a sweat.

Kennedy could hardly believe the depth of imagination that had concocted such a fabulous dream, especially considering her limited knowledge of history.

There were more shouted greetings, nods, gap-toothed smiles, arms raised in recognition of the man who plotted a heinous act to assure his ascendancy to earl. Although Kennedy couldn’t imagine these people cared for him, he certainly had their respect—likely through fear.

Wynland ushered his horse beneath a portal and into another courtyard. It also teemed with laborers. In one corner, women bent over immense barrels, some stirring, others scrubbing on what looked like washboards. Opposite, teenage girls hung strips of red cloth from a clothesline stretched overhead. In the middle of the courtyard stood a small building open on one side, the man inside working amid rows of candles.

“M’lord, m’lord!” A smudge-faced, wild-haired boy bounded into Wynland’s path.

He jerked the reins and Kennedy wondered what harsh words he would speak.

“Tell the tale, m’lord,” the boy implored with lit blue eyes. “How many did ye kill?”

Oh, about a dozen.

To her surprise, Wynland leaned down and ruffled the child’s fair hair. “None yet, Jeremy.”

Disappointment shrunk the boy’s brow, reminding her of someone. Finally, she had placed a person in her dream—sort of. Jeremy was familiar, but she didn’t know where she had seen him.

“Not even one, m’lord?”

“There were none to kill.”

Jeremy propped his hands on his hips. “Ye’ll not let the brigands go, will ye?”

“You know I will not.”

With a grin that revealed he was short a front tooth, the boy turned his gaze on Kennedy. “Who is that, m’lord?”

“’Tis Lady Lark come to care for John and Harold.”

With wide eyes and a mouth to match, Jeremy said, “M’lady is most fair. Not at all what John and Harry feared.”

Kennedy had to smile. Not since before her illness had she received such a sincere compliment.

“Have ye something for me, m’lord?”

Wynland tossed a coin to him, and the boy snatched it from the air with a greasy fist. Hooting with joy, he spun and disappeared among the many.

“Your new home,” Wynland said, “Brynwood Spire.”

Kennedy looked up at the building at the center of the castle. Though impossible to overlook, that was what she had done, engrossed as she was with the activity before the grandiose structure. Six stories high, as many wide, its top edge notched all around, it gave new meaning to her notion of how a castle should look.

“It’s. . .” She shook her head. “. . .big.”

“You expected less?”

She looked around. “Actually, I hadn’t thought much about it.”

“Then you ought to. The earldom of Sinwell is vital to England—strategically located, fertile, and among the wealthiest.”

And aren’t you just dying to get your hands on it? “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Wynland urged his horse forward and reined in before a long flight of steps that led up to what she assumed was the entrance. He dismounted and passed the reins to Squire James who waited for him. “I will be gone but a few minutes. See that my horse is watered and ready to ride when I return.”

“Aye, my lord.”

My lord this, my lord that. Was it really necessary?

“Lady Lark.” Wynland raised his arms.

Tempted as she was to refuse his help, Kennedy leaned toward him. His great hands gripped her waist and lifted her down. No sooner did her feet touch ground than he released her and turned toward the steps.

He probably feared he would catch something from her as he had earlier alluded. Trying not to feel the warm imprint of his hands, she lifted her skirt and followed him. Dozens of steep steps later, she caught up with him at the top landing. Feeling deep appreciation for whoever had invented the elevator, she looked to Wynland and found him studying her as if she were a one-thousand piece puzzle he must put together without a picture to guide him.

“A moment,” he said and lifted the circlet from her head. He adjusted the veil that hung longer on one side and resettled the circlet.

“Thank you,” Kennedy murmured.

He looked like he might smile. “So you do know something of propriety.” Before she could concoct a comeback, he turned his back on her. “Come, my mother will wish to receive you.”

Had Mac’s book mentioned Wynland’s mother? If so, either the reference was obscure or Kennedy had been too tired to store the information.

The two soldiers who stood guard at the massive doors offered the usual “My lord,” gave Kennedy the once-over, and pulled the doors open.

Inside, Wynland allowed her only a cursory examination of her surroundings before he struck out across the stone floor—not that more was needed. The entrance hall was stark, nothing extraordinary about it. So what had happened to the run of imagination that had brought her this far?

“Brother!” someone called. Descending a stairway was a man whose resemblance to the one he called “brother” seemed limited to hair color and build. Younger than Wynland by five or so years, his features were more handsome, eyes darker, and when he stepped off the stairs she saw he was shorter by several inches. “What news do you bring?”

“They are all dead, excepting Lady Lark.” Wynland stepped to the side to reveal Kennedy.

Surprise shot across the man’s face. “Lady Lark?” His gaze traveled down her, but when it returned to her face he had regained his composure.

“Lady Lark,” Wynland said, “my brother, Richard Wynland, Baron of Kinsey.”

Before Kennedy could respond, Richard demanded, “What of the attackers?”

“Gone.” Wynland began to ascend the stairs.

Richard looked to Kennedy again, allowed her a glimpse of what might pass as dislike, then motioned her to precede him.

Don’t take it personally. It’s just the stuff of dreams. She stepped forward. This stairway was less imposing than the first, and she soon found herself in a room so immense, so fabulously furnished, and so alive with the people of this era that she halted.

Brightly painted pillars supported an arched ceiling splashed with vibrant green, black, and gold. Tapestries around the walls depicted lovers in a garden, battling knights, and a dragon perched on a shield like those on the shirts worn by Sinwell’s men. A fireplace the size of her spare bedroom was fueled by enormous logs. And the men and women, with their aristocratic deportment and splendid costumes—the men in shirts over hose and pointed shoes—looked as if they had walked off a movie set. But what was hay doing on the floor? Were they expecting cows?

An older woman wearing an ivory dress with sleeves that fell from her wrists to her calves, appeared in a fog of perfume that made Kennedy wince. “Lady Lark?” Her voice was so melodious it could have been an instrument.

This had to be Wynland’s mother. She was petite, but there was no mistaking the resemblance, from the blonde hair encased in strange wire cylinders on either side of her head to intense blue eyes to soaring cheekbones.

Kennedy stuck out a hand. “Yes, I’m Lady Lark.”

As if a handshake was beneath her, the woman frowned.

Remembering another time, another place, another woman who had made her feel ten inches tall, Kennedy stole a glance at Wynland where he stood beside his mother. His expression was all the confirmation needed that a handshake was not how things were done here.

She lowered her arm. If they hadn’t shook hands back then—now—how had they greeted one another?

“I am Lady Aveline, Lord Wynland’s mother.”

“A pleasure to meet you.”

Another frown, then a sniff as she noticed Kennedy’s bloodied skirt. “My son has assured me you are uninjured.”

“I was fortunate.”

Something flashed in the woman’s eyes that gave Kennedy’s memory a painful stir. Her ex-mother-in-law, Celia Huntworth, hadn’t liked her either. But then, the woman’s carefully plans for her debutante-destined son had been ruined when he stepped out of his “class” by marrying Kennedy.

“I am sure King Edward will be relieved to learn of your well-being,” Celia’s fourteenth-century counterpart said.

Kennedy nodded. “Yes, he will.”

Wynland’s mother waved someone forward, and a woman rose from a chair before the fire. Though her dress was less fine than Lady Aveline’s, her sleeves also trailed. “This is my daughter, Marion.”

Unlike her mother, the thirty-fiveish Marion was no little thing. Though she wasn’t tall by twenty-first century standards, she topped her mother by half a foot and carried ten to fifteen pounds more on her big-boned frame than insurance companies liked. Eyes blackest brown, hair straight and dishwater blonde beneath a veil, mouth wide, she was as different from Lady Aveline as summer was from winter. Not homely, but plain. From her posture to the color staining her cheeks, she appeared to lack her mother’s self-possession.

Marion inclined her head. “Lady Lark.”

“Lady Marion.” Had she got that right?

“My daughter will show you to your chamber where you can bathe and rest,” Lady Aveline said.

Happy to put distance between herself and Wynland, Kennedy followed the woman. Although the others in the room resumed their conversations, she remained an object of interest. Not until she was before a winding stair did it occur to her something was missing. She spun around, scattering hay, and saw that Wynland strode opposite with his brother.

“Mr. Wynland, what about. . .” What were their names? “. . .John and Henry?”

He turned. “John and Harold.”

Right. “When do I get to meet the boys?”

“Later.” He resumed his course.

“Come, Lady Lark,” Marion beckoned.

Kennedy lifted her skirt and climbed the stairs. Up and around and around they went, to a stone-laid corridor.

“You have been given the east tower room,” Marion said as she led the way forward, a spring in her step that had not been there before. At the end of the corridor, she pushed a door inward and stepped aside to allow Kennedy to precede her.

The furnishings consisted of a bed, a stool, a small table with a bowl and pitcher, a raised iron pot that looked like a small barbecue, and a lit candle. Kennedy chuckled. She had dreamed herself into a place over which any self-respecting twenty-first century inmate would have filed a lawsuit.

“Is there anything you require, Lady Lark?”

A bath? She searched the room again and noticed a narrow door that had to be the bathroom. She opened it. The room measured three by three feet and was bare except for a ledge against the back wall. And in the center of that ledge was a hole. An indoor outhouse. Wrinkling her nose at the odor, she closed the door.

“Something is amiss, my lady?”

Kennedy looked to the woman in the doorway. “I was hoping for a bath.”

Marion frowned. “I directed the servants in the preparation of your chamber. All should be in readiness.” She crossed to the table and dipped a finger in the pitcher. “The water is still warm.” She poured some into the bowl. “And here is your towel.”

A bowl of tepid water and a hand towel was her idea of a bath? Hoping she didn’t sound ungrateful, Kennedy said, “I was thinking of a long soak.”

“In a tub?”

“You have one, don’t you?”

“Two, in fact.” That last was spoken with pride. “Unfortunately, all of the fires in the kitchen are taken with preparations for the nooning meal, so ‘tis not possible to warm water for a bath.”

No plumbing. Kennedy sighed. “Of course.”

“I will leave you to your ablutions.” At the door, Marion turned back. “I hope we shall be friends.”

Her words seemed so genuine Kennedy smiled. “So do I.”

A grin brightened Marion’s face. “Then we shall.”

Obviously, this Marion and the one she had first met were not the same.

“Mayhap you will share with me tales of your life at court.”

Never before out of the twenty-first century Kennedy Plain? Whose only experience with “life at court” was two hours spent in traffic court last summer? “I’d love to.” Chances were she would be long awakened from this dream before she had to make good on that.

“Rest well, my lady.” Marion stepped into the corridor and pulled the door closed.

Kennedy crossed to the left of the bed and opened the single shutter. A shaft of light slanted across the floor, lighting the dust motes and the stain on her skirt. Though she didn’t have clothes to change into, she decided the slip beneath would suffice. As it hit just below the knee, it had escaped the fate of the dress.

To her frustration, she soon discovered there were no buttons or zippers to release her from the dress, only laces at the back. After much contorting and grunting, she captured the trailing end of one lace and pulled. The bodice loosened, and she quickly vacated the dress. Surprisingly, the slip was pleated, embroidered around the neck, had long sleeves, and was made of what felt like silk.

Kennedy slipped out of the shoes and tugged off the socks. As she washed the blood from her calves, she pondered the boys. “Later,” Wynland had said. Could he do that? Or, as the king had appointed Lady Lark to care for them, could she demand to see then immediately? Of course, it wasn’t as if the boys were without a protector. They had Sir Arthur Crosley. For a moment, she wondered if he bore any resemblance to Mac. Ridiculous—unless her subconscious decided to cast Mac in the role he had tried to convince her was his.

Kennedy unknotted her hair and raked fingers through it. It took time to get it to the place where she could braid it, but she enjoyed every moment. Funny, only now that she had it all back did she appreciate what she had too long taken for granted. Day in, day out, she had confined her long hair to a bun or ponytail and silently threatened to whack it off each time it fell into her eyes. Leave it to cancer to take care of the problem. . .

Kennedy let her sectioned hair slip through her fingers. Deciding to enjoy it for the short time she had it, she shook her head and let the waves fall over her shoulders. No wonder Mac had wanted to believe his dreams were real. If she were just a bit mad, she might herself.

She lay down on the bed and, certain she would awaken on her living room floor, mumbled, “Good riddance, Mr. Wynland.”



CHAPTER FOUR


No woman he had ever known was worth dying for. Yet thirteen men had given their lives to protect this one—the king’s leman.

A lovely leman, Fulke admitted as candlelight danced through dark hair and skipped across a face rendered innocent in sleep. Though he knew he should not, he pushed the door wider. The movement made the links of his hauberk ring, but Lady Lark did not awaken. Gaining a full view of where she lay on the bed, Fulke slid his gaze to her throat, then over the thin material of her chemise.

He clenched his hands in an attempt to turn back the attraction he had first felt when he had carried her before him on his horse. The effort was in vain, for the sight of her, looking as if she had fallen asleep awaiting a lover, stirred him to discomfort.

One could hardly fault Edward for taking her to mistress, for she was beyond lovely, and without aid of rouge or powder. And her scent. . . No perfume had assailed him when he breathed her during the ride to Brynwood. She had smelled of light and air—

He berated himself for such fanciful thoughts. Fulke Wynland, Baron of Trune, protector of Sinwell, was not fanciful—though once he had been. He lifted a hand to knock as he had earlier done, but Lark murmured and turned fully toward him, causing her chemise to rise.

What Fulke’s hand had known his eyes quickly learned—muscled calves and firm thighs. It was as if her days were not spent at needlework, but on the training field. Not possible, but he had seen her run. Never had he known a woman to move as she did, and while wearing a gown lifted high. Such strength and stamina were not acquired running around a king’s bedchamber.

He considered the dwindling candle and reflected deeper on this woman thrust into his life by an aging king determined to upset his vassal’s ordered life—first with the appointment of Sir Arthur Crosley, now this woman. Why had Edward done it? It was something Fulke had questioned a dozen times since receiving word of Lady Lark’s impending arrival. How many nursemaids did two children require?

Of course, if he was honest, the boys had been adrift until the coming of Sir Arthur. Following the death of Fulke’s half-brother, the earl, it had been necessary to discharge the woman who had cared for John and Harold since birth. For two months, Fulke had disregarded the woman’s impertinence and reports of her speculation over his role in his brother’s death, but when he had come upon her warning the boys against him, his forbearance had shattered.

Determining his mother should care for the boys, he had sent to Trune for Aveline, but they were not her grandchildren and she had been unable to hide her disdain. As for Marion, in her uncertain state she was unfit for such responsibility, though she did spend much of her day in their company. However, he had but to advance the possibility of wedding his sister away and she deteriorated more rapidly than a rose in frost. He oft wondered about that.

With none to properly mother the boys, the king had twice taken it upon himself to ensure Sinwell’s heir was cared for. But why this woman? Though surely apt at putting a man to bed, it was far different from tucking children in at night and soothing away their worries and fears. It must be as it was said: Edward had simply used the opportunity to rid himself of her. But what had wearied him? Her peculiar behavior? Her forward disposition? Her sharp tongue? Surely not those legs.

Stirred again, Fulke forced himself to recognize another reason Edward might have sent her. No, the king would not presume so far. Lady Lark was stained, and not even Edward could make her clean again. Still, if she came to him, and she might now that her bed was cold, could he send her away?

He cursed. If she was as free with other men as she had been with Edward, she was likely diseased. If not, there was the matter of her refusal to tell him what had befallen her escort, her claim to a head injury of which he saw no evidence, and her allusion to him being responsible for the attack.

Regardless, this was not the place to question a woman like her. Fulke turned away.

“Graham?”

He looked around and saw she spoke out of her sleep. Was Graham another lover?

“Too late. . .” she breathed.

For what?


Was it light? A scent? A sound? The chill in the air? Whatever it was, it woke Kennedy. She lifted her lids and caught her breath at the sight of the man who filled the shadowed doorway head to toe, shoulder to shoulder.

She was still in the fourteenth century of a dream that had turned night, and no amount of shadow could disguise her visitor. It was Wynland, and she doubted he was here to ask whether the accommodations were to her liking.

In the flickering light of the candle, she sat up. In spite of the chill from the open window, she resisted the temptation to drag the slip over her bare legs. After all, as the king’s mistress she had a reputation to live up to. And it wasn’t as if she didn’t show more skin in a bikini.

She tucked her feet under her. “What do you want?”

He stepped into the light. Still wearing armor, the small room magnified his size, making him appear even more a behemoth. “’Tis time we spoke.” Metal on metal, he strode to the window and closed the shutter.

“About?”

His gaze lingered on her legs. “Has no one ever told you, Lady Lark, that which is kept hidden from a man is more intriguing?”

If she understood him to mean it was better to leave something to the imagination, it would be her mother who had told her that. Kennedy curled her fingers into her palms. “What do you want to speak to me about?”

Though clearly displeased by her disregard for his suggestion that she cover herself, he said, “Your attackers have gone from Brynwood as if they never were. If I am to run them to ground, I need to know what befell your escort.”

She supposed he did have to expend some effort to throw suspicion off himself. “You think that whatever I saw may be of use in apprehending the. . .murderers?”

“Perhaps.”

She touched her left temple. “I’m afraid I still don’t recall—my head injury, you know.”

His lids narrowed. “It has spread to that side, my lady?”

Caught. Not that he had believed her the first go around. “Hmm. It seems so.”

His hands clenched. Would he keep them to himself?

A scuffling arose in the corridor.

Wynland snatched up the cover and whipped it over her legs and chest. “Due modesty, my lady, lest my men take your wantonness for an invitation.”

Wantonness? She, who had been a virgin until the age of twenty when she met Graham, the man she later married?

Two soldiers appeared in the doorway, a trunk between them. “My lord,” they spoke in unison.

Wynland motioned them inside. “There.”

Eyes averted, they set the trunk at the foot of the bed. As suddenly as they had appeared, they disappeared, leaving Kennedy alone with a man she would have feared if he were real.

“When you do recall what happened,” he said, “I trust you will come to me.”

“If I recall.” She sighed. “I suppose this means the end of your search?”

A muscle in his jaw jumped. “Half my men are still out there. At first light, I will lead a second contingent to the eastern border.”

She frowned. “Why did you come back?”

“I answer to no one, Lady Lark, but for you I shall make an exception. As I told you, Sinwell is vital to England. Thus, until John comes of age, I am lord and responsible for the demesne and its people. What happened today is serious, but I will not leave Brynwood Spire too long to avenge men whose lives are already forfeit.”

End of story, and so convincingly told that if she didn’t know better, she might believe him.

“Now clothe yourself.” He pivoted. “My mother will expect you at table for supper.”

“How am I supposed to do that when my dress is bloodied?”

When he came back around, his left eyebrow once more formed an M. “The trunk would be a good place to start.”

She looked to the end of the bed. This must be the trunk that had been trapped beneath the wagon. She tossed the cover back, swung her feet to the floor, and padded to it. “Lady Lark’s?”

Silence. Had he gone? She looked around and met his suspicious gaze.

“You speak of yourself as if you are not present, Lady Lark.” He leaned a shoulder against the door frame. “Why is that?”

Because she is not present, and I am having a hard time keeping her hat on. But she couldn’t tell him that. Or could she? How would this man of her dreams react? What words would her subconscious put in his mouth? Tempted as she was to find out, she didn’t dare.

Hadn’t Mac’s book said no one knew where Lady Lark came from? And her surname, age, and social standing were as much a mystery. “Hardly a world traveler, are you, Mr. Wynland?” Kennedy said with renewed confidence. “Where I come from, one often uses the formal to refer to one’s self.”

Disbelief. “Where is it you come from, Lady Lark? Not England, I wager.”

“You are right.”

“And certainly not France with an accent such as yours.”

Had he picked up on the drawl that had once mapped her Southern roots? As she had left North Carolina at the age of thirteen following her parents’ divorce, she had thought it long gone.

“Where?” he pressed.

“That is between the king and me.”

His gaze held hers long and hard, then he straightened and strode down the corridor.

Obviously, the king was a good card to play with Wynland. Come to think of it. . .

She ran to the door. “Mr. Wynland, I will expect your nephews at supper.”

He turned, retraced his footsteps, and set his six foot three of bone and muscle over her. “Will you?”

“They are the reason King Edward sent me.”

“As I heard tale, you were sent that he might rid himself of a tedious mistress.”

Kennedy raised her chin. “My relationship with Edward is none of your business. Suffice it to say that I am here to carry out his orders that I care for your nephews.”

“And how do you intend to do that? By exposing yourself?” He caught the neck of her slip and pulled her forward. “By going about wearing naught but your chemise? Tempting my men?”

Though Kennedy reminded herself this was only a dream, there was nothing dream-like about Wynland—the condemnation in his eyes, the masculine scent of his sweat, the prickling sensation where his rough fingers brushed her throat, the body heat radiating across the space between them.

She swallowed. “I assure you, no harm will come to John and Harold while they are in my care. Can you say as much?” That last slipped out. How a dream could rub her so wrong, she didn’t know, but this one—this man—did.

Wynland reeled her in until they were nose to nose. “I was wrong. You should fear me, Lady Lark.”

As much as she tried to convince herself her fear was unfounded, it was all she could do not to put it out there for him to see. “Let me go.”

He released her.

“The king will hear of this, Mr. Wynland.”

“I am Lord Wynland. See that you afford me my title in future.” Once again, he strode opposite.

Kennedy glared at his back. He would never be her lord. If he didn’t like “Mr.” she had some choice alternatives.

When he entered a room halfway down the corridor, she grimaced at the realization it was likely his bedroom. She closed the door and returned to the trunk. Kneeling, she lifted the heavy lid. Inside were two dresses made from bright cloth, a long slip—or chemise, as Wynland called it—a pair of thin-soled pointed shoes, thick socks, two belts, a veil, a silver circlet, and a comb.

Kennedy chose the emerald green dress over the red. Fortunately, it had laces down both sides, but how on earth would she manage the dozen buttons running the sleeves from elbow to wrist? She eyed the red dress. It didn’t have buttons, just those long sleeves, but it laced in back. No wonder ladies of this age had needed maids.

Kennedy pulled off the slip, reached for the clean one in the trunk, and froze. She had breasts. Though her weight loss had robbed her of their fullness to the point she hadn’t needed to wear a bra in months, there they were. She was whole again. No headaches, no illness, everything the way it had been. She could get used to this.

But that was the trap Mac had fallen into. If she wasn’t careful, she would end up marked for the loony bin. Not that her sentence would be lengthy. . .

Kennedy pulled the slip on, followed by the green dress, and discovered the buttons were the least of her worries. The dress didn’t fit. The sleeves were short by an inch, the skirt hit above her ankles in contrast to the trailing length worn by Wynland’s mother and sister, and even if she didn’t lace up the sides, it would be snug.

What to do? By twenty-first century standards, the slip could pass for a light dress, but from Wynland’s reaction, it was inappropriate. She held the red dress against her. Same size. The green would have to do. She snugged up the side laces as much as possible, tied them off, and struggled through the buttons on the sleeves. Since the shoes were too small, she pulled on the ones that had served her so poorly during her flight from Wynland. Lastly, she tackled her hair. And despite the mess, it was a joy.


The draft alerted him, its chill pricking his bare feet and legs. Fulke dropped the hose he had been in the process of donning and pulled his misericorde from the belt that lay on the bed. The dagger’s blade reflecting torchlight, he pivoted, swept the tapestry aside, and fell on the intruder.

The man cried out, but not until the misericorde was at his neck did Fulke realize it was Marion.

“God’s patience!” He lowered the dagger. “For what are you skulking about my chamber?”

Though it was dim behind the tapestry, torchlight slipped in and curved around the hand she held to her throat. “Remind me not to steal upon you ever again, brother.”

He looked to the door through which she had entered the solar. Behind it and a dozen more lay the passages that ran the inner walls of the keep. It was years since he had negotiated them himself, and usually it had been with Marion close behind.

“If I must remind you not to steal upon me again, you will deserve what ill befalls you.”

She scowled. “I do so miss the boy.”

The boy he had been and would never be again. Their days of mischief, games, and shared imaginings were long over. He thrust the tapestry back, tossed the misericorde on the bed, and returned to his hose.

“My!” Marion feigned shock. “Had I known you were without dress, I would not have entered your chamber.”

She made it sound as if he was nude when he had but to don hose and boots. He rolled the left hose up his leg.

She lowered to the edge of the bed. “Did you think I was Cardell?”

Cardell who would prefer him dead. “In such circumstances, Marion, one does not think. One acts.” He tied the top of the hose to the braie girdle beneath his tunic. “But had you been him, you would be no more.” As he pulled on the opposite hose, he rued the responsibility bequeathed to him by the death of his half-brother—especially the dissension that had risen from it.

“The people like you,” Marion slipped into his thoughts as she was still able to do, “as do several of the barons.”

But not Cardell and half a dozen others. Fulke jerked his above-knee tunic down over his hose. “What do you want?”

She rose and crossed to the trunk, removed a jeweled belt and shoes, and held them out to him.

Fulke turned away. His sword belt would better serve, as would boots. He slid the misericorde in its sheath, girded the belt, and dropped the lid on the trunk. Seating himself, he reached for his short boots.

Marion lowered beside him. “I am wondering what you think of Lady Lark.”

He shoved his feet into the boots. “She is the reason for your trespass?”

“One of the reasons. What do you think of her?”

“Naught.”

“I think she is lovely.”

“You expected the king’s leman to be otherwise?”

Marion leaned back on her hands and gazed at the ceiling as if it were a canopy of stars. “Do you remember when, as children, we dreamed of the one we would one day wed—all the while mother and father spat at one another?” She turned her gaze to him. “We were going to be different.”

“They were dreams, Marion. Never meant to be.”

“Perhaps.”

He stood. “Supper awaits.”

She eyed him. “You would make a fine husband, Fulke.”

Unfortunately, he could not say she would make a fine wife. “When you are wed, dear Marion, mayhap I shall get me an heir.” In which case, it might never happen.

The sister he knew disappeared from her eyes and was replaced by one he preferred not to know—someone whose mind had twisted long ago.

Casting her emptied gaze down, hands beginning to tremble, she muttered, “Aye, supper awaits.”

An ache in his chest, Fulke slid a hand beneath her elbow and raised her to her feet. “Come.”



CHAPTER FIVE


Kennedy stepped off the torch-lit stairs and into a room she hardly recognized. Had she taken a wrong turn? She remembered the tapestries, the painted ceiling, and the fireplace. It was the place Wynland had brought her through earlier, but transformed by tables, benches, servants bearing platters of food, a multitude of people who had not been present upon her arrival, and a clamor that was almost deafening—until a hush fell.

Heads turned and eyes widened. Did she look that bad? There hadn’t been a mirror.

Although she longed to head back upstairs, she determined she would face these people and their disapproval, and do it with style—hopefully. Sensing Wynland’s gaze, she looked past rows of tables to a table raised above the others. He sat at its center, as if in judgment of her, and beside him was his brother.

She put her shoulders back and walked forward. There were whispers, snickers, snide comments, a lewd grunt, but she didn’t falter.

Nearing Wynland, she noted he had changed into a black shirt embroidered around the neck and his unruly hair was secured at his nape. He cleaned up well, appearing less sinister than he had in armor. Until she looked into his eyes. His silent regard was all the warning she needed that he would extract payment for whatever sin she had committed. Let him try.

She stopped before him. “Where would you like me to sit?”

When he didn’t speak, Marion said, “Beside me, Lady Lark.”

Since the woman was three places removed from her brother, one from her disagreeable mother, Kennedy said, “Thank you.” She stepped onto the raised platform, skirted the table, and lowered to the bench.

Marion turned to her. “Were you able to rest?”

“Yes, I got some sleep.”

“Splendid.” Marion lifted a metal goblet and sipped.

Realizing how thirsty she was, Kennedy looked to the table. No goblet, but the good news was that interest in her was waning.

“How was your bath?” Marion asked.

“It was. . .different.”

“I imagine at court you had the luxury of a tub bath once a sennight. I enjoy them myself, but I am able to indulge only once a fortnight.”

However long that was, it didn’t sound good.

Lady Aveline leaned forward, stirring the air with perfume, the abundance of which probably had something to do with bathing being a luxury. “For all the horrors you endured this day, you appear to have fared well, Lady Lark.”

Kennedy wondered how to respond. Though she didn’t think she would ever forget the terrible images, it could be nothing compared to what the real Lady Lark must have endured. “I was fortunate.” Lame.

“Lady Lark sustained a head injury, Mother.” Wynland netted Kennedy’s gaze. “She is unable to recall the incident.”

“Is that so?” Lady Aveline mused.

“How terrible,” Marion murmured.

Richard Wynland merely shined his dislike on Kennedy.

A server appeared. Cheeks pink from exertion, the woman set a goblet in front of Kennedy and poured a dark liquid into it.

Wine? Though, on occasion, Kennedy enjoyed a glass of wine, water was her poison. “Excuse me, can I get a glass of water?”

Surprise came at her from all sides, though it was most prominent on the servant’s face. “Water, m’lady?”

“From the tap is fine.”

The woman’s confusion deepened. “But. . .”

“Surely you jest, Lady Lark,” Marion said. “Everyone knows water is an evil drink.”

Now Kennedy was confused—until she recalled the advice for traveling in third world countries. Water must not be safe in medieval England either. She smiled at the server. “Milk?”

Still the woman looked disconcerted. “I shall fetch some, m’lady.” She hurried away.

Lady Aveline harrumphed. “Even John and Harold choose wine over milk.”

Children drank wine?

“Where are John and Harold?” Wynland asked.

“’Tis likely Sir Arthur again,” Lady Aveline grumbled.

“Squire James!” Wynland called.

The young man rose from a lower table. “My lord?”

“Collect my nephews and bring them and Sir Arthur to the hall.”

“Aye, my lord.”

Marion leaned near Kennedy. “They hate each other.”

“They” being Wynland and Arthur Crosley. Pretending ignorance, Kennedy asked, “Why?”

Before Marion could answer, a plate was set between her and her mother, on it a large scooped out round of bread filled with what looked like stew. Marion picked up a spoon and took a bite. As did her mother.

They were not the only ones to share a meal, a practice that was hardly hygienic. But when a plate was set between Kennedy and the heavy man beside her and she realized he was to be her partner, she was too hungry to object.

“For some reason,” Marion finally said, “Sir Arthur believes my brother plans to out the heir that he might take the earldom for himself. Try though I do to convince him he is wrong, he refuses to believe me.”

If only she knew. Kennedy looked to her shared meal. Seeing the man was halfway through it, she snagged a spoonful of chunked vegetables. And was surprised. Though she hadn’t held much hope for the offering, it was tasty.

“Unfortunately,” Marion whispered, “he is not the only one to believe ill of my brother.”

Kennedy spooned up another bite of her rapidly diminishing meal.

“Come mirth, come woe, Baron Cardell opposes Fulke.” She inclined her head opposite. “You see him? He sits two past Richard.”

Kennedy looked beyond Wynland’s brother to an older man who made her startle. The mass of curling black hair that sprouted from his jaw resembled a skunk’s tail—black on either side of a gray streak that ran chin to chest. “The one with the beard?”

“That is him. Ere our brother’s death, the baron was the earl’s confidante. He does not boast such an esteemed position with Fulke.”

“Why?”

“He and Fulke do not like one another—never have, methinks never shall.”

Tempted as Kennedy was to suggest Baron Cardell might have a good reason, she said, “Why don’t they like one another?”

From Marion’s eyes rose a depth of wisdom far different from the face she had thus far revealed. “Because Fulke cannot be controlled. Of course”—her voice grew more hushed—“the baron’s true enmity lies in the king’s decision to grant wardship of John and—“

“Hush, Marion,” Lady Aveline snapped. “Eat your meal.”

Back into her shell Marion went.

Kennedy took a spoonful of the stew, but hardly had the vegetables hit the back of her tongue than her partner cleared his throat and turned his flushed face to her.

“Careful lest ye strain yer seams even more, my lady.”

He was one to talk! Two—maybe three—of her could fit into him. Kennedy dug deeper. When her milk arrived, she took a gulp and nearly spit it out. It was thick and tasted as if sweetener had been added.

“About your clothes,” Marion said a while later.

“Yes?”

“Your gown is beautiful, but rather lacking.” She smiled apologetically. “Unless it is the new mode at court?”

Could she get away with that? Perhaps with Marion, but not with her mother who also awaited an explanation. And though Wynland’s attention appeared to be elsewhere, she wouldn’t be surprised if he was tuned in.

“Nothing like that. It’s just that I’m a bit of a yo-yo with my weight. Size six, eight, sometimes ten.” Actually, with the onset of cancer, the opposite was true—eight to six to four. But that was in the real world, a place to which she didn’t have to return for however long this dream lasted.

From the confusion on Marion’s face, it was as if Kennedy spoke a foreign language. “It’s a weight thing,” she tried again. “I gain some. I lose some.”

Marion nodded. “What of the surcoat?”

“Surcoat?”

“Your overgown.” She touched her own garment with its trailing sleeves, beneath which tight-fitting sleeves buttoned down to her wrists.

Now Kennedy understood. The red dress with its back lacing was to be worn over the green. “I. . .don’t care for layering.”

Marion frowned. “And of the length?” She leaned in. “I could see your ankles.”

What a shock she would have if she were dreaming in Kennedy’s world. “Terrible, isn’t it? If I’ve told my maid once, I’ve told her a hundred times—cold water.”

“She caused your gown to shrink?”

“It would appear so.”

Lady Aveline looked around her daughter. “Could it be the dress is not yours, Lady Lark?”

“Of course it’s mine.”

Lady Aveline’s lids narrowed. “My son tells me you were not traveling with a maid. Can that be?”

Where was this second degree going? To the lie about the maid shrinking her dress or her assumed identity? In the next instant, Kennedy was struck by the possibility she was playing the part of someone other than Lady Lark. It would certainly explain the dying soldier’s rejection and the contents of the trunk.

That was probably it, but she couldn’t admit it since it would mean Wynland’s wrath and questions she couldn’t answer. She would have to play along, especially as it seemed far better to be a lady than a maid—or a criminal.

“That’s correct. My maid was unable to accompany me.”

The dragon lady’s plucked eyebrows arched.

Kennedy turned her regard to Marion. “Do you know what a wyvern is?”

Once more, puzzlement came to roost. “A type of dragon. Surely you know that?”

Kennedy nearly laughed at her recent assessment of Lady Aveline. “Of course.” She glanced at the enormous tapestry on the wall behind. “Like that one.”

“Nay, a wyvern has but two legs. A true dragon has four, like the one on Sinwell’s shield of arms.”

“Oh.” And it wasn’t two-headed as the dying soldier had spoken of. So much for evidence of Wynland’s guilt. “Your brother’s shield of arms is different from Sinwell’s, is that right?”

“Aye, Fulke bears the gryphon.”

The half-eagle half-lion Kennedy had glimpsed on his squire’s shirt and several others’ when she had come downstairs.

“My lord, my lord!” A woman ran across the hall, the veil on her head askew, eyes wide, Squire James following. “He has taken the children!” She stumbled to a halt before Wynland. “Taken them and gone from Brynwood!”

He stood. “How?” he roared above the buzz caused by the woman’s words.

She raised a hand to reveal the rope dangling from her wrist, grasped the cloth encircling her neck. “He bound and gagged me, my lord.”

“The beast!” Lady Aveline hissed.

Kennedy looked to Wynland’s sister and thought she glimpsed hurt in the woman’s eyes. What was going on? Hardly had the question formed than the pieces fell into place—Squire James, who had returned empty handed. . .the book that said Sir Arthur had stolen the boys from Brynwood following the attack on Lady Lark. How could she have forgotten?

“When?” Wynland demanded.

“After you rode from Brynwood this morn, my lord.”

His nostrils flared. “I shall wash my hands in his blood!”

Not an idle threat. Poor Sir Arthur. His only crime was trying to prevent the murder of two innocents. “He won’t hurt them,” Kennedy said.

Wynland’s eyes pinned her like a fly to fly paper. “How do you know that?”

Because she knew Mac and—no! Mac had nothing to do with this. It was the account she had read of Crosley. This, in a way, made her something of an authority. “Because I know Sir Arthur.”

Wynland’s lips curved, but it was hardly a smile. “I am sure you do.”

Amid snickering, Kennedy said, “He wants only to protect your nephews.”

“And who, do you think, seeks to harm them?”

The murmur grew louder.

Kennedy glanced at the people, saw dislike in some of their eyes, uncertainty in others. They had no idea what their “lord” was capable of. “Whoever has the most to gain, of course.”

Wynland’s gaze hardened further. There had never been a possibility they would be friends, but still she had blasted the nonexistent bridge to kingdom come.

He strode from behind the table, causing Kennedy to startle at the sight of him. If ever a man looked good in hose, it was Fulke Wynland.

“All of you”—he swept a hand around the room—“to your horses!”

Richard Wynland and thirty or more men stood, several in hose and above-knee shirts, though none cut quite the figure their lord did.

“Lord Wynland!” a booming voice halted them. Baron Cardell unfolded his stout frame.

“Cardell?” Wynland said.

“What of Brynwood?”

“In my absence, it will not be without. Richard!” Wynland searched out his brother. “Though I know you were to return to Kinsley on the morrow and would prefer to aid in my search, I ask that you remain here in my stead.”

The younger man’s jaw tightened. “As you wish.”

Wynland returned his attention to Cardell. “Ready yourself and your men.”

“I would remain here.”

“You ride with me.”

“I—”

“Else await my return in a prison cell.”

Time stretched, but finally the baron said, “I am your man, my lord.”

It didn’t take a genius to fathom the lie just told. And from Wynland’s caustic smile, he was aware of it. He resumed his course.

A hand closed around Kennedy’s wrist, nails dug into her that she traced to the woman who reached past Marion.

“How dare you accuse my son of seeking to harm those boys,” Lady Aveline hissed. “You know naught!”

No mother wanted to believe her child capable of the atrocity hers had committed—would commit. Deciding the best way to defuse the situation was to appeal to the grandmother in her, Kennedy said, “All I know is that your grandsons—”

“John and Harold are not of my blood, just as their father was not of my body.” The words flew off her tongue with such passion there was no doubt she felt no love for the boys.

So she had been a second wife—maybe a third or fourth. “My apologies, Lady Aveline. I am simply concerned for the welfare of your son’s nephews.”

“Then look to the one who has taken them from their beds!” Lady Aveline released her.

Kennedy glanced at the half moons scoring her flesh.

“Is it true you know Sir Arthur?” Marion whispered.

“I. . .yes, I do.”

“You are friends?”

Did she detect jealousy? “In a manner of speaking.”

“In a what?”

“Well, we—”

“Make ready, Lady Lark,” Wynland’s voice skinned Kennedy’s.

He was advancing on her. Unsettled by his return and this stuff about “making ready” she said, “What?”

“You shall come with me.” He stepped onto the platform and put his palms on the table. “As you profess to know Crosley, methinks you may prove useful in our search.”

She knew from historical account that Crosley’s flight would take him to the monastery of Farfallow where he would be slain, but she had no intention of aiding this man. “I don’t see how I can be of help.”

“Still, you will come.”

Another wild ride? “Are we talking horses?”

He leaned so near she could smell wine on his breath. “Time is of the utmost, Lady Lark. Thus, there will be no carriage or, in your case, baggage wagon.”

“I told you, I’m not a horse person. I can’t ride. I—”

“You cannot ride?” Marion exclaimed. “How can that be?”

“Pray tell, Lady Lark,” Lady Aveline said.

Surprisingly, Wynland came to her rescue—in a manner of speaking. “Five minutes. If you are not ready, I will take you as you are.” He stalked away.

... Continued...

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About the Author:
Tamara Leigh

 

Award-winning and bestselling author Tamara Leigh holds a Masters Degree in Speech and Language Pathology. Starting in 1994, Bantam Books published four of her medieval romances: Warrior Bride, Virgin Bride, Pagan Bride, and Saxon Bride. Tamara published three more novels with HarperCollins and Dorchester.


In 2006, Tamara's first inspirational contemporary romance, Stealing Adda, was released, followed by Perfecting Kate, Splitting Harriet and Faking Grace. In 2011, Tamara wrapped up her Southern Discomfort series with the release of Restless in Carolina. Many of her books have earned awards and spots on national bestseller lists.


When not in the middle of being a wife, mother, and cookbook fiend, Tamara continues to write. Recently, she returned to the historical romance genre with the release of Dreamspell, a medieval time travel romance. With The Unveiling, Book One in her new Age of Faith series, she once more invites readers to join her in the world of the middle ages.


Tamara lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and sons, a Doberman that bares its teeth not only to threaten the UPS man but to smile, and a Shih Tzu with a Napoleon complex and something of an eating disorder.

For more about Tamara Leigh and her work, please visit her website.

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3 31 sweeps

Two more for Kindle
by Tamara Leigh


The Unveiling
(Age of Faith)
4.6 stars - 28 reviews!
 $3.99


4.6 stars - 30 reviews!
 $2.99

 
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