A Knight’s Desire
Lost Riches, Book 1
She’s loyal to the throne. He’s not the man he once was. Can they overcome a brutal betrayal to ride into happily ever after?
England, 1192. Lady Rosetta Montgomery is resigned to her arranged marriage. Dutiful to the crown, she agrees to wed a childhood friend though her heart belongs to another. But as she rides to the church, she’s ambushed and kidnapped… by the long-lost man she loves.
Lord Ashton Blakeley can’t bear watching his heart’s desire marry an enemy. But recently returned from Crusade horribly disfigured, he fears she’ll be repulsed by his terrible scars. Feeling he has little choice, he holds the devoted woman captive, desperate to convince her that her betrothed is a scheming, murderous scoundrel.
As Lady Rosetta struggles to believe the now-brooding nobleman is telling the truth, she can’t hide her old affections for the gallant hero. And worrying he’s running out of time as her intended scours the land intent on retribution, Lord Ashton embarks on a high-risk plan to save them both.
Will the tormented couple break free from the chains of treachery and give true love a second chance?
A Knight’s Desire is the pulse-pounding first book in the Lost Riches historical romance series. If you like strong heroines, troubled heroes, and page-turning passion, then you’ll adore Catherine Kean’s thrilling tale.
Buy A Knight’s Desire to fight for honor today!
Read an Excerpt
The town of Clipston
Early August, 1192
Lady Rosetta Montgomery tightly gripped the reins of her white mare. Raising her veiled head, she strained to hear over the merry melody of flutes, pipes, and a tabor played by the musicians walking ahead of her horse. Step by step, the musicians led her and her three armed guards—two in front and one behind—through the crowded streets toward the church in the town square. Moments from now, on the church’s sun-drenched portico, she would be joined in holy matrimony to her dear friend, Lord Edric Sherborne.
Yet, barely audible over the music, she could hear a distant thundering sound: the pounding of a horse’s hooves?
If only there wasn’t such a cacophony around her. Cheering, clapping peasants and townspeople crowded in along both sides of the narrow street lined with two-story wattle-and-daub homes. The folk, excited by their lord’s nuptials, had come out to honor her processional horseback ride from Millenstowe Keep, where she’d been born and had lived with her parents until this very day.
Once married, she’d leave with Edric for her new home: Wallensford Keep, which he’d inherited not long ago upon his father’s death. There, they’d celebrate their wedding with a feast and celebrations befitting a union of two well-respected noble families. Regret wove through Rosetta, for this journey was her last as an unwed maiden. Tonight, she’d lie with Edric in his solar, and mayhap even conceive his heir.
She tried to listen for the hoof beats again, but peasants, their gazes filled with awe, reached out to touch the hem of her cloak.
“Stand back. Do not try to touch her ladyship,” her guards commanded.
“Milady!” cried an older woman in the crowd, happy tears streaming down her wrinkled face. “Ye are the most beautiful bride.”
Beneath the veil held in place on her head by a gold circlet—a betrothal gift from Edric—Rosetta forced a smile and waved to the throng. These would be her folk too, once she became Lady Sherborne.
Convince all who gaze upon you that you are a joyful bride, a voice inside her coaxed. ’Tis your noble duty. Moreover, Norman blood runs in your veins; your ancestors were champions who arrived on English shores years ago to fight alongside William the Conqueror. Show these people that in your own way, you are as strong as a warrior.
Those words could have been spoken by her mother, Odelia, who’d fiercely clung to her Norman heritage until the crown had arranged her marriage to an equally headstrong Saxon lord by the name of Milton Montgomery. Her parents had been strangers to one another when they’d wed, but as the weeks had passed, they had fallen in love. Twenty years later, their marriage was still a happy one. The sapphire blue cloak Rosetta wore, embroidered in gold thread, was the same garment her mother had worn on her wedding day.
Unlike her mother, Rosetta’s marriage hadn’t been arranged by the crown. She’d accepted Edric’s proposal—his third time asking her—because his estate bordered her sire’s for several leagues, and she’d known Edric since childhood. Their years of friendship would provide the foundation for a good marriage, and in time, she’d grow to love Edric, as her parents had grown to cherish one another.
She’d never love Edric, though, the way she’d loved their childhood friend, Lord Ashton Blakeley—as if he’d been an integral part of her soul.
As she continued to wave, Rosetta tamped down the anguish that bloomed whenever she thought of Ash. He didn’t want her. He hadn’t answered her letters. She hadn’t seen him in years, even though she’d heard that he’d returned to England weeks ago.
Today she’d move on with her life—
Again, over the music and cheering, she caught the thunder of hoof beats. The sound was louder now.
Why would anyone ride through the town at a gallop, especially when the streets were full of people? Had something happened at one of the castles that required her father or Edric to be notified right away? Rosetta started to turn in the saddle, to look behind her, but three little girls, grinning as if they offered her priceless jewels, ran alongside her horse and offered her their scraggly bouquets of dandelions, daisies, and cornflowers. Murmuring her thanks, she leaned down, accepted the gifts, and tucked them in front of her saddle for safekeeping.
As she smoothed her cloak over the light-copper-colored silk of her gown, the clatter of hooves grew closer. Behind Rosetta, a woman screamed. More frantic cries erupted, accompanied by the panicked sounds of folk scrambling to get out of the way.
The musicians’ vibrant melody faltered and then died.
“What is happening?” Rosetta asked, swiveling to glance behind her. Her eyes widened.
A man on a huge, black horse raced toward her. The rider’s black cape billowed out behind him, and spurs glinted at the heels of his black boots. He wore an older-style iron helm with eye slits and a nasal guard that covered all but the lower third of his face.
Judging by the breadth of his shoulders, and the ease with which he rode, he was a trained warrior—and determined that no one would stand in his way.
“Milady, move into that alley. Wait for us there,” one of her men-at-arms said, gesturing to the street opening to the left a short distance ahead. He and his fellow guard moved to intercept the rider, while the third man-at-arms strode alongside her as she guided her mare toward the alley.
She glanced over her shoulder, to see the two guards standing in the middle of the street.
One of them raised his hand, palm outward. “Hold,” he shouted.
The rider didn’t slow his horse.
Why didn’t the horseman obey? The embroidered crest on the guards’ surcoats identified them as Edric’s men. Her future husband’s estate included Clipston and the surrounding lands for several leagues. The rider was duty-bound to halt as commanded, but he clearly didn’t respect the authority of Edric’s guards.
Was the horseman an enemy of her future husband’s, then?
She sensed the rider’s stare slide from the men-at-arms to her. Dread formed an icy knot in the pit of her stomach.
He’d come for her.
She’d heard stories of brides being abducted on their wedding days and held for ransom—or worse—but such things never happened in this part of Warwickshire.
Shock and panic swirled up inside her. “Oh, God,” she whispered. Rosetta nudged the heels of her embroidered shoes into her mare’s side, urging the horse to a trot.
“Hold!” the guard standing in the street shouted again. With a harsh cry, the rider bore down on him, slowing his mount only at the last moment. As the guard drew his sword, the horseman kicked him hard in the middle of his chest. Gasping, the guard staggered sideways, colliding with several frightened townsfolk and falling to the ground.
The second man-at-arms, sword drawn, lunged at the rider. Steel glinted as the horseman drew his broadsword and met the guard’s attack, delivering powerful strikes that forced the soldier back. Seizing an opportunity, the rider kicked out, catching the man-at-arms in the shoulder and sending him reeling. His head knocked against a wall, and he crumpled, unconscious.
The remaining guard moved between Rosetta and the rider.
The entrance to the alley loomed ahead. As the sound of pounding hooves rang in her ears, she kicked her heels hard into her mare’s side. The horse launched into a gallop.
“Milady,” the guard cried, a clear warning to halt, but she ignored it. She had to get away. Whatever the man on the black horse wanted, whatever grievance he had with Edric, she wasn’t going to be a part of it.
Grayed shadows swallowed Rosetta as her mare raced down the alley. The stench of rotting vegetables, moldy crates, and stagnant puddles rose from the ground, and her eyes watered as she fought not to cough. Sweat gathered on her forehead beneath the veil, causing the fabric to cling to her skin. She must find her way to the town square. If she could reach the church where Edric, her parents, and all of their friends were waiting, she would be safe. The rider would be captured and arrested for his recklessness.
The clatter of hoof beats echoed off the walls behind her. The horseman had entered the alley.
Anger simmered in her veins, along with the urge to escape. This was her wedding day. How dare this rider use such an occasion—indeed, try to use her—to exact some kind of vengeance against Edric? Whoever this horseman was, he would pay for his folly.
The shadows gave way to sunlight, as the alley opened onto another street. She slowed her mare a fraction, urging it to take the sharp right turn.
“Rosetta,” the rider yelled, his voice as rough as grating stone.
Shock jolted through her. He hadn’t called her ‘milady’. He knew her given name.
How? She didn’t recognize his voice, and yet, somehow, there was something oddly familiar about it. Once he was captured, she’d demand to know his identity.
The alley ahead was littered with mounds of muck and piles of broken tiles. As her mare galloped through the sludge, flies swarmed up and buzzed around Rosetta. Loosening one hand from the reins, she swatted the insects away, while trying to see the route ahead.
The hammering of hooves was as loud as her heartbeat. The horseman was gaining on her.
“Ha!” she cried, urging her mare on. “Ha!”
A child darted out of a doorway ahead: A little boy, holding a ball.
“Oh, mercy,” Rosetta shrieked. Her mare startled and whinnied, a frantic sound. The horse flailed its head, while it skidded in the muck, trying to halt.
Rosetta lost her balance. She careened sideways, the weight of her cloak and costly silk gown pulling her toward the ground. Desperately, she grabbed for her mare’s saddle, her nails clawing at the leather, but her fingers couldn’t get a firm grip. Flowers tumbled, falling onto her as she landed on her back in a pile of filth. Her circlet and veil fell from her head and landed in the muck beside her.
Gasping for breath, she pushed up on her arms and looked for the child. He’d escaped harm and stood pressed against the wall, near her winded mare.
Rosetta struggled to stand, but the slick filth squelched beneath her, denying her any solid footing.
The rider was upon her.
In one effortless movement, he slid from his saddle. His boots sloshed in the grime, and then, tall and imposing, he was looming over her.
Her hands fisted into the cold muck, readying to hurl some at him. “Leave me be!” she cried.
“I cannot,” he rasped.
“Who are you? What do you want?” She hated that her voice shook, but she had a right to know his name and why he was pursuing her.
“Trust me,” he ground out, “all will be explained later.”
“I want explanations now.”
Men’s voices carried on the breeze. Her guards were searching for her. Hope warmed her, even as she resolved to keep the rider talking. If she could delay him, her guards would find them. He was at a disadvantage now, being on foot.
The horseman’s head lifted, as though he had also heard the voices. Stretching out his gloved hand to her, he said, “Come.”
“Never.” She scooted backward, splattering more filth on her garments.
“You will come with me, Rosetta. Now.”
Her anger flared. Unless he was a nobleman, he had no right to address her by her first name. If he was a nobleman, he was behaving in a most shameful and dishonorable manner. “I warn you, you dare try to touch me—”
A hissed breath parted his lips. He reached down to grab her arm.
She threw a fistful of grime in his face. It splattered on his helm, and as he cursed and wiped it away, she shoved to her feet.
She was almost standing, but her leather shoes skidded in the filth. The alley spun around her, and she fell, landing on a heap of broken tiles.
Pain splintered through her head.
All went black.
* * *
A cry burning in his throat, Lord Ashton Blakely lunged for Rosetta, trying to break her fall. His right boot slipped, and he fought to stay upright, even as she fell hard on the mound of tiles. Her body went limp, and her eyelids fluttered closed.
“Briar Rose,” he whispered, reaching her side.
Ash crouched beside her, fear lancing through him. His damaged hands ached from wielding his sword and gripping his destrier’s reins, but he refused to heed his own discomfort. Rosetta was most important now.
Ah, God, he’d never meant for her to be hurt. He’d expected her panic and outrage. After all, he hadn’t had the chance to reintroduce himself to her; ’twas best—safest—to keep his features concealed while he was in Clipston. Once they’d left the town far behind, he’d intended to remove the helm. When she was secured within his castle’s walls, he’d planned to explain the reasons for his actions. Never, at any point in his careful planning, had he anticipated that she’d be wounded.
With gentle fingers, he turned her head sideways, his heart constricting at the pale color of her face. He couldn’t see any blood, but that didn’t mean she was unharmed.
“Rosetta,” he said again, gently shaking her. With anger flashing in her blue eyes, and her cheeks pink with fury, she’d been a magnificent creature, a warrior maiden. Pale and unresponsive as she was now, she seemed fragile and vulnerable—the way she’d looked when he’d ridden off with Edric for the great City of London, to join King Richard’s Crusade.
Ash tamped down the anger that burned whenever he thought of Edric, as shouts and raised voices carried to him again. Edric’s soldiers were getting closer. Soon, they’d be upon him, and no way in hellfire was he going to be caught.
He drew Rosetta into his arms. Her head lolled, and pins fell from her blonde hair that had been braided and neatly coiled around her head. He carefully turned her so that her cheek rested against his left shoulder. After snatching up her mud-covered circlet and veil, and shoving them into the leather bag tied to his sword belt, he rose and carried her to his destrier.
The little boy, still pressed back against the wall, watched him.
He swung up onto his horse, adjusting Rosetta so that she sat sideways in his lap, her face still pressed against him. Her exquisite cloak and silk gown were badly soiled, but there was naught he could do about the muck now. Snatching up his horse’s reins, he nudged his mount toward the boy, who shrank back, as if he wanted to blend into the shadows.
Ash reached into his bag again and tossed the child a few pieces of silver. Edric’s men likely wouldn’t pay much heed to information provided by a child, but Ash still wanted to ensure the boy’s silence. “Do not tell anyone what you just saw. Agreed?”
Nodding, the boy picked up the coins.
Spurring his horse forward, Ash drew up alongside Rosetta’s mare and smacked it on the hindquarters. The horse bolted, its reins dangling. Edric’s men would waste good time chasing the mare and searching the streets for Rosetta, only to finally realize that the lady was missing.
Drawing Rosetta in closer, Ash nudged his destrier to a canter. At the next intersecting of streets, he turned his horse toward the outskirts of the town, where the lanes were quiet. Most of the townsfolk were still gathered along the route to the church, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman who was to become their lord’s wife. Those who’d witnessed Ash attack her guards and pursue her were likely helping to search for both him and her.
Ash looked down at Rosetta, cradled in his arms, and his mouth curled into a smile.
At last, just as he’d promised her long ago, Rosetta was his.