That Knight by the Sea
Lady Adaline Mortimer never expected to see Garrett Thurlow, the rebellious young lord she loved and lost, ever again. Yet, when she’s kidnapped and held captive, the dark secrets of the past return. In the cave of St. Agnes, will she and Garrett win a second chance at true love, or will they perish just like the legendary lovers before them?
Read an Excerpt
The town of St. Agnes, Cornwall
“I have a job for you.”
The words sent a chill crawling through Garrett. He’d heard the exact same words from Denman Ransford years ago, when he hadn’t been able to refuse what his lordship had asked of him; he still had nightmares from what he’d done.
Garrett swallowed his mouthful of ale and set his mug down on the weathered table outside the seaside tavern. A breeze blew in across the docks a short distance away. Tethered wooden boats bobbed and bumped together on the water as the wind whistled past the tavern’s wattle-and-daub walls. “I do not need work,” he said firmly, once the breeze had died down.
Indeed, upon his return to England from France ten days ago, King John had hired him to hunt down criminals who were stealing shipments of spices, wine, and cloth from ships wrecked off the Cornish coast. Miffed that he wasn’t able to collect taxes on the expensive imported goods at a time when he needed the revenue, the sovereign had tried but failed to capture those responsible for the thefts.
Now, the job was Garrett’s—even though he’d been declared dead years ago. After his sire’s death, the crown for some reason hadn’t been able to locate Garrett in France, where he’d been fighting to secure King John’s lands under threat from the French King Philip II. Since the missive stating he’d inherited his sire’s castle couldn’t be delivered, Garrett had been presumed slain in battle. The castle had been ceded to another lord allied with King John.
Upon seeing that Garrett was alive and well, the king had declared him a hero for his efforts in battle and offered him a fortress. Garrett had refused as graciously as possible; he had no desire to settle down and govern an estate. The king had then given him his new assignment—perfect, he said, for a man who was supposedly dead.
Truth be told, the whole situation was damned ironic, for Garrett suspected he already knew who was responsible for stealing the shipments. He hadn’t told the king, though. In doing so, he’d condemn not only the man to whom he owed his life, but himself as well.
As the breeze gusted again, Ransford smiled, a hard twist of his mouth. “Mayhap I was not clear. I am not asking you to help me.”
Garrett’s eyes narrowed. “I cannot. I have other obligations.”
The older lord sipped his ale. “Once, if you remember, you were like a son to me.”
Garrett refused to acknowledge a twinge of remorse.
“After all I did for you years ago, after all I gave you, would you really refuse me?”
The chill furrowed deeper. Guilt taunted Garrett too, for he should have refused Ransford from the first time he’d woken him in the middle of the night to help salvage items from a sinking ship. Yet, how could he have refused? Ransford had shown Garrett kindness and taken him into Blyndwick Castle when he was homeless and starving. His lordship had also trained him to become a knight and bought him a sword and destrier—all that Garrett had dreamed of but could never have achieved on his own. For those reasons, he hadn’t been able to say nay.
“You are not, after all, guiltless,” Ransford continued, thumbing a droplet of ale from the side of his mug. “’Twould take but a few words to the right officials, and you would spend the rest of your life in the king’s dungeon.”
A cold sweat broke on Garrett’s brow. A man as powerful as Ransford had many allies; those men had swiftly informed Ransford that Garrett was back in England and where to find him, and that was why he was back in this part of Cornwall now.
Restless panic stirred inside him—the way he felt when he woke from his nightmares gasping and drenched in sweat. Garrett forced the distress down, calmed his mind as he always did before charging into battle. He would use the opportunity the king had awarded him to undermine Ransford once and for all. He must be careful, though, for he had more than just his own life to consider.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked gruffly.
“You will kidnap the lady who is to be my bride.”
Kidnapping was a crime that could get Garrett killed. If he was to take such a risk, he wanted a hell of a lot more information. “You are betrothed to this woman?”
“Aye. In six days, we will marry.”
“Why, then, do you wish to have her kidnapped?” He’d heard of noblemen abducting ladies in order to force them into marriage, but Ransford’s bride wouldn’t be reluctant. He was a rich man. As his wife, she’d wear gowns of the latest fashion and exquisite jewels, and would mingle with England’s most prestigious families.
Ransford glanced over at the table where his burly bodyguard named Stockton sat while keeping watch. The thug had convinced other tavern patrons to down their drinks elsewhere, thereby giving his lordship and Garrett privacy.
“The lady,” Ransford said with obvious regret, “is not keen on the marriage.”
The lady was clever. “Why does she not want to wed you?”
The older man shook his head, while anger hardened his features. “There was a…misunderstanding a few weeks ago.”
“Her sire handed me his new bow to try. I fired an arrow and narrowly missed killing a servant. Hardly my fault, when the wench walked into the path of the arrow.”
Disgust settled like a stone in Garrett’s gut. “Was the woman injured?”
“The arrow grazed her arm. I did not injure her on purpose,” his lordship insisted, “but the lady does not believe me. ’Tis damned frustrating.”
Garrett couldn’t help but admire the lady, whoever she was.
“I will not have this betrothal fall apart. ’Tis why, when I heard you were back in England, I asked to meet you.”
“If I am to kidnap her, I need to know where to find her.”
“She will visit the town of St. Agnes two days from now. At the tailor’s, where I have often commissioned garments for myself, she will have her final fitting for her wedding gown. You will abduct her that day and hold her hostage.”
Garrett’s anger stirred. Ransford made it all sound impossibly easy. “She will not go anywhere with a stranger, and taking her by force will attract attention.”
“I will handle that part of the arrangement.”
The older lord waved a dismissive hand. “Trust me. She will not cause you any trouble.”
Garrett frowned. Before he and his lordship parted ways today, he would have all the information he wanted on this part of the plot. “Once I have kidnapped her—”
“You will take her to the abandoned keep down the coast.”
Garrett knew the one. The tantalizing memory of a summer day long ago brushed his thoughts, but he forced it away; he mustn’t yield to distractions. “That fortress may be abandoned, but it still belongs to someone.”
“Aye, to a friend of mine. When he could not keep up with the crown taxes on four castles, he forsook it in favor of his three others that are closer to London. He owes me a favor, so he will not oppose us using it.” His lordship shoved windblown gray hair back from his face. “The key to the postern is behind a loose stone in the outer wall, to the right of the postern door. The north tower will serve your purpose.”
“If I agree to what you propose,” Garrett said, “how long will she be my hostage?”
Ransford’s eyes gleamed. “A couple of days. Long enough to make her fear for her life. When I rescue her, like one of the gallant knights of old, she will be most grateful, and far more agreeable to our marriage.”
“You, of course, are to play the role of the ruthless villain,” his lordship continued. “Frighten her, hit her—”
“Once or twice. You must be convincing. Be sure to leave bruises.”
Garrett fought the bile burning the back of his mouth. He’d never hit a woman, especially not a lady. Not ever. “Hold on—”
“Is that reluctance in your voice?” Ransford tsked. “You are not in a position to refuse. Besides, if you will not help me, I can always ask Stockton.”
The thug had worked for Ransford for many years. Garrett had seen what Stockton was capable of, and he wouldn’t want any noblewoman he knew to be subjected to the lout’s cruelty. “I was going to say, you have not told me the lady’s name. I must be sure I abduct the right woman.”
“Her name is Adaline Mortimer.”
Garrett’s indrawn breath lodged in his throat. Memories flooded into his mind: Adaline’s eyes sparkling as she smiled coyly and leaned in for a kiss; her laughing and frolicking in the sunlit waves, her bliaut soaked and clinging to her willowy body; his beautiful Addy, standing in the shadowed cave where lovers had perished long ago.
“You seem shocked,” his lordship mused. “Do you know Lady Mortimer?”
“Long ago, for a short while, I served as a squire at her sire’s keep,” Garrett said. ’Twas not the whole truth, but he had no wish to share the rest.
“Ah. Well, if ’tis a problem—”
“I have not seen her in years. I do not resemble the lad she knew, especially now that I have a beard. She will not recognize me.” He most definitely wasn’t going to let Stockton abduct Addy. He also didn’t want to think about her marrying Ransford, but now was not a good moment to ponder that dilemma.
The older lord smiled. “Have you reached a decision, then?”
Garrett nodded. “I will abduct Lady Mortimer.”
* * *
“Another gift from Denman?’ Addy sighed and set the braided gold circlet, inlaid with pearls and rubies, on the trestle table, along with the swatch of silk in which it had been wrapped. The man was excessively generous, likely because he was trying to apologize for wounding the maidservant in the bailey. Whatever he imagined, he wasn’t going to win Addy’s forgiveness, or her affection, with his presents.
Raven-haired Gwen, now married to a handsome knight and staying at Ferringstow to attend Addy’s wedding, picked up the circlet. “’Tis lovely. Finely made.”
“Mmm.” The beautiful gift in no way made up for the ugliness Addy sensed in Ransford; he kept it hidden beneath a polite, friendly façade, but she sensed it lurking. How awful that she was to be married to him, a man twenty-seven years her senior, in less than a week.
If only she could find a way out of the marriage, but as her sire had said, ’twas impossible when the union had been ordered by the king.
Hugging herself, she strolled to her chamber window. Sunlight streamed in, and she leaned into the embrasure, soaking in as much light and warmth as possible. Tears threatened, for sunshine always reminded her of Garrett. He might have been a penniless squire, but he’d had such a noble, generous heart. Her days with him had been the happiest of her life.
With him, she’d known the kind of love Gwen shared with her husband; the forever love that was told about in legend.
Sadness tugged at Addy, for she remembered learning that Garrett had been killed in France. She’d collapsed, sobbing. She’d wept for days, until her mother’s illness had taken priority. When her mother and the unborn child she’d carried had perished, Addy had needed to assume her parent’s responsibilities; busy days had helped her manage the anguish of her losses, but the pain would live with her always.
“I promised my husband a walk in the garden.” Gwen returned the circlet to the table. “Will we see you at the evening meal?”
While Addy wasn’t feeling very sociable, she didn’t want to miss out on seeing her dear friend. “Of course.”
With a smile and the rustle of silk, Gwen left the chamber.
Addy stowed the circlet in her linen chest, beside the other gifts from her betrothed, and then headed down to the great hall. Her sire sat at the lord’s table on the raised dais with rolled parchments in front of him, while servants set the tables for the evening meal. He closed up the missive he’d been reading and set it aside.
“Father.” She curtsied, determined to keep hold of her frustration. “Please. I cannot wed Denman.”
“We have already discussed—”
“There must be a way to stop the wedding. Surely there is another lady his lordship can wed?”
“The sovereign has chosen you.”
Anguish welled inside her. “What you mean is, you refuse to challenge the king.”
Her sire sighed. “Challenging him about this matter would be a grave mistake.”
He thrust up his hand, halting her words. “If I oppose the king’s decision, he may suspect me of treason. As we both know, the sovereign is swift to punish those he believes to be disloyal.”
The ache inside her intensified, for she’d heard the frightening stories of lords losing their fortunes and estates, even of some having their young children imprisoned, because they’d angered the king. She also remembered the feast at which her sire had drunk too much. Unwisely, he’d condemned the sovereign’s taxes and his costly war with France before his peers.
A few weeks later, without any forewarning, the missive announcing her marriage to Ransford had arrived.
’Twas impossible to know whether any noblemen who’d attended the feast had informed the king of her sire’s outburst, and if that had led to the betrothal. Ransford, however, was a favored ally of the king’s, and he’d been trying to woo Addy for some time.
“Do you think the sovereign suspects you, Father?”
His expression turned grim. “I cannot say for certain. I do know the unrest in England is growing. The king fears a rebellion, and thus is acting as he deems necessary to strengthen his control over these lands.”
“’Twill unite the largest and most profitable estates in Cornwall, which is of advantage to the king. Moreover, with you, my beloved daughter, wed to Ransford, the sovereign will ensure I remain loyal to the crown.”
All that her sire had told her made sense. Surely, though, she should have some say in who she wed?
Fighting to keep her voice steady, she said, “I understand ’tis a difficult situation, but I do not love Ransford. I do not want to wed him.”
“I know.” Her sire shook his head. “I am sorry, Addy. There is naught I can do.”
Numbness settled in her breast. “There must be a way—”
“There is not.”
A tremor ran through her, threatening to shatter her remaining courage. She wanted to scream at the unfairness of her situation. Instead, she curtsied stiffly and hurried back to her chamber.
Alone, she took out of the drawer of the trestle table the straggly dried wildflowers, the stone, and the wood knot Garrett had given her, and then re-read his letter telling her he was leaving Ferringstow. Her tears dripped onto the parchment, for she wished with all her heart that he hadn’t perished after all.
* * *
His hands on his hips, Garrett stood on the seashore some distance from the dock, his cloak and boots lying on the sand, the foaming waves rolling in over his bare feet. The water was ice cold, as it had been the summer he’d frolicked in the ocean with Addy. Glancing to the right, he found the fortress barely visible on the far cliffs; near there was the red-stained cave where he’d taken her after they’d run from her guards in St. Agnes.
Loneliness tugged at him, for he’d never forgotten her. He’d often wondered what his life might have been like if he’d had the courage to ask her to marry him years ago. Yet, even though he’d loved her, he’d had naught to offer her, as he’d said in the letter he’d asked to be given to her when he’d left the castle. Addy should have a wealthy husband to care for her in the manner she deserved.
As the breeze stirred his garments and his gaze returned to the ocean before him, darker memories stole into his thoughts. The inky blue depths held secrets that were part of him now; secrets that irrevocably bound him to Ransford. Garrett tried to block out the images crowding in, but they wouldn’t be stopped…
He woke to a hand on his shoulder. “Come,” said Ransford, holding a flaming reed.
Lying on his pallet and rubbing his eyes, Garrett asked, “Why? What—?”
“You will see. Come.”
Garrett pulled on his clothes and boots and followed his lordship out to the torch lit bailey of Blyndwick Castle. Stockton, horses, and seven men-at-arms waited, along with horse-drawn carts. Rain pelted down, swiftly soaking Garrett to the skin. Lightning flashed, and thunder growled overhead as they rode into the night, whipped by storm winds.
When they neared the coast, Garrett gasped in horror. A galley, a gaping hole in its side, was being torn apart by the storm’s fury. Bodies, broken pieces of wood, and cargo bobbed on the churning water. The men who were still alive screamed as the punishing waves crashed over them and sucked them down into the depths.
“We have to help them,” Garrett cried.
Ransford halted on the rocky promontory overlooking the ocean. “Leave the horses here. Follow me.”
Slipping and sliding down the rocky path, they made their way to the shore. The local sheriff was already there, directing his men. Smashed wooden crates spilled their contents onto the sand: packets of costly spices; shimmering silks; earthenware jugs of wine. A fortune in goods.
“Gather what you can, like the others are doing. Take the goods to the wagons.”
Garrett shoved dripping hair out of his eyes. He must have misheard Ransford, due to the shrieking wind. “We need to save the survivors.”
“The waves are too strong. Even the sheriff is avoiding the water.”
Shock whipped through Garrett. “The men close to shore. We can—”
“With the high waves and the undercurrent, those men are as good as dead. Do as I told you,” his lordship said before striding off with Stockton to meet the sheriff, who was speaking to peasants dragging an injured sailor onto the shore. While Garrett couldn’t hear the words, the sheriff’s gestures indicated he was sending the rescuers away.
Disbelief and anger coiled up inside Garrett as he headed for the closest rocks, strewn with debris. What kind of men turned their backs on those who needed help? Turmoil knotted inside him while he fought the urge to ignore Ransford’s instructions, race into the surf, and grab hold of the nearest drowning sailor. He didn’t dare defy his lordship, though. Ransford had promised Garrett would receive training to become a knight; his lordship had been very generous, and Garrett owed him his loyalty.
As he approached the rocks, he saw a dark-haired boy, no more than eight or nine years old, sprawled on the nearby sand. His left arm lay at an awkward angle. Blood streamed down his face from a gash across his brow.
The boy raised his right arm; a plea.
Garrett knelt. “Do not be afraid. I will help you.”
Gratitude filled the lad’s eyes.
Just when he reached to pull the boy up, he heard Ransford shouting: “Garrett.”
Hands closing into fists, he stood. “Milord—”
“After all I have done for you, you disobey my orders?”
“Please. This boy—”
“Gather the goods from the rocks. I will not ask again.”
Fear shivered through Garrett, for his lordship appeared furious. What would Garrett do, if he lost his lordship’s favor? He’d end up homeless and starving again.
Garrett spun and went to the rocks. While he gathered up the canvas-wrapped parcels alongside Stockton, he wondered what his lordship intended to do with them. Surely the items would be returned to whoever owned the sinking vessel?
The wounded boy haunted Garrett. He had to find a way to help the lad. Mayhap he should approach the sheriff? As Garrett started for the wagons, he glanced over his shoulder…and saw Ransford plunging his sword down into the boy’s chest.
“—looking at?” The child’s voice and the tread of footsteps broke into Garrett’s thoughts.
He swiveled to face the blond-haired boy walking across the sand toward him. The lad’s hair was always tangled, even though Garrett had bought him a comb long ago. Tidy hair, though, had hardly been a priority for the orphan, now nine years old, who’d barely survived in the filthy, rat-infested back alleys of Rouen before Garrett had given him food and a safe place to sleep.
“Corwin.” Garrett fought to suppress the last of the unpleasant, lingering memories of the shipwreck.
Halting beside him, the lad frowned at the ocean. “What were you looking at?”
“I was remembering an incident from long ago.”
Corwin’s blue eyes lit with interest. “What incident?”
“Another day, I may tell you. Did you get what we needed from St. Agnes?”
“Aye. The items are with our mounts.” Corwin’s mouth curved into a mischievous smile. “I overheard your conversation earlier, too.”
Shock jolted through Garrett. He’d sent the boy into town to keep him from being involved.
“You should not have disobeyed me. If Ransford or Stockton had discovered you eavesdropping—”
“I am good at hiding.”
He was good at other things too, like throwing objects and vanishing into crowds, as Garrett had discovered.
“Are you really going to kidnap a lady?” the lad asked.
“Then I am, too.”
“Nay, you are not—”
“We stay together. Always. ’Tis what you said in Normandy, remember?”
Garrett had indeed said such words, but he had no desire to put Corwin in danger; the boy had endured more than enough peril for one so young. Shoving his feet into his boots and snatching up his cloak, Garrett said, “Come. We must return to the horses.”