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When Love Awaits(3)

By:Johanna Lindsey

She had once loved her father with all her heart. Now she felt very little for him. At times she cursed him. Those times occurred when he sent his servants to raid her stores for his lavish entertainments—and not only was Pershwick involved, but Rethel and Marhill keeps as well. They, too, were hers. He never sent a word to his daughter, but he reaped the benefits of her hard work, taking her profits and rents.

However, he’d had far less success in the last few years as Leonie learned how to outfox the Montwyn steward. When he came calling with his list, her storerooms were nearly empty, her hoards hidden throughout the keep in unlikely places. So also she hid her spices and cloth bought from the merchants of Rethel, for Lady Judith sometimes arrived with the steward, and Lady Judith felt she could make free with anything she found at Pershwick.

Leonie’s cunning sometimes went awry when she couldn’t remember all of her hiding places. But rather than give up the plan or confide her deceit to the Pershwick priest and ask his help, she convinced Father Bennet to teach her to read and write. That way, she was able to keep records of her maze of hiding places. Now her serfs no longer faced starvation, and her own table was full. No thanks were due her father for any of that.

Leonie stood for the rinsing and let Wilda wrap her in a warm bedrobe because she would not be leaving her room again that night. Aunt Beatrix sat by the fire with her embroidery, lost in her own world, as usual. The oldest of Elisabeth’s sisters, Beatrix had long been a widow. She had lost her dower lands to her husband’s relatives when he died, and hadn’t married again. She insisted she liked it that way. She had lived with her brother, the earl of Shefford, until Elisabeth’s death. Soon after, Leonie was cast on her vassal, Guibert Fitzalan, and Aunt Beatrix felt it her duty to stay and take care of her niece.#p#分页标题#e#

More likely it was Leonie who did the care-taking, for Beatrix was a timid woman. Even the isolation of Pershwick keep hadn’t made her bolder. Being one of the first children born to the late earl of Shefford, she had known the earl at his stormiest, whereas Elisabeth, the youngest, knew the earl as a mellow man and a doting father.

Leonie did not know the present earl, whose holding was in the north, far from the midlands. When she’d reached a marriageable age and begun to hope for a husband, she had wanted to contact her uncle. Aunt Beatrix had explained, kindly, that with eight brothers and sisters and dozens of nieces and nephews besides his own six children and their children, the earl would surely not concern himself with the daughter of a sister who had not married well and was now dead.

Leonie, fifteen then and closed away from the world, began to think she would never marry. But pride soon asserted itself, pride that didn’t permit her to ask for help from relatives who neither knew her nor ever inquired after her.

After a time she began to think she might be better off without a husband. There wasn’t the usual threat of being sent to a nunnery, and she was lady of her own keep, independent, answerable only to a father who never approached her and seemed unlikely to show any further interest in her.

It was a unique and enviable position, she told herself after those first longings for romance had been stifled. Most brides did not even know their husbands before they were wed, and were likely to find themselves the property of an old man, a cruel man, or an indifferent man. Only serfs married for love.

So Leonie came to believe she was fortunate. The only thing she wanted to change was her isolation, and that was what caused her to venture alone to Crewel to see the tourney.

Having never seen a tourney before, she was impelled to go. King Henry’s policy was to forbid all tourneys except a few held in special circumstances and with his permission. In the past, too many tourneys had ended in bloody battles. In France a tourney might be found at any time in almost any place, and many knights became rich by traveling from one to another. It was not that way in England.

The tourney at Crewel was exciting at the start. The Black Wolf rode onto the field in full armor, six knights flanking him, all wearing his colors, black and silver, all large and impressive men. The seven opponents were also full-armored. Leonie recognized a few by their banners as vassals of Sir Edmond Montigny. The Black Wolf was, by then, their new overlord.

She had not asked herself why the present lord of Kempston would challenge his new vassals. There were many possible explanations, none of which interested her. What held her attention was the Black Wolf, and the lady who rushed onto the field to give him a token. A bold kiss followed as he swept the lady up into his arms. Was she his wife?