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When Love Awaits(7)

By:Johanna Lindsey

“What of Lady Amelia?” Thorpe murmured.

Rolfe frowned. “She came here by her own choice. If she wishes to leave, so be it. But if she wishes to stay, she is welcome. My taking a wife will not change my affections in other regards. At least my taking of this wife will not. I have no duty to please her, not after all she has done. The lady Leonie will have no say in what I do.”

Thorpe shook his head and said no more. He could only hope a good night’s sleep would bring Rolfe to his senses.

Chapter 4

ROLFE paced in the anteroom outside the king’s chamber. It was good of Henry to see him so soon, but Rolfe hated asking favors, even if this favor would cost Henry no more than words, words on parchment. Henry, on the other hand, loved doing favors. Rolfe’s new position as one of Henry’s barons had been such a favor, given without warning during a friendly talk the last time Rolfe was in London. The Kempston lands had come unexpectedly into their conversation, and Henry asked Rolfe if he wanted Kempston.

In truth, Henry had long wanted to reward Rolfe for saving his natural son Geoffrey’s life. Until then, Rolfe had refused all offers, staunchly maintaining that keeping the son safe was only his duty. To be sure, that was not the first time Rolfe had helped Henry. But Henry was surprised when Rolfe accepted the offer of Kempston, for in truth Kempston was no prize and would have to be won at great cost. He immediately offered Rolfe something better, now that Rolfe was finally showing an interest in settling down. “Something closer to home? I can arrange—”#p#分页标题#e#

Rolfe put up a hand to interrupt before the king could tempt him further. “It is the challenge I want from Kempston, my lord. I could buy estates aplenty in Gascony, but I do not call Gascony home any longer, nor do I want land I cannot earn. I will take Kempston and thank you for it.”

“Thank me?” Henry seemed embarrassed. “It is I who must thank you, for in truth I was loath to pay an army to secure it. Now it will cost me nothing and I will have a man I know I can trust to curb the lawlessness in that area. You do me a service, Rolfe, and this is not how I meant to reward you for all your other service. What else can I give you? A wife who will bring you a large estate?”

“No, my lord.” Rolfe laughed. “Let me secure Kempston before I think of a wife.”

Ironically, a wife was the very reason Rolfe was there, pacing the anteroom. His offer for Leonie of Montwyn had been flatly refused.

There were ways other than marriage to end the troubles, he knew that. He could always hire more men to patrol the borders of his land and keep her serfs out until Kempston was secured. But then, the cost of hiring enough men to patrol the whole area would be huge, he told himself.

“Damn me, she will not dent my purse more than she has already!” Rolfe exploded aloud, then saw to his embarrassment that Henry had entered the room.

“Who will not dent your purse?” Henry asked, chuckling as he came forward. “The lady Amelia? Have you brought her with you?”

“No, my lord. She is in the country,” Rolfe replied, uncomfortable with the line of questioning.

Rolfe was never at ease in the king’s presence. Rolfe was the bigger man by far, but Henry was the king of England and unlikely to encourage anyone to disregard the fact. He was also heavily built, with broad shoulders, a thick neck, and the powerful arms of a fighter. Henry had red hair which he kept cut short in the current shaggy fashion, and which emphasized his florid face. He was not lavish in his dress, unlike Queen Eleanor, though no one saw her often since Henry had confined her to Winchester for instigating the battles between him and his sons.

Henry was in superb shape for a man forty years old. He could outwalk and outride his courtiers and usually exhausted anyone who tried to keep up with him. He was a man of such energy that he seldom even sat down. His meals were usually taken standing up, walking about his hall. Court etiquette prevented everyone else from sitting as well, a bother much complained about, though never in the king’s hearing.

After the amenities had been dispensed with and they were seated, each with a silver goblet of wine, Henry asked with a twinkle in his gray eyes, “I did not expect to see you for some time. Have you come so soon to curse me for Kempston?”

“All goes well there, my lord,” Rolfe quickly assured him. “Four of the eight keeps are mine, and the other four are closed tightly, waiting to be secured.”

“So the Black Wolf has lived up to his reputation!” Henry cried, delighted.

Rolfe flushed. He hated the name, certain it was inspired by his dark looks rather than by any wolflike prowess. It embarrassed him.