I am so chuffed at being awarded this:
Thank you Romance Reviews Magazine. A year after winning this award I joined RRM as a guest reviewer, and later joined the admin team.
Below you can view images of places featured in By Loyalty Divided and read the excerpt.
Orphaned at royal court, Anna Lady Maitcliffe has embraced freedom from courtly restraint whilst residing at Axebury Hall Estate. Wilful and impulsive she wins hearts with ease, but Viscount Axebury duly rejects her romantic overtures, not once but twice and for good reason. Civil War is marching across England and he will soon be regarded as the enemy.
Distraught by his rejection she turns to another for solace: an older suitor whom she trusts above all others. Seduced by her feminine wiles Lord Gantry's overt desire to possess her gives rise to new meaning of amour. Nonetheless she is trapped in a loveless betrothal. Fate suddenly intervenes and throws her and the viscount together, but hell lies before them and claims terrible dues in payment for their undying love for each other.
Axebury Hall where the Gantry family reside in the county of Somersetshire.
In actual fact this is Clevedon Court - Somerset.
Anna Lady Maitcliffe's bedchamber.
Wed an older man, or marry a young rake?
Yet her heart belongs to another!
The George Hotel Glastonbury - featured as previous name Pilgrims' Rest.
Dangerous times - Civil War - Brother against Brother, Father against Son
The Royal Series: Book 1
By Loyalty Divided
Copyright © 2012 Francine Howarth
Black Velvet Books
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior consent of the author.
Axebury Hall Estate 1644: Royalist Household.
How dare he say that to her? She unhitched her knee from upper horn and leapt from the saddle. Was he blind or plain insensible? Skirts raised and petticoats frothing she ran after him, but Morton was fleeing at great speed across the meadow toward the river. Hair like golden wings, silk smock rippling, he hauled it over his head and cast it aside. Still he ran, and at two yards two inches tall he could leap clumps of thistles with ease. All the while her skirts alas, snagged, no matter how she tried to dodge the beastly prickles.
She thought him for sure about to dive in the river wearing breeches and boots, but all of a sudden he faltered, his knee crumpled and he fell. In her mad rush to reach him she almost tripped over his out-stretched leg, his cornflower blue eyes sparkling with mischievous intent. No serious injury had befallen him, for he heartily laughed and exclaimed, ‘Accursed rabbit hole.’ He then let fall his head to pillowed grass; a smile to his face the like she had not seen in days.
Seizing her chance she fell upon him legs straddling his torso to prevent any attempt at escape. Her gown billowed about her in primrose yellow haze, and her dark ringlets cascaded forth to brush his face as she pinned his shoulders to the ground.
Expecting fierce resistance she was stunned that he would surrender so readily, though tinge of irony in voice. ‘Sweet, sweet Anna, you have the advantage in a most unladylike way and I at your mercy.’
She laughed, because this was the first time she had caught him in a running race: albeit thanks to a rabbit dig. ‘The advantage indeed, and I shall have you apologise for accusing me of having a fancy for Thomas Thornton, when it is you who hankers for a Thornton.’
‘Apologize?’ he stormed, eyes glaring in defiance, though a remarkably feeble attempt to roll her off and away from him. ‘It’s written all over your face, and has been for weeks now. Who else but Thomas has stolen your heart?’
She resisted his every effort to discard her, despite the muscles of his bare chest tensed in readiness for another attempt to impede her commanding position. ‘You’ll not get me off, Morton Gantry, Viscount Axebury,’ she said, emphasising his title. ‘Not until you apologise.’
A flicker of something indefinable gleamed in his eyes, his tone mocking in wont to tease. ‘I shall not be making apology any time soon,’ he said, a throaty chuckle, ‘for I know you harbour secret desires, and sooner or later it will become clear who the devil it is your affections are set on.’
‘And what of Catherine Thornton?’
‘What of her?’ he snapped, air of defence about him.
She relented in her grasp upon his shoulders and knelt upright. ‘Are you not in love with her?
Despite his face a mask of innocence, she was convinced him guilty of flirting with the one person who despised Anna Lady Maitcliffe with a vengeance. Why else would he be constant in attendance at Loxton House, if Catherine was not his heart’s desire?
He laughed again, seeming content to remain her captive. ‘Me, in love with Catherine?’
‘What else am I to think?’ she demanded, emotions taking hold against every effort to avoid exposure of her deepest feelings.
Astonishment swept to his face, his eyes perhaps searching hers for sense of reason to their present conflict. She couldn’t be sure but he seemed confused by her statement. ‘I grant you Catherine is fair of complexion, and pretty with it.’ He chuckled, tweaked her nose. ‘She’s quite unlike you, my little meadow nymph, what with her fancy airs and graces and heart set on a future lord as suitor, presupposing one willing to oblige.’
‘What need I for fancy airs and graces, when already of noble blood?’
‘Of noble blood, true enough, but wild and reckless and impulsive and madly irritating at times.’
She punched his shoulder quite hard. ‘So, it is true, what the servants say. You and Catherine Thornton are sweethearts?’
Eyes blazing like white heat in a blacksmith’s brazier, he held her gaze. ‘And if we are, what odds is it to you?’
‘Why Catherine, why did you choose her, of all people?
‘Why does it concern you so, Anna, Lady Maitcliffe, in knowing where my affections are wont to stray?’
‘You know she hates my living here at Axebury Hall . . . Hate’s my being with you.’
‘If what you say be true about Catherine and I,’ he said, eyes flashing with hint of earnest intent, ‘then I had best away to Loxton House and pay court to Miss Thornton directly.’
She wanted to beat Catherine Thornton from his thoughts, pummel sense into him with clenched fists, but the hopelessness of her plight showed all too readily. Her dream of one day wedded to Morton was now crushed. Tears brimmed and almost spilled forth. She made to roll away from him, her escape thwarted by his arm about her quick sharp.
‘Tears Anna, why tears?’
Pulled down to him, eyes locked, her heart skipped for his lips brushed hers in a most tantalising manner. The kiss tender light at first, became amorous and urgent in deliverance. She had no notion a kiss could be so potent, nor had she imagined the sudden joy of a young man’s tongue in her mouth. Dizzied by it all, she surrendered to sense of extreme pleasure. It all felt so wonderful, so perfect, even his fingers rimming the neckline of her bodice thrilled her. And deft with dipping his hand inside her bodice, his touch became merciless torture whilst his lips devoured hers.
She had so longed for this moment, and state of arousal had overcome him for she could feel his ardour beneath her. She savoured every nuance of his hand in idle caress of bared breast. The adventure and daring of his plunder caused her pulse to quicken and breath to falter.
Perhaps, perhaps she could win him back from Catherine Thornton’s clutches after all. But the wondrous sensation ceased as rapidly as begun, and he cast her aside, her bodice in disarray, his cruelty unimagined as he declared, ‘We cannot Anna, we cannot do this.’
‘Why, why can we not be together?’ she tendered, quite aware of his physical predicament. ‘It does no harm to kiss, and fondling is not a crime if a lady wishes to engage in mutual exploration.’
‘Not for you.’ Face flushed he rolled over and away from her. ‘Hellish painful for me, though, now go away and leave me alone.’
‘I am not a child to be dismissed, and you’re a beast to pretend you care for me and then turn away because I am not your precious Catherine.’
He spun round to face her. ‘You are only five and ten years, and I old enough to know better. You really think me foolish enough to take advantage of a young innocent, the very one favoured by the Queen, the one the royal court placed in my father’s care? I think not. I value my neck.’ He raked fingers through sun-bleached hair, frustration and anger evident. ‘What I did had nothing to do with Catherine. Now go. Just go.’
‘Three years, Morton, you are only three years my senior, and a week from now I will be ten years and six.’ She hurriedly glanced further upstream toward the bridge, modicum of guilt washing over her but she so wanted to steal him from Catherine. ‘The grass is high, and no one can see us from the bridge. Besides, I may have once dwelled at court and kept company with children of the royal household, but I do not have to return there unless I so choose.’
‘Just go away,’ insisted Morton, propped on one elbow. ‘If the Queen sends for you, you cannot refuse to attend upon her.’
‘She will not. It was agreed I am at liberty to return if I so wish at ten and seven years of age . . . unless already betrothed by then.’ What difference does it make if I go or stay? We were only kissing, and even if you . . . You know . . .’
‘Had my way with you?’ Morton sat bolt upright and drew up one knee, the lump in his groin shrouded by the fold of his breeches. ‘Just go, go before we do something we shall both regret.’
‘But Juliet was merely ten and three years, and Romeo . . .’
‘Leave me be, Anna, leave me out of your romantic dreams. You are here as father’s ward, and I sworn to protect you always, as though my very own sister. You can tempt the devil within all you like, but be assured I will not pursue nor attempt to bed you.’
She upped and fled, and ran to her little bay mare. Although impossible to mount Megan without a helping hand she caught up the reins and led the mare away from Morton’s horse, which seemed content enough to stay grazing and not the least concerned by their hastened departure.
Horse and man alike: both happy in their own company. Well, in future she would not ride out with him.
A broken down wall soon served as a mounting step, and she regained her seat in saddle and rode for home. Knowledge of what had occurred between them would not pass her lips, not even if asked about her dishevelled state of dress and unruly hair threaded with grass and seed heads. She would rather die than reveal Morton had kissed her and . . . and . . . had thrown her off in favour of Catherine Thornton.
He slammed his fist to brow several times, pain in groin far less than ache in heart. Dear God, how he loved her, loved everything about her. What he felt for Anna he dared not think about, for he’d kept his desires at bay and resisted temptation time and time again. Now, self-restraint had escaped him and lustful appetite declared albeit for a brief moment in time.
Sweet, sweet Anna, and her for sure convinced his heart lost to Catherine. Hell and damnation. Little did Anna know betrothal to the Thornton girl had never entered his mind, nor would he agree to a marriage with the likes of Catherine not even if her parents and his had struck some honourable deal made during their infancy.
On his feet in a thrice, his running strides fast covered the ground, and heart pounding he cursed the sound of Megan’s shoes crossing the bridge. He called out in hope of delaying Anna’s flight, and absolute sure she had heard and deliberately ignored him it hurt. Damn it, it hurt a lot. Dear God, how his rejection must have pained her. He leapt to saddle; his horse less than keen for a gallop on full belly of grass, but once clear of the bridge he gave Calendar free rein and his mount rallied.
They sped alongside the river, his every intention to ease the pain of his callous rejection as good as dashed, unless he could catch Anna before she reached the safety of the stable mews. He groaned in dismay as she disappeared into the mews. With Calendar sweated beyond reason, he reined to canter and thence to trot on approach to same, and once within the mews there was no Anna to be seen just her mare about to be led away by a stable hand.
He leapt from the saddle, Calendar’s reins tossed to senior stable hand, a scowl of justified rebuke from Joseph before the young master at Axebury Hall could turn and flee in pursuit of his heart’s desire. He quite expected verbal outburst in response to Calendar’s sweated loins but Joseph for once held his tongue: a wise individual and likely having gauged his young master’s urgency as of some importance. No doubt tongues would wag, and rumours of intimacy between him and Anna soon to abound within the servants parlour.
It was sensible to ascend to upper floor by way of the servants’ stone staircase, rather than perchance be spied in pursuit of Anna through the main hall. She would be at the staircase by now and sure to go straight to her bedchamber, given her tearful flight beforehand. He knew that much about her, and his cruel action in the meadow was unforgivable.
In haste he almost collided with a maid hurrying down to the laundry room, her arms draped with bed linen. They danced this way and that in attempt to each pass the other, until he grasped her shoulders and sidestepped. The maid giggled, presumably at his semi-nakedness. Nevertheless, he carried on his way two steps taken with each stride in haste to waylay Anna in the main corridor before she vanished inside her chamber.
He should have made sure her bodice was rearranged proper, her raven hair as neat as able and no tears to set rife suspicions of his having sullied her in any way. At least the truth was out and Anna had proved herself not the least smitten with Thomas. Such had gladdened his heart, and although it was imperative to make things right between them he dare not declare his love for her. It would be utter folly. Time and civil war marched toward them, and his destiny was already perceived by his father as that of a young cavalry officer in a royalist troop, but in the next day or so a secret would be revealed and might well tear the family apart.
He reached the second floor, and about to push the panelled door left ajar by the maid, Anna’s tearful voice and that of his father questioning her unhappy state halted his hand mid-air. He held his breath, pressed himself tight to the wall, his chest taut and heart beating as loud as a drum. As luck would have it the pair passed him by without incident; Anna’s sobs plucking at his heartstrings.
His father’s voice, although soothing to Anna in respect of her unhappy state, nevertheless the elder’s presence alone a reminder of the danger yet to come. How would his lordship react, once news of his son’s refusal to abide to family tradition in service to the royal court declared? If only, if only King Charles had seen sense the country would be at relative peace, and his and Anna’s future less uncertain. Thank God his mother approved of his intended action, her positive encouragement his staff of righteousness though he could not claim the same devotion to the scriptures as her ladyship.
He turned and thrust his hands to stark cold of wall. Head bowed, Anna’s anguished expression and nut-brown eyes bejewelled by tears plagued him. Try as he might he could not banish the soft tickle of her lustrous locks brushing against his cheek, nor sensual softness of tender young breast beneath his fingers. He drew breath, his chest as though banded by steel, the memory of her lips captured by his and the merciless way in which he had wanted to devour every part of her: enough to drive a man insane. His rejection of her was far worse, her petite figure to flight utter agony. A moment of rash behaviour behind him, he now had a treasured sensual memory albeit one to haunt the lonely path ahead. Dear heaven, how am I to live without her?
Four days later after intense feelings of embarrassment and avoidance of Morton, with exception of brief verbal exchange at mealtimes, Anna was sure he had ridden to Loxton House. It was therefore safe to venture out for a short ride, and to that aim she set off from the mews. Too late she realised her mistake, for no more than a few paces beyond the stable mews and now nearing the private Gantry church she spied Morton riding toward her, his velvet coat the colour of his cornflower blue eyes.
She drew breath and reined Megan to a standstill. It was best to brave up to him, for as much as she wished to turn about and flee in the opposite direction he was too close.
He too reined in and brought his horse alongside Megan; head to tail. ‘Anna, how long do you propose we remain distant in the manner of enemies?’
’I have not with intention kept distance between us.’
‘I do love you meadow nymph, never doubt that, ever.’
Stunned by his proclamation, words failed her.
‘Anna?’ He touched her sleeve. ‘Can we not at least be friends again?’
Heart racing she struggled to think let alone speak, and could not bear to be ridiculed for a second time. ‘I had not thought us otherwise, and what happened in the meadow is of little consequence. You chose to distance yourself from me. And I have been too busy to notice whether you are here or at Loxton House.’
She thought him about to laugh, his eyes sparkling in mischievous manner. ‘Come Anna . . . we both know what happened between us cannot be put aside so easily.’
‘I can only speak for myself,’ she said, indignant in tone, ‘and with all my heart I wish to forget it happened at all. Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to pass on my way unhindered.’
Disbelief etched on his face he snatched his hand from her arm and reined his horse about. ‘Then I shall escort you until such time as we resolve this difference between us. It is your birthday two days hence, and besides, I wish to make amends for my behaviour in the meadow.’
‘Go away Morton. You were happy enough to be rid of me in the meadow, and now I am asking you to leave me alone.’ She urged Megan to trot, but Morton’s horse likewise kept apace. His persistence annoyed in extreme, whilst he quite obviously delighting at her discomfiture. She dared not glance at him again, because stating careless abandonment of feelings felt that day in the meadow no less convincing said than experienced. ‘Go away, Morton.’
‘Anna, please . . . I have to tell you that I will be going to . . .’ She urged Megan to the canter. She did not want to hear news of his betrothal to Catherine Thornton, but he shouted, ‘Anna, hear me out.’ Despite his appeal she sensed him holding Calendar back as though expectant of her caving to his demands. She did not, and soon his mount came at the gallop from behind and dropped to canter alongside, but she kept her eyes to the fore. ‘Anna,’ he yelled, attempting to catch hold of Megan’s bridle. ‘Rein in this instant. What I have to say is important, and I wanted to tell you first.’
‘I do not give a fig if you marry Catherine Thornton, do you hear? I don’t care what you do, not any more. Go home, and leave me alone.’
‘All right, I shall leave you alone, but remember, when I leave here, as I will very soon, you may not see me again.’ She sensed his horse dropping back and heart leaden she rode on, yet still he cast words her way and she thought he said, ‘Catherine is the least of my worries right now,’ but it was probably wishful thinking.
Alone with her trusted mare, wind in her hair and tears in her eyes she didn’t care if she never saw him again: she didn’t, she really didn’t. All but a good mile from home the tears dried up and Morton’s last words revolved around and around in her head. Why wouldn’t she see him again? Why might Catherine be the least of his worries?
Oh no, he was thinking of taking up arms for the King’s cause. He might never return, true enough, if killed in battle. She could think of no other explanation for his outburst, save his secretive nature of late and expeditions to Loxton House. He and Thomas oft talked of the war, and of course Lord Gantry had made mention of a captaincy in a cavalry regiment. She couldn’t be sure about any thing, though had sensed air of disapproval from the Lady Arabella when the captaincy mentioned. She had also witnessed mother and son quite often engrossed in whispered conversations, but what was meant by it all not for her ears it had seemed.
She knew Morton to be very much his own man in many ways, and nothing a bit of a girl could say or do would dissuade him from his chosen path in life, but he had tried to explain and she unwilling to hear him out. She owed him that much, at least.
She turned Megan about and rode for home.
Throughout dinner unease prevailed for she had sensed and witnessed Morton’s eyes upon her in a most intense manner, though Lord Gantry all the while thankfully unaware of any conflict between the younger members of the household seated at table. The Lady Arabella, on the other hand, had cast occasional knowing glances at both.
Morton’s seeming desire to engage in eye contact unsettled her, and for the first time in their young lives he was now bestowing sly winks of eye. She could not understand this from him. It was so at odds with her disagreeable behaviour earlier, and to assume him poking fun at her seemed the only plausible reason for his discreet attentions upon her.
The main part of the meal over and fresh fruit upon the table Lord Gantry stole her eye as though suddenly suspicious of something afoot, and her heart dived. She thought his lordship about to speak with her but instead he leaned toward Morton. ‘Well my boy, it is all arranged. You are to take command of a newly recruited regiment of trained horse, and will ride to join with Prince Rupert at Chester a week on Monday. Thence to serve alongside Charles Prince of Wales.’
Her heart lurched for she had thought Morton destined to take up arms, but news of such no less a shock. She sensed something wrong, his eyes glinting like steel in the candlelight, and reason enough for sense of alarm, more so when he pushed back his chair, rose to his feet and said, ‘In that I cannot oblige you my lord, nor will I serve King Charles.’
‘Cannot oblige?’ charged his father, fist slammed to table; flagstones scraped as his chair too edged backwards. ‘What is this nonsense?’
‘I do not choose service in the king’s army.’
‘Choose, choose . . . You think you have choice in this matter?’
‘I do sir, my life my own, and I will not serve the king.’
Lord Gantry leapt to his feet, father and son eyes locked. ‘You refuse command to fight for your king?’
‘It would grieve me to do so,’ replied Morton, ‘for my heart is not his majesty’s to command.’
Lady Arabella intervened face serene, her blue eyes ice cold yet her voice a tad shaky. ‘Must you turn this house into a battlefield? Can you not let our son decide his own fate in this war?’
‘Keep out of it my lady,’ said Lord Gantry, his expression that of a warrior hell-bent on justice and revenge, though of what Anna Lady Maitcliffe had yet to determine. ‘I shall not have a son of this house whore himself to Parliament, as you have with your pious talk and condemnation of the king’s countenance.’
Lady Arabella braved his lordship’s accusations. ‘Am I to remain silent in my own house, and ill advised to think as I see fit?’
‘Hell’s teeth, woman, if you’d stuck to your needlecraft and left off poking your nose in politics, this house would be more conducive to your son knowing his place in these dangerous times facing us all. Did I not suffer enough subterfuge whilst you cavorted with Robert Darnley behind my back? And now you set your son, against me, when I provide for all.’ His lordship reached for the back of his chair, as if to steady himself though Anna was absolute sure he had not drunk in excess all evening. ‘You, madam,’ should have wed Darnley. Had you done so my sister would have been saved from a fate worse than death, and I from empty bed.’ He laughed, a deprecating laugh, his green eyes catlike, tone pure venom. ‘Was it Darnley’s lecherous leering eyes or tongued cunning that turned your head and stole your body from my bed?’
Morton stepped toward his father, and Anna thought him about to strike out but he stopped short. ‘You deign to dishonour your wife, my mother, when this fight is between you and I?’
She had no words adequate to quell the rising storm, and sensed his lordship so angered he might say something he would live to regret. She had not imagined he would reach for his sword, its strap and scabbard hanging over the back of his chair. She had not thought he would threaten his own son with death by father’s blade, yet indeed, standing before them he drew forth his sword, his words akin to that of dagger to her heart. ‘A traitor in the family, I’ll have you dead before the Gantry name shamed forever.’
Morton stepped back, air of defiance, his eyes steel cold and not leaving his father’s for a second. He had no weapon to hand, no means of defence save a chair to ward off blows from a sword. Still his father advanced and Morton took another step backwards.
She, albeit a girl, had to do something, say something, and rose to her feet. ‘You cannot your lordship, please, I beg of you.’
‘He is but eight and ten years, William,’ said the Lady Arabella face stricken with fear. His mother rushed forward and placed herself between Morton and her husband. ‘You shall see me run through first, for I will not have my only son dead at my feet.’
‘Step aside, my lady,’ warned his lordship, his sword twirled most threatening. ‘Your son,’ he railed, face rage reddened. ‘Ha, so you admit he’s not . . .’
‘Nothing, I admit to nothing unseemly,’ intoned her ladyship, cutting him short, ‘for you know the truth and choose to deny it.’ Her face turned ghostlike, drained of blood. ‘You are drunk my lord, your head unwise upon your shoulders tonight.’
Anna’s heart levelled, and she spoke her thoughts. ‘Please, please, don’t strike out, don’t kill Morton, I could never forgive you that, never.’
His lordship swung round to face her, his anger erring madness. The abrupt silence hung heavy with malevolence and alarm. She quite thought she might be his next victim for daring to open her mouth, yet his enraged state dissipated and implied her safe. Finally his sword hand fell to his side, his attention redirected to the Lady Arabella protecting her son. ‘He leaves now, and never, never to set foot on this estate. Do hear me, madam, never to set foot in this house. His choice lies with the very devil intent on bringing the king to his knees. Now get him out of here.’
Lady Arabella seemed to sway as though about to fall faint, but recovered and barely that of a whisper said, ‘Heartless avenger, may God judge you as you deserve.’
Lord Gantry edged back two steps and sank into his chair, expression of disbelief at his own action of conceding defeat to a woman and chit of a girl. Nonetheless a mortal blow had been struck bar that of death, for Morton was now banished from his birthplace, the house and land he loved, and the people he loved.
Amidst whispered comments Lady Arabella turned away from her husband in disgust and ushered Morton from the dining hall. Anna felt a cold chill strike her face as the door opened and closed behind mother and son. She wanted to follow, but grace and manners forbade her from doing so.
‘Well my little sprite, are you happy now, happy that I let a traitor to the King and England walk free tonight?’
‘I am glad you spared him, my lord, but I shall grieve his banishment, forever.’
‘Oh you will, will you?’ A derisory chuckle, preceded, ‘Your romantic ways my little sprite will see you in serious trouble some day, and who will you turn to, eh, to get you out of it?’ Despite his previous rant and rail a smile crept to his face. ‘Who did you run to tears streaming a few days past?’
‘I did not run to you, my lord, I bumped into you.’
‘Split hairs all you like, my lady, but I am still of mind to suppose that boy to be the cause of all your heartfelt weeping.’ He raised his hand to shoulder. ‘This left sodden with tears that day, and you pleading for Morton’s life but a moment past. Am I right to think him the cause of all your tears, despite his mind dwelt on treachery these past months?’
Although angry with his lordship, a flush rose to her cheeks for she had not revealed the truth behind her distress on the day of Morton’s kiss, and never would. She owed much to Lord Gantry for a roof over her head and the rich cloth on her back. She was, after all, merely his ward. He at all times had bestowed affection upon her as though she his very own daughter, and now she understood why Morton had no brothers or sisters. It was not so difficult to puzzle the reason.
‘May I take leave, your lordship?’
‘You may, and be sure to tell Morton I grant him a spare horse. And tell him to be gone before the clock strikes the hour.’
‘But my lord, that is but a few minutes from now.’
‘He will be gone by then or by God and King Charles I will not be responsible for what I might do.’
His lordship’s expression turned to that of a man hurting, hurting deep inside, and his sword fell to the floor with a clatter. He leaned forward head in hands, and her heart went out to him. She could not understand why Morton had chosen to support Parliament, for it seemed so at odds with a royalist household. Now, now it seemed as though the house had always harboured secrets.
The Lady Arabella and Lord Gantry’s heated exchange more than reason to surmise his lordship believed himself cuckolded by his brother-in-law. And it seemed betrayal of a political nature had existed within the walls as well, and she all the while ignorant in innocence. But how could Darnley, a man of parliament, have influenced the Lady Arabella? The man never came to the house without Lord Gantry’s sister. At least, not as far as she was aware, and surely Darnley had not betrayed his wife?
Torn between need to comfort Lord William and selfish need to see Morton safe and out of his father’s reach for the time being, she doubted not the day would come when his father would relent. She could only hope and pray for that outcome, and setting her own desires aside, said, ‘Shall I stay?’
‘Be gone with you, girl, and see him on his way and provided with that second horse.’
‘Thank you, my lord.’ She fled the dining hall, her thoughts in turmoil, for it seemed she had much to learn in the ways of adult deceits and betrayals. In the great hall bedlam prevailed with servants dashing to and fro, the Lady Arabella most distraught and Morton already sword to belt. ‘His lordship said to take a spare horse,’ she informed, and in need of answers asked outright, ‘Why Morton, why, why displease your father so wanton cruel?’
‘To stay and explain my motives for joining the Parliamentarian cause would be folly with father intolerant of my presence,’ came the reply. He then turned to a servant. ‘See to it Joseph is informed of his lordship’s granting a spare horse.’ As the servant dashed away Morton furthered, ‘I shall write you, Anna, when time affords.’
A footman came rushing down the staircase cloak slung over arm, which met with Morton’s shoulders directly. The Lady Arabella secured the clasp of his cloak, and then kissed his cheek. ‘God keep you safe, my son, and believe it, your father will see the folly of this night.’
‘He will not cave, dear lady, and on my head lies my punishment.’
‘Where shall you go?’
‘Taunton, where I believe I shall encounter Waller’s Army.’
Lady Arabella turned to Anna. ‘Come quick dear girl, and say your piece.
Hastened to take leave by the Lady Arabella: the main door cast wide in readiness, Anna threw herself at Morton, servants or no servants in attendance. She did not care, she hugged him tightly and he hugged her to him in like manner. ‘I shall miss my meadow nymph,’ his whispered endearment, ‘and never doubt I love you.’
‘I love you, too,’ she whispered, tears aplenty to the sound of two horses arrived outside.
He eased her away, turned and strode to the horses. Once mounted on Calendar and lead rein in hand he rode away from Axebury Hall on his favourite horse, the spare courtesy of his lordship, but only the clothes on his back as seen at the dinner table beneath his cloak. What would become of him? They watched his departure until no longer able to see him.
Finally the Lady Arabella’s arm about her shoulder fell away. Sense of heartache and sadness hung like a dark cloud, and the Lady Arabella stepped back inside the hall. ‘Anna, will you kindly inform his lordship I have retired to my bedchamber?’ Her ladyship faltered mid-step, swayed a little, and Anna rushed to her side, so too her lady’s maid, and between them they prevented her falling to the floor. ‘It is nothing,’ declared her ladyship, face snow white, ‘I am merely a little tired.’
‘First I shall see you to your chamber, and then I will go to his lordship.’
‘Be not harsh with him, Anna. He is a good and honourable man if a little misguided at times. No matter the cost he will never waver in loyalty to Charles Stuart.
Her ladyship made steady progress aloft but on entry to the bedchamber collapsed, and grave ill it seemed.