Promised to the cloister, the free-spirited Lady Mercia returns home before her final vows for her sister Rowena’s wedding to a Welsh prince. But fate intervenes when she finds a badly wounded man washed up upon the shore.
Unable to resist his fevered pleas for her help, she hides him amongst the caves she played in as a child. And there, as she nurses the handsome stranger back to health, she discoverers a passion for him she cannot resist. Knowing she is promised to God and will never know the touch of man, Mercy gives in to her heart’s desire and her body’s craving.
On his way to his betrothed, Lady Rowena, Prince Rhodri of Dinefwr is shipwrecked and badly wounded, with no memory of who he is. But he does not care; an angel of Mercy has come to claim his mind, body, soul, and–soon–his heart.
Yet fate intervenes again when Rhodri regains his memory and realizes his one true love is the sister of his betrothed. Though honor bound to marry a woman he has never met, Rhodri’s heart belongs to Mercy.
Can Mercy and Rhodri find a way to be together without sacrificing their honor…?
Read an Excerpt
Wessex Coast, February 1068
Mercia trounced along the path to the jagged cliffs overlooking the churning Irish Sea. Frustration dueled with a deep sense of melancholy. Frustration with her father, Lord Cedric, for not only losing the family’s fortunes, but also for packing her off to the nuns at Drury Abby. “I have not a piece of silver to offer for your hand, Mercia. A bride of God, ye’ll be!”
Angrily she kicked at a stone in her path. “Jesu!” she cursed when she stubbed her toe. She had the decency to make the sign of the cross and ask the Lord for forgiveness, but she also asked for forgiveness the next time. There was always a next time.
She did not want to spend the rest of her life on her knees, her hands clasped, repeatedly whispering prayers and vows! She was a child of the earth, of the senses. Aye, and a noblewoman without so much as a milk cow to offer a potential groom.
Her gaze spanned the silver-white beach below. Dark chunks of wood wrapped in seaweed and other debris had washed ashore from the recent storm. The harsh winter wind tore at her braid, freeing the long golden strands from the worn velvet ribbon. Her threadbare cloak did naught to warm her, yet she did not want to bide her day at Wendover. ‘Twas her home, but it had lost its luster, though her father tried to hide the fact.
Indeed, he toiled tirelessly to keep up the appearance of prosperity. Prince Rhodri of Dinefwr was on his way to claim his bride, her sister, the beautiful and ethereal Rowena. Would he want her when he learned she came with only the clothes on her back? Rowena’s beauty was renowned and her blood among the finest in all of Saxony. She would make any man a worthy wife. She would beguile the prince for sure. He would not care that she came to him destitute.
Mercia’s anger waned. She could not begrudge her sister anything. She prayed for her daily, and hoped that once she was settled into her new home in Wales, she might call upon her only sibling for companionship. But knew she would not. A single woman was an added expense. Nay, she would remain at Drury Abby, and this summer take her final vows. ‘Twas a small victory. When all of England bled, she would be safe and go to her bed each night with a full belly.
Aye, when she became the rational girl she knew she must be, even with all of England’s woes aside, she would force herself to be content at Drury Abbey. The Abbess Avril was kind, and while Mercia found it hard to pray on her knees for hours on end, she tried. She tried very hard to be a good servant to God. But there was that wildness in her still, the wildness to ride bareback along the coast, to run barefoot through the loamy forests, to dance and laugh and be merry. ‘Twould pass, the Abbess told her, it always did. God only tempted her with these pleasures of the flesh; she must not succumb to them, ever, for God would be harsh in his penance. ‘Twould be her undoing if she were not more obedient.
She shook her head as the devil speared the angel in her, and looked over her shoulder for her nursemaid, Agatha. From the moment Mercia told her of her desire to see the beaches, the old woman had complained and had not stopped until finally, unable to listen to her mewling, Mercia set off at a brisk trot. She shrugged at the empty path behind her. She would catch up.
She gave no heed to the churning water below as she angled down the steep trail like one of the shaggy ponies she’d ridden as a girl. Her frustration spurned her forward, and she gave no more thought to Agatha, who no doubt stumbled through the forest. The old woman did not understand that she wanted out of the stuffy old manor house. She’d been aghast at its dilapidated state when she returned home just four days past. Father’s fortunes had dwindled considerably since the coming of the Normans. He hoped that by the marriage between the house of Wendover and the great house of Dinefwr, not only would his fortunes be restored with such a wealthy son-in-law, but the melding of Saxon and Welsh would fortify them against the encroaching Normans.
Throwing in his lot with Earl Edric had been disastrous for her father. But he had made inroads with the Welsh, and had just this past autumn ridden to Dinefwr and offered his prized possession, his daughter Rowena, as wife to the prince’s only son, Rhodri. His train had been due to arrive several days ago. But with the storm they were detained.
As she reached the cold damp sands of the beach, Mercia continued her frustrated stride, oblivious to everything around her. She wrestled nightly with her destiny to become a bride of God, and not live the life she had dreamed of. One of sunshine, and children, and a husband who cherished her. A fool’s dream, to be sure. She wanted to scream, to run as far and as fast from her life as she could. She should just march right into the sea and swim to the wild shores of Ireland. Father would not dare come for her, so scourged was the sea with pirates.
But she could not. Mercia was as wild and untamed as the sea, but she had given her oath to England, to the Abbess and to God, and she would do all in her power to honor it. So intent was she on her march to the churning waters that she did not see the large piece of driftwood. She stumbled over it and landed with a resounding thud in the damp sand. She gasped and spit out gritty pebbles and wiped the stinging salt from her eyes. The wind blew sharply against her, bringing harsh tears to her eyes. As she rolled over and stood to brush herself clean, she stopped and screamed.
‘Twas not wood she stumbled over but a turned skiff dug into the sand, and a man, half-naked inside it. She turned to run, but curiosity got the better of her. She halted her flight and stared. He posed no threat. His body lay still, as the elements assaulted him. Intrigued by his long muscled body and angled face, she moved closer.