To Every Love, There Is A Season

To Every Love, There Is A Season

Marissa St. James

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New from the Rose Award nominee for historical romance. Here is a novel with all the passion and sweep of Janet Dailey and the divine characterization of Nora Roberts. Find out why Carol Durfee of Word on Romance says Marissa St. James' historical romances are "A wonderful way to spend an enchanting evening! The characters are deeply drawn and [her plots] will keep you guessing till the last page is turned. Once you think the tale is going to go one way it takes another turn." To Every Love There is a Season, is a dramatic tale of love imperiled in the days when John was appointed King of England, following the death of his brother Richard the Lion-Heart, and all important decisions affecting women are made by men. Young Lady Ellen of Ravencliff is more fortunate than most. Her father, Hugh, Duke of Ravencliff and the vast estates that surround it, has enough faith in her judgment that he has promised when the day comes, she will be allowed to choose her own husband. What few realize is that Ellen made her choice long ago. Ellen can be quite resourceful, which sometimes gets her into trouble, but she is sure of one thing. One day, she intends to marry David Ross, who has no idea how deeply she has wound herself into his heart and his life. For throughout her childhood, she has been thrown together with David Ross, whose father claims lands on the Scottish side of the English border, has been formally held as a hostage by her father. Unfortunately, David thinks of her as a little sister, and does not seem to see her as a woman or a potential romance. David has built a strong friendship with Gordon, Hugh's son and heir, for both young men are studying and training for knighthood. Most of the time, David doesn't mind having the Sprite, as he's nicknamed Ellen, follow them about. But, on the day David earns his knighthood, there is no longer a reason to hold him captive, and he is called back to Scotland, leaving an angry, heartbroken Ellen behind. She decides to prove to herself she really doesn't care, but a lifetime of love cannot be thrown away. When David returns to Ravencliff, Ellen discovers true happiness; she learns he has already spoken to her father and their marriage is arranged. As a bride in David's arms she experiences a joyous ecstasy she has never known. Neither of them is aware how short lived their happiness is to be. For, Nicolas, Earl of Fair Haven, a rejected suitor wants Ellen--and will stop at nothing, including murder, to possess her. Due to Nicholas machinations, Ellen is disgraced in David's eyes and sent home. Shortly thereafter, David and Gordon are attacked by bandits and reported murdered, though in her heart of hearts, Ellen does not believe David is dead. As a landed widow, she must remarry, for her husband will become heir of Ravencliff. Nicholas has plotted well and won the friendship of King John who decrees Ellen must marry the Earl of Fair Haven. Even Ellen is daunted, for if she attempts to defy the King and resists the royal decree, John's wrath might extend to her father. Realizing she has no choice, Ellen acquiesces to the marriage and allows herself to be led, unwillingly, to the altar. She knows nothing can save her from becoming Nicholas bride and his possession--except a miracle. If it is still possible for miracles to happen--Here is another thrilling, tempestuous romantic adventure from the Rose Award nominee, Marissa St. James.

 
PUBLISHED BY: Renaissance E Books
ISBN:
PUBLICATION DATE: 2006
WORD COUNT: 52078
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 1
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Romantic Fiction, Historical
KEYWORDS: romance, paranormal, historical
 

EBOOKS BY Renaissance E Books

EBOOKS BY Marissa St. James

 
EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT Marissa St. James/2006

PROLOGUE

David's eyes flew open as he fought to breathe. The pressure of a gloved hand pressed against his nostrils and clamped snugly across his mouth. Instinctively, he reached for the dagger at his waist, only to find an empty leather sheath. Blue-gray eyes stared down at him, and a single finger lay across a mouth tightened in a thin line. David held still and watched the long slender finger move from the narrow, tanned face and point away from them. His captor remained in a tight crouch as voices came closer. David turned his head slightly to see three English soldiers passing them by, a few feet away.

The soldiers' horses snorted, sending puffs of warm breath into the cold winter air. Their hooves slogged carelessly through thick piles of wet, decaying leaves. One soldier grumbled about the cold and damp, while the other two seemed to be arguing about something. Saddle leather creaked as the men moved, single file, through the dense forest ahead. David heard low branches snap, and the riders bellowed curses as they took the blow from the limbs.

David was grateful there was enough thick brush providing sufficient cover to keep him and his captor out of sight. His first thoughts were for his companions. While he was almost certain the soldiers were looking for him, he needed to know what had become of the two men he had been riding with. Were they in hiding, waiting for the first opportunity to rejoin him? Had the soldiers found them? Were they even alive?

"Sorry to say, your companions did not make it," the stranger commented, as if reading David's mind. "We found them a short time ago."

David wondered if the stranger was responsible for the deaths of his companions. He might never know. He closed his eyes tightly for a moment and bit his lip. The two men with him earlier were his cousins. Losing them was almost more than he could bear, but he was too old to weep, and he could not afford to mourn them now. When he was safely away from here, he would honor their memory.

David looked again into the face hovering over him, and blinked repeatedly, trying to clear his blurring vision. He shuddered from violent chills, brought on by the wet rotting leaves he realized he lay in. His thick wool shirt was soaked and clung to him. The clammy cold was nothing to the pain he felt shooting up his right leg. David closed his eyes and grimaced, biting back a groan. From the depths of his mind, his father's voice called to him, telling him to control the pain. He bit his lip harder. David pulled himself onto one forearm and leaned his weight on it as he ran his hand down his side, along his thigh, trying to assess his injuries. Seized by the pain of his movement, he pulled his hand back and stared at the blood. David choked as he fought the nausea rising within him, and turned his head to the side, unable to hold it back. Moments later, he rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.

David was not sure where he was or how he got there. He tried to get the pain under control so he could think what to do. He felt no immediate threat from the stranger, but knew better than to let down his guard, despite the fact the fellow had saved his life.

David stared into the stranger's face, trying to read his expression. He realized with dismay his captor was not much older than he was. "What are you doing in Scotland?" he demanded in Gaelic. His voice lacked strength as he forced the words from his throat, trying to sound stronger than he felt. The stranger frowned and David repeated the question in Norman-French, carefully lifting his head to get a better look at his surroundings.

The stranger grinned; the smile reached his eyes as well. "How you got this far into England without being caught, is more the question," he answered.

David released another groan. His father would not be pleased with having to pay a ransom to the English for his son's return. He had been following his kinsmen to an unknown meeting place – at least unknown to him – when several English soldiers gave chase. The fall flashed across David's memory. He was separated from his cousins when his pony raced toward the ravine. David yanked on the reins, trying to turn his mount, but the animal reared on the slippery wet leaves. He leaped from the pony's back, and landed hard on the winter ground. The animal slipped and fell, its shoulder striking David's leg with a hard blow. For a few seconds, he felt nothing, while the pony kicked wildly and struggled to stand, then pain flashed through him like nothing he had ever felt before. The memory clenched at his stomach.

"Why do you not kill me, or turn me over to the soldiers?" David struggled against his pain, determined to get answers from the stranger.

"You will live to fight another day, at least if we can get you warm and dry before you catch the ague. That is a nasty break, there." He glanced down at the torn leggings and the awkward bent of the boy's leg. "Think you can ride a short distance?"

David watched the blond stranger stand, and glance about him, until he found a couple of thick straight branches and used his sword to hack them to a manageable length. The blond boy used torn strips from one of the blankets tied to his horse's saddle, and secured the supports in place, then helped David mount the patient gelding. He climbed up behind David and wrapped the second blanket about his shivering shoulders. "Off we go, Horse, we need to get this ragtag Scotsman home."

"Am I your prisoner? To be held for ransom? David's mind gradually fogged over with pain and fatigue. His vision faded and a buzzing in his ears overpowered all other sounds. His head slumped forward as his body finally relaxed against his captor.

"Not exactly," the older boy replied, grinning, "That is the best I can do for you, 'till you are properly tended when we get to Ravencliff." He felt the pressure of David's head against his arm and realized no further answers were needed. What does father want with a Scots boy? He is barely more than a child. Does he seek an opportunity to gain ransom from our enemy? But if that were the case, why was it necessary for me to go? I do not regret the adventure, but I have to wonder what father could be thinking. Gordon conveniently forgot he was barely thirteen years himself. "When we get back," he said aloud to no one, "we will see what my lord father has in mind for you."

 

CHAPTER ONE

Six year old Ellen curled up on her father's lap, ignoring the talk going on around her. It was early yet, and the celebrations had yet to begin. The Duke of Ravencliff doted on his eldest daughter, to Gwennyth's disapproval, but as much as Ellen loved Gwennyth, the woman was only a nurse and had no authority to say anything about what her father did.

When the weather was fine, Ellen's father often took her up in the saddle before him, when he went riding. Oftentimes he would sneak her an extra sweet when he thought Gwennyth did not see. The old nurse insisted Ellen would grow up to be spoiled by all the attention, but her doting father seemed not in the least worried about it.

Ellen used both hands to push back wayward chestnut curls from her small oval face. Her fair skin held a light blush, while gray eyes sparkled with contentment. She toyed with the end of her braid for a few moments, as she watched the activity in the hall, then tossed the braid back over her shoulder, out of her way.

She laid her head against her father's chest, and lovingly stroked the smooth embroidery in his finely woven wool tunic. She pressed her ear against his broad chest, listening to his strong heartbeat, and for a moment enjoyed the rumble of his laughter deep within. She smiled at the comforting sound, which sometimes made her laugh. How long had that sound been silent? How long has it been since Papa really laughed, like I remember? Ellen silently answered her own question. He stopped laughing when Mama left us. I know he misses her so much. But he has the three of us. Mayhap he will laugh again like he used to.

A few words softly spoken caught Ellen's attention. She leaned back in her father's arms to get an upside down view of Molly gathering a sleepy Kitty into her arms.

Gwennyth says Kitty is most like Mama, she has Mama's golden hair and blue-green eyes. She made Mama and Papa very happy, always like sunshine. Papa says Kitty is fey and brings back happy memories for him. He says Kitty will always remind him of Mama. She watched Molly carefully step down from the dais as Kitty wrapped a small chubby arm around the maid's neck, and gave a contented sigh. When they disappeared around the curve of the staircase, Ellen turned her head and noticed her father looking down at her, one eyebrow raised. She smiled, and was rewarded with a light kiss on her forehead, as he helped her sit up again.

She turned slightly, to better view the goings on in the great hall. Lady Margaret stood near one corner of the large room, speaking with the musicians. It seemed as if Aunt Margaret had been at Ravencliff forever, when in reality she arrived just after her sister's death. Ellen had few memories of her mother, but Aunt Margaret often told stories, keeping Lady Anne's memory alive for her children. Ellen had, on occasion, heard grownups talk about Margaret's husband, how he had followed King Richard on crusade to the Holy Lands. Too many years had passed, they said, for him to still be alive. Aunt said her husband went on crusade and has not come back. I wonder if he went away like Mama did. Papa likes Aunt Margaret and says she's good to us. I like her, too.

Ellen studied the four musicians and noticed they bore similar resemblance to one another. She thought it must be a father and his sons. Their clothing was of fine wool, better in quality than most servants, but not as fine as the nobility. Shades of forest green and brown were muted, since only nobles were allowed to wear bright, rich colors. The lively carols and ballads they played provided a festive background for the guests partaking of the sumptuous meal. Between tunes, the servants brought food and drink to the musicians, and they refreshed themselves, then continued to perform to the best of their skills. Later, they would have stories to tell. There were also a bard, acrobats, and a play to be performed. They had arrived earlier in the day, ready to perform in exchange for a meal and shelter for the night. Ellen's favorite part was when the servants took down many of the tables to make room for dancing. She faintly remembered watching her parents join other couples, sharing their joy and laughter – or perhaps it was something Aunt Margaret had described often enough, that Ellen could imagine the scene. She dreamed of one day doing the same, sharing love and laughter with a handsome young knight. Sadness overcame her for a moment, as she secretly wished to see her father take part in the festivities once again, but she knew better than to bring it up.

Ellen's eyes narrowed and she shook her head in protest to her father's gentle offer of a piece of roast venison. She was more interested in the activity around her, and wanted to watch everyone else eat, drink and laugh. Servants scurried about the hall, replacing platters of venison, game birds, and pork. Fruit tarts, pies and puddings rounded out the elaborate meal. Goblets were kept filled with spiced wine, for honored guests, while the villagers enjoyed quality ale.

From her perch on her father's knee, Ellen giggled aloud when one of the first time servers created a scene. A thoughtless male dinner guest waved a drumstick about as he chatted with those around him. Three scruffy, yellow hunting hounds trotted from seat to seat, searching for a handout. Muzzles were raised and noses twitched at the appetizing scents or roasted meat. One of the animals spotted the drumstick being flailed about in the air, jumped up and snatched it from the unsuspecting hand, then wheeled around to make his escape. At the same time, a maid leaned toward the guest to offer more bread. The excited hound hit the bottom of her basket, knocking it out of the horrified servant's hands. Loaves of bread were sent flying in all directions. Nearby guests dove to save the breads, laughing and shouting as the mayhem occurred. The boasting diner sat with an empty hand in the air, a lap full of bread and a confused look on his face. The red faced diner burst into loud guffaws, as the hapless serving girl darted away toward the kitchen, her face flushed with embarrassment. Ellen felt her father's arm suddenly tighten about her waist as she almost fell from his lap, laughing and holding her sides.

This Christmas brought guests to Ravencliff for the first time since her mother, Lady Anne, had died three years earlier. Old and close friends of Lord Hugh renewed bonds of friendship, and spoke of past adventures. There were also a dozen men from across the border. Scotsmen. The strangers were plainly dressed in yards of plaid wool. Much of it was gathered about their waists and held snuggly in place with belts. The other end draped loosely over one shoulder where a brooch of some sort held the gathered material together and kept it from falling off. Knee-high soft leather boots were cross-tied. The men kept to themselves and spoke only in their own strange language. Despite their obvious dislike for being in an English castle, they helped themselves to the bounty being served, while their leader sat next to Lord Hugh.

Ellen did not understand what the strangers were about, and at the moment didn't care. She sat quietly, enjoying the warmth of her father's finely woven wool tunic and the scent of pine clinging to the material. She felt secure and loved in the comfort of his strong arms, where the chill of the hall was kept at bay.

Ellen scanned the west end of the great hall, and found her brother, Gordon, sitting at a small table before the hearth. He was paying close attention to one of the household knights explaining the basics of chess. Gordon picked up and studied the chess pieces as the knight explained the moves each one was allowed to make, fulfilling its purpose in the game. Ellen watched the knight move the pieces to demonstrate his instructions. She saw Gordon's eyes narrow in that way he had of concentrating when he was determined to recall every word of instruction. Gordon looks a lot like Papa. They have the same yellow hair, like new gold coins, and their eyes are blue-gray. He likes to tease me, but I get even by following him about. Most times he does not mind; other times he gets angry and calls me a nuisance and chases me away. Still, he is a good big brother and looks out for me, should I end up in trouble.

Ellen's gaze wandered to Lady Margaret as she returned to the dais to sit at Lord Hugh's left. They spoke quietly for a moment, as Margaret's eyes brightened with anticipation. Not since before the death of her sister, Lady Anne, had the folk of Ravencliff seen such boisterous activity and celebration. Three years was more than long enough to return to normal life. Even then, it was difficult to know what was normal anymore. Earlier in the day, Lady Margaret had spoken with Ellen and others, insisting all past sadness be put away, and everyone enjoy themselves during the holiday.

Ellen did not know the man sitting to her father's right. He and her father shared amusing comments, none of which drew Ellen's full attention. She was too busy watching the servants bustle about the large hall. A blazing hearth at opposite ends of the room kept away the winter chill. Small bunches of scented pine and holly were tied together and hung on any wooden beam that would hold it. Thick bayberry candles were left on tables as decoration, as well as for their scent. Ellen thought someone had mentioned earlier that bayberry had been her mother's favorite. She narrowed her eyes and frowned at the red candles. She sniffed and rubbed at her nose, trying to rid it of an itch caused by the strong scent. She preferred the smell of pine floating about on a draft of air in the great hall.

The guests were dressed in velvet and brocade clothing of bright colors, looking to Ellen like brilliantly plumed birds. A few ladies wore finely wrought chains with pendants of gold or silver. Intricately designed girdles encircled slender hips and showed off the simple gowns.

Ellen turned her attention to the eastside of the great hall, and spotted a young stranger alone in a corner. She sat up straighter to get a better look. Servants hurried back and forth across her line of vision, and she wiggled in her father's lap to get a better view. The stranger's clothes looked to be made of fine wool, dark in color, but with no embroidered decorations. No one paid attention to him as he kept his eyes sullenly focused on the activity. Without looking away, Ellen tugged on her father's tunic. "Papa..." When there was no response, she tugged again, harder, demanding his attention. "Papa, is that the boy Gordon found? The one sitting alone in the corner?" She stretched out her arm and pointed toward the young lad.

Lord Hugh and his guest glanced about the room. "That is my son, David," Alex Ross replied softly, settling his gaze on his offspring "I could not convince him to join us. He prefers to be alone and sulk."

"He looks angry." Ellen crossed her arms over her chest, unaware she was mimicking the solemn boy.

"Aye, child. An English soldier killed his mother. He is filled with sorrow and anger and would rather not be here."

Ellen said nothing more and continued to study the boy a moment longer, wondering what she could do to change his mood. She understood something of what he was feeling. While her loss was not recent, neither was it forgotten. The corners of her small mouth turned up in a bright smile. She knew what she should do. Ellen slipped from her father's lap, then grasped a cup of watered wine between her two small hands. "Where are you off to, girl?" her father asked sternly.

"He must not be angry, Papa, it is a happy time." She kept a firm hold on her goblet and carefully stepped down from the dais, then wove her way through the maze of tables, in an attempt to avoid guests unexpectedly leaning back on their benches, laughing. Space between tables was narrow at best and difficult to get through. Servants hurried about, removing empty platters and refilling goblets. Several times, Ellen stopped in her tracks to avoid colliding with a servant who was unable to see her. Stacks of bowls set on trays hampered visions of anything lower than the tray. Sometimes a sharp retort from a harried servant was cut short when they realized who had bumped into them. A quick apology and a glance at the dais with the hope the duke had failed to notice, sent the red faced serving girls scurrying away to the kitchens with their loads.

Ellen reached the far corner of the room, set her cup on the table, and stood opposite the boy. She rested her elbows on the table, then propped her chin in her hand and studied him, as he shifted uncomfortably on the bench, then crossed his arms over his narrow chest and glared at her. She was not at all bothered by his cold appraisal of her.

"What you staring at?" he asked crossly.

Ellen thought back to the earlier meeting when Papa, the Scots leader, and a few of his men had met in private in Papa's chambers. Sometimes voices had been raised in anger, but Papa's was never one of them. She heard mostly muffled words from the nursery where she'd been playing with her sister. Ellen had overheard some talk of holding the boy hostage against the Scotsmen's good behavior. After more heated words, the other men left the room, leaving Papa alone with the leader for a few minutes, and the conversation quieted to whispers. She had heard about the boy, who remained rather secluded in an upper chamber, but had not seen him in the two weeks since his arrival. Only her brother had kept him company.

Aunt Margaret always knows what to say when she greets the guests. Ellen released a small sigh and experienced a seed of doubt. Mayhap this was not a very good idea after all. He looks so angry. Determined, she refused to let it get the best of her. Ellen, squared her small shoulders and stood straight and tall. Her features reflected a determination to do her duty as she saw it. I am here now. It would be rude to walk away without a word. "Jillian," she called to a passing servant.

The maid turned quickly. "Yes, my lady."

"A cup of wine for our guest, and a small padded stool, if you can find one," she ordered in her best grownup voice. She recalled one of her father's men had broken a leg during the summer. If he had felt better with his foot propped up, why should not the boy be made more comfortable as well? Ellen's hands rested on her narrow hips as she spoke to the serving girl.

"Right away, my lady." Jillian hurried away, ducking her head to hide her amusement. The young servant returned shortly with the requested items and a small tray of fruit tarts, which she placed on the table between the children, then hurried about her duties.

Ellen gave the stool a push, then ducked, to follow it under the table. She took one step forward and trod on the hem of her gown. The motion almost toppled her into the stool. She quickly backed out, grabbed fistfuls of her skirts, and raised them above her knees. White knitted stockings covered her thin legs, but Ellen gave no thought to propriety. Kneeling on the reed covered stone floor, she ducked under the table again, and pushed the stool ahead of her. When she reached the opposite side, Ellen released the hold on her skirts and straightened up, forgetting there was little room, and rapped the back of her head against the underside of the table. "Ow!" She was uncertain, but she thought she heard a snort of laughter, close by.

She moved the small stool beside the boy's leg and felt him jump when she raised his ankle and set his foot on the stool. Once she was satisfied with the placement, she crawled toward the bench and stretched up into the space just beyond the edge of the table, until she was leaning over the seat. Ellen twisted her small body about, then braced her hands on the seat and boosted herself up to sit on the bench. "That should give you more comfort." She heard more muffled laughter and looked at the boy. His arms were still crossed over his chest as he tried unsuccessfully to keep a straight face. His chin rested against his chest and his eyes were tightly closed. Ellen watched him peek at her then turn his face away, trying to control his laughter. "Surely, it was not that amusing," she muttered. She smoothed her skirt and sighed when she caught sight of dust and stains from the stone floor and broken reeds. Aunt Margaret would not be pleased.

Ellen stared at the boy's curious gaze when he looked her way again. His sullen expression had all but disappeared as one corner of his mouth turned up in wry amusement. He barely managed to suppress a grin, and Ellen had difficulty hiding one of her own. "You look like a gypsy." His dark looks fascinated her. Black hair and even darker eyes gave him a mysterious aura, and easily hid his thoughts.

His smile disappeared and he frowned at her.

The silence stretched out between them for a few moments and Ellen sipped her watered wine, not sure what to say next. He did not make it easy for her. "I lost my mother, too," she finally blurted out, then realized she had failed to introduce herself.

"Did you?" The boy seemed reluctant to say much of anything in response.

Ellen rubbed a hand against her face, brushing back strands of hair, which had escaped her braid. "You were fortunate to know your mother. Mine died when I was three. I barely remember her, now."

The boy said nothing.

"My name is Ellen. Are you going to stay with us?"

"Yes," he groused, turning belligerent again. "My father says I am to stay here as a hostage to guarantee good behavior. Only the duke's son has said anything to me while I've been shut up in that room."

"What does it mean to be a hostage?" Ellen had heard the term before but was unsure of its meaning.

"It means I must stay here, so my people will not raid the duke's lands. If they do, he can do whatever he pleases with me."

"Oh." Ellen thought about it for a moment. "I do not think I would like to be anyone's hostage." She quickly changed the subject. "Gordon is my brother, you know."

"Ah. So you are that Ellen, are you? My name is David." His mood lightened.

Ellen did not like the sound of his comment. Had it been a mistake to approach the Scot leader's son? If he had come become well acquainted with Gordon in the last two weeks, there was no way of knowing what her brother had told the boy about her. She reached for her goblet and took a sip. "What has my brother told you?" She looked up at him slyly, trying to read his features, and half expected him to laugh at her again. Did he find her amusing? Did he believe everything Gordon had told him?

"He said you are always following him about and getting into trouble. Now that I see you, I have to wonder how much trouble you really get into. You're just a wee sprite."

Ellen's hand flew to her mouth to stifle an escaping giggle. No one ever called her a sprite before. "Gordon gets angry with me sometimes," she said in a conspiratorial whisper. "Papa says Gordon should look out for me when he goes about the bailey. I like to go to the stables with him. Has Gordon told you about the new foal, born just this morning?"

Before long, she and David had their heads together in conversation. The dish of pastries disappeared as they talked about horses, snow and winter games. They paid little attention to the activity around them.

 
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