Published: September 1990
Like a pagan god, Rolfe the Relentless rode into Castle Aelfgar to claim it as his prize—and Lady Alice as his bride. Lauded for his bravery in France, in England he was the hated enemy. Once ensconced in his new domain, Rolfe became determined to tame the Saxon beauty Ceidre, Alice’s illegitimate sister, whose spirit and sensuality made him risk treason to have her—not Lady Alice—in his bed.
Mysterious and seductive, she was no lady but a spy for the rebel cause of her noble half brothers. Refusing to bow to this arrogant warrior who ignited her forbidden passion, Ceidre was swept into a dangerous liaison tied to the fate of England and kings. Yet with his kisses on her lips, his skilful hands on her body, she would have to struggle not to surrender to…The Conqueror.
“The power of The Conqueror is awesome…potentially sensual, powerful in its emotional intensity…. this is what Brenda Joyce fans expect! Leave it to Brenda Joyce to handle intricate plot, boiling sensuality, complex history and strong characters with such panache.”
“…anyone who appreciates a great story is bound to enjoy The Conqueror!”
—A Romance Review
“This is Brenda Joyce at her best and her finest.”
—The Mystic Castle
Ceidre crouched panting and shaking in the dirt.
She could still hear the rumble of thunder that was the massive destrier’s hoofbeats as the Norman knight had ridden her down. She could still feel the steed’s hot breath, and her own terror. She had been inches from being trampled to death, and she had seen these Normans run down hapless peasants before. This knight, like the others, would have probably done the same to her out of sheer perverted amusement. Sweet Saint Cuthbert!
She could feel his arms around her, arms of steel, holding her hard and fast to the moist brown earth. And his hands on her womanhood, his mouth on her breast, defiling her. And the heat of his manhood…Mother Of God!
She understood the Norman language fairly well, but had been to shaken to comprehend the rapidly fired conversation, now occurring. Yet she could not miss her brothers’ names, could not miss ”Mercia” She fought to still her trembling, straining to listen, with her face still pressed to the ground.
“Gods blood,” Rolfe said, and she knew he was looking at her. “She can’t be.”
She could feel the heat of his stare, feel the shock of whatever news had been imparted, in the silence now held between him and his man. Sweet Mary, how she hated him!
“I heard it from the villagers,” his man said, “Tis well known. And Aelfgar is not that far from here.” Ceidre tensed at the name of her home. They must know who she was. She slowly sat up, clutching her torn gown together. She fixed him with a stare of intense hatred.
His gaze, cold and vividly blue, held hers. His look darkened and warred with hers. A nerve in his jaw ticked. She could feel his anger now and knew it was directed at her. For what? For her insolence in hating him? For what he had been denied—the rape of her body? Or because he knew who she was?
He moved. He came to her swiftly. Ceidre started to shrink away, then caught herself and held her ground, raising her chin with defiance. She could feel the thick, unnatural beat of her heart, the cloying terror. He could rape her then beat her before killing her, but she would not show fear of this man. But he had seen her initial reaction, and this to displeased him. His anger was a visible thing, darkening his eyes again, and his face.
And then his expression changed. He stopped abruptly, staring.
Ceidre had seen many people look at her the same way, when they first noticed her eye. Surprise, usually, was the initial reaction, then puzzlement, the comprehension and horror. Behind him, she saw Guy draw back. “I’d heard it but I didn’t believe it,” he whispered nervously, unable to tear his glance from Ceidre. “Tis the evil eye.”
Rolfe’s gaze was riveted upon hers. Ceidre hated the deformity that had haunted her her entire life: Her right eye sometimes wandered away at will. It was not a frequent occurrence; usually it happened only when she was extremely tired, and was only noticeable by those in close proximity. People thought she could gaze in two opposite directions at once—twasn’t true. Strangers who did notice this defect crossed themselves for protection when they saw her “evil eye” and kept well away from her. It had been that way her entire life, since she was a tiny toddler in swaddling. The villagers at Aelfgar, her own people, many her own kin on her mother’s side, were long uses to her, knew she wasn’t evil. Yet that she could heal the sick as her granny did only confirmed their belief that she was a witch. So even her kin were overly aware of her, in awe. Only her brothers, well used to her, seemed entirely indifferent, and Ceidre had long known since said prayers of thanks for this blessing—Morcar had once asked her to bewitch a lass who had been leading him on a merry chase! Now Ceirdre flushed, hating this deformity more than she ever had in her entire life—hating being exposed before this man.
His cool blue gaze swept her features one by one, returning finally to her eye. Then he spoke. “She is no witch. She is flesh and blood. That is enough.”
“My lord,” Guy protested nervously. “Be careful.”
He was standing above her, his sword sheathed hands curled into angry fists on his lean hips. “Are you the lady Alice?”
She blinked in surprise. And then she understood his misconception; he was confusing her with her half sister. Ceidre was no fool. Alice was not a by-blow. Being nobly born, she was of more import than Ceidre herself was. Depending, of course, on circumstances—on which game of war this Norman pig chose to play. For now she would go along with the false belief, to save herself from a certain rape, or worse. Ceidre said, “Yes.”
Her answer seemed to please him, for suddenly he smiled. Ceidre was momentarily stunned. Not by his response, or by the fact that he actually could smile. She remembered how he had looked charging after her on his destrier, like a golden pagan god. How he had looked, sitting there so impassively as she had pleaded with him to spare the corn. Now she realized he was devastatingly handsome with his golden curls, his blue eyes, straight white even teeth, and features that were sensually, ruthlessly chiseled. She stared at his proudly sculpted face, unable to stop herself.
“What do you think Guy?” He was grinning, not tearing his gaze from her as he asked his knight the question. For a moment their gazes held.
Guy didn’t answer. His dismay was answer enough.
Ceidre didn’t like the possessive way the Norman’s eyes were stroking her body, and her anger returned in full force. Anger and something else, uneasiness. She started to get up, and he was there. His touch infuriated her, and she wrenched away; she did not need his help, would never need it. But why wasn’t he afraid of her now that he knew the truth? Instead, he was angry at her response, but he was obviously a man of discipline for he held himself carefully in check. Gone, though was the beautiful smile. “My Lady,” he said stiffly. “What are you doing away from Aelfgar? Dressed as you are? It is not safe in these times.”
He would show concern for her safety? It was a mockery! “And what affair is it of yours? Am I your prisoner?” she demanded, chin high, eyes flashing. Yet inside she was quaking.
His own jaw came up. His mouth was tightly compressed. A few moments passed before he spoke—before, Ceidre through, he trusted himself to speak. “You are not my prisoner, my lady. I will escort you back to Aelfgar to ensure no harm comes to your person.”
“I don’t need an escort,” Ceidre managed. “’Tis not far, just six kilometres or so.”
“Have you never learned respect for your men?”
“For my men—yes.”