Spirited, iron-willed Rhonwyn is the bastard child of the Prince of Wales, raised more boy than girl, able to ride and fight with the best. Against her wishes, she is married off to an English lord, Edward de Beaumont, who is stunned to discover that his lovely gilt-haired bride is a fiery wildcat with a mind of her own. Slowly, he wins her trust and her heart, and she accompanies him on the Crusades to North Africa. But when Edward falls ill, Rhonwyn boldly leads his troops, only to become a captive of the sensual Emir of Cinnebar, a man who will teach her the ways of erotic love–passions that will be put to the test when she returns to England to battle once more . . . this time for the man who rules her heart.
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The late spring rain was heavy and chill. Some of it was seeping through the roof where the thatch was worn. The fire had gone out the day before, and the two children did not know how to restart it. They huddled together to keep warm. Their mother's body lay on the bed amid a pool of blood that was now congealed and blackening. The stench in the cottage had already numbed their nostrils, even as the cold had numbed their fingers and toes. The wind suddenly howled in mournful fashion, and the smaller of the two children whimpered, pressing himself closer to his elder sister.
Rhonwyn uerch Llywelyn focused her brain again as she had these past two days. How was she to save Glynn and herself from certain death? Their mama was dead, birthing the prince's latest child. Their cottage was isolated from any village, for decent women would not tolerate the prince's whore and his bastards. The old crone who had helped Vala in her two previous births had not been there this time, because this time the child had come too soon. Much too soon.
They needed to be warm, Rhonwyn thought sleepily. How did one start a fire? If only it would cease raining. Perhaps they could walk and find another cottage or villagebut whatever a village was for she didn't really know, having never left the hill on which she had lived her whole five years. Rhonwyn hugged her three-year-old brother tighter against her when he whimpered again.
"Hungry," he complained to her.
"There is nothing left, Glynn," she repeated for the tenth time. "When the rain stops we will go and find food. If we leave the cottage now, we will surely die." They wereapt to die in any event, Rhonwyn thought irritably. If she could only start a fire to warm them, the gnawing in their bellies might not seem so fierce. She hadn't meant for the fire to go out, but when her mam began screaming with her pain, Rhonwyn had taken her brother from their cottage so he would not be frightened. They had gone out on the hillside to pick flowers for the new baby. But when they had returned their mother was dead, and the fire was out. Not even a lingering coal remained that Rhonwyn might coax into a warm flame as she had often seen her mother do. Then the rain had begun. It had rained all night and into this day, which was al-most over.
Suddenly Rhonwyn's ears pricked up at the sound of dogs baying in the distance. The noise grew closer and closer until it was directly outside.
The door to the cottage was slammed open, and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was outlined in the fading light of day. He stepped quickly inside, his eyes sweeping about the room. Seeing his children huddled together on their pallet, he asked them, "What has happened here?"
"Mam's dead," Rhonwyn answered her father. "The new baby came too soon."
"Why wasn't the midwife here?" he demanded.
"Who was to send for her? And where is she? Mam was screaming and screaming. I took Glynn and went outside. When we returned Mam was dead.
There was no fire. No food. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to go, or I would have gone. Our mam is dead, and you and your rutting have killed her! She would not have died but that you put another baby in her belly."
Startled at the venom in the child's voice, he looked down at her, seeing his daughter for the first time. It was like looking into a glass but for her coloring, which was Vala's. She didn't like him, he knew. Her green eyes glared angrily into his. He would have laughed but for the seriousness of the situation. Rhonwyn was certainly his get and every bit as intense with her anger as he was.
"I'll make a fire," he replied. "Go outside and look in my saddlebag.
There is food in it. Do not mind the dogs." He turned away from her and began to prepare a new fire. Seeing his small son staring at him, half fearful, half curious, he said, "Come here, lad, and I will show you how to make a fire so you will never be cold again."
The little boy crept from the pallet and came to stand by his father, watching fascinated as ap Gruffydd gathered a bit of kindling together and drew a flint from his purse. Using the blade of his knife, the prince stroked the flint until it sparked, and the kindling caught light. Glynn's eyes were wide with amazement, and the prince smiled, reaching out to ruffle the boy's dark hair. Ap Gruffydd added wood to the fire until it was blazing merrily, and the chill began to dissipate.
The man stood and handed the flint to his son. " 'Tis yours, Glynn ap Llywelyn. Now you know how to make a fire, but only in the fireplace for now, eh, lad?"
"Aye, Tad" came the reply, and the prince smiled again. It was the first time the child had called him father.
"So, you know I am your sire," he said.
"Mam said," the child answered simply.
"She did not lie, God assoil her sweet soul." Now the prince's attention was drawn back to his dead lover. She must be buried, although no priest would say the proper words over her. It didn't matter. God would have Vala uerch Huw because she was a good woman. He would not condemn her to a fiery hell because she had been Llywelyn ap Gruffydd's leman. He wished now he had married her, even though she had had neither wealth nor powerful family ties to recommend her. At least his children would have been legitimate. Well, he would formally acknowledge them. That would please Vala. He should begin to consider marriage, he thought. He was well past thirty and had nought but his two wee bastards to carry on his name.
Rhonwyn had reentered the cottage. She took bread and cheese, making small pieces for her little brother. Seeing the flint, she said, "What's that?" She picked it up and rolled the quartz in her hand gently.
"Give it back!" Glynn shouted at her. "Our tad gave it to me. It makes fire."
Rhonwyn shrugged and handed him back his prize.
"Was the baby born?" ap Gruffydd asked his daughter.
She shrugged. "I don't know," she replied, shoving bread and cheese into her mouth. "I didn't look."
He nodded, understanding. He would have to look. "Has the rain stopped yet, Rhonwyn?"
"I'll go and dig a grave for yer mam," he said.
"Put it where she can see the sunset," the little girl said. "Mam always liked to watch the sunset."
He nodded and went outside. Taking the shovel from the side of the cottage nearest Vala's garden, he sought for a westerly direction. The storm had gone, and the skies were clearing now. Finding the right spot, he began to dig. What was he to do with his children? he considered as he worked.
While there was a truce between him and the English for now, there was still no place he really called home. Besides, it would be far better if as few people as possible knew of these two little ones. Even bastards had their relevance. They could be exploited by his enemies or used to cement treaties. Particularly as he had no other children. He had been faithful to Vala, for he had little time for his own amusement. Besides, there had never been a woman who pleased him like this descendant of the Fair Folk had.