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Authors: Love in a Mist

Grasso, Patricia

Love in a Mist by Patricia Grasso

"TRUST THE KING WHO WEARS A FLAMING CROWN AND POSSESSES THE GOLDEN TOUCH...."

Cast out of Wales at her mother's death, Keely Glendower clung to her magical dragon pendant and her mother's prophetic words as she faced Queen Elizabeth's enemy court. But there was no shield to protect her from the burning gaze of Richard Devereux. England's wealthiest earl vowed to claim her as his bride. Could he, with his emerald eyes and copper hair, be the king to capture her rebellious, pagan heart....

She was the only woman ever to refuse him. Richard Devereux was determined to have this druid goddess, bastard child of an English peer, whose untamed raven tresses and flashing violet eyes kindled a passion he had never known before. But the enemies who sought to destroy him now had another target: the beauty who taught him how to love—even as she feared their marriage was a tragic mistake....

"YOU'VE MADE A TRAGIC MISTAKE, MY LORD. A MARRIAGE BETWEEN US WILL BE DISASTROUS."

"Why do you say that?" Richard asked.

"Because I believe it," Keely said, her violet-eyed gaze pleading for his understanding. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm different from Ladies Jane and Sarah and all those other women."

"I noticed." Richard planted his hands on either side of her head as she pressed her back against the oak tree. Leaning close, he added, "I don't desire those other women, else I would have married one of them."

His intimate nearness and his clean masculine scent assaulted her senses. Keely felt him with every tingling fiber of her body and was quite certain he could hear the frantic pounding of her heart.

"I—I have secrets," she said, trying to discourage him. "I cannot share them."

"Dark secrets?" he teased, tracing a finger down the length of her silken cheek. "Beauty, your heart is pure and as easy to read as an open book. Besides, I'm partial to ebony hair and violet eyes...."

Oh, why would he not heed her warning? An experienced man of the world, the earl should know that appearances could be deceptive....

Published by Dell Publishing a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1540 Broadway New York, New York 10036

Copyright © 1994 by Patricia Grasso

ISBN: 0-440-21669-9

Printed in the United States of America

Published simultaneously in Canada

December 1994

Dedicated to Noralee Murphy, whose knowledge ofall things magical is surpassed only by her generosity in sharing that special expertise with me

And to Percy, my pretty boy who possesses the gentle soul of a saint

And to Pip, the orphan boy whose "great expectations" brought him into my heart and my home

Chapter 1

Wales, August 1575

Dark gray clouds, changing afternoon into twilight, hovered over the lush green land. A flash of lightning brightened the sky and then vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

Eighteen-year-old Keely Glendower stood at the window and watched nature unleashing her forces. The gathering storm outside the keep mirrored the storm brewing within her. Worry troubled Keely's delicately chiseled features; her aching sadness mingled with constricting fury, making breathing difficult.

Her beautiful mother was dying young.

Keely sighed raggedly, brokenly. Her heart railed against what her mind knew to be true. Her gentle mother was dying.

Megan Glendower Lloyd lay in the bed across the chamber, slowly bleeding to death from a final, futile attempt to give her husband a second son. There was nothing to be done but await the end.

"Is she dead yet?"

Keely whirled around at the sound of that voice. Her skin prickled with loathing at the sight of her stepfather.

Baron Madoc Lloyd filled the doorway. Tall and muscular, the baron could have been a handsome man except for the revealing coldness in his gray eyes.

Keely stared hard at him. Her startling violet-eyed gaze judged him guilty of murdering her mother.

"Am I a free man?" Madoc asked in a loud voice.

Keely flushed with appalled anger, pointed an accusing finger at him, and opened her mouth to speak. Before she could utter a word, a spectacular bolt of lightning zig-zagged across the sky outside the window behind her, and a deafening boom of thunder reverberated in the chamber.

"Hex me not," Madoc cried, crossing himself. He slammed the door shut.

Keely started to go after him, but the voice from the bed stopped her.

"Leave him to the divine forces," her mother said.

Keely hurried across the chamber and sat on the stool where she'd been keeping a lonely vigil beside her mother's sickbed. In spite of her sadness, Keely managed a smile for her mother.

"What Madoc desires most will kill him in the end," Megan told her. "Trust me, for I have seen it."

Keely nodded. Whatever her mother saw came to pass. Always.

"There was a time when Madoc loved me beyond reason," Megan said, her voice soft with remembrance, "but my heart belonged to your father. And still does."

That bit of information surprised Keely. Her mother had always refused to answer her questions about her real father, and so she'd stopped asking. Keely hoped her mother would say something more now. She'd waited a long, long time to learn about him. And now perhaps the waiting was over.

"You resemble me, but your violet eyes are his," Megan went on. "Each time I looked into your eyes, I saw him. Madoc could never forgive you for being
his
daughter."

"We'll speak more of this after you've rested," Keely said, realizing her mother was wasting what little reserve of energy she had left.

"My beloved daughter, I stand at the gateway to the Other World and will soon be gone," Megan told her. "By the time the cock crows, I will have begun the Great Adventure."

Keely opened her mouth to refute her mother's impending death.

"Do not deny what I have seen," Megan said. "It is Lughnasadh, the time of marriage and divorce, and I will finally be free of Madoc.... Fetch my sickle."

Keely hurried across the chamber to her mother's chest. She returned in a moment, sat on the edge of the bed, and offered her mother a tiny golden sickle used for cutting mistletoe from the mighty oak trees.

"Upon my death, that golden sickle passes to you," Megan said. Then she removed the only piece of jewelry she'd ever worn and gave it to her daughter.

From a heavy chain of gold hung a dragon pendant. A blaze of sapphires and emeralds, lit by glittering diamonds, the pendant was the head of a dragon. One ruby rose flamed from its mouth.

"Wear this always. The magic of its love will protect you," Megan said. "Your sire wears the dragon's tail."

Keely placed the necklace over her head and touched the dragon where it rested against her chest. "Will you tell me his name?"

"Robert Talbot."

A smile of pure joy lit Keely's face. She had waited so many years to hear her father's name, and now she knew.

"Walk among the powerful, but find happiness where the birch, the yew, and the oak converse," Megan said. "Trust the king who wears a flaming crown and possesses the golden touch. Beware the blacksmith."

A chill danced down Keely's spine. "The blacksmith?"

"Go to your father when Madoc exiles you," Megan said.

"That will never happen as long as Rhys lives," Keely assured her. She wanted her mother's final hours to be without worry.

"Though he does love you like a sister, Rhys is only your stepbrother and must obey Madoc or be disowned," Megan said. "I know these things because I have seen them. Promise to go to your father."

"I swear it," Keely said, then planted a kiss on her mother's cheek. "Where will I find this Robert Talbot?"

A soft smile touched the dying woman's lips. "Robert Talbot is the Duke of Ludlow."

Keely paled several shades. "The
English
Duke of Ludlow?"

Megan merely smiled at her.

"I'm a blasted Englishman?" Keely cried, appalled.

"Englishwoman," Megan corrected, patting her daughter's hand.

Disturbed by her mother's incredible revelation, Keely stared into space. She'd been bred to despise all that was English, but that tainted blood flowed through her own veins. Oh, Lord! Where did she belong? Here in Wales, the land of her birth? Or in England, the land of her enemy? Nowhere?

"Teach your children the Old Ways," Megan said.

Keely gave Megan her full attention. Thinking only of herself when her mother lay dying was horribly selfish. Thoroughly English.

"I will be with you again at Samhuinn," Megan promised. "Give me your hand."

As Keely watched, Megan drew an imaginary circle in the palm of her hand and said, "Remember, my child. Life is a circle with no beginning and no ending. You are born, you live, you die."

With one finger, Megan circled Keely's palm a second time. In a soft, chanting voice, she said, "You are born, a child, a young woman, an old woman... you die."

Again, Megan circled her daughter's palm and chanted, "Born, grow, die.
Reborn."

The hand holding Keely's went limp and fell away. Keely gazed at her mother's serene expression and knew she had passed into the Great Adventure.

Keely kissed her mother's hand. She leaned down, buried her face against her mother's chest, and wept.

Gradually, her sobs subsided and then finally ceased. Still, she rested against the comforting solidness of her mother.

What would become of her now? Keely wondered. She had lost not only her mother but her home. Though she'd lived her entire life at her stepfather's holding, Keely knew she was no Lloyd and had never felt that she belonged there. Now she was alone in the world.

Perhaps not. Her stepbrother Rhys loved her like a sister, as did her cousins Odo and Hew. And now there was Robert Talbot, the man who sired her.

Slowly and wearily, Keely stood up and went to her mother's table. She returned with a bouquet of oak leaves and mistletoe and a hooded white robe. Her mother's lavender scent clung to it, nearly felling Keely with aching loss. Placing the bouquet in her mother's hands, Keely kissed her cheek and whispered, "Until we meet at Samhuinn."

Keely shrouded her mother's empty shell with the white ceremonial robe. She touched the dragon pendant, gleaming against the crisp whiteness of her linen blouse, and prayed its magic would give her the inner strength she needed.

After taking a deep breath to steady herself, Keely left the chamber and walked down the torch-lit corridors toward the great hall. She stepped inside and nodded at her mother's women, who hurried away to prepare the body for burial.

Keely stood alone inside the doorway and scanned the crowded hall. Rhys wasn't there; but Odo and Hew, her loyal cousins, saw her stricken expression and hurried toward her.

Seated at the high table, Madoc looked up from his mug of ale and saw her.

"Well, she took her sweet time dying," he drawled in a voice slurred with drink.

Keely stepped back a pace as if she'd been struck. Her flawless complexion paled to a deathly white. All around her sounded the shocked gasps of the Lloyd clansmen and retainers.

How dared Madoc speak of her gentle mother in that despicable manner! Intending to set him straight, Keely started toward the high table, but her cousins reached her in time to prevent the confrontation.

Odo and Hew were larger than most men and possessed in brawn what they lacked in intelligence. Standing on either side of her, the brothers held her arms and warned her to silence.

Odo, the older of the two, nodded in the baron's direction. "Baiting him will serve no purpose."

"Where is Rhys?" Keely asked.

"He rode out earlier to go raiding," Hew answered.

That surprised and hurt Keely. "You mean, he went raiding even though my mother was near death?"

"He had no choice," Odo told her.

"Madoc ordered it," Hew added.

Keely stared with barely suppressed rage at her stepfather, who sat like a king at the high table.

"Where's my supper?" Madoc demanded, banging his fist on the table. "Bring more ale. I cannot celebrate my freedom without ale. And I want Elen with the big teats to serve me."

Keely's violet gaze cursed him, but heeding her cousins' advice, she turned away, her ebony hair swirling around with her movement. Keely left the great hall and headed for the kitchen. Like two gigantic hounds, Odo and Hew followed behind her.

"Greetings, Haylan," Keely called, crossing the kitchen to the middle-aged cook.

"I'm very sorry for Megan. Such a wise and gentle soul," the older woman said, hugging her. " 'Tis the baron's loss, though I doubt he realizes it."

"Grief makes Madoc hungry," Keely told her, blinking back tears. "Serve supper promptly, and be certain Elen attends the baron."

Haylan nodded and then shouted, "Elen!"

Answering the call, a pretty serving girl appeared and hurried across the kitchen toward them.

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