Her Dark Knight's Redemption
Publication: January 1, 2020 by Harlequin Historical
‘This man was shadow and night…
He was Darkness.’
Homeless Aliette is saved from punishment for stealing by a mysterious knight. This stranger informs her that to stay alive she must claim his child as her own. She should fear the knight’s power, and yet it’s clear there’s more good to this man than he’s prepared to show. Can she break down the barriers of the tortured knight she calls Darkness…?
‘I can assure you, monsieur, the child is yours.’
Reynold didn’t bother to turn for the woman who was standing behind him. He rarely acknowledged anyone unless it suited him. The woman’s guttural accent and well-aged sweat stench ensured that she was most definitely beneath him in every way.
In truth, almost everyone was. If Reynold was forced to entertain among the parasites who clung to the teat of court, he would say, but for the King of England, he was beneath no man.
In the privacy of his own home, he barely acknowledged he was beneath God.
He was a knight, highly skilled and deadly with almost every sword and blade man had ever made. Yet what no one knew was the fact that he was deadlier with the games he played. Those who did discover this hidden talent didn’t survive to spread the tale.
He was also fortunate enough to possess wealth that rivalled King Edward’s. Some of it was amply displayed in his private chambers, where he and the peasant behind him stood. Cascading silks, intricate gold-threaded embroidery in colours resembling precious gemstones and volumes of books. He owned many homes and travelled more than any man he knew, and the books always travelled with him.
The only matter that irked him was his wealth didn’t rival the church’s. But he consoled himself that they had had a thousand years in their plundering and he had years ahead of him to bridge the difference.
He was all of this, yet what set him above others was his family name: Warstone. Through that title, he gained unimaginable power and unparalleled fear. Though he wanted only to obliterate every last relation, tear down every monument and shred all scrolls bearing the name he was born into, for now, he used it for his purposes. In the end, it suited the games he played. And he looked forward to the time when the name wouldn’t matter anymore. Then he wouldn’t acknowledge the Warstone legacy just as he didn’t acknowledge the commoner shifting warily behind him.
Commoners always shifted when in his presence, often readied their little feet to make a dash for safety. It never did them any good. They could run to beyond the edge of existence and, if he desired, they’d be dead. Nobles were too stupid or lazy to realise they should be warier in his presence. Instead, they often shared their pitiful lives or confessed...as if he’d have pity.
Wondering if the wench behind him needed to die, he shifted his gaze from the sights beyond his window, to the reflection in the glass which revealed a distorted reflection of her...and a child she held.
Distorted, but enough to know from her dark hair to her tattered clothing that the babe in her arms couldn’t be his...if that was to be her claim. It was visual information that didn’t surprise or please him and he waited for what her fear should be telling her. Run.
Perhaps she had some noble blood and didn’t know her life was about to end. Not here, in this particular undisclosed home in the heart of Paris, however. He wouldn’t sully this sanctuary with her spilled blood.
But die she must. He didn’t abide by liars or cheats and, by her clothes and the colour of her hair, she displayed both these traits.
For now, he waited. The night sky was black, but not still. All around were the twinkling of candles among the haphazard elegant buildings. If he strained his hearing, he could discern sounds of laughter and shouts. Paris never slept. It was one of the reasons he enjoyed coming here. There was a certain acceptance of all walks of life, both human and animal. And since the city housed everyone and everything, he enjoyed his anonymity. Because until his game was done, he didn’t want to be found.
‘Are you still there?’ he replied.
The woman’s small gasp reminded him why he allowed her access to his home in the first place. Vermin often provided distraction from the long winter nights. This was her sole purpose when his guards notified him that a woman requested to see him. The only difference between her and all the others insisting on his presence was that this one carried a child.
When he granted her access, he hadn’t exactly felt curiosity. That would have implied some emotion and, as usual, he felt absolutely nothing. After all, she wouldn’t be the only woman to claim a child was his. There had been many such claims since he was old enough to procreate. So many false claims carved out his longing for a child and buried it along with his heart somewhere along the darkened paths he had been forced to take. Still, he craved what he read in a book: about a home and hearth after a long journey. What he had never experienced in life—a family, a true family—and so he granted her access.
But now that he saw her reflection, he regretted his impromptu decision.
Now he had to suffer through her denials, perhaps pay her some coin. Most likely he’d order her killed. Disappointing.
Returning his gaze to her reflection, he continued, ‘The child isn’t mine, but the coin you’ll receive when you leave could be yours.’ Temporarily. ‘But only if you leave now without another word.’
He prayed she’d keep quiet, even though he knew she wouldn’t. A waste of a life and his time. He had never lain with this woman. It wasn’t her poverty giving her away, it was the colour of her hair.
He never laid with a dark-haired woman when his own was as black as his soul. He wanted no babe to be called his. Oh, he knew it held no certainty—however, he was a master at bending the odds in his favour.
Thus, he never lay with the same woman twice, never left a trace of him in her bed or semen in her body. Never lay with a dark-haired, or a grey-eyed, woman. If she had a babe, then the babe had a possibility to be fair like the mother and he could deny his responsibility.
‘The child’s yours, if you’d only look.’ The woman took a step forward, her foot soft on the wood planking. She wasn’t properly shod for winter. Another desperate wench trying to survive the last months of winter. Too bad she spoke and ensured she wouldn’t survive this evening.
‘Words you give me,’ he said. ‘It appears you don’t want the coin. I’d have my guards take you from this room, but I’m aware of the child in your arms. For its sake, I will give you until the count of three to leave. After that, whatever harm comes your—’
A coarse laugh erupted from the woman. ‘I knew you’d be like this. Cold and unforgiving. But I don’t care, it suits my purposes, it does.’
This woman had...purposes. Intriguing. If this commoner had purposes, she knew something about him. If so, his need for anonymity had been compromised, which didn’t suit his games at all.
His survival depended on his obscurity. This woman would die, but he had questions first. Deliberately, Reynold turned and swept his eyes from her feet to her features.
The woman was far coarser than her reflection revealed. From the roughness of her skin to the mud staining the bottom of her gown, the very air she held was one of servitude, and something else he recognised...greed.
Avarice. It was that emotion prompting him to look at the babe in her arms. If she had financial purposes, they weren’t well planned. The child was small and he hadn’t been in Paris for almost two years. This one looked puny and, despite the icy winter wind, the babe was scarcely covered. The cheeks and hands red though they’d waited inside his heated home.
The head, however, was completely exposed, revealing a shocking amount of black hair. Black hair similar to that of the woman in front of him. But she wasn’t claiming the child was hers...only his.
With hair that dark, he could not immediately dismiss it. ‘Who is your mistress?’
‘Not my mistress, though I pretend she is. Paid me nicely to keep quiet, but I knew you’d return so I waited. I waited, because as much money as she had, you have more.’
The woman shrewdly perused the room, her eyes resting on a gold enamelled box. ‘I’d say you have plenty more.’
‘You say the babe is mine and the mother paid you to keep quiet about me? You’re quite the confidante.’
‘I’m no confidant or friend. I hate her. She believes I am only fit to empty her chamber pot. No one looks at the servant cleaning their piss. But I was there the night she left to visit you and I was there the months after you left. When the time came, I let her know I was noticing.’
The woman smirked. ‘Thought she was the clever widow, passing off the child as another gentleman’s. So when I said I knew it wasn’t his, she paid me exactly what I asked her to. She begged me not to tell her current lover because he paid her more because of it.
‘But I got wise, ʼcause she loves this child, and she paid me quick. This woman is cold, like you. She wasn’t afraid I’d tell that listless braggart who moaned between her spread legs. Oh, no, she was scared I would tell the true father.
‘That’s when I knew you were important. That’s when I knew you’d have the hefty coin. Something to set me up real nice.’
His memory flashed of a wealthy blonde widow who took coin for her favours. Though he couldn’t remember her name or exactly what she looked like, there was such a widow here and he had lain with her a year ago.
An emotion scraped across his heart. One he hadn’t felt since he overheard his parents’ machinations to break him. It was now slinking across his insides as if it had merely been waiting. It was faint, but even so, familiar.
Because though there was enough evidence before him to question this commoner’s truth, there was enough plausibility for it to be true. A greedy servant, a black-haired child and a wealthy mistress, who loved her child enough to protect it against him. The widow he thought of had been a courtier, but had fallen on hard times, thus, an exception to his rules. She was a noble who knew how to run.
But on the heels of that fear was something bright and piercing. If this child was his...he couldn’t think that way. Mustn’t despite everything, but already he could feel the need to hold her in his arms, to see for himself. As he had done so many times before. Would the need never stop haunting him?