Reclaimed by the Knight
Publication: September 2018 by Harlequin Historical
“He left to save his family…”
Now he’s back!
Nicholas of Mei Solis swore to do anything to protect his home—even going away to fight for it. This meant leaving beautiful Matilda, too. Now Nicholas has returned briefly to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one look at Matilda, now widowed and with child, changes everything. Suddenly Nicholas is compelled to stay…and to take back the future they both thought they’d lost…
'This has to be the most emotionally heart-wrenching book of the series. A fabulous addition to what is already a favourite series, I cannot wait to see what comes next.' - Frankie, Chicks, Rogues and Scandals
Unusual Historical Best Bets September 2018 - Wendy the Super Librarian
'This was a very emotionally charged book filled with misconceptions, mistrust, forgiveness, second chances and growing up.' Tracy, Flippin' Pages Book Reviews
The baby kicked low in her belly and Matilda gasped.
‘What is wrong?’
She looked at Bess, who was still gleaning the fields and finding any grain that might have been missed in the late harvest. They couldn’t spare any food, but even so Matilda was always deeply satisfied when her bag was full. As if she’d been on a treasure hunt and could now feed her family and friends.
‘She’s kicking me again.’
‘It’s a girl today?’
Matilda thought about the sharp pain when she’d climbed out of bed that morning, the constant turning of the baby inside her, so that she’d barely been able to get bread down during breakfast, and now the deep thumping, like a rabbit in the woods.
‘Unquestionably, the baby is a girl.’ She pushed herself off the ground and pressed one hand to her lower back.
It wasn’t the first time she had been punched on the inside today, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last. The gleaning forced her to remain in the same position, and the baby demanded that she stretch. Her giving in to the kick was a compromise she happily made, though the reprieve wouldn’t last long.
There was more work to be done, and the fields were full of families who were stuffing their sacks. Nearby Agnes, the cordwainer’s only daughter, was crawling on the ground. Unlike the other children, however, she was taking the wheat shafts and stacking them like houses. Matilda wondered which of her brothers would ruin her creations first.
Bess stood and stamped her feet. ‘If your reasoning holds true, the baby will be a girl.’
‘You think my certainty is ridiculous?’
‘Unlike you, I listen to our healer, Rohesia, who insists you’re carrying too low in your belly for a girl. Plus, the only reason you hold this belief is because of your own mischievous past and Roger’s temperament—’ Bess clamped her mouth shut.
‘Do not worry,’ Matilda said.
There was only one reason why worry ever crossed Bess’s face, and that was if she believed she’d hurt another. Matilda did hurt, but not because her friend had remarked on her husband. She hurt because he was gone.
‘Forgive me.’ Bess clapped her hands to her cheeks. ‘I keep forgetting.’
Matilda saw Bess’s dismayed face and felt her own emotions turn inside her again. She was familiar with it. Grief that she hadn’t dared release.
‘There is nothing to forgive,’ Matilda said. ‘It’s been barely two full moons.’
She’d hurt more if no one mentioned Roger at all. That man, her childhood friend and her husband, deserved to be remembered. He had certainly deserved more than her as a wife. But there was no wishing for that now.
Bess exhaled and shook her head. ‘I’ve made it worse.’
Only for a moment. The least Matilda could do, was give her daughter her father’s even temperament. To that end, she was determined her daughter would know no sorrow, and that included her mother’s.
Swallowing hard, Matilda said, ‘As usual. Now all I have to do is wait until you say something truly grievous.’
Bess’s lips twisted wryly. ‘Give me a few moments.’
Matilda clasped her friend’s hand. ‘I’m gladdened that you forget he is gone. It will keep him alive when the baby comes.’
Bess’s eyes softened as she glanced at Matilda’s swollen stomach. ‘Anything you wish.’
‘Good. Though I try to be calm, I fear she’ll need all the gentle temperament she can get. She would do well to remember her father.’
Roger, her best friend and her husband, had been the exact opposite of her. Whereas she, in her youth, had always been taking risks and pulling pranks, Roger had been helpful and protective. Ever easy with his smiles and his care, Roger had been the absolute antithesis of the person she’d been, but she’d wanted his calmness in her life, and he...he’d wanted her.
Any moment she’d be crying, and then her friend would believe she had in fact hurt her.
A couple of blinks of her eyes and she saw a familiar figure on the horizon. ‘Louve’s on his way here.’
Bess turned. ‘It’s too early for the men to break from the harvesting.’
Glancing towards the sun, Matilda said, ‘Apparently not.’
‘Then something must be wrong.’
Feeling the same sense of urgency, Matilda placed her hand on her belly and locked her legs. There’d be no running for her.
‘There’d be others with him if there was something amiss,’ Matilda said.
Even after all this time it went against her instincts to hold still, but when Roger had died, for the sake of her baby, she’d vowed she’d be more like him. To set an example that would serve her child well and never to never turn out like her mother. Foolish. Heartbroken. Alone. Twice now.
Bess lifted her skirts. Despite her girth, she’d be able to run if there truly was an emergency. ‘Maybe they couldn’t be spared.’
‘And Louve can?’ Matilda answered. ‘At this time of day he must want to discuss the usual problems. Some argument or a missing tally stick.’
‘You do too much, and with only two of you now overseeing everything it’s not tenable.’
‘We’ll find a replacement soon enough.’
Until Roger’s death there had been three on the estate who oversaw the operations. Now there were only two—herself and Louve, who was both steward for the state and reeve to oversee the crops. She saw to the management of Mei Solis as well as helped settle disputes. Although since Roger—
No. In the fields all day, she thought too much of her lost husband.
Giving in, she strode towards Louve, hoping her mud-caked skirts would slow her enough to give the impression of serenity.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
Louve indicated behind him. ‘I came to warn you. Storm’s coming from just beyond that hill.’
She looked over his shoulder towards the field, where the men were cutting the stalks. If there was a storm, the hill disguised it. All around her were clear blue skies. And even if there was a storm, it shouldn’t bring Louve here.
Their arrangement was unconventional, but it worked. When lord of Mei Solis manor Nicholas had left to seek the fortune the estate so desperately needed, it had seemed reasonable to leave his friends and Matilda, his betrothed in charge. After all, he had intended to return within two years.
That had been six years ago, and in that time he had broken their betrothal. Despite this, they had kept to the managing arrangement because the manor, families and friends had prospered. She had married Roger, and even if her reputation had been whispered about, her authority on settling disputes and ensuring that Roger and Louve could come to terms had never been questioned.
‘Tell me why you’re truly here,’ she said.
Maybe Bess was right and something was wrong. On a day like today every man was needed to harvest the last of the crops. Louve was one of the strongest and quickest at the sickle, and every reaper was required.
‘I see no storm, and even if there was one, one of the boys could run and tell us that.’
Louve shrugged. ‘None of the boys wanted to protect their hands from blisters. I, however, have many reasons to pamper my hands.’
‘For the hordes of women after you, no doubt,’ Bess interjected.
Matilda almost snorted.
‘Exactly. I’d be useless to the women if my hands were wrapped,’ he said, with a curve to his lips.
Everything about Louve tended to be irreverent, even in the direst circumstances. It was part of his frustrating charm. That coupled with his exceptional blue eyes and black hair made him the most pursued male she’d ever known. Though lately his attention seemed only for the widow Mary.
‘I know exactly what the women would think about your uselessness,’ Bess quipped. ‘They’d be overjoyed not to be harassed by the likes of you.’
‘Ah, Bess, still pining for me, as always.’
Bess and Louve had been teasing each other like this for years. Bess, older than them both, was already married with a grown child.
‘That’s me—still waiting for you to get some sense. It appears I’ll have to keep waiting.’
‘Well, you know where to find me.’
Bess nodded. ‘Lazily talking with us when you should be reaping the wheat like the other men.’
Somewhere along the way Louve had picked up Matilda’s bag and swept more grain into it. It was then that his intent became irritatingly clear. ‘Are you here for me?’
Louve’s mouth quirked. ‘I’m here to save the grain. Storm’s coming.’
Louve was doing her work. The skies were still blue; there was no storm coming. ‘You can’t do this.’
Louve smiled ruefully. ‘You’re working too hard now.’
‘And the baby is kicking,’ Bess added.
‘Are you on his side now?’ Matilda said. ‘I’m working because there’s work to be done. Crops are better this year, so there’s more gleaning.’ A fact that had them all breathing a sigh of relief.
‘That sack’s getting too heavy for you to carry.’
She looked at the ground, thought of running horses to try and calm herself. When that didn’t work, she narrowed her eyes on Louve. ‘I’ll say this differently. I won’t have you do my work for me.’
‘Roger would have—’
Matilda held up her hand and shook her head firmly.
‘Oh, dear,’ Bess whispered.
But Matilda ignored her friend for now. She would also ignore all references to her husband. He was too recently gone, and though she wanted her baby to know of him, her baby couldn’t hear yet. Right now she didn’t want to be reminded of Roger’s protective nature when he could no longer protect.
‘It may be true...what he would have wanted...but I’m here now, and my crawling on this ground is a duty I need to fulfil. I’m not helping with the binding. I’m here with the children, gleaning.’
‘Stubborn as usual. What kind of reputation will I have if I can’t move a pregnant woman? I’ll never hear the end of it,’ Louve said.
‘You ruined your reputation when you were four years old, Louve, and you know it,’ Bess said. ‘And it appears—
Shouts came from behind them. A young boy was racing over the hill. His cries were carrying on the autumnal breeze.
‘Did he say we have company?’ Bess said.
Matilda turned her ear to the boy’s words, but they were still too faint. No one visited the estate. Up until this year they had been the ones who travelled to other villages and other markets to sell their wares. However, if the crops stayed this plentiful that would change. Until then...
Panting, the boy stopped in front of them.
‘We have guests arriving?’ Matilda cradled her belly, supporting the baby, who was blessedly still now that she’d given her room.
‘Visitor,’ the boy clarified. ‘With two giant horses behind him!’
The world...the ground underneath Matilda...shifted.
‘Steady,’ Bess whispered, grabbing her elbow.
‘How far out?’ Louve asked the boy.
‘Just outside the barren fields.’
If they could see a rider coming in that direction it meant he came from the east.
Louve glanced from Bess to Matilda and then back. ‘I’m closer than the others. I’ll get a horse and greet him before he reaches the trees.’
There was nothing to be discussed. It was the only choice, given all the men were in the opposite direction and she couldn’t move her legs.
Matilda kept her eyes on Louve’s long stride, taking him to the stables. ‘I will be well,’ she whispered. ‘Just give me moment more.’
Bess kept her hand where it was. ‘You knew this day would come.’
Matilda placed her hand on top of Bess’s. It was true. She had always known this day would come. Like a storm and the changing seasons. Like the endless rising of the sun and the setting of the moon. Like the certainty of time. She had known she’d see Nicholas again.