Out of the Dark
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by JoAnn Smith Ainsworth
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Blinded--she by nature, he by loyalty. As a blind woman seen as a flawed commodity, Lady Lynnet is used to the idea that she's unlovable. But her parents' plan to force her into a loveless marriage is too much. Wandering, upset and lost in the cellars of the King's castle, the darkness doesn't frighten her, but the murder plot she overhears chills her to the bone. Worse, no one believes her, and the only one she can turn to is a Norman sheriff whose voice sounds disturbingly like one of the conspirators. Basil, Sheriff of London, is battle-hardened, fiercely loyal--and torn apart. He's falling in love with the Saxon beauty, and he longs to show her she is worthy of love despite her physical limitation. But the very corruption she is helping him root out may implicate his own half brother. How can he turn his back on family--for an Anglo-Saxon woman? Warning, this title contains the following: no explicit sex.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: December 2009
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [235 KB]
Reading time: 135-189 min.
"The sheriff might be a part of this."
"I can't believe that," Geoff said, his voice getting louder as he made his point. "I've known Basil for at least five years. He's honorable."
Lynnet turned towards Geoff. He was leaning against a tapestried wall near the fireplace. Even the vague outline of his lithe, powerful body seemed ready to spring into action.
"He came along immediately afterward," she said. "He sounded angry that he'd missed those men."
"I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation."
"You must ask Basil for protection." Matilda waved her arms while making her point. "Those men are trying to kill you."
"I don't know for sure that today was connected to yesterday in the cellars. The men today were ruffians. They may have wanted ransom."
"It's more likely the two are connected," Geoff said.
"At least you believe me. My parents think I'm hearing things. Since I lost my sight, strange things sometimes happen."
Lynnet touched her crystal where it nestled under her blue woolen bodice.
Matilda gave Lynnet a hug before plopping down in a chair opposite the fireplace.
"Of course, we believe you."
Geoff moved away from the wall and approached Lynnet.
"If there's the slightest chance of trouble brewing, the sheriff needs to know. The crown must be protected."
"That's right," Matilda said.
"Basil has the king's trust," Geoff added.
"You should give him yours," Matilda insisted.
Lynnet's head was a whirl. Bewildered, she started sputtering.
"Many guests from northern shires stay at the king's residences during winter court," Matilda cautioned her, "including Basil's father. They could easily sound alike."
Lynnet felt immediately relieved. Basil's appearance in the cellar could have been pure coincidence.
"Do you think the earl could be the conspirator?" Lynnet asked.
Geoff shook his head in a shadowy movement.
"The earl would never turn against his king. But there are others from Chester who would."
The heaviness surrounding Lynnet's heart since yesterday lifted. The bond she'd immediately felt with Basil hadn't been misplaced. Her heart had known him innocent even while her mind thought him guilty.
"You must tell Basil. If the king is in danger, there must be no delay." Geoff was adamant. His certainty was like the tide. It could not be fought.
"I'll talk with the sheriff."
"You must tell your parents, also."
Lynnet turned in the direction of Matilda.
Her stomach knotted at the thought of it.
"It'll be worse if you don't."
"But they told me not to get involved in politics."
"You have no choice. The king must be protected."
"You're right, of course." Lynnet was resigned.
"We'll go with you."
"From now on," Geoff said, "don't go anywhere by yourself. It's too dangerous."
Lynnet agreed. Her world was definitely no longer safe.
Basil bent over the large oak table in an anteroom of the Treasury on the storeroom level of the Tower, going over the figures the scribe had written down and double-checking the tally. A pen and ink map of the cellars cross-referenced to lists of supplies in each storeroom was spread out on the table. The scribe and the retainers who had helped take the inventory were seated nearby.
When the Treasury door crashed open, Basil turned towards it, exasperated at an interruption. Only minutes before, according to a two-hour rotation schedule, the guards assigned to the vault changed with much stamping of feet and shouting of orders. Basil had just refocused on the inventory figures when here was another interruption. He turned towards the intruder, frowning. His frown changed to a smile when he saw who it was.
"Lord Geoffrey, good to see you." He shoved his wooden chair backward, scraping it across the stone floor, and rose to greet his friend with a bear hug and much slapping of backs.
"And I, you. It's been awhile."
Basil offered him a chair, but Geoff chose to stand.
"What brings you to the bowels of the Tower?"
"Lady Lynnet of Osfrith."
Basil's stomach turned queasy.
"What does she want?"
"It's a confidential matter of some urgency. I'll take you to her."
"You rich people don't care what important work you interrupt, do you?"
"We like to keep you poor bastards downtrodden."
Basil shook his head wearily, resigned to not completing the verification of the inventory. At the same time, his heart beat faster as he wondered how the Saxon beauty would treat him today.
Basil waved a hand towards the cluttered table.
"Give me a moment to finish up here."
He addressed the scribe and the retainers. "Lock the map and lists in the trunk. Give the guard the key. Meet me here tomorrow at dawn so we can finish the tally."
He stuck his short sword into its sheath and turned to Geoff.
"Lead on, Baron. Let's find out why the lady raised this hue and cry."
Basil sympathized with Lynnet as she stumbled over her tongue while relating the events of yesterday and this morning. Her she-devil mother butted in, criticizing and belittling.
He was also incensed.
She should have told me this yesterday. I need to report this to the king.
They were assembled in her parents' chamber. It was one of the more elegantly furnished chambers in the Tower with heavy velvet bed draperies, brightly colored tapestries and leather chairs. The large fireplace was well-stocked with logs against the chill of a bleak November day.
Lord Geoffrey and he leaned against the wall beneath the shuttered window. Lady Matilda and Lady Lynnet sat on chairs. Lady Durwyn sat primly on the edge of the bed, her feet on a stepping stool. The position put her higher than the other women. Her husband had pulled a cushioned stool towards the bed and sat like a whipped cur at his wife's feet.
Lady Lynnet had just finished relating this morning's abduction when her mother broke in.
"You must forgive my daughter, Sheriff. She's given to flights of fancy."
Lady Durwyn rose and faced him. She took a deep breath and pulled herself up to her full height.
"It's difficult for me to divulge this, but for the longest time our daughter told us she could see the ghost of my deceased mother-in-law."
"But, Mother," Lynnet said, wringing her hands, a deep frown creasing her forehead. "Lord Geoffrey found the rug they wrapped me in."
"I don't deny you were kidnapped, Daughter," her mother said in a tone that clearly said 'do not interrupt'. "The bruising on your face is serious, not to speak of unsightly."
Lynnet visibly winced.
"I just say you were taken for ransom, not conspiracy. After all, the wool trade made my lands prosperous. I'm quite wealthy. Any fool knows those ruffians were after our money."
Lynnet blushed, looking embarrassed. Basil was about to come to her defense when her father spoke up.
"My dear, we need to keep an open mind."
Lord Wilfgive's high-pitched, tenor voice seemed excessively conciliatory. In size, Lynnet's father was only a couple of inches taller than his daughter. His wife towered over both. Despite his well-known reputation as a scholar, on the short-legged stool he seemed insignificant. The exception was the quality of his clothing. That was designed to impress.
"We should hear what the sheriff has to say," Lord Geoffrey said.
Everyone's attention focused on Basil. When Lady Lynnet turned towards where he stood, his heart speeded up despite his intention to be disinterested. He cleared his throat.
"I'm investigating a series of robberies from the Tower."
His bass voice reverberated against the stone walls, making him self-conscious. This was the aspect of his occupation he liked the least. A man of action, words were a second choice.
"It's possible this abduction had nothing to do with yesterday. Perhaps the thieves saw your daughter as an easy prey for kidnapping and a ransom."
Geoff pushed himself abruptly away from the wall, seeming to startle Lynnet. He ran his fingers through his hair as if agitated.
"But she heard someone speak of chaos in the kingdom. We can't take lightly anything that touches on the king."
Before Basil could assure Geoff that action would be taken, her father spoke up.
"You haven't known us long, Baron. Our daughter hears voices that no others hear. It started after illness caused her blindness."
Basil watched Lynnet's face flush beet-red.
"Father, I'm blind, not deaf. My hearing is better than yours. Most times, what I hear can be explained."
"But there are other times, Daughter. This may be one of them."
Basil's stomach gave a twist as if he was the one under attack. Lynnet was being made to look foolish in front of her friends and him. He cleared his throat.
"I'll look into both your daughter's kidnapping and the conspiracy," he assured them.
Geoff leaned back against the wall as if satisfied.
Lady Durwyn started pacing, something a noble woman never did in company. The train of her purple woolen kirtle dragged against the flagstones. It demonstrated the intensity of her distress as she spoke.
"I don't want to be embroiled in lengthy investigations."
"I'll do my best to shield you during my inquiries."
The husband calmed his wife, his voice soothing.
"See, my dear, the sheriff will handle everything. We don't have to be involved."
Not involved? Your own daughter's life is at stake.