Here’s an exclusive extract from Margaret Brazear’s historical romance Scent of Roses.
She was arranging some wild roses Ruby had found for her in a little vase she discovered in the pantry. Rose was with her, trying clumsily to arrange her own little vase of roses and they were lost in their own occupations and heard nothing of the approaching horse, had no idea there was anyone else in the room with them.
Her first thought was that her child was in danger and she quickly scooped her up into her arms. She stepped back, away from him, her eyes wide and frightened. What was he doing back here? She thought. Someone must have given her away, someone must have seen her and reported back to him. Why else would he come when he believed them all dead of the pestilence?
“You are alive?” He asked in a bewildered tone.
She drew a deep breath, summoning her courage to hold on to her pride.
“I am sorry to disappoint you,” she answered defiantly, wondering how she could get the servants in here, how she could call to them to take her child away to safety. She began to tremble, so much so she was afraid she might drop the little girl, making her clutch the baby tighter. Rose began to squirm, trying to loosen her mother’s grip, and Felice kissed her cheek in an attempt to soothe her.
He frowned and shook his head then took three long strides to stand before her. She took another step back, then another when he kept coming, holding the child ever tighter. He stopped at last and she turned to the side, still convinced she needed to protect her little daughter, that he would steal her away as he had her son.
“Felice,” he went on, although he moved no closer, “I thought you were dead. I thought you were lying beneath one of those anonymous mounds out there in the churchyard. I have been through hell believing I had sent you into a village full of pestilence.”
“You did send me into a village full of pestilence.”
Although her heart had leapt with fear at the sight of him, part of her was overjoyed to see he had escaped the sickness. She had not realised how much it had worried her until that moment.
He had caught her this time, though. He had come before, and he must still have what he supposed was evidence of her guilt. She cursed her own complacency for believing he would not be back, not now he believed her dead. She would have to part with her child and stand trial; he was the judge and jury and he had already found her guilty. Once more she tried to think of ways to escape. Perhaps she could throw herself on his mercy after all, but to do that, he would expect a confession and she could not confess now any more than she could then.
Her heart was hammering with rising panic and she choked back tears of despair. Just as she was beginning to think a life of isolation would not be so bad, just as she was beginning to rise above her feelings for Christopher, devote her love to her little girl, he had come to drag her back to the castle where all that awaited her was choking death at the end of a rope. It was so unfair!
“The whole village was wiped out,” he said. “How did you survive?”
Her pride rose up once more and she felt angry, defiant. She could have explained to him how they had kept to the house, kept away from the villagers, but that would have been too simple and would not relieve her anger.
“Well, let’s see,” she answered sarcastically, “witchcraft? You have not yet accused me of that, have you? But please, I beg of you; not the flames.”
He flinched at her words, as though he had been physically punched.
“I came here at Christmas time, over a year ago, looking for you. Where were you?”
“Hiding? From me?”
He took another step forward and this time he reached out to her, but she held tighter to Rose and turned away from him.
“Of course from you,” she answered. “You came to take me back to hang me. Why should I not hide from you?”
“I came to tell you Immeth was not poisoned, that she knew she was dying.”
Relief washed over her; at least she would not be standing trial, she would not be forced to part with yet another child.
“I already knew that,” she said bitterly.
“That night was not the first time I saw her. I could see she was ill; she was yellow, like old parchment. But you did not even notice.”
“Why did she not tell me?”
“I daresay she was waiting for you to see for yourself, waiting to see if she meant that much to you. Obviously, she did not. I thought you loved her, but she was a convenience, just like your wife.”
“No. You were never that.”
Felice took a deep breath to give her courage.
“Well, My Lord,” she replied. “It was good of you to take the trouble to come and tell me I am innocent. Perhaps you would be good enough to leave me in peace now.”
He shook his head slowly, his face wearing a stricken look.
“No. I have been scouring the countryside for survivors. I came here by chance when I saw signs of occupancy. You must come home with me.”
She wanted desperately to refuse him, to say she would never live with him again, but that choice was not hers. She was still his property, and she knew him well enough to know he would take her by force. And then there was her son, who she did want to see, but was he better off without a mother now that he had grown used to it?
“I have no wish to go with you, My Lord,” she answered at last.
He looked around at the broken shutters, the badly patched roof where the rain and snow would pour through in the winter, where the wind would blow the fire out and leave her frozen and choking.
“You cannot stay here,” he argued. “I did not realise how bad this place was.”
“It is no worse than Immeth’s little cottage with the holes in the roof,” she said. “Did you never notice?”
He gave her a puzzled frown, then shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I did not notice. It seems I did not notice a lot of things. I want to make it up to you. Will you not give me a chance to earn your forgiveness? You said you loved me, remember?”
Yes, she remembered clearly but it did not make him hesitate to accuse her of murder, to assure her she would hang. What good was her love, if it did not even make him stop to consider? She had loved him, she had loved him dearly; now she could not say how she felt about him.