About the Book
Abducted on the way to her wedding, heiress Isabel de Lamere is unaware that the scoundrel planning to use her for his own gain is the cherished champion of her childhood: Griffin, the White Lion. Yet even as she discovers his treachery, Isabel cannot deny that Griffin lingers in her dreams, awakening the passion in her steadfast heart.
Then a twist of fate puts a price on both their heads, embroiling them in a life-and-death chase that will force Griffin to choose between his own freedom and his fierce desire for the woman who would redeem his noble spirit. But to reclaim his lost honor, the White Lion could lose Isabel forever. . .
Winner of the National Booksellers Best Award for Best Historical Romance of the Year
RWA Rita Finalist for Best Historical Romance of the Year
Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Romance of the Year
"Has everything I look for in a good medieval romance: a strong hero, an intelligent and caring heroine, a really unpleasant villain, and plenty of atmosphere. It also has a few unexpected twists and turns, which complement an excellent plot...the romance is pure gold."
—All About Romance (Grade A / Desert Isle Keeper)
Excerpted from White Lion's Lady
by Lara Adrian
Published by: Lara Adrian, LLC (May 2012)
Copyright © 2001-2017 by Lara Adrian LLC. All rights reserved.
(Note: Excerpt may contain explicit language and sexual situations).
Mocking laughter rang in Isabel de Lamere's head as she fled the enormous outdoor gathering, trying to escape the scene of her humiliation. To think she had actually been excited to attend the summer feast at Droghallow, a demesne held by a friend of her father's. Eight-year-old Izzy had looked forward to the event for weeks, eager for the chance to don her finest kirtle and make new friends of the children from surrounding shires.
It might have been a fine day indeed, if not for Droghallow's odious young heir. Sent reluctantly by his father to see that Izzy enjoyed herself, instead the lad had made mean sport of her, ridiculing her awkwardness in front of the other children. Before long, they were all making fun, finding fault in everything about her: her pudgy limbs, her plain face and freckled cheeks, her unruly red hair. Izzy had fled the group before her tears could further condemn her.
Sucking in great gulps of air, she ran down the motte and across the wide plain in no particular direction, stopping only when she found herself utterly breathless, waist-high in the tall grass of the outlying gully. She collapsed to her knees in the cool, shifting reeds, fighting to choke back the sobs that stung her throat and trying to focus on anything else but the knot of hurt the children's jibes had left in her heart.
Her search for diversion led her teary gaze to a patch of blossoming weeds but a few paces before her. There, a butterfly had paused, its pretty yellow wings beating as it drank from a wild daisy. Perhaps she could capture it for a pet, she thought, watching as the pretty insect lit softly on another of the sunny flowers. She got up and crept toward it, but as if it sensed her stalking dangerously near, the butterfly took flight, fluttering off on a zigzagging path toward the edge of the woods.
It took little coaxing for Izzy to follow. She chased after without so much as a backward glance or a thought for her previous troubles, single-minded now in her determination to catch her prize.
The shade of the forest cooled her skin as she stepped into the dense glade, the great oaks and towering conifers sealing her off from the bright light of midday at her back. The rich scents of moss and moist sweet earth surrounded her. Birds rustled in the treetops high above, their trilling chatter drowning out the din of celebration taking place on the castle hill. A woodland creature scurried unseen in the bramble near Izzy's feet, fleeing from the intruder's path.
As if being led to another world, Izzy followed her butterfly guide deeper into the thicket, her eyes trained to the tiny beacon of color dancing amid the shadowy gloom of the forest. It hesitated some distance in, alighting on a tall orange flower, drinking in the nectar while Izzy stole up from behind. She sunk her teeth into her lip in utter concentration, looming overhead, so close she could smell the pungent perfume of the bell-shaped bloom. Very slowly, she brought her hands up from her sides, cupping her palms as she homed in on the feasting insect, eager to hold the iridescent beauty if only for a moment. Alas, it flitted off once more.
Izzy gave chase in earnest now, following after on a mad trail that led her first in one direction, then another, but ever deeper into the cool dark woods. Determination made her reckless, made her oblivious of the scrapes her bare ankles took as she lifted her skirts and crashed through the thickening underbrush. She ducked under spindly outstretched branches and waded into large patches of dew-kissed ferns, pursuing relentlessly until, at last, she lost sight of her quarry.
But it was far worse than that, Izzy realized suddenly. She had completely lost track of where she was.
She stood there for a moment, pivoting her head in search of a path out or some means of getting her bearings. Nothing looked familiar in these woods. The dense foliage swallowed up both sound and light from outside, making it impossible to discern the direction of Droghallow's castle. Izzy's heart, which was still pounding hard from the chase, now picked up an urgent beat.
Heaven help her, she was lost.
I am not afraid, she told herself. She would simply follow her tracks out of the woods and head back safely to home. Turning, full of new resolve, Izzy took the first step.
It was then that she heard a rustle in the bramble a few paces ahead of her. Twigs snapped under a heavy gait, followed by an animal grunt and a deep snort. Izzy knew she was in danger even before she saw the boar's wild-eyed gaze and sharp ivory tusks. The bullish, hairy beast blocked her path, sniffing at the air. Evidently deciding she was foe more than friend, the boar curled its lips back and let out a throaty squeal of warning.
Izzy swallowed hard. She had nowhere to go. The trees were thick and many here, knitting her in from both sides; behind her was a sea of tangled underbrush that would surely slow her flight.
The boar advanced, head low, eyes trained on her.
Izzy stood unmoving, staring wide-eyed as the boar inched closer. It sniffed at the ground, growling and snorting. Some subtle movement nearby caught the beast's attention and for an instant it looked away. Her body tensed, every fiber urging her to flee regardless of her dubious chances of escape.
It might well be her only hope . . .
The firm command seemed to whisper from out of the very trees themselves, instantly rooting Izzy's feet to the ground. "Stand very still," the voice instructed her. "The slightest motion could make him charge."
Izzy stood frozen, scarcely able to breathe. She watched the boar's snout twitch, its beady eyes searching for signs of this newest intruder. She tried not to let her gaze linger on the sight of those awful tusks: curved, lethal slashes of gleaming white against the beast's swarthiness.
"That's it. You're doing very well." The gentling voice sounded again, closer this time. "Tell me your name."
"Iz-Izzy," she stammered, little more than a tremulous whisper.
"I am coming up behind you now, Izzy. Be still. Don't be frightened."
But Izzy was terrified. The boar bared its teeth, tossing its head and shrieking in a deep murderous pitch. The horrible noise chased a shiver up Izzy's spine, leaving her entire body trembling. "Oh, please," she sobbed quietly. "Please, help me."
There was a crunch of movement behind her. Did her rescuer near, or was he instead deciding instead to make his retreat and save his own hide? Izzy could not be sure. In front of her, the boar pawed the mossy ground with a cloven hoof, snout down, the hairs on its back standing up like a bristly, coal-black fin. It gave a quick snort.
Then it charged.
Izzy screamed. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting to feel the certain, savage impact of the boar's tusks at any moment. She waited, but death did not come. Instead, she heard the sharp grate of a blade being unsheathed from its scabbard. She felt a rush of cool air as someone leaped in front of her, sweeping her out of harm's way with a strong, sure arm.
Twigs snapped under the boar's enraged attack. A cry rang out then cut short suddenly. The ground beneath her feet reverberated with a heavy thump, the sound of solid weight hitting soft, moist earth.
Then all went utterly still in the forest.
It took several moments before Izzy dared open her eyes. When she did, she saw the beast that might have killed her lying lifeless on the ground. Standing over it in silent contemplation, bloodied sword in hand, was a golden-haired, lanky boy. He glanced over his shoulder as Izzy approached. Striking green-gold eyes met her astonished gaze.
"You saved my life." Izzy came up beside him, finding it difficult to keep from staring at the felled beast, which was frightful even in death. "That was the bravest deed I've ever seen," she whispered. "You might have been killed in my place."
"A man must be willing to face danger," he told her as he cleaned and resheathed his sword. He turned a solemn gaze on her. "'Tis a knight's duty to protect a lady in need, whatever the risk."
Izzy blinked up into his youthful, sun-burnished face and felt herself warm from within. She had never been called a lady before. Nor had she ever seen such chivalry demonstrated outside the realm of her imagination. Awestruck and utterly speechless, Izzy took in her champion's features, from his mane of shoulder-length, wheat-colored hair and leonine green eyes, to his blunt nose and proud, finely cut chin. He was still a youth, perhaps a half-dozen years her senior, but to Izzy's way of thinking, he possessed all the courage and honor of ten grown men.
He was wholly magnificent, this golden stranger who had just saved her life, and Izzy fell just a tiny bit in love with him.
"Come," he said, holding out his hand to her. "The woods are a dangerous place for a young maiden alone. I will see you safely out of here and back to the gathering." He guided her along an obscure path through the bracken, his warm hand engulfing her fingers, his every step as sure and capable as his strong, steadying arm. "What possessed you to venture so far into the forest unescorted?" he asked her when they had gone some distance. "'Tis one thing for a lad to prefer running wild in a dark glade over the stuffiness of a noble gathering, but quite another for a maid to feel likewise."
Izzy did not want to admit to him the shameful cause of her flight from the celebration. "I was chasing a butterfly," she said, a half-truth, and a foolish-sounding one at that. "Before I knew it, I had lost my way."
"Be thankful you did not lose any more than your way," he scolded dryly, though Izzy could see a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. They reached a spot where the growth was thick and tangled, clawing branches blocking their way. Gallantly he swept it aside, allowing her to pass freely beneath. "After you, my lady."
Beaming, she ducked beneath the mass of briars, then bobbed a quick curtsy to him. "Why, thank you, Sir . . . ?"
"Griffin." He returned to her side, smiling, then offered her a courtly bow. "Griffin of Droghallow, at your service."
"Droghallow?" Izzy paused, feeling a sudden tug of disappointment. "Surely you cannot be kin to Dominic of Droghallow?"
The lad gave her a quizzical look. "Do you know him?"
Instantly the jeering image of her chief tormentor's face sprang into Izzy's mind. "His father and mine are acquainted, but I assure you, I have no wish to know Master Dominic. Just this afternoon he was making terrible fun of—" Izzy frowned, unwilling to finish the thought. "I think he's an awful bully," she amended.
"Aye, Dom can be unfairly cruel," Griffin said, almost apologetically. Then he leaned forward, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "If he troubles you again, just tell him how you have heard he is deathly afraid of the dark. Remind him that he cannot sleep a wink unless a torch burns beside his bed all night long. Once he knows you have his secret, I doubt he'll be eager to bother you anymore."
Izzy grinned up at him, grateful for this further kindness. It seemed the boar was not the only beast her golden champion would slay for her this day.
"Dom and I are not blood kin," Griffin added as they continued walking, following the light that marked the edge of the woods. "His father and stepmother took me in when I was a babe, orphaned and abandoned at Droghallow's gates some five-and-ten years ago. To my knowledge, I have no living relations."
"None at all?" Izzy whispered in frank sympathy. Her parents were so dear to her, it was impossible to imagine not having them in her life. "Do you know nothing of your family?"
"Only this," Griffin said. He paused to withdraw a pendant from beneath his tunic and held it out to her. It was a small half-circle of enameled bronze—a medallion, embossed with the image of a white lion rampant in its center. "Lady Alys, Dom's stepmother, found it in my swaddling the day she brought me in. It's all I have of my true parents . . . whoever they were."
"I'm sure they were great people," Izzy told him, hearing the note of sadness in his voice and feeling a sudden need to fix it. "They would be very proud of you today, Griffin."
He glanced at her, then let the medallion fall back against his chest with a shrug and started walking once more. "Sir Robert—Dom's father—says I have the makings of a fine knight. He is training me as his squire, and one day I shall be made a member of the garrison here at Droghallow."
"You'll be his best, I have no doubt," Izzy declared, trotting along to keep pace with his long strides.
Griffin chuckled. "I mean to be better than that," he said, staring distantly ahead at the path, his brows drawn together in thought. "I mean to be a great knight one day. A man of my own means. A man of honor."
Her head turned toward him, Izzy blinked up at her champion in total admiration. "Then so you shall," she said, matching his declaration with the instant, inexplicable faith that he could do anything he set his mind to. "You shall be the greatest, most noble knight in all the realm, Griffin of Droghallow!"
"Do you think so?" he asked, pausing to regard her with that intense stare of his.
She smiled, fully confident. "I have never believed anything more."
Her fervent avowal hung between them for several long moments, filling the silence of the glade. Then Griffin smiled too, his slow, spreading grin dimpling his cheeks. "You are an odd girl, Izzy. An odd girl, indeed, given to chasing butterflies and believing in a stranger's dreams." She glanced away from his green-gold gaze, frowning down at her slippers, suddenly embarrassed. When he reached for her hand, she did not know what to do. She could only stare, astonished, as he lifted her fingers to his lips and pressed a chaste kiss to her palm. "It has been my great pleasure to meet you, my lady."
Grinning, he started to back away from her, edging deeper into the woods. Izzy watched him, too dazed to ask him where he was going. Her pulse was beating so fast and loud in her temples, she scarcely heard the angry shout that sounded from some distance behind her in the field. It sounded again, closer now.
"Isabel de Lamere! Where have you been?"
It was her nurse, come to fetch her. Izzy knew without looking that the large old hen of a maid was huffing her way across the plain and not at all pleased to have been dispatched from the celebration on her present errand. But despite the threat thundering up behind her, Izzy could not tear her gaze from her golden champion's handsome face.
"Sir Griffin," she whispered, but then he was gone, turned on his heel and vanished into the shadows of the trees. She looked down at her palm, to where her champion's lips had touched her, and as her gaze fell, she noticed something glittered in the loamy ground at her feet. His white lion medallion. The chain was severed, evidently lost to him by a break in one of the links. "Griffin, wait!" she called as she picked up the pendant and scanned the forest for any sign of him.
A moment later, her nurse was upon her, seizing her by the wrist and dragging her in tow away from the forest and farther afield, to rejoin the gathering. Izzy trotted along, clutching the medallion in her fist, happy if only for the chance she might have to see Griffin again, to return his pendant and thank him once more. Griffin of Droghallow had saved her life today. He had called her a lady, kissed her hand . . . and stolen her heart.
Izzy felt the fires of a thousand romantic musings stir to life within her when she thought of him. Never would there be a man more noble nor more honorable than her brave hero, her chivalrous White Lion, Griffin of Droghallow. She believed it with all her heart.
Autumn, ten years later
"Have ye no heart, Griffin of Droghallow? 'Tis death ye deliver upon us today!"
Of the score of grubby-faced peasants assembled in the village for the surrender of the rents, only the miller's wife dared to speak out. Heavy with child and another clinging to her skirts, the matron waddled forward bearing murder in her eyes. It was a look Griff had seen often enough in his line of work as captain of the Droghallow guard that he scarcely bothered to pause as the woman approached the place he stood, securing the straps on a cart laden with grain sacks and wool. Several livestock had been tethered to the wagon as well, the bleating complaints of sheep and lowing of cattle doing little for Griff's patience in his present task.
This was only the first of a half-dozen villages he and his men would see today in their duty of securing the month's rents for Droghallow's coffers. It had been a hard year for the country, made worse with the new king's relentless demands of his vassals and allies to show their loyalty by sending funds to support the burgeoning war in the Holy Land. Everything of value in England now had its price. Royal manor houses went up for bid; noble titles inherited through generations had to be further secured by huge tariffs to the crown; and in courts across the land, lawsuits were settled in favor of the party offering the largest bribe.
Richard Plantagenet had just been crowned, but already he was preparing to leave London. He and his army were soon to be away, fighting to win back the Holy Sepulcher for Christendom. It was a noble mission, but some wondered if England's price would prove too steep. Some wondered if the king's brother, Prince John, would show more interest in England's welfare were he in power instead.
Granted a fair share of English titles and properties upon his brother's coronation, John kept a close watch over the country he was certain would soon be his. And while some noble vassals collected funds to support a Holy War, others collected in secret for war of a vastly different kind: a royal war that might well pit brother against brother.
With England's fiefs pressed from all sides, it was the villagers who suffered most, Droghallow's among them. They were overworked and tired, in an uproar over the news that in their lord's greed to purchase more lands and titles, Dominic, Earl of Droghallow, was seeking higher rents than ever before. Most of the holdings would be unable to pay. Foodstuffs and animals would be taken for trade instead, dooming the peasants to a long, cruel winter.
But their suffering was not his cross to bear, Griff told himself as the miller's wife drew up two paces before him, angry tears in her eyes.
"What manner of beast are ye, Griffin of Droghallow, that ye would take food from our children's mouths and wool that would warm the little ones in the cold months to come?"
The woman's daughter, a waif-like creature, stringy-haired and impossibly thin, came out of hiding behind her mother's skirts. "Don't cry, Mama," she said in a small voice, hugging her close. "Please, don't cry."
Griff glanced away quickly and yanked on one of the wagon straps, pulling it tighter than needed, concentrating on the burn of braided rope against his palm rather than looking for one moment longer at a child who would likely be dead by springtime.
"Does a serf's life mean so little to a knight? Can ye not see that we need every cow and fleece and sack of grain that can be had? Do ye not care—"
"'Tis not my place to care, madam." Griff harshly tied off the strap and turned to stare down at the miller's wife. "I've been sent to collect what is due Droghallow's lord. Now stand aside and let me finish."
"Animal!" she railed at him, her round jaw quivering. "Soulless beasts, ye are! May the lot of ye rot in hell!"
Griff felt moisture hit his face and he paused, momentarily stunned. The woman had spit at him. The gathered crowd, which had been watching the entire exchange in rapt attention, now stood wholly mute and unmoving. Silence reigned in that next moment, as if no one dared even to breathe. The miller's wife held Griff's stare, but her entire body shook with terror and she clutched her daughter a little tighter.
"P-please," the woman stammered. "M-my lord, I beg pardon."
Griff said nothing. With the back of his hand he wiped the spittle away, too surprised to be angry, too indifferent to be offended.
The focus of his attention was now drawn past the circle of peasants to the mill, from where his men were emerging. Treading along before the pack of knights was the miller, head bowed, hands tied at his back like a criminal.
Odo, Griff's lieutenant, led the group, grinning proudly. "Just like a miller, skimming a bit off the top of everything he grinds. Swore up and down that he was keeping nothing from us, but we found three more sacks hidden behind a false board in the store room."
"Add them to the wagons and let's be on to the next village," Griff ordered, eager to be done with the day already.
Seeing the rents collected and delivered was only the first part of his mission for Dom. There was another task awaiting him at Droghallow, a task that had occupied his thoughts continually since Dom first discussed it with him a few days ago.
During a trip to the royal court, Droghallow's enterprising earl had come into the knowledge that a young heiress, recently inherited and since betrothed at the king's order, was soon to be en route from a London convent to her new home some leagues north of Droghallow. She was to wed in a month, to Sebastian of Montborne, one of King Richard's most powerful—and wealthy—vassals. That this man also happened to be one of Dom's most hated political rivals only made the opportunity for treachery all the more tempting. Dominic wanted the lady captured and brought to him, promising Griffin his pick of Droghallow knights to aid him in the task and ahandsome reward upon his successful return.
Griff mentally added the crime of kidnap to his long list of past sins and skullduggery performed at Dom's behest. He had never considered himself the bride stealing sort, but the lure of so much silver was potent bait. And Griff did not mind dirtying his hands as long as it was worth his while.
Buoyed by the thought of a rich boon soon to be his, Griffin walked around to his waiting mount and stepped into the stirrup.
"What about him, Griff?"
Odo gestured toward the miller who now stood huddled together with his wife and daughter. From where he sat, high atop his destrier's back, Griff stared down at the couple who waited in dread for his decision. The man would surely see severe punishment at Droghallow, too severe, when his crime had been done in part with the intent to help feed a hungry village. Still, the transgression demanded some manner of recompense.
"There are no more bags of grain or flour left in the mill?" he asked Odo.
"Not a one. The place is empty, I made sure myself."
Griffin nodded. With the harvest taken some weeks past, the mill would remain unused throughout the rest of the fall and coming winter. Looking past the dozens of watchful faces gaping up at him in fear and smoldering contempt, Griffin considered the idle wooden outbuilding. He slid a glance at Odo, then coolly jerked his chin in the direction of the mill.