The Sound of Diamonds

by Rachelle Rea

Her only chance of getting home is trusting the man she hates.

With the Protestant Elizabeth on the throne of England and her family in shambles, Catholic maiden Gwyneth seeks refuge in the Low Countries of Holland, hoping to soothe her aching soul. But when the Iconoclastic Fury descends and bloodshed overtakes her haven, she has no choice but to trust the rogue who arrives, promising to see her safely home to her uncle’s castle. She doesn’t dare to trust him…and yet doesn’t dare to refuse her one chance to preserve her own life and those of the nuns she rescues from the burning convent.

Dirk Godfrey is determined to restore his honor at whatever cost. Running from a tortured past, Dirk knows he has only one chance at redemption, and it lies with the lovely Gwyneth, who hates him for the crimes she thinks he committed. He must see her to safety, prove to the world that he is innocent, prove that her poor eyesight is not the only thing that has blinded her—but what is he to do when those goals clash?

The home Gwyneth knew is not what she once thought. When a dark secret and a twisted plot for power collide in a castle masquerading as a haven, the saint and the sinner must either dare to hold to hope…or be overcome.

Chapter 1

Gwyneth

Leiden, the Low Countries, the Netherlands

23 August 1566

A crash shook the nun’s cell I had called my own since seeking refuge in my mother’s homeland. My gaze snapped to the door. A sister screamed somewhere within the convent. Glass shattered. The rumbles of men’s dark shouts arrowed fear straight into my heart.

A man burst into the cell, the door banging against the far wall. My breath seized in my throat, for I recognized that red hair and those fearsome brown eyes. Devon Godfrey, known to most as Dirk.

I lunged behind the only chair. “Come no closer!”

“Fear not, milady.” He stepped toward me, his masculine voice speaking English words familiar yet foreign to me after months in this place where I heard only feminine voices speaking Dutch. “I mean you no harm.”

My gaze latched onto the dagger strapped to his baldric. I fought the urge to shriek. No harm? He meant me no harm? He who killed my parents before my very eyes!

“You lie.” I dared a quick glance around, searching for a weapon of any sort. Seeing naught but the chair I stood behind, I bemoaned the Spartan nun’s cell. “Why would you rush in here if not to do harm?”

His gaze imprisoned mine. “I came to rescue you.”

“From what?” This was not what I expected. The only thing I needed protection from was the man in front of me. He was why I was here, now, in this vile land full of Protestant heretics. We had met only once, on the night my parents died, but I knew all I needed to know about him. For he had done the deed.

He stretched out both hands. “Milady, I know you have every reason to fear me—”

“I most certainly do.” The whisper slashed through his half-formed sentence. A frisson of fear crawled up my spine.

His eyes narrowed. “You must trust me. ’Tis the only way we shall survive this night.”

The sound of glass shards pelting cold stone clapped my ears. Voices, looming louder and louder, assaulted my mind. Sisters’ voices. Women I had lived with for months now, ever since my parents died. I should have been able to discern to whom they belonged, but the cacophony of noise denied me that privilege.

A large hand clamped on my upper arm. I tried to wrench away, but the hard fingers held fast.

“Release me!” I struggled against him, to no avail. Through the lenses of my spectacles, I met Dirk’s gaze. His dark eyes revealed one emotion—determination.

“They approach. This group seems especially violent. We must be away.” He dragged me toward the door.

“Who approaches?”

“The mob.”

Horror spun through my stomach like a winter storm. “A mob? Attacking the convent?”

Dirk pulled me into the narrow hallway. The heady odor of tallow candles filled my nose. Speckled light danced on the cold walls, but darkness drowned me—my mind as much as my eyes. How had he found me? Uncle Oliver had agreed I would be safe here, in the Low Countries, in this convent hidden away in Leiden. He had protested against the notion of my hiding so far away—even in the land of my heritage—but my insistence that Dirk could never find me here had been enough to convince my uncle.

Yet here Dirk was, with a firm grasp on my arm, leading me to who knew what.

“Wait.”

He ignored me. I dug the heels of my leather shoes into the floor. His head whipped around so fast I reared back. For a moment, I was thankful for his hold—surely the swift movement would otherwise have sent me stumbling. My gratitude fizzled when I caught a glimpse of the fury in his gaze, illuminated by the meager amount of candlelight that graced the hallway. Had that same fury painted his face as he plunged a dagger into my parents’ backs?

“We have no time.”

My ears rang with the clamor that grew louder every second, reminding me that the convent was even now being overrun and raided by a violent mob. “I demand to know where you are taking me.”

“Foolish woman.” He tried to pull me forward but only succeeded in dragging me. “By the time I told you, they would be upon us, and we would be dead.” His look bade me believe he spoke the truth, but I shook my head. How could I be sure of aught he said?

I could not. Not ever again. Not after what he had done. “I doubt I will be any better off in your bloodstained hands. You murdered my parents.” I spat the words.

A sigh spilled from him, and the flickering candlelight flashed upon a sliver of pain in his eyes.

Before I could scoff at the pretense of remorse, a scream from somewhere behind us reached a painful pitch before cutting off. My muscles seized. Dirk yanked my hand so hard it seemed he nearly severed my arm from its socket. I lurched forward. He flung me toward the wall then followed me into a small alcove I had not seen before. Tears pricked my eyes as I took a shuddering breath. I knew the owner of that scream. Sister Margried. Such a sweet soul. Always ready with a kind word and gentle smile.

So unlike me.

She and Sister Agnes and I were the only English women here; both had taken me into their care when I arrived. Margried, only two years older than my own eighteen years, had become as close as a sister to me. Where were they?

I did not realize I was squeezing Dirk’s hand until the diamonds on my rosary pressed into my other palm, alerting me to the tightness of my fists. When I tried to pull away, he refused. Prayers surged from my heart in a torrent.

How long we huddled there in that tiny space, I did not know. No other screams shook my soul, but breaking glass, thundering shouts, and maniacal cackles of laughter gave rise to a realization. The threat of the danger sucked the air from my lungs. This convent in Leiden—the safety it promised was now like every other promise. Broken. I wished I could cover my ears to drown out the reality. I pictured glass becoming shards after falling to the floor. Pottery shattering into thousands of pieces.

The truth hit me with such force I almost gasped aloud. Rumors of the violence had made the sisters and me wonder if the chaos would reach this province, this convent, this so-called sanctuary where I was supposed to be safe.

What bitter irony. Uncle Oliver had agreed to my coming here where I could recover from my grief, where I would be protected, where I could consider entering the convent as a postulant—a pursuit impossible in Protestant England. Instead, the man I had hated ever since the night I met him, when I saw him standing over the bodies of my parents, a dripping dagger in his hand, had crashed into my life again. Stood beside me. Even claimed to be my protector.

While the Beeldenstorm riot raged all around us.

The Calvinist preachers throughout the Low Countries had stirred up those disloyal to Catholicism. It had begun in Poperinghe on the fourteenth of August: raiders had entered the churches, torn out the organs, removed the sacramental altars, broken windows, destroyed paintings and statuaries, stolen the plate and vestments and anything popish.

No. No, he was wrong. That could not be what was happening. “This is not a church, but a humble convent!”

“Nevertheless, these men seem intent on destruction. Come. We must get out of here.” He tugged on my hand, trying to pull me in the opposite direction of the clamor. But, unable to push the scream I had heard from my mind, I halted. He released my hand and gripped my upper arms, his brown eyes boring into mine. “Do you not realize what is happening? How can you ask me to wait?”

“I refuse to leave my sisters behind.”

He let go of me as if my gown were on fire. “Sisters? Have you taken vows?”

“Nee, I have not.

A low growl escaped from his chest as he clasped my fingers once again and led me down the hall, to our left, toward the noise. A metallic odor stung my nose. My stomach rolled. Surely it could not be… but it was. The same smell I had encountered that fateful day months ago when my parents had died. Blood.

No longer did shouts cascade through the air. Even the sounds of destruction—screams, thuds, shattering glass—seemed softer, fainter. I chanced a whisper. “Margried.”

Dirk tightened his grip on my hand in obvious warning. I did not care. What did it matter if I perished here in the convent at the hands of my enraged countrymen?

Better that than breathing my last at his hands.

“Margried.” The feeling fled my fingers as Dirk squeezed them, but a low groan answered me.

“Margried!” I wrenched away from Dirk, into the room to my left. Dropping to my knees before the still figure, my hands hovered over her, unsure of what to do. Was she in pain? Was she dying? Nee, I refused to entertain that thought even for a moment. I brushed away the hair that had escaped from her wimple, revealing eyes that widened with fright as they looked over my shoulder. “’Tis well. I am here.”

“As am I.” Sister Agnes emerged from a shadowed corner of the chamber, a rag in her hand. “Lady Gwyneth, what are you doing here?”

My gaze sought my friend, lying on the floor, obviously weak and injured. I glanced back at Sister Agnes. The older woman knelt at her sister’s side and pressed the damp cloth to Margried’s forehead.

“I am staying with you two.”

An annoyed groan rippled through the room, but it was not Margried’s. It was a distinctly masculine sound. Coming from a distinctly masculine creature. “There is no staying to be done. By any of us.”

When he scooped Margried into his arms, the girl’s eyes went wild with fright.

Sister Agnes rushed toward him. “Sir, unhand her immediately! ’Tis most unseemly!”

“I mean no harm, but we must be leaving. All of us.”

Sister Agnes’s mouth fell open. Those words again. No harm. Once more my heart did not believe him.

 “Are you coming or not?” Dirk pierced me with a look that said I was to follow or he would carry me out of the convent also. He darted to the doorway, looked right and left, and ducked out. I grabbed Sister Agnes’s hand and stepped after him. He headed to the right once more, to wherever he had been leading me before.

“Do you know this man?” Sister Agnes’s question hung in the air of the hall.

“Aye.” Do not ask any more questions. Especially not whether I trust him.

“How?” Sister Agnes could always be counted upon to be contrary.

A sigh ruffled through me. When I inhaled again, the scent of tallow candles warmed my insides. “His family is friends with mine.” Although he was not. Not any longer.

Another voice entered my ears, speaking the Dutch of my mother. Or shouting it, rather. I spun in time to see a burly man with a torch in his hand turn the corner of the hall. We locked gazes, he looking as surprised to see me as I no doubt looked to see him.

“Take her.” Dirk set Margried on wobbly feet in front of me. Agnes and I clasped the other woman in both our arms before she collapsed against us. Her groan sounded in my ear as I turned back to the flickering torchlight. The faint smell of smoke wafted over me. Dirk crashed into his adversary, causing the torch to fly over both of them and land in a doorway. Flames licked up the wooden door.

Dirk and the Dutchman wrestled for but a moment before the man’s head cracked against the floor and his eyes rolled back. Dirk rushed toward us and took Margried in his arms once more. “Come quickly. They will be after us in a breath.”

Sister Agnes gave no protest. She flew after Dirk, her habit embracing the narrow confines of the hallway like a bat’s wings. I chanced one last look at the man lying on the stones and the fire claiming the doorway behind him. Somehow I knew he lay unconscious, but not dead.

The convent erupted in shouts. Footsteps pounded behind me as I sought to run faster. They followed us. My countrymen. Men with whom I shared a heritage. But it mattered not. I was Catholic. They were Protestant. Thus, I was the reason for their fury. They were here to purify the convent’s grounds of what they called graven images. Heretics. Anger convulsed inside me with the ferocity of a storm-tossed sea.

“Run, milady!” Agnes’s call broke through the sound of my own breathlessness. My lungs heaved for air. How long did this hall stretch?

The shouts behind me grew louder. I looked over my shoulder. The man nearest to me grinned, his teeth gleaming in the light of his torch. I swallowed my scream at the terror that filled me. I fixed my gaze straight ahead, and a burst of moonlight sparked in front of me. A door had been opened to the outside. My soul dared to hope I might come out of this alive. I must. Sister Agnes and Margried needed me. They knew not to what villain we had entrusted our escape. I must survive this, if only to warn them that we could not trust him.

My eyes adjusted to the brightness to see that Margried no longer jostled in Dirk’s arms. He no longer ran. Instead, he stood by the door, reaching toward Sister Agnes, coming toward him. Where was Margried? Surely he had not tossed her aside in order to run more swiftly? My fury threatened to bubble over as I watched Sister Agnes leap through the open door. Did she so willingly desert her sister?

“Gwyn!” I heard Dirk shout and met his gaze, suddenly angry at his calling me by my Christian name—and shortened, at that. Then I trembled at the fear in his expression and tumbled to the floor. Shrieking, I batted away the hands of the man who had grasped my gown and pulled me down.

“Where is your habit, sister?” The grinning man spat the last Dutch word. “Could it be ye are a lady sequestered here?”

“No matter!” A younger man barreled toward us, his jowls bouncing. “I say we kill her!” The torch he carried blazed as he waved it and leered. He intended to use it as a weapon, and the thought of that fire lighting my skin sent a new strength streaming through me. But despite my struggling, the grinning one held me fast.

Wees gegroet Maria, moeder Gods

“Release her!” Dirk surged forward and sent a fist into my captor’s jaw. The man’s grip loosened, and I wrenched free. When I looked up, Dirk had sent the man flat on his back.

Cacophony ensued. More men emerged from I knew not where, but they obviously fought on Dirk’s side. One with shaggy brown hair leveled the one intent on murdering me with the torch. I scrambled back and tried to gain my feet but tripped over the boots of another. He looked down at me, chagrin on his face, as if sorry he could not help me rise.

“Gwyn, get out!” Again with his chopping off my name. Dirk freed his dagger and used it to cut through half the torch in the hand of a roaring man. I tossed a look behind me. Where was out?Through the door, of course. I lunged in that direction then cried out as something yanked off my wimple. Fingers fisted into my hair as I fell to my knees. My hands lifted to my forehead, where surely my blond locks were being torn from the roots.

“The more ye struggle, the worse it’ll be for ye.”

Gasping, I twisted on the floor, my knees collecting bruises as they banged against the stones. A cackle sounded in my ears. Horror streaked through me as a grimy face with blackened teeth neared.

“Full of fire, are we?” Noxious breath swirled in the air before my nose. His free hand disappeared into his pocket. The blade glimmered as it slid free.

A yell from behind the man caused us both to look up. Dirk met the man’s dagger with his own, tossing the smaller weapon across the stones with one swipe. The man’s grin vanished.

“Let go of her.” Dirk’s dagger rose to rest against my captor’s neck.

Fingernails trailed over my scalp as the man grasped my hair more firmly. He flicked his wrist with a savage throw that sent me reeling backward. Shards of pain caused the moonlight from the door to narrow into stars before my eyes. I reached a hesitant hand to the back of my head, regretting it the moment my light touch doubled the discomfort. I slid my fingers beside my skull and felt the sticky droplets.

Was this how I would die, then? In the middle of a battle during the Beeldenstorm, my own blood streaming around me? I fought the dizziness, but the shouts continued to fade.

A form dropped beside me. Dirk’s expression remained as stony as the floor on which I lay as his gaze went to my blood-red hand.

His features softened then hardened again, this time into an expression I dared not believe. Concern? He looked past me, calling for his men, but it took all I had just to keep my eyes open. My ears refused to invest the effort into listening to his words. My mouth felt fuzzy, but I tried anyway. “Margried?”

I had seen Sister Agnes exit through the door Dirk had opened, but where was Margried?

His two men were there, then, hovering over me from their full heights. How was it that I, no petite woman, felt so small compared to these men? I am lying on the floor.

The brief words the men exchanged around me failed to penetrate my mind as I struggled to make sense of why I lay there. What had felled me? I could not remember. I needed to remember. More so, I needed to stand. I shifted in an attempt to rise.

Dirk must have surmised my intent for he tunneled his arms beneath me. When he lifted me, my head spun even more. Nausea swept over me in a deadly wave and not just from my head wound.

I lay in the arms of the man who had murdered my parents.

Completely unable to do anything about it.

Chapter 2

Dirk

I cradled her to my chest and prayed she could not hear my heart pounding inside it. Of course, her eyes had closed and she did not appear to be hearing anything at all at the moment. Which was why my heart raced like it wished to escape from my ribcage.

“Will she live, do you think?”

The frankness I usually appreciated about Ian only gave rise to anger at his question. My jaw tightened. “Aye.”

His brows rose as his gaze lowered to my shoulder. I merely turned away, toward the door, not needing to look. I could feel the blood from her wound seeping into my shirt. And it frightened me to no end. This was not according to plan. There had been no intention on my part to ever feel fear for her. To ever feel anything for her.

She, a woman I had met only once before, was a means to an end, a pawn in the plan that would redeem me. Take her from the convent. That had been the goal for the day. If I saw her safely home, mayhap that good deed would be enough to, at the very least, cast doubt that I was the one who had murdered her parents.

The plan had escalated into much, much more.

Bodies littered the hallway, some gone, some groaning. Other raiders would soon join them. We needed to be gone by then.

Without a word, I strode from the scene. Gwyn and getting her to safety were my only priorities. Her and the two sisters now in my charge. I still could not believe she had spun away from me and into that room without heed. She could have been killed if a raider had been lying in wait for her. The thought brought my gaze to her once more. She moaned softly against my chest as she bled into my shirt. I clenched my jaw against the sound but still felt the trickle that warned her injury was serious.

The cool of the night greeted me before I fully emerged from the convent. Cade appeared beside me as I stepped through the door. Our gazes met. For there before us stood the nun Gwyn had called Agnes. She had one arm wrapped around the shoulders of the younger one whose name I could not recall. In her free hand she held a short dagger—if it could indeed be called a dagger. It more resembled a kitchen knife.

Whatever it was, she pointed it at me.

“Come no closer!” So she spoke English. Gwyn had chosen this convent strategically, then. So close to the shore, it appeared it was a favorite of English women, for both the nuns before me spoke my language. Agnes’s features froze as her gaze darted to the bundle in my arms. “What have you done to Lady Gwyneth?”

I exhaled. “Naught but rescue her from raiding villagers.”

“How badly is she injured?”

I glanced down, my throat seizing at the way long golden lashes fanned across the face of the girl I held. Such a pale face. She was losing blood. “Badly. Now will you put that down? We must be away from here.”

To my surprise, Agnes obeyed with mouth closed. She shifted to tuck the knife into the folds of her habit. The movement jostled the younger nun; she tipped to the side. Agnes reached for her, and they both started to go down.

Cade surged forward, caught the nun before she hit the ground, and lifted her into his arms. Agnes gave him a long look before stepping back, as if satisfied enough by what she saw in his expression to trust him with her sister.

“Let us go.”

“Go where?” Agnes shot me an uncertain look.

“Away.” Noting the way her face reddened, I glanced at the man to my left. “Ian, lead us.”

Ian gave me a curt nod and forged a path away from the fiery convent toward the moonlit woods. I nodded for Cade to go on ahead. The young nun’s eyes, wide with wariness, met mine over his shoulder then dropped to Gwyn.

Agnes went next, and I thanked God for one woman able to walk on her own. I glanced down at the one I carried and pulled in a deep draught of air, nearly choking on the acrid smell of smoke filling the air around us.

Gwyn’s brows knit together, but she slept. Free from the pain, I hoped. For now. Please, Lord, will You heal her? As I faced forward again and followed in Agnes’s footsteps, I accepted our unexpected company. Mayhap it was best this way. Gwyn might be more comfortable with two other women present—presumably, friends.

If we could keep them all safe.

Ian and Cade stepped through the trees with the stealth of predators on the prowl. Ian kept one hand on the baldric crossing his chest. There was no one I would rather be following through the Low Countries than these two trusted friends.

They had been there for me through the darkness. Cade had known me since I had chosen the scoundrel’s way—and, after my father’s death, when I turned from that path. Ian we had met shortly after. These were the men who guarded my back.

In contrast to their trackers’ silence, Agnes crashed through the overgrowth like a drunken man. Autumn’s blanket of leaves protested her harsh treatment. As if my thoughts summoned her attention, she flung a look at me over her shoulder. “I know not your name.”

I had not met many nuns, but this one defied all my expectations. Despite the tension radiating through me, I could feel a smile tug at my lips, but I refused to give it lodging. How much had Gwyn confided in the sisters with whom she sought safety? If she had told them all about that night we had first met months ago, then the sound of my name would not be welcome. “You need not know it.”

The older woman stopped walking and crossed her voluminous sleeves, the motion adding to the bat-like appearance her habit lent. Her eyes narrowed. “I need to know who you are if I am to entrust our care to you.”

A low chuckle sounded from ahead of me. I passed her and shot Cade a look as I did so. The chuckle died as he snapped his gaze forward again.

“I am a friend.”

“How can I be sure?”

I expelled a sigh and again breathed in air tinged with smoke wafting from the convent. “Is not saving your life from the mob incentive enough?”

Her footsteps began again behind me. Wise woman. She knew it would be foolish to let us leave her behind alone in these dark woods not far from a fiery convent filled with raiders. Even so, I had every intention of allowing her to do so should she wish it. I already carried one woman in my arms.

Gwyn chose that moment to moan. My stomach flipped at the sound. When her eyelids fluttered, it flipped again.

“Halt!” I threw the whispered word at Ian. Cade stopped and turned to face me. I laid Gwyn on the leafy ground with all the gentleness I could manage.

She opened her eyes and looked straight into mine, pulling in a gasp at the same time. Her green eyes shuttered closed once more behind her glasses.

“Milady, how fare thee?”

“Lady Gwyneth!” Agnes flew to her other side and knelt. She grasped one of Gwyn’s hands in hers and her lips moved. Praying for her?

I moved my hand behind her head. She opened her eyes as I felt the wound. The smile Agnes had tempted me to show earlier burst into fullness as Gwyn glared at me. A good sign. She was not as weak as I feared.

My fingers probed the dried blood but came away clean. “The bleeding has stopped.”

Gwyn’s gaze narrowed on my shirt. “Staunched by your shoulder, no doubt.” Something unidentifiable flickered in her eyes. Just as swiftly as it had appeared, though, it was gone. Her gown rustled as she struggled to rise.

I pressed her shoulders down again. “Ian, how much farther to the river?”

“How do you feel, milady?” Agnes asked.

Ian glanced ahead then back to me, his brows pulled together. “Another hour of walking at this pace.”

“Well. I feel well.” Her voice sounded weak, trembling.

I nodded and slid my arms beneath Gwyn again.

“Nay.” She struggled against me. “I can walk on my own.”

“I sincerely doubt that.”

“Why not allow me to try?”

I hoisted her higher as she kicked her legs weakly. “Because you would slow us down.”

She stopped moving. The moonlight refused to cause a glare off her glasses, so I received the full brunt of her glower.

“Are we being followed?” She glanced over my shoulder, her nose wrinkling with fear.

“Nay. Not yet.” Did I believe we would be followed? Mayhap. Mayhap not. No need to ignore the advantage of the trepidation in her expression, however. If apprehension caused her to trust me and allowed me to carry her, then I would exploit it. And deal with the guilt later. For guilt did attack me when her green eyes widened and her nose wrinkled further.

“’Tis well, Lady Gwyneth.” The soft voice of the younger nun brought my gaze to her. “God is with us and will protect us.”

Gwyn relaxed as she took a deep breath. I kicked myself mentally. And why had I not employed the devout argument? Instead, I had alarmed her. Lout. I had to remember I dealt with women at the moment. Not a band of men. Not the servants of a keep.

In a way, remembering would be easy. I allowed my gaze to travel the length of Gwyn’s flaxen hair. The silky strands that had come loose from the knot at the back of her head played on my arms. So light against my skin. Almost white in the moonlight. It had been that hair that had caught my attention upon our first—our only other—meeting. The night she grew to hate me.

’Twas that night I sought to make restitution for.

“Let us go then.” At my words, Cade and Ian turned and started walking. Agnes walked slightly in front of me, but only slightly, as if she wanted to be able to keep both Gwyn and the younger nun in sight.

Lord, I am sorry. I had intended only to keep Gwyn safe. My motives had been true. Yet the fact that I had fallen into the mire of deceit and sought to manipulate her emotions did not sit well with me. That was the way I had managed situations for most of my life. A habit I was trying to change by the power of the Savior who had gripped me not quite a year ago. How easily I fell back into my old ways.

“Sister Agnes.” To my amazement, Gwyn’s voice soothed the spinning of my guilty thoughts. Should not her voice, the voice of the one I had hurt, have deepened the regret? Indeed, I had hurt her far worse than feeding her fears this night.

“Lady Gwyneth? Are you well?” Agnes fell back to walk beside me, her gaze never leaving Gwyn’s face.

“I am well.” The same answer she had given before. I did not believe her. “How was Margried injured?”

Agnes’s lips pursed.

“Sister Agnes?”

I willed the nun not to answer her, not to cause her anxiety.

“She…”

Disagreeable woman.

Margried’s soft voice spoke from a few feet ahead, where she looked over Cade’s shoulder. “’Tis well, Sister Agnes. You may tell her.”

I cocked a brow at the cryptic statement and noticed that Gwyn did the same.

Agnes nodded. “We were in the chapel, praying, when the mob arrived.”

Gwyn gasped. “Did they see you?”

“Aye and nay.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“We were not alone.” Agnes’s voice dropped to a whisper. Gwyn’s gaze swung between Agnes and Margried and back again. For one brief moment, she even tipped back her head to look at me.

“Many sisters sat praying when the doors thundered open. Angry men, torches held high, burst in.”

The sound of a strangled sob pierced my soul, and my gaze met Margried’s. Tears ran down her face. Ian gave me a shattered look but kept walking. I agreed with his unspoken decision to keep moving. If there was anything Agnes needed now, it was the slight distraction that searching for a spot to place her feet provided. The same was probably true of Margried needing now the shelter of Cade’s arms. I was unsure how I felt about the way Gwyn stiffened as I thought that.

“What happened?” Gwyn’s eyes softened behind her glasses.

“They struck down almost all of us. Margried and I escaped, but not before she fell upon her arm.”

The horror of the truth seemed to strike Gwyn and everyone else into silence.

Except Cade. “Which arm?” When Margried continued to weep softly into his shoulder, he whispered the words again, patient. “Which arm?”

She sniffed, looked up, and touched lightly the arm that lay against him. Inside of a second, he lifted her away from him, turned her body, and positioned her against his chest once more with her injured arm no longer crushed against him. Her sobbing picked up in pace.

One glance at Agnes revealed that her troubled gaze remained fastened on the forest floor. A lone tear sparkled in the moonlight as it traveled down her cheek.

I looked at Gwyn. Stoic, she did not cry, nor did she say a word; she only stared up at the sky. I risked turning my gaze upward. The jagged branches of the trees, cushioned by the soft foliage of late summer, formed a canopy above us that allowed snatches of moonlight to filter through. What did she see?

And why did she not cry? I thought of my mother and youngest sister and knew they would have dissolved into puddles over hearing of lesser tragedies. Why did I care about the way she reacted? Was it mere curiosity, surprise that she seemed to take the relaying of the deaths of her friends better than many men would?

Who was this woman in my arms?

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