The Heart Remembers by Marissa St James by Marissa St James - Read Online

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Summary

Sylvia has no life of her own thanks to a domineering mother. All she wants is to run her own life. Sylvia is transported back to the early 13th century, where, as a widow, she and her younger daughter are summoned to King John's presence on false pretenses. The ladies are about to become the prizes in King John's jousting tourney. Faris has spent the last twenty years living with Moors in a peaceful life. He and his son return from a trading trip to find their small oasis settlement burned to the ground. Faris makes a decision to return to England with his son, Halim, where they decide to enter the tourney. Seeing Lady Sylvia stirs long ago memories. While neither Faris nor Sylvia recall their contemporary lives, they have an opportunity to recapture a past relationship and discover whether or not the heart remembers.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781603134651
List price: $3.99
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The Heart Remembers - Marissa St James

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old.

Prologue

Meredith and Aidan McConnell, dressed in medieval style clothing, strolled around the faire grounds. A note had come across Meredith’s desk that a problem existed somewhere here. Nothing was said as to who was involved or what the problem was. That was the reason for wandering about, at least the main reason. They were never disinclined to mix a bit of pleasure with business when the situation allowed.

This was their first stab at a time-related problem. While their last assignment had turned out successful, they didn’t want another that would take up so much time. It was fine for single guardians, but they had a daughter to consider. Brina had shown a curiosity for their work, and she might want a part in the business. It would hinge on whether or not she proved to have the ability to time travel. Only time could confirm that, then they would deal with it.

I had no idea they had dunking games in medieval times, Meredith commented. A man dressed as a peasant straddled a wobbly seat set over a large barrel. He was heavyset and didn’t seem like he’d go down easily, but if he did, they were sure he’d create a big splash. Aidan and Meredith stopped to watch.

Several men threw hard balls at the paddle above the man’s head, but never hit it hard enough. Aidan derided their attempts and they turned to him. You can do better? one sneered, daring him to try.

Is that a challenge? Aidan asked in turn, grinning.

One man glared and handed Aidan one of the balls he held. See if you can do better.

Aidan accepted the challenge and took the large ball. He kneaded it between his two hands, then took a pitcher’s stance, drew his arm back and let fly. The ball squarely hit the target and the hapless man was quickly and unceremoniously dunked into the cold water. Anyone standing too close to the tank was rewarded with a cold shower. The dunkee came up sputtering and shook his head, then managed to climb out while someone else took his place on the wobbly stool. He laughed good-naturedly, pointing toward Aidan as if in friendly warning. Aidan returned the grin and shrugged.

Still got the pitching arm, I see, Meredith said with a laugh. Think that was fair?

Hey! He challenged me. What was I supposed to do? Aidan’s devilish grin was irresistible. The couple continued walking around the grounds, gradually making their way toward the jousting area, munching on pastries and making comments about the varied events.

Look over there. Meredith directed Aidan’s attention toward a blacksmith’s shop and a small corral. She couldn’t say why she thought this was the source of their assignment, but she had good instincts and was rarely wrong. I have a feeling that might be just what we’re looking for.

* * * *

He’ll ruin that horse’s mouth if he keeps jerking on the reins. Someone ought to take a crop to the fool’s backside. See how he likes being mistreated. Sylvia’s words were laced with anger as she watched the amateur knight trying to control his mount. She knew better than to get involved with the wannabes. She’d gotten herself into a peck of trouble before because of their ignorance—or stubbornness. Chivalry shouldn’t be limited to humans, she remarked with disgust.

The knight didn’t miss the sarcasm with the last remark, and he dismounted. His shoe caught in the stirrup, and he leaned his weight against the saddle, wiggling his foot until he freed it. He dropped clumsily to the ground and gritted his teeth when he heard her snicker, and took a threatening step toward Sylvia, only to stop just beyond her reach. Anyone might think he feared her, a wisp of a girl. Begone, wench, he warned, lest you find trouble you cannot handle.

Sylvia snickered again and stood her ground, daring him to follow through with his threat. I daresay I could handle most anything you care to dish out, she muttered under her breath. When the knight realized he couldn’t intimidate her, he gave her the once-over as if sizing her up and finding her wanting. He turned away, yanking on his horse’s reins.

She cheered silently when the horse balked for a moment and looked ready to rear up in defiance of the ill treatment. Another hard tug on the reins forced the animal to follow its rider. One of these days, she commented softly. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. He’ll get his one of these days.

I know what you mean, Aubrey replied to her last comment. He half listened to the retreating fellow’s clinking armor.

How much would you bet he’s entered in the jousting contest? Sylvia asked, still watching the man.

No bet. It’s usually the ones who know the least who are most anxious to get into the fray. He’ll be one of the first—if not the first—to be eliminated, Aubrey replied.

Sylvia soon lost interest in the would-be knight and turned her attention to other goings on. A large field outside the town had been prepared in advance for the medieval faire. The field consisted of several acres of land, plenty of space to assure the accommodation of tourists the faire brought every year. Brightly colored tents were set up around the field’s perimeter, leaving plenty of room for the jousting contest. Tradesmen set up stalls in an area close to the town. They wanted to be seen first by the folks who came to enjoy the day. They were more than simple tradesmen, here to sell their goods. They were prepared to tell stories and answer questions about medieval life. The annual faire brought many tourists who dreamed of being knights or fair ladies, medieval merchants and more. Village merchants wore period clothing and hawked their wares, competing with the businessmen who came for the weekend. The wannabes, like the retreating knight, often didn’t know what they were getting themselves into and tended to sustain minor injuries. Despite being unsure of what they were doing, they brought a good income to the town.

Aubrey crossed his arms over his chest, then straightened them and leaned against the fence’s top rail next to Sylvia. He casually covered her small hand with his larger, callused one, then stared at their joined hands, a wistful expression on his face. Am I expected to prove my worthiness, like one of those knights? he asked, half joking.

You have nothing to prove to me, Aubrey. Sylvia stretched her fingers then curled them down so they fit snuggly between his. Aubrey was everything Sylvia could ever want in a man. His thick hair shone blue-black in the sunlight. His brown eyes were so dark they could pass for black. They hid a wealth of emotion. Aubrey was powerfully built, due to his work at the forge, blacksmithing and making swords. He was well-known for the quality of the weapons he forged and often sought after for his skills. More than anything, he was a man comfortable with who and what he was. One day, he would make some woman very happy. She could only hope she might be the one.

Don’t I? he asked in return, a look of doubt in his eyes.

Sylvia! I need you here, right now, a voice called from behind them.

The shrillness of it set Sylvia’s teeth on edge. She glanced behind her at one of the merchant booths, then turned back and leaned her forehead against the nearby toprail. She swore under her breath then glanced back again and nodded to her mother, carefully keeping her features blank. Sylvia turned to Aubrey. Wish I lived in a time when people deemed me smart enough to run my own life and make my own choices.

Sylvia, you’re twenty-seven. How can you let her do that to you?

Control my life? Easy, when she has the means to manipulate everything and everyone around me. She chases away anyone she doesn’t like. That usually adds up to everyone.

She doesn’t manipulate me.

Oh no, of course she doesn’t, she replied with sarcasm. She can’t because you never come around anymore.

You’ve been too busy helping her, running her business. You don’t have time for anyone or anything else. Aubrey glanced at Sylvia’s mother and caught her glare.

Same thing.

Not really, he replied, turning his attention back to Sylvia. You’re not a little girl anymore, Sylvie. You don’t need someone to give you permission to do anything. He raised her hand to his lips and lightly kissed her fingers. You have some hard choices to make, and you’d better make up your mind soon as to what you want, before you lose out.

Aubrey gave her a moment to let his words sink in, then backed away from her and headed toward the blacksmith’s forge.

Is that a threat? she called after him when she finally found her voice.

Aubrey turned to her but continued walking backward toward his forge. No threat. Just a statement of fact. No one will wait forever while you try to decide what you want to do. He turned away, but not before she caught a flicker of disappointment in his eyes.

Sylvia studied the play of muscles across his back, the way his t-shirt stretched when he flexed his broad shoulders. He was right. If she didn’t break free of her mother’s iron-fisted control, she’d lose the best thing in her life—if she hadn’t already. She’d heard the rumors. Aubrey wasn’t sitting home every night. There were any number of women who would gladly take her place and claim him for their own. Sylvia! The call came again, more shrill and insistent this time.

Yes, Mom, I’m coming. Sylvia cast one more look in Aubrey’s direction and saw him talking with Kendra. A smile lit his rugged features, while he pumped the bellows at the forge. He was showing off for her, and Sylvia knew he was also driving home a point. One day, she promised herself, she’d have what she wanted most—a home of her own, a family, and the love of a good husband. The problem was, it might already be too late for her and Aubrey. She released a sigh, believing dreams never came true—at least not for her—and headed back to work.

Chapter 1

Grains of golden sand tumbled down the side of the dune, creating unstable footing for the horses. The six Arabians waited, restless, tossing their heads nervously. They pawed anxiously at the sand, wanting to get away from the odor of death and destruction. The riders tugged on reins and lead ropes to get the animals back under their control. They spoke calmly, knowing the scent of blood was the cause of the animals’ restlessness.

The older of the two riders, Faris, seemed to stare impassively at the scene below. His dark stubbled jaw clenched tight against the anger filling every ounce of his being. He had learned only too well over the years to keep his emotions in check. That hard lesson, and the people who lived in the settlement, had kept him alive. His first thoughts were to avenge the lost lives of those he had come to love, but revenge at this point would have been useless. What direction would he go to find the murderers? The raiders could have been any number of bands roaming the desert. For all he knew, it could have been crusaders returning from another battle, or returning to their homeland, still filled with the lust for blood, bent on total annihilation of these peaceful people.

No, as much as he would wish it, revenge wasn’t the answer. Where would he take it? There were too many desert tribes who wreaked havoc on others. Unlike those who left their mark here, he was not a man to avenge himself on innocents.

The settlement, barely a village, lay black with soot and ash. The smell of burnt flesh lingered in the air, with that of carpets, household goods—everything that had been considered of little value to the pillagers. All the livestock had been taken. What was once his peaceful home was now total ruin. Hours earlier, Faris and his companion had seen flames reaching toward the night sky, beckoning on the breeze and calling him home. Ordinarily, they would have camped for the night. He knew their arrival would be late, but they were anxious to return. This journey to the larger cities had been profitable, and he was impatient to share his good fortune with his father-in-law and the rest of the desert dwellers. There was much gold for everyone.

The twilight sky had been ablaze with color, not unusual for a desert sunset, but an uneasy feeling crept over both him and his companion. When they had reached the top of the dune, where they now sat, everything they knew had fed the inferno. It must have been burning for hours, for in some places only piles of charred remains gave hint of a busy community. Knowing it was useless, but still hoping to find some life—any life—they raced to their home, as quickly as the cold shifting desert sands and the extra horses would allow. When the horses showed signs of nervousness, Faris and his companion dismounted and hobbled the animals, then ventured closer to what was once their home. The date palms and still waters of the oasis were the only life to escape destruction.

He’d found his father-in-law, Yusuf, barely alive. The old man coughed fitfully, his lungs filled with smoke, his skin severely burned and peeling from his body. He had only moments. The old man reached out to touch the younger one’s face. Take Halim and go. There is nothing left here for you. Teach him your ways, but do not let him forget his mother’s heritage. May Allah bless you both and keep you. With his last breath, the old man gave himself over to death.

Halim shouted his grief and anger to the darkened skies, swearing vengeance on those who had wrought this deed. Faris rested his hand on the boy’s shoulder and issued a quiet warning. Swear no oaths of vengeance. Anger will make you careless, and you will pay with your life. How will you find those who did this deed? There are many wandering tribes who survive by taking from others. Besides, have you forgotten so soon that you are the last of your family? It is up to you, now, to carry on. You cannot do that in death.

Faris breathed a sigh of relief when Halim bowed his head at the gentle reprimand and released the hilt of his dagger. All things in their own good time, but he knew it did little to ease the pain of loss.

Faris and Halim spent most of the night burying the dead deep within shifting sands. If they had returned hours earlier, they too, would be lying among the dead, and all would have been left to wild animals, vultures and shifting sands. From his present vantage point on the dune, shadows still hid most of the destruction. The sun appeared determined to show the world this was what happened when you trusted others. Faris closed his eyes against the brightening light and remembered the day he first arrived. Then, he was a foolish young knight, believing only Christian values were right and proper. That day must have been like this one. Destruction was much the same, but now he was seeing it through different eyes, and the price to him was much higher. Now he better understood what these people experienced.

He recalled the moment his ideals had begun to change. He saw two knights chasing people on foot, running them down with their destriers, swinging swords bright with blood. They turned their attention to a young girl who scampered from side to side along a stone wall like a trapped animal. He had been too far away to save the small life he had seen snatched from her arms and tossed aside like so much refuse. He rode toward them, his eyes filled with anger. These people were not warriors, but were treated brutally just the same. He saw the knights’ intentions clearly written on their faces. The trapped young woman had no hope of escaping them or the brutality they had planned.

He made short work of the first crusader, dispatching him to the hell he so richly deserved. He kept himself between the woman and her attackers. Infidels or not, many of these Moors were not warriors and didn’t merit being run down like animals. Battling the second offender took longer. The rogue knight had his prize, determined not to share her with anyone. His sword strokes were quick and almost true. Had he not been in such a hurry to partake of his captive’s charms, his aim would have been better. As it was, he slashed at Faris, causing serious wounds. The knight’s determined expression turned to one of surprise when he was skewered on Faris’s sword.

He wouldn’t be enjoying his prize after all.

Her face appeared in Faris’s memory—dark flashing eyes, a sultry smile, thick black hair that settled about her hips, emphasizing her slim figure and beckoning for attention. Her father, a Saracen merchant, was grateful for Faris’s protection. Father and daughter had hidden themselves and their patient until the plundering crusaders had left. The barely surviving knight was severely wounded and would have died that first day, if not for her care. Father and daughter devoted their time to restoring his health. After a slow but full recovery, he stayed on, working with her father, learning the ways of the Saracen. Time passed quickly, burying memories of his former life.

An attraction grew between him and the daughter. Having nothing to return to, Faris accepted her as his wife, and for the next five years they believed nothing could ruin the happiness they shared.

Then she was gone.

Her laughing image slowly faded from his mind. Every day made it a little harder to recall her smile and mischievous eyes. It was surprising that after twelve years he could picture her at all, but perhaps his son, who waited quietly beside him, had something to do with that. While the memories filled his mind, he and the boy finished the job of burying what dead they could find. Only charred ruins remained to mark the demise of a once thriving community.

Everything else was gone now, and it seemed fate had other plans for him. He had come almost full circle and it was time to close the gap. For just a moment, he closed his eyes and let the rising sun warm his weathered face. His features softened as he let go the memories from his mind to settle in a corner of his heart. Part of him would always remain here.

He gave his mount’s reins a gentle tug and turned away from the dune. The string of horses followed.

Halim never said a word, almost sure of the thoughts running through the other’s head. He took one last look at the deserted oasis, the only home he’d known. He reluctantly followed Faris with the packhorses, laden with what few supplies the invaders had missed. Where they were going he had no idea, but he trusted his black-eyed father without question.

* * * *

Three months later

Faris and Halim stopped before the closed castle gates and stared at the cold, forbidding structure. The sight felt strange to Faris. Twenty years had passed since he’d last seen his home. He waited patiently for someone to answer his summons.

Who goes there? a guard called down from the gate tower. The gray-bearded soldier leaned carelessly over the sill of the tower window and stared below.

Faris shaded his eyes against the setting sun. The guard had turned his shield so it reflected the last of the day’s brilliant light, before the great orb receded behind the castle. Faris looked to the challenger, what he could see of him. It put him at a great disadvantage. The Earl of Sheffield demands admittance, he called back.

The guard laughed. Unless my lord’s come back from the dead to haunt us all, there is no earl. He had no heirs. He waved a negligent hand. Take your claims elsewhere, he called down from his safe perch, then turned away.

Call out Sir Nigel, if the old man still draws breath. Faris watched a surprised expression, then a scowl, cross the soldier’s face. Although he couldn’t hear what was said, Faris knew the man grumbled something unintelligible before