Dark Deceit is the first in The Anarchy Trilogy, a series set in 1140s England and Normandy.
A historical adventure with romantic elements, Dark Deceit tells the story of Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucestershire and Alleyne de Bellac, a young heiress who had just lost her father. Not fully trusting Geoffrey, Alleyne calls an old family friend for help. But which man can she trust - a friend or a stranger?
Dark Deceit, published through Crooked Cat Publishing, is now available on Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.
On his return from battle at Lincoln, Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucester and spy for the Empress Matilda, assists a dying knight caught in an ambush. Promising to look after the welfare of the knight’s only daughter, Geoffrey stays at her manor, investigating the murder. Keen to join the Empress on her progress through England, he is torn between his oath and his duty.
Geoffrey’s words hung in the air. Lady Alleyne stared at him, her eyes widening as the news sank in.
The steward flinched as if Geoffrey had hit him. “The king captured?” His voice shook. “Sweet Jesus! What is to happen to us with the empress ruling the country? She won’t be of any help.” The old man shook his head.
Geoffrey shrugged. With King Stephen captured, the Empress Matilda, the rightful heir to Old King Henry, gained control over England and Normandy. Or so she expected to. “I doubt much will change anytime soon. Matilda is going to rely on her half-brother, the earl of Gloucester, as always. They have many plans to make now.”
Roger stood and replenished the cups. “Do you really believe so? I’m certain you know her reputation, my lord. The woman’s a shrew.”
“A shrew who will soon be queen.” Geoffrey’s voice rose. He had enough of seditious talk. It followed him everywhere. No-one was content with Stephen’s kingship and his indecisive policies, but even fewer people accepted a woman as queen in her own right. In fact, many nobles regarded her husband, the count of Anjou, as a serious threat to England’s independence. King Henry, God rest his soul, should have foreseen the mess.
Geoffrey pulled himself out of his thoughts. He was not the only one who had fallen silent. The steward might have qualms about divulging his political affiliations to a stranger, but Lady Alleyne? She did not appear to be old-fashioned. When his gaze met hers, her eyes shone, ablaze with hope.
She smiled. “The empress will take up our case, won’t she? She will listen, woman to woman. Roger is wrong. Surely she is bound to help?”
Roger snorted. “The woman has better things to do than listen to complaints from subjects who haven’t even supported her cause.”
Geoffrey nodded. “I’m afraid your steward is right, my lady. Matilda’s mind is focused on her coronation. While she might present herself to her subjects across the country soon, I don’t think she’ll have much time to spare for neighbourly disputes. Even if they involve murder. And Sheriff Miles won’t leave her side either.”
Lady Alleyne’s face fell.
Geoffrey sighed. “I will see what I can do when the time comes, my lady.” Picking up his cup, he drained it. Lady Alleyne’s obvious distress nagged him, suffocated him. Most certainly he did not wish to get entangled in her case. Solve the murder, yes. But stay away from the girl. He must get out of doors to clear his head.
This was the part of his position he hated - bringing bad news to people who had endured too much already. His mood, morose since he set off from Worcester that morning, grew gloomier. His head pounded, the extent of his responsibility weighing heavily on his mind. If only he had not given his oath to her father...
But perhaps it was just the wine, a potent red. It had been a long time since he tasted such quality, such strength. Not since Normandy. He shook off the unwanted memory, and rose.
“With your permission, my lady, I would like to start the investigation right away. We have already lost nearly two days since we took Lord Raymond to the monastery. I will take my men out into the countryside to see what those mercenaries you spoke of are doing. Then we’ll speak to the villagers.”
“Of course you have my permission.” Her emerald eyes clouded with sadness, her voice quiet. “But I hope you will grace our company for the evening meal?”
“I certainly will, my lady.” He inclined his head, grateful for a chance to discover more about the manor, and the lady who held it on her father’s behalf. “Thank you.”
Geoffrey strode away from the fire and left the hall, letting the door fall shut behind him. As he hurried down the steps, he took a couple of deep breaths. This was not going to be an easy task, at the worst possible time. His place should be with the court, attending the empress’s progress, not here. He turned towards the kitchen in search of his men.
(c) Cathie Dunn 2012