“It has been brought to my attention, Lord Haverstock, that you have parted from your wife. Indeed, I am told you have been parted from her these five years past. Is my information correct?”
The Archbishop scrutinised Lord Haverstock through narrowed eyes, his mouth turned down in disapproval as he awaited an answer.
Robert Hayward, Earl of Haverstock had responded to a summons from Archbishop Cranmer to come to Lambeth Palace, but he had not enquired as to His Grace’s reason for the meeting. He rather thought it had something to do with his absence from more masses than he attended, but it seemed he was wrong.
The Earl had as little to do with churchmen and church services as he could manage and he saw no justification for any such clergy to be asking him about his personal affairs, even one as exalted in the hierarchy as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Since he left Miranda in Norfolk and returned to London, he had led an aimless life. He spent the first few months of their separation drinking himself into a stupor and spending his new found wealth on the worst kind of women, but not one of them could come close to making him forget his wife. The alcohol did not help either, so he had given that up when he found his muscular figure, of which he had been so proud, was turning to flab.
Miranda would not like to see that, and if he ever saw her again, he wanted her to be certain of what she was missing.
The summons from Cranmer had puzzled him; he would have thought the man had more important matters to attend to than whether some obscure earl was attending mass. Now he knew the real reason, he felt his anger rising. What the hell had it got to do with him if he and his wife lived apart? And who had he to thank for reporting such to the Archbishop?
“And just who has brought this to your attention, Your Grace?” He asked.
“That is of no matter. Suffice it to say it was a concerned party, thinking only of your happiness and that of Lady Haverstock, I am sure.”
Robert scoffed loudly.
“I am sure,” he muttered under his breath.
Some nosy servant or tenant, no doubt, someone miserable in their own life and not able to consider his wife might well be happier without him. She had many opportunities to stop him from leaving, but had taken none of them. He could only conclude she was content without him.
“There is no reason for you to concern yourself, Your Grace. Her Ladyship and I are both content with our domestic arrangements.”
Cranmer shook his head slowly, disapprovingly. Did the man never smile?
“My Lord, that choice is not yours to make. I am told Lady Haverstock has been ill of late; I imagine it is a lack of marital attention which is making her so.”
Robert sighed impatiently. He had no belief in the notion that a woman had to have a man inside her in order to remain healthy. It was a silly idea as far as he was concerned and one which made no logical sense, but if it was true that Miranda was ill, he ought to at least show his face, be sure she was receiving the best care. The fact was, he hardly knew the woman. Their marriage had lasted just long enough for her to conceive and give birth to a child, before her refusal to give up her continued public mourning for her late husband drove them apart.
Still, he had grown fond of her during those few months, very fond in fact, and reports of her ill health troubled him. He always thought he would go back one day, try to resolve their differences, but the longer he stayed away, the harder it became.
He scrutinised Cranmer where he sat opposite him and wondered just what answer he should give. His first impulse was to refuse the Archbishop’s order. If Miranda wanted him back she would have written herself and without knowing for certain that was her wish, he had no desire to return.
But there was his reputation to think about. Miranda came from one of the oldest noble families in the land; he did not. Her heritage was far superior to his and they both knew it. He still had status to build, still had to earn the respect of the common people, whereas his wife was born to that respect and her reputation was unsullied. It would do him no good if he refused the Archbishop’s command or if his indifference were to show.
He turned his attention to Cranmer’s last remark, the belief that a woman needed marital relations in order to stay healthy, in order to prevent a build up of dangerous vapours in her body. Ridiculous idea.
“I doubt that, Your Grace,” he answered at last. “I shall visit her, if you insist, to be sure she is coping without me.”
A little sardonic smile formed on his lips as he said the words. The idea that Miranda might have a problem coping without him was laughable.
“You will do more than that, Sir,” replied the Archbishop. “I expect you to stay with her, remain constant to her, as a true husband should.”
“And what if she refuses my company?”
Cranmer coughed meaningfully and hid his face by getting to his feet and turning away.
“Do you imagine she has er…other company?” He asked. “Or perhaps she is using something, some aid to her womanhood.”
His face flushed a little as he spoke, but not enough for Robert to believe his questions were reluctant. He had often wondered about the sort of enquiries a churchman felt entitled to make and just why that churchman would want to make them.
Whatever his reasons, Robert felt affronted on his wife’s behalf. They may not have a marriage to speak of but the very notion that she would take a lover was ridiculous. He did not know her well, but he knew her well enough to know that much.
“Lady Haverstock is a noblewoman of the highest pedigree,” Robert told him. “It is unthinkable that she would commit adultery. As to your other suggestion, that is between her and her God and none of my business, nor yours.”
His voice rose as he spoke, the anger gathering. How dare he? How dare he ask such intimate questions, questions Robert himself would not ask his wife?
“As long as you are certain,” the Archbishop murmured.
“What does that mean?”
Cranmer sighed heavily before he turned his eyes to stare at Robert.
“My informant tells me there is a man, that Her Ladyship has been entertaining a stranger in your house and even allowing him to stay the night.” He paused to allow his meaning to become clear, then added: “But if you are certain.”
Robert felt his fury beginning to consume him now along with a stab of jealousy which surprised him.
“I am very certain, Your Grace,” he said after a moment. “My wife’s moral character is beyond reproach.”
He got to his feet, preparing to leave, but the Archbishop’s next words halted his steps.
“Lord Haverstock,” he said. “You will return to your wife and your marriage, at once. It is within my purview to order a reconciliation and that is what I am doing.”
Robert felt his hands bunching into fists, his jaw clenching. Were this man not the highest churchman in the land, he would not be safe from Robert’s wrath.
“And if I refuse?” He demanded.
“Then I will have no alternative but to excommunicate you.”
At the very hour her husband was accepting an order from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Miranda, Lady Haverstock, was walking along the beach near Haverstock Abbey, trying to persuade Sir Gerald Horton that his nephew had never visited Gorston Hall, despite reports to the contrary. The man had been in the area for some weeks now and it seemed he had been told the boy for whom he searched was seen in the company of Lord Gorston.
When he first arrived, he wanted to look inside Gorston Hall, seeing as it was standing empty, but Miranda had persuaded him that her husband had taken the keys with him to London and she had no idea when he would return.
But he was persistent and she felt vulnerable; it seemed the best way to deter him was to appear as helpful as possible and Haverstock Abbey was vast, so she had invited him to stay a few nights. It had never occurred to her until later that such an arrangement, when she was alone in the house but for the servants, would create gossip. Now she wanted him to leave and hoped this meeting would be their last.
She was glad of the cool breeze from the sea. The weather had turned from bright and cheerful sunshine, to hot and humid and it was all she could do to prevent her long skirts from sticking to her legs. She loved the beach; it went on for miles when the tide was out and sometimes one could walk for hours without getting near the shore. She had loved these beaches since she was a little girl and she had walked along them with her first love, Viscount Simon Hampton, even though they were constantly chaperoned.
The beaches along the North Norfolk coast were their place, hers and Simon’s. The chaperones would follow behind while the young couple held hands and whispered together and these sandy plains combined with the distant sound of the sea would always remind her of him. Even when the tide was far out, the sea left a salty, clean taste in the air. The pine forests which edged the beach were thick and green and she and Simon had often plotted to escape into those forests, just to be alone, but it was a long time before they managed to escape their escorts.
That had been so many years ago, before things had suddenly changed, before her future plans collapsed into nothing with Simon’s sudden death. Yet still this beach reminded her of him, of the love they had felt for each other.
Lord Gorston’s offer of marriage had rescued her from scandal and shame, and for that she had been grateful at the time, not dreaming for one moment how badly she was being used. She had no idea then that she was aiding a monster. They lived separate lives and she had been his widow for only six months when King Henry presented her to Lord Robert Haverstock as a prospective husband. She was happy for a little while and she believed Robert felt the same. She had come to love him, almost as much as she loved Simon, but she could not bring herself to abandon the grave of her late husband and Robert felt her continual visits to the small churchyard to be an insult to him.
So he had left and she begged him to stay, but she could not give him what he wanted; she was too afraid.
Since he left, she had exchanged a few letters with him and had often thought of trying to make amends, trying to win him back, even if it did mean staying away from the grave. She was very lonely without Robert, alone here with his son, Robin and her own little Jamie Simon.
She had given it a lot of thought in recent months, had limited her graveside visits to two or three times a week instead of every day and she no longer wore mourning black for those visits. But she could not abandon them completely and she hoped her efforts would be enough of a compromise.
Her plans were settling in her mind and she had intended to write to Robert or even make the journey to London to meet with him and discuss the possibility of a reconciliation. That was when Sir Gerald arrived, looking for his missing nephew, he said. She had given him dinner and allowed him to stay a few nights, as the only inn for miles was somewhat below standard and Haverstock Abbey had plenty of space, lots of bedchambers. But she could not seem to persuade him to leave, to look elsewhere or give up the venture altogether and his visits were forcing her to take to her bed with anxiety.
She thought it likely his continued visits were causing gossip in the surrounding country. It was well known she had parted from her husband and the local folk had little to excite them; a possible scandal among their betters was always welcome.
Now she savoured the cool breeze from the sea as she walked along the beach with her visitor, hoping this would be the last time he would question her. She was running out of excuses and suggestions and she could not reveal the truth, no matter what. She had made a solemn promise, a promise she intended to keep at all costs.
Was it possible that he would go away without an answer, that he would give up his quest? Or would he be forever searching, forever wondering? Other people to whom Sir Gerald had spoken sympathised with him, thought him hard done by to have lost his nephew. He had told them all how he had been away at sea and on his return, had learned of his sister’s death but could find no word of her son. But Miranda could not help him and all she wanted was for him to go away and leave her and her sons in peace.
She needed Robert. She needed to tell him everything and let him deal with it all, but she knew she would not. If she was ever going to tell him, it would have been after their marriage when they were beginning to find love for each other. He had given her a further opportunity when she gave him a son; he had sat on her bed holding her hand and told her he would stay if she would only tell him the truth, and she could not do it. She could see he did not want to leave, the decision was in her hands alone, but she could not tell him the truth. To expect him to support her if he knew what really happened was just too much; at least this way he would not think so badly of her.
Her secrets destroyed that blossoming love before it had grown and now he had gone. He had probably spent five years bedding Lord knew who, he had grown farther away from her and likely no longer cared for her at all.
“You have been very kind, Lady Haverstock,” Sir Gerald was saying now. “But every enquiry I make leads me back to Gorston Hall. I have been told now by more than one person that my nephew was last seen in the company of Lord Gorston.”
“And as I have explained, Sir Gerald, I cannot help you. My late husband did not involve me in his affairs. If he hired your nephew for some work he wanted done, he would not have told me or anyone else. I fear you have had a wasted journey.”
Sir Gerald shook his head.
“Not at all. I feel there is more to learn here and I shall be staying longer. Have no fear; I will book into the inn in the town.”
She took a deep breath. Good; at least she would be spared the embarrassment of asking him to leave. He waited for a few moments, but when she made no reply he turned back toward the cliff path, holding out his arm for her to take, but she shook her head.
“I would like to walk some more,” she said.
She watched him go, watched him make his way to the path leading up to the Haverstock estate. He turned at the top and waved; she waved back. She did not want him in the house and although she suspected he waited for a further invitation, she would not give it.
He was a good looking man, although many years older than Miranda and she was sure his handsome looks and her own invitation to stay at the Abbey were the main motives behind Father David’s questions. The village priest had taken it upon himself recently, during confession, to ask personal questions both about her relationship with Sir Gerald and about her lack of marital relations with her husband.
She refused to reply, refused to be interrogated on such personal issues by a celibate priest, but she knew he was not happy.
Surely a respectable woman could give shelter to a grieving uncle without everyone finding something wrong in her act of generosity? Apparently not.
She had to make him leave, had to convince him somehow that there was nothing in Norfolk for him. She thought of lying, of telling him the boy had told others he was leaving, but it was too late now.
The beach had always been the best place in the world in which to think, to make decisions, especially now in this sticky heat and with such a gigantic burden weighing her down. She walked on.
Robert made his arrangements to return to Norfolk. It was a long journey, two days at least by coach and not one he had any urgent desire to make. He was torn in two directions; part of him wanted nothing more than to hurry to her side and be sure she was well and safe, whilst the other part of him wanted to put her in the past where he did not have to think about her.
He could send physicians to tend his wife, if indeed she was really ill, but if she was, he was quite certain her illness had little or nothing to do with his absence. If she were that bad, why had he received no word? She might not have sent for him, but surely one of her ladies would have.
Her son by Lord Gorston was eight years old now, a young earl with no manor to show for it since Gorston Hall stood almost derelict and as his stepfather, Robert had taken over the Gorston lands to enhance his own.
The lands and income would be returned to the boy when he came of age or earlier if he married and he would need the house as well. It was Robert’s duty to begin preparations for that day and Gorston Hall would need a lot of renovation work. It was doubtful that anyone had set foot inside the place since his marriage to the then Lady Gorston. His place was there, at Haverstock Abbey with his wife and son, as well as his stepson. He had known that almost since he arrived in London, but he never had the confidence to return. He used to watch for a letter from her, always hoping she would send for him, but after a while he had realised how foolish that was. She did not want him; that was apparent from her rejection of the opportunity he gave her to make him stay.
He could not see where anything would have changed, but still he would return to Haverstock Abbey and he would take up his proper position as her husband, even if it did prove to be merely a façade.
The Archbishop’s reminder that it had been five years since he and Miranda had parted made him stop and think. That would mean his own son was five years old and he had not even laid eyes on him since the day he was born. He was rather ashamed of that, but he knew the boy was safe and he had little interest in an infant.
He could still remember that day though. He remembered waiting in the next chamber, listening to Miranda’s cries and wanting to rush in to her, but her ladies had stopped him.
“My Lord!” One of them told him. “A birthing chamber is no place for a man.”
Her name was Mavis, the wife of a knight newly qualified.
“Who cares? My wife is in pain, she is to have my child. She may need me.”
Mavis shook her head, touched his arm soothingly. Robert had been forced to learn the ways of the nobility in a very short time since the King honoured him with his title, and Miranda had been wonderful in discreetly helping him, but to keep him out when she was in pain? He wanted to be with her, to help her and if that desire showed his working class origins, he no longer cared.
“She will not want you there, My Lord,” Mavis assured him.
“She would not want you to see her like that,” she said.
“That is ridiculous! It is my child.”
“Yes, My Lord and if you ever want another, you will abide by her wishes.”
He stared at her, tried hard to fathom her meaning, but he had no clue.
“What does that mean?”
“It means, My Lord, that a woman giving birth is a sight you are unlikely to forget. Please; I know what she would want.”
So he had allowed her to guide him and perhaps she was right, but he really wanted to be at Miranda’s side, to take some of the pain from her, absorb it into himself.
At last the cry of a young babe made him glance questioningly at Mavis and she went to open the door and see if her mistress was suitably attired for her husband to see her.
She turned back to Robert and nodded with a smile and he rushed inside to see the little scrap of humanity who had caused his wife so much pain.
“It is a boy, My Lord,” she whispered hoarsely. “A son for you, a son who will have that noble blood running through his veins, just as I promised.”
He glanced at the child with little interest, then turned back to his wife and gathered her into his arms, kissed her face, her mouth, her forehead.
“Thank you, my love,” he said softly. “Are you all right? I wanted to be with you, but they would not let me in.”
“Thank goodness for that,” she said with a laugh. “You are the last person I would want to see me like that.”
“That is what your lady said.”
“And she was right,” she told him, holding tight to his hand. “Are you pleased with your son?”
“He is a handsome boy. He has his mother’s beauty; let us hope he also has her generous heart.”
His one hope now was that Miranda would give up her continual mourning for her late husband, her regular visits to the Gorston churchyard, her attendance on his grave. They had argued about that before and now their son was born, he wanted nothing more than to forget Lord Gorston ever existed. He was fond of the man’s son, Jamie Simon, little Earl of Gorston, and was prepared to treat him as his own, but the boy’s father was dead and gone and should stay buried.
His wish was not to be. As soon as Miranda had recovered from the birth, she went to the Gorston churchyard to pay homage to her late husband. He could not tolerate that, it was disrespectful and unfair, when they had grown close and he hoped she would realise her future was with him and their sons alone.
He had seen her from his chamber window. It was the first day the physicians allowed her to leave her bed and her priority was not with Robert, not even with her sons – her priority was to hurry to the Gorston churchyard with fresh flowers for the tomb.
She went on foot; it was not far, the churchyard and Gorston Hall itself could be clearly seen from the upper floors of the Abbey, and Robert decided to follow her on foot. He thought it would be quieter, that he might take her by surprise, perhaps even witness something he had previously missed.
He waited outside the churchyard for her, leaning against the post of the lychgate, his arms folded, his expression showing his displeasure. She walked toward him with her head down, her eyes firmly fixed on the cobbled ground.
“That is the last time,” he told her as she emerged.
She stopped and stared at him, looked down at the dead flowers she had just removed from the grave.
“Robert,” she replied. “I did not expect to see you.”
“Of course not. I thought I made my wishes clear before the birth of our son, My Lady. There will be no more visits to the grave.”
She walked past him and took the dead flowers to the compost heap which stood beside the wall, then she turned back to him, put her hand gently on his arm.
“Robert, please try to understand.”
“No, I will not understand. Our son is thriving and tonight I wanted us to be together again; I have missed you. I hoped you might have missed me, but it seems I was wrong.”
“No, you are not wrong. I have missed you and I will welcome you to my bed this night.”
Still he made no move toward her, still his arms were folded rigidly and still he did not smile. She could not be allowed to see how his heart was breaking, how much it hurt that she would not do this one thing for him. She could not be allowed to see how hard it was to refuse her invitation.
“Not without your promise,” he said. “No more visits to this place. Not regularly like this anyway; perhaps on the anniversary of his death.”
He was hurt to see tears spring to her eyes and he reached out at last and pulled her into his arms.
“Please, Miranda. I cannot know your reasons, and I might even accept that, but you must give up this vigil or I cannot live with you. I thought you had come to care for me.”
“I have,” she said quickly, her arms going around his waist. “But I have to come here; I have to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“Sure that nothing is amiss.”
He sighed heavily then pushed her away and turned to walk back to the Abbey. They had had this conversation many, many times and it always ended in the same frustrating and unsatisfactory manner, with more questions than answers. He could take no more.
That was the last time he saw her and his son, but he was sure Miranda would have written if anything were amiss. Robert hardly noticed the rocking of the carriage on the uneven road. His mind was fully engaged on thoughts of what he might face at home, of his wife’s reception, whether she would welcome him, whether she had given up her unfathomable mourning for her late husband.
A suitable marriage would have to be arranged for the young Earl of Gorston and although that was Robert’s duty, being the boy’s stepfather, perhaps his mother had already begun enquiries. It was possible that whoever she approached would need to negotiate with him, not her, but on the other hand a noblewoman who traced her ancestors back to the conquest, commanded a lot more respect from her peers than the average female.
The lad was only eight; there was still plenty of time and perhaps discussion of a suitable match for him might give Robert and his wife something to talk about, something in common.
Robert still felt a little intimidated by Miranda’s antecedents; his own earldom was brand new, given to him by King Henry VIII for loyal service, just as Miranda and all her wealth had been given to him. The fact that they had come to care for each other was an extra gift neither of them had expected.
To be fair, she had done everything she could to make him feel the importance his title conveyed and she had succeeded to a certain extent. It was certainly a delightful surprise to him to find she was not the proud, disdainful woman he had expected. Her disposition was one which any man would be pleased to see in a wife, but despite the success of their marital relations and the birth of a healthy son to succeed him, they had quarrelled bitterly. They had quarrelled over the corpse of a dead man.
Robert tried to be the master in his own house and Miranda gave every indication that she wanted that, wanted her husband to take charge of the estate and everything an earl should have control of. She helped him to achieve that position on every occasion; whenever he was unsure of how to act, she would discreetly steer him in the right direction, without anyone knowing that she did so. Whether such was part of her disposition or whether she felt it would shame her if he appeared weak, he had no idea, but he was pleased with the way things were developing. The exception was her insistence on dressing in mourning every day and visiting the grave of her late husband.
She had done this each morning since his death and was greatly admired by the local people for her devotion to his memory, but Robert felt she should give up this public display once she married him. Her continued visits to the grave dressed in black told the world that Lord Gorston was the real love of her life and Lord Haverstock a poor second. But she had refused his request point blank and with no real explanation. She said it was impossible to explain but she had her reasons.
Now Robert was making the trip he had thought about so often, but he deeply resented being ordered back to her, especially when it involved such a long and arduous journey. The distance meant he had no way of asking her to her face if she really wanted him there and if she did not, he would have to make the same journey again in reverse. On the other hand, the Abbey was his house, not hers, and he had every right to reclaim it and her whether she liked it or not.
As to being excommunicated, it was hard to know what one would be excommunicated from right now; the King was still Catholic, so he said, even though he had broken with Rome and his Archbishop had definite Protestant leanings.
The problem wasn’t the threat; left to himself it wouldn’t bother him too much, as he had little faith in the power the church gave itself. But he had to think of his family, his tenant farmers and servants, everyone who lived and worked on his estate. They would all be deprived of church comfort, no baptisms or even burials, no Last Rites when one of them died, not even the comfort of the confessional. Most of those people were incredibly pious and would never be able to live with such a deprivation. They would all be convinced they were on the path to hell and damnation.
He may be of low birth, still struggling to accept his own position, but he was not that selfish. He had to accept his situation for the sake of those for whom he was responsible. So he would travel to Norfolk and he would see his wife, discover her feelings on the subject of resuming what had been a very brief marriage.
He did not leave her only for his own satisfaction, but hers as well. He wanted to give her time to adapt to this new marriage, this new husband. He waited in vain for a letter from her asking for his return.
He was older now, more mature and more capable of giving Miranda the courtesy of allowing her to decide some things for herself. It would be hard, but if she wanted to keep her secrets, it was little enough to ask. The idea of a stable marriage and family was far more appealing to him now than it had been then. He was still very fond of Miranda and she was the mother of his child; despite their estrangement he owed her the consideration of finding out how she felt.
His driver found a reasonable inn on the road, where he and his servants could stay the night, where his horses would be looked after. After five years in London, it seemed odd to find such a place isolated like this, with nothing around it for miles but fields. He found the lack of traffic and voices to be eerie, but it was something of a relief nonetheless.
The food was not terrible and the clientele what one would expect of such a place. A travellers’ inn was open to all sorts of people, from the lowest to the highest in the land and as such there were a variety of facilities to suit them all.
The place was not too crowded and Robert was able to eat his meal in peace. He was weary and stiff from the journey and anxious to retire for the night, but hunger must be satisfied first. He looked around the small dining room at the patrons, including two women for hire sitting together in the corner and throwing provocative glances his way.
They were easy to spot, with their bosoms hanging over their bodices, nipples on display, the dirty lace at their sleeves, their overly made up faces and dyed hair.
Robert wondered if he should take a chance with one of them, wondered if he felt in the mood. He had two mistresses in London to see to his needs but it had been many years since he had savoured the charms of this sort of woman. They possessed skills to tempt him, but no. If he was to return to his wife, he at least wanted to greet her with a pure heart.
The stairs creaked and as he climbed to the bedchamber to which the innkeeper had assigned him, he could feel the eyes of the two prostitutes following him, perhaps hoping he might beckon one or both of them to follow.
The bed was serviceable, good enough for one night and with well worn feather mattresses and bolsters. The bed curtains could have done with a good clean, but no matter. He would leave them open; it was a fine night and he was far enough off the ground with the two mattresses not to worry about draughts or vermin.
As he climbed into bed and lie down to stare at the grubby canopy above his head, his mind wandered back five years to the circumstances of his marriage and the reasons they parted. It was something he had not thought about in all of that time, but now he knew he had to. He was returning to Miranda, even if it was at the command of a prince of the church; he did not want to begin with mistakes, errors of judgement which had parted them in the first place.
If he could remember everything that went wrong, precisely as it went wrong, he might be able to avoid making the same mistakes again.
He was surprised to feel a little dart of anticipation at the thought of seeing her again. She was a lovely woman, dark hair, pale skin and lips any red blooded man would long to taste. She was sweet and compliant as well, not shrewish like his mistresses could be, like some of the women of his acquaintance.
Miranda’s heritage and breeding showed in her every action and word and she treated him with the respect someone of her class and upbringing would always give to her husband; he appreciated how fortunate he was to have her.
But she refused to stop visiting the grave of her late husband, every single day and she would never tell him why; he just did not believe, from the way she spoke of him, that he had meant that much to her. Robert was convinced he was a laughing stock in the village and town, even among the servants. He imagined they would be gossiping about him, saying he was second best, not as good as Lord Gorston. What else could one expect? Gorston was a proper nobleman, not like Haverstock, given the position in payment for services rendered to the King.
They might even have heard he was the son of a blacksmith although Robert had told no one that, not even Miranda. He was not ashamed of his background or his origins; his father had worked hard to send him to be trained as a knight and his progression from there was all down to that sacrifice. He was proud of his achievements and of his parents’ sacrifice, but his father had cautioned him specially to tell no one. Had she asked, he felt sure he would not have lied to Miranda, but she never had and he believed her lack of curiosity in that regard was in deference to him, to his new position and his future among the nobility.
Of course, he could be wrong. It was always possible she did not ask because she did not want to know what humble beginnings her husband had come from, did not want to know that the father of her child was from such lowly stock. Robert did not believe that; Miranda was far too generous and considerate to ever think like that and he did her an injustice by even considering the possibility.
Whenever he remembered all the subtle things she had done to make him feel worthy of her and everything else he had gained, he loved her all the more.This time would be different. This time he would try to understand, even if Miranda never revealed her secrets; this time he would concede they were her secrets and not for him to know.
Robert Hayward is the newly created Earl of Haverstock, given Abbey lands and a title by King Henry VIII as reward for his assistance in securing the King’s divorce. He is just getting used to the honour and the sudden rise in status, when the King presents him with a new countess to go with his other gifts.
Lady Miranda Gorston has lands adjacent to Haverstock Abbey and is well known for her public and devout mourning for her late husband. Each day she visits the small churchyard attached to Gorston Hall to pray over his grave and all who see her are impressed with her devotion to his memory.
But nobody knows the real reason Miranda visits that graveyard and her new husband is no exception. He feels that once they marry she should give up her public grieving and concentrate on her new marriage, but she refuses and will not explain why. He knows she did not love Lord Gorston, so why does she continue to mourn him? Why does she put their future happiness at risk to do so?
Robert does not feel he can stay and be made to look a fool, that people will be saying Lord Gorston is more important to his wife than he is. He returns to London and there remains, until five years later when Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, informs him that his wife has been entertaining another man and orders Robert to return to his marriage on threat of excommunication.
But Miranda’s visitor is not what he seems and Robert finds the man’s presence only causes even more questions for which no answers are forthcoming.