In the Dark
Silken Threads Series, Book One
Born with a red blemish streaking her cheek, Katherine has been hidden her entire life. Even after her family perished in the plague, she did not emerge from behind the walls that protect her. With the help of a faithful servant, she is content to live as she’s been taught. However, her contentment ends when a band of men arrive to the castle in a cloud of dust. She’s horrified. And worried. And more than a little fascinated by the man who leads them, Calen the Black. While she spies on Calen from afar, her need to draw closer rages out of control until she sneaks to his room to experience his touch…for as long as they remain in the dark.
**Publisher's Note** This is an extensively revised version of a previously released title.
Panic rushed through Katherine Wolf, the only remaining member of Bryant the Wolf’s family, as she stared with astonishment through her window, high in one of Warg castle’s six towers. Along the road leading to her home, dust billowed into the sky—dust that obviously came from a band of oncoming riders. Within moments, eight black steeds carrying eight burly men rode into sight. Four wore mail. Knights and their squires…
Katherine’s knees went weak.
No. They could not be coming here.
But they were.
She watched in horror as the horsemen galloped toward the front gate. They stopped as if considering entrance, and with all her being, Katherine willed them to depart. Of course, it did not work. She was not a witch as some would suppose.
The rider who had been in the lead held up his hand, signaling to the others to stop. Deftly, he leapt from his horse and pulled off his helm. He shook his head, loosening the damp hair which had been trapped under the metal. Katherine sucked in a breath as his midnight hair splayed in the wind then settled upon his wide shoulders. His black cloak swirled about him, displaying equally black garments beneath. His beautiful face lifted upward as he surveyed her home.
She quickly stepped backward for fear he would see her watching him, though she was quite sure he would not be able to spy her. She pressed a hand to her middle. Men. Here at her home, the one place she had always felt safe.
Lifting her fingers to her face, she covered her cheek and the rose-colored streak she had had since birth. Marked by the devil, they said. She had been cursed to never set foot from this place or else be burned as a witch.
But what was she to do now?
The men would never find this hidden chamber constructed by her grandfather to hide his treasures. It was likely they would never find the hidden passages that gave her the run of the castle. She was rarely seen, but how long would that last before she accidentally stumbled upon one of the new inhabitants?
* * * *
Calen the Black stared up at the fortress he had been given as payment for his valiant services to Edward while in France. Payment? This fief was to be a punishment for his popularity in court. The king knew Calen would never undermine him, but he had still banished Calen here to Warg, the castle of death. Some claimed it was haunted, and as he saw movement in one of the towers, he wondered at that claim. No matter. No spirit would stop him from possessing his new home and urging the lands to once again flourish.
The degradation he had seen on the ride to the castle had horrified him, but as in the rest of the land, the people had fled—or died—leaving the fields unattended when disease had struck. How much more so it had been here with no lord to oversee them. The entire family of Bryant the Wolf, including Bryant himself, had succumbed to the Great Pestilence.
Calen set his jaw, surveying the gray stone structure set against the mountains. It was a modern sprawling construction with six towers reaching into the clouds. A jewel to possess and a nightmare to subdue. The death of so many within its walls, victims to an untamable disease, sent apprehension clawing across his back.
“She is a beauty,” Alaric, his highest ranking man and friend, commented as he moved to stand beside Calen. Calen realized belatedly that his companions had also dismounted as he had stood there.
“Aye. She is.”
“What do you think of the king’s decree now?” Alaric asked.
“Clement. But he is well known for such.” He swallowed, not believing his words. Edward expected Calen to fail and perish here.
He would not.
Waving his hand, he beckoned the three knights with him to move forward. He had already sent men into the village to gather workers for the task ahead, but he and the ones with him could get started.
“Alaric, come with me,” he ordered. “James and David, start a fire as we have discussed. When others arrive, direct them to gather water.”
Without waiting to see if his orders were followed, he crossed the fortress’ wide courtyard. James and David would follow his command without question, and he felt his faithful companion close at his side. At the entrance to his future, he threw open the large wooden and iron doors, breathing shallowly of the air. It was not as stagnant as he would have supposed. Either someone had made freely with his holding or there was significant air flow moving through the thick walls. He was more inclined to suppose the former rather than the later. The thick-walled structure seemed sturdy, though he knew there would be some draft—all castles had them, even Edward’s mighty home.
“Go with caution,” he urged quietly. “This place of death might not be as deserted as we have supposed.” Vagrants? Robbers? He would see either quickly evicted.
Light streamed through the doors to illuminate the great hall. He strode inside, taking in the heavy furnishings, stale reeds and mouldering wall hangings. Behind him, Alaric opened the two heavy, wooden shutters covering large colored-glass windows on either side of the hall. Bryant had been wealthy to afford such embellishments, but wealth had not saved him from death.
“All of it goes,” he told Alaric imperiously. “The tables, benches…” He pointed to the chairs where Bryant had his wife had no doubt sat for meals. “Those seats, the hangings, the reeds. I want the hall bare.”
“The heritage…”Alaric murmured in protest.
“Not my heritage. A new era starts now.”
Even without looking, Calen knew Alaric’s lips were tightening with unspoken disapproval. While a good soldier, his companion was also a proponent of history. He opposed the destruction of the past, railing against the burning of libraries and monasteries, all in the name of furthering the King’s path into the future.
“You are going to cleanse the entire castle?” he asked in a derisive tone only he dared to use with Calen.
“Aye.” Calen said no more, He was well aware of Alaric’s oft-voiced opinion about the odd belief that washing not only his person but surfaces was imperative. Had Calen’s mother not been a seer who had beaten the notion of cleanliness into him “for his future safety”, he too would feel comfortable covered in a layer of dirt.
Whatever Alaric might have retorted was cut off by a door swinging open on the far side of the hall. Calen’s hand went to the hilt of his sword as a sturdy man with graying hair and the garments of a servant rushed in. The man knelt immediately.
“My lord,” he said. “I welcome you. I am Marcus, the steward of Warg castle. We have long awaited a new liege.”
Calen relaxed slightly. So there was a valid inhabitant here. “You may rise then do not move.” He would deal with the steward as soon as his other orders were followed. “Alaric—”
“I know. It all goes.” Fairly stomping, his friend went to the wall and wrenched down the first tapestry then dragged it toward the doors.
Calen turned back to Marcus. “Now, tell me. How many of you are there?”
* * * *
Katherine stared out the window in horror as the fire in the middle of the courtyard grew, its flames reaching toward the sky as the history of her family fed it. These men were destroying everything, and her servant Marcus and his wife Esme, Katherine’s maid, were helping them.
What were they doing? She longed to storm down from her hidden room and demand answers, but she dared not. She knew the consequences. Her father had told her often enough. She must stay hidden, or she would be added to those flames and burned as a witch. She bit her lip as she forced back the need to scream in frustration. Impotent rage made her shake. Going to her bed, she punched the silk-covered pillows, abusing the thin coverings then hurling them across the spacious room to bounce off the damask-covered wall.
Red-blonde strands of hair flew wildly around her head as she stormed. However, that was not unusual since she had never been the well-kempt, perfectly coiffed girl that her three sisters and mother had been. Katherine had refused to make the effort since she was closed away from the world. It hardly seemed worth even minimal exertion. Now, she combed and rebraided her hair only at Esme’s insistence—which was every night. Since her family had perished in the plague, Katherine had made more of an attempt just to please Esme.
So much good that had been. Esme was out there destroying all traces of Katherine’s family. Katherine refused to look down at the courtyard again, but even as she made that vow, the scent of wood smoke drifted through her window and her feet took her back to the window.
That man with the beautiful face was leading them, telling everyone what to do.
She hated him.
He had discarded his cloak and outer tunic as he worked. She could see his muscles playing beneath the remaining garments, and her teeth sank further into her lip.
She might be locked away from the world, but she had seen enough to know he was a fine manifestation of virility. Something in her middle quivered, and she turned from the window to eat a piece of the dry bread Esme had brought her earlier in the day along with a tankard of mead and some roasted meat.
Katherine was not hungry, and she knew it, but she refused to believe the awful man in the courtyard would move her, so she tried to convince herself that the feelings in her belly were pangs from not eating. She seethed as the day dragged on and the fire grew higher. When her mother’s clothes were brought and thrown in the fire, tears filled Katherine’s eyes. When they brought her younger brother’s rocking horse, the drops coursed unchecked over her cheeks. Sobbing she buried her face in her blankets and hoped for strength to endure what was to come. When she had lost her family, she had at least had their belongings…her memories…her home where she could still feel their presence.
Today, it was all taken from her.
By a devil with the face of an angel.