A dark and powerful knight is the best parent to have in 12th century England, it is what every boy dreams of. Well, if that knight is your father. When you grow up with a mother whose reputation is scandalous and a little scary, it makes life rough on a boy. 
   Evan dreams of things well beyond knighthood and war. He dreams of a bright future of knowledge and hope. He just has to bring himself to tell the two people who mean the most to him that he does not want to follow in their footsteps. He does not want to be a knight. 
     Felicity sees Evan in the hallowed light of love and desire. She has worshiped him from afar for many years, but he only sees her as the bratty child who torments him. 
     Her dream is to make him love her and she is willing to do anything, be anything, that will make that dream come true. Unfortunately everything she tries seems to drive him farther away instead of drawing him closer.
     Dreams are just within grasp and yet oceans apart as love and desire collide with duty and honor.

Under a Dark Shadow









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Chapter 1



Lynton England

Fall 1190



The candle’s soft, flickering light pushed at the harsh darkness of the room. Its pale warmth teased, but did nothing to dispel the doubts that racked his mind. Evan Lawston took a slow, unsteady breath. The cool air invaded his lungs and the coldness of the night seemed to spread throughout him. A small shiver raced up his spine and settled a chill at the very core of his thoughts.

The cold and empty fireplace beckoned to him, but he only stared at it. He did not want to start a fire. While it would give him warmth and light, to do so would mean admitting that he was up for the night. And he desperately wished to go back to bed sometime soon.

The pale moon, a soft sliver of what it was destined to become, broke free from the clouds and spilled through the large library windows. It challenged the darkness in a way the small candle could never hope to do. Moonlight glimmered across the parchments spread upon his desk and its shimmering glow drew his attention.

Evan reverently fingered the thin tanned hides. He saw the writing upon them, but the words wavered out of focus. He could not get his mind to concentrate on the task at hand. His errant thoughts kept returning to the darkness that seemed to be swarming about him.

Darkness had always plagued him. Not that he was afraid of the dark, far from it. The night had always held a peace and a calmness that drew him. It was not the darkness of the night that had him thinking. It was the darkness of his life, or more, the life of his family.

Looking down at the strewn parchments he sighed. Troubled thoughts raced, reminding him of why he had not been able to sleep in the first place. He roughly pushed those thoughts away. They did nothing except cause misery.

He dipped the quill of his long gray goose feather into the ink pot. He leaned over the parchment and began to write. The words flowed smoothly across the page, only breaking a line here and there as the ink faded and the nib dried.

Evan slid the quill back into the pot and swirled it to catch the small droplets of ink that tried to escape. He returned to his current work, The Hallowed Halls of Isabella. His quill swept across the page. The words flowed easily from him. He could see his story before him as he created his new world.

Isabella stared bravely up at the massive, jewel encrusted, belly of the dragon and Evan’s mind began to clear. The act of writing calmed him, as it always had. It allowed him to forget himself, if only for a little while.

The dragon roared fiercely, saliva dripping from jagged white teeth. He dropped his head toward the helpless maiden. Isabella threw her arms over her face and began to scream. But before Evan could drop the pen once again to the parchment, to save his heroine, a very real scream tore through the silent night air. His pen flew across the page in response leaving a dark black rent across his words.

“Bloody Hell,” he slammed the feather down onto the now ruined page. Both the ink pot and the candle shuddered beneath the blow. He had a nervous moment when he thought the candle would fall. He had a clear image of all his work going up in smoke, but then the candle settled. He released the breath he had not even known he had been holding and the flame flickered.

Pounding foot falls raced past his door. Another scream rent the air and pulled him back to the present moment. He looked down in disgust at the thick line that ripped through his tale. Reluctantly he admitted that sleep was slipping farther away. With a grunt of irritation he pushed himself away from his desk and followed the sounds of commotion.

The hall beyond the library door was now empty. Another scream, this one rife with panic, quickened his step. Once outside surprise jolted through him. He looked across what appeared to be the entire castle household. They stood facing the doorway, but all were staring well above it. Not one seemed to notice his presence.

He opened his mouth, but another scream, from right above him, ripped the words from him. He jerked his head up, his jaw clicking shut with a painful jolt. Squinting into the darkness he could see nothing.

He pushed his way through the crowd. Servants who would normally bow before him stood in awe of the ruckus from above and paid him no mind. He thought perhaps he liked this better. The center of attention was not a place he preferred to be.

Nothing could be seen upon the wall. He stared, tears stinging his eyes as he concentrated. Shadows swirled across the face of the castle, but he was not sure of what he was looking at. He was sure there was movement.

The soft light from a candle wavered from above. It jerked and bobbed, growing closer, brighter, until it finally appeared out a small window. Even could finally see the cause of the disturbance. He shook his head, but it did not surprise him one bit.

She needed to be taken over someone’s knee, he thought grimly.

Felicity Puelo, the most frustrating child he had ever had the joy of knowing, was hanging upside down just below one of the upstairs windows. Entangled in the thick vines that cascaded over the castle walls she hung, suspended from one ankle. Her wails pulled at his heart, but this did not surprise him. She had after all been in his life since the day she was born.

Evan looked closely at the vines. It was unusual that they still covered the castle this late into the summer. The head gardener had been ill or the vines would have been removed long before now. It was too easy to scale those climbing ladders and get into the castle.

“Luckily for the modesty of the onlookers, she appears to be wearing a pair of men’s tights and a tunic.” Evan turned to the amused voice beside him. Casey Lawston elbowed his identical twin brother Bailey and they both laughed.

Evan shook his head at his younger siblings. They were tall and regal looking, dark hair and dark skinned. They were the image of their father. Evan smiled and glanced back up at the young woman who dangled above them.

“Well,” he said with a grin, “considering her size, more than likely the clothing belongs to one of the pages.” All three of them laughed.

A head appeared in the window blocking the light. Evan could not make out the face, but he recognized his father’s familiar stance. The light haloed around Peter Lawston as he looked down at the girl.

“There is father to her rescue, once again.” Bailey turned toward the house. “Well, that is it for the entertainment. I am going back to bed.”

Casey jabbed Evan on the way past. “Do not let your little filly get into too much trouble.”

“Shut the Hell up and go to bed.” Evan shook his head and tried to ignore his brothers’ laughter as they walked away. His little filly, indeed, he thought with a snort. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He had no intention of getting involved with a woman and if he did it would not be this little girl. No matter that she was going to be eighteen in just a few days. She was still an immature little chit. Plus he thought with a grunt, she was almost half his height, he would have to get on his knees to kiss her.

His lips seem to dry at that thought and he quickly pushed it away. He turned his attention back to Felicity. His father was talking to her. He could hear the soft rumbling of his voice, but he could not make out the words. Whatever he was saying had appeared to calm her. At least her screams and struggles had ceased.

Felicity hung limply and the onlookers began to lose interest. One by one they followed Casey and Bailey back into the castle leaving Evan standing alone in the darkness to watch the spectacle above him with growing unease.

His father reached for the dangling girl. Turning sideways he slipped his wide shoulders through the narrow window completely cutting off the light. When the light reappeared Evan caught a glimpse of the young escape artist’s legs as she was pulled through the window.

Evan shook his head. He could not help but wonder what on earth she had in her head, if anything. Half the time he thought she was daft and the other half reckless. He shook his head and admitted that most of the time he thought she was both.

When the light faded from the window Evan turned away. His mind wandered back to the awaiting parchments and he longed to return to them. Sighing deeply he knew he would get no more writing done this night, Eve would have to hold her own with the dragon.

Felicity may not be his little filly as his bratty brothers always claim. She may be a pain in his nether regions. She drive him to distraction. But she was going to need support as she tried to explain herself. He could only imagine the story she had laid out for this newest escapade.

Grudgingly he made his way up the long staircase toward the guest room where Felicity always slept when she stayed. Which was more and more often anymore. He could hear angry voices crashing down the hallway before he was even to the top of the stairs.

“What in the bloody Hell were you thinking,” Gary Puelo’s voice, deep with concern for his daughter, vibrated through the castle.

Evan quickened his step, though for the life of him he could not imagine why he felt such concern for the reckless young lady. Why he felt so responsible for her safety and well being was beyond him.

“You could have been seriously wounded.” Peter’s voice was filled with concern as well, but beneath it Evan could detect the subtle undertones of amusement.

“I was trying to collect some flowers from the vine for Juliana.” Her soft smooth voice trembled quietly within the storm of parental figures that Evan knew surrounded her. “They are so pretty, but I lost my balance as I was reaching for them.”

Evan quietly pushed open the door and stepped through. His father, his mother and Felicity’s father glanced at him. Felicity and her mother seemed oblivious of his arrival. He tried to move undetected, but he could have expected no less from a room full of knights.

Felicity turned her head to glance at each figure that surrounded her. She must have seen the same looks of disbelief on their faces that Evan saw because she began to stammer. “It-t was just lucky that my ankle caught on the vines. I am glad Juliana ran to get you. I was so scared.”

Evan thought the last of her speech at least tickled the edges of the truth. She did indeed look shaken. He stood silently and watched the play unfold.

His mother and father stood to one side of Felicity, looking stern yet understanding. Her mother and father stood to the other side of her, looking frazzled and concerned. Together the four of them created a protective cocoon around her. It was always the same when she got in trouble. Not just one parent to lecture her, but all four and Evan had always felt the need to be a buffer between her and their anger.

He looked at the small girl and shook his head. She was indeed wearing tights and a tunic. The tights bagged around her feet, much too big as was the tunic. She had obviously stolen the clothing from one of the younger pages, but it all still hung loose on her.

Felicity was a tiny girl, 5’2 if she stood on tiptoe and he knew she didn’t weigh out at even a hundred pounds. For all her small stature of frame she had tremendous stature of personality. From what everyone has told him, she reminded them of his mother when she was younger. That thought made him cringe.

Melinda shook her head at her daughter. “We have not even been in the castle for a full day.” Her voice was light and breezy beneath the stern voices of the others. “Why can you not even manage to keep yourself out of trouble for one night?” She grunted in exasperation. “One peaceful, sleep filled, night?”

Evan allowed the familiar chastising to fade into the background and focused his mother. He shook his head. A smug, half grin flitted across her lips. He had heard from the older knights that this was the grin of the mischievous Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight, the bane of Evan’s existence.

Evan could bear the dangerous reputation of the knight, could stand all the things the knight had done. He could even handle being the Dark Knight’s son. What he couldn’t handle was the Dark Knight being his mother. His insides tightened at the thought.

Evan groaned inwardly and pushed away his own problems. He turned his attention to Felicity. He could see her bravado starting to crumble. The four parents were beginning to wear on her and he wondered if she knew that his mother was more amused than angry. He could see it in her face.

”Mother, Father,” Felicity’s voice trembled slightly as she looked from one to the other as she spoke their names. “Lady Van, Lord Peter, I am very sorry.” Felicity trembled. Evan didn’t need to see Felicity’s face to know that tears that shimmered in her eyes.

Van placed a hand on Felicity’s trembling shoulder. “You need to be more careful.” Amused as she might be with Felicity’s antics Evan could hear the concern in his mother’s voice. “Where would we be without you.”

Evan shook his head. He was sure if he did not intervene these questions would go on for most of the night. “We would be in our beds comfortable and asleep.”

Felicity and Melinda spun around to face him. He had to grin at the surprise on both women’s faces. Felicity’s dark green eyes lit up and a smile, that seemed to make the room shine, beamed across her dirt streaked face.

Evan stepped closer to the group. With an exaggerated appraisal he looked up and down her small frame. He clicked his tongue and shook his head disapprovingly. “Are you wearing a tent?”

She looked down. With a slight tremble she wiped her dirty hands across the green stained tunic. “No,” her voice shook, but to Evan’s relief she looked up with a wide smile. “I borrowed them.”

“Does the owner know you borrowed them?” Gary asked his daughter.

Evan took another step closer before Felicity could answer. He laughed lightly. “Mother, I am surprised to see those vines still intact this late in the season.” With a pointed look he couldn’t stop himself from adding. “You know the dangers of allowing the vines to reach the window.” He arched a brow and winked conspiratorially.

Van’s eyes narrowed. The grin that spread was not comforting. Evan swallowed a dry breath. “Are you trying to say something, my boy?” Her dark black eyes sparkled dangerously as she closed the distance between them with on wide step.

Evan took a deep breath and fought the urge to step back. He forced himself to continue. Fear tickled at him, but only mildly. He knew his mother would not hurt him, no matter the reputation that she carried. “Only that someone could sneak up the sides of the castle…or down.”

“What are you two talking about?” Felicity asked, her now dry eyes sparkled with curiosity.

“Never-you-mind.” Peter said with a laugh. He pulled Van close to his side, his eyes overflowing with love and devotion. An act that had always amazed Evan. It was unusual to see such affection after so many years of marriage.

Van smiled in response but she did not pull her gaze away from Evan. He held his mother’s steady gaze, even though he wanted to look away. If it was not for Felicity he would have done so already. He was not accustomed to standing up to his parents. At least not on your own account, he berated himself. He thought of the secret parchments that lay across his desk and wished once more that he had the nerve to face his parents, to face their disappointment.

Van raised one black brow and Evan’s self control fell away. He dropped his gaze to his booted feet.

“Why are you still dressed at this hour?” His mother asked him and he could feel all eyes in the room suddenly upon him.

Evan took a deep breath and shook his head. He looked upand glanced from her to his father. He wanted to tell them his problem and opened his mouth to do so.

All the knight training. All the lectures of duty and honor that his parents had bestowed upon him for the last twenty years flew at him like flaming arrows. They crashed into him and his hopes dwindled beneath their flames.

He closed his mouth and knew they would not understand. How could two knights understand that their first born son did not want to follow in their footsteps?

He was after all the next in line to be the king’s champion. They were constantly telling him how talented he was and how great of a knight he was going to be.

How could he break their hearts and tell them that he did not want to be knight? He wanted to be a writer. A teacher. How could he tell them that he wasted his nights fantasizing, that he had two already completed tales of love and lore and that he was well into his third.

They looked at him expectantly and he wondered how on earth things had taken such a bad turn so quickly. This is what I get for coming to help the little hellion, he thought with a deep groan.

“I could not sleep.” He looked away, realized how guilty that must look and quickly looked back at them.

“If you needed some company, I would have been glad to sit and talk to you.” Felicity said brazenly. Her woes from the night obviously forgotten, at least for the time being.

Melinda gasped and her face paled. “Felicity Jane!”

Gary turned a glaring look at Evan.

Evan stepped away from that deadly look. God, his night had just went from bad to worse. Guilt swarmed him as if he had been the one to suggest the scandalous act. He cleared his throat. “Yes, my dear, I would have appreciated that.” He glanced quickly at the dark look on her father’s face before he continued. “It would have put me asleep within seconds.”

It was Felicity’s turn to glare at him, but her father’s dark look cleared. A smile did not touch his lips, but at least the murderous look had dissipated.

“Evan Matthew Lawston. Apologize right this instant.” Van said, a tinge of anger clouding her voice.

“Mother, she knows I was only jesting.” He winked at Felicity and grinned. “It would have taken at least five minutes.” He smiled to show her he was playing and relaxed when Felicity’s lips curved in return. He relaxed even more when the parents finally turned their attention back to the one who had started all this trouble.

“Go to bed, Felicity. We will deal with this after we have all had a good night’s rest.” Gary kissed her gently on the forehead and smiled down at her. “You are scaring years from my life.”

Evan watched patiently as they kissed her forehead in turn and walked from the room. Van turned at the door. “Evan, do not stay up long. You must be rested for training in the morning.”

He held his smile in place. “Yes, Mother.” He watched until the door clicked closed, then let the smile fall away. He turned to the little chit who was constantly tormenting his peace of mind and his patience. “Now, you want to tell me what you were really doing?” He held her gaze. Her dark green eyes widened.

Felicity’s heart raced and she could not stop the small gasp that bubbled through her. Emotions that she fought to understand swirled like the tide pools, waiting to drag her down into the unknown depths. It excited her more than her attempted escape down the wall.

Heat boiled through her and a cold shiver raced up her spine. The dueling sensations created a ravenous storm within. She tried to hold his gaze, but failed. She could no longer look into his dark black gaze and keep her sanity. Those eyes were like dark pits of wonder that she wanted very much to explore, but she had no idea where to begin.

Breath trembled just beyond her reach and she sucked in deeply but she still felt breathless. She concentrated on her stolen boots. There was a green streak across one of them left behind by the thick vines. She took another deep breath, small spot appeared before her. She could feel her body trembling and fought to stop it.

“Well? Where were you going?” His voice trembled. She could only imagine it was with irritation, or perhaps anger.

“Perhaps I was just collecting flowers.” She tried to hide the guilt, but was sure he heard it.

“You do not steal clothing to collect some pretty little buds from outside your window.” Evan placed a finger under her chin and forced her to look at him. His finger was warm and inviting. It took all her power not to press her cheek into his hand.

Looking into his dark black eyes she found it impossible to lie to him. He was her best friend, though she would never tell anyone that. She smiled shyly and fought the shiver that threatened to overtake her. She lost and a tremble ran through her.

“Are you cold?” He reached for the bed. His body leaned close to hers, smells of warm leather and horseflesh wafted across her senses. She took a long breath. He pulled the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around her shoulders.

“Thank you.” Her voice was a hushed whisper. She allowed her her fingers to brush against his as she took hold of the blanket.

“You are welcome.” He smiled down at her, but his voice was firm when he continues. “Now tell me where you were going.”

She dropped her gaze and looked straight ahead. That did not help matters, in fact made her rolling emotions scream. Her gaze locked on his wide chest. Soft brown curls peeked from his open collar. She sighed. She wanted to reach out and touch them. To see if his chest was as hard as it looked, his hair as soft. “Fine. I was going back to the house. We have a cow who is going to drop. I was concerned that there would be problems.”

“Of course you were.” He laughed gently. The sound washed over her wrapping her in a cocoon of warmth. She sucked in a breath. “I will send a page to the house to check on her. We will keep an eye on her for the next four days while you are going to be here. Good?”

She shook her head. “Good.” Her voice was barely heard even by her own ears.

He dropped a kiss on her forehead as the parents had and turned to walk from the room. She stood with her mouth hanging loosely as she watched him go. His wide frame swayed from side to side. Her eyes dropped to the round bottom beneath his long tunic, it tightened and relaxed with each step. She sucked in a deep breath when the door finally shut and cut off her scandalous view.

Felicity could still feel where his lips had pressed against her warm skin long after the door had closed behind him. “I will marry you.” Her soft whispers fell on the deaf ears of her room, but they lightened her heart.





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