Star crossed lovers or simply a silly young maiden? When Ariadne falls for poet Gabriel Fawcett she knows the relationship is destined for a bitter end. Ariadne, heiress to the ill-gotten Catholic Fairfax fortune, and Ivan, a distant cousin and heir to the Protestant Chalfont fortune, are fated to be married—much to Ariadne’s dismay. The grandparents of the two decide to heal the religious rift in the family and finagle a better political position in the royal court, taking the choice out of both their hands. But Ari holds out hope that she will be able to decide her life for herself, and define a love of her own.
As much as I love romance drama, much of Ari’s heartache is caused by her own foolish notions of freedom as heir, even though she is a woman in a time when women own nothing. Ari can’t see until it is almost too late (and the very last page of the book) that Ivan is the leading man women swoon over (even this woman). The story never quite fully develops and the ending is rushed. An enjoyable read, but one that might leave you wanting a bit more.
Ari . . . Ari, will you please stop climbing?” Ivor Chalfont stopped on the steep goat track leading up the sheer cliff from the river below. He looked in exasperation at the small figure climbing twenty yards ahead of him. He hadn’t a hope of catching her; he knew that from experience. Ariadne was small and lithe and astonishingly agile, particularly at climbing the towering cliffs, which sheltered their childhood home in a deep Somerset gorge. He glanced behind him. Far below, the River Wye sparkled in the warm late-summer sun, running peacefully between wide green banks. Cottages were clustered on either bank, smoke curling from chimneys. A few figures moved around, working in the neat gardens or fishing along the river. The sound of hammering rose in the quiet air from a man repairing a strut on the wooden bridge that spanned the river at its narrowest point. It was a peaceful, positively bucolic sight. On the surface. The reality was quite different, as Ivor well knew.
He cast his eyes upwards again. Ari was still climbing. She couldn’t really think she could escape the reality of the gorge, could she? But Ivor knew she wasn’t thinking that. She understood the facts of their life as well as he did.
He cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed, “Ariadne. Stop, now.”
Ariadne heard him, as, indeed, she’d heard his every other call. Those she’d ignored, too locked into her world of furious frustration to pay any heed, but now reason and logic took over, besides which, it was never wise to try Ivor’s patience too far. She stopped on the track, turned carefully to look down at him so many feet below, then sat down on a rocky outcrop to the side of the track, hugging her knees, watching as he began to climb up to her.
His shadow fell over her a few minutes later, blocking out the sun’s warmth. She raised her eyes to look up at him. Ivor stood with his hands on his hips, breathing easily despite the steep climb. He was a tall, well-built man, with the strong, muscular physique of one accustomed to physical labor and life in the outdoors. His deep-set eyes were the astonishing blue of the Aegean Sea, and they surveyed her upturned face from beneath well-shaped russet-brown eyebrows with a mixture of exasperation and wry comprehension.
“There are times, Ari, when I’d happily wring your neck,” he declared, kicking a stone out of the path before sitting down on a large rock.
“You and half the valley,” she returned, looking back down the track to the peaceful scene below. “The elders are ready to burn me at the stake.”
He gave a short crack of laughter. “Not that, exactly, but I wouldn’t put it past them to lock you up and starve you into submission.”
She shrugged slim shoulders beneath a thin white shirt through which the tones of her skin showed delicately pink. “They wouldn’t succeed.”
“Maybe not,” he agreed, lifting his face to the sun, letting it graze his closed eyelids. “But they’re mad as fire, Ariadne, and they don’t understand why, now, you’re refusing to honor the betrothal.”
“I give that for their anger.” She snapped her fingers contemptuously. “I’ll not marry you, Ivor. There’s no point in discussing it.”
Ivor sighed. Ariadne was as stubborn as a mule and always had been. But in this situation, all the obstinacy of a team of mules would not win the day for her. “You may now own half the valley, dear girl, but you are still subject to your grandfather’s will. Our marriage was willed by Lord Daunt before his death . . . for God’s sake, you agreed to the betrothal just a few days ago. Your grandfather’s will is sacrosanct; you know that as well as I do. You have lived by Daunt rules all your life. The elders will make the wedding happen one way or another.”
“Forcible marriage is illegal in the laws of the land.”
“In name, maybe, but not in practice. You have a duty to obey your grandfather’s will, and here in the valley that is the law. Since when,” he added, “did Daunt and Chalfont obey any laws but their own?”
“I’ll run away.”
“How? You have no money, no means of travel. You would never get past the guards on horseback, and you could not bring Sphinx up this goat track. He would break a leg for sure.”
“You could help me.” She didn’t look at him as she said this.
“No,” he stated. “I could not. I would not if I could.”
“You could refuse to marry me.”
“No,” he repeated. “I could not. I would not if I could.”
Ariadne made no response, but a small sigh escaped her, and a little shiver ran across her shoulders. It wasn’t as if she had expected anything else. Ivor had much to gain from the marriage. If only her grandfather had not died so suddenly, just the day after the betrothal. With more time, she knew she could have persuaded him to release her from the engagement. She had always been able to win him over in the end, but it always took time and patience, and she’d agreed to the betrothal to buy herself that time. And then death had just crept in that night and taken him. His servant had found him dead in his bed, when the previous evening he had been hale and hearty, presiding over the Council meeting in his usual sharp and incisive fashion, celebrating his granddaughter’s betrothal with some of the finest wines in his cellar. Wines destined for the cellars of West Country gentry, liberated in the dark of the moon by Daunt raiders from the smugglers’ trains of pack mules going about their deliveries in the narrow Cornish lanes.
Ivor leaned across and took her hands from her lap, holding them in a tight grip. “Face it, Ari. Accept it. We will be married this day week. As soon as Lord Daunt is in his grave, we will be wed.”
Her gray eyes held his deep blue ones in a fierce stare as she tried to free her hands. “You know that I love someone else, Ivor. I cannot marry you. It would be dishonest.”