The Darkest Knight

My Lady's Guardian by Gayle Callen
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81376-9
The year is 1475 and twelve-year-old squire Gareth Beaumont has just received a terrifying vision of the inhabitants of Wellespring Castle being murdered while defending their home. The Beaumont Curse allows Gareth to see visions of future events, but they don't always allow him to see the exact times and locations of the events. In this case, however, he knows when the events will take place because the castle is currently under siege and they are about to be overtaken by the enemy.

Gareth quickly explains the vision to Lord Welles, the only person who has ever believed in his predictions. Lord Welles charges Gareth with the protection of his eight-year-old daughter, Lady Margery, and they escape through a secret tunnel out of the castle. When Margery's older brothers find them a few days later, Margery and Gareth discover that Lord Welles was killed in the siege. The brothers are distrustful of Gareth's predictions and send him from the protection of their home.

Twelve years later, a disastrous relationship has left Margery devastated and determined not to marry. Fate intervenes, however, when Margery is given a unique opportunity by her king and queen. She has been granted property and is allowed the privilege of choosing her own husband, with the provision that she do so within 6 months. However, Margery doesn't think she can ever marry any man because she's no longer a virgin, and barren to boot.

Margery soon has more suitors than she knows how to deal with and is unable to choose the best man when each of them is on their best behavior to win her. Many of these new suitors never gave her a second look before she became a landowner and not all of them are honorable in their quest to win her favor. In fact, she has found herself more than once in the uncomfortable position of being unavoidably alone with a suitor, as well as nearly being kidnapped.

Meanwhile, Gareth is now older, wiser, and very bitter thanks to the abandonment of the Welles family twelve years before. He has bided his time as a knight winning tournament after tournament in order to win enough just for survival, until he could find some way to exact revenge upon the family who shunned his loyalty. He suddenly has a vision of Margery in danger, but now his 12-year-old vow to Lord Welles to always protect Margery wars with his need for revenge.

What Gareth finds upon his arrival is one of Margery's suitors trying to compromise her in the woods. He soon discovers she has an entire house full of suitors equally pursuing her. His solution is to pretend to be one of her suitors in order to discreetly protect her. He also takes it upon himself to advise her of the backgrounds and morality of her more ardent suitors. Margery reluctantly agrees to this arrangement. She still feels betrayed by his unexpected disappearance 12 years before and isn't sure how much she can trust him. This is also the reason she refuses to consider him as a genuine suitor, even though she feels an immediate attraction to him.

I loved reading the bantering between Margery and Gareth. They had a complex relationship involving mistrust, disillusionment, humor, deep friendship, and love. Though the characters are unaware of it, both of their stories parallel one another in their pasts, making the eventual climax all the more satisfying.

One disappointment in the story was Gareth's assumption that Margery had something to do with his original dismissal from 12 years prior. She was eight years old and female. Why would Gareth assume she would have any influence in her older brothers' decisions? This anger was unnecessarily carried on through nearly three-quarters of the story, thus lowering my opinion of Gareth.

The fun truly begins when Gareth realizes Margery's innocence in the past. In his eyes, Margery is no longer the spoiled rich girl, but the one woman who may unleash the feelings of warmth and love he'd kept hidden all of these years.

Other than that one point of contention, there is much to like in My Lady's Guardian. It's a fun and rewarding story, with just enough intrigue and passion added for spice.

--Kristy Hales

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