My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Knight's Desire by Elizabeth Taylor George was quite a pleasant surprise! Being a new-to-me author, I didn’t know what to expect. But this was a really good medieval romance with lots of twists and turns, a sexy hero, a little impulsive heroine who had really trying trust issue but I forgave her because the story was very, VERY well-written. ETG certainly knows what she’s about because the dialogue between the characters, the environment, and the storytelling; everything hooked me since the first page. I loved it, simple as that.
Lady Arian Goodfife is rumored to be dead. But she’s not. It’s a rumor that has been spread by her evil step-father, Harold to gain the lordship of the big and thriving estate of Cresswell, Arian’s birthplace. Arian’s father, who was the true owner of Cresswell, died suddenly when Arian was young. Now 18, Arian remembers a time, even if vaguely, when her life was full of love and hope, a family that cherished her more than anything else. Her mother, Maeve and Jonathan’s marriage was a love match and it stayed that way till he passed on. Harold, the leech, wooed Maeve when she was on her most vulnerable, his plans as clear as daylight. Sadly, Maeve fell for it. He married her, then sorely abused her, so much so that she was forced to commit suicide. Arian being the only child, and quite young, couldn’t do much to help her mother. Harold married Gwen, another mean, viper-like woman (a match made in heaven, I say), who is outwardly very beautiful. Both are now the Lord and the Lady of Cresswell, that doesn’t belong to them by any right. Harold threatened people not to divulge Arian’s real identity to anyone, ever… most especially to her old great-grandmother and only living relative, Emily Goodfife. Harold made it known that Arian died in a fire right after her mother’s death. Now he pays his castellan dues to Lady Emily and ‘looks after it’ on her behalf.
After many beatings, cold and hungry winters, dirty and torn clothes and the threats of murder, Arian is still alive but barely living like a human being. It was hard to get through the narrative of what kind of scrap-hunting she had to do to survive. Even then, she’d go hungry for days. Now looking at her no one would ever believe who she is. But fate seems to shine on her in the form of Sir Judson Langley, a knight of her great-grandmother’s. Lady Emily never believed that Arian is dead, and she was well-aware of Harold’s cruelty to the people. Even though Cresswell is still thriving, everyone knows he’s a mean jerk. Judson, a poor knight, has been taken in by Lady Emily when he was young. His respect and love for the small, fragile old lady led him to be her fierce protector in no time. And while talking about her lineage, Lady Emily discovered that Judson might have a thin, but certain flow of Goodfife blood flowing through his veins. He might be the only surviving heir who can keep the noble Goodfife name alive. So she sends him to Cresswell to investigate if Arian is dead or not. If she’s confirmed dead, Cresswell and all its lands will belong to Judson upon Lady Emily’s death.
The first meeting of Judson and Arian was significant, at least to me. She was still being sorely neglected, and so, Judson had no idea who she was. Hiding in the shadows, she hears of why Judson is here. What?! Arian has lived stubbornly, surviving everything because she had a dream of taking Cresswell from Harold, returning her estate to its former glory. Not sure how she’d accomplish this though, but there you have it, her wish/dream, whatever it was! And now, what is this? Another man to snatch Cresswell from her? Even though Arian was very happy knowing her great-grandmother, whom she hadn’t met, is still alive, Arian plans to do something about this Judson Langley. Her first strike with a knife was when Judson grabs her from the shadows, as his keen warrior instinct warns him of being watched. Judson didn’t trust Harold, oh no! But he couldn’t quite get Arian’s attack on him. He initially thinks its Harold’s ploy to kill him, but with one look at Arian, Judson decides she’s not a threat; this weak and dirty creature looks hardly like an assassin.
But Arian is able to catch Judson’s eyes, even if it was pity at first. Harold was more than ready to beat her ‘for attacking Judson’, calling her ‘a whore’s daughter’. Judson was unhappy about Harold’s treatment and (it felt like) to save Arian, he tells Harold he wants her as his servant for the time he’s staying at Cresswell. Arian sees a chance to get closer to this new enemy of hers, no matter that she was already quite attracted to the said enemy! Arian’s feelings for Judson hovered between attractions and dislike... then love and distrust. I instantly started disliking this about her.
When Arian is cleaned up, hair shorn off and dressed in a clean gown, Judson sees that ‘Jane’ (as she’s now known, thanks to Harold) is indeed an attractive girl, though she’s really thin. He knew who is responsible for that and decides to help the girl as long as he’s here. He makes sure that Arian has enough to eat, sleeps in a far pallet beside the fireplace at his own cozy room. I liked how Judson acknowledged so openly to Arian in one scene that he’s a poor knight, and so she and him are no different where social status is concerned. Of course his life will change once he attains Cresswell. By now, seeing the vastness and the rich beauty of it, Judson is more than determined to have it, by any means at all. He has had a tough childhood, and when he marries a refined Lady to match his own status, he’d make sure that his family will have no need for anything. So I’d say, even though I was kinda frustrated by Arian’s distrust of Judson, he didn’t make it easy for her too. Some of his confessions about his ‘wish’ to have Cresswell made Arian more suspicious of him.
Yet Arian tries her best to serve Judson, be it by mending his clothes or brushing his boots. But she was forced to spy on him by Harold, who threatened her with some dire consequences. Not that Arian cared much; her life has been one big fat ‘dire consequence’ since Harold set foot at her home. Arian’s plan is to pacify Harold with vague snippets, and earn Judson’s trust so that she can eliminate them both, leaving Cresswell safe. For that she asks for Christian’s help, who is also a jester of Gwen’s. For all her cold ways, Gwen is an idiot. She trusts Christian and tells him everything. Christian, who was a fun character (not an idiot at all) shared those snippets with Arian when they could get some times alone. He knew they could be in serious trouble if this gets out. But Christian’s support has always been unwavering towards because he was sympathetic towards her plight in life.
These two make plan of pushing Judson in Gwen’s arms by false means. It was obvious from Gwen’s greeting of Judson that they shared a ‘past’. I’m not sure how deep that past was though. Was it some youthful flirtation or much intimate than that? At first, it felt like Gwen had a crush on Judson when both were young, as crush she still harbors. Harold can’t satisfy her in bed, duh! Arian guesses it, and plans in a way that Judson is discovered with Gwen by Harold. They can then fight to death for all she cares. Arian even gives Gwen two false requests on behalf of Judson, though she’s coldly rebuffed by him. But by then, Judson’s gentle ways with her has taken a toll on Arian. Her heart has become softer. Arian keeps trying to ignore this, and yet, finding Gwen with Judson (something she planned herself) doesn’t sit well her. Judson keeps a long strand of golden hair that his pillow religiously, every night. Arian feels horribly jealous of whoever that strand of hair belongs to. I wasn’t sure if Judson was betrothed to someone with golden hair tough. I would’ve been pissed because it seemed like Judson is trying to be nice and not dally with a servant because he has given his ‘words’ to this girl. And yet, he’s really attracted to ‘Jane’, planning to bed her once she’s used to with his presence! Thankfully, later on, the truth was revealed and I heaved a sigh of relief.
But that didn’t pacify my curiosity about his and Gwen’s relationship. In one of those false meetings (arranged by Arian), Gwen boldly claims that Judson was her first lover… and some more stuff I’d rather not know about at all. But Judson acts as if she’s… lying? He never denies anything though, which is why I was left confused whether he was just mocking her or not. Judson was curious himself from these ‘meetings’ with Gwen. He already suspected that ‘Jane’ had a hand in it, and he’s determined to find out exactly what she’s up to! Apart from these misadventures, Judson is saved from a supposed accident, in which his close friend, Mumphrey is hurt. Arian saves Judson from a certain death. She then later berates herself for doing it, but also acknowledges that she couldn’t have bear to see him hurt... well, did I mention she was ambivalent where Judson was concerned?
In the meantime, Judson was trying to find out if Lady Arian has really died or not. And he wanted Cresswell so much, he didn’t even do a thorough investigation. He makes himself believe in Harold’s crap. Gwen even shows him a grave of the ‘poor, unfortunate girl’. In his ambition of gaining Cresswell, Judson doesn’t look closely to the loopholes in their story. Judson was prepared to report to Lady Emily about her great-granddaughter’s death. He and his friend, Mumphrey was concerned about their host’s behavior too. Harold gave them all the signs that he won’t back out without a fight.
Harold decides to get rid of Arian by arranging a marriage with a lecherous and doddering old wine merchant who was rumored to have murdered his other wives because they failed to give him an heir. You have to read to feel this ugly character, much like Harold’s. Arian won’t marry the creep, and after tasting a few of Judson’s kisses (oh yes, they did *heehee*), she can’t think of anyone but Judson. But don’t think revenge was far from her mind! This moment she was falling for Judson, the next she was planning to ‘remove’ him from the scene. That she failed to see a savior in Judson, even when he was being so nice and caring, seesh! This went on and on, as well as the prevarication of her real identity. She was known as ‘Jane’ until the very end of the story.
Now about this marriage, Arian plans to ruin herself because the old creep was looking for a virgin! *eyeroll* And who better to do it than Judson, when he’s telling her in every way that he wants her? Judson even planned on to make her his mistress once he left Cresswell. Maybe she can serve Lady Emily too. Again, upon hearing Judson’s ‘plans’ for her, Arian becomes unhappy. Yet, she still decides to go with it. But it’s ruined by Harold soon enough and Arian is taken and locked away. Christian comes to her rescue this time, showing her a secret door and passageways that leads to a room no one knows about, certainly not Harold. And This room is full of fancy dresses and jewels! Arian is awed by all these but vows to keep this room a secret. She could spend the night in a warm bed, and return to her cell the next morning.
After a week of Arian’s imprisonment, Judson had been trying to figure out what to do, and not knowing where ‘Jane’ was kept made his mood dark. Soon he too, finds a friend in Christian, who believed that Judson is the lesser threat here. I knew he was smart! Arian is not happy about Judson finding out the secret room, but thankfully, she realizes that Judson can help her and that his concern about her is genuine. When the news of Lady Emily visiting Cresswell reaches Judson, he forms a plan. He tells Harold that he wants ‘Jane’ to work as Lady Emily’s lady’s maid since she would need one while here. Harold is somehow convinced, and Arian is free of her temporary prison. She’s more than a little excited about seeing her only living relation in flesh.
Harold and Gwen become busy with making the arrangements of receiving Lady Emily, so it left Judson and Arian to work on the room where she’d stay. It was Arian’s parents’ room, left neglected because her mother committed suicide in here. Harold kept Arian alive for one reason ONLY, he was a superstitious idiot and thought the curse Arian’s mother put would ruin him or kill him. Arian never believed it but she was always thankful for her mother’s last attempt to save her. Arian’s thought on her deceased parents made me emotional more than once, bringing tears, most especially when she recalled how her father used to call her mother ‘pudding’ because she smelled of vanilla and clove. :) It is here, while working, is when Arian and Judson end up making love. Arian, very reluctantly, starts trusting in Judson. She realizes her need to be with Judson, in his arms, losing herself in his beautiful blue eyes that always made her go weak. And she really wants to tell him about her true identity, but is she truly safe with him?
(My thoughts: back to that again, aren’t we Arian? *sigh*)
Meeting Lady Emily brought some peace in Arian’s mind, but that was short lived. This old lady is every bit a noble woman. She disdains (and dislikes) both Harold and Gwen. She’s very disappointed learning of her great-granddaughter’s death. Lady Emily keeps saying that she ‘heard’ her great-granddaughter calling for her, which is why she came here. Arian is so surprised and elated knowing somehow her pleas in the past years reached to Lady Emily. Maybe it was because of the bond they shared. The lady is taken with Arian instantly though. I think she would’ve recognize her too, had she not been blind because Arian had the big and clear green eyes, the mark of a Goodfife. I could almost kick Judson for not verifying these subtle clues about Arian. Funny thing is, he never once considered that this ‘Jane’ could be the person he’s looking for.
After this, the story totally picks up its pace, becomes more thrilling. I was already immensely enjoying it even through the frustrations over Arian. And then, Harold arrests Judson for the murder of that creepy wine merchant (good riddance IMO). Arian was with Lady Emily when this happens. Both Judson and Mumphrey, his trusted friend, are thrown into the same prison where Arian was held earlier. When Christian brings that news to Arian, she’s relieved and then, quite frantic. Relieved, because she doesn’t have that marriage hanging over her head anymore, and frantic, because she can’t imagine of not seeing Judson again, because obviously Harold would see him hanged. Harold confirms Judson’s conviction soon after. I was almost scared that she’d believe in Harold’s crap about the murder... almost, but she saved me from that headache. In her heart, Arian knew she has fallen for Judson, and that he’s not a murderer of that sort. So she plans to save him, then move Lady Emily from here. Arian’s instinct was telling her that this time Harold would clear up all his competitions to keep Cresswell to himself, forever. Other twists in the story were pretty good too, but the best was the scene of Judson’s discovery of ‘Jane’s true identity. The last couple of chapters were pure enjoyment, along with me sighing very contented.
I was in love with Judson’s name since the beginning, and throughout I thought he was a very sexy knight (the way he was described), from bright blue his eyes, inky dark hair to his tall and strong body. Never once I thought him to be the evil sort. For all his faults, Judson was a good man. I promise you that the scene where he finally realizes he has fallen in love with ‘Jane’ would bring tears to yours eyes too. In comparison, Arian’s actions and thoughts more often than not came off as impulsive, sometimes immature. Maybe I just wanted her to trust Judson a little more, be a little mature in her bearing. Finally, I wish there was a book for Mumphrey, and most definitely, for Christian. He deserves his own story IMO. 4.5 stars, and highly recommended!