Heart of the Matter

Introduction

"He will come back, Father," I say.

"You've been saying that for the past five years, Marian," my father replies with a sad little shake of his head. "I wouldn't count on it."

My father was wrong. Robin did come back.

With his bumbling, faithful manservant Much by his side, he stood on my doorstep with that smug smile I remembered so well. His hair was shorter, and his body, arms and legs even thinner than before he left England, if that is possible, but his boyish good looks remained unimpaired, no scars or blemishes marring his face, neck or hands, as far as I could see. I hoped none under his battle-worn clothing either.

"Leave," I had said, my bow raised, arrow pointed at his chest.

Unperturbed, he left.

He soon lost that smug smile, however, when he realised that things had changed in Nottingham during his long absence. When he found himself pitted against the villainous sheriff and his equally detestable master-at-arms, Guy of Gisborne. When the sheriff branded him a common criminal and forced him to live in the forest with other outlaws. Robin Hood they called him.

To be honest I felt a little smug myself; serve you right, arrogant, cocksure Robin of Locksley. However, I should have known better. This outlaw life – stealing coin from unwary nobles travelling through the forest and giving it to the appreciative, hero-worshipping poor – suited him far better than living as lord of the manor. After all, in his words: 'where would be the fun in that?'

Now he is standing at my door again, smiling that same self-satisfied smile, doubtless believing that I have had sufficient time to recover from the shock of his return from the Holy Land after five long years and that this time I will welcome him into my father's house with open arms rather than point an arrow at his chest and tell him to get lost.

He is wrong. I am not going to make it that easy for him, not after the way he left me, breaking off our betrothal as if it meant nothing, as if I meant nothing. We are not children any more. I have left my plaits and my dirty knees behind me and have blossomed into a striking young woman, according to my father. So, why does Robin not see that? Then again, maybe he does. Perhaps he is simply too busy playing the hero right now to spare any time for me.

Then, as he takes another brazen step towards me, it dawns on me. He thinks I still belong to him and only him, that he has the luxury of calling me his any time he chooses. Well, he has another think coming. He is going to have to earn the right to step through my doorway, to sweet-talk his way back into my life and possibly my heart.

Starting now.