There was no doubt in his mind that she was the most dignified and gracious woman he had ever encountered. She had been stripped of everything - her husband, her title, her place in court, even her relationship with her daughter - and yet there had been no tantrums, no rages, no tears. Only a quiet acceptance of her fate. And what she had told him about preferring misery to joy because misery brought one closer to God - well, he had never heard that thought expressed before, and the way she had expessed it had been so eloquent.

In the presence of Katherine of Aragon, Charles Brandon was ashamed. To him, women had always been mere playthings, to be enjoyed while the thrill of novelty lasted, then casually tossed aside when a more interesting prospect appeared. Even his marriage to the flighty, tempestuous Margaret had been an act of impulse. He had lusted after her, but once the thrill of conquest had been over, he had once again returned to his womanizing ways.

He would never forgive himself for the way Margaret had died. He had been too busy philandering to even notice how ill she had been, had in fact been in the very act of adultery while she had drawn her last breath. No wonder Henry had been so angry at him. A husband of any worth at all would have at least alerted his brother-in-law to his wife's impending demise so that the man would have had the chance to say good-bye to his sister.

He remembered standing beside Margaret's open casket, crying and begging for her forgiveness. Margaret's cold, still body had just lain there silently. Yes, it was forever too late to make things up to Margaret. Margaret was gone forever. But Katherine...Katherine was still alive...

Suddenly Charles felt drawn to the woman he had just come to deliver devastating news to in a way he had never been drawn to any woman before. Here was a woman who commanded respect, who even in debasement held her head high with an innate dignity and grace. She had far more character than Charles himself had, and he was all too aware of that fact. How could he just turn and walk away, leaving her alone and abandoned?

"My lady," he said, stepping toward her. "If there's any way that I can be of assistance to you...any way at all..."

"Thank you, Charles." She smiled for the first time that day.