Read Claire Delacroix Online

Authors: My Ladys Desire

Claire Delacroix

BOOK: Claire Delacroix
2.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Critical acclaim for Claire Delacroix

Enchanted

“The reader will not want to put this story down! 4½


Romantic Times

“Claire Delacroix’s very, very best!”


Affaire de Coeur

“Magical!”


The Literary Times

My Lady’s Champion

“…a sensuous, vividly historical tale…”


Romantic Times

“…Delacroix is an enchantress.”


The Medieval Chronicle

Unicorn Bride

“…another delicious Delacroix delight! 4+”


Affaire de Coeur

“…a fascinating blend of fantasy and romance.”


Romantic Times

“…definitely a keeper, Claire Delacroix’ best.”


The Medieval Chronicle

“What flight of womanly fancy is this?

“I have never broken a pledge!”

“That kiss last eve was no flight of fancy and neither was it welcome!”

The knight glanced to either side, then he leaned closer and lowered his voice. “My lady, this is neither the place nor the time for this discussion.”

“Ha! I will wager that you will
never
find the time or the place to discuss your breach of our agreement.”

“Breach?” Yves visibly ground his teeth, then continued with low urgency, his gaze boring into Gabrielle’s own. “I made no breach of our pledge…”

“No? That kiss was far beyond the terms.”

“That kiss,” Yves said through his teeth, “was for your benefit alone.”

Gabrielle nearly gasped aloud at his audacity. That he would put such a thought into words astonished her. “Well, you do have a lofty opinion of your chains, sir!”

Dear Reader,

Since she published her first book during our premier March Madness promotion in 1992, Claire Delacroix has gone on to pen numerous tales that continue to “wow” the critics. She returns with
My Lady’s Desire,
a “5 Bells!!” story says
Bell, Book and Candle
In this compelling medieval novel, which is a sequel to
Enchanted,
a handsome blade for hire and an exiled noblewoman marry to reclaim a lost estate, and together find an unexpected passion.

When a prim young spinster falls for a very improper cattle rancher who she thinks is in love with her sister, tempers flare in the adorable Western
Prim and Improper
by Liz Ireland, who is fast becoming known for her skillful weaving of humor and romance.

Ruth Langan returns with
Malachite,
the final book of her popular THE JEWELS OF TEXAS series. In this emotional story, the wild heart of Malachite, long-lost Jewel brother, is captured by a gentle widow and mother. And keep your hankies out when you read Susan Spencer Paul’s
Beguiled,
an endearing Regency about a much-sought-after earl who learns the power of unspeakable love when he’s blackmailed into marrying a silent beauty.

What a terrific lineup we have for you this month! Whatever your tastes in reading, you’ll be sure to find a romantic journey back to the past between the covers of a Harlequin Historical®.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to: Silhouette Reader Service

US.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269

Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

My Lady’s Desire
Claire Delacroix

Books by Claire Delacroix

Harlequin Historicals

*
Romance of the Rose
#166

Honeyed Lies
#209


Unicorn Bride
#223

*
The Sorceress
#235

*
Roarke’s Folly
#250


Pearl Beyond Price
#264

The Magician’s Quest
#281


Unicorn Vengeance
#293

My Lady’s Champion
#326

Enchanted
#366

My Lady’s Desire
#409

*
The Rose Trilogy


Unicorn Series

CLAIRE DELACROIX

A confessed romantic dreamer, Claire Delacroix always wove stories in her mind. While working as a technical writer, she decided to write a book—just for fun—and unwittingly started upon a new career. A year and a half and many rejections later, Claire sold her first book,
Romance of the Rose.
When her second book sold, Claire left her day job to write full-time and never looked back. Many historical romances later, she still thinks she has the best job in the world.

Claire makes her home in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, far too many books and a variety of undisciplined houseplants. She is an avid needleworker and often works out plot tangles while knitting intarsia sweaters. Claire travels as much as possible, rides her bicycle everywhere and cooks with enthusiasm—as long as someone else washes the dishes!

For Karen Kosztolnyik, who likes her heroes with baggage.

Chapter One

Court of Burgundy—Easter, 1114

Y
ves stepped into the blessedly private shadows of his silk tent and deliberately ignored the cheers of the crowds. They were chanting his name, but Yves had no intention of returning to the fields again.

Ye gods, but he hated tourneys.

Yves doffed his helmet and ran one hand through his damp hair, letting the exhaustion of the day slide through him. If it had not been by his lord and patron’s particular request—and to that man’s honor—he would not even have competed this afternoon.

Tournaments, to Yves’ mind, were a spectacularly useless waste of time.

He dispassionately examined the tear in the black tunic that protected his skin from his hauberk and hung to his ankles. His only wound of the afternoon looked to be readily reparable.

“God’s wounds, my lord, but you showed him!” Yves’ squire, Gaston, burst into the tent with characteristic enthusiasm.

The boy was grinning from ear to ear, his excitement making
him look markedly less than his sixteen summers. Typically, he was unkempt, his curly hair tousled, his tabard wrinkled and graced with more than one food stain. It was hardly appropriate for the squire of the count’s own marshal—and the count’s only nephew—to appear in such a state.

Would Yves ever make a knight of Gaston? Even after a year together, everything he told the boy seemed to go in one ear and directly out the other.

“Language,” Yves chided, choosing one issue of many.

The pinkening of Gaston’s ears revealed the boy’s recollection of past tutelage on the subject. His smile faded as he took his master’s helmet with a gesture that lacked the care Yves might have preferred.

“It is just an expression,” he argued.

Yves arched a brow. “And a blasphemous one.” He turned his attention to the lace of his hauberk, a slight frown crinkling his brow. “As we have discussed before.”

Gaston sobered, then stepped to his knight’s side. His expression had turned defiant, though he was quick to unbuckle Yves’ sword. “All the squires say it,” he insisted.

“And if all the squires took to thieving, would you join their ranks in that, as well?” Yves inquired mildly.

Gaston flicked him a mutinous glance, as though he already suspected he would lose this argument. “No. That is clearly wrong.”

“Yet the priest at Chßateau Montclair did not teach that blasphemy was wrong?” There was no anger in Yves’ tone as he referred to Gaston’s home estate, for this knight had learned long ago that emotion had no place in a thinking man’s life.

Gaston’s ears burned a fiery red and he could no longer hold Yves’ gaze. “It is not the same,” he protested, but there was no conviction in his tone.

Yves was encouraged to see that the boy at least understood when his reason had failed a test.

“A knight must be honorable in all he says and does,”
Yves counseled in a low voice. Gaston nodded and laid his master’s blade aside with greater care than he usually showed, then straightened to help Yves with his hauberk.

And.this without being asked.

Yves hid his relief that the boy’s training might finally be showing signs of progress. Only the soft clink of the mail sounded for a few moments as buckles were unfastened and armor unlaced, then Gaston could hold back his words no longer.

“But you were wonderful on the field this day!” he exclaimed, the words bursting forth like water from a broken dam. “Four knights downed in but a twinkling of an eye!” He parned in the air with Yves’ sheathed quillon dagger, blithely unaware of his knight’s quelling glance.

“Had they not been men of such repute and in such foul temper over their losses, I would not have believed it possible,” Gaston continued. His eyes shone with the telling, and he mimicked each grand gesture as he recounted it.

Sadly, it was not just with language that Gaston was careless, or even with equipment. Indeed, the boy did not pay sufficient attention to anything other than fighting itself.

It was clear to the most casual observer that Gaston lived and breathed for the excitement of battle. His knowledge of such feats had fed mightily upon troubadours’ tales, those sweeping sagas that oft had little to do with reality.

Yves had begun to fear that the boy cared more for the romance of knighthood than its arduous fact and this account of the day lent weight to his suspicion. Battle was but a small part of a knight’s obligation to society, after all.

Perhaps it was time to set matters straight for Gaston.

Yves shed his boots and considered what to do.

The squire, undeterred by his knight’s silence, waved his hands in the air as he continued. “The crowd was shouting, the count saluted you, and the countess, the
countess
even cast her sleeve onto the field!”

Gaston sighed with longing while Yves donned a simple
linen shirt, his own heart unstirred by these tributes. “If only I could one day be as effective a warrior!”

“A tournament is a far cry from the truth of battle,” Yves said firmly.

Gaston gaped at him, yet again forgetting his tasks. “But how can it be? Tournaments are wonderful!”

Yves flicked an impatient finger toward the pitcher and ewer. Gaston jumped, then hastened to fetch the water he should have already poured. As Yves scrubbed his face, the boy stared impertinently at him.

Yves shook the water out of his hair and eyed the boy’s obvious curiosity. “Do you understand nothing of this business?” he asked evenly.

“You fought to show that your skill was the greatest of all.”

“I fought at the whim of my lord the count, who planned these tourneys to please his wife and lady fair. It was his will that I, as his marshal, take to the fields, and so I did.”

Gaston’s eyes glowed. “And you succeeded wondrously!”

“All to the greater glory of my lord and patron.”

“And to you.”

“To my lord the count alone,” Yves corrected sternly. “The skill of the knights in this keep is to
his
credit, not to their own. Humility, after all, is a trait a knight does well to cultivate.” Yves dried his face with a length of linen.

Gaston, though, stared at his knight in amazement. “You truly care nothing for the bounty you have won, do you?” He gestured to the field beyond. “You must have gained half a dozen steeds and a chest of gold, not to mention the favor of any number of ladies!”

Yves shrugged. “Steeds and gold, as well as women, come and go, Gaston. The only thing of merit that a man can own is knowledge of who he is. That alone tells him where his place is in this world.”

If nothing else, Yves knew both of those things, though neither of them were pretty tales.

The trumpets sounded anew from the field, and the announcement of another contender’s name could be heard but not distinguished. The crowd cheered and Gaston looked longingly toward the tent flap, his toes tapping with his desire to return and watch.

It seemed Yves’ lessons would fall on deaf ears this day. He glanced pointedly about the simply appointed tent, but Gaston was too busy straining his ears to notice.

Yves folded his arms across his chest and watched the inattentive boy. If nothing else, the boy had a charm that made it difficult to be overly harsh with him.

But still, he should not forget his tasks.

“Is there wine?” Yves asked finally.

“Oh!” Gaston jumped guiltily. “Yes, my lord.” He scampered to fetch vessel and cup, but could not completely restrain himself from glancing at the flap again as the challenger was announced on the field far beyond.

Yves sank onto a simple wooden stool, sipped his wine and despaired of ever having the boy’s attention long enough to teach him what he needed to know. Gaston’s head snapped up as the crowd roared, and Yves knew this battle was long lost.

“Go,” he said quietly.

There was no need to issue the command twice. Gaston was gone in the twinkling of an eye.

Yves shook his head. Had he ever been so young? He sipped his wine, savoring his fleeting privacy as the count and his guests watched another contest. Soon there would be a thousand deeds to be done, but for these few moments, Yves would enjoy the warm gold of the afternoon sunlight, fanning through the stripes of the silken tent.

The wine was robust and lightly spiced with cloves, its rich flavor welcome after the hard labor of the match. Yves flexed his tight muscles and considered the training of the irrepressible Gaston.

Even banning him from listening to the minstrels would
accomplish little, for it seemed the boy had memorized vast tracts of romantic tales. His imagination was boundless and his memory astonishing. There certainly were those—Gaston’s dame included—who thought the boy would made a good minstrel himself.

Yet there was a determination about Gaston when he had a blade in his grip that made Yves certain that the count had chosen his nephew’s path rightly.

If only Gaston weren’t so impetuous.

Yves’ thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a throat being cleared portentiously near the tent flap. His head snapped up and he smoothed the linen of his shirt as he stood. Congratulations from the count, no doubt.

“Who comes?” he called.

“Chevalier Yves de Sant-Roux?” demanded a man whose voicè was unfamiliar.

“Yes,” Yves acknowledged with a frown. “Who calls?”

“The Lord de Tulley!” interjected a second voice, though this impatient one was an unwelcome echo of the past.

Not Tulley!

Yves glared across the tent just as that very lord swept inside. Any ease the wine had brought disappeared immediately. Yves felt pulled as taut as a bowstring as he met a frosty blue gaze he had never forgotten.

The Lord de Tulley was still the same small, wiry man, though the dozen years since their paths had crossed had made him even more wizened than Yves recalled. Tulley’s hair was now as white as the driven snow, his face gaunt, the hand gripping his newfound cane gnarled yet determined. His eyes shone like fiery sapphires as he appraised Yves, who felt himself once again an uncertain boy of Gaston’s age.

It had been a long time. And their parting had been less than sweet An anger Yves had not known he nursed flared to life within him and burned with a cold heat. He held the old man’s gaze stubbornly, even as he forced himself to maintain his usual impassive expression.

Manipulative old cur.

The men stared at each other in silence for a long moment, each assessing the mark of the passing years upon the other. Tulley’s manservant lingered in the shadow of the tent flap.

“You fight well,” Tulley acknowledged finally, his words uttered in the same biting manner that Yves recalled. The older man stepped farther into the tent and nodded dismissively to his servant. “Leave us.”

The servant made the mistake of hesitating to obey. “But, my lord—”

“Now!” Tulley did not even turn to look before he snapped the command. The man’s eyes widened, then he darted from the tent, hastily closing the flap behind him.

And Yves was left alone with a man he had never wanted or expected to meet again. How dare Tulley come here and so casually awaken the ghosts of the past!

But Tulley—as Yves had learned long ago—was a man who would see the world turn to his own advantage alone, regardless of what he had to do to make it do so. Everyone was but a pawn to Tulley, a tool that could be used to bend matters to the old lord’s will.

Tulley’s cane tapped as he advanced into the tent, his appraising gaze undoubtedly seeing more than most had the opportunity to see in the marshal’s eyes. But Yves did not care whether Tulley saw the embers of his fury. He needed nothing from him now—for when he had, Tulley had failed to provide it.

And a woman with a rare enthusiasm for life had paid the price.

Yves would never forgive Tulley for that.

“Simple accommodations,” the lord pronounced. He poked the second stool in the tent with his cane as though assessing its strength. It must have met with some approval, for he harrumphed, then lowered himself to sit.

Tulley folded his hands across the top of his cane as his
bright gaze locked with Yves’ once more. “I approve of that.”

Feigning indifference to this visit, Yves shrugged and sat again himself. “I cannot see that your approval is of particular import,” he said, knowing full well that his words were bold.

The old lord stiffened, and those blue eyes blazed. “I had forgotten your impertinence,” Tulley snapped. “Though I suppose it was not overly foolish to imagine the count might have set you straight.”

“Why are you here?” Yves asked silkily.

Tulley took a deep breath and his gaze narrowed shrewdly. “I want to hire you, to recapture a besieged property of mine.”

Yves leaned back, sipped his wine and leisurely regarded the older man, now come to seek a favor from
him.
He would not have been human if he had not savored this moment just a little.

Tulley needed him.

The only question was how quickly to refuse.

Then Yves’ heart skipped a beat Recapture a property? Surely Tulley would not ask him to do the unthinkable? Yves would never return to Sayerne,
never,
not under any circumstance!

“Which property?” he asked, as calmly as he could manage given the hammering of his heart.

Tulley arched a white brow. “Perricault. My most easterly holding and one with wondrously rich hunting grounds.”

The wave of relief that coursed through Yves was frightening in its intensity. What had happened to his self-control? Clearly the awakening of that old wound and his exhaustion were combining to make him uncharacteristically emotional.

Yves took a deep breath. “Besieged by whom?” he asked, as though he might be considering the offer.

Tulley’s features contorted with rage. “Philip de Trevaine!”

Yves shrugged. “I know nothing of him.”

“I know too much of him!” Tulley pounded his cane on the floor of the tent with agitation. “I made that worthless upstart what he is this day! It was
I
who quietly ensured he won the estate of Trevaine, and he rewards my aid with the theft of a prize holding!”

BOOK: Claire Delacroix
2.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson, Martin Dugard
Kasey Michaels by Indiscreet
The Gold Falcon by Katharine Kerr
For Sale Or Swap by Alyssa Brugman
Tyler by C. H. Admirand
Overdose by Kuili, Ray N.
Running for Her Life by Beverly Long
The Gypsy Queen by Solomon, Samuel
The adulteress by Carr, Philippa, 1906-
Gifted: A Holiday Anthology by Kelley Armstrong