Sneak Peek at The Devil’s Temptress by Laura Navarre
February 7, 2011 Leave a comment
The Devil’s Temptress
By Laura Navarre
(February 2011 e-book release, August 2011 trade release)
She had managed to elude the queen’s jailer all day, but Alienore feared her luck was about to turn. When the queen insisted she attend this frivolous revel, Eleanor of Aquitaine had thrown her to the wolves.
Resigned, she stationed herself in an alcove to await Sir Guy. Then the shifting crowd parted like the Red Sea before Moses. Slowly she lifted her gaze, and saw him.
By his height she knew him, a colossus casting his blade-straight shadow across the flagstones. By his sinuous grace she recalled him, stalking toward her across the tourney field.
Not for him the courtiers’ costumed frippery—unless he came as descending Night. He drew her gaze over his forbidding frame, starkly clad in a black surcoat. A belt of hammered bronze, knotted at his hips, divided the darkness. But his face made her tingle, head to foot, with the lightning charge of wariness.
Swarthy as a Saracen, with aquiline features, sharp planed and cruel, he was beautiful as her father’s sword: lethal and humming with contained violence. Amber eyes burned beneath drooping lids; bitter disappointment had carved lines around his mouth. The jagged seam of an old scar sliced from his ear to his shaven jaw. His mane of ink black hair poured over powerful shoulders to slither around his hips.
Dismayed, she stared into his exotic countenance as a feverish shiver raced through her. She had been waiting for him all her life—but that was utter nonsense. She mistrusted this dangerous excess of emotion, and anchored herself against the black knight’s pull.
How does she manage it? The Raven groped after his scattered wits. Lady Alienore did nothing to command attention, but stood before a hundred eyes with dignity and the queen’s own poise. Now a frisson of response sizzled through him as the blade of her gaze pierced him.
He stared into her wide gray eyes, darkening with storm clouds of anger and alarm. I know those eyes, he realized, incredulous. They belonged to the masked knight—the knight he’d left sprawled in the mud that morning. The knight he’d thought for a fleeting second was a woman, before he dismissed the instinct.
Allah save him, he was a fool! Who else would defend the Rievaulx girl, with her dubious reputation?
Richard of Aquitaine strode forward to stake his claim. Clenching his fists, the Raven fought an impulse to haul Alienore of Lyonstone bodily away from her lusting prince, haul her into his own arms. He wanted to demand what in hell she thought she was about, masquerading as a knight on the tourney field. He could have killed her before he knew her!
Grimly he mastered his jostling emotions, and girded himself with an armor of calm. He would not reveal that he knew her secret. Why should he? For all he lacked a courtier’s charm, women seemed to find him appealing enough. Let her swoon into his arms as her damned cousin had done, and the battle would be halfway won.
Alienore swam up from her curtsey before Richard of Aquitaine—the queen’s lion-faced heir. Costumed as the Sun, he blazed in crimson, tongues of flame leaping from the crown over his ruddy hair. Larger than life, he eclipsed lesser mortals, yet somehow she had overlooked him until his jocular voice boomed out.
“My demoiselle, you are the evening star, throwing radiance over the mortal world.” Richard kissed her cold fingers.
“Your Grace, I am Athena. Surely that is evident.”
She battled a familiar rush of impatience for the court’s empty compliments, while the outcast knight hovered on the edge of vision, marking her every word and gesture.
To the prince she said, “I am given to understand you are newly knighted. ’Tis a very great honor.”
Even at barely sixteen, three years her junior, Richard of Aquitaine possessed his mother’s subtlety. His piercing gaze saw past plaisance, and he barked out a laugh.
“Poor Alienore! Already chafing to return to your duties? Tonight you’re mine, to do with as I will.”
She flushed beneath the words, uttered before the Raven’s sleepy gaze. Would the black knight recognize the champion who’d defied him? Unlike others at court, she had never been crafty at concealment. The lodestone of his presence drew her eyes up, to meet the burning cinders of his gaze.
“Ah.” Richard scowled. “You recall me to my duty. I promised an introduction for monsieur. Sieur Le Corbeau is our new master-at-arms…for a time.”
She itched to give this Raven the cut direct, but churlishness ill became an earl’s daughter. After a palpable delay, she offered an unwilling hand. “I am the queen’s privy chancellor. In her name, I must bid you well come.”
She would bid him well come in the queen’s name, but never her own—this wretch who’d left her lying in the mud!
“You’re Alienore of Lyonstone.” The Raven’s sword-toughened fingers closed around her hand.
From the minstrels’ corner, the clash of tambours underscored his rasping voice, hinting at old injury to his throat. Somehow, she found it not unpleasant. An exotic aroma curled in her nostrils: musk and sandalwood. A shiver rippled up her spine as he bent over her, night black hair spilling forward to tickle her hand.
“My lady,” he rasped with his ruined voice. “I’ve waited long for this.”
“Indeed?” She spoke in her chancellor’s voice. “Have you business with the queen? I should warn you. Unlike others, I am hers before I am any man’s.”
“Be at ease, lady. I’m no grasping courtier, come to plead your support with Eleanor.”
He raised her hand to his lips. A shocking heat arced through her.
“In that case, monsieur, what is your business here?”
“Why, lady,” he whispered. “My business is you.”