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Authors: The Temptress

Claire Delacroix

BOOK: Claire Delacroix
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Claire Delacroix


* * *


“I will not wed a man who thinks to own me.”


Furthermore, Esmeraude of Ceinn-beithe declares that she alone will name the winner of her heart. To the knights gallant who ride from afar to do her bidding, she issues a challenge: a riddle that is both quest and test. And then she flees, daring her suitor to follow. Thus begins the Bride Quest of Bayard of Villonne, to compete for the hand of a woman he has never seen...


Newly returned from the Crusades, Bayard has warned his family of a pending attack upon their estate. When they pay no heed to his message, he swears to protect the family holding himself...even if its price is a marriage of convenience. It seems a simple matter to win the hand of a rural maid in a barbarian contest — until the chase begins.


Esmeraude's challenge makes her far more intriguing than Bayard had dared to hope. But when he follows her across the waters and rescues a tattered, ravishing damsel in disguise, he knows he has found her. Recklessly, she offers herself to the handsome stranger. But not even a passion that touches both their souls can win her hand. For Esmeraude will settle for nothing less than total surrender of the crusader’s worn and weary heart...a treasure Bayard is determined to keep shielded forever.


* * *




“A magical tale...brims with rich, historical detail, entertaining banter and romantic tension.”

Publishers’ Weekly


“Five stars! With
The Temptress
, Delacroix quenches the thirst of even the most parched of historical romance readers!”

Lynne Remick for January Magazine


“A perfect blend of romance, humor and magic!”

Compuserve Romance Reviews


“Ms. Delacroix’s Bride Quest series reaches a thrilling and fantastic conclusion with this beautifully written story. Another top-notch medieval from this gifted author!”

Old Book Barn Gazette


“Five stars! Excellent! Mix in a bit of magic and
The Temptress
makes a most satisfying read. This was my first book by Claire Delacroix but it won’t be my last!”

Karen Larson for ScribesWorld Reviews


“Ms. Delacroix’s medieval romances are always superb, and
The Temptress
an excellent example of why her novels are such enthralling and satisfying reads. This one is a winner on all counts!”

Romance Reviews Today


The Temptress
is a feast for those who have a craving for medieval romances!”



“Humorous, clever and just plain fun,
The Temptress
delights and captivates. Claire Delacroix has certainly found her niche with the Bride Quest series, and the latest addition is a fine example of her ability to write stories that entertain and lift our spirits.”

Romantic Times


“Claire Delacroix has done it again –
The Temptress
is a delightful read from start to finish!”

Historical Romance Writers


* * *


Dear Reader;


Every once in a while, a character who appears in my stories who catches my interest right away. Esmeraude was just such a character. Although she was only two when she first fell from my fingertips - in
The Countess
- and even though she was willful, she charmed me from the start. From the very beginning of writing
The Countess
, I knew that I would have to write Esmeraude’s story - and I knew that she would present some man with a challenge, even as she captivated him. Her story is here, in
The Temptress
. Bayard is perfect for Esmeraude, given his confidence and knightly credentials, but she is far from the easy conquest he expects. Of course, as a man who has had a great deal come to him easily, Bayard is completely enchanted by her, even before he wants to be. I had a wonderful time writing the story of these two and it was great fun to revisit their story.


The Temptress
is the third book in my second Bride Quest trilogy of medieval romances. Although this trilogy stands alone from the original Bride Quest, there are links between the characters. Those of you who have read the entire series may enjoy meeting some of the original characters again in this story. It’s not necessary to read the books in order.


The original Bride Quest (
The Princess
The Damsel
The Heiress
) remain available in both digital and print editions from Bantam Dell. Now, all three of the second Bride Quest (
The Countess
The Beauty
The Temptress
) are also available in digital editions and new print editions. As with all of my digital re-releases, I’ve chosen not to revise this book, but to republish it pretty much the way it was published in the first place.


I’ve enjoyed revisiting
The Temptress
, I hope you enjoy reading it, as well.


In May 2012, watch for a new series of medieval romances from me.
The Renegade’s Heart
will be the first in The True Love Brides, a four book series linked to my Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy. You can learn more about all of my books on my website.


Until next time, I hope you are well and have plenty of good books to read.


All my best,




* * *



by Claire Delacroix


This re-release has had only minor corrections from the original printed edition.


Copyright 2000, 2012 Claire Delacroix, Inc.



Digital Edition


The scanning, uploading, printing and distribution of this work without the express written permission of the author is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized versions of any work, and do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.


* * *



Table of Contents



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen



* * *






Claire Delacroix


* * *




Château Montvieux - February 1194


The old fortress was shrouded in fog when Bayard arrived at its gates. If anything, the cloak of mist and fine rain made it look even more formidable and ancient than he recalled.

Montvieux had stood since the dawn of time, or at least for as long as anyone could remember. Its stone walls had been smoothed by expert craftsmen and polished by years of rain, stained by the blood of would-be conquerors. They seemed to be one with the earth of the holding, soil that had been tilled in the name of the lords of Montvieux for centuries.

For the lords of Montvieux had been in this place longer than even the château itself. ’Twas said that their line was older than the lineage of the kings of France, or even of the kings before these. They had been among Charlemagne’s hosts, they had proven themselves even in those days to be bolder, stronger, and more valiant than any other warriors.

And their noble seed sprang from here, was nurtured here, was rooted here no matter how far any one of them wandered. Bayard halted his destrier and stared, struck by the vigor of the resonance this place awakened within him.

He had been certain that his origins were of import to him no longer. He had known that he was naught but the sum of what he had done since his departure. He had believed that he was a man who needed only his blade and his steed. Montvieux proved him wrong. The truth shook him to his core.

He loved this place.

He had missed this place.

And not just the cold stones themselves. He had missed the family that drew their power from within it. Bayard was of this place, as he would never be of any other place he conquered or defended. He carried Montvieux’s blood, he bore the burden of its legacy. And the very sight of it made his heart beat faster with what might have been pride.

Pride. Yearning. Two sentimental traits Bayard thought long behind him.

But truly, was it not sentimentality that brought him back here now?

“’Tis a remarkable holding, sir,” said Michael, the elder of his two squires, with the prim conviction he oft thought fitting of his role. ’Twas five years that the boy had ridden with Bayard and soon now he would gain his own spurs. That pride flared in Bayard’s chest again, though for a different reason.

“’Tis incredible! I have never seen the like!” crowed Andrew, who, truth be told, found much of the world astounding. His very manner oft prompted a man to look again at what he might otherwise have missed.

Bayard remained silent, caught in the turmoil of his own response. His gaze slipped over the wet walls and gates and turrets, the bedraggled pennants, the fields beyond the château, the river and the forests. Memories deluged him, happy memories of a surprisingly joyous boyhood spent here in these fields and gardens and halls and riverbanks.

His grandmother’s proud voice, so long unheard that he would have thought it forgotten, now echoed in his thoughts so clearly that she might have sat beside him:

Never conquered.

Envied by many but entrusted to few.

And of course, her most favored claim of them all:

The prized seat of warrior-kings.

Warrior-kings of which Bayard was one. ’Twas a fact that his grandmother had always underscored to him, evidently unaware or uninterested in the existence of Bayard’s younger brother, Amaury. Montvieux should be Bayard’s, by virtue of blood and of battle, at least by Margaux’s reckoning.

Even if she had granted its seal elsewhere. In the wake of her battle of wills with Bayard’s own father - the battle Margaux had lost - she had cast the seal to Bayard’s uncle. Bastard-born Rowan carried not a drop of the blood of Montvieux, being the product of Margaux’s husband and a dancer, but Margaux had raised Rowan as her own. Montvieux’s seal was now destined for the hand of Bayard’s cousin and Rowan’s son, Nicholas.

Bayard had never cared particularly. It had been enough for him that Montvieux was held in the family, that ’twas tended and respected. Now, the competition between kings had changed his perspective.

Whatever the disputes that had parted him from his family, they were his family, all the same. Bayard’s liege lord, King Richard of England, had defined Montvieux as a key asset in his conflict with the King of France. Richard had been prepared to besiege it, as so oft he claimed.

Richard, of course, had been delighted at the kinship link. He had not realized Bayard’s association with Montvieux, since Bayard used his mother’s estate in his name. Thirsty for blood, Richard had even proposed to make Bayard lord of Montvieux in his uncle’s stead, once the keep was captured.

Had Bayard been a more ambitious man, or even a man as cold as he preferred others to believe, he might have accepted the king’s offer. Instead he argued the matter, at not inconsiderable risk to his position in the royal household.

Instead he advised diplomacy to Richard. He appointed himself to persuade his uncle Rowan to surrender the allegiance of Montvieux to Richard’s hand. He had insisted ’twould be less costly in terms of manpower, denying the suggestion that he felt any tenderness for his estranged family.

Tenderness was a weakness. Sentimentality was a weakness. And weaknesses, as Bayard had seen time and time again, could be readily exploited and cost a man dearly. A wise man hid any sentiment he was fool enough to feel, locking it away from those who coveted whatsoever he held.

Bayard clicked his tongue decisively and the destrier trotted proudly forward, tossing its mane so that the myriad silver bells upon its bridle jingled. He blew his horn and the sound echoed off the stone, then he blew it again, as if impatient with the waiting.

“Who comes to the gates of Montvieux?” bellowed an unseen sentry. Bayard knew where the guard’s hole was secreted, for he had played there as a boy. He turned toward the opening that was only the barest shadow from this side of the moat.

BOOK: Claire Delacroix
11.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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