Saturday, January 9, 2010
In twelfth century France, King Henry II of England has just finished quashing a rebellion by his power-hungry sons and now seeks to tame the lawless barons who supported them in this corner of his "Angevin empire." To this end, the king has sent the Earl of Gunthar as his royal representative to ensure that Prince Richard and his former cohorts faithfully adhere to the terms of the peace treaty.
Far from being welcomed with open arms, Gunthar no sooner steps foot in the county of Poitou than he is greeted by a series of assassination attempts. All appear to be linked to the former rebellious prince through the agents of the family and friends of young Heléne de Laurant. A clever, intrepid young woman, she realizes that the only way to prove her loved ones’ innocence is by exposing the true assassin. Heléne races against time—and dark secrets of the past—to unmask the killer before the kingdom plunges back into war.
Fierce determination gives way to mutual attraction as Heléne and Gunthar spar over the identity of the traitor. But their blinding magnetism almost causes them to overlook an even deadlier threat from an entirely unexpected direction.
It was not a request, and he caught her hand as she tried to snatch the bit from his fingers. An angry blush stole up into her cheeks.
“I don’t want--”
“I did not ask you if you wanted it. I told you to eat it.”
She closed her lips and glared at him.
“There has been enough of this nonsense, my lady. Everyone is staring, and above all things I abominate a scene. The meat is your own selection. Now open your mouth and eat.”
Perhaps it was his commanding stare. Perhaps it was her mother’s warning gaze, brimming with a promise of punishment for her daughter’s intractable attitude all evening. Or perhaps it was merely embarrassment at all the shocked eyes viewing her defiance of Gunthar. In any event, she opened her mouth and he popped the morsel inside. Glorying in his first victory of the night, he followed it with another and another, until the slice of venison was gone, and so was his currant tart. Her silvery eyes glared daggers at him, but she obediently swallowed each mouthful and he finally judged her ready for some wine to wash it down.
The cup was almost empty. He signaled Julian to refill it. This time he succeeded in doing no more than pressing it under her nose, for she refused to obey him further and obstinately kept her mouth shut.
Gunthar let her go and sat back in his chair, satisfied just the same. She would not dare to ignore him again. He would allow her to sulk a little, and when the meal was ended he would have the tables cleared away for dancing. She would be required to accept his hand. He would request something quick and complicated, involving lifts, that he might have license to span her waist with his hands. And perhaps while he held her in the air, he would grow clumsy and allow his grasp on her to slip. She would then slide down into his arms, and he would feel her slender body close to his...
His blood coursed at the thought and he reached again for the cup, this time to slake his own thirst.
A sharp slap dashed it out of his hand. The wine splashed across the table, staining the tablecloth and drenching a platter of food. Gunthar turned his startled gaze in the direction of the blow and saw Heléne on her feet, staring after the tumbled cup with wide, frightened eyes. Her hand still hovered in the air and she was shaking like a leaf.
“Cowbane,” she whispered. “Poison.”
Joyce enjoys hearing from her readers and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit her on her website at www.joyce-dipastena.com and her JDP NEWS blog at http://jdp-news.blogspot.com
This summer I reviewed the sequel to Loyalty's Web, Illuminations of the Heart. I loved that book and can't wait to read this one. If you enjoy a fast-paced romance, you will adore Joyce's books.
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