In the glittering, sumptuous court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, betrayal lurks around every corner. The queen is at odds with her king, and to obey one could mean treason against the other. Even Alienore, considered the most virtuous lady at court, holds secrets: whether masquerading as a knight on the tourney field to defend those without a champion or desperately trying to keep her lands—and her maidenhead—from the Duke of Ormonde.
THE BLACK KNIGHT
He is called the Raven—his face scarred by a Saracen blade, his voice raspy with the effects of Greek fire. His parentage is unknown, his prowess legendary. And he’ll sell his sword to the highest bidder. As his piercing eyes track her every move, Alienore wonders who he’s working for now: finding a spy for King Henry? sent by the duke to fetch her home? Or is each heated touch, each whispered promise of pleasure part of a much more personal mission?
Alienore and the Raven
The black stallion erupted into view, snow spraying beneath his hooves.
All her senses sharpened as the outcast knight thundered toward Alienore like a nightmare against the gray-white forest. The world paled with dismay at his passage. Even the small woodland sounds—the rustle of branches, the yip of a hunting fox—receded as the stallion halted before her in a scramble of hooves.
Then a raucous scream split the air, as a dark bird raked across the sky. Her heart froze as razor-sharp talons sliced toward the knight’s unprotected face. But he stared straight ahead as the raven arrowed toward him—and landed, delicate as a lady, on his shoulder. Wicked claws flexed gently as the bird settled. Suspended breath escaped her lungs in a rush.
“By my faith, sir, what are you?” she whispered.
In her turmoil, she’d spoken English—a tongue rare in Aquitaine—and he did not reply. Unperturbed by the corvine preening on his shoulder, the knight called the Raven studied her through eyes like flickering flames. Her skin prickled with foreboding, and an ungodly thrill.
So she had not given him the slip after all. Why must the infernal man always find her at a disadvantage?
“Have you not the good grace,” she said in Norman French, “to know when a lady wishes to quit your company?”
His lean face hardened, cruel as any Saracen. Topaz eyes glinted as they raked the forest. “Expecting someone?”
Sweet mercy, does he think I am trysting with rebels? If he’s the King’s man, this will be my undoing.
She swallowed down her fear, defiance sparking. “I expected no more than a private hour. But it appears I am to be denied even that much.”
When he swung a leg forward over the pommel to dismount, the corvine fluttered from his shoulder to perch in a tree. Paying the uncanny creature no heed—as though accustomed to the Devil’s creatures—the knight sprang from the saddle. Light-footed as a cat, he landed in a swirl of stark wool.
Her senses stretched to tingling alert as he stalked toward her. Alone they were in the forest, but never say she feared him. Was she a lion or a mouse?
“Were you thrown?” He looked askance at the wounded Galahad.
“Hardly,” Alienore said proudly. “My destrier picked up a stone.”
He gestured her aside. Sparing with words, but at least he could not be accused of idle chatter! A twinge of curiosity plucked her nerves as she wondered if that shredded voice troubled him when he used it.
Aware of the bird’s beady gaze, she circled away, keeping her distance from the wicked crescent of Damascus steel at the knight’s side. He frowned over the injured hoof, and she suffered a stab of guilt. Aye, she should not have been galloping down this ill-kept trail. She was fortunate to fare no worse, though finding herself marooned with the Devil of Damascus—a known ravisher of women—was bad enough.
The knight slid a curved dagger from his boot. Alarm spurted through her as her hand flew to her long-knife.
But he only swept that banner of sin-black hair behind his shoulder. Then he pried at the embedded stone with the dagger’s notched tip. Embarrassment warmed her cheeks as she dropped her hand, and brushed needlessly at her mantle.
While he worked, she studied him. Even preoccupied with the delicate procedure, bitterness lingered around his eyes and mouth. Perhaps he was merely weary, features lined with years of privation and war. The jagged scar raking from ear to jaw contributed to his disreputable air.
Yet the Raven’s hands were gentle as he handled her injured horse without aggravating the inflamed hoof.
When the stone dropped, she peered at the hoof. “’Tis only bruised, thank Heaven.”
An exotic aroma wafted from his clothing—the spice of incense, heavy with musk and sandalwood. Then he released the hoof and straightened. Like a startled deer, she shied away.
“That sprint was foolish on this terrain, lady. Could have broken his neck—or yours.”
He echoed her own thoughts, yet it vexed her to hear him say it.
“I know what I am about, monsieur. This path is familiar to me.”
“No doubt.” His eyes narrowed. “But reckless all the same, and you know it.”
Did he speak of more than her ill-conceived flight? Had he discerned her identity, that day on the tourney field?
“I am bold, perhaps.” She tucked ribbons of hair beneath her hood. “But rarely reckless. There is a difference.”
His own hair slithered forward, decadent and unconstrained, as he slid a practiced hand along the stallion’s leg. “You’re no empty-headed sparrow, a woman of your station.”
A dangerous thought, if he’s the King’s man.
Briskly, Alienore gathered her reins. “Pray do not concern yourself on my account. You need not forego your hunt. I shall return to the castle on foot, so my horse sustains no greater damage.”
When he did not spring to obey, she added, “I know the way, so you need not linger.”
Abruptly the Raven straightened, shaking back that profligate hair. The bird startled into flight, a flurry of black wings and beak as it raked away. When the knight claimed her reins, apprehension spiked through her. She stared at his hand: sun-bronzed, long-fingered, rough with use—a fighting man’s hand beyond question, deadly yet graceful, like the man himself.
“You bid me come and go like a stripling page,” he said, with dangerous softness. “Best not become accustomed to it.”
Poitiers, France — 1174 A.D.
The stolen armor fitted her poorly — a minor annoyance if she were lucky, a fatal encumbrance if not. The chain-mailed hauberk weighed Alienore down, like the doubts she dared not acknowledge. As for the helm, seated perilously low, she could barely see through the eyeslit.
But at least the faceplate disguised her identity — and that must be her paramount consideration.
“Milady, will ye mount?” Luke squared himself to boost her into the saddle.
“Quietly!” she whispered, pulse quickening. “I am no lady this day.”
God’s mercy, let the lad misspeak when we enter the lists, and I am disgraced.
Whether the squire guarded his tongue or nay, she would be fortunate indeed to emerge unscathed from this debacle: stolen armor, a squire bribed to secrecy, and a half-wild charger borrowed from a trusting friend.
But she would not lose her courage now. A lady’s honor stood at stake.
Outside the stable, the clear blast of trumpets split the air. Tightening her jaw, Lady Alienore of Lyonstone gripped the pommel and sprang up.
Mounted, with the familiar shield bumping against her thigh, command settled over her like a garment. When the trumpets blared again, she spurred Charlemagne into the milky light of day.
Beneath slate-colored skies, jewel-bright pennants snapped and fluttered in a cruel wind. Piles of dirty snow stood sullen around the tilting yard of Poitiers. The battlements soared overhead, looming like a calamity over the crowd near the tourney field.
Dismay swept through her to behold the unruly rabble. Her breath exploded white as Alienore reined in.
“Jesus wept!” The oath slipped from her. Dear God, let no man challenge me over the armor.
Cold sweat broke out against her brow. She prayed her hazardous dead-of-night incursion to the armory still went undetected. She had taken nothing she would not return. But her fate must be as God willed it.
Squaring her shoulders against the knife-sharp cold, she reached for the lance. Luke swung it into her hand with a reassuring slap. With an ease honed by training, she swept up the wicked point and couched the spear against her saddle.
Swallowing her reservations, she spurred her warhorse to a canter. They thundered onto the field.
Before her towered the royal box, dominating its surroundings. The Plantagenet standard billowed in the wind, scarlet blazoned with a trio of golden leopards. Beneath the canopy glittered a dazzle of gold and crimson. Eleanor of Aquitaine, by God’s grace Queen of England, her splendor undimmed by the disgrace of captivity.
Despite her fear of discovery, Alienore’s heart swelled with love and pride. The queen would understand what compelled her to act. The queen understood defense of honor, but she could never condone a public scandal. Nay, if Alienore were unmasked, she would lose her place for certain.
For she was no mere lady, but the queen’s privy chancellor — the only woman to stand among the queen’s council of ministers. How they would all rejoice to see her unseated!
A wave of heads turned as Alienore cantered along the barricade. Snatches of conversation drifted to her ears, carried by the frigid wind.
“…rides without a standard and hides his face. Who can say what man he is?”
“Heard of such a one in England…itinerant knight, too modest to reveal his name. He champions distressed damsels — the ones no other knight will defend.”
A woman’s malicious laughter floated on the wind. “Depardieu, the lady Rohese must be wearing out her knees in gratitude for this one!”
“That was how they came upon her, aye?” A man guffawed. “On her knees! And the man half-naked, I heard.”
When she halted before the royal box, Alienore stared straight ahead — not at the spiteful faces of Aquitaine’s courtiers, but only at the blinding blaze of her queen. Exerting her unwomanly strength, she hoisted her lance toward heaven in salute.
A commotion nearby drew her like a lodestone, nerves already screaming with tension. A lady was floundering onto the field, fiery curls spilling against an ermine pelice.
Ah, the lady of the hour, for whose honor I find myself in this dangerous dilemma.
“God lend you grace, monsieur!” Rohese de Rievaulx cried, running across the frozen ground. The stallion shied violently, and Alienore fought to hold him — a friend’s foreign mount, and new to court. With a shaft of alarm she missed her own steed, but that horse was too well known on this field.
She stared down from her towering height at the victim. Her cousin, her own dead mother’s very image — Marguerite de Rievaulx come again, and it twisted her heart to see it.
“Good my lord.” Rohese gazed up through tearful eyes. “Will you not bear my favor into battle? You have earned it by your courage, for no other would ride to my defense…against him.”
Alienore dared not speak. Even through the helm, Rohese would know her, would glimpse the hazardous truth. She would realize Alienore had found no knight to defend her from this appalling scandal —
Behind her the rumble of hooves built like an avalanche, a measured cadence that shuddered the ground. Rohese flushed as her defiler took the field. She thrust her scarf into Alienore’s gauntlet, and hastened behind the barricade.
Guarded, Alienore pivoted for her first glimpse of the opponent. He had made his entrée at court while she was away, about the queen’s secret business in Bordeaux. When she returned last night, chilled and sagging with weariness, Rohese waylaid her with the sordid tale.
This nameless cur from nowhere had assaulted Rohese, bent upon stealing her virtue. When they were discovered, the rogue dared to claim the lady encouraged his advances. And such was his sinister repute that no knight would challenge him, nor champion the lady.
So honor demanded that Alienore take up again the perilous disguise she had left behind when she fled English soil — no matter the terrible risk.
The villain swept into sight. The breath froze in her lungs.
He was an apparition straight from the abyss — a massive black warhorse with red-rimmed eyes, plumes of vapor shooting from its nostrils, bearing a rider like one of Lucifer’s fallen angels. The knight’s pointed helm threw sparks against the vault of heaven. Pale breath leaked around his lowered faceplate.
Above this sinister vision, a raven cawed and circled. As the charger thundered toward her, his three-beat gait sounded the knell of doom.
All is lost, all is lost, all is lost…
Superstitious fear swept down her spine, and made her skin crawl. St. Swithun save her, he could be Beelzebub or the Devil himself, come to claim a damned soul. He did not even carry a Christian name to Aquitaine, only a letter of commendation from the queen’s son, singing fulsome praise of the black knight called Le Corbeau — the Raven.
Beneath her, Charlemagne pranced as the foe thundered toward them. At the last instant, the black stallion juddered to a halt. Up and up he reared, baring yellow teeth and screaming with rage, as her mount tore the ground. Then the stallion thudded down, and pivoted toward the royal box.
With razor-sharp precision, the Raven uncouched his lance to salute the queen. A tomblike chill emanated from him with each chuffing breath.
Dispassionate, Eleanor of Aquitaine surveyed them from her high-backed chair. Her clarion voice rang out.
“This contest is highly irregular — between two knights who claim no name. We are not accustomed to abide hidden purpose at our court in these uncertain times. Lord Raven, we overlook your origins from gratitude, for the service you rendered our son. Your challenger, however, bears no such mark of favor.”
Alienore nerved herself for the risk of speech, and pitched her voice low.
“May it please Your Grace, I beg your indulgence. A lady’s honor is at stake — the honor of Rievaulx.”
Armor chimed as the black knight shifted, pushing out a harsh breath. The queen’s stern eyes passed over him and fixed Rohese de Rievaulx. The damsel drew her hood close, and concealed her heightened color. In silence, Eleanor of Aquitaine studied the mismatched knights — ebony and argent — before her.
Alienore lifted her gaze to her sovereign’s face. Reddened with cold, worn by care and the birth of ten children, still her queen shone pure and fair — a beacon of honor gleaming in a wrongful world. Staring into those assessing eyes, Alienore implored her in silence for support.
“A lady’s honor.” The queen mused. “And a good English knight by your speech.”
Alienore held her breath while her sovereign considered.
“Very well, monsieur,” the queen said. “Three passes with the lance and one course with the sword. To first blood, nothing more.”
Alienore released her breath with shuddering relief and bowed her head.
“And you, Lord Raven.” The Queen of England surveyed the black knight coolly. “You are a stranger to this court, but your reputation precedes you from Outremer. I will have no stouthearted English lad meet his death by your blade this day. Do you comprehend me?”
In silence the Raven bowed, a courtesy of surprising grace. Then he wheeled his black and galloped across the field. The ground trembled beneath his passage.
All is lost…
Heart pounding, Alienore pivoted Charlemagne and cantered to her place. She knotted the reins around her pommel, swung her lance forward to point at the black knight’s heart. Above, the raven still circled, sending a chill cascading down her spine. An expectant hush descended.
The trumpets blasted the cry to combat.
Before Alienore could instruct him, her charger surged forward, building speed like a battering-ram as he thundered down the field. Bracing her lance, she guided the horse by seat and legs as she crouched behind her shield — protected yet still vulnerable. An unlucky blow could still pierce her, and drive the steel links of her mail into flesh, with death by the green rot the certain result.
Swelling to fill her vision, the black knight loomed like a disaster before her. The rumble of hooves drowned out the clamoring crowd. Then the deadly length of his lance was arrowing toward her. She braced for impact.
At the last moment, she twisted aside. The two horses hammered past without consequence. The first course, and both spears had missed their mark.
She wheeled her charger for the next pass. Jittery, Charlemagne fought her, tossing his head and whinnying. She had barely settled him when the trumpets screamed. Without waiting for her signal, the angry stallion plunged forward.
As they charged down the field, Alienore struggled to hold him on a level course. Her arm and shoulder burned beneath the lance’s weight. Grimly she fixed the black knight with her point.
Too quickly, he was upon her, dark spear whistling as it split the air. He would skewer her dead between the eyes —
She ducked behind the shield, barely deflecting his blow. The shock of impact slammed through her. He had grazed her, but her lance caught him squarely. As the black stallion swept past, his rider swayed in the saddle.
Her breath exploded from her lungs as relief coursed through her. With God’s grace, this dangerous contest would end now, with her disguise still secure.
Yet when she wheeled her mount, she saw with sinking disappointment that the Raven retained his seat. Calm as a man at prayer, he sat in his saddle and watched her.
Her chest tightened with dread. By her faith, he should have fallen. Was it uncanny skill that kept him in the saddle, or the Devil looking out for his own?
She struggled to couch her lance. Charlemagne reared beneath her. She longed for the reins, but had no hand to spare for them. When the trumpets blared, the horse lashed out with his rear legs, almost unseating her, before plunging into the fray.
Her sword arm ached from the weight of her lance. Her shield arm tingled from the blow. The unfamiliar stallion weaved and veered, forcing her to hold him with tensed thighs and determination.
Squinting through the eyeslit, she riveted her lance on the looming knight and braced for impact. Her blow glanced off his lifted shield —
Then the hammer of God whelmed her square in the chest, lighting her breastbone on fire as he struck. Her desperate grip on the saddle dislodged. The world tilted and fell away beneath her. The lance was slipping from her fingers…her shield flying wide…the ground rushing up to meet her…then the sickening slam of impact as she landed on her back. Her head thudded against the earth, making her ears ring.
Long seconds passed as she lay dazed, gasping for air. Gradually her vision cleared, reduced to a skewed slice of daylight. Blind, she groped to reseat her helm. When she could drag breath into her lungs, she levered herself up on one elbow.
Across the field, the Raven sat on his charger and watched her. A stable-lad was running to catch her horse. And there was Luke, trotting toward her with her sheathed sword.
Alienore groaned. Every bone in her body throbbed. But that was nothing, she knew, to the sustained distress she would endure later.
The honor of Rievaulx — my mother’s name, my mother’s honor — is at stake.
Somewhere in the stands, Rohese was depending upon her. All hope was not lost. She could still best him at the sword, by far her strongest weapon. Doggedly she struggled to her knees, the world reeling around her.
The Raven sprang down and tossed his reins to a swarthy Saracen in a blood-colored turban. The squire presented his master’s blade — a deadly crescent of Damascus steel with a jagged tip. Fire smoldered in the hilt from a slitted topaz, like a dragon’s eye.
Alienore unsheathed her broadsword and raised her shield, thanking Luke with a nod as he melted away. The black knight stalked toward her.
God’s mercy, he was unnaturally tall. She towered over most men, but this one made her feel small, even fragile. In his coal-black armor, he moved with sinuous grace, like the panther in the queen’s menagerie.
Just beyond the range of combat, he halted. Through the pointed helm, she sensed his eyes upon her: winded, muddied and battered from her fall. She straightened her shoulders and saluted him with her blade. Not that his honor required it, but she would adhere to the rules of combat in the queen’s presence.
Negligently, he tossed his shield to the ground — a silent declaration that he would not need it.
Breath hissed through her teeth at the insult. A rumble of disapproval rose from the viewing stand. So they favored her now, these fickle folk of Poitiers. This Raven must be disliked as much as he was feared.
Holding herself erect, she cast her own shield aside. A sprinkle of applause acknowledged her gallant gesture.
She braced for assault, but he seemed content to wait. Although she preferred to defend while she took a man’s measure, she would derive more than satisfaction from humbling this one. So be it.
She lunged forward, thrusting. His crescent sword swept around in defense. Steel clashed as his blade whined along hers, deflecting the blow. She danced back and parried toward his flank. Again he pivoted to repel, his notched blade whirling through the air.
She sought to find his rhythm, darted forward and back. His style and equipage were unfamiliar — eastern blade and a Saracen squire. Was he one of those so-called Old Settlers, descendant of a knight from the First Crusade, dwelling in Jerusalem for generations? Did he worship God with the heathens, keep a harem of veiled women, and call that a holy life?
Whatever he was, he possessed uncanny skill at arms. Quick as she attacked, he was quicker to defend, his sword tumbling in whistling arcs to parry. He made himself the axis she pivoted around. He became the quiet planet around which her blazing sun revolved.
Already she was overheated under the armor’s dragging weight. Her breastbone throbbed where his lance had struck, dull waves of pain rolling through her. Slick wetness trickled between her breasts — sweat or blood, she knew not which.
Undaunted by her flurry of blows, her opponent emanated an unnerving chill. She burned, but he was ice, frosted breath hissing from his faceplate. Yet her anger was mounting at his indifferent defense. The buzzing in her ears was growing…her heart laboring for breath…her sword-arm burning as she swung her blade against his casual parries.
She gathered all her strength for a final gambit. His scimitar carved the air as it swept up to defend. Summoning all her agility, she crouched and swept around. Her broadsword dropped with disarming swiftness.
One blow, first blood, then victory —
A blinding flash of silver pierced her vision. Somehow his blade intervened, moaning as it slid along hers. With a twist, his point dislodged her sword, and found the seam between her gauntlet and sleeve. A tendril of fire licked along her forearm.
As her sword tumbled from her fingers, his long leg hooked hers. A gentle nudge sent her flailing backward, a cry bursting from her lips. Unable to regain her balance, she landed flat on her back — for the second time that morn. In a heartbeat, his blade rested against her throat.
“Yield,” the black knight rasped.
A dark fog crept around the edge of vision. Through a tunnel of blackness, she discerned him, silhouetted against the leaden sky. Lady Alienore of Lyonstone sprawled on her back in the dirt before Eleanor of Aquitaine and the entire royal court.
Yield? In her mind she saw not Rohese’s pleading face, but Marguerite de Rievaulx as her mother lay on her deathbed, weakly protesting her innocence to the daughter who longed to believe her. No knight had come forward to defend Marguerite from the scandal that killed her and disgraced the family name.
“Never!” She defied him, heart pounding against her ribs. “Varlet, do your worst. I do not fear you.”
Laughter scraped behind the black faceplate. “Then, boy, you’re a fool.”
The Raven dropped to one knee. Alarm knifed through her. He gripped her hauberk in a careless fist, hauled her head and shoulders from the ground. She dangled from his grip like wounded prey.
Through the eyeslit, she glared straight into his shadowed helm. Uncanny golden eyes glittered as they fixed her, feral as any beast.
“Who are you?” She fought for breath.
If he intends to slit my throat here in the dirt, then at least I will know his name! I will meet my fate without flinching…this time.
“Why, boy, did no one warn you?” He uttered a jarring laugh. “I’m the Devil.”
Overhead, a raven cawed, and a chill swept down her spine.
Suddenly his tawny eyes narrowed. As Alienore stared into that sinister gaze, an unnerving notion bloomed. Somehow, through no device but the Devil’s own knowledge, could he sense it was a woman who defied him, refusing to yield to an outcast’s honor?
Without warning, he dropped her, then rose to tower over her like an avenging angel. Pivoting toward the queen, he pulled off his helm. From her vantage, Alienore could see only a gleaming rope of sin-black hair swinging down his back. Her pulse raced as she waited to be unmasked, or worse.
He addressed the court in Norman French, voice rasping, rough gravel under velvet.
“’Tis small pleasure to trounce a half-grown boy, tripping on the tails of his father’s armor. Let the lady send a new champion, or two — or a hundred. I care not.”
The black knight stalked from the field, breath billowing around him like smoke from the netherworld.
Alienore’s face burned as she struggled to her feet, a trickle of blood dripping from her arm. Her disguise was intact. Yet, deep within, a slow wrath kindled. With all the resolve of a knight and an earl’s daughter, she stoked it like a forge-fire.
Her family’s honor stood twice insulted by that knave — her own precious honor, her most prized possession, which she’d sacrificed all to protect. Grimly, before God and St. Swithun, she swore she would have justice.
Excerpt from The Devil’s Temptress
“Whom did you serve on Crusade?”
“French, Normans, Saracens—whoever paid the most.” The Raven’s features twisted with bitterness. “Don’t mistake me for your shining Lancelot. I’m no idealistic fool, taking the cross to liberate the Holy Lands. After a lifetime in that pestilential hell, I’ve nothing left of honor or virtue. I’m the Devil of Damascus, or haven’t you heard? I’m nothing for you to admire.”
“I have heard what they call you.” Alienore stared at the knight’s brooding countenance. “No doubt your trials on Crusade forced you to deeds that would make a lesser man quail. But you do not strike me as weak or indecisive. If the course of your life displeases you, I don’t believe you cannot change it.”
He stared at her, eyes raw as an open wound, scarred features stripped of his customary indifference. She looked straight through the open window of his soul. Pain, pain and solitude, and a cresting tide of loss.
She had never seen such feeling in a pair of eyes—except her own, staring out at her from the polished plate.
“You may still redeem yourself,” she whispered. “’Tis never too late to find your virtue.”
“Almost a man could believe, to hear you say it. Should’ve been a knight yourself. Your steel’s too keen for a court-bred lady.”
Self-conscious, she dropped her gaze. Well do I know I’m too direct and unpolished to make a court lady.
“Can’t win your regard by virtue—not this Devil.” The Raven grimaced. “So I must fall back on other tactics.”
“What tactics are those?” she asked, wary. For a dangerous moment she had forgotten what he was.
The corners of his mouth turned up, distracting her. Bared by the severe pull of hair, he possessed a compelling face—harsh, no longer young, too embittered to be handsome. But the pale scar slashing from ear to jaw, the grim lines bracketing his mouth merely added to the impression of strength and resolve that pulsed from him. And his mouth was interesting, well shaped with a full lower lip.
Sensual. The word whispered in her mind.
“I’ve a theory about the queen’s most virtuous lady.” His gravel voice dropped an octave. “You’re fire, not ice, with passion they must’ve done their damnedest to beat out of you in your convent. Do I speak true?”
“By my faith, I know not what you mean.” Caution prickled her skin. “Passions of the sort you describe are…a dangerous thing, a—destructive force. They’ve brought too many women to grief. If I’d possessed any such longings, I would have—banished them long ago.”
His uncanny gaze pierced her. “Keep your secrets then…until you choose to tell me.”
The pulse of panic hammered in her veins. “You think to find this hidden passion you claim I possess? You are doomed to failure, Lord Raven, for I have none.”
“Don’t you?” In a whisper of sable fur, he rose. “Then you’ve naught to fear.”
He circled the fire with a panther’s lethal grace. Her pulse slammed through her veins.
“What are you about, monsieur? I shall tolerate no impropriety, and I’m well able to defend myself.”
Step by step, he stalked her. “Your professed lack of passion’s your best defense. If it’s so, you’re safer than a babe from my desires. I’ve no taste for inflicting myself on unwilling women—and that includes your damned cousin. So you should be unaffected.”
Alienore cleared her throat. “Unaffected by what?”
Stooping to the kill, he dropped to his knees before her. The aroma of musk and sandalwood clouded her senses as his dark silhouette filled her vision. She pressed her spine against the wall until she could retreat no further.
“This,” the Raven whispered. Cinnamon breath brushed her face.
At the last instant, she closed her eyes.
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.
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.”
Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist 2009
(entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
Golden Network RWA Golden Pen Contest 2008
First Place, Historical Category (entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
Music City Romance Writers Melody of Love 2008
First Place, Historical Cateogry (entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
Connecticut Romance Writers Connections Contest 2008
First Place, Historical Category (entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
First Coast Romance Writers Beacon Contest 2007
First Place, Historical Cetegory (entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
West Houston Romance Writers Emily Award for Excellence 2008
First Place, Historical Category
Second Place, Best of the Best
(entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
Rose City Romance Writers Golden Rose Contest 2008
Second Place, Historical Cateogry (entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Contest 2008
Honorable Mention, Historical Cateogry (entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
Orange City Romance Writers Orange Rose Contest 2008
Honorable Mention, Historical Category (entered as The Devil’s Virtue)
Eye on Romance
This is one story that I couldn’t put down as it was absorbing and interesting. The machinations of court and the very strong heroine make this story slightly different to the norm but a fascinating read.
Lady Alienore of Lyonstone is a singularly interesting character. She is Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s privy chancellor during the queen’s self-exile. We first meet Lady Alienore on the jousting field. She is up against the Raven to save the reputation of her cousin, who she later finds out doesn’t deserve it. Her actions, if discovered, would ruin her reputation but the Raven chooses not to unmask her when she loses to him. Lady Alienore also seeks to regain her lands and manor from her brother as she also flees her betrothed the Duc d’Ormonde. Alienore has a wolf she loves, is loyal to her and protects her. She tries to be a good privy chancellor but the court machinations work against her.
The Raven is a man to be reckoned with as no one is sure of his allegiance. He is strong and has fought in the Crusades. He has turned away from Christianity to become a Muslim as he feels that God had forsaken him on the battlefields. His first wife and child had died and he later finds out the reason why. He is attracted to Lady Alienore and has some explaining to do when he is finally revealed as the Duc d’Ormonde. She finds that his real name is Jervaise de Vaux and is actually the half-brother to the man she thought she was to marry. (The original died in an accident.) But there is someone who is not happy with that decision and tries to be rid of the incumbent. He marries Alienore after he compromises her but does not want to consummate the married until he realizes what his life will be like without her.
I love a good medieval story and this is one that ticked all the boxes for me. Alienore is a strong heroine who is up to challenging the ideas of the men around her and is not incompetent. She knows what needs to be done but can be limited by the opinions of men. Jervaise lets her be the woman she needs to be with all her strengths and weaknesses. She comes to realize that she needs Jervaise to be her other half.
This was really an enjoyable read and I look forward to more from Ms Navarre
Amazon and Goodreads
“The Devil’s Temptress”, by Laura Navarre, is a superbly told tale of medieval political intrigue and the two passionate lovers caught in the court’s spidery web. Alienore of Lyonstone is the personal scribe and favored lady-in-waiting of Eleanor of Aquitane, the displaced wife of Henry Plantagenet, King of England. Secretly trained in the skills of a knight of battle, Alienore takes up the cause of women she believes to have been wronged. She meets her match on the battlefield in the form of a mysterious dark knight known as the “Raven”. Scarred inside and out, the Raven uses his position as master-at-arms to cloak his hidden agendas. Is the black knight honorable, or is he the Devil in human form? Should Alienore give in to the powerful longings created by the Raven’s tough and tender manner? Will he give his heart, something he has vowed never to do again? Ms. Navarre spins this enthralling romantic tale with great skill and historical detail. “The Devil’s Temptress” is a very involving adventure which is also richly characterized. Highly recommended!
Lovin’ Me Some Romance
Set in twelfth century England, Lady Alienore of Lyonstone teeters on the edge of treason while serving the gilded caged Queen of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine. As the queen’s privy chancellor, Alienore manages all of Eleanor’s personal and royal correspondence while also acting as the queen’s connection to the outside world. Loyal to her marrow, Alienore strives to emulate her queen and godmother, doing her best to shackle her unruly and passionate nature beneath a cloak of pride and virtuosity.
A dangerous time to be at court, Alienore serves her queen honorably and diligently hoping that her loyalty will reward her. Having fled to the queen after her crusader brother returned to Lyonstone proclaiming she’s to wed the aged drunkard Duc d’Ormande, Alienore now beseeches her beloved godmother and sovereign to reinstate the lands bequeathed to her by her dead father, severe the offensive marriage proposal, and allow Alienore her rightful freedom. Eleanor champions her cause, that is until a dark knight charges into Alienore’s life setting her on course to ruination and an uphill battle toward redemption.
The Raven, a knight of disreputable origins, descends upon Eleanor’s court at the most pivotal point in the queen’s game. Known as the Devil of Damascus, the Raven is a mystery. Is he King Henry’s man sent to spy on his treacherous wife or is the devil there to collect the rogue daughter of Lyonstone and deliver her to her wedding? Whatever his orders, Alienore strives to maintain distance against the vocally scarred knight whose raspy voice sends heated darts of passion piercing through her cold armor, igniting a flame of desire that threatens to become an inferno.
The Raven knows that his heart’s in jeopardy the moment he lays eyes on Alienore. Unfashionably tall with rippling wheat gold hair and piercing gray eyes, the woman is a warrior proven by her sheathed sword and wolf companion trotting protectively at her heels. Her intelligence radiates as does her sense of honor and pride. Loath to break Alienore’s spirit, the Raven does what he can to gently manipulate her toward his own goals, informing her that the queen and therefore she is on a treasonous path. But he underestimates Alienore’s loyalty and must resort to ruination to protect Alienore from the hangman’s noose. Having yet to reveal his true identity, the Raven hates the betrayal he’s made against Alienore but there are those who will starve if he doesn’t reach his aims and secure the Lyonstone heiress as his bride. But there are others in the bid for Alienore’s fortune including Alienore herself and the Raven soon finds himself in fear of becoming an honorable man.
A bit high strung, Alienore of Lyonstone is a force to be reckoned with. Unsuitable for court life with her direct tongue and lithe warrior body that matches her deadly skill, one would be fool hardy to attack those she loves. But her beauty and her vastly known virtuosity makes her a luscious challenge that many a man can’t refuse. However, Alienore wants no man or passion for both ruined her mother. Instead she shields herself with her virginity and piousness, dousing the flames of those men foolish enough to proposition her. But the Raven is one man that Alienore can’t ignore or discourage. His battle scarred body and voice brings to height a sensual awareness she never knew she possessed. But betrayal doges the heels of her wounded knight and Alienore puts forth the strength of her pride and her determination to win back her rightful inheritance and shun her heart from the Raven’s skillful seduction. Yet it’s Alienore’s very pride that puts her in jeopardy of losing the one man that could set her free within the bonds of love.
Scarred both physically and mentally, the Raven, his goals, and his desperation are slow to be revealed. Much like Alienore and her virtuous shield, the Raven hides his true self allowing the character damaging rumors of his past to shield him from having to face his own inner pain. He’s a devil through and through, at least that’s what he’s bound and determined to convince Alienore of while also striving to win her trust and her hand. The Raven needs Alienore but it’s not known how much until he’s faced with his warrior woman’s unguarded heart and her determination to heal his own heart which is dying beneath the weight of his guilt and his past.
My Final Thoughts:
THE DEVIL’S TEMPTRESS boasts a twisted maze of a plot featuring cunning royals for road blocks and two vivacious lead characters as the scrambling mice racing betwixt the dangerous switchbacks toward an intertwined fate. Alienore reminded me much of a warrior goddess, intelligent, virtuous and strong. She’s also gifted with the loyalty and friendship of a powerfully protective wolf and the strength of a sword hand deftly trained for combat. However, she’s thankfully brought down to the level of us mortals with her faltering naivete and blistering pride both of which serve to hinder and protect her. And while Alienore’s leashed passion is skillfully contained, it takes one wounded but no less determined knight to crash through the barriers of her control. In complete opposition to Alienore’s open book emotions, the Raven is every bit the dark and devilish mystery his reputation herald’s him to be. He’s tortured for sure but his motives are cloaked in masterful darkness eluding the reader time and again. He’s a delightful surprise, one that will have you guessing right up until the very end.
Navarre has proven herself a masterful storyteller with THE DEVIL’S TEMPTRESS. This is no easy plot to navigate as its thickly layered with the opposing forces of deceitful betrayal and virtuous loyalty. Lush with historical fact, Navarre will and does successfully journey the reader to another time and place where no aspect of life is left veiled or beautified. Undoubtedly, you will feel the ebb and flow of this tide of time. In addition, not a single plot arc is left unresolved much to the praising astonishment of this skilled reader’s eye. This is an author that will have you guessing endlessly and gasping with surprise at each cleverly unveiled truth. Because of this, I’ve done my best to keep this review as vague as possible though I’ve seen other, far more revealing reviews which is unfortunate because the twists are so to be savored.
For historical romance readers looking to venture beyond the time of the silver-tongued Regency and Victorian ton, get ready to embark on a whirlwind ride through the Medieval times and the lush political intrigue soaking its heart. A spellbinding romance, THE DEVIL’S TEMPTRESS will have you breathlessly clinging to the edge of your seat as the combustible plot races to the finish line where the ultimate betrayal may or may not come to fruition. Enjoy!
Night Owl Romance
Five stars–reviewer top pick!
This book kept me turning the pages. Set in the time of King Henry V and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the story revolves around the court intrigues between Henry and Eleanor and whether or not their sons will be named heirs to the throne. Our heroine Alienore is honor bound to serve Eleanor, but as Eleanor’s plots become more and more treasonous Alienore must make a decision whether to serve the Queen or follow her heart and find salvation.
Suspicious, King Henry sends a man to investigate Eleanor’s behavior and unravel her plots, a man known only as the Raven. Alienore is drawn to the Raven immediately, but having fled an unwanted betrothal to the Duke of Ormonde, and embroiled in the queen’s plots Alienore hesitates to pursue the attraction. The Raven has his own secrets though and a dark past that haunts him nightly.
The Devil’s Temptress is a well-written novel that explores the lasting effect of the Crusades on the soldiers that served the King during that time. It also offers an interesting perspective on the court intrigues of the time, giving both the protagonists a sympathetic view allowing the reader to wonder how one would navigate the tightrope between pleasing the King, and following your own honor. Eleanor of Aquitaine is a commanding presence in the book, and through the author’s words the reader can experience a portion of Eleanor’s vibrant life.
Alienore and the Raven are both commanding characters who deeply explore the concepts of honor and trust. Both characters are well developed with believable backstories. The dark, sexy romance is both satisfying and enjoyable and every chapter is filled with secrets and subterfuge. After this book, I will certainly add this author to my auto-buy list.
–Valerie at Night Owl Romance
“Enter the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine for historical romance at its most passionate and exciting. Amidst the glittering façade of courtly life lurks the darkest of temptation and betrayal. Another page-turner from award-winning author Laura Navarre.” –Kelly’s Picks, Borders eBooks
Among the Muses
Date Published: Mar 08, 2011
5 out of 5 stars!
Laura Navarre delivers a very well-written novel made for historical fiction romance readers who love a story richly articulated with a period voice. From clothing to dialogue, religion to war, Navarre captures the essence of the time when the knights of the Crusades and political unrest influence the course of many subjects lives. A mesmerizing tale of manipulation and seduction that drives a course of action for all players involved. Who do you trust when everyone seems out for themselves?
Due to the abundance of twist-and-turns within the carrying out of the plot, I’ve tread carefully in the descriptions and summary of this story, not wanting to reveal too much. Half the enjoyment in the reading of The Devil’s Temptress is tying to assess who’s who and what will happen next!
In 1174 Poitiers, France, Lady Alienore of Lyonstone is the daughter of an Earl. Her rightfully inherited lands have been seized by her ex-Crusader brother who’s tied them to a most unfortunate event. She’s escaped her betrothal to the horrendous drunkard, Duc d’Ormande by finding refuge under her godmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, and becoming her Grace’s most virtuous, privy chancellor. A position that grants Alienore time to petition the king for her rights and offers her both protection and offense. For the Queen of England has betrayed her husband, King Henry of England, and everyone who portrays to have taken a side with Eleanor of Aquitaine, may find themselves one-step closer to being viewed as a traitor. Including the honorable and most virtuous Alienore, herself.
With so many people weary of those around them and the meaning behind the actions and words issued, it is only apparent that when the dark and mysterious knight who shows up at court not bearing a Christian name, but rather goes by the name Raven and known as the “Devil of Damascus”, mystery and suspicion ensues. Is he a spy for the king or a mercenary knight? Whoever he may be, the most virtuous lady cannot deny the interest she feels toward the mysterious stranger.
Circumstances quickly change when political challenges arise and the jilted betrothed of Lady Alienore is rumored to have left England in search of her at Aquitaine (France). A rumor is all it takes for Alienore to escape and into a completely different danger. One in which the part Normandy, part Saracen knight will become Alienore’s savior, hero, betrayer, capturer, lover, and future. Naive Alienore quickly learns that everyone is a pawn in the king and queen’s plans, and having Scotland threatening an invasion on Alienore’s own home lands, changes her course — and life — yet again! Only this time she finds herself permanently tied to the Raven … despite not knowing his real name and intentions.
Peppered with French expressions and period created dialogue, Navarre brings to life early twelfth-century Normandy and England through her consistent and intelligent writing style. Readers who delight in feeling like they’re being transported back in fictional time will surely rejoice in this.
Adventures that stem from betrayal, deceit, and war whisks characters across politically delicate lands of Normandy and England, and also gives notice to the upheaval between them and Scotland. Historical facts carry the plot and enhance the sub-plots and action. In fact, the romance and relationship between the hero and heroine is nothing short of rocky, stemming from the Raven’s past as a Christian Crusader, and her own past of hurt and naivety.
It takes a strong woman to accept a broken man, and in The Devil’s Temptress, the relationship between the hero and heroine seems plausible and heart-felt.
The protagonists were enjoyable and believable. Events of the time period held true to the making of the personalities, actions, and beliefs of the characters. I could imagine a head-strong heroine, scared of sexuality due to religious obligations and personal experiences, tightly embracing the honor of herself and her family’s name, and naively loyal to those she holds dear, so much so that she finds herself at one-point labeled a traitor leaving her to rely on her dark hero. Of the two protagonists, I felt as though Alienore had the most dynamic shift of character development. Her ‘eyes’ were slowly opened to the reality of her circumstances and to the perceptions of those around her. From the beginning, she maintained a naive, head-strong strength and determination about her that eventually balanced out to a more well-rounded individual.
Raven, the mysterious and handsome ex-Christian Crusader knight is believable in his personality and actions as well. How would the horrendous events of the Crusades shape the man and believer of God? I can only imagine that doubt and anger would be products — and Navarre brings those factors front-and-center in the making of Raven’s character. His own hatred towards himself makes him his own villain. At the end of the tale, the Raven will reveal his true indentity and take steps at reclaiming his self and position — of course with the help of Alienore!
One of my favorite lines that also explains a little about the characters:
“I’ve wanted you since the day I looked in your eyes.” Sweet with cloves, his breath brushed her face. “And found a woman strong and fierce as a lion, who’d challenge the devil himself. I’ve wanted you my whole life … searched for you without knowing it.”
Many characters take up residence within the unfolding of the story. Twists-and-turns and ups-and-downs keep the reader guessing and inferring as to what will happen next and who’s betraying who, something I greatly appreciate when reading. The plot and sub-plots are all concluded by the end of the story making you feel like you’re not left hanging.
As for the sensuality in the story, readers who revel in description and abundance will more than likely be left unsatisfied. Navarre holds back the strong descriptions and makes the characters wait before acting on desires, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of sexual tension! But, sex itself is meant to portray the growth and development of feelings of the characters, what they come to mean to one another despite the misleading events that bring them together. This is especially true when it comes to Alienore; Her honor and virtuousness compels her. This is story that I felt as though nothing were contrived — events, actions, dialogue, and the romance and intimacy!
Laura Navarre is a new-to-me author that’s made me a fan through her carefully crafted, engaging, historically contextual, romantic, and plausible tale of one broken knight and one virtuous woman who learn that saving themselves can be found in the arms of another. I recommend this book to those historical romance fans who enjoy a strong historically articulated tale where romance is carefully unfolded and reveled, and sexual tension holds more presence then graphic sex. I’m definitely looking forward to what Laura Navarre has in store for readers next!
Reviewed by Tanya
RITA award winning author Alicia Rasley
Date Published: Jan 30, 2011
“With a powerful plot and elegant prose, Laura Navarre spins a romantic story in the time of Richard the Lionheart. In The Devil’s Temptress, the heroine is adventurous and brave, the hero dangerous and complex, and the setting is evocative. I loved the court intrigue, the portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the poignant romance of these aristocratic outcasts.”
-Alicia Rasley, RITA-award winning author of The Year She Fell
Link to Review: http://www.sff.net/people/alicia/
NYT Bestselling Author Nancy Holder
Date Published: Jan 30, 2011
“Historical romance has a new champion–Laura Navarre! The Devil’s Temptress is historical romance at its finest–sumptuous, seductive, and thrilling. Alienore and the Raven are exactly the passionate, larger-than-life characters I love to read about.”
-Nancy Holder, New York Times Bestselling Author of Wicked and Crusade
Link to Review: http://www.nancyholder.com
Night Owl Romance
Date Published: Jan 20, 2011
Score: 4.50 / 5 – Reviewer Top Pick
Love, Power and Betrayal are three of the key elements in this captivating historical romance by Laura Navarre. Lady Alienore fled her home at Lyonstone when her brother Benedict returned from the Crusade and informed her of their father’s death. Benedict plans to marry Alienore to the Duc d’ Ormonde, a man well known for his debauchery and advanced age. When Alienore realizes that she can’t change her brother’s plans she flees to her godmother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her plan is to seek her assistance in obtaining King Henry’s permission to take possession of Wishing Stone Manor, her father’s bequest to her prior to his death. She didn’t plan on getting caught in a web of secrets and espionage that could lead to being charged with treason.
The Raven, a soldier with unknown parentage and legendary expertise on the battlefield, has come to the court of Eleanor. Known as a man who would sell his sword to the highest bidder, no one is sure of his allegiance – could he be a spy for the King Henry, who’s currently at odds with his wife? Or is he there on another mission – bringing Alienore home to face the Duc?
Alienore first meets the Raven on a jousting battlefield; she’s disguised as a knight in order to defend her cousin’s honor. He proves to be more than a fitting opponent, though he doesn’t realize he’s fighting against a woman. When they next meet, both feel a recognition on a deeper level, though Alienore is the only one who knows they have met before. The scenes between Alienore and the Raven are full of emotional and sexual tension, they both feel the attraction, however, Alienore is known as the most virtuous lady in Eleanor’s court and she refuses to acknowledge her feelings. Plus neither one trusts the other, with good cause- Alienore is keeping secrets for the Queen and the Raven is a spy for King Henry and has a secret mission of his own.
There are many secondary characters and they all contribute to the intrigue in this story. We meet Queen Eleanor, who plots to place one of her son’s on the throne and depose her husband, and her sons Prince Richard and Geoffrey of Brittany, who have treasonous plans of their own. We meet Sir Guy Aigret, currently serving as Eleanor’s jailor and loyal to the King and who knew Alienore’s father. He tries to warn her that the Queen is not trustworthy. We also meet Sir Bors Bedingfield, a man who has nefarious plans for both Alienore and her brother and is involved with the King’s sons in their plot to depose their father.
In trying to serve her queen, Alienore, finds herself in a dangerous position. She eventually realizes that she’s crossing the line between acceptable service and treason and soon finds herself a prisoner. Given no other choice, she finds herself married to the Raven, whose secret mission is finally revealed – he’s Jervaise de Vaux, the new Duc d’ Ormonde, and the man she’d been trying to avoid. Now both Alienore and Jervaise will have to face the king and convince him that she’s innocent of treason. They also discover more plots against the king, who we finally meet and whose throne is saved by the actions of both Alienore and Jervaise. There are several twists and turns in the plot and the story concludes in a more than satisfactory way. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Navarre’s work.
Director of Marketing
WEtap Media, LLC
Reviewed by Night Owl Romance
Gerri Russell, RT American Title winner, author of SEDUCING THE NIGHT
Date Published: Mar 26, 2010
“Laura Navarre spins an evocative tale, blending history and intrigue into a passionate delight.”
Link to Review: http://www.GerriRussell.net
“Exciting and passionate!”