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       Desired, p.1

           Virginia Henley
 
Desired


  “YOU ARE MY WOMAN.”

  She whirled to face him.

  Christian Hawksblood was no vision but a very real flesh-and-blood man. She should protest. She should order him from her chamber. She should remonstrate with him for his boldness, demurring to be alone with him. Brianna knew all the things she should do.

  She did none of them.

  “I knew you would come,” she said simply.

  Without hesitation, Hawksblood reached out for a peacock ribbon, and his long fingers undid the bow, then threaded through her hair to unplait it. He had anticipated the feel of the golden silk mass spilling over his hands since the first moment he had seen it, but he had been unprepared for the physical impact it had upon him.

  Brianna did not duck away. She stayed absolutely still, allowing him to do whatever he wished with her glorious hair.

  “It feels like I have waited a lifetime to learn its texture”—he lifted it to his face—“and its fragrance.” He felt his self-control melting away, that same control he’d worked a lifetime to develop.…

  Critical acclaim for

  VIRGINIA HENLEY

  and her bestselling, award-winning

  previous novels

  TEMPTED

  “Reaches new heights of passion, adventure, sensuality and storytelling … remarkable.… A romance of exceptional proportions. With each new novel Virginia Henley tests her powers as a writer, and as readers, we reap the splendid rewards. Let yourself be Tempted by this spectacular tale.”

  —Romantic Times

  “A five-star book … a classic … Virginia Henley takes a first-class setting, peoples it with too-proud, sensual characters, seasons it with some interesting plot twists and serves up a rip-roaring, old-fashioned good time.… Scotland came alive as no other Highlander story has ever succeeded in doing for me.… Superbly detailed and richly drawn.”

  —Affaire de Coeur

  “Virginia Henley is at her best.… She so vividly depicts the people and events of the time that the reader is transported back to that exciting period of history. Quickly, the reader becomes entwined in the emotions of the characters, feeling their love, hate, and passion.”

  —Rendezvous

  “5 stars! … As rugged as the Highlands, as feisty as a Scottie dog, and as colorful as a field of heather.”

  —Heartland Critiques

  SEDUCED

  “Seduced never loses steam.… It’s a must read for those who love steamy historical romances. It’s bawdy. It’s funny. It’s a great adventure. It’s great fun for the reader to see the world of men through the eyes of an innocent young woman.”

  —USA Today

  “Gentle reader, beware. Without a doubt, Seduced is Ms. Henley’s most potent, sensual, and spellbinding romance to date … a lush, deeply sensual adventurous romance that goes beyond simple entertainment, bringing readers into the realm of true magic and joy.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Not your run-of-the-mill change of identity story. Of course, when is Virginia Henley ever run-of-the-mill? Never!”

  —Heartland Critiques

  “A glittering saga of power and passion.… Deliciously humorous, this tale of wealth and decadence by the ton is so bawdy, blatant, and blasphemous, you find yourself on the edge of your chair.”

  —Rendezvous

  “The dazzling, decadent and poverty-stricken world of Georgian England comes gloriously alive in Seduced … a sizzling and sensual delight, an unabashedly earthy tale that’s thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.”

  —Affaire de Coeur

  Published by

  Dell Publishing

  a division of

  Random House, Inc.

  Copyright © 1995 by Virginia Henley

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

  The trademark Dell® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-56738-3

  v3.1

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Dedication

  Other Books by This Author

  The first time he ever saw her she was naked. Perhaps that was the reason he felt such a raging lust, yet he doubted it. He had seen many naked females in his twenty-odd years. But she was the most beautiful maiden he had ever glimpsed. Her flesh was the color of cream, her lashes lay upon her cheeks in dark crescents, while a tiny witch-mark sat on the high point of one slanting cheekbone. Her golden hair, brightly burnished as newly minted coins, fell below her knees, cloaking her in a nimbus of red-gold.

  He had no idea who she was, knew nothing whatsoever about her, save one thing: he coveted her.

  The problem was these persistent visions of his “lady” came at the most inconvenient moments, like now. Christian Hawksblood cleared his mind with effort, then focused his total attention upon his lance. It took only a moment for his pulse beat to merge with the rhythm of his charger, for his powerful arm to become an extension of his weapon, and for his fierce eyes to fix upon his opponent. In one fluid motion he couched his lance, lowered his visor, gripped his charger with his knees, and swung his shield to cover his body.

  The baton fell and as clods of earth flew into the air, Hawksblood visualized his lance point striking the hostile shield with such force his challenger was flung from the saddle. A split second later it happened exactly as he had envisioned.

  His opponent did not lie in the dust, but was on his feet with drawn sword within a minute, an amazing feat considering the impediment of his armor. This was the reason Hawksblood had challenged the Frenchman. He wanted his opponent’s sable armor and his dappled gray charger.

  Hawksblood was out of the saddle in a heartbeat. It was within the rules for him to remain mounted, but his pride was too great. The honor of chivalry was at stake. He drew his sword, advancing with such deadly intent his challenger measured his six-foot length prone in the dust and lay still.

  A woman screamed.

  “Dead!” cried the spectators.

  Then the French champion’s squires ran onto the field, managing to carry him from the lists, thankful he had only been stunned by the Arabian Knight.

  By the time the dust of the tourney field had begun to settle, Hawksblood sat in his tent soaking the kinks from his body. One of his squires had removed his armor, bathed him, and was now massaging the hard, rippling muscles of his arms and shoulders with oil of almond and
frankincense to keep them supple.

  Ali, an Arab who had been with him since birth, thrust the stopper into the aromatic bottle and held out the towel for his master. As Drakkar rose from the tub to his full height, the water cascaded down his limbs, leaving his dark skin glistening. Ali thought his master’s Arabian name suited him much better than Christian. He had royal Arabian blood, jet-black hair, and the swarthy visage of a fierce hawk. Only the light turquoise eyes suggested he was not a pure-blooded prince. Ali’s glance ran down the magnificent body. Nay, I delude myself. His great breadth and long limbs proclaim him Norman.

  His other squire, Paddy, was out collecting the tournament prizes of horses and armor. Hawksblood and his squires had magnificent warhorses but trained chargers needed for tournaments were in short supply and a pliable hauberk of finely tempered steel cost as much as a piece of manor land.

  As Paddy led the dappled gray and a light bay toward the pavilion, he realized how vividly it stood out from the other tents. Brilliant red and purple silk topped by a gold minaret made even its shape differ from the rest, hinting at Moorish, Turkish, or Arabian opulence.

  Paddy staked the horses beside what amounted to a small mountain of armor. The pattern had been repeated wherever they had journeyed, through Morocco, Spain, and now France. Hawksblood was still undefeated.

  Paddy lifted the silken flap to enter. “Christ, Ali-Babba, get this bloody water shifted. There’s a mountain of armor for himself to sort through.”

  “I left it there on the off chance you’d take the hint to use it, Paddy’s Pig. I can smell you across the tent.”

  “No bloody wonder with a hooter like yours, boyo. I’ve run bowlegged today, you lousy lump of camel dung!”

  Hawksblood’s eyes narrowed against laughter. His squires indulged in a continual contest of name-calling, yet on the battlefield they thought nothing of risking their lives for each other.

  “Enough,” Christian admonished. “I want the brass armor and the sable. Ransom the rest back for money.”

  “In that case, Lord Drakkar, I had best do the haggling while Paddy cleans up the tent.”

  “Since yer ancestors were rug thieves from the bazaars of Baghdad, I concede ye’r better at cheatin’ knights from their livelihood than meself.”

  “I doubt that, Paddy,” Christian murmured, pulling on a cream shirt that emphasized the darkness of his sun-bronzed skin.

  Paddy grinned, pleased with the compliment, threw off his clothes, and slid down in the now tepid bathwater. “I’ll have this outa the way in a jiffy, m’lord, long afore the joy girls arrive.”

  The evening of a joust was intended for revelry. After fasting all day, campfires would be lit, game would be roasted, and the flagons filled to overflowing. Whores, or women of joy, would dance about the fires laughing, teasing, touching, disrobing, and finally coupling for a penny or a pint or a bellyful of warm food.

  “Enjoy the gorging and guzzling, Paddy,” Christian said, stroking the ruffled breast of his gerfalcon on its perch. “Don’t forget to give Salome a few succulent morsels. I’ve an invitation to visit the castle tonight.”

  “Ho, watch out fer the noble French fillies. The ones I saw from the lists today all looked like they were sufferin’ from night starvation.”

  “I’ll try not to overtax my strength, Paddy,” Christian said with a leer. Hawksblood felt a sense of anticipation. He had glimpsed more than one lady who from a distance looked as if she might have golden hair. Once again he had been lucky in the lists. Who knows? Perhaps this is the night I shall meet my vision.

  The Royal Court at Windsor was a haven for at least a dozen young heiresses. Edward III, married to Queen Philippa, was the most spectacular Plantagenet king England had ever known. His court was brilliant because he lived and spent lavishly. He gathered orphaned heiresses into his vast household, then bestowed these coveted young royal wards upon the families who gave him the most loyal service.

  One or two of the older girls had been chosen as ladies-in-waiting to young Princess Isabel, whose every whim was indulged by her doting father. Though Queen Philippa was sweet and motherly, her raison d’être was giving birth to Plantagenet princes and princesses. It seemed that whenever Edward spilled his seed in her, her fecund womb ripened it. She had just whelped her ninth Enfant Royale. As a result, the queen’s household grew apace until now it overflowed with nursemaids, nannies, serving women, laundresses, ladies-in-waiting, chaperones, and tutors.

  Lady Brianna of Bedford and Lady Joan of Kent picked up their skirts and ran like hoydens through Windsor’s gardens. They were both seventeen, both orphaned, but there the similarity ended. Joan was petite with silver-blond hair the color of moonbeams. She enhanced her dainty looks by wearing pink or other pastels, and entwining her hair with seed pearls. She looked innocent as a child and was never, ever blamed for the mischievous tricks she was always ready to instigate.

  Brianna was a beauty. Her ripe breasts and generous mouth proclaimed to every eye that she was all of seventeen and on the brink of womanhood. Her hair cloaked her in golden splendor, falling below her knees in shining waves ending in hundreds of silken tendrils. One glimpse foretold she would become that rare object of desire: a man’s woman.

  The two girls stopped running the moment they saw the group of females gathered about the fountain in the privacy of the walled garden where Dame Marjorie Daw instructed them on etiquette each afternoon. They could hardly be punished for being late when Princess Isabel had not yet arrived. All the royal wards were now present, ranging in age from seven to seventeen.

  Little Blanche of Lancaster sat decorously by the fountain. Though she was motherless, her father was Henry, Earl of Lancaster, who had been head of the Regency Council for King Edward before he took the reins into his own hands. Though Blanche was heiress to the vast Lancaster fortune, she was pale and ethereal. Her lack of vitality made her almost timid.

  The dragon-faced woman with eyes like agates tapped her long stick impatiently on the flagstones as she awaited Princess Isabel’s arrival. The afternoon was extremely warm and as Dame Marjorie removed the black cloak she always wore, Joan’s eyebrows elevated with delight as she looked meaningfully at her friend Brianna, then imperceptibly inched toward the discarded mantle.

  Isabel and her entourage finally arrived with her greedy little pug yapping at her heels. They disposed themselves upon the fountain’s ledge while the fat little dog removed itself from the vicinity of the dragon and lay down on Joan’s pink skirt, which billowed upon the lawn.

  “Ass-licker,” Joan whispered to Elizabeth Grey, Princess Isabel’s best friend.

  Dragonface glanced sharply in the direction of the whisper. Her agate gaze passed over an angelic Joan and settled fiercely upon Brianna. The birch rod lashed out like a whip. In its fright the little dog immediately produced a turd, missing Joan’s skirt by half an inch. Brianna lowered her lashes to keep from whooping with laughter.

  “Ladies, I admonish you all to be both courteous and meek.” Dragonface looked at Joan and Blanche with approval. “A young demoiselle looks before her with her eyelids low and fixed. Each one of you will have the status of a minor until you are wed. All words of authority belong to your lord and a wife’s duty requires she listen in peace and obedience. Submissiveness is the best way to disarm a husband’s anger.” Dragonface glanced at Princess Isabel and hoped some of her words would be heeded. In truth she gravely doubted they would.

  Joan’s quick fingers trickled a vial of lemon juice down the back of the black cloak. She had procured it to bleach the curls at her temples, but she could get more from the castle stillroom.

  Dragonface droned on. “It is a wife’s duty to bear children and manage her servants. However …” Dame Marjorie paused for dramatic effect and rapped her stick upon the flagstones, “you stand little chance of becoming a wife if you fall from grace. You must keep the body modestly covered at all times. Never allow yourself to be alone with a man, never allow a man to t
ouch any part of your person except your hand. A kiss upon the cheek is permitted after a betrothal, but kissing on the mouth is forbidden until after marriage.” Again she paused. Isabel looked quite flushed and eager at this talk of kissing. Dame Marjorie reminded herself the girl was a Plantagenet, a passionate brood who came over-early to sexual maturity. She cleared her throat and moved to less titillating nostrums.

  “No running or trotting, never trail your mantle, do not scold in public, never overeat or get drunk. Young ladies should not tell lies. Never repeat gossip, never indulge in games of chance. Take no pleasure in low songs or the antics of the jongleurs. Rather, you should go to chapel every day.”

  Brianna hid a yawn. Dragonface would next be telling them to use their serviettes rather than wipe their hands on the tablecloth. Her mind drifted off to contemplate her betrothed. She hadn’t the vaguest idea who King Edward would choose for her, but she knew it would happen before she reached the age of eighteen. She had begun to have the most deliciously disturbing dreams of a phantom knight who would come to claim her. The dreams were so intense they felt real, yet when she awoke she could never quite recall his face. Brianna shivered with anticipation, knowing the most exciting time of her life was almost upon her.

  She was abruptly brought back from her daydream by a roar from the dragon. Dame Marjorie, upon concluding her lesson, laid down her stick, then swept her cloak about her ramrod back. Then she heard the ridicule of laughter. The lemon juice combined with the bright sunshine had left a yellow streak all the way down her black cloak.

  “None of you may leave until the culprit is found.” The light of battle was in her eye and the lines of her face were rigid, showing she was not amused one iota. The silence stretched out as the Dame’s agate eye fixed upon each girl.

  Blanche of Lancaster paled and looked as if she might faint. Princess Joanna, Isabel’s younger sister, shrank back in alarm. Joan, however, was busy sticking a sharp rose thorn through the birch rod just at the place where the dragon would grip it.

 
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