The Devil's Temptress

Devil's Temptress

The Devil's Temptress

Apr 15, 2014
Amazon Montlake

Chapters

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.”