Seductive and mysterious, Merlyn was the laird of Ravensmuir—never had a man so stirred my body and soul. I gave myself to him—willingly, trustingly, passionately—and we soon wed. Then a horrible revelation emerged, shattering my innocence and my marriage…
Five years later, Merlyn returned to my doorstep, desperate for my help. The scoundrel swore he was haunted by memories of me, that a treasure locked in Ravensmuir could clear his name. Yet I could not surrender to his will again. Now he is said to be murdered and Ravensmuir has fallen into my hands.
But even as I cross the threshold of this cursed keep, I hear his whisper in the darkness, feel his caress in the night, and I know that Merlyn has told me but part of his tale. Should I do as is right and expose his lair? Or dare I trust my alluring but deceptive spouse—the rogue who destroyed my heart?
“A beguiling medieval romance from Delacroix…readers will devour this rich and compulsively readable tale.”—Publishers Weekly
A Rhapsody Book Club Selection
An Excerpt from The Rogue:
The hoof beats came closer. When the raven cried, even at a distance, I knew.
The silversmith’s house faces the main square of Kinfairlie, where markets are held and criminals are hung, and it was here that the new arrivals came to a halt. I stiffened, but did not go to the door. The steeds’ hooves clattered to silence, the destrier neighed and no doubt tossed his head.
“I seek Ysabella of Kinfairlie!” roared a man, his voice achingly familiar.
Merlyn. My heart lunged for my throat.
For years, I had imagined how we might meet again, how I would scorn him with blistering wit, yet now I merely whispered his name beneath my breath like a besotted damsel. In truth, I did not know whether to be frightened or relieved, to be joyous or disappointed. He had come in pursuit of me, after all this time, a boon to my pride if not a good omen for my future.
“Ysabella!” he shouted anew and I wondered if he was drunk.
I glanced over myself and smiled wryly at the embellishment of fermented malt upon my skirts. No doubt the hair had escaped my braid, my face would be hot and nigh as red as my hair. It was a far cry from the reunions I had so oft envisioned, when I was garbed in richness and hauteur, my words as sharp as lances.
My appearance would do very well to show my spouse his importance—or lack of it—to me.
I crossed the kitchen and opened the heavy wood door. Even though I braced myself, my heart stopped. Merlyn was just as imposing as before, his two young squires fighting to control their palfreys. He was garbed in the black and silver he favored, the hues of his house, the hues that made him look more dangerous and dashing than even he was. I looked hastily at his companion. Stalwart Fitz was still with Merlyn, his face only slightly more lined than before.
“Good morning to you, Merlyn,” I said, feigning an indifference I hardly felt. “What brings you to Kinfairlie?”
He urged the steed closer, then dismounted, casting the reins aside. His smile was confident, roguish, and enough to set my very flesh to flame. His gaze swept over me, leaving a tingle in its wake and I gripped the door lest I cast myself at him like a harlot. His breath makes a cloud against the sky that darkened too early in this season.
“Well met, chère,” he murmured, with the intimacy one reserves for lovers.
And I flushed scarlet, heating from nipples to hairline. Worse, I could not summon a sound to my lips.
Merlyn knew it, curse him, and grinned with wicked satisfaction as he closed the distance between us.
I could not draw a breath. I knew the dark truth of Merlyn, and yet, and yet despite all of that, despite my moral certainty that he would burn in hell, I still yearned to touch him again. He infuriated me, yet I had not felt so alive in all the years we had been apart as I did in this one moment, holding his gaze in winter’s cool air.
I had assured myself that my attraction to Merlyn had been born of my ignorance, but he approached with all his wretched surety and the loss of my ignorance did not keep his allure at bay. Far from it. If anything, I desired him more ardently than ever.
To think that I had long fancied myself a clever woman.
“I seek you, chère,” he said, his words husky.
I caught the scent of his flesh and lust unfurled within my gut, memories flooding my thoughts of nights—and days—spent entangled in each other. I squared my shoulders, determined to resist him and failing utterly.
He claimed my hand and bestowed a kiss upon my knuckles, his eyes filled with an answering heat that weakened my knees.
I snatched my hand away, hating that I so quickly fell beneath his spell once more. “And it has taken you five years to remember the way to Kinfairlie village? God in heaven, Merlyn, even the slowest child can walk to Ravensmuir in a day.”
I inclined my head curtly, excusing myself, and retreated into the kitchen. I knew full well that he would follow, though I bristled when he did so. I stirred the wort vigorously, showing a belated care that my investment did not burn.
“You might at least leave the door ajar,” I snapped. “But then, when have you had a care for my reputation?”
“Always, despite your conviction otherwise.” Merlyn’s words were more harsh than I expected. I pivoted and his gaze locked with mine as he flicked the portal closed with his fingertips. He did not apologize, he did not so much as blink.
I raised a finger. “You…”
He interrupted me with resolve. “I am your legal spouse, and there is no law writ that says a man cannot be alone with his wife.”
I turned back to the brew and stirred it with an enthusiasm undeserved. “And you have developed a sudden interest in law?” I asked archly. “How strange. I was certain that your sole commitment to the law was to break it.”
Merlyn laughed. I felt him pause behind me and heard him doff his gloves. He cast them on the board beside me and I caught my breath when I glimpsed them from the corner of my eye. Had he chosen scarlet ones apurpose this day? Did he mean to prompt memory in me?
I knew him well enough to understand that nothing, but nothing, was accident with Merlyn Lammergeier.
Even knowing he approached, I still jumped when his warm fingertip landed on my bare nape. His gentleness always caught me unawares. I inhaled sharply, hoping my indication of disapproval would halt him.
It did not, but then, I had expected as much. I stared at the wort as Merlyn’s finger traced a beguiling path around the neckline of my ancient dress. I felt the barest whisper of his breath before he kissed me beneath the ear.
I jumped truly then, swatted him and moved to the other side of the cauldron. I looked daggers at him, but he was unrepentant.
“The fire still burns,” he murmured, his eyes gleaming. No doubt he reveled in having some power over me.
“Trust me. It is doused beyond reviving.” I scrubbed the hot mark of his kiss with one hand as he laughed.
Merlyn blew me a kiss across the cauldron. “I have missed you, chère.”
“I can tell by the speed with which you sought me out.”
He studied me for a long moment, then slapped his gloves against his palm. “You are vexed that I did not come sooner.”
“I expect nothing of you, Merlyn Lammergeier. Indeed, I would appreciate your absence.” I indicated the door. “Do you still cede to the request of a lady?”
Merlyn sobered. “Not this time.” He fixed a gaze upon me that was so intent that I nearly squirmed. “Why did you leave Ravensmuir?”
“How can you ask me such a thing? Is it not obvious?”
“Then you should have asked sooner. I have forgotten by now.” I stirred and blushed and ignored him as best as I was able.
Which was not particularly well.
When he finally spoke, Merlyn’s voice was no more than a whisper. “I was certain that you loved me.”
An excerpt from The Rogue
Copyright 2002, 2011 Claire Delacroix, Inc.