More cherished than gold are the Jewels of Kinfairlie, and only the worthiest may fight for their love…The Laird of Kinfairlie has unmarried sisters, each a gem in her own right. And he has no choice but to see them all wed in haste.
Lady Madeline’s heart is not for sale…especially not to a notorious outlaw like Rhys FitzHenry. Yet Madeline’s hand has been sold, to none other than this battle-weary warrior with a price on his head. A more dutiful maiden might cede to the Laird’s command and meekly accept her fate, but Madeline has never been obedient. She decides to run away, though she never dreams that Rhys will pursue her.
She does not expect this taciturn man to woo her with fanciful stories, much less that each of his enthralling tales will reveal a scar upon his shielded soul. She never imagines that a man like Rhys could imperil her own heart while revealing so little of his own feelings. When Rhys’ past threatens his future, Madeline takes a leap of faith. She dares to believe him innocent—and risks her own life to pursue a passion more priceless than the rarest gem.
“A lyrical medieval-era romance!”—Publishers Weekly
Nominee – 2005 Quill Award
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An excerpt from The Beauty Bride:
The lady Madeline was perfect.
She was the proper age to be the surviving child of Rhys’ cousin Madeline Arundel. She shared her mother’s coloring and her mother’s name. Her supposed family were so anxious to be rid of her without a dowry that they resorted to this vulgar practice of an auction, something no man would do to his blood sister.
And Rhys had to admit that he liked the fire in this Madeline’s eyes. She was tall and slender, though not without womanly curves. Her hair was as dark as ebony and hung unbound over her shoulders, her eyes flashed with fury. Rhys had seen many women, but he had never glimpsed one as beguiling as this angry beauty.
A single glimpse of her had been all it had taken to persuade Rhys that buying Madeline’s hand was the most effective solution to his woes.
After all, with Caerwyn beneath his authority, he would have need of a bride to have an heir. And wedding this woman, if she indeed proved to be Madeline’s daughter and the sole competing heir for Caerwyn, would ensure that no one could challenge his claim to the holding. He did not fool himself that he had sufficient charm to win the hand of such a bride any other way. Rhys had no qualms about wedding his cousin’s daughter, if Madeline proved to be that woman. In Wales, it was not uncommon for cousins to wed, so he barely spared the prospect of their common blood a thought.
Indeed, she would be compelled to wed some man this night, and Rhys doubted that any would grant her the even-handed wager that he was prepared to offer to his bride. Rhys had to believe that he could grant a woman a better life than that offered by her family or this irksome boy, Reginald.
Marriage was a perfect solution for both of them.
And so he bid.
And so the chamber fell silent.
It was as simple as that. Madeline would be his.
Rhys strode forward to pay his due, well content with what he had wrought.
The young Laird of Kinfairlie responsible for this foolery spoke finally with vigor. “I protest your bid. You were not invited to this auction and I will not surrender my sister to your hand.”
Before Rhys could argue, Tynan granted the younger man a poisonous glance. “Did I not warn you that matters might not proceed as you had schemed, Alexander?”
Alexander flushed. “But still…”
“The matter has passed from your grasp,” Tynan said with finality. Rhys knew that Tynan would indeed have cast him out if Rosamunde had not vouched for his character. The lady Madeline had some souls concerned for her future, at least.
“You cannot claim her!” Alexander cried. “I will not permit it.”
Rhys smiled a chilly smile and let his gaze drift over the younger man. “You cannot stop me. And you cannot afford to exceed my bid.”
The young laird flushed crimson and stepped back with a murmured apology to his sister, which Rhys thought long overdue.
Rhys then turned to the huffing Reginald Neville. “Have you no more coin?”
Reginald’s face turned red and he threw his gloves onto the floor. “You cannot have that much coin!”
Rhys arched a brow. “Because you do not?”
Anger flashed in the boy’s eyes. “Show your coin before we continue. I insist upon it!” Reginald flung out his hands and turned to the assembly. “Can we trust a man of such poor repute to honor his debts?”
A murmur passed through the company and Rhys shrugged. He sauntered to the high table, removing a chamois sack from within his leather jerkin. The lady caught her breath when he paused beside her and Rhys studied her for a heartbeat. Her eyes were wide, a glorious simmering blue, and though he sensed her uncertainty of him, she held her ground.
It was not all bad that she was as aware of him as this. He liked the glitter of intelligence in her eyes, as well as the fact that she had tried to halt this folly. He was accustomed to women who spoke their minds and a bride who did as much would suit him well.
He smiled slightly at her, hoping to reassure her, and she swallowed visibly. His gaze lingered upon the ruddy fullness of her lips and he thought of tasting her, knowing then how he would seal their agreement.
But first, the agreement had to be confirmed.
“You need not fear, sir,” Rhys said coolly. “I will owe no debt for the lady’s hand.” There were more than enough gold coins in his sack, but Rhys was not anxious to flaunt his wealth. He cautiously removed only the amount necessary, and stacked the coins upon the board with care. Tynan bent and bit each one of them to test their quality, then nodded approval.
“Then, have her!” Reginald spat in the rushes with poor grace and stormed from the room. His gallantry, in Rhys’ opinion, was somewhat lacking.
There was utter silence in the chamber as Rhys reached out and laid claim to Madeline’s hand, such silence that he heard her catch her breath. His hand was much larger than hers and her fingers trembled within his grasp.
But she did not pull her hand from his and she held his gaze steadily. Again, he admired that she was stalwart in standing by the terms of agreement. He bent and brushed his lips across her knuckles, feeling her shiver slightly.
Alexander placed a hand upon Rhys’ arm. “I do not care for convention or broken agreements. You cannot wed my sister—you are charged with treason!”
Rhys spoke softly, not relinquishing the lady’s hand. “Do not tell me that the Laird of Kinfairlie is not a man of his word?”
Alexander flushed scarlet. His gaze fell upon the stack of coins and Rhys knew that he had desperate need of those funds.
He leaned closer to the boy, the lady’s hand yet firmly clasped in his own, and dared the new heir of Kinfairlie. He would show the lady, at least, what manner of man her brother was. “I will grant you a chance to rescind your offer, though it is more than you deserve. Reject my coin, but solely upon the condition that the lady shall not be sold to any man.”
It was clear that the younger man struggled with this decision. He appealed to his sister with a glance. “Madeline, you must know that I would not do this without cause.”
And he reached for the coin.
“Cur!” she cried, her scorn matching Rhys’ own. Rhys turned to her, his breath catching at the fury that lit her expression. “Take it then, Alexander! Take it, for whatever debts you have, and reject whatsoever loyalty Papa might have thought you owed to your siblings.”
Alexander’s hand shook slightly as he claimed the coins. “Madeline, you do not understand. I must think of the others…”
“I understand as much as I need to understand,” she said, her words as cold as ice. “God save my sisters if you think of them as you have thought of me.”
But the lady turned her back upon her sibling, her bearing as regal as that of a queen, her gaze locking with Rhys’ own. He saw the hurt that she fought to hide and felt a kinship with her, for he too had been betrayed by those he had believed held him in regard.
“I believe there is a meal laid to celebrate our pending nuptials, sir,” she said, her words carrying clearly over the hall.
Aye, this bride would suit him well. Rhys lifted her hand in his grip and bent to brush his lips across her knuckles in salute. She shivered and he smiled, knowing their nuptial night would be a lusty one.
“Well done, my lady,” he murmured, liking that she was not readily daunted. “Perhaps our agreement should be sealed in a more fitting way.”
A beguiling flush launched over the lady’s face and her lips parted as if in invitation. Rhys gave her hand a minute tug as the company hooted, and she took a pace closer. He could fairly feel the heat of her breath upon his cheek and her own cheeks flushed. Still she did not look away, though her breath came quickly in her uncertainty.
Rhys entwined their fingers, then lifted his other hand to her face. He moved slowly, so as not to alarm her, well aware of her uncertainty. She would be a maiden, without doubt. It would not do to make her fearful of his touch. Rhys tipped Madeline’s chin upward with his fingertip. Her flesh was soft beyond belief, her valor admirable. He smiled slightly, saw a spark in her eyes that reassured him as little else might have done. This was no fragile maiden who would fear her own shadow.
Rhys bent and captured Madeline’s sweet lips beneath his own. To his satisfaction, the lady did not flinch, nor did she pull away.
Aye, this was a wife who would suit him well.
Excerpt from The Beauty Bride Copyright ©2005, 2011 Claire Delacroix, Inc.