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 save 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?
"Reviewer Top Pick! Love, Power and Betrayal are three of the key elements in this captivating historical romance by Laura Navarre... The scenes between Alienore and the Raven are full of emotional and sexual tension... I look forward to reading more of Ms. Navarre's work." ~ Night Owl Reviews
"Exciting and passionate." ~ Robin Maxwell, author of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn
"Laura Navarre spins an evocative tale, blending history and intrigue into a passionate delight." ~ Gerri Russell, author of Seducing the Knight
"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.