Lord of Temptation
Resist him if you can...
Every Woman's Desire
Norman Lord Dante Risande never met a woman he couldn't seduce. Until a lovely slave named Gianelle refuses his bed and piques his interest. So when she's accused of murder, he can't sit idly by. As the King's right hand, it's his duty to investigate. But in order to save her, he must buy her.
No Man's Possession
A slave all her life, Gianelle wants nothing to do with men. Especially this silver-eyed, velvet tongued warrior. What she wants is her freedom, not to become another of Dante's conquests. But as the only suspect in the killing of her last master, she has no choice except to put her faith in Dante...a man who questions everything, including her innocence.
4 1/2 Stars! ~Realms On Our Bookshelves~Dream Mistress
"This is the second part of the Risande trilogy and it only took a couple of pages before I was fully immersed in this dazzling story. This sensual and breathtaking story drew me in and would not let me move until I finished the last page. It left me in awe and I felt completely spellbound. This story toyed with my emotions and touched my heart in so many ways, I cannot help but feeling this book was a perfect read for me."
REVIEWER'S CHOICE AWARD! ~ Road To Romance
"This reviewer found Lord Of Temptation exceptional in every word, phrase, and deliciously heated moment."
TOP PICK AWARD! ~Romance Reader's At Heart
"Quinn has a unique way of blending her characters into historical and fictional settings and events that will leave the reader spellbound."
4 1/2 Stars! ~RT BookClub
"Quinn pens a tantalizing love story that overflows with passion and emotion."
5 HEARTS! ~ Love Romances
"The prose is smooth flowing and there is never a dull moment with in the pages of this incredible tale. This reviewer cannot possible rave enough about LORD OF TEMPTATION."
5 Blue Ribbons! Romance Junkies ~ Zara Heflin
"This is a tale of epic beauty, and redemption. Every page is a lyrical masterpiece, every word perfect. Paula Quinn has penned an eloquent and impassioned historical romance. I would highly recommend this novel to any reader. I give my highest accolades to this superbly sensuous love story. Ms. Quinn has written a brilliant tale with much heart. This story is incredibly compelling and completely unforgettable. LORD OF TEMPTATION does indeed prove to be a temptation to great to resist."
"Remember, Casey," Gianelle said while she twisted the heavy rope into one more knot. "an hour after Lord Bryce and his guests retire to their chambers, we will make our escape." She pulled on the knot as tightly as she could and then double-checked the other end, tied to one of the four legs on her bed. She tugged, bracing her weight against it. It would hold. She hoped.
"What if he wakes up and looks for us?" Casey watched Gianelle shove the long rope under the bed. She didn't like this idea at all. The thought of flinging herself out the window made her stomach ache. If only there was another way to escape. But Gia was right. They had to leave Devonshire. Their master was bad enough, but it was his brother who truly frightened them both. He rarely laid a finger on them, but it wasn't because he didn't want to. At least in that, their master protected them. But Edgar Dermott found ways to make their lives miserable, especially Gia's. His hooded eyes were ever on her. If she consumed more than her scant share of food allowed Devonshire's servants, he was there to accuse her. When anything went awry at the castle, he blamed her, taking immense pleasure in her punishment.
"He will not look for us," Gianelle assured her. "Casey, this is the best night to go. With all the guests here for his feast, even if he does wake up, he will not realize we are gone until we are halfway to York."
Casey wished she had the same confidence as her best friend. She wasn't certain which part of the plan frightened her more; scaling Devonshire's walls on rope, or actually making it to the ground, where the true dangers would begin.
"Do you have the coins?"
Casey nodded and lifted her skirt to show Gia the small pouch dangling above her knee.
"How much do we have?"
"Ten pence is as high as I can count." Casey reminded her. "We have a little more than that." She twirled her long, chestnut braid in her fingers and chewed her lower lip. "What if the guards see us running away?"
Gianelle crossed the room and took Casey's shoulders in her hands. "You know they fall asleep every night. You must not worry so. Think of our lives after tonight." The determined spark in Gianelle's eyes made them glimmer like polished amber. Her normally sallow cheeks dusted pink with excitement. "We shall be free. There will be no more masters to tell us how to think or how to behave. No more punishment if we raise our eyes to our betters. We shall be able to say what we want, eat when we are hungry, and bathe in clean lakes instead of in a basin behind the kitchen."
The thrill in her friend's voice was contagious. Even though Casey didn't care half as much about freedom as Gia did, she found herself nodding and smiling with anticipation. They had to go, and Casey would never let her dearest friend leave without her.
"Now come. Let us get above stairs and be the dutiful servants our lord thinks we are." Gianelle clasped Casey's hand and pulled her toward the door.
"Gia," Casey paused just before they slipped into the hall. "Are you certain he won't wake up and catch us? You remember the last time we made him angry."
Gianelle patted Casey's hand to reassure her. "I promise, Casey, Lord Dermott will not wake up."
Gianelle pushed a loose tendril of hair away from her face with the back of her hand and lifted the silver tray, heavy with a fat roasted pig. She ignored the groans of her belly as she stumbled and teetered backward from the weight of the tray. She swore under her breath. For the mercy of God, what had they fed this swine? She didn't think she would make it to the great hall and stopped twice to rest the tray on her knee. Her blasted hair wasn't helping matters, either. Even braided, the unruly waves managed to escape. She blew another golden strand out of her vision before preparing to continue onward.
The corridors of Devonshire castle bristled with servants, vassals, and an occasional stray guest searching out the garderobe. Today, Lord Bryce Dermott celebrated the summer solstice festival and had spared no expense to please his noble guests. He hired two extra cooks to help Maeve prepare an array of delicacies fit for the king himself. Minstrels knelt by the hearth fire issuing forth melodies of love and fidelity, while colorfully dressed jugglers tossed balls high over their heads, and midget acrobats somersaulted between the rows of banqueting tables set up the feast.
From the dais where Bryce Dermott sat with his quieter and even more black-hearted brother, Lord Edgar Dermott, Gianelle's master spotted her struggling with the tray after an acrobat tumbled in her path. "Move your arse, wench!" He snapped his fingers at her. "We are hungry."
Gianelle gritted her teeth, but lowered her head and pressed forward. She finally reached the dais and laid the tray down. She nearly tripped over her own feet when Baron Douglas Landry, one of the guests who sat at a lower table beneath her master, pinched her backside. With a flaming oath battering against her teeth, she turned to glare at him, but he lifted a challenging eyebrow at her.
"Fill my cup," he demanded.
"Of course, my lord." Gianelle dropped her gaze to her feet and curtsied. "There is a freshly opened barrel of wine in the kitchen." She snatched his goblet off the table and headed back to the kitchen with a smile curling her lips.
Since the kitchen was normally the place where gossip ran rampant, Gianelle didn't think it strange to find several of the serving wenches gathered around Maeve, the cook, while she basted an ox turning over the spit.
"I heard tell the earl single-handedly rescued twenty of King William's warriors from the dungeons of Edgar the Aetheling shortly after the conquest. Sarah, old Ingram's daughter, says he is taller even than Lord Edgar, with hair as black as a raven's wing, and eyes the color of fine pewter."
"Aye," said Sylvia while she prepared a tray of poached eggs. "I caught a glimpse of him when I visited my sister in Dover last spring. Came riding right into the village and stopped to have a word with some of the fishermen as if he were no better than they. Yet he's wealthy as they come with lands in Norwich, and even France. My sister's husband said the people of Dover love their lord well. Especially the women." Sylvia threw a wink at Maeve. "I tell you, girls, Lord Dante Risande is finer than any man sitting in the great hall."
Maeve chuckled. "Makes me wish I was serving tonight." When she saw Gianelle, she waved her ladle at her. "Have you seen him, Gia?"
Gianelle shook her head and walked past the huddled women to where Casey stood setting apple tarts on a long, bronze serving tray. "I told you yesterday when you were all going on about his arrival, Maeve, I've no interest in any man who is eager to order me about."
"Alas, I fear even the face of a god could not turn our Gia's head." Lydia, a swarthy wench, looked up from the swan she was stuffing. She popped her hand out of the fowl's body and pointed a greasy finger at Gia. "You'll die an old maid if you don't find someone to love soon, girl."
"Love is for poets, Lydia." Gianelle pinched a bit of daffodil from one of the many jars lining a shelf above the chopping table, and dropped it into Baron Landry's goblet. "I do not waste my thoughts on such romantic drivel."
"What are you doing with the daffodil?" Casey asked her when Gianelle poured some red wine into the cup next.
"Baron Landry pinched my backside." Gianelle told her with a mischievous grin curing her lips. "Now he will pay the price."
"He'll be expelling up my delicious ox before it reaches his guts." Maeve threw her head back and laughed.
"Well, it's better than losing a tooth or two like Lady Millicent last month when she slapped Gia for looking at her dour old husband." Casey reminded them.
"How was I to know that sticking those pebbles in her honey cakes would break her teeth?"
The women laughed when Gianelle held up Baron Landry's cup and offered a quick prayer for his poor intestines. She eyed the apple tarts. She had one more thing to do before she left the kitchen.
She passed Margaret, another of Dermott's serving girls, on the way out and rolled her eyes when the wench announced to the others that she had just seen Lord Dante, and the Almighty should roast her arse if he wasn't the most magnificent beast of a man she'd ever clapped her sorry eyes on.
When she entered the great hall, Gianelle didn't bother to look around for the man causing such a stir in the kitchen, but set her gaze on Douglas Landry and headed straight for him with a satisfied hum rolling off her lips.
"Your wine, my lord," she said quietly and laid the goblet on the table before him. When she turned to walk away, she hit a wall of solid rock.
Strong, broad fingers closed around her arms to keep her from bouncing backward and landing in Landry's lap.
"Pardon me, mademoiselle."
Before she had time to stop herself, Gianelle looked up. She caught a glimpse of dark hair and pale, gray eyes an instant before she dutifully dropped her gaze. God's teeth, the oaf was huge. His frame blocked everyone behind him from her vision. But it was the scent of him that overwhelmed her. A rich blend of leather and salty tang that filled her nostrils and went straight to her head. The moment he loosened his grip on her, she tried to step around him. Something tugged her back.
"A strand of your hair is caught on my button." His voice was deep and smooth, rumbling from someplace within the wall of his chest, a few inches from her nose.
This must be the famed Earl Risande, she thought while she watched his fingers deftly untangle her hair from a small button on his surcoat. None of Dermott's other guests spoke to her with such gentleness in their voice, and not many of them spoke with the sensual inflection of her homeland in Normandy.
"There. You are free."
Normally Gianelle would never risk a second, bold glance at a noble, especially one standing this close to her. She wasn't certain if it was his voice or his words that tempted her to do so now.
When she looked up at him, he captured her gaze with his and held it. Damn the kitchen wenches, they were right. His eyes were fashioned of beaten silver. Thick lashes, as coal black as his hair, made them appear even more piercing, more penetrating. His nose was straight and strong, his jaw rugged, his lips carved for pagan pleasures. He reminded her of a wolf whose magnificence made one forget the danger of getting too close. There was the same feral beauty in his eyes that captivates prey seconds before they are ensnared. Gianelle stood mesmerized for a moment before he smiled at her, flashing a frivolous dimple and tilting her world on its axis.
"Then you will excuse me, my lord." She managed a slight curtsey and hurried away.
Lord Dante Risande watched her departure. His gaze followed the length of her long, golden braid down to the alluring swell of her buttocks.
"Merde. Did you see that, Balin?" He turned to another man waiting patiently at his right.
"See what, my lord?"
"That face." Dante turned again to find the serving girl in the crowded hall. "Those glorious eyes. Find out what her name is."
Balin expelled a great sigh. "Someday you're going to find yourself father to a dozen sons you didn't know you had." He grumbled while he went to do his lord's bidding.
Dante smiled catching a glimpse of her weaving her way out of the hall. "Mayhap if I'm fortunate, thirteen before I leave this castle in the morn."
Dante lifted the silver goblet and inspected its elaborate etchings with eyes that matched the flagon's shining brilliance. The old Saxon workmanship was quite beautiful and crafted to withstand years of wear and tear, much like the people themselves. Looking around the great hall, Dante was pleased to see Norman and Saxon nobles sharing wine and laughter. Enough blood had been shed in England. The time had come for peace between the two different inhabitants of the land. But not everyone wanted peace, and that was why he was here; to find anyone allied with Hereward the Wake, leader of the resistance to the throne.
As a warrior, Dante understood why some Saxons still fought against William. The new king was a foreign invader in their eyes, and while he did try to preserve their laws after the conquest, much of their land was given to the Normans. But William was fair with the natives for the most part. If a Saxon noble, like Bryce Dermott, swore fealty to the king, then most of his land remained in his name. It was the resistance that William sought to end, and Dante hunted the leader of that resistance.
Something warm and soft brushed against his arm, scattering his thoughts of duty and bringing them to his other favored pastime. He turned his head and offered Lady Genevieve LaSalle a languorous half smile.
Ah, his voice.the sound of black velvet and steel heated Lady Genevieve's loins. She bent over his chair, her milky cleavage temptingly close to his mouth. "Is that all you have to say to me, mon cher?" Her red lips hovered over his. She licked them, causing Dante's smile to harden into something less polite. "After our last"- she paused and bit her lower lip- "encounter, I would think you would at least call me amoureuse."
His eyes moved over her with the arrogance of a man fully aware of his sexual power. She held her breath, suddenly not as in control as she'd thought. Damn him! Why did he have to emit such fire from those smoldering eyes and that full, sensuous mouth? Lady Genevieve fidgeted where she stood, wishing now that she had taken a seat, for her knees felt too weak to hold her up. With a measure of demure charm not lost on her admirer, she lifted a self conscious hand to her pale, wheat-blond hair. Her pearls were still in place, woven neatly through her plaited tresses.
"I don't think one tryst gives claim to us being lovers, my cherub." He pointed out while his attention turned for a moment to Baron Landry, who had just bolted out of his chair and was running toward the doors clutching his belly.
"How about two, then?" Genevieve offered, nuzzling closer to him, drawn by his deep, husky tone. "We could slip away right now."
His gentle laughter yanked her from her delicious reverie. "Mayhap another time, mademoiselle."
Words laced in honey licked her flesh like hot, sultry fire, but Dante was already pulling away from her, dismissing her as though she were a mere serving wench who couldn't keep her pesky hands off him. How dare he! Genevieve boiled. Had he forgotten that she was the daughter of Count LaSalle of Flanders? Any man would count it a blessing from God that she would give him her attentions, much less her body. Oh, but she had given Dante that. and he had given her so much more. a night she would never forget, kisses that ignited fires so hot she had screamed out, careless if her father heard while he studied in his solar down the hall.
She stared down into his dusky eyes. Her ruby-clad fingers ached to slap that grin off his face-or tunnel through his hair. Her indecision infuriated her until moist beads of perspiration formed and trickled down between her breasts. Thoroughly humiliated, and yet aching to feel his strong arms around her again, Lady Genevieve whirled on her heel and stormed away.
Watching her, Dante laughed in his seat, admiring the gentle sway of her voluptuous hips beneath her saffron gown. Count LaSalle would most certainly demand they wed if he found out about what Dante had called their "tryst", which actually had been more like a battle in a winter storm, leaving Dante aching for something warm when he was done. She was definitely beautiful-with long, elegant legs and full, firm breasts that could tempt a monk to sin. Pity she made him feel as empty as the nets his fishermen pulled out of the straits below his castle in Dover last winter.
With Lady LaSalle forgotten as quickly as she had appeared, Dante shifted in a carved oak chair that felt too small to house his long legs. He scanned the great hall until his gaze settled on Bryce Dermott tearing at a cooked pig in front of him. He sincerely doubted the man was the rebel King William suspected. For while the lord of Devonshire was reputed to be a self indulgent tyrant, he didn't have the sense to plan his day, let alone a revolt against the king. Dante's careful gaze moved to the man seated at Bryce's right. Here was the man who heightened Dante's suspicions. Edgar Dermott bore no resemblance to his older brother, either in appearance or in temperament. He sipped his wine, watching Dante with the same cool, calculating gaze that a hawk uses to size up its prey.
"Think you he knows why we're here?" Balin slid into the chair beside Dante and glanced toward the dais once more.
"He knows who I am. He knows what happened when Hereward brought his Saxon rebels and the Danes against us last winter." Dante tossed Edgar Dermott a challenging smile. "He does not look favorably upon me, does he?"
"Well," Balin shrugged shoulders there were only a hint narrower than Dante's, "if he is indeed one of Hereward's cohorts, then that murderous glare he just shot you makes perfect sense. After all, it was you who led the king's army in Peterborough and decimated the resistance."
A time I would prefer to forget, Dante thought to himself. It wasn't the bloody battle at Peterborough that weighed so heavily on his heart that at times he thought he might go mad. It was what he'd found when he returned home.
"Her name is Gianelle."
Dante leaned his back against the chair and rubbed his jaw, trying to forget. "Who?"
"The serving wench you admired earlier." Balin reminded him. "Her name is Gianelle Dejiat."
Dante cast Balin a dark frown. "She's Norman?"
"So it would seem."
Sliding his gaze back to Bryce Dermott, Dante wondered how a Saxon came to possess a Norman woman as a servant. His eyes found her again pouring wine into guests' cups around the table. Candlelight flickered over her profile as she bent to her work, seemingly oblivious to the nobles she served. She was frightfully thin beneath a coarse, woolen overdress of drab brown. But while her body lacked the full curves Dante normally found more to his liking, there was something about her that mesmerized him. Mayhap, he allowed as she worked her way closer to him, it was the delicate look of her that made his breath falter in his throat, or how she looked so out of place amidst ladies who giggled coyly behind their perfumed handkerchiefs, and who forever lifted their beringed fingers to their hair, making certain no pearl or silvered clip was out of place. Gianelle was real and needed no adornment to punctuate her beauty. Edgar Dermott obviously thought the same, Dante noted. The Baron's brother watched her movements with something akin to a starving man's hunger in his eyes.
When she finally reached him, Dante swept his gaze over her features. She glanced at him beneath a veil of long, tawny lashes.
"Is it safe to drink?" he asked her.
She blinked and looked directly at hi; a tiny hint of panic made her cheeks flush. For the second time that evening, the extraordinary beauty of her huge, golden eyes arrested Dante.
"Pardon, my lord?"
"I only ask because Baron Landry looked quite ill after he partook."
Gianelle clutched the pitcher of wine to her chest. How was it possible that he suspected what she'd done? "If the Baron is ill, I'm sure it has naught to do with me."
Dante knew she was lying.
He had watched her enter the great hall and lay Landry's cup in front of him, already filled. Why hadn't she filled it from the pitcher she used now, dipped from the keg at the front of the hall? His years at King William's table had taught him how easy it was to do away with an enemy with nothing more than tainted wine. He dreaded the idea that this lovely woman might be working in cahoots with someone to poison Bryce Dermott's Norman guests. Pity if she turned on her own countrymen. Even more so if he had to arrest her and bring her before William.
He covered his cup with his hand to prevent her from pouring wine into it and offered her a candid smile when he said, "I prefer to keep my wits about me. And the contents of my stomach where they belong."
He was about to comment on her pale complexion when another serving girl placed a trencher in front of him.
"Some ox, my lord?"
Dante turned to look at the plate, and then at the servant. With a muffled oath he vaulted to his feet, almost knocking Gianelle over behind him. For a moment, he could not find his voice to speak. He could not breathe, nor form a coherent thought save that his sister Katherine had returned to him.
"Balin?" he said without taking his eyes off the girl.
"I see her, lord." Balin confirmed, stunned almost to silence himself by the resemblance.
Dante lifted his hand to touch the maidservant's cheek, but dropped his arm to his side when she recoiled, her clear blue eyes wide with fear. "My God, who are you?" His husky voice faded to a choking whisper.
"My-my name is Casey, my lord."
"Casey." He repeated her name as if he had never heard such a profound sound before. "You look like someone very dear to me."
Gianelle was quite familiar with the tricks men used to seduce women, but the anguish in his voice when he spoke to Casey immobilized her. She stared at him, trying to decide if his sorrow was real.
The warning roar from Bryce Dermott caused her to drop the pitcher. Red wine splattered across the rushes and onto Dante's boots and the hem of Gianelle's skirts. The great hall fell silent, save for the beginnings of a prayer being whispered by Casey.
"My guests thirst. Must they wait all night for their wine while you gape at Lord Risande?" Dermott clenched his teeth and met Dante's gaze from across the hall. "Please accept my apologies. The wench has never learned obedience, and is a constant source of distress in my otherwise content life. See? She stares at me even now."
When he rose to his feet, Gianelle could only watch him as he left the dais. She knew she should lower her gaze, but she couldn't. Gripped by fear and hatred, she stared at him, unblinking while he stormed around one table and then another in order to reach her.
"I will teach you to respect your betters." He was almost on top of her now. The promise of violence gleamed his eyes to glacier blue.
Gianelle took a step backward and bumped into something inviolably hard. She knew her master was going to strike her. There was naught she could do to prevent it now. Her eyes scanned over the faces staring back at her. She met Edgar Dermott's rueful smile, aware that he wished it were his hand about to strike her. Gianelle was sorry she hadn't sneezed on his supper while she carried it in. She raised her chin in defiance of the shame that was to come.
"You will know your place, insolent bitch!" Dermott lifted his hand to strike her. Gianelle finally closed her eyes. But the blow never came. She opened her eyes to see her angry lord's wrist shackled within larger, broader fingers directly in front of her face. The growl she heard above her head was so menacing and deadly she would have fled if her master wasn't blocking her path.
"I give you fair warning, Dermott. Lower your voice and your hand else you will be the one struck down."
Bryce Dermott looked from Dante to Gianelle. The threat of retribution in his hard gaze made Gianelle look away.
"Touch her," Dante's voice was as lethal as his words, "and I vow I will spill your blood right where you stand."
Dermott nodded and did not even glance at Gianelle when Dante released him. Rubbing his wrist instead, he turned to his brother, who was watching from his seat. Edgar Dermott nodded subtly at him, and then returned Dante's murderous glare. For an instant, his eyes glittered with revenge. But then his face relaxed into a wide grin.
"A toast to King William's royal commander." He lifted his cup to Dante. "Dashing protector of." he glanced at Gianelle over the rim, ".the fairer sex. Let us hope it never gets him killed."
"And that the man who attempts it," Dante added, his cool, gray gaze untouched by the challenging smile he offered Edgar Dermott, "has enough strength and skill to at least cause me to break a sweat before he fails."
The confidence in his voice convinced Gianelle that Dante Risande did not lose many battles. She had no more time to dwell on it though, because he shifted slightly and she realized with a mortified sigh that her back was plastered against his formidable body. Without sparing a glance to the man who had just saved her, she lurched away from him and crossed the hall to the next table to continue her duties.
For the next hour Gianelle busied herself with every task she could find that would keep her away from Lord Risande's table. He had already proven how sharp his eyes were, how cleverly he had deduced that she had slipped something into Baron Landry's drink. And why hadn't he gone straight to Lord Dermott with that bit of information? He suspected her of a heinous deed, yet he protected her from her master's anger. Why? It was a question she would ponder for a fortnight to come, she was sure. He was a shrewd one, up to something she could not figure out. The few stolen glances she cast his way confirmed the careful surveillance he kept on everyone while sipping wine he had accepted from Sylvia. Would a simple glance at Casey reveal to him their plans to escape? She couldn't take the chance.
She stayed away for another reason as well, one she found more difficult to admit. He tempted her to look at him. Even now, while she replaced a melted down candle with a newer one, she wanted to look at him. He was laughing. The sound was rich and throaty, and completely male. He was probably beguiling some purring maiden with his devilish dimple and knee-buckling smile. Foolish twits, Gianelle mumbled to herself. She had better things to think about than Lord Dante Risande, like living out the rest of her days in freedom with Casey. Mayhap they would travel to Scotland and raise sheep. Gianelle wondered if men kept servants in that faraway place. If they did, it wouldn't do. But they would find a place. She would never stop searching, just as her father never stopped. She hoped Henri Dejiat had found his longed-for freedom.
She looked up while she was still thinking of her father, sensing Dante's compelling gray eyes on her. To her surprise and dismay, he was walking toward her. What did he want? She had a sinking feeling he wanted to question her further about Baron Landry, who had returned twice to the great hall, only to run from it twice again, green as a summer glade. Her heart beat wildly in her chest, and for a fleeting instant she thought about flinging a candle at the towering earl to stop his advance. But she couldn't move, save for a pitiful blink. She took in every inch of him, and saints, but there was a lot.
He was the epitome of elegant masculinity in a closely tailored, unbuttoned surcoat of cobalt blue that reached just below his knees. Beneath, he wore a white shirt shot through with gold thread. A broadsword sheathed in thick leather dangled from his hip under his surcoat. Black woolen hose and soft leather boots encased his long, muscular legs. His dark hair was pulled away from his face in a neat queue at his nape. Instead of fighting the effect his appearance had on her, Gianelle tapped her foot, impatient to have him question her and be on his way. The problem was, she couldn't stop staring at him. He didn't seem to take offense, though, and stared right back at her until he reached her.
"Forgive me, lady," he said in a low voice, "but I am compelled to find out what it is about replacing an old candle that causes such a wistful look to come over you."
He was a sorcerer who could read her thoughts. Gianelle tried to step around him before he pointed his finger at her and shouted every defiant misdeed she had ever committed. Could she be flogged for replacing the melted soap with tree sap last month? Or mayhap licking all the apple tarts before they were served would be considered a crime more deserving of the whip.
He blocked her path and tilted his head to capture her gaze. "You have nothing to fear from me."
Gianelle almost laughed. Her head barely reached his chest. The man had muscles pulsing right through the sleeves of his surcoat, and eyes the color of lightning. She had plenty to fear.
"What were you thinking about?" he asked her.
"My father," she replied, not daring to tell him that thinking about running free through some highland field of lavender heather had more likely produced the longing look he claimed to see on her.
"You miss him then." Dante said, understanding.
"Non, my lord. I do not."
Struck by the matter-of-fact coolness in her voice, and curious about how she came to serve Bryce Dermott, Dante pressed her further. "Did he sell you into servitude?"
"I was born a slave, my lord." Gianelle answered him while she looked around the hall. She wished he would get on with his questions about Landry. Do whatever he was going to do instead of causing her to worry this way.
"Where did you come from before you came to be here?"
She finally lifted her gaze to probe his eyes and the slight quirk of her brow almost made Dante smile.
But Gianelle was just beginning to realize that he was even more clever than she had first accredited him. He wanted the names of her former masters so that he could question them about others to whom she may or may not have caused misfortune. Well, she was just as cunning as he. She would give him all the names he wanted, just not the true ones. "I don't know what that has to do with anything, but if you wish to know, then I cannot refuse to tell you. Let me see, my first master, when I arrived in England, was Lord Harold.um. Hampton. After that."
Dante narrowed his eyes on her and stopped another smile from creeping along his lips. He had absolutely no idea why she was lying to him again. It should have made him suspicious of her, but she looked so delightful trying to keep up with him, he had to command all his control not to laugh. "I've never heard of this Lord Harold Hampton. What region does he hold in honor for the king?"
"Region?" She drew her lower lip between her teeth and tried to think of some of the regions in England. The problem was that she had only traveled to three of them in the six years she had been here, and didn't know the names of any of the others.
Dante clasped his hands behind his back and allowed his grin to shine full force on her. "Just say whatever wanders into your head, Gianelle. I vow on my sword you could tell me this Harold Hampton holds court at the bottom of the sea and I would only have to look into your eyes to believe you."
Gianelle studied him carefully but she couldn't decide if he had just given her a compliment or if he was calling her a liar. She guessed it was the latter, since no noble in his right mind would compliment a servant. The conclusion made her angry immediately. How dare he call her a liar? "If you are done interrogating me, I can get on with my duties."
He gave her a reproachful look. "I was trying to converse with you, not interrogate you."
"What in Heaven's name for?" She placed her hands on her hips and stared up at him with wide, unbelieving eyes.
"Pardon?" Dante was certain his ears had just betrayed him. "Why converse with you?"
"I." He stopped and scowled at her. "Well, I." Enfer, never before had he been asked to explain why he wanted to speak to a lady. He had no idea what to say, so he closed his mouth. To his disappointment, she took his silence to imply their conversation, no matter what she chose to call it, was over.
"Wait," he caught her arm before she walked away. Briefly, he pondered whether she might have slipped something into his food. Why else was he chasing her about like a puppy longing to be scratched? He had never done this before with any woman and he did not want to begin now. His scowl deepened, but his mouth opened anyway. "Walk with me outside later when your work is done."
Gianelle shook her head and said simply, "Non."
"I will remain silent, and you can 'interrogate' me."
"But my lord," She raised her eyes to his. "There is nothing I want to know about you."
Dante stood alone for a few moments watching her walk away from him for the third time that night. Her words should have stung him, never having heard any woman speak this way to him before, but he smiled instead. He was a warrior, always up for the challenge of a worthy opponent. Indeed, the thought of winning her to his bed was quite refreshing.
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