Pale Moon Riderby Marsha Canham
"It was a fine night for treachery, dark with a pale moon rising...."
Like a wraith he appeared in the Coventry night, the notorious highwayman called Captain Starlight. Renée d'Anton watched, breathless, as the cloaked figure commanded, "Stand and
He lived by night--the dark, dangerous highwayman who stole her heart....
"It was a fine night for treachery, dark with a pale moon rising...."
Like a wraith he appeared in the Coventry night, the notorious highwayman called Captain Starlight. Renée d'Anton watched, breathless, as the cloaked figure commanded, "Stand and deliver!" and her coach shuddered to a halt. Little did he know Renée had come in desperation to meet him. For the dark, seductive highwayman was her only hope in a perilous game of chance....
She was pure temptation, challenging Tyrone Hart to steal a set of heirloom rubies and name his price. He couldn't resist her. So he agreed to risk his life for the fiery beauty--to recover the jewels that would free her from an arranged marriage and an unspeakable threat. But first Renée had to win his trust--even as she ignited passions that seduced him out of the shadows to sweep her into his arms....
Bestselling, award-winning author Marsha Canham once again delivers dangerous intrigue, sensuous romance, and two unforgettable characters whose love story will touch your heart as it takes your breath away.
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.19(w) x 6.94(h) x 0.89(d)
Read an Excerpt
The horses were maintaining a comfortable canter when they passed over the log. Being unsprung, the body of the coach jumped as high as the wheels when they struck, rocking back and up then lurching violently forward, twice in rapid succession. As expected, the tremendous cracking sound of the rotted wood breaking made the driver draw back on the reins and put his foot to the brake handle. The matched pair pranced to a stop and Dudley waited until the coachman had climbed down from the box--not a quick job, as it turned out, for he took his sweet time and seemed much put out by the inconvenience. He had one gloved hand braced on the front wheel for support and was bent over, squinting at the undercarriage of the coach, when Dudley emerged from the shadows by the side of the road.
"I bid ye good evenin', sar. 'Ad a wee mishap, 'ave ye?"
His greeting, delivered with his best cockney accent, had no effect. The horses were stamping and snorting, and the driver was half covered by the body of the coach, poking at the axle to check for damage.
Dudley leaned forward and lifted the bottom edge of the curtain-mask that now covered most of his face. "Evenin', sar! 'Avin' a bit o' trouble are ye?"
This time the driver's head came up sharply enough to make contact with the edge of the wood frame.
"Mary and Joseph--" He backed away from the coach, his hands rubbing the top of his head. "There is no need to shout, my good man. I may be old, but I am not deaf!"
Dudley straightened in his saddle and raised his pistol so the driver had no trouble seeing it in the yellow spill of light from the coach lamp. "Not blind either, I trust?"
With fastidious care, the driver tugged the front of his livery to smooth the wrinkles. Tall and thin, he had a face as lined as a prune, bearing an expression that bespoke too many years of serving the nobility to tolerate impudence from a mere brigand.
"I assure you my eyesight is more than adequate." He glared at the gun, then glared at the masked highwayman with equal disdain. "So this is what you are about, is it? Robbing honest travelers in the dead of night?"
"Aye, that it is," Dudley admitted candidly, and raised his voice again for the benefit of those inside the coach. "An' such a fine night, too, I'd like t' invite all the 'onest folk t' step down an' get a ripe lungful o' fresh, 'eathen air. Lively now, one at a time."
The pale blur of a face appeared at the window. A moment passed while Dudley's figure came under harsh scrutiny, then the unmistakable sound of a softly muttered curse.
"Mon Dieu, this cannot be him."
The strongly accented pronouncement took Dudley briefly by surprise, delivered as it was by a distinctly feminine voice.
"'Appens I might be," he answered, increasing the gruffness in his voice. "'Appens I might not, dependin' on 'oo ye were expectin'. Either way, I've a gun in my 'and an' a finger willin' t' pull the trigger, so when I say "stand an' deliver' I'd be quick as spit t' do as yer told!"
The blur remained at the window a few seconds longer than Dudley found comfortable before a second whisper prompted the driver to turn the latch and open the door. He held out a gloved hand to assist a cloaked and hooded figure disembark one wary step at a time, dragging a handful of carefully gathered skirts in her wake. She had her back to the light so that Dudley could see nothing other than the bell shape of her hood and cloak, but there was no mistaking the richness of the silk garment.
"Frenchie, eh? 'Eard tell' that them o' ye what escaped sneezin' in th' basket brought away 'arf th' crown jewels stitched in yer 'ems."
"Sneezing in the basket? Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?"
The question was directed in a low whisper at the driver, but Dudley answered. "'Ad yer 'ead lopped off. Like this--" He held up his left hand to display the stub of a pinky finger. "Felt the kiss o' ma-dam gill-o-teen. Aye, an' I truly 'ope you an' yer friends brung a fine selection with ye tonight." He chuckled and steadied his aim on the coach door. "Rest o' ye now: Out ye come, one at a time, 'ands where I can see 'em."
"There is no one else," the woman said with an exasperated sigh. "I assure you I am quite alone."
"Alone? Ye're travelin' the Chester 'pike in th' middle o' th' night . . . alone?"
"I was told . . . that is, I was led to believe . . ." She stopped and seemed to reconsider what she had been about to say, and ended up expelling a huff of misted breath instead. "But I can see I was sadly misled. You cannot possibly be the one they call "Capitaine Clair d'Etoile.'"
"Eh? Cap'n 'oo?"
"Captain Starlight. I was led to believe he might be out on a night such as this." She paused and glanced up at the smeared disc of the moon. "I paid an outrageous sum for this information, but I can see now I was merely being played for the fool."
"I did warn you it would be a waste of time, mad'moiselle," the driver said, his hands clasped primly behind his back. "But as usual . . ."
"Yes, yes." Another puff of breath marked the woman's disappointment. "You warned me, and I did not listen."
Dudley raised his gun and scratched his jaw with the snout. "'Old up a minute 'ere. Are ye sayin' ye paid someone t' tell ye where t' go so's ye could get robbed?"
The driver provided the answer with a righteous sniff. "I advised mad'moiselle most emphatically against it, warning her she was just throwing good coin after bad, for what manner of highwayman advertises where and when he will be stalking a particular road? Indeed, this so-called Captain Starlight certainly would not have been able to elude capture for as long as he has if every unwashed jackanapes raising a tankard knew his business."
"And so he would not," came an amused voice from the shadows behind them. "Nonetheless he would be extremely interested to know where this information was purchased and from whom."
The driver and the woman both whirled around to stare at the shifting layers of mist. Even Dudley was somewhat startled, for he had not expected Tyrone to reveal himself without due provocation. Now he seemed to materialize like a ghostly specter out of the blackness at the rear of the coach, with nothing to lend horse or rider substance save for glints of light reflected off the stallion's bridle and the gold foliate work on the brace of leveled snaphaunces.
"Capitaine Clair d'Etoile," the woman whispered.
There was a lengthy pause, time enough for the mist to settle around the stallion's legs again, before Tyrone offered a slight bow. "At your service, mam'selle. Did I hear correctly: You have been looking for me?"
She continued to stare, for so long he was forced to gently prompt her again.
"Oh. Yes, m'sieur. Yes--" She took a halting step forward, her hand pressed over her breast as if to keep her heart in place. "I must speak with you, m'sieur. On a matter of some importance."
Dudley glanced nervously over both shoulders. "I don't like it, Cap'n. Don't like it a-tall."
His features masked behind the raised collar of his coat, Tyrone surveyed the shadows on either side of the road, searching for any sign of movement. He tuned his hearing to the forest and the hills, trying to catch the accidental nicker of a horse or the snap of a twig beneath a boot, but if it was some ingenious new trap set by the persistent Colonel Roth, his instincts were not detecting it.
His gaze settled on the woman again. Foolish and naïve were two words that came instantly to his mind, for she obviously had not considered the personal risk involved in her quest. There were few, if any, grown men who would venture out on their own along this deserted stretch of road, and he was curious in spite of the glared warnings Dudley was attempting to convey across the pale circle of lantern light.
Ignoring his partner as well as his own common sense, he uncocked the snaphaunces and tucked them into his belt. One long leg swung over the back of the saddle and he dismounted, the coarse earth of the road crunching loudly under his boots as he came forward.
"What the bloody hell are you doing?" Dudley asked urgently, his accent lapsing in surprise.
"The lady has gone to a good deal of trouble to find me. It would be most ungallant of me to send her away disappointed."
Dudley lifted the bottom edge of the curtain-mask to hiss, "Are you insane? The woods could be crawling with dragoons!"
"If you see any, shoot the driver first, then come and fetch me." Tyrone held out a black-gloved hand, inviting the woman to accompany him to the far side of the road. "Mam'selle--?"
When she hesitated, clearly not expecting to have to leave the comparative safety of the coach, he moved his head the slightest degree to let her see the glitter of his eyes. He had not chosen the fanciful name of Captain Starlight. It had been bestowed upon him by a near hysterical female victim who had sworn there had been nothing mortal between the rim of his tricorn and the top edge of his collar--nothing but a phantom space and a clear view of the starlight beyond. The story, much embellished from one telling to the next, had spread like wildfire, reinforced by the inability of anyone to get close enough to disprove the assumption that they were dealing with an otherworldly being.
"I can promise you, mam'selle, despite what you may have heard, I am quite earthbound. You did say you wanted to talk, did you not?"
The hood moved fractionally to indicate a nod, and she gathered up the voluminous folds of her cloak, following in the direction of his invitation. He did not stop by the roadside, and when she would have balked again, he cradled a hand beneath her elbow and led her up the grassy side of the slope. The mist and shadows thinned measurably as they reached the top of the low knoll; conversely, the moon was brighter and bathed the surrounding countryside in a pale wash of luminous light.
Tyrone released her elbow and walked slowly around the crest of the knoll, scanning the forest, the hills that rolled out on either side, the scant patches of road visible through the mist. He paid particular attention to the eerie pools of fog that had collected in the hollows; the moon gave them the look of puddled cream, the surfaces smooth and motionless enough to betray any disturbance, stealthy or otherwise.
"I assure you, m'sieur, there are no soldiers lying in wait. I have come on my own."
He stopped and turned his head to glance in her direction. He was just a black silhouette against the midnight sky now. His clothing was wool and did nothing to attract any light, whereas the woman's cloak was brocaded silk and shimmered blue-white against the darkness. Her hood was still in place, shielding her face from the moonlight and he moved deliberately around behind her, forcing her to turn with him as he spoke.
"You said you had a matter of some importance you wanted to discuss?"
"Indeed, m'sieur. But first I must know if I can trust you to keep what we say here tonight between your lips and mine."
His slow prowl ended and he arched an eyebrow, for he could see her mouth clearly now. It was a perfect bow shape with a full lower lip, lush and soft, and the image her words conjured started a smile spreading across his own lips. "You would accept the word of a common voleur to guarantee a confidence?"
"You speak French, m'sieur?"
"Un peu. A little."
"Bon, for although I have studied English for many years, there are still words and phrases I do not understand and cannot properly express."
"You seem to be doing just fine," he said, looking around again. "But my time is limited, and my friend is not known for his patience."
"Then I have your word, m'sieur?"
Amused at the irony of her insisting on the word of a thief, Tyrone affected a deep and solemn bow. "You have it indeed, mam'selle. Anything we say . . . or do . . . here tonight will go with me to the grave."
"In that case"--she drew a deep breath and braced herself--"I wish to hire you."
The request startled him and he peered intently at her through the darkness. "Hire me?"
She nodded and the silk threads in her hood sparkled like stardust. "I require the help of someone with your . . . special talents . . . to assist me in an endeavor of great importance."
Two, three long puffs of steamy breath came through the edges of the standing collar before Hart asked, "Exactly what special talents might those be?"
"I wish you to commit a robbery, to stop a coach on the road and relieve the passengers of their valuables."
He leaned forward, almost certain he had not heard correctly. "You want to hire me to rob a coach?"
"This is what you do, is it not?"
"Well, yes, but--"
"The occupants of this particular coach will have with them valuables of a particular interest to me."
"What kind of valuables?" he asked bluntly.
"Oui, m'sieur. A necklace, a bracelet, earrings . . . all of a matching suite, all of the finest, most exquisite rubies and diamonds. For your help in assisting me to obtain them, I would be willing to pay you a handsome fee."
He studied her in thoughtful silence for a long moment. The forward rim of her hood still cast a shadow over her face, but his night vision was excellent and her complexion fair enough to reveal a very delicate Parisian nose that complimented the luscious ripeness of her mouth.
"Rubies and diamonds," he murmured. "The suite must be worth a small fortune."
"Several tens of thousands of your English pounds," she agreed without demur.
"Then, if it would not seem too presumptuous of me to ask, what would stop me from simply stealing the pieces and keeping them for myself?"
She was ready for the question and he saw a tight smile flatten her lips. "In the first place, m'sieur, you do not know upon which road, in which coach, on what night the jewels might be found--nor will you discover this without my aid. Deuxièmement, you are, as you say, a common thief. You would find it difficult, if not impossible, to receive a fair price, or indeed, to sell them at all without drawing the attention of the authorities. I, on the other hand, will simply appear to be another displaced aristocrat forced to sell off precious heirlooms to survive."
"You don't think the owner might raise an objection or two?"
"I am the owner, m'sieur. The jewels were given to me as a betrothal gift."
He was taken by surprise a second time, but said nothing as she continued to elaborate.
"On the fourteenth of this month, I am to marry, m'sieur. During the week prior to the happy event, there are bound to be several dinner parties and soirées where I will be expected to wear the jewels. On the way to one of these entertainments, it is my wish that you waylay the coach and rob me of my valuables. If you are successful, we can then meet the next day--at a place of your choosing, if you wish--where you will give me the jewels and I will pay you your fee."
Hart approached the woman's glimmering silhouette one measured step at a time, forcing her to tilt her face higher and higher the closer he came. Her hood slipped back, but at the same instant a filmy veil of wind-driven clouds drifted over the moon, and he gained nothing more than a dawning suspicion that she was neither as naïve nor as foolish as he had initially supposed.
"If the jewels were given to you as a betrothal gift, why do you have to steal them?"
"Because I have no wish to marry the man who gave them to me." She said it in a way that made it sound as if it were the most logical presumption in the world and he was a dullard to ask. He was so intrigued by the crushed-silk sound of her voice that he barely noticed the insult.
"It was not my choice to marry him," she was saying. "Nor was I even consulted when the decision was made. I have been . . . how do you say . . . bartered. Like an object. Sold by my uncle who wants only to be rid of me, rid of the burden and expense of feeding and clothing and keeping me. He arranged this marriage to relieve himself of an embarrassment, nothing more. And because I came to this country with nothing, I am expected to be grateful for his charity and meekly accept whatever fate that he, in his wisdom, sees fit to arrange."
Tyrone's brows lifted again. "Most women in your position would not consider it such a terrible fate, mam'selle. Most women take it as a matter of course that they are expected to marry for money, position, influence. If you are looking for love--?"
"Love?" The word was expelled on a puff of impatience. "Do not mock me for being an ignorant little French peasant, m'sieur. For centuries, my family has married to make alliances and gain power. I know full well the value placed on a woman's womb--we are simply here to be used for breeding more men."
Tyrone's momentary surprise at her candor changed to amusement. "Be that as it may, mam'selle, few women would find it tiresome to marry a rich man rather than a poor one."
"Indeed, the man to whom I am betrothed has money and he has jewels to lavish on his wife," she said with quiet vehemence, "but he is also a brute. He is coarse and vulgar and looks at me always as if I have no clothes on. He--he makes my skin crawl, m'sieur," she added with a convincing shiver, "and if I had some other way of escaping him, be assured I would take it."
Tyrone looked around at the utter stillness of the countryside. "You were obviously able to escape his clutches tonight. With a coach and two fast horses at your disposal."
"He is in London. So are the rubies," she said by way of saving him another question. "Both he and my uncle are due to arrive in Coventry at the end of the week."
"May I assume your uncle is unapproachable in the matter?"
"You may assume, m'sieur, that you are my last resort."
"And a rather desperate one at that," he pointed out, "although I credit your nerve and imagination for originality."
She looked steadfastly up into the dark slash of shadow between his collar and tricorn. "I am French. I am an émigré. Your country is at war with mine and I am allowed to claim refuge here only through the grudging patronage of those who fear that the revolution might reach across the Channel and arouse England's common masses. I have no friends, no other family, nowhere else to turn. My uncle makes no effort to conceal the fact that I live on his charity, but he has threatened to withdraw even that much if I refuse to comply with the arrangements he has made. The jewels will provide me with the means necessary to get away."
"And to live comfortably for quite some time," he added dryly.
Although he could not see her entire face beneath the shadow of her hood, he sensed a burning resentment toward his sarcasm.
"I am not afraid of doing without, m'sieur. I have done without a great many things for the past seven years, since the night the good citizens of Paris marched on the Bastille. More recently, I have done without my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins--all of whom died on the guillotine. I have hidden in barns and ridden in dung carts while soldiers hunted and searched the countryside for escaping aristos"--she spat out the derogatory term with icy disdain--"and I have lain cold and hungry for days on end praying that just once more before I die, I would feel warm again." She stopped and had to visibly gather herself before adding, "But I am not here to solicit either your pity or your help if you do not wish to give it. I have come fully expecting you to demand payment for your services."
Now, that was a nice touch, he mused. It added the right amount of sincerity to an all-around commendable performance. A shimmering waif comes to him in the moonlight, appealing first to his sense of chivalry and if that fails, strike at basic greed.
"You are right in that much, mam'selle," he agreed without the slightest hint of modesty. "I would expect to be paid a good deal more than any one of a dozen other road hawks you might have approached with your proposition. Thus I am prompted to ask again: why bring this to me?"
"You have a reputation for daring, m'sieur, and for success--a thief sans égal, without equal. In six years you have never once been caught, your face has never been seen, your actions never betrayed though the reward for your capture is two thousand pounds--more money than most citizens ordinaire will earn in a lifetime."
Another nice touch, he thought: flattery. And if that failed . . . ?
"It is also whispered that you have no love for those who would rob and cheat and steal from the poor. That you have often left gifts of coin for those who might have starved or gone without shelter otherwise--"
"Mam'selle--" Unable to hold his humor in check any longer, Tyrone laughed. "You have me confused with another legend, I'm afraid. It was Robin Hood who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. If I choose my victims from among tax collectors and fat landowners, it is because they carry more coins in their pockets than farmers and clerks do. As for giving away my ill-gotten gains, I assure you the rumors are just that: rumors. I would consider such generosity to be a rather glaring flaw in the character of a true thief, not to mention the logic of someone who is engaged in my profession strictly for profit--which I am."
"Then . . . you will not help me?"
There was still a lingering threat of laughter in his voice as he answered, "I am not in the habit of hiring myself out."
She seemed genuinely taken aback by the rejection. It struck him as the ingrained reaction of someone born to the nobility who could not fathom a peasant's reluctance to slash open his own flesh in order for some curious, bewigged aristocrat to debate a point of anatomy. It was not a response someone could fabricate, regardless of how good an actress one might be, which convinced Tyrone that at least part of her story rang true. There were parts that did not, however, and he was mildly curious to know what she was hiding . . . and what she would do next.
One of his questions was answered when she raised her skirts as if she were about to depart. "C'est dommage," she whispered. "I am sorry to have wasted your time."
She started back to the road, but had taken no more than a few steps when his voice stopped her. "I said I was not in the habit of hiring myself out, mam'selle. I did not say I would not do it."
She glanced over her shoulder and for one long suspended moment, the moonlight shone full on her face. Tyrone had amassed enough impressions to suspect there was a very lovely woman hiding beneath the hood, but not even his finely tuned perceptions had prepared him for the full extent of her loveliness. His breath, in fact, stopped somewhere in his throat. The combined effect of a lushly pouting mouth, a nose as slim and delicately refined as on a porcelain figurine, and eyes large and luminous had an immediate and startling impact on the way the blood flowed through his veins.
"You could try seducing me, mam'selle," he murmured.
"Tempt me. You said you would be willing to pay me handsomely for my services. What do you consider 'handsome'?"
She let the hem of her skirts settle onto the dew again and turned fully around to face him. "Would a thousand pounds pique your interest, m'sieur?"
"Not as much as two," he countered bluntly.
"It will be no easy ride in the moonlight, mam'selle. There is, as you aptly pointed out, a considerable reward on my head and no lack of men out there who are not above shooting first and asking questions later if they think they have me in their gun sights. Furthermore, if the jewels are worth as much as you say they are, you will be well able to afford it."
"On the other hand," he shrugged and adjusted the rim of his collar higher, prepared to lead the way back to the coach, "if the price of freedom is too steep--"
She straightened her arm and extended a slender, gloved hand toward him.
"Two thousand," she agreed. "And no price is too steep to pay for freedom."
Tyrone pondered the businesslike gesture a moment before taking the delicate hand in his and grasping it firmly to seal the pact.
"I will need more details, of course. But not tonight. My comrade should be about ready to burst his seams by now, and besides . . . I would say we both need time to think things through very carefully, for--like the act of losing one's virginity--once the deed is done, it cannot be undone. Shall we say three days? If, in that time, you are still determined--"
"I am not a virgin, Capitaine, nor will I change my mind." Her hesitation had been barely perceptible and she hid it well by using the time to extricate her hand from his. "Only say where and when you wish me to meet you and I will be there."
Tyrone almost smiled, and certainly would have if the hairs on the nape of his neck were not prickling upright like the spiny quills on a hedgehog. He relished the secure feeling of knowing his instincts had not been corrupted by the shine in her eyes or the faint tremors he had felt in her hand. She was obviously not telling him the whole truth, but at the same time, she looked so eager, and so desperate, he played the charade to the end.
"I will expect you to come prepared to tell me everything you know about the events planned for the week of your wedding. If I think it can be done, I will do it. If I think there isn't a hope in hell of succeeding, I will tell you that too. But I will also warn you,
Meet the Author
Marsha Canham has written nine historical romances for Dell, including the classic Scottish historicals The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses. She has received numerous writing awards and lives outside Toronto, Canada.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
As with all of Marsha Canham's book, you won't want to put this one down. Found myself wanting the book to continue it was so good!
I liked some of the writer's other stories better, but this story is still creative in it's use of historical events to create a background for the characters. I think I would have preferred that the story begin perhaps in the midst of Finn, Antoine, and the heroine escaping from Paris, rather than have that element of their experience told in retrospect. It would have allowed a more intimate sympathy with what the characters experienced in the moment and helped better shape our understanding of their personalities. With "Through a Dark Mist" and "The Wind and the Sea" I found myself catching my breath during fight scenes and eagerly racing through the pages to see what element of intrigue would insert itself next. This story didn't hold my attention to the same degree although it was still a nice read with some very creative love scenes.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I wanted it to continue on and not end. Loved it.