The Temptressby Claire Delacroix
"I will not wed a man who thinks to own me."
Furthermore, Esmeraude of Ceinn-beithe declares that she alone will name the winner of her heart. To the knights gallant who ride from afar to do her bidding, she issues a challenge: a riddle that is both quest and test. And then she flees, daring her suitor to follow. Thus begins the Bride Quest of
"I will not wed a man who thinks to own me."
Furthermore, Esmeraude of Ceinn-beithe declares that she alone will name the winner of her heart. To the knights gallant who ride from afar to do her bidding, she issues a challenge: a riddle that is both quest and test. And then she flees, daring her suitor to follow. Thus begins the Bride Quest of Bayard of Villonne, to compete for the hand of a woman he has never seen...
Newly returned from the Crusades, Bayard has warned his family of a pending attack upon their estate. When they pay no heed to his message, he swears to protect the family holding himself...even if its price is a marriage of convenience. It seems a simple matter to win the hand of a rural maid in a barbarian contest - until the chase begins. Esmeraude's challenge makes her far more intriguing than Bayard had dared to hope.
But when he follows her across the waters and rescues a tattered, ravishing damsel in disguise, he knows he has found her. Recklessly, she offers herself to the handsome stranger. But not even a passion that touches both their souls can win her hand. For Esmeraude will settle for nothing less than total surrender of the crusader's worn and weary heart...a treasure Bayard is determined to keep shielded forever.
Read an Excerpt
Ceinn-beithe, Scotland April 1194
“I think ‘tis a terrible idea,” Esmeraude complained.
The woman who had been Esmeraude’s nursemaid and later her maid grimaced, though she said naught more.
“‘Tis terrible to petition for a spouse for me in this way and you know it well!” Esmeraude repeated the complaint she had made since her parents had sent their missive to France. “Why, for the love of God, should I choose a husband in such a manner?”
“Because you will adore it,” Celie said tartly.
The two were in Esmeraude’s chamber, making the bed ready for the night. “Moi?”
Celie laughed and shook her head with affection. “Indeed, I can scarce imagine what you would enjoy more than to have several dozen men competing for the favor of your hand.” She wagged a finger at her charge. “You shall be in your glory when your suitors arrive.”
“Men competed before and I did not enjoy it.” Esmeraude plumped a pillow, challenging the other woman to convince her otherwise.
“They brought you gifts, which you liked well enough.”
Esmeraude shrugged. “Fripperies that they would take to any woman they wooed. ‘Tis my face and the promise of my womb they court, no more than that. Now they may add Ceinn-beithe itself to the prize, so ‘twill only be worse.”
“Esmeraude! ‘Tis vulgar to speak thus!”
“‘Tis true and you know it.”
“Perhaps so. Still, you should not say as much.” The pair shared a smile of understanding, wrought of years of similar such exchanges.
“If you had wished to avoid this contest, you might have chosen Robert,” Celie said finally, though her casual mention of a suitor’s name did not fool Esmeraude. “He seems different from the others who would court you.”
“Aye, he does whatsoever I ask of him.”
Celie’s quick sidelong glance was wry. “I should think you would like that.”
“And you would be mistaken.” Esmeraude rolled her eyes. “The man has no wits of his own, Celie, and I am certain that he would pursue any folly I commanded of him. No woman should wed a man so devoid of sense!”
“What of Douglas?”
Esmeraude grimaced. “Why, he is intent upon telling me what to do and what to say at every moment, though we are barely acquainted! Why does he court me if he so disapproves? What manner of spouse would he make?”
“Not the one for you, ‘tis clear, when you are so certain of your own thinking.”
Esmeraude lifted her chin, knowing full well that she was with a strong ally. “And is that so wicked?”
Celie chuckled. “Nay, child, not so wicked as that. Indeed, it makes sense to consider this matter of marriage carefully. You show your usual good sense, even if ‘tis wrapped in your need to have the eyes of all upon you.” Celie stroked the linens smooth. “What of Seamus?”
“Too tall. I should never be able to kiss him, if I desired to.”
“Ah, but you must favor Alasdair.”
“He is too short.”
“But you always laugh so in his company.”
“Because he is amusing.” Esmeraude propped a hand upon her hip. “But truly, Celie, the man considers all of life to be a merry jest. He is serious about naught and ‘twould undoubtedly become a tedious trait all too soon.”
“Too dour! That man has no ability to smile at all.”
“Calum? Now, there is a handsome man, neither too tall nor too short, too amused or too somber.”
“He has no holding to his name.” Esmeraude thumped a pillow. She had an alternative scheme and simply had to find a way to best present it to her maid. “I have no fancy to starve and one cannot live upon the sight of a handsome man’s visage.”
“What of Ceinn-beithe? The legacy would come to Calum’s name upon your nuptials, for Duncan has decreed as much.”
“Aye, and what experience has Calum of ensuring it prospered? He has never administered an estate and indeed I believe his every thought is bent upon the pursuit of pleasure alone. Nay, I owe better to those so used to Duncan’s steady hand.”
Celie smiled with approval of this concern for responsibilities. “Then you can have no quibble with Hamish. He has more wealth than any man I have ever met and is responsible beyond all else.”
“And is concerned with the maintenance of that wealth to the exclusion of all else!” Esmeraude jumped onto the bed, ruining the perfect arrangement of the linens, and appealed to her exasperated maid. “Do you not see, Celie? If I am to wed a man, I wish to love him with all my heart.”
“‘Tis what your parents desire for you. ‘Tis why they summon these men, to win your heart.”
“Aye, but I fear that men embarking upon such a quest are men concerned with material reward alone. The men who have come thus far have but one trait in common, Celie — they show no passion.”
“Aye!” Esmeraude closed her eyes and leaned back. “I would have a man with a heart, a man who feels great ardor for his beliefs yet will listen to other views. I would wed a man keen of wit but trusting of heart, neither too tall nor too short, neither too rich nor too poor, neither too amusing nor too dour.” She smiled confidently. “A man exactly perfect for me.”
Celie shook her head and began to chuckle. In a trio of heartbeats, she was laughing right from her toes and had to brace one hand against the bed to steady herself.
Esmeraude did not share her amusement. “And what makes you laugh at that?”
“I suppose your man must be handsome, and well wrought too.”
“And where would you find this man? You and all the other demoiselles who seek a perfect spouse?”
Esmeraude smiled. “I intend to seek him out.”
“What madness is this?”
Esmeraude’s smile broadened even as her maid’s disappeared. “I shall find the man I wed. ‘Twould be only fitting, particularly as you suggest my expectations are too high.”
The maid propped her hands on her hips, her amusement gone. “Fitting in whose terms? ‘Tis fitting for a man to seek a bride, as the men summoned by your parents will seek you out, not back ways round! No bride seeks her spouse and no man of honor finds such boldness fitting at all.”
Esmeraude wrinkled her nose. “And most, if not all, of the men who compete will prove to be exactly like the ones who already come to Ceinn-beithe to win me. Nay, Celie, I am convinced that the man I desire does not even know he needs a bride, much less that he has need of me.”
“Then how will you know he is the man for you?”
“I will know him.” Esmeraude leaned back and closed her eyes. “My heart will tell me the truth of it.” She peeked through her lashes and found the maid looking skeptical.
“And where do you intend to seek him out, if this man is disinclined to find a bride or even dubious that he has need of one?”
Esmeraude grinned. “But that is the exciting part, Celie! I must embark upon a quest to find the man who will hold my heart captive. There is naught else for it.”
Celie responded with perfectly predictable outrage. “You will do no such thing! I forbid it!”
“I will do exactly thus!” Esmeraude knew that her determination was apparent for her maid regarded her warily. “I will leave this very night, and be gone before any are the wiser.”
“I shall barricade the door!” Celie thundered. “Why, I shall go to your mother this very moment and tell her of your scheme.”
Esmeraude immediately grasped the maid’s hands in her own and begged. “Celie, you would not, you could not! I thought we were friends.”
The older woman’s eyes narrowed. “Even if we were friends,” she said carefully, “friends do not let each other commit such folly as this.”
“But Celie, this is my future and my life, my dream. Surely you would not condemn me to a loveless match?”
Celie pulled her hands from Esmeraude’s grip and shook a finger at her charge. “Do you realize what might happen to you, if you left unprotected? There are wolves beyond these walls and unscrupulous men and countless dangers...”
“And adventure!” Esmeraude flung out her hands and rolled to her back. “Imagine, Celie, all the marvelous places I might see! Oh, ‘twould be worth any risk to live unfettered, even if ‘twas not destined to last.”
“Where would your fetters be, lass? You are fortunate in your life, make no mistake.”
“But why must I wed a dull man and move from this household to his household, only to bear sons and manage accounts and see to it that his mother is happy? ‘Tis too dreadful a fate to be embraced willingly.”
The maid sat on the edge of the mattress and patted Esmeraude’s hand. “And what makes you imagine that a man of passion will not have such expectations of his wife?” she asked gently.
“‘Twill be easier to fulfill them with a heart filled with love.” Esmeraude ignored the way her maid snorted at that. “And even if I am doomed to such a fate, why can I not have but one small adventure first?”
“Because you are the daughter of a respectable house.”
Esmeraude closed her eyes and smiled, her hands clasped in her lap. “Would it not make a fine tale? How Esmeraude of Ceinn-beithe ventured boldly into the world to seek her one true love?”
“Aye, if she did not die ignobly instead.”
“I would not be so foolish as that!” Esmeraude held her maid’s skeptical gaze. “I have a scheme.”
Celie’s eyes narrowed. “Some mischief no doubt, in which I suspect I am shortly to find myself embroiled.”
“Of course, ‘twould be far better if I ventured forth with a loyal companion. All those in tales do as much.” Esmeraude rolled abruptly across the mattress, catching the maid’s hands in her own. She saw the gleam in the older woman’s eyes and knew its import. “Will you accompany me? We could flee this very night, before Maman begins her competition for my hand, then none could say I acted unfairly.”
“I will not let you abandon your duties so readily as you desire, mademoiselle, regardless of your opinion upon the matter.” Celie huffed. “I have not been entrusted within your mother’s employ all these twenty years and enjoyed her care to betray that trust readily, however great your desire for adventure.” She spat the last word, as though ‘twas an obscenity.
“Please, Celie? Would you deny me my very last chance, nay, my sole chance, to win my heart’s desire? Will you not see that I do not pay a dire price for daring to dream of a great love?”
The maid considered her for a long moment. “I should not so indulge you,” she said finally. Celie shook off Esmeraude’s grip and rose to her feet. “Indeed, you should not ask me to do so!”
Esmeraude smiled impishly. “But when have I been concerned with what I should and should not do?”
Celie chuckled. “Vexing child. You have always known your own intent too well to be biddable.” She smiled and Esmeraude smiled back, the fondness between them undisguised.
“You must come with me, Celie, you simply must. I cannot imagine being without you and your splendid good sense.”
The maid eyed her charge. “Where will you go?”
Esmeraude shook a finger at her. “Nay, nay, nay. You must pledge to accompany me in good faith before I will tell you.”
“Then you must pledge to at least look upon the men who arrive to compete for your hand before you flee.”
Celie’s expression turned arch. “‘Twas you who said your heart would recognize the man for you.”
“I did look,” Esmeraude reminded her maid. “And the man for me was not there.”
“They have not all gathered as yet, and surely the one less intent upon winning a bride would not arrive first, like an anxious pup?”
Esmeraude nibbled her lip as she considered that.
Celie folded her arms across her chest, clearly prepared to argue her own side. “And ‘twould be rude to depart so abruptly and condemn those men who did arrive to no reward. ‘Twould make Duncan look to be a poor host, which surely is not your intent. Your parents might not forgive such a dishonor readily, even from you.”
“But I cannot stay!”
“Even if the man you seek might arrive yet? Or might even be here but as yet unnoted by you? Can you truly see to the heart of a man so readily as that?” Celie leaned closer. “Indeed, the man of whom you dream might already be in this hall. Would you risk losing him when he is so close?”
“Do not make me choose betwixt adventure and love! I would have both.”
“Aye, I know.” The maid leaned forward, her eyes gleaming with mischief. “What if you left a clue, that a stalwart man might pursue you?”
Esmeraude’s dismay vanished at the suggestion. “A riddle!” She laughed, well pleased with this scheme. “I shall leave a devious riddle as a test, for only the man destined for me would both solve it and act upon its import. ‘Tis a perfect compromise, Celie.”
But the maid shook her head. “Nay, you should leave a simple riddle.”
“Of what merit is a chase without competitors? And men are at their most valiant when they are threatened by the performance of others. If you wish to be pursued, you must leave a simple riddle.” Celie nodded confidently. “Indeed, you might find that your more familiar suitors show unexpected qualities when faced with such a challenge. ‘Twould be a fine test of a man’s mettle, or of his determination to win you. I do not believe in your quest for this great love, nor do I approve of your desire to live as a maiden in a song, but it makes good sense to know the truth of a man’s character before pledging to him forever.”
Esmeraude tapped her lip with her fingertip and nodded. “‘Tis a fine scheme. I shall do it.”
“Then I shall pledge to accompany you and to protect you from harm as best I am able. I have little doubt that you will do whatsoever you will, with or without me.” The older woman smiled. “And I have a strange thought that your chances of emerging unscathed from your adventure are somewhat better with me in your company.”
“Thank you, Celie!” Esmeraude leapt from the bed and hugged her maid with enthusiasm.
“Know that I am persuaded to this course solely to ensure your happiness.” Celie’s words were spoken with gruff affection, and she touched her charge’s cheek.
Meet the Author
Bestselling author Claire Delacroix sold her first romance, a medieval called THE ROMANCE OF THE ROSE, in 1992. Since then, she has published more than forty-five romance novels and numerous novellas. She has also written under the names Claire Cross and Deborah Cooke. THE BEAUTY, part of her successful Bride Quest series, was her first book to land on the New York Times List of Bestselling Books.
She has an honours degree in history, with a focus on medieval studies, and is an avid reader of medieval vernacular literature, fairy tales and fantasy novels. She makes her home in Canada with her husband and family. When she isn't writing, she can be found knitting, sewing or hunting for vintage patterns.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Out of the latest trilogy of the Bride Quest II, I liked the Beauty the best, then this one and the Countess 3rd best. I lost my patience at times with Esmeraude and felt she was a spoiled brat. I couldn't understand in the Quest, why the parents gave their holding to the child that wasn't Duncan's. I love Claire Delacroix books, and this one is good, gets better as it moves along. As does Esmeraude seems to grow up too. I wish more of the battle that Fenley was explained. You have cross over character's from the previous books, but this can stand alone. It is just a richer experience if you read them all. The bundle of this series, is a good deal. (ljb)
In 1194, Bayard returns home from the Crusades, but worries over a pending attack on his family holdings. His family scoffs at his warning, thinking he suffers from paranoia from post Crusader battle syndrome. To keep his Montvieux safe, Bayard knows he must act alone. He decides a marriage of convenience will provide the alliance needed so he accepts an invitation to participate in a contest of brawn and brains to win the grand prize of marriage with Esmeraude. The lovely young lady wants a marriage built on love and trust rather than on military and political needs. She sends her wannabe husbands on a wild chase leaving clues and riddles for her suitors to decipher. Ultimately Bayard finds a disguised damsel in distress and realizes he has found the ultimate award Esmeraude. Though attracted to her, he refuses to let his heart open up to her until a rival forces Bayard to choose between a love of a lifetime or a political union. THE TEMPTRESS is an exciting vividly written medieval romance that take the audience along for a merry ride. The story line is fun and quite entertaining as Esmeraude (picture a twelfth century woman singing ¿You Don¿t Own Me¿) uses her intelligence to implement her plan to marry for love only. As usual Claire Delacroix proves how powerful the historical romance sub-genre can be when a grandmaster writes the tale. Harriet Klausner
I had difficulty getting into this story at first. I did not like Esmeraude. She was naïve and silly and her schemes were not well thought out and she found herself in trouble. Her idea that if she lost her virginity her appeal to the men who simply wanted her for her land would go away was naïve. How she thought that her husband wouldn't mind that she wasn't chaste was silly for that era. She came across as sometimes spoiled, over indulged and sheltered. On the other hand, Bayard carries the story well. He is a strong character, stubborn, passionate, and when needed, fierce. I enjoyed watching Bayard court Esmeraude and their interactions do strengthen and the plot grows into an enjoyable story once they reunite after the Isle of Mull. She is definitely headstrong and Bayard has his work cut out for him. Their story really picks up once at Airdfinnan and I like how she made him work for it. They ended up being equally matched in the end. The conflicts were good, the villain dastardly, and the conclusion perfect. It wasn't my favorite in the series (I think book 2, The Beauty, stands out more for me), but once I got used to Esmeraude it became enjoyable.
This was a well-written, enjoyable book. Set during the Crusades, Esmeraude of Ceinn-beithe wants to select her own groom. Bayard of Villonne joins the Bride Quest, expecting to quickly win the quest and earn an estate as the prize. Esmeraude sets tests and riddles, then flees, so that her potential suitors have to solve the riddles, pass the tests and find her. Esmeraude wants love and Bayard only trusts in logic. Their journey together was so much fun to read! This book can be read as a standalone story, though is the third in a trilogy with related characters. I loved it! Copy gifted by the Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Esmarude--what a name--what a pain in the a*s!! The Temptress is book three of The Bride Quest II trilogy. We meet again Esmarude- she was the charming and willful third daughter of Eglantine from book one the Countess. Apparently she grew into a charming and willful young woman. The hero - Bayard of Villone never knew what hit him when he met Esmaurde and is not the same from the first meeting on. For crying out loud she gave him her "maidenhood" on the first meeting. I found it hard to believe that a young women in that time period would be allowed such freedom. A secondary story line is of Eglantine's youngest daughter Mhairi. I would have liked to have her story more complete. For example how did her chosen betrothed win the tourney. There is fantasy or fairies or spirits or saints and Lady Luck or Dame Fortune but not clearly defined. It would have been helpful to know who did what and when. Mysterious plants, mysterious fog, big storms, all there but not sure who/what did it. I think too much time is spent with Esmurde being willful and getting her way and people chasing after her. However, this book rounds out the trilogy and its nice to have all the females in the trilogy safe and accounted for. Copy gifted by publisher in exchange for an honest review.
"The Temptress" is the story of Esmeraude and Bayard. The story was interesting to read and developed well. Bayard was a great character who went into the quest to try to save his family. Esmeraude was annoying most of the time and very immature. She very often appeared to be very bratty with others in the story. She did grow through out the story, but still did things without fully thinking them through. Copy gifted by the Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Excellent series...this book was my favorite