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's 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.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Beauty Bride
By Claire Delacroix
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Claire Delacroix, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE AUCTION OF RAVENSMUIR'S relics promised to be the event of the decade. Madeline and her sisters had spent the short interval between the announcement and the event ensuring that they would look their best. Uncle Tynan had declared it imperative that they appear to not need the coin, and his nieces did their best to comply. It was beyond convenient that they could pass kirtles from one to the next, though inevitably there were alterations to be made. They might be sisters, but they were scarcely of the same shape! Hems had to be taken up or let down, seams gathered tighter or let out, and bits of embroidery were required to make each garment "new" for its latest recipient.
There were disagreements invariably between each one and her younger sibling, for their taste in ornamentation varied enormously. Madeline preferred her garments plain, while Vivienne savored lavish embroidery upon the hems, preferably of golden thread. These two did not argue any longer-though once they had done so heatedly, for Madeline sorely disliked to embroider and had been convinced as a young girl that it was unfair for her to endure a hateful task simply to please her sister.
Now, they bent their heads together to make Madeline's discarded kirtles better suit Vivienne, while Vivienne's quickneedle made short work of any new garb destined for Madeline. Vivienne was also taller than Madeline, even though she was younger, so the hems had to be let out. Annelise was shorter even than Madeline, so those hems had to be double-folded when a kirtle passed to her. This often meant that the finest embroidery was hidden from view, though this suited Annelise's more austere taste. Isabella, sadly, was nigh as tall as Vivienne, but could not abide golden embroidery. Her hair was the brightest hue of red of all the sisters and she was convinced that the gold of the thread made her hair appear unattractively fiery. When kirtles passed to her, the sisters would couch the gold with silver and other hues, and the kirtles would be resplendent indeed.
Finally, Elizabeth had the last wearing of each kirtle. This had never been an issue, for she seemed wrought to match the height of Isabella perfectly and was not overly particular of taste. Elizabeth was a girl inclined to dreaming, and was oft teased that she gave more merit to what she could not see than what was directly before her.
But there was a new challenge this year, for Elizabeth was twelve summers of age and her courses had begun. With her courses, her figure had changed radically. Suddenly, she had a much more generous bust than her elder sisters- which meant that she turned crimson when any male so much as glanced her way, as well as that Isabella's kirtles did not begin to fit her. There proved to be insufficient fabric even with the laces let out fully to grant Elizabeth an appearance of grace.
Tears ensued, until Madeline and Vivienne contrived an embroidered panel that could be added down each side of the kirtles in question. Isabella, who was the most clever with a needle, embroidered patterns along their length that so matched the embroidery already on the hem that the panel appeared to have been a part of the kirtle all along. Shoes and stockings and girdles took their own time to be arranged, but by the time the sisters arrived at Ravensmuir and were summoned to the chamber of the auction, no one could have faulted their splendor. They had even wrought new tabards for their brothers, with Alexander's bearing the glowing orb of Kinfairlie's crest on its front, as was now his right.
So they rode beneath the gates of Ravensmuir, attired in their finest garb. Arider came fast behind them, a single man upon a dappled destrier. He was darkly garbed and his hood was drawn over his helm. Madeline noted him, because he rode a knight's horse but had no squire. He did not appear to be as rough as a mercenary.
Oddly, Rosamunde answered some summons sent by him into the hall. She cried a greeting to this mysterious arrival, then leaned close to hear whatsoever he murmured. Madeline was curious, for she could not imagine what messenger would seek her aunt here, no less what manner of messenger would ride a destrier instead of a horse more fleet of foot. He had but a dog as companion.
"The colors of Kinfairlie suit you well," Vivienne said, giving Alexander's tabard an affectionate tug. "This work is a marvel!" Alexander declared, sparing his sisters a bright smile. "You all spoil me overmuch, by sharing the labors of your needles." He kissed each of them on both cheeks, behaving more like an elderly gentleman than the rogue they knew and loved. His fulsome manner left the sisters discomfited and suspicious.
"You were not so thrilled at Kinfairlie, when we granted it to you," Vivienne noted. "But here there are many to appreciate the rare skills of my beauteous sisters."
Years of pranks played by this very brother made all five sisters look over their shoulders.
"I thought you would tickle us," Elizabeth complained. "Or make faces," Isabella added.
"Or tell us that we had erred in some detail of the insignia," Annelise contributed.
"To grant compliments is most unlike you," Vivienne concluded.
Alexander smiled like an angel. "How could I complain when you have been so blessedly kind?" The sisters stepped back as one, all of them prepared for the worst. "Do not trust him," Madeline counselled. The two elder sisters shared a nod.
"Alexander is only so merry at the expense of another," Vivienne agreed.
"Me?" Alexander asked, all false innocence and charm. "Well, at least you are not garbed like a duchess," Malcolm complained. He gestured to the embroidery on his tabard. "This is too lavish for a man training to be a knight." "At least you do have not to wear this horrendous green," Ross said, shaking his own tabard. "I would not venture to name this hue."
"It matches your eyes, fool," Annelise informed him archly.
"We spent days choosing the perfect cloth," Isabella added.
"I surrendered this length of wool for you, Ross," Vivienne said. "And I will not take kindly to any suggestion now that it would make a finer kirtle than a tabard." Ross grimaced and tugged at the hem of his tabard, looking as if he itched to cast it aside. "The other squires at Inverfyre will mock me for garbing myself more prettily than any vain maiden." He tugged at the tabard in vexation.
"What if the Hawk will not take me to his court?" "You need fear nothing. Our uncle is most fair, and Tynan has sent him a missive already," Madeline said soothingly. Her gaze followed the stranger and Rosamunde as they entered the keep, her curiosity unsated by what she had seen. "A maiden might take note of you, Ross, if you look your best," Elizabeth suggested shyly. Ross flushed scarlet, which did little to flatter the fiery hue of his hair.
"Our fingers are bleeding, our eyes are aching," Vivienne said with a toss of her tresses. "And this is the gratitude we receive! I expected a boon from my grateful brothers." "A rose in winter," Annelise demanded.
"There is no such thing!" Malcolm scoffed. "You should pledge to depart on a quest," Elizabeth suggested. "A pledge to seek a treasure for each of us." "Sisters," Ross said with a roll of his eyes, then marched toward the nearest ostler.
Madeline had no further time to wonder about the stranger who had summoned Rosamunde. There was the usual bustle of arrival, of horses to be stabled and ostlers running, of squires and pages underfoot, of introductions being made and acquaintances being renewed. The stirrup cup had to be passed, sisters had to dress, and the company had to be gathered.
Soon, the moment would be upon them. The auction that all awaited, the auction that made the very air tingle at Ravensmuir!
"Every soul in Christendom must be here!" Vivienne whispered to Madeline as they entered the chamber behind Alexander. Dozens of men watched their entry, standing politely aside as the family proceeded to the front of the chamber.
"Not quite so many souls as that," Madeline said. She had felt awkward since their arrival, for men seemed to be taking an uncommon interest in her.
"Perhaps you will find a husband here," Vivienne said with a merry wink. "Alexander is most determined that you choose soon."
"I shall choose in my own time and not before," Madeline said mildly, then knew a way to distract her sister. "Perhaps Nicholas Sinclair will be here," she added, her tone teasing.
Vivienne tossed her hair at the mention of her former suitor. "Him! He has not the coin for this." Alexander stood aside and gestured that Madeline and Vivienne should precede him. He seemed stiff, and uncommonly serious.
"Smile, brother," Madeline whispered to him as she passed. "You will never catch the eye of a merry maid with so sour a countenance."
"The Laird of Kinfairlie must have need of an heir!" Vivienne teased with a laugh. Alexander only averted his gaze.
"He never remains somber for long," Vivienne said as they sat upon the bench. "Look! There is Reginald Neville." Madeline spared no more than a glance to the vain boy who imagined himself to be besotted with her. As usual, his garb was not only very fine, but he labored overhard to ensure that all noticed it. Even as he waved to her, he held his cloak open with his other hand, the better that its embroidery might be admired.
"I have only rejected him a dozen times." Madeline's tone was wry. "There might yet be hope for his suit." "What a nightmare his wife's life will be!" "And what will he do once he has exhausted the treasury he has inherited?"
"You are always so practical, Madeline." Vivienne edged closer, her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. "There is Gerald of York." The elder sisters exchanged a glance, for that somber and steady man's endless tales put them both to sleep without fail.
"His bride will be well-rested, that much is beyond doubt."
Vivienne giggled. "Oh, you are too wicked." "Am I? Alexander will turn his gaze upon you next, and demand that you wed soon." "Not before you, surely?" "Whyever not? He seems determined to wed all of us in haste."
Vivienne nibbled her lip, her merry mood dispelled. "There is Andrew, that ally of our uncle."
"He is nigh as old as the Hawk of Inverfyre, as well." "Ancient!" Vivienne agreed with horror. She jabbed her elbow into Madeline's side. "You might be widowed soon, if you wed him though."
"That is hardly an attribute one should seek in a spouse. And I will wed none of them, at any rate." The Red Douglas men and the Black Douglas men arrived and took to opposite sides of the hall, all the better to glower at each other from a distance. Madeline knew that Alexander preferred to ally with the Black Douglases, as their father had done, but she could not bear the sight of Alan Douglas, their sole remaining unwed get. He was so fair as to be unnatural. He fairly leered at her, the rogue, and she averted her gaze. Roger Douglas, on the other side of the hall, as swarthy as his cousin was fair, found this amusing and granted her a courtly bow.
Madeline glanced away from both of them. Her heart leapt when she found the steady gaze of a man in the corner fixed upon her. He was tall and tanned, quiet of manner and heavily armed. His hair was dark, as were his eyes. He stood so motionless that her eye could have easily danced past him.
But now that she had looked, Madeline could not readily tear her gaze away. He was the stranger from the bailey, she was certain of it.
And he was watching her. Madeline's mouth went dry. His hair looked damp, for it curled against his brow, as if he had ridden hard to arrive here. He leaned against the wall, his garb so dark that she could not tell where his cloak ended and the shadows began. His gaze darted over the company at intervals, missing no detail and returning always to her. He stood and watched the proceedings, his stillness making Madeline think of a predator at hunt. The sole bright spot upon his garb was the red dragon rampant emblazoned across the chest of his tabard.
She felt his gaze upon her as surely as a touch and she knew her color rose.
"Look!" Elizabeth said, suddenly between Madeline and Vivienne. "There is a little person!"
"The chamber is full of persons of all size," Madeline said, glad of some diversion to make her look away from the dark stranger.
"No, a very small person." Elizabeth dropped her voice. "Like a fairy, almost."
Vivienne shook her head. "Elizabeth, you are too fanciful. There are fairies only in old tales."
"There is one in this chamber," Elizabeth insisted with rare vigor. "It is sitting on Madeline's shoulder." Madeline glanced from one shoulder to the other, both of which were devoid of fairies, then smiled at her youngest sister. "Are you not becoming too old to believe in such tales?" she asked.
"It is there," Elizabeth said hotly. "It is there, and it is giggling, though not in a very nice way." The elder sisters exchanged a glance. "What else is it doing?" Vivienne asked, evidently intent upon humoring Elizabeth.
"It is tying a ribbon." Elizabeth glanced across the chamber, as if she truly did see something that the others did not. "There is a golden ribbon, Madeline, one all unfurled around you, though I do not remember that we put it upon your kirtle."
"We did not," Vivienne whispered, dropping her voice as their Uncle Tynan raised his hand for silence. "Madeline does not like gold ribbons on her kirtle."
Elizabeth frowned. "It is twining the golden ribbon with a silver one," she said, her manner dreamy. "Spinning the two ribbons together so that they make a spiral, a spiral that is gold on one side and silver on the other."
"Ladies and gentlemen, knights and dukes, duchesses and maidens," Tynan began.
"A silver ribbon?" Madeline asked softly. Elizabeth nodded and pointed across the chamber. "It comes from him."
Madeline followed her sister's gesture and found her gaze locking with that of the man in the shadows again. Her heart thumped in a most uncommon fashion, though she knew nothing of him.
"You should not speak nonsense, Elizabeth," she counselled quietly, then turned her attention to her uncle. Elizabeth made a sound of disgust and Madeline's heart pounded with the conviction that the stranger watched her even as she turned away.
"As all of you are aware, the majority of the treasures will be auctioned on the morrow," Tynan said after he had extended greetings and introduced the family. Rosamunde stood at his side, radiant in her rich garb. "You will have the opportunity in the morning to examine such items as are of interest to you, before the bidding begins at noon. Of course, there will be many more arrivals in the morning." The company stirred restlessly and the sisters exchanged a glance of confusion. "You gentlemen have been specifically invited this night for a special auction, an auction of the Jewel of Kinfairlie."
Excerpted from The Beauty Bride by Claire Delacroix Copyright © 2005 by Claire Delacroix, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.