Andalucía Spain, 1489: Innocent Beatriz is desperate to escape the threat of a miserable marriage to a cruel Marquis. Forced into the betrothal by her ruthless merchant papá, her only hope is to conceal her identity and become a servant in a nearby castle-a life drastically different from her comfortable upbringing.
Tomás doesn't know what to make of his well-spoken new servant girl. Her beauty and charm captivates the military hero; her mysterious nature intrigues him. And the desire she ignites burns brighter with each glance, as does his longing to claim her for his own.
Beatriz can't resist Tomás' passion nor deny the heat of her own. But neither the lush countryside nor the walls of the opulent Moorish castle can entirely protect her-and if he were to discover her secret, she could be torn away from him forever. Yet how can she sustain his love if she's living a lie?
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By Tina Donahue
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Tina Donahue
All rights reserved.
Andalucía, Spain — 1489
The castle of Tomás de Zayas
The siege had begun. Not from bloodthirsty Moors. Oh, no. Tomás de Zayas would have welcomed such a prospect. He'd fought Spain's enemies with ruthless determination during his service to the Crown. Those battles were frequently grisly, but the conflicts had always ended. What he'd face in the coming hours however ...
Two carriages approached his estate. The first of many, less than half a league apart, wheels kicking up dust clouds within the heavily vegetated land. Inside each conveyance was a scheming mamá and daughter with naught but marriage on their minds with him the unwilling suitor.
His gut churned. He refused to budge from the parapet until dragged away.
If only he could fly from his castle as jackdaws were doing, their wings outstretched on the mild breeze, sweet scents beckoning. Several birds dipped to spring flowers and lush vegetation shaded from the heavy sun. He longed to ride past the scene, laughing, loving ... with the right woman.
The dark-haired beauty he craved was hopelessly out of reach.
He gripped the stone, despising circumstances, dreading the arriving females.
He'd held them off for months, declining invitations to countless gatherings. The mamás had persisted with endless requests to visit his estate, claiming they and their daughters wanted to see how he was doing after his brush with death.
He was hearty as ever and wanted to enjoy life again, though not with them. The woman he desired was already here.
Heat, unbidden and insistent, rushed through him.
"Here you are," Nuncio said.
Just what he didn't need. His manservant. An ancient fellow who'd been with the de Zayas family well before Tomás's birth. Despite Nuncio's sixty years, the man held himself as erect as a Spanish knight. While his bearing and white hair gave him a courtly appearance, his casual manner was more intrusive uncle than groveling servant.
Nuncio arched a bushy white eyebrow at Tomás's goblet.
Gleefully, he finished his wine, wanting more to fortify himself against the coming hours.
Clattering horse hooves and wheels quieted.
The first carriage had arrived. Mother and daughter left their conveyance, chattering endlessly. Their voices rang with excitement. Their silly giggles grated.
According to his brother, Enrique, and sister-in-law, Sancha, this was Tomás's proper future, with someone from his own world. His wayward passion for a woman not of his station couldn't amount to anything, ever, except trouble and heartache.
He slumped against the railing.
"Are you planning to throw yourself off?" Nuncio sighed tiredly. "Should I be alarmed?"
He would be when Tomás tossed him off the side. "You should do your duty and see to my desires." He held out his goblet. "I need more wine."
Nuncio remained planted to the spot, wrinkled hands folded in front, striking a lord of the manor pose. "Your guests might believe otherwise."
The carriage and footmen were off to the side, the women nowhere in sight. Presumably, mother and daughter were within the castle, waiting for what they believed would be a private visit with him.
He offered a pleased smile. "As they have no regard for my feelings, I hardly care what they think. If you remember, I politely declined their requests to come here, until you hounded me about my indifference to their marriage plans with me as their grudging victim. Now, I have a chance to tell the mamás I have no intention of wedding any of their daughters."
"By gathering all of them here at the same time."
"Some might say reckless, considering their families are your political allies, though they may not be after today."
Tomás waved away Nuncio's comment. "Better to get this over with at one time rather than dragging the matter out through countless visits. Besides, my public declaration will keep gossip to a minimum. None of the women will be able to say I rejected any señorita because of her shrill laugh, slow wit, poor shape, or dull converse. They were all equally lacking."
Nuncio looked heavenward. He might have even started to pray.
Tomás gritted his teeth. "Equally lacking in my desire for them. Never fear, I shall be unfailingly polite and let each lady know how wonderful she is. More beautiful than stars sparkling in the night sky, more promising than the hint of spring after a brutal winter, more —"
"Forgive me for interrupting, but one would hope they would still be listening at that point." He squared his narrow shoulders. "Cook prepared a feast for your guests. If any of them have an appetite after your pretty speech, I propose we hide the knives. For your safety, of course."
"I can take care of myself. And I refuse to settle for less than what Enrique and Fernando have."
"You mean the families they started."
Not entirely. However, Isabella had given birth to her and Fernando's first child, a daughter. They named her Juana after Isabella's late mother. Sancha hadn't yet delivered. Given what Enrique had repeatedly said, he didn't care whether she bore him a son or a daughter. He simply wanted her and the child's health and happiness.
Nuncio cleared his throat delicately. "If I may be so bold ..."
"You will be, anyway. Get on with it."
"Very well. If you seek children, I advise you wed first as your brothers had."
"They fought for the women they wanted. Neither let convention get in his way."
"Your brothers wed women from their own backgrounds."
"They fell in love with them first and overcame numerous obstacles to be at their sides even though none were originally meant to be together. Have you forgotten Fernando's betrothal to Sancha was long before she married Enrique instead? What about Isabella pretending to be Sancha and wedding Fernando before he knew the difference between the two sisters? Despite such chaos, all are blissfully happy now."
"Miracles do happen, though in your case you best not hope for one."
Tomás shoved his hair back from where the wind had blown it. "As the youngest son, who I end up with, or if I end up with anyone, is of no consequence. Enrique inherits everything from Papá. Building upon the family dynasty is his duty. I can do as I please."
Nuncio looked off into the distance, his expression suddenly a mask, though the lines in his face seemed to have deepened. "Is this about Beatriz?"
Tomás's heart slammed into his chest. Lightheaded, he gripped the stone for support and pretended to drink from his empty goblet, since he was unable and unwilling to answer. Above, a jackdaw cried out. Below, wheels rattled against stone, announcing more guests. Three carriages drew near.
He wanted to run. His legs were too leaden to work properly. "Where is she?"
Nuncio shook his head.
Frustration oiled Tomás's limbs, allowing him movement. Fist clenched, he approached, prepared to thrash Nuncio to get an answer.
He stood his ground and kept his tongue.
Tomás crowded him further. "Answer me. Where is she?"
"Seeing to her tasks as the other servants are doing."
And would most likely finish her work before Nuncio offered anything more than he had. "Inform my guests I shall be delayed slightly."
"You plan to clean up a bit? Excellent. I suggest your dark green robe and doublet. The blue you have on hardly does you justice. As to your hose, one in peach, the other in white will work far better than the striped ones you chose. You should also have a shave."
Tomás slapped his goblet into Nuncio's palm and hurried down the steps, his shoes ringing on the stone. On the next level, he rushed through the castle once owned by a Moor, the same as Fernando's castle had been. Their service to the Crown had won them the reconquered estates. Although Tomás's new home was far smaller than Fernando's and certainly Enrique's, he still had to search numerous halls and countless rooms for Beatriz.
He wanted to see her. No. He needed to. A compulsion he couldn't seem to resist despite her being a servant. A matter important to Nuncio, Enrique, and Sancha, with them advising Tomás not to take advantage of his position and Beatriz, since a dalliance between them could lead nowhere.
He was well aware of the perils and hadn't done anything except watch her whenever he could.
She was remarkably different from his other servants, her air, manner, and speech refined. Intelligence shone in her eyes. She even seemed able to read. Weeks ago, he'd come upon her tidying his study. She'd regarded the book spines at length, the way one would when considering titles. Surprising and odd. If she were educated, he couldn't imagine why she'd willingly spend her days here in endless drudgery.
When he'd asked his housekeeper about her, Señora Cisneros said Beatriz came from one of the many villages Tomás owned and that she needed work to support her ailing mother. He hadn't bothered to check out the story, sensing Beatriz might have an ill parent, which drove her to seek work here. As to the other part of her background ... Deep inside, he sensed she hadn't come from any village.
Not that he cared whether he was right or not.
Seeing her again, settling his overwhelming desire was his only goal. Today, he could compare Beatriz to the other women and determine if his desire for her was only a passing whim. Once he'd had another look at her, he might be able to dismiss his feelings as mere fantasy and have peace at last.
Where had she gone?
He strode toward the first hall and the bedchambers, this area open and airy, his face warmed by sun spilling through arched windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. Rays glinted off intricate Moorish mosaics, flashing blue, yellow, green, and red, turning the stone columns and floors milky and bright. He squinted.
Upon reaching the chambers, he checked room after room, each filled with rich wall hangings and Spanish furniture, the dark wood and leather carved with ornate designs. Every chamber was spotless and duly aired to smell quite fresh. Also empty. With only two more rooms to go, he sensed Beatriz might be elsewhere in the castle, tending to those rooms.
No matter. He'd run her down in time.
After a quick check of the remaining chambers, he turned.
Beatriz stood across the hall, holding linens heaped in a basket.
His mouth went dry.
Despite her red gown, white tunic, and linen cap, the same livery his other female servants wore, she might as well have been a queen.
She was certainly beautiful enough. Her skin was paler than most, the color of a fine pearl, features delicate, light brown eyes lushly lashed and softened with what appeared to be need.
His chest tightened, breathing became difficult, the air too thick suddenly.
Her plush lips, pink as an Andalucían dawn, parted in what seemed to be an invitation.
Everything grew quiet. Colors and the surrounding area faded into the background, leaving nothing except her to feast on. Dewy skin, sensuous mouth, full breasts, lush hips.
His shaft thickened and grew hard, craving her heated sheath damp with her excitement.
His for the taking. He merely had to cross the small space separating them.
The distance seemed wider than the ocean with too many warnings bombarding him. Sancha's advice that he not ruin Beatriz, leaving her few options for marriage to a respectable man. Enrique warning about the child Tomás would eventually sire with her. Nuncio's repeated admonitions about her peasant background that wouldn't allow them a future together no matter how much Tomás may have wanted one.
He shouldn't have sought her out. His plan to dismiss any feelings he'd had failed miserably. He wanted her far more than earlier.
He tipped his head. "Buenas tardes."
Pink bloomed in her cheeks. Her eyes cleared, no longer dreamy or aroused. She stepped back.
The distance between them was already too great. She didn't need to add to it. Although he understood her prudence, he hated that they had to resist their desire.
"Buenas tardes, Patrón." She propped the basket on her hip and retreated two steps.
In another moment, she might bolt.
He prayed not yet. "Are the linens too heavy?" He wanted to help, needed to be near. "Do you want me to carry them?"
She shook her head, dark, silky tendrils dancing near to her cheeks.
He ached to wind the strands around his fingers and ease her closer. "Are you quite certain?"
She gripped the basket hard enough to make her knuckles white. "I can see to my duties. I can work all day and night if necessary."
"Have you ever needed to do so in order to finish?"
"No." Beatriz frowned, then made her face a mask, the kind servants show a master, leaving the poor fool no way to know what they thought. "I finish my tasks quickly. Without problems."
"How wonderful." He stepped in her way before she could get around him. "How is your mother doing? Does she need a potion or poultice?"
She stared, color draining.
Why? He only wanted to help. "Señora Cisneros mentioned your mamá's troubles in passing. How sad I am for you and her. However, I know a physician who may be able to make things better. Tell me the symptoms and I can bring you what she needs."
No matter what ailed the woman, Sancha could prepare a remedy. She was a healer. When Tomás had fallen ill at the fortaleza, she'd saved his life. A dangerous matter for her because of the Inquisition, which led to accusations claiming she was a witch. Thankfully, he, Enrique, and their brothers had handled the matter, leaving her free to practice healing in secret.
Beatriz hefted the basket and settled the thing more firmly on her hip.
"Those linens are too heavy for you." He grabbed them.
She held on.
Surely, she didn't think she'd win against him. He was a head taller, nearly twice her weight, and far stronger.
She let go.
He locked his knees to keep from staggering back at the weight. Far too cumbersome for such a delicate flower as her. He'd have to talk with Señora Cisneros about Beatriz's future duties.
Rather than offering a sweet smile for his help, she bit her lip.
Tenderness welled within him, along with unruly desire. "No reason to be afraid. Your position is safe. I merely want to help. Tell me what ails your mamá."
"Nothing at the moment. She recovered fully from her latest illness. I must get back to work." She reached for the linens.
He kept them away. "Is my housekeeper demanding too much even with you willing to work day and night?" f "Señora Cisneros is a lovely woman."
She had a mustache, hairs on her chin, weighed more than two women combined, and owned a high-pitched voice that set his teeth on edge. However, she did keep the castle running smoothly without being too overbearing. "I find her efficient in a slightly masculine way. Is that what you meant?"
Beatriz's mouth curled up, though she didn't allow herself to smile.
Making her laugh meant everything to Tomás without him understanding why. "Do you promise not to tell her I said such a thing?"
She gripped her skirt. "We rarely speak. Work keeps us busy."
"So you do promise. Wonderful." He grinned and lifted the basket to his shoulder, showing off his strength. "Where did you plan to take this? I can bring the linens to whatever room you —"
Loud throat clearing flowed down the hall.
Either Señora Cisneros or Nuncio had just entered from behind. Hard to tell which, since they both made the same noises when displeased with the help. He looked over.
Beatriz pulled the basket from Tomás with surprising strength, though she did totter.
"Careful." He reached for her.
She twisted away.
Nuncio cleared his throat once more.
Tomás frowned at him. "Did you inform the guests of my delay?"
"Several times. They still await your presence. Every one of them in the same room."
Surely without knives if Nuncio had anything to say. Tomás gentled his mood for Beatriz. "If your mamá should fall ill again, please tell me. I can help."
Her attention remained on Nuncio.
Wanting to speak softly to her, Tomás leaned closer, catching her seductive fragrance, freshly washed clothes and clean skin. He reeled, finding speech difficult. "If Nuncio rails at you for keeping me here, let me know. I shall thrash him soundly."
Laughter bubbled from her, which she quelled without pause.
Her joy, no matter how brief, was a balm for everything wrong with today. How marvelous if they, at least, became friends, speaking freely, laughing, enjoying themselves. An odd notion for any man when faced with such a delectable woman. However, he didn't see many other options at this point.
He strode to Nuncio. "Shall we go?" Halfway down the hall, Tomás spoke. "Make certain the ladies' carriages, drivers, and footmen are ready to depart. I trust no one will be staying long once I give my speech."
"As you wish. Whatever you wish. Whenever you wish."
Tomás rolled his eyes. If wishes were his for the asking, he'd still be speaking to Beatriz, inviting her to ride the grounds with him, having a late supper with her on the hillside overlooking his estate, finally carrying her into his chamber for some much-needed passion with them discovering wondrous things about each other.
He surely wouldn't be facing women who might want to harm him once they understood he had no intention of wedding anyone.
Excerpted from Passionate Pursuit by Tina Donahue. Copyright © 2016 Tina Donahue. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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