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An Excerpt From

A WARRIOR'S LADY

After swiftly leaving the hall, Lady Anne slowed her pace to stroll along the corridor lit by torches in sconces. Their smoke drifted out through long, narrow windows open to the air. She wrapped her arms about herself and shivered, in spite of the heavy velvet brocade gown she wore, for the October night was chill. She would be glad to get to her chamber, which would be warmed by a brazier full of glowing coals. There she could get into bed and let herself remember all that she had seen before she drifted off to sleep.

She would think of the beautiful gowns and rich fabrics. She would imagine that she was one of that giggly gaggle of girls, except that in her waking dream she would bandy such clever words with the young men, they would be agog.

She wondered who that particular group of young men were and where they came from. Were they English or French or some other nationality? Were they sons of great lords or minor nobility? Were any of them married? What of the one who seemed more mature than the others?

She heard a sound behind her and halted, turning to see what it was. A mouse, perhaps, or the wind.

A man stood in the shadows.

She stiffened, then reminded herself she was in the king's castle, and there were many soldiers on guard. She had but to scream, and she would be heard. As her half brothers knew, she could scream very loudly.

The man stepped out of the shadows into the flickering light of the torches. It was the eldest of that merry group in the hall, the one with chestnut brown hair. The aloof, impressive one.

Standing up, he seemed even more splendid than when he had been sitting down, with long, lean legs she had no business staring at. His plain black tunic reached to mid-thigh and stretched across broad shoulders. The pristine white shirt beneath made his tanned face seem even more masculine.

Most intriguing and unusual, though, were his eyes. They were light gray and rimmed with black, so startling a contrast to his dark complexion, they seemed to glow in the torchlight. His nose was particularly fine, and his lips were full and made her wonder what they would be like to kiss.

Bold, wanton thought!

Still, those others in the hall could not really compare, not now. The curly haired young men could be cherubs, while this man was an archangel -- Saint Michael, perhaps. God's warrior.

He ambled closer and her heart began to pound, the throbbing loud in her ears. This was a situation entirely new to her, and entirely exciting. But this meeting was really most improper.

Yet her half brothers were back there in the hall, no doubt quarreling about something. Piers was in his room, sulking because Damon had made him stay behind as punishment for not polishing his armor well enough. She was, in the only sense she ever was, free, if only for a little while.

An unfamiliar excitement, potent and dangerous, skittered through her body as she envisioned a clandestine rendezvous with this man. Her mind reeled as pictures of might happen in a secluded corridor flashed unbidden into her imagination.

An embrace. A passionate kiss. Moans. Sighs. Her leg bared as his strong, lean hand lifted her skirt...

She flushed, hot with shame at her own vivid imaginings, while he continued to regard her steadily, not with arrogance or lust, but as if he could not look away.

No one had ever looked at her like that, and no gaze had ever made her feel so warm and yet so full of dread at the same time. It was not fear that he might hurt her, though, a fear she already knew too well. She could not yet name the powerful new feeling surging through her.

"Who are you?" she demanded, trying to sound calmer than she felt.

"I want to ask you the same question. I beg you to tell me the name of the most beautiful woman at court," the stranger said, his voice soft and deep and very different from her sibling's harsh tones. Damon and Benedict sounded like bears. This man sounded as she imagined a majestic stag would, if stags could speak.

As his gaze seemed to intensify, not with lust or arrogant measure, but with attentive curiosity, Anne realized what she felt: desire. It spread over her like the rays of the sun when the clouds part.

Her mind urged caution. No matter how thrilling she found him, or how outrageously flattered she was by his attention, she was a lady, not some simple peasant girl, or even one of those flighty creatures in the king's hall. This young man had no business following her or speaking to her, and he had to know that as well she. If he thought she would not mind, or even welcome his advances, what did that say of his opinion of her?

Maybe she should flee -- except that would be the action of a coward, and she was not a coward. Instead Anne straightened her shoulders and haughtily said, "Who are you, to follow me in this insolent manner and ask who I am?"

* * *

Oh, God, Reece thought as he felt his face warm with a blush. He wished he had stayed in the hall and ignored his impetuous, uncharacteristic impulse to follow the blond beauty. He should leave -- but to back away now would be fleeing like a coward. While he was certainly shy around women, he was no coward.

Nevertheless, he knew full well he didn't have the charm, the eloquence or the looks of his friends. He had always been content to wait patiently nearby, half-afraid to open his mouth in case he sounded like a fool.

Until tonight, when he had spotted the tranquil, golden-haired woman across the hall wearing a green gown of shining samite that fairly sparkled in the candlelight. She had to be unmarried, for her long, golden hair was uncovered and done in two long braids, the ends encased in bronze. Her hair had glowed in the light like a halo, and she had seemed as serenely different from the rest of the young women at the court as an angel would. So he had foolishly decided to follow her from the hall.

The die was cast, he decided, and he must see it through.

But please, God, he silently and fervently prayed, do not let her see me blush like a lad!

"Forgive me, lady," he said with a contrite bow. "I meant no insult."

To his surprise, she didn't immediately turn on her heel and march away. Instead, her full lips turned up in a little smile.

It was like thinking your lance was broken and discovering instead that it was whole.

"Although you seem an impertinent fellow," she said, "I was not insulted."

"Then will you tell me your name, despite my impertinence?"

Her shapely brow rose in query. "You wish to know my name and nothing more?"

In truth, he wanted to know everything about her, but he had achieved much already and did not dare to hope for more. "Perhaps that should be all, lest I discover you are wed or promised to another."

Her brows lowered as she studied him, and he cringed inwardly. Obviously, that had not been a wise thing to say.

"I am not, but this is hardly the time or place to make introductions, sir."

He moved closer, almost as if pulled to her by an invisible thread. Maybe there was such a thread, for that might explain the tightening sensation he felt in his chest.

As if by divine inspiration, he remembered something he had heard Blaidd Morgan say to a woman once. Blaidd attracted women like blossoms did a bee. "Please, won't you take pity on me and tell me your name? Otherwise, I may risk injury in the tournament tomorrow, being overtired because I could not sleep for wondering."

Her brows, a shade darker than her hair, rose yet farther, and her green eyes that already sparkled like emeralds in a rich man's ring seemed to glitter even more, and -- he was very pleased to believe -- with merriment. "So if I do not tell you my name, and you happen to be injured on the morrow, it will be my fault?"

To his dismay, her glittering gaze faltered, and a frown clouded her visage. "I do not want such a responsibility. I assure you, sir knight, I already have enough burdens to bear."

The note of sadness in her voice touched his heart. "Forgive me, my lady, if I add to your distress in any way. I do not seek to add to the troubles you may have."

Her beautiful eyes widened, as if she was taken aback by his response. "It is a rare man who cares for a stranger's woes."

Reece flushed again, for her tone was full of both wonder and praise.

Then that gloriously merry glimmer seemed to light her from within again. "Besides, you have not told me your name, either."

She straightened her shoulders and issued a charming challenge. "If you first tell me your name, humble petitioner, I shall tell you mine."

His heart started to pound as it did before a lance charge and new hope thundered into life with it. She must not think him a complete fool after all. "My name is Sir --"

"Anne!"

The man's bellowing voice echoed off the walls of the corridor and the unknown beauty tensed as if she had just been caught perpetrating a serious crime.

God save him, he had not considered how it would look to others if they were seen or found together. He had been too intent upon learning who she was. Before he could speak, she did.

"Go!" she ordered him as if he were a foot soldier. She pointed down the corridor to the door at the opposite end. "Leave me to deal with Damon."

Who, in the name of the saints, was Damon, and what was he to her? Brother? Cousin? Betrothed?

Not the latter, he most fervently hoped.

Whoever he was, as the dark-haired man came charging toward them, another dark-haired, bigger man following right behind, it was obvious he could not leave this fascinating young woman to deal with them alone.

If there was fault here, it was not hers. She had not enticed him or led him there, and he would certainly make that very clear.

As the two men bore down upon them, he recognized them as the men who had been sitting beside her in the king's hall. Because she had been paying no heed to them, and she was fair while they were dark, he had assumed they were not relations or had any claim upon her.

Obviously he was wrong, and if he had not been distracted by Blaidd right before she left the hall, he might have seen her speak to them. Unfortunately, Blaidd had just chastised him for staring, then started to tease him. Reece had turned away to tell his Welsh friend that Blaidd had quite the history of being distracted by women himself, so he should keep his mouth shut. If she had talked to these fellows, he had missed it.

The woman -- Anne, he now knew -- shoved him in a way no person ever had. "You may leave me to deal with them, sir knight."

"I will not," he said firmly. "The impropriety is mine, and mine alone."

Clearly enraged, the two men came to a panting halt in front of him, their wine-soaked breath disgusting him. Their extreme reaction to a minor impropriety was no doubt fueled by wine.

He took the offensive as they tried to catch their breath. "Who are you?"

"We're her brothers," the biggest one growled, his beefy hands bunching into fists. "Who the devil are you?"

"I know who he is," the taller one declared as his lip curled in a sneer. "It's that bastard's son. This lout accosting Anne is Reece Fitzroy."

A jolt of anger shot through Reece, even as the big lout's eyes widened, and fear bloomed in his eyes. So, he had heard of Reece Fitzroy, or if not him, his father, the man reputed to be the finest trainer of knights in England, and who was indeed a bastard.

"Sir Reece Fitzroy," he corrected. He made no effort to keep the scorn from his voice. "To whom have I the honor of speaking?"

The tall one drew himself up. "I am Sir Damon Delasaine of Montbleu, this is my brother Benedict and this lady you are bothering is my sister."

Reece felt like a bellows with a slow leak. He had heard of the notorious Delasaines. They would be the first on a list of all the families in the world a man of honorable ambition should avoid. He could hardly believe that this beautiful, spirited woman, so different from any woman he had ever met, was their sister.

"Half sister," Anne declared, as if determined to have that difference noted at once. She then addressed Damon Delasaine. "He was not bothering me, Damon. We were merely talking."

"Shut up and go, Anne," he snarled in response, "before we decide to let you share the beating he has earned."

Another jolt of anger, mixed with indignation and scorn, energized Reece. He stepped forward, the action alone -- and perhaps his fierce expression -- forcing Damon back. "I have heard of the Delasaines, and all I have heard is obviously true," he growled. "You are a base coward, for only a coward would strike a woman."

As Damon stared with glowering disbelief, Reece turned to Anne. "Thank you, my lady, for defending me, but I will fight my own battles. Go, as he says, and leave me to do it."

"Yes, go," Benedict snarled, pushing her roughly away.

At that sight, Reece's self control snapped. He grabbed Benedict's arm and yanked him back so hard, he nearly pulled the lout's arm from its socket. "Let her alone, or by God, you'll regret it!"

Benedict stumbled as Reece let him go, but he quickly recovered, and his eyes gleamed with malice and glee, the look of a man who enjoyed brawling, or beating up women. "Think so?"

Reece nodded. "Oh, believe me, you will."

Benedict held out his arms and gestured for him to approach. "Come on and try it then, cur."

"Reece, behind you!" Anne screeched.

Before he could turn, Reece felt an unexpected, sharp pain in his side as Damon's dagger slid along his rib. He fell to his knees and Benedict's heavy fist struck his face as Anne let loose with a bloodcurdling scream.


This book is part of Margaret's Warrior Series. As with all Margaret's books, however, this one is written with the understanding that not everyone will have read the previous books in the series, so a new reader shouldn't feel lost.


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Cover Copyright © 2002 by
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
From the book: A Warrior's Lady
by Margaret Moore
Harlequin Historicals®
September 2002
ISBN # 0-373-29223-6 Copyright © 2002 by Margaret Wilkins
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The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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