Thief of my Heart
is the Duke of Cranford's only child, Marguerite de Lanier. And . . ."
The queen lowered her voice " . . . she is the richest heiress in the
"Yes, she is quite pretty." Even to himself he sounded bored. The truth was he felt not the slightest spark of interest in the girl or her pretty face.
Eleanor sent him a calculating look. He studied the blonde heiress for a brief moment, then let his gaze wander to the quiet woman garbed in plain black who sat next to him. She wore no jewelry, but there was something elegant in the way she moved that caught his attention.
Eleanor noticed the direction of his attention. "Yvonna is my new lady in waiting, Thomas," she said under her breath. "She is no one of importance. A widow, and quite penniless."
The doll-like Marguerite daintily settled herself between two richly garbed knights, and the queen leaned toward him. "Now that one is to be prized."
Tom was not listening. The woman, Yvonna, had risen suddenly, apparently on an errand for the queen. As she moved across the room her skirt kicked up around her ankles, and beneath the dark hem he glimpsed a flounced scarlet petticoat.
He sat bolt upright. Jesu! Was she not in mourning? An odd prickly-sweet warmth traveled to his groin. What was this? Had he been without a woman so long the mere sight of a woman's undergarment sent his blood singing? God's balls, he was no green lad who fell at a woman's feet at the mere sight of an ankle. But he flushed hot, then cold, then hot again. Was he ill?
Eleanor again bent toward him and murmured in his ear. "The Lady Yvonna is not for you, Tom. She has two and thirty winters and is well past childbearing age. And," she emphasized, "she is impoverished. Poor as a Blackfriar's mouse. She serves me because she has nowhere else to go. What you need, my boy, is an heiress."
He drained his wine cup in three gulps. An heiress, his brain echoed. He tore his gaze from the intriguing widow Yvonna del Raphael and tried to focus on Marguerite.
What could be worse than being shackled to one woman for the rest of his life? He did not want to marry the pretty heiress. He did not want a wife at all.
He knew he must marry eventually, but what he wanted now was a warrior knight's honor and reputation. He wanted to return to the tourney circuit and uphold the name he had made for himself, add to his winnings, and make his father proud of his younger son.
But a clamor inside his brain suggested something else, something unforeseen, that he wanted as well. He wanted to talk with that intriguing woman in black. He liked her quietness. She seemed an oasis of serenity in a whirlwind of courtly uproar.
* * * * * *
Tom stared at the spiral iron stairway and shook his head. Lady Yvonna was elusive. Mysterious. His chest had tightened at the sight of that red petticoat; it did not fit with the lady's placid demeanor. Did she hide other secrets? He shrugged and headed down the steps. Since she sought no friend, chances were he would never know.
In his assigned chamber, he removed his sword belt, tunic, and chausses while Lady Yvonna lingered in his thoughts. When he stretched out on the curtained bed, she was still there, but now it was worse. He began to imagine what was underneath that scarlet petticoat, her naked thighs, her breasts. The thumping of his heart sounded in his ears, and with a chuckle he watched the tanned skin of his chest quiver with each pulse.