Heart (Marianne of Faucon)
Harlequin Historical ~ January 2007
© by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
SAVED BY A THROW OF THE DICE.
Rescue from kidnap by a commanding stranger brought Marianne of Faucon the spice and excitement for which her restless heart yearned. She wanted to tumble into love as her brothers had done, but there was danger in surrendering to desire.
Because Bryce of Ashforde was looking to destroy the Faucon family, and the innocent, headstrong, tempting Marianne had just become his means of revenge....
Falcon's Heart ~ Excerpt:
From Chapter One:
The only difference this year was in the number of attendees. A devastating famine swept England, bringing more and more people to Normandy, France and other far-flung locations.
An imposing assembly of troubadours, jugglers, dancers and musicians came to entertain the masses gathered while lining their purses with coin. Knights and warriors, tired of earnest battle and seeking to fill their empty coffers with gold or the spoils of those less fortunate at combat came to test their prowess on the tourney field.
Merchants, desperate to profit from the throng and lighten their load of goods before winter set in, flocked to the keep.
It was a festival of merriment and necessity attended by many - evident by the multitude of gaily colored tents dotting the open area between the forest and the keep. Brilliant multi-hued pennants fluttered in the warm autumn breeze.
Surrounded by more people than she could count, Marianne could not dispel the restlessness coiling tight in her belly. It rested there all day, growing stronger with the setting sun.
Neither the clang of sword meeting sword, nor the excited shouts and laughter of spectators in the stands broke the unsettling gloom cloaking her like a dark, suffocating shroud.
An unhurried stroll amongst the vendors produced nothing to lighten her mood. No bright hair ribbons, exotic scents from the East, nor carefully crafted jewelry caught her eye. It was truly a sad day when she could find nothing new to purchase that would lift her spirits.
Marianne sighed before moving away from the crowd attending this day's events. The annual festivities used to send a thrill through her body. She'd looked forward to the excitement for months in advance. Over the last two years, the thrill had steadily begun to pall.
"Surely you are not leaving so soon?"
An arm draped across her shoulders slowed her departure. She knew by his simple act of lightly caressing her shoulder, which of her three brothers sought to prevent her leaving.
Her eldest brother Rhys would not have taken the time to approach her. With so many armed men about, he was far too busy keeping them in check.
Darius, the youngest brother, would never think to be so familiar with her. He'd not lived at Faucon while she was growing from child to young woman. Their relationship was more formal than the one she shared with her middle brother Gareth.
Marianne lowered her shoulder and side-stepped Gareth's touch. "Yes. I am. The day has been long. My head aches and the noise worsens the pain. Perhaps a few quiet moments in my chamber will help lessen the throbbing." The lie was a small one, surely not of a size worth an eternity in hell.
He grasped her wrist and tugged her back to his side, bringing her escape to a halt. "It is heartening to discover you have not lost the ability to fabricate tales with a straight face."
Marianne smiled up at him. "I learned from the best, did I not?"
His eyes widened briefly before his lips turned up into a crooked, answering smile. "I suppose you did." He released her wrist and ran a hand through his sweat dampened hair. "But maybe it is time to refrain from following in your brothers' footsteps. After all, you are a girl."
"Girl?" Oddly enough, Marianne's temper sprang to life at his innocent statement. Her blood ran hot and her heart quickened its pace in her chest. She had not been a girl for many years. It was doubtful if anyone outside of her family would mistake the roundness of her hips, or the fullness of her breasts for a girl.
Gareth raked her from head to toe with a slow, piercing stare. The sort of studied perusal a man used when uncertain of what he saw before him. A frown creased his forehead. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, before shaking his head. "Nay. You are a girl no longer, are you?" He sounded surprised. "When did this happen?"
His sudden realization of the obvious banished her ire. "Oh, I am fairly certain it occurred just last week." She could no more restrain from teasing Gareth than she could cease breathing.
He ignored her banter and glanced briefly toward the lists, obviously eager to return to the last of the day's action provided in the tourney ring. With a resigned sigh, he brought his attention back to her.
"Why is it that you are unwed?"
Unrestrained laughter burst from her lips and worked its way through her whole body. She wiped the tears from her eyes, shook her head, then gesturing toward the men waiting their turn to joust, she asked, "And who among those gathered would Comte Faucon find suitable? Which man would be worthy of my hand in marriage?"
"What are you saying?"
"Simple, my dear brother, of late I have encouraged more than one eager man to seek Rhys's approval, to no avail."
"Were his reasons not sound?"
"To him perhaps. But to me they seemed minor." Marianne recited them, "Too old, or not old enough. Not wealthy enough, or strong enough. Too arrogant, or not arrogant enough. One was even deemed not intelligent enough to become related by marriage to the great Faucon family."
Gareth stared at her. "Why did you never complain until now?"
"I never felt that anything was missing in my life until now."
"What do you wish me to do?"
Marianne shrugged. "Perhaps you could talk to our brother, the Comte, and convince him that my heart, too, is deserving of love."
"It may not help, but I promise to try."
Certain Gareth would indeed talk to Rhys, she resumed her escape of the crowd. The short jaunt to the keep was uneventful in an annoying sort of way. She would give anything if some brutish lout would think enough of her to take advantage of the fact she walked alone.
No maid accompanied her. When she'd left the keep earlier, they'd been too busy attending to the numerous honored guests. A blessing as far as she was concerned. It was rather enjoyable to have the freedom of movement without her every step being watched.
Although, if Rhys or his wife Lyonesse discovered her outside the keep without a maid or guard in attendance, Marianne's ears would burn from their words of censure.
Both of them acted as if she was some great prize who needed to be protected at all costs. It might make sense to her if she was of royal blood, but she wasn't. The only thing of value, besides the land from her mother's family, was her virginity. And at the moment she'd give that useless treasure away to anyone bold enough to ask for the honor.
Marianne's face heated at her wicked thought. Her family would be horrified, worse they'd be ashamed to know what vileness ran rampant in her mind of late. Was it normal to have these unexplained urges, these frustrating feelings of need that kept her awake at night and surly most of the day?
Or, was this unquenchable yearning the Lord's retribution for carrying the name Marianne? Nay. Surely, she could not be held responsible for her sire's anger at the Church. An anger so great that he burdened his only daughter with a bastardized version of the Blessed Virgin's name. It was no wonder the Church had excommunicated him.
Thankfully, that dire decree had not been extended to the entire family. While her sire might reside in the devil's realm for an eternity, at least she and her brothers still had a chance for salvation.
That is, if she could find a way to rid herself of the uneasiness threatening to rule her.
Is this why most girls were married at a young age? So that by the time they started having this odd, irritating bodily awareness, they'd already be safely ensconce in their husband's bed?
Now her head truly did pound. All of this thinking, wondering and longing for something she'd yet to experience would soon make her sense take leave. As she drew closer to the keep, she mingled with a group of people. If anyone from her family saw her entering Faucon, she could then say she'd not been out alone.
Before heading to her pallet for an early night, Marianne detoured toward the family's private sitting area. Maybe a brief visit with her nephews would take her worries off things she could not change.
"Who do you think Marianne should be given to?" Lyonesse's voice drifted out of the chamber.
Marianne came to a rocking halt just outside the archway. She ducked out of sight and pressed tightly against the wall, listening to her sisters-by-marriage discuss her future.
"I thought Lord Markam's son looked promising." Rhian, Gareth's wife offered.
Marianne bit the inside of her mouth to keep from snorting aloud. Markam's son? Only over her dead body would they convince her to wed that pompous ass.
"Markam?" Rhys's wife laughed before thankfully dousing any continued discussion of that suggestion. "Lord Markam's son has not enough gold, strength, or wit to protect his own pretty face let alone Marianne's."
"It is well past time for her to marry. Soon, she will be too old for any to consider. Marianne has seventeen years on her and is not getting any younger. She must wed with haste."
Oh, bless you for that observation. Marianne wanted nothing more than to wrap her hands around Marguerite's neck and squeeze tightly. How Darius could have married this woman was completely beyond her comprehension.
"Rhys is well aware of his sister's age." Marianne cringed at Lyonesse's sharp tone. When the Lady of Faucon spoke in that manner, most people gave her a wide berth. "He is doing his best to find someone suitable."
"Yes, well, Rhys needs to quicken his search before some knave recognizes the unquenched lust sparking from those eyes of her." Marguerite's observation brought the heat of embarrassment back to Marianne's cheeks.
"Ah, you've noticed that, too? Then perhaps to hasten the matter along, maybe the three of us should offer to assist him." Rhian's calming tone eased some of the tension from Marianne's neck and shoulders. "After all, we are more able to know what would make another woman content."
Content? Marianne shook her head as the tension returned. She wished not to be content. Not wanting to be seen, or heard, she backed silently away from the chamber. Not one of them would have settled for being content, why did they assume she would?
She was no different, she wanted the same things they had. There was little privacy to be had in a keep, even one as large as Faucon. Marianne knew what these women shared with their husbands.
She'd heard the throaty laugher of the chase, the breathless sighs of pleasure and the lingering moans of fulfillment.
She needed that, too. She craved desire, a fierce all consuming passion that would drive her mad, while at the same time leave her completely fulfilled.
But never content.
Dear Lord, please, never let her live in so boring a manner as content. She'd sooner die.
Falcon's Heart ~ Reviews:
Denise Lynn is quite a story-teller with a real knack for writing great sexual tension (the kind you want to yell "get on with in it already!") and extremely tempting alpha males, teamed with spirited heroines (sent to plague them).
Author Denise Lynn finishes up her Falcon Series with a story about the baby of the Falcon Clan, who is more than ready to fly from the nest. Marianne is a spirited maiden, a bit spoiled and naive, but quickly proves herself intelligent, resourceful, and loyal as well. She's a likeable heroine one can admire, and her idealistic notions about the perfect mate will appeal to readers, who are, after all, romantics as well. Thankfully, Bryce is made of true hero material. Not only is he a virile warrior but he is a chivalric knight, too. His treatment of Marianne is endearing and quite enough to win a woman's heart.
Falcon's Heart is more than just a woman developing feelings for her captor and vice versa. I know there are all kinds of theories written about which explain these types of feelings. In Denise Lynn's version of kidnapping, however, both the reader and Marianne discover a man of great honor and integrity. I know that doesn't quite fit with a kidnapper, does it? In spite of that, however, Bryce treats Marianne with great respect and compassion. She never really wants for anything and the danger to herself is minimal. What is surprising is the depth of character in Bryce especially since he hasn't had a particularly easy life. Denise writes with great passion and flair throwing around humor, a bit of suspense, a lot of romance and just a bit of psychology. ~ Lori, Once Upon A Romance
Lynn carries on her tradition of producing love stories full of suspense, romantic characters, humor and a can't-wait-to-read-it happy ending. The hero and heroine are made for one another -- both are headstrong and warriors in spirit and heart. There's good historical detail and awesome secondary characters from previous books.
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