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Authors: The Kings Pleasure

Heather Graham

BOOK: Heather Graham
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The King’s Pleasure
Heather Graham writing as Shannon Drake

Contents

Prologue: Lovers and Other Enemies …

Part I: To the victor…

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Part II: … go the spoils.

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Part III

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

A Biography of Heather Graham

Prologue: Lovers and Other Enemies…

The Year of Our Lord 1357

T
HE DOOR TO THE
tavern opened and Adrien MacLachlan stood there for a moment, his towering form barring the entry as he surveyed the place.

He was a knight, one of the most famed of all King Edward III’s fighting men, yet tonight, he wore no armor.

He’d been warned of the tryst tonight, and had come clad like many of the cutthroats who frequented the ill-famed establishment. He wore a simple brown tunic over his soft linen undershirt, hose and boots, and voluminous dark cloak with a hood which hid both his features and the weapons he had chosen to carry—his magnificent Toledo sword and the rapier-honed knife in the sheath at his calf, its usage learned from his Scottish relatives. They had learned the bitter lesson that fighting could come quick, fast, close, and at any time.

He surveyed the tavern and satisfied himself that she had not come as yet; then he entered and made straightway to a crude wooden table near the wall where he could sit with his back to that wall, see the doorway, and keep a keen eye on all those who entered there. Seated, he ordered a tankard of ale from the richly-bosomed wench who strode the place, diving and darting through a clientele of most seriously questionable character, for the place was rumored to cater to murderers, knaves, and thieves, and it was known that any evil business could be pursued here. At the table to his left, a black-toothed seaman watched him warily, commenting to an equally scurvy-looking companion in whispers, and Adrien was well aware that they were contemplating what wealth might be upon his person. Ah, well. He could have had help coming here. Any number of good, brave fighting men might have joined him. But this was a personal matter, one he meant to keep from the king. Her life might depend upon it.

He prayed that his informants had been right, that she was coming here. For if not …

Fear and fury seized his system, stormed throughout his blood. How could she be so foolish, take such chances? Did she think herself so strong, so powerful, or merely so damned noble that she could command the base instincts of dishonest men to her own purposes? Dear God, but he wanted to set his hands on her tonight …

In so many ways.

Duty demanded that he be here. The little vixen deserved a lashing at a stake, and she was, dear God, his responsibility. But it was equally true, too, that he had the sense and wisdom to see what she could not: she was a fairer prize to seize than one with whom to bargain. And in his heart, he feared for her and knew that he would die for her, die inside if harm were to befall her.

Ah, there! His heartbeat quickened.

The door opened. A figure stepped into the tavern, which was filled with smoke from the boar that spit fat over the fire in the great hearth. The room was in a haze.

Like him, this figure was clad in a dark, sweeping cloak.

Actually, he mused ruefully, it was a room full of figures clad in cloaks.

But he would have known her anywhere, just from her movements. He had known her most of her life. Seen her grow into that graceful sway and ease of motion.

She pushed back the hood, just slightly, that she might see around the room. He quickly lowered his head, then raised his eyes again, Indeed, it was she. Anger seemed to boil his blood once again, yet he contained and controlled it and tried hard to study her objectively. He could not. Were she the poorest of peasant lasses, she would have drawn the hunger and envy of the richest and most noble men. Lashes like ink swept over emerald-green eyes. Her face was delicately boned, exquisite. She was tall and slender, yet beneath that cloak, curved beautifully, perfectly. Seductively.

And she had come here to meet a man. A Frenchman. An enemy. Ah … there!

From another corner of the room, a man rose and came forward, eager to meet her. He, too, was clad in a dark cloak, but the hood had fallen back and his features were clearly visible. Comte Langlois, a man in the service of the French king. Adrien had seen him a few times from a distance on the battlefield.

The comte reached the girl in the doorway. Both their heads bowed. He indicated the stairway leading to the private rooms above the common floor.

Adrien blinked hard, gritting his teeth, fighting the wave of red fury that all but engulfed him.
She should have learned. She should have learned her lesson with him before!

He clenched and unclenched his fists beneath the table, taking deep breaths. He had to keep a clear head.

The two went up the steps. Seconds later, Adrien followed.

Danielle d’Aville had never been so frightened in her life, but she had learned quite early that a show of courage was almost as good as the real thing. She had also learned that a regal manner could be a tremendous strength in itself, and it was a ploy she never hesitated to use.

Yet there was more to her uneasiness tonight than fear. She was also sick at heart, torn cruelly within. Once she had made a vow, a deathbed vow, and because of that, she owed a warning to King Jean. It was all she intended to give, and it was the last time she would ever seek to help Jean, but even in that, she knew she betrayed King Edward. And worse …

Oh, God, she did so much worse …

And the man now at her back made her uneasy tonight. Comte Langlois, a striking, charismatic man, the rage of the French court. He had always been courteous and proper before, but tonight … tonight, he looked like a predator. She bit into her lower lip, dismayed and aware that she had summoned him here with a few half-truths to receive his help in getting her to Jean.

He led her down a darkened hallway, deep into the far back of the building. There he pressed open a door to a room already alight with a candle’s glow. A carafe of wine awaited on a table with a wedge of cheese and loaf of bread. A fire burned; the cover had been drawn down from the bed, which seemed to dominate the crude room. It had been arranged as if for a lover’s tryst.

She spun around and stood, straight and regal, and waited. Comte Langlois entered behind her and leaned against the door. He was a handsome man with flashing dark eyes, a lean face with a trim beard, and flowing dark hair; she thought again that he looked like a vulture—or a wolf!

“There was no need for so elaborate a set-up,” she informed him coolly. “I arranged this meeting that you might bring a message to the King of France. You will be amply rewarded.”

“Ah, lady. How can you be so like ice when I have risked life and limb to come here—to your rescue?”

“How so, sir?” she said carefully.

Langlois was still against the door. She heard him slide the bolt behind him. Her heart began to race. Dear God, what had she done? He walked to her, and she fought for control, certain still that she could best him with her wits, no matter what his intention.

He caught her hands, bowing as he held them, like the most gallant of knights in the most chivalric of times. “Alas, my lady, it has been said that Kind Edward’s plans for you have not met with any desires of your own, that there is all but open warfare between you—and the Scottish savage of King Edward’s choosing.”

Cold seemed to sweep along her spine. She longed to wrench her hands free.

Outside, flattened against the doorway in the shadowy corridor, Adrien MacLachlan arched a brow high, once again feeling his temper begin to simmer and brew.

“I wrote to you because—” Danielle began to Langlois.

But the comte quickly cut her off. “Ah, lady, if there is no consummation of your vows, then you are free, and the good French king can bring matters before the pope.”

Adrien’s fingers wound into fists at his side. No consummation of vows, eh? He’d like to consummate his fingers right around her throat! He tested the door. Bolted. But it was constructed of flimsy wood, and one butt of his shoulder would take it down. He started to move against it but paused, waiting for Danielle’s next words.

Danielle was damning herself and her foolishness for thinking that this man might actually have had the welfare of his king in mind. Comte Langlois was interested in himself—in having her, and Aville. Still, she needed to play this carefully. “Perhaps there are other matters we can discuss at a later date. But this matter must be settled first. Perhaps it would be best if you escorted me to King Jean and I gave him my information in person,” she said. She felt a chill again. His dark eyes narrowed and took on a cunning and determined glitter. “Comte, I don’t intend to offend you. You are surely a worthy nobleman, but there are matters at stake of greater importance man myself and Aville.”

In the hallway, Adrien clenched his teeth so hard he feared they might crack.

“But think of it, lady,” Langlois interrupted, his voice gutteral. “King Jean would be pleased. We go to the French king with our love an accomplished thing, and a marriage can thus be surely arranged—and you are free from that savage, heathen lout! Lady, you led me to believe that there would be great reward for me if I were to help you. I will have that reward. Now, dear sweet beauty! Since there is nothing at all between you and the savage—”

“Comte, I have a message for King Jean! Think of his anger—”

“Think of his pleasure that you may be claimed by a Frenchman rather than that arrogant Scottish bastard!”

She stared at him, growing outraged, furious with herself. She had tried to put just enough in her note to entice him to meet her, but Langlois was assuming she had given him an invitation to wed and bed her!

Oh, she had to think, for were he to touch her, she would most surely long to die; something inside of her would perish—her heart and, perhaps, her soul as well.

Her temper suddenly got the best of her and she wrenched her hands free and stared at him with all her hauteur she had learned from a childhood at court among the King and Queen of England and their royal brood. “No!”

She pushed impatiently past him and for a moment, her manner prevailed. Langlois fell back. But when she would have kept moving toward the door, he suddenly caught her shoulders and wrenched her back before him. He was angry, dark eyes glowing. “I had meant to be gentle. Seduce you, my lady, and seal our pact with your willing agreement. But though I have served loyally, lady, I am one of the lesser nobles of the French king’s court and am in dire need of the lands and finances that come with your French holdings. Ah, milady, not to mention how I have hungered for your beauty! I swear, we
will
go to the king as lovers, needing only his blessing to legalize our union!”

“Not in a pig’s eye!” she swore, and kicked him soundly where it would do the greatest harm.

He bellowed in pain, doubling over. Danielle shot away from him, but his fingers snagged into the fullness of her cloak and she went down with a hard thud in a tangle of coarse brown wool, the breath knocked out of her. Stunned, she struggled to breathe. Then Langlois was on top of her.

“Dear lady, I had meant to have this done upon a bed, but if the floor be your choice …”

She struggled to free her wrists and managed to slam the side of his face with her open palm. She thought she heard the sound of an explosion, but she could not be sure, for he returned her blow and her head was ringing. She wiggled and thrashed, desperate and determined, and not untalented in the art of self-defense. An elbow to his throat, nails down his cheek … but could she prevail? Langlois was a knight trained to combat, one who wore massive steel upon a warhorse, and though perhaps she might have the wits to defeat him, in the end she might not have the strength.

BOOK: Heather Graham
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