Authors: Lois Greiman
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Paranormal, #Fantasy
Out of the mists of yesteryear…
Since escaping a dangerously abusive marriage, Fleurette Eddings, Lady Glendowne, has reveled in her freedom—turning the heads of the
with her unrestrained enjoyment of life. But her extravagant purchase of the statue of a fourteenth-century Celtic mercenary seems beyond the pale, even for the vivacious young beauty—especially when a powerful, breathtaking, and oddly familiar stranger mysteriously enters her world…
Comes a passion undimmed by time
The warm caress of an exquisite lady has awakened Killian, Sir Hiltsglen, the legendary “Black Celt,” from his centuries-long slumber. To end the curse that encased his spirit in cold stone, his destiny is now bound to the infuriating lass who set him free—and who tempts the great warrior with a smoldering sensuality that inflames his barbarian desires. For Fleurette is hiding a dark secret and is in dire need of a champion—and Killian’s mission could be compromised by an unbidden love that transcends time.
To Erika Tsang,
who manages to tread that fine line
between honesty and kindness.
Thanks for all your hard work.
My books shine brighter because of you.
e? Marry again?” Lady Glendowne tilted her head as she stroked the petals of a perfect yellow rose. It was as bright as a canary and peeked with precocious optimism out from amidst dark, scalloped leaves and thorny companions.
The fragrances of Jardin de Jacques were heady and ripe, teasing the nostrils, awakening slumbering senses. The sun felt warm and sensual against Fleurette’s neck and bosom, for her frock, the exact shade of the impetuous rose, was cut fashionably low beneath her small, peaked chin.
She was on holiday, it was early summer in Paris, and she was accompanied by four of her closest friends, but she hardly needed those heady excuses to show such daring cleavage. Fashion and her own advancing years were reason enough. After all, she was nearly four-and-twenty.
“No. I do not think I shall choose to marry again,” she said.
“You jest.” Frederick Deacon’s tone was stunned as he curtailed his admiration of a cluster of blushing columbine. He was short and narrow and known to flirt with anything that donned skirts. Indeed, it was sometimes whispered that he flirted with some who wore breeches.
“No,” Fleurette countered. “I do not. My husband meant the moon and the stars to me, as you well know, but I have little reason to marry again.”
Quirking a brow and reaching for her hand, Deacon gave her an elegant bow. “My dearest lady, if you do not yet comprehend the advantages of wedded bliss, I feel it is my responsibility, however tedious to… help you understand nuptial pleasures.”
Fleurette laughed, allowed one dawdling kiss, and drew her hand carefully away. She was no prude, but she was hardly a
either, parading about in dampened gowns that showed every peak and dimple. “You are too kind, good sir, but that would hardly be proper.”
“Propriety,” said Lady Anglehill, distractedly eyeing a nearby statue, “is highly overrated.” Jardin de Jacques was valued for its magnificent blossoms, its ancient statuary, and its lack of prejudice against artistic nudity. Not necessarily in that order.
“Be that as it may,” said Fleurette, skimming her fingers along the undulating wall of stones beside which Lucy led them, “Thomas has been gone such a short while and…”
“Seven years,” interjected Lord Lessenton.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Seven years.” Stanford Henry, the third baron of Lessenton, was fair-haired, handsome, perfectly groomed, and impeccably dressed. “This coming August.”
Fleurette’s steps faltered, and her eyes became misty. “Has it been so very long?”
“Yes,” Stanford said, catching her gaze. “It has.”
She turned toward him, taking his hand between her gloved fingers. “But of course it has. My apologies. At times I forget he was as dear to you as he was to me.”
“Such a senseless loss,” Stanford said. “First my Clarice, then her beloved brother.”
She squeezed his hand. “Indeed, I shall never…”
“Here now,” Deacon cut in, with smooth aplomb. He scooped his arm through hers, but allowed her time to do the same to Stanford, so that they stood three in a line, linked side by side. “Let us speak of happier things.”
She gave him a half smile and forced her mind from sadness. After all, they were on holiday. “And what would you suggest?” she asked.
“Well…” Deacon paused as if thinking, then, “oh yes, your lucky bridegroom to be. Whomever shall you choose?”
“My dearest Frederick, you’re dreadfully obvious,” she said.
“I beg your pardon.” He drew back as if aghast, splaying elegant fingers across the crisp white of his freshly laundered cravat.
She gave him a look, then skimmed her gaze back to the meandering path. “I fear your need for funds is well-known.”
Deacon pulled his companions to an abrupt halt. “Might you be suggesting that I love you for your bank account alone?”
“Yes,” she said, and tugged them gently along in her wake. “That is exactly what I am suggesting.”
“Well,” he puffed and stared into the unseen horizon as if highly insulted. ” ‘Tis entirely untrue. I also happen to very much admire your tilbury phaeton.”
“You mustn’t forget her horses,” Amelia added from behind. The fifth daughter of a struggling baronet, she had been hastily engaged to a promising young banker from Hendershire before, as her father put it, she went entirely to buttermilk. Her mother, it was said, had gained a good five stone since her marriage, but Amelia Engleton was hardly concerned. For she had eyes like an angel and hair like a goddess, or so vowed her besotted betrothed.
“The horses,” Deacon repeated dreamily Sighing, he stared foggily into the distance again, as if imagining them even now. “I admit that seeing you seated behind the grays makes me want to strangle you in your sleep, my dear.” He shook his head and caught her gaze. “No offense meant, of course.”
“None taken,” Fleurette said, and smiled as she thought of her horses. She had purchased the team as matched weanlings and seen to their training herself. “They are a lovely pair. You know their strides are matched to within a quarter of an inch.”
Deacon’s mouth pulled down sharply at the corners. “Now you’re simply being cruel.”
“True,” she admitted, “but you did threaten my life.”
“Threaten your… I would do no such thing,” he vowed, then leaned conspiratorially close, “Not until after we have become lovers at the least.”
“Frederick,” she scolded. “I must implore you to keep a civil tongue.”
“I have always believed it quite civil to speak of love,” quipped Deacon. “What I find completely unacceptable is for a handsome woman such as yourself to be alone in the world.”
“I am hardly alone,” she argued. “I have Lucy and Amelia, you, and Stanford.” She gave her brother-in-law’s arm a gentle squeeze. “Who is my rock.”
“I am speaking of an entirely different kind of loneliness,” said Deacon.
“Truly?” She glanced at a bower of honeysuckle that graced a stone archway. The blossoms sprouted in spikes of white and pink, heavenly scented and as numerous as the stars. “And all these years I was under the impression there is only one kind.”
“I am speaking about being alone in one’s bedchamber as you very well know. Which you are, unless you and Stanford have an arrangement I know nothing about.”
Stanford gazed past Fleur to give Deacon a scathing glance.
“Just as I thought,” Deacon deduced. “Poor Stan is as alone as you.”
“Perhaps some of us still maintain a modicum of moral fiber,” Stanford said. The two men were generally congenial enough, but tempers flared now and again.
“Moral fiber,” Deacon repeated, as if he’d not heard of such a preposterous thing. “Amongst the peerage? I very much doubt it.”
“Nevertheless, I must insist that you cease insulting Lady Glendowne’s reputation.”
“I am hardly insulting it. I am merely inquiring when she plans to take a lover. Indeed, if the truth be known, I am complimenting it by offering my services,” he said, leaning close and speaking to her again, “should you lack suitable options.”
“And I’m certain if she desires the companionship of a boring wastrel with not a penny to his name, she will be quick to call upon you,” Stanford suggested.
“I may be penniless, and I am most certainly a wastrel, but I take exception to being called boring. I am never boring.”
“I am bored as we speak,” Stanford said.
“Perhaps it is your own disposition and not my presence at all that predisposes you—”
“Gentlemen,” Fleurette interrupted. “I must insist—” she began, but her sentence was interrupted by a gasp from the far side of a carefully pruned hedgerow.
Dropping their arms, the threesome rushed around the bend to find Lady Anglehill staring upward in silent awe. Fleurette took one moment to ascertain that all was well, then flitted her gaze toward the towering statue that had speared her friend’s attention with such resounding finality.
Her breath caught immediately in her throat, for the statuary was all-consuming.
Chiseled from solid granite, the sculpture looked as old as life itself. Moss grew upon the rearing steed’s shod hooves, and weathered stains marred its rider’s boots, but the warrior’s legs were perfect. As large and unyielding as oaken tree trunks, they hugged the stallion’s barrel with ferocious strength. Muscles hewn of ancient granite bulged beneath the horseman’s kilt. In his fist he held a battle-notched sword and his gigantic arm, straining beneath the timeless weight of his weapon, was knotted with venerable strength.
A helmet shadowed his eyes and hid his cheeks. His teeth were gritted in a struggle as old as sin. But it was neither the statue’s towering size, nor its maker’s obvious talent that took one’s breath. It was the sheer force of its presence, for it seemed almost as if the thing was the barest breath away from life.
“My Lord!” Amelia gasped, stepping up like one in a trance.
“Or a demigod at least,” Lucille corrected, rounding the statuary with revered awe.
“Surely, you must have heard of the Black Celt,” Deacon said.
“The what?” Amelia breathed.
“The Black Celt. History claims him to be the fiercest of all ancient warriors.”
“Since when have you ever shown an interest in history?” Stanford asked.
“Since it was filled with murder and betrayal and lust, of course.”
“From the beginning of time then,” Lucy murmured, still circling the statue.
“Or very nearly so,” Deacon agreed, watching Fleurette join Lucille. “And that is just about the time when the Black Celt lived, according to the tales.” Amelia’s eyes were wide and chocolate dark against her milky complexion. ” ‘Tis said he was the deadliest of all mercenaries, hiring out his sword to the highest bidder… until he met the fair mademoiselle who stole his heart.”
“The tale does sound familiar,” Stanford admitted.
“But of course. It is as old as black pepper. He met the lovely lady and became infatuated with her beauty even before he knew she was his liege’s adversary.”
“Ahh, and thus trouble brewed,” Lucy said.
“Indeed yes, when your liege happens to be dabbling in the black arts.”
Amelia hissed. Deacon smiled, glad for the appreciative audience. “Thus, our stony fellow here vowed to protect the lady from all comers and broke his alliance with his dark overlord.”
“I have the feeling this tale may not end happily ever after,” Amelia lamented.
“Happily ever after. What boring tripe. Of course there are ferocious battles and constant tribulation. The Celt’s master was enraged by his bold knight’s duplicity and spat forth a dreadful curse. The warrior would be turned to stone, never to breathe again until he could right the wrong he had perpetrated against his lord.”
“A difficult task for a boulder,” Stanford mused.
“So this statue was once the Black Celt himself?” Amelia asked.
“Certainly,” Deacon said, lowering his voice dramatically. “And he may, at any moment, spring forth into full raging life once again.”
Amelia rolled her lamb-soft eyes toward Deacon, who smiled and took her hand.
“But you need not fear, my dear, for I am here to protect you from one and all.”
“Or at least from rocks and the like,” Stanford quipped.
Amelia grinned at the baron, then turned narrowed eyes toward Deacon. “Might you be forgetting that I am betrothed to be married in a matter of weeks?”
He smiled. “Then there is no time like the present.”
“But weren’t you just now flirting with Fleurette?” Amelia asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You know you’re all that I see.”
“So long as Lady Glendowne turns aside your advances,” Stanford said.
“Or at least until she gives me some kind of encouragement,” Deacon admitted, and leaned close to Amelia as if he shared a great secret. “You know she’s amassed a fortune since her husband’s death.”