Guarded Heart [Master at Arms Series Book 4] [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Jennifer Blake
eBook Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: The New Year begins with a lady's intriguing proposition for Gavin Blackford--though not the sort he's accustomed to. Alluring widow Ariadne Faucher requests private lessons from the rakish sword master in order to challenge her sworn enemy to a duel. Though disinclined at first to teach a woman, Gavin is fascinated by this statuesque beauty, cloaked as she is in grief and mystery. Ariadne proves a quick study with a blade, her resolve fueled by a vendetta that is all she has left in the world. Their lessons crackle with undeniable electricity ... but the secret of her all-consuming vengeance may have rendered her heart impervious even to such a virtuoso as Gavin.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Mira
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2008
This eBook is part of the following series:
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New Orleans, Louisiana
"I require your expertise in order to kill a man."
Gavin Blackford paused in the act of taking a glass of Madeira from a tray on the side table. Such a clear yet low-voiced request was unexpected during a courtesy call for Réveillon, the celebration of New Year's Day. It was particularly surprising from a lady.
A multitude of boisterous conversations went on without pause beyond their isolated corner, token of the conviviality of this occasion where men were required to go from house to house among the ladies of their acquaintance, accepting a drink at each stop to toast the New Year. This was his tenth visit of the afternoon, his tenth glass of wine or rum punch while slogging here and there through the pouring rain that fell beyond the French doors of the elegantly appointed salon. Gavin was not at all certain that his pleasantly bemused senses had not somehow garbled the words just spoken to him.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard, I believe."
Replacing with care the glass he had meant to offer to Madame Ariadne Faucher, Gavin turned, surveying her in the flickering gaslight above them. She was tall for a female, of upright carriage and an elegant form costumed in rose silk with deep flounces draped in black lace which whispered of the latest mode from Paris. Her gaze was steady, holding a shadow of consciousness but no real sign of discomposure. The rich brown irises of her eyes appeared almost black by grace of large pupils and a deep gray outer ring. Her hair of shimmering ebony was caught up in a simple chignon set off by a spray of rosebuds and softened by errant wisps that curled at her temples in the evening dampness. The skin of her face and shoulders was fine-grained and pale, with an incandescent quality that made it appear as if dipped in pearl nacre. Though it would be bad form to lower his gaze to the milk-white curves revealed by her décolletage, the acute edges of Gavin's vision told him these lovely curves had the same soft gleam. This gave rise inescapably to the question of whether the remainder of her body carried a similar pearl-like sheen.
He had thought Madame Faucher agreeably sophisticated, a little too strong-featured for the current ideal of wan and delicate beauty, but intriguing. That was as his hostess, Maurelle Herriot, had introduced them before moving off to see to her other guests. How was he to guess she harbored a deadly turn of mind?
"Forgive me, madame," he said with a brief inclination of his head. "Though I confess to a certain pleasure in the more honorable forms of mayhem, my habits don't run to murder."
"Debatable, I would say, in view of your reputation on the dueling field."
It was not a reminder he appreciated. "Nonetheless, my sword is not for hire."
"I was led to believe you are a maître d'armes," she said with a frown between her winged brows.
"A respectable and quite legal occupation, if somewhat déclassé."
Her lips thinned a trifle before she answered, a shame given their rose-red shade and their luxuriant curves. "My purpose is not outside the law. I require lessons in the use of a sword."
"You require lessons." The words were blank as he readjusted his thinking.
"Is that so difficult to accept?"
"You will admit that, like a kitten warding off a bulldog with a kitchen knife, it is not the usual practice."
"But not impossible."
Gavin was assailed, abruptly, by the image of the lady before him stripped for fencing in the manner of his male clients, wearing only a simple bodice open at the neck and a pair of pantaloons to allow free movement. Her cleavage would expose delights never seen in the bachelor haunt of his atelier, and any vigorous lunge would display every inch of what he suspected were delectably long legs.
His mouth went dry, while a stirring in his groin warned of the need to keep his thoughts on a more-elevated plane. Annoyance brushed him. He usually had better control of such responses.
"Not impossible in theory," he allowed after a moment. "I know of one or two ladies who spar with a father or brother from time to time."
"Hardly what I require."
"Still, if your husband should care to come to me, he might see to your instruction."
"I am a widow. My father and my brother are dead as well. If they were not, I should have no need to embark on this matter myself."
Her voice, cool and even, did not match the dark pain that welled into her eyes, the warm color that bloomed across her cheekbones or the pulse that throbbed in the soft hollow of her throat. She was, he thought, less sanguine and perhaps younger than his first estimation, somewhere between twenty and twenty-five. For an instant, he was beset by the need to offer comfort. That was as unacceptable as her request, since she was obviously of the haut ton, the upper echelons of the narrow French Creole society on whose outskirts he moved. She would undoubtedly be scandalized at any hint of it.
What was it Maurelle had said as she presented her? He had not been attending with any closeness, being too taken up by the remarkable nature of it. Women of Madame Faucher's position did not consort with sword masters as a rule, so were seldom formally introduced. He thought there had been some mention of her recent arrival from Paris but could not be sure.
Rallying his thoughts, he said, "My condolences, madame. Am I to understand you are alone in the world?"
Copyright © 2008 by Patricia Maxwell.