A Wanton's Thief [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Titania Ladley
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
eBook Description: Falcon Montague had been dubbed many things in his long, immortal life ... Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, murderer, hero. But never had his soul been so deeply branded by a woman. On a late-night raid, he overhears the murder plot of the mistress of Wyngate Hall, the breathtaking beauty, Lady Salena Tremayne. But after snatching her from her chambers to remove her to safety, Falcon soon finds Salena to be the thief ... the thief of his heart. The wanton ... Lady Salena Tremayne has heard the rumors about the dangerous outlaw Robin Hood. Though it's said he steals from the rich to give to the poor, she isn't quite sure what her handsome captor intends to do with her. Kidnapped by the masked bandit, she finds herself woven into a web of his eroticism in which she must guard her heart with her life. But her fight, she soon discovers, may be a futile one. Wielding his erotic powers, Falcon and his cohort in crime, Little John, captivate her mind, body and soul.
eBook Publisher: Ellora's Cave, Published: 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2005
Chapter One: Northern England:Early November 1536:Wyngate Hall
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"Lady Salena must die."
At the terse, ominous tone, Falcon Montague stiffened within the confines of his hiding place. Standing still between the thick drapes and the cool frosted glass of the veranda door, he narrowed his eyes, attempting to peer through a tiny slit in the fabric. His heart pounded with excitement and curiosity. If the inhabitants of the study knew the infamous "Robin Hood" eavesdropped on them, the hounds of hell would be set loose in a matter of seconds. But not before he could inflict his share of mayhem upon the sorry chaps.
To silently emphasize his point, he flexed his hand around the solid gold candelabra he'd just plucked up before the occupants had entered the library not moments ago. Unable to spy the figures through the minute opening, he perked his ears instead, and listened intently to the murder plot he'd suddenly become privy to.
"But how, sir? She has very loyal staff surrounding her day and night." The voice grew deeper, softer, as if the man leaned in to continue in utmost confidence. "I daresay, however, her chambermaid could be disposed of easily, making way for the task as our lady slept. But still, are you certain...?"
"Am I certain?" the other voice hissed, bringing to mind the devil in his sourest of moods. "Does the sun not rise every morning? Of course I'm certain you fool! She cannot live here--or anywhere--any longer. There is no other way about it. Wyngate Hall, though her home since birth, will no longer be hers as long as you do as you are told. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir. I understand completely that she can no longer remain as the mistress of Wyngate Hall and that her dowry will not be leaving this keep ... if things go as planned." The man sighed. "But I suppose you wish me to do the dubious honor of seeing to her termination?"
Falcon suppressed a jerk when the reverberation of a fist pounding down upon wood sounded in the room.
"No," the tyrannical one sneered. "I wish myself to do it."
The insolent man snorted sarcastically. "You idiot! No. It must be by someone other than myself. As a favorite at court, Salena carries with her automatic protection. Henry would have my head upon a platter if he were to discover I'd seen to her demise. If she should turn up dead--and she will--I cannot be blamed. You hear me, man? Do you hear me? You must cover your tracks and you must be careful. I will have her fortune, but without suspicion. So it must look like an accident--and before she marries the duke, Edward Devonshire, in a fortnight. Before he claims her riches and satisfies his horrific debts with every last shilling of her fat dowry."
"B-but ... no matter who performs the dastardly deed itself, the king will most likely uncover all involved, eventually. Therefore," the man said with an audible swallow, "he'll have my head on that platter."
Falcon heard wood grate against wood and the undeniable smack of a chair toppling onto the hard floor. "If I do not have your head first."
The other man gasped. "No, please!"
"Please, what?" In his mind, Falcon could almost see the perpetrator's eyebrows rising in mockery.
"I shall perform your bidding with extreme precision. Please, I ... I..."
"Very well. Now, it seems we suddenly see eye to eye." Falcon heard the tightness of the smile in the gloating tone. "See to it immediately, cover your tracks well and you will be rewarded handsomely ... as soon as she's dead."
"Yes, sir. Right away, sir." The quivering voice moved nearer and Falcon caught a brief glimpse of the backside of a man of average height and build with mousy brown hair. Its texture failed to gleam even by the light of the fat candle burning in the sconce near the door, as if the fellow lacked a sufficient, nutritious diet. He moved quickly to the portal just out of Falcon's sight. "I shall implement a plan this very night. By morning, your command will be ... old news. Our lady will be dead."
"Good. Good. Now, be gone with you. I feel a sudden headache coming on and wish to retire."
"I ... yes, I will report back to you first thing at sunrise. Good night to you." The sliding study door whooshed open and shut. Once the man had exited, all Falcon could hear for the longest time was the ticking of the clock on the mantel. He closed his eyes, beads of perspiration trickling down his spine despite the chill of the glass at his back. The musky smell of the drapes filled his nostrils and swirled sickeningly in his stomach. He longed to be gone from the stuffy confines of this sudden prison, to snatch up what he'd come for and be on his merry way. But now it seemed there would be another jewel to confiscate.
Lady Salena Tremayne.
Ah, yes, the arrogant, prim and bewitching daughter of the deceased Earl of Herringrose. With the exception of this very night, prior to entering through the library veranda door, Falcon had seen her but once through the slit of his helmet at the king's annual jousting tournament. He'd promptly lost that competition due to disrupted concentration and the annoying bulge in his braies.
A swish of fabric and a clomp of boots on wood sounded across the room, jolting Falcon from the erotic direction of his thoughts. Through the tiny crack in the curtains, it was all he could do to strain and watch as a pair of hands drew out a key from behind a stone above the hearth. The tall figure, nothing but a dark silhouette against the firelight, moved to the left of the fireplace, just out of Falcon's range. He heard the insertion of the key, the click of metal against metal, the slide of a drawer. And the angry crumple of paper.
"The bitch!" the man growled. "You'll die, Salena. You'll die this very night."
Falcon stood stiff and ready as the drawer slammed shut and the snap of the lock echoed, melding with the tune of the crackling fire. Holding his breath, the thud of his heart choking him, Falcon listened as heavy footsteps neared. His hand tightened around the candlestick. Mentally preparing himself, he stood ready to strike at the first sign of discovery. But luck would be with him this night. He sighed when the study door slid open and shut, and the footfalls of a murderer gradually died off into the distance of the great hall.
Cautiously, Falcon pushed aside the drapes. He grimaced when his elbow tapped the window behind him. Waiting, he cocked his head but heard no returning footsteps. Slipping from the half-open gap, he stealthily stepped toward the small side table positioned to the left of the hearth. On his way, he replaced the candelabra on the massive mahogany desk set before the paned French doors. Soaked from his confinement in the closet, he avoided the heat of the fire, despite the chill in the November air. Reaching for the one drawer hidden within the elm side table, he jiggled the handle. It wouldn't budge. His eyes rose to the area of stones set above the mantel where he'd seen the man remove the rocky protrusion and withdraw the key.
A creak of boards sounded above his head. His gaze shot upward and he sighed, knowing that meant someone was still about, possibly on their way downstairs.
He shook his head. There was no time to search for the paper. He must ascend to the upper level and locate Lady Salena's chamber immediately. Clearly, he'd have to be patient. It would be necessary to return in the future to investigate the telling document the man had wadded up in anger and stored in the locked drawer. Hopefully, it would still be there and would provide the clue Falcon needed to confirm his growing suspicions.
Clenching his jaw with regret and irritation, he spun on his leather boots and crept to the door. Sliding one panel open just enough to poke his head through, he furtively regarded the long candlelit corridor of the richly furnished manor. Woven tapestries, gold-framed self-portraits and high-backed, heavy walnut settees lined the arched passageway. Deafening, eerie silence filled his ears. The pungent odor of beeswax and tallow drifted down from the heavy wood and iron candle beam supports dangling above. A sweeping wood staircase descended along the wall to his right. But he'd be a fool to climb it, he mused, swiftly assessing his plan of action. Servants could be about, or the gentlemen from the study could return at any moment.
Instead, Falcon darted left and hugged the cold, stone wall. He shot in and out of alcoves and recessed porticos until he reached the darkened rear of the hall. And there, just as he'd suspected, rose the narrow servant's stairwell. He first tested one step, leaning his weight upon its expanse. Pleased that it made not so much as a minor squeak, he took them two at a time and followed the curved, steep path. Emerging on an upper landing, he noted the absence of light below the portal he hoped would lead to the upstairs bedroom chambers. Slowly, he pushed open the door, relieved that it was indeed the long hallway of suites he sought.
It had been on his approach to the stone castle not an hour before that he'd gotten that brief second glimpse of Salena as she'd drawn near her upstairs chamber window and pulled the shutters in against the chilly night air. He'd stood there beneath the gnarling, leafless oak gazing up at her, utterly transfixed by her beauty. She'd paused, staring out pensively into the moonless black of night, the firelight from within shimmering upon her hair. It had immediately brought to mind a long curtain of rich, sable fur, the glory of it silhouetting her in a sexual, fire-edged glow. And, like a lovesick, foolish lad, he'd indulged himself in the fantasy of running his fingers through its silky, soft tresses while sinking himself between her legs.
"Enough, Falcon," he whispered to himself.
Mentally, he ascertained which chamber door would be hers based on the position of the window he'd seen her in. And he darted to it, noting with disappointment that light filtered below the closed door. So, he wouldn't have the luck of an easy abduction after all, for it seemed the maiden remained awake.
Getting right to the chore, he turned the ornate crystal door handle and slipped into the antechamber of her suite. The chambermaid's rumpled straw pallet within the alcove was vacant, just as he suspected it might be. Apparently, the murder plot had already begun with the calling away of Lady Salena's personal servant. Would they have attempted to win over the servant and include her in the plot? Perhaps poisoning of Salena's food by the maid or smothering her in her sleep? Or would the villains eliminate the maid altogether, later enter the lady's chamber, do the deed directly or possibly see that she suffered a deadly riding accident on the morrow? Well, there wasn't time to determine the exact plan, but Falcon knew he must immediately remove her from any impending danger.
Yet that wasn't the reason his heart pounded and fluttered in anticipation.
No. He had nothing to fear from Lady Salena's death or the men who planned it, for he would alter fate this very moment and see that she lived. Neither did he worry over the necessary, lifesaving deed of kidnapping he was about to implement.
What Falcon Montague feared was his fiercely guarded heart suddenly coming under siege again.
And when he caught sight of her lying in sensual slumber upon the massive bed, the warm glow of fire dancing upon her ethereal beauty, he could have sworn an arrow pierced his heart and brought him to his very knees.